Monday, July 27, 2009

Midsummer Harps and Marimbas.

The vast lands between the US border and Tierra Del Fuego are wealthy with sonic imaginations and discoveries. In Veracruz there are a number of ensembles that employ huge wooden harps originally brought by conquistadors and colonists to provide instruments for church services that were more portable than organs.

They eventually seeped into the secular worlds and come to us today as regional performance groups, of which, Conjunto Sones Jarocha may be the most prominent after they were recorded by Chris Strachwitz in the early 1960s.

They have one of the happiest sounds of any musical form and work well as a morning coffee listen on a sun soaked saturday porch.
Guatamala nearly makes a religion of marimbas as they have been used by Mayans for centuries.
The regions along the Pacific coasts of Columbia and Ecuador have a second , African derived marimba form made famous by Grupo Naidy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Roads to Morocco.

Archie Shepp got the Gnaoua ball rolling again back around 2006 as I was preparing to leave Seattle. I got to listen to it over at his son Pavel's house along with a duet disc Archie did with Siegfried Kessler. He has his own label Archieball. He last worked with them in 1969.

He finally recovered from a nagging benign lip tumor a few years ago and is back in fine form as if he were in his 30s again.

Ornette got in the act more recently in London having his reunion of a collaboration he did in 1973.

And then there was an exhilarating if hazardous festival back in May in Rabat to show America how it's done. No Cut and Paste, Meat and Potatoes, all Joe Lovano all the time on the other side of the pond but then, they don't have to pander to middle brow boomer geezes.

All this Mahgreb excitement got me thinking about the Rwais, what ever became of them?

Phillip Schuyler did a definitive paper on them and all you recycled english majors and market copy writers who overwhelm jazz writing with fatuousness should read the thing as you'll improve your game a hundredfold if you learn how to write like him. This little gem about the imposition of professionalism as espoused by the IAJE is even better.

The Rwais are like the blues and come from some lineage that includes griots, Turkish asiks and troubadours. Robert Johnson and Skip James were American versions as was Bahamian Joseph Spence.

They liked to make up songs on the spot, sing the news and even sing the praises of Citroens or Renaults. I found a modern Morocco pop version of what they have become and have a query to Nick Fritsch at Lyrichord to see if I can get the story of the lost release.

The moral of the story for all the younger people befogged by Pudgy Dunce kingmaking and music knowledge parsing is just go do a pattern search like 'Berber Rwais Music' or any other thing that you want to find and just bypass anything that looks like it is from a 'Jazz Magazine' unless you have ones you already like and trust.

In no time at all you will be waaay better informed than those who presume to inform you for profit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Appreciations from Matthew Shipp.

I first met Mr. Shipp when he was in music school in the 1980's and I knew then he's a man you don't meet every day. I have never had any reason to believe otherwise. Somewhere, the spirit of my honorary uncle, Frank Wright, looks down from on high and knows that this is good.


My basic concept is a melodic concept.That is a hard thing to define but I always go for a sequence of notes that I feel massage the brain in a good and pleasing way.I don’t want to be melodic in an affected ecm post-jarrett type of way.We don’t need any of that. It's bad enough having Jarrett playing that way let alone anyone else trying to go somewhere else with it. Actually, Bobo Stenson has figured out somewhere great to go with that .

My basic concept of the piano is as a cosmos. I control the space and time of the projectile concrete music object, which is the piano as played by me. it has nothing to do with jazz, even though I am a jazz musician and that is the language I use to paint my pictures. Rather my brain and the piano are one. If you scanned my brain and if the notes I played could be scanned the diagrams would be one. Like Sun Ra, I am a universal musician. I transcend their stupid fucking jazz.

Composition has everything to do with what I do meaning that my playing has way more rigor than a lot of people out here who are supposedly writing compositions. It is way more developed and has way more structural integrity than most of these so called composers even though there is such a heavy improv element to what I do. I defy anyone to say that what I do is not extremely sophisticated. Sonic design is evident in every note and choice I make on my instrument. This improv vs composition talk just needs to fucking stop.

A trio allows me to wear the clothes of a jazz pianist while what I do, syntax and otherwise, is completely another thing. But I understand the clothing of a so called jazz pianist and know how to effect that perception. It's fun.

The specific role of a trio, I don’t know,to have fun.I need to like the people I play with and really want to create something with them based on mutual respect.

My muses are so many and varied. Ive known some weird people in my life and had a very weird education. One of my most important influences was a philosopher and composer in my hometown, Wilmington Delaware, an Afro American named Sunyata, which is actually a Sanskrit word meaning emptiness. Three images he put in my mind as a teenager.

First, he talked a lot about his tai chi teacher and he use to always say his master would rather practice tai chi than eat. That idea was in my mind in the hours and hours of practicing and I always concentrated on focusing chi on the piano.

Second, he talked about an Indian musican whose music was so powerful that when he sang candles would light. I have no idea if that is true but the image was always in my mind.

Third, he always told me that Monk was the model in that he did not give a fuck what all these stupid mother fuckers out here thought. And he instilled in me that I had real originality and a real developed point of view and there would be a lot of stupid mother fuckers in jazz that would not get me. But keep moving forward like they don’t exist because the power of what you do will annihilate them.

In the collaborations I've done over the years, lets just say its fun to see how my piano playing fits into different contexts.There is really nothing else other than that. And also even though I have a completely developed style and a completely developed music that still does not mean that there is still not a lot to learn and everyone has something you can learn. So collaborations are fun and stretch your mind. Of course, at this point I am just interested in doing my own thing. Pianistic considerations don’t exist.It is more ambient considerations, what works in this context

I don’t want to play with anyone else except for the select group of people I play with. I just want to do my own music. I especially don’t want to play with any jazz people, other than the ones im playing with now, especially as a side man. I hear no one in the world with as developed and distinct voice as I have on my instrument for this period in the music.

So why would I play as a sideman for someone else whose music is not as important to this period and jazz going forward in the future as what I'm doing? I mean, who would I play with Wayne Shorter? Yeah, right, give me a break. You have one of those bags to throw up in.

Mr. Shipp will be at the Outpost on August 8th and his trio recording, Harmonic Disorder,
refuses to leave my old CD player.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Free Jazz and the Motherland.

(Dr. Nketia)

As much of the nation prepares for its annual festival of Exceptionalism with pyrotechnic ejacula across summer night skyscapes, I've been poring over statistics and chart porn and boy did I find some beauties.

I like to test assumptions with a bit of research and have been visited with some honest concern over whether all this effort to describe and summarize various inflictions on the idiom is just contributing to the perpetuation of malaise and an unproductive mythos of the artist constituents as perpetual victims.

I'm more optimistic than that and reflective as well so I just finished a search pattern, 'Avante Garde Jazz Problems'. It was surprisingly useful for a number of reasons and I gathered a fat pile of bookmarks to be used at some future time. But I didn't find much of a literature of malaise nor did I find much of any analysis that describes the collision dynamic of Boomer culture and Free Jazz. Maybe I can refine the searching patterns somehow.

The core conflation argument that did garner a number of papers and articles turns on whether it is an angry leftist political expression and I would side with those who would say no with a few qualifications.

The converging array of innovators from many corners of the nation were hardly monolithic and were of many minds but there is a general movement away from the structure stranglehold of interpreted versions of the Great American Song Book.

This was a major nuisance because ASCAP would demand royalties for anything remotely attributable to a standard. Moreover the energy given to mastery of the euro elements of music structure was not necessarily doing wonders for broader cultural acceptance.

And with the arrival of collaborators from other corners of the African Diaspora and the motherland following the creation of the UN and its location in New York, there was greater exposure to new areas for invention potential. It really began with Chano Pozo and Dizzy. The USIS State Department Jazz tours also seeded understanding and interest in the African side of African America.

There were a number of visits to Africa by these Jazz Ambassadors and the outcome led to collaborations in both directions. Art Blakey made a few recordings for Blue Note
that prefigured M'Boom after visits on his own dime in the late 1940s . The Dizzy connection is particularly significant because of his relationship to the Philadelphia community.

I first learned about all of this in U Mass classes with Archie Shepp and Marion Brown. Archie is from Philadelphia and he was brought to U Mass through the auspices of Bill Cosby, also Philadelphian, with help from Fred Tillis and Max Roach.

By the time I ended up floundering around there Profs Shepp and Brown had already prepared a fairly interesting and useful musicology that had the work of Ghanaian Kwabena Nketia as a centerpiece along with readings from social anthropologists such as Melville Herskovits and Social Historians such as Harold Cruse.

"Muntu" by the German scholar Janheinz Jahn was also an important text as was the work of John Storm Roberts.
Lee Morgan's 'Nommo' and Jemeel Moondoc's Ensemble Muntu are both acknowledgments of the value of Jahn's work.

Archie also recorded with Moroccans around the same time they came to the attention of Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones and Randy Weston had a school in Morocco.

The big picture element of African America and its music was provided by Eileen Southern.

The Nonesuch Explorer series launched in 1966 by Teresa Sterne also contributed significantly to creation of a diaspora musicology. The Lyrichord Label was another valuable source of homeland recordings. The ocarina-ish sound that is a feature of the Herbie Hancock hit "Headhunters" is derived from sounds on a Colin Turnbull recording of 'Rain Forest Pygmies'. And then there was an extensive catalog of field recordings from former jazz producer Moses Asch and his Folkways monument.

All the elements for a reconnection of diverse corners of the African Diaspora were thus readily at hand and a subject of keen interest among artists from every region of the US. This was never a secret and was hidden in plain sight from the glib corporate shill posse ever eager to market the whole thing as if it were Marshmallow fluff.

Thus a political element could best be described as an indirect outcome of renewed interest in the homelands and increasing proliferation of access and information between worlds.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mr Lavelle Sums It Up Well.

"Matt is the sweetest most dedicated to the music. Ask him about being the jazz buyer at Tower close to Lincoln Center. He booked players in that spot.

We talked once on a gig about the various mute styling of the Ellington trumpet players. He is a master put it into practice historian/21st cent. Experimenter practitioner."
John Voigt.

As with all of the people who participate in this profile project, Mr. Lavelle is a very deep, kindly human. The real intent of it all is to make that case one profile at a time.

Matt additionally is on a fairly interesting quest, mastery of two instrument classes that couldn't disagree more in terms of embouchure. (Note: for those unfamiliar with music tech, embouchure is the term for how mouths interact with instrument mouth pieces. Trumpetish things want a kind of kiss while reedish things need a kind of grip.)

What brought you to music?

"My grandfather had me sit and listen to symphonies with him as a child,and then playing trumpet in school.I was led to Louis Armstrong's "Back O Town Blues",and my course was launched. "Kind of Blue" came soon after.

Describe your role models, muses and mentors.

"Ornette taught me in person how to find my own musical dna,write my own sound language,and resolve my ideas.Roy Campbell taught me about what the trumpet is and can be in this music. Albert teaches the message about being true to yourself in today's world above all,then its all Coltrane for the spiritual meets the technical and Miles, space and use of dark power in music,(Pluto in astrology).Paul Gonsalves for heart.William Parker is a HUGE influence,then Duke and Mingus."

Describe your community of colleagues and audiences.

"My community is wide but not wide enough. My main partners are Ras Moshe,Francois Grillot, Chris Forbes, Andre Martinez, Hill Greene and everyone from question 2!. I play in NYC almost 90 percent centered around the Brecht Forum and Vision scenes. I'm traveling more and more and I have a small group of fans internationally.We're all like minded people,not afraid of the spiritual power in music."

What are the important elements you apply to your personal approach to performance, repertoire and composition?

"I'm all about telling a story,really, communicating specific spiritual messages and being as real and human as possible.A concert is a group climbing a mountain together,audience and musicians as one. It's a spiritual event.I just played with Sabir Mateen in Syracuse and people left uplifted. The bottom line is to reach the soul. William Parker:'You should only play if you feel you're about to change somebody's life.'"

What role does teaching have in your work?

"I don't formally teach,but have entered the hall of harmelodics with grandmaster Ornette Coleman.I have mos def paid dues as a sideman with Sabir, Steve Swell and William Parker. I myself am personally a metaphysical teacher of sorts and have written extensively about the relationship of music to spirituality."

How have changes in the economy impacted your work?

"I've had a 40 hour a week day job since 1988. I've never been able to survive off of my music, but I have tried!. I've recently started a job where I work for myself at my own hours in an attempt to direct energy towards my music. Survival energy can deplete you and you must be vigilant!"

If you perform beyond your region or overseas, how has that changed over time?

"I have been to overseas several times and its increasing which is what I'm fighting for.Its a totally different world, where EVERYTHING is better across the board.I don't desire to move there yet. But I get why so many of us have for so long."

How has technology and changes in the way music circulates impacted your work?

"I have almost no tech chops and no time and money to hook it up,needs improvement. Business wise,.I was the jazz buyer at Tower Records for several years in NYC. Almost like a plant or spy I pushed my community in front of the main stream and Lincoln Center until Tower went down in flames. Records meant something, cds less.

And now change is forcing all of us to relate to music in a different way. I really care and try very hard to make records that I feel will stand the test of time. I aim for masterpieces when everybody just churns out tons and tons of stuff,too much. I feel my Silkheart cd called Spiritual Power will stand the test of time as one of my definitive works."

Describe your current and potential future projects and collaborations along with things you would like to do.

"I need more time to compose! I just recorded a string quartet with a project called Stars Like Fleas. My main band at the moment is called Morcilla as I attempt to lead a group through my tunes and concepts discovered through spending time with Ornette Coleman.

I'm right on the bridge between Ornette and Trane,as ever. Working and being an important voice on trumpet and bass clarinet is number one.And I play all the time with a lot of people to foster that. Lastly, I'm a good friend of Giuseppe Logan and I'm doing whatever I can to help him,in his own words,'Go out playing!'"