Friday, March 26, 2010

Zinman Unbound.

(Eric Zinman)

1.What brought you to music?

"One is never sure about these things but I know I was singing as early as I could. My parents fought alot when I was young and playing the piano was a kind of solace for me. My mother was my first piano teacher. I began formal studies on the piano at age 7 with Angel Ramon Rivera. Whenever there was music, I couldn't focus on anything else. There are the stereotypic attractions that famous musicians talk about like Ellington saying that his initial interest was in attracting women and I was certainly drawn by the attention and the emotional import of music.

My initial studies were in singing, choir, piano, composition, rock band. I sang boys soprano in opera choir from age 9-11. I always wanted to get closer to this music called "jazz" where you really express yourself on the instrument as opposed to interpreting music. Gradually I began to understand the difference between art and culture.

When I discovered "black music" , I mean all of it, there was no turning back. I'm not sure one can be brought to music through recordings though they are important, so its important to tell you what I saw and the effect it had on me.I was fortunate that although my education was extremely conservative...I was able to see good pianists (mostly prodigies) play the piano. Most of it was, of course, solo.

The jazz that I had seen was mostly lounge music. I didn't hear the real thing until my time at Bennington College with Bill Dixon. He brought a number of musicians from NYC and other places who completely altered my sense of musical reality forever: 1983: William Parker, Marco Eneidi, Dennis Charles, David Ware, Ya Ya (Washington DC), Peter Kowald, John Voigt, Laurence Cook, Mario Pavone etc.

Later in the late 80's when I was going for an MM at NEC I met Marc Liebowitz who organized a series of the music at the Brandeis Winer Wing where the radio station was. I saw Jamil Moondoc, Karen Borca, Beaver Harris, Rashid Bakr, Zane Massey, and many others. I first saw Cecil Taylor at Nightstage in 1987.

I also remember John Voigt brought Sabir Mateen to Boston in the 90's. It is difficult for people to come to the instruments today because there are very few visible role models.When you ask people their favorite athletes they usually have a name for you. But when you ask them who their favorite pianist is, they don't know what to answer, they just play the instrument."

2.Describe your role models, muses and mentors.

"I had jazz teachers in Boston. Most of them did not believe the avant-garde was music. I was inspired by Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley, Lowell Davidson, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Lyons, George Russell, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk Horace Silver to name my favorites. I met Bill Dixon in 1981.

It completely changed my life. Its impossible to sum up what you learn from someone but these points are key. "If you play one note for 20 years, no one will be able to play that note the way you do and from that will emerge a technique, method, and a philosophy". " There is no technique. There are techniques".

The idea that the most authentic expression is the most spontaneous, that everything you do on an instrument has structure, form and content if you do your homework. So I have spent the last 29 years since 1982 finding out what I could do on the piano. There are of course many other influences. From Laurence Cook I continued a concept of sound placement that began with Bill Dixon.

I was very influenced by Nadi Qamar (formerly Spalding Gibbons, Mingus's first piano player)who taught me many dark secrets about the music, the way he would spring into the piano with that dry punchy sound and make the left hand sound like a bass switching strings, minimal use of the pedal.

Like the old timers, Nadi played with the outer and inner locked voicings that would express the melody with that "shout" sound, like Errol Garner, keeping the melody on top and even voicing over the melody, the way Art Tatum would, but he voiced like George Shearing. Most important though, he swang more than any pianist I have ever known personally in terms of metrical time.

After that there were many influences, roommates, friends. Glen Spearman lived with me for a while and I picked up many ideas from him about how to hit the piano in relation to the horn and percussion. I loved his sound and the way he played effortlessly into the altissimo on the tenor making it sound like an alto at times and then doing these chords and shakes in the low register like his mentor Frank Wright. Glen turned me on to Frank Wright, and I may also have received some misinformation about Frank Wright as well as Glen loved to brag. But when it came to the horn he was sincere.

Earlier and for many years I knew Raphe Malik and we did some large ensemble projects which taught me a lot. Raphe was always very generous and we would share the piano and trade chords. I wasn't so interested in playing standards but I learned more about that music from Raphe, ideas that I could use creatively, I mean in terms of how to phrase and how to shift the weight in the phrasing.

My beginnings were with Craig Schildhauer on bass and Laurence Cook on drums. We learned together but Craig and I always looked to Laurence to find the way, like Laurence said: its like running around the block looking for an address; most of the time you don't find it. But when you do, ahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!....

We tried every way we could to create compositions, from conventional notation to attacking the situation instantly and all methods, chords, melodies, rhythms, themes like Laurence's famous Sabrina or channeling the founding fathers or Hotel Germain with the telephone on the floor tom. You always expected it to ring and and unexpectedly Laurence would pick up the phone and answer it.

To my eyes and ears it was pure surrealist magic in music, Laurence playing under a white sheet with red splotches on it,a Webern row. Craig tuning his bass to a shortwave radio.

I discussed with Laurence the difference between human speechlike gestures and mechanical structures, different types of endings, a sudden spatter or dissolution. Laurence also talked to me about Lowell Davidson saying that in the end Lowell had reduced himself to playing small intervals no greater than a tritone in each hand.

Laurence was always a romantic and continuously said ," play the pretty chords" "like Bill Evans" which used to annoy me especially since I thought Laurence was more inventive than Paul Motian. But of course in all the good music we try to appreciate the subtleties versus the niceties.

Bill Dixon had told me about Lowell and had asked me to seek him out.It was just a coincidence I guess but everybody I knew, knew Lowell and had worked with him, painter Linda Clave , cellist Glynis Lomon, Laurence Cook, John Voigt, Craig Schildhauer.

I mean it felt like I was surrounded by Lowell though I had never heard him especially when Linda Clave showed me a painting called 'Cities' which was based on a Lowell piece called 'Cities' and Dixon told me I had some of his sound which of course made me very nervous since I had no idea what he was talking about.

I got to meet Lowell and talk to him about Boston musicians and music.To me in a certain context Lowell was extremely lucid though I would not say linear. Lowell answered all my questions and even laughed with me about my awkward encounters in academia learning certain techniques like Madame Chaloff. Lowell clearly had an infamous reputation in academic circles which is what Boston is about musically and that made me feel better and also gave me courage in knowing I was right about certain things especially in regard to pedagogy.

One musician who will remain nameless said that Lowell always tried to get Madame Challoff's sound but never could. I knew this was horseshit but I wanted to hear what Lowell had to say and he said exactly the right thing because studying with someone and learning from them is not the same as imitating them. So Lowell said "They played scales, I studied with her" and Lowell was very proud.To me that encounter was a miracle, in such a cold academic/insurance town like Boston.

I liked Lowell's way of combining triads in different inversions.He was also extremely lyrical with a great balance of tension and release.John Voigt gave me a number of recordings on cassette of him with Laurence and Lowell.The spacing and interaction was something I had never heard in any ensemble.
My first recording called the Eric Zinman Trio had no acceptance or distribution.

Later John Voigt joined the group and I called it Eric Zinman Ensemble. I had been a fan of John Voigt's music since 1983 when I first saw him play with Bill Dixon. I loved his speechlike side stepping swinging way ,extremely sensitive to every dynamic, nuance, inflection and when I found out he was a poet, it made even more sense to me, plus John is full of ideas to create music.

Though obviously I've been inspired by musicians, over the years I have not been inspired by the music scene so much. My biggest influences in my life have been poetry and painting and more recently theater because of my work with Ian MacKinnon. My second recording was accepted by Cadence and it seems well distributed.I have continued to learn from everybody I play with, however I am a pianist and that limits me in many ways. That's why I took up the euphonium.

Whats important about the euphonium is that my thinking in music is always orchestral so the euphonium is a very useful instrument with a less common but strong supportive color. I like doing these very simple orchestral sketches with this horn.

Music is the only thing I have in my life. I worked at many jobs, like you have said, one where you focus on a task you don't care about, I mean like cab or dishwashing where you can still think about music.

When I look back most of my life has been spent alone, thinking. I'm an only child and not so social an animal though in recent years I've gotten better at being social and my work in business certainly helped socialize me.

I realized if I was going to be taken seriously as a musician I would have to leave Boston/Cambridge and travel, something that is very difficult to do with the piano. My first trip to Europe was in 2006. I was very well received in Berlin, Paris, and Vienna and I got to play with (in my opinion) some of the best players in Europe, Ernst Petrowsky, Jan Roder, Thomas Rehnert,Michael Griener, Benjamin Duboc, Didier Lasserre, Mario Rechtern, Fritz Novotny, Sepp Mitterbauer and more.However that did not get me plane tickets right away.

My teacher Bill Dixon exposed me to the European school. I first met some of these players in 1983 and through the 80's. Certain American players have shown their disinterest and even disdain for the European school but I feel it is the future.Perhaps my thinking is more political than just aesthetic. Right now nationalism is very strong all over the world. Music has the power to cut through that and change the way people interact.

So (it is) as Coltrane said "a force for good", because though it may be an American music, it is increasingly an international music.Perhaps it is the contrast of US foreign policy. Art and music are emotionally believable in a way that media and culture are not.

I learned many interesting things about art and politics in Europe. Culture is political influence through the feelings of the people. So it is said that Art speaks to you and I, but "culture" speaks to us. Most of the money for the arts in the US goes to culture meaning the Symphony Orchestra, museums, ballet etc.

When I read the interview you did with John Voigt he made the point that the widows of the robber barons gave their gelt to the symphony orchestra's, museums, ballet etc because they wanted their influence to continue. The BFA gave approx. 96 million dollars in MA in 2007. So contrary to what people say, there is a lot of money in the arts but artists receive very little of it."

3. Describe your community of colleagues and audiences.

"You have to be grateful for what audience you get. The problem in one art is the same in all the arts. I think Lola makes the right point. We must take joy in keeping this music alive. And she's right that there is a devoted audience.

So far my favorite audience has been Paris, each time they are completely silent and when the music is over they make more noise than anybody.

Though there is a devoted audience, in a transient city like Cambridge that is always changing. The audiences we've had have been extremely kind. For me they were larger in 1995 than now. Recently a number of musicians in Boston have really tried hard to get things going again and I am grateful for that. Its an honor to have really fine musicians in the audience. There seems to be a whole new line of fine musicians who take to this music with fire and that makes living here a lot more fun and exciting.

I described some of my colleagues in other questions but I left out Glynis Lomon and Syd Smart. I have known Syd since 1983 but did not play regularly with him until 2005. There were two drummers I had always wanted to play with, Laurence Cook and Syd Smart.So I feel I have lived my dream.I built my work around Laurence Cook.That was my beginning.

Raqib Hassan was the only musician ever to hire me for a band in the US. He hired me three times and fired me three times. Raqib's sound on the tenor was always a thrill for me, a unique sound and I used to love the way he would play whole solos in chords.I agree with Forbes (Graham) that Raqib's music is about peace on Earth as he so often says and that also attracted me.

I met Glynis in 1989 when I lived in JP. Bill Dixon had asked me to contact her and I did.The first time I didn't relate to her playing at all. I mean I was still under the spell of culture.I had done music since I was a kid and I didn't believe that the cello could or should sound like that.

Glynis is an anomaly (check out the astronomy definition of anomaly: the angular distance of a planet or satellite from its last perihelion or perigree) .She is known as the cellist who stands, as with bassists who sit on stools and play in symphony orchestras.

When you stand and play you get a different sound. Everyone knows she studied with Bill Dixon in the 70's and has recently been a part of his orchestra in several concerts and at least one recording but what people may not know is that Bill Dixon played the cello at one time and even recorded a film score entirely with him overdubbing all his own cello playing. I think the film is called the 'Wealth of a Nation' done in the 60's.

Bill Dixon knows what he wants from the cello and Glynis learned to play with all the instruments in Bill Dixon's ensemble equally, whether its playing fourths with the piano which you know is not easy for an instrument tuned in fifths or duets with percussion.

She has a dry sound more akin to a wind instrument, so she can play long tones with any wind instrument so it sounds like a section. no french romantic stuff and no prisoner to culture.She doesn't overdo the vibrato so she can blend more easily if she wants to.

She is equally at home with percussion and no one I know gets a sound like Glynis in the high register on any instrument.Glynis also is completely contemporary and uses the whole instrument with an enormous variety of color, rhythm,register, line, pizzicato long/short and wonderful bounce bowing.

She told me (and I happen to agree), that in formal concert music there is often a tendency to go for A SOUND or THE SOUND especially with string instruments which is a pristine rounded vibrato sound even as a soloist, though Glynis thought that Rostropovich was the exception and I once saw Rostropovich play and was surprised by the variety of colors that he could make within a phrase.

I think Syd Smart was one of Milford Graves longest standing students but I might need to verify that.Some may know that he played, toured and recorded with Sam Rivers in the 70's and performed with Bill Dixon in Vienna in the 80's, Jimmy Lyon's Box set and the recently released recording with Raphe Malik and Frank Wright which is really an incredible document of his playing from that period.

I think I covered the releases that are currently available.Syd understands where I'm coming from so he is very easy for me to play with. I like the impulse he creates with each sound, the way he uses his hands also on the trap set, the sense of surprise with sudden compounding rhythms, a dynamic subtlety that's very intense but rarely loud.

I worked for Clair Mallardie at Harvard in their dance program as an accompanist. I learned many things from Clair about performing and art. She said an artist has only two strengths, their humility, and their vulnerability.

I have come to believe that the best way to reach an audience is not the way of the entertainer by giving people what they want or trying to impress you but through your humanity which includes your humility and vulnerability and one concert that struck me where I think we felt that maybe there were some people in the audience who were not digging what we were playing (call me psychic for knowing this) and Syd suddenly left the drumset and continued to play the drums just by walking into the audience and using his feet , hands and voice and you felt this warm feeling because he wasn't trying to impress you.

He was just sharing deeply and intensely his feelings and as he got close to certain people in the audience I saw several of them smile like they felt it.Another time in Pittsfield recently he just stopped us and said "this is too serious" and began to tell this story about an entertainer named Penis Van Lesbos and had the audience laughing ridiculously. Glynis was not too happy.

Initially I was laughing because I needed to laugh that night (I'm also trying to practice nonserious therapy )and I guess I was impressed because it worked, though they all left after 30 minutes.They must have thought of us like some traveling circus act. So of course you can't win all the time ( at least we weren't singing Raw Hide while people threw bottles, like in the Blues Brothers movie). One more story of this nature deserves to be told.

As you may know when you start out in music, you invite friends and family, later on you know better because unless you play for people you don't know, you're not really a performer. One evening at the Willow Jazz Club, I had invited my relatives to see what I was doing.

They all started to talk while Laurence was playing. Laurence's approach to this was not so humble. He put on a boom box of an ailing distorted recording of Elvin Jones with Coltrane on cassette and proceeded to eat a sandwich on stage by the boom box while my family and relatives talked.Laurence finished the sandwich turned off the boom box and proceeded quite suddenly to imitate the sound of the drums on the boom box.

I've already said a lot about Mario Rechtern online he is gradually being recognized for his contribution, though its a bit late as always.
I should also say something about a record that I'm fond of that I made with Glynis Lomon and Blaise Siwula and two drummers: William Buchanan and Hugo Manuschevich.

Blaise is among the few people that called me and wanted to work with me and we did a number of sessions and concerts that led to a CD I called the THE GREAT DIVIDE which I was very happy with.The piano is a bit ambient sounding but it doesn't bother me.I tried to be like glue in that recording feeding the dialogue between Glynis and Blaise.

I don't think there were any solos of mine on that. I really liked the density, fleetness and fire in Blaise's playing and he was easy to work with and is a very sensitive ensemble player. Blaise also introduced me to Mario Rechtern. COMA, directed by Blaise Siwula is also a very positive force in NYC."

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

"What you practice has to come out of your ensemble experiences. I think of myself as an ensemble player. Initially I am not a fan of solo playing unless it encompasses these experiences. I use Bill Dixon's definition for composition:
"The assembling of materials generally accessible to everyone into a new order." I like this definition because it crosses disciplines.

It is not acceptable to academic composers. I am not a fan of repertoire though I give in a little. I was asked by Laurence and John to create compositions and provide guidelines and so I tried my best to comply. I have always kept sketch books. I also listen back to many sessions and often create pieces from those selections.

But each piece is supposed to help you get to the next thing or idea you are working toward. This involves understanding and contemplating what the musicians in your ensemble do and what you can do as a composer to make them sound their best i.e getting the most from them and imposing the least on them. I can't explain beyond that."

5.What role does teaching have in your work?

"Because I only teach at an elementary level, its role is to reinforce fundamental materials that all musicians use. Everybody knows what a major scale is so we're all classically trained. The question is more ' How can the instrument function in the contemporary (present) ensemble, based on what's been accomplished in 100 years?

As you know every new work of art changes the way we perceive the old, so in my opinion history is only useful in relation to this question. Rhythm is still the unexplored territory in music. So then I say that's how music should be taught, in relation to the present ensemble. I think most creative musicians would agree with me.

6. How have changes in the economy impacted your work?

"Because so little is offered, I'm not sure yet."

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

"It has improved for me since 2006 as people get to know who I am and what I do. I was able to get more opportunities and money but I think that is mostly through musicians and not promoters. There are some but not many reviews in their languages. Several times people have asked for information about me and I send it out and hear nothing back so now I don't do that."

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

"The internet seems to have made my career in some ways, but that can be deceptive as internet presence does not always translate into high paying gigs. Ayler records in Sweden has been good to me and has brought some reviews. As you know the-improvisor has been online for over 10 years now."

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

"I have no special plans other than the projects I am currently working. I have generally led my own groups. Its only recently that people have asked me to do things. When I return from Europe I would like to perform an electric concept that I've been working on with Laurence.

It seems to stem back to 1992 when I was doing some electronic music with Laurence Cook and Marc Leibowitz. We were using a casio sampler and also an old patch analog moog snythesizer with amplified acoustic guitar and piano. One other project I want to finally get to is solo piano. I'm creating sketches for this and I am using several drawing/paintings by Linda Clave."

(Eric Zinman and Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Charles Parker and Boston, a Road Trip.

Fifty five years ago this month saw the end of Charles Parker on the 12th. He'd be nearly 90 if he yet lived. I recently got the Uptown CD 'Charlie Parker Boston 1952'. It also has some tracks from 1954 but both dates were at a South End Club called the Hi-Hat that was a few doors away from where Lowell Davidson and John Voigt lived as teens then. I have no clue which building housed the place, maybe it's where a pizza joint is now.

But, poring over the extensive liner note data from Doctor Sunenblick and Bob Blumenthal, I was struck by how Massachusetts seemed to be Bird's home away from home and his visits are almost like some minor echo of the Great Awakening movement that swept the area in the early1800s. Mr. Parker packed places up here. And he played in some odd and seemingly improbable venues. 

A personal favorite was a New Years eve gig in 1947 with Miles and Max Roach on board at the Red Roof Ballroom in Revere on the honky tonk beach. I wonder if my friend Cook's mom Charlotte was there with her sister Barbara who would end up being the voice teacher at New England Conservatory. Charlotte and Barbara lived in Revere at the time and they were among the young of the time who flocked to Bird gigs. (The Velvet Underground also played in some dump at Revere Beach in another time...our version of Coney Island.)

Charlie Parker played all over the place in the Commonwealth. He did a 5 city road trip with Serge Chaloff down old Route 9 hitting Worcester, Springfield, Holyoke and Northampton. He ended up at McCann's in Leominster with a plastic alto, at Fall River, Milford and oddest of all, Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire. And he really was like some bringer of the word here as a whole generation of locals got to work with him. I wonder if Tip O'Neill saw him with Dave McKenna? How about Jack Kennedy and his brothers?

The most interesting gigs of all were in Framingham and were after hours fetes hosted by a genial retired cop named named Eddie Curran. He had a restaurant called Christy's there and became a way station for many when up here. Wardell Gray was there one night. There was always lots of food and drinks on the house.  

And then there was the gig that wasn't. He was scheduled to play at Storyville a few days after his last on March 12th, 55 years ago.

Looking back  on it all it is interesting to think about how much Bird brought to Boston as most of the founding faculties of area music schools such as Berklee were Parker acolytes. His final years were like musical evangelizing and sowing seeds of lore that built the period when it became a listening music in its own right and no longer yoked to rump propulsions of ballroom dancing. 

And Boston probably was a godsend when his cabaret card was revoked in New York in a time before loft and art space gigs, well after rent party gigs. He was welcomed with impressive enthusiasm. Maybe a fun project might be to map the Bird New England Road Trip to the locations in cases where they are known. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Matthew Shipp: 4D

Update note. Mr Shipp will be featured by the BBC tomorrow, 3/8.

In all the roiling Shipp-troversy, there is a trend toward focus on his expressed exasperation with lopsided compensation and conditions issues while tip toeing around what he's actually up to with a piano. All manner of scribbler acrobatics have ensued of which, the funniest is probably the Utne Reader guy's crack at mimicry of Fox 'gotcha journalism' by juxtaposing two general philosophical outlook statements by Mr Shipp and a frequent target of his derision, the uber pompous Mr. Jarrett.

Poor Utne Reader guy is seemingly so excited at his stab at gotcha contrivance that he forgets to consider how similar philosophical outlooks can drive very different outcomes depending on the aims of the respective outlook holders. And yet that should be the heart of the matter which 
4D addresses.

Mr. Shipp is essentially the anti Jarrett which to me is a very good thing. Matthew manages to cram more engagement and stimulation into several short minutes of a piece than Jarrett wrings from an hour of soporific minor melody cliche fests and postures. In fact, if you are stuck in some situation where Jarrett drool is close to inducing narcolepsy, a few minutes of Mr. Shipp works like an ear opener.

One only has to note that the entire release consists of fairly short pieces, 16 of them, each quite distinct even if there are some groupings of commonalities to indicate specific areas where Mr. Shipp finds particularly lucid musings. This short piece thing is a subtle if pointed assertion about pianistry options. There are ten original works and six classics.

Once upon a time, as a young dumb kid, I actually paid real money for the brand new Jarrett at Koln ECM double record extravaganza and boy I thought I had something. God, did that thing ever turn out to suck. It would put Cook's brother Cliffie, an innocent bystander, into a drowsy mode of a hot summers day and then we'd have to unravel his snoring. I gave it away to a harmless dancer friend as the dancer circuit does like stuff like that to prance to.

It pretty well marked the beginning of the end for any confidence I might have in the ECM 'brand' and they tended to reinforce the trend with each new vapid pastel monstrosity they trotted out from Burton, Metheny, Eberhard Weber and so on. And Jarrett hovered above it all like their ultimate poster child for coma inducing rambles. But that came out in the wash as it has a home as bed music on the Weather Channel.

4D, Mr. Shipp has further embarked on an engaging balance of effort at both the 'pianistic' side of the instrument as generally found in the works of such orishas as Tatum, James P. Johnson and Waller and the 'ensemble' side of the instrument first invented and codified by Earl Hines and brought to stunning levels by Bud Powell.

The run of 
4D moves through these two modes and at times skillfully interweaves them in a single piece in ways done by very few. Phineas Newborn, an early practitioner of this interweaving was derided in his day by period dumbos to the point of having a nervous breakdown. His crime was being too 'facile', code for 'we don't get it'. Matthew is in some ways a beneficiary of ground Mr. Newborn broke as our time's version of facile is more likely to be the simple minded flashiness and hollow ostentation one finds over in Jarrett land.

There is some thought given to sequencing and 
4D is like a miniature of miniatures, nearly every area of Matthews growth as a thinking pianist gets its hint in the opening. It is well tinged with blue with the melodic front and center. There is a meandering of slackwater stream stretches over tidewater terrain with surprises around each bend. Mr. Shipp does like to startle.

2. The Crack in the Piano's Egg.
The pianistic side rises here with deft darting turns on a dime bubbling through with these distinct remarkable abilities to turn melodic runs inside out in an instant to startle in a whole other way.

3. Equilibrium.
This turns to the hypnotic options of trance state conveyance with a melodic kernel that has a distant collective memory echo in the opening figure used to launch episodes of The Twilight Zone. It attends to the Hines side of pianistry laden with a deft left hand chord comp set against right hand flight ranging over the keyboard with touches of wistfulness interlaced.

4. Teleportation.
The sequence pendulum swing back to the Tatum side with elaborately interweaving syncopation fully engaging both hands contrasted by now and then chunky block chord clusters to cover surprise and then transitions to asymmetry and sudden solitary melody percolations before returning to the interweave kicked up a few notches in tempo.

5. Dark Matter.
The faded ghost of Giant Steps wafts here although with every other tone knocked out and transformed into a work of big sturdy cluster chords.

6. Stairs.
There is some companionship to Dark Matter in this with a more reflective, searching countenance and particularly vivid dynamic contrasts of striking suddenness and much ringing.

7. Jazz Paradox.
Note: If poor old Jarrett had to do this in the time allotted he'd probably go catatonic.This is a rush of acrobatics and sonic somersaults with an initial pianistic lean involving a liquidity of flow as of melody poured as it does a spider scamper toward a sudden shift to a minimalist percussive moment redolent of production line manufacturing contraptions to invoke tension before racing off to more melodic percolation of variation waves.

8. Blue Web In Space.
There are punchy pointillist punctuations to underscore the piece shaped with Ellington echo's in a new millennium form. The micro staccato expression of the melody momentum brings to bear yet a different scope for meticulousness.

9. What Is This Thing Called Love.
Leaps in with exuberant playfulness of genuine affection for the parent melody and trends toward the pianistic with clave makeovers that prove there is still considerable potential for expression in that timeless corner of piano craft.

10.Autumn Leaves.
This chestnut gets a lush ringing send up with full force floor shaking of a thing ringing robustly. Mr. Shipp offers up a new benchmark to those who have passed this way before. No wonder the majestic Ms McPartland finds so much to like about their get togethers.

11. Sequence and Vibration.
The simple title masks the likely role of a centerpiece statement. Where many of the compositions and renditions lean either toward the pianistic or the ensemble model, this works very well to incorporate both and is the longest work on the disc. It roams from introspective to exuberant. Melody cascades meet sudden tensions from percussive fixed points to be released into leaps and bounds.

12. Frere Jacques.
Having some fun, I see. It's an urgent appeal to get Jack outa bed to meet some crushing onrushing contingency. The playful choice of such a universal childs ring game melody is a great way to make another benchmark and connect to people. I imagine he could probably give 'Happy Birthday' a pretty impressive overhaul too. The arc of the rendition runs from chordal rumble to spiky pointillistics.

13. Prelude To A Kiss.
Blue tinged lushness and an honest romanticism make this a companion to Autumn Leaves. The Ellington immersion is well seeded with capacities to startle throughout.

14. What A Friend We Have In Jesus.
Succinct, glorious 'old school' gospel is served up fervently with earnest sincerity in case anyone might be wondering about his grounding in 'tradition' and it's subtly short and sweet at something that Jarrett would milk for an hour.

15. Primal Harmonic.
Another understated title is applied to lushness and fullness of sounds flowing like blowing snows of yesteryears outside wintry urban windows whirling toward tomorrow.

16. Greensleeves.
More fun with an old war horse makes a perfect capper to the fireworks and it's a floor shaker. These are some urgent thunderous Green Sleeves.

All in all, Mr. Shipp makes his case for the merits of his work and the exasperations born of its inept reception and sub par compensation. Those who would make much fuss over controversy miss the merit boat unless they actually sit down and focus on the work first. They got it ass backward in a clamor over empty social protocol observance that is rightly a minor footnote alongside the offerings Mr. Shipp consistently makes from the center of a piano stool.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

John Voigt. Outsider Bass.

John Voigt.
Outsider Bass.
Moonfood Records.
MF 0010.

This is unique on a number of levels beginning with the hand painted covers and 
John's own liner notes that are like snippets of his literary aspect.  The cover painting is its own layer as it effaces the background of John performing in front of Pollack paintings exhibited at the old ICA location

There is an aspect of Musique Concrete, not in the sense that any of the sounds have been tape manipulated but in the very astute use of multi-track and emerging digital recording to convey ideas in times and places of slender resources. It is, on the whole, a studio project and serves as a vivid exposition of 
John's thinking as a composer in some oscillation between composition and improvisation.

Then we have his capacity to make a drum kit of the thing and the appearance of one of his cartoon voices which rival the potentials of Mel Blanc.
John gave me a summary of its aspects in an aside at a recent gallery show with Matt Lavelle and Syd Smart. It consists of a set of core metaphors that loom large in his method evolution. The pieces are metaphors for defining moments and music phenomena that draws his ear. They have elements of love-hate tensions.

Overall, the structure is like a suite within a suite that circles back. In the beginning and end there is Charles Parker. The pendulum swings back and forth between the plucked and the bowed, between the percussive and harmonic with visits to melodic deftly dispersed.

It is likely to be a valuable reference for all string players seeking promptings for invention and for the rest of us who keep our ears fully engaged, it repays visits very well.

1. First Intimation of the Death of Charles Parker.

"..for solo bass with bow, (hair & nut). Extrapolated from King Pleasure's lyrics to Parker's Mood wherein the lyricist foresaw the demise of the father-creator of modern jazz."

This is one of the few pieces that might be part of Johns performance array. He made it from metaphor memories of hearing King Pleasure early in life. Laying in a crib with King Pleasure on the radio puts vocals and lyrics in focus and the instruments might seem to be an alien churning.

2. In Homage of Krupa: In Which A Traveling Band of Basses Plays the Music of Old Jazz Cats...

"..the string bass can be the most handsome of percussion instruments. The full subtitle of the piece is: 
In which a traveling band of 6 bass playing mantises jam on the music of the Old Jazz Cats to a non-existent audience of fertile (yet non-orgasmic) Black Widow Spiders in preparation for an engagement at Carnegie Hall. The music is meant to be a vehicle for jitterbugging."
"Swing, Swing Swing" is said to be the all time best selling jazz song at the peak of its popularity as a national craze. John spent months listening to it to apprehend its core and then made a multi track percussion suite of bass sounds as it played through studio headphones.

3. Contemplation of A Blue Egyptian Goddess.
"The piece explores the bases (sorry) of all music: Harmonics. The string length of the instrument enables the production of a full range of such overtones. Harmonics form the theoretical and practical foundation of scales, chords and timbres Second, and in a more metaphysical vein, the goddess referred to is, as John Anthony West writes,"a personification of universal principles, functions and processes. The Egyptians viewed the world as an entirely conscious creation, an aspect of divine consciousness>" However goddess need not be the word used in the title. Guardian Angel, Higher Self, or (the Hebrew) Maggid all cover the same ground (of being)."
This intends to upend new age trends by actually embedding substance found in the real properties of sound and the mystery attending it all. It is a very lush and wide ranging merge of bass sound properties and recording potential at that time. It is a regular thicket of partials and other lurkings in the overtone biome. The total bow focus and elongated tone voicings convey this stillness of a nocturne from which rises subtle flutterings of seabirds distantly heard. There's many a twitter here.

4.Biker Bass: In Search of Heavy Metal.
"How far can the string bass go? This is head bashing heavy metal rock music, or a parody of it. All sounds [noises] are made by five acoustic basses with their pickups, naturally occurring feedbacks and distortion button amplifiers. The bass player in front sings. The essence of this music is the excitement ecstasy of riding a motorcycle full out down a highway. Here the bass becomes a Harley Davidson Hog. (Could such a tune become the anthem of the Hell's Angels?) As the song says  Do it!-Do It!-Do It!."
This dense layered mass readily sums up the world of edgy noise rock things with sonic age and the land of Branca. John worked the controls and listened to headphones as Peter the engineer has an aversion to this sort of thing. As a sequencing trick, it explodes like a seal bomb after the contemplative harmonic wash before it but sets things up well for what follows. It has this deliberately stupid plodding beat to distill the essence of jackboot thug stomp as Johnenvisions it.

It could be mistaken for a lost out take from a Big Black record save for that voice, one of many used by 
John for word pieces he does with bass to support his literary element. As a straight narrator/reader he has few peers and probably could have made a whole other career of voice overs.

"Based on Bartok's 5th String Quartet (but none could tell). Another concept: the inner child. First alone, unattended, in a crib (at times we all were). Then playing stick ball. Then a plaintively singing duet. Then a reprise of crying, now for four basses. The form for the second and fourth movement is an arch.

which creates a unison harmonic-rhythm (as in choirs of primitives, madmen and geniuses). Listen, then you'll understand what I mean."
I should mention that I'm utterly unfamiliar with the Bartok as my set of the quartets was something I gave to WMFO in the 80s and I need to get another version. So I'll just run with dumb janitorial asides on what the parts conjure.

5. Cry.

These are some long sobs. It would be perfect dinner music for the segment in The Tin Drum where the characters go to Schmoo's Onion Parlor, a bistro where patrons immerse themselves in onion fumes to engage in cathartic sobs. The bowed melancholia is nonetheless larded with a low end sonic fullness and wealth.

6. Ball.

Plucky pluckage package of improvised bats and balls in alleys forlorn but brightened by the game engagement.The percussive rises again.

7. Sad.

This also plucks well and broods a bit. Tones are bent every which way. Fat strum clusters dart this way and that before shifting to rolling plucks. He has a hammering thing going on with the fret hand that must be a handful for thick bass strings.

8. Cry-Reprise.

Jeeze, the opening bow sweep jars well if such a thing can be conveyed. Startle comes to mind. There is a melodic motif that hints at Amazing Grace. It seems to involve a couple of basses.

9. Second Intimation of the Death of Charles Parker.
"...for pizzicato solo, formed from the material of the First Intimation."

The first and last form bookends of capabilities in miniatures with this pluckiness to answer the bowing whereby it began.