Posts filed under ‘blather’
Bill Bruford’s Earthworks — self-titled (E.G., 1987)
It starts like a declaration of purpose. Hey, listeners, it’s JAZZ time.
But it’s also symbolic. Earthworks was a key discovery in my early explorations of jazz, bridging the gap between prog rock and what would come next.
I bought Earthworks’ self-titled album on vinyl from a short-lived Cupertino record store, where it caught my eye in a display. This was during a time when I’d been scouting for solo prog projects, picking up albums by Tony Banks and Steve Hackett and, the most treasured find of them all, Chris Squire. It intrigued me to think that Bill Bruford had formed a jazz band, so I gave it a chance.
Earthworks songs like “Thud” trace crooked melodies educated by Monk — unusual stuff that throws you off balance but becomes easy to process on a second or third listen. That’s part of what I liked about prog — the process of “decoding” a song to find out what was going on. Earthworks turned out to have just the right mix to tickle the prog and jazz portions of my brain.
My favorite tracks had bouncy melodies and odd time signatures. The 13/8 of “My Heart Declares a Holiday” is really not so complicated, but I sure loved tapping my fingers along to it, especially the bassline in the “chorus.”
Earthworks also gave me a dose of the untethered improvisation that would be in my future. “Emotional Shirt,” in particular, goes through a speedy jazz-improv stretch before plunging back into Django Bates’ heavy-handed composition. It’s not 100% free, as it’s anchored by Mick Hutton’s furious bass rhythm, but it’s still something that was just outside my grasp at the time.
Future Earthworks albums didn’t capture my attention the way the debut did. I appreciated Bruford’s synth-drum experiments, which were producing new rhythms not possible for regular keyboardists, but the ’80s were ending, and the synths were already sounding a bit dated. And the melodies on future albums generally didn’t click with me the way something like Iain Ballamy’s “Thud” did.
In that sense, Earthworks contributed to the musical restlessness — the dissatisfaction with “jazz” — that eventually led me to Tim Berne and creative music. But this wasn’t a dead end. I’m a fan of the band’s first three albums (the ones with Ballamy and Bates — Bruford had essentially co-opted their band to form Earthworks), and I went back to “Bridge of Inhibition” occasionally at the start of Stanford’s academic quarters. If I’m ever on the air again, even for a one-off show, it’s almost certain to get a spin.
I’ll be devoting a series of occasional blog posts to some of the albums that I found early in my creative-music travels.
We’re mostly talking about a period between 1998 and 2004 — in terms of when I discovered the albums, not in terms of when they were released. Some predate my conscious interest in creative music. Many of them are out of print. Some were lucky finds, others more deliberate, but all of them helped further my education in creative music and jazz.
What they have in common is that they have stories.
The very first story — the zeroth album on this list, in a sense — is Low Life: The Paris Concert (Part 1), by Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. That’s the album that really catapulted me into avant-jazz — and it’s a story that I’ve already told.
On to other things, then. I’ll be doing 10 or 20 of these “back pages” posts at irregular intervals in the coming months or years. The first official installment is about a bridge between my prog-rock and free-jazz lives, and you’ll find it written up here.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s impressed by Nick Di Geronimo’s bass playing but mystified by his identity.
Di Geronimo appears on three Andrew Cyrille albums, either with the band Maono or with Cyrille’s eponymous quartet: Metamusicians Stomp (Black Saint, 1978), Special People (Soul Note, 1981), and The Navigator (Soul Note, 1983). And like the person who started this discussion thread in 2008, I was captivated by his playing on Metamusicians Stomp.
But what else did he do? The few responses don’t provide any answers:
Cyrille must have really liked him, though, and you can tell why. From Metamusicians Stomp, take a listen to what Di Geroninmo contributes to the track “5-4-3-2.”
Nice work, Nick, wherever you are.
(More on Andrew Cyrille.)
DR. MiNT — Voices in the Void (Orenda, 2017)
When you volunteer at a radio station, a lot of music passes through your ears. You forget a lot of it of course — but you retain a lot more than you’d think.
I remember, for instance, learning about all kinds of great Southern California musicians through the labels pfMentum and Cryptogramophone. In the Vinny Golia and Nels Cline camp, for instance, there’s bassist Steuart Liebig, who produced lots of creative stuff, from the chamber-jazz suits of Pomegranate to three CDs from his out-jazz bar band, The Mentones. (“Bar band” is my description; they rock out and even have a harmonica player.)
Liebig’s prolific nature helped him stick in memory, but others managed to stay there despite crossing my orbit only once, often because the music was good and the CD was at my fingertips in rotation for nine weeks, like a reliable friend.
That’s how the name DR. MiNT stuck in my head. It’s a catchy name, but I also really liked their CD, Visions and Nightmares (pfMentum, 2008; available on eMusic and Bandcamp). Here’s how I described it at the time:
Mix of free jazz and psych guitar in a multifaceted jam. Many tracks start off with a low-level burble of electronics, synth, and drums, a bit like experimental dance electronica. Then, the sax and trumpet come in for some free-jazz sounds often backed by a solid and ferocious drum beat. Some nutty guitar also adds a psych/fusiony kind of craziness. Great stuff with a fresh sound.
But after its time in rotation was up, DR. MiNT dropped off my radar.
Fast-forward nearly 10 years …
After being contacted by the trio Sound Etiquette, I checked out their label, Orenda — which turned out to be carrying the torch for some of the Southern California creative-jazz scene. One of the bands on their roster turned out to be Dr. MiNT — and memories of Visions and Nightmares came flooding back.
It got even better: Dr. MiNT was still active. They just dropped new album, Voices in the Void (officially released on Jan. 27), and they’re performing Sunday night, Jan. 29, as part of the Orenda third-anniversary bash, being held at Los Angeles’ Blue Whale jazz club.
Jazz horns, funk bass, psychedelic guitar, a touch of metal, occasional flashes of electronics — it’s all here on Voices, as is a new strategy that’s paying off handsomely: Unlike their older albums, this one is not fully improvised. Instead, on-the-spot improvisations were smoothed over to create compositions.
That’s basically the description of a normal free-jazz band, I know (although other artists might groom the compositions more, whereas DR. MiNT tries to preserve the suddenness of it all). But I like that they’re trying a different approach — and I like the result, which comes across sharply focused.
Much as I enjoyed Visions and Nightmares, I have to admit it drags sometimes. Long-form improvisations do benefit from quiet stretches, but it’s tricky to keep the momentum and “storyline” going while recharging. DR. MiNT didn’t fully achieve that on Visions.
Voices in the Void is tighter. “Down to One” is a healthy blast, opening with a very brief horn fanfare before letting Gavin Templeton’s free-funk sax and Alex Noice’s rock-out guitar take over.
Caleb Dolister’s snappy drum work has a lot to do with DR. MiNT’s sound. He’s the battery driving “Down to One” and the power punch behind the blasting midtempo of “Nymbists.” As that track turns jazzy, with criss-crossing horns, Dolister downshifts nicely to reset the mood while keeping the sound crisp.
“spacerobot[dance]” shows off a funky beat dolled up with a touch of EDM (garbly electronic sounds possibly generated by guitar). Templeton and trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom deliver inspired solos over Sam Minaie’s rolling, synth-like bassline.
“n-drift” is terrifically clean and bright — an ace trumpet solo gets augmented with fusion-esque guitar and sprinkles of electronics, and it’s a really nice moment when the band flows into a rolling composed segment. Below, see a live performance of this one from the Blue Whale last year.
So that’s been my re-introduction to DR. MiNT and my introduction to Orenda records. The band members are featured on plenty of other Orenda releases, so there’s a lot to explore in there.
As for pfMentum and Cryptogramophone, they’re still fighting the good fight. pfMentum founder Jeff Kaiser has left California but still releases albums at a prolific rate; the label’s latest features Bay Area electronics wizard Tim Perkis. Violinist Jeff Gauthier has slowed down with Cryptogramophone, but the label is gearing up for the March 10 release of Alex Cline’s latest, Ocean of Vows.
Hat tip: Avant Music News.
It was a passing mention on Avant Jazz News that got me to seek out François Tusques’ 1965 album, Free Jazz:
I had not previously heard of Tusques, a pianist, but he was clearly part of the “new thing” going on in the sixties, and he’d carved out something particularly engaging here.
“Description Automatique D’un Paysage Désolé” has sturdy jazzy chords, calming flute, and mysterious bass clarinet. But it’s played in a loose, wandering structure — nothing so abrupt as Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, but certainly something being built in the name of the new freedom. I was hooked.
Since that discovery, catching up on Tusques’ history has been quite an adventure. He is still active, it turns out, although he veered away from the wildly improvised stuff not long after Free Jazz, as noted in an All About Jazz profile.
He did release another album of the “new thing,” in 1967. Titled Le Nouveau Jazz, its improvising is more fierce than that of Free Jazz, and the compositions play a stronger role — but it lacks its predecessor’s magic. I think the more cautious approach on Free Jazz yielded more rewarding results; it had a shape, a coherent non-structure, that didn’t fully translate into a second album.
That said, Le Nouveau Jazz is still a keeper. It’s been rereleased on vinyl by a UK label called Cacophonic. Check Finders Keepers Records in the UK for information (and downloads).
A 1971 album called Intercommunal Music, released on the Shandar label, is less successful. As Clifford Allen writes in that All About Jazz article, the album was planned as a quartet session including Sunny Murray on drums. But Murray showed up late, and with a crew of friends. With rental time running out on the studio, they blasted out whatever unrehearsed sound they could. The results are fun, as you can hear on YouTube, but not particularly coherent. You can hear Tusques falling into patterns occasionally, as if trying to carve a direction for the music, but he goes unheeded.
Even as Tusques veered away from free jazz, he stuck to the revolutionary spirit. Check out this 1971 track, “Nous Allons Vous Conter,” which is soulful and rhythmic but still rings with a spirit of ’60s protests, down to the spoken rhetoric being barked out. (You’ll find it on a compilation called Mobilisation Generale.)
There’s also “Le Musichien,” probably a play on words involving chien, or “dog.” It’s a lovely, straightforward tune with piano chording drenched in that ’70s peace-and-love spirit. For me, having grown up in that era, it’s wonderfully nostalgic — although the vocals get a little questionable, and much as I love the simple chord cycle, it can be wearing over nearly 20 minutes. (This one’s available on another compilation, Freedom Jazz France.)
So, Tusques’ catalogue spans the spectrum of music inspired by the revolutionary ’60s, from outright chaos to soothing, optimistic tunefulness.
Tusques performed at Vision Festival 18 in 2013, and, as Avant Music News was noting, he’s got a new album, Le Chant du Jubjub (Improvising Beings, 2015), an experimental-leaning project with accordion, trumpet, spoken word, and song. He’s still around, and he’s still seeking.
The Rush instrumental “La Villa Strangiato” turns out to be pleasantly anthemic when played on xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel. Given the time of year, you can even convince yourself it has a holiday sound. Happy new year!
That was recorded in June 2015 at the Universidade de São Paulo, campus Ribeirão Preto. The track was arranged by Philipe Davis. Carolina Raany is playing marimba, while Kleber Tertuliano is on the vibes and glockenspiel. For something more directly festive-sounding, they’ve also filmed a video of “Losa” by composer Emmanuel Séjourné.