Posts filed under ‘news’

Greedily Gobbling ECM

ecm grayblackI’ve avoided Spotify all this time. I already have too much music that I don’t listen to. I’m not interested in the pop stars and generic categories (“relaxing jazz for the office!”) offered on the service. And I have a problem with the fact that artists aren’t compensated fairly — Spotify, like many net economy startups, is a bit of a freeloader.

What’s changed my mind is that ECM Records joined the fray. As of Nov. 17, the label is offering its catalogue on a variety of streaming services. Apple and Amazon are included, but I give those guys too much money already. Spotify has the advantage of in-home tech support through my teenage daughter, who uses the app relentlessly.
ecm block

Limitations of the service became apparent quickly. I was disappointed to find out you can’t just shuffle-play an entire label. (As iTunes should have taught me, things like record labels — or songwriters, or musician identities in general — are not valued in a webstreaming world.)

And I don’t trust Spotify to build me a “radio station” using an ECM album as a seed. I still remember the Last.fm experience — I asked it to play artists similar to a particular jazz leader, and it picked jazz artists who played the same instrument. Start with Charles Mingus, and you ended up with Charlie Haden, Jaco Pastorius, and so on. To be fair, I did accidentally hit the Spotify “radio” button next to an ECM album, and it started me off with a Rune Gramofone track. Not a bad guess. Still — I’ll save the algorithms for when I start exploring Spotify’s free-improv catalogue, which is surprisingly extensive.

The solution to getting what I really wanted — a pseudorandom sampling of ECM goodness — was to built a playlist. I’m just throwing albums into it, as if I’m a game-show contestant with a shopping cart and a time limit. I’ll add and delete as the whim strikes, or as I find that a particular album doesn’t suit me. Interestingly, the playlists are the one feature my kid hasn’t experimented with. So much for tech support.

Here’s a smattering of what I’ve thrown into there, or plan to:

Mal WaldronFree at Last (1970) — From 1970, ECM catalogue number 1001: The very first. I’m not sure we even had this on vinyl at KZSU (and the KZSU library itself is a trove of ’70s and ’80s ECM vinyl).

Jan GarbarekSelected Recordings (2002) — Part of the :rarum series of compilations that ECM put out around the turn of the century. I figure the series will be a good way to survey some of the artists I’ve paid short shrift to, like Garbarek.aec-niceguys-185

Vijay Iyer SextetFar From Over (2017) — Because I haven’t gotten around to hearing it yet. What? Stop judging me!

Art Ensemble of Chicago, Nice Guys (1979) — Because I’ve never heard it, and it’s listed in Len Lyons’ 101 Best Jazz Albums book. Lyons openly admits that doing a “best jazz albums” book is rather ridiculous; in reality, the book is a chronicle of the major jazz movements. It helped me understand why Coltrane and Miles are so revered, for instance. Anyway, in the “Free Jazz” chapter, he uses Nice Guys to introduce the Art Ensemble. I should listen.

The Codona Trilogy (1979, 1981, 1983) — Simply titled CodonaCodona 2, and Codona 3, these albums tapped the “world music” thing before it was a thing, featuring Collin Walcott on sitar, hammer dulcimer, and tabla. Along similar lines…

Jan Garbarek, Anouar Brahem, Ustad Shaukat HussainMadar (1994) — Sax, oud, and tabla. I added a few Brahem albums to the playlist, following up on my explorations of jazz oud.

Andy Sheppard QuartetSurrounded by Sea (2015) — Never tapped into Sheppard after getting early exposure to him in a freely improvised context. I knew his regular stuff wouldn’t be so far out, but it’s nice, especially with that ECM touch.

November 22, 2017 at 11:13 pm Leave a comment

Things Lost

IMG_8767There’s plenty of heartbreak in the aftermath of the fires that ripped through Sonoma recently. So, in no way is this the saddest of the fire stories — but it’s still poignant.

KQED science editor Craig Miller did a story once on the field recordings of Bernie and Kat Krause. Their Wild Sanctuary project captured more than 4,500 hours of audio, documenting the “soundscape” of the planet.

The audio is backed up, but the studio that helped make it all happen is gone, along with troves of original tapes.

Miller and the Krauses visited the remains of the studio. Text, photos, and audio here: Amid the North Bay Fire Ruins: A Lost “Sanctuary” for Nature’s Music.

November 18, 2017 at 10:21 am Leave a comment

Tim Berne (and Paul Motian) in 1983

Tim BerneMy First Tour: Live in Brussels (Screwgun, 2017)

berne-firstIt’s a lo-fi cassette recording but wholly satisfying, and a nice little slice of history.

My First Tour is a 1983 recording that Tim Berne is giving away on Bandcamp. It’s in the same spirit as the Unwound triple-CD that documented Berne’s Bloodcount quartet in concert (more on that in a later post).

“Why am I doing this?” Berne writes. “Because I think this has a side of Paul Motian that maybe isn’t well documented and worth hearing.”

True. Motian is often raucous and aggressive in this session, capped by his solo at the excerpt of “Mutant of Alberan.”

 
It’s not as if Motian hasn’t played loudly before. I remember him having a similarly dynamic solo on Keith Jarrett’s The Survivors’ Suite. That “Alberan” solo gets outright vicious, though. You get to hear the rawness behind the performance, and that’s an aspect that elevates this recording, as it did with Unwound.

Elsewhere, Herb Robertson delivers a tremendous trumpet solo on “Flies,” going absolutely nuts, backed by Motian’s high-speed brushwork. And if you want to hear Motian in a more contemplative mood, there’s “No Idea,” which lingers pensively around Motian’s sense of open non-timekeeping.

“Tin Ear” is one of the songs that I don’t think ever made it onto an album, and it’s a blast. After a swingy start, Berne kicks into fast free jazz, with Motian’s furious rhythm. That track has another raucous Motian solo as well.

I enjoy hearing alternate versions of tunes, so this collection is a treat from that standpoint as well. There’s more where this came from, on the 5-CD Empire Box that documents Berne’s early albums with Robertson, Motian, Alex Cline, Nels Cline, Vinny Golia, and more. Discs 4 and 5 are on Bandcamp.

UPDATE 11/22: Discs 1 through 3 are now on Bandcamp as well: The Five-Year Plan, 7X, and Spectres.

November 4, 2017 at 11:24 am 1 comment

Gordon Beeferman: Tunnel Visions, for Viola & Piano

Stumbled upon: A world premiere performance of a Gordon Beeferman composition for viola and piano:

“Raucous, rhythmic, spicy and microtonal” is how violist Stephanie Griffin, in her YouTube “liner notes,” describes Beeferman’s jazz-related music, and you get a taste of all that in the opening moments of Tunnel Visions, the pressure-packed first movement. It slows immensely for the middle movement then surges back with sweeping drama. Really good stuff.

The jazz band she’s referring to is Other Life Forms, a quartet with Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Andrew Drury on drums. They’re pretty interesting.

August 9, 2017 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Save Roscoe Mitchell

UPDATE!


rmitchell-1000

Source: Wikimedia commons, by Oliver Abels

I couldn’t tell you if Roscoe Mitchell is a good professor. But I do know that the movement to preserve his job is not just the case of people standing up for a guy whose music they like.

Mitchell teaches at Mills College, occupying the Darius Milhaud Chair in Composition — the same post previously held by Pauline Oliveros. His job, and the Milhaud position in general, are now threatened by budget cuts.

Word got out quickly. Mills professor Chris Brown has written a call to action that includes administrator addresses to write to. Someone has started an online petition, and musician Marc Hannaford (weirdly, the same guy who’s music I just discovered) has penned an open letter that anyone is invited to sign. He’ll be sending that tomorrow — Monday, June 12.

Mitchell’s presence at Mills is important because he represents the source. He was a key part of a musical movement that informs jazz, “classical” composition, and improvisation today. Contemporary creativity can trace its heritage to the music fostered by the AACM, and here’s a man who was there. He is one of the creators.

If you were running a music program, wouldn’t it be grand to have this man available as a resource for your students? What would that mean to the prestige of your college?

It’s a shame that liberal arts programs nationwide are under such fire, victims of the market-worshipping dogma that has caused the United States so much harm. Mills has a shortfall and has to make it up somewhere. That’s going to require some self-inflicted wounds, necessarily, but some cuts go deeper than others.

June 11, 2017 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Bern Nix, 1947-2017

nix-lowWith my mind on guitarists, it seems fitting to reflect for a few minutes on Bern Nix, who passed away recently at the age of 69. I’m no Nix expert; I’m not even that well versed in Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time years. But I appreciate the music and what Nix brought to it.

Former New York Times reporter Nate Chinen, now working at WGBO-FM, produced a fantastic obit, as usual, with the added detail that Nix was rehearsing regularly with Denardo Coleman’s band for an Ornette Coleman Festival. That festival is happening next month.

I like Chinen’s description of Nix playing a “subtle yet central” role in Prime Time, alongside the flashier Charles Ellerbee. And I like his choice of this live clip from 1987. During moments when Nix is on camera, such as the few seconds after 7:07, you can correlate his hand motions to what he’s playing. When I did that, I discovered he was creating ongoing threads of melody and calm riffs — a trail that I wouldn’t have noticed amid the whole band, but which became vital once I was aware of it. Nix fleshes out mood and color, doing his own thing but in a way that adds depth to the overall group sound.

 
Chinen also calls out Nix’s solo acoustic album Low Barometer (Tompkins Square, 2006), noting that the results “warrant comparison with analogous recordings by Derek Bailey, John Fahey and Marc Ribot.” Derek Bailey is a particularly interesting inclusion there, because Nix’s acoustic guitar shares that same curt sound, almost as if he’s taking advantage of the instrument’s lack of sustain.

But Chinen is talking about a mixture of Bailey with more melodic players. On Low Barometer, Nix traces recognizable and even pleasant routes — melodies, projected onto a tilted harmelodic plane. I’m actually reminded of Joe Pass’ self-titled solo album. Tracks like “Generic Ballad” and “Love’s Enigma” drift by, patiently, like a slow river in summer, and I realize that with this music, Nix is delivering his own fitting elegy.

June 8, 2017 at 9:54 pm Leave a comment

Charles ‘Bobo’ Shaw

On the heels of the news about Hamiett Bluiett’s health issues comes the passing of his St. Louis compatriot, Charles “Bobo” Shaw.

Both were involved in St. Louis’ Black Artists Group. Shaw’s was more directly connected with one of Bluiett’s World Saxophone Quartet compatriots, Oliver Lake, whose quartet, including Shaw, worked in Europe. If you’re looking for a Bluiett connection, though, he and Shaw were together as late as 2015, when Bluiett’s Telepathic Orchestra played New York’s Vision Festival.

Shaw is one of the many blank spots in my jazz knowledge, maybe because he’s more connected with funky jazz (such as the band DeFunkt) than with the “free” stuff. I’ve been checking out the Human Arts Ensemble, a group that he ended up leading in the late ’70s, which has been a blast.

I love the rough edges on Junk Trap (Black Saint, 1978), the raspy horn tones and the jumbly, not-quite-synched unison lines. The album features a crack band — Shaw (drums), Joseph Bowie (trombone), John Lindberg (bass), Luther Thomas (sax), James Emery (guitar) — so the rawness isn’t a lack of ability; it has more to do with the pure joy being poured into the music. On “Night Dreamer,” Emery even starts channeling Sonny Sharrock; I’m not sure it completely fits that particular tune, but it sure is fun.

But it’s the 1973 album Funky Donkey that shows the Human Arts Ensemble really pushing the needle. The title track is a funk fireball, and “Una New York,” composed by Shaw, has a more mellow vibe but is no less earnest.

I’m sorry I didn’t catch up with Shaw during his lifetime, but I’m grateful for the history lesson.

(Plate o’ Shrimp moment: Another of Shaw’s bands, Solidarity Unit Inc., gets a shout-out by Bryon Coley and Thurston Moore in this 2009 Arthur magazine article. Just above that is a mention of pianist François Tusques — someone else I only recently discovered — performing on Sonny Murray’s Big Chief album.)

January 24, 2017 at 10:06 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Calendar

November 2017
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category