Monday, February 28, 2005

Black History Month, 2005

Anthony Braxton Posted by Hello

"In my opinion, I believe my work, for whatever reason, ... I am viewed as the Negro who has gone outside of the categories assigned to me. My work was not idio-centric, in a way, where I could be of value to the forces, which are rebuilding components in this time period. This is true for the African-American antebellum traditionalist's sentiments who have always mistrusted me and I can respect that. But at the same time, we're talking now about an effort that is thirty-five to forty years and the isolation that I have experienced is not unique when I think of the great work of Leroy Jenkins, the great work of Henry Threadgill, the great work of Connie Crothers. So, no, the jazz people couldn't use a guy like me because my work doesn't come separate from defined components, including defined documentation about the systemic components of my experience and finally, the transient implications of my system. It is not the kind of thing that the jazz structure is prepared to deal with. If I would say, 'Swing baby, swing and burn it up,' then there would be room for a guy like me."
- Anthony Braxton, from an interview at All About Jazz.

Black History Month at HurdAudio is wrapping up today. Here is a rundown of the discreet listening experiences I have celebrated and focused on this month:

Pharoah Sanders: Message From Home
Roscoe Mitchell: Four Compositions
Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost (disc 5)
Thelonius Monk: Solo Monk
Muhal Richard Abrams: Think All, Focus One
Don Pullen: Tomorrow's Promises
George Lewis: The Shadowgraph Series
Eric Dolphy: Iron Man
Max Roach/Anthony Braxton: Birth and Rebirth
Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris: Conduction #11
Ornette Coleman:Sound Museum - Three Women
John Coltrane/Don Cherry: The Avant-Garde
Ron Miles: Woman's Day
Don Byron: Tuskegee Experiments
Henry Threadgill: Makin' A Move
Sun Ra: Sound Sun Pleasure!!
McCoy Tyner: Asante
Sonny Sharrock: Guitar
Joseph Jarman: Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Humans
Wayne Shorter: The All Seeing Eye
Cecil Taylor:The Willisau Concert
George Russell: The Stratus Seekers
Matthew Shipp: Pastoral Composure
Charles Mingus: Blues & Roots

These make up a sampling of music from my personal collection. This is hardly complete or fully representative of the full range of contributions made to music history by black artists. It is a start and I hope to apply this kind of focused listening every year. This year I am pleasantly surprised by the range and intensity of spiritual expression that runs much deeper than I had previously suspected. From the congregational revivalist meetings of Charles Mingus, the quiet Buddhist inspired optimism of Joseph Jarman, the devout Islamic faith of McCoy Tyner, the meditations on creation by Wayne Shorter to the personal spiritual quest of Albert Ayler I am awed by the profundity of the expressions and idealism rendered in sound.

Included in this sampling are two MacArthur "Genius" Award recipients who have tirelessly advanced and advocated the art of improvisation. "Jazz" is larger than a single stylistic interpretation. Anthony Braxton and George Lewis have drawn criticism for the intellectual depth of their music and writings. A criticism that is, in my opinion, derived from a narrow-minded and racist anti-intellectualism applied with grim ferocity to African-American artists. The long-term health and vibrancy of jazz as a living art form can only be enhanced by realizing the full value of the ideas and music put forward by these visionary "geniuses."

As a graduate student working on a paper on improvisation theory I read Braxton's three volume
Tri-Axiom writings and made a pilgrimage to Wesleyan University to meet with the author of this incredibly wide-ranging account of the theoretic foundations of his musical vision. Braxton has attempted, and succeeded, at incorporating nearly every dimension of existence into his art. As such, he has had to construct his own vocabulary just to discuss it. Which has unfortunately become a barrier to casual understanding of his ideas. But it is a barrier only because there is no adequate vocabulary for approaching what he has to say and a deep understanding is well worth the effort of developing a fluency in his discourse.

Professor Braxton left me in his office while he took care of some business. His bookshelves were packed from floor to ceiling with original scores. There were scores in stacks on the desk and floor. I studied a few that were handy and took a glimpse at the genius that has yet to be fully performed, recorded and understood despite a consistent and prolific flow of recordings. The man has written operas, orchestral works and multi-media performance pieces that have yet to receive a proper staging.

After reviewing a preliminary draft of my paper Anthony Braxton let me know he was pleased that I had picked up on the modular quality of his music. I don't understand why more writing about him doesn't focus on this aspect of his output. Each composition is a small part of a larger, meta-work that can be assembled or collaged from any combination of his compositions. This is an allusion to the completeness of the underlying and unifying principles of his craft that take socio-political, historical, scientific, emotional, rational, etc. factors into account. And it works. This music is fantastic.

The essay, "Teaching Improvised Music: An Ethnographic Memoir" by George Lewis is an incredible contribution to the pedagogical advancement of improvisation. Along with a body of significant recorded works and performances Lewis is a major figure in progressive jazz theory and practice. The Shadowgraph pieces I reviewed this month deserve all the fetishism and exposure one finds with the Beethoven symphonies.

Like Braxton, Lewis cultivates a multi-dimensional approach to his art and also holds an academic position. After teaching for many years at UCSD Lewis now educates at Columbia. His music spans solo trombone music (the instrument that he is a virtuoso on), electronic works, large ensembles and multiple free improvisations with other master performers. Works like "North Star Boogaloo" directly address issues of race with passion and authority. And like Braxton, the full impact of George Lewis's music and ideas have yet to be fully assessed and appreciated.

I made my own personal pilgrimage to Vancouver, British Columbia in the summer of 2003 to hear a new George Lewis work performed by the NOW Orchestra. Prior to the concert I was scanning the CD table, looking for
The Shadowgraph Series as it was proving to be difficult to locate back in the states. I was shocked to find no George Lewis for sale whatsoever and inquired about this. The response was a tongue-in-cheek sour grapes of "oh, well, after getting that genius award he doesn't need to sell his music anymore." George Lewis himself proved to be more personable in concert. Charismatically introducing a major new work and giving each soloist their respect and due one catches a glimpse of the leadership he exudes as a prominent figure in a history of jazz that is still being written.

This Black History Month I am mindful of the ongoing contributions and intellectual rigor that these two figures bring to a music that continues to evolve with a past and present that owes a great deal to the contributions of African-American artists.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Mixolydian mapped to the Square-root of 2

The intervallic content of the E Flat Mixolydian mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Blues & Roots

Charles Mingus: Blues & Roots. Posted by Hello

Black History Month at HurdAudio winds down on a positively righteous note with Roots & Blues from 1959 by Charles Mingus.

I simply cannot imagine this world without the music of Charles Mingus. More specifically, I cannot imagine a world without "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting." The take on this soulful blues number that opens this disc immediately transports me to a wild congregation in the throes of something profoundly real. It's not an experience I associate with churches (particularly the staid, repressed churches I've known). I associate it with live music that crosses into pure transcendence. This disc is a real standout in that this set of recordings conveys the power of an inspired live music experience. The path Mingus takes toward transcendence is possibly the shortest and most consistently traveled to that destination of any artist I've ever heard.

This listening experience is rich with sounds I regard as sonic staples. Like the sound Pepper Adams' baritone sax kicking off "Moanin'." The handclaps and yells of "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting." Those pulsating horn lines on "Tensions." The acoustic bass utterly transformed by Charles Mingus throughout this disc (particularly on "Cryin' Blues"). The lyrical melodic line of "My Jelly Roll Soul." The layering of parts leading into exclamations of "I know what I know" from the "congregation" on "E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too."

With these compositions and under Mingus's leadership this nine-piece band really does become a "congregation." It's not hard to imagine Dannie Richmond overcome by the spirit on the drums or hear Jackie McLean's alto sax solos as a speaking in tongues experience. Blues & Roots holds a strong afterglow of a communal experience that seems lost to the contemporary world. This is clearly a music and an era to be celebrated. These compositions are an incredible example of how to convey a place and time through the instrumentation and vocabulary of jazz.

I simply cannot imagine this world without the music of Charles Mingus. Without it I would have no idea how one could say "Amen!" and really mean it.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Mixolydian augmented 4 mapped to the Square-root of 2

The F Sharp Mixolydian augmented 4 mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Pastoral Composure

Matthew Shipp: Pastoral Composure. Posted by Hello

Black History Month progresses toward the twilight of February at HurdAudio as tonight I've applied ears to Pastoral Composure from 2000 by pianist Matthew Shipp.

This is a great quartet. "Gesture" opens this disc with a fantastic sonic texture layered together with Gerald Cleaver's steady sheets of drumming, William Parker's large, round bass sound, Matthew Ship vamping and improvising between a pair of tonal centers and topped off with Roy Campbell's trumpet improvising some inspired melodic lines as a focal point of this dense sound. Aptly named, "Gesture" is a singular sonic gesture that allows the ears to focus on the details of a rich sonic environment.

"Vision" follows this gesture with some straight jazz. The bass line walks, the ride cymbal swings, the chord progression churns along and Shipp proves he can kick up a solo with deep roots reaching toward the likes of Bud Powell and Art Tatum. Solos are passed through the quartet in a traditional manner and I find myself needing to close my jaw after William Parker's turn. He has a great tone on the bass.

The appreciative nod to tradition is continued with an energetic solo piano rendition of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."

Then the title track comes on and resumes a quartet gesture-painting of an ambitious sonic canvas. This time the soft mallets come out on Gerald Cleaver's drum kit as sounds swell like ocean waves as Roy Campbell again takes the focal point with his trumpet.

"Progression" repeats the pattern of following a texture work with a more traditional sounding straight jazz work. This would seem to be a golden age of great trumpet improvisers. Campbell delivers an exquisite solo and leaves a large dent in my consciousness.

"Frere Jacques" follows as an ambitious full quartet arrangement. It's amusing to find this particular melody inspiring an intensely "free jazz" treatment. This isn't your toddler's "Where Is Thumbkin." It's Frere in passing and as a reference point for some weighty lightness demonstrating that even a nursery song can be a launching point for some moody, and at times dark explorations.

"Merge" is a trio piece that showcases Shipp's focused concentration and intensity. As a work of modern jazz piano this is a sonic highlight of this disc.

"Inner Order" slows down the pace set by "Merge" with a duet between Parker and Campbell. Great interplay. Great musicians. Too short.

"XTU" closes out this disc with solo sonic painting on the piano. At times scalar, at time pointilistic, this is a quick dose from a master improviser.

This CD is the inaugural release for a label called Thirsty Ear. Which aptly describes the Matthew Shipp effect. Pastoral Composure is thick with ideas that pull me along but keep my ears from feeling sated or saturated. By the end of this listening experience I really am "thirsty" for more.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Scale of the Day: E Flat Mixolydian augmented 4

The intervallic content of the E Flat Mixolydian augmented 4 Scale. Posted by Hello

The Stratus Seekers

George Russell: The Stratus Seekers. Posted by Hello

Black History Month is winding down here at HurdAudio. Tonight I put on something that I've listened to off and on for nearly twenty years now: The Stratus Seekers from 1962 by George Russell.

The compositions on The Stratus Seekers are like old friends. "Pan-Daddy" opens this listening experience with an obvious reference to pan-tonality coupled with a swinging cool groove. This is George Russell's "Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization" put into practice both as a composition, arrangement and improvisational approach. Sonically this sounds like a close cousin of Ornette Coleman's harmelodic theory with more rhythmic quantization. Harmonically this music retains tonal gravitational centers without being "boxed in" by them. One could look at these theories as a means for systematically implementing chromaticism without resorting to atonality. As a means of improvisation I look at it an elaborate method of chord and scale substitutions.

The title track is ambitious and seriously cool. The CD reissue features two takes which gives me a chance to gauge the flexibility and degree to which each individual performance varies in the details. Don Ellis's trumpet solo really catches my ear on the second take. As does Dave Baker's work on the trombone.

"Blues in Orbit" shows off Russell's melodic sensibility as well as leaving plenty of room for individual soloists to really strut their stuff. This is a great rhythm section for this kind of playing with Steve Swallow on bass and Joe Hunt on the drums. Russell's harmonic voicings on the piano have that "Lydian Chromatic" flavor to them. Steve Swallow would later go on to develop some similar harmonic innovations of his own with the Bill Evans Trio that have been a lasting influence on jazz bass players ever since.

This is harmonically vivid music. The practical application of Russell's Lydian Chromatic theory makes a strong argument for the creative vitality and substance of his ideas.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Willisau Concert

Cecil Taylor: The Willisau Concert. Posted by Hello

The Black History Month music celebration continues at HurdAudio with ears wide open for the vast sonic ideas of Cecil Taylor on The Willisau Concert from the year 2000.

I have a long standing obsession with epic solo piano compositions and at well over an hour of intense improvisation on an exquisite 97-key Bosendorfer piano Cecil Taylor delivers exactly the kind of prolonged focus that I crave. The microphones are well placed and capture the full range of reverberations and waves of sound pouring out of the instrument just beyond the flurry of notes being played.

This particular performance finds Cecil Taylor in great form. The opening movement (which proportionally dwarfs the other four movements combined) is a stunningly transparent display of thematic development over the full duration. The piece opens with a single note, a single gesture, then builds outward while referencing a consistent set of themes and interval structures. The degree of focused concentration involved in this atonal improvisation feat is astonishing. Especially from a performer/composer in an unaccompanied setting (who is evidently in peak form at age 72). Lurking within the splashes of sound I notice several alluring melodic fragments that fit and grow organically from the overall thematic material of this work. With the headphones on and eyes closed the energy of this first movement draws me in and holds my attention from start to finish. This is free improvisation guided by something profound. The rich closing harmonies are especially satisfying.

The second movement picks up some of the energy of the first movement as many of the same gestures return in a temporally slower manner. In this recapitulation Taylor seems to dwell longer on specific sounds and harmonic territories. This movement is less about development and more about lingering echoes of material from the previous movement. It marks a transition from the intensity of the prolonged material into the three short encores that follow.

The encores are light sketches using Taylor's extensive sonic vocabulary. They are two-minute explorations of the instrument's range. They are also an effective coda and dessert course to the rich substance of the first two movements.

This really is a wonderful piano with the extended bass notes reaching all the way down to a low C below "normal" piano range with what must be coils of piano wire thick enough to hold suspension bridges. The quality of the sound and craftsmanship of this instrument seems to inspire Cecil Taylor to really explore the full range of this instrument both in register and dynamics. This must have been an amazing experience for the audience present for this fortuitous meeting of Taylor and Bosendorfer.

Scale of the Day: B Dorian mapped to the Square-root of 2

The B Dorian mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

The All Seeing Eye

Wayne Shorter: The All Seeing Eye. Posted by Hello

Black History Month
continues at HurdAudio with a visit to The All Seeing Eye from 1965 by Wayne Shorter.

The titles dwell upon a range of spiritual mysteries: "The All Seeing Eye," "Genesis," "Chaos," "Face of the Deep" and "Mephistopheles." Wayne Shorter seems to be using his tenor to speak upon subjects where words typically fall short. Many of these compositions feature some solid modal bop textures that give way to some surprising turns in the arrangements and some unusual creative solos. It leaves the impression of something deeper running underneath every sound that becomes exposed whenever the stylistic surface sheen begins to shift directions.

My ears are strongly drawn to the piano work of Herbie Hancock on this disc. His touch is exquisite whether he's adding something to the foreground or background at a given moment. The interplay between Hancock and drummer Joe Chambers on "The All Seeing Eye" is particularly satisfying. The ascending/descending intervallic patterns in Hancock's solo on this track is a real high point in this listening experience.

The horn arrangements also catch my attention. From the opening sequence of "The All Seeing Eye" to the coda of "Face of the Deep." Especially notable is the opening spiky horn material that opens Alan Shorter's composition "Mephistopheles" before giving way to the ostinato pedal in the rhythm section.

There isn't a weak element to be found on this disc. The All Seeing Eye features an ensemble of master improvisers, flawless recording that balances and allows each instrument adequate space and some great compositions that really tap into an undeniable spiritual energy and introspective reflection. Wayne Shorter has impressed me every time I've heard him play and usually when others play him as well. These timeless, classic Blue Note records he did in the '60s really cast a transcendent spell.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Scale of the Day: G Dorian

The intervallic content of the G Dorian Scale. Posted by Hello

Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Humans

Joseph Jarman: Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Humans. Posted by Hello

Shaku Joseph Jarman brings a decidedly meditative sound for celebrating Black History Month at HurdAudio this evening. Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Humans is a millenial gift from the year 2000.

Joseph Jarman is a fascinating figure for me. He was active in the early days of the Chicago AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He is now a Buddhist monk in New York City (where I understand he has quite a following). His sound is unique and clearly draws upon some deep spiritual impulses that sound credible and sincere. His collaborations with Myra Melford have yielded some great sonic results (particularly Equal Interest in addition to Lifetime Visions).

The first two tracks feature a trio with Myra Melford and Rob Garcia. The first track, "Eyes of the Charm Giver" features Jarman on flute and voice, Melford on harmonium and Garcia playing percussion. "Eyes of the Charm Giver" is a prayer told over the drone of the harmonium. Jarman's voice takes a little getting used to but his flute is immediately appealing. Time seems to slow down as Jarman gently intones. "New Prayer for Jimbo III" nicely balances off the trio portion of this disc with an instrumental number featuring great performances of Jarman on soprano sax, Melford on piano and Garcia at the kit. A live audience can be heard drinking in this spirited music.

The remaining tracks then add Allen Silva on Bass and Jessica Jones on Tenor Sax/Flute to form a quintet. This is collaborative, joy-filled group improvisation with Myra Melford's piano work forming the adhesive that holds the sound together underneath the rubric of Jarman's compositions. Jarman's melodies move deliberately through a storm of accompanying activity in a manner consistent with his spiritual sensibilities. The two-flute opening for "Reflections on the Predestined One" makes for a particularly attractive sonic texture.

"Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Humans" closes out this listening experience as a brief closing prayer/encore of joy and optimism. "Find the Buddha way and let your sorrows go" Jarman sings to a catchy melodic line. This music exists at a cross-section of the transcendent expressions of John Coltrane and Sun Ra. It strikes my ears as other-worldly yet convincing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Scale of the Day: B Dorian diminished 4

The B Dorian diminished 4 Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello


Sonny Sharrock: Guitar. Posted by Hello

The celebration that is Black History Month continues at HurdAudio with a listen to Guitar by Sonny Sharrock circa 1986.

Guitar is a beautiful disc composed of shades of electric guitar in the hands of master improviser Sonny Sharrock. Each of these compositions rests on a solid melodic, thematic foundation from which sheets of sonic materials are spun in controlled bursts of noise and energy tinged with the blues. This is a great balance between gentle melodic lines and aggressive timbral soundscapes.

"Blind Willie" opens this experience with a snaking, flanging drone that slithers beneath the melody of this great Sharrock composition. This melody develops and segues into improvisation that steadily builds upward in intensity against the gravity of the persistent pedal point of the drone that eventually pulls the melody back.

"Broken Toys" is a high point for me on this disc. The layering of the overdubed parts form a nice dialogue between the melodic and harmonic parts of this piece. It takes on the sound of a quiet conversation between the different sides of Sonny Sharrock.

Electricity courses through this soundscape the way one is conscious of breath and air on a solo sax recording. And with this guitarist electricity takes on the human quality of breathing. Sharrock isn't afraid to let these pieces rock as groove and volume collide into an irresistible force. Yet all this electric amplification doesn't overwhelm the quiet voice of a single performer utilizing a full range of human expressions. The shifting hues running in parallel between the melodic lines, harmony and sonic coloring of this single instrument form a cohesive, balanced sound with many focal points.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Aeolian

The F Sharp Aeolian Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello


McCoy Tyner: Asante. Posted by Hello

Deep into the celebration of Black History Month at HurdAudio tonight I've applied ears to Asante from 1970 by McCoy Tyner.

The opening two tracks of Asante ("Malika" and "Asante") present an open, spiritually infused texture. The percussion of Mtume with the drumming of Billy Hart and the worldless vocals of Songai combine with the surprisingly spare use of Tyner's on piano sound like a breath of sincere prayer and a meditation on African roots. This is an expression of spirituality full of love and devoid of preachiness. These two track serve as an invocation for what follows.

"Goin' Home" kicks in a solid and appealing groove that pulls the ears back down from the otherworldly opening to the tangible pleasures of pulse and melody. Herbie Lewis's bass work really shines on this track. This is the sound that I know, love and identify with McCoy Tyner. "Fulfillment" continues along this train of thought and kicks the melodic motion up several notches. These are energetic, smart compositions with plenty of piano and Tyner's characteristic stacked fourths voicings and percussive approach. I actually wish the microphone was closer to the piano as there's a lot of power in Tyner's sound that didn't get completely captured on this recording. Massive waves of sound have to have been rolling out of that piano and washing over in a haze of ringing harmonics. "Forbidden Land" then encapsulates the Asante experience with a spatial opening leading into some tight grooves. "Asian Lullaby" and "Hope" showcase conclude this listening experience in an uptempo wash of high caliber piano jazz.

McCoy Tyner has a rich melodic sensibility. Grounded within the ear-catching solos and percussive approach is a steady flow of melodic lines that seem to soar and allude to an individuality rooted in his personal association with John Coltrane while retaining an individual voice apart from it. These melodic lines seem to take flight and glide over the suspended harmonies that support them. "Hope" strikes the optimistic tone of an artist confident in his personal voice. As a listening experience, Asante is a journey at times reflective, world-weary and positive.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Few Words

This Black History Month at HurdAudio series has been a lot of fun. It's a pleasure to listen to all this music and talk about what it means to me. And the feedback has been really gratifying. Thanks for reading, and commenting, my friends.

Be sure to check out The Questions to Your Answers where Adam Ducker has been collecting, writing and soliciting articles for Black History Month. I may have to type out some paragraphs myself for that one.

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Phrygian mapped to the Triative

The D Sharp Phrygian mapped to the Triative Scale. Posted by Hello

Sound Sun Pleasure!!

Sun Ra: Sound Sun Pleasure!! Posted by Hello

Black History Month continues at HurdAudio with an aural visit to Saturn's own Sun Ra and the 1991 Evidence Records release of Sound Sun Pleasure!! which is a reissue of the Sound Sun Pleasure LP from circa 1958 - 1960 and Deep Purple (originally released in 1973), which is believed to be the earliest Sun Ra recordings in existence dating back to 1953.

I've come to regard Sun Ra as the Beethoven of jazz (and vice versa, just to beat the euro-centric racket I'll call Beethoven the Sun Ra of Western highbrow art music). Musicologists will typically speak of three periods of Beethoven as his creative output spanned (and bridged) the transition from the classical era to the romantic era. I tend to regard Sun Ra as having three distinct periods as well as his output spanned the transition jazz made over the course of the twentieth century from popular music to art/avant. Sound Sun Pleasure!! is a great representation of early "first period" Ra. Much of this period was recorded while this visitor from the planet Saturn was staying in Chicago.

Sound Sun Pleasure!! is a treasured listening experience. The opening arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" with vocalist Hatty Randolph is completely amazing. I'm enormously particular when it comes to vocals. I rarely seek out songs and this is one of just a few exceptions for me. Randolph's exquisite intonation and timbre balances perfectly against Ra's orchestration of this familiar standard.

"Enlightenment" is a favorite Sun Ra composition for me and the early arrangement found on this disc is satisfying to my ears. It's a treat to hear Stuff Smith's violin on "Deep Purple." The solo "Piano Interlude" sheds some light on how deeply evolved Sun Ra's compositional approach was at this early period and shines as a brief sonic gem in its own right. "Dreams Come True" is a Sun Ra original with vocals by Clyde Williams that represents the early period Ra that beautifully captures the song style of the era. The optimism of the poetry makes me smile.

The persona thing is unique. Moondog is the only other complete persona I can think of in my music collection. There's never really been an effort to hide or subvert the fact that Sun Ra was born Sonny Blount on planet Earth. But after spending some time listening and learning about Sun Ra I've come to the conclusion that he fully earned the right to redefine himself as completely as he chose to. So as far as I'm concerned he's actually from Saturn. Not because he is an extra terrestrial being in fact, but because he earned the principle of it. His artistic perrogative is unbounded. I view it as empowering and a means of transcending the ugliness of racism and bigotry in this world by radically redefining his own identity as something that was literally out of this world.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Phrygian diminished 4 mapped to the Square-root of 2

The D Sharp Phrygian diminished 4 mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Makin' A Move

Henry Threadgill: Makin' A Move. Posted by Hello

The HurdAudio celebration of Black History Month continues tonight with Makin' A Move from 1995 by Henry Threadgill.

This is another personal favorite for me. Henry Threadgill is a great jazz composer/orchestrator/arranger/performer with a penchant for working with unusual instrument combinations and Makin' A Move uses a number of rarely heard ensembles.

The opening track really catches my ear. "Noisy Flowers" is scored for piano (with my favorite pianist, Myra Melford), nylon string guitar, soprano guitar, steel string soprano guitar, steel string acoustic guitar and classical guitar. The guitars paint an other worldly landscape that gradually grows with intensity as the piano navigates through this odd sonic environment with bluesy effect. "Noisy Flowers" blurs the line between composition and improvisation as every second sounds as if it could be either. Melodic lines drift from one instrument to another as ideas fade in and out toward an arching crescendo. The texture itself drifts between chamber music and avant jazz without making any audible leaps between. The final sound rotates like an intricate, delicate mobile of glass playing with the fading light of a sunset. This track alone is reason enough to repeat this listening experience.

Programmed between these works of avant chamber jazz are compositions performed by Threadgill's band Very Very Circus. The instrumentation is alto saxophone (played by Threadgill himself), french horn, two electric guitars, two tubas and drums. The compositions for Very Very Circus are richly detailed, rhythmically propelled works. The sound of two tubas playing the bass line material really gives this rhythm section a sound all its own. There's also the added effect of having one tuba panned in each ear that allows me to parse how the low duties are split between the impressive talents of Edwin Rodriguez and Marcus Rojas (I'm actually familiar with Rojas work on other recordings, the man plays a seriously rockin' tuba).

"Refined Poverty" is scored for alto saxophone and three cellos. After presenting some melodic material on the horn the cellos quickly begin to build their murky, detailed texture. This continues the theme from "Noisy Flowers" of using a group of similar string instruments to paint a texture for the "odd instrument out" to navigate. "Refined Poverty" paints a sonic image in dark colors and overcast textures.

"The Mockingbird Sin" combines the multiple guitars from "Noisy Flowers" with the multiple cellos form "Refined Poverty" for a completely different kind of chamber string ensemble. "The Mockingbird Sin" builds upon its own logic as the instruments pass lines between each other as they fill out the frequency spectrum from cello to soprano guitar.

Threadgill's arrangements are dense. There's a lot going on that justifies his instrumentation choices as he takes full advantage of each instrument's range and timbral qualities. The performers on Makin' A Move do enormous justice to some intense, demanding compositions that grow and reach full bloom before one's ears. "Noisy Flowers" indeed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Tuskegee Experiments

Don Byron: Tuskegee Experiments. Posted by Hello

It's Black History Month at HurdAudio. Tonight's music of celebration is 1991's Tuskegee Experiments by clarinetist Don Byron.

This is, in my opinion, one of the great jazz records of the last twenty years. Byron is a master improviser with exquisite taste and Tuskegee Experiments oozes with intelligence and verve.

"Waltz for Ellen" opens this disc as an unaccompanied clarinet solo before launching into "Tuskegee Strutter's Ball" as a swinging work for full ensemble. Bill Frisell's guitar tone is unmistakably present as is the great bass work of Reggie Workman. Byron's clarinet weaves silky lines along the sonic texture as the piece closes out. "In Memoriam: Uncle Dan" then follows as a duet for bass and bass clarinet.

Each piece on this disc is so different from all the others and yet there isn't a weak track. Byron mixes ensembles, styles and even covers "Mainstem" by Duke Ellington and "Auf einer Burg" by Robert Schumann. Each amply rewards the attentive ear and keeps the mind engaged with the details lurking within these arrangements.

"Tuskegee Experiments" is perhaps the most memorable track on here given the outrage of the subject matter being covered by Sadiq's incredible poetry. Text and music exist as equal partners here as the ensemble pours it on over the recounting of the disgusting injustice of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment that was carried out in Tuskegee, Alabama from 1932 to 1972. (I actually had to do a double take on that --40 YEARS!?!?!?! The mind reels at the scale such a prolonged crime). This piece is powerful.

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Locrian mapped to the Square-root of 2

The A Sharp Locrian mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello