Incredible Risks

Steve Koenig

[February 2000. Originally appeared in La Folia 2:3.]

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) holds a series of concerts at the Ethical Culture Society of New York. The concert on October 30th featured the Muhal Richard Abrams Experimental Orchestra, and began with Prelude, an electroacoustic work playing throughout the hall that was interesting but slid into background as all the musicians and music-lovers in the audience greeted each other. Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins and Wadada Leo Smith each conducted one piece they had composed. The excitable emcee hadn’t gotten over her cheerleading days, and from where I sat in the left aisle, the engineer set the Electro-Voice loudspeakers so loud they distorted and overwhelmed the balance of some of the delicate pieces. In the first piece, Make The Cut by Henry Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins’ violin kept coming from the loudspeaker instead of to the right of the stage where I saw him; I felt as if I were hallucinating. Enough kvetching; on to the music. The piece started with murmuring percussion and although the piece was short, my attention flagged quickly. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep playing my recent Threadgill Columbia (!) discs Makin’ A Move, Where’s Your Cup? and Carry the Day, where the wonderfully orchestrated ensembles includes accordion and electric guitar and all three discs just make their move and swing like an Astor Piazzola ensemble.

The second piece was Cards, by Roscoe Mitchell, who conducted holding a yellow pencil as a baton. It was pointillistic, with lots of silence and sonorities randomly interspersed throughout the orchestra. It came off dry, and I suspect might be better if the musicians had time to find the flow. After intermission, Leroy Jenkins was a joy to watch as he conducted his Corners, with solos built into the structure. Joseph Jarman’s alto clarinet resounded clear and strong, as did solos by trumpeter Frank Gordon. I recalled a concert Gordon did at the 53rd Street Y which impressed me, as does his Clarion Echoes (Soul Note SN 1096). The rhythm changes, the immediately bluesy sound, waves of horns, woodblocks against piano, Threadgill’s reeds against Amina Claudine Myers’ (overmiked) piano; all these reminded me of Jenkins’ strengths both as a composer and an improviser. His orchestral writing was as masterful as his solo set at this year’s Vision Festival. I strongly recommend two of his discs in particular: Themes and Improvisations on the Blues (CRI CD 663) and Lifelong Ambitions (Black Saint BSR 120033-2), which features Abrams. The final piece was Sustain Melody by Wadada Leo Smith, whose early self-produced LPs (and need silvering quickly!) move me greatly and newer ones can sometimes verge toward New Age smooth. The piece was exciting and used the orchestra resourcefully.

At the Knitting Factory, while clarinetist Don Byron was having a lot of fun and Steve Lacy took a back seat, I was lucky to catch a fiery set by Jemeel Moondoc’s new group downstairs in the Old Office. John Voigt on bass and Cody Moffatt on drums (it was his birthday), the four saxes of Sabir Mateen, Zane Massey (incidentally, son of Cal Massey), and Moondoc made everyone in the audience gasp. I daresay it was one of the most exciting gigs I’ve ever heard. This is the importance of live music: not one tape recorder in the house. If you weren’t there, you weren’t there. Mateen is a master, yet he continues to grow. He did what seemed like a ten-minute solo and he kept reaching peak after peak after peak and I grinned ’til my face hurt. Massey surprised me with his wit and short splats egging on his partners, especially his sly interplay with Moffatt. I’ve always liked Moondoc, and would love to get my hands on his 1970s Muntu Orchestra LPs. I still play his 1981 Soul Note Konstanze’s Delight often, with great Khan Jamal vibes, some of Ellen Christi’s best vocals and probably my first introduction to William Parker and Roy Campbell. Watching Moondoc conduct is a wonderful thing: his gestures to the musicians, each watching and listening to a slight sleight of hand creating magic without tricks. In the audience, trumpeter Roy Campbell and reedman Will Connell, among others, kept vocally affirming the players, who responded to every shout of approval. Moondoc has an excellent new duo disc with William Parker, New World Pygmies (Eremite MTE020, 67:33), of which I’ll go into detail next issue, along with a few other Eremite releases.

Kramer has joined British prog stalwarts Pip Ple, Daevid Allen and Hugh Hopper to create a new group called Brainville. At times, Kramer’s vocals, with the assist of echo, remind one of Roy Harper. The Childen’s Crusade (Shimmydisc SHM-5036, 51:34) is dedicated to Stanley Kubrick, and has filmic and child-welfare themes. The strongest cuts are the final three: “The Revenge of Claire Quilty,” a sing-along riff which turns psychedelic and then free, and “Brainvilla Eclipse,” sort of Zappa-meets-Iron Butterfly, and “Merkin Muffley’s Lament.” The overall sound is mostly a Kramerish grunge-gone psychedelic, but unlike most Kramer collabs, this one is slightly less than the sum of its parts, a bit like the weaker Residents albums. Instead, start with Daevid Allen and Kramer’s Hit Men (Shimmydisc 080), Hugh Hopper’s magnificent psychedelic opus 1984 from 1972 (Mantra 061, French reissue), the Hopper/Kramer A Remark Hugh Made with a few Robert Wyatt vocals (Shimmydisc 076) and Kramer’s magnus double-opus The Guilt Trip (Shimmydisc SH 055). If you’re hooked, you can safely add this to your collection.

Kitty Brazelton has a new disc with her group dadaDah, following the most excellent Rise Up on Accurate/Distortion. A song cycle of romance which could’ve used the easy synth way, Love Not Love, Lust Not Lust (Buzz ZZ 76005, 61:03). uses a live band of some of the finest jazz and new-music players such as trombonist Chris Washburne and harpist Elizabeth Panzer, each of whom has new discs of their own. At a live, staged performance of the cycle at Here, a West Village performance space, Brazelton used lighting and simple staging to great effect, marred only by muddy sound which obscured much of the lyrics. Brazelton herself was having a ball doing this cycle, and the highlights were the two strongest pieces on the disc, the opening “Beauty Wild and Curious,” with its opening harp alluding to the fairytale to come, and the horns coming in driving us into this tale of woe. The twenty-minute closing suite “From Here Story” is a touching, grand piece of music. On the disc, players include such names as Jeff Song on bass (catch his discs on Asian Improv) and Phillip Johnston on saxes. It will appeal to fans of the likes of Kate Bush and Rickie Lee Jones, as well as we jazzbos and the odd prog-rocker. When she holds long, high notes, there is an uncanny resemblance to the Laura Nyro of New York Tendaberry. I liked Love Not Love, Lust Not Lust from the first hear, but the musicianship has grown on me with repeated play and despite a patch of simplistic lyrics, no worse than in Tommy, the entire disc has a strong drive and coherence. In concert, the cello rôle was taken by Martha Colby, who did a striking improvised duet with Washburne. For an encore, she did her catchy “You’re In Love,” from the present disc, which many audience members sang along to. In a long conversation, Brazelton confessed to a fondness for, among many other genres, psychedelic music, which opinion I seconded. Her next major project will be a disc of chamber music for CRI.

I’d encountered a Leo Records disc by an unknown sax player, James Fei, Solo Saxophone, and when I placed it on the ’table I thought, man, how does Leo Feigin keep finding these great people so consistently. It was via Leo I first encountered Japanese trumpeter Natsura Takatani and his spouse, Fujii, as well as her incredible big band. James Fei, on the other hand, is a Brooklynite, although from Taipei. His set at Newsonic Festival consisted of five composed pieces for a quartet of alto saxophones, here Fei, Chris Jonas, Seth Misterka, and Jackson Moore. The three sections performed here of the larger “Infra-slim” reminded one of the delicacy and transparency with lots of open space of Nono’s string quartet. “Horizontal-Vertical” was superbusy à la early Wold Sax Quartet. “Study II” had then sounding like rhinoceri. “Study I: Harmony” was a swarm of bees with a melody overlay. “Work” was slow, with varying textures, lots of aspiration and single notes. Fei had a beautifully-designed limited edition notebook of his compositions at the counter. Get the Leo disc.

At Newsonic, Brian Glick’s nonet began with trumpet and drums with bows, an electronic sound slowly growing. Rafael Cohen’s oboe sounded like a muted trumpet adding beautiful filigree rising in sound and the lower horns played sustained notes ascending in volume. The interplay between percussionist Sean Meeham and bassist Matt Heyner was superb. Kevin Norton had a fine trio with both Bob DeBellis and David Bindman on saxes and flute. It was a good set, though I forgot to take notes. Again, next issue I’ll be covering his discs.

CCM4 performed a piece “Blowing in the Wind,” using a video, processed sequences very retro-50s with pink and green. The group consists of Newsonic honcho Seth Misterka on alto sax and electric git, Rafael Cohen on oboe and percussion and Peter Cafarella on accordion and synth. Context Studios is a great performance Space but tens to get overly stuffy and hot and I had to leave during the performance when the asthma kicked in.

Always a fan of the do-it-yourself, I was intrigued when a wonderful square 13″ box arrives, reeking of records. Ah, the anticipation. More vinyl. These days vinyl comes in two forms: horrific or magical. The music is too often proportionally contrary to the pressing quality, which brings us to Schrat Field Recordings. Actually, the self-titled Series ( Schrat Field Recordings No. 8802, one-sided LP) is a wonderful example I’m unfamiliar with all players: Craig Colorusso on bass clarinet, alto sax and guitar; Andy Crespo on bass, and percussionist Todd Jacobs. The poster inside leads me to believe these guys are from Massachusetts. A tumbling low-field rumble starts up a rhythm, a pulse (a word I’m loathe to use since “drift music” flurried in) which carried you to closer listening to the detail of the partly-audible double-bass and horns. I was delighted, when I read the jacket after listening, to see the tracks titled “Elephant March I and II.” Right! That’s just what it made me think of. Sandwiched between is “Undetermined Crescent of a Moon,” although the fourteen-minute side flows nonstop. A most excellent journey, and if you have a turntable and like music rather than audiophile sound, and a “filled” 78-minute disc, the answer is yes.

Obliquity by Project W (Schrat Field Recordings No. 880 , one-sided LP) is a semi-star product, depending on which circles your ears hang in. (Sheesh, what an image!) Jeph Jerman is well-known in noise/sound environments circles for his work in groups like Hands To. Altoist Wally Shoup is known as one of the great Alabamans (with LaDonna Smith and Davey Williams) and now as a Seattlite. An echoey live recording, nonetheless, there is some fine free improv hidden in these (vinyl) grooves. Wally Shoup has gone from south to west, now living in L.A. His self-released cassette Wally Shoup: Alto Saxophone reveals many talents: balladic wandering, an r’n’b flavored piece, and more “out” pieces.

What a treat when someone you like puts out a really smashing disc after a few radio-trendy funk diversions to nowhere. Ray Anderson’s Pocket Brass Band of Lew Soloff, Matt Parinne and Bobby Previte has had me second-lining all over my house since Where Home Is (Enja ENJ 9366-2, 60:51) arrived. Anderson has found home again, in New Orleans marches, but the main thing is, this band and Anderson himself is swinging, and tough. His ’bone’s tone is rough and raspy, as is Soloff’s trumpet. Matt Perrine, new to me, does the honors on sousaphone, and when the horns double and triple, splattering and skittering, man oh man. Previte’s drumming wiggles all over the place, and so does your behind, and there are times he tricks you and your heart skips a bat but your rear knows what to do. The solos are slammin’ and the heads, from the opening “Bimwah Swing” and the non-originals such as Duke’s “The Mooche” and the closer, Joplin’s “The Pineapple Rag,” build and carry you on their shoulders. “The Alligatory Abagua” has already turned out my backbone. One of my year’s best in any genre; most highly recommended, with a stupid-happy grin on my face.

Marty Ehrlich, Peter Erskine and Michael Formanek, three excellent musicians, have combined to make their own theory of Relativity. On their eponymously titled new CD (Enja ENJ-9341-2, 56:45), the trio starts off with a stunner: “Incident at Harpham Flat.” Throughout this disc, Erskin’s percussion delights with its just-right cymbals, bass-kicks, and everything else from his basic drum kit. Every note, every hit and roll is just so musical, tasty and melodic, that I have to go back to my other records of his to see what I’ve been missing. Ehrlich’s saxes seem to keep time as much (or a little) as the “rhythm section.” Well-known and respected from his own work, his Dark Woods Ensemble and his support of the music of the late Julius Hemphill, Ehrlich here sometimes recalls the plaintive quaver of the early Gato Barbieri, as well as, of course, his own distinct timbres. “Round the Four Corners” begins with a kora-like bass from Formanek. It is a snake-charmer’s slow, winding delight. The piece ends with a slow, beautifully textured grain like that of Ehrlich’s Dark Woods Ensemble or the Arcado String Trio. “Jiggle the Handle” handles similar territory and does it well, a slow grinder, belying its title. Several cuts feature township rhythms; they could easily have come off an Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly, Dollar Brand) recording. I enjoy this one more with every play.

Three Guy (Enja 951-2, 50:44), the trio of Lee Konitz – Steve Swallow – Paul Motian, is a low-key disc of originals and two standards. Swallow’s bass is the stand-out here, with Motion typically tasteful and tasty. Only Konitz fails to spark on this outing. On Konitz’ tune “Thingin’,” Swallow plays a super bass solo. He’s the one who really makes the record work. Motian is his reliable self, creating percussive textures, punctuation and fills. I’m a major fan of his early ECM discs, although his current Electric BeBop Band leaves me cold.

The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band held a tribute to the great jazz musician and composer called “Music of Monk: A New Perspective.” The perspective was anything but new, but it wasn’t bad. Sadly I missed the opening half, featuring Steve Lacy and the always (sympathetic seems too casual a word, but with this pianist it is of major significance) just-right Kenny Barron. (I recommend his duet double-disc with Stan Getz on Verve, People Time.) Completing the quartet were bassist Todd Coolman and Dana Hall from the CHJB. My Lacy-freak sources tell me the quartet was good, but nothing as special as his own groups. Lacy, you’ll note, was one of the very first carriers of the Monk flame, in the early 1960s. Barron played a very short solo encore that was better than most full sets. The second half had big-band arrangements of the most standard Monk standards. Slide Hampton’s arrangement of “Little Rootie Tootie” used the Monk tune as a vehicle, but all Monkness was lost. Nonetheless, the brass voices were striking, often recalling Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo At The Gym.” An arrangement of “Trinkle Tinkle” by a Mr Mossman gave the tune a James Bond feel through the piano and bass line. Mr Mackrel’s arrangement of “Off Minor”

Sometimes musicians tolerate vulgar behavior from the audience: people leaving loudly and rudely midpiece, with or without commenting upon the music; clubs where the chatter and drinking overwhelm the music; and the hecklers all performers face. When the heckling comes unprovoked from the stage, however, it is unprofessional. Detracting from the music and Monk’s memory was Jon Faddis’ behavior when a couple quietly, ten minutes before the end of the show, left between pieces. He stared at them, crudely waved bye-bye, and made a four-minute mockery, seemingly more an attempt to aggrandize himself than to make a pointless point to the departees, who carried themselves with dignity as Faddis tried to ridicule them. Even if his playing had been worthy of the audience who had largely come to hear Lacy and honor Monk, and years ago it had been, this buffoonery still would have been an embarrassment.



Kitty Brazelton:

Buzz Records:; distributed by Allegro.

Carnegie Hall: Practice. If that doesn’t work, call 212.

Enja Records: distributed by Koch International


Koch: www,

Leo Records:; distributed by North Country

Newsonic:; distributed by North Country

North Country Distributors: Cadence/NorthCountry Audio Home Page


Schrat Field Recordings: POBox 300356, Denver CO 80203

Soul Note: