Friday, July 26, 2013

Brötzmann : Hideout

Wednesday night I got over to The Hideout for Umbrella Music's Immediate Sound Series.

I was expecting a big turnout as the night's two sets were by the trio of Peter Brötzmann (as,ts, clar, táragató) Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone) Hamid Drake (drums, perc). 

Having missed Brötzmann's last appearance in Chicago (I was out of town) I decided to get there nice and early. I'm glad I did as it didn't take long for the house to fill. Great to see people getting out to hear improvised music - the biggest crowd I have seen at The Hideout. It's a nice venue, plenty of character, some nice beers, good sound and sight lines, and a cozy feel.
The first set had Brötzmann switching between alto sax, clarinet and táragató. For the second he was on tenor sax. While he far from my favorite saxophonist, Brötzmann is someone I have wanted to hear in person. At 72 years of age he is still blows up a sonic storm - an avalanche of sound that must make some want to cower in the corner. The music does ebb and flow but for the most part, energy levels remained high across the two sets. Just when you think he has reached breaking point somehow he pushes through the barrier. At times I felt this got a little predictable - climbing the ladder of high and loud - but fascinating nonetheless. There is an intent to the way he starts and finishes notes/sounds - an intense focus. While there is a definite physicality to his playing, there are times when he appears to be surprisingly relaxed while playing in a manner that would cause many other saxophonists to look as though they are about to explode (perhaps it's hidden by the facial hair?). I wonder if Adolphe Sax envisioned Brötzmann's approach when inventing this wonderfully flexible instrument 167 years ago?

Nice turnout at The Hidout
Adasiewicz's playing - particularly his work accompanying the horn - really stood out. A creative player well worth checking out if you haven't already. I have heard him a number of times around Chicago and he is often the stand out player. Of his recorded work I am only familiar with "Spacer" a fine album with his trio Sun Rooms. Adasiewicz and Drake locked in well together - a duo concert/album from these two would be great to hear.

The funk/soul/disco tracks playing before the set and during the break made quite a contrast to what everyone came to hear.

Brötzmann and Drake return to The Hideout next Wednesday when they will play with Ken Vandermark (reeds) and Chad Taylor (drums).
Brötzmann's latest artworks are in town too. Left / Right opens at Corbett vs Dempsey on Saturday 27 July and runs through to August 17.

Catalytic-Sound is the place to find many of  Brötzmann's recordings. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

There's no there there

A few years back, Mike Nock performed a solo concert at the Illot Theatre in Wellington. The day of the concert he presented a masterclass. The turnout wasn't huge - mostly a bunch of music students alongside my friend Char Ford and I (front-row-center… jazz nerds!). Mike played a standard and a free improvisation - for the most part he talked about playing, his conception and philosophy. There aren't many details I can remember but one gem remains. When speaking about the journey of music and seeking a destination, a level to attain etc. Mike pointed out that….
"When you get there, you realize there's no there, there."

At the end of the masterclass Norman Meehan asked me if I was coming to the concert that night. I replied that I would love to but I couldn't afford it (the concert wasn't that expensive I was broke at the time). Norman proposed that if I wanted to sell CDs during the set break and after the gig then there would be a ticket for me. I jumped at the chance (Thanks Norm!). The CDs sold well. Of the half a dozen or so discs for sale only one didn't sell out…. the one without Nock playing on it (Michael Houston playing Nock compositions). It was great chatting with Mike after the gig, talking about watching him on TV when I was getting into jazz and what an inspiration he was. 

As a young musician Mike Nock was the only New Zealand jazz musician that I was really aware of. I had seen him on TV (possibly on the news) but never heard his music until later in my teens - towards the end of high school. In fact, I believe the first time I heard his music (outside of that brief TV appearance) was in person thanks to the generosity of a former saxophone teacher (thanks Brian!).

Brian had an extra ticket for a Mike Nock concert in Wellington - if I wanted to go it was mine. The concert launched the 1998 Wellington Jazz Festival. The Wellington Jazz Collective had commissioned Nock to compose a piece for large ensemble. My memories are somewhat hazy when it comes to specifics but the concert most definitely made an impact. Until then the live jazz that I had exposed to was pretty much Big Bands, Dixieland/Swing groups, and the odd group or two playing standards - this was some thing else. Nock presented his composition "Shifting Goalposts" with an ensemble of many of Wellington's (and NZ's) top musicians. I think the lineup was Nock (p) Scott Towers & Jeff Henderson (sax) Nick van Dijk (trb) Chris O'Connor & Roger Sellers (d) John Bell (vibes) Paul Dyne (and someone else… Patrick Bleaky or Tom Callwood) (b).... it was a nine or ten piece group. Please let me know if my memory has failed me. Over the following three years many of them would be my teachers at music school.

If there is a recording of this concert floating around I would love to hear it.

Wellington Public Library has treated me well over the years. As a teenager I would browse the racks finding things to listen to - artists I had read about or just random albums. Around the time of "Shifting Goalposts" one such visit lead me to Ondas (ECM 1982 - with Eddie Gomez (d) Jon Christensen (d)). At the time I was listening to lots of Bird and getting into classics like Sonny Rollins (Saxophone Colossus) Paul Desmond (Time Out) Ornette Coleman (Shape of Jazz) Dexter Gordon (Our Man in Paris) - Ondas was quite a change for me. 
The mood is quite reflective throughout the album (things pick up tempo-wise on "Doors"). The drums sneak in and out while the bass accompaniment is sparse. Nock's piano is light with crystal clear purpose. I'm surprised this is the only work Nock did for ECM.
Check out Nock's album In Out and Around for an earlier quartet version of "Forgotten Love."

During the 1990's Nock worked as a producer for Naxos and the label priced its releases much lower than was common in New Zealand - that, and they had distribution in NZ, meant these are the albums I have heard the most.

Ozboppin' (Naxos 1998) got many spins when Char and I were working at Piano City. Fine playing from what I believe was Nock's working group of the time - Tim Hopkins (ts) Phil Slater (trpt/flugel) Cameron Undy (b) David Goodman (d) It had been a while since I last listened to the entire album - Nock's solo on the title track always stood out to me.

Not We But One (Naxos 1997) Tony Reedus (d) Anthony Cox (b). Nice interplay from the trio on seven compositions from Nock, three free improvisations and one standard ('Cry Me A River' in 3/4). An album with nice amounts of variety yet plenty of continuity. I would like to hear some of his more recent trios - I haven't got to 'Changing Seasons" & "Accumulation of Subtleties" just yet.

The Waiting Game (Naxos 1999) A set of duos with Marty Ehrlich. Once again there's plenty of variety with the material - Five Nock originals, free improvisations, folk tunes, and one piece each from Brubeck & James P. Johnson. This disc was introduction to Ehrlich's playing who divides time been clarinet (soprano & bass) and saxophone (alto & soprano). It's a nice pairing, with two distinctive sounds with plenty of common ground. For more of Ehrlich & Nock together check out the two New York Jazz Collective albums (also on Naxos). 

Duologue (Birdland 2007) duo with David Liebman (soprano sax). I picked this album up a couple of years before getting into soprano. The recording captures the warmth of this duo in concert at the 2004 Wangaratta Jazz Festival. Two old friends sharing the bandstand after many years apart seems to bring out the best of both artists. The set list includes originals by Nock & Liebman plus a couple of standards. Liebman has some long standing relationships with pianists - Richie Beirach, Phil Markowitz & Marc Copland. Duologue makes me want to hear some follow up work between these two. Back in the 80's they did record as part of a quartet (The Opal Heart) but I am yet to hear that disc (I see it's on Spotify). This disc backs up my feeling that the soprano saxophone is Liebman's voice. Mike's accompaniment & solo work throughout is top notch. 

While I'm on the subject of duos I don't want to leave out Open Door (Ode 1987) with drummer Frank Gibson Jr. The groove of "Harriet St" & "Phaedra's Lullaby", the harmonies of "Danny Boy", the up-tempo "Choices" and the journey of "Great Wall." This one has had plenty of plays over the years too.
Nock's most recent release - Kindred - another piano/drum duet, this time with Laurenz Pike. I look forward to hearing it.

For those of you after more info on "the white boy from Ngaruawahia" be sure to check out Serious Fun: The Life & Music of Mike Nock by Norman Meehan(Victoria University Press 2010) 

It's full of wonderful tales from his early years in New Zealand and relocating to the USA (via Australia) - touring with Yusef Lateef and Stanley Turrentine, the NYC lower east side scene during the 60's, The Fourth Way etc - through to his mentoring of younger players in Australia. 
Here's a couple excerpts from the book: First up - Nock on fellow pianist Paul Bley. 

"It didn't matter what the changes were - sometimes he might refer to them, but a lot of the time he wouldn't at all - and it didn't matter. It's the strength of the line that carries it. Playing with total certainty about you are doing is what makes the difference." 

And, from the final couple of pages:
"Jazz is serious - it's serious fun, but for me it is serious music - otherwise what's the point in doing it? Mediocrity doesn't rule my life."

An added bonus included with the book is the DVD - Mike Nock: A Film. I have blurry memories of watching Nock on T.V before I started playing sax so I'm guessing it was documentary (it seemed very familiar when I watched after reading the book).

I am yet to delve into his music from a playing side. Perhaps that awaits me in the future.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Notebook 1: Old Music New Music

On and off I keep a notebook of thoughts on music and saxophone playing. Earlier this week I flicked through the pages of one that is about a year old and decided to start posting some of my pre-blog ramblings.
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* Don't Be Afraid Of Old Music * * Don't Be Afraid Of New Music *

About 12 years ago I asked a pianist friend of mine who they were listening to - Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau were the answers.  I followed up by asking if they listen to any pianists from earlier in the jazz lineage - "Not really" they replied.  Why not? They figured their favorite players were influenced by the earlier masters and that influence would be passed on to them.  Plus they didn't like the sound of old recordings!
One of the most in demand players in town and they had never checked out the likes of Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Teddy Wilson, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell.  I was very surprised. Perhaps Teddy Wilson could have opened some new avenues to explore that weren't apparent in the music of Keith Jarrett.
I have always loved going back and listening to those who influenced my favorite artists.  Here's a page from the notebook (click on it to enlarge) where I've plotted players around saxophonist Richard Tabnik - it doesn't take long for the web to expand (and it is by no means complete). Some of these artists I am quite familiar with, others less so but I have listened to them all.

What's new to you may be contemporary, from another era, underground or mainstream.  It may be old to others.

In 2009 I attended over 100 gigs during a six month stay in NYC - lots of great music, plus plenty that did nothing for me - It's good to find out what you don't like! Why don't you like it? Revisit it - tastes change.  I first heard Evan Parker in concert. It was intriguing so I had a listen to a couple of recordings and didn't like them at all (these were full-throttle type things). I shelved him. Then a couple of years ago, I spotted an album (Time Will Tell) and gave it a shot - this time I quite enjoyed it. Whilst I can't say I enjoy all of his vast discography there are a few nice ones in there for me (they tend to be at his mellower end).

The Music Village workshop in Greece opened my ears to a lot of new music - Alexander Berne, Morton Feldman, Kaum Quartet, Fo[u]r Alto, Stockhausen among others. Working on Stockhausen was another new challenge and I took those pieces with me (they are still a challenge). Frank Gratkowski's composition for 14 Alto saxes playing multiphonics was not like anything I had been part of before. It was very exciting playing this music to a crowd of people that arrived not knowing what to expect and left having been part of a great night.
This page has been a nice reminder to give Chu Berry a spin.... Sittin' In, Chuberry Jam, Limehouse Blues, Monday At Minton's, Blowing Up A Breeze, Body & Soul have been playing as I type. NICE!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rob Mazurek Solo

Saturday afternoon I headed over to Corbett vs Dempsey for a solo concert by Rob Mazurek.
About 40 or so people turned out on a beautiful Chicago afternoon. I'm not that familiar with Mazurek's work so I approached this performance with a pretty clean slate.

The set was one long piece/suite of solo Cornet, Percussion, Electronics, and Voice. If I were to hear any of the movements in isolation I probably wouldn't have thought much of it. But joined together they created a work that unfolded wonderfully.  

Starting with a single pitch repeated, moving through blurs and splattering from cornet interspersed with percussion (mostly in the form of various shakers) an interlude on wooden flute, building to a wall of sound courtesy of swelling electronics, cornet, and eventually a giant shaker, cutting off to end with the breath of Mazurek. 

As an improviser I took away a couple of things in particular. 
Dynamics - From a whisper to a roar. Sudden changes as well as crescendo/decrescendo.
Space - Silence was embraced, especially early on and between movements. It was very much part of the performance.
Pacing - The performance was not rushed.
Texture/Density - As the wall of sound grew denser the cornet playing simplified, a nice contrast.  

In a couple of weeks CvD will be exhibiting works by Peter Brotzmann - I must add that to the calendar.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

straight ahead

I've spent this week at the Jazz Institute of Chicago's Straight Ahead Jazz Camp. A weeklong series of workshops aimed at jazz educators. I also attended Straight Ahead in 2011. The theme for 2013 was The Legacy of Louis Armstrong.
Here's a little of what went on throughout the week:

Ricky Riccardi
Ricky Riccardiauthor of "What A Wonderful World" and chief archivist at Louis Armstrong House, made too Armstrong presentations on Day 1.
In His Own Words - snippets from Armstrong's private recordings (he made over 750 reel to reel tapes). An amazing insight into his private life. Recordings from home and on the road... talking to friends, listening to music, reading the newspaper, reading letters, arguing with his wife!

Cinematic Satch - rare video footage from the archives. A great chance to hear and see things that may never be released.

Dana Hall Modern Pathways: Exploring the multi-dimensional music of Andrew Hill. 
My knowledge of Hill's music is fairly limited (Point of Departure, Time Lines, Black Fire and a few other bits and pieces) and I felt this was a great presentation. Knowledgable, enthusiastic, warm, not too formal or technical but clear with a nice mix of talking, discussion and listening. 

The Collective Improvisation ensemble class was directed by Mwata Bowden.
Mwata brings great energy and passion to the music. He had his work cut out.... 2 flutes, 7 Saxes, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba, 4 Trumpets, 5 Guitars, 2 Drummers, 6 Pianists, and about 6 vocalists on stage together. It was a fun session running through Fletcher Henderson's "Jangled Nerves" and  Louis Armstrong's "Struttin' With Some BBQ." 
After School Matters Big Band
Back at home I had a listen to the Henderson band of 1936 take on "Jangled Nerves" - features some nice Chu Berry and Roy Eldridge and tight ensembles.

Wednesday we had lunch at Buddy Guy's Legends while listening to the After School Matters Gallery 37 Big Band. Over the summer break the band, made up of high school students, rehearses daily in Millennium Park.

Guitarist Mike Allemana is currently working towards his PhD - Von Freeman being the topic of his study and of his presentation this week. Mike detailed his apprenticeship under Freeman - first at jam sessions, then as a member of the band (for 15 years) and how Freeman mentored younger players. The presentation was a bit dry but full of good info and some sweet stories too. This is interesting and important information and it looks like Mike will be updating his progress on his we site.

Jose Diaz ran a great session for music teachers - full of practical advice. Jose got everyone involved working on rhythm via call and response, improvising with rhythm, layering rhythms, vocalizing rhythms. Later that afternoon he ran a rehearsal with the Jazz Links Youth Ensemble - a big band made up of kids aged about 10-15 or so. Jose had the kids vocalizing the rhythms of the parts. In fairly short time the bands phrasing had made great improvement.
Noteworthy Jazz Ensemble
Finishing off the last day was the Noteworthy Jazz Ensemble - a big band comprised of Chicago public school music teachers (many of whom we attendees at workshops). First up they sight-read through a dozen new-ish released big band charts (mostly levels 1-3 mostly). 

After lunch Noteworthy performed a set of music - Spain, Bernie's Tune, Royal Garden Blues, The Duke, Come Together, Afro Blue. This set was a lot more together than some of the sight reading.

The Rambler
All in all it was an interesting week. I only found one part disappointing - the four sessions involving Wycliffe Gordon. Gordon rambled through each of the hour and a half sessions occasionally touching upon the topic of Louis Armstrong. The last session was particularly brutal - an hour spent talking about what today's youth wear..... I was struggling to see the connection to "Satchmo, A World of Education." I expected a lot more from him. 

One thing I found interesting was the focus on the late(r) period of Armstrong...… in fact the early work (I feel the most important) barely got a mention all week at the classes I went to - Mwata Bowden being the only person I recall who's focus was on the early work.


Went to a hand specialist at the start of the month. X-Rays showed no signs of arthritis and I got a shot in my right thumb to try and take care of the inflammation. It was a bit tender that night but it didn't take long to feel the difference.
The following morning, following about 40 minutes work on the horn, it was a bit sore. Rubbing in some anti-inflammatory gel took care of it. The rest of the day it was fine. I played again later in the afternoon and the pain didn't return. That week was as comfortable as my hand has been for quite a while.
One week following the injection and there had been no real discomfort until I started taking notes at one of the jazz workshop lectures (I will post on this!). Half a page in and the ache is on! Tried taking it as easy as I could - no playing for the rest of the workshop and minimal note taking. Frustrating, but it helped and by Thursday it was feeling good.
The thumb feels a little tender this morning. I will have a shot at playing after lunch and see how things feel.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

End of June Listenings

Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges (Verve 1959) with Claude Williamson (p) Buddy Clark (b) Mel Lewis (d) Had this one on while I was preparing dinner. A nice casually swinging session.

Disc 1 from the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz had a bit of playtime over the week. Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith in particular. "Livery Stable Blues" & "Tiger Rag" from the Original Dixieland Jass Band and Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues" made the playlist too.

Sidney Bechet & Martial Solal Quartet "The Complete Recordings." These are two sessions from 1957.  The first (March) is with Lloyd Thompson (b) and Al Levitt (d). The second (June) has Pierre Michelot (b) and Kenny Clarke (d). While they don't have the fire of earlier sessions, Bechet's soprano tone is well documented on these sessions - the cleanest recordings I have of his by far. The repertoire is interesting - "All The Things You Are", "These Foolish Things", "Embracable You", "All Of Me", "Pennies From Heaven"- none of which I had heard Bechet perform. His playing seems more refined with less bravado.
The last 10 track are from a 1952 trio session with Lil Armstrong (p/v) and Zutty Singleton (d) These didn't get the repeated listenings - the "four-on-the-floor" was a bit overbearing for me. I will give them another chance though.

Steve Lacy Snips: Live at Environ (Jazz Magnet 2000) 2cds recorded at the NYC loft space Environ in 1976. This was Lacy's first solo concert in the USA. The fidelity isn't the greatest but the music more that makes up for it. The Tao suite gets a run through as does "The Four Edges" which I wasn't familiar with. A very nice birthday present.

Ted Brown Shades of Brown (Steeplechase 2007) Ted Brown (ts) Steve LaMattina (g) Dennis Irwin (b) Ted Brown has been on my radar since I first heard the "Intiuition" disc released under Lennie Tristano & Warne Marsh's name (it compiles Tristano's Capitol sides with a Marsh Quintet session from the mid 50's).  Since then, I have picked up his discs when I can. When I feel like listening to melodic, swinging improvisations, Brown is one of my go to players. I am particularly fond of this album - wonderfully intimate and relaxed sound to it. His tone is full of nuance and subtle inflections that I feel is missing in many players conception of tone. It's been wonderful to see him get some well over due attention in recent years.
He has recently released a couple of discs but I haven't got them yet.

Billie Holiday's version of "Miss Brown To You" has been getting plenty listens.  Does anyone know a "straight" version of this tune? Clarinetist Ron Hockett plays the melody pretty straight on Larry Eanet's album "Sunset Stomp" (Arbors Jazz 1999). I'd like to find a vocal version that sticks close to home base.