Here we are: A full year into my listening session experiment. There have been some great turnouts and tremendous music heard. There have been some less than stellar turnouts and some contemporary country tunes. A total crapshoot but it is always fun.
If you are reading these posts and have the opportunity, I hope that you’ll join us for an upcoming meeting of BYOV. If you want to be on the email list, send me a note at email@example.com. Thanks for reading.
Summer sessions have proven to be a hard sell. Many musicians are busy on the European festival circuit. Critics are hiding in their AC caves. The normal folks have gotten the hell out of New York.
That said I was happy to get a small but varied crowd for BYOV #12. It was held on July 8th in the cozy back room of Barbès in sun scorched Park Slope, Brooklyn.
The difficulty level of our themes has gotten tougher and tougher.
Here were this session’s challenges:
a) Persona Non Grata - Bring your favorite recording by an artist while they were in exile (forced or otherwise).
b) "It's aiiigght..." - Song you really want to like, or feel that you should like, but don't.
c) Lit rock. - Bring your favorite literary inspired musical work, any genre. And yes, you can do better than Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick."
On to the show.
1. Charles Mingus – “The Chill of Death” from Let My Children Hear Music (Columbia C 31039, 1972)
Presented by Robert Futterman – LP – Theme: C
Robert was primed to give us a few selections that he had picked for our literary theme.
He prefaced this selection by mentioning that he felt this piece was at once “pretentious, ponderous and lighthearted.”
We heard a large ensemble of strings and winds. Shortly after, a husky voice started to ramble on a poem that stretched the length of the piece.
Steve: “Is it Mingus’s ‘The Clown’?” Close.
“It is Jean Shepherd, though? He provided the vocal on ‘The Clown’.”
It did turn out to be a Charles Mingus composition but it wasn’t Shepherd, however. It was Mingus himself lending his voice.
Robert went on to say that he felt the piece was “egomaniacal.”
“I can’t even listen to it. It is an impossible record.”
Funny to hear since Mingus himself found Let My Children Hear Music to be one of his better efforts. The album was a grand concept that mingled a career’s worth of Mingus compositional material into a clustered but ultimately intriguing recording. The hero of the hour was the guy that had for so long made sense out of Miles Davis’s “directions in music,” Mr. Teo Macero.
Macero got props for arranging and editing this monster into a coherent recording.
The conversation turned again to Mr. Shepherd, who had hosted a legendary radio show on WOR that ran in the late 1960s into the 1970s. In 1957, he was featured on the Mingus composition “The Clown” as he delivered an improvised vocal.
2. Steve Lacy Sextet – “Morning Joy” from The Condor (Soul Note SN 1135, 1986)
Presented by Robert Futterman – LP – Theme: C
Robert’s next piece was another tune featuring poetry.
This principle artist was guessed right away. Steve Lacy wouldn’t escape this crowd.
Ted: “Is it one of his poetry records?” Yes – each composition featured a poem by one of four poets including Anna Akhmatova, Franco Beltrametti, Nanni Balestrini and Bob Kaufman.
The track featured the saxophone duo of Lacy and Steve Potts along with pianist Bobby Few, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer Oliver Johnson. Lacy’s wife, vocalist/violinist Irene Aebi handled the duties of reciting/singing the poem by poet Bob Kaufman.
Jason was familiar with Kaufman. The poet was born in New Orleans to a German-Jewish father and a mother of Martinique heritage. He was one of the original beat poets. Like Lacy, Kaufman relocated to France where he was later dubbed “Rimbaud Noir.”
Ted had just finished Jason’s book of collected Lacy interviews. What happenstance that writer, reader and subject met…
“It could only happen here…”
3. George Russell ft. Jon Hendricks – “Manhattan” from New York, N.Y. (Decca, 1958)
Presented by Robert Futterman – LP – Theme: C
The final selection that Robert presented was the one that he felt was the strongest example of mixing poetry and jazz music.
The introductory drum solo before the all too familiar vocal was enough for this crew of jazz scholars.
Everyone knew the familiar “Manhattan” by musical polyglot and theorist George Russell. The Jon Hendricks vocal has been classic material for half a century.
Steve: “The drummer was Charlie Persip. Whew…”
Robert: “I like that Hendrick delivers the poem with no vocalese.”
“John Coltrane was on this, right?” Yep.
Apparently, Coltrane was brought in for the session as a burgeoning star. As he took fifteen minutes to look the piece over, the studio musicians scoffed - they thought he couldn’t read. As they ran through the piece, Trane knocked out a tremendous solo. Turned out that not only could he read, he had been adding his own harmonic additions to the structure.
Thomas mentioned that he had read Russell’s famed Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation. He thought that the book was both beautiful and disastrous as it presented an amazing concept and legitimization of a certain type of composing and arranging but also led to the world of jazz education - which has tended to homogenize the music. Thomas has favored the trial and error method over the institutionalized educational system.
In the book, Russell reflected on Coltrane’s solo as being a perfect example of using imagination and harmonic thought in a presented structure.
Robert: “This is a long one. We don’t have to listen to it all.”
Ted: “But that’s what we’re here for.”
“Who was the guitarist on this?” Barry Galbraith.
Ted mentioned that Adam Rogers had studied with the forgotten legend who never had a chance to record an album of his own.
Another famous solo on the tune was Bill Evans’s one-handed piano solo. Steve called it “sitting on his left hand.” He also did this on “All About Rosy” later on.
Evans and Russell had been close. They had served in the army together and Russell had brought Evans to accompany vocalist Lucy Reed on her This Is Lucy Reed recording for which he had done some arrangements. They subsequently worked together on a number of far reaching projects, including a number of small groups and a large group recording under Evans’s name called Living Time.
4. Tristan Honsinger – “Violets” from Picnic (DATA Records 852, 1985)
Presented by Thomas Heberer – LP – Theme: A
Before presenting, Thomas had a question or rather a confession.
“We all love Steve Lacy and we have no reason to question his actions and decision making. But I have a hard time listening to recordings that he made with Steve Potts and Irene Aebi.”
It seemed as though Thomas had a point in his collecting where he was going weeding through his collection trying to determine whether he would ever listen to certain records again. Being a fan of Lacy, he had discovered that he couldn’t listen to records featuring Potts or Aebi.
Thomas mentioned that he probably owned 30 or so Lacy recordings but had gotten rid of most of the recordings with Potts or Aebi. He was looking to our panel to give him a reason to keep the rest.
Thomas added that he had also played with Potts and found Potts’s playing especially annoying due to the saxophonist’s lack of regard for intonation. He found it odd that Lacy loved working with Potts as Lacy’s pitch was extremely controlled.
Our Lacy expert Jason has heard all the cries of dissension about Aebi in the past, though just as many concerning Potts, whose playing he has enjoyed for some time.
Jason’s opinion on the Aebi influence on Lacy was that Lacy separated from the American jazz scene and had adapted himself to a more open European aesthetic – using European folkloric and classical ideas to add a jolt to his music. There was also the effort to incorporate his life partner into his work.
Thomas wasn’t too impressed with the answer as he has long been a member of this particular European “art music” scene.
Ted mentioned that he felt that Potts had come from an American swing based tradition but had gone on to a more post Ornette Coleman position when he began performing with Lacy. Of course, Potts’s relocation to Paris, the crossroads for the most experimental jazz during the late 1960s and 1970s, played a big part in his musical development and collaborations.
Steve found it strange that Lacy actually let Potts occasionally double on soprano, as their styles certainly didn’t mesh.
Jason: “Do you have a problem when Lacy includes a second horn player?”
Thomas: “No. I like the material he did with Roswell Rudd and the stuff that he did with George Lewis was great.”
No consensus was reached. Aebi would remain a polarizing figure in the world of Lacy-ites. And now Steve Potts has become part of that conversation.
There wasn’t much of a tie in with Lacy on the piece Thomas had selected, although the saxophonist on the track played with hints of Lacy’s style and may have lived in Paris for a short time.
The album was recorded by a sextet, though one voice was missing on this track. The musicians were from five different nations from four different continents. Two of the musicians had been persona non grata.
“Why were they ‘non grata’?” One had opposed Apartheid in South Africa and the other had refused to serve in Vietnam.
As we listened, we heard an off kilter melody shared between a trumpet and soprano saxophone. There was plucking strings and crashing cymbals.
Steve looked to me: “Do you know it?” I didn’t but I was worried that it might have been the artist that I wanted to present later (stay tuned).
“When was it recorded?” 1985.
Ted took a wild guess: “Is it Sean Bergin?” The saxophonist was indeed Bergin. A South African that made his home in Amsterdam.
The ensemble was led by cellist Tristan Honsinger - who had fled the USA to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. The rest of the ensemble was Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, French bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and American percussionist Michael Vatcher.
Ted wondered about the Vietnam flight as he thought the draft had ended in 1973 while Honsinger claimed to have left in 1974.
The answer to that riddle was that Honsinger originally left the States for Montreal in 1969. He later moved to Europe in 1974.
Thomas has collaborated with Honsinger and finds the cellist/composer very intense but with a hidden super romantic side.
I wish I had known of this one before. Great record all around.
5. Fred Hersch Ensemble – “Part 2: The Sleepers” from Leaves of Grass (Palmetto, 2005)
Presented by Ted Panken – CD – Theme: C
Ted mentioned that his selection was “music featuring literature with a capital L.” He was also happy that there was a Brooklyn connection with the piece. He felt the piece “somewhat artisanal” apropos to the Park Slope surroundings.
Steve: “Is that Kurt Elling?” Yes. “Horrible…”
Ted: “Hmm… I really like Elling.”
Steve: “So is this a John Hollenbeck project?” No. Though it did happen to feature Hollenbeck on drums.
“Glenn Patscha?” No, it wasn’t the keyboardist and leader of the rootsy Ollabelle.
“That was Tony Malaby on tenor, though? Right?” I believe so.
No one guessed the leader or the literary connection.
The literary element was a poem by the former Brooklynite Walt Whitman.
The project was pianist Fred Hersch’s setting of Whitman poems to his own original compositions and arrangements.
Ted: “This also happens to be one of my favorite Whitman poems.”
6. Bill Evans – “A Sleepin’ Bee” from Trio 64 (Verve V6-8578, 1964)
Presented by Steve Futterman – MP3 – Theme: C
Steve wanted to present a quick one that he felt everyone would get but he had just thought of.
As soon as the piano started, it was easy to tell that it was - seemingly a crowd favorite – Bill Evans. It was his trio of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian that was recorded in New York City on December 18, 1963.
The composition was by Harold Arlen but the tune’s original lyrics were provided by literary great and altogether strange guy, Truman Capote.
7. Carlos d’Alessio & Marguerite Duras – "India Song (Orchestre)" from India Song Et Autres Musiques De Films (Le Chant Du Monde LDX 74818, 1984)
Presented by Jason Weiss – CD - Theme: A
We heard a slinky piano groove that built up with cornet, clarinet and violin -reminiscent of early jazz and blues.
Steve: “Is it a Sidney Bechet piece?” No but it was certainly in the spirit.
Jason told us that the piece was written for an art house film from the 1970s. There was certainly an early American jazz meets French cabaret feel.
Steve: “So the composer was in exile?” In a way.
Composer Carlos d’Alessio was an Argentinean native who lived in France. This particular work was composed for writer/director Marguerite Duras’s film India Song. Duras wrote the play in 1972 and later released the film adaptation in 1975.
The setting of the movie was Paris in the 1930s – thus the early jazz sound that would have been extremely popular during the period.
Jason also mentioned that this particular song had a connection with another BYOV fav, Kip Hanrahan, as it was performed on his first recording Coup De Tête (American Clavé AMCL 1007, 1981) with Carla Bley featured on vocals and piano.
8. Brion Gysin – “Kick” from Self-Portrait Jumping (Made to Measure MTM 33, 1993)
Presented by Jason Weiss – CD – Theme: C
The trumpet just kicked in when Thomas chimed: “It sounds like Don Cherry.”
It certainly was.
The tune had a certain new wave / world fusion feel that Cherry went on to champion in the 1980s. But he wasn’t the main artist.
No one was able to guess artist and performance artist Brion Gysin. Most well known for his drawings and paintings, Gysin was involved in music and writing, too. He helped his friend William Burroughs edit a number of writings and even helped devise a “cut-up” system that Burroughs used to write Naked Lunch.
“Kick” came from an album Gysin recorded with French guitarist Ramuntcho Matta called Self-Portrait Jumping that featured his own vocals and lyrics over tracks that included illustrious jazz musicians like Don Cherry and Steve Lacy (with whom he had collaborated extensively).
9. Bad Plus – “Frog and Toad” from Give (Columbia CK 90771, 2004)
Presented by Chris Morrissey – CD – Theme: C
Chris brought in an instrumental tune inspired by a series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel entitled Frog and Toad.
Steve: “Did this come out recently? I know I’ve listened to this recently.”
It was recent. At least in the scope of the past ten years, as it was released in 2004.
Jason: “It is interesting to know the name of the song while listening to the tune. You can put the image together and hear a certain energy the song tries to capture.”
No one tried to guess the artist(s). Chris hinted that the composer was a drummer from Minnesota.
Ted guessed the Bad Plus, the consistently trailblazing modern jazz (and other stuff) trio featuring pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King. Each member has composed for the group but this particular tune was written by King.
The question of the group’s substantiality in the world of jazz came up as it inevitably does in any conversation about the Bad Plus.
“Is there anything beyond the rock and roll covers?”
Chris took exception: “As a disclaimer, these guys are friends of mine. They may be a polarizing group just because of their wide recognition. Their music isn’t schtick or tongue in cheek and they certainly aren’t insensitive to the music.”
Ted echoed Chris’s sentiments: “The group’s approach isn’t so calculated.”
Ted went on to say that the ensemble never aimed at being a group that covered rock and contemporary tunes to attract listeners.
The fact that the Bad Plus has had success beyond that which most jazz ensembles have attained has only garnered them with detractors in the jazz community. What should have been seen as a modern attempt at drawing from popular song has put the group in the crosshairs of the jazz cognoscenti.
The easiest target has seemed to be drummer Dave King. Once again his drumming came into question at our roundtable as someone mentioned that - to all intents and purpose - King was a rock drummer.
Chris: “Dave and many of his fans would vehemently deny that claim. He can play any style and has developed his own distinct concept and style.”
The fact of the matter was that the ensemble has brought together three individuals with many varied musical interests and concepts. Each of the members has proven his worth as a composer and improviser.
While the group has moved past these arguments, at least they’ve kept the music relevant and developed a following that might not have reached out to jazz otherwise.
10. Harry Miller Quintet – “Schooldays” from Down South (VARA Jazz 4213, 1985)
Presented by Me – LP – Theme: A
We heard a plucked bass and scattered drums. There were some chuckles as some muffled vocalese and human squawking was heard. The horns came in as the drums swung into double time.
And they were off!
I mentioned that the make up of this ensemble was mainly European with some others.
Thomas: “It isn’t the Brotherhood?” It wasn’t the Chris McGregor led Brotherhood of Breath but Thomas was thinking along the right lines.
Ted: “I was thinking Dutch. Maybe Willem Breuker or Wolter Wierbos?” Though Breuker wasn’t there, it was the Dutch trombonist Wierbos blasting away.
It also turned out that the group was listening to saxophonist Sean Bergin for the second time that afternoon.
No one guessed the other exile, Bergin’s fellow countryman.
It was the great South African bassist Harry Miller most well known for his time with the Brotherhood of Breath, adventures in the UK and European free jazz scenes and his creation of Ogun Records with his wife Hazel.
The rest of the ensemble included the under-appreciated British trumpeter Mark Charig and the iconoclastic Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.
This particular record was released posthumously, Miller having perished on December 16, 1983 from injuries he received in a car accident on November 27. Two other musicians also died in the early morning disaster. The recording was made on March 3, 1983 in Amsterdam and released in February 1984.
Thomas mentioned that the accident was still mentioned as caution whenever musicians took to the road by car.
11. Bob Dylan – “I Shall Be Released” from The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3: Rare and Unreleased, 1961-1991 (Sony, 1997)
Presented by Steve Futterman – MP3 – Theme: A
Steve: “I want to play a quick example of an artist that went into a sort of voluntary exile.”
Chris: “Isn’t that just called moving?”
The vocalist was obviously Bob Dylan. This was material from the Basement Tapes that were made as Dylan took time away from the limelight and started to piece together what was to become the Band.
The singer/songwriter had a motorcycle accident in 1967, which he used as an excuse to escape the touring life of which he was fairly exhausted. Dylan had just come off a big European tour and “he didn’t want to do it again.”
Ultimately, this led to new developments in Dylan’s craft, vocal style and the creation of one of the folk/rock’s favorite groups, the Band.
Jason: “So it was more of an internal exile.”
Steve: “At least he made good use of his time.”