Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"We don't play jazz, we play vision!"

So sayest Lewis “Flip” Barnes, the trumpeter/MC for the opening night of Vision Festival XII. That statement was realized to varying degrees of success by the five groups on Tuesday night at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, a converted synagogue in the Lower East Side, mere steps away from Tonic.

The concert opened with an invocation of sorts by poetess and vocalist Patricia Nicholson, William Parker on an African(-derived? -inspired?) box-like bass and Hamid Drake on frame drum, delivered while people were still filing in. Nicholson’s poetry was delivered with sincerity, but the smiles/raindrops/rainbows imagery rang a little forced and dated to me. The instances of her speaking in tongues and waving her arms in a neo-tribal hippie fashion seemed, in the wake of Matana RobertsCoin Coin performance at the Suoni festival, a little hollow. Parker and Drake exhibited their unique hook-up, but in one of the many sound problems to plague the evening, Drake’s frame drum was ill represented sonically.

William Parker followed up with his large ensemble commission and premiere, Double Sunrise Over Neptune. After having heard him quite recently in duo with Drake, I was extremely curious to hear what he would do with a much larger group. The piece consisted of three bass ostinati, played dutifully by Shayna Dulberger, the first of which I felt lasted far too long. While I loved the hypnotic grooves of the duo, in the large ensemble they felt ponderous and I longed for some more change-ups, if not in material than in texture. On the other hand, much of the initial string writing seemed underdeveloped, fleeting motives that would repeat twice and then move on to something only tangentially related. I was struck at how all the different cultures represented – the Indian vocalist Sangeeta Bannerjee, Bill Cole’s Eastern reeds, Joe Morris’ banjo, Brahim Fribgane’s oud – blended far better than expected. Much of the solos were in overlapping dialogues, many of which were tremendous – Morris’ flurried guitar with Mazz Swift’s soulful violin, Rob Brown’s hard-edged alto and responsive interaction with Bannerjee, “Flip” Barnes’ cogent trumpet logic, Jason Kao Hwang’s beautiful singing tone, and the combination of Drake and Gerald Cleaver was mighty indeed. Sabir Mateen indulged in his squeaking and squawking, in tandem with baritone saxist Dave Sewelson, and I longed for the opportunity to hear him do something – anything – else. Jessica Pavone was completely buried for her otherwise great viola solo, Bill Cole was generally too loud for the duration of the piece, Parker’s bass kora was mostly inaudible, and while the saxes’ first entry was overwhelmingly loud, their chorale parts were lost in the mix.

The ending of the piece arrived as a non sequitur, with Bannerjee abruptly starting to sing English lyrics in place of her earlier vocalise. Once it settled in, it was beautiful, and Parker’s string writing had vastly improved, with some gorgeous string quartet passages over Parker’s bass kora. Cole’s shakuhachi punctuations seemed out of place here, but it was a minor interruption. Double Sunrise could have been more effective in many ways, but even still was fairly successful. It was hard to tell who was responsible for the sonic clutter – the soundmen or Parker. I want to give Parker the benefit of the doubt here.

By contrast, the collective trio Fieldwork were all quite audible in the system. Vijay Iyer’s a fascinating pianist and composer – his hand position is like a tarantula traversing the keyboard, grasping odd intervals. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey looks like a Buddha behind the kit, embracing both the hip-hop machine-like grooves of Marcus Gilmore but with a looseness and fluidity of Dan Weiss, peppered with drum ‘n’ bass references. Saxophonist Steve Lehman dug into the Carnatic-influenced rhythmic patterns, sounding less brittle than I’ve usually heard him, and less edgy than Iyer’s usual alto cohort, Rudresh Mahanthappa. (My neighbour, DJA, felt differently.) At one point, through his phrasing and extended technique, he sounded like a human sampler. There was a cinematic quality to the music, with its dark intervallic harmony and the sonorous overtones from the Steinway. Iyer’s created a language for himself – his rhythmic conception and line construction are different from most, and quite systematic. He’s brilliant, and I appreciate his work, but I can’t say it often gets me on a visceral sort of level.

I’m still trying to figure out how to parse Cooper-Moore’s Keyboard Project. It was too insistent upon itself to be taken purely as farce, but too broad to be effectively subversive. Cooper-Moore spent most of his time ranting how “Jazz ain’t got no mama,” jazz being an orphan, whore and prostitute, and all he needed was some sort of punchline to complete it. When he wasn’t doing that, or singing in a gruff theatrical tenor, he was playing some hokey Hammond patch from an M-Audio keyboard controller. Dancer Marlies Yearby was nothing but distracting, ranting along with Cooper-Moore without even so much as a body mic. Her writhing about on the floor didn’t have any sort of direction to my eyes. The set was saved when they finally got into some music, with Darius Jones, Assif Tsahar and Willie Applewhite blowing hard over Chad Taylor’s propulsive groove straddling uptempo Latin, funk and Philly Joe Jones-style swing. The duo between Tsahar and Taylor was especially killing. Yearby confined herself to the wings and started truly dancing, out of the way of the band. This was fantastic “energy music” with momentum and dynamic. The soundmen seemed unprepared for the set: Nioka Workman’s cello was inaudible for most of the set, even while Cooper-Moore barked for cello; and there quite obviously should have been a vocal mic somewhere. It was irreverent, sure, and created a vastly different mood than the heaviness of Fieldwork, but without an obvious conceit, it was a hard world to enter. Lester Bowie’s commentary on some Art Ensemble tracks is irreverence done right.

Having seen Marc Ribot in an intimate solo setting a couple of weeks ago, it was truly spectacular to experience Spiritual Unity, his Ayler tribute project with Chad Taylor, trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. and bassist Henry Grimes. Again, I admit my ignorance with Ayler’s music so I can’t provide titles, but there was such a power and passion to this music that automatically engaged me. The intriguing aspect of that project is how Campbell and Ribot translate Ayler’s sax skronk to their respective instruments – Campbell through a massive range from pedal tones to whistle tones, and Ribot through a fluidly distorted guitar with spiky, punky energy. Ayler’s music is essentially joyous, and the joy was contagious here. The intent with which this quartet performed and inhabited the music was really quite astounding to me. Chad Taylor exhibited his groove side with Cooper-Moore, and on the free ballad played here, he demonstrated his touch and sensitivity. The sound gremlins got in here, too: Grimes provided a resonant foundation for the band, but the pitches he played weren’t delivered through the system. I only heard him clearly when he soloed or played arco, unleashing the upper partials of the strings and driving the band forward. Hearing Grimes’ bowing again reinforced the debt William Parker owed in his own arco statement a couple of weeks ago at Sala. After seeing Ribot twice and hearing his love and admiration for Albert Ayler come through his music. I am now going to thoroughly investigate the original recordings.

7 comments:

dja said...

Very nic writeup, David. One small clarification

less edgy than Iyer’s usual alto cohort, Rudresh Mahanthappa.

I definitely feel that Rudresh is edgier than Steve Lehman. That's part of why Rudresh's playing grabs me on a visceral level more frequently than Steve's.

the improvising guitarist said...

As someone who’s interested, and occasionally active, in ‘irreverent’ performance (satire, pastiche, comedy, etc.). This statement caught my eye:

It was irreverent, sure, …but without an obvious conceit, it was a hard world to enter. Lester Bowie’s commentary on some Art Ensemble tracks is irreverence done right.

I think I know what you mean, but would be curious how you might unpack that statement further.
For me, the additional tightrope act in improvisative performances (as opposed to carefully scripted ones) is how to balance pre-planned and spontaneous acts of irreverence. I’ve seen acts fail because, for example, while the ‘serious’ aspects were ad-hoc and informal, the ‘comedy’ moments were heavily scripted, consequently giving the latter a stilted, awkward feel.

S, tig

Ryshpan said...

DJA, my bad - I meant to note that our difference of opinion was over Steve Lehman's brittleness.

Ryshpan said...

TIG, considering that Cooper-Moore's statements were also printed in the Vision Fest program that night, I'm going to assume that the orphaned prostitute of jazz is some sort of manifesto for the project. Yet it's a manifesto that goes nowhere. If jazz ain't got no mama no mo', does it still have a papa? If it at one point did have a mama, what was it? And why is it a whore? Who are its clients? Marlies Yearby's ramblings were more improvisatory, stemming from her dance and her interaction with the ensemble. If she had had a body mic it would have been presented better - I found I had to focus all my attention on her, away from the band, to even hear her.

The whole time, I was thinking of the Lester Bowie line, "Is jazz, as we know it, dead? Well, I guess that all depends on what you know." All I needed from C-M to solidify it was some sort of similar punchline. As it was, it was just pointless shit-disturbing over an otherwise killing band.

Cooper-Moore said...

OK, So some didn't get it.
You didn't get what Marlies was doing?
Marlies is a great dancer, someone who understands how to do it, and how to do it with energy. As far as your not hearing what she was speaking as she moved, maybe you were not supposed to hear what she was saying until she went on mike. Did you hear what she said then?
Do you remember that?

As far as my rantings go, I said, "Jazz ain't nothin but a word. Jazz ain't nothin but a whore, a prostitute, a bastard child. Jazz ain't got no mama no more. Use to have a mama.
Mama was the blues, mama a shout, a holler, mama was ragtime, and swing, bebop and newthing, but jazz anin't got no mama no more. Jazz a slave of the Massa. Massa Wannabe, Massa Wannabe, Jazz a whore ain't got no mama.

But a better explanation would be the poem tun lyric of Paul Laurence Dunbar,

We Wear The Mask


WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties
WE wear the mask
And mouth with myriad subtleties
WE wear the mask

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
Let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Cooper-Moore
coopermoorsolo@aol.com

Cooper-Moore said...

OK, So some didn't get it.
You didn't get what Marlies was doing?
Marlies is a great dancer, someone who understands how to do it, and how to do it with energy. As far as your not hearing what she was speaking as she moved, maybe you were not supposed to hear what she was saying until she went on mike. Did you hear what she said then?
Do you remember that?

As far as my rantings go, I said, "Jazz ain't nothin but a word. Jazz ain't nothin but a whore, a prostitute, a bastard child. Jazz ain't got no mama no more. Use to have a mama.
Mama was the blues, mama a shout, a holler, mama was ragtime, and swing, bebop and newthing, but jazz anin't got no mama no more. Jazz a slave of the Massa. Massa Wannabe, Massa Wannabe, Jazz a whore ain't got no mama.

But a better explanation would be the poem tun lyric of Paul Laurence Dunbar,

We Wear The Mask


WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties
WE wear the mask
And mouth with myriad subtleties
WE wear the mask

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
Let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Cooper-Moore
coopermoorsolo@aol.com

Ryshpan said...

Thank you immensely for writing in, Cooper-Moore. It's always the best to have the artists' clarification on these matters. Also, thank you for posting your words - I missed the last half as I was listening to Willie Applewhite play "Motherless Child" beautifully.

I'll admit I'm not well versed in dance; when Marlies was engaged in more "traditional" dance in the wings, she was quite good. From where I was sitting, second row, she was audible enough that I could hear her voice over the horns, but not audible enough to decipher what she was saying. I'll leave it there.