“New York is a carnival of stupidity.”
“I’m ok with or without him, but with him my life is better.”
—part of a conversation overheard on the street
“I am one of those people who set out to lose.”
I’ve been called rude before but never by the door-person. Anyway, I arrive late to a gig that was part of Zürich meets New York, featuring musician-composer Hahn Rowe and two androgynous, naked women chopping wood, flirting with rope, and generally distorting the worldview of Eden. I had just come from an enlightening lecture on Max Frisch and would have been on time had the hors d’oeuvres and wine not been so good. I give some spiel about an assignment and that I know the publicist, after having been told that the performance is underway and I can’t go in. I’m finally granted permission, then told to wait until a guy who went to the toilet and his companion leave since they’ve been told they can’t go. Well, the companion overhears this, and as he leaves the toilet and I enter it she grins at me. Upon my return they are still there. I tell the door-person that they are never going to leave and that I really need to go in. She says I’ll have to wait. I grow impatient. Suddenly the guy approaches her and says he knows the musician, an old trick to be sure. She lets them in and I hastily follow. She gives me a real nasty look, then lets two others in and tells us to stand to the right of the stage. I head left and procure a seat. The two people in front of me are friends. They quietly laugh, get up, and leave in disgust. Not because of me, as paranoid as I might be, but because they really hate this show.
Afterwards I go up to the door-person and extend my hand and thank her. She refuses to shake. I ask why. She replies that I was rude.
“Was I rude?”
“Yes, you were rude and acted like you were privileged.”
“Well then I’m sorry I extended my hand to you in the first place.” I leave feeling rather sad and bump into the publicist and say goodnight. She is talking to some folks and gives me the cold shoulder. I rush to the next gig, a marvelous duo between Susie Ibarra and Matana Roberts.
Yoshiko Chuma’s new piece has everything one could ask for in choreography and what I’ve termed “mix-and-match.” It’s about crossing borders and boundaries. It is frantic, solemn, and sexy. There’s movement, wit, politics, video, dialogue, music, and soundscapes performed by Christopher McIntyre on trombone and computer, and Chris Cochrane on guitar, all perfectly integrated. Titled “… How to Deliver An Afghan Hat,” it goes beyond theater and dance as it incorporates stories from many continents, and is set around a table with a lamp and an Afghan hat, very much in Robert Ashley fashion.
There are separate, sometimes intersecting, dialogues dealing with, among other things, travel restrictions and ethnicity. Colombian dancer Ximena Garnica discusses her roots. Miriam Parker discusses her father—bassist William Parker—his travels, and her fear and apprehension about a possible trip to Afghanistan. We have Chuma’s signature interaction with the musicians and her one-on-one contact with the audience. She heightens our awareness of the still-present dangers of the nuclear age. She furthers her investigations into what she calls “the ordinary existence of humanity … cultural issues … individual identity, and agenda” and hopes that she and the work can “amass a multicultural cast and aesthetic.” At the end Parker intones, “I am alive here. Organic rigidity. I dance to learn about myself.”
I attended two misguided Red Bull Academy shows: one, at Town Hall, of duets with many great musicians who for the most part couldn’t play together in a blatant case of mismatch-and-mismatch; the other in one of the biggest and most beautiful spaces I’ve ever been in outside an arena, Knockdown Studio—a restored red brick door factory replete with smokestack and filled with fine art. That concert presented some good and some eh music, mostly noise, on three separate stages where the bleed in most cases was bad, bad, bad, and the shuttle to get us there came really late (I actually ended up walking). When the downpour came, part of the venue flooded and I got the runs from a bad tuna sandwich in the green room.
Even the new 3-D Godzilla couldn’t help the Town Hall event. Though I must say when Jamie Lidell had mucho tech problems it gave us a chance to hear Allen Toussaint play an extended solo, a real treat for me since I had never heard him before. Other standout players, though not necessarily in their pairings, were Nels Cline, James Carter, Marc Ribot, David Murray, Dave Douglas, and Wadada Leo Smith. All the other participants were new to me and I hated them all.
At Knockdown what worked for me were: The Thing, Joe McPhee-Chris Corsano duo, cellist Okkyung Lee’s solo, and part of minimalist composer-pianist Lubomyr Melnyk’s solo set, which was the only time one performer had the entire space to himself. The sound in all cases but McPhee and Corsano’s was over-amped.
Keiji Haino was back in town, first for a solo show at another huge venue, the Wick, and then at the Knitting Factory, in a power trio with Oren Ambarchi and Stephen O’Malley. The name of the group is Nazoranai (translated: “we don’t trace”). As it ended up, I knew the folks at both venues from my old days at the Knit.
The solo gig lasted an hour and 40 minutes and went beyond the boundaries of noise, sound, self-consciousness, post intimate-interactions with oneself, and the wide apron of claustrophobic art and anti-art—and their antecedents—to a new realm of, at times, tortured anti-performance. An almost ecstatic writhing torment of the (in)completeness of things. A symphonic aloneness beyond ideas and ideologies, and possibly one of Haino’s greatest performances outside those brilliant, quiet “object” shows he created in the ’80s. Another perfect example of what I term chaotic structuralism: the WHO divided into all its individual yet inseparable parts.
The Knit was another hour and a half set. I was plied with drinks. I got so drunk that I finally relaxed into the noise, which for the first half simply didn’t work for me. Actually it was Haino that relaxed me and not the rum, when he started toning down the music with his usual high-Japanese aesthetic. As my friend Bruce put it, “It’s like Cartridge Music meets Butoh,” whatever that means. I’m trying to read my writing as I transcribe this but I was so drunk that it was like writing in the dark so give me a minute while I figure this out and turn on WKCR, where they are playing Sun Ra non-stop for his 100th birthday.
OK I’m back. Haino starts dancing, singing, and whipping this thin strip of sheet metal—about two inches wide and maybe five feet long—around and playing, believe it or not, an electrified slinky. The sounds are amazing. The others quiet down. Then he starts bowing the metal. This goes on for quite a while. I am in ecstasy, smiling, drooling, partly from the music, partly from the rum and coke. Then he gradually glides back toward the guitar and the noise starts up again. By this time we are all entranced and drunk on the music so however loud and intense it got no longer seemed to matter.
I’ll be gone from the end of August through a good part of fall but here’s some stuff you should look forward to that I’ll be going crazy for missing, despite the fact that I’ll be in a few great places doing what, I hope, will be great gigs myself: Zorn will do the Vanguard for a week in September and word has it he’ll use a different group (including Masada) every night; Evan Parker will return to do a week at the Stone in September for his 70th birthday, plus some other gigs around town. There’s much more I’d rather not think about. If all goes well I will catch Evan in Paris for his two-day engagement at the great improv club Instance Chaviré, just before my return in October.
In case anyone’s ever noticed I usually end my pieces with “listen” in there somewhere. Well I’ve decided to end that practice simply because writing this is arduous enough, and to have to come up with a variation using that word every month just adds to the burden. So I’ll simply bid you adieu and wish you all a very pleasant, globally warmed summer.
My editor, George, recently said in an article, “people want to work.” What could he possibly have been thinking? Listen George, you’d better re-think that one, or maybe I am one of those sociopaths you mentioned.