“It's a simple life complicated only by my mind.” — Joe Smith
“Perversity offers an artist the chance to abandon his standards. ” — Bruce Benderson
Though I didn't run around like a madman at this year's Winter Jazzfest here are the highlights of what I caught: Michael Formanek's Very Practical Trio with Tim Berne and Mary Halvorson; Borderlands Trio with Kris Davis, Stephan Crump, and Eric McPherson (he was a standout); Artifacts Trio with Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and Mike Reed; Travis LaPlante, and Gerald Cleaver; Dave Liebman, Adam Rudolph, and Hamid Drake, plus standout solos by Charles Tolliver and Pharoah Sanders in Gary Bartz's Another Earth project. And what better way to end the festivities than with David Murray playing with the J.D. Allen Trio:
on david's second solo / his cheeks expand like / balloons as he triples the notes in / each one / mixing like a brew with other tones / as they filter thru his horn & pour from his bell / soundgrowls / though this could never accurately describe what i am hearing / the energy beyond linearity tho there is always an underlying presence of clarity in the disorder / no chaos but more of a criss-crossing effect / never erasing / but enhancing / always being there while being here.
one has to be brave to match chops with him / but maybe this is not a competition just humble respect as JD waits his turn to hit / this can be like an interruption / an intrusion into the audible/edible soul / but is more like the body / the breath / bringing forth & interpreting that soul / that mind / that heart / that GUT.
I had two altercations during the festival, one with a couple who took my coat off my seat then claimed they had a right to do it because I wasn't there. They then proceeded to call me immature for complaining. I agreed with them as I "accidentally" poured some of my drink on the gentleman's pants and walked away fuming. The other one was with a guy who's been holding a grudge for over thirty years. After much back and forth I got him to tell me what it was about. No need to go into it here but boy was it superficial as are most grudges. So if you have something to say SAY IT.
Some more sad news this year as another iconic venue, Cornelia Street Café closed its doors after forty-one years, the landlord raising the rent to $33K per month. Yes you read me right. I was fortunate that the last concert I heard there was the Tom Rainey Trio with Ingrid Laubrock and Mary Halvorson ending a ten-year custom that occurred every December 30th. Tom talked very seriously of the situation then joked how this was the third venue he had closed since coming to New York, the others being Fat Tuesdays and 7th Avenue South. As the room buzzed like a beehive both his off-kilter, completely disjointed coalescence and incredibly dry sense of humor tickled the funny bone of my soul. The trio offered two powerful sets, a great way to end 2018.
my last show here / i hear the trio clearer than / ever before / her profile / becomes the music / i am locked there / listening to her skin as she listens / this is a good way to / go out / not leaving something behind but taking it with me / carrying it inside me / as i leave / there is a slight aura of redness / on her cheek / where the music comes to rest / this is indeed / not a finality but a continuance....
Two films I highly recommend are Academy Award nominee Cold War directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, whose 2014 Oscar winner Ida was mentioned in this column back then, and the restored print of Jacques Rivette's The Nun, which upon its original release had been banned. Here is an all-too-brief synopsis of the two:
Cold War is a poignantly tragic love story bordering on melodrama without ever going there, though at times, right down to its conclusion, it gets pretty close. The film takes place in post WW2 Poland and Paris and is rooted in music. It deals with the Polish Communist regime wanting to elevate ethnic folk music, first with good intent then along rigid party lines. The music, mostly performed within the film rather than as a soundtrack, runs the gamut from folk to jazz, Bach to Billie Holiday, even throwing in "Rock Around the Clock." Our hero escapes to Paris to become a jazz pianist/composer, while his star-crossed lover bails on him. One moment that is riveted in my mind is the repeated image of a pair of eyes, which could have been from a Rublev painting, frozen on a bombed out church wall. In the final moments these eyes seem to watch the couple as they share their final moments. As the closing credits role Chopin almost seamlessly switches to a choir singing one of those aforementioned folk tunes. The film is in pristine black and white. Not to be missed.
Speaking of choirs and riveting, Rivette's film, loosely based on Diderot's novel—itself banned—contains the music of the time it depicts—Gregorian chants and the like. Its star, Anna Karina, forced by her parents to enter a convent, possesses three big talents: loving God, playing the harpsichord, and singing, which she does in the convent choir. It is a psychologically and physically painful film as poor Anna tries everything to get out of one convent after another, but when she finally does she finds out that her love of God is not enough to protect her in the real world which she knows nothing about. The result is another tragic ending.
What might be overlooked is the incidental music composed by Jean-Claude Éloy. It is very French, very post-Boulez. It accentuates, punctuates, and at times defines the scenes it appears in and, as is said in a review of the film from 1990, Rivette's intention was to model the film after a Boulez score. But rather than me dissect the film or the score I strongly advise you to go online and check out the incredibly in depth review "The Stinging Nun," by Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Reader. It tells more than I could ever hope to. Both are perfect examples of what I've spoken about before, music as a integral component/heartbeat/character within the film.
Though I may not follow through on my plan I've decided that every now and then I will invoke a lost venue and write a paragraph or two about it. Instead of "The Lost Shrines" series let's just call it "Lost Dives of the '80s." The first that came to mind was The Gas Station co-founded by Ruben Garcia and Javier Domingo, literally an abandoned gas station turned art gallery, welder's shop, sculpture garden, bar, and performance space on Avenue B and East 2nd Street in the burnt-out, drug-infested Lower East Side. Somehow the electricity was free and never got turned off. The music there was incredible and I experienced much great free jazz there including Billy Bang, Charles Gayle, William Parker, William Hooker, Ellen Christie, Peter Brötzmann. Right outside its fenced-in perimeter on East 2nd thrived a drug haven where so much dope was exchanged you'd think you were in a pharmacy. In fact the area was so infested that this corner literally became one of the first zones to have an outdoor needle exchange program. It was weird to walk by and watch the dope fiends copping while the young, sweet innocents handed them clean spikes, and then going to listen to magnificent music. Speaking of drugstores, the Gas Station, which spanned 1983-95, was eventually replaced by a condo and a Duane Reade. Before moving away from New York, Garcia moved a few blocks south to Attorney Street and opened the WEBO Gallery ('95-'98, carrying on the great tradition of art and music with the aforementioned as well as Milford Graves. I caught up with Ruben through Facebook and he sent a link to a Gas Station compilation video from 1983-91that includes some of these giants.
My pick for album of any year is the recent three CD/LP release Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance), which includes a huge booklet of extensive photos and essays. It is comprised of Dolphy's two lesser-known but extremely strong LPs for Douglas and FM records, Iron Man and Conversations, plus a host of alternate takes and other material. Dolphy has always been one of my favorites and is one of the most challenging and respected musicians, and the new material is a rare treat indeed. He was part of that select few in jazz history who created a new form of art within the artform in which he worked, adding fresh, distinct language and ideas while expanding the music's historic foundations and bringing in elements from 20th century classical music–and introducing fledgelings like me back in the '60s to the likes of Italian flutist Severino Gazzelloni by honoring him with a tune on the seminal Out to Lunch! As a result, I got to see Gazzelloni play in a rare New York appearance.
In mid-January there was an eye-opening release party for the album at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with guests Reggie Workman, Oliver Lake, and Sonny Simmons. Obtain and experience this music for yourself.
Shows to catch this month: March 6 at the Armory, Roscoe Mitchell. March 25 at Roulette, the Schlippenbach Trio. March 28 at Zurcher Gallery, Mats Gustafson and Fire. Also at Roulette, Bashir Attar with Ned Rothenberg and Ben Bennett. So scrub inside those ears and keep listening.
Rest in peace Joe Lobell, poet, advocate, friend.