Thursday, April 19, 2007

Little tenderness

another mini-hiatus. too cold. been sick. hard to motivate.

proud to say that Joe (of Stay Fucked) kicked ass w/ Hexa tonight at Webster Hall.


been meaning forever to discuss the gorgeousness of Booker Little. i don't even know where to start with this one. don't know if folks saw that piece on Andrew Hill that Nels Cline wrote for one of the biggie jazz magazines. can't find the link, but if memory serves, he was comparing the eccentricity and weird beauty of Hill to that of Booker Little and i gave that a hell of an amen. these two are probably my two favorite jazz composers and they both tap into the same sort of idiosyncratic poignancy.

am listening to Little's "Out Front" from 1961 right now, which in my opinion is an absolute masterpiece, one of the literal very best jazz records i've ever heard. i came to Little through the marvelous Five Spot sessions of July '61 w/ Dolphy and co. those are mindblowing records, for sure, but they don't have the compositional weightiness of "Out Front," which is a seriously sculpted date. if you've not heard this one, you are missing out on one of the most sophisticated, deep, wrenching and creative sessions there is.

am listening to the first tune, "We Speak," right now and Dolphy is tearing it up. Little and he made a formidable pair. both just drilled right through to the point. Dolphy was the more extroverted player of course. but Little just has this incredible clear-eyed, efficient poignance, always spiked with uneasiness and struggle. his poise is incredible. first of all his tone is just impeccable, but it still has a vulnerability about it. it's never shrill, always fluid. Little famously advocated for dissonance, sharp notes, flat notes, saying those were all devices for getting at a purer level of emotion (read the quote at this helpful discography page). i'm not hip to all that really, but i do hear Little conveying this certain kind of imperfection, blurriness, straining beyond the notes. he really takes flight when he solos, sometimes achieving this remarkably sorrowful vocal type sound.

it's hard not to overdramatize Little, who died at age 23 of kidney failure in October of '61. a lot of his music has a really serious and even grave tone, but none more than a few of the tunes on "Out Front." i need in particular to pass on the following two, some of my very favorite jazz performances:

Moods in Free Time

Man of Words

these were both done at the second of the two dates that produced "Out Front," on April 4th of '61. the personnel is
Booker Little (tpt); Julian Priester (tbn); Eric Dolphy (as,fl,bcl); Don Friedman (pno); Ron Carter (bass); Max Roach (dr,tympani).

i guess "Man of Words" is the easier piece to describe. it's a dirge, basically--a cloudy, mournful dirge that has an almost unbearable weight and focus and potency and haziness. i don't want to burden this music with anecdotal baggage, but i've got to share a story once told to me by the great jazz scholar Phil Schaap, a mentor of mine at WKCR back in the day. i hope to god i'm not misremembering this, but i'm almost certain he told me that Little actually found out he was terminally ill in between the two "Out Front" sessions. it's hard not to go back to the later session, at which the two above pieces were done, and hear some really accordingly dark shit happening.

so this "Man of Words" is a deep one. very reminiscent for me of another cherished piece, Grachan Moncur III's "Evolution" from the album of the same name. it's basically this cloud of horns in the background intoning this sort of dejected drone and Little solos over it. he just sounds to me like he has everything to say in the world, like he has a lot of business to take care of re: this drone. the background part is almost like this pulpit for him, this pedal point. i could throw out a million tiresome extramusical theories about what that fixed dirge represents to him, but just listen to the playing. this man is digging, searching, what have you in a really profound way here. this is gut music as filtered through an inimitable instrumental voice and logic. there are these amazing trills, ornaments, but they never sound flashy in Little's hands. is it possible for a tone to be honest? his is.

there's an awful/transcendent moment right near the end where Little lets out these spurts, what sound almost like little gasps and the band falls silent beneath him. i tell you it's like an abyss opening up. this happens around 3:45. check in on that b/c it's deep.

"Moods in Free Time" is an episodic piece, with some very abrupt scene-changing. in the beginning you can hear Little's totally unique horn harmonies. this is some very thick, hazy sounding shit. he talked of dissonance making things sound "bigger" and i think that's exactly what's going on here. there's a big band feel, but it's kind of an "off" sound--very controlled and intricate but w/ this tinge of malaise. just a sophisticated sound and Max moves it right along.

then comes a very curious tempo shift and this odd, scary fanfare at around 1:10 and then we're back in the land of dirge and the band starts moaning and Max moves to the tympani where he does these rolls that sound like the wailing wind. it's like Little keeps getting sucked back into this vortex of swirling unease. i know i'm being heavy-handed but it's a scary, bewitched vibe. i've never heard any other jazz that sounds this straight-up haunted before.

and Dolphy is all over it. his solo is downright terrifying. he's basically wailing, doing some serious vocalization and tremolo and vibrato and what have you. it's tongue-speech. Ayler would have dug this to pieces. could any other sax player just straight-up *speak* this way through the horn? Dolphy is easy to take for granted b/c he's *always* this amazing, this visceral. but here it's driven home b/c the dirgey setting is so not what you're used to hearing him play off of. he really wrestles with the tune, confronts it head on.

at the end of that solo is a super quizzical moment: this extremely neat, tidy, ultrapocket Max Roach solo that i learned to play a while back and haven't been able to get out of my head for like a decade. it's so weirdly incongruous to the mourning stuff that's come before though. just this really weird abrupt transition. a gorgeously odd juxtaposition.

enjoy these. need to dig back into "Victory and Sorrow" (or "Booker Little and Friend," as it's sometimes called, with the "friend" being, i believe, his trumpet) which was Little's only leader date after "Out Front." but i can tell you it ain't as good or as deep as this. few records are. this is a masterpiece plain and simple and yes it's all as good as what i posted above.

god, he was 23!


please check out the following:

J. Hoberman's wonderful analysis of Elliott Gould's inimitable '70s appeal. or in other words, an account of how he surfed the Jew Wave. any Gould freak, such as myself, knew that someone someday had to nail down this guy's persona and all its psychosocial ramifications and Hoberman has done it, by gum. not all of the thoughts are his but he knows how to pull them together into a dead-on portrait. how's this for a summation of latter-day Jewish wit:

"Analyzing their humor, Professor Goldman [Lenny Bruce's biographer] noted that while Jews imagined themselves 'clever and knowing, scorning the goyim as dumb and slow-witted,' they also identified themselves with 'weakness, suffering, and disaster,' attributing 'health, physical strength, and normality to the gentiles.'"

read that piece and then go to Film Forum and see "The Long Goodbye." godDAMN that movie rules.

also, please invest time if you dare in "Jonestown," a riveting and horrific PBS doc on the infamous Kool-Aid-drinking Peoples Temple of the late '70s. Laal and i checked this out last night and were pretty blown away by how twisted this whole thing got. film is a little glossy w/ the facts at times, but footage of cult leader Jim Jones at the pulpit and accounts from survivors are stunning. mark my words, you will come away wondering, How in the living fuck did this happen?

1 comment:

mapsadaisical said...

If it is all as good as you say, then I need to get me a copy of this straight away. What an awesome line-up. Oh, and get well soon Hank!