Thursday, July 02, 2009

I remember 1973-1990: Jarrett and Jack // Etc.

Notes on some recent listening.

*Keith Jarrett - Shades, Eyes of the Heart, Byablue, The Survivor's Suite

When the whole 1973-1990 revolution went down in aught six, probably the two most passionate and convincing calls-to-arms were Steve Smith's paean to John Carter's Roots and Folkmore and Ethan Iverson's plea on behalf of Keith Jarrett's American Quartet. Both bodies of work have been on my to-do list for pretty much the entire interim, but as we all know, stuff happens: Thus I'm still not as up on this stuff as I'd like to be. Lately, I've been taking my first serious crack at the Jarrett works in question, and boy, are they weird. Sometimes stubbornly diffuse (e.g., the ubiquitous lengthy intros with Jarrett on soprano sax--after a period of suspicion, I'm coming around to his reed playing), sometimes simple and almost gospelish due to the inexplicably ever-present auxiliary percussion, sometimes remarkably loopy and complex (see "Diatribe" from Shades, which boasts a way-thorny and peculiar head) and sometimes just straight-up violent (the beginning of the second section of Survivor's Suite), this work couldn't really be more singular. I have no idea whether I even like it, but I'm fascinated by it. The players just seem so incongruous together, what w/ Dewey Redman's raging muscularity, Jarrett's showy and flamboyant soulfulness and Paul Motian's wholly alien sense of time. I'm pretty blown away by how well-documented the band is and I can't wait to hear more.

*Jack Dejohnette - New Directions, Special Edition, Special Edition Live in Baltimore (1980), Inflation Blues; and w/ Wadada Leo Smith: America (new duo sesh on Tzadik), Golden Quartet (s/t), The Year of the Elephant

Speaking of well-documented, Jack Dejohnette has been really lucky in that department, esp. in the late '70s and early '80s. I've loved his drumming for a long time--I kind of look at him as the most capable and convincing heir to Tony Williams, even though Tony will always be my gold standard--but I'd never really spent that much time with his records as a leader. [Ed.'s afterthought re: previous sentence: I don't mean "heir" in terms of chronology, b/c Dejohnette and Williams were basically contemporaries--though Williams established himself as the Shit a few years earlier--but more in the sense that Jack assumed the mantle of "absolute best state-of-the-art jazz drummer alive" after Tony moved into other areas.] A lot of variety here, depending on the personnel. The s/t debut (1979) by the Special Edition band was the first one that caught my ear. You can't beat the sax tandem of David Murray and Arthur Blythe and the writing on this session goes anywhere it wants to (playful to elaborate to creepy to lush) and succeeds in all ventures. The improv is gritty and gutsy. Also check out the live Special Edition session linked above, which subs in Chico Freeman for Murray. Really nice, long reading of "Zoot Suite" from the studio date. Inflation Blues, from '82, features a totally different band (including trumpeter Baikida Carroll, whose work I've been digging majorly of late) but continues in the same vein of extremely elegant, nimble, diverse and just generally ENGAGED inside-out jazz. When I hear these Dejohnette sets, I realize what the key property was that made this sort of late-'70s/early-'80s jazz so great: Player-composers like Dejohnette simply knew it all and they had nothing to prove. They knew how to swing, they knew how to play free and they knew how to groove out on some fusion, but they weren't beholden to any of those styles. Without such open-minded virtuosity, you'd never get a record as weird and awesome as New Directions ('78), pictured above. I can't express how cool and unexpected this jam is. Lester Bowie and Ralph Towner together? And check out what Dejohnette has them doing: Some sort of unclassifiable trance-jazz. They just kind of zone out on these expansive, dreamy grooves. There's definitely an electric-Miles vibe, but Davis's stuff in a similar vein always had these sort of tense, sinister overtones. This music just DRIFTS in a very handsome way. There are definitely echoes of the Gateway material w/ John Abercrombie on here, but New Directions seems a lot more mysterious and grown-up to me. Definitely check out this record. And also check out Dejohnette's work with Wadada Leo Smith, which is clearly some of the best jazz of the current millennium. Like Jack, Leo can play it all, and frequently does. The first two Golden Quartet records are basically like the latter-day apotheosis of fusion: They're unafraid of funky groove but never hemmed in by it. You can't really go wrong with Dejohnette, Anthony Davis and Malachi Favors on your record, but this stuff is really every bit as good as you'd want it to be with that lineup. Structures are very skeletal, but the melodies are heartbreaking. What I love about this band is how unabashedly romantic it is. Smith is often associated with the free jazz movement, but I think of him more as a very personal kind of heart-on-sleeve player. As with so much of the best post-first-wave free jazz, there's nothing self-consciously chaotic here. Just grand, flowing sumptuousness--a very sturdy kind of abstraction. Speaking of which, America, the new Dejohnette/Smith duo on Tzadik is fucking killer. Totally unadorned, totally unhurried--just the two dudes, vibing together. And god bless Tzadik's production values. Jack's kit just sounds so perfect and special. Get with Jack, and also get with Jack and Wadada. They're still alive and they're still tapping into the profound on a consistent basis.


Recent links of note.

*The new Jon Irabagon/Mike Pride record, which I reviewed for this week's Time Out NY, is stupefying. Totally balls-out.

*As expressed on the Volume, last week's Tim Berne/Ethan Iverson hit at the Stone was subtly peculiar and intriguing, especially in light of the two musicians' enlightening recent online chat.

Recent reading/viewing/more listening.

*The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Great, grisly true-crime yarn that features some amazing Zodiac-style menace.

*The Bride and the Bachelors by Calvin Tomkins. More art profiles by the longtime New Yorker scribe, about whom I've often gushed on here. Great, plain-spoken narratives. Loved delving deeper into Duchamp than I ever had, and was very psyched to make the acquaintance of Tinguely and especially Rauschenberg, the latter of whom I've seen a few key works by but never had any real sense of. Seems like a really fun, fiercely smart, bright-eyed dude.

*Dear Zachary. You'll start watching this documentary and think it's a little cheesy, and then soon you'll be sobbing like a baby. This story of murder, custody and injustice is unreal.

*Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door. Am just now getting to know this one for the first time. Had no idea there were so many keyboards! It's like Bonham gone disco. I love it.

*Dave Pajo's Misfits-covers album Scream with Me. I'm not feeling this. I love Slint and some of the Papa M stuff, but I have never gotten with this guy's too-quiet-and-not-expressive-enough singing. He's not doing these songs a favor the way his bud Will Oldham often has (I have an amazing Oldham version of "Die Die My Darling"). Also, he cops out on the lyrics to my fave Misfits tune, "Hybrid Moments," and sings, "When you breed you make your bed" (which apparently originated in the bastardized No Use for a Name version of this song) instead of the much more bonkers "When do creatures rape your face." There's no way to tell for sure what Glenn is actually saying, but my go-to source, Misfits Central, opts for the latter.

*Era Vulgaris by Queens of the Stone Age. Picked this up used a few days ago. On a first cursory listen, it's nowhere near as impressive as Songs for the Deaf or the s/t QOTSA, both of which are staggeringly good.


And how could I forget! Here's the cover art and credits for the Marooned EP by STATS, which is still available gratis here. My bud Remi Thornton did a phenomenal job, much as he did for Windpipe. Click on the images for the monster-size versions. (In other STATS news, we open for the mighty Keelhaul--featuring drummer Will Scharf, of Craw fame--in Brooklyn on 8/2/09, as part of the Show No Mercy series.)

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