Tuesday, October 08, 2019

"Schizoid Man" at 50 // Goodbye, GB

*A deep dive into the history and legacy of King Crimson's avant-rock landmark "21st Century Schizoid Man," in two parts:

-Inside Prog's Big Bang
-50 Years in the Life of a Gamechanging Song

I'm proud of this one and hope that you will give it a read. It's saying something about the reach of this song that there easily could have been a part III.

*A quick round-up, merely scratching the surface, of tracks showing the range of the late, great Ginger Baker. His playing fascinates me more and more over time. I feel fortunate that I got to see him in person some years back. Don't miss tributes at RS by Jay Bulger, director of the definitive GB doc Beware of Mr. Baker, and Bill Frisell, a key '90s collaborator of Baker's.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Feast of the Epiphany's 'Practicing Loss': An invitation

The below are some thoughts I put down last year regarding Practicing Loss, a then in-progress album by Feast of the Epiphany, one of the many musical outlets of my good friend and sometime collaborator Nick Podgurski. The album is out now, and I encourage you to explore and enjoy. (A vinyl edition is also available via Kincsem Records, a label founded by members of the excellent Couch Slut; for ordering info, write to KincsemRecs [at] gmail [dot] com.) See also this older piece, written after experiencing Practicing Loss live in 2015. -HS



Blissful incomprehension: Listening to Feast of the Epiphany's 'Practicing Loss'

I don't pretend to know the meaning behind Practicing Loss, or to be able to comprehend its methods and materials. On the contrary, spending time with this music — as with much of the music my friend Nick Podgurski makes and has made under the names Feast of the Epiphany and New Firmament — is for me a process of coming to terms with its otherness. We have all these tactics of reckoning with art, and a lot of times, we grasp for the "next closest thing," drawing what it is we're hearing nearer to what we already know.

In the case of Practicing Loss, the more time I spend with it, the more I feel I would be doing it a disservice by likening it to anything else. I don't hear it as a difficult work. In fact, the less I try to bring it into some kind of familiar orbit, the more it draws me in. What at first seemed alien and impenetrable now feels serene, sturdy, utterly at ease with its own structure and presentation.

What I can say, in a very general way is that I hear roughly three extended "movements" in the work. The first is a kind of ambient ballad, in which an insistent, incandescent synth drone sort of beams itself through the center of the music, as gently unfurling "riffs," played by keyboard or guitar, move in their slow orbits. Soulful, patient vocals center the piece, orient you in its fundamental song-ness. I picture an intricate mobile, suspended from the ceiling, with four or five components each spinning on their own axes, at their own speed, the whole creation moving in exacting multifarious harmony.

The piece begins to build into a kind of refrain around the 15-minute mark ("Light and darkness both shall be burned"), leading to a brief pause and what is to me the climax and highlight of Practicing Loss. The patiently unfolding quality of the first section gives way to a brisk, dancing feel, what sounds to me like a song opening up and tumbling ahead with its own momentum. There is this gorgeous repeated refrain ("We are burned! We evaporate!) that drew me in like an efficient pop hook the first time I heard it, and still gets my fist pumping every time I put the record on. The combination of catchiness and vast, elusive complexity in this second section to me gets at the heart of the Feast of the Epiphany listening experience. I don't pretend to "understand" its order, and in fact, during any given listen, I often feel like more of its details are eluding me than not, but I feel absolutely sure of its own sturdiness within itself. I hear an inspired onrushing of ideas, a steady stream of marvelously choreographed events (for one, a totally unexpected and brilliantly situated guitar solo) that may take years to fully grasp.

The third section is to me the most "difficult," the most other — the least, for me, relatable to anything else I've heard. Again, the twisting, interlocking rhythmic feel of the first two sections, but sort of slowed and blurred, with an almost perverse play between disparate harmonic feels. Sometimes, the synth chords that underlie the piece feel curdled, almost queasy, then twisting into sudden beauty.

Practicing Loss ends with a sort of high-density coda, an echo of the more "uptempo" feel of the second part. The music glinting and rising into this sort of marchlike riff. The whole thing sounds like some sort of extended fanfare or annunciation, phrases dancing and intertwining in sublime tribute.  And then a final refrain — "Lust for loss / Die trying, there is nothing else" — building in its final minute to a brief and thrilling vocal eruption, with Podgurski digging deep into his guts and testing the harsh limits of his remarkable range.

I write the above not as a roadmap but as an invitation. It's possible that the less you take in with you — preconception, will to classify or "understand" — the richer your experience with this work will be. I still couldn't tell you what Practicing Loss is on any fundamental level, but I feel confident in deeming it a marvelously rich soundwork that only seems to bloom further with each listen. You, the listener, are in good hands.

Hank Shteamer, May 2018

Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast #8: Jan Hammer

Very proud to present two hours of conversation with the great Jan Hammer:

I found his genuine, unabashed excitement re: the music he's made over the years to be deeply charming, and I hope that comes across in this interview. Absolutely one of my favorite entries in the HMB series so far. No Miami Vice talk here, since that's covered in just about every other interview he's done; just pure jazz, rock and jazz-rock the whole way through!

You can also listen via Apple Podcasts. If you're enjoying these episodes, I'd be so grateful if you could leave a rating and/or review, and help spread the word via social media. More to come.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast #7: Wendy Eisenberg

Episode 7 features an in-depth conversation with guitarist-singer-songwriter Wendy Eisenberg:

I had a blast speaking with Wendy and I hope you enjoy this episode! Listen via the player above, the HMB Podbean page or Apple Podcasts. Learn more about Wendy here.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast #6: Ches Smith

The latest installment of the Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast is now live. Episode 6 features an in-depth conversation with drummer/composer Ches Smith:

We touch on his work with everyone from Mr. Bungle and Theory of Ruin to Tim Berne and Marc Ribot.

I hope you enjoy! If that is the case, I would be very grateful if you would consider subscribing to the show in Apple Podcasts, and/or leaving a rating or review. Any kind of social-media or word-of-mouth shout-outs are also of course hugely appreciated.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

He Did the Number: Cleve Pozar, 1941-2019

Cleve Pozar: "I Did the Number"

In July of 2008, Cleve Pozar was driving around his tiny hometown of Eveleth, Minnesota, smoking a cigarette and contemplating mortality. He wasn't sick at the time, just reflective, recounting the strange, improbable life's journey that had taken him far from this city of just under 4,000 — first, in the early '60s, to the contemporary-classical hotbed of Ann Arbor, Michigan, then home to future legends such as Robert Ashley; then to New York, where musicians like Bill Dixon were busy realizing new and unprecedented visions of what jazz could be; then to Boston, where he plotted and produced a personal masterwork, the private-press early-'70s LP known simply as Cleve Solo Percussion; and eventually back to NYC, where, for decades, he would align his consuming interest in Afro-Cuban percussion (specifically, late in life, the Batà tradition) with his expertise as a master builder and engineer, forging a sort of DIY musical laboratory that few who did not visit him at home would ever get to behold.

He concluded with this statement:

"When I'm lying there dying, I can say, well, what the hell, man… I did the number."

There was nothing morbid about the observation — on the contrary, Cleve seemed, as he pretty much always did, totally at peace, punctuating his mini monologue on the idea of doggedly pursuing one's personal life's mission to the fullest, from day to day, decade to decade, until the very end, with a quintessentially Cleve-ian conspiratorial grin. Having just heard the sad news of Cleve's recent passing from my friend Will Glass — a musicians' advocate at the Jazz Foundation of America, which aided Cleve greatly in his later years, as well as an accomplished percussionist himself, who studied extensively with Cleve — I can take a little solace in hoping, and having every reason to believe, that the above turned out to be true.

The video at the top of the post — drawn from many hours of footage that I and my former wife Laal Shams shot of Cleve around that time for a prospective documentary, and edited by my friend Dan Scofield — captures not just Cleve's "I did the number" speech, which starts around the 3:20 mark, but also, more importantly, his signature combination of childlike enthusiasm and dead-serious commitment ("If I have to go through a concrete wall, I don't care; I'm going there."). Please watch in full-screen for best results.

We see him putting the finishing touches on a wooden drum he built himself; demonstrating one of his ingenious electronic-percussion set-ups; improvising with saxophonist Darius Jones (a brilliant musician 30 years his junior); bantering good-naturedly with his extremely supportive mother, Fran (who was kind enough to invite a curious stranger in her home for a couple days so that he could get a sense of the environment that could have produced an individual as sui generis as Cleve); and sitting beside his longtime friend and collaborator Cooper-Moore, a kindred spirit who characterizes Cleve as "an improviser in life" who "understands tools and materials." (The video also features commentary from key early Pozar collaborators such as Bob James — with whom Cleve performed extensively in Ann Arbor, including once with Eric Dolphy, and with whom he made the fascinating, daringly abstract ESP album Explosions — David Horowitz and Ed Curran, as well as his son, Mingus, and cousin Janice.)

I first came to know Cleve's work via the record library at WKCR, where I came across two of his LPs, Cleve Solo Percussion and Good Golly Miss Nancy, an utterly remarkable Bill Dixon–produced Savoy set (released under Cleve's birth name of Robert F. Pozar and featuring none other than Jimmy Garrison on bass) that combined nimble, intensely interactive avant-chamber-jazz with cutting-edge electro-acoustics. Encouraged by my friend and mentor Ben Young, who provided me with a copy of Let's Try It Again, a CD of Batà-infused jazz that Cleve self-released in the late '90s, I continued to research and later write about Cleve, including in one fateful 2007 post on this very blog, where I inquired as to Pozar's current whereabouts.

Several months after posting that query, I received a brief e-mail:

>From: Cleve Pozar
>To: Hank Shteamer
>Subject: Cleve
>Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2007 17:31:11 -0700 (PDT)
>Cleve pozar is Bob pozar.I am Cleve.

It couldn't have been more than a week or two later that I was sitting in a coffee shop in Fort Greene with Cleve, listening with amazement as he recounted the entire tale of his extraordinary life and, to my delight, still very much ongoing work. He soon gave me a tour of his makeshift home studio, in the unfinished basement of a friend's nearby brownstone, where he kept not only his drum kit, but his ingenious electronic Batà set-up, which you can see him playing here, and in many other YouTube videos that he would later self-produce and post intermittently, as he subsequently moved all over the country to stay with family in his later years.

Cleve generously allowed me to trail him to and from gigs, shadow him as he practiced, and eventually follow him all the way to Eveleth, where he showed me around, pointing out the world's largest free-standing hockey stick (which you'll see in the first video above) and taking me to the mines where his father, an accomplished engineer, used to work. He even helped me salvage a couple of cracked cymbals, sawing thin holes in them to prevent further damage, a process that's also documented in the video up top.

Cleve would eventually leave New York for good. I believe the last time I saw him was in 2011, after he gave a stunning solo concert at Brooklyn's Firehouse Space, a new live interpretation of Cleve Solo Percussion — a suite of enveloping, evocative electroacoustic pieces realized via live looping, which he had ingeniously adapted to contemporary instruments. You can watch the full video the performance here, with huge gratitude again to Dan Scofield, who was on hand to document the night:

Cleve Pozar - Live @ The Firehouse Space - March 11, 2012

As with pretty much everything Cleve did, the Cleve Solo Percussion revival was a marvel not just of creativity but of will — as Cleve himself noted, no earthly barrier or limitation of practical reality was ever going to stop him from fulfilling his wildest sonic fantasies. If ever there was a man who, at that moment of reckoning, had earned the right to say he had accomplished everything he intended, forged his own path without compromise, explored his passions to the fullest — in short, "did the number" during his time on Earth — that man was Cleve Pozar. I am honored to have known him.


*Of all those who loved, assisted and collaborated with Cleve during the time that I knew him, none had his back more consistently than Adam Lore, the tirelessly devoted label owner and scholar behind 50 Miles of Elbow Room. Adam's interview with Cleve on the subject of Cleve Solo Percussion, complete with a bonus excerpt from a contemporaneous live performance by Cleve and Cooper-Moore (then known as Gene Ashton) is essential reading.

*As is my friend Clifford Allen's typically comprehensive 2009 Pozar piece for All About Jazz.

*You can download a couple excerpts of Cleve's work, including a track from the long-out-of-print, generally impossible-to-find Miss Nancy LP, here, via a post by WFMU's Scott McDowell.

*Finally, here, with gratitude to Jason Gross at Perfect Sound Forever, is a series of excerpts from my original conversations with Cleve, covering various aspects of his life and work.

As might be apparent from the above, I have much more on file, including hours of interview and performance video, as well as audio of an afternoon-long WKCR radio program that Cleve and I collaborated on in 2008. The documentary project itself has been on hold for some time, due to the mundane realities of time and budgetary constraints, but I hope to be able to share some of this material in the future. In the meantime, I hope that the videos above stand as a fitting memorial to this man's ebullient genius. I miss you already, Cleve — so long, and thank you for everything.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Lately (6/19/19)

*An interview with Anthony Braxton, with a bit of input from Nels Cline, on his new improv album with Cline, Taylor Ho Bynum and Deerhoof's Greg Saunier. This was my second time interviewing Anthony, with more than a decade in between, and he remains a joy to speak with.

*Also a joy, witnessing Andrew Cyrille play eight inspired sets on opening night of this year's Vision Fest.

*A recap of the new Blue Note doc, which I really enjoyed.

*An interview with current King Crimson singer-guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, ahead of their ongoing 50th anniversary tour.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast #5: Vernon Reid

The fifth episode of the HMB Podcast — featuring an in-depth conversation with guitar virtuoso and Living Colour founder Vernon Reid — is now live! Go here to listen/subscribe via Apple Podcasts and here to listen/subscribe via Podbean, or check out the episode via the player below.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Goodbye, Roky

He was a visionary, and The Evil One in particular is a genre-transcendent treasure. David Fricke's in-depth tribute and Josh Homme's Instagram hat-tip are both spot-on.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast #4: Tyshawn Sorey

The fourth episode of the HMB Podcast — featuring an in-depth conversation with multi-instrumentalist and composer Tyshawn Sorey — is now live. Go here to listen/subscribe via Apple Podcasts and here to listen subscribe via Podbean, or check out the episode via the player below.