Saturday, March 31, 2007

Quarterly Projection // Left to Beav'

there's nothing like seeing an already great band at the end of a really, really long tour. Dirty Projectors completely blew my mind last night at Europa. i've never known of any band that could change lineups so often and always sound so insanely together. current output is *extremely* funky and infectious worldpop, or some such. just really sharp and twinkly and crisp and exuberant. guitars and razor-clean and very sharp and very trebly, like in African pop. it's like an updating of "Graceland" or something like that. two new female singers harmonize amazingly together. drummer hits insanely hard and plays crushing dance rhythms. to me, this music sounds as new as anything going now. here's a clip from a recent SXSW show:

DP's opened for Hella and if i may be so bold, blew them off the stage in terms of tightness and group chemistry and sheer enjoyability.


have a burning desire to discuss Beaver Harris on here. no discussion of '70s jazz is complete without him. most folks know Beaver (born "William Godvin") as the drummer on some fine Ayler and Shepp sessions. he was definitely on that scene in the mid-'60s and to my ears, as strong a free-jazz drummer as Rashied, Sunny, Milford or any of those guys, if maybe a hair less groundbreaking than the latter two. i'm always happy to see him name on a session from that era.

but what is absolutely forgotten about him is his expertise and immense vision as a bandleader. ok, if i were to nominate, say, five of my favorite albums from the '73-'90 period that's received so much attention of late, i'd have to say that "In:Sanity," by the Harris-convened amalgamation known as the 360 Degree Music Experience, would be a strong contender for the top spot. and it's also part of the illustrious Black Saint/Soul Note catalog i was raving about the other day...

so this group got started in the late-'60s and according to AllMusic, it was a collaborative venture between Harris, pianist Dave Burrell and trombonist Grachan Moncur III (the latter two being, of course, perennial DFSBP faves). the whole idea w/ 360 was exemplified by the title of its first record, which was called "From Ragtime to No Time." basically, Beaver was interested in promoting unity among all jazz players, from trad to free. it's an admirable mission, for sure, and if anyone could carry it out, it was him. he's an absolutely sick drummer in every conceivable vein.

i've heard most of the 360 records. they're all super hard to find. i believe i checked out "Ragtime" years ago at WKCR, and i've got this other nice one called "Beautiful Africa" from a bit later (that one's got Harris's "Afro-Blue"-ish 6/8 anthem, "African Drums," which Shepp made part of his repertoire). but "In:Sanity" is the one that really kills me just for sheer weirdness and ambition. the personnel list is huge. in addition to regular Harris collaborators like Hamiet Bluiett, Burrell and Ricky Ford [realized several days after posting this that Ricky Ford ain't on this disc, but he is on several other Beaver items, including a really awesome '84 session called "Well-Kept Secret" co-led by Harris and Don Pullen, and with cover art by none other than Ralph Steadman (of Hunter S. Thompson fame) and production by Hal Willner, that crazy conceptualist dude who organized the avant-garde Monk and Mingus and Nino Rota tributes and tons of other stuff of that nature. someone desperately needs to digitally resurrect that record; it's easily the equal of "In:Sanity"...], you've got steel-drummer Francis Haynes and Sunil Garg on sitar, which tips you off to what a strange and indescribable sound this band has happening.

check out an excerpt from the opening track "Tradewinds," which is a Burrell piece:

The 360 Degree Music Experience - Tradewinds (excerpt)

(re: why just an excerpt... i'm gonna post the entirety of another track in just a sec; i'm a little wary of giving up too much material from an album that's still in print. this one's hard to find, but Downtown Music Gallery can usually hook you up w/ just about any Black Saint title.)

are you convinced yet that 360 is one of the oddest and most underappreciated avant-jazz bands ever? what in God's name kind of music is this? it's like this beautiful, spooky, orchestral soundtrack thing. the last thing you'd expect to hear on a record led by a so-called free jazz drummer. the piece is just wonderfully arranged and orchestrated and enjoyable right off the bat. it's the kind of piece that immediately sets a mood and banishes any thoughts of genre. it's "just" music.

the rest of the record is badass too and extremely varied. there's some real heavy blowout free jazz, like "Open," which i'm pretty sure is a trio w/ Burrell, Bluiett and Harris," and "Sahara," which is this Caribbean sort of thing written by Taylor and featuring him and a bunch of other steel drummers. maybe the coolest track though is Harris's "In:Sanity Suite, Part 1," which contains the following parts (dig these titles): "Skull Job/Confine of Mine/Dr. Urrutia/Sane Major/'Bye' Centennial March/Separation Tag." here's the entire piece:

The 360 Music Experience - In:Sanity Suite, Part 1

at the beginning you've got weird thudding drums and this droll piano melody that the horns pick up, with the sitar kind of answering. it's got a very loopy sound, very hallucinatory and cinematic. (i really don't know of any other music that sounds like this whatsoever.) so then the steel drums come in and this weird hypnotic vamp starts. it's just totally gorgeous and thoroughly odd. the piano plus the sitar plus the steel drums plus the horns plus Beaver's minimal thuds just make for this wonderfully colorful and surreal blend.

then there's this total scene change around five minutes. it sounds almost like orchestrated Ayler--very triumphant and romantic and woozy. like this awesome wistful fanfare. and then another scene change, to what i assume is "'Bye' Centennial March," a very quirky almost cartoony klezmerish piece. and then right at the end there's like this dissonant vortex of sound, where it sounds like all the instruments are flowing down the drain. it's incredibly strange and delightful and surprising music.

a lot of the other 360 stuff is amazing but it doesn't have quite this high a surreality quotient or such a weird, large assemblage of disparate musicians. "In:Sanity" is a huge achievement and an essential disc. if you only know Beaver as a drummer, you are in for a serious treat.

little epilogue/tidbit: many years ago, i hosted a Beaver Harris tribute show along w/ Beaver's widow, Glo, who was an extremely cool woman. i haven't seen her in many years, but i hope she's doing well. anyway, that show was a trip: Grachan Moncur and Rashied Ali showed up to talk and reminisce about Beaver and some pretty heavy cats, namely Andrew Cyrille and Jack DeJohnette, called in with their thoughts and remembrances. that was a seriously cool program, if i do say so myself; i've got a tape of it somewhere, so maybe someday i'll digitize it and get some of it up here.

one final tidbit, re: that awesome section title "Skull Job" from the "In:Sanity Suite" above... apparently it's a reference to one of the first successful separations of Siamese twins (joined at the skull, i assume), which was performed by Dr. Aureliano Urrutia in Mexico, who (i'm pretty sure bout this, though i may be getting this info garbled) was a relative of Glo Harris. there's a lot of weird info on this Urrutia character out there. i don't know if any of this is true, but it's definitely intriguing.

at any rate, i think you'll find that Harris's music is its own kind of "Skull Job."

btw one: Harris was apparently a hell of a ball player, and i think even did some time in the minor leagues. he was playing baseball in the army and that's where he met Ayler.

btw two: check the awesome album cover of "In:Sanity," w/ some sort of weird "lemonhead" object...


Anonymous said...

Here here on the Projectors, they've consistenly blown me away, every show, every album.
Hope you enjoyed a Braxton set or two as much as I did.
A guy named Dave

Phil Freeman said...

David S. Ware worked with Harris, too, in the late '70s and into the early '80s, and recorded a version of "African Drums" on his own Surrendered disc in 2000. It's almost 17 minutes long, and it kills.

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