Thursday, March 29, 2007

Trickle-down jazz

time to bust out a few words on one of my very favorite jazz records that i've just been rediscovering, and that would be the mighty "Trickles," recorded just over 30 years ago in NYC by Steve Lacy (soprano sax, duh), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Kent Carter (bass) and Beaver Harris (drums). it's billed as a collective date, but Lacy sorta gets the nod b/c he wrote all the music.

this was one of the first Lacy records i heard back in college and it's still one of my favorites. there are a bunch of really obvious strengths to the record, such as the inspired pairing of Lacy's soprano and Rudd's trombone (Lacy was always best w/ a sharply contrasting foil, be it Rudd, Steve Potts, Charles Tyler, et al) or the presence of the always-incredible Beav on drums, who, to my knowledge, never worked w/ Lacy outside of this session. but the thing that drew me to it then and that still grabs me is the strangeness of Lacy's writing.

one time Stay Fucked (my band) was being interviewed and we were asked how we'd describe our sound. we coined the term "obnoxticore" and that stuck for a little while. basically the quality of obnoxiousness was and has continued to be a goal. this isn't to say that we're all that jokey or even bratty per se, but it really has to do with this sense of insistent minimalism, of just sticking on a few riffs and sort of grinding them into the ground while making tiny changes.

Lacy's tunes on this record totally earn the obnoxticore tag. he's always been a staunch minimalist, but these pieces are really, really bonkers--almost maddening in their queasy, flailing repetiveness. i think he got a lot of that mischievousness from Monk, who had his fair share of obnoxious tunes ("Off Minor," "Worry Later," "Friday the 13th" and "Epistrophy" are just a few that come to mind as especially taunting and kind of bratty), but he pushes it to the max here.

the title track has a totally insane head. it's like four unrelated vamps, all totally stumbling and lopsided and crazed-sounding. Lacy does this little cadenza thing and then the band is off, just hammering on these crazy, repetitive figures. it almost sounds like the record is skipping. there's actually a lot of variety in the other tunes: "I Feel a Draught" is spacious and AACM-y, full of little sounds; "Papa's Midnight Hop" is funky and swaying; "Robes" is expansive and swinging and gorgeous, with Rudd adding some pealing chimes.

but the definitive track might just be "The Bite" and this is the one i'm going to post. it starts where "Trickles" left off and goes even further. listening to this tune is seriously like banging your head against the wall (the "A" section) and then stumbling around and falling into things (the "B" section). it is one of the most repetitive, simplistic, obnoxious, audacious and straight-up fucking awesome jazz tunes i've ever heard in my life. this is the definition of the word droll and that mood continues into the queasy, wary improv. as i've said so many times, i love free jazz that subverts the ecstatic paradigm. this is curious, deranged, loopy, idiosyncratic jazz. it's full of listening. listen to how the improv breathes, how the horns play off each other, how Beaver creates this carpet of rhythm at such a contained volume. the out head is even more nauseating and lurching. don't forget: where i come from, these are compliments! this is a masterpiece.

Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Kent Carter and Beaver Harris - The Bite (3/76)

"Trickles" is just one of countless classics on the twin Italian Black Saint/Soul Note labels. (does anyone know what the quantitative difference between those labels is? are they totally separate? is it a time thing? i'm answering some of my own questions as i type. check out this interview with BS/SN boss Giovanni Bonandrini, who maintains that Soul Note was started to free Black Saint from a stricly avant-garde paradigm. muy interesante!) it occurs to me that that catalog is one of the most formidable and underrated in jazz history. you talk about your '70s and '80s jazz: you could trump anyone who said that jazz sucked during those decades simply by producing a list of recordings on those labels. they documented everything! like ESP, BYG, Blue Note and Impulse rolled into one.

Black Saint/Soul Note has never enjoyed the cache of any of the aforementioned labels and i wonder why. is it the dorky rainbow-spine motif? is it the sometimes garishly-rock-style drum production? or is it something simpler, like the perennial lack of good U.S. distribution? i'm trying to find a complete label checklist but can't; all the same, i feel that this catalog stands up respectably to any of those mentioned above. i think it easily trumps BYG, if not ESP as well. maybe it's silly to be pitting these wonderful institutions against one another, but it just seems odd that BS/SN is so often left out of the discussion. maybe it's that ESP and BYG totally played up that primitive "energy-music" vibe, which has been wholeheartedly embraced by rock fans moonlighting as free-jazz admirers, and that's something BS/SN never indulged in. those labels had nothing going for them aestheticaly, other than, uh, pretty much every progressive jazz artist of note recording for them.

think about it: the countless Lacy discs (including the awesome Monk/Nichols tributes), the stunning series of Braxtons, the s/t Old and New Dreams record, the solo Don Pullen records, the solo Andrew Hills, Cecil's "For Olim," the Mal Waldrons, the Airs, etc. etc. for chrissakes, the freakin' BEAVER HARRIS/DAVE BURRELL 360 DEGREE MUSICAL EXPERIENCE ("In:Sanity" may be the straight-up most unfairly overlooked jazz record of all time and if i can get my shit together, you'll be hearing more about that here soon.) i even remember loving this crazy record by bassist Art Davis w/ Pharoah Sanders. the discography is just staggering. "Trickles" is only the beginning...

wish someone would just buy the rights and put these damn records in stores. in the meantime, there's always the almighty Downtown Music Gallery, which always has an insane number of these in stock. speaking of DMG, stopped by today to meet Mr. Anthony Braxton and give him a copy of this article. he was real cool and gracious. can't wait to see him play Saturday and to see Nels tomorrow and also (!) to see Andrew Hill tomorrow. check this out. Hill plays at 1pm for $2! you gotta go.

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