music is about weight distribution." - Cecil Taylor
first let me start off by saying in this, my second attempt at writing a "column,"
that I have many friends and acquaintances who consider themselves jazz journalists,
music critics or something along that ilk and that I'm not one of them. Though
I do admit we share certain goals in common i.e. a love of music and the desire
to dissect it. And we do make extra pocket money by writing the occasional
liner note. But that's where the similarity ends. They write for music magazines
and their ultimate wish/goal is to write a biography of 'Trane or a comprehensive
book on the continuation of jazz from the past to the future and where these
timelines intersect and where they part ways.
I also have no
interest, as do certain scholars I know, love and admire, to write the definitive
discography and chart almost scientifically the course of one great musician
from the time he was born, to his first shit, baptism, cigar and demise (depending
of course on when the book is written). What I do want to do however, is have
as much serious fun as I can while listening and presenting as much of what
I've managed to listen to, to you, the reader by any means necessary. So here
at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall: Part of what he said in a discussion before
conducting Le Marteau Sans Maître, with a text by René Char,
a truly difficult piece written 1953-55 and premiered in 1957, was that when
it was written 50 years ago it was new, as in innovative, and that it took
50 hours of rehearsal. Now it is part of the repertoire and the players have
mastered the extended techniques so it only takes 10 hours. The piece is very
disjointed and striated wearing different time signatures in its 9 short sections
as well as using many different voicings, duos, trios, full ensemble (6 instruments,
1 voice) throughout, constantly shifting color and mood and filled with asymmetrical
rhythms, using in part Schoenberg's Pierre Lunaire as its model. But despite
Boulez's feelings that the piece went from "next to impossible to play
to more than possible... no more disasters... no sweating... better instruments,
score easier to follow and assimilate, not like then when... they were like
turtles... escargot... slow," I found the piece somewhat sloppy, possibly
because of its difficulty, its lopsided time signatures and what I deemed
to be unintentional off-centeredness, making it still too tricky and perhaps
in need of those 40 extra hours.
The second piece
sur Incises (1996-98) I found more palatable though equally difficult.
It consisted of 3 pianos, 3 harps and 3 percussionists. It was written for
a competition arranged by Berio, to express symmetry and was originally very
short. Then Boulez, now 83, expanded it to 45 minutes, taking ideas from Bartok's
2 piano form and Stravinsky's 4 piano form, though Boulez claims using 3 was
simply a coincidence. He said, and I quote, "Please don't laugh, but
the idea came from conducting Wagner... the piece contains certain developmental
aspects." going forward and going backward... creating different expansive
possibilities with a bit of Stravinsky thrown in. He claimed he was a "failed
anthropologist" hence the use of exotic instruments in both pieces.
This piece worked
for me 100%, the slow belching steel drum, the lead voices constantly shifting
in alluring, ferocious, repelling, sometimes tender muddied intensity with
at times an almost animalizing of the intruments. One of the densest pieces
I've ever heard.
made me happy was hearing Boulez speak and seeing the virtuoso piano playing
of Oliver Hagen, a now mid-20's prodigy who I've watched grow since he was
9. He brought the piece to an astounding close with his singular pianissimo.
at 100: speaking of density and things in opposition/collision that eventually
seem to mesh. Carter, when writing his first string quartet, had just that
in mind, claiming in an interview, that he never expected that anyone would
be able to play it. Sound familiar? One colleague told him it sounded like
"mining coal" so that it's best not to play it right." Carter
also stated, similarly to Boulez, that when he wrote his 3rd string quartet
where the individualizing of the players reaches its peak, that it took hours
to rehearse and most players needed to use a "click track" when
performing it, but that now the time factor has greatly diminished due, primarily,
to the same reasons Boulez gave. He also mused that by the 5th quartet none
of the musicians ever play together.
2 full weeks of Carter which included small chamber works, duos, solos, a
masterful clarinet concerto that dealt with spacing, a cello concerto, vocal
pieces, all 5 string quartets in one night, and the culminating work, the
N.Y. premiere of his massive Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei conducted
by James Levine.
The first night
was conducted by, yes, Boulez, on a mixed program that included, Boulez, Varese,
Carter and Stravinsky. What can I say but wow. Carter's music and his particular
genius, is all about instruments being at odds with one another while seeming
or eventually mesh rather than blend. Each string quartet, like most of Carter's
mature works, all which, to some extent, contain a bizarre blend of Schoenberg
and Stravinsky, gets more disparate yet uncannily unified.
that within these fields of action there exists a density of textures and
a relative thickness and thinness to these textures. Sometimes they become
so dense that it becomes impossible to hear what goes on within them therefore
creating a woven wall rather than obvious separations or tears in the fabric.
He is concerned with the idea of confusion and how to express that confusion
through poly-rhythms and their ensuing mysteries. Quite a voyage.
I walked into the dressing room at The Blue Note between sets and gave Cecil
a kiss, as he commenced to drink champagne and hold court. He spoke of Farrakhan,
Guiliani, Obama, Bird, Max, Mingus, etc in his usual non sequitur but perfectly
make-sense fashion. He asked me about poetry gigs and such. We had a ball
for about 45 minutes. I split to find a seat downstairs just when someone
asked him what he thought of Joe Zawinul, almost afraid to hear his answer.
We sat patiently
staring at the stage for what seemed like an eternity when finally the set
began. The great William Parker on bass (who hadn't played with Cecil for
years except for a few recent stints in Europe which included Braxton and
Oxley and which by all accounts ended in disaster) and Pheeroan akLaaf came
on stage and began playing a bass and drum/percussion duet that lasted about
15 minutes. Finally Cecil sat down at the piano and hit and continued to do
so non-stop for the next hour and _. At 77 his vitality, genius, uncompromising
artistic integrity, technique and style still cannot be matched. He continues
to amaze me and is still my favorite living musician. Catch him while he can
still be caught.
John Zorn: Fred
Sherry, as part of Works & Process at the Guggenheim, played, along with
other fine musicians, 3 chamber works by Zorn including a world premiere of
the incredible, terse, fierce 777, a piece for 3 cellos, that repeated itself
twice and began and ended the program. It is a piece Zorn said that consisted
of 77 measures and was based on the writings of Alistair Crowley, Zorn being
heavily into alchemy.
included an untitled solo cello work for Joseph Cornell and Amore Fou dedicated
to Andre Breton which consisted of cello viola and piano with long time Zorn
associate Stephen Drury on piano. Between each piece there ensued a conversation
about the works moderated by Charles Wuorinen. At some point when he asked
Sherry and Zorn about how Zorn's music as well as other 20th and 21st century
music fit into musical history a la Schubert, he answered the question himself
by stating that all music is "not a continuation but a continuum."
The evening was the first of a 4 part series dedicated to master cellist Sherry
and was one of sheer exuberance.
In the continuing Experiments in the Studio series at The Merce Cunningham
Dance Company, Wolff and his ensemble played for the most part all premieres.
It was the most Wolff I've ever had in one sitting. The work was passionate,
witty, weird, poignant, and compositionally radical with the spatial merging
of Feldman and Cage yet flavored like neither and containing more of an oblique
lack of spacing. It was music filled with crowded emptiness & slow noisy
silences that remained, as with Carter and Zorn, romantic, no matter how extreme.
The contrabass/violin duo was especially brilliant.
All the compositions
showed a masterful restraint that I had never before encountered. There was
an almost undetectable sense of MA always filled with melodies or the lack
there of, and abounding parallel movements of sounds and rhythms. It was a
music of verticality rather than horizontal like most. The pieces were titled
simply Exercise 10, 18, 1, Duo7, Grete and Jasper for Jasper Johns
and the musician were all above top notch. I can't wait to hear more very
soon and I shall.
Tribute to Leroy
Jenkins: took place in a new hall at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand
Army Plaza, and was a near sold out event for the great violinist/composer
who passed on recently. Each set was a highlight, more intense and moving
than the next. Thomas Buckner sang a piece composed by Jenkins and Ann T.
Greene, taken from news headlines about the homeless titled Dream of Dreams
of Home, accompanied by flute and viola. The Flux Quartet played a string
quartet by Jenkins then added Contrabass and played an equally brilliant quintet,
both revelatory to me. Myra Melford's Trio played Spindrift a piece
comprised of 2 Jenkins compositions with a text by Rumi. And finally the Leo
Smith 7 sans 2, played a Smith original Queen Hapshepsut dedicated
to Jenkins. I could write pages just about this. It was an incomparable evening
of joy and artistry.
2 new cds highly
recommended : The Stone Quartet with Joelle Leandre, Mat Maneri, Roy Campbell
and Marilyn Crispell Live at The Stone & Last Exit with Brotzmann,
Laswell, Sharrock, and Jackson Live in Europe, both on the new Downtown
Music Gallery's own label. If you've never heard Last Exit get your mind ready
to be bent and then put on the Stone quartet. It will put you in a place near
bliss as you re-enter our atmosphere and re-acclimate yourself to sanity.
I give both an A.
So why do I keep
going so often to hear music, sometimes nearly overdosing, many times being
sorely disappointed. Surely not to write a book or even a column which takes
me many hours. Well the above mentioned gigs are just a few good reasons.
These past 2 short months alone I have experienced, to name but a few, Messiaen,
Mateen, McPhee, Moondoc, Swell, Tchicai, Haydn, Schnittke, White Out (with
guests Nate Wooley and Thurston Moore) and 2 incredible heartbreaking memorials
for my dear friend the wonderful too-early departed saxophonist Thomas Chapin.
Anyway as Wuorinen
declared, it's all a Continuum so LISTEN...
version of this article originally appeared in the Brooklyn Rail.