Friday, December 6, 2013

Top Ten for 2013

1. Matthew Shipp, Piano Sutras, Thirsty Ear
2. Wadada Leo Smith & Tumo, Occupy The World, TUM Records
3. Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dream Project, Pi Recordings
4. Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal, Aquarius, Delmark
5. Wheelhouse (Dave Rempis, Jason Adasiewicz, Nate McBride), Boss of the Plains, Aerophonic
6. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Brooklyn Babylon, New Amsterdam Records
7. The Convergence Quartet (Taylor Ho Bynum, Alexander Hawkins, Dominic Lash, Harris Eisenstadt), Slow and Steady, No Business Records
8. Adam Lane Trio (Adam Lane, Darius Jones, Vijay Anderson), Absolute Horizon, No Business Records
9. Charles Lloyd & Jason Moran, Hagar’s Song, ECM
10. Lubomyr Melnyk, Three Solo Pieces, Unseen Worlds

Top Re-Issues
Joe McPhee, Nation Time, Box Set w/ previously unreleased material, Corbett vs.Dempsey

Friday, September 20, 2013

Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd: Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dream Project, Pi Recordings, 2013

The third collaboration between composer/pianist, Vijay Iyer, and poet/electronics artist, Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dream Project, intensifies its subject matter so much so that the music and words seize the heart and haunt the mind with stark and irrevocable truths. 

Originally commissioned and premiered at the Harlem Stage in New York, this provocative work took four years to produce. Two veterans, USMC writer, Maurice Decaul, and USAF service woman, Lynn Hill, contributed directly to the performance of the piece speaking their own words.  Decaul and Hill also linked Ladd and Patricia McGregor (Director of the Harlem Stage) to other veterans of multiple ethnic backgrounds, who had been in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be interviewed on the basis of their post-war experiences, specifically with a focus on their dreams and memories, which evolved into expressions of anguish, solitude, fear and hope. Iyer has said that this musical work allowed “the space” for veterans to be heard, that they not be “rendered” or painted through their words, but play an active role in the “building” of the musical piece.  

This work is not easily ingested. The descriptions put forth conjure up horrific images and plaguing concepts which are poignantly complemented with the music. Iyer composed sixteen of the seventeen pieces of Holding It Down. Vocalist Pamela Z composed the last.

Distinguishing itself from hip-hop, rap, opera, or songspeil, Holding It Down is diversely and consciously shaped. Ladd’s voice and poetry begins the recording: its raspy, near whisper corals an overall evocation of compassion and longing to fix things so war is not the answer to conflict. The contrast among Ladd’s voice and that of Decaul, Hill and Pamela Z moves the music into various emotive zones and positions the listening from shifting gender perspectives.

The change from acoustic to electronic instrumentation and the brilliantly smooth integration of the two does nothing more than emphasize the contemporaniety of the subject at hand. The formal piano opening with cello line establishes a pattern where quiet or disquieting melodies grow into the grip of seriousness by means of gradual crescendos or solid rhythmical tensions that dance with eclecticism and repeated percussive or synthesized punctuation. The music often offers a kind of substantial relief in the paradoxically uplifting nature of the sound surrounding the poetry. At no time, does the music override the significance of the words.

The emotional thoroughness of Holding It Down translates to how each poem triggers an unpredictable response whose intensity is measurable at the conclusion of the recording. The closing “Mess Hall” acts retrospectively in relation to preceding parts, using the metaphor of steel cafeteria trays functioning as the building blocks for a bridge away from war, to the place called Home. 

Holding It Down testifies to the manner in which art can literally speak volumes about geo-politics, the horrors of human behavior, the breadth of human consciousness and the depth of instinctual human spirit.  This recording is praiseworthy, beyond the scope of the critical accolade, to be placed in a category all its own: an exquisitely cut diamond that has unquenchable fire.

copyright 2013 Lyn Horton

Track Listing: 
Here (Mike, Cambridge); Derelict Poetry (Maurice, Brooklyn); Capacity (Lynn, Bronx); Walking With The Duppy (Rashan, Queens); There Is A Man Slouching In The Stairway (Maurice, Brooklyn); My Fire (Brad, Chester, NC); On Patrol (Maurice, Brooklyn); Dream Of An Ex-Ranger (William, Newton, MA); Name (Lynn, Bronx); Costume (Mike, Cambridge); Tormented Star Of Morning (Maurice, Brooklyn); Patton ( Calvin, Massapequa, NY); Shush (Maurice, Brooklyn); REM Killer (Kirk, Lexington, KY); Requiem For An Insomniac (Maurice, Brooklyn); Dreams In Color (Lynn, Bronx); Mess Hall (Merrin, San Diego).

Vijay Iyer: compositions, piano, Fender Rhodes, programming and live electronics; Mike Ladd: lyrics, vocals, analog synthesizer; Maurice Decaul: lyrics, vocals; Lynn Hill: lyrics, vocals; Pamela Z: vocals with live processing, composition; Guillermo E. Brown: vocals and effects; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Okkyung Lee: cello; Kassa Overall: drums.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Matthew Shipp: Piano Sutras, Thirsty Ear, 2013

What if Matthew Shipp’s Piano Sutras were to appear in record stores and in the catalogs of online distributors out of the blue. And we were to say: Who is this pianist, Matthew Shipp?

Perhaps then, his music could be seen as itself, without history, as a beginning of contemporary jazz and improvised music.  For in this recording, Shipp establishes a new set of formulas, which embody just a mere wisp of meaning behind the Eastern religious word, sutra.

To lift one’s listening into a consciousness not involving what one already knows is difficult, perhaps. But it isn’t, if the piano music travels on a journey that is peaceful, far from arrogant, certain, strong and pure.

That Shipp simply plays straightforwardly, without any flourishes or superficial performance drama, becomes the vehicle for perceiving his language. The way he combines and integrates the notes into instinctively measured phrasing, takes them through shifting repetitions and non-perfunctory rhythm structures presents a grounded elaboration on how his mind-more like his soul-is shaped.

He works the entire keyboard, building ascending and descending cascades. His left hand is magnetized to the darkness of the lower register. But his right hand knows the quick treble tremolo, single high note and lullaby-like melodies. Harmonically, the music is perfect. Of course, dissonance falls through the cracks every once in a while. The twists and turns are necessary for the elocution of the familiar. The music is all original, fraught with Shipp-isms. As a mature painter seems to paint with the same array of strokes from painting to painting, so Shipp commandeers his own palette of chords, synchronicity, juxtapositions, dynamic, and codas throughout the music-scape.

Piano Sutras is one of a handful of solo albums; the first being, One. The distance between his first and Piano Sutras  is vast. When One was released in 2005, Shipp was a younger guy, beginning to narrow down his field of vision. Ironically, this field of vision is the cosmos. Piano Sutras aligns with that field of vision, but with more coherence and, paradoxically, relaxed detail than in any other solo effort. His musical statements are more honed and resultantly richer. This mode of development for an artist is not absolutely the way it always goes. Some artists can drop off their path, believing that anything they do after a certain point in their musical lives, is worthy because of their past accomplishments.  In contrast, Shipp possesses an unswerving integrity. Way back when, his music had unrelenting vitality within fewer frames; he was in search of greater landing strips. Now it speaks from a dense core, which is alive, breathing, unquestionably vigorous, yet markedly controlled.

The early twentieth century novelist, Virginia Woolf, once proclaimed in one of her diaries that she wanted to write never using adjectives, only verbs.  Shipp’s music fits within that category. Silence is struck only when it is warranted. Shipp’s work is proactive, even when he plays his versions of Coltrane’s Giant Steps or Shorter’s Nefertiti. There seems to be quality in each piece that gives Shipp promise for the future.

How our lives are understood is abstract, in forms which have nothing to do with the hard-wired technology behind the keyboard that is recording this article. It is in that abstract realm that Shipp operates. The realm is evocative of all that is spiritual, all that is without end.

copyright 2013 Lyn Horton

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano.

Track Listing: Piano Sutras, Cosmic Shuffle, Surface to Curve, Blue To A Point, Cosmic Dust, Giant Steps, Uncreated Light, Fragment Of A Whole, Space Bubble, Nefertiti, Angelic Brain Cell, Silent Cube, The Indivisible.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dave Rempis' Wheelhouse: Boss of the Plains, Aerophonic Records, 2013

One of two of the initial releases on Chicago saxophone player Dave Rempis’ own Aerophonic Records, “Boss of the Plains” features Rempis’ trio Wheelhouse. Also including vibist Jason Adasiewicz and bassist Nate McBride, this small group creates a sound to clutch and be with and recognize as exquisitely melodic.

Each song title carries the word “song,” perhaps unusually for improvised music. The songs are sung through Rempis’ reed mostly on his alto, once on bari-sax. They touch a wide spectrum of expression from loving to melancholic, from curious to agitated. Rempis’ playing is pure and bold rather than aggressive; tender and close to him rather than outside, raucous or seemingly uncontrolled. His phrasing demonstrates his sensitivity to rhythm and the invention of language. His playing is unique and reaffirms that growth in the music can occur without holding tightly to predecessors. Rempis is free.

Absolutely the best of contemporary vibists, Adasiewicz intervenes singularly or coincides with the horn and bass, perfectly placing repeated complementary tempos or bright series of clips to the vibe bars. He can extend reverberations which magically change pitch and shape. The softness of his sound can often lend mildness to the metallic edginess of the saxophone or the reverse can happen: the horn’s sound can be round and the vibes can sound tinny and percussive. Adasiewicz often plays against the pizzicato or bowing of the bass strings to buoy up the reed-iness or stressed strength of the horn.

Nonetheless, bassist McBride contributes to the musical conversation a backbone tonality that grounds the horn and vibes. Without a smack of bravura, he fills the soundspace with more space; he widens the scope to keep the horn and vibes in form.

Each member of the trio is equally important. There are solos but no playing for the spotlight. Wheelhouse is in balance and wielding its place in the sun.

copyright 2013 Lyn Horton

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ten Freedom Summers: A Folio of Photographs: New York City: May 1, 2, 3, 2013

This folio of photographs was taken over a three day period, May 1, 2 and 3, 2013, when Wadada Leo Smith premiered, on the East Coast at Roulette in Brooklyn, New York, his epic composition Ten Freedom Summers, to which he added one part, "The March on Washington, D.C.: August, 1963." 

The groups Wadada led are his Golden Quartet and Pacifica Red Coral and also, for a special appearance, The Flux Quartet. The Golden Quartet is John Lindberg on bass; Anthony Davis at the piano; and Pheeroan Aklaff on the drums. Pacifica Red Coral  is  Shalini Vijayan and Mona Tian on violin; Andrew MacIntosh on viola; Ashley Walters on cello; and Alison Bjorkedal at the harp; Jesse Gilbert creates the video art accompanying the performance. The Flux Quartet joined these groups on the third night for the premiere of "The March." The Flux Quartet is Tom Chiu and Conrad Harris on violins; Max Mendel on viola; and Felix Fan on cello.

The photographs, where the lighting is whiter than yellow, were taken at an afternoon rehearsal on May 2. The pictures which have a view from the audience of the left of the stage were taken on the first night; the ones that have a view from the right were taken on the second night. The majority of the performance photos were taken on May 3 when the view was center stage.

copyright 2013 Lyn Horton
All photos: Lyn Horton

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers and Me, 2013

A poem by Langston Hughes

As I Grew Older

It was a long time ago. 
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then, 
In front of me, Bright like a sun-
My dream. 
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly, 
Between me and my dream. 
Rose until it touched the sky-
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow. 
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

The following is a verbal collage of how I have absorbed Ten Freedom Summers by Wadada Leo Smith. Reviewing this composition, having heard both the Roulette performance in May 2013 in New York and the Los Angeles premiere in October of 2011 and a sampling of the entire six hour piece in between is a moot point at this point for me. So much has already been written since it was premiered. I do not need to indulge in commenting on the excellence of the musicians and the excellence of the music they play. I do not need to impose the view on the music that it is not jazz, nor classical, nor “third-stream,” nor contemporary “third stream.”  Ten Freedom Summers defies labeling. Ten Freedom Summers is a work of art that knows no bounds in its meaningfulness and is, therefore, an apotheosis of the articulation of a dedicated purpose lying on the crest of one man’s spiritual and artistic being.

The music that is Ten Freedom Summers exists apart from music which is extemporaneous. The music is scored traditionally, multiple black books titled on the front covers in silver pen. The music of Ten Freedom Summers has been literally composed over Wadada’s lifetime: a lifetime that was filled with personal struggles and personal choices about which he remains reticent, but which were experiences that shaped the composer’s fearlessness. 

The bond that Smith has with his music shall never wane.  

Memories of the music measure the sensitivity of our hearts.

Memories of the music paint portraits of themselves.

Memories of the performance paint portraits of determination. 

Dare we appreciate the history that feeds the music and express compassion for the inhabitants of that history? Smith points to the very moments we need to think about; what we do with the thoughts about those moments is up to us. Do we cry? Do we wonder why they happened? Do we take action to follow up on or rectify the actions that were being taken?

Do we become stronger and offer our talents for healing wounds, heightening awareness, creating community, pursuing the change which will degenerate the bad-ness, cruelty, thoughtlessness, lack of initiative.

Or do we remain weak and passive and complain. And only stand on the sides of the oppressed, whom we might not believe really are, but who continue to be treated poorly, impolitely and ignored, as if not even alive.

Poetry lies in the dignified way in which the music is presented multi-dimensionally through live performance and imagery that begs to surround it.

Poetry lies in the image of Rosa Parks, no matter what the contention of the “real-ness” of the photograph.

Poetry lies in the picture of the Little Rock Nine: Black Students being escorted by soldiers to school.

Poetry lies in the near profile Martin Luther King, showing a peacefully audacious face.

Poetry lies in the photo of the signing of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 by President Johnson, flanked by Martin Luther King.

Poetry lies in our bygone beliefs when all these people did what they did. And said what they said. There was our hope. There was the hope of the breakdown of inequality.

Poetry lies in Wadada’s loud exhalation before the music of “September 11th, 2001: A Memorial” begins: a heavy sigh denoting the deaths of thousands. No different from the “deep emotion” portrayed in the “The D.C. Wall: A Memorial for All Time.”

Perception of Ten Freedom Summers fulfills its value to us as human beings and raises significant, fundamental questions as if it were a rarefied editorial.

How are we actually equal, even though each is strikingly different: genetically, ethnically, ethically, psychologically, economically, and socially? 

How are we actually driven to render the world a better place, a more peaceful and morally healthy environment?

How do we behave towards one another?

How do we stop taking advantage of one another?

How are we kind to one another? How do we love one another? As lovers or as neighbors?

How do we stop aggravating our anger?

How do we stop creating wars and fighting them?

How do we return to the simplicity of our beginnings?

How do we deal with complexity of our situations? As peoples, as families, as tragic, suffering, beaten-down individuals?

How do we find the Medina of the Contemporary World? Is there already such a society unknown to us?

Poetry lies in the music’s phrasing, its grandeur, its quietness. In the compelling boldness of opposites: its high pitches juxtaposed to low tones; in the integration of strings and percussion in the same measure; in the coincidence of opposing dynamic. And in that single brass horn which masterfully sings above and leads a dozen instruments in three ensembles.

How can the truth be told through the music that has no language other than itself? Wadada's way: "Let's do it this way. Let's see how good we are."

Closure comes not from the point at which Ten Freedom Summers ends. Closure comes when we realize that we do not necessarily cry for freedom when we lack it. We sing about it when we have it. Because that consciousness compels us to take responsibility for our rights and, in their embrace, go where we go.

copyright 2013 Lyn Horton
Photos: Lyn Horton

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