Sunday, May 25, 2008

mr mojo risin'

tight meat trio featuring sonny simmons
jookloo duo
red rose, london n4
monday 19th november 2007

the scene: it was a proper english november special: cold and windy AND raining to boot, so that only the very determined were ever likely to show up for this... anyone in two minds would've taken one look at the evening weather and decided against it. atanase and i had to find the place too; in all the years i lived in north london, all the times i had driven back home up seven sisters road, i had never once glanced left and noticed the red rose, sandwiched between two grim housing estates. meantime the powerhaus, a metal venue that opened in 1995 (previously the sir george robey, venue for the most exciting metal gig i ever saw... that's another story, but it does bear telling - see comments), has evidently closed down some time since; the dark hulking shell is on our left as we pass, heading away from finsbury park tube (and that was weird also, taking me right back to my first ever day as a london resident)... london's notorious "terror mosque" is/was around here somewhere too: i don't think the area is built on any native american burial grounds, but there is possibly something a bit odd in the air (or in the water, or in the earth).

i was surprised to see mike figgis there, just as he had been there at charles gayle the night before... his expression never seemed to change on either occasion, so who knows what he thought (or why he chose to rough it with us rather than attend something far trendier - this gig was a wire event, nothing to do with the london jazz festival) - in any case this was also something of a bloggers' reunion since atanase and i both met the legend that is(n't) king kennytone for the first time - or rather we didn't since kk does not, of course, exist - guinness was bought and plastic chairs were arranged: a dark chilly room in the back of a pub, this was not the high life... indeed it could scarcely be further removed from the air-kissing whimsy of the previous night.

the venue is cheap, hence frequently used (*see comments) by free improvisers and occasional celebrity guests from the free jazz scene, and is known in particular for its association with (drum 'n bass producers-cum-born again improvisers) john coxon and ashley wales, better known together as spring heel jack. and they were present in the audience too, handing out flyers between sets, neither of them (it must be said) looking especially healthy... something about the free improv lifestyle apparently not sitting too well with them.

* * *

atanase had refused to play me any recordings by jookloo (duo or trio) beforehand, wanting to maximise the impact, the surprise... and that's what i got, since virginia genta is only a slip of a thing and doesn't look as if she could easily hold a tenor sax, never mind make much noise with it. the drummer (maurizio someone..? sorry, can't remember, i realise this is a bit slack of me) gets behind his kit just a few feet away from us, genta unpacks her sax unceremoniously, they look at each other - and bang, her very first entry pretty much takes my head off. where does all that power come from?? her whole being is going into this, she is fully committed... (this, in a way, is the key to the entire evening as far as i'm concerned.) no, i don't remember too much about the music they played - the drummer basically just lays down a heavy background of free jazz rhythm and leaves his partner to supply the fire and brimstone on top; genta, in turn, alternates her industrial-strength sax with moments of singing, eyes closed, little bells in her hands, on walkabout through the sparse audience. there is not much planning to it, by the looks of things - it all seems to come from within. there are times when they respond to each other, or rather when the drummer tries to respond to his partner; he also tries to mix it up occasionally, using the point of a stick on a cymbal for example, but on the whole it's pretty straightforward. and it's all the more invigorating for that. i find it hard to take my eyes off genta throughout - she plays as if possessed.

after the set, which finishes fairly abruptly to somewhat stunned applause, i spy genta on her own, over by the merch stand, and i wander over to congratulate her. she is genuinely pleased; and when i ask "how did you get started in this sort of thing?", wondering what route she took into free jazz, she just laughs easily. "i don't think you can start in this music", she says. "you have to feel it inside."

[this was the best answer anyone could have hoped for, and is part of the reason i defended jookloo, a couple of days later, against accusations of dilettantism (on the bbc messageboard, from others who had seen the group on a different night). one poster in particular had them down as merely playing the game, not really true free jazz but just going through the motions. he hadn't talked to either of the players, and i had; but in truth i hadn't needed to do so in order to confirm what i thought, what i felt. every twisted note that poured from her sax confirmed genta's integrity and seriousness for me; i can't necessarily say the same for the drummer, it's true, but let's just stop and consider something: why on earth would two young people embark on a miserable tour of england in november, playing run-down venues to small crowds, probably roughing it along the way in cheap accommodation and even cheaper transport, if something within were not compelling them to do so? for the sheer glamour of being associated with free jazz?? er, not..!]

as i walked back to my chair the drummer appeared, so i congratulated him too, and again was rewarded with a big beaming smile, slightly manic in this case. "you like free jazz?" he asked enthusiastically, and when i replied in the affirmative, he followed up with "me, no. fuck free jazz!!!" and laughed maniacally. seeing me in a state of some confusion, not knowing what to say to that, he reassured me that he was joking. who knows, perhaps he thought all english people come straight out of monty python.

* * *

sonny simmons - like charles gayle, but in a totally different way - polarises the attention just by entering the room. big and powerfully built, he has some trouble walking, stiffness in his legs and hips by the look of it, but his upper body still apparently contains the heart and lungs of an ox. and when he grasps his alto, ready to play, his massive hands and forearms wouldn't look out of place on a professional wrestler. he also has a most arresting face, reminding me somewhat of john lee hooker - to say his features look "lived-in" would be an understatement. to complete the picture, every so often he casts a diabolical, sidelong leer at no-one in particular and works his tongue around in his mouth. what those leering eyes have seen, what stories the mouth could tell, one hesitates even to wonder.

tight meat - themselves in their trio incarnation, saxman david keenan and drummer alex neilson joined by a bassist seemingly old enough to be their father - deal in pretty basic stuff. to judge from this performance, they play high-intensity free jazz verging on noise, which is exactly the sort of thing simmons himself has scathingly dismissed on numerous occasions in the past. free in spirit, simmons nevertheless has formidable technique and an advanced approach to chordal harmony, not unlike his old friend and sparring partner eric dolphy. he is anything but a crazed fire-breather. so what's he doing with these young noise merchants? more than a few people had wondered this, and evidently most of them were left scratching their heads after the tour. the music, if we can call it that, is a raging cacophony of free-blowing noise, and thanks to the no-frills setup and the proximity of the audience, no amplification is required in order to sandblast our eardrums.

but here's the thing. with no p.a., no mixing, i can scarcely hear keenan at all over the racket from the drumset, even though he's visibly blowing his heart out; yet every note from simmons is clearly audible. "leather lungs" is not even in it, and it's effortless. the sheer power at his disposal is awesome, and ensures that i can recognise his sound, the huge biting urgency of his tone, even though the name of the game is nothing more than every man for himself, blow until you drop. for this reason nothing he plays is individually memorable to me (though atanase said he began to detect some of sonny's pet phrases, later in the set); but that doesn't matter. the performance itself is overwhelmingly impressive. accepting an invitation from two young gunslingers, who in theory should have far more energy than him, simmons takes them on at their own game and simply wipes the floor with them. this is a lesson the young scots will surely not forget in a hurry.

sonny's legs, not his lungs, let him down from time to time and he has to sit down for a bit, give them some rest. but despite himself, whatever he may think of the primitive music in principle, you can see that he digs something about it: even sat down, several times that devilish leer comes out and he stamps his left foot hard on the floor, getting off on the power if nothing else. neilson is hardly the most skilled or subtle of drummers, but he does make a hell of a lot of noise, which is not necessarily as easy as it sounds - like abstract art, anyone "ought" to be able to do it, but that doesn't mean that everyone can. neilson never stops whipping up that storm, his facial expression urgent and anxious throughout, and keenan gives it his all. the bassist, older and wiser, is better able to husband his strength, but in truth he's pretty much incidental to what's going on here. this is all about harnessing the power of the tempest, and simmons is prospero, in that case, master of all he surveys.

eventually the racket dies away and ceases, and sonny (looking as fresh as a daisy) announces that they will take a break, "we'll play better, later". but they never do come back on - keenan in particular is exhausted. [atanase in fact runs into him outside the gents', and reports that he can barely stand up or even focus his eyes: trying to keep up with simmons has flattened him.] simmons, now at a loose end, wanders over to the merch table and promptly begins chatting up the young woman sitting behind it, not put out in the least by her flustered middle-class laugh. she probably thought he was joking, but i'm not so sure. sonny was ready to go another set; what's he gonna do with all that energy now? he's in no hurry to leave the room, and atanase and i both take the opportunity to shake his grappler's hand and praise his performance. he's very approachable, and under other circumstances, we could doubtless have bought him a drink and got him to tell us all about playing with dolphy (and everyone else, sonny having played with practically everybody over the decades) - but unfortunately one of us has been feeling decidedly ill all day, it's just not the right occasion for it.

well, another time, then. because, for sure, i would like to see this man again before he leaves us, and yes, for sure, next time i would prefer to hear him play his music. but if i never get to do that, i won't mind so very much - because i saw this gig. all musical considerations, doubts about the inherent limitations of the material, went out the window - i witnessed a living legend at close quarters, and more to the point, i saw WHY he's a legend. always known for his incredible speed of thought and articulation, sonny simmons was also instantly identifiable on record by his piercing tone; and after all these years, all those batterings of ill-fortune, all that time in the wilderness, he still has it, and the force and conviction which comes with it. i'll say it again: i saw a living legend that night. what more could i have asked for?


centrifuge said...

hey, it only took me six months to write that one up... ahem.

well - most of it, anyway. the intro, minus a bit of tweaking, was actually written before xmas - crucially, before the announcement came that the red rose was closing down, being turned into a pool hall. but i didn't feel like rewriting it, especially as this does not seem like the time or place to go into that whole depressing business. (and by the way, for any r3 bored readers who see this, the reference to king kennytone "not existing" has nothing to do with the recent misunderstanding - don't go getting any ideas! unfortunate timing there - again, that bit was written ages ago and is more of an in-joke for kk himself.)

as for the (defunct) powerhaus, the shell of which we passed on our way to the gig, that's not so irrelevant as it might appear. indeed, the parallels are striking between last november at the red rose, and a summer evening in 1993, at what was then the robey (it was reopened as the powerhaus shortly after i moved to london in '95, but although i did attend a few more gigs there, none of them were memorable): both concerts were experiences i'll take with me to the grave, and on both occasions, hardly anyone seemed to get it except for the people i was with. the earlier occasion was an all-day festival of extreme metal, and second on the bill was a canadian band called blasphemy, a running joke in some quarters, ultra-primitive in style, less notorious for their music even than for the fact that their first album had to be pulled when the german label which issued it turned out to have neo-nazi connections... i was never a fan, but that performance just blew me away, as it did the friend i was with. i've never seen such tightly-controlled, focussed aggression... indeed we were so floored by their set that we not only went backstage to talk to them, we later gave the headliners (technically far superior) just a couple of numbers before deciding to call it a day - nothing could possibly top what we'd already witnessed. but back in birmingham, where i was living at the time, the various people i spoke to had a very different take on it: blasphemy were one-dimensional, boring, the music too simple to be of any value. i never did understand that view, and i had the same nonplussed feeling as the reactions began to come in from the tight meat tour. that is, i *understand* the objections but in my case they would simply never be raised: what i saw and heard had such cogency as to render any objections null and void.

at some point during the last year or so, the idea took shape in my mind that an essential difference between jazz and free jazz is that the former may often be purely cerebral, and indeed only involves half of the cerebrum, at that: it is often just left-brain music, intellectual game-playing - and its adherents often now come across to me as train-spotters of sorts, listening with their notebooks to check whether a given soloist invents any phrases they have not heard before, any new elaborations on a specific set of changes. by contrast, free jazz strikes me as profoundly *whole-body* music. it's still not a fully-formed idea, but it does relate to another distinction, namely that jazz requires above all virtuosity and knowledge of the past (without which one cannot even get a look-in), whereas the basic prerequisite of free playing is commitment and personal integrity.

a great irony here, namely that braxton is frequently accused by his detractors of being a cold, purely cerebral player, is not lost on me. to me he's very much a whole-body player, even when he is not going full-tilt, and this level of deep engagement is clearly audible in his every last utterance. but, as i say, this idea is still not completely worked out and i would not want to set it in stone.

finally... i trust that i don't now have to spell out the whole saint/sinner business! obvious enough, surely? the synchronicity involved in seeing two legends on successive nights, both of whom are famous for (among other things) being homeless for long periods, struck me at the time and will probably only grow in the memory - and the fact that the two men presented me with such diametrically opposite impressions was just irresistible.

david_grundy said...

Well, you finally did it! Essentialy it looks like our conclusions were really the same after all, doesn't it? Your claim being that Simmons wiped the floor with Tight Meat - not that it was good music. Personally, I'm less interested in whether he wipes the floor with anyone (isn't that some kind of rather macho posturing?) and more with whether the music is aesthetically satisfactory.

Was it me who said that Jooklo were 'dilettante'? They may very well FEEL what they're playing - Keenan may FEEL what he's playing - Beefheart may FEEL what he's playing when he picks up his untrained soprano sax - I may FEEL something if I start screaming for minutes on end. But, all this talk of feeling means an emphasis on method over end product, n'est-ce pas? Does this not negate quality judgement somewhat? Looking back on the old radio 3 thread, it looks like you were talking about FEELING in this way when this discussion was had before, and I disagreed with you then. I'm still rather sceptical.

"an essential difference between jazz and free jazz is that the former may often be purely cerebral, and indeed only involves half of the cerebrum, at that: it is often just left-brain music, intellectual game-playing - and its adherents often now come across to me as train-spotters of sorts,"

This strikes me as an incredibly sweeping dismissal. So, all free jazz is good because it is committed, and all jazz is basically just an intellectual game played by obsessive anoraks. Might you want to rethink that position?

Take a listen to any of the great jazz performances - Billie Holiday, Ellington, whatever - working within conventional forms, or with reference to them, owing debts to tradition, and so on. Listen to those and tell me that listening to them is just intellectual gameplaying and reference-spotting. Listen to them and tell me you can't hear the emotion in the music. You seem to be conflating your personal preference for free jazz over jazz with very sweeping value judgements that invalidate a centuries' worth of superb musicianship in one hammerblow. Sorry if I sound frustrated, but I do find it a bit hard to take (speaking as someone who has a love for both jazz and free jazz).

Of course, I am NOT negating the whole commitment/integrity thing. People not committed will often make non-committed music, music that sounds tired and empty and vacuous. Hence the whole rather superficial magpie approach of the music-school/f-IRE collective/Polar Bear/Acoustic Hadesland-type thing, where it's as if they thought "let's throw in some generic references - a bit of free jazzish saxophone, a bit of heavy punk and rock rhythm - that'll make our music interesting" (or so it seems to me).

centrifuge said...

well, i certainly provoked some strong reactions there - which was not my intention, incidentally (though in hindsight it may look like it).

so, david, "it looks like our conclusions were really the same after all", does it? - no, it doesn't! the details of our accounts may be very similar in various respects, but the conclusions could scarcely be more different, it seems to me. if you think otherwise then you've missed my point entirely - and this may well be my fault for failing to convey it well enough; but i don't know how i could have put it across any better. chances are, i suspect, that i really am in a very small minority here. but then the same was true of that earlier performance i mentioned, and the extreme negative reactions i encountered afterwards have in no way tarnished my memories of it, just as your reactions (or anyone else's) to this more recent event won't change how i feel about it in future, or how i remember it.

you are (it seems to me) not so much sceptical about this whole "feeling" business as simply very quick to dismiss it out of hand. you liken your own hypothetical feelings if you screamed, etc, to the actual feelings experienced by people who dedicate a lot of their time and energy to playing music, and you seem to think that's perfectly reasonable. i think it's highly questionable, but leaving that aside, even, you discount any possibility that (say) jookloo are doing something valid, on the grounds that YOU don't think the end-product measures up to some imaginary standard. this is precisely the problem with insistence on "end product" as you call it - who sets these standards? you? and what do you think qualifies you for that role..?

to clarify, no, i don't think all free jazz is equally worthwhile and i don't think all free jazz is superior to straight-ahead jazz. in the specific instances under discussion, i would certainly consider following jookloo's progress in future (or virginia genta's, if she goes her own way), whereas i'm not particularly likely to take much of an interest in tight meat. (i did say to you before that it wasn't a musical thing, as such, that my enjoyment of the concert had little or nothing to do with what was actually played.) BUT yes, ultimately i value personal integrity more highly than i do aesthetics.

i'm not prepared to hold my hand up to accusations of "sweeping dismissal" - my repeated use of the word "often", together with my clearly stating that this was a) a personal view and b) not fully formed, etc, means that i don't feel i have a charge to answer at all. (one thing i would wish to clear up - when i said "adherents" i meant as opposed to participants, i.e. i was talking about mainstream jazz listeners, not players, and specifically about the "jazz police" types who still survive in alarming numbers. if your main objection to beefheart's sax playing is that he is "untrained"... that sounds to me dangerously as if you're thinking of joining the police yourself. do you *really* care about all that?)

i do still listen to some mainstream jazz, just not very much and not very often at the moment. it rarely speaks to me much; that doesn't mean i dismiss it, though, except inasmuch as i am happy to say "this is not what i am looking for right now". (surely you've seen enough of me on the r3 bored to know that this is the case..?) on the other hand, you've picked an unfortunate example in billie holiday, since i've never liked her (this is completely separate from my general distaste for jazz singing) and no, as a matter of fact i *don't* hear in her the emotional depth with which she's so frequently credited. but i'm sure we could find other examples we'd agree on..! however, it seems abundantly clear that our basic views - not just on music - are fundamentally very different. that's fine, but as i've tried to make clear to another contributor (who's prone to lecturing me), i WILL NOT allow anyone else to dictate to me my responsibilities. i am pretty well acquainted with my own conscience and i'm not about to "rethink" my opinions just to avoid upsetting those who aren't likely to agree with them.

david_grundy said...

OK, at the start, I'll just say that I'll try to keep things from getting too rancorous! Obviously people get het up because these things are important to them, but I'll try and keep things at an even keel. Still, I feel I have to come back to you on this one - even if eventually we may just end up swings and roundabouts, going round in circles, I dunno.

"i WILL NOT allow anyone else to dictate to me my responsibilities. i am pretty well acquainted with my own conscience and i'm not about to "rethink" my opinions just to avoid upsetting those who aren't likely to agree with them."

fair enough,of course you have a right to your own opinions, and I'm not disputing that...It's just you do tend to come over very strong, and I think that puts some people's backs up...Not mine, normally, it has to be said, but I think it was what seemed to be a dismissal of the entire jazz genre as clinical and intellectual musical phrase-spotting that got to me. I can see (maybe) how you could get that impression off some people - but still, in your original sentence you really did seem to make that accusation OF THE MUSIC rather than of the fans: "an essential difference between jazz and free jazz is that the former may often be purely cerebral, and indeed only involves half of the cerebrum, at that: it is often just left-brain music, intellectual game-playing."

I think aesthetics and quality for judgement is an important issue. You seem to place it on 'feeling', but this is not always known, surely? Placing so much in a subjective, highly charged, perhaps even polemical view is something I'd be wary of, personally - as I always am when ideology overpowers art. Not that you necessarily have an 'ideology' - something approaching one, though? Your comment on the R3 boards about Ayler and suchlike "taking on the pain of the world" may have some validity, but that's not the only way of approaching the music - especially as it chimes with all the usual accusations of 'anger' in the music. I hear a lot of joy in there as well, but it's all mingled together with various emotions - it's not just pain, though.

If you disliked Tight Meat's performance musically, you seem to be justifying it in terms of feeling. My question is, do I want to sit through something that just isn't emotionally or aesthetically satisfying (for me, subjectively, though I think others share my opinion of Tight Meat), just because the players 'feel' what they're doing? [What confuses me, I have to admit, is that Simmons was playing with these guys at all, given his previous emphasis on "learn your appliance," etc. Tight Meat's one-dimensional thrash would seem to be exactly the sort of thing he's preivously dismissed, but then, what do I know?]

Incidentally, Beefheart's sax-playing catches me hot and cold at various times: sometimes it can be truly excruciating, sometimes it fits in with the context (as on a wonderful song called 'Brickbats'). But, yes, I do think it would have sounded better if he was 'trained'. There is only so far you can go with the 'naive' approach, and it's a kind of illusory freedom anyway (I think). Freedom through restriction, and so on - or maybe not - freedom through knowing how to be able to fully express yourself using the full range of the instrument. Yes, I know that free jazz doesn't necessarily need virtuosity and highly developed instrumental skill, or so you keep saying, but most of the great free jazz musicians DID have that skill - Coltrane, Sanders, Archie Shepp, Simmons, Braxton, Cecil Taylor (one of the most formidable, technically skilled musicians in existence). And I, for one, would rather hear Cecil any day, with his technical ability NOT obscuring 'feeling', than Tight Meat with their one-dimensional crash-bash-scream 'look at me I'm expressing myself.' Feeling is only part of it. So, though I'm not dismissing it out of hand, I don't think the music can survive just on feeling.

My 'screaming' example was perhaps a little facetious. But:
"YOU don't think the end-product measures up to some imaginary standard...who sets these standards? you? and what do you think qualifies you for that role..?"

Well, I could say the same thing to any other critic/person who criticises the music. Maybe you could say you're only fit to judge if you play the music yourself - which would make David Keenan the greatest critic on earth! Whereas, in fact, I would rather than read him, read Gary Giddins, as far as I know, has never played free jazz, but writes superbly on that genre.
Look, essentialy, criticism is subjective - but there are, or can/could be criteria for judgement. You have these yourself, otherwise you wouldn't have been able to sustain this very blog. And your criteria for judgement in reviewing Braxton is not just how much he 'feels' every performance. There is only so far you can go with that approach?

Well, anyway, we may never agree on any of this, but I'm interested to debate it because there are certain things you've said which puzzle me somewhat. You probably find the same in what I've said. Come back on this if you want, or, if you don't feel it's getting us anywhere, we'll leave it that. But thanks for typing up the review in the first place!

scottlarock said...

Hey Cent, how's it cooking? I still check in occasionally, sounds like things get kinda prickly round these parts occasionally!? Well, I'm just dropping by with a bit of information which you may or may not find of use/interest, related to your original comment about ideas you are formulating regarding differences between jazz/free jazz and uses of the different hemispheres of the brain. I offer this as I came upon it recently in a Derren Brown book, and have had it backed up with a little research:
"Also subject to popular exaggeration is the idea that the right and left sides of our brain are distinctly different, and by tapping into our imaginative right hemisphere we are able to learn, draw, and achieve creative success....while there are some differences between the two hemispheres - for example, the left side of the brain is used for language - there are far more similarities."
Interesting, as it's one of those ideas (certainly for me, anyway) that I have taken on board quite early and simply stuck with - in a fairly black/white kinda way. But apparently it is much more the case that we use both hemispheres for most tasks. (This is a big subject, and I will leave it at that...I merely offer the above as I thought it was of interest, and thought that you might too. I certainly do not want a fight with yer bad self. You'll kick my ass.)
Love ya, SLR

zenkojiman said...

Is it me that's prone to lecturing you, Cent? If so, I'm surprised you put it like that. Or then, maybe I'm not. It was amusing when a few weeks ago, you had a column here which bitterly attacked all critics as putting themselves above the music; and then in the next (or soon after) post, you were talking about yourself possibly being 'crucified': so from being worse than a nobody, the critic becomes Christ figure. You've even warned someone off your territory on the J'board with the line, 'Nice try, So and So, but leave this area to us experts'. In other words, you are a much stronger guy than I could ever be; so the idea of me lecturing you does not sit easily. But if you feel it's so, then who am I really to dispute that; and sorry.

I like Billie too, as you know. I like a fair few non-kosher people too: we all form our own views, surely, though we're not all strident in proclaiming it. I read critics, and listen respectfully to them, in order to help me along: there is no point believing that I am or you are inventing the wheel: it's been done. The J'board enabled me to expand into the free territory more quickly than I could otherwise have done. But I do regard it all as one; neither realm superior to the other. I thought Kenny's description of Brotzmann recently as a one-trick pony was excellent, and was surprised no-one followed him up on that. It could apply more widely to some musicians on the free scene. Never, ever to Braxton, mind.

Braxton is a marvellously generous guy, it seems to me: he will play with anybody who is game for it, for example. About the only time I've ever heard bitterness in his voice is when he is quoted on Frank Zappa in Forces in Motion. I reflected at the time of reading this that Zappa was your previous major enthusiasm, and not, say, someone from the 'straight' jazz scene; though I think you like Miles, or used to anyway. I think Braxton felt that certain privileges were accorded to Zappa which perhaps were not entirely earned, because he came from the rock scene; and because he was ...?

We both love Braxton. With different emphases maybe. But that's enough.

centrifuge said...

ok david, it's probably true that there are some apparent contradictions in my various stated opinions, etc, so let me try just *one last time* to summarise my reactions to this concert:

1. jookloo impressed me because of virginia genta's actual performance, her level of engagement with her instrument, etc.

2. the main set impressed me even more, because i felt so strongly that i was in the presence of a master. that impression "outranks" all the other considerations i might normally have, regarding the quality of the material, etc. special circumstances.

basically the point is that my overwhelming feeling was "wow!" accordingly there was no question in my case of needing to consult the mental ledger (as almost everyone seemingly did) to see whether enough boxes had been ticked, so that the gig might qualify as "successful" etc - yes, i would sometimes have to do this myself but not in that instance! i enjoyed it immensely and that's that.

in my experience, the company one is in can count for a lot in live events: the fact that i was with two people who were also enjoying it (one in particular) will certainly have helped. (then again i have also enjoyed concerts which NONE of my companions liked, so this is not always true).

possibly the fact that i had such a simple, straightforward reaction to this gig is one reason why it took me so long to attempt (not very successfully) to analyse my own impressions of it. the almost immediate wave of negativity that came pouring forth on the r3 bored was another reason: it didn't change the way i felt about the concert, but it make me think "well then, what's the bloody point?"

... and maybe i'd have been better off sticking to that! i'm now getting sick of talking about the whole thing, so that's all i'm going to say on the matter ;-)

as regards my forthright manner (coming on strong etc) - yes, i know, and if it's any consolation that even irritates *me* sometimes, so i can well understand that it would get others' backs up from time to time - or indeed all the time! but then i would hope people who REALLY find me annoying would do themselves a favour and simply not read the blog. and that leads me onto the next point, because let's remember this is *just a blog* (whatever else i may or may not do with the material in the future) and i am just giving my own opinions. i am not a critic or a journalist, and (as you know) i have no desire to be. i'm basically just a loudmouth who's really into anthony braxton... and since i'm not trying to pretend to be any sort of authority (especially not on the subject of jazz in general), once again, i don't feel that some of the charges against me are justified. how can i possibly say x,y,z? well, because that's what i feel like saying and this is one place where i shan't feel at all guilty about saying it! though admittedly there are times when i may wish later that i'd kept my mouth shut...

(this business of "authority" also has relevance to zenkojiman's comment, so see below for my answer to that... if you're interested!)

centrifuge said...

SLR, thanks for that info. yes indeed, like you i absorbed the well-known left/right brain distinction years ago; and i've probably used it a little too readily on occasions since...

...however (you know me, you saw that coming right?!)...

a) if even derren brown admits that "the left side of the brain is used for language" then this actually (quite strongly) backs up the particular point i was making. one of the typical objections to free playing from those who always insist on "proper" jazz is that free players rely far too heavily on extended techniques and don't "make sense" in what they play, don't "do anything" harmonically (harmony above all else, for the jazz police). that strikes me as being almost reducible to a preference for verbal content over manner of expression... hence i may have been well justified in saying what i did, after all ;-) even if it was sort of accidental.

b) as talented, charismatic and intelligent as mr brown undoubtedly is, he's also an avowed sceptic/materialist, hence i'm not about to take *his* word for anything... heh.

i do take the point though (and in any case he's just the messenger). really it's not so much of a surprise that many (or even most) human activities would involve both hemispheres to some extent. and i'm sure that playing music does to quite a *large* extent - although in some cases these days, i really do wonder about what the proportions would be, if it were measured... ok, if anyone is interested to know the sort of stuff i have in mind when i make these outrageous statements, a recent broadcast of the (trendy, acclaimed) saxophonist rudresh mahanthappa on r3 struck me as being about as left brain as could be. the guy even flaunts the fact that he is inspired by an interest in mathematics - do i need to say any more? the programme was very well received - but i had to turn it off, it was killing me :((

i was moved at the time (drunkenly i expect) to dismiss his playing as "vanilla" - his intonation remained precise and cool and even and exact seemingly at all times, the music being (as far as i could tell) ALL about harmonic architecture, doubtless terribly clever - and i'm sure he's worked very hard to get to where he is... IT'S NOT FOR ME. (david, if you're still reading... this is a perfect example of the stuff i had in mind. i am not really talking about the legends of jazz at all, more the current heirs to the mainstream tradition. atanase is actually far more of a "primitivist" than i am when it comes down to it, but if i had to pick sides - and the "police force" guys so often make me feel like doing that - then count me among the cavemen! of course it's not usually necessary to be so partisan and if i *really* thought it was all just about pure emotion, etc etc, i would hardly have picked braxton as the focus of my obsessive blatherings. i'd be doing a tight meat blog instead ;-) ok, enough of that)

jeez is there no end to it... i'm gonna be here all week at this rate {yikes} - back to the frigging POINT briefly: thanks to SLR for that, it reminds me that falling back on (sketchily understood) references to the western sciences isn't such a great idea, since i have little interest in them anyway and almost no grounding..!

ok... next...

david_grundy said...

Thanks for the reply cent! I suppose perception of concerts is often a lot about the 'live experience' - thus, you might enjoy something a lot more live than on record.

Anyway, the left-brain/right-brain thing is quite heavily talked about by evan parker, from what I can recall. I have a book which deals with quite a lot of the recent scientific/mathematical research vis-a-vis improv - although I did read one review which said that this book wasn't that accurate (being written by a musician and not a scientist...)

Don't think we should necessarily dismiss it out of hand though - the position may just require some modification...

centrifuge said...

z-man, steady on there! a hell of a lot people were crucified besides christ... it's only a method of execution, after all. no, i realise you're being tongue-in-cheek with that but still, i feel i have to take steps here lest anyone think that i actually *said* some of the things you're attributing to me...

... for example, that i ever said i was an "expert"! in my world, that epithet is only ever applied to others, absolutely never to oneself - and besides, i'm years (decades, probably) away from being anything of the sort. as far as i'm concerned the only definite expert on anthony braxton is... anthony braxton. possible other candidates would include george lewis, and more lately james fei and taylor ho bynum who have a great deal of experience in playing (lots of) b's music in a wide variety of settings. but i doubt they would call themselves experts either.

i only vaguely remember the thread you're talking about - but i do have a dim memory of warning someone off, and that wasn't because "experts" were talking, but people who are at least serious listeners to b's music - if people say they don't like it, that's fine, i have no quarrel with that, but please don't expect me to indulge the (depressingly common) view which i'll caricature as "i heard ten seconds of braxton once and it was rubbish, so you're all just being pretentious". yes, depending on my mood i can get pretty short with those guys but please, careful what you "quote" me as saying, i would hate to think that anyone took it literally and spread it around that i'd actually said it.

lecturing..? well yes, actually, it often does feel like that (and thankyou for the apology) because you do have a tendency to tell me what i *should* be thinking, saying; or rather what i *should* be listening to, reading etc etc before i'm allowed to open my big mouth. as you will probably have gathered by now, i have a particular aversion to being "should upon". and as much as i do, of course, take seriously what i'm trying to do here (and i do put a lot of work into it, in case that's not obvious), basically i'm ONLY concerned with trying to examine (aspects of) b's work, firstly to enhance my own understanding and appreciation of it, and then (as a felicitous side-effect) to help others in their listening to it, if i can do that. here's another one of my grossly arrogant statements coming up: i really don't care about trying to produce something balanced, something all-inclusive, something which would get published in a professional journal. what i do is obsessive and fixated (as mr improv said once... though strangely enough he meant it as a compliment) - but, then again, i believe it's ONLY because of my obsessive approach, my willingness to devote so much time and attention to a single musician, that i've been able to find anything of real value. and i STILL feel as if i'm merely scratching the surface..! (contrarily, the reason i don't much value the views of jazz critics on braxton is because for them, he is merely one of hundreds or even thousands of figures who must be given equal weight and time and effort. i actually don't believe it's possible to get any deep understanding of b's work by approaching him like that.)

no, i'm not inventing the wheel - but then again it HASN'T "all been done"... not if "it" is the detailed assessment of b's work, anyway. thankfully i'm not the first or only one to attempt it, but there aren't very many of us (yet... he says in hope)

careful, careful... kk was indeed pretty dismissive of brotz in that he said he always does the same thing, over and over - but even then he recognised the value of what he does, in a live context at least; he was basically just making a specific point (saying that brotzmann is not an improviser). also: for kk to say that - having seen brotz live on numerous occasions, having heard literally hundreds of performances - holds an awful lot more weight than for certain other posters to say as much, and there are a few who do like to make these generalisations about players they know scarcely at all. (yes, ok, i could be deemed to have done exactly the same to rudresh m., above - but i don't actually wish to make a sweeping statement about *him* at all, more i'm trying to use one performance of his, and the praise it received, as an emblem of a wider approach to music which i personally find sterile and self-referential. even then, the only reason i have any desire to do that in the first place is as a "counter-attack", in defence of another approach, which i think is terribly misunderstood)

i do still like miles - never got obsessive about him though. i was on the verge of getting obsessiveISH about monk - but it never quite came to fruition (piano music just isn't my thing i don't reckon, i just don't hear it with the same clarity i hear other things). i still have a great fondness for monk and a lasting interest in his compositions. could've got obsessive about dolphy (my doorway into jazz in the first place), but then there's not enough material there to indulge it, and too much of what there is comes from too narrow a period.

so yeah... before braxton it was zappa, as you know. and i haven't written off the idea of turning my attention back on him at some point - though i don't yet know how that would work, since listening to loads of fz's live tapes (as i once hoped to do) would mean enduring endless by-the-numbers renditions of "bobby brown", "dinah-moe humm" etc etc, and i just don't think i have the stomach for that now :( but we'll see, something can probably be worked out there.

fwiw i got the impression from that reference in lock's book that b. had no bitterness towards fz as such, indeed was only peripherally aware of him at all, but was making the point that fz's "serious" composition had been accepted as such by boulez simply because of his ethnicity - whereas b's would immediately be ruled out, for the same reason. so it's not that zappa's privileges weren't earned - b. was probably in no position to assess that either way - more that boulez (et al) would never even look at b's scores to find out. it's a fair objection... highly understandable if some rancour persisted at that time (who knows, things *may* have changed now he's a professor..?)

we both love braxton, and that's enough... well, i hope so :) and please do keep commenting when you feel like it, i just can't promise not to get a bit snippy if i feel i'm being lectured ;-)

RIGHT... enough already!! (for those of you who worry about me, i didn't *actually* spend the entire night on all this, just half of it ;-) in between wandering around and doing other things...)

zenkojiman said...

Thanks, Cent. I was worried by YOUR post, and last night I was worried by MY post. I wish I knew of some way of getting the Morton article to you. I read it this morning in the garden, and it still seems genuinely good to me. I think he is close to Lock (who used to be deputy editor at The Wire - I didn't know this). The comment I referred to was to IT, I'm pretty sure, and may have been in a Zorn thread. After that thread, I bought a duet album of Zorn and Fred Frith, to compare it to the Braxton/Frith encounter from Victoriaville. Hell, you could probably do it, but I'm not sure I can make meaningful comparison. There is one track on the Zorn where his playing is pretty magical, and may lead me further in to his playing.

Regarding Brotz, I thought someone might have said, 'There's more to him than that'; or 'But the same could be said of X,Y,Z'. A bit of dialectic never goes amiss?

Thirty years ago, I harboured ambitions to be a lecturer. Ho hum.

Thanks again and all the best.

ScottLaRock said...

A final quick thought: have you come across 'Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain' by Dr Oliver Sacks? It is mainly a series of case-studies of people with neurological disorders, and how these intersect with their experience of music. Quite a few friends (who are also musicians) have recc'd it to me. There's one case study of a concert pianist who, in the middle of a symphony concert, suddenly hears the orchestra descending into a-tonal chaos around him, and loses his perception of pitch/tone completely. Scary. It also analyses in detail how we all "experience" music vastly differently. It's up on Amazon in paperback for 7quid, have meant to get it for a while.

centrifuge said...

hi guys :)

as you can see i was in (substance-unassisted) logorrhoea mode last night.

stone cold sober and hyped up to self-express, obviously... i actually found it quite therapeutic to do it though, no wear and tear on the body either.

so i hope it wasn't too unreadable to everyone else. and for the benefit of regular readers, sorry if i repeat myself. i feel i have to assume that people reading may not know the basic tenets of my viewpoint, etc, unless i keep saying it - bit like monk i guess (have i said this before??) - plus i have a tendency to repeat myself/run off at the mouth anyway (as if i needed to explain that of all things, at this stage - !)

(the absence of a hit counter means that i never have any idea how many people have read a particular post. but the bloody thing at c#9 became like a nervous tic so i was never too keen on getting one..!)

SLR, scary story..! no, i don't know the book, could be interesting... hey, i'm reading a good book at the moment actually, remind me if i don't tell you elsewhere ;-)

z-man, well, i have open channels of communication as you know, reminders published reasonably frequently (albeit not for a while)... methinks the gentleman doth protest too much ;-)

but really, as you've prob'ly gathered i am more interested in my own research (etc) than in most other people's - i can say this blandly cos it's true and honest, but also it justifies itself when the subject is something so beatiful and deep and life-affirming etc etc... gush gush... but it really does hold true, at the point of contact it ceases to be an ego issue in the slightest and that's a beautiful thing... as i hope others feel also, if they do bother to keep reading!

so y'know - between mr b's musical conceptions and the various other things i explore (musical or otherwise) and the daily household life, which is important to me even if i don't talk much about it here, i don't have a lot of time or headspace left for reading others' opinions - unless they really help advance my understanding, of course. besides there is also by now the "build-up" factor, how am i going to feel if i still don't like the article after all this drumroll?? etc etc -- i don't think it's necessarily a matter of urgency to get it to me.

look, ultimately it's NOT a personal thing, i am driven to redress the balance rather than to defame anyone's reputation (and where i've alluded to the man's work more recently i've not usually named him, certainly not in a main post). the thing is it's INARGUABLE to me that some of the very offhand remarks slipped into that recent radio prog were outrageous - i mean it, outrageous, in moral terms the equivalent almost of libel, to be honest with you. saying that braxton didn't understand how to play with the EFI guys before 1993(then, y'know, he had a sudden road to damascus moment there onstage in london) is just - !! words fail me, and the worst of it is that this is in defiance of the prevalent opinion among those who are seriously active in free improv circles (surely no-one is claiming that our critic is an expert on that subject..?), so it's ultimately either crass ignorance on his part to say that, or it's almost staggering casual arrogance to toss such a viewpoint off like it's nothing without so much as hinting that it's very much a minority opinion.

that's the true extent of it - and it wasn't the only example on that scale, it's the only one i need to say: he may genuinely like b's music (whatever that means to him) but he's not really penetrated it at all and for that reason, etc etc - now i stop to think about it, you even run the risk of inviting me feel that he also BETRAYED braxton in saying that sort of crap, if it turns out that he really got on well with him in the interview, etc - so are you SURE you want me to read it? like i say, i'm not going to change my mind about his degree of understanding anyway because there's no way he could *say* that kind of thing if he really paid attention to all those albums he remembers liking!! if he experienced a sudden blinding conversion in was in HIS hearing at that gig, nothing to do with braxton at all except quite indirectly.

i didn't know that diatribe was in me was i sat down tonight..! there's the difference... indeed this instalment of the soap that is this blog has taken me ages to write, comestibles and family interactions and numerous downloads have come and gone since i started it

- in other words it's a case of the centri-scattergun this time, in detailing the "case for the prosecution" i am seeking only to propse this: how about if you stop trying to sell me on this one for the time being, i'll stop making a big deal out of it - and if i have to allude to it again you will know it's again a matter of straightening the record, lest young impressionables take a casual idea for something valuable and worth remembering *and repeating* - sorry, but ask any of my teachers or acquaintances, that is one thing i cannot let slip past even if the best of moods... it's so easily done and it's so acceptable, but it's not... at school i was told by our "divinity" teahcer and chaplain that the name islam means "by the sword", either an outright lie or a casual piece of heard-it-down-the-pub nonsense, but i trusted him to tell the truth for some reason and passed it on for some years, was pretty disgusted at both of us when i eventually found out the truth. the point... it cheapens the human race when intelligent people pass on such "counterfeit truth" and yet it's so easy to do it... this is a very good reason to stamp it out i think...

...or maybe it's just that this is my personal demon, to be wrestled to the floor and forced to submit's certainly the case that i lecture people all the time if i feel they need it, which is of course why i find it so intolerable on the receiving end...

gonna go now... z, i'll talk to you about those other things later maybe, it's all worth talking about..!

centrifuge said...

ha! after all those hours coming and going, for once i hit publish without bothering to read much of it through... crucial erratum: first line of last long para needs the word "not" in it...

apparently my unconscious disagrees with me on that one then ;-) and feels the urge to let you guys in on it.

the other typos won't hinder comprehension too badly i hope :)

centrifuge said...

ok, quick(ish) roundup follows of points hitherto missed...

* david - cheers for your last one btw - thinking about it, shepp is actually a pretty controversial example of "training and skill", since miles refused to share a stage with him, was happy to say on record that the guy was a "no-playing motherfucker". that doesn't mean he's right; but i think it's fair to say shepp got where he did because of his personal commitment, his intelligence/charisma - and of course by virtue of his adapting ben webster's growly tone into the free jazz realm and using it to superb effect, a great gift to the listening ear in my view BUT it's worth pointing out that he's not the easiest choice from a "technical mastery" pov.

thanks for your vote of confidence on the left/right brain issue - i certainly wasn't planning on throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but i'll be a bit more careful, maybe not using it so glibly in future. (in any case, to be honest and since it's come up, i'm actually *not* very interested in the psychology of improvising, etc - when two boreders usually united only in disagreement (cdj and mr improv) got into the whole thing in detail recently i confess i gave it all a wide berth, or only a passing glimpse.)

* z-man, aha, if it was in the context of an exchange about zorn and esp. if it involved that particular poster, then yeah, i have sometimes gone a bit more to town on him than i normally would (not that he seems to care what i think anyway) - he really has had enough gentle and not-so-gentle reminders by now of the difference between his contributions on his "own subjects" (always very detailed and doubtless very helpful to people who share his taste) and those on stuff he knows nothing about - c'mon, even alyn shipton (normally the pefect gent as you know, at least as regards his occasional comments on the bored) was moved to give him a right telling-off once. the guy in question then went away for a bit... then came back and carried on exactly as before. so it does irritate me when he still does it, though i've given up hope of making him question his approach; but of course it's also the case that i can get even more tetchy and defensive about zorn than i can about braxton, at times.

so i take your point, that would seem like a fair(ish) paraphrase even if i didn't use those words ;-)

three more words, if you're looking for rare ore from zorn's sax: *duets with graves!* - there's one in the 50th birthday series, also a live show was in circulation a while back.

kk & brotz - oh yes i see what you mean... hmmm, well, speaking for myself kk's occasional stepping-out-to-say-something-serious mode always leaves me feeling that respectful silence is a good option, either that or arse-kissing, so on this occasion i for one went the way of silent appreciation ;-) can't assume that others did as much, so from that pov it maybe was a little odd that no-one took him up on it, or maybe not, few people would take him on in a serious debate i think.

a lecturer eh... well well... heh :)

that's about it i think

oh... no it's not.

one last word on mr critic... i couldn't let it drop after last night's slip of the keyboard, since it forced me to be ruthlessly honest with myself.

there were lazy/outrageous comments by the presenter/editor in that radio prog also - not so many, cos (as i said on the bored a while later) he's smart enough to let his guests fall into the traps on the whole, but enough for me *in principle* to give him a really hard ride too, if i felt like it, which clearly i don't. why? cos i suppose my first contact with him was such as to persuade me first and foremost that he's a modest and genuine bloke, also scholarly in his approach (at least for the most part!) - and i guess this is the way others feel about morton. so i could be a bit more understanding of trodden toes, etc... he really did ask for it though, hopefully you see what i mean by that a bit more clearly now..!

atanase said...

dude, i hope all is well... just re-read this note. yeah... it was a great night. many thanks for writing it up. more i read your stuff more i like your style.

all is the same on my end... spinning 1971 soft machine as i type this. i know, a somewhat unorthodox selection by my current tastes. particularly if it comes after 2 lambsbread cds. that lambsbread dude will be big one day. really like his vision. too bad that his non-musical activities [or i should say proclivities] get in the way of more people opening their ears to his work.

what else, not a great deal really. my son's in scotland, will be back for easter. i pretty much carry as before... hope you guys are doing well. take care now.

centrifuge said...

hey man, nice to see you here, thanks for stopping by! lambsbread eh... just a name to me, for the time being... so i have no idea about these proclivities you mention... gonna go look him up...

atanase said...

hey i wonder if you have any jooklo at home... if not go here:

post relates to that onesided vinyl i picked up at the gig if you remember. it is a great record. very different from what we heard live. all of you could possibly enjoy it... also in the comments there are two megaupload links. the second will lead you to a live session jooklo had at the burnt hills guys house in albany. it is a great set, raw sax in the psychedelic setting. i loved it. i thought you might appreciate it too.

as too lambsbread, i tell you this, of all rock music that i heard closest it comes to freejazz of babimusic intensity is lambsbread and vampire belt... when you have time for this let me know and i'll sort you out.

centrifuge said...

well, that (lambsbread) sounds like a good recommendation! but as i've said before, there is plenty of death metal/grindcore out there which really matches just about anything for density/intensity... still, i will have to check these guys out. (there are several diff. bands using the name lambsbread, i had trouble finding the right one)

thanks for the heads-up about the jookloo rip. haven't played it yet, sounds very different but if virginia plays well on it, i'm sure i'll enjoy it! c x