Friday, June 15, 2012

mining deeper...

taylor ho bynum sextet at saalfelden revisited

(first three paras and most of the fourth written months ago - c.)

final wednesmonday - haha - was the occasion of that slightly delirious prior post, but part of what made it psychedelic in the first place was a(nother) return here... having said excitedly at the time that i would be listening to it again, i then did nothing of the sort for a while as it turned out - old friend contacted me again after a long gap and got me back into metal again for a while, catching up with some stuff i'd missed... so no more thb sextet - at least not until that week, at which point i ended up replaying "apparent distance" three times in 24 hrs, extending it to take in the complete concert twice with the addition of the blues, the delightful encore as previously detailed. (and how did i not simply think of mingus for that one, before..? i mean first, last and throughout, never mind anything more recent in vintage... "pussy cat dues" in particular, the whole thing has a beautifully laid-back "ah um" feel to it for sure)

and - well. apart from "encounter" by john carter - which i wrote about once, then revisited later - "apparent distance" is the first non-braxton piece to have passed twice under my microscope here, at whatever degree of magnification; and all i can say up front is that it really merits the extra attention... or, i can spoil my own entrance and tell you right off that the "piece" is nothing less than a profound meditation on human perspectives on time, on temporality-as-construct - in other words it is postgrad-degree standard philosophy delivered within the framework of (fully realised) art... doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, does it (thb won't be soundbiting it for the cd inlay) - but it's probably the highest sort of praise i know how to give. and, you know, i still haven't "finished" understanding it yet (by any means). (*1)

first off, it was (i trust) made clear before that i was not listening in close detail, merely recording my lasting impressions; so, no need to apologise for having missed stuff, particularly deep or long-range strategic stuff, the first time around. really this is the point (i hope) of what i'm doing here: relating the private autopsy in public so that the learning process is actually exposed for all to see... it is a myth that once one arrives at lofty criticdom, one merely has to be within half a block of an artistic event or presentation for the detailed schematics on said happening to be transmitted to one's back-library instantly, via osmosis... and of course it's a total crock, and the guys who try to pull that particular trick on you are indeed just bullshitting. nobody's ears just work like magic. if you were sitting there with it on in the background, doing several different things at once, flirting online etc etc then regardless of your hardware setup, and listening experience, your account of proceedings ain't gonna stand up to scrutiny. in truth there isn't a problem with that, the problem comes when one is still being asked to believe - for the sake of social nicety - that the opinions volunteered after such "listening" are actually worth something.

anyway... first time out, i picked up a number of useful signposts, so to speak, which enabled me to follow some of the energetic flow of the work and even to remember it, to recognise it next time; and helped encapsulate it to some extent (all the while taking care to state that i was not trying to summarise it); and i sure as hell enjoyed it, and moved along with it... but there was plenty i didn't take in or pick up at all. indeed, the process of non-pickupage began right at the outset, since i (must have) heard a few seconds of solo cornet, slipped at once into a semi-reverie state and did not notice the second horn's entry, never mind the third. so - and admittedly i am leaving it rather late to say this (about an article i published five months ago) - any references to thb playing a series of solo cadenzas throughout the performance are not exactly accurate... though, again, it remains the case that i did pick up something of value at least: the returns to unaccompanied horns (where horns directly represent human voices relating individual experiences) do mark the insterstices between sections, and very quickly come to represent a self-reflexive, dignified examination of accumulated experience - this, again, is what it means to be here, alive... and with each headlong dash through a phase of experience, the knowledge deepens ("like a coastal shelf" indeed *2) and the quiet miracle can occur, as youthful arrogance and brashness subsides to humility and wonder at the ever-increasing understanding of what it means to be human.

the hot free jazz section which follows the first exposition from the horns contains all sorts of subtle and complex details - something which i completely failed to capture on my first listen. rhythmically, what occurs in this section is as difficult to learn and replicate as anything by meshuggah or the dillinger escape plan (*3), or to bring it back to something more familiar to listeners here, as anything by tim berne; yet the casual ear remembers it, as mine did, as being as simple and effortlessly groove-based as one could wish, allowing the lazy listener to be swept off in an irresistible tide of rhythm. this, don't forget, is the part which reminded me of messrs tyler and reid. (with no disrespect to them at all, but they are not especially known for (post-)deconstructed rhythm, excelling, as they do, precisely at creating fabulous free jazz rhythm-n-soundscapes which can carry the listener away, ... )  - the core building block in this phase is three bars of hard-swung fours, followed by - well, that didn't half surprise the shit out of me when i listened more closely, next time around. first time, the fourth measure comprises literally one beat. the second, two, so that it comes as no great surprise when the third lasts for three and the fourth seems now oddly predictable - back as you were, then, yes? 1,2,3,4 like that - whoops, no, hang on. the second time this whole small sequence is enjoined, the order of the "tail" bars is switched up - and in fact from this very moment on in, there is no point is trying to second-guess the sequence as one would only miss everything else that's happening in a maddeningly futile attempt to follow the count - which meanwhile, and throughout, shifts and changes time after time, endless permutations opening up amidst this constant basic (near-)repetition; this again being the way in which we live our lives, let's be clear about this. (how this very demanding effect is achieved - when this sort of music rarely requires the sort of "robotic" precision of advanced rock and metal strategies - and when it doesn't sound remotely robotic anyway, feeling indeed as natural as breathing... which is why the lazy ear remembers it as regular rhythm - god only knows, but taylor is obviously not kidding when he confides to the audience that the piece is hard to play - !)

right, so, next time we get the (greek) chorus we have learned a lot more, right? that hectic, blurred-vision sweep through a chunk of our lives, it takes some silence and space to reflect upon it. - this the horns proceed to tell us, again. 

note that i am not attempting a full tissue dissection of this piece (not yet anyway..! who knows) - so with the depth of ambition established and the hermeneutic parameters set, one can fill in the blanks for oneself as regards individual sections of the piece (*4). in terms of my own relistening so far it was enough to get more of a handle on the half-formed impression i'd grasped at before, which was to do with "solos which are more than just solos", something i later found out was very deliberately part of the design. (not just here... thb is known apparently to be very deeply inspired by ellington, which i didn't know until recently - though of course it instantly made sense, was indeed only not obvious to me because of my relative unfamiliarity with the duke's work; the acknowledged influence places bynum in very good company of course, and situates him very much on a direct line with regard to mingus, again.) so yes, each section basically showcases one of the individuals which make up this remarkably versatile small ensemble, and as such each is constructed according to that individual's strengths (if that choice of vocabulary doesn't sound too macho by this point in our contemplations..!).

no, but with the whole, partially-filled-in map stretching out to both sides of my vision, what does the overall configuration seem to tell me? what is the meaning of the title, "apparent distance"? this can (and doubtless does) have many possible interpretations, and we could spend a good long time unpacking it, i'm sure... for the time being, two main threads of meaning emerged for me when i began to ask this question. in (quasi-)linear terms, according to the illusion of (finite) continuation within time, or living a life as we blithely call it, each long-sighted, questioning perspective on one's own existence will have a quality of apparent distance, since as humans (as kant knew full well, though his followers tend to forget it all too easily *5) we are trapped within a basic matrix of spatio-temporality and our consciousness at least cannot ever truly escape it: every viewpoint is situated within a framework of relative distance. but from the point of view of the universe? no distance, anywhere. and of course... the other one is to do with the apparent distance which grows up everywhere between questing souls, incarnate in the learning maze we call this earth, encountering each other daily, yet held in reserve behind layer upon layer of personal, social and societal boundaries as manifold as a gypsy bride's skirts. but here is another miracle: in eye contact, one soul directly encounters another on a different plane altogether (or more probably several at once), and once again, the "apparent distance" is annihilated at once. lack of distance, at this stage, is what becomes truly apparent.

(ok, this is not braxtothon as such... i'm getting out while i still can, lacking a suitably pithy final sentence or two and wanting oh-so-much to get this thing published now i have actually succeeding it getting it down in words!! peace)

* see second comment

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

a "great moment in jazz"

i don't watch a lot of video online - actually i don't watch a lot full stop these days, have long since lost touch with new movies (cinema used to be one of my great interests, and was for a long time one of the things mrs c. and i had in common) and rarely sit still for live footage of concerts etc. i've just never really been into it for some reason. so when people forward things to me or otherwise tip me off about live clips, even of our man, it can take ages for me to get round to seeing them... heh... ages and ages (ahem). the artist formerly known as king kennytone sent me something last year (i think - damn these months are flying by..!) which i always intended to write about, but of course i never even got round to watching it (yet). similarly, i stumbled across this page some time ago now and just didn't do anything about it (*1).  however, in this instance i did get there in the end ;-)

the clip is from "spain, 1983" (and evidently represents a teaser from some trader's personal collection), featuring the not-yet-quite-great quartet with piano (as opposed to trombone).since - like i say - i don't see much of this stuff in the normal course of events, it was a fascinating watch for me. just the sight of the diminutive ms crispell, bouncing around like a possessed glove puppet during her more animated moments (late in the clip, after the maestro's "metal-stripping" freak-out) was remarkable - and memorable, not so much for any potential comedic value as for the knowledge that that is how close and precise her control: she can seemingly jerk around in her seat, arms floppy from the elbow down, and yet strike exactly the right key at the appropriate angle, depth of attack, etc etc (because, as always - and allowing for the freakish moments of genuine stochasticity which emerge betimes from these obsessive, self-scratching-in-public-and-private, exercises in personal repetition we might call creative working -  there is nothing much "random" about any of this music, contrary to initial appearance). it's interesting also to watch the maestro in full flight, but of course this is one sight i have witnessed before, and indeed first-hand on a couple of occasions (*2).

- now, the group, not yet quite great? damning with faint praise, obviously, but i'm only reflecting the way this incarnation of the band must inevitably be viewed. in this clip (and i can't identify the piece, nor am i gonna break my back trying just yet *3), hemingway is now indentifiable to me within a couple of seconds, his sound completely imprinted on my ear-memory - really, no-one else sounds like that (*4) - and of course the piano dominates a large portion of the soundscape from the word go, but lindberg is barely audible until the others drop out at the end of the clip (this presumably signals a transition phase approaching, as so often in a live set)... and it's simply this, above all, that elevates dresser because he, too, dominates his portion of the soundscape whenever he's playing and it's really, really not everyone who can do that in this fast fluid, highly volatile company.

obviously the music itself is already pretty complex by this point, although not as complex as it would become later - no collaging here yet, just a dense piece being explored (fully opened up in public actually!), and even then the performance does take the form of solo-plus backing for the duration of the clip (hence the legitimacy of labelling this as jazz - besides the usual flag-of-convenience stuff; though as we know, many older and more conservative jazzers consider braxton to be offically worthless after 1978-9... erm, to say this is their loss would be putting it mildly). but, i mean, 1983... who else was digging this deep at the time? the usual suspects, of course... and a handful of others, in europe, but really, this is advanced music without a doubt. and the band playing it... - is very very advanced indeed. it's just that... it becomes that much more fully great with the addition of the white-haired wonder, mr oak-and-granite-tones (*5) himself, mark dresser. please note that in stressing this (all over again, and somewhat prematurely since i will eventually have so much more to say about all of this business, assuming the braxtothon ever gets there..!) i am not looking to belittle john lindberg, who gave such good and hard-working service over several years, until whatever happened, happened; but (in hindsight it's strikingly obvious that) his relevance to the music extends backwards in time from this point, not forwards. the lack of audibility he suffers here may well just be a flaw inherent to the medium, an unfortunate side-effect of watching a compressed clip on a computer without an amp etc (...), but it seems decidedly appropriate.

- incidentally, if you are curious to learn about metal-stripping and for some reason have not already watched the clip, just forward it to the 5.30 mark and go from there. it's not even one of b's better efforts in that regard, just good-as-always, but it sure feels good anyway, urgent and hot and intense.


[as for the article - well, surprise surprise, mr fordham does not really say anything much: indeed the most telling two words occur when he falls back on the epithet "impenetrably complex" to describe b's music - well, phew, that's all you critics off the hook then... bear in mind that this was put together for broadsheet readers in britain (and presumably beyond), meaning it will meet its target audience amongst uni graduates whose idea of a good time socially is to drop educated references casually into the conversation, scoring extra points for a couple of sentences of factoids to back up ones assertions, immediately preceding a hasty change of subject if any searching questions are asked... takes one to know one? well, i don't hang out there any more, at any rate... look, john fordham seems decent enough really, always comes across as affable and largely unpretentious (which is quite an achievement for a jazz critic) but - like i say - he makes a point of not actually telling you anything here. this is what they always do... and - like i say! - they all allow each other to get away with it. so it goes... anyway, no, i haven't looked at the other 49 entries funnily enough, but i did enjoy this one, at least the musical part thereof. and hey, john chucks in a link to his namesake's zornfest right at the end there; but that's another story..! coming... soon??]

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

birthday card (LATE AGAIN - !!)

shocking state of affairs. where the hell is my head at anyway?! granted, the maestro himself probably attaches little importance to these occasions, but still... if a thing's worth doing... and the worst of it is, i realised a couple of days ago that i'd missed the actual day (which was the fourth, i.e. last monday), then somehow managed to forget again until just now. wtf??  *

enough moaning... late or otherwise, this is supposed to be a celebratory post! so i will do as i usually do, and wish our guy all the best, and

 ***many happy returns of the day***

 - !

this was meant to be a year of change... well, so far it's been that, for sure, and i'm not just talking about myself here; it's still not clear exactly how far-reaching or how radical that change is going to be. but b. himself (in a brief email to me at the start of the year) was very optimistic about 2012 as a year of new opportunities in music, and i trust that this optimism will be borne out in due course. the concerts of last october (link still good at time of writing!) saw a number of new projects launched: the syntactical ghost trance choir, echo echo mirror house music, pine top aerial music... ok, the second of those is a term which has been drifting around for a few years now, but i'm not aware of any actual public performance of it prior to last year. the point: those concerts represent a very wide variety of approaches to one man's conception of music (a conception which is admittedly pretty wide to begin with), and some of them have not yet been captured in recorded form. this must surely be rectified in the near future..? what's more, i am guessing that still more new ideas, new approaches, have yet to be unveiled. so here's hoping that this year (and those to come) will witness plenty in the way of new music... keep it up, sir, we are counting on you :))

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