Monday, October 27, 2008

On the road to clearing the room

Music I enjoy the most is collectively improvised music by musicians who create music as exploration with a disciplined disregard for tradition and boundaries. This exploration may be spiritual or otherwise, but there is commitment to exploration and improvisation and it is combined with technical mastery of an instrument to the point where the mastering has given way to the musician’s voice. Many of these musicians are described as being “free jazz” or “avante garde jazz” but there are many quality improvisational explorations out there to discover that incorporate musicians/compositions from jazz / rock / metal / dj/ punk / funk who are impressive. Wynton might not call it jazz, but it has that aspect of high-quality improvising that is at the core of jazz.

I state this on reflection of what I have found enjoyable and it sounds way too “stated” while really what I enjoy just gives me pleasure. Like anyone, my “likes” evolved based on what I’ve heard and are certainly biased by experiences. I still attempt to try to just listen with an open ear rather than pigeonhole music into categories (I can’t say I am always successful though). I do make an effort to search out new music. Still nothing better than discovering that new musician/music out there that is either new or been around for decades but I never heard it.

I also enjoy the “sound of surprise” that can be such a great part of improvisation. At many shows that I consider really good, I will laugh at some twist in the music. I reckon this evolved from my early days listening to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and the Grateful Dead (maybe not laugh out loud at the Dead, but plenty to laugh at in a Dead show parking lot). As Captain Don van Vliet says: I enjoy “opaque melodies that would bug most people. Music from the other side of the fence.” Or as I’ve oft experienced with friends/family/roommates: “Room Clearing Music.”

I saw a couple shows in this genre in my teens and early 20s and was blown away but I really did not discover how to discover much of this type of music until I made a concerted effort in the 1990s to explore historical jazz genres (with the aid of a good jazz collection in the University of Texas Library) and then moved back to the Philly area in 1997. Surely there was free jazz in Philly in the early 80s when I lived in the area, but I didn’t discover it. And it was much less likely I would hear it live in SC, FL. or TX where I lived most of the late 80s, and 1990s.

I started exploring jazz in about 1980 and saw some classic fusion shows in the early 1980s, (e.g. Weather Report, Return to Forever, Jaco’s Word of Mouth Band) and went to Philly jazz festivals to explore new bands. In 1983, I saw Ronald Shannon Jackson & the DeCoding Society at Bryn Mawr College in Philly with Vernon Reid on guitar and Melvin Gibbs on bass. I was floored. I had yet to “discover” Ornette so really had no concept of the harmelodics being played. I saw Sun Ra and His Arkestra in 1984 and 1989, but those big band shows did not have the same impact on my ears as that 1983 show.

Not until 1999, 16 years later did I have the pleasure to hear some of this music live again. Br this time I had “discovered” Ornette and Coltrane and was searching for some good live jazz. It came in the form of a free show at Wiggins Park in Camden, NJ by Greg Osby, Jason Moran, & Nasheet Waits, The trio walked out fresh off a 1-month European tour, tuned up (?) a few seconds and dove into one wonderful continuous improvisation for the next hour. I recall standing up after the outdoor show saying excitedly that that was the best thing I’ve seen in over ten years. To my amazement, my mother and father enjoyed the show.

I caught a few good shows the next couple years but then the Philly scene went into overdrive with the startup of ars nova workshop in 2000 and shows at the Tritone (including weekly Calvin Weston gigs). Mark Christman of ars nova workshop has put on a phenomenal amount of quality shows featuring locals, New Yorkers, Chicagoans, Scandinavians , and... So many great shows:

Dave Burrell, William Parker and Rashied Ali (10/21/2002)
Khan Jamal and Matthew Shipp (4/7/2003)
Harold Smith, Joe McPhee, and Andrew Cyrille (3/24/2003)
Tyrone Hill, Elliot Levin, Marshall Allen + (3/3/3003)
Odean Pope Trio (3/3/2003)
Die Like a Dog Trio (Peter Brotzmann, Parker, Hamid Drake) (5/2/2003)
Full Blown Trio (Burrell, Parker, Cyrille) (11/2003)
Sonore (Brotzmann, Mats Gustafson, Ken Vandermark) (9/9/2004)
The Young Philadelphians (Marc Ribot, Jamaleeden Tacuma, Calvin Weston) (12/13/2004)
Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet – Holy FucKin shit! (5/17/2005)
Ye Ren (Gary Hassay, Parker, Toshi Makihara) (11/17/2005)
The Thing with Joe McPhee (11/25/2005)
Vandermark 5 (2/2/2006)
Khan Jamal conversing with Yahya Abdul Majid and Graham Moncur III (2/25/2006)
CINC (Lytton , Vandermark, Waschmann) (6/13/2006)
Trio BraamJoodeVatcher (6/13/2006)
Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann – mind warping (10/8/2006)
Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg (10/2006)
ICP Orchestra (Misha Mengelberg. Han Bennink and others) (3/26/2007)
Atomic – 2 stellar shows (2/6-7/2007)
The Thing (4/18/2007)
Mary Halvorsen, Peter Evans, and Weasal Walter (9/2008)
Ceramic Dog (9/2008)

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