New York Society for Ethical Culture November 10, 2001
Since October, New York City has been the privileged host of many of Chicago's finest players: Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell. Following on the heels of the Oliver Lake Big Band and the Muhal Richard Abrams Double Trio (see review), the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians 2001 Concert Season concluded with a double bill at the New York Society of Ethical Culture. Joseph Jarman's quintet opened the show with an hour of his compositions. Jarman, the multi-reed master, performed in a stark white outfit and highly polished black shoes-a look reminiscent of Mahavishnu John McLaughlin's apparel in the early seventies. Jarman's work is infused with as much spirituality as the former Sri Chimnoy disciple's. Jarman began on bass flute-an instrument found all too infrequently on the concert stage. In a concert under the auspices of the AACM and its philosophy of multi-instrumentalism though, it is no surprise. Meeting Mr. Jarman after the show, one wonders how these musicians can carry so many instrument cases at once. "Sunset from Nazo-Oh" set the tone-slow, airy and ethereal. The piece used the harmonium (a piano crossed with an accordion, played seated) to provide the drone common to much Eastern music. Jarman's theme was full of long single notes, following a simple but quite beautiful progression. This theme was doubled on the acoustic guitar to a sparse percussive accompaniment of drumhead and finger cymbals. The acoustics of the room provided a booming echo, quite effective for this piece, especially the resounding thud of the drums. For the rest of the set though, this would prove distracting. "Passage Song for Lester B (The Voice)" was dedicated to the memory of Jarman's AACM colleague and collaborator. Continuing in the spirit created by the first piece, the momentum built up slowly, beginning with a simple piano and finger cymbal introduction. The guitar provided one or two notes, gradually creating a theme substantiated by Jarman on soprano sax, and Jones on tenor. As befitting an ode (Mingus' elegy to another Lester is perfect example), the tone was reflective and spacious. Jarman's soprano work was gorgeous, slowly building in intensity over textural harmony by the tenor. The rest of the group's contribution was not nearly as effective. Perhaps it is lack of understanding regarding space within a solo, but both the guitar and tenor's improvisations were at times self-indulgent and at others unfocused. The group's percussionist reinforced my opinion that there are few non-kit drummers valuable to a performance. Melford was the only musician besides Jarman who approached her parts with any cohesion.
The remainder was not particularly enjoyable or stimulating. "Happiness Is" was the only piece played at a fast tempo. The theme was trite however and the guitarist played chords that seemed to belong to a different song entirely. If not bad enough already, Jarman sang some rather insipid lyrics. This became almost as embarrassing as seeing a rotund Ted Curson singing nonsense lyrics to "Watermelon Man" at the Blue Note last year. "2001 Passage Song" and "Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Human" also were marred by Jarman vocalizations and, despite some nice piano flourishes by Melford and an attractive flute and bass flute theme on "2001", really never went anywhere. Either the choice of material or a group that was not especially sympathetic left the audience cold, despite polite applause.
The evening was saved by Andrew Cyrille and Michael Carvin and perhaps explains the order of performers. Drum duets can be difficult to swallow. Cyrille and Billy Hart two summers ago at the Knitting Factory was 90 minutes of nonstop improvisation and, while ultimately very satisfying, required an enormous amount of attention to enjoy. This evening's duet was quite different because the six numbers were composed and the entire show was only 50 minutes. The audience was split between drummers craning their necks for a close-up of a certain technique and a less specific crowd just enjoying the polyrhythms.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.