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The Other Night at Quinn's

David A. Orthmann By

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Despite the weight of his preoccupations and concerns, The Other Night at Quinn's doesn't solely exist as a means for Faloon to come to terms with the music. Eight of the book's thirty-eight chapters are devoted to the voices of musicians, patrons, staff, and presenters who surrounded him on a nightly basis. All of them, ranging from local residents who offer accounts of the ups and downs of Beacon in the late twentieth-century, to performers Joe McPhee, Mary Halvorson, and Andrew Drury, to James Keepnews, the series curator, are given the freedom to speak their minds instead of being subjected to a standard, inhibiting list of questions. Their voices are not an extension of Faloon's. After reading their accounts it's easy to come to the realization that it truly takes a village to make a live music venue like Quinn's function in a meaningful way.

An essential aspect of Faloon's account of the scene at Quinn's is an awareness of how different segments of the audience react to the music. Quinn's may be a place where non-aficionados come to hear avant-garde sounds, but a positive—or, even a civil—response is not always the norm. On the one hand, Faloon observes Keepnews "doubling over in joy and disbelief as the music unfolds" (p. 103), and captures the vibe of the room when most people are fully engaged and listening intently. (p. 171) On the other, there's no shortage of people who are capable of drowning out the band. "For some...[Joe McPhee]...has crossed the line between risk and reward...A couple of conversations break out, rise above the music. The table behind me has been talking in hushed tones. Now they're too loud, disruptive, emboldened—things got weird, we've given ourselves license to blather". (p. 23)

The author consistently displays an impressive talent for describing the sounds and the methods of the artists at Quinn's. Even though the musicians efforts are often experimental in nature, Faloon contends that anyone willing to let go of preconceived notions of what music is supposed to sound like can discover something interesting and rewarding. Joe McPhee's saxophone makes sounds that are "high, loud and piercing, pitches that we're programmed to flee from in other settings. Sounds that signal to many, Get out of the way! Sounds that beckon the fortunate to climb aboard, to treasure the ride." (p. 136) Drummer "Andrew Drury picks up a small metal object, part of a sink faucet he found on a construction job. He leans over his floor tom, places the faucet on the drumhead and exhales. He works with care and precision, a jeweler placing loupe to gem, magnifying what lies within, revealing mournful, voluminous sounds. A solo sans sticks." (p. 241)

One of the things that separates Faloon from most music writers is a willingness to use his "real life" to illuminate the music. The parallels and analogies aren't exact, but he consistently draws meaningful connections and continuities. Drummer Ches Smith is not unlike the crew chief that takes down a tree in Faloon's back yard. Both are perfectly willing to cut into and tear apart the structures they're leaning on. (p. 110) The commonality between the band Iron Dog and a childhood memory from a swimming pool is the generation of a whirlpool-like momentum when individuals converge and move in the same direction. (p. 199) Faloon regards drummer Chris Corsano's efforts to deal with a broken snare stand as a "microcosm" of his mother's struggles with a chronic illness. "When the parts won't work like he wants them to, he puts others first and plays on." (p. 140)

Anyone who has exerted a certain amount of effort into trying to comprehend music that isn't "linear, sequential, everything accounted for, no mess and easy to digest," (p. 261) will recognize at least something of themselves in The Other Night at Quinn's. Faloon's work contains a tacit kinship to those who regard music as an essential part of their lives, and welcome the challenges presented by unfamiliar sounds and methods. It's interesting to consider how many others like Faloon are out there, fans with unique perspectives, products of their own curiosity and ingenuity, that go well beyond platitudes, empty praise, and simplistic criticisms.


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