Search View Archive


“I played the concept,
                  not the piano.”

—George Russell

“Lucidity doesn’t come
          with words all the time.”

—Henri Cartier-Bresson

I was recently fired from my other “journalism” job and precisely for that reason. The “boss” claimed that my writing lacked journalistic qualities and that I was too personal, too general, and not analytical enough. In one discussion he had the gumption to tell me, “Well, you probably hate writing for us, anyway.” Whereupon I replied, “I hate writing, period.” Ah well, another job I got fired from that I never got paid for.

So now that summer is well behind us, what episodes can I report to you dear readers that I’ve managed to drown my musical obsessions in these past few months?

One of the literally hottest shows of the last few months, both temperature-wise and musically, was Tim Berne, Jim Black, and Nels Cline, (still searching for a name, I dubbed them BBC) at the Stone. More than a solid hour of unrivalled sweat and intensity in which none of the band members took a moment to rest or wipe off their dripping bodies.

Two days later at SummerStage I saw an extremely disappointing show featuring Cline with Mike Watt, Yuka Honda, and Dougie Bowne. Except for a brilliant, though somewhat generic, Cline solo and a brave effort by Bowne (who has suffered much these past few years) to hit the kit, the hour totally sucked. Not much better was an earlier-in-the-month Kronos Quartet gig in Prospect Park. It started out promising but ended up with boring new pieces by pseudo-classical composers who have developed this annoying tendency to stick words into their compositions.

Mary Halvorson. Photo by Peter Gannushkin/DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET.
Mary Halvorson. Photo by Peter Gannushkin/DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET.

One of the best outdoor shows of the season was the exhilarating last event programmed by the great Merce Cunningham for a site-specific performance in Rockefeller Park, with soundscapes by David Behrman and Stephan Moore. The other was the triumphant return of Rhys Chatham to Lincoln Center Out of Doors, with his symphonic two-hundred-electric-guitar mega-blast, “A Crimson Grail,” which had been rained out last year. I had a great time explaining to some old ladies what I thought the piece was about.

More moments of lucidity that have presented themselves this past summer-into-fall include: Laurie Anderson at the Stone with Colin Stetson (on bass and tenor saxes), a newcomer who floored me; the Ken Vandermark 5 at Union Hall; Ken showing up three weeks later at the Jazz Gallery in a group led by Eric Revis that included Jason Moran and Nasheet Waits; Roswell Rudd, Fay Victor, and Tyshawn Sorey at the Stone; Cecil Taylor Trio at the Highline Ballroom; Ornette at Lincoln Center. And some great Connie Crothers at the Stone as well.

And just when you thought you had enough guitars and saxophones, along come Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Ingrid Laubrock (saxes). Wow—two powerhouses who also happen to be women. And just when you thought it was safe to hear Charles Gayle, he decides to pull out an upright bass. He premiered it in a Butch Morris conduction recently, and then as a full-blown sideman in a group led by drummer Mike Wimberly that consisted of Sabir Mateen and Will Connell on reeds. Though flawed, once Gayle gets a handle on it, bassists beware!

There was a wonderful set by Oliver Lake at Local 269, where many of the aforementioned gigs also took place.

A major disappointment was the tragically mediocre version of Euripides’ The Bacchae, presented by the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. The performance was a cross between Tommy and Hair, or Broadway and doo-wop, with some of the worst, most undefinably pop-ish music by czar Philip Glass. The Greek chorus sounded more like A Chorus Line with a bit of silly operetta thrown in. Yuk.

Another was Songs of the Soul. After all these years of curiosity I finally got to hear one of those free Sri Chinmoy events. (Judging by the cult-like atmosphere and fanfare you’d hardly believe he’s been dead for two years.) What can I say? I guess I’m too negative to get blissed out, and even soul priestess Roberta Flack (who hogged the stage) couldn’t save this mostly white, harem–driven scene. I’ve never seen so many sorry saris in my life. And Chinmoy’s music—a sampling of some 22,000 pieces he’s written—was, like his poetry and painting, pathetic, downright simplistic, and boring. What Santana and McLaughlin saw in him I’ll never know. My wife and I left more agitated than we were when we entered.

October seems to be a very promising month, with two solid weeks of Evan Parker at the Stone in solo, duo, and trio configurations. That will be followed by the return of D. S. Ware on the 15th at the Abrons Arts Center, and two days of Incus Records, also at Abrons Arts, with an incredible lineup of musicians presented by John Zorn and Karen Brookman (wife of Incus founder and improv giant Derek Bailey).

Ran into Rudolph Grey on the street recently. He reached into his bag and pulled out two 45s and said he’d been carrying them around with him in case he saw me. I took them gladly and later that night listened to them. The records (with cover art by Grey) were recorded live in 1980 by Arthur Doyle and Sumner Crane of the no-wave band Mars, and produced by Grey for a small label called Foreign Frequency. The music is from outer space. Grey announced that the records are impossible to get due to a rift with the distributor. But search them out if you’re a Grey fan, and when or if you find them, put on your blinders, turn off the lights, and listen for that internal scream that inhabits us all.

On a truly sad note, we recently lost Merce Cunningham, Les Paul, Lawrence Lucie, actor, dancer, singer, and friend, downtown fixture Tony “the Fish” Nunziata, George Russell, Jim Carroll, Luther Thomas, and two personal favorites and dear friends, Rashied Ali and Joe Maneri.

Oh, and Lester Young hit 100 and Bird 88.

I’ll end my non-journalistic foray with what I hope is some useful “analysis:” The difference between whether one “knows” how to play and whether one “can” play may seem moot, even subtle, but in actuality can be the critical factor that determines an individual’s style, uniqueness, and perhaps even greatness. So remember: it’s not what you listen to that counts but how you LISTEN. R.I.P.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2009

All Issues