Saturday, June 30, 2012

Deep Listening

“I am in the glories of winnowing,” Cecil Taylor states while reading his poem “Laryngeals, laryngeals…” as part of the 2008 opening festivities of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The performances surrounding the event are captured in a new DVD, Cecil Taylor/Pauline Oliveros Solo-Duo-Poetry.

And his solo and duo performances as part of that event provide aural evidence of such a winnowing process, although it is not a wholesale change in his approach. Rather, the listener gets a strong sense of the architecture of his improvisations, and the contrast between light and dark sections. There’s space to this music, the feeling of every note being well-considered, of course in the blink of an eye, given that we’re talking about Cecil Taylor.

The DVD consists of a 32 minute solo Taylor performance, a 16 minute solo Pauline Oliveros performance, a 22 minute duo performance, a 75 minute (!) poetry reading and 20 or so minutes of excerpts of other performances from the opening.

Considering poetry, let’s be clear: Taylor’s hands are poetry. The solo performance is concise, disciplined, exhilarating to watch. This was my first exposure to Oliveros’ work, and it wasn’t to my taste, although I’d like to hear from a fan, as she's obviously well-regarded. And she came through in the duo performance with Taylor; there’s a wonderful interplay between the two, deep listening going on throughout. And while I’m sure the fact that I’m on pain medication had something to do with this, the final section is so tender, so lyrical even, and so filled with mutual respect that it brought tears to my eyes. They hug at the conclusion, capping off a wonderful performance.

If you’re a fan of either artist this is a no-brainer.

Subcutaneous arising
The root of the syntax
Of the music
Arising rippling following
The code the ancients
Demanding our genuflection
They smile they approve
The ceremony is their praise
The root of the music
Uncovered flowing
Tapping into the source
Language myth science astronomy
Currents uncovered existing

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Snake Charmer

Tim Berne, Snakeoil

Tim Berne - Alto Sax
Oscar Noriega - Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Matt Mitchell - Piano
Ches Smith - Drums, Percussion

As a long-time Tim Berne fan, I looked forward to hearing this new line-up. I enjoyed Oscar Noriega's Luciano's Dream from several years back, and I've also liked what Craig Taborn has brought to Berne's music, so I wanted to hear Matt Mitchell's contribution. Listening to Snakeoil is an adjustment when compared to his previous work, but it's rewarding, and can be viewed as a maturation of his approach. There's more subtlety, more shading, helped in large part by Mitchell as well as Noriega's clarinet textures. Whereas Bloodcount and Paraphrase were about building sustained tension with little release, Berne's compositions here are more varied and episodic. This is not a perfect record; there are spots where the thread gets lost and my attention wanders, but overall it's a great addition to his body of work. Between Snakeoil and his guest role on Simon Fell's wonderful large group work, Positions and Descriptions, we may be witnessing a fruitful new stage in Tim Berne's career.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pete Cosey RIP

Guitarist Pete Cosey passed away this week at the age of 69. Althought he never achieved widespread acclaim, he’s best known as the lead guitarist in Miles Davis’s early 70’s band that recorded Agartha, Pangaea, and Dark Magus. While the jazz police disdained this unit, it was beautiful, intense, mysterious and scary, sometimes within the same piece. Miles in his autobiography said it captured the sound of deepest Africa, and while I’ve never been there, I can imagine what he meant. Listening to this band brings to mind vivid hues of red, orange and deep blue, on a field of black. The music that they produced presaged a lot of what was to come, and I think it directly or indirectly influenced drum n’bass, electronica, and the use of noise elements in rock and improvised music. If you want to dive in, I recommend starting with Agartha, recorded live in Japan. Here’s a clip of the band in Vienna in 1973: