Track. No. 1 – Music Without Limits

Track No. 1 – Music Without Limits

I just finished an eclectic listening session with my friend and fellow record collector Joe W.. Thanks to his extensive and diverse collection, when we get down to playing records or CDs, we traverse the known, and at times unknown, universe of music. The more I hear and the more I play, the harder it gets to imagine being limited to one genre or style. In jazz today, especially free, creative or improvised, there is an opportunity to appreciate the connections between traditional jazz, avant-garde, contemporary classical and ethnic music from all over the world.

The roots of sound are infinite, beyond human life forms to the big bang. Scientists are exploring the electronic signals from that all-time great downbeat! John G. Cramer, Professor of Physics at the University of Washington, has worked out a mathematical formula to convert cosmic background radiation into music which you can hear at the following link: *(1)

Music is contained in the fundamental vibrations of planets and the natural environment of earth: rivers, oceans, wind, fire, insects, bird songs and more. My father once described the incredible beauty of the pre-historic paintings in the caves of Lascaux, France which he visited before they were closed due to deterioration of the paintings from the humidity caused by the breath of visitors. That beauty might well be matched by the music of human voices. For the lack of a way of preserving such ancient musical art forms, we’ll never know. One thing for certain, all cultures use music as a way to express the transcendental.

Tonight’s listening session at Joe’s began with my request to hear the “Kara Suite” by bassist David Wertman featuring Charles Tyler on alto and Steve Reid on drums. I was curious about this lp when Steve Swell mentioned it on Friday night on our way to NYC after our trio gig in Boston with Andrew Raffo Dewar (Andrew plays soprano saxophone in Anthony Braxton’s 12-tet and is 1/3 of the Serious Trio w/ myself and Steve Swell). Andrew and I never heard of it before. I love Charles Tyler’s unique and very personal sound on his horn. Early recordings by Tyler (the ESP sides) reveal his close connection to Albert Ayler – a essential rawness, the ability to deconstruct and reassemble rhythmic phrases a touch of the spiritual and the technique to play beautiful melodic phrases coupled with sonic bursts of pure energy. On the Kara Suite lp, his signature “cry” stands out along with Reid’s swirling accents and sustaining drive. My favorite recordings by Charles Tyler are “Voyage From Jericho,” “Rainbow Gladiator” with Billy Bang, and his playing on Khan Jamal’s lp, “Dark Warrior” is simply sublime.

The only disappointment, the mix on Kara Suite was truly out of balance. But with a finite discography, any Tyler I’ve never heard before is truly a welcome addition.

Joe was the “picker” for the music that followed. The only question was, “What comes next?”  He chose “Sunda,” an Indonesian lp on the French ethnic label Ocora that features a flautist with a super long flute that has four sound holes. It was played by a virtuoso who could bend the notes with complete control (I don’t know how he produced all those sounds with only four holes) accompanied by two zithers that seemed more like three instruments, with bass notes, arpeggios and multi-rhythmic accents laying down an revolving, ethereal background. In the middle of the tune there is a complete shift in tempo from fast to medium slow and the rest of the performance is quite gorgeous and extremely satisfying.

The third piece was “I, Claudia” by the Claudia Quintet. Difficult, and unnecessary to categorize in any one genre, the Claudia Quintet just seemed like the right thing to follow the Indonesian flute and two zithers. It was kind of similar in a way to “Sunda.” This recording features excellent ensemble playing by Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Drew Gress, Ted Reichman on accordion and propelled by the very tasteful intricacies of drummer/leader John Hollenbeck. The first track “just like him” (sic) was delicate and lyrical with like-minded relativity to both Astor Piazzolla and improvised jazz.

Speaking of free, this led to Evan Parker and the Electro Acoustic Ensemble, “The Moment’s Energy” on ECM. Track “No. 1.” As the name implies, the group is a large ensemble that includes both synthesized music and acoustic instruments with Evan Parker on alto saxophone, bassist Barry Guy, drummer Paul Lytton, saxophonist Ned Rothenburg and Peter Evans on trumpet. The track we heard has an almost orchestral sound, at times like the Cecil Taylor big band, voices playing against each other, off of each other, ideas being recycled back into the fold, polyphony at its best and most creative. With traces of minimalism in each voice, the resulting collective creates an interesting dynamic as individual players produce interweaving sounds and Evan Parker’s sax steps out front only towards the end to reveal his signature atonal arpeggio variations sustained by circular breathing.

At this point you begin hear the connection between things. Instead of following one tune with a similar one, you can better appreciate the uniqueness of each piece and through contrasting elements, the common threads between songs, groups, individual players and genres all appear in a different light.

The original question is once more repeated, “What comes next?” … “Stan Getz Meets Chet Baker” on Verve (1957) playing “I’ll Remember April.” Supporting Getz and Baker are a group of musicians from Chicago. Pianist Jodie Christian’s solo on this lp is a masterpiece of unhurried, well placed ideas. A giant in the making at this early date, he was around 24 years old.  Interestingly, Christian was one of the founding members of the AACM in Chicago and he recorded several sessions with Roscoe Mitchell including a brilliant Delmark quartet date titled, “Hey Donald.” Victor Sproles is the bassist here, and he was also recording at the time with the man from Saturn – pianist, bandleader and composer Sun Ra. Sproles recorded with Sun Ra on the 1956 lp “Super-Sonic Jazz.” Marshall Thompson is drummer for the Getz meets Baker lp. He later went on to become a founding member of the 1960’s soul vocal group, “The Chi-Lites.”

Here we have members of the AACM, Sun Ra’s Arkestra and the Chi-Lites accompanying Stan Getz and Chet Baker, and sounding great doing it. Doesn’t that just make my opening point, that there are no stylistic limits to great music?! It also says a lot about the musical environment of Chicago in the ‘60’s where there clearly must have been more openness about styles and less preoccupation about categories in music.

On the Verve lp, Thompson and Sproles form a solid rhythm section that makes this track swing with an incredible pocket-like zone. It starts off with a latin/afro-cuban groove reminiscent of “A Night in Tunisia” and then breaks into some serious swinging for the solos. Getz demonstrates marvelous invention in his lines and, in his own words, his tone has “more earthiness,” unlike the harder, more focused beauty he was later known for. While his sound is still under the influence of Lester Young, it is almost Tristano-like in the melodic approach he delivers.

The extended ending of “I’ll Remember April” has some very cool, kind of free counterpoint improvisations where Stan and Chet are playing interweaving lines, going off and then coming back to interlocking and complimentary ideas.

I have carefully explained the part from the title of this blog about “Music Without Limits,” but what about “Track No. 1?”  I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or not, but in this session, every tune we listened to was the first track on each recording. Are there really any coincidences in music? After the concert last Monday at Harvard University by the Instant Composers Pool, a student asked pianist and composer Misha Mengelberg what role “chance operations” plyed in his music.

With a wry and slightly devious smile, Misha simply relpied, “Chance operations??”

— Garrison

(1) more information on Professor Cramer’s work is available on his website:


~ by Garrison Fewell on April 11, 2011.

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