“Any loss or any gain are equally horrifying…so if one gets picked up for anything suspicious just tell ’em it’s all only fiction.”
“You rats. You stinking rats. What did you do to her?”
—Nick Adams to the aliens after they disintegrated his
alien love interest in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero
Well, it’s summer again, and the number of festivals and outdoor concerts in the city has more than doubled. There was the Undead Jazzfest; the Vision Festival; the Red Hook Jazz Festival; the Hot Steam Jazz Festival; the Hot Jazz/Cool Garden Concert Series; the new month-long Blue Note (as in jazz club) Jazz Festival, which presented over 80 concerts in at least 12 venues (I caught Frisell with Konitz at the Blue Note and later that week with Gary Bartz and McCoy at the Highline Ballroom); and on TV a mini-Japanese sci-fi festival. So I stayed home tonight and watched Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, a film with a misleading title that starred that almost ’60s icon Mr. Rebel himself, Nick Adams. Among the items destroyed by the monsters was a Mobil oil refinery; among the premises, that water had become more precious than gold on Planet X. And believe it or not, with the way folks are buying up water rights, the same will happen here pretty soon.
But here’s what I did on a more typical early summer night. First I went to the opening of the HOWL Festival in Tompkins Square Park, then I went to the opening concert of FONT (Festival of New Trumpet) at the Rubin Museum, which presented an exquisite concert put together by Taylor Ho Bynum. The show featured Taylor, Stephen Haynes, Leo Smith, and Stanton Davis on trumpets, Warren Smith on drums, and William Parker (who played spectacularly, and who later that week appeared several times at the Vision Festival) on bass. From there I went to the Jazz Standard and sipped a Shirley Temple while listening to recent Rome Prize winner Don Byron’s Ivey Divey Trio, which consisted of Don on reeds, Geri Allen on piano, and Charli Persip (wow, a first for me) on drums. This set was very uneven, with Don’s horns squeaking a lot and appearing out of tune, and Geri completely lost in the mix. From there Yuko and I went further east to the Lakeside Lounge, where we caught a truly fun set by Unbearables writer Joe Maynard and his crazy country group, Maynard and the Musties, with Joe playing acoustic guitar and handling all the songwriting duties. Yuko pointed out how multi-talented so many of the Unbearables are, which was further attested to by the presence of writer and painter Michael Randall on lead electric guitar. Michael told me to say hello to Dave, my editor and a sometime Unbearable, for him. Hello, Dave.
And now a tale of two Roys. One: Roy Nathanson, who recently turned 60, reunited the Jazz Passengers for a birthday concert at the Jazz Standard with guests Marty Ehrlich and Marc Ribot. The Jazz Passengers were never my thing, but the gig, with singing, joking, and some fine solos, was a lot of fun. Nathanson, who is also an accomplished poet, later presented his group Sotto Voce at the overpriced City Winery, owned by former Knitting Factory entreprenuer Michael Dorf. This set included many poets reading with the band, including Bob Holman, Romy Ashby (who read a standout piece about her crazy dad), Lee Ranaldo, old-timer Gerald Stern and his young wife (on vocals), and beat-boxer Napoleon Maddox. All read or sang, with the band putting really fine accompaniment to the poems. And if you want your own barrel of wine, Michael or Ed can set you up.
The other Roy, drummer Roy Haynes—a real-life Dorian Gray who at 86 rivals any youngster—recently did a week at the Jazz Standard. Haynes, who carries this super-fresh air of casual confidence and arrogance, breezed through the relatively routine repertoire with much audience-baiting, throwing out such lines as “Close your eyes and listen to these guys—it rhymes,” and “Thanks for coming. We love you. Do you love us?” He concluded the set, cymbals splashing and crisp, with a 10-minute solo showing us why he is still one of the true masters.
Here’s one of those philosophical side bars: I recently caught three gigs and (re-)discovered some new stuff. The artists will remain unnamed. One: I saw too clearly the severe difference between internal necessity vs. the true Monster Zero exteriority without any visible necessity: I do it because it has to be done vs. I do it to please the crowd. The second case was a horn player who is actually pretty good, studied with a master, and under the right conditions could have been a musician’s musician, but the problem I felt from him was that his tough exterior when he spoke to the audience or fellow musicians did not match his too-soft interior when he played. He made me feel that he was trying too hard not to try too hard. Three: One horn player who I expected more creativity from played many extensive but unexpanded and undefined solos without any reference points, making his trip monochromatic and boring. Ah, fluidity vs. permeability. Monster Zero. I also realized that exposing kids to new ideas is not the same as, and is more valuable than, teaching them how to play or write, and that musicians work in an unfixed space rather than a fixed place and have gigs rather than jobs. Lastly I learned that sometimes, as was the case with the trio Dawn of Midi, that one can have an unimpressive nothing-new concept but have a good fresh sound.
Melvin van Peebles did three months at Zebulon with a pared-down version of Burnt Sugar that he dubbed Laxative. My first experience watching Melvin up close in an intimate setting, going through his songbook, his raps, and his X-rated stories was exhilarating. My second experience hearing the same raps and material simply made me tired, and I left as soon as I could. Oliver Lake Big Band and Henry Threadgill’s ZOOID played at the Jazz Gallery, which Roy Hargrove “secretly” owns and which on occasion has really great music. A place that should definitely be supported.
A most impressive show was drummer Reggie Nicholson’s Percoetry, with Reggie on drums, Fay Victor on vocals and poetry, and Amiri Baraka reading poetry. The afternoon consisted of Baraka eulogies for Max Roach, John Hicks, and Hilton Ruiz, all masterpieces; an intense version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”; and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “The Poet and His Song.” All the time Nicholson was playing behind, with, and against the words, but never out-talking them. Always a perfect implement to compliment. The afternoon ended with the three doing Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “When Malindy Sings,” a longtime favorite of mine.
A CD to grab is The Veil by BB&C (Tim Berne, Jim Black, and Nels Cline) on Cryptogramophone. Recorded at the Stone on one of the hottest July nights in 2009 and reported by me then in this very column, it is now out, and let me tell you, it is still intense and will surely make you sweat a lot.
Poet Eve Packer, a fixture on the music scene, has a new book as well as a two-track CD. Both pieces are collaborations with the late Noah Howard, one her signature piece “NY Woman” from 1997, and the other “What You Think” from 2010, possibly one of Howard’s final recorded efforts. Packer’s book New Nails from Fly By Night Press is typical hardboiled Eve tempting the snake in the garden to come take a big bite out of all that action that happens right here in the Apple: “I am a New York Woman. Don’t tell me what I can or cannot do.” It also contains seven heartwrenching poems for Howard, with lines like “skeleton hand…rack of bones…moon hacked from night.”
Another book that I may talk more extensively about at another time is William Parker’s Conversations, from Rogue Art. It consists of 31 interviews with musicians and two with non-musicians conducted by Parker over the last few years, along with photos by Jacques Bisceglia and a CD of excerpts from the interviews, with solo bass interludes by Parker and blurbs by John Zorn and Wadada Leo Smith. Highly recommended.
The best gig for me so far this year was beyond a doubt Jason Moran’s solo concert at Tribes Gallery, performed on Steve Cannon’s broken down, out-of-tune old upright. Jason’s the third master to play on the beat-up piano in recent months, the others being Matthew Shipp and Connie Crothers. Moran played everything from Waller’s “Sheik of Araby” to a poignant Butch Morris ballad to some of the most complicated “out” shit I have heard in quite some time. He said he grew up with this type piano and plays one in the house he now occupies. He took off the board so we could see the hammers hammerin’ away. Moran is equally adept with both left and right hands, keeping that bass line thumping whenever necessary. It was a hot Memorial Day Sunday, and the air got louder and hotter as Moran broke into a lovely, ravaging “Body and Soul,” changing it up to a quasi-boogie-woogie that led into a poignant “Motherless Child.” Moran doubled and tripled up the bass lines, that right hand at times creating a rumble while the left single-noted a sparse series of tinkles. He at times launched into frenzied flurries that culminated with the blues. Both sets at Tribes went from the normal to the unexpected with twists and turns, gestural changes, and changes of moods at the drop of a dime. Moran played a beautiful piece written for collaborator Joan Jonas, who was in attendance, and an homage to Gil Scott-Heron, sneaking in “Winter in America” before morphing it into a mid-tempo original that became a storm that became a blues that ended in almost complete elegant silence. Tribes is another nonprofit venue in trouble and fighting possible extinction, so please lend your support.
Bob Dylan celebrated his 70th in May, or at least folks around town celebrated it with parties and films. If you’re interested in literature by or about Dylan and/or other rock and jazz luminaries and legends, as well as every other possible genre imaginable including William Blake and the best Beat writing, check out the Unoppressive Non- Imperialist Bookshop on Carmine Street in the heart of Greenwich Village—they have the widest selection and lowest prices in town.
So cup your hand to your ear, point your ear skyward, and stretch hard to listen because the answer my friend is still blowin’ in the wind. And while you’re at it, remember that nothing is ever over but that things do end.
This piece is dedicated to the late Gil Scott-Heron, who told us that it was “Winter in America” way back when. And like Dylan’s allusive ANSWER, it sadly still is. And remember—if you play something, say something.
[Soon after this article was finished, 83-year-old Lee Konitz suffered a massive stroke. Lee finished his week at the Blue Note then flew to L.A. for a gig and from there to Australia, where the stroke occurred. I’ve been listening to Lee’s music since I was 15. The night I saw him at the Blue Note I brought him a rare 45 to sign, whereupon he said, “Wow, that must be a hard one to find. Must be worth at least a dollar and a quarter.” Here’s wishing Lee a full recovery and more years of great unique music.]