“It’s not worth fighting the battle if it doesn’t bother you.” — Woman on her cell phone rushing down East 12th Street
“…neither one of us wants to agree…it was nothing…there’s not much of anything anyway…” — From a poem by sculptor Richard Tuttle
“Now you’re a spinster.” — Father to his little daughter as he spins her around in a swing
Texas native, drummer Rock Savage, who has played with such icons as Arthur Brown, moved to New York in 1988 and became a fixture at the Knitting Factory, playing regularly with Miracle Room. He also played with Barkmarket who were signed to Def American for five years. When Warner Bros. sold the label to Sony, they, as Savage notes, “dropped them like a hot potato!” Among his influences are Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Jack DeJohnette, though Savage’s language is rough-honed and leans more toward rock. For many years he left the music scene but has recently re-emerged with his latest project, Worlds of IF, with Jeff Noble and Tim Mukherjee. The music is raw and post-industrial but with a new, explosive edge. The three start like a storm, simmer down as if the storm had suddenly subsided, then immediately begin to build again like a fierce wind or a pack of wild beasts at the forest’s edge. They maintain this ferocity in ebbs and flows until finally coming to rest, Savage’s drums always keeping the group on track. If you like music intelligently laden with metal catch them.
South African Saxophonist Abraham Mennen, who earned his wings in New York playing with bassist/composer William Parker, has released two CDs on his Fauré imprint. The first is a straight ahead tune-driven recording, The Really Revered Whole Story, and includes Mennen on tenor, Reza Khota on guitar, Ariel Zamonsky on bass, and Clement Benny on drums. The second is a duo of completely improvised music with Zamonksy simply titled Three Improvisations and includes Mennen’s Matisse-like art on the cover. The two let go a barrage of languages, some completely fresh in their approach to sound and melody.
Over coffee I asked Mennen to describe his approaches to these discs:
Steve Dalachinsky (Rail): What is the relationship between the two CDs and can you elaborate on their similarities and differences?
Abraham Mennen: Both albums were recorded on the same day. The first was the planned recording date but we did everything in one or two takes so we had extra studio time. Ariel and myself recorded a second duo album with the remaining two hours.
The Really Revered Whole Story is my second studio album and features eight original compositions. The compositions and styles of the music draw from several sources: South African jazz and traditional music, American jazz, free jazz, and experimental sounds and textures. The music often employs complex rhythmic schemes and illusions, rich harmonies as well as innovative group improvisation all anchored by a strong groove and drive throughout.
Rail: How does the duo differ?
Mennen: With the duo album, as the title suggests, Ariel and I did the complete opposite, playing three improvisations. The first is freeform. The saxophone is played in all its various forms; from mouthpiece only, to sax and neck without the mouthpiece, to the neck only, etc. “Improvisation Two” is based on fingering a low B-flat on the sax and playing with the harmonic series of that note. It does, however, near the end, move away from the one note. The third improvisation is based on a composition by Zamonsky that is expanded into a theme and variations.
My preference is the duo CD but it’s interesting to hear the stark contrast and what can occur from the same artists within a short period of time.
As promised the second and possibly last installment of Lost Dives of the ’80s.
This month it’s Neither/Nor Bookstore (1983 – 1986), a haven for poetry, books, music, and drugs on East 6th between C and D—a bombed out block where it seemed to be the only building left standing.
What first attracted me to the place besides the music is strange. I had begun publishing my work more in small press zines and journals and had sent poems to a press called Neither/Nor out of Ann Arbor, Michigan that had a publication called Beatniks From Space. Thereafter they began publishing me several times and included Yuko and me in an anthology titled The Death Collection. I needed to find out if there was a connection to this place and sure enough there was.
Rick van Valkenberg was an editor of the press but not the guy I was corresponding with. His name was Denis McBee. Denis stayed in Michigan. When Yuko and I stepped inside for the first time, after walking through this deserted battlefield, one of the first things we saw were books and lo and behold there were the books we were in. I spoke briefly to owner van Valkenberg who stood behind a counter of books, seemingly oblivious to the crazy goings-on around him. He knew me from the publications but he seemed shy so Y and I dug the music and left. I think the band that night was the Billy Bang quartet featuring Frank Lowe. Poets like John Farris, Michael Carter, Tsaurah Litzsky, and others hung out there and did readings but I was almost completely out of that scene and went exclusively for the music.
One fascinating night while Jemeel Moondoc’s Jus Grew Orchestra was in full gear playing a Mingus chart, a guy walked in barefoot and in rags and headed straight for the back, reappearing some time later completely gone. I found out it was the great Nuyorican poet/playwright Miguel Piñero who, at the time lived in the back room. Piñero had penned the award winning play Short Eyes, which later became a film. Piñero had really hit it big appearing as a regular on the ’80s mega-hit TV show Miami Vice. But it seemed after each episode, after making all that bread, he’d come back to the ‘hood and spend it all on dope; a truly tragic life.
I asked Rick for a brief history of the place: “Its first location was briefly a zine rack in Life Café [now gone] and then the tiny storefront at 543-1/2 East 6th Street and Ave B—a curated small press gallery across the street from the community garden, down the street from Miguel Algarín's [co-founder of the Nuyorican Poet’s Café] apartment, who would no longer let Piñero crash there. Later Pat Hearn would open her gallery next door on the corner, and on the other side opened the B-Side Gallery. Mikey [Piñero’s nickname] would crash in the closet and I invited him to stay. This eventually led the landlord to refuse to renew my lease. I then found the space at 703 East 6th Street closer to Ave C.”
There’s a video documentary of the place.
Opening Steve Dickison’s latest book Inside Song (Omnidawn Publishing, 2018) is “Like note/s preceding a downbeat.” And that’s exactly where you find/meet yourself, in that moment inside a song just as it unfolds. From the first page to the last, it’s nothing but song. He begins, “War-songs also are a part of the repertory…” He ends, “Night and day…” “Rhythms with brown study… Kind of cloud little moonlight bounces off it, umbral.” The book is in two sections: “Zora Neale Hurston, 10 poems and a Legend” and “Liberation Music Orchestra.” Its title is based, in part, on a song cycle by William Parker. Gear up your inner ear for an incredible listening session as each breath, each note, sung in this slim volume spins you into delight and wonder. At 50 pages there is so much said in so little space of time, place/ment, and history.
“Liberation music how it starts out rumbling, then the whole song keep unfolding.” These poems are written to make sense to the ear in their quick, tight, seemingly improvised voicings. As Dickinson puts it “Nobody’s buying that the nightmare’s the kind where we / don’t wake up from it,” but rather we come away with the sensation that “still inside the dream you need to play the instrument…the inside passage to the inside song.” Highly recommended.
Matthew Shipp has been retiring forever yet he manages to release album after album as a leader or sideman year after year, many with saxophonist Ivo Perelman. Three recent ones are Conference of the Mat/ts (Rogueart), a long awaited reunion between Shipp and violist Mat Maneri; Signature (ESP), his latest effort with his trio, a completely different hit and a masterpiece in my opinion; and Near Disaster (Grizzley Music) with William Parker and under acknowledged drummer Jeff Cosgrove. All are unique. The one with Cosgrove is exemplary for the simple fact that Shipp and Parker are there as part of the team and not as leaders, and the support and drive the three create are unparalleled.
Pick up all three. Play them one after the other. See how Shipp maneuvers through the waters maintaining his personal language while subverting it to adapt to each new situation. Catch him in his residencies at the Stone May 7-11 and at the Stone Series at happy lucky no.1 in July