Started reading Swann's Way, the first volume in Proust's seven-volume In Search of Lost Time. Figure it'll take me a year to get through the cycle; if my daughter and her coworkers can slog their way through Game of Thrones, I can do this. I'm curious to see if it's really possible to pack as much life and art into a piece of writing as the critics claim for this dude. I notice that I'm reading more slowly and carefully than I typically do, wanting to savor the language (and negotiate the long, dense sentences), and while it's slow going, I'm already impressed by his ability to evoke remembered feelings (the notorious 12 pages devoted to a description of the narrator's falling asleep; his recollection of what it felt like to be a child at bedtime, longing for his mother's kiss; the famous sequence where a bite of tea-infused cake unleashes a flood of memory). Think this'll be an interesting ride.
Rediscovering our record collection via the new receiver my drummer from college generously gifted us, I'm revisiting Captain Beefheart's work and discovering how my response to the music has changed over time. Contrary to what I wrote at the time of Van Vliet's death, it isn't the deliberately difficult achievement of Trout Mask Replica that resonates the most, but the occasions when Don chose to meet the listener halfway. I'm finding I'm more affected by his version of lyricism (Lick My Decals Off, Baby's "Peon" and "One Red Rose That I Mean," Clear Spot's "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains," Doc At the Radar Station's "A Carrot Is As Close As a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond" and "Flavor Bud Living") than his most jarring dissonances (the kind that the old Yankee insurance salesman Charles Ives equated with masculinity). And I'm starting to agree with Christgau that "if you've spent more time with the Captain's free sessions than with Ornette Coleman's, you need to get your priorities in order."
Then again, Ornette sounds so much like heartbeat these days that for a fix of "uneasy listening," one has to go to something like Roscoe Mitchell's Nonaah, an album I always thought about getting but never did back when it was new (1977) and I'd only been listening to jazz for a couple of years. Back then, I was just getting to where I could process Trout Mask and Zappa's Uncle Meat, but I was intimidated by the very idea of a 25-minute solo saxophone improvisation. My sweetie, who's followed me down plenty of rabbit holes -- Beefheart, Cecil Taylor (whose music she finds sexy), Les Rallizes Denudes -- absolutely hates Nonaah's aforementioned 25-minute title track, specifically the opening gambit, where Mitchell (a muso who really knows how to irritate an audience, a last-minute sub for solo Anthony Braxton at the '76 Willisau jazz fest) plays a nine-note phrase over and over for nine minutes, warping and distending it (overblowing, biting the reed, altering the duration of the notes) as he goes until you can feel the live audience's tension, which is finally resolved when he shifts to a quiet episode.
After three or four minutes of this, he resumes the staccato blats and honks, recalling Eric Dolphy minus the intervallic leaps, or Beefheart's sax play if he'd actually known what he was doing. In its extreme-close-up intimacy, "Nonaah" is as cathartic as Coltrane's horn polyphony on Ascension. When it's over, the audience applauds, one gets the feeling, out of relief as much as acknowledgement. Then Joseph Jarman's "Ericka" provides another lyrical respite before building to an architectonic construction of note flurries and overblown multiphonics, followed by a minute-and-a-half reprise of the "Nonaah" theme. (There's also a version with four saxophones that concluded the vinyl 2LP; the CD version adds some solo stuff that wasn't on the rekkids.) Mitchell duets with Braxton on "One Five Dark Six," and with his Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist Malachi Favors on "A1 TAL 2LA," then plays a trio with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and trombonist George Lewis on "Tahquemenon" -- all contemplative pieces that employ dynamics, silence and space to good effect, and flow together seamlessly. I'll have to try them out on my sweetie as I continue investigating this.