a small package of great value arrived in the mailbox at mi casa
this week: an envelope containing toby guinn's
recording of the joshua manchester
/ jhon kahsen
avant-garde jazz performance at sardines
last tuesday, which i said at the time and can now confirm is _the most exciting music i've heard this yr_. this is wish-fulfillment stuff, like the night i heard charles moffett's kids crash a marchel ivery gig at the recovery room on lemmon avenue in dallas, or, in a very different way, the night i heard ron asheton and deniz tek with scott morgan's powertrane at the blind pig in ann arbor. it's always daunting to hear a recording of such an event after the fact; the possibility exists that it won't live up to our memory (can we really trust our perceptions in the moment?). thisun, i'm happy to say, didn't disappoint.
if you think avant-garde jazz seems out of place in cowtown, you just don't know yr history. a good number of the musicians who defined the sound of jazz's leading edge from the '50s through the '80s are native sons of the fort and alumni of i.m. terrell high school: ornette coleman
, prince lasha
, dewey redman
, julius hemphill
, ronald shannon jackson
, and john carter
, to name but a few. why, the mayor even gave ornette the key to the city when the innovative saxophonist-composer played at caravan of dreams
back in '83! it might seem like sci-fi now, but "out" crews like ornette, shannon's decoding society, and james "blood" ulmer were regular visitors to caravan, that beautiful room with immaculate sightlines and a world-class sound system now occupied by a restaurant that shall remain nameless.
jhon kahsen (ne johnny case) has been a musical force here in da fort since 1969, releasing a varied catalog of his own recordings that include traditional country, western swing, and musique concrete
as well as jazz, playing a long-lived gig at sardines -- six nights a week for 23 yrs and counting -- through a number of yrs when live jazz had almost disappeared from the cowtown evening stage, and mentoring loads of younger musos. with the release last year of love's bitter rage: a peace and justice suite
, kahsen may have painted his masterpiece, while demonstrating a readiness to achieve ever deeper levels of expression.
manchester's a chicagoan, a photographer and teacher as well as a muso. the percussionist-composer has had his music played on npr. he performs regularly at an open jam hosted by the windy city's venerable association for the advancement of creative musicians
, and is a member of the politically-charged improv outfit sir edmund hillary and the sherpas
. also on the date: khasen's longtime collaborator chris white on flute and bass (he also played trumpet on some pieces that toby's recorder didn't catch); vibist joey carter, best known for his work with bertha coolidge
and the black dog's
sunday night jazz sets but also a key contributor to love's bitter rage
; trumpeter leonard belota, who once walked into and out of the moon in about a minute when he saw an electric bass onstage, but played with '80s noo yawk avant-rawkers the leisure class
and clearly has an affinity for "out" stuff; and bassist daniel stone.
as indicated earlier, toby's temperamental recorder wasn't able to catch all of the proceedings, but as luck would have it, he did manage to capture some of the best stuff. the first track ("free improv #1") joins an improvisation already in progress; chris white had opened it with a lengthy solo turn on flute. the confluence of his dolphyesque swoops and flutters and jhon's ruminative pianner recall the quieter portions of mingus' "meditations" before manchester makes his entrance, recalling another meditations
-- specifically trane's, and rashied ali's impression of a boiling-over pot or erupting volcano. kahsen shifts from modality to atonality at will.
"free improv #2" opens with chris moving to bass (and goddamn, i gotta ask him to burn me another copy of the cd-r of his "outside" outfit with, i believe, some weatherford college cats that gigged at the black dog a coupla times back in '04) and playing an intro with gtristic facility before settling into an ostinato that sparks a melodic conversation between kahsen and carter. (listening to this, my sweetie remarked, "these guys have to be the best _listeners_ in the world." true dat.) as manchester's riddimic patterns grow more complex, belota enters, bobbing and weaving like freddie hubbard usedta when he was playing "out" with ornette / dolphy / coltrane et al. khasen introduces a new theme, white responds and belota comments, with punctuation by manchester. the riddim section starts a traditional-sounding walk, over which kahsen flows cascading lines and carter adds shimmering counterpoint before kahsen concludes the piece with some spanish-tinged lyrical flourishes.
carter initiates "free improv #3" on unaccompanied vibes. it's hard to believe an instrument with such a delicate sound can be played with such intensity, but joey proves it's possible, with manchester shadowing his every move. then kahsen unleashes a roiling solo as the accompaniment shifts underneath him like tectonic plates before white jumps in with a speech-inflected rush of notes. (the classic chris white story: the time he 'n' his ex-wife were scrappin' and he came home to find his upright in pieces in the kids' wading pool.) kahsen continues the spirited dialogue with white and manchester before winding things up on a contemplative note. it's only about 37 minutes, but so were a love supreme
and what's going on
. hopefully, there'll be an "official" release of this (and maybe some of the other recordings from that night that are supposedly floating around) -- as well as more evenings like thisun at sardines.