Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jass: The Devil's Music?

I've already blogged at length elsewhere about my obsessions with Ornette, Cecil, and Mingus, but lately, after reading George Lewis' AACM book, it seems like all I want to hear is jazz from the '70s -- the stuff I was into when I briefly gave up rock 'n' roll in favor of Monday night wrestling, and became a jazz snob.

So I've been re-reading Gary Giddins' Weather Bird: Jazz At the Dawn of Its Second Century, a collection of his essays from the decade-plus (1990-2003) when I got out of the Air Force and, by degrees, back into music -- for it was Giddins' Village Voice scrawl, more than any other scribe's (although I was also an avid reader of Rafi Zabor, Francis Davis, and Howard Mandel), that helped me begin to get a handle on jazz from '75 (when I dropped out of college, my head full of chemicals, Harry Partch, and Captain Beefheart) until the early '90s, when I finally let my Village Voice subscription lapse.

I've also been revisiting The Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson's bloggage on '73-'90 jazz, which reminded me of some things I'd forgotten, and pulled my coat to some others I'd missed. (Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds and Billy Hart's Enchance, for just two, and more surprisingly, two Charlie Haden albums that slipped by me when they were new: The Golden Number -- a much better record than the earlier Closeness, which I failed to realize when I had both as a teen -- and The Ballad of the Fallen.)

A couple of triple CD anthologies got me started down this road. The first one is Jazzactuel, a compendium of material released on the forward-looking French BYG label between '69 and '71, curated by noted obscurantists Thurston Moore and Byron Coley. (It's currently Amazon-available for about 40 bucks, although I've seen copies at Recycled in Denton recently for less. Recycled is also your best Metromess source for the Italian Black Saint label's catalog. You heard it here first. Next time I'm in li'l d, I need to hunt for Muhal Richard Abrams' Hearinga Suite and Blu Blu Blu.) The BYG sessions -- which Lewis describes as "ad hoc, impromptu, even insouciant" -- captured a particular moment when the '60s American avant-garde, including familiars of Ayler, Coltrane, Ornette and Cecil as well as AACM expats and Sun Ra, was at its zenith in terms of international esteem, and the label was as important in its way as ESP-Disk, Delmark, Nessa, Blue Note, and Impulse at documenting the new music.

More to the point as a listening experience (to these feedback-scorched ears, at least) is Wildflowers: Loft Jazz New York 1976, an audio snapshot, produced by Alan Douglas of "dead Hendrix" fame, of a week-long festival at Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea that I had as a download before iTunes took a dump and obliterated 70% of my downloaded music; I recently scored a CD copy for about 20 bucks. Wildflowers features a nice mixture of '60s veterans and the Chicago, St. Louis, and California crews that arrived in New York in the early '70s to revitalize (artistically, if not commercially) the jazz underground there. A few leaders are featured on both sets (Anthony Braxton, Dave Burrell, Cecil Taylor Unit mainstays Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons, Art Ensemble of Chicago founder Roscoe Mitchell, Sunny Murray). Wildflowers participants like Braxton, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, David Murray, Henry Threadgill, and Rivers himself went on to make some of the most intriguing music of the '70s and succeeding decades, which I continue to investigate.


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