Thursday, June 25, 2009

Recent Listening

A couple of more well-developed posts are waiting in the wings, but in the meantime, here are some ramblings about some of the music that has particularly gotten under my skin in the past few days. Some of this stuff is new to me; some I’m known for awhile.

Tony Parenti – Tony Parenti’s New Orleans Shufflers (Jazzology). Parenti was one of the good, not great, New Orleans clarinetists, but this 1954 album is more than the sum of its parts. I love the band he put together; it’s half young musicians, half older veterans; half black, half white; half New Orleanians, half Northerners. Well, it’s a seven-piece band, so each split is not exactly half and half, but it’s a four/three (or vice versa) on each. The music is relaxed, sounding more like New Orleans than New York dixieland. My man Danny Barker is on hand – he sure had a springy beat on rhythm banjo. The young cornetist Jack Fine made his recording debut here; 54 years later I was in Donna’s on Rampart Street in New Orleans when he came in, set his horn on the bar, and ordered a drink. For the rest of the evening, whenever he felt like playing along with the band (Tom McDermott and Loose Marbles), he’d pick up his horn and start blowing from his barstool, much to the delight of the musicians on the bandstand.

Cecil Taylor – Algonquin (Bridge). This music, a duet between Taylor and violinist Mat Maneri, was recorded in concert at the Library of Congress about 10 years ago and issued on a classical label a few years later. It’s a lovely concert; the music belies the perception of Taylor’s music as unremittingly thunderous and intense. (Of course, that perception doesn’t hold up to much actual contact with Taylor’s music.) Maneri seems to totally inhabit Taylor’s world, while, at the same time, Taylor bends his music to Maneri’s sound and style. This beautiful performance further deepens the mystery of how Taylor’s music is put together: what’s composed, what’s improvised, and what’s the difference in Taylor’s world, anyway?

John Patton – That Certain Feeling (Blue Note). I’m using this wonderful record to represent Patton’s Blue Note recordings in general. I’ve had a couple of them for years, but my recent exploration of the Blue Note organ scene of the 1960’s has led me to realize what an interesting musician Patton is. I’ve been tracking down more of his Blue Notes, and find myself going back to them often. Big John could play standard organ funk with the best of them, but was not content to stay in that bag for very long. While perhaps not a great improviser, Patton composed or chose settings that would allow him and the other soloists to stretch quite a bit further than was typical on an "organ grinder" date. “I Want to Go Home," from That Certain Feeling, is an interesting tune in 5/4. It doesn’t have an obvious groove like “Take Five” – it took a little while to reveal itself to me.

Roscoe Mitchell – Nonaah (Nessa). Specifically, the 1977 solo alto saxophone set from Willisau, which is the only part of the double CD I’ve had the stones to listen to so far. This music knocked me on my ass. The first several minutes consist of the same short, jagged phrase played over and over, while the audience gets increasingly (and vocally) more restless. To quote Mitchell from the liner notes: “It was a battle. I had to make the noise and whatever was going on with the audience part of the piece. The music couldn’t move till they respected me, until they realized that I wasn’t going anywhere, and if someone was going it would have to be them.” When the tension is almost unbearable, Mitchell finally begins to develop the piece, and does so in amazing ways. Several more minutes in, and he has the audience with him; the catcalls have subsided, and there is total, mesmerized silence behind Mitchell’s softest passages. At the end of the 30-plus minute set, the crowd erupts. This is some of the most intense, stunning music I’ve heard for quite a while, and I regret waiting 32 years after it was first issued to experience it.

I should be ready to tackle the rest of Nonaah tomorrow….

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