One of the most respected figures in the international Free Music community, British saxophonist Evan Parker has recently been making statements that as he says make him appear to be “a conspiracy, tin-foil hat, swivel-eyed loon”. As The Wire’s Tony Herrington reports, Parker has given odd interviews to Jazzwise magazine, to the Sons d’hiver (Sdh) festival and as part of a CD launch at Cafe Oto. At Oto he suggested that biologist Lynn Margulis deserved a Nobel Prize. Margulis claimed HIV was not an infectious virus, didn’t cause AIDS and also that 9/11 was a US government plot. During an Sdh interview Parker praised Kary Mullis another scientist/HIV sceptic, adding that “these statements ... were concerned with the AIDS epidemic, but they are precisely appropriate to the current Covid nonsense.” In Jazzwise Parker described Covid as a “sham”, “complete and utter bollocks”, intended to “harvest DNA and sell vaccines”, while the vaccine itself was “a piece of software they are injecting into you”. Parker added that the pandemic was the work of billionaire eugenicists “looking for massive depopulation, by hook or by crook”. Earlier he linked his support of Brexit by stating the European Union (EU) is “a self-appointed oligarchy” and suggested reading The Nazi Roots of The Brussels EU, which claims that EU architects were Nazi-era technocrats and the EU resembles Nazi plans for a postwar Europe. Followers pf Parker's distinctive music are perplexed.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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Although the number of harpists playing Jazz and improvised music is limited once those such as Alice Coltrane and Zeena Parkins are name-checked, Philadelphia-based Gloria Galante continues to play along with her other roles as university educator and licensed music therapist. Writing on WRTI’s Web site, Matt Silver reports that Galante has now used the enforced shutdown caused by Covid-19 and her anger about the death of George Floyd to compose Style de Verioullage: The Lockdown Suite. Arranged for harp, tenor saxophone and double bass, the suite will also feature tenor saxophonist Odean Pope, with whom she has performed frequently since 1998. Galante was almost immediately accepted into the Jazz fraternity years ago when she attended a local jam session. So impressed with her playing was bassist Tyrone Brown that he quickly added her to his band. Since then she’s also worked with other Philly jazzers like Pope, guitarist Monette Sudler and bassist Lee Smith. At around the same time Galante also met and maintained a friendship with Coltrane, and would lend the other harpist her instrument whenever Coltrane played Philadelphia.
While it seems that Marcus J. Moore has come to Sun Ra’s music for the first time and must add almost superfluous explanations when writing about it, he does provide a succinct run-down of the Arkestra’s historic trip to Egypt in 1971. Perhaps it’s because he’s writing for The Nation, of all publications, that the sometimes gee-whiz detail is necessary. Still he does retell how cheap plane fares allowed Ra and 21 musicians, singers and dancers, then called the Astro-Intergalactic-Infinity Arkestra, to arrive in Cairo that December for its first African gig. Ra, who had long been committed to ideas of Afro-Futurism and the mysticism of ancient Egypt realized the trip was important. It was also important for the musicians of the continent. For while local audiences were initially puzzled by the sounds, which Moore appears to have trouble understanding, and the band's outlandish costumes, the Arkestra’s theatricism and songs eventually won them over. Furthermore the band’s association with Egyptian jazz drummer Salah Ragab, chief of military music in Heliopoli, cemented his commitment to Free Music, and those inventive concepts then spread to other Africa players over the past half century.
More in-depth and considered than the usual radio interview, Jason Woodbury’s talk with composer/trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, reproduced on Aquarium Drunkard’s Web site deals with the musician’s history and activities leading up to his 80th birthday. Mississippi-born and a sideman with bluesman Little Milton and others at a young age, Smith was also an early associate of the Chicago-based AACM, recording with violinist Leroy Jenkins, multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton and many innovative players. Smith, who composed his first tune at 12 “I discovered by writing music how to write music”, he says, is concerned with investing his compositions with spiritualism, drawing on concepts he's studied in Christianity, Rastafarianism Islam and Sufism. Smith founded his own record label in 1970, and has since recorded for many outlets, playing all manner of sounds with associates as varied as guitarist Henry Kaiser and electric bassist Bill Laswell. Smith explains that he knows from the first note they play together whether a collaboration will be successful or not. He also insists that he loves recording, since “I’ve learned how to make art in the studio”. Up-to-date enough to compose using his iPhone, he preserves his musical concepts and ideas with it before transferring them to computer musical software.
Although best-known as a West Coast adherent of the so-called New Thing explosion of the mid to late 1960s, Marc Chaloin stresses many other facts of alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons’ musical career. The essay appeared in The Wire shortly after the American saxophonist’s death at 88 earlier this spring. Associated with urban settings like New York, Oakland and later in his life, Paris, Chaloin traces a foundation of simple faith, overt racism and ritual in the saxophonist's music resulting from Simmons early life in what he called “backwoods” Louisiana. This rural individuality mixed with more atonal sounds was present on his earliest recordings with saxophonist Prince Lasha and in many groups he co-led with trumpeter Barbara Donald. It even appeared in a pared-down form in sounds played by the Cosmosamatics, a late 20th Century collaboration with multi-reedist Michael Marcus. In fact while resident of Paris for many years in this century, during which he recorded more complex sessions, as with harpist Delphine Latil, with electronic manipulators and in front of a large orchestra, he often preferred improvising on standards and the Blues with local pianists like Bobby Few and François Tusques.
Although it seems a little distanced from the musician and the innovative circles in which he moves, Giovanni Russonello’s New York Times article on James Brandon Lewis does offer a factual introduction to the tenor saxophonist and his music. Born in Buffalo, N.Y. Lewis followed all sorts of local saxophone music as a youngster from the avant-garde of Charles Gayle to the pop of Grover Washington Jr. Since his father is a minister the tenor saxophonist also initially played in church circles and was immersed in that genre until graduating from university. Once in New York though, a connection through pianist Matthew Shipp, led him to bassist William Parker and participation in more free form sounds. Parker is part in Lewis’ most recent recording unit with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, cellist Christopher Hoffman and drummer Chad Taylor. Besides constructing his own tenor saxophone lineage that runs from Sonny Rollins through to David S. Ware, Lewis’ work is strongly connected to Black history. That new CD is a tribute to botanist, educator artist and musician George Washington Carver.
By the time he died at 59 in 1995, American trumpeter Don Cherry was as involved in creating distinctive World Music as he was playing improvised Jazz. The Washington Post’s Andy Beta ascribes the evolution to the ideas of Cherry’s Swedish wife Moki Karlsson (1943-2009), an interdisciplinary artist and designer. When the two met in the early 1960s, the Los Angles-raised trumpeter had already made his reputation playing in groups with saxophonists like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and most famously as part of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s quartet with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell. Although Cherry would go on to be involved in more Free Jazz sessions with other players including saxophonists Albert Ayler and Gato Barbieri, accepting Moki’s broader ideas about the world he increasingly turned towards what he called organic music. Using her art and collaborative concepts – her work is seen on the cover of his Where Is Brooklyn? LP – the trumpeter added strands of Brazilian ceremonial hymns, Indian ragas, South African jazz, Turkish and South Asian melodies, along with the sounds of Chinese zither, Malian donso ngoni and Indian tambura to his performances. As American minimalist composer Terry Riley, who was involved in a similar music search at the time, says of Cherry: “I always thought of him as a medieval minstrel, a guy who was obsessed with music and played it all the time no matter where he was.”
For someone who professes not to be a writer, Martin Davidson, owner of the UK’s Emanem label offers well-research, well-thought out, humorous, and opinionated memories of the musical career of American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (1934-2004). Part of a book on Lacy published by Nantes based Éditions Lenka Lente and excerpted in The Wire, Davidson apologizes for so frequently invoking his own imprint. But that’s necessary since many of the saxophonist’s more characteristic discs were released on Emanem, including Lacy’s first solo saxophone session. Ranging from discussions of Lacy’s earliest modern jazz sessions with pianists Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk, Davidson offers a knowledgeable précis of Lacy’s work from his legendary 1960s quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd, to his Free Jazz sessions with bassist Kent Carter in the 1970s, to his compositional and Free Music forays with musicians like saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Misha Mangelberg and electronic pioneer Michel Waisvisz in the 1980s, and culminating in realized projects involving mostly Lacy’s working group, featuring vocalist/cellist Irene Aebi, saxophonist Steve Potts, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch. Besides telling how some of Lacy’s most memorable music was created, Davidson also reveals the nuts and bolts of what went into recording and releasing improvised music in the LP and later CD eras.
Expanding on the recent revival of interest in the extensive works of American saxophonist/flutist/composer Julius Hemphill (1938-1995), British experimental alto saxophonist Seymour Wright discusses some of the late saxophonist’s most crucial sessions. In this The Wire guide, Wright adds autobiographical snippets to put the works of the Texas-born, St. Louis Black Arts Group organizer multi-instrumentalist, multi-media pioneer and theorist in context. Included are embedded audio tracks of the eight musical selections that Wright cherry picks from the 1970s to the 1990s to demonstrate Hemphill’s Blues roots and compositional sophistication. The sounds feature Hemphill playing in solo contexts, alone or with overdubbing, as well as leading groups ranging in size from duos to sextets and featuring such players as drummers Philip Wilson and Warren Smith; poet Curtis K Lyle; alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich; and the two partners with whom Hemphill played the most: cellist Abdul Wadud and trumpeter Bakida Caroll.
Honored as one of 2021's NEA Jazz Masters, saxophonist/flutist/composer Henry Threadgill tells SFJazz’s Richard Scheinin that he developed his unique stylebecause he’s always been interested in playing and analyzing every type of music. A Chicago AACM member who moved to New York, Threadgill is best-known for Air, his cooperative group with bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall; and his own bands with unusual instrumentation and distinctive names such as Very, Very Circus and Zooid. But while he also spent time in various Jazz ensembles with advanced leaders such as pianist Cecil Taylor and Muhal Richard Abrams there’s more than that in his background. In Chicago he played in marching bands every week; he travelled to tent meetings and sanctified churches with an evangelist preacher’s group; and he was in the house band of Blues guitarist Left Hand Frank. Simultaneously while studying at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music he took every course offered to understand theory and formal analysis. Travelling to places like Trinidad, Bali and Venezuela he also absorbed the local sounds. Because of the ACCM and the Free Jazz breakthrough he evolved a philosophy about music being particular to the time in which it’s made. “Better to do your own thing, because you’re not going to beat those other people” like Charlie Parker,” he says. “I don’t have to out-play Clifford Brown. I got to out-play me; the competition is with yourself.”
On the 50th anniversary of the release of the first of Marion Brown’s Georgia Trilogy LPs, The Bitter Southerner’s Jon Ross creates a poetic profile of the alto saxophonist who died at 79 in 2010. Product of Atlanta’s Buttermilk Bottom neighbourhood, Brown’s composition on the albums Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, Geechee Recollections and Sweet Earth Flying, reflected the rural woods, urban alleyways and educational and religious background of that area. These 1970s sessions, which featured contributions from, among others, vocalist Jeanne Lee, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, pianists Paul Bley and Dave Burrell and drummer Andrew Cyrille, also included echoes of African music, which Brown studied as an ethnomusicologist. Actually Brown, who made his reputation in New York, playing with pianist Burton Greene and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp in many bands, and later expatriated to Europe for two years, actually spent little time in Georgia after graduating from Clark College. But as a dignified Southerner, who, according to Burrell “understood the dynamics of social relationships,” he was able to give the musicians’ free reign to successfuky interpret the musical mixtures that informed his very personal compositions.
With Five Hills, his Radar Commissions composition for trio that was only able to be performed as part of Jazz South’s Online Festival in April, British composer/double bassist Olie Brice tells Jamie Haber how his music has been affected by the Covid-10 pandemic. His advice for coping is to be patient, spend time outdoors and try to develop musically. Brice, whose regular musical associates include saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer Mark Sanders, is devoting much of his lock-down time developing his sound, technique and approach to arco playing and has recently become obsessed with Julius Hemphill’s composing. Five Hills, which is performed by himself, alto saxophonist Jason Yarde and trumpeter Nick Malcolm, is unusual in that he usually doesn’t write for that small an ensemble and was created by consciously avoiding adding any external influences. Besides telling Haber about interesting albums he's heard and exceptional gigs he’s seen, Brice reveals that his very first exposure to Jazz as a toddler was at a concert featuring saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, with whom amusingly he now plays regularly.
While Global Comment’s Denis Kovylin appears no more clueless than any mainstream writer would be trying to understand innovations in Jazz history, his recommendations for essential Soviet Jazz discs unearth some unknown-in-the West names. Limiting himself to discs released between 1972 and 1979 by the groups led by the likes of Igor Bril, David Goloshekin, Oleg Lundstrem and Joseph Vainstein “popular among the Leningrad hipsters”, he doesn’t realize that sticking rock or bossa nova rhythms on top of swing era standards and aiming for pop/fusion was only far out in the context of the USSR. Still one disc he endorses has stood the test of time. It was recorded in 1976 by Latvia’s Ganelin Trio of pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. Hesitant in describing the sounds, Kovylin seems not to understand that its importance was because of the trio’s Baltic-oriented originality. Unlike the others it wasn’t copying American models.
Although perhaps a touch too inside for some, bassist Luke Stewart’s interview with keyboardist/vocalist Amina Claudine Myers in Three Fold quarterly outlines some of the influences and background of this long-time AACM member. Coming to musical maturity in Texas, Myers was first involved with singing gospel and spirituals in local Baptists churches, as well as following Blues singers like John Lee Hooker. As an organist in Chicago clubs Myers backed up Soul-Jazz players like saxophonists Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Eddie Harris, each of whom helped her develop an individual style to be inventive and unique each time she played standards and Blues. “I always know where I am when I’m playing,” she asserts, as “improvising gives you a chance to paint pictures.” Even before she joined the AACM, and was exposed to and taught more advanced sounds from the likes of pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, her turning point towards musical freedom came when she gigged as a pianist on a Europe tour with Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freedman and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. Without preconceptions Freeman just played every night and let Meyers do the same, and yet the improvisations always worked.
Taking as its starting point the work saxophonist/clarinetist Marty Ehrlich did helping to collate a box set of previously unissued music by alto saxophonist/composer Julius Hemphill, Point of Departure’s Troy Collins traces Ehrlich’s career. Although white and with “deep family roots in Jewish liturgy”, living in St. Louis the young saxophonist was soon involved with players from that city’s Black Artist Group such as Oliver Lake and Lester Bowie. Following graduation from the New England Conservatory, Ehrlich moved to New York and worked in big bands led by pianist George Russell, and multi-reedist Anthony Braxton. Associated with other innovative players like saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist Jerome Harris, he led or was part of many small groups for the next several years. Transitioning to teaching at Hampshire College for 15 years, Ehrlich is now professor emeritus. Before Covid-19 he had intensified his recording and performing schedule. Someone who played with Hemphill for years and after the latter’s death led a sextet playing his music, Ehrlich’s skill combinations made him the perfect person to work on the Hemphill set and write about the composer. Modest, he still says that when listening to some of the solos he recorded with Hemphill who often played with the likes of trumpeter Baikida Carroll, he thinks they still “sound pretty fine”.
After more than 60 years of playing music his own way for small selected audiences, Kidd Jordan, New Orleans’ doyen of Free Jazz has finally been rewarded with a $50,000 grant. It's from the United States Artists, a Chicago-based foundation, reports The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Keith Spera. Of course the tenor saxophonist. who still practices and/or plays every day, is now 85. With a parallel career as a well-respected educator at Southern University at New Orleans and artistic director of the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, Jordan has also taught budding players such as saxophonists Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, pianist Jon Batiste and trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and his son Marlon Jordan, as well as Kent Jordan, another son who plays flute. At the same time he has long been part of his own free-form groups, including the Improvisational Arts Quintet, the first so-called avant garde band in a city wedded to Classic Jazz. Over the years he has also played with a raft of inventive musicians including saxophonists Fred Anderson, Cannonball Adderley and. Ornette Coleman. Honored to be receiving the grant, he jokes that he got it because “this old man has been scuffling all these years.”
He wasn’t a major figure who rewrote Jazz history, but alto saxophonist/clarinettist Mark Whitecage, who died earlier this month at 83, was one of the many musicians who contributed to Jazz’s evolution through membership in multiple bands. On The Free Jazz Collective’s blog, Martin Schray offers a personal view of the man’s talents. Someone whose interests spanned Swing era saxophonists, electronic music and Free Jazz, Whitecage arrived in New York at the tail end of the Loft Era in the early 1970s and was soon part of a group with long-time collaborator clarinettist Perry Robinson and others. Shortly afterwards he joined German vibist Gunter Hampel’s Galaxie Dream Band, which boosted his reputation in Europe. From that point on until the end of his life, Whitecage recorded sparingly as leader, but played often with many other sound innovators including bassists Dominic Duval and multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. His longest running affiliation, starting in this century, was with the co-operative Nu Band, which frequently toured North America and Europe and also included bassist Joe Fonda, trumpeter Roy Campbell and drummer Lou Grassi.
Headquarters for the Sun Ra Arkestra since the composer/keyboardist and the big band relocated to Philadelphia a half century ago, the row house in the city’s Germantown neighbourhood is slowly collapsing. Alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, leader of the Arkestra since Ra left the planet in 1993, who still lives in the structure, explains that the pump for the radiator heating system can’t heat the upper floors, termite infestation caused the floor joists to give way so that the basement floor collapsed into the sub-basement, there are gaping holes in the underground masonry, the plumbing leaks and the siding on the back of the house is peeling. Luckily a $7,000 grant from the Miami-based Robert D. Bielecki Foundation is paying for some renovations to be done by a local contractor, with Mark Christman, founder of the city’s Ars Nova Workshop serving as unpaid supervisor/coordinator. He and Bielecki say that the preservation work is necessary because the Ra structure is a Philly Jazz landmark like the house in which tenor saxophonist John Coltrane lived and the burial site of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley
Having moved from Chicago to the West Texas desert town of Marfa (population about 1,800), seven years ago, trumpeter Rob Mazurek tells Texas Monthly’s Andy Beta that his new environment has inspired him. Now he's able to investigate his connection with the “spirituality and physicality of space and time” even more than he could in the big city. He also literally has more physical space to do so, since his Marfa home includes a music room filled with a piano, church organ and modular synthesizer components plus a separate visual art studio where paints. Since his relocation, Mazurek says, the town’s vibrant arts community and closeness to nature has given him new inspirations for his many musical activities which include The Exploding Star Orchestra and various sized iterations of the Chicago Underground project. He still keeps in touch with fellow innovators elsewhere though, with his most recent recording featuring contributions from fellow Windy City associates including guitarist Jeff Parker and cellist Tomeka Reid.
Although world famous because of his decades-long membership in pianist Dave Brubeck’s quartet, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who also rarely recorded as a leader, avoided most opportunities to play in nightclubs and concerts heading a band. That changed radically in 1975, notes Thomas Cunniffe in his Jazz History Online blog, when Desmond accepted an engagement at Toronto’s Bourbon Street night club. As part of his extensive examination of the seven-disc se, The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings, Cunniffe explains that playing with locals guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Jerry Fuller produced the sort of moderate tempos, melodic solos and low volume, polytonal background the alto saxophonist preferred. He loved the sound so much in fact that Desmond later secured gigs for the four at the Edmonton Jazz Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival and a San Francisco night club. Meanwhile Thompson recorded all the quartet's music featured in the boxed set, including one night when trombonist Rob McConnell replaced Bickert, and it has finally been released as one package. Jazz History Online also includes a link to a video of the band performing live on the CBC television program Take 30.