This solo performance finds pianist Cecil Taylor at the absolute height of his powers (“one of Taylor’s most rewarding recordings”–The Wire), moving seamlessly between delicate lyricism and swells of sheer intensity. Split into five tracks, The Tree of Life makes a good introduction while also extending the musical language of previous landmark solo albums like Silent Tongues. Otherwise out of print!
From FMP’s massive, and otherwise out of print, 11-CD box set Cecil Taylor “In Berlin ’88″ — widely acclaimed as one of the greatest achievements in jazz. Cecil Taylor has written extensively for big bands, but there are precious few recordings of this important aspect of his music. Legba Crossing is one of the key big band records in his catalog — a lyrical and nuanced, uplifting and ritualistic performance that blends jazz and classical textures in ways that evoke Ellington while still remaining singularly Cecil.
Song of Songs
Contemporary : 1973
WS, trumpet; Emanuel Boyd, tenor sax and flute; George Cables, electronic piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Woodrow Theus II, drums.
Looking back, 1973/74 was probably when we hit Peak Weirdness. Formerly inside cats who cut their teeth with Blue Note in the 1960s — e.g., Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, and today’s poster boy Woody Shaw — headed Out, if briefly, for points unknown. New York, Chicago, West Coast, and Euro players were mixing it up. The fusion of divergent styles hadn’t yet calcified into capital-F Fusion. Miles was digging deep into the bedrock. And that’s not even getting into the whole Nixonian psychodrama that was unfolding all over the land…
So out of this progressive musical stew and agitated historical moment emerges “The Awakening.” It’s a fairly strange slice of Mwandishi-inspired soundscaping — and different from what people normally associate with Woody Shaw. Moving from open atmospherics to funky back-beat and back again, the tune ebbs and flows under the masterly hand of bandleader Shaw, who does most of the soloing. Cables supplies some truly oddball knob-twiddling and other supporting noises, while Franklin and Theus ride out the waves in strong sympathy with each other, throwing in some of their own freak grace notes. It’s all over before you can even muster a “Wow, man.”
Finally, a side note: what is it about trumpeters and longevity — Lee Morgan, Mongezi Feza, Clifford Brown, Shaw himself at 44, in 1989. We lose them too early!
Louis Sclavis is not afraid of noise. More notably, he is not afraid of silence, either. Within this thirteen-chapter Roman (French for novel), Sclavis and idiosyncratic guitarist Jean-Marc Montera create a fully-realized sound world that ranges from near-quiet to roiling, extended-technique-fueled buzz. An intense, preternaturally focused performance, which makes for a similarly gripping listening experience.
A lovely live performance capturing the relatively rare configuration of three clarinets. All three performers are given room to shine as the group wends its way through Sclavis’ five-part Berliner Suite, plus an additional dose of Boulez. Airy, spacious, and thoroughly engaging.
We admit it: We’re not generally fans of jazz poetry. The stuff tends to deserve the bad rap it gets. However, the work of Jayne Cortez is a blazing exception. With the help of George Scala, we’ve put together this memorial post paying tribute to her undersung work — work that melded free jazz, funk, and searing poetry into unique and combustible songs.
Cortez was a published poet who received awards from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation; a spoken word artist; a social activist — and most crucially for this post — a crack bandleader. She was married to Ornette Coleman for many years and ably adapted his harmolodic concepts into new musical shapes. Call it a 22nd Century Talking Blues.
She put together remarkable musical ensembles – often under The Firespitters name — that included such jazz luminaries as James “Blood” Ulmer, Ron Carter, Ed Blackwell, Frank Lowe, Bobby Bradford, and Richard Davis. Not to mention Ornette, her son Dernado, plus key members of the Prime Time band such as Bern Nix, Al MacDowell, and Jamaaladeen Tacuma. Scroll down for a selection of her most trenchant tunes.
Bola Press : 1979
JC, vocals; Bern Nix, guitar; Joe Daley, tuba; Denardo Coleman, drums.
For all its harmolodic swagger, Cortez’s music and poetry was always deeply rooted in the blues. Here she struggles with the impossibility of writing the sort of blues that hits you like a Joe Louis punch and turns the computer into an event like Guinea-Bissau. But that’s always been the key component of all true literature — its attempt to express the impossible. You know?
THERE IT IS
Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters
There It Is
Bola Press : 1982
JC, vocals. Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Moffet Jr, tenor sax; Bill Cole, flute, muzette, sona; Jamaaladeen Tacuma, electric bass; Farel Johnson Jr., bongo, bell, conga; Abraham Adzinyah, conga; Denardo Coleman, drums.
This is Jayne Cortez’s most devastating track, even more pertinent now than it was when she first waxed it. Over a pleasantly loping groove, she mercilessly dissects the capitalist state of being and the victims it creates. She begins: “My friends, they don’t care if you’re an individualist, a leftist, a rightist, a shithead, they will try to exploit you…” If Angela Davis was one of The Last Poets, she’d still be struggling to come up with something this stirring.
If we don’t organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is…
JC, vocals; Ornette Coleman, alto sax on “Explanations”; Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Moffet Jr, tenor sax; Al MacDowell, electric bass; Denardo Coleman, electro/acoustical percussion.
“No Simple Explanations” is an especially moody and hypnotic track, a wonderfully slow-burning hoodoo groove given extra emotional heft by Ornette Coleman’s snaking solo. Against a subtly complex backdrop, Cortez holds the stage with forceful declamations and urgent imagery. “Conjuration and syntax,” indeed. Our favorite line: “The altar will not fit another skull.” Or put it another way, when the great ones are gone, baby, they’re gone.
The Afro-futurist “Maintain Control” mixes a robotic flow with unpredictable percussion accents. It creates a rhythmic straightjacket that embodies the monomania which is the song’s true subject. Cortez’s voice creates another rhythm, urgently spurring the song forward while evoking the anxiety of being left behind. After all, the more you feel like you’re falling apart, the tighter you have to wind yourself up.
Bola Press : 1990
JC, vocals; Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Moffet Jr., tenor saxophone; Al MacDowell, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums.
Riding a relentless boogie choogle and surging saxophone riffs, Cortez evokes the connection between half notes, war dances, Santeria shrines, and abolitionist politics. An impressionist gumbo whose ingredients include Gullah, Yoruba, Havana, and Zydeco. She lays down the lyrics like incantations:
Not tweet tweet
But Mau Mau
KNOW YOUR REALITY
Jayne Cortez & The Firespitters
Borders of Disorderly Time
Bola Press : 2002
JC, vocals; James “Blood” Ulmer, guitar; Bern Nix, guitar; Frank Lowe, tenor sax; Sam Furnace, alto saxophone; Alex Harding, baritone sax; Al MacDowell, bass; Charnett Moffett, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums.
Cortez lays out a recipe for the ultimate postmodern jazz track — something that almost sounds like some lost Bill Laswell, circa mid-1990s. But is it really an advancement? ”What about the history of humans imitating machines?” she wonders. “Can you really shop at the supermarket, bag up all the groceries, and then act like what’s in the container is your creation, even though you didn’t invent one item in the bag?” Over a herky-jerk rhythm, this track — like all her best music — offers listeners that rarest thing: A reality check.
THE MEN WHO LIVE IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Skies of America
Columbia : 1972
OC, alto sax; Dewey Redman, tenor sax; Charlie Haden, bass; Ed Blackwell, drums, and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted By David Measham.
1st Album + Live At CBGB 1980
DMG/ARC : 2008
George Cartwright, tenor sax; Nicky Skopelitis, guitar; Bill Laswell, cello; Tom Cora, cello; Denardo Coleman, drums.
So you’re Ornette Coleman. It’s 1980. You’ve recorded an epochal series of records with your original quartet, twenty years ago. You’ve traveled the world with small groups, and written major works for symphony orchestra, and introduced the world to harmolodic funk. But you’re still feeling like your music isn’t receiving its due. So what do you do?
Naturally, you need to start an all-white cover band to play your own tunes. You realize it’s a way to make your music instantly seem more “accessible” to a wide audience and finally achieve a major payday. As saxophonist George Cartwright put it in this 2002 MN Star Tribune article: “I’m 28, I’m in New York City, and I’m gonna play with Ornette and his band. He had this idea that if he hired all white musicians, it would be successful. He was gonna call the band White House. I’m white, I’m from Mississippi, and that’s how it was presented to me.”
As Ornette told critic Robert Palmer in the early 1970s: “America is a very good country for a Caucasian human being, because regardless of what his native tongue is, if he changes his name and speaks English, he could be of any Caucasian descent. And I think this is very beautiful thing for a human to have, where he can go out into the world and make a living for himself and then come home and have his ancestral roots still intact. That is one thing that black people here have never yet had. I’ll tell you, man, I’m so tired of feeling that being black in America has something to do with not being white in America.”
The band never panned out, though apparently there were a number of rehearsals. Another great “what if” from jazz lore. In lieu of anything from White House, please enjoy a relevant track from Mr. Coleman, along with a live cut from Curlew, featuring Cartwright and Ornette’s son Denardo on drums, in 1980.
(Special thanks to Doan Brian Roessler for inspiring this post)
Evan Parker has done as much to advance the language of the saxophone as his namesake Charlie. This is one of his essential releases and a great introduction to his innovations. It’s a solo album comprised of short tracks and studio overdubbing, creating music that’s alternately complex and furious, playful and lyrical.
London Air Lift features one of saxophonist Evan Parker’s most stirring and sympathetic quartets – including guitar, bass, and drums. It showcases Parker’s links to the jazz tradition while carving out new sonic territory. These eight tracks are taut and surprising, full of telepathic interplay and solid pleasures.
We are incredibly excited to present two previously unreleased FMP titles! The first is an entire album by Hans Reichel, recorded live with Sven-Åke Johansson and slated for release as Erdmännchen (a different Reichel duo ultimately got assigned that name, and cover image). The second is a single, unreleased cut from the performances that became 3 Points and a Mountain.
Yes, there are TWO Erdmännchens. The two on the cover, of course, and two versions of the album. This one, recorded live in 1976 or ’77, was planned for LP but never released. The eventual Erdmännchen release, FMP 0400, turned out to be a different duo, Reichel with guitarist Achim Knispel (available elsewhere in the D:O Store). With only two overlapping tunes, this is an entirely different — and entirely new — story in the Reichel saga.
Recorded at the same concerts later memorialized as 3 Points and a Mountain, here is a previously unreleased and untitled epic featuring Brötzmann (on bass clarinet, among other reeds), Mengelberg (in a delicate way), and a particularly bash-full Bennink. Removed from its erstwhile spot on an alternate (but never realized) 3 Points, this lost slab of improv allows us an even fuller appreciation of these three mountains of music.
Muse Records : 1975
BW, acoustic bass; Sonny Fortune, flute; Woody Shaw, trumpet; Earl Turbinton, soprano sax; Onaje Allan Gumbs, moog, electric and acoustic piano; Guilherme Franco, percussion; Billy Hart, drums.
You want to know if a jazz fusion album is any good, check the expiration date. If it was recorded after 1975, it’s very likely past its prime. (Exception: Japanese fusion). Buster Williams’ Pinnacle was recorded right on this dividing line and serves as a classic case in point. It features some of the adventurous textures and arrangements that made his work with Herbie Hancock so stirring, but it also shows signs of the diluted and often crass mix of jazz, funk, and rock that afflicted fusion during the second half of the decade.
The album’s highlight is its exotic closer, “Batuki.” It stretches out for a beautifully languid 15-minutes, highlighted by some understated Fender Rhodes playing, a burbling groove, and subtle percussion. The horns add soft colors and sharp solos. This is also a showcase for Williams’ bass playing, which alternately carves out new sonic spaces and stitches together the tune’s continually shifting sections.
Williams has played with countless musicians over the years, but we’re most fond of his stint in Herbie Hancock’s visionary electric Mwandishi ensemble (1969-72) — which included Benny Maupin, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Julian Priester, and Patrick Gleason. Where Henderson and Priester’s astonishing early solo albums are basically satellite albums of the group, Pinnacle adds vocals and R&B nods to some tracks and seems ready to shed the bracing Afro-futurist strategies for something with more commercial appeal. (Not unlike Herbie himself at this time.)
“Batuki” might be a last gasp of sorts, but it’s an elegant and unhurried one. A reminder to luxuriate in life’s blissful moments before they’re gone.
BLUES DON’T FAIL ME NOW
James “Blood” Ulmero
Eye Level b/w Blues Don’t Fail Me Now
Rough Trade : 1984
JBU, guitar, vocals; Sean Oliver, bass; Bruce Smith, drums.
CJC: Ah, the Eighties.
DLD: Yep. This one was produced by Adrian Sherwood, who went on to produce recordings by Ministry and Cabaret Voltaire not long afterwards.
CLC: We’ve always said there should be more avant jazz singles. And Chuck Eddy has long maintained that James Blood Ulmer is a heavy metal artist. This makes a certain amount of sense, but it’s undercut by the recording’s weirdly polished sheen.
DLD: Whatever his production sins here, Sherwood can be forgiven for his involvement in the Pressure Sounds and On-U Sound labels. He’s responsible for a lot of great music, but I find it hard to hear past the ”’80s stink” on this. Not enough guitar, either.
CLC: It’s definitely worthwhile for the growled vocals and scribbling guitar. The thumping 1980s groove is a museum piece now, but maybe it sounds better if you didn’t actually live through this period? I can almost imagine it anchoring a number of current hypnogogic pop tunes.
DLD: Could be. I also appreciate how this tune is hard to pin down, seamlessly bobbing and weaving between jazz, blues, funk, and rock.
CLC: That’s Blood at his best. It’s bizarre-but-appropriate that he was involved with the great post-punk label Rough Trade. This is coming just after his run at Columbia when he briefly seemed like a commercial prospect.
DLD: Yeah, kudos to Rough Trade for even releasing this single. Weirdly, the album that was released at the same time – and which shares cover design cues — is a live performance with a different band entirely.
CLC: And they don’t perform either of the tunes from the single.
DLD: So it’s not actually a single, then, is it?
CLD: Uh, no. The production seems to be angling it toward something more commercial than the music itself will comfortably support.
DLD: Agreed. Where have we heard that before…?
Among other things, Burning Cloud is the best showcase for the late, great Butch Morris’s cornet playing. Surrounded by swooning brass, burbling electronics, and gentle percussion, this shimmering music is simply gorgeous. Morris’s brilliant playing is of a piece of the entire album: quietly intense, yearning, and lyrical. Blazing a new path, these tunes burn brightly.
This is surely the most unique item in the catalogs of jazz greats Butch Morris and Peter Kowald. The seamless blend of jazz improv, deep drones, and Eastern vocals is simply beyond category. The All Music Guide sums it up: “This is deep heart music, and it is holy, terrible, and devastating. Far past brilliant, far beyond emotionally moving, it is simply awe-inspiring.”
CARESPIN’ WITH MAMIE
Columbia : 1980
AB, alto sax; James Blood Ulmer, guitar; Bob Stewart, tuba; Abdul Wadud, cello; Bobby Battle, drums.
How in the world are we just now getting to our first proper Arthur Blythe post? All too typical, perhaps, of the way-too-low profile of this overlooked alto hero.
Illusions comes on the heels of 1979′s superb and nastily funky Lenox Avenue Breakdown — still in print — and while it doesn’t quite scale those heights, it’s still a remarkably strong outing, highlighted by fluid playing, sinuous grooves, James “Blood” Ulmer’s spiky guitar lines, and a tuba that just won’t quit.
Signed by Columbia in the late 1970s and initially touted to the stars (“perhaps the most innovative musician ever to put alto sax to his lips” – !!!), Blythe’s output at the time offers a path not taken for jazz. His music was adventurous but accessible, ready for a prime time audience. If the label had been able to break Blythe big, we might have avoided the stultifying regime of Wynton Marsalis and those toothless Young Lions. Or at least they wouldn’t have seemed like the only game in town. In an alternate 1980s, the crowd (and major labels) follow notables like Blythe, David Murray, and Henry Threadgill and help to nurture a younger, hipper, and more vibrant fan base for the music. But then it was the Reagan Years and those progressive moves just weren’t in the cards.
Here’s Gary Giddins writing about Blythe in 1979: “If Columbia can tap Blythe’s potential audience, [Lenox Avenue Breakdown] could be the wedge with which other loft veterans break through to larger audiences.” Uh-huh. Let the record show that the wedge was instead a very thin reed. However, to paraphrase MLK, the arc of musical history may be long, but it bends toward the good shit.
sample text exhibit B
sample text for exhibit A
We’ve got three new releases in the FMP Store. The only things they share in common are their excellence, their refusal to settle into cozy categories, and the fact that none of them were ever released on CD. They’re probably unfamiliar to all but the most diehard heads, but they each deserve a far wider audience. Check them out!
United Front, Live in Berlin
United Front’s swansong is their finest album – and a real rarity, too. The group proved ahead of their time and their thoughtful infusion of funk rhythms, dramatic flourishes, and hardy melodies into a shifting and adventurous free jazz framework had many critics calling them “sell outs.” Hardly. This record traffics in sturdy pleasures that sound riveting today. Think vintage Art Ensemble of Chicago and you’re partway there. “Live in Berlin infuses the innovations of the past two decades with a folkloric sweep.” – Down Beat
Irène Schweizer, Rüdiger Carl and Louis Moholo-Moholo, Tuned Boots
The title Tuned Boots ably evokes the sound of this magnificent trio. It’s stomping martial music made with exquisite nuance. Alternately elated and stern, sparse and surging, this criminally underknown album never settles into predictable patterns and showcases new sides of all these wonderful musicians. 4 1/2 stars - All Music Guide
Vinko Globokar, 5, die sich night ertragen können!
We don’t blame you for thinking this solo album by trombonist Vinko Globokar is obscure for a reason. But you’ll be surprised to discover his music is dense, layered, and downright raucous. A multiphonic mixture of brass, indigenous horns, and voice, Globokar creates spiraling soundscapes that are instantly compelling and simply beyond category. Riotous, humorous, and shot through with passages of buzzing beauty. “The two pieces, each of twenty minutes duration, create a fascinating shimmering polyphony.” - Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
United Front’s swansong is their finest album – and a real rarity, too. The group proved ahead of their time and their thoughtful infusion of funk rhythms, dramatic flourishes, and hardy melodies into a shifting and adventurous free jazz framework had many critics calling them “sell outs.” Hardly. This record traffics in sturdy pleasures that sound riveting today. Think vintage Art Ensemble of Chicago and you’re partway there.
The title “Tuned Boots” ably evokes the sound of the magnificent trio of Irene Schweizer, Rudiger Carl, and Louis Moholo-Moholo. This is stomping martial music made with exquisite nuance. Alternately elated and stern, sparse and surging, this criminally underknown album never settles into a predictable groove and showcases new sides of all these wonderful musicians