Jazz Fry

15 Apr

April 19, 1993, Austin TX: I remember sitting on the dirty carpet of my shitty apartment alone, sipping a warm Shiner Bock. I was done with classes for the day, and staring at a TV screen. I was watching David Koresh, his Waco compound, and 75 of his followers go up in flames on the screen.

With the TV sound muted, it was left to CECIL TAYLOR and his Unit Structures LP to fill the aural space around me. Between contemplating religious extremes, police states, and the extent to which the US media fucked everything up, my ears discerned occluded musical keys, sonic cabals, and harmonic connections. I’d been listening to this particular record for weeks, in some sort of silly attempt to get to the root of this free jazz thing, to really understand what a guy like Cecil was thinking when he was swinging. I loved and hated what I heard, simultaneously. The sheer depth fascinated me, the heady musical structure hypnotised me – but the fucking hard work it demanded to decode it all just wore me the fuck down. My ears were starting to ring.

By side two, the roof of the Branch Davidian compound had caved in, and I’d developed a splitting headache. I was seeing stars and smelling the acrid stench of sizzling flesh. I knew what was coming: my jazz receptors were burning out, bigtime. I’d listened too closely to too much difficult jazz for too many years. Quickly, I pulled the plugs on both my stereo and the TV. But the damage had been done.

Within a week, I packed up all my jazz LPs/CDs and traded em in to Waterloo Records for a grip of 60’s-70’s-80’s rock and roll vinyl. Except I kept these:

1. PETE LA ROCATurkish Women at the Baths (Douglas Records, 1967) – I was introduced to this recording in my early 20s via the repackaged 70’s edition credited to pianist Chick Corea, by a very wealthy, but slightly psychotic Tucsonite jazz collector. Said collector would invite me into his purpose-built, windowless/soundproof listening room, dim the lights real low, and just blast the heck outta this one. He’s then scream at me over the din that this was one great example of spatial recording: “check out Pete’s drumming . . . he sounds like they’ve mic’ed him down the fucking hall in the bathroom!”

This isn’t free at all, rather beautifully modern jazz in a forward-looking, bold print 60’s sense of the word. The gorgeous tunes and motifs all have a noir sensibility that’s really alluring, and christ what a special tone tenor sax player John Gilmore had. This was one of his very rare appearances away from his lifelong, primary gig in SUN RA’s ARKESTRA, and this small ensemble showcases his sound in a way rarely before/after. Sadly, the explosions of more adventurous recs from this year (Coltrane/Shepp/the early AACM guys) has meant this one is often overlooked. Too bad, it’s a lost gem.

2. CATALYSTA Tear and a Smile (Muse Records, 1976) I started searching for Odean Pope recordings after hearing UNIVERSAL CONGRESS OF tear up a Pope tune at the beginning of the 90’s. And since I never really found too many Pope tunes, it wasn’t until the 32 Groove reissued the full CATALYST catalogue in a handy box set that I actually heard this LP from ’76, featuring Odean on tenor sax. Other CATALYST records are more headily fusionoid and/or exploratory, but the soulful, jazz-funk directions taken here make this their most accessible rec. The opening cut (“The Demon, Pt. 1”) has a particularly dark, sinister vibe, sounding more like an early 70’s ATOMIC ROOSTER riff than any easy CTI bullshit. Also curious to note Odean employs some circular breathing herein, adding a bit of off-the-rails frenzy to an otherwise contained set of grooves. It’s the kind of subtle but important reminder that these fellas ain’t never gonna settle into any CRUSADERS-like pop fodder. No sireeboob.

3. HORACE TAPSCOTTThoughts of Dar Es Salaam (Arabesque, 1997) Seeing the Horace Tapscott Trio was probably the first “serious” jazz gig I ever went to way back at the dawn of 90’s, not long after The Dark Tree CDs appeared. At the time he was playing with the great Roberto Miranda on bass – what a towering pillar of sound that man gave Horace’s piano glissandos! Saleem arrived late in life and features Billy Hart on drums and bassist Ray Drummond, doing what superficially seems nothing more than a set of older tunes mostly written by others. The thing is, Horace is a master of disguise, luxuriating in melodic beauty while simultaneously turning the tables on even the most mundane of motifs, with a cockeyed soul burning brightly throughout. My untutored ears never heard too many technical similarities between Horace and Sun Ra, but important parallels do exist: both drew inspiration from the entire, wild history of 20th century jazz/folk/beyond, both were comfortable superimposing lost aesthetics (gleaned by living through dozens of musical eras) over vital new ones, and both gave the middle finger to the Powers That Be nearly every step of their musical way. Couldn’t find a sample of this CD, so here’s Horace doing it live instead. Yeah.


9 Responses to “Jazz Fry”

  1. Mark April 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    “CTI bullshit”? Oh, man, next time I’m in the UK, I’ll have a stash of Wax Poetics with me, and we’ll talk…..
    Lo Roca’s drumming is so great! Man, I’m glad to see a review of that one. Gilmore’s appearance there is a true blessing.
    Lastly, I’ve often wished, in the midst of some 49 min. Taylor jam or another, for a 2:40 7″ blast of Cecil, just DOING IT in a short burst, with or without accompaniment.

    • mrowster April 16, 2011 at 6:33 am #

      Haha – well again, burned out jazz receptors will continue to wreak havoc on my ability to objectively assess such music. Effectively, I’m useless in the realm of swing. Plus Bob James is complete wanker :)

  2. Dave Lang April 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Time to get back on the jazz horse, Michael. These are 3 REALLY esoteric jazz titles to keep, too: I own none of them! Your reaction to Cecil Taylor (a great album!) sounds like a psychedelic experience. You oughta try it again.

    • mrowster April 18, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      Well now that you mentioned it: a lot of previously safe mental spaces became dark zones for me after a particularly vicious, nasty acid trip of mine in Vegas back in ’90. Maybe free jazz was an inadvertent casualty of that too? Maybe. But I oughta run that theory by my analyst first . . .

  3. Max D. April 18, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    Somewhere I have a cassette tape you made for me with lots of great jazz tracks and ‘liner notes’ penned by you. Good music talked about in terms I’d rather not forget. Pete’s on there. Glad the tape came through before the receptors sizzled. Been listening to lots of great jazz since then, serious and non. Interesting comment about the Vegas trip. I never knew it had such a lasting psychological effect.

    • mrowster April 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

      Max: I have no recollection of compiling that cassette for you, but it makes sense – you once told me you’d been gifted a massive mp3 jazz collection prior to your 1st move to HK. No doubt you’re still wading through it all. I pity you, I really do.

      Regarding my earlier comment about Vegas, just remember that I have been known to overstate things for comedic effect. Though I admit that waaay freaky vibes accompanied all my psychedelic experiences, post-’90.

  4. Sonicgg May 1, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    I briefly met Tapscott a few times in LA around 1996- a jazz-producer friend of mine knew him. One of the greatest jazz oncerts I saw was a free one at LACMA on a rainy Friday night. It was Tapscott and Art Davis on bass (played on Coltranes’s Ole) with two very young talented musicians. We went out to share a joint at intermission and before popping back into the hall, I checked out an exhibition of Jazz photographer Roy Decarava. The second half of the gig was amazing…
    Still want to read this:


    • mrowster May 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

      GG: Smoking with Horace! Amazing. I was at one of those Tapscott LACMA patio gigs too (he played every week for a month or more, if I recall right) but I don’t think it was the same night – it wasn’t raining at the one I went too.

  5. D August 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Another good book is The Dark Tree, written by the editor of Song of the Unsung (Steve Isoardi). I saw him at LACMA several times, usually with Roberto Miranda and once or twice with Dr. Art Davis. He did it over the course of three summers that I can remember. I have some black and white photos I may need to post. Also got to see Horace conduct the Pan Afrikan Peoples’ Arkestra not too long before he died. Man! His performances were reliably mesmerizing, freewheeling, uplifting. Fond memories. Thanks for the post.

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