D.P. Marshall and the Diallelon.

sunshine hope

 

D.P. Marshall Vs. Fatuity

Though I myself blog about both academic and commercial topics, I very rarely discuss the work of others, save for the occasional link. But in this case I am making an exception, as fellow blogger D. P. Marshall has asked me to reply to his two part series on the lack of critical thinking in modern society. Before I start though, I would like to give you all a sense of where both of us Daniels are coming from in our positions on this topic.

Daniel Paul Marshall is an expatriate living in South Korea, hailing from the West Midlands of England. A very gifted writer of both prose and poetry, he also built (by himself) a café and guesthouse on the island of Jeju where he lives with his wife. His philosophical influences are Thomas Nagel, Albert Camus, and George Santayana. In my own research for my various degrees I have exhaustively studied Zen Buddhism and Japanese art culture (i.e. their combined influence on American culture in the 1950s), focusing especially on the ensuing art of free jazz. Thus, my approach to any criticism or writing comes from this training at least subconsciously, if not directly (Dogen Zenji, Junichiro Tanizaki, Shozo Shimamoto, Kenko Yoshida, and others). 

In his essays Marshall lays out a major criticism of our current educational system: society, in general, is not trained to objectively think about things before they decide what to think about an issue, they just judge stuff without any reasonable thought put into why. This is due to the economic aspects, because thinking objectively (a.k.a. critically) about things is not necessary for modern workers and their mundane jobs. If your company succeeds, and the government gets their taxes then all is good in the world. And whenever someone actually does think critically about an issue, then that analysis is easily shot down with the idea that every is entitles to their own opinion, like one person’s random thoughts on the stock market are the same as someone else’s in depth study of economic trends. This is completely unacceptable to Marshall, and bothers him deeply. As he sees it, a diallelus, a problem requiring justification (which then can lead to another argument which requires further justification), is the foundation for critical thought.

Marshall then explains just what he means by criticism: the variety found in literary criticism, as humans use literary devices all the time in our understanding and expression of Life itself. This is where he takes what I think is a slight turn from his original argument, a slight turn towards the ditch rather than the road. We do indeed use literary devices in our lives, but there needs to be a distinction made between literature and communication. For example, one almost invariable (in my experience) communicates with much less effectiveness having learnt Japanese in university for example than one who has gained the (exact) equivalent level of communication (verbs, nouns, etc.) by spending the equivalent amount of time with Osakan housewives.

This is due to the subject matter. Whereas the Canadian college student must learn how to say “As for me…” in college to pass a standardized test, Osakan housewife Japanese is by its very nature communicative of information vital to the circle of her friends who must live it’s effects and possible complications: the Canadian college student living in Japan for one year must learn when to say what via negative grammar and body language. Via negative grammatical form for example, the Osaka housewife will ask a guest if their feet are cold, the common implied request given for one to please put their socks on before entering an area with tatami mats. 

(Note: it is also not taught or learnt through literary forms that my own name (sh-NAY) must be mispronounced (shoe-ney) in Japan in order to be polite, as it is correctly pronounced like a strident command to die: “shii-ney”). 

Marshall corrects this emphasis later though with a return to the idea of one’ critical faculties, wherein learning to communicate resides. He also rightfully brings us to the idea of “shaming”, the (often misused) idea of morally policing society: judging instantly on gut feeling rather than thinking about the context and ramifications of such action, as in the case of Justine Sacco who was fired for a misunderstood Tweet about AIDS and racial discrimination.

Once again this becomes another slight wobble on Marshall’s road. Understanding thought then as a literary “technique” will not necessarily inculcate wisdom, no matter how intelligent one is. I have seen this phenomenon often in universities, wherein distinguished professors make extremely baffling personal choices which would make their ability to think critically about their academic suspect seem suspect as well: joining socially pernicious cults, destroying marriages through questionable behaviour and so on.

Marshall corrects himself again then with a renewed focus on ideology: the negative moral policing that provokes rather than engages people. Quoting Northrop Frye, he reminds us that to argue with an ideologue is to “lose”, as you can only counter an (unreasonable) ideologue with a counter ideology: soft for soft, hard for hard. This unfortunate position, as Marshall demonstrates with various issues around discrimination against Muslims in the U.K., illustrates both the solution and genesis of the problem.

Ultimately we arrive at Marshall’s closing argument: that it is difficult for people to think, as they confused over it is to really criticize something: not subjective resistance, but pure objective observation. To be wrong is not to be shamed, but to grow. But Marshall’s final point is the third wobble: critical thinking is a device for regulating society’s behaviour: for keeping an informed eye on ourselves.

There is more to human thought than purely objective and subjective thought. It is not polar, but rather a continuum or a dialectic, when subjective concepts of social responsibility are held by the individual. The key is Marshall’s use of the word “regulate”: which carries an implicit morality. Who is it who can’t think, and who will be in charge of regulating them? An educated public? There can be no unified “informed” public by its very definition without an utopian educational system. Without the negatives provided in Marshall’s posts, the results will be improving the common denominator in society’s equal, elevating the average person, the sin qua non for the need. I doubt this is Marshall’s intended implication. But if we are using literary devices as our basis, then the “regulation of the status quo” is relevant.

On a personal level Marshall also seems to be driving at (or at least I get the sense of), the removal of ignorance from those who seem to be permanently ignorant and quite proud of it. This is a kind of “Literary Nihilism” common in both Marshall’s essays and his poetry: the irredeemability of the willfully ignorant. No matter how much we “regulate” society’s behaviour, no matter how informed the eye we keep trained on ourselves, these irreparable intellects will move unchecked in our halls and public forums.

I blame this on the 19th century poet/artist William Blake. Born in the 18th century and dying in the 19th, Blake was the connective tissue between two aesthetic worlds, the Enlightenment and Romantic eras: a son of both and yet not either. Blake was eventually hailed as genius by later generations, but in his own thought of as a reasonably skilled madman. Whereas Enlightenment art was essentially performance of ideal methods (the execution of proper techniques), Romantic art was the expression of artistic identity, the relation of the artist to the work. Blake, though not given his due as such, inhabited a unique position between the two. Blake’s art was the expression of identity through individual imagination (Romantic) with lines as the ideal aspects of the artwork (Enlightenment). Blake was a transitional figure, and as such I see Marshall as his community’s Enlightenment essay man of the rational, the ordered, seeking the consonant utopias of form and structure in thought (while working as the literate Romantic who when not sullenly tilting at idiots, writes imaginative poems of variety and dissonance).

Blake conceived of a variety of perfections, and Marshall sees himself failing at satisfying his own. But if Blake, unbeknownst to his detractors, redefined literary world’s relationship between the poem and the poet, then maybe Marshall will succeed at reestablishing and reforming his eagerly sought thoughts and thinkers in his desired milieu; darkness be damned, with any luck the diallelon will return to our hearts and minds like a lost language: existence ceasing to be, as Santayana said, a “mad and lamentable experiment”. I am still not sure D. P. Marshall can be convinced otherwise.

But I doubt I am correct in my assumption (for a limited time). Marshall still carries the banner of philosopher Thomas Nagel, one of his influences. If we paraphrase Nagelian phenomenology, put simply, if we put aside scientific assumptions about how others think and what is right for them to think, while also requiring we put our own “objective experiences” aside for the moment (how it “feels” to be right), we cease being right, and move to a state of merely having a set of correct facts in our head. This is a different state of being than “being right (emphasis on “being).

I think this is the way forward (here comes the Zen). We cease to “be right” and connect with Marshall’s target society over the facts qua collective betterment. As we cannot control others, we can promote fact as for us all, facts as impersonal objects. As such truth is not insulting or threatening to one ensconced in falsehood. I specifically use the word “ensconced” as belief feels warm, while facts can make one feel cold, unsafe and unprotected: abandoned by their former womb. Marshall need not apply his literary nihilism here. There is no Self to be monitored.

Thus ceases the sound of one mind napping.

 

POSTSCRIPT

 

Upon further reflection, I think I have now read Daniel Paul Marshall meaning of “critical thinking” on terms closer to his own. Though literary critique is the angle from which he moves through his essays, maybe it is the idea that within critical thinking lies an inherent “critique”. I hint at this in the essay above, but never fully grasped its wider implications and effects. 

For me it is being critiqued which is so vital to becoming good at music, and especially thinking. Any diallelus, a few “feet” in, dies with most of what passes for “thought” these days. But being forced to confront the death of our dailleli is nourishing not diminishing. Maybe we need to teach that critique/critical thinking are two sides of a coin that will save our collective lives from the ills and ignorances of society. Of course, I can say that as I have had the LUXURY of a very long term education, which many have zero access to. But if people find ways to be critiqued they can then save thousands of dollars in tuition fees and living expenses: avoid at least a few of the negative aspects of standardized schooling. 

My career as a musician rests on a foundation of constant critique in both a personal and commercial manner by those around me. The best critique necessarily evoke critical thought: objective analysis of the matter at hand; problem solving rather than ad hominem attacks. But even if there is ad hominem intention (personal attack), it can still be taken in as a possible area of reform, and the cycle of ignorance ends at least 50%, what we can manage on our own part. With this in mind, D. P. Marshall’s ideas are clearly much needed reforms in today’s educational system. 

Maybe then we can move towards Karl Jasper’s vision for us and himself: 

“The ascent of philosophical life is the ascent of the individual man. He must accomplish it as an individual in communication and cannot shift responsibility to others. We achieve this ascent in the historically concrete elective acts of our life, not by electing any so-called world view (weltanschauung) laid down in propositions.”

“Let us not heap up philosophical possessions, but apprehend philosophical thought as movement and seek to deepen it…Let each of us as an individual immerse himself in his own historicity, in his origin, in what he has done; let him possess himself of what he was, of what he has become, and of what has been given to him.”

 

Ω

 

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A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa (Pt. 2).

zappa

A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa: Part Two
The Early Albums

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, Frank Zappa was an American rock guitarist and composer mainly active from the mid-Sixties to the late-Eighties. And what made him so interesting and so polarizing was that he created a great quantity (and quality) of material. There was almost literally not a style of music that he could not, did not, or at least partially include in his writing, in often very humorous ways. He also recombined and reintroduced musical or lyric material from previous works, sometimes from many decades earlier (“The Torture Never Stops”, “Zoot Allures”, “(More) Trouble Every Day”, etc.) in fascinating new ways as part of his overall working concept entitled “Project/Object”, which he described as:

“… a term I have used to describe the overall concept of my work in various mediums. Each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no ‘technical name.’ Think of the connecting material in the Project/Object this way: a novelist invents a character. If the character is a good one, he takes on a life of his own. Why should he get to go to only one party? He could pop up anytime in a future novel. Or: Rembrandt got his ‘look’ by mixing just a little brown into every other color — he didn’t do ‘red’ unless it had brown in it. The brown itself wasn’t especially fascinating, but the result of its obsessive inclusion was that ‘look.

I am not obsessed by various words, however; these words (and others of equal insignificance), along with pictorial images and melodic themes, recur throughout the albums, interviews, films, and videos for no other reason than to unify the ‘collection’“.

So, to help guide you through Zappa’s voluminous archive, I have chosen to introduce you to a few of Zappa’s early LPs (1966 – 1970) as a structural guide to his later works. For an introduction to specific songs, click here.

Freak Out!

Recorded March 8-16, 1966, and released on June 27 that same year, Freak Out! is the first LP through which anyone (in the general populace outside of southern California) discovered Zappa and his band the Mothers of Invention. And even though the album’s title implies the contents are exclusively avant-garde, psychedelic, or crazy sounding, the music itself is more often closer to mainstream than not, though it wanders into avant-garde sound art (inspired by the likes of pianist Cecil Taylor, for example, in “The Return of The Son Of Monster Magnet” (especially around 11m:10s). A nice example of both is the song “Who Are The Brain Police?” which contains both standard 60s rock sounds, influence from North Indian music, and musique concrète (a mix of sounds and music that seem to have no relationship to each other and their usual sources, used as a form of sound collage). 

As such it is on tracks like this that we hear what would become the stereotypical Zappa modus operandi of later years (“Who Are The Brain Police?”), (“Help, I’m A Rock”, the ending of “It Can’t Happen Here”, etc.). These, in particular, set the tone for Zappa’s coming career, and provide an excellent context in which to study later works. This context is essentially the following:

  1. His work is laden with socio-political satire, especially over what he saw as the more vapid aspects of celebrity and sexual behavior of his time.
  2. He mixed disparate elements of various musical styles (often through tape editing, musique concrète, and/or in-studio improvisation) into one unique whole, which made him a bona fide musical genius.
  3. He was a virtuoso guitarist, though he was self-taught and his method unorthodox.

Absolutely Free

 Though Zappa had previously released Freak Out! as a member of The Mothers of Invention (which I will shorten to TMOI for brevity’s sake), it is with the release of the album Absolutely Free that we see what we might call the “stereotypical” solo Zappa emerge: rock songs mixed with sound effects and various sound collages, improvised socio-political dialogues, etc. Thus, I am will be mixing Frank Zappa solo work and work by TMOI to give you a sense of the interrelationship between the two.

Recorded November 16-18, 1966, and released May 26, 1967, Absolutely Free was released at a time when artists such as Petula Clark were releasing sugary pop hits such as “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” and the Beatles the same with “All You Need Is Love”, and “Penny Lane”. Thus, Zappa’s musical collage of themes taken from classical composer Igor Stravinsky, free jazz, and doo-wop on the track “Amnesia Vivace” would have (and did) seem like an all out attack on the sensibilities of the average listener of the day, let alone those who appreciate each of these styles individually. Ironically, Zappa’s appropriation of such styles was done so masterfully, it was not apparent to many average listeners to begin with unless one had an education in classical music, jazz, and the popular music of the day! For example, the ballad “Duke Of Prunes” and “The Duke Regains His Chops”, minus the satirical lyrics, are well written and stylistically as “inside” as any other pop song of the day. Other songs such as “Invocation & And Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” demonstrate the band members ability to either solo with or support Zappa in his role as bandleader, so Absolutely Free is often the choice of band members and fans alike as an early favorite. 

(Note: each side of the original LP was meant to be an interconnected type of “underground” oratorio, and arguably all Zappa works are part of the greater Project/Object “oratorio” Zappa created over his musical lifetime). 

Lumpy Gravy

 Recorded in February 1967, released August 1967, and later extended and reissued on May 3, 1968, this is Zappa’s first solo album, surprisingly, an album of orchestral, musique concrete, and surf music, which further added to Zappa’s mystique. As Lumpy Gravy and Absolutely Free ostensibly were released around the same time, it is easy to see how diverse a reaction would have been engendered. Those who would accuse Zappa of being a “freak” (part of the hippy culture around him) could not accuse him of mere musical shock value, those who would condemn rock music as not serious could not deny Zappa’s talent, and so on. It is also a point of contention for those critiquing Zappa that his songs and LPs almost invariably had comical titles, thus “hiding” how thoroughly serious he was about his music and the depth of his talent. The album We’re Only In It For The Money for example, includes a song simply titled “Hot Poop”. But to his fans this was and is one of the most entertaining and endearing aspects of his work, how musically seditious his work was; in my own case how liberating it was to be a young musician who was turned on to Zappa while my peers were not.

Also, though this is Zappa’s debut solo effort, due to contract issues he himself could not appear as a musician on it, thus he wrote, created, and conducted music exclusively. It is also on this recording do we hear the Zappa classic “Oh No!” later appearing on such LPs as Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Make A Jazz Noise Here. “Oh No” is what can be called the stereotypical sound of his more “sweet” sounding melodies.

We’re Only In It For The Money

Recorded various dates between March – October, 1967, and released March 4, 1968, this Mothers of Invention LP was recorded right before Lumpy Gravy, and thus represents a kind of intermingling of Frank Zappa’s solo efforts and the return of the Mothers. It is also on this recording we hear a particularly fascinating use of mixed time signatures (“Flower Punk”), a creative technique Zappa would use in a very distinct way, apart from the manner in which the progressive rock bands such as RUSH, Genesis, YES, and others who would follow. Zappa would also use what are known as contra-metric rhythms: where the standard composer might put four notes Zappa would include five, where six may go Zappa would include seven. This, combined with time signatures such as 5/8 or 7/4 meant that Zappa could write extremely difficult music in all of the genres he had mastered, which were many. The live album Make A Jazz Noise Here (recorded in various locations in 1988, released in 1991) contains many examples of contra-metric rhythm as well as difficult horn section arrangements played almost to perfection, a major feat for any brass on woodwind player.

Uncle Meat

 Recorded between September 1967-68 and released April 21, 1969, this particular LP is one of the longer ones available, each side running approximately an hour. It was also intended to be the soundtrack to a then unfinished science fiction movie about an insane genius who plans to take control of the world from his secret base in an old Van Nuys garage. Also notable about this particular album in general is its inclusion of the lead sheet music for two songs, the main theme (“Uncle Meat”) and the main theme to a series of variations known as “King Kong”. As Zappa’s music is notoriously difficult to transcribe without some sort of assistant technology, having these two examples available as an overall guide to Zappa (most notably his use of sixteenth note clusters and eighth note triplet groupings) is extremely invaluable to both fans and musicians alike, and an excellent insight into how Zappa created the “stop/start” quality of his percussion writing in particular (i.e. the aforementioned contra-metric and time signature techniques). The highlight of this particular recording though is the theme and extended soloing over the chords to “King Kong” (Parts 2 to 6), which are akin to the tonal explorations of such bands as Pink Floyd but with more free form elements occasionally surfacing. Similar soloing also occurs in the song “Nine Types of Industrial Pollution”, wherein Zappa plays his guitar over a vamping rhythms section and free form percussion.

Weasels Ripped My Flesh

A (mostly) live recording, captured between December1967 and August 1969, and released on August 10, 1970, this TMOI album, like its predecessor, contains contra-metric, humorously titled songs (“Prelude To The Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask”) and free form elements, but returns to the single disc format. For example, the title track is a figurative “wall” of sound with all members playing as many notes as they can, creating a surprisingly beautiful dissonant soundscape (if played at low volume). As such, the LP realizes what might seem like the eponymous ethos of Freak Out! though the previous LPs exist in between.

This ethos is result of the influence of certain people listed in the liner notes included on Freak Out!: free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, free jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy (who is both an influence on Zappa and included in a song title “The Eric Dolphy Memorial BBQ”), classical composers such as Stravinsky and Stockhausen, blues artists such as Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Willie Dixon, Guitar Slim, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and a wide variety of writers, painters and other influences: sitarist Ravi Shankar, painter Salvador Dali, cymbal maker Avedis Zildjian, writer James Joyce, etc.

But any hint of that ethos, like on any other Zappa recording, is balanced by its opposite, like for example a vocal version of “Oh No” (heard earlier on Lumpy Gravy), in which Zappa questions the basis of the Beatles “All You Need Is Love”.

Oh no, I don’t believe it
You say that you think you know the meaning of love
You say love is all we need
You say with your love you can change
All of the fools, all of the hate
I think you’re probably out to lunch

Oh no, I don’t believe it
You say that you think you know the meaning of love
Do you really think it can be told?
You say that you really know
I think you should check it again
How can you say what you believe
Will be the key to a world of love?

Ω

Sun Ra and Myth Science…

SUN RA BLOG

Sun Ra: Angels and Demons At Play/The Nubians of Plutonia

サン・ラー: ザー・ニュービーアンズ・オブ・プリュートニア
1969 Saturn Research LP 406

Plutonian Nights (4:22)
The Lady with the Golden Stockings (7:41)
Star Time (4:18)
Nubia (8:14)
Africa (5:06)
Watusa (2:36)
Aethiopia (7:12)

サン・ラー: エーンジェルズ・アンド・ディーモンズ・アット・プレー
1965: Saturn LP 9956-2-0

Tiny Pyramids (3:28)
Between Two Worlds (1:56)
Music from the World Tomorrow (2:20)
Angels and Demons at Play (2:51)
Umack (3:46)
Medicine for a Nightmare (2:16)
A Call for All Demons (4:12)
Demon’s Lullaby (2:35)

 As an anonymous jazz critic lamented in the German news magazine Der Spiegel, “with the current lack of new ideas in jazz, charlatans have a chance too” (1970, No. #47, p. 228), referring to pianist Herman Poole Blount, whose music has been the focus of much debate, criticism, appreciation, and analysis. So why did this occur? The following story will begin to shed some light on Blount and his music.

Many years ago, a volunteer at the Edmonton Jazz Festival was assigned diving duties for Blount, to transport he and members of his group the Sun Ra Arkestra between Calgary and Edmonton for their respective festivals. Over the three-hour journey, Blount spent much of the time scribbling in a small black notebook, often pausing to think and look out the window. The volunteer was extremely curious about the contents of book, and made it his mission to peak inside of it at any given opportunity. During a brief pause at a gas station to refuel, the band exited to buy snacks, presenting the driver with his opportunity. It turned out to be a small collection of crossword puzzles. But why was the driver obsessed with Blount’s book?

Blount, who later changed his named to Sun Ra, was a particularly unique jazz musician who engaged in what is known as myth science: imagining science fiction themed futures through costumery, lighting, music that often was avant-garde, poetry, his public interviews and so on. Ra proclaimed that he was from Saturn and/or went to Saturn and came back to play cosmic music that would bring about world peace.

Because of this the mystique and legend surrounding Ra was such that the aforementioned jazz festival driver was immensely interested in peaking into Ra’s black notebook to see if there was anything of philosophical or literary importance, any arcana he could glean and share with his friends: wisdom or creative mythology that would give the driver social capital amongst his peers (status via participation in the Ra mythos through personal contact with the master myth-scientist himself).

Sun Ra would later become associated with what is known as “Afrofuturism”: an African-American movement combining science fiction, mythology, philosophy, fantasy, and social critique, what Paul Jasen (in his book Bass, Bodies and the Materiality of Sonic Experience, p. 200) calls “application of imaginative force to the alteration of lived reality” with which African Americans might invent their own “Alter Destiny”. As Ra himself states, “myth permits man to situate himself with the past and the future. What I am looking for are the myths of the future, the destiny of man… if one wants to act on the destiny of the world, it’s necessary to treat it like a myth” (as quoted in Graham Locke’s book Blutopia, p. 61). Ra’s myth-science itself was highly influential and immense, drawing upon ancient hermetic writing, religious texts, theosophy, contemporary science fiction, and cryptic numerology, and was instrumental in reviving African-American interest in ancient Egypt. Ra called his various assembled sidemen “tone scientists”, and even had the chance to make a science fiction film based on his philosophy (Space is The Place: directed by John Coney, 1974) in which he battles NASA scientists and a pimp-Overlord to save the black youths of Oakland, California and recruit them for his Saturn colony.

The soundtrack to this film though may be where casual fans of Ra get their perceptions of him and his avant-gardism/myth-science, as the opening track (“It’s After The End of the World”), for example, is a series of chromatic organ chords mixed with shrieking saxophone, which one could certainly (non-pejoratively) imagine as some kind of attempt at space-jazz. Other tracks on the album contain enough free form and structural elements as to stereotype Ra as avant-gardist, whether one enjoys such music and ideology, or not. This raises the issue whether myth “science” can provides any guarantee that any/all mythologies will avoid inculcating actual delusion, cult behavior, oppression, or other modes of thought and action that are intellectually suspect, or obscure social reality. Ra was briefly affiliated with the Back Panthers until he left the group due to ideological issues. But as Ra’s is a creative jazz-based uplifting Afrofuturism, it would seem that Ra’s “myth-sciencing” succeeded at both an Afro-positive/literally universal version of the future, where musicians like Ra engaged in what Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka called “philosophical sagacity”, in both academic and the non-written “wise man” traditions (such as the griot, folk singer, etc).

So having said that we arrive at Sun Ra’s music and the man himself, a supposed mythic jazz figure who supposed played cosmic, (often but not exclusively) free form “space music” literally and possibly exclusively. But what we find on these two LPs, sold on CD as a double album, is something potentially much more interesting and less stereotypical than that. Though the Second Wave of free jazz was now established (performers who came along after the innovations of saxophonist Ornette Coleman) when this LP was released, Sun Ra’s music closer to the First Wave on The Nubians of Plutonia, with compositions like “Plutonian Nights” and “Star Time” sounding more like loose versions of songs from the hard bop genre of jazz, as the recording session for this LP’s songs was done approx. ten years earlier. These same recording sessions also produced the piece “Africa” which is difficult to describe without referring to several genres of music: doo-wop, free jazz, traditional African rhythm, and so on.

The music on the LP Angels And Demons At Play also challenges the notion that Ra was some kind of mystic ergo his music would be de facto psychedelic in a jazz format, as evidenced by “Tiny Pyramids” (actually written by Ronnie Boykins), with its carefully composed introduction and strict time keeping in the rhythm section. Most famous of the songs collected on this LP though are “A Call For All Demons”, or possibly “Angels And Demons At Play”, which one would assume use extensive free jazz soloing to create a “demonic” (atonal, dissonant, wild) feel. But the former is a standard sounding hard bop take on both Latin rhythm and the blues, while the latter is what is known as a “vamp (song played over a single chord or two) in the time signature of 5/4. In fact, a “Call For All Demons” is included in what is known as The Real Book, a large volume of transcribed songs bassist Steve Swallow (due to copyright: “allegedly”) compiled as a working musician. The original Real Book has been covertly copied or sold in the thousands over the decades, possibly in a million copies combined, as it is the essential jazz sheet music collection, and Ra is included. The song “Music From The World Tomorrow” though does reinforce Ra’s reputation as a free form tone scientist, with its chromatic chords, bowed/plucked zither, extensive percussion, and bowed bass. Thus, it is easy to isolate and promote this track as an “example” of Sun Ra’s greater oeuvre.

Ultimately, what the aforementioned examples illustrate is that Ra was more than just an avant-gardist, myth-scientist, hard bop pianist, or any other moniker. He was an important part of jazz history and it’s development, a very interesting thinker, a highly creative artist, and a great performer throughout his career.

Ω

Remembering A Genius.

私の最愛の先生と友人…

While living in Japan during the transition from the 20th to 21st century I was extremely fortunate enough to become friend/mentee of artist Shozo Shimamoto, a member of the legendary art collective the GUTAI (1956 – 1972). GUTAI art could be characterized by gestural and bodily abstraction in the leaving of various types of traces, including the use of nude female assistants covered in ink directed across the canvas (Jpn: nyōtaku). Shimamoto created a number of important GUTAI works that would inspire such renowned international artists as Allen Kaprow, Yoko Ono, Jackson Pollock, Lucio Fontana, and many others. He was called one of the four most important artists of the 20th century (along with Lucio Fontana, John Cage, and Jackson Pollock) by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and his work is on permanent display at the Tate Modern (London), the National Museum of Modern Art (Rome), the Art Center of Milan, the Paris Gallery, the Ca’Pesaro International Gallery of Modern in Venice, and elsewhere.

What is not mentioned in official sources though is how Shimamoto was a kind genius always at the center of experimental art and avant-garde music activities in the Hanshin region of western Japan. During the time I was around him his gallery and workspace were central hubs of activity, filled with local and international artists, like a clearing house of essential art knowledge. It was this lively and enriching environment that Shimamoto created that inspired so much interdisciplinary activity around him. It was always the highlight of my week to go visit Shimamoto Sensei and see what was occurring in his studio as well as who was working on what. A fellow artist and Shimamoto mentee named Takeshi and I became fast friends, and we went on long walks throughout Osaka and its suburbs and talked for hours and hours.

So in memory of my beloved “Uncle” Shimamoto (R.I.P. 1928 – 2013) I like to annually repost the GUTAI Manifesto, a document published in the art magazine Geijitsu Shincho (Dec. 1956), a month or so after its official proclamation by founder Jiro Yoshihara (co-founded by Shimamoto). The document raised some interesting questions about art and the ‘spirit,’ which also might be relevant to discussions of musical improvisation and so on.

 

具体美術協会の檄文
吉原慈朗
(Yoshihara, Jiro)
芸術新潮
月昭和三十一年

With our present awareness, the arts we have known up to now appear to us in general to be fakes fitted out with a tremendous affectation. Let us take leave of these piles of counterfeit objects on the altars, in the palaces, in the salons and the antique shops.

These objects are in disguise and their materials such as paint, pieces of cloth, metals, clay or marble are loaded with false significance by human hand and by way of fraud, so that, instead of just presenting their own material, they take on the appearance of something else. Under the cloak of an intellectual aim, the materials have been completely murdered and can no longer speak to us.

Lock these corpses into their tombs. Gutai art does not change the material but brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material. In Gutai art the human spirit and the the material reach out their hands to each other, even though they are otherwise opposed to each other. The material is not absorbed by the spirit. The spirit does not force the material into submission. If one leaves the material as it is, presenting it just as material, then it starts to tell us something and speaks with a mighty voice. Keeping the life of the material alive also means bringing the spirit alive, and lifting up the spirit means leading the material up to the height of the spirit.

Art is the home of the creative spirit, but never until now has the spirit created the material. The spirit has only ever created the spiritual. Certainly the spirit has always filled art with life, but this life will finally die as the times change. For all the magnificent life which existed in the art of the Renaissance, little more than its archaeological existence can be seen today.

What still keeps that vitality, even if passive, may be primitive art or the art created after Impressionism. These are things in which either, due to skillful application of the paint, the deception of the material had not quite succeeded, or else, like Pointillist or Fauvist, those pictures in which the materials, although used to reproduce nature, could not be murdered after all. Today, however, they are no longer able to call up deep emotion in us. They already belong to a world of the past.

Yet what is interesting in this respect is the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past – which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries. This is described as the beauty of decay, but is it not perhaps that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics? The fact that the ruins receive us warmly and kindly after all, and that they attract us with their cracks and flaking surfaces, could this not really be a sign of the material taking revenge, having recaptured its original life? In this sense I pay respect to Pollock’s and Mathieu’s works in contemporary art. These works emit the loud outcry of the material, of the very oil or enamel paints themselves. These two artists grapple with the material in a way which is completely appropriate to it and which they have discovered due to their talent. This even gives the impression that they serve the material. Differentiation and integration create mysterious effects.

Recently, Tominaga Soichi and Domoto Hisao presented the activities of Mathieu and Tapi? in Informel art, which I found most interesting. I do not know all the details, but in the content presented, there were many points I could agree with. To my surprise, I also discovered that they demanded the immediate revelation of anything arising spontaneously and that they are not bound by the previously predominant forms. Despite the differences in expression compared to our own, we still find a peculiar agreement with our claim to produce something living. I am not sure, though, about the relationship between the conceptually defined pictorial elements like colours, lines, shapes, in abstract art and the true properties of the material in Informel art. As far as the denial of abstraction is concerned, the essence of their declaration was not clear to me. In any case, it is obvious to us that purely formalistic abstract art has lost its charm, so that the Gutai Art Society founded three years ago was accompanied by the slogan that they would go beyond the borders of abstract art and that the name Gutaiism (concretism) was chosen. Above all, we had to search for a centrifugal approach, instead of the centripetal one seen in abstract art.

In those days we thought, and indeed still do think today, that the most important merits of abstract art lie in the fact that it has opened up the possibility to create a new, subjective shape of space, one which really deserves the name creation.

We have decided to pursue the possibilities of pure and creative activity with great energy. We tried to combine human creative ability with the characteristics of the material in order to concretize the abstract space.

When the abilities of the individual were united with the chosen material in the melting pot of psychic automatism, we were overwhelmed by the shape of space still unknown to us, never before seen or experienced. Automatism naturally made the image, which did not occur to us. Instead of relying on our own image, we have struggled to find an original method of creating that space.

The works of our members will serve as examples. Toshiko Kinoshita is actually a teacher of chemistry at a girls’ school. She created a peculiar space by allowing chemicals to react on filter paper. Although it is possible to imagine the results beforehand to a certain extent, the final results of handling the chemicals can not be established until the following day. The particular results and the shape of the material are in any case her own work. After Pollock many Pollock-imitators appeared, but Pollock’s splendor will never be extinguished. The talent of invention deserves respect.

Kazuo Shiraga placed a lump of paint on a huge piece of paper, and started to spread it around violently with his feet. For about the last two years art journalists have called this unprecedented method “the Art of committing the whole self with the body.” Kazuo Shiraga had no intention at all of making this strange method known to the public. He had merely found the method, which enabled him to confront and unite the material he had chosen with his own spiritual dynamics. In doing so he achieved an extremely convincing result.

In contrast to Shiraga, who works with an organic method, Shozo Shimamoto has been working with mechanical manipulations for the past few years. The spray pictures created by smashing a bottle full of paint, or the large surface made in a single moment by firing a small, hand-made cannon filled with paint by means of an acetylene gas explosion, etc., display a breathtaking freshness.

Other works which deserve mention are those of Yasuo Sumi produced with a vibrator or Toshio Yoshida, who uses only one single lump of paint. All their actions are full of a new intellectual energy which demands our respect and recognition.

The search for an original, undiscovered world also resulted in numerous works in the so-called object form. In my opinion, conditions at the annual open-air exhibitions in the city of Ashiya have contributed to this. That these works, created by artists who are confronted with many different materials, differ from the objects of Surrealism can be seen simply from the fact that the artists tend not to give them titles or to provide interpretations. The objects in Gutai art were, for example, a painted, bent iron plate (Atsuko Tanaka) or a work in hard red vinyl in the form of a mosquito net (Tsuruko Yamazaki), etc. With their characteristics, colours and forms, they were constant messages about the materials.

Our group does not impose restrictions on the art of its members, letting them make full use of their creativity. For instance, many different experiments were carried out with extraordinary activity such as art felt with the entire body, art which could only be touched, Gutai music (in which Shozo Shimamoto has been doing interesting experiments for several years) and so on. Another work by Shozo Shimamoto is like a bridge which shakes everytime you walk over it. Then a work by Saburo Murakami which is like a telescope you can enter to look up at the heavens, and an installation made of plastic bags with organic elasticity, etc. Atsuko Tanaka started with a work of flashing light bulbs which she called “Clothing.” Sadamasa Motonaga worked with water, smoke, etc. Gutai art put the greatest importance on all daring steps which lead to an undiscovered world. Sometimes, at first glance, we are compared with and mistaken for Dadaism, and we ourselves fully recognize the achievements of Dadaism. But we think differently, in contrast to Dadaism, our work is the result of investigating the possibilities of calling the material to life.

We shall hope that there is always a fresh spirit in our Gutai exhibitions and that the discovery of new life will call forth a tremendous scream in the material itself.

Ω

A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa (Pt. 1).

A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa
Song Overview

Let’s start with a simple question: who was Frank Zappa (1940 – 1993)? And why was there so much fuss about him? Some people thought he was this amazing genius, this sparkling god of rock. Others thought he was a greasy, anti-social, foul-mouthed guitarist who made loud, occasionally overly sexualized music: someone who supposedly took delight in “spoiling” polite society. The rest most likely think he is something in between. So what was he was he? The answer depends on what you believe about religion, politics, music, economics, gender, race, religion, anthropology, technology, and everything else one can think about or wrap a guitar note around. So if you have never thought about Frank Zappa once or ever heard a single note of his music, I highly encourage you to keep on reading for a bit. I guarantee by the time we finish, you will get to know Frank Zappa to a small degree and will like what you hear.

Frank Zappa was an American rock guitarist and composer mainly active from the mid-Sixties to the late-Eighties. What made him so interesting and so polarizing was that he created a great quantity (and quality) of material. There was almost literally not a style of music that he could not, did not, or partially include in his writing, often in humorous ways. For example, it was common for Zappa to interject comically harmonized brass arrangements of 20th century symphonic themes as interludes between his own hard rock songs during his 1988 tour, creating a mélange of sound that was both technically brilliant and often hilarious. He also recombined and reintroduced musical or lyric material from previous works, sometimes from many decades earlier (“The Torture Never Stops”, “Zoot Allures”, “(More) Trouble Every Day”, etc.) in fascinating new ways as part of his overall working concept, he called “Project/Object”, which he described as:

“… a term I have used to describe the overall concept of my work in various mediums. Each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no ‘technical name.’ Think of the connecting material in the Project/Object this way: a novelist invents a character. If the character is a good one, he takes on a life of his own. Why should he get to go to only one party? He could pop up anytime in a future novel. Or: Rembrandt got his ‘look’ by mixing just a little brown into every other color — he didn’t do ‘red’ unless it had brown in it. The brown itself wasn’t especially fascinating, but the result of its obsessive inclusion was that ‘look.

I am not obsessed by various words, however; these words (and others of equal insignificance), along with pictorial images and melodic themes, recur throughout the albums, interviews, films, and videos for no other reason than to unify the ‘collection’“.

So, to help guide you through Zappa’a voluminous archive, I have chosen some of the more notable songs or moments from Zappa’s music between the years 1967 – 1991 as an introductory guide to the sound of Frank Zappa.

 five-five-FIVE

 This interlude, taken from a live recording in London on Zappa’s 1979 tour, is an incendiary example of Zappa’s ability to write or improvise high power rock music. Driven by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta’s frenetic drumming, the song features a melody written in an overall repeating pattern of 5 eighth notes followed by 5 quarter notes: 5/8, 5/8, 5/4, an aspect of the song that intensifies its hypnotic, vertigo inducing effect. ‘Five-five-FIVE” is actually not even a “song” but an instrumental segue over which Zappa solos, as exemplified by this and other segues collected on the album Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar, Guitar, and others.

Big Swifty

This (1972) instrumental piece reoccurs across several albums, both in studio and live, in many forms, beginning with the album Waka/Jawaka. As such, tracking its many structural changes gives one a good idea of how Zappa liked to re-arrange and re-structure his own material via the Project/Object concept. As Zappa was recovering from a stage fall (due to an onstage assault) at that period, and could hardly play guitar play, let alone tour, his work was an experiment in writing jazz fusion works, which were hugely popular at the time. A more rock-oriented version appears on Zappa’s (posthumous) album Road Tapes (Venue #2), recorded live in Helsinki, Finland between August 23 – 24, 1973. Though more rock n’ roll (especially with Zappa’s solo, starting at 5m:50s), the appearance of percussionist Ruth Underwood playing various mallet instruments gives the music the classic Zappa sound of this period. At this time jazz fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty was a member of the band for a brief period, and such his presence too makes this a unique moment in the Zappa chronology.

A particularly nice version also exists on the long “lost” but recently fixed video footage of Zappa’a Roxy & Elsewhere performances, now available as a CD + Blu-ray set, with excellent performances by Underwood (especially her percussion break at the four minute mark), Zappa, and keyboardist George Duke, with layers of horns underneath provided by brother Bruce and Walt Fowler.

The most interesting version though appears on the album Make A Jazz Noise Here, the track from which the album’s title comes. As Zappa has a full horn section at his disposal, the horn writing is dense and often highly complex. This particular version also what you might describe as “devolves” into free-form sound play, which is both artistic and humorous at times (i.e. the sheep noises between 2m:34s and 2m:43s), but may turn the listener off. The sheep noise though does make for a particularly hilarious moment in a version of “Cosmic Debris” from Zappa’s The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life album.

The Deathless Horsie/Watermelon in Easter Hay

Equally as effective emotionally is the instrumental “ballad” “The Deathless Horsie” off of the album Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More. Beginning with an ostinato what sounds like a child’s glockenspiel, this song has a melancholic quality that, when combined with Zappa’s scorching guitar, makes for a very emotionally impacting musical experience. This same effect occurs with the penultimate track (“Watermelon in Easter Hay”) on Zappa’s album Joe’s Garage. A quiet ostinato instrumental with electric guitar overtop, this piece is consider one of Zappa’ best songs, representative of both his ability to compose great melodies and improvise emotionally affective guitar solos. In fact, like jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ song “So What” is to jazz fans, “Watermelon In Easter Hay” is to Frank’s fans essentially the de facto Zappa “song of songs”, loved by young and old alike.

Night School

 No doubt Zappa fans will find my inclusion of “Night School” from the Jazz From Hell album quasi-consternating. It is nothing like his more known works and was composed and recorded by Zappa on a Synclavier. Ironically, after decades of virtuostic composing an performing, it was this album that won him a (1988) Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, though Zappa eschewed the ideals and behaviour associated with the pursuit and achievement of such awards. But as a work composed by Zappa, “Night School” demonstrates that he could easily and effectively write commercial, soundtrack worthy songs.

More Trouble Every Day

Originally titled “Trouble Every Day”, performed by Zappa’s original band the Mothers Of Invention in the Sixties, this song transformed from a mid-tempo blues rock song into the horn driven “More Trouble Every Day”, as typified on the early Seventies live recording Roxy & Elsewhere (by Zappa and “the Mothers”). This new, re-arranged version included a duel drum-break by Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson that so impressed singer Phil Collins he hired Thompson to hold the drum chair in Genesis and Phil’s solo projects for most of the following three decades. It has also been ranked the 29th best live album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. Even more impressive is the 1988 live version from The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, as its tempo makes drummer Chad Wackerman’s ability to play the Humphreys/Thompson drum fill very impressive. Additionally, bassist Scott Thunes’ performance on this and two other related albums from the 1988 tour (Make A Jazz Noise Here, Broadway The Hard Way) are excellent examples of how a professional accompanist can create and support the overall feel/sound of a group.

Eat That Question

This jazz fusion piece, with a rather rock and rock main theme, is yet another example of Zappa’s jazz fusion work while recovery from an injury (see: “Big Swifty” above) that left him unable to play guitar with his usual proficiency, or tour. Though the original (from the album The Grand Wazoo) is a fine work on its own, it is the 1988 live version from Make A Jazz Noise Here that really brings the power of the song’s melody to the forefront, though this version is only 1m: 55s and is edited as a segue into the melancholy ballad “Black Napkin”.

Muffin Man

Though this piece (from the album Bongo Fury) has a humorous lyrical introduction, the music (beginning at 1m: 24s) is organized around a particularly powerful blues riff, which comes to underscore Zappa’s ensuing solo. This piece in particular also demonstrates Zappa’s usage of satirical or comical words/content while the music itself is of the highest quality in Zappa’ chosen genre at the moment, a fact that is often missed by Zappa’s detractors.

Dog Breath (In The Year of The Plague)

Probably one of the most fascinating compositions Zappa ever created were “Dog Breath (In The Year of The Plague)” with its combined or interwoven rock and classical themes, and the related (instrumental) “Dog Breath Variations”, both from the album Uncle Meat, the (1969) soundtrack to a then unfinished science fiction movie Zappa as working on in the late Sixties. Also notable about this particular album in general is its inclusion of the lead sheet music for two songs, the main theme (“Uncle Meat”) and the main theme to a series of variations known as “King Kong”. As Zappa’s music is notoriously difficult to transcribe without some sort of assistant technology, having these two examples as an overall guide to Zappa’s use of sixteenth note clusters and eighth note triplet groupings is extremely invaluable to both fans and musicians alike, and an excellent insight into how Zappa created the “stop/start” quality of his percussion writing in particular.

 More raucous versions of “Dog Breath” also appear on (a). Road Tapes (Venue #2) with Jean-Luc Ponty and the band playing a shifting time arrangement bridge section before segueing into a mid-tempo version of “Dog Breath Variations”, and (b). the soundtrack from Roxy The Movie, the posthumous released (limited) film footage of the Roxy & Elsewhere shows. It is interesting to hear Ruth Underwood, Ralph Humphrey, and Chester Thompson playing unison phraseology at almost supernatural levels, from memory. This, of course, was common, as Zappa as known for his grueling rehearsals and demand for session players of extraordinary skill to join his groups. If you were a Zappa band member or an alumni from the early 70s onward, you were hands down the best around. 

Ω

HAPPY NEW YEAR: 2018 & なる

あけましておめでとございます。

私は2018年があなたのために偉大な年であることを望みます!

As you all know, for the past two years I have chosen a new theme or word to summarize the overall essence of what I plan to do in the year to come. First was the (Japanese) word kakan (果敢: かかん): to be bold, determined, and/or resolute. There was much I wanted to create and achieve in 2016, so I became bolder. Then, in 2017, my word/theme became henkō (変更): change, or alteration: assessing what being bold in 2016 achieved, and how I could improve on the results. This of course means understanding failures, correcting mistakes and re-strategizing successful ventures to be even more successful. So this year I have chosen the verb naru (なる), “to become”, as my word/theme of the year. If we change ourselves we then obviously become something else: something better, something worse, but at least there is a becoming.

Becoming can mean so many different things it is a great word for a yearlong theme, as each of us can apply it to a different area of life. This year I myself am going to apply it to personal wellness: a category we in the Western world tend to ignore until we get overstressed, sick, etc. To become this year then will mean to become more present, more mindful, less stressed, and better able to apply the lessons of 2016 and 2017 without getting worn out. This means meditation, a better focus on nutrition, more sleep, and all the usual things one does. But there is also something I picked up long ago from Zen Buddhism that may help both you and I this year: taking a “sense break”: becoming aware of one of the five senses while tuning out the others. It is a simple exercise, but it really does alter (greatly improve) the average day.

For example, there is a Zen activity called kinhin, in which monks will get up and walk around slowly in order to stretch their legs without losing/breaking the meditative state they are in. Kinhin is done in a specific way, at a specific pace, and your vision is really focused at the time. You really feel your breath too as it changes to a slighter rapider pace. The benefits and feeling of kinhin is repeatable in daily life as well. If you are walking down a grocery aisle, do it one-third slower than you usually would and just take in the various products. You will notice your breath slowing, and your body relaxing. Then, while walking deliberately slower, just try and take in what you see and not think about it all. When at home, while cooking or eating, slow down for a moment and concentrate on the flavor of one bite of food, really taste it for a moment without thinking of anything else. These things may seem too simple or pseudo-spiritual to be effective, but if you actually do them more than once or twice, they do actual help calm you down, lower your blood pressure, clear your mind, boost your immune system a tiny bit, and have many other long term body/mind benefits. They are not magic, and you don’t have to have or change your religious beliefs to use them. They are just simple ways to slow down and give your senses a break from the rapid and constant bombardment of everyday life.

So here is to 2018, and naru: to becoming, to a better way of being, and being your best.

Good luck!

An Introduction To Ornette Coleman’s Atlantic Sessions

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An Introduction To Ornette Coleman’s Atlantic Sessions

As a proponent of (First Wave) free jazz and former student of Pulitzer Prize winning saxophonist Ornette Coleman, I am always happiest when sharing his music with my friends and students, especially those who are new to free improvisation. And since many of you are not practicing musicians I thought I would introduce to you Ornette’s amazing early work. First, let’s look at what came before Atlantic.

The Beginning of Free Jazz

There is always some controversy as to whom “started” the free jazz style: pianist Cecil Taylor, or Ornette Coleman, the usual suspects in this debate. Though certain artists like Jimmy Guiffre before had played freer forms of jazz than their peers in the past, it was Taylor and Coleman who are consider the most vital progenitor of the music, at least in this debate.

Taylor’s 1956 LP Jazz Advance had free form piano soloing on it, and his 1959 LP Looking Ahead! was also much freer in some ways than Ornette Coleman’s first two LPs: Something Else! The Music of Ornette Coleman, and Tomorrow Is The Question (recorded for the Contemporary record label). In fact, Taylor’s piano playing on Looking Ahead sounds more akin to the stylistic trends of Second Wave free jazz; the album’s title a seemingly prophetic self-reference to the Sixties. What makes it all even more tangled is that Looking Ahead, Tomorrow Is The Question and The Shape of Jazz To Come were all released in 1959 within a few short months, so naming a “Father” of free jazz is difficult. But what separates the two, and to me resolves the debate, is Coleman’s accessibility.

Both Taylor and Coleman, being a part of the First Wave, utilize a tradition jazz bass and drum rhythm section, playing a walking quarter note style bass line and steady bebop style beat. All in each group are free to do whatever they like… but the bass and drums are consistent and unchanging in their tempo and style. This changes in the Second Wave of free jazz, the stereotypical free jazz of screeching saxophones and pure noise where everyone is playing with no reference to anything. Both Taylor and Coleman maintain this First Wave bass/drum relationship in their groups (quartets).

But the key difference is that Taylor’s quartet during that period contained two chordal instruments in front of their rhythm section: piano and vibraphone, which can play chords. This means a lot of notes can be stacked one on top of another, which creates so much density and/or dissonance at times, it can be hard on the ears. Coleman’s quartet, on the other hand, consisted of two melody instruments: saxophone and trumpet, which can only play two note stacked at a time, which leaves less room for dissonance, unless one chooses to screech (Second Wave). This increased possibility of consonance (nice sounds), combined with Coleman’s penchant for engaging melodies and a joyous feeling, meant that people gravitated to Coleman with significantly greater enthusiasm. 

 The Atlantic Sessions

Between May 22, 1959 and March 27, 1961 Ornette recorded the 50 plus songs that would become part of his (classic) free jazz albums such as The Shape Of Jazz To Come, Free Jazz, This Is Our Music, and others for Atlantic Records. In the process he not only invented a new sound and genre in jazz but also opened up new directions in modern art, dance, classical music, rock (Frank Zappa, Velvet Underground, The Stooges), and others who came across his music from non-jazz related arts. In fact these ten sessions consisting of four men playing clever melodies and deceptively simple free form improvisation, recorded within the space of just over 96 weeks, made such a huge socio-cultural impact in the arts, it is rather breathtaking. There is no doubt that if you have any music in your collection that is innovative, it can be traced back to an Ornette Coleman album somehow.

So let’s begin at 9:30 pm on Friday, May 22nd at Radio Recorders in Hollywood California. The session was Ornette playing alto saxophone, Don Cherry playing cornet, Charlie Haden playing bass and Billy Higgins playing drums. As a bonus for all you fellow jazz nerds, I will also include the master copy number incase you want to track the original recording down in the Atlantic archives.

This group would go on to become legendary in the jazz world for their wonderful quartet sound, thanks to the combination of their musical personalities. Drummer Billy Higgins for example, had a more laid back, softer approach than other drummers yet still played with rhythmic intensity. Higgins’ penchant for playing a particularly cross-rhythmic style of bebop influenced drumming meant he provided the group roiling waves of drums and cymbals in a wonderful sea of rhythms, often imitated but never truly matched. Bassist Charlie Haden, a former child star at the Grand Ole Opry, had a lush tone and a wonderful bounce to his playing. Trumpeter and/or cornet player Don Cherry played in a probing, weaving sort of manner that complimented Ornette’s cheerful, angular patterns like thread weaving through lace. Put these men tighter and you get a sound and vision for future styles of music like no other.

The other thing that made Ornette ergo this group famous is that they were playing a song with a prewritten melody, but their improvisations were completely free, meaning they could make up any anything they wanted: base their improvisation on the melody, base it on Higgins’ rhythms, Haden’s bass notes, each simultaneously basing one off each other any point in the song after the melody. This was unheard of in mainstream jazz until Ornette came to Atlantic and released The Shape of Jazz To Come. He had released other albums with similar strategies that had not received similar attention, so The Shape of Jazz To Come is the “first” Ornette Coleman album to cement his legacy.

Ornette routinely named his songs after they had been recorded, so what made this first session for Atlantic unusual is that two of the songs that evening were already named before they were recorded. “Chronology” (#3508) was originally called “Step In”, but was changed upon release, as was the upbeat “Nomad”, which became “Congeniality” (#3510). The music recorded at this session was used on the album The Shape Of Jazz To Come, which was released in 1959, save for two tracks: “Just For You” (#3513) which appears on The Art of the Improvisers (1970), and “Monk And The Nun” (#3512), which appears on Twins (1971). This is very important to note, as it reveals a pattern that was and still is common in the music industry: artists having no control over their work. Though Coleman had creative control over The Shape of Jazz To Come, as his fame grew, so too did Atlantic’s desire to profit from his popularity. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with selling more of an artist’s work… but both The Art Of The Improvisers and Twins were complied and released with zero input from Coleman, which is hugely detrimental. This is because song order and textural considerations are vital in abstract forms, and releasing works without an artist’s input kills the flow of the very thing that made it vital in the first place. So the various sessions that produced Twins and The Art Of The Improvisers just so happened to be rather inspired but unused outtakes, including a 17 minute first take of the now classic half hour work “Free Jazz” that was not even supposed to be released ever, in any form.

(Note: the same thing happened with Coleman’s recording To Whom Keeps A Record. Released only in Japan in 1975, without his input, the pieces happened to be arranged so that when read in sequence would say, “music always brings goodness to us all, p.s. unless one has some other motive for its use”!)

My personal favorite from this session is “Chronology”, with its joyous stop-and-start ending. It seems to sit in a wonderful place right between a traditional jazz song and free jazz, with the best elements of both, not too abstract and not too traditional to bore or alienate anyone!