July 3rd is Kafka’s birthday, and Janacek’s, and in nearer times the birthday of two women I have loved, so it’s much easier to do another Fourth of July show instead, but make it a little different this time, beneath the Skies of You Know Who’s Got the Biggest Air Force. Usually, this time of year, I’ve gone for a degree of celebration and uplift that seems kind of innocuous, here in the Age of Hanrahan, despite the excellence and Americanism of the music: Louis Armstrong, Charles Ives, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, and other iconic presences. This year—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Statue of Liberty time—I’ve let some darker music in, made a few acidulous remarks about the screwing we’ve all had from globalized capital, amid other entertainments, and seem to have forgotten to slip in Marion Williams’ version of How I Got Over. We’ve had a couple of lucky days at the Supreme Court lately, but is anyone really getting over? There’s still plenty of Pops, Ornette, Bird, and Ives—including the overwhelming apotheosis of his 4th Symphony, premiered more than a decade after the insurance executive and part-time composer’s death—just as there’s still plenty to celebrate around here while the unsustainable population of seven billion heads for the ten-figure mark and all the other life forms, except the ones we eat or eat us, plummet toward extinction. I intend to have a good time anyway, eating charred animal pieces, drinking too much, and watching other people blow shit up. How about you?
Yes I’m still listening to Ornette Coleman. Been doin’ it nigh on fifty years and more, kids, and don’t expect to stop anytime soon. Join me for two hours this week with intermissions for Gunther Schuller and Charles Mingus—Gunther Schuller had to die too?—on Updoc, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, NY Uptown-Downtown time. For Ornette, a diffeent slant from last week: some greatest hits from the epoch-making album, you know its name, a concert piece from 2008 called 9/11, the cracked beauty of Ornette on trumpet with Charlie Haden on The Golden Number, and some other stuff: you probably know your way around, and how it never gets old. I like the way Ethan Iverson put it on his blog: Ornette as “a fantastic assimilator. First he remade the blues and Bird in his own image, then modernist classical music, then rock/pop with Prime Time. It all went in and came out as pure Ornette.” Plus other speculation about Ornette and Gunther Schuller I don’t have room to quote here. Look it up. The show ends with us dancing in our heads. I remember 1977, a time when Ornette was the Seldom Seen Kid, seemed to play abroad but not at home, and walking into a record shop and seeing that red shieldfaced album cover, with invertable faces, on the wall: a sudden joy, complete suffusion, with no suspicion that my life would be changed by it. I tell the tale before I spin the side, but that’s just a footnote. The music turned out to be the unsuspectable thing it was, and the joy of it hasn’t left the planet yet.
“I sometimes realize that there is something on the earth that is free of everything but what created it, and that is the one thing that I have been trying to find.” ~ Ornette Coleman
Once you’ve heard that keening piping sound, whether in its tender reaches or its harsher voicings, something in you changes, and if you engage with Ornette Coleman’s music in any fundamental way some edge is taken off your ego and the tyranny of its determinations: a larger world seeps into you and you learn to leave life’s contradictions alone because in fact they live together in unconstricted nature. Listening to Ornette Coleman is like being granted access to the unedited human heart, or to an consciousness in which all the names and faces of being coexist beyond the logic of subject-object discrimination in the simultaniety of everything existing all at once as one, with a blues voice serenading the allincluding circle from its singing center. Get that? Try a second time, then call your doctor. This week Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Round Trip Broadway Blues time—tries to walk a line between overfamiliar Coleman classics and recherché obscurities, though really, when playing any of his music at any time for any length, keeping things fresh is not ever a problem. That deepdown human cry, broken and resurrected in the blues: just lend your ear and Ornette lives.
Opening Theme: Art Ensemble of Chicago: Nice Guys (title tune)
Rudresh Mahantappa: Talin is Thinking: Bird Calls
Charlie Parker: Parker’s Mood: Complete Savoy Sessions
Kadri Gopalnath: Theliyalethu Rama: Enna Thavam
Dexter Gordon: Blues Up and Down: Live at Carnegie Hall
Dmitri Shostakovich/Gidon Kremer/Kremerata Baltica: Violin Sonata (orch Zinman & Pushkarev): Shostakovich Violin & Viola Sonatas
Kamasi Washington: Change of the Guard: The Epic
Branford Marsalis/Jacques Ibert/Orpheus: Concertino da camerata for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (3rd Mvt): Creation
Bob Belden: Footprints: Mysterious Shorter
Henry Threadgill: Fe Fi Fo Fum: X-75 Vol. 1
Kip Hanrahan/Ishmael Reed: Go To Jazz (excerpt): Conjure: Bad Mouth
Who plays the blues these days? Well, on this week’s Updoc—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Hudson River upstream time—there’s Mingus, Rollins, Dolphy, Monk, Dizzy, Pee Wee, Lucky, Horace, I could go on—many of them patented a personal shade of blue, but if any slathered it on naked women and rolled them on a canvas like Yves Klein I don’t know about it. That’s just the beginning and end of the show, which also features a orchestral piece from Anna Thorvaldsdottir, an Icelandic composer under 40 who was recently named the NY Philharmonic’s next composer in residence—expect ice-blue atmospherics stridulated by microtones—Bach’s 4th Partita rendered unusually songful by Igor Levit at the piano, and a few jazz surprises I won’t spoil your alerts with now, except to say that Art Blakey nickety-nacks on one tune, does a soft-shoe on another, and also puts his elbow in, as I do here: klhjsdfvgbhnjmk. Tune in and see.
In principle I suppose it’s possible to have too much saxophone, or too many saxophones, but a two-hour show is well within the safety limit. On this week’s Updoc—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, East Broadway Rundown time, though, oddly, without Sonny Rollins—Rudresh Mahantappa tears a Charlie Parker lick to shreds, Bird puts it back together, Kadri Gopalnath plays Carnatic music on an altered alto, and Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin do a chase scene through a corridor of blues. That’s the first set. Last week Updoc aired an orchestration of Dmitri Shostakovich’s last composition, a viola sonata; this week we try out its companion, his late-period violin sonata, this time orchestrated nearly to concerto proportions, played and conducted by the great Gidon Kremer. It’s an experience. Back among the reeds we find Kamasi Washington on a long burnout from his 3-disc epic called The Epic, Branford Marsalis tears Jacques Ibert a new one on his improvised cadenza to Ibert’s Concertino, Bob Belden pays homage to Wayne Shorter, and we close with some early Henry Threadgill in which I, anyway, find echoes of Tadd Dameron. For a caboose, there’s a pitch for my colleague Kip Hanrahan’s fundraiser on Indiegogo.org: the world needs a new Kip Hanrahan record, I need a new Kip Hanrahan record, and Kip Hanrahan needs a new Kip Hanrahan record, and we can all pitch in, kids. There’s a bit of his music on the back end of the caboose, and if that doesn’t get to you, what will?
Marcus Belgrave, who died the other day at the age of 78, was hardly known at all outside the jazz world, and even within jazz was seldom regarded as a major star, but he’d been everywhere in the music: on Motown hits, for years with Ray Charles’ big band, on Lord knows how many modern jazz sessions though he also played first rate New Orleans trumpet—he was the very definition of a complete musician, and the level of knowledge, artistry, dedication and heart it takes to play at his level in a music as richly developed as jazz is something that few people aside from musicians will ever grasp; and in Belgrave’s case, they knew. On top of that, he kept his playing intact well into his 70s, not so easy on trumpet, and his recent duets with Geri Allen proves he dunnit, so this week’s Updoc tribute—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, One-Hour-East-of-Detroit time—begins with one of those and then browses awhile. Call him a journeyman musician if you like, but that was some journey, man. To my shame, I was less aware of Bob Belden, who died unexpectedly young of a heart attack not long after Belgrave, and intend to get to more of his music on future shows. This week, some selections from his film-noir epic, Grammy-winning suite The Blue Dahlia will start us off. The Big D shadows the non-jazz portion of the show as well, though there’s not a morbid note within earshot of two great artists’ famous last words. I came across a string orchestration of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, played by the great Yuri Bashmet and conducted by Gidon Kremer, necessarily less austere than the viola-and-piano version, but the final triplet figures, less obviously lifted, when heard on strings, from the Moonlight Sonata, still sound like a man’s last steps ascending out of this world into the next. The show concludes with Bach’s last fugue, in a fine performance by the Keller String Quartet on a new ECM disc, which breaks off at a famously spooky moment as the old man, sight and body failing at the age of 65, introduces a new motif based on the notes B-A-C-H, as if this incomparable artist, whose work ascended far beyond the merely personal, encountered a last lick of fate that would not let him sign his name. Ooo-eee-ooo, but that’s not a chill you feel, that’s a frisson, and transcendence.
Spring fever? I dunno, but I was so tired this week I couldn’t come up with any kind of thematic connection so I just programmed a lot of great music on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Random Brooklyn time—and that might work: a lot of Mingus in the first set, also featuring Jocob Do Bandolim (thank you, Brad Maestas), Tinarwien, some atmospheric orchestral Ligeti, Tim Warfield’s new Monk album, and some medium-wacky Tyondai Braxton. Then, for no reason but that the performance by Marta Argerich, Claudio Abbado and the Berliners sounded so effervescently alive, a piano concerto by Prokofiev. After that I just wanted to hear Clifford Brown and some other people remembering Clifford Brown. Will that do?
When I was a wee child growing up, pianos frightened me. First there was their gleaming, toothy look, something that might chomp a wee child any minute, and then a sonic harshness due, as I would later understand, to the unnaturalness of evenly tempered tuning, its systematic unrelation to the true harmonic series that is a constituent principle of our universe even unto our trees and genes and bodies—a difficulty my ears would eventually overcome thanks to blues inflection and Rudy Van Gelder’s flattening of the piano sound on Blue Note and Impulse records, so that nowadays I can levitate to the sound of a well-played eighty-eight: Keith Jarrett, Steve Kuhn, Angela Hewitt, any number of wizards wielding their felt-tipped hammers on the copper-tinted carbon steel. Joe Zawinul even got a bent all funky sound out of the Fender Rhodes, though Jarrett couldn’t do it, for all the brilliance of his work with Miles, basically because he hated the technology. Kuhn, whose piano touch is more exquisite than almost anyone’s, did wondrous things in his brief foray into Fender country, before returning to proper piano radiance. It is a puzzlement. Bach is greatest when heard in the more natural Werckmeister-3 tuning for which he composed but comes out perfect almost no matter how, as when Angela Hewitt has a go at his Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; and Mozart, who also composed for W-3, opens a window on the true sublime even when subjected to even tempering—try Anderszewski’s extreme interpretation of the stormborn C-minor concerto. Then check out how perfection sounds with its geometry bent all funny by Thelonious Monk. You can do all this, easy, on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8 PM and noon next Tuesday, Steinway showroom time—on taintradio dot Duck Dodgers in the 24th & ½ century, though watch out for Piano-Mouth, he might be hiding anywhere.
Even in the early days, when you could say, Okay those are his Bill Evans roots, now here come the chromatic extensions out of Paul Bley, soon we’ll have rolling blues and gospel with heavy borrowings from Abdullah Ibrahim, and this part tells us how much he’d like to play with Ornette Coleman, there was never any doubt that we were listening to anyone other than Keith Jarrett: everyone has to come from somewhere, but his signature was clear from the beginning. Now that he’s turning 70 on Friday—a very young and healthy looking 70—it’s not only clear that he has never stopped developing and refining his art since then but that he won’t be any crankier now than he was at 35. Keith, we love you anyway. Updoc goes almost but not quite all-Jarrett this week—8 PM on birthday Friday and noon next Tuesday, Delaware Water Gap time—with some choice trio tracks, early stuff from his stints with Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, and large stretches of music from the two new CDs ECM has put out for the occasion: a superb solo piano set, one of his best ever, culled from a number of concerts played in 2014, and another disc with two major 20th-century piano concertos. Jarrett is surprisingly flatfooted on the Bartok 3rd, metronomic without lightness or lift, but he plays the hell out of Samuel Barber’s vastly American 1960 concerto, when I was surprised that with his small hands he could play it at all. The piece is owned by the massive John Browning, but I actually prefer Jarrett’s full-bodied but more modestly scaled outing for now. An astounding performance of Shostakovich’s darkly enigmatic 2nd Cello Concerto by Truls Mørk with Mariss Jansons and the LPO was meant to accompany the Bartok but takes a haircut from the Barber instead. Then it’s back to the KJ3 for the finish. I had a front-row seat at the Standards Trio’s first gig at the Vanguard, and when Jarrett came onstage with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette he whispered, so quietly that only they and I could hear him, “Let’s not play.” Oh Keith, let’s not stop.