You know it’s an old canard that “if Clifford Brown hadn’t died. Miles Davis would have been working in the Post Office,” and the proof, if you need it, is Miles’ 1955 duet with Theloninous Monk on ‘Round Midnight at Newport, recently issued on the Bootleg Series Volume 4 box set—maybe the first time Miles Davis as we know him emerged full-scale on record: the sound startles you awake immediately: suddenly he’s all there, with nothing missing—George Avakian heard it and signed him to Columbia—while sweet Clifford Brown still had a year to live before his shocking end on the highway. In his excellent Miles bio, John Szwed writes that one night in a Detroit club when Brownie was sounding all his joyous gold, a sick Miles Davis only halfway through kicking his heroin habit sidled in and stilled the club with a single piercing ballad, stiletto crescent moon to Clifford’s solar gold, night to Brownie’s day. There’s something of that haunting the Newport duet with Monk, which kicks off this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Rhode Island summer time—followed by a Brownie and Max set, followed by Miles’ quintet at Newport in ’66, followed by the Icelandic expanses of Anna Thorvaldsdottir and some trio virtuosity from Robert Glasper, followed by, well . . . I don’t have to list it all, you follow?
When I went to the Sacred Music Festival in Fez in 2006, the Azeri vocalist Aygün Baylar was unmistakably the star of the show: a small round bundle of joy with a voice to die for, who I was sure would hit the relative bigtime on the world music circuit and scatter brilliant recordings like a scad of frisbees throughout the global audiosphere. If it happened, I missed it, and this week, when I went looking for more of her music to play on the show—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Lower Manhattan kebabçı time—I had to go back to the record she made in Spain the same year as her knockout appearance in Fez. Between Heaven and Earth, it’s well-named, and this time I played the long track about first love, in which the human and the divine are inextricably confounded. It’s the first twelve minutes of the show and if you miss it it’s your tough luck. I could have looped it for two hours but decided instead to play some new Nicholas Payton, a still vivid Trip from Art Pepper, some composed pieces from our friends Béla and Dmitri, and the second half—Pursuance and Psalm—of the totally committed burnout of the version of A Love Supreme Branford Marsalis recorded live in Amsterdam in 2003 and released a few months ago for the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s original. It’s a mug’s game to compete with that Mount Everest, but it’s a pleasure to hear four fine musicians give their all and then keep going, between heaven and earth and as the world turns.
When I was a kid learning my way into jazz back in, you know, That Decade, I was hot on the trail of Trane and Sonny and Ornette and Mingus and Cecil and those guys, but the bread and butter and meat and potatoes that kept me going was cooked up by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Later in life, when he was so deaf he had to play drums by visual cues and vibrations through the floorboards—years before Evelyn Glennie, mind you—he used to make the speech more often than ever: “You don’t see any sheet music up here on the stage. This music comes direct from the Creator to you,” and despite the cost of the years or because of it, sometimes it was even more audibly true than ever. On this week’s Updoc, though—Friday at 8 PM and noon next Tuesday, Harlem’s Disciples time—we stick and mallet with peak-period Buhaina and his associated delights. For some reason, I programmed three intensely melodic 20th-century string quartets for contrast, composed by Bacewicz, Adès and Weir respectively, and if you can make sense of the juxtaposition please let me know. In the meantime, do let Mr. Blakey lift you like a pressroll and drop you into a new chorus of your life more enriched and invigorated than ever. Really, it happens all the time.
How to beat the heat and keep it musical? Well, there’s Miles and Gil’s cooling version of Summertime, but that’s just an introduction—of this week’s Updoc, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, New York oven time. Or you could go the other way entirely: Claude Debussy seemed to sustain the humid heat of his late-August birthday through his too-short lifetime’s wonderworks, up to and including the last sonatas he composed during the Great War and the onset of his cancer. The violin and cello sonatas sound like composed improvisation, in deeply expressive though still graceful performances by contemporary, mostly French virtuosi. In between them the show sets the burning, icy blade of the Miles Davis Quintet’s Newport set from the summer of ’67: beset by a hyper-aggressive Tony Williams, Miles seems halfway between linear improvisation and the blastier style he’d bring to his forthcoming electric bands, while Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter perform their accustomed calisthentic miracles. If that doesn’t sound like two hours on its own, you’re right. Tune in for a handful of jazz surprises while you wonder if it’s time for another cooling draught and if perhaps there should be a sprig of mint in it.
When I hear that level of intimacy and daring I simply cannot turn aside: Charlie Haden and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, recorded live in Tokyo in 2005, something Charlie wanted released before he split but here it is now, live as you can get it. So I lead this week’s show off with one track—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, New York Miso time—and play two more, about half the album altogether, which is called Tokyo Adagio, and though it features other tempos too, all my picks are slow. Get ready to have your breath taken away and given back all different. Along with those selections there are exhalations from any number of brotherhoods of breath, mostly issuing from saxophones—Dudu Pukwana, Lee Konitz & Jimmy Giuffre together, Trane, Joe, Bartz, and who am I leaving out? Tune in for the answer, along with two classical ferocities—another Bartok string quartet and Stravinsky responding to World War Two with an orchestra and lots of bite and ice—and I hope a welcome change of mental weather.
While scanning for traces of thematic continuity in this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Lincoln Center time—I came upon strands of social consciousness intersecting flows of pure aesthetic pleasure, and that was, like, really okay with me. So opening with Jeff Tain Watts’ new version of Driva Man when we aired the classic Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln version last week, and chasing that with selections from Stanley Cowell’s impressive solo piano suite Juneteenth, then pursuing that with the jailhouse hopes and stresses making up the text of Frederic Rjewski’s classic Coming Together, did not seem at all discordant, except where appropriate, as was music from James P. Johnson, Bessie Smith, Artur Schnabel playing that Beethoven cat, Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, a Bartok string quartet, or a pointillistic deconstruction of all the things Masabumi Kikuchi was and might still be after his lamented death the other day. Meanwhile, the saxophone-stream had been heading, unobserved, for a conclusion more radical than anything in the preceding proceedings. Roscoe Mitchell’s records for the Nessa label tend to be long-considered projects meticulously brought off—the epochal Nonaah is a good example—but this time Mitchell and his quartet played a memorial concert for Chicago’s own Fred Anderson and it seemed to hit the spot as is. A piece of it takes up the last quarter-hour of the show, and while it may send casual listeners reaching for the button, those who stay on and really listen may enjoy a revelatory ride.
When the weather gets warm and humid a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of Debussy, and so does mine, though I also want to fit in some Sonny Rollins and Max Roach and get to pianist Aaron Diehl’s new record at some length and depth—and if I can’t do that, then what’s an Updoc for? Clock in for this week’s thrilling episode—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Catskill Mountains Aquifer time—to find out if a French composer who seems to have sustained the moist heat of his late-August birthday almost througout his oeuvre and opera can languish cheek by jowl alongside the best that modern saxophony can offer. Pelléas, Melisande, Oscar Pettfiord, Newk, big waves coming in not like washerwomen trudging home from work but like news from the Great Beyond—not to mention Archie Shepp. Okay, let’s mention Archie Shepp, and in his young prime too. All these wonders can be yours if you’re still able to operate your hands in this heat. Push the button, Max, and a joyeux quatorze on top.
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.