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.
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?