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|You can still see a little of the Green Day-inspired stance here.|
I spent the day yesterday off and on with Nicole Mitchell‘s remarkable new cd on my player. Engraved in the Wind, released on the French Rogueart label, is a set of compositions and improvisations for solo flute (with a track or two overdubbed, but most cuts using a single live instrument). Nicole Mitchell has worked in a number of musical contexts, from collaborative ensembles and AACM repertory groups to her own Black Earth Ensembles, but here she is in many ways at her most vulnerable — and also, her most moving. This album doesn’t merely showcase her virtuosity, which is thoroughly impressive; she is hands down and unquestionably one of the most accomplished and brilliant flautists in the world, working now in any idiom or sub genre, from classical to jazz and beyond. Mitchell’s huge instrumental technique, whether focused on fundamentals or developing an extended sonic palette, inevitably serves the musical demands of a given moment. The disc intermingles commissions from colleagues (and one piece from the emerging contemporary repertoire for solo flute, Alvin Singleton‘s “Agoru III”) with a series of improvisational explorations of various elements in Mitchell’s instrumental language, a concept akin to Anthony Braxton‘s For Alto, although Mitchell’s rhythmic and harmonic senses are entirely her own; her playing sounds little to nothing like Braxton’s, and she prefers (to my ears, at least) a more folk-based and lyrical melodic tactic. There is a debt here, perhaps, to James Newton‘s Axum, and Newton is one of the composers to offer an original composition, in this instance “Six Wings,” for Mitchell’s recital. But while she often acknowledges her indebtedness to traditions of Afrological music-making — “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future” — her voice, at this point in her career, has become fully her own. (Joe Morris provides excellent liner notes that speak to her technique and to her musical approaches much more eloquently than I can here.) On the album, she explores a wide range of textures and timbres, but my favourite cut so far is “Dadwee,” a folksy (even blues-ish) line co-composed with Aaya Samaa that demonstrates the almost buttery richness and harmonic density of her flute tone. Her music nourishes as it unfolds. The recording, done at UC Irvine, is intimate and full, very present, which helps, of course. But what most impresses me, as I listen, is the warmth and closeness of her music. Nicole Mitchell has created a definitive album of solo flute music, one to which I am sure I will return again and again.
Yesterday I received in the mail a copy of Never Let Me Go, a three-disc compilation of two performances by Thomas Chapin‘s nascent quartet (with Peter Madsen on piano, Kiyoto Fujiwara [’95] or Scott Colley [’96] on bass, and Reggie Nicholson [’95] or Matt Wilson [’96] on drums), a recording of some of Chapin’s last concert appearances before his illness the following year and his death in 1998. The recordings are good, and seemed to have been clarified and cleaned up a little; the first two discs, sets from Flushing Town Hall in NYC in November 1995, are reminiscent acoustically of a high-end bootleg: the music is present and immediate, but there are still a few recalcitrant rough edges. The piano, for instance, sounds a bit rubbery, like a poorly tuned upright. Not that I’m complaining: I think the sound suits the vital exuberance of the playing all round, its ardent velocities. (In fact, on the better recorded Knitting Factory gig, the upper register of the club piano is also pretty detuned, but Madsen makes a virtue of necessity, on “Whirlygig” for example, producing metallic percussive textures as if this were a “prepared” instrument.) This quartet as I understand it was a new and evolving formation for Chapin; principal reference points for this music include post-Coltrane hard bop — Madsen’s left hand plumbs the lower registers and jabs at chord substitutions much like late-60s McCoy Tyner, and also Jaki Byatd — but the group also takes up Chapin originals, some penned for his long-standing trio. (I really like their version of his “Sky Piece,” with a terrific solo intro by Colley.) Chapin’s alto seems at times to find its lineage from Charlie Parker sieving through Eric Dolphy, maybe with a touch of Lou Donaldson, but his most obvious influence here, if influence is the right word, is Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Like Rahsaan, Chapin is a virtuoso of excess: he never has anything short of too much to say, too many more notes to play. His improvisations are flush with as much music as he manage, and his saxophone tone is reedy, robust and fully blown. He enacts extemporaneously, in track after track, what Giorgio Agamben variously calls resto, excess, remainder, outside, the open–a kinetic space of vital negotiation between animal Eros and creative will, aisthesis and aesthetics, feeling and making, body and soul. In a word, his sound strives to express. The quartet’s version of Rahsaan’s “lovellevellilloqui ” (originally from The Inflated Tear) both re-enacts and bears witness to, as a now-posthumous recording, what made and makes Thomas Chapin’s music so important to hear: its virtuosity of abundance, its intensely sounded love.
Found a copy last week of Light on the Wall, a double LP by Tim Daisy (percussion) and Ken Vandermark (reeds), recorded as a duo and both solo in Poland in May 2008, and issued on Laurence Family Records. The sound, both live and in the studio, is excellent. You can really hear Daisy’s distinctively open sense of space in the live duo set; Vandermark offers a set of solo “Etudes for Jimmy Giuffre,” but to me their duos not so much build on Giuffre’s chamber-ish conceptions, as recall duos by another Jimmy, Jimmy Lyons, with Andrew Cyrille–not that there is anything derivative in this music, but rather that both are thoroughly cognizant of their position in an emergent sense of a building tradition of forward-thinking sonic experimentation, the extemporaneous edge where the performing present takes up its audible pasts: a historicity of the avant-garde, coming on. That, and it’s a great record.
I can’t seem to stop listening to Petra Haden‘s newest album, Petra Goes To The Movies (Anti-), which I bought two days ago. Brilliantly moving versions of various film musics, from John Williams to Bernard Herrmann, made by overdubbing her voice using a similar approach to her cover of The Who Sell Out. The layered, shifting densities of her voice, her voices, her voicings — alternately playful and ardent — are really and truly moving. She has a way of finding the heart of a song, of making it breathe. Her simple duo with Bill Frisell, “I Might Be You” (the Dave Grusin song from Tootsie) is a standout. She feels her way along the melody, bouyed up by the spare chords and fragile twangling of Frisell’s guitar. A fantastic record.