Flow, Fissure, Mesh

Home » Posts tagged 'Short Takes' (Page 2)

Tag Archives: Short Takes

Short Take on Brad Cran, Elizabeth Bachinsky and Jay MillAr

Nightwood Editions launched a trio of new poetry books in Vancouver tonight, with readings to a packed house at the Western Front. Publisher Silas White introduced Jay MillAr – himself a poetry publisher, helming Book Thug in Toronto – as one of the country’s underappreciated talents. MillAr set up half a dozen poems from Timely Irreverence by noting jokingly he’d seen a Green Day concert a few days ago and had now found a proper punk-inspired stance for reading poetry. 
You can still see a little of the Green Day-inspired stance here.
MillAr’s writing foregrounds a wry self-awareness: most of the poems thematize themselves as poems, as avowedly contingent verbal artifacts (as in the title poem: “I’m tinkering with these lines . . .”). Another preoccupation in his work seems to be with collisions of representation and violence, as in “More Trouble with the Obvious,” where in a kind of dark comedy of innocence he describes how “kids” turn found objects into imaginary guns, which still – as mundane alchemies, blurring creativity into threat  – have the potential to “blow you away.”
         Elizabeth Bachinsky’s poems from The Hottest Summer in Recorded Historyhave a lighter touch, but draw on a similarly intensive, if playful self-consciousness, setting formal detachment and poetic “craft”  (“Eliot was right, it’s useless to describe a feeling”) against confessions of personal investment, of getting her feelings hurt:
                  To dislike this poem, to dislike me.
                           [. . .]
                  Astonishing. Poets like this word.
                  I like this word. I’ll use it again. Astonishing!
                  How could you not like me? Not like this thing?
She reminds me at times of Colleen Thibaudeau, with her fearless attachment to expressive particulars and to the pleasures of major-keyed melodic diction. As with her other books, Bachinsky’s range of forms (from villanelle to sonnet) is impressive; her reading of the mono-rhymed “Nails” was a highlight (check it out, get the book).
         Brad Cran read a set of four poems dedicated to Gillian Jerome. These, too, are personal pieces, but very different in tone from Bachinsky’s. Some of the pieces in Ink on Paper have developed into what Cran has characterized as essay-poems: long-lined, longer texts that combine a narrative plainness (“It was days before Halloween . . .”) with almost journalistic descriptions of personal history and contemporary politics, like open letters, cut through with occasional moments of melopoeic density: “Fear beat in our chests like second hearts.” These are poems designed to communicate, without pretense or highfalutin obscurity: civic poems. Moving and provocative, they work so well when read aloud.


Time Pressures: Short Take on Roscoe Mitchell with Tyshawn Sorey and Hugh Ragin

Roscoe Mitchell’s new, eponymous album on Wide Hive records presents him, as composer and as improviser, in shifting configurations: in a trio with himself on saxophones (alternately sopranino, alto and bass), Hugh Ragin on trumpet and Tyshawn Sorey at the drum kit; in duo (on flute and alto sax) with Sorey, who switches to piano for two of the three tracks; and solo with a set of percussion miniatures, played on what in his work with The Art Ensemble of Chicago used to be called “little instruments,” which would include everything from small tuned gongs to found objects. The album is sequenced as an extended palindrome, solo-duo-trio-[solo-trio-duo-trio-solo]-duo-trio-solo, creating an interlace of varying sound-textures while also suggesting recurrence, a cyclical symmetry.
Mitchell’s solos all involve delicately a-metrical plunks and tintinnabulations; he has recorded similar percussion pieces on previous solo projects, but here they feel artfully succinct and carefully realized. Striking his tabletop array of wooden blocks and metallophones with compact sticks and mallets, he produces fleeting, irregularly cadenced clusters of pulses and beats. Time takes on a certain plasticity in these brief performances, as Mitchell alternatively presses toward and draws back from an implied downbeat, a centred measure that never quite arrives. Time hangs between counted and uncountable, openings and distensions, small extemporaneities, spaces. His saxophone tone is always fully-blown, reedy and firm, but his pitch – like his rhythmic sense – often seems to skirt around its centres, as he deliberately manipulates micro-pressures of breath and embouchure to stretch and pull the notes just slightly sharp or flat, creating subtly thrumming layers of detuned harmonics. This plasticity is a hallmark of Roscoe Mitchell’s sound, as I hear it, his improvised lines pushing and tugging at their audible edges.
Tyshawn Sorey’s drumming develops a similar kind of temporal openness, and his sense of auditory space recalls for me some of the work of Paul Motian and Jerome Cooper, and – perhaps echoing a little of Roscoe Mitchell’s early Old/Quartet sessionsPhillip Wilson. I love his playing here, working a middle zone between pulse and arrhythmia. His piano is also compelling; his touch can be hard, but Sorey uses what could potentially be taken for an underdeveloped pianism to great advantage, treating the piano the way maybe it should be treated, as percussion. On “A Game of Catch,” he starts by thrumming and plucking inside the instrument, working the interstices of Mitchell’s melodic fragments. But I especially like his playing on “The Way Home,” where he develops waves and surges, dispersions and clusters, that feel reminiscent to me of Sam Rivers’s piano forays with his trios and with Dave Holland. Sorey’s playing evinces a compellingly nascent rhythmatizing – texturally, a marked contrast from his Morton Feldman-influenced “Permutations for Solo Piano” on his 2007 release That/Not (although, as sound conceptualists, both Sorey and Mitchell are not that far removed from Feldman’s interest in resonance and refrain, what a recent article in The Guardian called “the substance of sound”). And Hugh Ragin is excellent throughout the record, drawing on sonic vocabularies developed in his Sound Pictures for Solo Trumpet(Hopscotch, 2002, a CD that featured his own compositions as well as a suite by Wadada Leo Smith). A master of free improvisation, Ragin evokes at times in his tone and attack the clarion spectre of Louis Armstrong, at others the more laser-like inflections of Lee Morgan: his playing is that fine, that good. I could listen to him all night and day.
Centripetally and centrifugally, convergent and divergent, the music of Mitchell, Sorey and Ragin explores the elastic and uneasy verges of time present, wanting to make its ragged limits sing.

Short Take on Nicole Mitchell, Solo

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. 

lovellevellilloqui: Short Take on Thomas Chapin

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.

Live Short Take on Jen Currin and Ken Babstock

Last night, I attended a poetry reading by Jen Currin and Ken Babstock, part of the Play Chthonics series here at Green College, U. B. C. As an experiment in listening, in refocusing a divided attention, or maybe in overwriting distraction, I thought I would try blogging live, drafting a post as a transcript and as a reaction. I find I have trouble hanging on to the lines of poems at readings; there is no rewind, no pause, and if things seem to resonate and to hang in my ear for a moment or two, the succession of coming lines overwrites and pushes them out of my immediate memory. I tried to write the odd line down as the reading happened, tapping it onto the virtual keyboard of my smartphone blogging app. I hope I didn’t distract from the experience of those around me. Some people find the technologies of social media inherently abrasive, rude. And maybe they’re not wrong. Those technologies are at least distracting, and distracted. It was a great reading; both poets offered up innovative, paced, striking poems. There was too much to catch. But I tried to hang on to bits as they flowed passed:

Jen Currin is reading poems chosen by chance from her books. This: “Night arrived in the form of a candle.” This, not given at a reading before: “Dogs on film and no one wants to hold her hand in exile.” And this, from somewhere in her Hagiography: “To make it sane I planted poppies.” New pieces: “Photo Booth” (“You’re a descriptive kind of girl”); “The Oceans” (“I feel your seaweed body bending my way”); “Taking an Intuition Class” (“We understand a little, just a little of us”); “The Emergencies” (“We must listen”); Our Face on the Cover”; “Fear is Not a Body Part.” “The Art of the Spiritual Headache” ends with a gesture at freedom, freeing. Applause.

Ken Babstock is trying sitting rather than standing: harder to breathe, but less jittery. The necro lyric or the zombie lyric: writing continuing to write lyric beyond its end. “Are songs litter?” Reading like Jen some things that he doesn’t normally. Randomized choices? An elegy for Vic Chesnutt, “I Think I Will Go to Bakersfield”: “What can I say? I’m done.” “Hoping Your Machine Can Handle the Big Image”: a response to Karen Solie’s “Tractor”. Ken says solipsism gets a bad rap. Rep? Rap. Now a sequence of sonnets, procedural constraints, hybrids, holes. Not wholes. Nostalgically treating Cold War surveillance. Low frequencies.

During the question session, Jen discusses her interest in Elizabeth Bishop, and talks about a project for which she uses the words of Bishop’s poems as a source vocabulary to make new poems, rearrangements. Ken is asked about the connections between his new sonnets and John Berryman’s Dream Songs.

There was more. You can hear it on the recording. But I wanted to listen rather than transcribe so I stopped. Interesting how little clings to such a transcription, though my impression was that the act of copying did intensify the memory of the words, of lines. But much fell away, as well. 

If you look closely, you can see my smartphone open and lit up on my lap. (Photo by Karen Correia Da Silva)

Short Take on Tim Daisy & Ken Vandermark

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.

Short Take on Petra Haden

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.