“…the best strategy is no strategy.”
—Attributed to Miyamoto Musashi
We’ve lost a lot of music-related folks over the past few months: writer Harvey Pekar, saxophonist Fred Anderson, Dutch bandleader Willem Breuker, the great Abbey Lincoln, and composer, trumpeter, and friend Bill Dixon. For me, though, the single most personal and painful loss of all was Tuli Kupferberg: poet, singer-songwriter, revolutionary, publisher, street vendor, historian, mentor, sage, wise man, wise guy, forward-thinking artist, activist, intellectual, pacifist, anarchist, dreamer, and co-founder of the seminal poetry/folk-rock group the Fugs. Tuli was one of a kind, and I mean that in every sense of the term. I knew the music of the Fugs in the ‘60s when I’d seen them many times at various venues, but in the late-‘70s Tuli and I became friends as we shared the same corners hawking our wares on the streets of Soho and later sharing conversation and pints of Häagen-Dazs on various park benches in our neighborhood. So I would like to dedicate this column to him and let him know that over whatever peaceful rainbow he may have traversed he will always be with me and loved by me. (Now, before I begin with some of what I heard on my summer vacation, let me get up and one more time play “Nothing” from that Fugs LP on ESP that I’ve been listening to over and over again.)
I spent the summer of 2010 pretty much the way I spend all my time: going to gigs of every description. I’ll start with what for me were some of the highlights of the Vision Festival (what I was able to catch, anyway): the return of In Order to Survive, Rob Brown’s New Quartet, the Dave Burrell Trio, the David S. Ware Trio, the duo of Leo Smith and Gunter “Baby” Sommers, and the Stone Quartet featuring the awesome French bassist Joëlle Leandre, who also performed a magnificent gig at the Cornelia Street Café with Mark Dresser and Mark Elias. I caught Dresser on the Fourth of July as well, with additional fireworks provided by Jason Hwang and Russian drummer Vladimir Tarasov.
The six-hour ESP First Annual Ayler Festival on Governors Island proved to be an overwhelming success, and included such players as Andrew Lamb, Sabir Mateen, Guiseppe Logan, Gunter Hampel, Joe Rigby, Daniel Carter, William Hooker, and Marshall Allen, and lucky me got to M.C. the whole affair.
David Bromberg was a real treat at the lovely Madison Square Park. The duo of Italian poet Erika Dagnino and violinist Stefano Pastor had some moments. The Brion Gysin show at the New Museum is not to be missed, and will be on view until Oct. 3. Activities that went along with it included a performance by John Zorn and Bill Laswell and an amazing talk on Gysin by Throbbing Gristle co-founder Genesis P-Orridge.
Ivo Van Hove’s stage adaptation of the Pasolini film Teorama stayed as true to the script as possible. The play, presented by Lincoln Center’s Summer Festival on Governors Island, had a pared-down, ultra-modern set including four turntables, one at each corner of the stage. The music began with a loop of the Supremes’ “The Happening” until the performance itself started, and at intervals throughout the production the turntablists played what sounded like the same LP simultaneously. Other music included the Who’s “My Generation,” a live string quartet that played, among other pieces, fragments of Webern and Beethoven, and a postlude of the Monkees’s “I’m a Believer,” which worked perfectly since Pasolini’s themes are all variations on God/Devil as interloper and seduced/seducer. I thought the production worked well as a story but, due to its lack of visual imagery, was no substitute for the film.
Also part of the Lincoln Center festival was a two-day mini-fest titled “Varèse: (R)evolution,” in which Varèse’s entire oeuvre was performed. It was a treat to hear the epic output of this French master, who lived the better part of his life in Greenwich Village. Varèse is the king of the intelligent clippity-clop, the crash-bam-boom, and the siren, which in this version of Amériques was used as an actual instrument. No one else has written such consistently amusing, not to mention torrid, parts for percussion. Varèse’s use of the oboe and flute as openers continually evoked, at least for me, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. His work consists of sculptural mass and an almost constant clash of bodies yet, at moments, it creates a profound tenderness. As a result, his music seems to have no center, and in both long pieces and short ones it appears and then suddenly disappears in a mist of high drama.
Christian Marclay’s exhibition at the Whitney runs through Sept. 26 and contains, alongside the LPs, prints, and films, presentations of live music every day by the likes of Zorn, Butch Morris, Joan La Barbara, Zeena Parkins, Ned Rothenberg, Lee Ranaldo, Alan Licht, and a host of others. I strongly advise you catch the show when the music is happening. English saxophonist John Butcher came to town to participate in the Marclay event, but he also managed to play in various solo, duo, and trio sessions in other venues. He is a master not to be missed.
And speaking of album covers, be sure to catch the David Stone Martin exhibit on view at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Martin was a master of line, and did some of the most famous LP covers, most notably for the Clef, Stinson, and Verve labels.
So here’s to you, Tuli, wherever your travels have taken you. And as Laurie Anderson sang in her outstanding concert at Le Poisson Rouge this summer, “Everything keeps changing in this transitory life.” So, folks, remember it’s not just about what you’ve read but also what you’ve seen, heard, felt. It’s about the translation time from the playing to the mind and then the ear. So keep listening closely for those changes.