“See the beauty in the imperfection. Perfection leaves no room for development. Where there is no vice there is no virtue.”
“New York. I’m glad to be back. A great big city full of this and that.”
—James “Blood” Ulmer
It’s the first night of the Winter Jazzfest and a sold-out show. I’m looking forward to Colin Stetson who I’ve heard twice before and want more of, also the Ex, whom I haven’t heard in years. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a fan, just curious.
It’s freezing. I have a plus one with no one to give it to, so I’m standing outside hoping for someone to come along who might need it. Earlier in the evening two journalists suggested I look for a pretty girl to give it to. I said I’d prefer to give it to a big fat guy if I find one, and I do, but he’s a journalist and already has a ticket. I indeed see a pretty girl who needs one but I don’t like her voice so I decide not to approach her.
After about fifteen minutes I start heading back in when I overhear a couple and their teenage son talking about what he intends to do now that the show is sold out. He looks sad and bewildered. I ask if they all want to see the show or just him. Just him. I say “OK, he can be my guest.” They offer me money. I decline. A drink. I say fine, the kid can buy me one inside, thinking eighteen is the drinking age. They say he’s too young to buy drinks. The bouncer concurs. I say we’ll figure something out.
Once inside I take him over to the bar and tell the bartender I want a gin and tonic and that my “nephew” will pay for it. He says “OK.” I tell the kid to pay, give the bartender a two dollar tip, and that he’s free to do whatever he wants with the rest of his night.
I hate the first band, Happy Apple. I want to like Stetson but with Bill Laswell he is just too loud and uses way too many effects, though it is obvious he can play. I want to hear more from him in the future in a purely acoustic setting. As for the Ex, who am I to judge? Well played rock and roll. Great drummer. Full on assault. Great set whether I liked it or not.
I passed up the disability benefit concert to do a gig I had long committed to. It was three hours long with my part being ten minutes and with five audience members. But hey, I sold two books.
As usual there were way too many venues and acts at WJF, so this year I centered my activities around the New School gigs, a new venue for the fest, though I did catch Joey Arias at (Le) Poisson Rouge, and a few partial gigs at Judson Church. I loved most of what I heard at the two day ECM festival, particularly Craig Taborn’s solo set, Ches Smith with Taborn and Matt Maneri (more on Taborn in April), Michael Formanek’s big band, and Tim Berne’s group. Another set I enjoyed was the quartet of Oliver Lake, Joe Fonda, Graham Haynes and Barry Altschul.
A major highlight was this huge woman across the aisle from me who kept whispering to her husband, “He’s a famous poet.” Ego that I have, I decided to ask “Do you know me?” She replied, pointing to a friend of mine further down the aisle, “He said you were ubiquitous.” I chimed in, “What does that mean?” She said, “It means you are over-exposed.” I asked, “Is that a good thing?” She said, “No. It’s a bad thing.” Feeling very naked as I walked away, I said, “How did you know I don’t wear any underwear?” Since then at least a dozen people have told me that I was ubiquitous or that they see me everywhere, which, I assume, means that they have very good taste and are themselves “everywhere.”
I took a break from WJF and headed to Cornelia Street Café to catch the Sam Newsome/Andrew Cyrille duo, hoping one of my favorite barkeeps would be there so I could indulge in a drink or two on the house. Well, I actually indulged in five and the set got more superb as it went along—Cyrille ever the listener, challenger, and provocateur, loosened up the more Newsome and I loosened up. Newsome, a fine soprano player, who I feel still has greater potential, pointed his bell inside the piano à la Steve Lacy and played to the strings while bowing them with his bell. A bit later he played with his left hand, plucking the strings with his right. When the bewildered door guy asked me what they were up to, I told him they were being exploratory, to which he retorted, “They’re exploring my patience.” It was an extraordinary experience, one of the best sets so far of the new year, one of empathy and aesthetics that should have been seen by more folks.
I ended my four days of WJF with Electric Ascension, Rova Saxophone Quartet’s recasting of the classic Trane piece which they’ve taken through several mutations in thirty years, and which I had seen years ago in Paris.
Rashied Ali and I always argued about folks playing extended Coltrane pieces. He was arguing for it, saying that if they can play Beethoven why can’t they play Trane. I was always playing devil’s advocate, stating the difference was the personal voice of Trane in the work, whereas with Beethoven or Bach we don’t have the opportunity to hear what they thought or sounded like. My opinion still runs back and forth on this, but I can say, though Trane’s version was so plugged in without electricity—and despite Rova’s version getting too chaotic and altering the sound palette drastically—there were some great moments, particularly, and ironically, the pure electricity of Nels Cline, one of the handful of truly great guitarists around. He played one of the best solos of WJF, followed by a completely contrary, brooding violin solo by Jason Hwang.
Matthew Shipp played a one nighter at Dizzy’s Club to celebrate the release of his much acclaimed recent CD The Conduct of Jazz, which I strongly recommend. His first set was sold out and his second, though not as well attended, proved vibrant, with Michael Bisio on bass, Newman Taylor Baker on drums, and a beautiful view of the city as backdrop.
Some of the Arts for Arts sets at Clemente Soto Vélez I managed to catch that blew me away were trumpeter Louis Barnes’s quartet with Connie Crothers, Mike Bisio, and Warren Smith hitting both extremes of inside and outside; Tom Rainey’s and Ingrid Laubrock’s duo; and Taylor Ho Bynum and Thomas Fujiwara.
As part of the Arts For Arts festival, Native American saxophonist L. Mixashawn Rozie, who I hadn’t seen in a long time, totally fulfilled my need for driving tenor on a brutal Monday night in celebration of MLK. The sad part was there were only six people in the audience. Rozie, in duo with drummer Bill Arnold, a new name to me, started on wood flute then went to tenor, then to steel flute, quoting what sounded like “Purple Haze,” then back to tenor, then on to electric mandolin—quoting Scott Joplin in a heavy metal frenzy—then back to tenor, ending on mandolin. He sang a lot of traditional Native American and original songs (a bit too much singing and mandolin for my taste) and quoted “Stormy Weather” on sax during a recitation about global warming. One cute song was for his daughter, a sing-along called “Polyester,” written after she had asked him who Polly Esther was. His extreme energy, circular breathing, and incredibly big tone warmed me up.
Earlier I had mentioned to poet David Henderson how cold it had gotten. “Yeah it’s cold out there.” he replied. “Well that’s the way it’s supposed to be this time of year.” I said. To which he brilliantly responded, “We’re lucky we have any weather at all.”
In memory of friend, poet/artist, truth-sayer, and contrarian, John Farris.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.