Just in case you don’t know the tune Mela and I were singing over the phone, here is the particular version of Ornette’s “Law Years,” as played by Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, and Roy Haynes. CLICK!
For a long time, the great Baby Dodds was almost impossible to actually hear on record. Not as literally impossible as lost legend Buddy Bolden, but still. Then Atavistic put out some killer stuff, and jazz fans rejoiced. He wasn’t kidding about getting things moving.
Few know saxophonist Bobby Zankel, mentioned here at the outset. That’s a shame.
But first of all, we find ourselves back in Ellingtonian orbit, which is never, ever a bad thing. I contextualized the Sacred Concerts by referring to several other similarly inclined pieces and musicians, some of which you can listen to here:
David Brent Johnson’s Nightlights radio show also has some features archived (including an interview about this book with yours truly), and he’s got some great clips of this material too:
Listening to early Mary Lou Williams, it’s not hard to understand why she was so beloved as a soloist and why her compositional star rose so quickly.
But the extraordinary Black Christ of the Andes really does merit the acclaim it’s received since its debut. Listen to the sections discussed in the text:
And while there’s not quite as much recorded attention focused on her subsequent devotional works, when she was deep in the embrace of the church, it’s worth hearing how she went further with her synthesis in later pieces:
Most of Ellington’s key works are discussed above in Chapter Three, but the three sacred concerts that anchor this chapter’s section are all worth hearing and studying.
Enjoy the music of some of those inspired by Ellington and Williams:
As promised earlier, we return to the great John Birks Gillespie and his role in bringing to light the connections between jazz and Afro-Cuban religious music. Listen to the formative influences mentioned at this section’s outset:
And then listen to how thrillingly Gillespie synthesized these influences, in some of the most sheerly joyful music I can think of:
As the religiosity took deeper roots, it bore more fruits:
Steve Coleman’s investigations of these and other traditions will sound initially light-years different than the music you just sampled. But if you know anything from this book, you know the connections are there waiting to be heard. Check out some of his earliest work with Five Elements, where the M-BASE’s grounding in vernacular music (especially hip-hop) is really distinctive.
He filtered these elements through the cross-cultural collaborations of the early to mid-1990s, and you can hear the transitions on these performances:
The investigation of ritual is most fully documented by the most recent incarnation of Five Elements, including the astonishing vocalist Jen Shyu. Prepare yourself:
Any starting point with the Art Ensemble of Chicago is likely deceptive, so chronology will have to suffice. Here are the very first recordings, assured in their experimentalism, confident in the otherness they both projected and sought.
These early documents are essential, as noted in the introduction. But recent years have been bountiful, as nearly all of the AEC’s first decade of recordings have been reissued. Marvelous examples not discussed in this section include The Spiritual, Chi-Congo, Phase One, and Les Stances a Sophie (where they deal out some block-rocking funk with Fontella Bass on vocals). Here, however, are the performances discussed in the text itself:
Despite what you may have thought when reading about Milford Graves, hearing him play is impressive in its own rights (despite the power of the visual, and the bodily feats themselves). Aside from his early work with Albert Ayler and others in the early free jazz scene, Graves released some very influential percussion music on 1965’s Percussion Ensemble, 1974’s Dialogue of the Drums (with Andrew Cyrille), and the killer 1977 date Babi.
Recording sporadically in the intervening decades, Graves continued the percussion theme on 1984’s all-star summit Pieces of Time (where’s joined by Cyrille, the AEC’s Don Moye, and bop legend Kenny Clarke!). After a long gap, Graves showed up on a powerful duet recording with David Murray and on a pair of dazzling, and wonderfully odd, solo records for Zorn’s Tzadik label, Grand Unification and Stories.
Finally, we come to the incredible Cecil Taylor. Even on his very earliest recordings, Jazz Advance and Looking Ahead from the mid-1950s, you can hear how different and how singular Taylor’s conception was.
Coming into his own in the early 1960s, Taylor recorded some marvelous music for Candid and a tantalizing half of a record for Impulse (a release he shared with Gil Evans, under the title Into the Hot – indeed!). Like so many of his contemporaries, Taylor benefited from steady work in Europe, and his recordings with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray at Copenhagen’s Café Montmartre are hugely advanced, with a sparse, spidery harmony that could come from Messiaen and a propulsion that swings like hell in its own way.
Taylor’s use of compositional cells was captured brilliantly on two mid-60s Blue Note dates, Unit Structures and Conquistador, though the increased exposure did little to chip away at critical disdain or even indifference.
And so Taylor positively vaulted out into the stratosphere from this point onward. The sonic tsunami of The Great Concert, in Paris with Lyons, Rivers, and Cyrille, was a roar of otherness of the sort I attempted to describe in the book. Indefatigable, intractable, indomitable sound like the eruptions at the moment of creation.
Beginning in the 1970s, Taylor’s solo concerts began ever more notably to serve ritual purposes, and I’d highly recommend Indent, Silent Tongues, Fly!Fly!Fly!Fly!Fly!, and both volumes of Garden. Gorgeous, commanding music. (And the more recent Tree of Life is one of his greatest recitals of all. It’s currently unavailable on Youtube, so just go buy it. In the meantime, the Willisau Concert is nearly as good.)
In this same period, Taylor’s Unit bands were exploring his cell-walks and anacruses with staggering energy and long-form commitment. Listen to 3 Phasis, the CT Unit, One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, and It Is in the Brewing Luminous, and prepare to submit.
If you’re interested in hearing Taylor work out his relations with the loas, check out For Olim, Olu Iwa, Erzulie Maketh Scent, and the poetry raveup Chinampas (for more poetry, check out In Florescence and Iwontuwonsi).
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. Taylor’s epochal 1988 meetings with the best European free improvisers at Berlin’s Total Music Meeting. Loads of this stuff was recorded, but perhaps my favorite remains his duo with Tony Oxley, Leaf Palm Hand. He and Oxley were joined a couple years later by saxophonist Evan Parker and bassist Barry Guy on Nailed, which – whether or not you know of the tempestuous history between some of the players – is fierce and often quite forbidding. FMP records (one of the greatest labels, by the way, without which much European free improvisation wouldn’t have been released to the world) has taken everything of theirs off of Youtube. Some of this music, though, is available to sample courtesy of the good people at Destination Out.