Immerse yourself, however briefly, in the piece from Steve Lacy’s Lapis I describe at chapter’s outset.
And if anyone at all had their ears prick up at reading the reference to my band’s The Liturgy of Ghosts, take a listen (several tracks are from that show at Pittsburgh).
Since this chapter is organized more thematically – and thus usually less tethered to biography – than the others in the book, the references come in bundles. Here are those grouped together in the opening passages of “Let the Thing Happen”:
This section’s focus, of course, is on Lacy’s music. It’s best to start with some of his early playing in Monk’s band, an association which shaped the rest of Lacy’s life and music.
Much of his mid-1960s experimental music is well worth hearing, but it is really as he settled into Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Lacy’s music truly emerged. A couple of valuable archival releases from the Emanem imprint, The Sun and Avignon and After, showcase some of Lacy’s early multimedia experiments incorporating the themes discussed in the text. Here is more from this period.
To my ears, the two finest performances of the Tao Te Ching suite are the group version from 1979’s The Way and the solo version on 1991’s Remains. This is an earlier version.
There is so much good Lacy out there, of consistently top quality and in such a wide variety of settings (many of which he revisited regularly, as with all-Monk dates or solo concerts) that it’s hard for me to refrain from going beyond the parameters of the text. If you’re interested in the text settings as they bear on spirits rejoicing, I’d highly recommend Futurities (two volumes, settings for Robert Creeley poems), Vespers (more poetry, including an incredible Anna Akhmatova piece), The Beat Suite (you guessed it), and Lacy’s final solo performance, November (which is so difficult to listen to, as Lacy’s voice breaks while he is singing, but so moving in a Beckett-like sense: I can’t go on; I’ll go on).
Most folks reading this chapter can probably respond to the descriptions of presence musicians give. There is something about the sound of many of these players that, like Coltrane’s, certainly conveys this sense or this state. You can hear it, respond to it. Listen here to several of the players mentioned at the outset of this section:
If you like what you hear, check out the complete Thomas Chapin on Knitting Factory (a reasonably priced box that will end up being some of your favorite music). Murray’s recs are tucked into Chapter Two above. For Darius Jones, check out Big Gurl and Man’ish Boy. Jarrett’s catalogue is large and imposing, but some of his most sheerly enthusiastic stuff can be heard on his solo records (Köln is the classic, but don’t sleep on the more recent La Scala). In terms of group stuff, I’m fond of The Survivors’ Suite, Belonging, and Still Live (among many, many others).
Ellery Eskelin plays so much tenor, and at any moment his lines can sound as if they come from almost any different era. There’s Chu Berry, there’s Prez, there’s Ayler. But it only ever sounds like Eskelin. Check him out in the tuba and percussion trio on the great Figure of Speech, and then on his testifying Gene Ammons tribute The Sun Died.
For the better part of a couple of decades, he got into some seriously deep sound in a trio with Andrea Parkins (accordion and electronics) and Jim Black (percussion). All their recording are worth hearing, but their One Great Day always strikes me as exemplary of their exploratory spirit. Eskelin has also released some amazing music in the company of tenor legend Dave Liebman, the finest being Different but the Same. And his new post-post-modern take on standards is exceptional. Check out Trio New York.
Pianist Connie Crothers plays with something like apostolic authority, having studied with the master Lennie Tristano. Stylistically she is one of a kind, though. The depth of her listening, the range of her harmonic imagination, and the intensity of her interactions all deserve far, far wider attention. Crothers has recorded consistently and received excellent reviews, but why she’s not better known is a mystery to me. Check out Perception and Music from Everyday Life and I dare you to disagree. For now, hear these:
Don’t sleep on a pair of fabulous duo sessions, Swish (with Max Roach) and the recent triumph, Sessions from 475 Kent (with bassist Michael Bisio). And her 2014 Concert in Paris might be her finest solo date, capturing the expansive, contemplative, ebullient character of her thinking in sound.
In writing about Dennis Gonzalez, I noted the range of musical influences he synthesizes in his compositions and his improvisations. What knits all the elements together is a seriously deep emotionality, one that’s struck just about everyone who’s listened to DG’s playing, regardless of era or ensemble. His early Silkheart recordings announced him as a major presence, and also marked the beginning of his Hymn series of compositions. I’m partial to Stefan and Namesake, as well as Gonzalez’s playing on Charles Brackeen’s Worshippers Come Nigh.
Gonzalez really hit his stride in the 1990s. His Band of Brujos recorded the classic Hymn for the Perfect Heart of a Pearl, and he followed up with the incredible Catechism and The Earth and the Heart (with some sweet guitar from Nels Cline, whom many readers might know from his recent tenure with Wilco).
His Yells at Eels records are consistently fun, but perhaps the best of his many recent recordings (especially in terms of how he understands his music to reflect his religious milieu) are Old Time Revival and The Hymn Project.
Stephan Crump is one of the best bassists you’ve probably never heard of (it’s sad that I repeat that characterization so often – would that these players were better known!). He’s played dazzlingly for a decade in Vijay Iyer’s bands, among others, but one of my absolute favorite things of his is Rosetta Trio’s Papillion, with the incredible guitarists Jamie Fox and Liberty Ellman. Do check out his recent duo with guitarist Mary Halvorson on Intakt, too.
Listening to David Friesen is a rush, as his full, lithe sound draws you in with its virtuosity, emotionality, and total spontaneous commitment to creation. Immerse yourself in Color Pool and Inner Voices, and in these performances.
Ivo Perelman’s investigations of Jewish folk music on En Adir make for an awfully good starting point in his rich world of sound. But the performance that first knocked me out was 1997’s Sad Life, where his playing was so powerful and affecting that I instantly became obsessed with the tune and with Perelman. One of his best, also from the late 1990s, is Seeds, Vision & Counterpoint, where you can really hear his combination of ferocity and wounded lyricism. Ivo took a long time away from music to focus on his fine painting, but of the dozens of records he’s released since his return to the scene, he himself is especially fond of Soulstorm.
William Parker has been on a bewildering, at times intimidating number of recordings since the 1970s. He’s got an unmistakable style that stands out in absolutely any context. And he’s played in just about every context imaginable. The recordings mentioned in the text strike me as the ones that best express his viewpoints. Enjoy these selections from In Order to Survive, Sunrise in the Tone World, and Parker’s Little Huey Orchestra.
And do also check out his ebullient violin trio, Painter’s Spring, the soaring Bob’s Pink Cadillac (with Perry Robinson and drum legend Walter Perkins), and his 2-disc, large ensemble take on the Curtis Mayfield songbook (with vocals by Lena Conquest, this one is an affirmation).
David S. Ware’s music was singular and adrenalized from jump. His recordings for Homestead, Cryptology and Dao, brought him to a wider audience owing to that label’s distribution (and its long-standing role in the punk and post-punk underground led to Ware and musicians in his circle being celebrated by folks like Henry Rollins – nice one, Hank).
But it was on a series of records Ware’s quartet did for the Japanese DIW label that his sound really took off. Flight of i, Third Ear Recitation, Earthquation, and the overwhelming Godspelized just well up within you and without you. You can hear Ware reaching for the beyond.
His late recordings, both group and solo, find him changing his sound and his articulation just a bit, but without changing the intensity and conviction one bit. Check out Shakti and Saturnian.
Finally, enter the dark clouds of Matthew Shipp’s piano playing. I say that with great admiration for his utterly distinctive style, by the way. Shipp has, like Parker, recorded quite widely and some readers might be interested in his Thirsty Ear dates (all of which documented his collaborations with electronics). For me, the cosmos really opens up on Thesis (with the amazing guitarist Joe Morris), Circular Temple, Symbol Systems, By the Law of Music, and his recent duos with Darius Jones, Cosmic Lieder. Enjoy these examples of his work.