Robert Wyatt is one of Britain’s great musical originals. There’s a fragile emotionalism to the former Soft Machine drummer’s mockney-chorister falsetto, a wide-eyed quality, at once half-disappointed, half-enraptured, that is instantly recognisable. His free-form, jazz-inflected song structures, meanwhile, make most pop music feel painfully constricted and repetitive. The fact that Wyatt is a 70-year-old wheelchair-using communist leading an isolated and impecunious existence in Lincolnshire doesn’t seem to have inhibited his popularity with other musicians.
There was nobody in jazz quite like Sun Ra. He was a prolific (though he never had mainstream success) jazz performer, composer, bandleader, synth player, poet and philosopher who was born in Birmingham, AL, but claimed he had always had the birth name of Sun Ra and was not of this Earth but from Saturn. He said he had a visionary experience as a college student in 1936 in which he traveled to Saturn and (at least a decade before the big public interest in flying saucers); this led to the start of his name and personal mythology. He led his various “Arkestras” from the mid-‘50s to his death in 1993, which often included a group of singers and dancers. They usually wore sci-fi or Egyptian-themed costumes. I was lucky enough to see him perform once in the early ‘90s at the planaterium in San Francisco, with dancers coming down the aisles swinging the plastic hoses which were popular in the ‘60s, which each produced a different tone.
In recent years the great Michigan independent jazz label Nessa Records has focused most of its energy on reissuing gems from its catalog on CD—whether by free jazz luminaries like Wadada Leo Smith and Hal Russell or old-school swing and bop masters like Eddie Johnson and Ira Sullivan. But it’s encouraging in this inhospitable climate for record labels, especially ones devoted to improvised music, that Nessa has just released an all-new recording. Silver Cornet is a terrific live session recorded in Baltimore in March by the Bradford/Gjerstad Quartet.
On the shoulders of giants
a Celebration of 20 Years of VISION
July 7 – 12, 2015
at Historic Judson Memorial Church
WHAT: Celebrating 20th Anniversary of VISION / The On-going Legacy of FreeJazz
WHERE: Judson Memorial Church, (55 Washington Sq. South, New York, NY)
TICKETS: Daily Admission: $35 per day / $25 students & seniors
INFO: Email firstname.lastname@example.org / Call (212) 254-5420
For our twentieth anniversary, Arts for Art is thinking about what has come before that inspires us all to be our best, our most profound and in fact, our most Visionary. We stand on the shoulders of artists such as John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Rashied Ali & Jayne Cortez, wondering what our role might be to carry their legacy forward. We think of the German bassist, Peter Kowald who initiated and helped organize the Sound Unity Festivals in the mid 80’s. We understand that our accomplishments rest on the foundation built by these and organizations like the AACM, BAG and the Jazz Composers Guild as well as NY musicians such as Billy Bang, Roy Campbell, Butch Morris and David S. Ware. How do we keep in the hearts and minds of new generations, all of the idealism, integrity and sense of responsibility that lay at the heart of those creative movements? This is what we are considering as we prepare for our landmark Twentieth Anniversary: VISION 20.
As the London jazz festival gets into full swing, this week’s 10 picks are devoted to that much denigrated, occasionally inspired, sometimes insipid, but also genuinely fruitful interzone between jazz and classical. There’s a deeply problematic but potentially catalytic cultural politics and musical symbiosis between the practices and possibilities of both worlds – as if it were possible to reduce the massive diversity of both “jazz” and “classical” to single musical planets rather than the musical multiverses that they both are. The point is, composers and musicians over the last century have wanted to make the most of everything in the sonic world around them, trying to create something that sounds like a distinctive, single thing rather than that most benighted of phenomena, a “fusion” that sounds like neither one thing nor the other.