Creative Music in DC

English: Ken Vandermark, moers festival 2010
English: Ken Vandermark, moers festival 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few upcoming DC shows:

Monday, January 12 @ 7:00PM
Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley Duo
Anthony Pirog Ensemble
Presented as part of CapitalBop’s Weekend of the Avant Garde in Jazz, January 10 – 12
Chicago saxophonist/composer Ken Vandermark and New York trumpet stalwart Nate Wooley had been operating in each other’s orbits for several years, having worked together with Paul Lytton, Joe Morris, Agusti Fernandez, and Terrie Ex. In October 2013, they put together their duo project when they toured the United States for the first time. With this unique ensemble, they deal directly with each other’s iconoclastic compositional and improvisational vocabularies, and have created a book of original material that takes inspirational cues from the under-appreciated work of John Carter and Bobby Bradford. Vandermark and Wooley have worked together to create an organic combination of the jazz tradition, free improvisation, and modern composition, and have then placed it into the raw and intimate context of this duo.
Washington, D.C.’s jazz and experimental music scenes wouldn’t be quite where they are today without Anthony Pirog. The guitarist, composer and loops magician is a quiet but ubiquitous force on stages around his hometown. With fearsome chops and a keen ear for odd beauty, Pirog has helped expand the possibilities of jazz, rock and experimentalism in a town long known for its straight-ahead tradition. For this performance, he will present an expanded 5-member ensemble featuring trumpeter Dave Ballou, saxophonist Jarrett Gilgore, bassist Nathan Kawaller, and drummer Mike Kuhl.
Union Arts DC
411 New York Ave NE
Enter through the loading dock off the corner of 4th and Penn Street NE

Friday, January 16 @ 8:00PM
Chester Hawkins :: The Plums :: Luke Stewart
Chester Hawkins has recorded and performed a wide range of experimental music since 1985. Using an arsenal of electronics, tapes, acoustics, and modified objects, the goal remains the creation of deep and elegant trance states with a glaze of paranoid tension. The Plums are a DC-area Experimental Rock supergroup, made up of guitarist Jeff Barsky, bassist Marc Masters, guitarist Martha Hamilton, and drummer John Howard.
Luke Stewart performs Music inspired by his vast array of influences.
Union Arts DC
411 New York Ave NE
Enter through the loading dock off the corner of 4th and Penn Street NE

Friday, January 23 @ 8:00PM
Nagual :: Michelle Webb
Nagual was spawned in Oberlin, Ohio’s proliferating experimental circles. The duo of Ian McColm and David Shapiro have since 2010 become adept at coaxing damaged shades of Frippertronic drone from their extended guitar rigs. Meticulously crafted loops comprise the phonetic basis of Nagual’s vernacular, with clusters of decayed piano and spluttering ARP seamlessly shifting in and out of coherence while deep tones expand across the stereo field. Multi-String instrumentalist Michelle Webb is a restless collaborator who is engaged in exploring and extending the boundaries of her instruments. Her playing is visceral, with a expressionistic approach to creating timbre and velocities.
Union Arts DC
411 New York Ave NE
Enter through the loading dock off the corner of 4th and Penn Street NE

Saturday, January 24 @ 3:30PM
Mensa Kondo
The New – The Unexpected
solo Exhibit of visual artist Mensa Kondo
Union Arts DC
411 New York Ave NE
Enter through the loading dock off the corner of 4th and Penn Street NE

Every 2nd Sunday of the Month
CapitalBop’s DC Jazz Loft
The DC Jazz Loft showcases and stimulates the talent and forward-focused creative thought that is occurring in the DC Jazz community. On the second Sunday of every month, at Union Arts DC, a variety of idioms and approaches to Jazz are presented by members of the diverse local scene.
Union Arts DC
411 New York Ave NE
Enter through the loading dock off the corner of 4th and Penn Street NE

AMN Reviews: Milton Babbitt/Boston Modern Orchestra Project – All Set [BMOP/sound 1034]

Although most readily associated with the mid-20th century ascendancy of serial composition in America, Milton Babbitt’s work remains exemplary of a kind of music that even into the 21st century remains challenging and ultimately rewarding to listen to.

Babbitt (1916-2011) came to serial composition early after having played saxophone and clarinet in jazz groups and pit orchestras in his teens. At age ten he heard a piece by Schoenberg while visiting relatives; this proved to be something of a conversion experience which eventually led him to study composition with Marion Bauer at New York University (1934-1935) and then privately with Roger Sessions from 1935-1938, after which he went to Princeton University as Sessions’ assistant. Following secret work for the government during World War II, Babbitt returned to Princeton, where he remained on the faculty until his retirement in 1984. His 1946 dissertation on twelve-tone music represented an early systematization of serial compositional theory; during this same period he pioneered the extension of serial ordering principles to musical parameters other than pitch. While at Princeton in the late 1950s he helped found the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Studio, famous for its RCA Mark II synthesizer.

This collection of six compositions, beautifully performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, stands as a kind of survey of Babbitt’s work from the 1940s through 2002, with each decade save the 1990s represented by one piece.

The earliest work included, 1948’s Composition for Twelve Instruments for a mixed ensemble of winds, brass, strings (including harp) and celesta, was the first of Babbitt’s compositions to use serial organization of durations. Beyond that, it represents Babbitt’s effective engagement with Schoenberg’s concept of composing with sound color. During the almost purely horizontal first two-thirds or so of the piece a line is constructed by way of a rapidly moving series of timbral changes. The melody maintains a cohesive shape and forward motion—it just happens to be distributed across the ensemble with one or a handful of notes given to each instrument at any one time. Towards the end of the piece the horizontal distribution of pitches is compressed into vertical structures via overlapping instrumentation.

In contrast to the pointillism of Composition for Twelve Instruments, All Set (1957) for an octet of alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet, trombone, vibes, piano, double bass and trap drums, allots larger shares of melody to the individual parts. This isn’t a jazz composition so much as a composition that alludes to jazz not only in its instrumentation but in some of its formal elements as well. The horns play quasi-bop unison lines, the piano “comps” astringently, and the fragmented pizzicato bassline seems to anticipate the broken walking lines of 1960s avant-garde jazz. Solos and duos alternate with ensemble passages, and there’s even a bass and drum solo about where one would expect it in a jazz performance. BMOP’s realization emphasizes the pulse and a sublimated sense of swing, making its version akin to the piece’s premiere performance–by a jazz orchestra including Bill Evans–at the 1957 Brandeis Creative Arts Festival for which it was commissioned.

Correspondences (1967) for string orchestra and tape is an expressive work, but one whose expressive qualities consist in concise and discontinuous clusters of pitches which seem to be conveying an urgent message in a kind of telegraphic shorthand. Set against the polyphony of melodic fragments is a battery of pre-recorded sounds originally created on the RCA Mark II. These chime-like, metallic sounds supply a cooler contrast to the quickly shifting dynamics and dramatic attacks of the strings. Paraphrases (1979), for ten winds and brass plus piano, is dominated by dissonant vertical structures elaborated through often sharp contrasts between the bright timbres of flute and oboe and the muted sounds of the tuba and trombone. Crowded Air of 1988, composed for a concert in celebration of Elliott Carter’s 80th birthday, is a succinct, appropriately dense polyphonic work for an unconventional ensemble of strings, winds, piano, marimba and guitar. As with Babbitt’s other work, this one make maximum use of instrumental combinations, the plucked guitar and pizzicato bass adding a piquant and propulsive quality to the mix.

The final piece in the collection is From the Psalter (2002) for soprano and string orchestra, which sets a text drawing on 16th century poet Sir Philip Sidney’s versions of Psalms 13, 40 and 41. The vocal part couches conversational speech rhythms with decidedly unconversational leaps of register, all the while maintaining a continuity of line. The string parts also feature broad intervallic leaps, but these are often accomplished by dividing the line among string sections, which are themselves divided.

Despite their differences, the six pieces collected here share a kind of paradox characteristic of Babbitt’s work in general. That paradox consists in the way that Babbitt creates a continuity of line through a discontinuity of orchestration. Babbitt’s surfaces are often fragmented in terms of timbre, rhythm and register, but to step back and hear this at a degree of remove is to hear the playing out of a coherent line, albeit one carried by many voices. And this paradox points to a second paradox. Much critical attention has been paid to Babbitt’s complex pre-compositional structures and to the question of whether or not they are audible in the sound of the music. There paradox here is that the surfaces, with their interlocking meshes of pitches and timbres, are in and of themselves compelling objects of an often rich beauty.

All About Jazz Reviews

English: Peter Apfelbaum live at Saalfelden 20...
Peter Apfelbaum 

From All About Jazz:

Chris Potter Underground Orchestra
Imaginary Cities (ECM Records)

King Crimson Extended Analysis
King Crimson: Live at the Orpheum (Panegyric Recordings)

Jonathan Badger
Verse (Cuneiform Records)

Anthony Braxton
Trio and Duet (Sackville)

Ultima Armonia
Someone Killed the Swan — Laments on South-Eastern Europe (Leo Records)

Tyshawn Sorey
Alloy (Pi Recordings)

Anthony Pirog Multiple Reviews
Where Is Home: Janel & Anthony and Palo Colorado Dream: Anthony Pirog (Cuneiform Records)

Jon Hassell
Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (Glitterbeat)

Peter Apfelbaum‘s Sparkler
I Colored It In For You (M.o.d. Technologies)

The Early LP’s Of The Free Jazz Scene In Los Angeles

From Mark Weber:

It was something Vinny Golia said to me recently that got me to remembering those first self-produced LPs of the Los Angeles free jazz community. He said that when John Carter put out his own ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’S and just before that James Newton’s own self-produced FLUTE MUSIC hit the streets, both in 1977, then he felt the time was right to record his Lp SPIRITS IN FELLOWSHIP, which was the very first Nine Winds record.

Out on the coast, the major exponents of avant garde were three people: Bobby Bradford (1934), John Carter (1929-1991), and Horace Tapscott (1934-1999). These three were the ones moving forward with the musical values that had been mapped out by Ornette, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, and Albert Ayler in the early 60s. There were others I’m sure but in Los Angeles we all looked to Bobby, John, and Horace. And like I said to Bradford the other day: You had to wait for a generation to come of age so that you’d have someone to play with! And he said that there is some truth to that.

The Winter Jazzfest Marathon Unfolds


The Saturday night performance by the alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s new quintet, at the Minetta Lane Theater, seemed like a perfect example of these eruptions. Mr. Mahanthappa, like a lot of current bandleaders, uses history as a disguised stimulus; here he presented a set of new pieces based indirectly on Charlie Parker compositions, in melodic fragments, rhythmic phrasing and general structure, if you really squint. (You’d probably have to be told that “Chillin’” was based on Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo,” but once you know, you marvel at it.)