Gettin' Trane in Our Souls:
Books & Music Reviews
by Kirpal Gordon
---Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff; non-fiction, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, NY, 250 pages, 2007, $24.00;
---Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide to the Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing Dignity or Artistic Integrity) by Marty Khan, non-fiction, Outward Visions Books, Tucson, AZ, 432 pages, 2004, $50.00;
---Bodied Tone by Vernon Frazer, poetry, Otoliths Press, Rockhampton, Australia, 132 pages, 2007, $10.00;
---Swimming through Water by George Wallace, poetry, La Finestra, Trento, Italy, 406 pages, 2002, $36 Euro;
---The Unmaking of Americans: 7 Lives by Mel Freilicher, non-fiction, San Diego City Works Press, San Diego, CA, 135 pages, 2007, $12.95;
---Sunswumthru A Building by Bob Arnold, non-fiction, Origin Press, distributed by www.LonghousePoetry.com, 1604 River Road, Guilford, VT, 05301, phone: 802-254-4242; e: email@example.com, 123 pages, 2006, $15.00;
Four Compact Discs:
---So There: Steve Swallow with Robert Creeley, with Steve Kuhn and the Cikada Quartet, ECM/WATT Works Inc., 18 tracks, 2006, $17.98;
---Traveller, Arthur Kell Quartet, Fresh Sound Records, 9 tracks, 2007, $15.00 plus $2.00 handling/shipping at www.arthurkell.com;
---I tried to sing in my grandfather's voice, William Bradd, P.O. Box 913, Mendocino, CA, 95460, 2000, $12.00;
---ScariBari, Two Baris, One Mind…and a Bass, 8 tracks, 2007, $10.00, www.TwoSistersInc.com
@ "Better get it in your soul," said Mingus whilst among us, and he was on to the Big Powerful Something about this music: it can change your life. Since gettin' it in your soul is the origin, medium and destination of jazz, should we take Ben Ratliff, author of Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, to school because his approach is most un-Trane-like, even for a jazz critic?
Where Trane includes and absorbs a stunningly eclectic array of influences, Ratliff dismisses and narrows with a literal mindedness that hardens to brittle. Instead of stretching out to appreciate the brighter side of how Coltrane still shines in our lives and the witness his music still calls us to make, Ratliff quotes Robert Lowell on "the monotony of the sublime." Furthermore, the pigeon-hole won't get it: Coltrane's legacy is everywhere, not just in jazz and not separate from other movements birthed then and still alive now---among others, civil/human rights, independent nations in Africa and Asia, ancient/non-Western metaphysical systems, world music.
So how could such a limiting point of view of such an unlimited musician and composer convince Farrar, Strauss and Giroux that this was the real deal? Sophisticated Ratliff can't get over how country Coltrane was, with his high water pants and his ignorance of Willie Mays; how a shy kid steeped in the backwoods church of rural North Carolina could title his tunes with such African, East Indian and cosmic-sounding names, let alone actually represent those world views! What Ratliff may have not fully considered, however, is a fact larger than the review: the black church is spirit-filled. Hello? That's what gospel, soul, blues, New Orleans music is all about: transport. What Trane later found in the Vedas, West Africa, the writings of Hazrat Inyat Khan or the perennial philosophy (Aldous Huxley's term for what's common in all spiritual traditions) was no doubt present from his earliest experiences in church where both of his grandfathers were ministers.
Ratliff's critical pose is a form of dismissal without fully experiencing
the event on its own terms---what the Sixties railed against or at least
made a lot of fun of; see No Direction Home,
Scorcese's docu-shot on Dylan, a character who has much
in common with Coltrane (both brought their folk music to new
levels of hybrid vigor) but also not mentioned by Ratliff. Since what
you don't know can hurt you, a critic ought at least lay out on the
drive-by cheap shot, for example: "Miles Davis is the most famous
paradigm-changer in jazz, but his refashionings of his music
every five years or so had much to do with his inexhaustible
competitiveness and self-regard." Yikes, it's psycho-babble and beside
the point: since when do we reduce such but-beautiful music as Miles
made to some dumb shit about his ego? Treason has its reason, but none dare call it jazz criticism.
Ya want the real challenge? Though the book and jacket don't mention it,
Ratliff was born the year after Trane (you choose: died, dropped his
body, ascended, erased the separation) in 1967 at the age of forty.
What's the deal here---for those who didn't trust anyone over forty then,
why trust anyone under forty now to assess the journey? The problem is
that so many of the Old Guard who were there when Trane was playing
and whose lives were changed and whose jazz criticism interacted
with the music are still with us. Granted, if Gitler, Morgenstern, Baraka,
Hentoff, Crouch, et al are each too idiosyncratic a response, why not go
Studs Terkel on the project and let 'em all have a say? But to hire a
(you chose: young, white, before-his-time, New York Times jazz critic) to
tell it is anyone's guess. Hell, Ken Burns confessed to no more than two
jazz records in his entire collection, but he got the nod to docu jazz for
PBS. Hey now, what about dues? Respect? After all, Ratliff's is not a
bio but a two-part assessment of Trane: his playing years and their
aftermath. Why not a multiple point of view or at least one favorable
to what Trane was hearing? So the problem---how the mainstream
(fails to) represents jazz---hasn't disappeared. Trane's gone forty
years and still can get no rhythm.
In other words, Ratliff is not always part of the solution.
Why review it? Because it's engaging and fascinating, if frustrating,
a book I could not stop reading. It's to Ratliff's credit that he draws
into sharp focus the many circumstances of Trane's musical development
in the late fifties and early Sixties, a rich and fertile time in jazz that,
like the New American Poetry, the mainstream hardly saw, except in
caricature, ie jazz beatnik. Indeed, Ratliff's eye for detail is dead on
about Monk and Trane at the Five Spot, a six-month engagement that
drew no mention in the press. Yet powerful word of mouth brought
musicians from all over as well as painters, dancers, poets and
playwrights in the neighborhood. Had Ratliff only checked it out and
taken it further: many of the individuals in those audiences were
profoundly changed by what they heard and the art they
subsequently made. There is quite an untold story there.
Yes, to the good: Ratliff's ability to situate the music in historical context is a great asset. Furthermore, his explications of what Trane's playing are so smart that I could hear the music fresh and new in my head as I read it described. He expertly navigates a non-musician through Trane's many phases and interests---modes and montunos, stacked chords and static harmony, blues and ballads, free jazz and beyond. I especially liked this at the start: "This is a book about jazz as sound. I mean 'sound' as it has long functioned among its players, as a mystical term of art: as in, every musician finally needs a sound, a full and sensible embodiment of his artistic personality such as it can he heard, at best, in a single note."
I would read this sentence to every student everywhere. It's in his next sentence that the center cannot hold: "John Coltrane's (sound) was large and dry, slightly undercooked, and urgent." That's right up there with two remarks Trane could never shake and never liked: "sheets of sound" (implying a blathering mess, arbitrary and disconnected?) or "angry tenor" (fear of a black nation?). Let's describe Trane's sound by its effects. It's invocational, ancestral, dervish-like, reedy but embodying a deep and sharply sculpted force; it's the cry in the desert to a strange god, a pilgrimage of weaving breath and looping harmonic lokas, a sense of circumambulating the temple continuously, combining and permutating all possibilities, wailing not to get inside the current but wailing because that IS the current; split-toned, at times a possession state and at times an at-one-ment; the praise, the singer and the sung to; the shaman, the substance and the vision; the death in one anguished realm birthing a wondrous soul in another, the call and the answer, the offering and the sacrifice, the nectar and the quaffing of the ambrosia. One note from that sound, whether heard on a radio crossing the street or in the quiet of one's own solitude, and you know the muezzin already indwelling the Sufi heart, that however beserk the dance of Shiva Nataraj may appear out here, inside all is still and unmoving.
You know what I'm saying? I want the man reporting on this sound to experience nirvakalpa samadhi while Tranebound, not throw his drink across the lawn because the drone bugs him! I know it's un-Trane-like to be critical, but I want the cultural assessor of Trane's legacy to have more counter-cultural chops than that, ya dig: the drone is there to put your thinking mind to rest. The essence of Trane IS the essence of that Sixties elixir that defied packaging: presence, being present, dying so hard you get born into the now without the what-if entanglements! Like the professor in the Zen parable from Paul Reps, Trane just keeps pouring the tea into the cup until it overflows. Isn't he telling us that you gotta give up the certainty that you know what's happening, Mr. Jones, in order to find out? Look, Doris Lessing just won the Nobel (oh yeah!) and how to tell Ratliff what Ravi Shankar (who had an abiding friendship and intense correspondence with Trane, though Ratliff fails to mention it) told us: the drone is a non-Western trope, so get over evaluating it and dive into the music. That IS its only meaning: ya jumped in. It's experience over belief, Jimi, not necessarily stoned but beautiful, the jewel being in the lotus, having no ideas but in things.
Am I quibbling? I don't want to talk about old acid trips, but Ratliff mentions Robert Stone's peyote ride (recorded in his autobiography published this year) while attending a show of Trane's classic quartet. Ratliff, however, only tells half the story. It's not that Trane was idolized by "the bohemian mafia" (Ratliff's read on Kesey and the Merry Pranksters); it's that Stone realized in that synethesia-Mescalito moment that Trane was a gate, a shamanic portal. Stone broke on through, Jim, and that's central to whatever assessment of Coltrane's legacy is being made. That's the important part, the impact of Trane, not Ratliff's judgements of the Sixties. Since there are others like Stone in every field of expression, let's hope more of that gets included in the next take on Coltrane.
@ Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide to the Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing Dignity or Artistic Integrity) may not
sound Trane-related, but that's the beauty of this book. Much like
A Love Supreme, Marty Khan's Straight Ahead is a
watershed work, a summing up and a moving forward with Trane eyes
to the jazz tradition as embodying a living spiritual presence, not selling
a dead commodity. Like hearing John Coltrane, "whose message and
spirit have been the primary inspiration in my life's work" (from
Khan's dedication), reading this book changes the reader at the cellular level.
It's both a monstrous wake-up call about how exploitative and musician-unfriendly the music business really is at every level and a call to arms with a non-stop series of ingenious tactics to reverse the trend at the personal level. In this sense it is an intriguing read for the literati as well, especially those upset by the MFA racket or seeking greater connection with an audience or to market a book, create a tour or work collectively with other artists to serve the existing lit needs in a community.
However, Khan is tough and serious-minded; he goes against the grain of the typical contemporary how-to guide, which generally is cut to fit the size of a sixth grader's mind and with an additional purchase in the wings: a seminar, a second title, a thousand spin-offs. Khan loves the music too much and believes too deeply in the transformative power of the music to make 'em buy twice or to sugarcoat the funky details that outline and hem in today's jazz musician. Furthermore, even though much has happened in the industry since the book was published in '04, you won't need any other guide to help you navigate any of that. By the time you get to the last section of the book, "Strategies, Recommendations, Solutions," you won't be thinking about any issue in the same ol', same ol' way.
Hey, you won't get through Chapter Two, "Ten Disturbing Facts That Must Be Understood," without checking a lot of personal baggage at the door. Let me cut right to the chase---here are a few of those facts: "There is an enormous amount of money in jazz, produced by an economy that is based on failure." How about: "The entire economic structure of the music business---artist and publishing royalty rates, CD prices, etc.---is a fabricated reality that bears little resemblance to its real economics." Or: "Jazz professionals distrust musicians even more than musicians distrust professionals." Or: "Virtually everyone on the business side of jazz is a failed musician."
Having synthesized Trane's musical/cultural discoveries with the self-determine-Nation of Malcolm X, Khan has distilled in these 432 pages his 35 plus years in the music business. Word to Ratliff: this is where the revolution has gone, not televised but hybridized, joined with other art forms, street legal with a 501 (c) (3), ready for anything, capable of navigating every opportunity to perform and get paid---even inventing new venues along the way. That's what Khan has done for many of the composers and bands he has managed in jazz (George Russell, Art Ensemble, World Saxophone Quartet, Sam Rivers, Sonny Fortune) as well as talents like Alwin Nikolais in dance and Steve Reich in minimalist music. So the reader isn't getting conjecture about what might work for an individualistic (alleged non-commerical) sound but what has worked, when, how and why---and what the next step is to take.
In addition, the guidebook is highly organized, making it easy to find everything---and everything is the key word: complete, exhaustive and thoroughly explored from every angle! His anecdotes about clubs, musicians and the scene aren't bad either. His succinct prose style owes a great deal to Raymond Chandler, and his management style could be called lontano (Sicilian stealth with one's cards kept close to the vest) but his brains are all Trane: he sees every permutation in an unfolding event and how it connects. So in sections like "The Artist's Team," there are descriptions and stories of what to look for in a manager, agent, attorney, roadie, rekkid producer, engineer, publicist, consultant, fundraiser/grantwriter, band member. Ditto the major labels, execs, A & R, indies, art and marketing directors, radio promo and every aspect of the performance---clubs, managers, bookers, concerts, fests, venues of all sizes, promoters, line producers, house crew, sound tech, audience.
It is more, however, than just an ongoing artist empowerment strategy, a welcome attitude adjustment, a new "skillful means" way to do business, a method to replace alien-nation with jazz-nation that roots and grows through one's own labors. It's also the antidote for that "gimme a gig" mentality, among the mistaken entitlements that Khan socratically scrutinizes. The sixteen questions he asks and answers in Chapter 1 are worth the price of the book alone. To check out his interview about how the book came to be and to access for free "Seven Keys to Empowerment and Productivity," dial up http://www.outwardvisions.com/straightahead.html. That taste will tell you where this guidebook can take you.
@ The lines in Bodied Tone may not on first glance seem related
to Coltrane, but read a few pages of Vernon Frazer's free verse and then
go to Trane's free jazz phase, post-classic quartet. Like that music, which
asks different things of listeners than following a melody, cohering a
harmony or adhering to a time signature, Frazer's lyrics meander outside
of a singular reference point and amass a kind of sound current quality.
The images jump about; words combine in challenging new orders and
travel along unfamiliar associations that elude meaning rather than
proclaim it. Like the Whitman-Pound-Olson line-mind breath, the music
inherent in the language creates its own momentum, and like
later Trane, requires no reference outside of itself.
In Frazer's hands, sound, which seems as primary for him as meaning, sabotages expectations and leaves the reader upside down or "incomplete" or aware of other things. Sometimes it's more about puns, other times more about rhymes or alliteration, and in the end, more about a way of being in things than working one narrative thread with a clear beginning and end. Like the art of meditation, Frazer reminds us that beginnings and endings are mostly are own inventions and not necessarily the way things really are.
Although there is a definite order to the poems---they are arranged alphabetically by title---and how they look on the page, the actual reading experience is more like the cover illustration from Australia's Otoliths Press. Against a purple background, yellow lines of orange words squiggle and twist, turn and return like a sentence diagram from grammar school but in four dimensions, re-combining at different junctures; the squiggles of words even become new letters! It's as if Frazer, like Robert Duncan before him, were telling us that language is highly formal already and needn't be whipped into pre-determined constructs like sonnet and meter and rhyme scheme---all that's already implied and needn't be added. Instead, like Trane's explorations into musical expression beyond the pulse of the rhythm section, Frazer's musical foot underneath guides the unravelling.
Take a look at the title poem, "Bodied Tone," which is cut into Creeley-like word clumps all over the page: "endemic: the comic / Myoclonic cuticle / chutes the catwalk / jerks the lute. / the meaning / the chronic ballad / renders / dance: / sub-atomic membranes / Sound, its tendered inflections / engendered anemic counts, / a bloodline leading gene clefs / Registers / epics dissonance / as its / Cluster." It's as if Frazer were singing his lyrics in a stream, emptying them from his lungs into a sea of music that connects the stars and moon to make a bodied tone.
The tuning is in the vowels---there the runic element shines. These poems emerge from the spoken page as highly-charged repositories, word-blow navigations, markings in the sand, collections of magnetic word coils, yarns in hyperbole---psycho-real, matrix-like---wound, woven, prayer-wheeled, turbined, wholly spaced in its own vocabulary. Like John Ashbury's work, these lines, however obscure in meaning, operate under the skin of consciousness to stimulate associations we might otherwise fail to make if we knew ahead of time what to expect.
Frazer, a bass player well known in Connecticut jazz circles and a fiction writer, has taken his poetry in new directions. In his monumental IMPROVISATIONS he went after texture, intensity and extended inquiry but used the "stop-time" device from the blues (Muddy Waters) to make pronouncements that broke his cosmic flow into a collage effect. In Bodied Tone he has gone lyrical, but by twisting language away from conventional meaning, each word hangs in the air as its own pitch or helps blend perceptions that move too fast to be grasped but only hinted at. Harmony becomes phantom and the sounds broaden to include new possibilities. Yet, like making a phrase using the blues scale, no matter how far we take language from a referential context, there's still enough meaning left even in a fleeting context to create the shadings he seeks and where this book lives.
The final parallel to Coltrane's music---early, middle or late---is that the work doesn't beg, explain, limit, apologize or condescend. Nor is it slick, or full of hooks, or propped up by pyro-pop technique and fancy window dressing. It's all-of-a-piece complete unto itself, but it's not actually hard to reach, only taking place at a different aesthetic location than plot, theme and character. As the yogis say, "neti, neti" (it's not this and not that). Or as J. Alfred insisted, "Do not ask what is it, let us go and make our visit."
@ Although George Wallace could be said to be singing from the opposite shore of Frazer's "lang-po gumbo meets projective verse by way of late Trane free jazz," the poems in Swimming through Water reveal other ways in which music and verse are related, especially how Coltrane's legacy continues to influence the voice of American poetry. Like Ratliff's eye to Trane's sound, which "can he heard, at best, in a single note," one line into a George Wallace poem and you know its author. The fact that he is a trained musician only makes his voice that much more musical and individual.
The particular good fortune in these 406 pages from La Finestra Press in Trento, Italy, is that, along with an Italian translation by Anny Ballardini (mirroring the English on the opposite page), we have Paolo Ruffilli's introduction for an Italian audience, Marco Albertazzi's preface, Ballardini's notes on translating Wallace and David Amram's page of insights on the poet. (For a review of Amram's CD musical collaboration with Wallace, smartly sleeved onto the back page of this limited edition of 500 copies, click UnlikelyStories.org/wallace1206.shtml.)
These introductory words do not locate the poet so much as provide enough abstraction to propel a reader to forego the conjecture and find the first poem, which like Frazer's Bodied Tone, is arranged in alphabetical order, a baby lying on a blanket below the naked tree tops:
a baby lying on a blanket below the naked tree tops in a clearing in
the forest sees stars.
Or a couple of pages later, "a foolish man" with the killer ending. Or the longer poems, "chronos and aion" and "numbers no one has seen before." After 384 pages of Wallace's work, appearing variously in stanzas, prose paragraphs, couplets and quatrains, Ballardini's interview with Wallace is the best possible coda. Why American publishers do not, as a matter of habit, make room for the poet's response to questions on style and influence is unfortunate. I find it especially valuable in the case of a talent like Wallace who has not only been around the poetry block but has built the road to the venue and, in many cases, the venue itself. More to the point, he is a poet of place who really knows how to perform his material; how he arrived at his unique voice not only enriches the work, it makes inspiring reading. His eye the American poetry scene is write-on as well, good medicine.
that is the sun, baby!
there are so many branches and each one of them, reaching to the
sun which made them,
is only doing what they have to do.
just now they have made the sun break up into stars.
what are you staring at, baby? sun is the only star! there is sunlight in
everything you see!
baby is not listening to me
he is reaching out too.
Like Trane who "walked the bar" aplenty, toured for years with some one-note R-&-B acts before his first jazz record, Wallace is a journeyman. After living all over the world for thirty years, publishing his poetry in chapbooks and making his living in health care, he returned in 1988 to his family home in woodsy Huntington, past the fabled gold coast of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby. It's a hip, old-timey township with the only main street on Long Island to boast a Greenwich Village-like nightlife. Home to Whitman, Kerouac (Northport) and Coltrane (Dix Hills), three of his four major influences (add French surrealism), Wallace immediately took a job at The Long Islander, the town's local paper, founded by Father Walt in 1839. Before long, like Doc Williams in Paterson, he knew everyone in the county: the dick and the gangster; the yacht man and the wife getting the paper in her negligee; the teacher, preacher and Strivers Row reacher. He's no bug-eyed curmudgeon burn-out lit vic but their local advocate, a guy who could get things done.
If poetry is "news that stays news," as the back cover reminds us, then journalism may be a way to stay on top of one's game. Said another way: Competence on a newspaper can spell disaster for a writer! Yes, there is a communal quality interacting both in the newsroom and on the street. However, very soon into his tenure, Wallace wasn't just reporting on the school board or proofreading copy; he became managing editor for all 23 newspapers in the company's chain. When, in addition, you write twenty articles a week under deadline, something happens to your creative process. If poetry is inspiration (ear) and prose is perspiration (muscle), then it's a terrible, Rilkean beauty a poet enters when language innundates consciousness and the invention process becomes second nature. I imagine something similar happened to Trane as he became absorbed with Miles's modes and Monk's harmonics.
In Wallace's case, he invented his own kind of poem. The hours before dawn have long been considered the ideal time for meditation and creative expression. For a journalist it may the only time in the day (s)he is alone in the woodshed. So Wallace began writing a poem a day in those all-too-brief few hours. Working under a deadline was now part of his craft and out came a kind of ikebana lyric: whimsical yet grounded in gravitas that's equally moving when spoken or read, urgent yet full of surreal leaps over the linear and the logical. Like D.T Suzuki's take on Zen Buddhism and the Japanese arts, Wallace's poems breath the quality of suchness---immediate, ineffable, direct; or as Albertazzi phrased it, "The eye remains immobile in front of a changing scene." Moreso, it's entirely of the moment, as self-referential as a Trane solo, connected yet uniquely new and now. Imagine a Frank O'Hara poem but without the autobio aside. Indeed, here is a poetry entirely removed from what has been called the confessional approach. There's no insider gossip, no poet as woe-is-me and no I-yi-yi, just a sweeping up into a sense of something about to happen. Or as Ruffilli states, "Wallace's poetry takes place in what we Italians call 'the mirror of the impossible dramatization,' where the miracle of a conjugation between apparently irreconcilable parts takes place."
Back at the newsroom, Wallace's colleague died at his desk from overwork and Wallace handed in his resignation rather than go out like that. He agreed to freelance, which kept him visible in town and brought in the dough. By the time he was poet laureate of the county, he was already a living connective tissue through his Poetry Barn, www.PoetryBay.com website and magazine, radio show, workshops and classes, tributes to Kerouac, curating at the historical society and sponsorship of a poetryvlog and a concert series. I mean this guy is stopped on the street and thanked for what he has done. He not only has the polish and the penache and the poetic gift, he has equal parts chutzpah and upaya. When Cindy Sheehan needed support camped outside of Crawford, Wallace took up a collection among Long Island poets. Within 24 hours he de-planed, walked right up to Joan Baez and said he had a message to give the crowd from the Greater New York Poetry Committee. Baez insisted on introducing him from the stage.
Like the Joe Hill who Baez dreams and sings of "last night," Wallace has "gone on to organize." Unlike his counterparts in Manhattan's never-ending real estate boom and bust cycle, Wallace knows his audience and how to build community with them. Like Marty Khan's vision of local artists collectivizing, Wallace isn't waiting for someone else to do the leg work. He understands that building relationships is just another expression of his craft as a communicator. He puts it all---from the writing of the poem and press release to the performance and the party come after---to the Duke Test, ie it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Though Swimming through Water is a beautiful book/CD, I wonder what an American publisher would do with this guy. His latest booklet, "When I Was Dead," out by Flarestack (UK, '06), reveals an even deeper immersion in the opportunities of the catalogue poem but my hope is to see this poet becoming more of a fixture on the national scene, touring the country with his own American-made volume.
@ The Unmaking of Americans: 7 Lives, just out last month, is, besides its subversive literary form, perhaps the clearest example of what Ratliff is missing about the Sixties in general and 'melican kulcha in particular. Mel Freilicher, long time editor of Crawl out Your Window and a writer who was born with his sleeves rolled up, has created an interweaving commentary on the biographies of seven remarkable lives through his fictional-factual alter-ego, the Peripatetic Book-Reviewer. He takes us for "a walk on the wild side" rather than phone it in from a safe remove.
A safe remove turns out to be an illusion, "the ticket that exploded." Freilicher's PB-R deals with a world whose "six degrees of separation" have been reduced by AIDS, dreaming dead friends (including Kathy Acker which makes for some fun), shuttling between SD and LA, seeing the double noose of Jim Crow and homophobia in all kinds of places, laughing/sighing at the politics of English Departments and enduring a backlash that shows us how twisted are public policy makers and/or its enforcers in the land of the freaked and the home of the naive.
Lennon's line---one thing you can't hide is when you're crippled inside---never seamed truer than when Freilicher diabolically mixes fantastic fact with factual fantasy. The perps of actual witch hunts---Hedda Hopper, J. Edgar Hoover, Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy, Ronald Reagan, HUAC and Estes Kefauver---mingle with Hollywould nightclub meetings of his first three Americans. Enter African-American actress Dorothy Dandridge bankrupt and dead from pills at 42, soft porn star Bettie Page (of a DAR scholarship first, then of bangs and bondage, later of Jesus and brimstone) and boy toy Joey Stefano, dead from a smack OD at 26. That's just the first 31 pages of Book 1, "Smashed and Smashing Icons." We're already deeper in the underbelly of our star-maker machinery---complete with sexual abuse, stage moms, crime, dope, deceit, color bars, turning tricks and madness---than all 250 pages of Ratliff, which covers the same historical time.
Like Trane's wailing, jarring, searching solos, Freilicher's multiple point-of-view narration refracts light, breaking it into colors, some of which we've yet to acknowledge are part of our common experience. So Freilicher packs his sentences with an emotional power that is simply bigger than its container. Like the mid-Trane of "Transition," Freilicher's seven protagonists cry out from the depths of unendurable agony, tragedy, bigotry, hypocrisy, abuse, cruelty, perversity, abandonment, loss, depravity, misunderstanding and hatred---a phenomenon that Artaud called "getting suicided by society." These seven, despite of/because of their race-sex-&-gender-pref, are also champions of talent, toughness, long suffering, humor and transcendence. Moreover, like Trane's "Alabama," one doesn't need to know that Dynamite Bob Chambliss blew up the Sixteenth Street Baptist church and killed four black children to know the sorrow emanating from Trane's tenor.
A note of warning: this book is beguiling, insidious! It eats from the inside not only safe towers of ivory and ebony but one's sense of American history and the politics of perception. For one thing, it turns what Ted Roszak called "the myth of objective consciousness" on its head. With a commanding writing style, both covertly under-the-radar and Capotely over-the-top, full of a signifyin' fury bold as Jimmy Baldwin and an outré wit ferocious as Michael Musto, Freilicher erases the reader's sense of polite distance and skins alive the subject/object duality! Like Trane after Miles, he has learned what notes not to play. His telegraphic style, which owes a great deal to the New American Poetics tradition, leaps in that serial-surreal combo that West coast poets particularly have used to such dramatic, satori-like effect.
7 Lives is even more unsettling and intuition-building because it comes to us in prose paragraphs. It just keeps coming. It's got the weight of the Whitman who nursed the Union soldiers to rent the holes in the one-size-fits-all, love-it-or-heave-it scream of the mainstream fabric. Stephen-Paul Martin (a writer, by the way, who has incorporated the spirit of Trane in his fiction, see especially his FC2 book, The Possibility of Music) writes on the back cover, "Relentlessly skilled at mixing humor with anger, Freilicher brings us to the place where biography becomes fiction becoming biography."
Add to that Freilicher's sardonic eye for the deadly detail but also a sense of proportion. Rather than wiping us out with more Hollyweird terror, Book 2, "Two Margarets," reviews bios of Transcendentalist revolutionary Margaret Fuller and birth control advocate/feminist Margaret Sanger. Once again, Freilicher, via montage, deftly examines their accomplishments against their personal issues with love-sex-partnership with a candor and a quality of care that reveals how deeply disturbed we are by sexual freedom, choice and difference. Fuller's influential circle included Emerson, Horace Greeley and Abolitionism and spread to England and Italy; Sanger's spokes connected the Wobblies, Socialists, Communists and the Birth Control League and took lovers like Havelock Ellis and H.G. Wells. Their 19th-into-20th-century adventures take the edge of suicide off our minds long enough to set up the knockout round, Book 3, "Hiding in the Light."
The bios are of activist Bayard Rustin and Duke Ellington's alter ego, Billy Strayhorn, two out-of-the-closet gay black men who shaped the struggle for civil rights, though often unnamed and unacknowledged. Rustin fared worse against the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, ie in '53 he did 60 days in an LA jail for a sexual act with two white men in a parked car near his hotel. For a more faint-hearted or uncertain human, this would be all she wrote, but Rustin adjusted. He was, among other things, the brains behind the '63 march on Washington which ended with King's "I Have a Dream." That same year he was called "The strategist without a movement" by Time.
A former member of the Young Communist League in the Forties, he was also a protégé of A. Phillip Randolph whose institute he later headed, a pacificist, conscientous objector (28 months behind bars), Quaker and original member of the War Resisters League, SCLC and CORE (he did a month stretch of hard labor in NC after the first freedom ride in '47). In addition he tutored Martin in Gandhian satyagraha while taking monstrous disrespect from conservatives who saw his open gay sexuality as compromising the Movement. However, tough as it is to digest the hypocrisy that engulfed Rustin throughout his life and work, no one could better set the stage for the secret and transcendent hero of 7 Lives, Billy Strays. Freilicher adds so much commentary to David Hadju's remarkable 1996 Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn that by the end of Book 3 all seven lives connect via the intersecting, influential circles of Hollywood-DC-Harlem.
Three Freilicher foci are particularly fascinating: his comparison of the lives of Rustin and Strayhorn; his background on the Logans and the Neal salon, the art circle Billy ran with; and his examination of the father-son elements in the complex relationship between Duke and Sweet Pea, especially the ways in which Ellington's stature protected Strays yet also jammed him up. It could be said that Duke, unique among band leaders, found ways to keep his players "loyal through liberation," ie he kept them in work and sponsored their individual projects. However, his reliance on Strays, who remained on call 24/7, is part of the uniqueness that was Billy Strayhorn.
By the time you get to the last page (with Billy's "Lush Life" lyrics written out), it's clear no one else could write "Chelsea Bridge" or "Blood Count" or "Daydream"---how sophisticated the harmonic structure of these tunes evoking not depression but depths of feeling not to be found in bubble-strum pop schlock. Tortured genius though he was, dead at 51 from the sauce and the cigarette, Strayhorn emerges as the most politically astute "invisible man" of his generation, a hero of Ellington's "freedom from fear, unconditionally, freedom from self-pity and freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he was better than his brother or neighbor," an inspired contributor to an inspired music.
@ Sunswumthru A Building by Bob Arnold, like The Unmaking of Americans: 7 Lives, which was published by San Diego City Works Press, a 501 (c) (3), has an interesting back story on its publication. Cid Corman, one of world poetry's best friends and an elder in the New American Poetry who published Olson and Creeley way back in the day, was set to publish it but passed away before he could. So Charles Sandy, a friend of Corman, took the project on and carried it through, his first and only book, and it's a beauty, with an inviting photograph of the building on the front cover beckoning the reader in for a visit.
If Freilicher's narrative is akin to the Trane of screams and cries, Arnold's more on the gentle side of Coltrane, ie the ballads. Just as the seven portraits in The Unmaking tell their real stories, the photographs that introduce Arnold's prose text---of the cottage, the shot of the poet with the Green Mountains behind, his tool belts and the backhouses surrounded by woods---really contextualize this "book of wilderness building with its close-to-earth perspective and a deep appreciation of those whom from he learned his own skills" (from the front matter).
Arnold's eye is certainly on the transmission of skills passed through the generations, and as with Wallace and Freilicher, he is a writer of place. So the photos also double as witness to the landscape of southern Vermont, a valley of long winters and river-bursting springs, as lived half off-the-grid in backwoods Yankee style. Unlike the typical American home with its driveway, garage full of labor saving devices, furnace in the basement and Home Depot nearby, Arnold and family live so deep in the woods that he might as well be living in an earlier century, neighbor to Helen and Scott Nearing. Not quite a Luddite, Arnold is intentional, romantic yet pragmatic, woodstove and computer, a builder from a family of builders, five generations in the lumber business, a stone mason, woodcutter, tree trimmer, landscaper, lawn cutter, snow shoveler and the one-man-band the affluent hire to fix all kinds of sink-or-swim situations.
Being "a poet who whistles at his task," as Thomas A. Clark writes on the cover, Arnold knows every tool tells a story. His tale about jacks, for example, starts out under sagging joists in a rotting basement with only inches of crawl space. It's a pure life-or-death drama, all adrenaline suspense. Set in the context of a lonely road with very few homes and fewer cars, the jacks and their ability to do their job take on an existential dimension. Stripped away from the strip mall, the short cuts and super-duper tools seen on a show like "This Old House," Arnold has reason to sing the praises of his most basic rudimentary devices: wedges and mauls, bellows and snowshoes, levels and peaveys, axes and chainsaws. They are allies that have saved his life, brought in the dough, been with him though the years, shown him the value of using the right tool in the right place and now teach his son in a lineage that goes back for generations along these New England rivers and mountains.
A companion volume to On Stone: a builder's note book (click on www.longhouse.com for a review of that earlier volume), Arnold's memory is like his tool shed: neat, ordered and right where he left it, ready to take the reader to building sites or a walk along the river. Sunswumthru is also loaded with twenty detailed drawings by Laurie Clark, bright moments sprinkled throughout Arnold's descriptions of the implements in his toolshed (including chair, ash pan, typewriter, ladder, stencil brush, bread board, book and soup spoon).
Clark's work is more than a visual aid! It's a labor of love, which is the secret theme of this book. A snapshot cannot capture what these on-site illustrations exquisitely render. Time slows down. The tool's simplicity is revealed as its greatest strength, a kind of virtue, a reminder that someone was here before you. One lingers a little longer on the beauty of craft. Word to Ratliff: this is also where the revolution has gone---into them thar hills, under tall trees, on the back forty, doing that voo doo that you do so well; not televised or iTuned but still in vinyl, brought to the job site with a portable record player blasting Coltrane's Live in Seattle, echoing off the mountains and providing a way into a day splitting logs in the woodshed.
Before too long, Arnold's tales of his tools take on a more ancient character. We see not the usual suspect, "XXth century schizoid man" (King Crimson), but homo faber, the aspect of our nature that got us here on top of the food chain, the original human as tool maker, our species' fascination with thumb touching pad of pinkie, complete with evolving brain to conceptualize tools that extend our reach into making a world. There is great value, in our post-industrial time, in "owning" what makes our species dominant, especially now that we have fully entered the moment where our own tools (you choose: bombs, pollution, radioactivity, global warming, Republicans) threaten to end the whole enchilada. Owning our toolmaker heritage suggests the possibility of stewardship in a realm overwhelmed by violence and in need of reciprocity and balance. It seems our sights are set on making extinct every predator we cannot domesticate (lion, tiger, bear) as well as every pollinator (honey bee, butterfly, hummingbird) that brings us fruit and nuts and stuff we're supposed to eat more of.
So it is not casual that Arnold yarns and yammers and weaves tales about lore and craft into his appreciation of the total story. His writing style owes everything to his life as a stone mason, that is to say it is balanced, precise, economic; his sentences are smooth, well built; his phrasings have a natural fit, the ease of the thing itself appearing in his paragraphs. Like Coltrane, a technophile famous for whittling his reeds down to get the right sound, Arnold's concerns with craft reflect a dedication. There's a sense that skill acquisition is a lifetime learning experience, that appreciating the technical qualities and the range of one's instrument is a lover's delight. So attentiveness and an eye on the future become part of the narrative.
His eye on that future is the subject of the story within the story, of building a house with his son in the year he elected home schooling over one more round of the local high school which was killing his appreciation of reading and writing. This is where the telling takes on a deeper grip while the ground underneath the narrator grows more unsure. When father sees his own impossible father reflected in his impossible responses to his son, the writing approaches a nobility that would make great-grandfathers smile.
@ This in-the-tradition style goes even further, and the connections between the New American Poetry and jazz become even clearer, with So There: Steve Swallow with Robert Creeley, with Steve Kuhn and the Cikada Quartet. The project, begun as a collaboration with Swallow, became a homage to Creeley (born 1926, a year before Trane) when he passed away in '05. Opening with the two quatrains of "Oh No," Creeley's craggy voice is front and center :
After that last syllable, pianist Kuhn plays a run of bright notes. Underneath him, the Cikada String Quartet---Henrik Hannisdal and Odd Hannisdal, violins; Marek Konstantynowicz, viola; Morten Hannisdal, violoncello---weaves musical figures that "house" or "welcome" Creeley's spoken verse. When Swallow walks the bass, strange, haunted and beautiful sounds emerge from strings and piano to create a sonic rapport with Creeley's terse lyric.
If you wander far enough
you will come to it
and when you get there
they will give you a place to sit
for yourself only, in a nice chair,
and all your friends will be there
with smiles on their faces
and they will likewise all have places.
It's not a question of framing Creeley's language, which stands alone, in any case; it's not even a matter of who plays what on which track. It's how both words and music combine to deliver a unique performance that triggers associations, suggests new meanings and develops a more intuitive kind of listening. Moreover, it swings. The blues elements are rich and vital. Composer Swallow and pianist Kuhn (who played with Trane way back when) really stretch out with a lyrical intensity that makes for quite the tribal love fest, bigger and brighter than the sum of its parts.
What more could a projective poet like Creeley, steeped in be-bop (he often wrote to Bud Powell), ask for? Swallow's been on to Creeley's unique voice and line since Don Allen's antho first appeared in 1960. In fact, Swallow is a Creeley fan! He brought Kuhn on board with heavyweights pianist Lyle Mays, saxophonist Dave Liebman and the magnificent singer Sheila Jordan to collaborate on his first Creeley project for ECM, Home, in the late Seventies. He chose work from Creeley's oeuvre based upon on how sing-able they were; it turns out they were unanimously love poems.
For his next shot at Creeley, So There---recorded in West Shokan, NY, and Kunsthogskolen, Oslo---he said, "The poems kept showing me how to approach this. Not just the rhythms in Bob's speech, but the colors and atmospheres implicit in the poems as well.…an aural landscape gradually emerged…and it kept suggesting string quartets to me." What a way to compose: to let the emerging composition do the suggesting, not the clock! Note to Ratliff: this is also where the Coltrane musical revolution has gone, ie into collaborations that eliminate antiquated jazz critic categories: Third Stream folks finding room for great poetry in their string-rich, jazz-classical fusion. Moreso, of all those avant-gardies from the Sixties, Swallow has played with them all, white and black, from Paul and Carla Bley, Gary Burton and Jimmy Guiffre to George Russell with Eric Dolphy. I'd call that permission to speak. Finally, like the classic Trane quartet, Swallow and Kuhn have that rapport that comes from playing together over many years as well as with the Cikada musicians. With everyone having big ears for the quirky delivery of a Creeley, it's heaven. Even the booklet is a beauty, nothing but eighteen killer poems and two goofy head shots.
@ Traveller, Arthur Kell's nine new compositions from Fresh New Sound Talent, represents another musical direction that has blossomed from the roots of those Coltrane mid-Sixties experiments. Call it world music or just jazz meeting the many musical traditions of the globe. In particular, like Miles and Trane and the writing of Wayne Shorter with Davis and later with Weather Report, Kell has absorbed North Africa and southern Iberia and that warm, soulful, Moorishly melodic flavor.
Like Trane's Ole and Miles's Sketches of Spain, Kell's songs on Traveller start out as tunes but soon become adventures. Recorded in Barcelona, the writing for his quartet---which features Gorka Benitez on tenor sax and flute, Steve Cardenas on electric guitar, Joe Smith on drums and Kell on bass---gives the band plenty of room to explore the nuances. Both Benitez (a la Trane and Shorter) and Cardenas (a la McLaughlin and Metheny) play long, beautiful lines while Kell's bass work anchors their extrapolations. He's not just the root or the rock; he's the ocean underneath. Smith plays with a swinging abandon reminiscent of Elvin Jones but not so loud that you cannot hear everyone.
The band is piano-less, and yet the center holds without the harmonic fix because Smith kicks ass and takes no prisoners behind Kell's steady hand. It's flow that the band creates and celebrates. There's plenty of space, which turns out just right as solos take flight, weaving and interweaving their story with a Sufi's grace, the four elements of the band combining and re-combining sonic tone poems. Cardenas, with his trippy punctuation and spooky sojourns on electric guitar, is as liable at any time to play the melody as is Benitez, equally nutty and inventive on tenor, with a golden-glow tone. By the way: check Benitez's tasty flute on "Hermeto" alongside his tenor playing. Like the early Trane of Giant Steps, from the first note they're off and swinging. Anyway, who plays what when and where is perfectly, exquisitely up for grabs throughout.
Like Trane, Kell is quite a sponge as well as a world citizen. Well known as a New York-based bassist, he has worked with pianist Peggy Stern and trombonist Arthur Baron, among others, and with Traveller he has my vote for a State Department tour. Note to Dubya: send Kell and his band, In'shallah, to redeem that American feeling from Venezuela to Afghanistan. He's been here, there and everywhere, not as a tourist but as a pilgrim.
Kell tells how utterly unpredictable musical composition can be. In the booklet he recalls how each tune came to be and it gives us a sense of how many miles and countries he ears have spanned---from playing at Sofia's in NYC; from the djailo (summer pasture) feast (mare's milk into beer) in Kyrgyzstan; from a revisit to Niger; from the phrase, crinkum crankum (twists and turns); from Paulo Coehlho's The Alchemist (a world classic but not in USA); from the Brasilian composer, Hermeto Pascal; from his mom; from the Catalan countryside; and finally the Brooklyn apartment building he lives in with something ghostlike fooling in the halls.
Kell's music---earth-friendly, touched by grace, spirit driven---is played with love by his quartet whose members are having a tangible good time. By the way, they're terrific in concert. That's how I came to buy the CD.
@ I tried to sing in my grandfather's voice is a spoken word CD by William Bradd. The front cover photograph, taken by the author, depicts a snowy rural winter scene from the primal Canadian North country, province of Ontario, above Lake Superior, Bradd's ancestral homeland, which he celebrates particularly in Stage 1, "Kingdom of Old Men," which was recorded at a reading in Mendocino, CA.
His prologue, "The things that are lost most quickly are things that become forgotten," sets the tone for eight rambling remembrances into a mytho-poetic, pre-Cambrian past. Like Coltrane's folk art/fine art seam, Bradd mixes ancient outback lore with a disarmingly innocent and musical delivery. Sure, his vowel pronunciations locate him north of the Great Plains, but he's got the voice of a grandfather, too, especially if we think of the word as meaning both his parent's father and a tribal ancestor. Like Trane, whose titles tip one off to the Middle Passage of African-Americans, Bradd traces deep roots in order to deliver an alternate take on "Civilization, ho" (Firesign Theatre) as the builders from the south construct bridges and a railroad, among other "improvements." They come "none too soon" and change everything so that the locals end up "locked into the penitentiary of choice."
There's poetry in every phrase of his narrative, a sense of music and rhythm driving the long line, which is full of asides and a clipped mid-western shorthand that knows it needn't spell it all out. It's funny; I love the alchemy that takes place with band and spoken word, but Bradd achieves an effortless listen-ability through his solo reading. In Stage 2, "Stalks and Sticks," recorded from the Wild Sage Poetry Show on KZYX-FM, Philo, CA, we find him in even better form. His introductions of each piece of writing reveal his sense of humor and cause us to consider the difference between text and conversation. His text is a kind of rarefied and compressed convo, full of a crafted momentum that glides and guides the words through the paces of his long breath.
Halfway through this section of shorter work, he sings the short ditty, "Whenever rain comes," and it sets up track 21 with its powerful repeating line, "There will be a Holocast," which weaves together many of his themes and reminds you, like Trane, this work has its eye on Apocalypse, if for no other reason than the need for renewal. The section's most fun moment (theologians beware) is the brilliant "Bear," a parable about the meaning of that word in places where, like Hawaii, there are no bears. The final piece in the section is the six-part concierto, "The Big Wind Makes the Wild Things Fly." It weaves together in pure Bradd brilliance human dreams with geese, rivers, horses, leaves, memories, ants, melodies, cows, strangers, stones, metaphysics, dogs, the king of thunder, dirt roads, apple trees, kids, foxes, Hank Williams, elephants and an otherwordly reach from the dead, undying and unborn.
Stage 3, from a later Wild Sage Poetry Show on KZYX-FM, starts with a tracing out of ghosts before delivering "Calls Myself," a fast moving, white-water river of words, using the repeating line, "Call me Papa John," to great Whitman-like effect. They segue into the four-part finale, "A Man's Unfinished Dream." Bradd recalls his adventures in ice fishing outside of Toronto where fishermen like his Uncle Dudley dig holes in the ice and swim from one hole to another. Right away the diving takes on a metaphoric element as the sea becomes both entrance and exit to life and death. By the time Dudley dreams of Aunt Enid, the word order of his incantatory phrases keeps shifting and re-shifting until that slow bubble at the bottom of the lake rises from its depths.
It's brilliant business throughout, and like the other CDs, it passes the rubber-meets-the-road test, ie equally listener-friendly, whether in the car or alone in a room. The only heads-up is that the CD can only be purchased at the Mendocino post office box.
@ The cover of ScariBari is the tip off: this is gonna be nuts. Never mind the title or the tags: Two Sisters Inc. or Two Baris, One Mind…and a Bass. The artwork hits first. Two gleaming psychedelically edged baritone saxophones face each other like an Ira Cohen photo or a Rorschach Test under which a house cat is yawning. So from the get-go, we know this blues trio of low notes might have citizenship on other planets, but can we travel the galaxy on the tentacle reach of their sound?
Sure enough, right outta the gate, it's seven minutes of "Late Late," a haunted blues creep in search of a David Lynch film. Full of bewitching blowing as Dave Sewelson and Claire Daly invoke the darkest hour before the dawn in Gothic-rich choruses that just keep building, it's clear, however, from the first note that we're in the very sure hands of Dave Hoftsra on bass, the trio's secret agent. He holds the form while keeping time so impeccably that neither horn needs a drummer. A band missing drum kit, piano and brass could spell disaster for a group with less experience, but with these three it's a most liberating effect, especially when Daly and Sewelson swing in the baritone's lower register. Every note, whether held, bent or blasted, is clear and eternal and right on time. Furthermore, no one gets in the other's way, which is particularly amazing as they don't just play the blues; they deconstruct the parts, improvise at will, play melody or harmony as it suits them, quote other tunes, probe the edges and find the funk underneath, as Rahsaan put it. They're certainly relaxed and having fun.
Track 2, the title piece, a bluesy bit of deadpan from the castle crypt, exemplifies this tendency. Although both horns are obviously baritones, you don't need the liner notes ("Thanks to stereo, Sewelson is on the left and Daly is on the right"), to know who's playing what. Their styles, though entirely complimentary, are instantly identifiable. Like Ratliff's well-made point about the classic Trane quartet, ie, they got so telepathic on the stand from playing so many gigs, these three have been playing together in one band or another---The Microscopic Septet, People Like Us, among others---for close to twenty years now. So when they come to a juncture, anything can happen---and does! They're full of surprises, too.
On the more uptempo "Zsa Zsa"---which sounds like a schmedley of three of Bird's blues, "Chi Chi," "Si Si" and "Blue for Alice"---the trio is at their most inventive, their be-bop roots delightfully on display. Hofstra steps out with a bass break that is pure–edge-of-the-seat, and the baris take multiple flights, sometimes simultaneously, and it all comes together in pure resolve on that last note. Sewelson's "RazzBari" is next, a catchy tune, the kind of melody these three love to swing with and develop. It starts out in finger pop with Hofstra playing the melody on bass before the horns take turns pulling in the abstract and turning it out into soulful, playful expression.
So just when you think you can predict what they are going to do next, up comes their cover of "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries." Sung by all three in a vocal trade reminiscent of Hendricks, Lambert and Ross, they take the lyrics apart, with vocal departures and spoken word commentaries as "livin' and laughin' or "It's the baris (not berries)" become the refrain. We see their approach to word improvisation is no different from their musical improv: they cut the syllables/beats into different sizes, noodle around combining and re-combining until they explore all the possibilities. At one point, they pare down the sound to its most basic parts, and it's like a classical composition from the Estonian Arvo Parte---ruminating, meditative, Russian Orthodox medicinal---before they put the lyric/melody back together.
Just when you think they've covered the waterfront and can squeeze no more humor out of the blues scale, Sewelson, deep in a dream, possibly existing in another dimension, steps out in a bad-ass vocal stylin' on "I Almost Lost My Mind." He proves that singing and playing the blues, no matter how seriously or comically, is our best hope against getting the blues. I saw this up close and personal when I caught Two Sisters at a small club on the Lower East Side earlier in the year. In a room that seated no more than thirty people, thirty people sat as the trio played a set that managed to have us all laughing and tapping our feet. Talk about a band in search of a mid-life crisis, it was a bowl of cherries from first note to last. Sewelson kept joking about this tiny venue being their only NYC show, but Norman Hewitt, the astute artistic director for the Blues to Bop Music Fest in Lugano, Switzerland, was in the house and signed them on the spot to play that date later that summer. Lucky for all of us, they went into the studio and made this CD so they would have some music to sell at the festival.
It ain't no thing but a chicken wing, surely, but it drove home to me the living idea about this music. Note to Ratliff: don't sweat your record collection. The music is in the venue, and ya needn't sweat the size of the audience. As long as there are places to play, whether clubs and concerts, jams and hangs, studios and festivals, and musicians to play them, the Trane legacy will live on even more inclusively than we could ever know.