Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Showdown Is Here

Just finished Saul Bellow's The Victim. Quickly taken in by Bellow's second novel, a novella really, that he called his phD. The masterworks came later in his opinion; immediately after with maybe his best-known work Augie March, but also with later masterpieces like Herzog. All I know is this is a beautiful, concise, and subtle story.

Bellow's main characters are Asa Leventhal and Kirby Albee, the man who appears out of his past, claiming to have been wronged by Leventhal. Albee proceeds to impose himself on Leventhal's life and play off Leventhal's feelings of guilt for offenses real and imagined. Even though he makes anti-semitic comments to Leventhal, he plays mind games to the point that Leventhal starts wondering if maybe he did wrong Albee somehow.

I've always been a fan of books about doubles. Shelley's Frankenstein, Dostoevsky's The Double, Nabokov's Despair, Saramago's The Double. The Victim isn't completely in this tradition, but Leventhal's struggle with Albee reminds me of those books. He just can't shake him, and in the process his whole life seems to come apart at the seams. Leventhal says "the showdown is here" at one point when he's about to confront Albee about something. But in fact the showdowns continue, and Leventhal ends up housing Albee, giving him money, and rationalizing away Albee's anti-semitic remarks. He almost agrees to try and influence someone he knows to give Albee a job because Albee convinces him that being Jewish will help influence a Jewish employer.

Picked up The Victim for a quarter used at Black Cat Books in Manitou Springs, CO last week. Glad i did. It wasn't exactly an uplifting read, but it sure reminded me what an elegant writer Saul Bellow is.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Touch the Water, Touch the Wind, Touch the 70s

Here in the mountain town of Manitou Springs, the Hyde to Colorado Springs' Jekyll. Manitou Springs is like a Colorado version of a smaller Sedona. Nice gig the the other night in Taos, and nice one last night at a place called Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts in Co Springs. Talk about a lonely torch - an arts foundation in a town run by the religious right and the military. Yikes! On our way down to Santa Fe for gig three, should be cool. Such a stunning drive between Colorado and New Mexico. Staring out the window actually feels like a productive thing to do. The music felt great last night. Mark Weaver's tunes are a joy to play and take just a couple readings to really get off the page. Last night was the first time these new tunes felt internalized. The music had that playing-itself out-of-body quality that simply cannot happen every gig, no matter how much preparation goes into it. It's those moments that are most special to me as a musician.

Amoz Oz' Touch the Water, Touch the Wind has been enjoyable. Fantastical in that early70s kind of way. Heidegger and kibbutizim and magical realism and levitation and poetics all rolled up into less than 200 pages. A NY times review from 1974 (when the English translation came out) says "the result, though beguiling is an exquisite sketch for a grand novel." I tend to agree. there is something ephemeral to the novella, as though he wrote it in a hurry. Ends up feeling like a companion to Singer's "The Magician of Lublin" rather than "Shadows on the Hudson," a small, lovely book rather than a massive architecture.

On the subject of touching the 70s, I may as well get in on the excellent discussions initiated by Dave Douglas, Ethan Iverson, Taylor Ho Bynum, Nate Chinen and others on creative music masterworks since 1970. I'll jump ahead to 1989 because its whats on my mind: Barry Guy and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra recording on Intakt "Harmos." One long 43-min Guy composition full of fantastic large ensemble writing, outstanding improvisations (Radu Malfatti has ostensibly played the same amount of notes since this recording that he played in his blistering solo here?), and real cohesive start-to-finish music-making. Had the pleasure of working with Barry last summer in Halifax. We were the two composers-in-residence at the Sonic Courage Festival organized by Paul Cram. We played his Witch Gong Game II, and it was a treat to get an insight into how he orchestrates his music on the fly. Would like to talk to Barry the next time I see him about how its been for him as a British free improviser who also has a large body of work as a composer. The Brit free improvisers sometimes seem wary to combine improvisation and composition. There also don't seem to be too many ensembles where there is a clear leader, where an ensemble plays the compositions that the leader brings. Interesting how Barry has made a long career of leading this all-star ensemble (albeit not just with Brits) and putting written material in front of all of these world-class improvisers.

Simon H. Fell is another Brit free improviser who is a fantastic composer. His recording "Thirteen Rectangles" (Bruce's Fingers, 2001) is another decade or so along from "Harmos." An excellent document of a killer band (Gail Brand and Alex Ward - what a trombone-clarinet pair!) who went into the studio and recorded this monster in one take! I've enjoyed very much playing with Simon in improvised contexts, and knew of his reputation as an accomplished composer for improvisers. This is the first of Simon's composed/improvised recordings that I've checked out deeply, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The thematic material is exhilirating (check out some of the clarinet/piano writing!), the band as mentioned is airtight and the overall effect is one of seamlessness, for my money priority #1 when composing for improvisers.

Interesting side-note: both Barry and Simon are ex-pat Brits. Barry lives in Switzerland, Simon in France. Hmmm.....

Monday, January 15, 2007

Shadows on the Hudson and Other Notes

Monday evening here and i'm getting ready to split for a short New Mexico/Colorado tour with Mark Weaver's band Brassum with Dan Clucas on cornet and Mike Vlatkovich on trombone. Looking forward to brassumn'ing. Mark writes great tunes and organizes a nice tour each time. Green chili here i come...

Been on an Isaac Bashevis Singer kick of late. Found The Magician of Lublin in East Village Books on 8th st. while hanging with British pianist/improviser/raconteur Steve Beresford back in December. Enjoyed it very much so picked up Shadows on the Hudson while in the Bay Area over the holidays with Sara. A beautiful, multi-faceted story about Jews living in late 40s New York City.

I first got into Singer when my friend Adam Rudolph gave me an old paperback copy of The Family Moskat to take with me to Gambia back in late 2002. An early Singer novel filled with life - it really sustained me in the first weeks of getting used to life in West Africa. For some reason I hadn't gone back to Singer all this time. Anyways, now Gimpel the Fool and other stories will accompany me to New Mexico, as will an early Amos Oz book called Touch the Water, Touch the Wind. I think I got into a headspace of reading Singer and Oz after being in Poland in the fall. It was my first trip to Eastern Europe and felt a strange mix of at-home-ness and other-ness.

Lovely gig last night with the Low Trio last night, with Ben Gerstein and Jose Davila. Tony Malaby, Angie Sanchez and Tom Rainey played after. They sounded fantastic. Dee Pop puts on a great series at Jimmy's every Sunday. Check him out at www.freestylejazz.com

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Just had a rehearsal with my Low Trio, a new group with Ben Gerstein on trombone and Jose Davila on tuba. We worked through seven new pieces. Just listening to the minidisc of the rehearsal. Sounds great. What a pleasure to work with these guys, to have everyone shape the material, and to have what's on the page come to life in ways that are different each time. We play tomorrow night at Dee Pop's series at Jimmy's in the East Village. Should be fun. www.freestylejazz.com

well, here goes

i've been reading friends' and colleague' blogs for a little while now and figured i'd try it out. lets see what happens.