From: Jim Macnie
Thanks Nate, hi guys,
I asked to go last because of impending life duties (job and fam), and I appreciate being accommodated here at chez Chinen. Being the caboose has allowed me to not only learn what you guys are thinking, but be reminded of the year’s twists and turns. Win-win, for sure, and it feels good to be back in the round-robin opinion scenario a bunch of us did via email a decade ago.
Nate started with farewells, and each of you have spent a graf or two bidding adieu to various musicians and venues, but as time marches on I’ve made a promise not to lament too strongly about such events, especially entertainment rooms. The morning the WTC fell and our family (like many New Yorkers) saw it collapse right across the river from us, I wrote a piece for the Boston Phoenix that concluded with the sentences “Anything can happen. Anything can happen. Anything can happen. Practice feeling vulnerable. After today, it’s all up for grabs.”
I’m holding to it. People — like Brubeck, like La Roca, like Ware — pass. Nothing, not the élan of Jazz At Storyville, the tumult of Go See The World, or the majesty of Basra is going to change that. Of course it’s easier to absorb when the cats are of a certain age; the loss of Peralta (or any 22-year-old) does give one a certain pause. But without sounding like either Johnny Existentialist or an overly glib cynic, I’ll just say we just need to move on. We always need to move on. They’d want us to, and we’ll be happier if we do.
So: the closing of clubs from Harlem to Billyburg should be greeted with a hearty “Where next?,” a query that the jazz spirit has had a creative answer to since forever. I remember when the beloved Tonic took the fall a few years ago. Yes, it was a bastion of creativity and a mildly iconic lab that made its dent in a post-Knitting Factory (a truly iconic lab) world. But I scratched my head over the kvetching, knowing the music would find new addresses. It has, so I’d rather celebrate the arrival of artist-run outposts like BK’s trifecta of Shapeshifter Lab, iBeam, and the Douglas Street Collective space (oops, almost forgot Roulette’s new palace) — ongoing homes to artists on a regular basis in the tattered Brooklyn nabe of Gowanus. I bet they’re similar to the “non-trad DIY shows” Gio gets behind in D.C., and I hope they’re representative of the spots that will arise to replace Peter’s dear Café Paradiso. It’s in each of these places that I found myself falling into a realm that Nate also brought up in his kickoff post: the state of “renewed wonder.”
That’s exactly the kind of thing you’ve gotta keep close to your heart as the years trickle by. Sometimes it arrives via simple gestures (Dave King’s maniacal smile, Joe Morris’ furrowed brow, or the pounding of Terry Adams’ feet on the floor), sometimes it’s due to more elaborate gambits. They can occasionally be born of formulaic refinement (don’t that new Bad Plus disc sound sweet?), but the action that made that phrase resonate with me when I read it on Monday is a show that I promised myself I wasn’t going to ever try to put into words for fear of spoiling the magic, a Ben Gerstein / Tyshawn Sorey confab in mid-August that found the trombonist and drummer investing deeply in the definition of play and spending a good 90 minutes being as entertaining as possible while climbing to the top of the peak of the A in the term “ART.”
The scene: as patrons approached the open doors of iBeam, a record player plopped on the sidewalk greeted them. Spinning was and LP entitled Sounds Of A Southern Swamp (apologies if I’m off by a word or two — I refused to take notes that night). Those sounds were crickets and peepers and frogs. The Gowanus has a spooky vibe to start, so the atmosphere was duly enhanced. Inside: four people. Patrons I guess, though there was no one collecting any dough. Tyshawn finished putting his ride cymbal on the stand, rattled and crashed it a bit to get started, and they were off, switching instruments, taking turns at the piano, playing the floor, conflating the abstract and the commonplace, rambling through the environment and doing everything in their heads to generate sounds seldom attributed to their axes. It was like a brook trickling forward, bending and splashing. After a bit Gerstein put on another LP (birds, if I recall) and decided he liked the summer night’s air.
And so it was: both of them were suddenly playing the cobblestones on the street, the trunk of Sorey’s sedan, the metal protective gratings of the factories next door. A pair of 70somethings who had sat through the bulk of the show offered a commentary. “This is like a Cassavetes movie,” said one; his mate nodded. A gaggle of teens got a kick out of Gerstein chasing them down the road while blowing ‘bone at their butts a la Harpo Marx, and a couple audience members were worried when he laid down in the street (still honking) as a car quickly sped toward that section of the block (as serious as your life, indeed). We were less concerned when the drummer heaved a cracked old cymbal over his shoulder. The world was frighteningly silent as it rolled for a bit on the sidewalk while making that circular shimmer sound that coins do when they spin to the ground. As all these micro events unfolded, one thing became more and more obvious: camaraderie. These dudes were deeply on the same page and every maneuver they made was musical. Shit like that get the synapses firing a certain way, and though there are precedents, it seemed novel enough for 11231 in 2012.
So back to that camaraderie. It was the chemistry between these guys that made the music worthwhile. I guess they could have done that the same thing and have had it fall flat — free improv ain’t easy to pull off, right? I’m sure all of us have sat through ho-hum evenings of squeaks and squawks, and not every wobbly rail can claim to provide a true excursion. Ultimately that kind of sharing is what I’m needing to encounter before I can go home a happy listener these days: players passing the ball around with grace and ardor, and the quality of the results being unmistakable.
It was there between Jim Hall and Adam Nussbaum at a somewhat recent Birdland show. It was there between Lee Konitz and Bill Frisell at a Blue Note hit in early fall, it was there at a Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert at the Barclays Center a couple weeks ago (yep, after at least three passages that reminded me of Trane’s Crescent, I’m filing those wrinkled danger birds under jazz now). Goosebumps were generated by each of the above, but not because I liked the improvisers’ stylistic approach or chosen musical vernacular over another, but because the connections so obviously crackled. Jeremy Udden and Mike Baggetta were responsible for a swooping duet that has stuck in my mind, and Josh Sinton and Tomas Fujiwara made hay with some Morse code mutterings while rightly celebrating Steve Lacy’s canon a few weeks back as well.
I thought of all this while in the middle of a literal bucket brigade made by bunch of friends helping me, my wife and kids remove a few thousand gallons of the New York Harbor from our basement the day after Hurricane Sandy’s October 29th arrival. As Nate alluded to in the first installment, we and numerous neighbors in the low-lying lands of Red Hook, Brooklyn got hit hard by the “Frankenstorm.”
A team of eight (let’s call it an octet) made a big dent in a cellar full of water by applying coordination and stamina to the process of sharing. No, passing off plastic tubs of slop water ain’t exactly jazz, but while moving that stuff from hand to hand, I swear I flashed on everything from Luciana Souza and Romero Lubambo sharing time and space on Duos III; to the revolving-door exchanges between Eugene Chadbourne and Jon Irabagon on a Bob Wills tune in Bushwick this summer; to the mind-meld of Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen while saluting John Lennon with Frisell on the Newport Jazz Fest Stage.
Coordination and chemistry. Sharing and stamina. A little insight and finesse, too — that always helps get you down the road. That’s what I was hunting for this year. Greg seemed to find it in Detroit, Montreal, and Johannesburg. Peter came across it in Ottawa. If we all stop fretting about that boorish tradition/innovation conundrum I think we’ll discover a lot more of it around. The “open-armed symbiosis” Gio spotlights IS in full fruition these days. How else would we get to something as glorious as Vijay Iyer’s spin on Flying Lotus and the way it could’ve been part of Ellington’s Piano In The Foreground? Passing the bucket to you guys. What artists taught your chemistry class this year?
Oh, before I go, in the next couple of days let’s promise to chat about why people were teasing Diana Krall about opening her lingerie drawer for her Glad Rag Doll cover outfit, and how great Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell sound together in Snakeoil — no frilly undies needed for those guys (I think).
talk in a minute,