CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people, on the Left, ranging from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this writer, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Sunday, June 23, 2013

INTERVIEW: John Pietaro interviewed by "Levure Litteraire" magazine (Europe)


Levure littéraire  European arts magazine

INTERVIEW: JOHN PIETARO (USA)
by Erika Dagnino (Italia)


ED: John Pietaro is a New York activist musician. He plays vibraphone, xylophone, drumkit, frame drums, hand drums, percussion, voice. He has performed with artists including Alan Ginsberg, Karl Berger, Fred Ho, Arturo O’Farril, Salim Washington, John Zorn, Pete Seeger, Amina Baraka, Blaise Siwula, Ras Moshe, Cheryl Pyle, Elodie Lauten, Carsten Radke, Rudresh Mahanthapa, and many more. Pietaro directs the ensembles RADIO NOIR (http://www.reverbnation.com/radionoir) , THE DISSIDENT ARTS ORCHESTRA, and THE RED MICROPHONE, a quartet of revolutionary musicians. He also performs with KARL BERGERS IMPROVISERS ORCHESTRA and free-lances in NYC. He is the founder of THE DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL and has spoken on arts activism at Left Forum and other venues. Pietaro writes for Z Magazine and many other progressive journals and wrote a chapter for the Harvey Pekar/Paul Buhle book SDS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (2007 Hill and Wang). He is currently writing an extensive history of protest arts and a book about the No Wave movement, and completed a volume of contemporary proletarian fiction. 
Here we talk with Pietaro about what the Dissident  Arts Festival represents in a collective situation. We look at this in the current struggle for freedom of the individual even within the goal of building a network of progressive forces. There is the need to value one’s  individual sensibility and reality and dreams ( that of course are part of reality) in a world that seems to be going downward – and wants to keep to the people in the lowest common denominator , where the individual seems to be nonexistent and sometimes the society seems to become a system to put each one at a standard level to make the characteristic of each person banal in the name of homologation.

JP: I first conceived of the idea for the Dissident Arts Festival in 2006, after enduring years of the Bush presidency and dealing with the fallout of his right-wing policies. By day I work as a labor organizer, so I saw the effects of this conservative, anti-worker administration close-up. The National Labor Relations Board had been decimated by this regime and he and other conservatives were doing their best to defame unions whenever possible. The wealthy were getting tax breaks as the middle- and working-class were being cast aside. Bush was an incompetent, a failed businessman who openly befriended the kings of corporate America—the very force that had been greedily built up by the right-wing and were especially supported in those Bush years.  We were engaged in an unlawful war, citizens were being spied on, social service programs were being slashed, women’s rights were being threatened, the poor were vilified and there was a terrible divisiveness throughout the country. As an artist of conscience as well as a Leftist, I recognized the need to speak up through radical creativity. I reached out to a variety of musicians as well as poets and guest speakers to create that first Festival . At the time many topical singers were involved, invoking the great body of work of the folk-protest movement, but jazz musicians were also present as were rock balladeers. Over the years the scope of the Festival has gone increasingly avant garde and while there were still some sing-songwriters involved this year, most of the artists were those who hold a presence in the free jazz and new music world. The 2012 Festival was truly the best one yet and it occurred in two venues, one in Greenwich Village and one in Brooklyn. Our reach grows further and the goal is to unify more and more artists—as well as audience members—under a collective umbrella of radical music.

ED: Here it can be interesting to connect and recall one of the latest interviews, in 1975, of the Italian intellectual, writer and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini who talked about his film taken from the Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, but set during the Republic of Salò in 1944-1945.
In some points of the interview the Italian filmmaker declared that “today’s ideal is consumerism” – there he was talking about Italy  in particular – “there is an enormous group extending from Milano to Bologna, it includes Rome and spreads to the South. It is an homologating civilization that make everything the same. So it is clear that the barriers fall that small group disband….a consumer ideology, you don’t…instead of having a flag, the clothes they wear are their flag. Some of the means and some of the external phenomenal have changed but in practice, it is a depauperation of individuality which is disguised through its valorization. […] ‘Permissive’ societies permit a few things, and only those things can be done.[..] Today 1975 it is a power that manipulates the bodies in a horrible way, it has nothing to envy to of Himmler’s or Hitler’s manipulation. It manipulates them , transforming their conscience, in the worst way, establishing new values which are alienating and false. The values of consumerism, which accomplish what Marx called genocide of the living, real, previous cultures. […] ‘I lower my head in the name of God’ is already a great phrase. While now, the consumer does not even know he lowers his head, to the contrary he stupidly believes he has not lowered it and that he has won his rights.[…]”.
Can you tell us some thoughts about these themes?

 John Pietaro, frame drum, with Karl Berger’s Quartet: Karl Berger, piano, Ingrid Sertso, voice, Ken Filiano, bass. Dissident Arts Festival 2012, Brecht Forum NYC (Photo by Cheryl Pyle)


JP: Sadly, it is often the goal of any government to secure some kind of control over its citizenry. Sometimes this is done by brute, oppressive force as in fascism. Other times it is done via a bastardization of a unifying philosophy: Stalin manipulated Marxism for his own sense of glory and gain. In the USA we have seem a homogenization of the populace at various points and through various means. The dictates of the fashion industry are a seemingly benign arm of conformism but how the fashion mogul would love to have everyone in their clothing! Advertising pushes us, pulls us and can become a background drone that can be inescapable. Here in the very bowels of capitalism, it is easy to recognize the power of the wealthiest corporate leaders and their sway on the public. Sometimes we are unable to purchase products the industry machine has forcibly made unavailable, sometimes we are tricked into making the purchase the corporate powers guide us to. These factors can and do lead to a rather faceless population, one devoid of a real sense of self and a thorough course of development. But even here in a nation with an intact Bill of Rights we have seen points where the manipulation, the coercion of a power goes much further. Usually those times have been in the shadow of an outside threat that a government can opportunistically magnify in order to frighten people into a willing homogenization. The best example in the USA would have to be in the late 1940s – ‘50s Red Scare—which actually lasted into the 1970s and was actually reinvented by Ronald Reagan’s Administration in the 1980s. But in those high years of the Cold War, American citizens were investigated by agents of the government, blacklisted, terrorized and humiliated. It was an age of fear and conformity and false patriotism (which begat nationalism and xenophobia) under the guise of national security. The House UnAmerican Activities Committee and the Senate Sub-Committee on UnAmerican Activities (where McCarthy became the rising star) as well as smaller, local governmental committees,  tried artists, intellectuals, teachers , municipal employees and union leaders in public hearings in order to break their organizations and means of communication. This was the boldest example of in American history one could think of and the tactics of these bodies was dangerously close to the methods of the Nazis.

ED: To keep here, for these  thoughts we are talking about, the line of his declarations, “[..]I think that no artist in any society is free. Being crushed by the normality and by the mediocrity of any society in which he lives, the artist is a living contestation. He always represents the contrary of that idea that every man in every society has of himself. In my opinion, a minimum, perhaps immeasurable, margin of freedom is always there. I can’t say to what point this is , or is not freedom. But certainly , something that escapes the mathematical logic of mass culture, for the time being. [..]”.

JP: Well, Bertolt Brecht also said that the artist is the ultimate whore. We sell off pieces of ourselves in order to eat and we almost always compromise our values in doing so. And John Reed argued that without dissent, there can be no radical democratic movement. We as artists get to speak out in a manner that others cannot. Even musicians who dedicate their career to commercial music, poets who write greeting cards for a living, visual artists who spend their days painting still-lifes to be hung in hotel rooms, we cannot lose the inner artist, the force within us that has allowed us to create in the first place. Like many, I have a day job but the music is in my head at all times and every night I can go home and play music, perform for the public, compose, go to jam sessions. This is something bigger than the individual yet it is purely of the individual as a means of expression. How does the rest of the world do it? How can they go home from their jobs and watch the ball game on TV, drink a beer and go to bed? The freedom is within us and we must constantly embrace it so that our art can be whole, so that we can produce an inspired kind of creativity that can enlighten others.

ED: Recently Pietaro has been working on a new project with local professional musicians in NYC and also from other countries. Can you talk us about the name ‘Radical Arts Front’ and what a collective like ‘Radical Arts Front’ wants to be?

JP : Just to clarify, a front in Left politics is not really with reference to a war zone: think of the United Front, the gathering of Left activists in the early 30s all in opposition to fascism. This collective allowed them to tear down the walls that separated communists, socialists, Trotskyists. Later it expanded to the Popular Front which included social democrats and liberals too. My idea for the collective is just that—a gathering of experimental, free jazz, new music, avant garde musicians who have strong convictions about a people’s movement, about equality, peace, workers’ rights, ecology and other progressive issues. Yes, many of us will be socialists in general, some Marxists, some engaged in a variety of Left parties and organizations—but others will be more general activists who have varying degrees of progressive thinking. This is why we are standing as a united front, albeit one united as much by our drive toward an advanced art as advanced socio-political philosophy

The October Jazz Revolution (October 20, 2012), a concert featuring some of the most revolutionary musicians in New York now, will be the first official event under the banner of the collective. And then one week later, there is a performance of the Dissident Arts Orchestra, playing a live improvised score for the German Expressionist film ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’.
I am not building a collective that will necessarily engage in meetings or require dues of any kind, it will serve as a resource for each musician involved. A collective such as this would enable us to seek opportunities, to have a list of musicians from which to draw from for gigs, quick access to referrals for gigs that may come up (especially if they are directly tied into social justice movements), and more than anything else, a banner under which we might be able to work, a brand which will help with public relations and outreach. My plan, if we have enough interest, is to seek out not-for-profit status and use it to seek out grants for concerts under this banner—-because the goal for me has always been to be able to pay musicians for events I organize. This will not only inspire more participation but growth of the entire concept of an artist-driven organization which reaches into issues beyond art’s sake. The big difference between what I am seeking to build and earlier protest music organizations is that those (such as People’s Songs) were usually comprised of folksingers. This collective will focus only on experimental, free jazz, new music performers/improvisers/composers who hold Left philosophies and engage in activism of any degree. Some may seek only a more defined kind of revolutionary activism, others may not wish to be associated with any kind of radical organization and most will fit somewhere in between. Whichever path the collective’s members choose, it would be great to be able to engage in this together and of course in concert with existing Left artists organizations such as Scientific Soul Sessions, Occupy Music and the like. As musicians of conscience, we all have a lot to consider.
Ultimately I would love to see this collective become a means to make funding available for a series of events that seek to bridge progressive and radical politics to forward-looking music. If you see yourself as an activist in any way, particularly as it applies to your music, do you also see the strength in a unified action? Events such as my Dissident Arts Festival need to grow, but I would like this umbrella to expand and help to produce a wide variety of concerts. A familiar banner over many of our events can allow us to attract more attention and increase not only our audience as well as our radical message. The politics are not bound by a particular school or philosophy, but suffice to say that the outlook is Left: ranging from outright revolutionary to general progressive and in every case, an organization to celebrate individual expression as well as a collective sensibility. For more information please visit my website:
http://www.DissidentArts.com


 


John Pietaro, drumkit, performing at the Shrine, NYC, August 2012 (photo by Barbara Siwula)
***
For contact and further  information

www.DissidentArts.com
http://soundcloud.com/leftmus
http://TheCulturalWorker.blogspot.com


 Pietaro’s Discography

Recent Efforts:
-CD:  'The Red Microphone Speaks!' by the Red Microphone (2013)

-The songs  »L’Internationale Redux » and « Brecht Breakdown » by the Red Microphone (recorded in October 2012)
-The EP ‘The Lost Broadcast’ (2011) by Radio NOIR.
- His protest song ensemble the Flames of Discontent recorded two full CDs: ‘I Dreamed I Heard Joe Hill Last Night….A Century of IWW Songs’ (2005) and ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’ (2007)
Pietaro’s Bibliography
-Numerous cultural articles and reviews in Z Magazine, the People’s World, Political Affairs, and other Left periodicals including pieces in the Nation, the Industrial Worker and others (1999-present).
-STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY: A GRAPHIC HISTORY  by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle (Hill & Wang, 2007): He wrote the chapter « I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore: Phil Ochs and SDS »
-NIGHT PEOPLE AND OTHER STORIES OF WORKING NEW YORK (2011, short stories of contemporary proletarian fiction, unpublished)
-Current unfinished projects include the book THE CULTURAL WORKERS: a history of protest arts in the USA, 1900-Today


____________________________________________

Reporter: ERIKA DAGNINO

Saturday, June 22, 2013

'In the Midst of Motion, Per Chance to Inspire' -Dedicated to Uncle Mike Contardo, 1948-2013



In the Midst of Motion, Per Chance to Inspire

Dedicated to Uncle Mike Contardo, 1948-2013



There was this house, this two-story, multi-generational house in Bensonhurst. It was one house that contained two households, two nuclear families, but inextricably interwoven, and it vibrated with the intense sights and sounds and scents of cliché working-class Italian American life. For the uninitiated amongst you that translates as LOUD.

The doors in this house were always open, between floors, among rooms, and the voices coming in and out, over and under, never ceased. Like merging traffic, they rumbled on, leaking through walls and levels, a Technicolor commentary at every dynamic level. Grandmotherly drama and grandfatherly cantankerousness, mother’s exasperation and father’s street humor; the ongoing shouts and stomps of us, the children in this house: me, my older brother James, and then a few years later, brother Joe --who was in training from the start to seek out still newer means to stretch the boundaries of volume. And somehow in the midst of all of this motion …there was Uncle Mike. 

Without even really trying, in his own learned, welcoming manner, he made the noise go away. When I was little, when Mike was still living in this family home, I would visit with him in his room often. It was a treat, like a wonderland in there with countless model airplanes and ships, expertly put together and artistically painted, right down to the features on the miniature passengers aboard. A few of the model planes were suspended from the ceiling for realism and he also had metal planes with moveable parts that were absolutely cool to me. On the shelves where many of the models stood, he also had books---books that he actually read! There was also more than one baseball under glass, signed by teams’ members that seemed like they were a hundred years old to me. Next to the baseballs were model figures of some hero players: Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and more. I don’t think Mike was ever much for sports---he was the arts guy in our family and I felt a real connection to that. I am sure that the sporting paraphernalia were gifts, probably from my grandfather, but he had them out for all to see along with other keepsakes and novelties on display.

There were superhero comic books, Mad magazines and monster magazines hanging around; enjoyment of the fantastic, the suspenseful and the wildest of  imaginations was something else we both always enjoyed, and something else that Mike welcomed me to become a part of---he always loved a good creature feature and so do I still.
On the walls of his room were portraits of JFK, who’d been a real hero to Mike as a young man. He also had ‘60s-ish posters, and a framed original sketch or two. And I can still remember his mirror, standing over the dresser, with stickers from Kingsborough Community College exhibited, keeping watching over his metal comb and brush set (the military kind), some rosary beads and a change cup. And of course my reflection, the one I was sure lingered in there even after I’d gone back upstairs. His room also contained a cabinet with Mike’s record collection secured inside, a most prized item, the majority of which he maintained through the decades, right up until today. And that brings us to music….

Due to a couple of years of compromised health in his own young life, Mike had engaged thoroughly in the arts: drawing, painting, writing, but none of these pursuits moved him more than music. He would tell me years later that when he turned 11 he’d found an old pair of bongos in the house and listened to the latest Chubby Checker records and drummed along on them with a pair of sticks, possibly something he’d liberated from a Chinese restaurant. Playing a simple Twist rhythm across these old bongos had moved him so, driven him beyond the shy kid who’d spent some summers indoors---and also got him singing. Ultimately he began tapping along to every song that came across his record player, the radio or the family hi-fi. Everyone who knew Mike over the years can tell you that he couldn’t sit still when a good song was on in the background. His fingers were dancing with his leftie lead in a rock-n-roll beat. But he could also get that enthusiastic when nothing was on in the background—he only needed to have a song going around his head…and he usually did. Mike would drum along on table tops with fingers, or an ankle crossed over his knee, or on his thigh with a pair of drumsticks or on any surface in arm’s reach, throw his head back and offer up a bit of the phantom verse in his best rock-n-roll tenor…

Drumming was so much a part of his inner pulse that, when he was 14,  Mike got my grandparents to buy him a drumkit which he kept set up in the basement. In my earliest memories, he was proudly seated up high behind a gorgeous aquamarine sparkle set of Premier drums (English made!) with glowing Zildjian cymbals. Nothing could look more compelling to me, especially when he was down there rehearsing with his band---one that always included his dearest friend, Buddy, on bass. When the band was playing, you could feel it throughout the house and in warm weather when everyone’s windows were open, they serenaded the block. How majestic! As a child I watched and listened and decided immediately that I wanted to---needed to---become a musician. I can still recall the tightness in my abdomen and the slight breathlessness I got as he kicked out the rhythm. The community of people around him, both band-mates and friends was so welcoming. These folks were different than those in my immediate purview as a kid---they were artists, hippies, biker-types and other renegades, so many wonderful examples of that generation. Exposure to a few of these summer-of-love types fueled my own Left-wing philosophy and activism. But there was also so much laughter and fun and a real sense of commitment. Theresa was the heart of this wider group and I have fond memories of her limitless affection of us scruffy little kids running around during band practice. 

After Mike and Theresa married and moved into an apartment of their own, his old room seemed far too empty and the house somehow too roomy. The music had stopped---at least for a few years. It was in my fourteenth year that I pushed MY parents to let me get a drumkit. Mike was there to advocate for this and then accompanied me on a trip to buy some second hand drums and helped me to set them up, taught me how to tune them and offered some basic tutelage as well. My own journey would ultimately take me to formal training and I became a jazz percussionist, but Mike always offered an enthusiastic response to whatever I was doing. We never stopped talking about drums and drumming and his knowledge of music history was vast. It mattered not that he was a self-taught player, he maintained an encyclopedic knowledge of all of the great studio musicians, both here and in the UK, which cuts they’d played on and how this band or that had splintered off to form this one and how one school of rock had progressed into another, and could site the best recorded examples too!

In more recent years he’d also taken to collecting guitars---and the basement of Mike and Theresa’s house came to be akin to a trip through the Gibson warehouse. You need a flashlight and tour-guide to find your way out of the guitar forest. When he got into something, he became an authority on it. He never missed a beat. 

Mike’s hunger for knowledge never confined itself to music---he was a fountain of information about film, theatre, politics and of course the world’s history. I always gravitated to these subjects too and over the decades we had much to talk about. I am sorry I never got to see one of his lectures, but I think I get the idea. He could turn any basic description into a thesis and leapt into the role of orator at any given chance. My wife Laurie would be the first to tell you that this is not one of her favorite aspects of my personality…perhaps we can blame Mike for that too.  

My uncle was the Family Intellectual and radical. He ushered in the roots of every artistic pursuit I ever had and my drive toward dissent. Even when we didn’t get to speak for stretches, we always caught up and shared. Life moves along quickly, far too quickly, but as an adult I began to realize that Mike and I were actually quite close in age and really interacted more the way cousins would, peers, rather than uncle and nephew. But of course even with all of the depth of conversation Mike’s acerbic humor, tendency toward satire and imitations, kept it light and enjoyable. He loved riffing with jokes flying back and forth----there is no real attempt at holding court without being entertaining. And that influence stays with me too. 

These memories of Mike will carry me through these days of his immediate loss and allow me to reflect on him later, and as I move forward through my own life each time I set up my vibes or drums for a gig, every time I write an article or I doodle in the margins of a page, or attend a protest rally or tell a joke or spin a yarn, he will always be within reach. 

Because Mike just cannot give up a good audience. Because I still need to know he is there.
-John Pietaro, June 20, 2013


 John & Laurie with Mike and Theresa Contardo, Aug 2009, 'Heroes of Woodstock' concert, Bethel Woods, Bethel NY

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Performance review: BERN NIX QUARTET and STEVE DALACHINSKY/CONNIE CROTHERS DUET VISION FESTIVAL

BERN NIX QUARTET and STEVE DALACHINSKY/CONNIE CROTHERS DUET
VISION FESTIVAL
ROULETTE, BROOKLYN NY, JUNE 14, 2013


Concert review by JOHN PIETARO

While the Vision Festival stands out as perhaps the preeminent vehicle for experimental, improvisation-based musics in the nation, it has also been controversial in its dogged pursuit of star-status performers that are can draw large audiences. Sad that the scheduling continues to make lesser-known performers feel closed out but one cannot deny that the organizers know how to program concerts that never fail to blow the roof off of the house. This year’s Festival was packed with brilliance but time constraints allowed me to choose but part of one evening and so, as legendary harmolodic guitarist Bern Nix has finally been called to the Vision stage, I couldn’t miss this one. Happily, the noted poet Steve Dalachinsky, a welcome mainstay of Vision from the start, had the opening set of the evening, one he performed with long-time jazz pianist Connie Crothers. This pairing of spoken word/piano and guitar-based combo appeared to be opposing forces initially but the evidence was in quickly, proclaiming that this was another Vision Festival bit of programming genius…

STEVE DALACHINSKY stepped forward and, positioning the mic around his cherub-like smile, warned the audience, “I am hungry, thirsty and nervous—so if this doesn’t work out as planned, I already have my excuse in”, but Dalachinsky never had reason to make use of this disclaimer. Embarking upon a solo statement of verse initially, he was joined by CONNIE CROTHERS’ probing, compelling piano only as the second piece developed. The musical landscape Crothers provided offered jarring 20th century runs which almost leapt from nowhere yet made so much sense to Dalachinsky’s often surrealistic strings of logic. The poet pounced upon and danced around his own verse, seemingly davoning over the microphone, infusing stutters, repetition, vocalization and moments of Brooklynism as needed.  

The stories within Dalachinsky’s poetry are gifted with a loosening of association, at once flowing, staccato, urgent, breathless and fearless. A sense of improvisation pervaded all, no matter that the lines were being read from a page. It is HOW they were read that brought the piece into the next realm, the manner in which the words tangled and tangoed with the music being created of the moment. The overall effect was a tapestry of sound embedded in Crothers piano and the liberated harmony of the eras of the modern and post-modern. But the pianist effortlessly slipped into an expansive face of jazz just to pull us all back into it, as Dalachinsky masterfully worked a sentence, propelling it into the space above them and beyond the confines of the venue.

THE BERN NIX QUARTET came onto the stage of Roulette as the house lights were up high and the audience was stretching between acts. Before the MC had the chance to announce them, sound check blurred into performance, and the warm yet almost percussive sound of BERN NIX’s guitar permeated the room. This subtle, circling chord progression was quickly joined by FRANCOIS GRILLOT (bass) and REGGIE SYLVESTER (drumkit), now swinging, now rolling in rhythmic counter-point. MATT LAVELLE’s trumpet pierced the air pointillistically, filling the spaces of this seemingly impromptu piece, one we would later learn to be titled, appropriately, “Don’t Try So Hard”. As the lights rapidly dimmed, the band was introduced, in style, over their slowly building soundscape. The piece developed into classic harmolodics as Nix, hunched over his well-aged Gibson and almost obscured by his music stand, dug in. 

Grillot and Sylvester bring something new to the terrain carved out decades ago by Haden and Blackwell. Nix’s years with Prime Time are not lost to this rhythm section which can sound as funky as that electric ensemble, though Grillot plays upright (and with monstrous technique!). And Sylvester, while offering a perpetual motion burn, does so most often with bundle sticks in place of standard drum sticks; heftier than wire brushes, they give a rather non-direct attack. The drummer’s easy, acrobatic style made me think of the nimble flights of a barefoot tap-dancer. Lavelle’s trumpet breathed over the whole, giving off scat-like flurries and Cherry-ish half-valve slides. The band began cooking immediately but was sure to build the boil in different places and not necessarily all at the same time, causing the sense of center to keep moving about, as it should in this lexicon. 

And yet the second selection, “Under the Volcano”, had the Quartet in gut-bucket mode with Sylvester leaning into the straight 8ths and Grillot slapping the body of his bass in patterns that pushed the pulse ever forward. Lavelle, moving to alto clarinet for this number, played a composed melody line with the leader, but once tearing into his solo offered a siren wale that catapulted him outward. At times, Lavelle was reminiscent of Sonny Simmons forays into double-reeds, pulling the sound from the high end of the instrument’s range and from deep within himself. As Nix came into his own, the R and B backbeat gave way to free---affixing the vibe of the original Coleman quartet to that of the guitarist’s tenure with Prime Time. This band acts as the nexus of the two eras we have come to know in the harmolodic sphere. After the concert Nix explained:

“I always had a penchant for straight-ahead jazz guitar playing; I play that still. Before I worked with Ornette, I never thought I would be in Prime Time. But this music allows the harmony to shift, like chase chords, moving through and beyond. It is in and it is out…the ‘swing’ is always there. This music is an extension on the early jazz tradition where the sense of freedom, the improvisation, was constantly creative. Here the band’s roles are never static and are always shifting, evolving…”

The band played two more numbers including a pseudo-bossa (“Naomi”) with a trumpet melody that exposed Lavelle’s big band influences, full-bodied and sporting a vibrato that ended phrases deftly. His solo straddled the worlds of Harry James and Woody Shaw with ease, fingers flying over valves, resounding. And just as this piece seemed to approach the straight-ahead tradition, Nix’s solo brought in atonality (or was that beyond-tonality?) and an expansive view of meter. 

Bern Nix’s solos are really an extension of his comping style as he grabs at barking, snapping single notes, diads and chords up and down and then across his instrument’s neck, toying with repetitions before tossing them aside for lines in advanced tonality. Kandinsky-esque staccato phrases and linear, slippery runs alternate as the rhythm team pulsates contrapuntally behind and through. Driven on by the improvisation of the moment, the drummer and bassist fly and bounce, skimming over the surface of the groove when not tearing into it and turning it on its head. Add Lavelle’s free trumpet into the collective mix and the band appears to be working from four different centers, creating a jigsaw melody almost played heterophonically between guitar lead, trumpet and bass counter-melodies and the racing back-stroke of Sylvester’s almost 4/4 jazz time. The Bern Nix Quartet is everywhere and exactly-where and the overall effect is dizzying in the best possible way. This is the next obvious step in the harmolodic world. To the uninitiated, this visionary music can be somewhat confounding. To those who know better, this stuff is pure sustenance.