CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people, from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms, punk 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 creative writer, journalist, 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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

concert review: Milford Graves and Shahzad Ismaily


Published in 'the NYC Jazz Record' NY@Night column, October 2018

Milford Graves and Shahzad Ismaily (photo by John Pietaro)

MILFORD GRAVES/SHAHZAD ISMAILY

September 6, 2018, Unitarian Center/Issue Project Room

Performance review by John Pietaro

The atmosphere was understatedly thick; on the heels of a late summer heatwave, the remains of the strangely grey, painfully humid day lined the interior of the Unitarian Universalist Church (September 6) like a padded cell. Aurally mimicking the heat was the opening performance of airtight electronic soundscapes, leading to sweat-soaked near blackouts before the headliner emerged.
Milford Graves took the stage defiantly, tossing down his cane in marked protest of aging if not time itself. Launching into beautifully flowing vocalization drawing on African tradition, the veteran drummer soon added a blurring counterpoint over his historic, single-headed hand-decorated kit—that which he’s had since the days with Ayler, Bley, Sanders, Sun Ra and the New York Art Quartet, now expanded with hand drums and a single timbale. No cymbals outside of the hi-hats which typically chattered triplets, his use of this percussive combination precluded the need for anything else to ride on. Shahzad Ismaily’s electric bass matched Graves’ pulsations, blending into the high-ceilinged roar like an organic bassosaurus. During the course of this fascinating set, Ismaily also emoted on synthesizer, electric guitar and 5-string banjo tuned to mountain modal, simultaneously backing and challenging the master percussionist.

Graves’ drumming reflected no sign of the years as he rained polyrhythmic perpetual motion, sang and spoke to the crowd. When the volume came down, his drumsticks skittered lightly over slackened heads, occupying the sonic world of an African drum choir.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

CD review: William Hooker, "Pillars...at the Portal"



a modified version of this piece was published in the September 2018 issue of 
"The NYC Jazz Record"

William Hooker, Pillars…at the Portal (Mulatta, 2018)

CD review by John Pietaro

The storied career of William Hooker has traversed sounds, genres and ensembles, usually under his own direction, his drumset the undeniably principal voice. Hooker’s projects have often focused on cultural and political matters of import, conjuring a creative expanse along the way, but on Pillars…at the Portal, no other lure is necessary to hold you to your stereo.

Blakey-like, he leads another youthful band, another array drawn from the most creative of the moment, but Hooker has landed on something particularly special here. This ensemble picks up on where Weather Report left off—early Weather Report, that is—blended with equal parts AACM and downtown NYC. The drummer is no stranger to any of these schools of envelope-pushing and casts rolling, thunderous commentary throughout. Listeners will note Hooker’s trademark vocal direction from behind the kit, shouting uproariously to his young charges as the sounds build to a boil.
The electric guitar of Anthony Pirog is in the front line and stands out both independent of and orchestrally within the reeds of Jon Irabagon (soprano and tenor saxophones) and James Brandon Lewis (tenor). Any one of these monstrous improvisers could have carried the front alone so as a section (“Proving Ground” and “Committed” are notable examples), the thicket is stirring. Pirog opens the album on “Ray of Will” with a loudly growling effects-drenched soundscape that leads to dry, close-miked Reichian group hand-claps moving in and out of phase. This intriguing intro brings us into the piece proper with a driving quarter-note groove that evoked nostalgic memories of Miroslav Vitous and Eric Gravatt, constructed here by the leader and young, gifted bassist Luke Stewart. Pirog’s effects at points sound synth-like, dropping in isolated notes, until he unleashes a screaming, contorting solo. It calls out the saxophonists who create an explosive double-time free jazz foray. It seems clear that most of what we hear on this disc is wholly improvised, but far from mindless blowing, this is creativity of a truly advanced level. This is the shit.

Throughout, the front line is given ample space to speak and Lewis only verifies what people have been saying for years now: he stands tall among the best of the 30-something lions. Lewis consistently produces artful, Trane-inspired work, but in this setting seems pushed into another zone. Irabagon is already known as a “jazz subverter”, so must have been the first-call for this gig. While both are goaded to play harder, louder, faster, one can feel the deft touch and tone that is Lewis’ musical voice. Irabagon too has a marked inside voice (so to speak), but revels in the world of sub-tones. Pirog, noted for his experimental Cuneform albums, soars as comfortably in free-flight as in playing structured melodic unisons with horns. Hendrixian doesn’t begin to describe his ample repertoire. And so then, the drumset of William Hooker, aggressively maintaining the unity, the agitation and the sheer joy of free expression. Let’s call this music in spite of the Trump era.
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1.     Ray of Will
2.     Ray of Purporse
3.     Comes into View
4.      Initiation of Decision
5.     Livingness
6.     To Be and Do
7.     Proving Ground
8.     Committed