Saturday, March 9, 2019

Poetry Publication Announcement

Hiking the shadowy forest of poetry publication, sans compass and canteen, it was refreshing to happen upon the good people of Transcendent Zero Press. Three of my newest pieces, including two from the growing set of jazz-poetry, will be published in the next edition of their journal, "Harbinger Asylum". Most satisfying. I couldn't resist turning the congratulatory email into some keepsake art. After many years of largely focusing on prose, the inner poet has been drawn out and brought to the surface in later middle-age.  Many thanks to Transcendent Zero for this opportunity!


Monday, March 4, 2019

Record Label Review: TRUTH REVOLUTION


NYC Jazz Record, March 2019
TRUTH REVOLUTION RECORDS

Label review by John Pietaro


“The revolution will be heard!”
Any record label bearing such a slogan must be boldly unique. This paraphrase of Gil-Scott Heron’s immortal prose, however, speaks of a revolution wider, even, than the ramparts and bulwarks. “We run it more as a collective”, states Truth Revolution founder Zaccai Curtis. “This is not a label in the standard sense, in fact we branded it Truth Revolution Recording Collective, a working community of artists.”

An outgrowth of Curtis’ music publishing company through which he produced his first solo efforts, in 2012 the label began releasing albums in partnership with indie-minded jazz and Latin artists. Production has since rapidly increased and Truth Revolution can boast a 2017 Grammy nomination, Entre Colegas by salsa giant Andy Gonzalez. “Andy is a premiere Latin jazz bassist, a founder of the Fort Apache Band who defined this style of music. He was a mentor to my brother Luques and me and let us borrow his entire record collection years back when he was moving. We recorded everything and it served us through years of study! It means a lot to all of us to have him as a part of our label.”

Truth Revolution’s now preparing for a 2019 industry stir. “This month, we’re releasing Ronnie Burrage & the Holographic Principle’s Dance of the Great Spirit.
Ronnie’s an incredible artist with an amazing history. We’re honored that he contacted us due to the brand”, Curtis explained. “We knew immediately that we wanted to work with him”. Burrage stated that he’d known the Curtis family but had little prior knowledge of the label. “I was going to release this through another company, but when that didn’t work out, I spoke to Zaccai. My music is rooted in civil rights and social justice, so when he told me the name—ha!—it was meant to be!”.  Burrage’s ensemble is already celebrating the release locally but will tour extensively in spring and summer.

“It’s been a long journey”, Curtis reiterated. “At first, I financed everything but as partnerships evolved, they became the whole point (of this label and collective).” And with the unique perspective the brothers have in the struggling indie jazz world, there’s been a growing interest among musicians of stature. Along that line, the label also enjoys an important relationship with noted drummer/band leader Ralph Peterson. “Ralph is the only drummer to record alongside Art Blakey!”, Curtis said. “He shadowed Blakey (in the Jazz Messengers Big Band), double drumming. Ralph recorded the Triangular series over recent years, the first of which included Geri Allen. Triangular III is a joint release between Truth Revolution and his own Onyx label.” The Curtis brothers, who have worked with the drummer since the early 2000s, complete this album’s trio. “Truth Revolution acts as an umbrella; even if an artist doesn’t have their own label, we’re in partnership with them”, Curtis affirmed.
“Some albums are fully recorded and produced by Truth Revolution but the vast majority of our releases come to us at least half-way finished. We finalize the albums with the artists and then release and handle distribution.”

As Truth Revolution expanded, it became necessary to grow its staff, particularly as Curtis, a pianist, remains as busy in label matters as in tours with Cindy Blackman-Santana, the Messengers Legacy or his own large ensemble; the recording of his “Algorhythm”, a nine-part chamber work, will be released under his name later this year. The necessary staff expansion brought in brother Luques, bassist with Eddie Palmieri, Pat Methaney and Orrin Evans among others, and father Ted (“a music lover, but not a musician”), as well as label manager Matt Chasen. Like the majority of the label leadership, Matt is a musician—vocalist and saxophonist—as well as a concert producer.

But this Hartford-based label collective can be seen as a realization of the tight music community the city has lauded for decades. Chasen explained: “I’ve known the Curtis family for years and recognize the importance of celebrating the local heritage here. The Jackie McLean Institute was founded back when Jackie taught at Hart College, University of Hartford. It’s still thriving and Zaccai is now a faculty member. The music is eclectic and Latin jazz, heavily advocated by Jackie in his day, is a big part of this.” Chasen, not long ago, took over the reins of Hartford’s noted “Latin Jazz Wednesdays” series. But the heritage runs still deeper. McLean also created the Artists Collective, a space for younger music students to learn the craft (Zaccai and Luques are products of this early immersion). Ted Curtis, the patriarch of the Curtis family, indoctrinated his sons by purchasing a variety of instruments and opening the house basement to jam sessions, attracting a plethora of touring artists. Ted’s eldest, Damien, is today a celebrated hip hop producer.

Inspired by the independent music and arts movements that predated him, Zaccai Curtis looks to the Black Arts Movement and M-Base as well as the artists who forged their own defiant way. The rebellious heart of Truth Revolution is also seen on its website which proudly exposes the corporate greed of major labels. The name is more than just a cool tag. Though the label doesn’t impose politics on its artists, “we need to help others understand how the system works”, Curtis said. And in displaying website quotes by Prince and Gandhi about creating the change you want to see, Curtis and company are inspiring this era’s much-needed radical shift. Artists like Burrage, Gonzalez, Peterson, the Curtis Brothers, trumpet player Rachel Therrien and multi-instrumentalist Josiah Woodson are but a few who’ve been heard in this particular revolution. And with albums such as The Better Angels of Our Nature by saxophonist Brian McCarthy, exploring the roots of jazz in Civil War conflict, and The Big Picture by hip hop artists King Solomon and Talent which “represents the voice of the muted masses in the tradition of the underground-gone-over”, this Curtis uprising, at least sonically, stands as victorious.


CE Review: MIKE BAGGETTA, "Wall of Flowers"


NYC Jazz Record – March 2019
Wall of Flowers, Mike Baggetta/Mike Watt/Jim Keltner (Big Ego Records, 2019)

CD review by John Pietaro

When was the last time artfully improvisational music laced with irony and post-punk bite felt so good? Maybe 1988, possibly never. Guitarist Mike Baggetta has a uniquely stark sound, one that revels in surf and spy as much as Trane and Dolphy, the avant garde as meaningfully as lamentations. For Wall of Flowers he calls on Mike Watt, best known for iconic ‘80s band the Minutemen, but whose stalking, primal basslines have also propelled Firehose, Sonic Youth, Dos, proto-punk quartet the Stooges and celebrated guitarist Nels Cline. And in a choice that demonstrates Baggetta’s more “straight” side, legendary session musician Jim Keltner completes the trio. The drummer’s performances on stage or record extend from John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Delaney & Bonnie, George Harrison and Harry Nilsson to Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Jack Bruce, guitar heroes Richard Thompson and Neil Young and a wealth of others. This inside/outside boundary constructs a fantasy foray into generations of sounds.

“Hospital Song” opens, following an atmospheric intro, and quickly establishes the tenor of the collection. Compelling instrumental rock raises the specter of the early ‘60s and its edgy resurgence a generation later, and Baggetta’s overdubbed guitar lines are an immediate, delicious draw. This flailing nostalgia begat two versions of “Blue Velvet”, the genteel 1950s standard made famous by Bobby Vinton. Its delightfully unsettling presence here, particularly in the duet version with Keltner, recalls the corruption of innocence central to David Lynch’s film. But Wall of Flowers is about much more than memories, cherished and/or distorted. Baggetta sings and moans on his ax, pulling out pensive, torn phrases enlivened by repetitions, dark arpeggios and a twang bar thicket. It becomes clear why Nels Cline dubbed Baggetta a “guitar poet”.

Album highlights include “Dirty Smell of Dying”, a free music rave-up that brings out the best in all three musicians. Here, Keltner draws on the jazz chops that makes his rock drumming so masterful, a perfect antagonist for the leader’s pained, searching improvisation. However, it is the title cut that illuminates the magic of Baggetta’s emotive, driving, long tones, Watt’s mean, metallic pulsations and Keltner’s shimmering, throbbing commentary. In a field of numerous celebrated contenders, this Mike Baggetta ensemble is already the guitar trio of the year.  

Credits: Mike Baggetta: guitars, Mike Watt: bass, Jim Keltner: drums
“Hospital Song” (intro)/ “Hospital Song”/”Blue Velvet” (solo)/”I am Not a Data Point”/”Of Breads and Rivers”/”Dirty Smell of Dying”/”Blue Velvet” (duo)/”Wall of Flowers”

Essay: RONNIE BURRAGE: Music of Reckoning and Awakening

Published in The Wire August 2019 (with subtitle "Drumming up support") RONNIE BURRAGE: Music of Reckoning and Awakeni...