Monday, April 25, 2022

CD Review: POETRY THREE-FER

 

Originally published in The NYC Jazz Record, April 2022

Heroes Are Gang Leaders, LeAutoRoiOgraphy (577, 2022)

Nelson Cascais, Remembrance: The Poetry of Emily Bronte (Fundacao GDA, 2022)

Eliot Cardinaux, Will McAvoy, Max Goldman, Out of Our Systems (The Bodily Press, 2022)

-CD review-

The heritage of jazz poetry reaches far, with roots in the slave poem, work song and blues narrative, and blossoming within the Harlem Renaissance. The driving mechanism for the poet within jazz has been the music’s rhythm and phrasing, as well as its socio-politics, a topographical schematic if you will, with which to construct verse and, in performance settings, to present the execution of same. At times, however, the music has been wholly created around standing literature and these recent albums were scored to integrate the artforms while still embracing sound, shape, cause and color.

Heroes Are Gang Leaders is the contemporary ensemble most fully embodying this heritage while not only acknowledging the socio-political but fully embracing its necessary radicalism. Founded in 2014 and led by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, the band is an organic multi-art event "dedicated to the sound extensions of literary text and original composition”, as per . For LeAutoRoiOgraphy Heroes Are Gang Leaders--a dozen strong!—was recorded live at Paris’ Sons D’Hiver Festival performing a commemoration of Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones, hence the title). Though some of these selections were initially heard on earlier studio album, The Amiri Baraka Sessions, these captures are vital, with the band coming to full power on stage. Featured musicians James Brandon Lewis (tenor saxophone, also the band’s composer), Melanie Dyer (viola) and Devin Brahja Waldman (alto saxophone) in the company of vocalist/spoken word artist Nettie Chickering, and poets Randall Horton and Bonita Lee Penn, as well as the leader himself, profoundly bring the inspiration of Baraka into the here and now. Chickering’s looming presence and Lewis’ smoldering music on the 3-movement “Amina”, for Amina Baraka, the poet/actress who is Amiri’s widow, adds a beautiful gravity to the atmosphere. Chickering calls out on the first movement, “The Dutchman’s Three-Buttoned Suit” (referring to Baraka’s commanding drama The Dutchman):

Damn was it something I said?

Did I do something wrong?...

Were there more people burnt as witches than

Starting a revolution over the price of tea…

Lewis and Dyer, and then double bassist Luke Stewart, pianist Jenna Camille and guitarist Brandon Moses, take to the skies, painting it darkest blue and then purple, emitting an interactive soundscape which feeds into a network of voices, both spoken and sang. Quotes from some of Baraka’s most powerful works are woven through poetics and emotional releases on Penn’s “Poetry iz Labor”, a statement that Amina Baraka includes in her works till this day. And Section three, “Forensic Report” artfully combines classic free improvisation with spoken word: War-gasm!

“Shrimpy Grits” has Ellis up front along with Waldman whose alto brandishes an amazingly diverse collection of timbres (in every setting, his horn so easily mimics a soprano or C-melody saxophone), but the full ensemble tosses an aural palette at the hall’s ceiling, the drippings splattering in flourishes. The title work speaks to the progression of Baraka’s writing and activist career over years, with Chickering singing over Camille’s moving piano work, most akin to musical theatre or cabaret until the full ensemble enters, soaring through gorgeously advanced harmonies. Lewis’ admiration of Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble, and Karl Berger becomes evident as the horns, particularly the aerial trumpet of Heru Shabaka-Ra, and the thrilling, melodic drummer Warren Cruddup III herald in the new day that Baraka spent a lifetime seeking out. The core of the album, “Mista Sippy”, is bold sonic and literary commentary on the fallout from American racism.

The best kept secret in American politics…

Contradiction…

Emoted testimony, sloping jazz, dramatic dialog, gospel and avant blues pervade, a veritable cornucopia of rebellion. Brief solos by Dyer, Lewis, Shabaka-Ra and Waldman are a captivating gateway to the poetry of Horton and Ellis. On closer “Sad Dictator” Chickering sings through Ellis’ poetry as Penn raps Amina Baraka’s empowering “I Wanna Make Freedom”. The longing in Shabaka-Ra’s horn recalls Don Cherry’s lamentations while the best of New Thing jazz, performance art and protest song cross-pollinate in real time. Ellis’ outpouring of literary social justice, fueled by that of the Barakas, should serve as the soundtrack to every struggle for social justice within range. As Amiri once noted: “I think anybody who is serious about language, always sees the written as a conduit for the spoken for the perception of reality. The spoken word is alive.”

On Remembrance: The Poetry of Emily Bronte, Lisbon’s Nelson Cascais, double bassist and composer, offers a project honoring the great British novelist and poet. The album is comprised of ten pieces, six of which feature the brilliant, somber writings of Bronte, woven together to depict the haunts of her times. Claudio Alves, in a clear but quietly moving tenor, conjures her words to life, emoting within a restraint most Victorian. On the opening track, “The Night is Darkening Round Me”, following a brief solo bass introduction and sinewy alto saxophone-led melody, Alves softly donates in a cautious sing-song voice:

Clouds beyond clouds above me,

Wastes beyond wastes below;

But nothing drear can move me,

I will not, cannot go

The saxophonist, Ricardo Toscano, lushly expands the piece’s direction with valiant, terse improvisations, churning the intensity with pianist Oscar Marcelino, drummer Joao Lopes Pereira and the leader’s bass. All aspects of the writer are embraced in this set. For Bronte’s deftly moving “All Hushed and Still Within the House”, the ensemble’s improvisations match and then goes beyond the complexity of emotions found within the source poetry, that which demarcates the loneliness and losses of her brief life (Bronte died at age 30, following the deaths of her mother and siblings).

All hushed and still within the house;
Without – all wind and driving rain;
But something whispers to my mind,
Through rain and through the wailing wind,
Never again.
Never again? Why not again?
Memory has power as real as thine.

The title track feels much more through-composed and vibraphonist Eduardo Cardinho adds silvery highlights at once thickening and aerating the tapestry. His solo statements reach beyond the mere sonority of the instrument, with Cardinho almost grasping the bars for rhythmic marimba-like rolls and alluring motifs.

Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,

From those brown hills, have melted into spring.

Over several instrumental pieces, the band demonstrates skillful musicianship within Cascais’s largely tonal works. “Intimations of Mortality” is reminiscent of Steps Ahead, clouded of texture with a saxophone/vibraphone lead and harboring an inner pulsation subtly evocative of the ensemble’s Portuguese culture. And as the album moves toward the finale, harmonies darken (the piano intro to “Fall, Leaves, Fall”, thickets of beautiful atonality, is indicative) and both music and poetry turn pensive, almost still. Ironically, the melody here recalls strains of Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice”, albeit heard in a slow tempo. Later, such echoes fade and it’s within the art song tradition that Remembrance: The Poetry of Emily Bronte comes to a close. Delightfully packaged, the cover imagery of a windswept landscape sets off inserts including a translucent “contents” page and a fold-out of the included Bronte poems. This collection is a lasting document.

Reading his own poetry with aplomb and removal, poet, pianist and composer Eliot Cardinaux continues the music/verse travail with bassist Will McEvoy and drummer Max Goldman on Out of Our Systems. For album opener “Lying in the House of You (Piano Day)”, Cardinaux’s piano only enters at the half-way mark, ceding to McEvoy’s upright bass bowed just off the instrument’s bridge, and the whispery drumming of Goldman.

The Silent: cold fire,

The wolf’s eyes flicker into no one’s language…

A searching, distant sounding work, particularly once the leader’s piano enters, its gorgeously complex harmonies modulate through the darkness and jarring light of his composition. The rhythm section, as it were, is orchestral in approach; Goldman makes grand use of gamelan-like choked, muffled cymbals played with mallets.

Cardinaux’s means of threading art forms is explained in his recent statement on the Poems and Poetics blog: “I am a poet of the lyric lineage, favoring the lucidly bent, bare syntax of George Oppen, & the strange torn off clarity of Paul Celan. Mine are poems of compressed language, of a self folded in on itself…” The austere but deeply emotional confluence is also found within Oppen: an ex-pat in Paris, he returned to New York, founding the Objectivist school of poetry. However, during the Great Depression, he ceased writing to become a community and labor organizer within the Communist Party. A decorated War veteran, he was driven out of the U.S. under threat of the House Un-American Activities Committee, returning home in 1958. Oppen was, a decade later, awarded the Pulitzer.  

As we saw with the Cascai album, Cardinaux is sure to reflect his poetics within the music and the lengthy instrumental section of “Toxin”, like Evans’ and Bley’s early ‘60s modernism, is an intellectual brand of jazz driven by restlessness. Further, McAvoy’s “Unwound”, one of two compositions he contributed to the disc, is gray, pensive, sparse of melody, sparser still of harmonies. It features his bass deliciously repulsing the framework, and then Goldman’s solo of artfully deconstructed triplets, leading in a slow, pervasive lessening and then muting of emotion. Such darkness drove the life of Paul Celan, a Romanian Jew who witnessed Kristallnacht, lived in a Nazi-occupied ghetto where he translated Shakespeare, and finally escaped both a prison camp and the Soviet bloc. Living out his days in Paris, Celan struggled with emotional turmoil and berating obscurity.

So much of both poets is felt in this collection, and visualized, too, in the Zoe Christiansen artwork, but Cardinaux himself remains the defining pulsation. The improvised fire music about “A Black Box for the Holy Ghost”, its poetry of doubt, denial, reimagining rebellion, perhaps guilt within the sound thicket exemplifies Out of Our Systems as our necessary step in the tradition.

Maria, Maria, Maria…

Uncontained testing certain freedom…

The temple stands for the midnight cipher…

Negation, negation, negation…

 

----

Heroes Are Gang Leaders

Thomas Sayers Ellis, bandleader poet, James Brandon Lewis, tenor sax, Luke Stewart, bass, Melanie Dyer, viola, vocals, Nettie Chickering, voice, Jenna Camille, piano, vocals, Randall Horton, poet, Devin Brahja Waldman, alto sax, synthesizer, Bonita Lee Penn, poet, Heru Shabaka-ra, trumpet, Brandon Moses, guitar, Warren "Trae" Crudup, III, drums

Amina (The Dutchman's Three Buttoned Suit / Poetry Iz Labor / Forensic Report)

The Shrimpy Grits

LeAutoRoiOgraphy

Mista Sippy

 Sad Dictator (I Wanna Make Freedom)

 

Nelson Cascai, Remembrance: The Poetry of Emily Bronte (Fundacao GDA, 2022)

Cláudio Alves: voice . Ricardo Toscano: alto sax . Eduardo Cardinho: vibraphone . Óscar Marcelino da Graça : piano and synths . Nelson Cascais: bass . João Lopes Pereira: drums

The Night Is Darkening Round Me

Remembrance

Ellis Bell

Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee

Intimations Of Mortality

All Hushed And Still Within The House

Fall Leaves Fall

Gondal

Bronte

She Dried Her Tears

Eliot Cardinaux, Will McAvoy, Max Goldman, Out of Our Systems (The Bodily Press, 2022)

Eliot Cardinaux: piano, poetry, compositions; Will McEvoy: double bass, compositions; Max Goldman: drums, cymbals, percussion

Lying in the House of You (Piano Day)

Little Waltz

Toxin

Unwound

A Black Box for the Holy Ghost

When We Went (Someone Else's Mystery)

Rosary


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Performance review: ELLIOT SHARP live film score

 

Originally published in The NYC Jazz Record, John Pietaro, NY@Night column, May 2022



Elliott Sharp, live film score

White Box Artspace, New York NY

 Elliott Sharp is a Downtown original. Composer, guitarist and woodwind player of eminence, his music, more than four decades into such a career, maintains a sense of wonder and innovation. Among his most profound pieces are those created collaboratively, and this was evidenced at the Whitebox Artspace (April 5). Sharp, playing an 8-string electric guitar/bass further expanded by effects, performed live to segments of film by Janene Higgins. The designer/video artist’s work is as severe, expansive and mercurial as the East Village itself (her alliances with Zeena Parkins, Christian Marclay, Ikue Mori, many others, speaks volumes) and these selections from Sharp’s opera installations, and a work with interdisciplinary artist Rena Anakwe, were visually compelling and sonically riveting. Port Bou, an opera based on the final moments of the great Marxist philosopher Walter Benjamin, just prior to his execution by the Nazis, sports dark fascist imager countered forcefully by Sharp’s hammer-ons, tapping and long held distorted tones. The opera installation Filiseti Mekidesi of 2018 explores the search for solace and belonging by refugees via intertwined genome-like designs and visions of deep space. The score (pre-recorded but enhanced by Sharp’s live performance) featured repetition and phasing in the flute and brass sections and throbbing percussion, but this was far from the minimalist brand. And Die Grosst Fugue (2021) was an emotional firestorm, depicting Beethoven at 250, mad, detached, deaf and falling into fugue states which had Sharp’s searing, canonic guitar lines conjuring Robert Fripp over stunning visuals.

Album review: Javon Jackson/Nikki Giovanni, The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni

 

Originally published in The NYC Jazz Record, May 2022

Javon Jackson, The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni (Solid Jackson 2022)

                                                                            CD review 



Nikki Giovanni is a national treasure, a landmark in the annals of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation struggles and a stalwart poet of renown and a certain fearlessness. Presently, just shy of her 80th birthday, Giovanni continues to be tireless in her roles as a Virginia Tech distinguished professor and as a vital literary figure. Her sizeable body of work has primarily focused on the socio-political, but never with a loss to art; she is living, breathing evidence that works of protest need not be fleeting.

Giovanni has a long history as a performance poet within the Black Arts Movement and several of her most important records of the 1970s featuring commanding spoken word with jazz or gospel backing by David Fathead Newman, Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie and others were deeply impactful. Happily, the Modern Harmonic label has, just this year, re-released several of these historic works. In contrast, on her new album with Javon Jackson, he late of the Jazz Messengers, Giovanni stands as guide, surely inspiration, who selected the spirituals that comprise the album. While that is of great significance, her direct participation is leveled at only two pieces. High points of The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni include “Wade in the Water” and the single track featuring the poet, “Night Song”. The latter is notable as Giovanni’s only recording as a vocalist. Further, it is dedicated to the late, great Nina Simone, a dear friend of Giovanni’s. A lasting part of Simone’s repertoire, “Night Song” is a Charles Strouse/Lee Adams number from the Broadway musical production of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy (playwright Odets was a fighting cultural worker of the ‘30s). The poet’s voice, appropriately strained with age, easily depicts her long and noble struggle as well as the warm connection to a lost friend. “Wade in the Water”, an allegory of revolution, is here expanded by Giovanni’s “A Very Simple Gift”:

i should imagine we shall lose our souls
since we have so blatantly put them up
for sale and glutted the marketplace
thereby depressing the price

Jackson’s bold-faced tone as a tenor saxophonist is quite the match for this body of work, mid-ranged, he exudes Coltrane’s “Alabama”, particularly with the moody, dark interpretations of “Wade in the Water” and especially “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. Jeremy Manasia’s piano thrives on the Freedom Summer influences, flawlessly capturing the atmospherics, so profound, so grounded, and Jackson organically touches upon the encoded messages built into these works which guided liberation from slavery. While a powerful authenticity is felt in many selections, somehow there are points when the material settles into an uncomfortable, possibly unforgiveable “soft jazz” realm. Most vexing is the bossa nova that became of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Largely, however, this record makes a relevant adjunctive statement to Giovanni’s earlier albums, Truth is on Its Way, That’s the Way that I Feel and Like a Ripple on a Pond, all of which remain highly recommended.

 

Feature article: L Shankar

 

Originally published in The NYC Jazz Record, April 2022 feature



L. SHANKAR

To describe L. Shankar as a chameleon is nothing short of trite. The violinist’s drive toward change has continuously been in the service of growth. Shankar’s tapestry embraces Indian classical, free jazz, fusion, folk and world music, pop, rock, dance, and no wave. This global view guided his founding of Shakti with John McLaughlin, and cast a mind-numbing CV boasting Jan Garbarek, Don Cherry, Lou Reed, Alice Coltrane, Frank Zappa, Ed Blackwell, Swans, Peter Gabriel, Kenny Wheeler, Public Image Ltd, and Madonna. And while reveling in such creative ventures, Shankar, so committed to the experience, developed a reputation as vocalist rivaling his fame as a violinist, and has been known to alter both name and appearance to fit a given musical moment. This month at Roulette he’ll perform a fusion of Carnatic and Hindustani ragas and world sounds with tabla drummer Abhijit Banerjee and mrdangam player Rohan Krishnamurthy. Such fluidity is born of an inexhaustible spirit. “I know it’s confusing”, Shankar explained, brushing back the strawberry-blonde locks of recent years. “For the last two albums I went back to ‘L. Shankar’, though many recall my ECM years when I was simply ‘Shankar’. But I’ve been billed as ‘Shenkar’ on pop recordings. This gives you a clean slate. I’ve been around for some time and listeners sometimes don’t want anything else, so, I become what’s needed.”

Shankar was born in Madras, India, 1950, relocating to Sri Lanka where his father V. Lakshminarayana was a music professor. Shankar’s mother, L. Seethalakshmi, was a vocalist and veena player, and the children were viscerally engaged in music. Formal tutelage in voice began at age two, and within several years Shankar was studying violin and mridangam. At seven-years-old, he’d performed in concert, but the family fled the area during the 1958 ethnic riots, returning to India. Several years later, Shankar and his brothers L. Vaidyanathan and L. Subramaniam began performing as a professional trio. While they found acclaim playing Indian classical music, Shankar desired expanse, the blending of Carnatic (southern) and Hindustani (northern) styles. But experimentalism was met with consternation. “In India those who were close minded were afraid of the dark. People have to learn that there’s light in darkness. But I cannot stop at the simple. We must educate the listener”.

Indian culture flourished in the west throughout the 1960s, from Gandhi’s teachings, already decades old, to trends in yoga, meditation, even Nehru collars. Integration began as early as the 1950s when U.N. delegations presented sitar master Ravi Shankar (no relation) to the U.S. Within a decade the sitar was heard on commercial records, most influentially to western ears via George Harrison of the Beatles. But traditionalists shunned the opportunities and, seeing no room for advancement, the violinist moved to the US in 1969, studying at Wesleyan University. “The cold was hard to get used to, but no one was telling me what to do. John McLaughlin came to Wesleyan to study veena and we started jamming. I told him he can apply the same music he’d been playing to Indian music. Jimmy Garrison was also teaching in Massachusetts.”

1975 saw the premiere of Shakti, the ensemble Shankar founded with McLaughlin and brilliant percussionists Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram. The guitarist’s celebrity as both a protégé of Miles and Mahavishnu Orchestra helmsman foresaw Shakti’s path to fame, yet Shankar was uncertain. “Our first gig was at the Bottom Line. We were all sitting on stage, never expecting what the future might hold”, but suddenly there were world tours with Weather Report. Shankar, by then living in NYC, recorded three critically acclaimed albums with Shakti, crossing paths with luminaries. Looking back on the period, Shankar explains how such multi-culturalism developed: “Improvisation is central to Indian music. It goes on as long as you want; you can play until the cow comes home. I’ll sing for 14 hours, play violin, without being tired. I can travel and still focus. I meditate within myself so every time I’m playing, it’s like playing in my living room, even if in a stadium filled with people.”

The stadiums continued even after Shakti’s dissolution. Shankar toured with Frank Zappa who then signed the violinist to his label, releasing Touch Me There in 1979. It featured Shankar’s electric 5-string and standard violin with guitarist Phil Palmer and drummer Simon Phillips. Zappa’s vocal on one cut, split with Ike Willis from his own band, demarcates the endorsement given Shankar. Prominent is “Darlene”, a beautifully flowing work of continuous meter shifts which the violinist continues to revisit. “It’s one of my most complex pieces; it includes so many cycles. I had just come off a tour of India and the band rehearsed in England for ten days. But “Darlene” required 57 takes”, he explained.

However, the boundary shredding continued. In 1980 Shankar reconceived his instrument, designing the electric 10-string double violin which covers the orchestral string family’s range. “Some said I was ruining the instrument. In India I had a press conference with 500 in attendance. I told them we had to be open, that no one can stop time. The audience in the past was 60 years old, but after we started expanding the music, the youth came.” The instrument was unveiled on Face Value, the acclaimed solo debut of drummer/vocalist Phil Collins, and Shankar’s own Who’s to Know? with the violinist comfortably straddling atmospheric hit “In the Air Tonight” and ECM’s expansive sonorities. “Manfred (Eicher) put me on a long European tour, a double bill with Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. I had no band, so I used effects and asked them to join me on some pieces. Don really loved Indian music and I invited him to a big show with Alice Coltrane, Trilok Gurtu and Zakir Hussain: the Bombay Jazz Festival. We played an outdoor stage on the beach.” Among his ECM releases, Song for Everyone remains most memorable. “It’s a highlight that stays with me, the melodies keep coming up in my playing. We toured this widely, sometimes including Nana Vasconcelos. In (Eastern Bloc) Yugoslavia there was a huge concert. When we ended, the audience was crying.”

Over years, Shankar’s contributions to both planes has been continuous. “When I worked with Peter Gabriel and Martin Scorsese on The Last Temptation of Christ, I was only on vocals. It’s funny because I was raised as a singer and practice voice as a primary thing. When you hear my violin, I’m singing.” Shankar toured with Gabriel and became part of the “Sun City” record, raising awareness for Black South Africans, and then joined the Princess Trust and Human Rights Now tours.

Composing for film saw his relocation to Hollywood, supplementing work with Talking Heads, Marianne Faithful, Sting, and much-loved collaborations with the World Music Institute. “Madonna came to Gabriel shows and loved my Passion of the Christ score. Her producer asked me to lay down tracks and the next day, Madonna wanted me to tour with her. But I needed to play my own music. I didn’t begin playing for money. I chose to continue my education.” Shankar’s progressive vision was never at the expense of artistry. “Lou Reed asked me if I can play real emotion in four bars. I said four bars is more than enough”.

Shankar’s released two dozen albums under his own leadership and guested with Archie Shepp, Yoko Ono, Material, Adam Rudolph, Maurice Jarre (Jacob’s Ladder score), Ginger Baker, and Swans, and was prominent on Public Image Ltd’s Album which boasted Tony Williams, Bill Laswell, Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Nicky Skopelitis, Jonas Hellborg, Malachi Favors, and Steve Turre. He returned to his homeland in 2016 to teach at the Shiva Conservatory. “Music is about unity. I’m a U.S. citizen and can return any time, but I left when Trump was elected. There was so much hatred.” Still, he’s maintained a busy, fluid career. 2020s Chepleeri Dream, composed during brutal storms in India and bearing the sounds of relentless downpour, remains a global sensation. Now, amid a 7-city tour, Shankar muses, “You must be humble. It’s very important as a human being to embrace others as students of life. If I thought I knew everything, I’d simply stop playing.”

 

 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Album reviews: Open Question, 'Open Question, Vol. 1' // Pause & Effect, 'Attitude!'

 

Originally published in The NYC Jazz Record, February 2022

1)    Open Question, Open Question, Vol. 1 (577)

                                      2)    Pause & Effect, Attitude! (ESP-Disk)

Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito first came to the attention of this writer several years ago at the debut performance of Attitude!, prior to that band actually having a proper name, but the Japanese-born Berklee grad has been residing in New York for nearly a dozen years. Formal tutelage with George Garzone and certainly less than rigid mentorship by downtown’s own Daniel Carter has seen her working with a wide range of like-minded spirits and leading her own ensembles. And in spite of the silences, divisions and closures shrouded in covid fallout, Ishito has remained vital, garnering only more due attention.

Open Question is one of those projects Daniel Carter has thrived in lo these many years. Equal parts young and old(er), east and west, blue, cool, hip and caustic, with some Prince Street wail, and a deep-listening sort of improvisation included. His multiple woods and brass along with Ishito’s tenor soars through four works recorded in a Brooklyn studio late in 2020; just another pick-up gig? NO. The band demonstrates a damned amazing ability to play utterly free over varying arrangements and dynamics as if reading charts of through-composed music. Shades of In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, even Kind of Blue with handfuls of Houston Street and Coltrane tossed into the mix. Things start immediately in this direction with “Blues”, in which the front line wraps itself around a wildly expanded blues form. “Dimly-lit Platform”, a delectable piece, is flute-driven, wreaking of mysterioso and noir, not simply film noir but the still earlier novels; think Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich. A quiet restlessness akin to a soaked, steaming mattress in an airless bedroom of 1930s’ Lower East Side is felt throughout and Ishito’s tradition-haunted tenor, reedy and dark, bores new tonalities through Carter’s floating melody. “Confidential BBQ”, the next cut, seems more like a second movement of the former title as it retains the shadowy vibe, albeit over double-time groove. Here, her tenor is again matched by Carter’s flute and muted trumpet, and the clouded rhythm section—upright bassist Zach Swanson and drummer Jon Pannikar—glides, smokes and burns at mezzo-piano. Mid-way through, this moves into early electric Miles’ way, Erik Plaks’ pointed Wurlitzer commands the swarming thicket like a latter-day Zawinul, particularly against Carter’s muted trumpet. This is brilliant, lasting music. I can hardly wait for Vol. 2.

Another side of Ishito is demonstrated on Attitude’s Pause and Effect, based around the revolutionary spoken word of poet Rose Tang who on this album doubles on electric guitar, piano and percussion. Her trio with Ishito and drummer Wen-Ting Wu stands out as not only as—by intent--all-female, but all-Asian, and from varying parts of the east. Tang, the Brooklyn-based journalist and survivor of 1989’s Tiananmen Square uprising, has been experimenting with improvisational music over several years and brought this band together as part of her statements against sexism and anti-Asian hate and the struggle of Hong Kong against mainland China’s military rule. “I’m not a China doll, I’m not your geisha…I’m not Yoko Ono…I AM ME”, Tang exclaims in righteous anger over burning, far-reaching free music. “Gimme a Mic” and “Who Flung Dung” are radical calls to order, shouted, demanded and specified as poetic free jazz. But listen, too, for the gravity of “Flames with No Names” and Ishito’s spiritual horn claiming Coltrane’s “Alabama” for the cause as Tang meditates on the rapes, the pillages, the theft of women. “You can never beat us. You can kill us, but you can never kill all of us”, she states. “This is your last hurrah…”. Wu’s fluid, rapid-fire mallets on tom-toms conjure the imagery of Asian folk music as easily as Ed Blackwell. And the fiery propulsion of “8 Steps/7 O’Clock”, with Ishito’s sinewy, ‘80s-inspired head, let alone the lengthy “Conversation” (nearly 25 minutes in length) are so steeped in the Fire Music tradition that listeners may be assume these to be lost cuts by John Zorn or Alice Coltrane, respectively. Not bad company.

CREDITS:

1)                     Open Question, Open Question, Vol. 1 (577) – “Blues”, “Dimly-Lit Platform”, Confidential BBQ”, Synchronicity”

Daniel Carter-trumpet, flute, clarinet, soprano, alto, tenor saxophones / Ayumi Ishito-tenor saxophone, FX / Erik Plaks-piano, Wurlitzer / Zach Swanson-acoustic bass / Jon Panikkar-drums

 

2)                   Attitude!, Pause and Effect (ESP-Disk) – “Gimme a Mic”, “Who Flung Dung”, “Flames with No Names”, “8 Steps/7 O’Clock”, “Conversation”

Rose Tang-voice, electric guitar, piano, percussion / Ayumi Ishito-tenor saxophone, voice / Wen-Ting Wu-drums, voice

 

Concert review: ANDREW LAMB’S CIRCADIAN SPHERES OF LIGHT PROJECT

 

Originally published in The NYC Jazz Record, NY@Night Column, January 2022

ANDREW LAMB’S CIRCADIAN SPHERES OF LIGHT PROJECT

Dec 1, 2021, Roulette, Brooklyn

Andrew Lamb I(center, seated) and the Circadian Spheres of Light. Photo by Pietaro

 Ensconced within an all-star ensemble, saxophonist/composer Andrew Lamb brought new life—new lives!--to inter-disciplinary performance, and Roulette (December 1) was the perfect breeding ground for the Circadian Spheres of Light Project. Lamb’s music has always walked between the epic and the shock of the new, but with the influence of study into music’s influence on the brain, and in the company of poet/multi-instrumentalist Ngoma Hill, a compatriot of Amiri Baraka, the artful became a statement of both awakening and cultural pride. “I am the original man”, Hill proclaimed just after his didgeridoo introduction, moving to the sweep of visual artist Jimmy James Green’s brush work. The ensemble eased in but spoke in torrents through Lamb’s series of motifs realized across the eleven instrumentalists who had freedom of pitch through each unison. 

This 90-minute, multi-themed work erupted into the fire music we love, with the house quaking beneath the celebrated Warren Smith’s timpani throb and broil. He was one of four percussionists covering a glittering wealth of metals and idiophones at stage rear: Newman Taylor Baker (washboard, more), Lloyd Haber (drumset, gongs) and Jose Luis Abreu (hand drums, shakers). 

Trombone giant Dick Griffin seared the atmosphere with the circular breathing that still mystifies, and Melanie Griffin, the most essential jazz violist today, played heart-wrenching improvisations, particularly when paired with dancer Trashina Conner. Far too much to fit into this column, but other astounding soloists were bassist Hill Greene, violinist Gwen Laster, and maestro Lamb himself.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

BEST OF JAZZ AND NEW MUSIC, 2021 (a personal view)

 BEST OF JAZZ AND NEW MUSIC, 2021: John Pietaro

This year in which we celebrated the return of live performance and simultaneously foresaw a rise in virus numbers and the resumption of show and venue closings, the pervasive issue remains on the anti-vax know-nothings affecting the lives of the careful, caring and compliant. Health regs and advisories as simple as getting a lifesaving vaccine are not too much to ask for, yet conservative talking heads retain their manipulative stronghold over the frightened Right, conveniently confounding vacc mandates as anti-liberty.  That's a rancid swill of "states' rights", xenophobia, guns-lobbies, white citizens' councils (spelled with three Ks), sexist old boys' clubs and corporate dollars. While the effects of this on the creative community shouldn't be first in the complaint line, the fact is, artists and arts institutions have been decimated and the prospect of yet another lockdown has already seen tours cancelled and records labels rethinking contracts. Still, artists will make art---and have. The outcome of this year's anxious output has been something special, and this much we can revel in. And should. 

And then going forward,  let's simply close out anyone who selfishly risks YOUR life and the lives, health and lifestyles of everyone around us. The arts are about healing and such ignorant, self-centered arrogance should not be tolerated by artists and art-lovers of conscience. 

jp


Now then, following is my personal BEST OF JAZZ AND NEW MUSIC, 2021...


MUSICIANS-

alto sax: David Lee Jones / Darius Jones / Devin Brahja Waldman

tenor sax: James Brandon Lewis / Andrew Lamb

baritone sax: Claire Daley / Dave Sewelson / Gary Smulyan

flute: Nicole Mitchell / Cheryl Pyle

trumpet: Kirk Knufke / Mac Gollehon / Ingrid Jensen

trombone: Steve Swell / Chris McIntyre

violin: Sam Bardfeld / Sarah Bernstein / Gwen Laster

viola: Melanie Dyer / Joanna Mattrey

cello: Lester St. Louis

acoustic guitar: Stephane Wrembel 

electric guitar: Aurelien Budyack / Vernon Reid / Bill Frisell

upright bass: Ken Filiano / William Parker / Cameron Brown

electric bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma / Bill Laswell / Steve Swallow

piano: Vijay Iyer / Helen Sung / Mara Rosenbloom

drumset: Ches Smith / Hamid Drake / Cindy Blackman-Santana

percussion: Warren Smith / Bobby Sanabria

vibraphone: Joel Ross

multi-instrumentalist: Elliot Sharp / Daniel Carter 

vocals: Sheila Jordan / Fay Victor

spoken word: Anne Waldman / Patricia Smith / Ngoma Hill 


MISCELLANIOUS INSTRUMENTS-

banjo: Brandon Seabrook / Arnt Arntzen

harp: Zeena Parkins

washboard: Newman Taylor Baker

laptop: Ikue Mori


UP-AND-COMERS-

 Lee Odom (soprano sax) 

Luke Stewart (upright and elec bass)


LARGE ENSEMBLES-

Mingus Big Band /Afro-Yaqui Music Collective / Maria Schneider Orchestra

 

SMALL GROUPS-

Three Layer Cake / Ceramic Dog / The Fringe


CONCERTS OF THE YEAR-

1) Mingus Big Band, 11/9/21, the Django at the Roxy Hotel, NYC

2) Anne Waldman (with William Parker and James Brandon Lewis), 9/30/21, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Brooklyn

3) Andrew Lamb’s Circadian Spheres of Light Project, 12/1/21, Roulette, Brooklyn NY

4) Ceramic Dog/the Messthetics, 10/2/21, the Bell House, Brooklyn NY


COMEBACKS OF THE YEAR-

Bush Tetras, 11/13, 21, Le Poisson Rouge, NYC / Ivan Julian- new album and performance!


LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT-

Warren Smith / Sheila Jordan / Dick Griffin / Legs McNeil


VENUES-

Manhattan: Le Poisson Rouge, Clemente Soto Velez Center, the Django

Brooklyn: Roulette, Barbes, Mama Tried


RECORD LABELS-

ESP-Disk / Rare Noise / 577


 NEW ALBUM RELEASES-

Ceramic Dog, Hope (Northern Spy)

James Brandon Lewis/Red Lily Quintet, Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)

Three Layer Cake, Stove Top (Rare Noise)

Benjamin Boone, The Poets Are Gathering (Origin)

New Muse 4Tet, Blue Lotus (Muffymarie)

Sarah Bernstein, Exolinger (577) 

Francisco Mela featuring Matthew Shipp and William Parker, Music Frees Our Souls (577)


SOLO ALBUM-

Sarah Bernstein, Exolinger (577)


UNEARTHED GEM-

Sheila Jordan: Comes Love (Capri)


BOXED SETS-

Bush Tetras, Rhythm and Paranoia (Wharf Cat)


RADIO STATION (broadcast)-

WFMU-FM / WKCR-FM


RADIO STATION (streaming)-

Give The Drummer (WFMU.org)

Sheena’s Jungle Room (WFMU.org)

Maker Park Radio (MakerParkRadio.NYC)


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Essay/Review: BUSH TETRAS: Riding the Downtown Epoch

 Originally published in PLEASE KILL ME, December 3, 2021 under the title: 

"BUSH TETRAS: A HAPPY SAD CELEBRATION OF DOWNTOWN GIANTS"

BUSH TETRAS: Riding the Downtown Epoch

Band debuts new line-up, celebrates boxed set ‘Rhythm and Paranoia’ at LPR

by John Pietaro



13 November, Le Poisson Rouge, New York City. As the audience, ranging from 20-somethings to senior citizens, filled the hallowed ground, the DJ was spinning funk through a wall of pulsating woofers, the bar quickly busied, and the Village buzz only swelled. This crowd, yes, this crowd has been ready forever.

But backstage, the mood lingered thick with anticipation and mournfulness. It’s been only weeks since the sad, unexpected passing of Dee Pop and as Bush Tetras prepare for their post-lockdown homecoming, the loss is experienced in ways unique to each member’s history with the late drummer.

Pat Place in 1979 founded the band with Pop, bringing on Cynthia Sley almost immediately thereafter, and the three remained a family over some four decades, altercations, separations and divorces notwithstanding. The guitarist, smiling softly through radiant, moistened eyes, remarked: “We miss Dee so much---not only as a band member but as a dear friend”, while Sley added somberly, “I’m just trying to hold it together.” Even sound-check, she explained, had been painful. “I don’t want to break down on stage.”

Dee’s place in music history, long secured, was reinforced by the release of Rhythm and Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras (Wharf Cat Records, 2021), the ultimate BTs historic document. No small irony that “new, permanent drummer” Don Christiansen--a no wave/new music original as well as visual artist--too maintains a connection to Pop; he held the drum chair during the latter’s earlier absence. And bassist R.B. Korbet, underground music stalwart that she is, met Dee while on staff at Coney Island Baby and he later recruited her into the band. Each member of this ensemble holds a valued spot in the city’s downtown heritage, one which reaches back and over through its roots, branches and a prism of foliage.

As the band sat in the club’s green room, participating in a shoot by celebrated photographer Dustin Pop (no relation), the stage was occupied by the youthful performance artist Austin Sley Julian aka ‘Sunk Heaven’. Ensconced in laser lights and vibrantly deafening sound, this son of Cynthia Sley and guitarist/songwriter Ivan Julian may be among the heirs apparent to downtown’s epoch. His set was followed by Public Practice, a compelling band deep in the tradition, though more of the B-52s’ ilk; it was an embarrassingly welcome brand to we aging post-punks in the house. And just as the music drew the crowd into throbbing rhythmicity, Bush Tetras privately gathered for one last collective breath before hitting the lights out front.

Photos of Dee Pop were projected onto a large screen as Pat Place plugged her guitar into its amplifier. Cynthia Sley, already standing at center, told the hungry audience: “We are here to celebrate our new boxed set---and to celebrate Dee”, as Christiansen and Korbet took their places in the line-up. Within moments, however, it became clear that this is indeed a band in the truest sense. They opened with a couple of oldies, “Punch Drunk” being preceded by Sley banter about living in their 1st Street East Village rehearsal room in those early days. This song was recorded at the same session as the three on the BTs’ first 7” E.P. release (99 Records, 1980) but was unissued at the time. As noted in Rhythm and Paranoia’s 46-page biographical insert, this track and those on that first E.P. were actually co-produced by Don Christiansen, who’d been a bandmate of Pat’s in the Contortions. The downtown epoch’s roots hold firm, the reach of its branches remains unyielding. And whole swaths of are contained within the writings and rare photographs in the L.P.-sized booklet of the vinyl boxed set.

The collection befittingly presents the music in chronological order, with the celebrated arch-funk and razor accents of “Too Many Creeps” right up top. All of the selections, however, were artfully remastered, bringing to life each slash of Place’s guitar, the tremble of Pop’s bass drum and his every walloping rimshot. But, listening still more intently, Laura Kennedy’s unbridled bass rings out, her slap punctuations sting through radical picking in extended harmony. Her bassline, wrapped about Sley’s hyper, rhythmic vocal, is the core of the piece, carrying it through the angular guitar assault and relentless pulse. It can be said that Kennedy’s extra-tonal concept was the no wave within Bush Tetras. Rhythm and Paranoia (a 1981 term of Kennedy’s when asked to describe the band’s sound) is comprised of three L.P.s pressed onto 180-gram vinyl, assuring a stunning balance among the studio and live recordings which tell the BTs’ story. Of course, the set is also available as a download, or as a pair of CDs (with a disc-sized booklet).

PAT PLACE, A NATIVE CHICAGOAN, MOVED TO NEW YORK IN 1975 after earning a BFA at Skidmore. At the time her relocation was based purely on the pursuit of a visual art career, and this period included the prerequisite day job at Pearl Paint. “We could afford to live here as the city was bankrupt. We were paying $160 per month on East 6th Street then”, she stated, citing NYC’s deep-freeze brittle years, as then-President Ford infamously extended a conclusive ‘drop dead’ in place of a federal bail-out.

Concurrently, a wealth of artists flocked not only to the city, but specifically to the creative mecca downtown, one that had been attracting artists and Lefties since the bohemian 1910s. But in the 1970s-80s, what with the poverty, burnt-out buildings, crime, and heroin and then crack in its midst, the creative community was of the underground, albeit a far more urgent underground built on rampant experimentalism and amalgamation among genres and disciplines. “It was all melding at that time”, Place explained. “We were a bunch of art-damaged kids and these little art bands started. They were anti-everything, didn’t want to sound like anything done before. It was anarchistic”.

She’d studied piano as a child and played some guitar during adolescence, so after stepping into this fertile setting, Place decided to re-examine the latter. Within weeks of obtaining an electric guitar, she was invited by James Chance (who liked her hair) to join his new band, the Contortions. “The no wave bands made me realize I could do this too”, she said. “They were coming from other art genres, very conceptual. Bands like DNA and Teenage Jesus were quite brilliant. Lydia (Lunch) had 10-minute sets! It was a new way”. The Contortions also included Christiansen, keyboard player Adele Bertei, guitarist Jody Harris and bassist George Scott III.

Simultaneously, Place came to the attention of no wave film makers Vivienne Dick and Beth and Scott B who included her in their experimental films being exhibited in the same spaces that were growing the music. Such a fusion was far beyond mere emulsion.

The guitarist has stated that her limitations on the instrument were clear, so she began by playing an instinctual brand of slide guitar, similar to that of Lydia Lunch. “I remember James early on playing with jazz musicians. I wasn’t involved in that. I can’t believe I had the balls to ever do it”, she said, laughing. Still, she developed a free-reign style, casting sound art as much as ‘music’ throughout arthouses and clubs, most of which have sadly since faded. But this elusive moment was captured by Brian Eno on the revered No New York album. The Contortions, along with Mars, DNA and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, indeed made history with those sessions, even if none thought the album would make a dent. “Eno was very lovely and nice and professional. We were well aware of him, and I was a bit intimidated, but once you’re in it, it becomes about the work”. Place said that the band felt highly motivated to enter the studio with the auteur, but “we didn’t really expect (No New York) to go anywhere. We had no idea it would be historic.” Barely suppressing laughter, she added: “Adele and I drew all over the back of the album cover, over all of our faces. Moustaches and scars on everyone!”




The tenuous career of the original Contortions wouldn’t outlive even the brief no wave movement. “There was a huge fight in the band where Anya (Phillips, manager) fired (bassist) George (Scott III) during the session, and hired Dave Hofstra to recut his tracks. Jody was really pissed about that. I was just trying to hold up my own. A lot of drugs were being thrown around those sessions”. Phillips, Chance’s partner and girlfriend, sought to create a solo career for the sensationalistic saxophonist and asked only Place to remain in their fold, “but I was friends with the boys”, she added conclusively. Scott went on to work with downtown luminary John Cale and joined Lunch’s 8-Eyed Spy before co-founding the Raybeats with Jody Harris and Don Christiansen. Scott would tragically die of an overdose by 1980.

In the Contortions’ wake, Place organized the Bush Tetras’ first line-up, uniting Kennedy and Pop (“When I met Dee”, Place recalled, “he was drumming but was also a rock writer”) with guitarist Jimmy Uliano, and Adele Bertei as vocalist. Following the band’s outing at Artist Space, Bertei and Uliano moved on, and Cynthia Sley took over vocal duties. This classic line-up debuted at another gallery, Tier 3, but soon began filling Irving Plaza, Danceteria, the Mudd Club and the Peppermint Lounge, among others. As stated in Marc Masters’ introductory article in the boxed set booklet, Sley’s “Too Many Creeps” was written just the day prior to the band’s first victorious Irving Plaza gig, opening for the Feelies.

“MY CAREER HAS BEEN KIND OF ALL OVER THE MAP”, Dee Pop explained in an interview with this reporter just months ago. “I like so much music and have just delved into things. I’d spend three or four years playing free jazz, blues or Greek music”. The son of a Downbeat magazine photographer, Pop was exposed to a wide range of jazz, rock and classical music throughout his formative years. “Mom taught me that some of the music of her generation was great. She said I needed to realize—as Ellington said—there is only good and bad music. If you don’t see that, you nullify everything that happened before”. Resultantly, Pop was imbedded into the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, as well as the Beatles and Stones, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, and earlier traditional jazz. “My grandfather was Louis Armstrong’s florist, so I met him when I was a little kid. I used to ride with my grandfather’s delivery man to his house in Flushing”.

Dee began playing a rudimentary drumset within a childhood vocal group, but never studied the instrument formerly. “I’m a self-taught drummer but studied both flute and clarinet for ten years. And I still play these instruments!”, he said, clarifying that such occasions are never before an audience.

With the guidance of the music around him, Dee’s explorations on drums eventually saw his travel from Queens to the East Village. “In 1979-80, I was squatting on 7th Street by the corner of Ave C. My two running buddies were Bobo Shaw and Dennis Charles. Dennis was sitting on the corner of 6th Street playing with an old crappy snare and a box for a bass drum. For a year, I didn’t realize it was Dennis Charles. I would hang out with Bobo, and we worked on drum shit together. Bobo had been with Defunkt. There was so much cross-pollination. No wave and out jazz made sense (to rock and rollers)”. In this period, playing on the burgeoning punk scene, Pop was well aware of Pat Place and became the natural choice to be her new band’s drummer.

“We liked that avant edge”, Pop said. “And the funk part of it, where Pat was coming from at the time. But I guess I kind of destroyed no wave by putting a 4/4 (beat) to it. That’s what made the Bush Tetras a little more possible; listeners could figure out where the “1” was”, he wryly added.

Akin to rest of the scene, the fledgling band actually thrived within its own limitations and restrictions. “Pat had never played music before the Contortions. Laura was self-learned. I knew how to play a backbeat and recognized the standard form of a song and tried to hold them together. We practiced a lot, but it was all very organic.”

CYNTHIA SLEY, VISUAL ARTIST, POET, WOULD-BE CLOTHING DESIGNER, moved from Cleveland to downtown Manhattan just in time. The relocation was inspired by a visit to the city to see Jim Jarmusch, an old friend. But by then, plans to attend FIT were all but left behind. “New York was a real free city then”, she recently told Grand Life, still speaking with enthusiasm for the inter-connectedness of artists and genres in the time and place. She’d known Laura Kennedy back home; the two were even in a Cleveland performance piece together which featured a pseudo-band built around Sley’s poetry. The combined encouragement of Kennedy and Place, a new close friend, rendered her somewhat willing to become their frontperson.

Joining Bush Tetras at its dawn, Sley was central to the band’s creative process, which at that point probably owed more to William Burroughs than any contemporary rock songwriter. “We used to work on lyrics together by cutting up notebooks we had written in and pasting them kind of Dada style”, she told Grand Life.

Numerous songs came together immediately though she’d never imagined herself a vocalist. Bush Tetras’ tendency to write material grown in jam sessions allowed for a looser approach with Sley’s sprechgesang vocal style, bridging the sung to the spoken, affording poetic space as well as room for repetitive, splintered fragments perfectly countering Place’s sawtooth guitarisms; both remain compelling signatures of the BTs sound.

The band’s following built rapidly over numerous, ongoing tours, both national and global. Perhaps the greatest support, outside of New York, was found in the UK and they quickly became darlings of the Brit punk and post-punk circle. They’d opened for the Clash’s historic Bond’s residency in New York, and then, in London, were recorded live for Stiff Records’ 1981Start Swimming compilation. The BTs’ ominous rendition of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” in this setting takes on innate urgency reflective of the drug culture plaguing the Lower East Side as well as the band itself. Listening to this cut on Rhythm and Paranoia, the contemporary ear catches “Cold Turkey” at its despondent and dejected core. None of Lennon’s primal scream therapy, however, is attempted here, let alone replicated in Sley’s vocal. Instead, it’s relived in Place’s guttural, shrieking guitar lamentations.

The London performances proved fortuitous as British label Fetish Records signed the band for the single “Things That Go Boom in the Night”, the guitar riff of which bears a resemblance to that of “Cold Turkey” but is all the more biting on this re-mastered collection. More so, the Clash’s Topper Headon had developed a close relationship with the BTs, Dee Pop in particular, and acted as producer on their next E.P., Rituals (1981), recorded at Electric Lady Studio back in the Village. Later, Pop would return the favor by subbing for Headon when the bands toured together. He was later considered for membership in the Clash before Headon’s return. “Cowboys in Africa” came from this E.P. set and remains a perennial; brimming with enthusiasm when played at Le Poisson Rouge on 11/13, the room was left pulsating.

In 1982, Cynthia Sley married Ivan Julian, downtown denizen and a founding member of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Within the year, both Pop and Kennedy, spent from the relentless touring, left the band. Dee explained “I felt that the Bush Tetras had gone as far as we could, and I wanted to do more”, in which time he both explored free jazz, and played with the Gun Club. When not out with that band, or his own units Floor Kiss and Radio I-Ching, Pop collaborated with a dizzying array on all sides of the seeming musical divide, including Billy Bang, John Sinclair, Borah Bergman, Gary Lucas, James Chance, Chuck Berry, the Shams, Roy Campbell, Jayne County, Can, Freedomland (with Daniel Carter, Dave Sewelson, William Parker and Dave Hofstra), Richard Lloyd, Odetta, Darlene Love, the Waldos, Nona Hendryx, Lenny Kaye, Marc Ribot, and the Slits.

Place and Sley attempted to keep the band together, recruiting Christensen (who was by then one of the Raybeats) and Bob Albertson, on drums and bass respectively, and while this line-up-maintained performance dates, it would not prove lasting. Later that year, Bush Tetras officially disbanded. In the interim, Cynthia Sley and Ivan Julian worked together in the Lovelies, recording one album, and in 1989 their son Austin was born. Into the 1990s, following the couple’s divorce, Sley returned to graduate studies in education and embarked on a career as a public school teacher.

Pat Place, meanwhile, re-focused her attention on visual art before recording with Brian Kelly, and then considered a major change. “I’d gotten sober, and decided to go back to school—to study social work. I was at NYU for one semester but then Maggie Estep called and offered $10,000 to go one the road”, she said, referring to the ‘90s spoken word celebrity. The Maggie Estep Combo recorded No More Mr. Nice Girl (1994). In addition to the guitarist it included multi-instrumentalist Knox Chandler, and drummer Steve Dansiger of John S. Hall’s King Missile. “Maggie was having her moment on MTV, so we put this band together to play nine dates with Hole and did The Arsenio Hall Show. But she’s really a writer—six books were published—she’s not really a performer”. Within a decade, Estep would sadly die of a heart attack at age 50.

The mid-90s would bring some new attention to not only Bush Tetras, but other post-punk artists who’d foreseen the “grunge” genre. The market demanded a compendium of the BTs 1980s work, Boom in the Night, which had briefly been seen on cassette under the title Better Late Than Never (ROIR). 1995 found the quartet ready to move forward, so they began writing new material and recorded Beauty Lies (Tim/Kerr), produced by Nona Hendryx, a giant of R&B who’d also been active with Material and Talking Heads. Henry Rollins, always a BTs fan, also produced a track for a new 7” single, “Page 18”. On this recording, Sley’s voice takes on a newfound intensity, a thicker alto that grasps at the primal scream she hadn’t mustered in years prior. Place’s buzzsaw guitar also attains this higher level of distortion, a melding of her earlier chordal bare-knuckle punches and lengthier grunge rock sound. (NOTE: the download includes yet another piece from the Rollins sessions, the harsh “Cutting Floor”, thought lost for decades.)

Happy, a second album, was also recorded (this with Don Fleming as producer), but the label was then purchased by Polygram and the new parent company coldly abandoned the project. “When Bush Tetras was dropped by Polygram in ’98”, Dee Pop stated pensively, “all I wanted to do was play jazz. My friend had been booking avant-garde jazz shows at the Internet Café and when he left, I took it over. I wanted to play with guys like William Parker and Sabir Mateen. I knew that if I booked the place, I’d get to know them.” After the Internet Café closed, Pop established his beloved series at CBGB that lasted several years. Later still, he moved it to Brooklyn.

Place, thoroughly outraged by corporate rock, went on to perform in several indie outfits, including Fat with Don Christensen, and then, much too briefly within the reunion of Chance’s original Contortions: “We played in Tokyo, sold out night. England, Leone, Barcelona. It was great to have the band together. I remember thinking this could be amazing, but things fell apart”, she recalled.

Having accomplished important growth in their personal lives, by 2005, the BTs were anxious to try it again, but Kennedy’s ongoing health concerns saw the need to call on replacements. She’d been living with and suffering from the effects of Hepatitis C for some years and as the band finalized plans for a European tour, she recognized the need to step down. Kennedy died of liver disease in 2011, a crushing blow to the others. The boxed set booklet includes a page of photos featuring several significant bassists who’ve played in her stead over the decades and offers a poetic, telling quote from Felice Rosser: “…I started learning Laura Kennedy’s basslines…I marveled at how they wove in and out and around keys, and always locked to the groove. Rhythm King. Rhythm Queens. The bass like a street with black tar that we all walked down. Dee Pop and Pat Place painted drum and guitars.”

Through the recording of 2018’s Take the Fall E.P. (Wharf Cat), the release party at Bowery Electric, and the band’s 40th anniversary show later at Le Poisson Rouge, the members of Bush Tetras have only strengthened as artists and individuals. The latter two shows were victories best described as visceral, with loving hometown crowds only seeking more, but then all were sidelined by the covid beast. During lockdown, Dee Pop experienced many difficult hours, expressing bouts of dysphoria in his isolation, ironically alternating with a tenacious sense of survival.

“This reminds me of where AIDS was,” he said. “How many millions could have been saved? But I’m looking for silver linings in this. I’m not dead and I’m not sick, and there are good things. So, we have to sit around and be patient.” Dee looked forward to resuming his latest free jazz series, at Truest in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as well as going back on the road with Bush Tetras.

THIS YEAR, AS PLANS DEVELOPED FOR THE BOXED SET, BASSIST RB KORBET WAS BROUGHT INTO THE FOLD. A multi-instrumentalist as well as a visual artist, she moved to the East Village in 1980 and soon found herself at the helm of proto-hardcore band Even Worse, documented on the ROIR compilation New York Thrash. She then began an important and lasting collaboration with John S. Hall including as drummer of his band King Missile. “I really love working with John in any guise, whenever we get the chance. We've been friends such a long time, it's a really comfortable and fun relationship”, she told this reporter in a recent interview.

In addition to work with the noted downtown spoken word artist, Korbet was a prominent member of the Missing Foundation, both the 1980s band and radical movement, led by Peter Missing. She played guitar for their performances, many of which were at the scene of agitated demonstrations and designed their incendiary flyers. “We really blasted the LES with our propaganda”, that which called for affordable housing and relief for the poor as millionaires’ condo buildings like the Christodora grew around them. The ensemble, with its two tribal drummers, thrived on the revolutionary fervor and propelled crowds into a frenzy. “My guitar sound consistent largely of feedback and metal riffs played through a huge bass amp”, she said. During a performance at the original afterhours site of the Fort, facilitated by anti-folk founder Lach, the over-burdened amplifier blew up and caught fire, causing an abrupt end to the show when the fire department arrived in force. “Crazy night.”

Korbet’s activities in the downtown underground never ceased, though she did spend a period of time as a member of the celebrated Pussy Galore and also lived in the UK for some years. Still, her place within Bush Tetras seems to have been waiting all along.

FLIPPING THROUGH THE RHYTHM AND PARANOIA BOOKLET, even the casual reader will recognize names and faces beyond those of the BTs’ members. Greetings from Thurston Moore, Nona Hendryx, Topper Headon, Ann Magnuson and Gang of Four’s Hugo Burnham are a testament to the band’s vital standing. Note in particular Burnham’s very British recollection: “Bush Tetras rather scared us. We were all shouty and angular and interesting, but they were shouty, angular and interesting from New York City. Far cooler.”

The band’s compelling history daily feeds its own legacy. The roots, the branches, are always spawning, and downtown, even in light of the bistros and shining glass towers now in place of bodegas and illegal afterhours joints, lives on in the music, poetry, film, paintings, journalism, performance art and theater which simply refuses to go away.

IN THE EARLIEST HOURS OF OCTOBER 9, THE DAY OF THE BOXED SET LAUNCH AT HOWL HAPPENING, DEE POP UNEXPECTEDLY DIED. The event served largely as a remembrance and memorial. As they recalled their drummer and close friend, Pat Place and Cynthia Sley announced that they would continue with performance plans, returning to Le Poisson Rouge on November 13 — “and it will be for Dee.”

With only three weeks’ prep time before the performance, Don Christensen took on the role. Backstage at the club, in the company of Place, Sley and Korbet, Christensen appeared assured. “Don is one of us”, Sley said warmly.

He’d first arrived in New York City in 1971, another aspiring painter though back in Kansas City he’d been for years drumming in R&B bands. His Big Apple welcome was the theft of half his drumkit, yet Christensen managed to begin working Manhattan’s busy circuit, and was soon befriended by Dave Hofstra and Jody Harris. The latter would help usher the drummer into the Contortions where both worked with bassist George Scott III, whom Christensen has referred to as “a visionary musician”. Scott later brought the guitarist and the drummer into the Raybeats but also encouraged Christensen to engage in sessions of solo improvisational music. The drummer, in turn, went on to produce the “impLOG” recording series featuring his own multi-instrumental excursions, and score numerous indie films. He also had a long-term friendship with Philip Glass and played with the noted composer in several performances including Glass’s well-recalled spot on Saturday Night Live.

In more recent times, Christensen has refocused his creativity on fine art and painting in particular (see his website, fully dedicated to post-modern works!), saving the music gigs for occasional Contortions reunions (this writer is hoping for more of those) and outings with Harris and Hofstra. Apparently, when he received the call from Place and Sley, his priorities again expanded. Even with Pop’s insistent drumming now at rest, the pulse will continuously rumble into each groove. Downtown is never truly out of reach.

Luc Sante, prodigious author and chronicler of LES arts, declared in the boxed set’s closing statement: “They’re Our Band’. Rhythm and Paranoia, declared dead many times over the past 40 years, has again risen in the land, and Bush Tetras are here to blast you through.” Grunge got nothin’ on this.

BY THE TIME BUSH TETRAS’ SHOW AT LE POISSON ROUGE had reached its zenith with “Too Many Creeps”, the stage quaked with dancing audience members pogoing in place and gliding among the quartet. Pat Place’s razor-wire fretboard stabs ran through Cynthia Sley’s severed vocalese like butter. Korbet’s classic Kennedy line taunted the tonality as Christensen’s bass drum ripped a four-to-the-floor hole in the atmosphere.

And the Village Gate spirits emitted a deep sigh of times gone and downtown vibes newly woke
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Obit: Dee Pop

Originally published in THE VILLAGE SUN, Oct 11, and then quoted vigorously by THE NEW YORK TIMES, Oct 26 

 Dee Pop, Bush Tetras drummer, dies at 65; Played with wide array of musicians, from experimental to punk 

Photo by Sherry Rubel


BY JOHN PIETARO | Dimitri Papadopoulos, known as Dee Pop to a fan base of millions, died in his sleep at his home in Brooklyn on Oct. 9. He was 65. 

The drummer, a founding member of the celebrated Bush Tetras, performed with an astounding array of artists over the past four decades, from punk royalty to several generations of Downtown experimentalists. He is survived by a son, Charlie, and daughter, Nicole. 

The band — including the other Bush Tetras founders, Pat Place and Cynthia Sley — was set to celebrate the release of their boxed-set compendium, “Rhythm and Paranoia,” at Howl Happening in the East Village on the very night of Dee’s passing. The event instead served as a remembrance and memorial for the drummer. 

Born in the Forest Hills section of Queens in 1956, Papadopoulos’s immersion into music came about in childhood and was varied from the start. He explained to this writer in an interview several months ago: “Mom was a photographer for Downbeat magazine and when I was a kid, she brought home records by the Stones, the Beatles and Elvis. I had seen them all on Sullivan. “But my mother also taught me about Miles, Coltrane, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong. My grandfather was Louis Armstrong’s florist, so I got to meet him when I rode with my grandfather’s deliveryman to his house in Flushing.” 

At age 10, idolizing Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, as well as Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, he was given a snare drum kit with a small cymbal attached to the stand, casting him into a certain creative fate. Papadopoulos was soon playing in a vocal group he’d formed with a young guitarist friend, but also seeking out expansive musical ideas. “I was living with my grandparents at the time, and they had someone there to help out, Mrs. Bell, who was so cool,” he said. “She brought me James Brown records and taught me how to dance.” 

Instrumental tutelage, however, was not on drums but flute and clarinet, instruments he continued to play over the years. “The one song I wrote for Bush Tetras was actually composed on flute,” he noted.

 During his teen years, while Papadopoulos, a self-described “long-haired stoner kid,” was interested in rock music, he refused to fall into the rule of distrusting anyone, or any sound, over 30. “My mom taught me that some of the music of her generation was great,” he noted. “She said I needed to realize — as Ellington said — there is only good and bad music, regardless of when it was created. If you don’t see that, you nullify everything that happened before.” Proving the point, Dee’s mother brought him to the Beatles’ concert at Shea Stadium, “but she also took me to see Coltrane,” he said. Resultantly, Dee refused to comply with friends’ requests to play Jethro Tull songs on flute as he veered toward Rahsaan Roland Kirk. 

“I just couldn’t explain the music to them,” he said. 

Pop also spoke of a chance meeting in this period with one of his drumming heroes: “In 1971 I was 15 and The Who was playing Forest Hills Tennis Stadium and I really wanted to go,” he recalled. “Members of the tennis club could get onto the grounds, but not the rest of us. So I hopped the fence and landed on Keith Moon, who was sitting backstage. He grabbed me by my collar and said, ‘What do we have here?’ And I ended up getting to watch all three shows — from his drum riser.” 

Making this amazing happenstance all the more memorable, Dee, rocking in his place, was burned more than once by Moon’s spotlights! When the punk movement’s D.I.Y. ethos developed on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Papadopoulos was drawn into it, particularly along its radical edge. Fascinated by the crosspollination of underground genres, the community among filmmakers, painters, poets, actors and musicians, in 1979 he moved into a squat on Seventh Street and Avenue C. In a frank statement, Dee explained, “My two running buddies were Bobo Shaw and Dennis Charles. Dennis was sitting on the corner of Sixth Street playing an old crappy snare and a box for a bass drum. For a year, I didn’t realize it was him. I would hang out with Bobo, and we worked on drum shit together. Bobo had been with Defunkt. There was so much happening [Downtown]. For me, no wave and out jazz just made sense.”

 Some months later, Bush Tetras came to be. Guitarist Pat Place had only begun playing her instrument several years prior within the ranks of the Contortions. “They were groundbreaking,” Pop recalled. “I’m in the audience on the cover of their first record!” But, in fact, all Tetras members were self-taught. “We liked that avant edge,” he said. “The funk part of it, where Pat was coming from at the time, became central to our sound. I guess I kind of destroyed no wave by putting a 4/4 beat to it. That’s what made the Bush Tetras a little more accessible; listeners could figure out where the ‘1’ was,” he said, with a laugh. 

During its formative stage, the band rehearsed at length, creating a unique, infectious repertoire. Rapidly developing a club following, Bush Tetras released its first single, “Too Many Creeps,” in 1980. With its lyrics an acerbic commentary on the place and time over frenetic guitar, churning bass and throbbing, crackling drums, it remains the band’s signature song. 

Recording more and touring widely, the Tetras disbanded in 1983, regrouped again in 1995, and then after another breakup three years later, reformed in 2005. During each dissolution, though, Pop remained highly active. “When Bush Tetras was dropped by Mercury Records in ’98, all I wanted to do was play jazz,” he said. “My friend had been booking avant-garde jazz shows at the Internet Café and when he dropped out, I took it over. I wanted to play with guys like William Parker and Sabir Mateen. I knew that if I booked the place, I’d get to know them.” After the Internet Café closed, Pop established his series at CBGB. “I had asked Hilly for the basement room on Sunday nights,” he recalled. “No need for sound or a doorman, just one bartender — and he said yes. It cost him nothing to give me the space, that’s why I was able to keep it running for four years, eventually expanding to three nights per week. “I booked out rock things and straight jazz in the middle of it, too. Steve Swell used to give me so much crap about that. ‘You’re getting the Wynton Marsalis crowd down here,’ he’d argue with me, but I wanted diversity. And I wanted to challenge people, too.” 

After CBGB’s sad closure, Dee attempted to continue his series at both 5C Cultural Cafe and Jimmy’s Down Under, but these wouldn’t prove lasting. The effort, in any case, had been a labor of love. “I paid a lot of people out of my pocket,” he said. “It was insulting to offer John Zorn, Pete Brotzman and Milford Graves just the door. A lot of them were very humble about it. Tazz [Roy Campbell] was like that: ‘A couple of Mai Tais and enough to get me home.’” Over the years, Pop performed or recorded with a dizzying array of musicians on all sides of the seeming musical divide, including Billy Bang, Borah Bergman, Gary Lucas, James Chance, Chuck Berry (at the Peppermint Lounge), Immaculate Hearts, The Shams, Black Flies, poet John Sinclair, Jayne County and the Amazing Cherubs, Freedomland (with Daniel Carter, Dave Sewelson, William Parker and Dave Hofstra), Fur, Michael Karoli, Can, guitarist Richard Lloyd, Odetta, Bobby Radcliff, Patti Palladin, Darlene Love, Andy Shernoff, the Waldos, Nona Hendryx, Band of Outsiders, Lenny Kaye, Daniel Carter, Jahn Xavier, Eddie Gale, Marc Ribot, Mark Helias, The Slits, Dick Griffin, the Hanuman Sextet and the aforementioned Parker and Campbell. 

He also performed with The Clash, closely considered for full membership before Topper Headon’s return. In addition, Pop was a co-leader of experimental band Radio I-Ching, and a member of thunderous post-punk outfit the Gun Club. “My career has been kind of all over the map,” he explained. “I’ve loved so much music that I’ve just delved into things. I’d spend three to four years playing free jazz, blues or Greek music. When I first left Bush Tetras in ’83, one reason was that I felt we’d gone as far as we could with what we knew how to do. I was very dissatisfied and looked at all of my influences — my love for Bela Bartok or King Oliver or 1940s and ’50s R&B, and that wasn’t what Bush Tetras was about. So, it’s taken me 40 years to recognize that this is what Bush Tetras does and I can still seek out those other opportunities.” 

Reviewing such opportunities, Pop recalled several, including work with noted antiwar activist and MC5 manager John Sinclair. “People forget that John Lennon wrote a song about this guy! Shit! I made two records with him,” he said. “One had Wayne Kramer and Mike Davis from the MC5 on it. When you find out about some people firsthand, you realize that time forgets, and history gets blotted out.” During the COVID-19 lockdown, Pop experienced many difficult hours, expressing bouts of dysphoria in his isolation, ironically alternating with a tenacious sense of survival. “This reminds me of where AIDS was,” he said. “How many millions could have been saved? But I’m looking for silver linings in this. I’m not dead and I’m not sick, and there are good things. So, we have to sit around and be patient.”

 Dee looked forward to resuming his latest free jazz series, at Truest in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as well as going back on the road with Bush Tetras. As to the latter, the band’s celebration of the new box set was to be topped only by a Nov. 13 gig at Le Poisson Rouge, the top-line New York City music club. 

Most recently, Pop had an unfortunate biking accident, in which he was sideswiped by a car, but he brushed it off. He passed on just days later. On the evening of Oct. 9 at Howl Happening, as they recalled their drummer and close friend, Pat Place and Cynthia Sley announced that they would continue with performance plans, returning to Le Poisson Rouge in November — “and it will be for Dee.” Even with his insistent drumming now at rest, the pulse of Dee Pop will continuously rumble into each groove of his beloved Bush Tetras.

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