Thursday, November 24, 2011

Radio NOIR: "Pastures of Plenty"

"Pastures of Plenty"

Radio NOIR'S improvisatory, ethereal adaptation of this beautiful Woody Guthrie theme is presented today in strong reflection of Thanksgiving in hard times. Guthrie's ballad of migrant farm workers struggling for dignity is timeless.

Radio NOIR chose to approach this piece in a unique manner which is built upon the Minimalist-influenced xylophone line of John Pietaro and the insistent, grinding bass of Laurie Towers. Javier Hernandez-Miyares' effects-laden guitar builds an incredible atmosphere in which the ensemble lays out a pasture of conflict and struggle for the melodic realization by Quincy Saul's clarinet. After the actual Guthrie melody is heard in full, the quartet stretches out with solo statements built into a sort of collective improv. In the melody's final hearing Hernandez-Miyares' guitar effects build to create a soundscape indicative of a southern textile factory's looms, tying the concept of the field worker into industry, open spaces into a darker, untouchable sky.

"Pastures of Plenty" was produced by Javier Hernandez-Miyares and recorded by Natalie Scarborough at 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts, Brooklyn NY, October 2011

Radio NOIR is John Pietaro, xylophone and percussion
Quincy Saul, clarinet
Javier Hernandez-Miyares, electric guitar and effects
Laurie Towers, electric bass

"Dissident swing...radical improv...Art Deco-damaged protest song!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Obituary of PAUL MOTIAN

PAUL MOTIAN: In Memory of the Man Who Made Silence Swing
An Obituary by John Pietaro

I can still recall when I first became aware of the wonderful subtleties of Paul Motian. I was a college freshman and in checking out his latest quartet album I had to stop to listen a second time to get it. As drummers go, he stood apart from most by simply allowing his instrument to breathe. While Motian lacked nothing in technical skill, his approach to the instrument was considerably more Zen than chops: you just knew that this guy had read Cage’s writings on silence. At 18, a budding jazz percussionist who practiced constantly in order to build up speed and endurance, hearing Paul Motian dance over his cymbals as Bill Frisell’s guitar moaned gently, I came to know the importance of reflective playing and the power of space. Motian had made it into an art form. 

Paul Motian first came to prominence in the music world through his part in the classic Bill Evans Trio. In this aggregation, neither he nor the groundbreaking bassist Scott LaFaro, who died tragically young after pioneering a melodic bass style, were viewed as “accompanists” by Evans; not by a long shot. The trio were equal partners in the unique brand of jazz they produced---some called it cerebral but that’s way too simple to describe the likes of “Waltz for Debbie”, “Autumn Leaves” or “My Foolish Heart”. Hear these tracks as chamber music if you’d like but the swing is always there and damned clear. The music got inside of itself and the drumming grooved it along through and well beyond introspection. Motian’s use of wire brushes whispered but also snapped, rolled, danced. Shuussshing his way over the most tender of ballads, as Evans’ widely spaced intervals resounded above and below, Motian sang with his sizzle cymbal and fluttering hi-hats. And in this late ‘50s-early ‘60s period when drummers just kept cranking their kits to tighter, higher pitches, Motian went low, offering carefully resounding tom-toms and a throbbing bass drum that served as a deep heartbeat one moment, a ringing timpani the next. And his interplay with LaFaro, he of the whirling melodic flight in place of a standard ‘walk’, was an avant garde of its own. Here was a rhythm section that held equal reign over the trio’s direction and if the bass was welcome to offer counter-point and counter-melody well then so was the drums. Evans’ band functioned, it’s often been said, as three components of one indefatigable musician. 

Such musical passion, however, was not to be contained in one ensemble and Motian, into the 1960s, began working with a variety of other contemporary jazz artists, particularly “cool school” stalwarts like Lee Konitz. This led him to another lengthy and notable gig with a pianist of powerfully creative muse, Paul Bley, who fused composition and free improvisation in new and daring ways. The Bley ensemble reached well into Free Jazz and Motian, though retaining respect for space and atmosphere, offered a more animated counterpoint in his playing than he had with Evans. Suddenly the family name seemed to indicate real ‘motion’ as bar-lines disappeared beneath the drummer’s blurring, timeless pulsations and jazz became new all over again.

Motian’s journey, by the close of the ‘60s, helped to bring music in line with radical politics through the Liberation Music Orchestra led by Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. This large ensemble, in beautifully outspoken terms, shaped protest of the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration into a historic album’s worth of material. Juxtaposing modernist harmonies and free improv into songs of the Spanish Civil War successfully embedded the Old Left into the New and to hell with generational gaps. Traditional melodies associated with that first fight against the fascists paired with compositions by Hanns Eisler/Bertolt Brecht as well as Carla Bley brought the day’s injustices into alarming light. Motian can be effectively heard sporting martial drumming, spiraling through totally abstract rhythms and incorporating series of bells and chimes into his kit. His ride cymbal was relentless, symbolic of the struggle and driving home the solos of Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Mike Matler, Rosewell Rudd and Gato Barbieri, among others. 

In the 1970s Motian began a long tenure in Keith Jarrett’s band where he seems to have perfected his free improv concepts. More so, the Jarrett work was an extension on what he’d achieved with the trios of Evans and Bley; perhaps the realization of the piano trio by this time saw the format taken to its absolute limits, flipped onto its head, and in turn Jarrett happily accompanied the drummer on his own debut record date as a leader in 1972. While still engaged in the Jarrett band, Motian began to explore his own concepts throughout the decade and by the 1980s came to be known as the leader of one of the hippest ensembles in jazz. His own quartets and trios were fluid, with time being an implied concept and musicians’ roles in the ensemble always subject to the artistry of the moment. The band which featured Bill Frisell’s guitar and Joe Lovano’s tenor saxophone allowed for an atmospheric kind of jazz rarely heard anywhere since the high times of the Bill Evans Trio. Frisell’s use of the volume pedal turned his guitar in many ways, into another horn or a seemingly bowed string instrument, but with a hip, eerie kind of electric echo. The lack of a bassist meant that each of the trio needed to take on the role---or no one at all---and the entire order of what a jazz combo should be was arbitrary. 

Paul Motian’s ensembles in the last decades were always fresh and exciting: at times in all-electric groupings, at other points performing his own take on standards in a more common jazz setting (the ‘Broadway’ album is a must listen-to) or simply playing free. His illness, myelodysplastic--a blood and bone marrow disorder—saw his touring come to an end in recent years but his band became a fixture at the Village Vanguard, offering visual and aural lessons in compositional drumming to all who flocked to the legendary New York club. Motian died at age 80 early this morning, November 21, 2011. His contribution to music’s progress immortalized. Regardless of the notes he may have played in the course of any given selection, solo, chorus, indeed measure, Motian made the very silences between them swing, bringing the listener to the next sound with anticipation. And that is pretty much all a musician can hope for.

-John Pietaro is a musician and writer from New York City. He leads the ensemble Radio NOIR

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Radio NOIR, "Langston"

Radio NOIR:  "The Lost Broadcast" E.P.

Radio NOIR is a quartet which wields its own unique brand of dissident swing. Helmed by xylophonist/percussionist John Pietaro and featuring the clarinet of Quincy Saul, the electric guitar of Javier Hernandez-Miyares and the electric bass of Laurie Towers, the band made its debut at the 2011 Dissident Arts Festival (August 13, 2011, the Brecht Forum, NYC). Soon after the members recognized that the artistic as well as socio-political ties that led to the founding of Radio NOIR was indeed a reason to hold the band together. Inspired by the fervent radicalism and sounds of the 1930s as well as the daring post-punk improvisations of downtown NYC, Radio NOIR seeks to build bridges between Left politics and Jazz, radical philosophy and New Music. "The Lost Broadcast", Radio NOIR's 4-song E.P. collection, was recorded live in an all-day marathon session at 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts (Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY) in October 2011. The final document not only includes blazing audio tracks of the band's unique 'dissident swing' but wholly produced videos as well, inclusive of imagery projected onto 17 Frost's three massive screen's positioned around Radio NOIR during the recording process. Note that some of the imagery is comprised of excerpts of the seminal sci-fi/social change film 'Metropolis' by director Fritz Lang. It is not happenstance that Lang's film was directly influenced by his visions of NYC during his initial visit here--- likewise now his work inspires Radio NOIR in their music-activism journey. This E.P. is Radio NOIR's debut recording and one which offers a vivid account of their convictions. Starting from the bitter social unrest of the 1930s, the quartet produce a music which speaks loudly to today's struggles for social and economic justice. Wrapped in the shadows of Depression-era New York, the four titles bridge Hot Jazz  to noir novels, ethereal sounds to No Wave, the words of revolutionary composer Hanns Eisler to free improvisation and the music of Woody Guthrie to a restless, relentless kind of swing. The members of Radio NOIR are experienced improvisors, with New Music as well as expansive Jazz and Pop burnt deeply into their repertoires, but always they maintain the still higher goal of the arts as cultural work, a means toward real social change.

Here is the first release from The Lost Broadcast....

"Langston" (John Pietaro/Quincy Saul) - a 'modernist blues' dedicated to Langston Hughes and his revolutionary intellectual cohorts in the Harlem Renaissance.  In this chamber Jazz piece which opens in a rather mellow mood, the quartet blows over changes in a C-minor blues form which is extended by a whole-tone section. Quincy Saul's clarinet and John Pietaro's xylophone establish the contrapuntal melodic lines, ultimately racing about each other, as Javier Hernandez-Miyares' electric guitar barks commentary from the sideline and Laurie Towers' bold, unshakeable electric bass holds the entire group together in a manner which actually negates the need for a drummer. 

For more info on Radio NOIR  please take a moment to stop by our Facebook page as well as our Reverbnation page......

Friday, November 11, 2011

Karl Berger & The Stone Workshop Orchestra

(photo by Don Mount)

Free Jazz as Cultural Revolution:

Karl Berger & The Stone Workshop Orchestra

By John Pietaro

The Stone stands quietly and without fanfare at the corner of Avenue C and East 2nd Street. The club is set in an old store front that still bears the markings of pre-gentrified Alphabet City. So unassuming is it that there’s no sign over its door proclaiming that a new experimental music space—one which features the free exchange of art and ideas--has taken back part of New York otherwise lost to the developers and yuppies. The Lower East Side , New York’s historic center of alternative arts and struggle, survived years of neglect and decay during which it was shunned by a larger society attempting to cut off its immigrant and poor population just until the ‘hood became fashionable. And as its boarded-up shops transformed into bistros, it ‘became’ the East Village and was sold to the highest bidder. And somehow post-modern saxophonist John Zorn made a grab to claim some of this prized territory for the movement. This community --where Beat poetry found its home, where the most radical of Left activists congregated, where jazz’s loft scene was birthed, where the punk movement began and where the post-punk avant garde coalesced into No Wave—has taken back one of its lost corners. There’s cause to celebrate but the Stone remains the Village’s best-kept secret. And the noise about it only seems to occur within.

Having enjoyed memorable performances in LES clubs and galleries back when there was a healthy scene harboring this kind of music, I well remember the once-affordable community and its phalanx of artists, anarchists, addicts, dealers, homeless, Hell’s Angels and poverty-stricken residents. No, they weren’t really good old times because there was too much hurt and yet the area held a strange beauty that’s long gone. Walking through the door of the Stone brings me back almost immediately. The space is tight, intimate. The lights are dim. The energy is whirling, barely contained in the walls about me. I felt it on my first visit: Musicians flow in, greeting each other with warm, jovial exchanges, laughs, and discussions about a recent tour with this or that one, the last gig with so-and-so, or baseball scores and small talk. Dressed down, unpacking their axes these men and women are as unassuming as the club itself. I walk over the uneven floorboards and find a spot near the back, next to the drummer and two upright bassists preparing for the evening’s excursion. I stand amidst a mini xylophone or glockenspiel, large and small frame drums, several small hand-held percussives, sometimes a dumbek, and a pair of crowded racks sporting woodblocks, temple blocks, cowbells and a triangle. Somehow I set it up in a manner that’s workable but not imposing to the tightly-packed band, which ranges from a minimum of 12 members to a more standard number of about 23. The immediacy of those around me seems to extend well beyond the physical.

Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso enter the room, gently reaching out to the musicians sitting in a two-rowed semi-circle. The band responds in kind, offering greetings, brief bits of humorous tales and other chitchat. But this is not a mere social call. Soon Karl seats himself caddy-corner at the piano and offers some basic ideas as to what the music will be like tonight. In some cases choosing pieces he’s worked on with the Orchestra before, in others, introducing brand new ones without warning, of course. The compositions are often his own but just as likely penned by the Ornette Coleman or Don Cherry, or other past collaborators. Many are drawn from the repertoire of world folk songs (Karl is especially fond of Turkish music). But it can never be said that there is anything assumed or pre-planned about this band’s music. There is NEVER a written score and when the band needs to learn a jazz head or other melody, it is simply played at the piano, at times slowly and repetitively, until the musicians are comfortable with what’s to come. Karl offers some info on the particular mode or the tradition in which the piece was developed as his hands lightly run over piano keys. The musicians are all veterans and adept at this kind of performance, but Karl’s advice and philosophical guidance are never taken begrudgingly. “Please let’s remember to pay close attention to dynamics in this passage,” Karl is wont to explain as he demonstrates the importance of the phrasing in a piece. Standing now, he raises a hand and gently fans it downward: “You can almost leave that last note out completely. In fact, I would like some of you to fade the phrase just before it ends to really exaggerate the emotion. Deeee-da. Deeee-da”. And the music, already inspired and executed beautifully, comes fully alive. By design, this band is geared toward the highest level of creativity, and the tools of such creativity--free improvisation, on-the-spot composition, modernist harmonies, world rhythms, technical expertise, and latter-day angst—are in constant demand here.

The Stone Workshop Orchestra’s sound is born of the moment, founded by the players’ instincts, skill and need to emote----and it’s then organized by Karl’s artful hand and facial expressions. Sculptor-like, he molds and shapes the aural force emanating from this collection of brass, reeds, strings and percussion set before him. Refusing to consider his part in this as conduction (“really, this is not so specific, I just cue and offer guidance, you do the rest…”), Berger none the less has developed an incredible language of his own; never losing sight of the musicians’ individuality, he plays the orchestra. Karl’s unique hand signals--and welcoming eye contact---bring in sections, soloists or the tutti ensemble, and in doing so, establishes range, tempo, volume, timbre and vibe. Through his cues the band knows the direction and shape as well as the duration of the notes to be played---but the specific notes remain our own. He guides orchestral accents behind the force of a soloist’s excursion, adding to the soundscape and fierce intensity. Karl then layers one solo over another and calls on this or that accompaniment—which ultimately is seen as just an important a voice in the mix and may very well take over the spotlight. Feel is paramount and interpretation is demanded.

So what of this orchestra? Since I began this weekly gig, it has proven itself as a wonderfully expansive vision of what a ‘big band’ could be. From early September till this writing, the line-up has shifted in membership with a solid core of regulars and a series of guests who are passing through New York while on tour. Each Monday I have seen new faces, heard new accents and reveled in new and exciting musical concepts. The musicians qualify as a united nations of Free Jazz, among them Karl Berger - Piano and Conducting, Ingrid Sertso - Voice, Thomas Heberer - Trumpet, Brian Groder – Trumpet, Steve Swell - Trombone, Rick Parker –Trombone, Avram Fefer - Soprano Sax, Stephen Gauci - Tenor Sax, Yoni Kretzmer - Tenor Sax, Darryl Foster – Tenor and Soprano Saxes, Esa Pietila - Tenor Sax, Dave Schnug - Alto Sax, Mercedes Figuera - Alto Sax, Blaise Siwula – Alto Sax, Mikko Innanen – Alto Sax, Jason Candler - Alto Sax, Ricardo Tejero – Clarinet, Michael Lytle - Bass Clarinet, Sylvain Leroux - Flutes, Frederika Krier - Violin, David Bakriges - Violin, Cecile Borche – Violin, Mossa Bildner - Voice, Kenny Wessel - Guitar, Harvey Valdes - Guitar, John Ehlis – Mandolin and Guitar, Adam Lane – Bass, Dominic Lash - Bass, Dave Perrott - Bass, Ken Filiano – Bass, Lou Grassi – Drums, Harvey Sorgen - Drums, John Pietaro - Percussion, Philip Foster – ‘Odds and Ends’. And the many others whose names have escaped me and I hope to meet again.

The performances of the Stone Workshop Orchestra now dwindle down and I contemplate this journey, one not only through avant music but the revolutionary art that begat the need for such an ensemble in this place and time. Karl has no intention of letting this band cease, though the end of season at the Stone will arrive on December 5—in the form of a blow-out pair of concerts which will include special guests including John Zorn. As winter’s chill arrives on the Lower East Side, the Orchestra’s shouts of musical liberation descend over the luxury condos and gourmet delis, declaring the legacy of fearless creativity. And in its resonance, the music tears away the cloud of conformity and clears the path for further generations of New Music.

-John Pietaro is a musician and writer from Brooklyn, NY. His websites are and

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