"New York Eye & Ear Control" at 50:
Looking Back and Forward in One Fell Swoop
by John Pietaro
I type this piece as a rage of thoughts race through me; this is no time to be writing and so this is all the more reason I feel the need to do so. Tomorrow, June 1, is the concert I organized in honor of a very special album of the Free Jazz canon. Here comes the hit; all of the PR has been done and every step is nuanced as far as I can see. Some 24 hours from now I will know for certain, but my manic flow is carrying me to that point. This is the same surge of intensity I have been experiencing for a couple of days now. The energy level is cool but the headache is far from appreciated.
Over these past few months in which I was anticipating the golden anniversary the Albert Ayler-led earth-shaking album "New York Eye and Ear Control", the idea for this special event came to me. I can only imagine how this music was received back in '64: I mean, the Beatles' first American singles were still dominating the charts, the Stones came along a little later, and of course the popular music that emanated from AM radios made this British Invasion sound seem, well, radical. Mainstream Jazz had progressed: the Getz/Gilberto album emerged this same year. And Broadway shows like "Hello Dolly" provided founding fathers like Louis Armstrong with hit material too. But the experimental sound that accompanied the rising sense of revolution in the early-mid 1960s, shouted through the lack of attention. '64 also gave us Dolphy's "Out To Lunch" and of course John Coltrane's classic quartet, with each turn, were kicking out the walls of what one could expect in the music. Toward year's end they would record "A Love Supreme". At this point, Ornette had disbanded his quartet and was doubling on trumpet and violin in a bare-bones trio that never stopped searching for the next step, if indeed there was one to be found.
But the indie label ESP-Disk invited the furthest outside artists into their studios to record statements that inspired responses ranging from fury to awe. And it was all grassroots, anticipating the DIY record movement by more than a generation. Rather than trying to keep up with the Coltranes, ESP debuted musicians that few had previously heard of---and the results stand among the most potent examples of the New Thing. Albert Ayler's first ESP recordings offered something bold, even in a time in which so much adventure was to be had for those who bothered to seek the new music out---surely you wouldn't find the furthest out stuff on Impulse or Atlantic in the racks alongside Jack Jones and Pearl Baily. And if those records could be elusive, the ESP-Disk titles could seem like contraband. Who could have guessed that 'Ghosts' or 'Spirits' would be on vinyl? ESP believed in Ayler and during this year of '64 brought him into record several times and released all of it. Ornette and Ayler had become friends and many were drawn to his music. The emulsion of raw jazz, country blues and an inside-out vision of early European folk song filtered through his melodies and so one was left wondering if they'd maybe heard it all before in a dream. But, no, this was simply Albert Ayler. Not so simply, he weaved these odd little songs into screaming improvisatory statement and back, allowing saxophonic field hollers of Ornette to enjoy a new persona, sitting on top of marches, quadrilles and jigs from a land that never was. In an era groaning from the rigors of forced segregation. The music was primal scream as much as it was prideful fight-back and a leap beyond all that had come before it.
In July of 1964 Albert Ayler gathered Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray in a studio to record the legendary album ‘NEW YORK EYE AND EAR CONTROL’, the free score to the film of the same name by Michael Snow, creating a hallmark of the avant garde. 'Don's Dawn' offers a brief repose as the album's opener, a laid-back introduction that is no indication of what's to come. The remaining two cuts, lengthy free pieces are a sleigh ride into the furthest reaches of creativity, but a creativity in which no rule of harmony is featured. While Trane was seeking out a higher truth and Ornette was philosophizing Harmolodics, Ayler's trio plus Cherry, Tchicai and Rudd dropped bombshells into the grooves of this LP adorned with the shadowy figure of Snow's "walking woman" figure (actually the profile of a rather healthily-shaped Carla Bley, already a part of this exciting new scene). The music told us that there is no tomorrow, there is only the moment and it offered a soundtrack to the crush of NYC as much as it did the times of the musicians' lives. And the listeners'. Though the focus was on the moment at hand, the product is quite timeless. It breathed too hard to not contain enough air to last through the decades. Five decades. Its awful to consider that as these musicians went into the studio in July, they were acutely aware of not only the social changes in their midst but the loss of a guiding force; Eric Dolphy died suddenly at the end of June in this year. Perhaps the cries of the instrumental voices were laments for Dolphy--or a celebration of the passage of the Civil Rights Act which came to be the same month as "New York Eye and Ear". Some would argue that Free Jazz is not necessarily political, not specifically revolutionary. I would counter that the music cannot help but reflect the years in which it was born and raised---the tumult about the framers led to and commented on the times. Even when the statements remain focused on the music itself, the very radicalism of any avant garde stands as defiance against a comfortable, bourgeois institutional art vogue. And this particular avant garde scared the shit out of many experimentalists in other genres. This was the real thing, not just a New Thing. Its independence and rebel yell led the way for the Downtown sound to come---and birthed the development of the many improvisers today.
So, this particular summer of 2014, the jazz concert season kicks off to an early start with a rousing tribute to this celebrated recording as it hits its golden anniversary. A half century hence, a wide swath of New York Jazz underground instrumentalists fete it with four sets of contemporary fire music. The headliners are a one-time only assemblage dubbed here as The Veterans of Free, a combo of artists who were vital parts of the scene during Free Jazz’s development and still stand now as leading figures. And the opening attraction is celebrated downtown poet Steve Dalachinsky whose mix of spoken word and improv crosses the decades. The other artists performing represent the improvisational new music sounds of the past thirty+ years heard in Manhattan and Brooklyn performance spaces right into today.
Dissident Arts and the Firehouse Space present
-'VETERANS OF FREE' ALL-STAR ENSEMBLE:Daniel Carter- saxophones, trumpet. Karl Berger- vibes, piano. Warren Smith- drumkit, percussion. Will Connell- saxophone, flute, bass clarinet. Ingrid Sertso- voice. And with Ken Filiano on bass.
-STEVE DALACHINSKY:Steve Dalachinsky- poetry. Rocco John Iacovone- alto saxophone. Plus guests.
-THE RAS MOSHE UNIT:Ras Moshe- saxophones, flute, bells. Dave Ross- electric guitar. John Pietaro- vibes, percussion. Andrew Drury- drum set, percussion.
-MATT LAVELLE’S 12 HOUSES ORCHESTRA:Matt Lavelle- trumpet, alto clarinet, musical direction. Anais- voice. Mary Cherney- flute, alto flute. Claire de Brunner- bassoon. Lee Odom- clarinet, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet. Charles Waters- alto saxophone, clarinet. Ras Moshe- tenor and soprano saxophones, flute. Tim Stocker- baritone saxophone. Gil Selinger-cello. Chris Forbes- piano. John Pietaro- vibraphone, percussion. Anders Nilsson- guitar. Jack DeSalvo- mandolin, banjo. Francois Grillot- bass. Reggie Sylvester- drums
Date: Sunday, June 1st 2014
Time: 3PM – 6:30PM –
Steve Dalachinsky (3PM)Ras Moshe Unit (3:30)
The Veterans of Free (4:30)
12 Houses (5:30)
Location: The Firehouse Space 246 Frost Street, Brooklyn New York 11211
Curated by John Pietaro - For more information please see www.DissidentArts.com