Sunday, June 23, 2019

performance review: Puma Perl's Pandemonium, 6/21/19

Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, 6/21/19, Bowery Electric, NYC
Performance review by John Pietaro

Puma Perl & Friends 
The spirit of downtown past was on raucous display at Bowery Electric on June 21, once again under the guiding hand of Puma Perl, denizen of this hallowed corner at Joey Ramone Place. While the Bowery of old has fallen under the thicket of high-priced restaurants and luxury buildings commanding the once infamous strip, real New York, equal parts LES community and outsider arts ingenuity, has survived the maelstrom. At least in quarters such as this, yards from the sad carcass of CBGB and the phantom hindsight of Max’s, Club 82, Mercer Arts, the Mudd Club, the Tin Palace. Could Joey have ever envisioned that his name would hover East 2nd Street? For most of us in the house, there’s no rest until street sign dedications proclaim a Punk Place, Richard Hell Way, Patti Smith Street, Lydia Lunch Lane and Basquiat Avenue, for a start.

Puma Perl is most identified with punk verse, but rather than an artform grown in the midst of the melee, hers predates the turning new wave, growing along with venues like the Nuyorican Poets Café. Perl’s quarterly events at the Bowery Electric, the Pandemoniums, debuted in 2012. It’s easiest to think of these very hip showcase/parties as Village arts salons strained though rocking energy, dry humor and artful rebellion--a “Die Yuppie Scum”, if you will, for the Trump years. This latest Pandemonium featured poetry of not only the post-punk sort, but neo-Brecht, neo-Beat and with bits of slam alternating driving, moving and alluring music. 

Rick Eckerle & co
The show opened with a dedication to the late Dr. John by singer-guitarist Rick Eckerle in a quartet that kicked out roots and bar-room songs, setting the mood in a most timeless way. 
He was followed by the emotive performance poets Annie Petrie (best line: “Mercury, go fuck yourself”) and San Franciscan KR Morrison who offered fine radical feminist pieces that are utterly necessary in this age of the Gorsuch court. Petrie, who later said she was in the mud at the original Woodstock, wore sunglasses and latter-day rainbows, but it was Morrison, of a considerably later generation, who embraced the retro-hippie vision with long straight hair and flowy outfit. For the hardcore folks in attendance, her militance was assured by way of shaved temples contrasting the Baez-do, but both poets reminded the house of the need to maintain outrage in times such as these.

Cait O’Riordan, former Pogues bassist, next performed a lilting acoustic guitar/vocal duet with Kath Green and then stand-up comic Susan Jeremy tore up the night with a timely set of LGBTQ+ hysterics. Bringing the edgy rock back into focus, NY Junk members Joe Sztabnik and Jeff Ward punched out the raunch before the evening’s host took the stage with Puma Perl & Friends. This ensemble magically blended provocative inner city spoken word, including moving reminiscence of Coney Island, with the best in fire music strained through thoughtful, tuneful arrangements. The front line of Perl, tenor saxophonist Danny Ray (seriously blue bar-walker, even if stationary throughout), screaming, shimmering, celebrated electric violinst Walter Steding (a Warhol protégé) mixed it up most artfully with guitarist Joff Wilson and it was all contained by Sztabnik’s bass and Dave Donen’s drums. This band is not to be missed.

Steve Dalachinsky
Jane LeCroy & Tom Abbs
Avant jazz poetry wizard Steve Dalachinsky, recently back from his latest Parisian tour, came up just after and wondered aloud how he might compete with Puma & Friends. However, did so with a sizzling set of poetry that calls into question the very nature of verbiage and shreds the poetic form with the panache of a spoken word Albert Ayler (and though he didn’t hawk it from the stage, Steve has a brilliant new book, Where Day and Night Become One, highly recommended). After the audience applause faded, another excellent performance poet, Jane LeCroy, and noted cellist Tom Abbs (though on guitar here) laid out a very special latent Brechtian array of compelling works. This pair, along with other musicians, often perform as the Icebergs, the implied coldness of which was far from evident, what with the heat emanating onstage.

Soul Cake
The evening closed with a stirring, rocking performance by power pop-rock trio Soul Cake with the aforementioned Joff Wilson, here as lead vocalist as well as lead guitarist, Laura Satvia on flute and Sarafe on bass, with Dave Donen on drums. They had me right from the quick sound-check (it’s rare to hear “PS, I Love You”, the flipside of the Beatles first single in clubs). Throughout, Wilson’s McCartney-inspired vocals (though one also hears the Trogg’s Reg Presley in there and possibly all of the Knickerbockers) soared and the band’s unique take on “Pipeline” and particularly “Eleanor Rigby”—with modified lyrics speaking to the tragedies of NYC’s homeless—had Bowery Electric simply shaking. And Wilson’s resemblance to Johnny Thunders couldn’t hurt either. A perfect ending to the kind of evening many had hopelessly assumed were relegated to the past. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

article: Lest We Forget ED BLACKWELL

NYC Jazz Record, June 2019 issue


By John Pietaro

With his 1960 recording This is our Music, Ornette Coleman introduced his revolutionary quartet’s latest addition. In the liner notes he wrote of Ed Blackwell: “This man can play rhythm so close to the tempered notes that one seems to hear them take each other’s places”. Not only did this landmark album demonstrate uncanny advancement in free jazz, it was the first recorded evidence of the drumset’s near total liberation. Blackwell’s path out, however, was not through the rejection of his instrument’s heritage, but its embrace.

Born in New Orleans, 1929, Edward Joseph Blackwell had ample access to tradition even as the music developed in new directions. During high school, he became a marching band staple, playing snare or tenor drum. In a 1981 Modern Drummer interview, Blackwell spoke of the pioneering drummer Paul Barbarin, a local hero who’d propelled the music’s development with Freddie Keppard, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Noone. Blackwell cited Barbarin’s influence: “He used to…talk to me a lot about the drums and drum rolls; how he played and how he learned to play”.

Such defined focus rudiments offered the drummer that second line foundation unique to the Crescent City. The roots are easily evidenced by the drag and ratamacue flourishes he’d later spread to the entire kit. Ironically, Blackwell only began playing drumset in 1949, learning on the job. Studying with a local drummer (but simultaneously an ardent disciple of Max Roach), he adapted quickly and purchased his initial drumset from the all-female big band, the Sweethearts of Rhythm, after their break-up. Blackwell, along with Ellis Marsalis, joined clarinetist Alvin Batisste’s band, then in 1951 relocated to California, fatefully meeting Coleman. The pair established a musical partnership, shedding light on the sounds to come, but shunned by LA’s post-bop scene, Blackwell returned to New Orleans. Ornette moved to New York, bringing the youthful Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins along with the infamy of brutish naysayers.

Higgins’ departure in 1960 saw Blackwell’s noted return, resulting in the recordings This is Our Music and Free Jazz which affirmed Coleman’s legend. The quartet, sans leader, famously collaborated with John Coltrane for the Avant Garde, and reunited, released Ornette (1961), further expanding the free concept. From the opening track “W.R.U.”, Blackwell’s melodic vision was cast, and he carried that to the Five Spot for the historic sessions with the Eric Dolphy-Booker Little band. The drummer, by the mid-1960s, left Coleman but returned to the fold for Friends and Neighbors, Broken Shadows and Science Fiction, as well as a track with a Coleman quintet on Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. Into the 1970s, his work with Karl Berger (their duos are especially poignant) at the Creative Music Studio, and then with Dewey Redman, Cherry and Haden in the band Old and New Dreams solidified him as an invaluable Harmolodic force.

Blackwell also spent a year in Africa studying and by 1976 began a long period teaching at Wesleyan University. Highly active throughout the 1970s and ‘80s though afflicted with kidney disease, Blackwell worked often with Cherry as well as Archie Shepp, Anthony Braxton, Joanne Brackeen, David Murray, Steve Coleman and many more. He died in 1992. Recalling Blackwell, Ornette Coleman later stated that he played drums like a wind instrument, offering a direct line of communication to musicians and listeners alike.


film review: We Are One: Blood Drum Spirit

NYC Jazz Record – June 2019 issue

We Are One: Blood Drum Spirit (2019)
Director: Sarah Pettinella. Producer: Royal Hartigan

Starring: Royal Hartigan, David Bindman, Art Hirahara, Wes Brown
 Directed by Sarah Pettinella, produced by Royal Hartigan, music by Blood Drum Spirit

Film review by John Pietaro

Royal Hartigan is a most vocal proponent of world music traditions. A professor in Ethnomusicology at Dartmouth as well as a lifelong student of culture, Hartigan is a singular force. The drummer-percussionist’s history extends to post-graduate study at Weselyan where he focused on African, Native American and Indian drumming and engaged in field research. Earlier, at Amherst, Hartigan concentrated on African American music with close tutelage under Ed Blackwell and coursework with Max Roach and Archie Shepp. The amalgam was a uniquely expansive view of jazz and improvisation. Hartigan performed and recorded with the late saxophonist/activist Fred Ho for decades, embarking on a career as steeped in international heritage as it is in building community. His own vehicle, Blood Drum Spirit, is a quartet enmeshed in this mission. The four musicians are featured in this powerful new documentary produced by Hartigan and directed by internationally acclaimed filmmaker and photographer Sarah Pettinella.

Saxophonist David Bindman is another Weselyan alumnus fusing world traditions with new music. A standard bearer of Downtown experimentation, he’s performed around the world and founded the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet with Fred Ho. Pianist Art Hirahara has a career ranging from accompanist for vocalists to jazz composer and bandleader. He tours frequently in Japan and, like the others, Hiarhara was also a Fred Ho band member; his discography includes Ho’s Cal Massey tribute. Bassist Wes Brown first came to prominence in the ensembles of Wadada Leo Smith, with whom he continues to work, but his resume extends to Anthony Braxton, Earl Fatha Hines and, yes, Fred Ho. If there is a central fixture here, it’s not just Ho, but the baritone saxophonist’s commitment to social justice via Asian and African culture and the voices of the oppressed. Change realized through creativity.

Hartigan states in We Are One that upon first hearing African music, he recognized its relationship to jazz. “It brought me to a place that transcends everyday life” and as soon as he had the opportunity to do so, brought the band to Ghana. “You have to be in the culture with the people”, he explained.
True to form, the film documents much more than mere performances, but engagement and sharing. The quartet traveled to multiple African villages, first meeting with the elders of each and sharing in food, dance and traditional music before they brought out a drumset, electric keyboard, electric bass and a saxophone. Pettinella caught beautiful moments of Blood Drum Spirit creating music with village master musicians and average citizens alike. Expressions of joy on the faces of villagers was matched by those of the quartet who demonstrated deep respect for their hosts and sites like the W.E.B. DuBois Cultural Center. Scenes of the quartet jamming with locals and traveling throughout Ghana were interspersed with profiles of each of the four including clips of them at home and a wonderful segment of Hartigan tap dancing. There were also bits of interviews with global artists such as dancer Joann Thompson and master musician, dancer and international speaker Kwabene Boateng. The latter’s comment summed up the film’s core in two brief sentences: “Music can change the world. And I think it’s already done it”.

Album review: Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation, Let’s Save the World Suite

  Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation , Let’s Save the World Suite (Composers Concordance 2022) --originally published in The NYC Jazz Recor...