Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Harry Miller - A Family Affair (and more).

I was listening to an excellent bootleg of Elton Dean's Ninesense recorded live at the 100 Club in London in 1979 and what an amazing experience it was, and still is. It's hard to imagine the energy of this band without having witnessed them live, and in that particular line-up. But for me the importance of hearing this band is the presence of Harry Miller and with him as always drummer Louis Moholo and pianist Keith Tippett (*). The music is intense, the most intense swing (free, and otherwise) you've ever heard, and I've heard - and even played with - some very intense rhythm sections, but this! Anyhow, the importance of this reminded me of my first experience and the discovery of Harry Miller way back in '77.

As an avid music fan (and amateur teenager guitarist) I'd started discovering the edges of jazz music due to the first time re-issue of the Blue Note catalogue on EMI. These albums had been mentioned in The Melody Maker and I'd been down to my local vinyl store to buy one or two of those which had been recommended in Melody Maker. I'd not heard any real jazz before but was interested due to a jazz encyclopaedia The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Jazz - (Brian Case) - which I'd been given. I'd also heard bits of jazz on the radio along with the likes of John Martyn and a few other 'jazzy' sounds, I was also about to go off to art college where I would discover the likes of Charlie Parker and Co. However I one day stumbled across a write up in Melody Maker of the new LP by a bass player called Harry Miller. Something about the review seemed very interesting, maybe the picture or the description of the music - I still have it, I'll dig out in the near future. It was also certainly VERY alternative musically, at least for someone from my age group, this made it more intriguing. I asked my brother if he could pick up a copy of this record the next time he was passing through London on the way back from university.

 Harry Miller's Isipingo - Family Affair 1977 (Ogun Records OG 310)

Not only was this my first Miller album but also my first OGUN record (Harry's own label). The feel of the record - which is pressed in very heavy vinyl - and the cover already made an impact, I was sort of hypnotised before even listening to the music inside. I was to be disappointed, however I didn't really know what to make of it, almost like my first discovery of King Crimson. The music pulsed rather than swung, as most jazz that I'd heard up until that point. The soloists played partly 'jazzy' licks and mostly shrieks and wails that at times were very intense. The piano player (Keith Tippett) didn't comp' politely but played ripples of sound - on a rather dry sounding upright - or at times played very short percussive stabs and one note lines. The drums and bass team of Harry and Louis Moholo were just something I'd never heard before in music, dense swing that made your hair stand up on your arms and neck and a fierce drive that was often unstoppable, or at least sounded that way. The tunes, only four on this album, were for me hard to get into, but the joyful sounds that came from the record made me listen and listen again. 

The 4 tunes : 
Side One : Family Affair, Touch Hungry. Side Two : Jumping and Eli's Song.  

The musicians : 
 Miller (bass), Marc Charig (trumpet), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), Mike Osborne (alto), Keith Tippett (piano), Louis Moholo (drums).

The music, which I'm listening to as I write, moves through all areas, all of which you maybe call 'avant-garde/free bop', but still very melodic, if that makes sense. The first tune Family Affair starts off with a piano, bass and drum groove which is very singable. This is followed by glorious horn ensemble paying the main theme, the trombone, trumpet and intense alto (of Mike Osborne) give it a strangely big band sound, yet with the first solo by Malcolm Griffiths you realize that the music is not going to be a Count Basie record as he glides in playing nice lines that hint at dissonance, but not too much. Keith Tippett often playing piano that sounds sometimes from Steve Reich and sometimes like Debussy's Cathédrale Engloutie. But with Marc Charig's solo things start to really warm up, leading towards a lovely change from minor to major at the 6:08 minute mark. It's like the group is finally moving into 4th gear and seems an almost joyous moment in the solo, revelatory even. The final soloist, and my first introduction, is Mike Osborne, a very intense alto player who later on had to withdraw from music due to severe schizophrenia.

After this first track the whole thing takes off in many directions and in those days completely lost me. The tracks run into each other as it's all taken from a live concert recorded at the Battersea Arts Center, which means there's probably more recorded ..... but where? Touch Hungry features some glorious out playing from the horns and the music stops and starts very organically, but for me the thing that jumped out of this track is Keith Tippett's amazing piano solo, that somehow manages to defy description, due to it's many points of departure - swinging one note runs, large arppegiated chords played very fast, stabs and thumps. Finally when he's a t his most 'out' the horns seems to swagger back in and Keith comes back down to earth, and harmony, as if nothing could be more natural.

The highlight of the album is probably Jumping, a fast up tempo free-bop piece with a very intense solo from Mike Osborne, which has some almost chase like moments from Keith Tippett's piano which accompanies very tightly. The whole thing builds into a free for all over beautiful chordal shapes with Osborne leading the ensemble making the music sound a little like a Coltrane-esqe spiritual sound. Everyone - except Miller and Moholo - get to solo on this and the trombone builds strong free-bop lines which stay more towards the tonal area created by the theme, whereas Keith Tippett yet again takes his piano into various different orbits around the pulsing rhythm section. Finally it's left up to Marc Charig to introduce the final solo with the other horns coming in bit by bit. The final tune, which was the only one could easily relate to at the time, is Eli's Song which is lovely melody which then gives way to a sort of Seven For Lee ostinato, and gives  a kind of feature where Mike Osborne plays some serious Jackie McLean type alto.

After hearing this album I searched out some more of his LP's although to my mind he never got to the same heights musically as this album. However various live bootlegs do show that his live bands were always as exciting, and due to his early death in '83 in a car accident in Holland, where he was living at the time. I however am completely moved every time I hear one of the many bands he played in - too many to mention here - and especially with Louis Moholo as they were such a strong team. It's also a credit that someone took it upon themselves to record and release so much on the edge jazz at that period, the only other label in the UK being Incus records.

Here's the track Family Affair taken from a live recording (a little different, and much faster). Listen to the 'burning' rhythm section of Miller, Moholo and Tippett :

 You can find some of the other tunes from this record also posted on YouTube.

Footnote on Wiki entries. Sorry that these links are so poor, and really quite an insult considering the importance of these musicians. however, I thought to include these as it's often a quite useful way to give readers a idea of who these people are, and of course dig further into the various search engines, jazz books, Bootleg download sites, and of course second-hand CD shops. Harry Miller hardly has a mention on the web, and considering his input in the UK jazz scene? The same applies to the others, although due to Elton Dean's Soft Machine connection he at least seems to have some solid biographical information floating around, and also more re-released recordings.

* = The UK jazz magazine Jazzwise published an article recently about Louis Moholo. I was completely shocked to see that hardly any mention of Harry Miller occurred. It seems to me that these two men were almost a permanent team with unrelenting energy. If you check out these two names in the UK jazz scene of the 70s you'll notice that they made dozens of recording and thousands of gigs together. I wonder why such a short mention of Harry in that article as if he hadn't existed?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

John Carter

It's difficult to write about such a broad minded player such as John Carter, after all he seems to have slipped through the net when it comes to 'well known' musicians, yet somehow he seems to have been a pioneer all on his own, especially when talking about the clarinet. In fact if you've already clicked on the wiki link you'll have noticed that it's a very short entry.

Born in Fort Worth, the same town as Ornette Coleman we're always reminded, John Carter although starting his career with sax and clarinet later focused on one instrument (rather than be a jack of all trades?), and that instrument being the clarinet. Although saying that, his earlier recordings with Bobby Bradford were centered on the tenor/alto saxophones, and he was no slouch on those instruments for sure! I'm certainly no specialist on John Carter and all the music he recorded and played, but it is striking to hear his earlier music and realize how far ahead he was in terms of 'concepts'. His early records with Bobby Bradford are really quite stunning. They show how these two were really soooooo far ahead of everybody else at the time, when it comes to open improvisation, with melodic structure and flexible time.

The first three albums are almost the same, and one has to wonder what the recording circumstances were, after all two of the records/sessions seem to have been recorded almost simultaneously - Flight for Four (1st January '69) and West Coast Hot (on 3rd January '69). The third in the series is recorded a few days later - Seeking (16th January '69).

Seeking - New Art Ensemble (1969)

Nowadays this album is found under various titles, but both mention John Carter and Bobby Bradford - re-released several times and most recently on HatOlogy 620. This is a good a place to start as any when thinking about discovering Carter and his music. As already mentioned the first three records are very similar and have the same personnel. This record flies off the turntable/CD player straight away with a fast Ornette type of tune called 'In the Vinyard' with John Carter on tenor!! Yes, it's also one of the reasons I like this record, our clarinet man starts out on tenor sax, and maybe, although it's to late to ask, it would have been very interesting to ask Dewey Redman about Carter and the tenor sax, their sound and styles have much in common with Dewey Redman. The second track 'Karen on Monday' also holds an interesting surprise due to it's duo quality. It starts with a lovely (and lonely) duet with alto sax and double bass - playing a bass line which resembles 'Footprints' ! The music could almost come from some late night police series or film from the seventies. Interestingly they manage to keep this very subtle tune moving without ever getting into a tempo, quite remarkable really as you interest stays all the way through. Most of the tunes are what nowadays one would 'freebop' but often with very intricate lines played very precisely. I think I read somewhere that these albums had as much inventiveness as Ornette, but due to the fact that these guys didn't re-locate to NewYork the music didn't get so well heard. Interesting enough tunes such as 'The Village Dancers' and 'Sticks and Stones' could certainly come from an Ornette album. The main difference being the precision of the unison work and the clarinet of course.

In the Vinyard - from Seeking (1969)
It's here where John Carter went in another direction with the use of clarinet, which of course doesn't really have the same initial impact as sax, and probably is less attractive to the young kid wanting to copy his idol. I remember at college not being so interested in the clarinet, after all John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Cannonball Adderly all played sax - not forgetting the other more modern (sax) players that influenced me ... Branford Marsalis, Mike Osborne, Skidmore, Garbarek etc ... no clarinets here!

The album that really caught my attention with Carter was (of course) 'Castles of Ghana' a complete giant of an album, and part three of a trilogy mapping the development and history of the movement of peoples from Africa to America in the slave trade.

  Castles of Ghana - (1985)

In fact the Castles of Ghana (Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music # 2) and the other two Dauhwe, Dance of the Love Ghosts, Fields and Shadows on the Wall (Roots and Folklore Volumes #1 and #3, #4 and #5 - respectively), all use the compositional techniques that you hear on the early discs as mentioned above. He constantly writes melodies moving in and out of ensembles made up of duos, trios etc. However with an ensemble that is made up of John Carter – clarinet, vocals, Bobby Bradford – cornet, Baikida Carroll – trumpet, vocals, Benny Powell – trombone, Marty Ehrlich – bass clarinet, percussion, Terry Jenoure – violin, vocals, Richard Davis – bass, Andrew Cyrille – drums..... the palette of sounds is vast and always swinging! Examples of the music to be found here are a wonderful clarinet duo with Marty Ehrlich on Conversations, a wonderful fanfare like piece (opens the album) which is built around a drum ostinato. Interestingly John Carter uses his clarinet here in a very interesting way, creating bird like sounds - difficult to explain - throughout this piece 'Castles of Ghana' leaving other players to take solos. The drums often take a important role here, but often in an interestingly percussive way and much of the music has a dark brooding quality about it, which is not surprising when considering the context of the music - there is an especially haunting piece Theme of Desperation using two voices which is almost painful, yet quite serene (strangely).

In all of this one has to ask what John Carter has that has been so influential in the jazz world and especially the clarinet. How does he play even? John Carter's playing is modern, at a moment when many players moved away to the saxophone, being a more powerful instrument. Carter also seems to have combined various styles in a successful way, using some more avant garde techniques yet still remaining modern and lyrical. I can really recommend his solo recording 'John Carter: A Suite of Early American Folk Pieces for Clarinet (Moers 2086)' which after the initial opening piece, which sounds a little like 'Propulsion' from Jimmy Guiffre's Free Fall album, settles into a treat for solo clarinet fans, and quite easily accessible.

Finally it's interesting listening back to John Carter hearing his music which in the case of his last recording (1989) is over 20 years ago, yet his music and playing, approach and sound and compositions are modern even for today's standards. Unfortunately more attention is placed on other players of his generation, but interestingly enough modern giants such as Tim Berne, Gerry Hemingway and William Parker have all worked with and used John Carter as a sideman, showing the respect that he held in his lifetime. I also suspect that he was a very open minded person and probably someone who encouraged other musicians younger than himself. I'm tempted to send out a few email to these players to hear the real story behind the man who has been quietly been an important influence on our modern music scene. 

Postscript :

'I'm tempted to send out a few email to these players to hear the real story behind the man who has been quietly been an important influence on our modern music scene.' Well, I did send emails out to Tim Berne and Marty Ehrlich but it seems there's no reply as yet from either. I hoping to get some response which I was looking forward to posting here as I thought some inside stories would be interesting to read. I'll keep you posted if anything shows up.  

I should really do some more in-depth work on John Carter such transcribing some of his work. I've just started reading Steve Isoardi's wonderful book (The Dark Tree) on Horace Tapscott and the development of the Los Angeles avant-garde scene which is fascinating and it of course mentions John Carter. However one wonders at point someone may be tempted to write something on Carter as he seems to have been under documented. Here's a list of links that I've found on John Carter whilst browsing the net :

WFMU - Beware of the Blog
New York Times
LA Times
University of Colorado
If You Know What I'm Saying (Blog)
Night after Night (Blog)
Mark Weber (Jazz for Mostly)
Who Can Be Fresh (Blog)

I'll tidy these links up later and make them more user friendly (I'll also add more), but in the meanwhile it's cut and paste time!

Footnote :

Please also check out this post on Bobby Bradford, an equal partner to Carter on many recordings, and I imagine a close friend also.

A group which slightly reminds me of the early work of Carter and Bradford is the Empty Cage Quartet, check them out if you have time.

* = Here's a link to what seems to be a comprehensive discography for John Carter (thanks to whoever compiled it). You can get the complete discography of John Carter here. Unfortunately everything is not available, although I see Mosaic Records is bringing out a three CD box set of some of the early discs with a few unreleased items added in.

Friday, 5 November 2010

YOLK Records .... don't miss it #3.

Alban Darche Trio - Trickster (Yolk j2027)

line-Up :
Alban Darche : saxophone ténor
Frédéric Chiffoleau : contrebasse 
Emmanuel Birault : batterie 

Well, here's my last review from the YOLK catalogue and the special offer series that they're running until the end of 2010. If you look at the other Yolk postings you'll get a better idea of what's going on, vis a vis this excellent french label and their special offers that pop up on a regular basis.

Anyhow, let's get back to the real meat of what this posting is about, the Alban Darche Trio CD Trickster.  This is the first CD from the YOLK catalogue that I bought, actually I was looking for the live CD from Matthieu Donarier Trio (unavailable at this moment - no distributer), but due to the absence of this CD I opted for Alban Darche and Trickster, and a good choice it was.

Well, what do you get on this CD, some tricks, n'est pas! Yes, it seems (intentionally or not) much of this music is in fact a trick. Darche has overdubbed sax as backgrounds onto some of the tracks, and maybe the bass as well, but not in bad taste at all. The sound of the trio is very present (or up front one could say) on this CD, the only one I've heard from Alban Darche's Trio. As already mentioned, it's interesting to hear how the group has managed to smuggle in some overdubbed sax lines on various tunes to good effect, after all why not use the studio as a tool? But the main focus is on a very danceable sound and solid compositions, acctually due to the overdubbing some of the tracks sound a little like Polar Bear, in particular Novenus, with it's almost rock/dub beat.

Some favorites for me are Hybride with it's lovely lonely melody and overdubbed horns and a rolling bass rhythm leading to a joyous sax solo. Les Avatars sounds a little like Polar Bear but without the doubled saxes as does TOC with it's infectious beat and manipulated drum beats. In fact many of the tunes are like little pop melodies, easy to take in and fun to hear, Mammifère being another very easy melody to follow, but with blowing that is not your normal be-bop.

Alban Darche tries to bring a kind of post Mark Turner feel to the playing which is excellent even if not a complex harmonically. Unfortunately, we don't get to hear the other players 'solo', but one can hope that this will be developed in the next CD.  All in all the music is very listenable with good melodies on all the tracks; however (for me) it does lack the depth of Matthieu Donarier's trio outing, but due to the directness of the music and the compositions .... who cares. The music is joyous and free wheeling, although never free, and very much influenced (I feel) by the world of reggae music. The drum and bass work together exactly like a Jamaican rhythm section - there's even a few manipulated drum sounds to go with it.

1. Hybride 2. Les Avatars 3. Enckavé 4. Trickster 5. Mammifère 6. Novenus 7. Passin 'by III 8 La Tahgerine Sucrée 9. TOC  10. Cycle de Ziriab : Dabcse #1 11. Le Clown Triste 12. Misty 13. La Conjuration des Imbéciles. 

If you want to find somewhere to start - as I did - in the YOLK catalogue - then this is maybe your first choice?! 
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