Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Ochion Jewell - First Suite For Quartet

What's most interesting when writing about music is that you don't always get to choose what you listen to. The choices we make about what's on our turntable or in the CD player at any moment are based on what we like, when we like it. However the advantage of listening to music not chosen by oneself has the advantage of discovering new music and sounds. Some music is very difficult to describe and so write about (*), other times the records are easily digestible over and over again. Of course there are a few which somehow never really catch your imagination and so lay in a pile of 'what could I say about this', but you can't like everything even if you except (and I do) the John Cage philosophy that everything is music (**).

Dawn of Midi
 The other nice thing is that you occasionally get updates from musicians who's records you reviewed or mentioned on earlier posts. One post from Dawn of Midi seems to get many visits on my blog, which doesn't surprise me as the groups first album was an excellent (very accessible) free jazz record which deserves to be heard by a wider audience. Two of the musicians in Dawn of Midi, pianist Amino Belyamani and drummer Qasim Naqvi, have been working recently with saxophonist Ochean Jewell and so when Ochion recorded a CD they immediately suggested that he send a copy to Cardboard Music. And that's where you get lucky ... unknown records from unknown musicians.  

Ochion Jewell's - First Suite for Quartet.
Ochion Jewell's CD titled First Suite For Quartet released on David Binney's Mythology label, seems already one step ahead of your 'average' first CD release that I often get to hear. With such a grandiose title I was curious to see if a through composed piece of 48 minutes could hold my attention, and especially for a first album! Many first albums often attempt negotiating tricky chord progressions combined with displays of multiple time signatures and out of control technique, making for awkward and often unsatisfactory listening. Here Ochion Jewell has written music which is immediately spiritual in outlook and very mature in content. The fact that Ochion seems to be working with some of the Dawn of Midi hints that he must be interested in working in a more open area of improvisation. On First Suite For Quartet there's a fine blend of 'improvised' music and structured improvisation on the album, it seems the compositions are open ended enough to allow for each player to express himself. The music is however not 'free jazz', but certainly related to the modern school of 'melodic-free'(***) ... if such a school exists yet (LOL). There's plenty of interesting directions taken within these tunes which keep you guessing, tempo changes, rubato sections, modal ostinato riffs,  romantic melodies that gently unfold, and even some driving post Coltrane(ish) ideas that give the soloist time to blow hot and cold. The musicians work within the suite format letting the tunes unwind at their own pace, giving the music a sort of natural flow that links the sections together organically.

Ochion's arrangement of the material is central to the success of this project. The tunes are played in solo, duo, trio or quartet formats, with much attention given to dynamics, giving the music relief and so maintaining interest throughout. As for individual tunes there seems little need to comment as the music flows from the start with the opening soprano sax/piano duo, through to the closing minutes with a re-harmonised version of 'You are my Sunshine', bringing the album to a close with a (lovely) piano trio! In fact the music is best heard as the suite that it is meant to be, with the tunes being carefully ordered to allow each tune/track to flow effortlessly into the next. Finally, I should add that the playing (from the musicians) on the album is impeccable, played with just the right amount of solo space, in/out playing and no waisted notes.

A Snakeride Through The Fog (Tk 2)

Footnote : I'm not sure that this is Ochion's real first record as the article here seems to say there is another record to be found elsewhere. However if First Suite For Quartet is anything to go by it would be well worthwhile checking out his other work.

The Band : Ochion Jewell - saxophones, Amino Belyamani - piano, Sam Minaie - double bass, Qasim Naqvi - drums.
The Tunes : 1. from dust 2. A Snakeride Through the Fog 3. "...but that there goes the baddest lone-ass wolf I ever did know.." 4. ()zero -1() 5. nectar 6. Atonement 7. You are my Sunshine

Mythology Records MR1012.

(*) = I can think about an amazing Michael Moser record Resonant Cuts that I still haven't plucked up the courage to write about as the music is so difficult to put into words. However it's a real pleasure to listen to!
(**) I suspect that John Cage never heard Star Academy or X-Factor!
(***) What's 'melodic-free'? Well, I suppose what I mean is the more modern area of improvisation which keeps melody as it's central idea, but experiments with rhythm and tonality. Some examples of this range from Keith Jarrett's classic 4tet (with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motion) to more modern groups such as Mujician, Dawn of Midi, Clusone Trio, Atomic or Cecil Taylor's earlier work even. I will try to blog about such groups at a later date!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

World Music, where 'are' it's roots? PT 1

World jazz, where did it all begin, if in fact it did really have a starting place. Recently I was listening to an excellent recording of Steve Lacy playing a piece - which I'll talk about later - called Clichés. It made me wonder when (and how) did world/folk influences really become what could be defined as a real jazz form of it's own. Naturally jazz in all truth is a type of folk music that developed away from it's simple roots as folk music and which then quickly mutated into it's own sophisticated art form known as jazz. It would be interesting to know how many of the early musicians played both types of music i.e. performed traditional music and more western influenced popular forms which gradually became known as blues (and the beginning of popular music aka 'jazz'). So in fact jazz is world music and oddly enough it's staring us in the face since the beginning of the 1900s. But what is  interesting and ironic is how gradually musicians have made an effort to include or reintroduce other folklore elements into the music ... but with a more direct approach adding rhythms, scales and modes and even just titles. I wouldn't attempt to cover all the different types of music that has made this symbiosis of styles, in fact you'd need a whole blog or book based on just this one element to discuss and cover all the subject well enough to do everyone justice. Most people - in the present day - think of mundane world fusion of styles such as Urban Trad or River Dance as what world music is and at it's best. However, it's interesting to look back at some of the trends that were present in creating this form of music.

Although there must be earlier examples of world music influences Caravan - written by Juan Tizol in 1937 - could be one of the earliest examples that clearly used folk music as a source, not only in it's rhythms (which developed with every incarnation), but also the use of minor harmony and title all help to conjure up far away places. Be-bop composers soon picked up on names and rhythms (with even more complex harmony) such as Dizzy Gillespie's Night in Tunisia, the experiments with Machito or Mario Bauza known as Cubop. These experiments in fusing Latin rhythms with jazz probably opened musicians eyes to other possibilities. Musicians began using titles with exotic references which conjured up jazz's roots - ex : Appointment in Ghana or Khalil the Prophet - Jackie McLean, Search for the New Land - Lee Morgan or whole albums such as Tijuana Moods - Charlie Mingus  and of course Africa Brass from John Coltrane. These are just a few titles that immediately come to mind, however there are literally dozens of other examples all of which (to greater or lesser degrees) touch on and integrate folk forms into the music.

When talking about world music and the development of folk forms and jazz Yusef Lateef would have a chapter all to himself. Apart from the name change William Huddleston to Yusef Lateef one only has to look at a list of his album titles to notice the world music influence. Titles such as Prayer to the East, Eastern Sounds, and Jazz 'Round the World clearly set an agenda for the music there within. What (to me) is so satisfying in Lateef's music is the deep blues feeling blended with a very individual use of instruments such as the shenai, oboe or argol. It's also interesting to see how Lateef blurs the boundary between blues, jazz and far eastern music often using 'pedals' in a very interesting way (listen to Sister Mamie below). This system imitates the same stylistic method as a blues-man such as Son House, whilst also conjuring up the idea of far eastern (or near eastern) modal music (*). Yusef Lateef also used an oboe which gave the same 'nasal' sound that many double reed instruments from the far and near east produce, but in Lateef's case he would apply these to such tunes as Love theme from Spartacus (on Eastern Sounds) or a blues from Ma Rainey See See Rider (from Live at Pep's). In fact his use of various instruments  gives much of his music a folk influenced sound, but Lateef's main instrument was surely the tenor sax, and he always had a very beautiful sound. He (unlike many today) was also able to control his harmonic knowledge using only what was needed (when needed), but it always contained the essence of the blues.   

Sister Mamie - from Live at Pep's (1965)

However not all musicians tried to conjure up images of early black American history, others such as Bill Smith's Folk Jazz (from 1959) were also acknowledging Americas roots in Europe, and probably one of the first breakaway 'fusion' albums especially when considering it's creation date from 1959. What's most interesting is the repertoire that Bill Smith used. Among a few gospel type titles he also plays an English folk tune, sea-shanties, and a children's melody - Greensleeves, Blow the Man Down, A-Roving and Three Blind Mice (!). However, whereas Yusef Lateef used different atmosphere's and rhythms for his music Bill Smith just kept with the standard 4 or 3 to a bar swing. However, Lateef's concept shows that not only is he interested by the melody, but also the atmosphere and rhythm, creating a real world (jazz) music. Of course Bill Smith wasn't the only one interested in European influences, others were also working along the same lines trying to develop a well rounded American folk fusion.

Jimmy Giuffre is someone who (early on) developed jazz and folk music as a style. What's striking about Giuffre's style is it's debt to Americana as a musical genre (something that guitarist Bill Frisell would continue in the 90s). Unlike Bill Smith, Giuffre didn't use 'traditional' folk tunes but created his own traditional sounding music, quite an interesting idea in itself. His compositions could well be seen in the same light as that of Aaron Copeland, a mixture of romanticism and atonality. Even when Giuffre moved away from his very accessible trios - with Jim Hall and either Bob Brookmeyer or Atlas/Brown/Pena etc - Giuffre maintained an element of European romanticism in his more experimental style as it developed into the 60s and probably explains his  success in Europe whilst America struggled to understand his music at that period. Giuffre's music also contained elements of the blues, although one could argue that they were a more cerebral version. However, Giuffre like John Carter (see below) took his ideas of music much further becoming one of the founding fathers of avante-garde/third stream music.

Jimmy Giuffre Trio - Two Kinds of Blues (1956)

Other visionary musicians working in this same direction were Archie Shepp - The Magic of Juju ('67), Pharaoh Sanders - The Creator has a Master Plan (from the album Karma 1969) and Don Cherry (see below). In fact it seems that the search for African American roots inspired what could be responsible for instigating folk jazz, better known as world music, and it's fun to think that musicians searching for there own roots developed a new form of music, rather than consolidating the original source as they probably hoped. Of course the 60s and 70s were a very colourful and productive period for music and the arts in general. Cross fertilisation of material was the order of the day and everybody was trying to 'get back to their roots' in some form. Black American soul music, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, hippies, folk clubs and coffee bars, new movements in dance and painting all helped move the arts world in new directions and especially that of integrating ethnic influences into everyday culture.  

Whereas before musicians added simplistic stylistic elements to give their music  a ethnic feel  as the 70s approached artists started to take folk music and their own roots more seriously in academic terms. Musicians such as John Carter have been overlooked when discussing serious musical fusions of styles. His interesting 5 part series of records (no longer available) which combined the history of black Americans through music is completely unique. One could argue that  Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music - Dauwhe, Castles of Ghana, Dance of the Love Ghosts, Fields, Shadows on the Wall - is true world music even though not easily accessible in modern terms of what most people expect from 'folk fusion'. Unfortunately due to his early death Carter's music has never been written about or researched as one might have expected. Carter's music was not only experimental and intellectual but unlike music such as Anthony Braxton or Bill Dixon it finely balances avant-garde jazz and folk roots making it easily approachable.

'Dance of the Love Ghosts' - from the album of the same name (Gramavision 1987)

Finally, (for this part) Don Cherry is an interesting case of a musician that very early on successfully started integrating other folk forms into his music. Cherry successfully integrated many elements into his music through his world travels and interest in other cultures, integrating Tibetan chants, Griots rhythms, Indian music and general world elements. In 1978 he would form Cadona along with Colin Walcott and Nana Vasconcelos which although was probably not the most interesting fusion group of all time it have have a huge influence on the sale of world music in jazz.

See Part II of this blog post (when I write it .. LOL) to see where the music went. Names such as Jan Garberek, ECM, John Surman, Matt Darriau or Pachora. And the list goes on....!

(*) Dewey Redman also used this technique and instrument on his music.
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