July 23, 2016

Love Gloom Cash Love #40: Black Spirituals

Back in May I picked up a new day job. Without going into the particulars of all that, it's the first time in, wow, maybe 10 years, that my schedule has been dictated by someone else (not counting my family). While I am enjoying the structure and consistency of going to the same place every day at the same time, that particular luxury was one I took for granted, and it's been a strange adjustment to try to find time for all the other stuff I want (need) in my life. Anyway, on and on we go.

1. Chasin' Another Trane. Comrade Bob Brainen sent this over the transom a few months ago and it's been rolling around in my head: rehearsal audio of Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane during their illustrious partnership in the early '60s. The culmination of the Dolphy/Trane relationship is the Village Vanguard sessions that resulted in the landmark version of "Chasin' the Trane," a single cut that had more influence on my listening habits then maybe any other. And while Dolphy very much takes a back seat in the proceedings, it marks the moment when Coltrane began his breathless ascent to dense free style that marked his remaining years on earth. I've linked to Gary Giddins's Post-War Jazz: An Arbitrary Road Map elsewhere and that's where Giddins describes the the howl/mutiny/invocation of Trane's "80 or so choruses" to great effect:
Coltrane enjoyed an authentic hit with "My Favorite Things," and would soon foster the apex of boudoir crooning with Johnny Hartman, before achieving mythic standing with A Love Supreme. This 16-minute blues in F, though, was the Rubicon many of his old admirers could not cross. Coltrane's break with convention didn't encourage dissertations on modes or free time; it elicited ecstasy or wrath. His battle, during 80 or so choruses, against the 12-bar structure that Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison maintain with yeoman determination, is a prodigal display of unbridled emotion: a howl, a mutiny, an invocation in the higher frequencies—the informal beginning of expressionism in jazz, and an unforgettable performance in a year brimming with them. 
The rare Dolphy/Trane material offered here doesn't quite touch the official Vanguard Sessions but count me in the camp that thinks anything Dolphy/Trane is the top 1% of the top 1% of all music. Especially buoyant are the final three duets at the tail end, noticeably free of constraint and a tiny window into the boundless mind/soul merger of two master practitioners.

2. I Do Play Rock and Roll. Cory Rayborn enlisted me to write the promo notes for three Jack Rose reissues that are now available for pre-order to ship in mid-September. I was grateful for the opportunity and it was more difficult that I imagined since Jack Rose's music is closer to my heart than most. I've had the great pleasure of listening to the test presses; the music sounds better than ever. Here's the write-up for the reissue of I Do Play Rock and Roll (speaking of Coltrane).

John Coltrane died at age 40, and in retrospect it seems as if the intensity of activity in his last years, the sheer torrent of notes, was an attempt at purging the music from his soul before it was too late. The guitarist Jack Rose died at 38, in 2009, and listening back to his catalog one has a similar notion. Like Coltrane, Jack Rose’s last years were marked by a shimmering intensity, an outpouring of his spirit, onto audiences and records. 

I believe Jack Rose felt the duty of preservation but was by no means bound by it. With his virtuoso fingerstyle technique and restless guitar explorations--modal epics, bottleneck laments, uptempo rags--it’s easy to hear a connection to tradition and at the same time a pulsing modernism: “Ancient to the Future” in the words of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Ultimately, it’s no use attempting to explain the unexplainable (natural disasters, God, art, death). As the air gets heavy before a thunderstorm, Jack Rose’s vivid guitar picking awakes in us a peculiar awareness, something ancient and American. Jack Rose’s work exists along the established continuum of American vernacular music: gospel, early jazz, folk, country blues and up through the post-1960s “American primitive” family tree from John Fahey and Robbie Basho and outward to other idiosyncratic American musicians like Albert Ayler, the No-Neck Blues Band, Captain Beefheart and Cecil Taylor. His process can best be heard as an evolution; renditions of songs would transform over time, worked out live, with changes in duration, tempo or attack, in the search for a song’s essence. 

“I Do Play Rock and Roll,” the title a mystifying nod to Mississippi Fred McDowell’s electric period, finds Jack Rose in extended drone mode, coaxing open-tuned raga meditations from his 12-string guitar. “Calais to Dover” first appeared on Rose’s classic “Kensington Blues” in a somewhat truncated form. The version heard here is more expansive and open-hearted, a waxing-and-waning piece of introspection. “Cathedral et Chartres” shares the same quiet romanticism, with rotating patterns and the chime of open strings, “Sundogs,” the sidelong drone abstraction that occupies Side B, stands alone among Jack’s solo work. A long-form live rendition of a track that appeared on the genre-defining triple album compilation “By The Fruits You Shall Know The Roots,” it is perhaps most evocative of Pelt, Jack’s previous band, a minor-key free drone, with only miniscule dynamic shifts and the occasional recognizable string accent. It is territory Rose seldom traveled but completely and fully invigorating. 

Jack Rose was a larger than life man with a hearty spirit--a no-bullshit gentleman--and his death continues to reverberate among the community of musicians and music people he called friends. This spirit, as evidenced within his recorded output, has proven to be indomitable and continually vital.  

3. Black Spirituals, Black Tape.
Free music and improvisation are powerful tools against tyranny. When it's deep music played by thoughtful people in communion, there's a certain unknowable magic that emerges out of that. The way I see, the more music that's created with this kind of intensity and compassion, the better. Music is the quickest route to affecting the soul. This is the beginning of an equation that ends with opening minds and opening society. This is just my opinion, but I know you've felt it, too. 

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