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November 15, 2008

Outside the New Sound

I’ve always struggled with the connections between the Avant-Garde Jazz and visual art. I appreciate the meshing of ideas between these two loves of mine, and comparing the improvisations of say Ornette Coleman to Pollock’s action paintings are definitely relevant. However, it’s never really taken further than this. Not only are there similarities between Free Jazz and Abstract Expressionism, but also between the conceptualist of the 1960s.

The basis of this argument is not the aesthetic qualities of each medium, but the ideas that are driving their existence. In fact, when hearing Coleman talk about his music, I draw more references to the work of John Baldassari or Sol Lewitt than that of Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning.

There’s still a strong connection between Free Jazz and Abstract Expressionism. I tend to see these in works of late Coltrane or Albert Ayler. Coltrane described his playing as sheets of sound, creating notions between his sax playing and the color field paintings of Marc Rothko and Ad Reinhardt. Also, suggestive titles like Om, Meditations, or Expressions create spiritual relationships in his music, which is parallel to the spiritual aspect of the paintings that encourage viewers to embrace a meditative experience with the art. This dedicative relationship intended for the creator and the viewer is completely valid to musicians and visual artists akin.

Even beyond the new sounds, free improvisers seem to share similar attitudes and unconventional feelings as visual artists do. While I tend to disagree with
the phrase of art for artists, saying one is a musicians’ musician holds the same significance. I often see the Minimalists and Conceptualists as artists who were interested in the complete deconstruction of art, forcing the purist elements to the forefront. Now if we take Ornette Coleman’s elimination of chord changes, or maybe Paul Bley eliminating percussion to break down restrictions we can observe these related concepts.

Just like conceptual artists, Coleman challenges listeners in the same way artists may question what the definition of art is. There are the continuous dealings with time and motion, then and now, before and after, and as always the last role of the listener or viewer who become active in these pieces. Cecil Taylor is consistently focusing on the physicality of his music and the space or intervals he works with. Similar to Donald Judd who creates objects that represent the idea of physical space that swarms the presented matter.

Lawrence Weiner and John Baldassari are infamous for redefining standard attitudes regarding sculpture and painting. Weiner works with using words to represent the physical presence and aspects of sculpture that are absent in space. Even though these are portrayed flat on a flat surface, he still considers these sculptures. Baldassari often times uses dry humor and confronts viewers with the use of literal terminology; taking traditional ideas from art history or theory and rendering them in a complete modern way.

Also, the use of serialized titles by reedist Anthony Braxton holds water to those used by visual artists. We see titles from Braxton like,
60666 C -66M Composition 23K, or Comp. 40N/Comp. 23J, while Dan Flavin would make artworks like his Icon series, which were numerically ordered. Since artists of these movements saw their objects as ways of conveying their ideas, they often used titles that would almost convey a systematic inventory of sorts.

I attended a conversation with Ornette that was hosted by writer and NYU professor Howard Mandel. Throughout the discussion Coleman was always referring to the “idea” as if it was the object that his music represented. “Only thinking about improving the idea,” Coleman said as he continued to talk about ideas as knowledge, how the quality of the idea never mattered as long as it existed.

Coleman also spoke a lot on music theory. Questioning that there must be more than just 12 notes to the chromatic scale. “How can ears know if something is sharp or flat,” said Coleman, “when they don’t know the intent.” Like a lot of minimalism or conceptualism, the intent is more important than the final product. Sol Lewitt says it perfectly with his infamous statement, “The idea is the machine that drives the art.” A lot of reactions viewers and listeners have to free jazz and Minimalism (or even AbEx and Conceptualism) is that they think the creators are lazy or creating easy work. When there's the famous reaction of, "I can do that," my initial response is you can, but it would look or sound completely different to what you're experiencing now. One may choose colors and materials closer to their desire, or their music may reflect their current moods and feelings. To dismiss work because one can repeat it is a completely irrelevant argument.

Whether it’s Ornette’s interest in the idea, or Sol Lewitt’s conceptual manifestos, modernity in both mid-century artists and avant-garde musicians are reasonably similar. I’ve been disappointed that writers haven’t explored these comparable aspects more. The creative impulses to redefine the notions of jazz and visual art are a major driving force behind the existence of their works.

November 10, 2008

Street of Dreams

I was watching re-run clips of Conan O'Brien online and saw this still image that was used when returning from advertisements. A great adaptation of a classic Blue Note cover and recording. You can see Brubeck's Time Out and 'Round Midnight by Miles and then they rendered Grant Green's Street of Dreams to display Late Night with Conan O'Brien. An interesting find.

November 1, 2008

"Town Hall, 1962" - Ornette Coleman

This record marks a hand full of milestones for the alto saxophonist. It's his first and only release from the ESP-Disk label; his first recording with his new trio featuring Izenzon and Moffett; his last release before a two year hiatus from recording and live performances; and it's an early example of Coleman's theory of harmolidics featuring a string ensemble.

The release contains the partial concert in which Coleman recording himself one Christmas night. From my understanding the tapes sat for sometime before given to ESP-Disk for mastering. No matter how tight his Atlantic quartet was, this trio is definitely equal. David Izenzon plays uniquely compared to Charlie Haden, while creating tremendous layers and the ability to play independently from Coleman.
  Charles Moffett is an outstanding drummer and performs solidly on all their sessions together, constantly creating the perfect tone and mood behind Coleman's blues and melodies.  Myself, being a drummer, I am strongly influenced by Moffett's style and especially his strong use of the kick drum.  Where we saw Higgins constantly swinging on the ride cymbal, and Blackwell relying heavily on his heads, Moffett presents the best of both worlds with consistent bass drum polyrhythms behind his cymbal.
1962 - Esp Disk.
Ornette Coleman - alto saxophone; David Izenzon - bass; Charles Moffett - drums; Selwart Clark, Nathan Goldstein - violin; Julian Barber - viola; Kermit Moore - cello.

Other albums featuring harmolodics and symphonies:
Chappaqua Suite Soundtrack (1965), The Music of Ornette Coleman - Forms & Sounds (1967), Skies of America (1972), Naked Lunch Soundtrack (1991).

Other albums featuring Izenzon and Moffett:
Chappaqua Suite Soundtrack (1965), Who's Crazy Soundtrack Volumes 1 and 2 (1965), At the Golden Circle Volumes 1 and 2 (1965).