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by Steve Dalachinsky

So what's the main problem with authorized biographies? Well they're authorized. This means certain vital facts may be left out due to jealousies, estate disputes, etc. Such is the case with the long-awaited Moondog by Robert Scotto on, get this, Progress Press. But if you're a fan like I am you will overlook this simply stated bio's one oversight which are his many years spent in Germany part of which was spent with 2 now-dear friends of mine. After being stolen away from them by his last companion Ilona Goebel who helped him set up Managarm (Norse for Moondog) which became the primary holding company for Thomas Hardin Jr.'s (Moondog's real name) artistic endeavors. She now controls the estate & for some unknown reason has decided to obliterate my friends Norbert Nowotch and Tom Glott from the Moondog history, a hard thing to do since rewriting history ain't always easy when there's enough proof to sink a ship.

Well aside from this grave omission & a mislabeled photo that Norbert actually took and is not credited for (it's in Muenster not Ricklinhausen), the book is a vital addition to the Moondog cannon covering his entire life & music up to his death, with a small mention of his German years & a wonderful cd sampler. I give this piece about a great underrated artist's life in sound & art a B.

& speaking of a sound art, there's a fantastic new book by Alan Licht on the subject aptly titled, you guessed it, Sound Art, with a forward by Jim O'Rourke, who now lives in Japan, containing a great compilation cd with the likes of DuBuffet & Charles Curtis. It is beyond a must. It's a veritable bible on the subject with explanations & examples from the past to the present & an abundance of color & b & w illustrations & photos. It's 300 plus pages are rich with detail & rather than it be a cumbersome coffee table book it is normal reading size but a bit pricey at $55. I highly recommend this to connoisseurs as well as novices as a learning tool. A+.

Yet another book I suggest music, as well as art lovers try to find, in these trying times more than ever, is a book that somehow slipped thru the cracks after its publication by Rizzoli almost 2 years ago. It is Woody Guthrie, Art Works, by Steven Brower and Woody's daughter Nora Guthrie,a marvelous, warm book with facsimiles of Woody's drawings, journals & sketchbooks.

Now on to a few recent concerts that I saw & almost completely loved, to end 2007 & begin 2008.

1. Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury (like Moondog, an underrated outsider & completely unique individual) at Japan Society. Though I found a lot of the acting, singing, choreography, story & distracting, unnecessary ceiling projections in the Partch piece somewhat hokey, just the thrill of seeing the instruments & hearing they're incredible percussive & ringingly Partch brand of microtonal melodious sounds (a haunting zither tune throughout) & composition was enough to sustain me thru the 90 minutes. Based on Noh theatre & African folklore it's use of the orchestra as an integral part of the stage both musically & vocally ? la Greek chorus was astounding.

& without going into the details of the somewhat tragic-comical story, its message at the end still resounds in my ears; ··Oh how did we ever get by without justice? Pray for me. Oh pray for me.·?

2. Bill Frisell, Ron Carter & Paul Motian at the Blue Note. I couldn't have been happier when it came to hearing such well executed ··inside·? music by this stellar trio. Frisell kicked butt taking us thru everything from Hank Williams to Monk. Ron Carter played more than I've seen him play in years (though that's not saying much) & Paul Motian proved that besides being one of the most innovative drummers he is also, as shown years ago with Bill Evans, one of the best time keepers & backbones of any combo using primary brush strokes to paint a gorgeous landscape for Frisell & Carter to walk thru with luxurious, austere, quiet, spacious, elegant & esthetically pleasing tones by all.

3. At her recent concert at Roulette, Okkyung Lee presented a full length, 4 part composition entitled ··then, there, that corner...·? which, except for some tottering moments in part 3, I found masterful. I've watched her growth as a musician since her arrival in New York a few years ago & cannot be happier with the better part of her daring & forthrightness.

Here she played the role of conductor, never once touching her cello. It is rare, however, to see a score so well navigated by the crew the captain has chosen to lead toward shore. The piece contained aspects of hemi-(spherical) circulation. An oral history of encapsulating biographies sans conventional melody structures, in fact a condition where melody plays second fiddle to form so to speak. Where formula is apparent but obfuscated & subjugated by ideas & where the goal is the whole of its sums. Melodies are rooted in dislocation. Sound mingles with rhythm. A piece showing how space is treated & mistreated/handled. Where one wonders about where the solo begins & the ensemble ··ends.·? How notation is fractured & marginalized. Moon's face caught in the violin strings. That rare twist when the navigator allows herself to be navigated. Where sometimes we get lost in the changes & sometimes the changes themselves get lost. Where one man's ultimate passion is set in motion thru the articulation of his many voices (the outstanding solo by trumpeter Peter Evans). Where invention surpasses intention & uniqueness is not something strove for but something unavoidable. What we have is a collision with the self & its need to BE, its need to supercede its own superficiality at all costs outside & aside from its creator's own domesticity. Let's hope this reaches the cd audience one day.

& now for my first music listening of 2008, 2 of which I've managed to come away from with my first newly written poems of this, what seems to be, great beginning for music.

1. Matthew Shipp's solo concert at the Rubin Museum proved once again that Shipp is still one of the most daring and individual voices on the scene. This was Shipp's first concert since the passing of his mother & some of that raw emotion he still felt shone through. The evening consisted of 2 completely different sets presented in Shipp's signature fashion of continuous loops, each lasting about 35 minutes. The first started out a bit choppy and uneven, as do most Shipp sets, not so much because of musical instability but almost because of a deliberate need to throw us off balance with his own brand of disjointed almost sloppy drunk off-kilter banging in the low register opening up the Scriabinesque color field with a seemingly imbalance of form that he is a master of. The set was vibrant, alive, and rhapsodically abstract with the usual Shipp imprint of repetition, pounding low register left hand to midrange right hand tenderness. In this case he repeated throughout a boppish riff he had written years ago for the cd Gravitational Systems called ··Knots.·?

His second set was sweeter, quieter, and stayed mostly mid-range. It came replete with a backdrop of slides Shipp had picked from the museum's fantastic holdings of Tibetan art. The tunes repeated most here were the Shipp original Module and a creative dissection of the old favorite, ··My Funny Valentine.·? (Shipp, over the years, has frequented standards and cubed them in his own very personal way.) About 2/3rds through the set he threw in a hint of ··As Time Goes By.·? When I asked him afterward why he didn't continue with it, he said it happened by accident, then shrugged saying it felt too mushy. Well all I can say is ··PLAY IT AGAIN SHIPP.·?

My second concert of the New Year was at John Zorn's club, The Stone, curated this month by Hal Willner. It was by one of my all time favorite musicians Charles Gayle, leading a trio consisting of Hill Greene (a long time associate of Gayle's) on bass & Ryan Sawyer (a newcomer to Gayle's trio) on drums.

Gayle wearing black and playing a white alto came out screeching in a strange intervalic way that I never quite heard him do before. The music went from intense to extremely tender when by the fourth selection he played a lilting catchy ··medley·? of which he told me later was a variation on 2 folk songs he had learned as a kid. Almost everything he played throughout the night, as with Shipp in his gig, sounded like dissected recognizables, though like Shipp he does plan in advance what he will play & too like Shipp he never brings any written music to a gig, it all being completely spontaneous and improvised. Though unlike Shipp there is very little repetition from one session to the next. For his last tune, Gayle played the piano and for the second time in public, did so, blindfolded and wearing a laughing clown mask. He explained, as he did the first time I saw him do this, that it's easy to play the sax withut looking but not so with the piano, hence the handicap. And he played his heart out starting sweetly and then erupting into a chaotic flurry. Throught the entire set, Greene & Sawyer did not miss a beat, both using impeccable timing and intuition while following Gayle's every move.

Also saw a great Zeena Parkins, George Lewis, John King, Fast Forward concert at the Merce Cunnigham Dance Studio, all composed works by the 4 filled with both acoustic and electronics elements with great moment by all especially the witty musicality of Fast Forward's percussion work on spoon, forks, bags, pots or as they say everything but the kitchen sink.

Upcoming events for me in the New Year will be Vision Festival collaboration, David Murray, Boulez and Elliott Carter to name a few and that's just in January. But for now I will leave you with these words: ··LISTEN.·?

I am an insomniac. Every nite when I go to bed I sing a song in my head over & over again. The last one was ·?Idiot Wind·? after seeing the Dylanesque bio-flick I'm Not There. This past month it's been ··Peace Train·? after seeing Cat Stevens sing it at the Nobel Prize concert on Ovation, a great channel for music & art docs·? ··I've been ridin' on the peace train·? etc. Don't we all wish in this new year with this new administration that we'll all be riding that train soon? Don't we just wish?

A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Brooklyn Rail.

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