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by Steve Dalachinsky

1. “All the tins and bottles and papers I throw away and will have to throw away what will become of them?”

2. “I’m not afraid to talk to myself everybody does but they don’t hear themselves and they’re afraid to hear one another.”

     - from the 1973 film Bartleby directed by Anthony Friedman based on Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.

In his long career, which included momentary retirement, pianist Matthew Shipp has done it all, but what has been rarest in that illustrious career was his participation as a sideman or guest.  The sideman stints that immediately come to mind are a brief tenure with Roscoe Mitchell and a much longer stay with Davis S. Ware who left us way too soon.

As a guest he has shown up in big bands as well as small groups, particularly those lead by saxophonist Ivo Perelman, but for the most part he has concentrated on his own solo and trio career.  Two recent exceptions are the CDs Alternating Current with long time collaborator William Parker and drummer Jeff Cosgrove, a new name to me, who initiated the project, and The Core Trio featuring Matthew Shipp.  Shipp as player/composer walks a fine line between composition and improvisation and truly defines the term spontaneous composition. 

Never having sheet music at his disposal, he can be playing furiously free then suddenly launch into a beautiful melodic phrase be it his own or such standards as “Sunny,” “Naima” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” all which he managed to seamlessly play one after the other at a recent concert.  His mind as well as his playing is both simple and complex.  A true paradox and what I term, simply, complex.

It’s always exciting and more than a pleasure being at a concert, then later experiencing it on CD at home.  Such is the case with Alternating Current which took place at Klavierhaus Recital Hall.  The CD consists of three pieces, two collective improvisations and Paul Motian’s “Victoria” (the first time Shipp and Parker ever played a Motian tune.)  Cosgrove proved an equal match for their mastery, his drumming always consistent, always respectful of the music and the other musicians.  The trio consists of three distinct voices never competing but rather playing and building with and off each other.  Not your typical pianist with rhythm section but as the promo for the CD states, “an uncompromising musical commitment and connection between the musicians,” as well as a catalyst in promoting the music’s “natural evolution.”  I highly recommend it.

It was the converse with Houston based The Core Trio consisting of Seth Paynter, sax, Joe Hertenstein (originally born and raised in a small town in the Black Forest in the South/West of Germany called Lahr, but to use his words, “musically speaking from Cologne”), drums and Thomas Helton, the group’s leader, on doublebass, also new names for me.  I saw their gig at Shapeshifter Lab with Shipp on piano, took the CD home and immediately listened to it.  Unlike the live set, the CD consists of one 42-minute track and comes across somewhat stronger.  Like the Shapeshifter set I thought Shipp and Hertenstein were strongest, though overall the sax and bass proved to be far better integrated on the CD than live.  This set, unhindered free music in the best sense, is also well worth picking up if you are a Shipp fan and want to hear him and the others comfortably stretching out.  As Shipp himself puts it, the trio “obviously know[s] music” and “understands the resonance of pitch as it relates to their overall sound world.” 

One thing I craved more of at Shapeshifter was saxophone.  Paynter seemed too minimal and tentative for most of the set, leaving huge gaps.  He stretches out more on the CD but even there I realized that he is one of those rare players who’d rather not cramp the others’ styles.  Hertenstein describes Paynter as “a very special kinda cat. He only plays when he feels it. I heard from other horn players that they can feel intimidated by his honesty. And with such a massive player like Shipp, I love Seth's approach to not lean against him or even compete - which would be the expected and obvious choice of most sax players in that kind of situation - but simply floats on top” letting “the trio play for ten minutes and then just bends one note and stops again.”

He then goes on to say: “This was our very first [live] gig with Shipp.  The record date was a first meeting for Shipp and me.  And after we felt, that the record came out beautifully, maybe we were a little overwhelmed with our own expectations for the concert.  I can't wait for the band to play more concerts with Shipp and hopefully tour someday.” 

That night Hertenstein handed me a disc called Future Drone on the Berlin label jazzwerkstatt, a trio with him on drums, Achim Tang on upright bass and the ever versatile Jon Irabagon on sax.  It is a resounding set of improv by the group with two pieces penned by Hertenstein.  The trio explores all sonic and rhythmic ranges and tempos in a beautifully recorded session.

A concert that recently blew me away was the Yuko Fujiyama quartet.  Fujiyama, a pianist not nearly heard enough, put together a group consisting of Daniel Carter, William Parker and Newman Taylor Baker.  They premiered at Clemente Soto Velez in the Arts for Arts Monday night series.  It was a mesmerizing performance mixing fast and furious with exquisitely soft, sandwiching three very short peaceful gems between two longer flaming exercises in freedom.  Though pitch, tone and speed varied in extremes, integrity and intensity always remained intact. The set could have ended with a bang or a whimper but instead ended in smooth modulations and almost imperceptible shifting of tectonic and harmonic plates that subsided into tremors before an impending quake and a startlingly beautiful ending by Baker.  If you ever get that rare opportunity to hear Fujiyama and this group don’t miss it.  

Puma Perl’s new book Retrograde on “great weather for MEDIA” press is filled with Perl’s illuminations, ruminations and visions about love and hardcore life on the downtown music scene and elsewhere. She claims: “My assessment is that it's a deeper look.  Like I'm wearing my insides on the outside with a backdrop of apocalyptic visions, relationships past, present and future plus the importance of The Velvet Underground and all that Lou Reed meant to me.”

There is a running Velvets’ theme throughout, as in “Riding with Heroin”, in which the original version, not in this book due to an editorial decision, had snatches of that seminal Velvet’s song. Perl still uses it when performing in public. What we do get is “insert the cassette into boom box at I-78/ old deck ate my tapes/ all I got left is Lou….Flip the Velvet Underground over again/
Look through the sunroof/ the stars spell Fuck You/ and I ride…”

All in one encompassing heart-breath she references the Stones, Jim Carroll, the “Rock n Roll Hall of Fame”, jazz, heavy metal, Sid Vicious, Neil Young, Loretta Lynn, Patti Smith, The Cramps, Tina Turner, Courtney Love, David Bowie, Nico and Perl’s own poem-song “The Heroin in my Needle.” As Perl puts it “I hold books and secrets, collect whispers’ sighs and moans, rewind, replay…tell me again - who you are –  what you are…the body remembers and leaves room for ghosts…zombies/ …books and secrets.”  And one thing Puma shares with us in this volume are hers.  There are pages and pages of poems that immerse themselves in the music and the “life” that surrounds, consumes and helps create it. 
Chris Funkhouser’s pressAgain on Free Dogma Press consists of altered visual texts captured by a digital microscope and prepared to be projected by notes played by a bass guitar and filtered through software too complicated for me to explain in a brief burst.  What we see in this poem are 510 images similar to cut-ups like “speak your voice/interesting weekend.”  Rather than imagine what it is like, I suggest you examine the documentation of this performance on YouTube as well as see how this translates onto the page.  Funkhouser’s methods offer new and exciting ground for visual poetry.

I dedicate this column to Gilles Laheurte, architect, artist, translator, humanitarian, musician, participant and above all human being, supporter, listener and pulse of music and life.

To quote Amiri Baraka yet again: “The music is here all you have to do is listen… Get to…” the…  “music and it will get to you.”


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