While we’re waiting for New Freedom calendars to synchronize for our next full session at Magpie Cage, I’ve been working on some things here in New York. Second Freedom wasn’t ready for everyone when we last met but some new contributions from Gordon brought the current draft to light. Hope you enjoy it.
On March first of this year, not a note of this music existed. I had much of it in mind one way or another for some time but didn’t know where to start or how to capture it. It came to me, finally, that I could put together a modest but effective studio, sing the primary chords of each piece, record them over basic drum tracks, and send the results to cellist Gordon Withers. Gordon then sent me his cello ideas for each piece, frequently several at a time, which I edited and shaped into skeletal versions of enumerated compositions eventually called “Freedoms.” From there, the sketches were sent to J. Robbins and Mark Cisneros, and we all met at Magpie Cage in Baltimore to record their ideas and improvisations. I finished the pieces back at my studio, sent the files to J. for mixing and Dan Coutant for mastering and that is the story of these recordings.
“But why ‘Freedoms?’ Freedom from what?” one might ask. Freedom from oneself, perhaps, as one is freed when captivated by acts of creation; freedom from the limitations one has habitually and wrongly set for oneself; freedom from the despair and fear of the cascading and escalating crises of the last several years and especially the last couple of years. These freedoms are temporary, of course, and rarely concurrent. But they are at times all we have, and it seems suitable if humble tribute to capture and share some of their spirit in music. Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoy it.
Links to plays will continue to provide what I understand to be the most useful destinations. In the cases of streaming plays, I’ll add the streaming service I used to the usual stuff (e.g. providing both the Tidal and Spotify links to the Kashkashian set). I imagine most of these recordings are available on YouTube as well but since I don’t listen there, I don’t know.
I missed several days in the second half of the month, no doubt in part to busy-ness but also due to feeling ground-down by the fatigue of our moment. Austin Kleon, in a blog post addressing resolutions, favors February as the month of resolution. I’m not one to argue.
1/01 Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise LP (Bandcamp)
1/02 Olivier Messiaen, L’ascension: Le Banquet céleste LP (Spotify)
1/03 Bruce Langhorne, The Hired Hand (OST) LP (Bandcamp)
1/04 New York Art Quartet, New York Art Quartet LP (Bandcamp)
1/05 Tomeka Reid Quartet, Tomeka Reid Quartet CD (Spotify)
1/06 Arthur Russell, World of Echo LP (Bandcamp)
1/07 Hu Vibrational, The Epic Botanical Beat Suite LP (Bandcamp)
1/08 The Best of Black Jazz Records 1971-1976 LP (Discogs)
1/09 Cecil Brooks III, The Collective LP (Discogs)
1/10 Masahiko Togashi, The Face of Percussion LP (Discogs)
1/11 Hamiett Bluiett, Birthright: A Solo Blues Concert LP (Spotify)
1/12 Alabaster DePlume, To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 LP (Bandcamp)
1/13 Jamie Branch, Fly or Die LP (Bandcamp)
1/14 Philp Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, On the Beach LP (Discogs)
1/15 Arthur Russell, Corn LP (Bandcamp)
1/18 Quin Kirchner, The Shadow and the Light LP (Bandcamp)
1/19 (Wadada) Leo Smith, Rastafari LP (Spotify)
1/23 Asher Gamedze, Dialectic Soul LP (Bandcamp)
1/24 Carl Aagesen, Evening Airs (Bandcamp)
1/27 Jeff Parker, The Relatives LP (Bandcamp)
1/30 Kim Kashkashian, J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo (Tidal Master, Spotify)
Days became weeks became months, and in October I decided to set aside time each day to listen to one record in its entirety without other distraction or complement. It was a good start, but I missed some days and thought logging the nightly plays for the entirety of November would hold me to the plan.
It worked. I’m not sure I’ll do this again but if I do, I might include CDs and digital releases as well, instead of limiting the exercise to vinyl. I’m pretty attached to putting on music though, so I’m not sure how that would shake out. We’ll see.
It’s worth noting that these listenings offered no escape as such — I’ve had enough of that — but have rather given me something to experience outside of my usual routines, which is, of course, why I got into music in the first place.
11/01 Paul Bley, Alone, Again LP (Spotify)
11/02 Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sonny Murray, New York Eye and Ear Control LP (Spotify)
11/02 Luke Stewart, Exposure Quintet LP (Bandcamp)
11/03 Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns LP (Bandcamp)
11/04 Benjamin Britten, String Quartets Nos. 2 & 3, performed by the The Alberni Steing Quartet (Spotify)
11/05 Aquiles Navarro + Tcheser Holmes, Heritage of the Invisible II LP (Bandcamp)
11/06 Rob Mazurek, Alternate Moon Cycles LP (Bandcamp)
11/07 Michael Galasso, Scenes LP (Spotify)
11/08 Max Richter, Songs from Before LP (Spotify)
11/09 Matana Roberts, Coin Coin Volume Four: Memphis LP (Bandcamp)
11/10 Masayoshi Fujita, Book of Life LP (Bandcamp)
11/11 Erik Friedlander, American Power LP (Bandcamp)
11/12 Akira Miyazawa, My Piccolo LP (Discogs)
11/13 Richard Davis, Harvest LP (Discogs)
11/14 Julius Hemphill & Abdul Wadud, Live in New York_LP (Spotify)
11/15 Tsege Mariam Gebru, Spielt Eigene Kompositionen LP (Spotify — this is not the album I have but rather the entire session from which the release I have is culled.)
11/16 Hamiett Bluiett, Orchestra, Duo & Septet LP (Discogs)
11/17 Morton Feldman, For Brunita Marcus (performed by Lenio Liatsou) LP (Discogs or a different performance/recording on Spotify)
11/18 John Coltrane / Alice Coltrane, Cosmic Music LP (Spotify)
11/19 Rashied Ali / Frank Lowe, Duo Exchange LP (Bandcamp)
11/20 Anthony Davis Hemispheres LP (Discogs)
11/21 Leroy Jenkins, The Legend of Ai Glatson LP (Spotify)
11/22 The Pyramids, King of Kings LP (Spotify)
11/23 Black Unity Trio, Al-Fatihah LP (Discogs)
11/24 Wildflowers: the New York Loft Jazz Sessions, Vol. 1 LP (Spotify)
11/25 Wildflowers: the New York Loft Jazz Sessions, Vol. 2 LP (Spotify)
11/26 Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe & Ariel Kalma, FRKWYS Vol. 12: We Know Each Other Somehow LP (Spotify)
11/26 Rob Mazurek – Exploding Star Orchestra, Dimensional Stardust LP (Bandcamp)
11/27 Alessandro Cortini, Forse 1 LP (Bandcamp)
11/28 Jeremy Cunningham, The Weather Up There LP (Bandcamp)
11/29 Philip Glass, Music in Twelve Parts: Parts 1 & 2 LP (Discogs
11/30 Freedom, Rhythm & Sound: Revolutionary Jazz & the Civil Rights Movement 1963-82, Volume 2 LP (Discogs)
[You can hear Chris’s music here, here, and here.]
Way back in the simpler times of Jan/Feb 2020, one of Zach’s groups (Jawbox) asked one of my groups (Hammered Hulls) to play a few shows with them down south. Watching him kill it with J., Kim, and Bill those winter nights that seem so long ago has been a nice memory to look back on during this global pandemic that we’re still in the middle of.
Speaking of that global pandemic…. A) Wear a mask B) beginning the month after everything shut down, and recently extended through the end of the year, the great website Bandcamp has been doing “Bandcamp Fridays” where the 1st Friday of every month they waive their fees and givie 100% of the money made on purchases to the artists. Almost everyone mentioned below (along with Zach’s and my bands) have music on there. In this age of no live music, every little bit helps.
Hugh Masekela, Masekela: I became aware of this record in the summer of ’99 while on tour with Sean Tillmann’s Sean Na Na. We did a few shows on the east coast with my future longtime bandmate Ted Leo, who was at the time playing with a backup band of himself on a reel to reel. He would open those shows by covering the opening track on this record, “Mace and Grenades.” This is one of those albums that is huge to me, but there’s very little info about it online. The wiki page for it can’t even pin down exactly when or where it was tracked, saying “the album was recorded in Los Angeles, possibly between September 12 and 30 1968.” Fitting that the back cover reads “The music contained herein speaks for itself, Nothing more need be added. All there remains to do is to do.” If you can find a copy of his autobiography Still Grazing, pick it up.
Crumbsuckers, Beast on My Back: I bought this a couple years after it came out when the Camelot Music in the mall of my hometown of Hot Springs, AR moved all of their Combat Records releases into the clearance bin giving me access to some late period albums by GBH, The Exploited, and Circle Jerks that don’t hold up super well, but also some metal classics by Possessed, Exodus, Tankard, and this gem. I’d like to say this is my favorite crossover record but by this point they had dropped any of their lingering NYHC roots, and went full on thrash. Mad riffage, and….a robot voice!
Unwound, New Plastic Ideas: While not necessarily their best (that distinction might go to Repetition, The Future of What, or Leaves Turn Inside You, which is about as perfect of a closing statement as any band has ever made), this one has always been my favorite. And now that autumn is here, it’s a great listen during those first sweater wears of the season. Always hoped that someway somehow i’d get to see them live one more time, but that’s not to be. Never met Vern, but he was one half of one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time. RIP.
Go Go’s, Beauty and The Beat: We all know that The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke of an institution. But would you believe that it’s also an incredibly misogynistic institution? If you need an example to verify that claim, look no further than The Go Go’s. The only all-female band to write their own songs, play their own instruments, and go to the top of the charts (and if you need an example of how misogynistic the entire music industry is, think about that. There have been thousands upon thousands of all female bands writing their songs and playing their instruments, but The Go Go’s are the only ones to achieve that level of success). Guess how many times they’ve been nominated for entry into the R&R HOF? Exactly zero. While they are fully deserving of every accolade sent their way, maybe the Hall of Fame should keep fucking off because they’ll probably just treat them like some cute novelty act. Speaking of fire rhythm sections, Kathy Valentine’s bass playing is perfectly busy, and Gina Schock is perfectly rock solid. One of my favorite records since I was old enough to have a favorite record, and Our Lips Are Sealed is one of the first two 45’s I ever bought. The other was “Pop Musik” by M. Don’t judge. I was 7.
Ghosh, Get Ready to Die/LYAOF: A few years back I did about a dozen shows flillig in on drums for a Philly band called Lantern. When they split, Emily formed Louie Louie who put out one absolutely perfect record called Friend of a Stranger, and Zach co-founded this duo who have released four two song digital EPs this year. I hope someone puts them all together on a single LP like Get Better did for the three Sheer Mag 7″s sooner than later. They describe themselves as Nu Jungle and US Grime which are two genres they claim to have totally made up. The B side is about working in the service industry, and especially in the time of COVID it should be a protest song for all of those who have been putting their lives on the line to make sure some ungrateful under tipping bastards have a great experience dining outdoors on hot asphalt while cars whiz by.
Carnivorous Bells, The Upturned Stone: Speaking of new genres, this is the first time I’ve heard of Cave Prog, and it’s a genre I’d like to hear more from. If this record had come out a couple decades ago, or if they were still releasing music by current groups today, this band would find a cozy home in the Touch and Go/Quarterstick stable of artists. Like some crazy combination of Nomeanso, Dazzling Killmen, Hella, and Pissed Jeans (while at the same time sounding like none of those bands), and featuring the most inventive drummers I’ve heard in quite some time. Rumor has it, he has a double kick pedal, but one of the two pedals hits a cowbell instead of a kick drum. Hope to see them live when we’re able to do that thing again.
“Sit down. Be yourself. Be prepared. Be attentive. Defy the voices. Be the thing you want to be. Write. Be playful. Be reckless. Remember that you are uniquely designed for the idea that is moving toward you. You are good enough. The idea is about to arrive.”
— Nick Cave again
“A lively understandable spirit
Once entertained you.
It will come again.
— Theodore Roethke, “It Was Beginning Winter.”
Rebecca Norris Webb is among my favorite contemporary photographers and here picks her favorite photo books from 2017. Photo-eye has several such lists from compelling photographers that are worth a look.
My most recent trip to Los Angeles finally yielded a visit to the Watts Towers. I’m not sure what I expected to see but the effect of the towers rising, as their designer and builder Simon Rodia put it, “up to the sun,” was both breathtaking and calming. There, in the middle of a tidy, residential area, is the Watts Towers Arts Center, home to the single city block environed by the towers and their relevant structures, as well as a museum of contemporary art, a handfull of faded but still compelling murals, and some freestanding sculpture. It is a celebration of the neighborhood, the vibrancy of Watts, a full embrace of its past, and full advocacy of its present and future. There are artist residencies and music festivals, and jazz education and mentorship for emerging and developing youth musicians, but above all are the towers, Nuestro Pueblo.
[A note about the photos: I opted to develop the photos of the towers in black and white because my color versions were overwhelmed by the late-morning sunlight. The same light, of course, served ground-level photography quite well, making it possible to capture the brilliance and array of colors and textures that make up the rest of the work.]
“From a Spark to a Fire” from Damon Locks’s Where Future Unfolds.
The playlist below includes four examples of what BELLS≥ has been doing towards our next album, a collection of music called North American Spirituals. If you saw any of our performances on our tour last August, you heard quartet versions of another two of the pieces (“The First Ray” and “May You Bury Me”), both of which were written thus far with the group’s then-current line-up in mind.
That is, the pieces that will comprise “North American Spirituals” remain in variously-preliminary states, and while Chris Ernst has been working on them in Baltimore and Stephen Shodin and I have taken a swing at them here in New York, Gordon Withers recently performed some of his own ideas at the Galaxy Hut in Arlington, VA.
At the root of Gordon’s cello sketches are drum demos I recorded with J. Robbins at The Magpie Cage back in May. We set up a drum kit and some other drums and percussion and recorded for an hour or so. The next few hours were spent on edits, overdubs, and rough mixes. Chris Ernst was there, too, and by the time we left the studio that evening, we had drum tracks for a handful of pieces ready for distribution to each other and our collaborators. It’s not the way we’ve worked in the past, but we thought we should give it a shot, passing the tracks back and forth until Chris, Stephen, and I sense completion, and in the meantime, with hopes of such an outcome as Gordon has provided here. BELLS≥ has always been a collaborative group with its three core members at the compositional center, and since the beginning, Gordon, like J., has been a key contributor to BELLS≥. To have Gordon playing along with loops of my beats sounds, in the end, as natural as the two of us playing together.
Additionally, I’ve included in this post a Pete Duvall photo of Gordon and me from a few years ago in hopes of providing evidence of our performative unity in this somewhat unusual situation.
All of which is to say, here are four pieces from Gordon’s last show. One of the selections includes some organ from J. and orchestra bells from Chris, both recorded when I cut the drum tracks, and not live with Gordon. Be advised that these are only sketches, improvisations on some rhythmic ideas we have in mind. But we thought you’d enjoy them so here they are.