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- 01.24.12 / 11am
- Reviews & Notes
9 Nights At The Stone | New York City
Painting by Jeff Schlanger | Deep Friendship Dream
9 NIGHTS AT THE STONE by Mark Weber
NEW YORK CITY
I heard everything from the merely virtuostic, to the profound, to the transcendent, all in this little tiny room on the Lower East Side with the sounds of the city intruding, honking cars, roaring trucks, sirens, guns, screaming, buses careening, ( I exaggerate) police helicopters scanning the city (no, wait, that was L.A.) but here in this room was magic.
The Stone is, I believe, the performance space that John Zorn put together after his tenure at Tonic. The Stone is at the corner of 2nd Street and Avenue C. The Williamsburg Bridge over the East River practically drops you at it’s door.
(Bud Tristano used to live in this neighborhood years ago and says a less than wholesome Chinese restaurant occupied this room in those days.)
Life is nothing you want to waste.
We all want meaningfulness and joy and love.
You go to a museum for truth & beauty
and reassurances of our humanity
to connect with the past and to feel
something for the future.
The same goes for concerts.
You brave the elements, the highways and subways, the
and it’s only fair that the musicians
that they breach the chasm
a connection into our shared humanity.
This 2-week concert series that Connie Crothers curated at The Stone deliver’d all that and more. September 17 – 30, 2009. Twelve nights with two different shows each night. 24 performances in all. Thirty-two performers. I was only in town for the first nine nights, then had to make it back to Albuquerque, where I live.
Be careful what you hope for in life, you just might get it.
Sometimes you cannot know what to expect. Sometimes it’s good to listen with your eyes closed.
The first night was Sept 17 and each night had two separate music sets. The 17th was guitarist Andy Fite, solo, and then Connie Crothers & Bill Payne, piano & clarinet duets. Earlier that day I watched the sun come up over Texas. I always take window seats. By the time my flight reached DFW we were engulfed in pure
it’s always a little buggy coming in for a landing
with no visibility
they must be using navigation instruments
I hear the wheels unlock and release
and then here we are
emerging from under the cloud layer into rainy Dallas-Fort Worth airport
where I catch a connector to La Guardia.
September 17 | the opening show | 8pm
Andy Fite. How do you explain Andy Fite? He’s an American who moved from NYC to Stockholm in July of 1994. The first time I heard Andy Fite my head spun around on my shoulders six times. He’s not a bit like Derek Bailey, but his playing is just as werid. Weird good. He’s somewhere in between Derek and Billy Bauer. Even though he’s never heard Derek. The thing with Andy is he’s still playing jazz and he’s still in love with time and he still plays chords and he still bows to the gods of lyricism. But, somewhere along the line he’s learned how to divide his mind perfectly and play such divergent counterpoint with himself that if you weren’t looking directly at him you’d think there were two people! His lines are going one direction while his chords go another. Eddie Lang would have loved it. Eddie worked these same streets back in the 20s and is the father of chordal guitar that interjected swinging single-line melodies. And Andy sings & scats as well. And it’s all musical, totally. Perfectly wonderful. For example, he played a jazzed-up version of “Stairway to Heaven” and sang “Pennies from Heaven” simultaneously. He was playing a 1950 F-hole archtop Epiphone acoustic — no amps — mic’d through the P.A. When I asked him about this running-in-both directions style of his he said he got the idea from the piano playing of Kazzrie Jaxen and Nat King Cole. He liken’d it to the two hands of a pianist and said (pointing to his mouth) that his scatting is the left hand. I can warmly recommend his CDs on the New Artists Records label. And check out his website here.
Then, there is an hour break. Shows at The Stone are 8 and 10pm. Monday is dark. The club is operated by a collective under the direction of John Zorn. It was very nice of John Zorn to offer these 2 weeks to Connie. We hope he snuck in and heard some of it?
September 17 | 10pm show
Connie & Bill’s set was fantastic. As if the piano and clarinet were made for each other, they really fall into place together. They played little short things 3 to 5 minutes in length and seemed to be able to go on indefinitely just reeling out masterpiece after masterpiece. My strongest immediate impression and most satisfying was the counterpoint, very pleasureable to hear the notes and clusters, phrases they improvised off of each other. They played about ten pieces, entirely improvised in the moment. The audience sits on two sides of the bandstand, sort of a traditional front center audience with overflow sitting cantilever’d off the back side. I sat directly behind Connie and watched her hands sprinkling notes all over Bill. Bill has the most gorgeous non-reedy sound on the clarinet. I have explained in other contexts how I knew the master clarinetest Kenny Davern would love Bill, and Kenny was very particular, and when Bill came to Albuquerque to do a gig with me in 2005 and Kenny heard him, they were thick as thieves afterwards. (The next day I took Bill over to Kenny & Elsa’s house and Kenny got out his collection of clarinets and Bill got to play Pee Wee Russell’s clarinet ! )
September | 25 8pm show
Listening to Kazzrie Jaxen play solo makes me wonder what a concert like this would be like on a mountain top. With vast misty vistas from above the cloud layers, ponderosas and mountain peaks cushioned in roiling white clouds. The piano and Kazzrie in a Greek colannaded arboretum. Her piano music celebrating it all with her blonde hair flowing in the wind like the cover of one of those bodice-ripping novels. Laugh, but I’m being serious. When listening to her you can’t help thinking about ceremonies at Stonehenge five thousand years ago or wading into the morning waters of Ganges to thank the river for coming down from the sky. You start thinking flying carpets might not be so fictional after all, as you sit there transported. I have to admit I missed part of the concert having come down with a coughing fit — I had to step outside, in my socks no less! and there was Ratzo working off a cough, as well. It was very warm in The Stone and that seems to trigger coughing, which was a characteristic of The Stone Flu we all were coming down with. (It was a respiratory cold.) We walked across the street and got us a bottle of Robitussin. Horrible, nasty stuff, hard on the body, BUT in a pinch this vile stuff works. Expensive but does the job. In that, we were not much different than the junkies sitting on the stoop three doors down, or the group of winos taking up permanent residence in front of the bodega up the block. After we had our little taste, we stepped back inside the crowded room. Kazzrie is like a priestess, she’s in a trance, and she’s not fooling around. The Yamaha grand is rocking, the room swelling and vibrating (maybe it was the cough syrup?) She’s singing about love’s fire, words from a Rumi poem she adores. She’s singing in tongues, her hands have conjured the piano into a giant harmonic wave of sound, like the ocean you hear in a conch shell. Kazzrie is a phenomenon. I have the willies crawling all up and down my spine. We’re not in Kansas tonight, baby.
When you listen to Kazzrie, you realize we are all the ocean, the air, the sky, and the wind we breathe that breathes through us. It can be very powerful and oceanic, and then she turns a phrase that reminds you to stop and have a cup of tea and sit by the window.
She received a standing ovation. Packed house.
You can really see why jazz critics like Stanley Crouch shy away from this sort of expression. He’s always been so enamored of the gladiatorial aspects of jazz, all the woofing and honking, the posturing like tough guys. Now, mind you, I’m a fan of Stanley Crouch. I love his writings, and more often than not I agree with him. And in the spirit of full disclosure one night walking to the subway with the girls I was telling them how I recently clobber’d some gangbander knucklehead who thought he didn’t have to wait in line at the urinals. I had to give him a little tune-up, some hands-on therapy, as it were.
We’re walking down 3rd Street. Carol, Virg, Kazzrie, Eva, and me, and it was Virg who says, “Now, let me get this straight, you are a poet, right?” Now, I’m not proud of that story, and I’m wondering what compelled me to reveal such a ghastly thing. I still had my own concert with Connie’s band, yet, in the future, and if I wanted an audience I better put a cork in it, and cool it as regards to any further woofing about my male prowess with my fists. And besides, I could see they were less than impressed. I started to feel like the dog that I truly am. I somehow missed a turn in the reincarnation tunnel and came back as a poet. A human, a guy.
The valuable thing about a series of concerts like this of Connie’s, is, like an academic conference, where like-minds all come together for a couple weeks, eat together, ride the subway together, catch cabs, hang out at rehearsals, compare notes, is incalculable. There were two shows a night and an hour inbetween, so we got in the habit of walking around the corner to this little cafe on 3rd Street called Chez Betty, and had coffee and tea and cakes and muffins and orange juice and chicken soup and hot chocolate. It was so quaint and intimate and relaxing you felt like you were in a Cole Porter song, or the fantasy of a Left Bank boite in Paris before the war. A place where it’s always Sunday afternoon.
It was here that Virg Dzurinko could tell Bill Payne how much it meant to her to hear the duet music of Bill & Connie. Or, after Nick Lyons’ masterful solo alto saxophone performance Richard Tabnik could josh him, “Hell, man, what do you want a lesson from me for? I need to take a lesson from you!” Or, Bill Payne saying, “Richard is the brother I never had.” Or, after Kazzrie’s solo set sitting around a table Connie and Virg and Carol ( three of my four favorite pianists) could tell me how Kazzrie (my other favorite) has been consistently for years giving concerts of such eloquence, grace, and transcendence, that after being ignored by the jazz public for so long it’s no wonder she left town and moved upstate. Connie said, “As long as there’s wars, cars and plastic in this world, Kazzrie won’t be performing all over the world all the time.” I jokingly said to Connie, “Can I quote you?” and she said, “YEAH !” (Kazzrie left the city under the pseudonym Liz Gorrill and moved to Calicoon NY in 1994.)
SYMPHONY FOR JAZZ TRIO | world premiere | Richard Tabnik Trio | September 18
Talk about hardcore. If you happen’d to be picking your nose and looking in the other direction when Tabnik counted off the downbeat you’d be left in the dust. These guys weren’t fucking around. They hit the ground running. That first note, wow. They were gone, and already so deep into it you’re going to need an army to haul you out. Bird colonels calling up to the front lines asking what all the artillery action’s about. Sirens going off. Helicopters spiraling out of commission. Red flares lighting the night sky. Medicos flagging down ambulances, wailing. Richard Tabnik is a baad motherfucker. There’s not an ounce of fat on this music, no jive, no fraudulent avant garde posturing, no honking and squealing because you don’t know what else to do with yourself. This is pure unadulterated lyric improvisation. And Richard has a sound on the alto saxophone so deeply truth-searching and so compelling it melts all the reasons there has ever been war. (Richard’s symphony is dedicated to peace.)
Adam Lane on bass is no slouch, either, he’s chewing up them changes and spitting them out. Roger Mancuso (drums) has got the combination to the safe and he’s cracked it wide open, money spilling everywhere. First tune the trio played was “Smile, My Baby” was jaw-dropping in it’s power and forthrightness. This is not the same version from the 1987 duet record Richard made with Connie, but a variant, in that Connie suggested that Richard use his first solo chorus from that Lp DUO DIMENSION as a new line to improvise upon. The original version of “Smile, My Baby,” on the Lp is an improvisation upon “Melancholy Baby.” I think “Mel Baby” wins the sweepstakes for the most played tune over this two weeks. Harvey Diamond played it, Nick Lyons worked it over, I think Carol Liebowitz hinted at it, and maybe Virg Dzurinko touched down on it, momentarily. Adam Caine played it! Second tune was “There Will Never Be Another You.” Followed by the three movements of “Symphony for Jazz Trio,” which RT related was composed after Roger had goaded him during rehearsals for the recording session, “So, what are we going to play, the same old shit?” And Richard shot back, “No, we’re going to play my ‘Symphony for Jazz Trio’.” Only problem was, this “symphony” didn’t exist, yet. So, he was backed into a corner, and had get out his composer pen.
- Part One: “The Call for Liberty and Justice for All,” a 20-measure tune that started out life as a 16-bar rhythm-like tune, “an abstract on “I Got Rhythm,” RT says that he later added 4 bars.
- Part Two: “What About the Homeless,” an 80-measure ballad.
- Part Three: “A Prayer for Peace,” a 12-bar minor blues — “It just has every fucking chord in the world in it, I decided to just show off my chops, what the hell, ha ha ha ha . . . it’s an etude. (RT)
Roger always pushing the sax lines
Decorating them with press rolls
Firing the urgency
The time is popping
A box of marbles scatter’d across the floor
You never hear the 4/4 but you’ll never be in doubt that it exists.
IF Richard ever releases this music it’s going to set the world on it’s ear.
I asked him where he first met Connie, and he remembers exactly. It was January 1, 1980, at the Village Vanguard when CC was playing with Warne Marsh, Peter Scattaretico, & Eddie Gomez. She sang “My Old Flame” that night and Richard was floored. Richard grew up on Long Island, but after moving around the country for a half dozen years, living in Providence, Boston, Harrisburg, Houston, Atlanta, and Buffalo, he moved to NYC in September 1979 where he studied with Harold Bennett, Joe Allard, Lee Konitz, and then Connie. He plays a vintage 1957 Selmer Mark VI alto.
NICK LYONS solo alto saxophone | September 24
The first time I met saxophonist Nick Lyons was when Connie took me to a session in Williamsburg over by the Brooklyn Naval Yards at John Wagner’s studio a few years ago. ( I can never pass those Naval Yards without thinking of all the soldiers who embarked from there during WWII, an astronomical number.) The next time our paths crossed was when he came through New Mexico and I got him to play Live on my radio show with a local A-team rhythm section (Colin Deuble, bass, and Cal Haines, drums) that turned out marvelous. And after the radio show we fell by my place and I’ll never forget how he amazed me that he could identify everyone in the 1939 photo over our fireplace, that I had blown up and framed, of Lester Young in full flight in front of the Basie Orchestra (right after Herschel had passed away). The thing is: I’m not used to running into young cats who know those sorts of things, hip jazz cats or otherwise. At the drop of a hat. Porkpie hat.
Selmer Mark VI seemed to be the saxophone of choice on this series. Charley Krachy plays one, as does Richard Tabnik, and so does Nick Lyons, his from 1966. The first time I heard Nick he sounded like he had a Tabnik thing going. On this solo concert that’s gone now. Nick took a degree from Oberlin and is now studying with Connie. ( I’m beginning to think Connie is the Nadia Boulanger of advanced jazz improvisation pedagogy.) Nick played a Martin before the Selmer. He also keeps a clarinet, same model as Bill Payne’s and Hal McKusick’s and Arlen Asher’s, a Buffet R-13. I associate clarinet with Oberlin because Paul Horn always talks about how hard that conservatory made him work on his clarinet.
We had rehearsed that afternoon at Connie’s studio in Williamsburg — 475 Kent Avenue — The Connie Crothers Quintet — and it was hairy getting together ten arrangements for ten poems in two and a half hours. This band of Connie’s are such deep believers in the exigencies of improvisation that they created such beauty for my poems we all knew we had the game in the bag. Connie designed 90% of the arrangements and then we all made personal adjustments. The way it’s suppose to be. Especially when you trust your cohorts. Just let it flow. They’re arrangements, but they’re very very open.
Afterwards, Richard and I went up on the roof of Connie’s studio and tripped on the view. The East River full of boats and majestic Manhattan looking picture perfect. We decided to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge, but first we jumped into an old clapboard longshoreman tavern for something to eat not realizing their prices were way over our heads and the food was minimal. Is this nouvelle cuisine? I order’d ravioli because I was hongry as a ranch hand and when the plate came there was a lettuce leaf and two fucking ravioli’s smother’d in sauce with bacon bits floating in it. Richard had something equally ridiculous and I’m not going to tell you how much we got skinned for, my cheeks are still chapped. They spanked us good. We were hungry starving improvisors when we went into that joint and we were hungry broke & starving improvisors when we left. We had to supplement our repast with a slice of pizza we found on the street. Split it two ways. So, we walked across the Williamsburg Bridge in the magnificent fresh ocean air and late afternoon breezes, wow. And that, more or less, drops you at The Stone on Avenue C, near enough time to catch Nick Lyons in the first set.
Nick started off with Pres’ solo on “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” from the Kansas City Six recordings — theme & variations. That’s how you find out who can play. I’m from the Lester Young School: theme & variations, baby. And everything’s ivey divey.
- 2) “East 32nd Street” (he played Lennie’s entire solo from memory — Lennie’s improvisation on “Pennies from Heaven” played in minor.)(Connie adds: Nick’s performance of that long, amazingly challenging and complex solo, I think, was a tour de force.
- 3) a couple free pieces
- 4) “Melancholy Baby”
- 5) “Star Eyes” — a total departure
- 6) “It’s You” (Lennie’s line on “It’s You or No One”) You realize how much work he’s put into this. He tore that saxophone up. His remarkable concentration, ability to go inside himself and find meaningful lyric inventions, curling out line upon line. It was magnificent.
The World of Connie Crothers
By the end of the second night the bar had been raised so high I felt sorry for anyone who had to perform after them, which was all of the rest of us. We’re fucked I thought to myself. No way we can match any of that. The first night with Andy, solo, and then Bill & Connie duets. The second night with the legendary pianist Harvey Diamond, in one of the greatest solo piano performances I’ve ever witnessed in my life, and that was followed by the Richard Tabnik Trio. This is the world of Connie Crothers, where everything is real. (That’s one of her favorite remarks when I’m remonstrating to her about some artistic problem, she always says, “As long as it’s real, Mark.”) Besides being “real” it was off-the-map incredible. For whatever reason Harvey Diamond has never made records. So, I only got hip to him when Nick pointed me in his direction. There are some YouTube things of Harvey. And that’s it. He lives in Boston, and works with his daughter who’s a singer. He was a student of Lennie Tristano’s and you can hear Lennie all up in him. (After his set, Bud Tristano told Harvey that he dug hearing his dad’s tune “Bud” squirreled away in one of Harvey’s improvisations.) The Stone only seats 60 and most nights we packed it to 80, SRO. Cozy. A door gig. They gave Harvey a standing ovation that went on and on and on. For his last number he had said something quiet about how he’ll play something else, and then bowed his head at the keyboard to ascertain what that something else might be, then after a solid minute, he looked up at the audience and said, “I think I’m done.” Wow.
I love brevity in an artist! He had already said what he had to say at this time. We had already got the message. It’s like my philosophy of poetry chapbooks. Short and sweet. If you can’t kill ‘em in 18 pages, you’re not going to get anywhere with 118 pages. Harvey had open’d with a probing “Tenderly,” improvising, going wherever each turn of phrase took him. I wouldn’t describe music on this high of a level as dissecting and/or deconstructing, but in a simplistic sense on the surface, it’s one easy way to explain it. Mostly he just played for fun taking it wherever it wanted to go. The music was playing itself on some level. He was just the master of the piano helping it get where it was going. His only interventions would be to remind the music that there are certain conventions in composition — improvisatory composition in this case — that might be nice to adhere to, just out of courtesy to the audience, like re-introducing fragments of the melody every now and again. What do they call that? Recapitulation? Departure and return ( I heard that term on the great radio show Performance Today)? In jazz we call it theme and variations, baby. The spirit of Lennie Tristano was in the room that night, and every night, really. But he was palpably there during Harvey’s set. Like Harvey was channeling Lennie. And the room was full of pianists that had studied with Lennie, or Sal Mosca, or Connie: Virg Dzurinko, Carol Leibowitz, Kazzrie Jaxen, and Billy Lester who drove down from Yonkers. ( I don’t get the opportunity to use the word Yonkers very often! so I had to slip it in.)( I was raised and live in the West, and we don’t do yonkers out here.)
All throughout the series the pianists each put their own spin on that left-hand boogie woogie ostinato thing that Lennie found so useful. It showed up in various ways. Harvey utilized it to mesmerize us on a couple numbers. By the time he played “You Don’t Know What Love Is” he had the entire room in meltdown, clouds of wistful chords floating and transforming into dense internal caverns, whereupon little crystalline poems of delicate eloquence came dancing out, single-line chiroscuros would be framed between cloud formations sometimes densely dissonant that had the most amazing resolutions. In fact, don’t even come to the world of Connie Crothers if you don’t love dissonance, or, rather I should say, that your music soul has requirements for the colors of so-called dissonance. Let me put it this way: I doubt Connie hears them as dissonance. She’s so far beyond that, that it’s a non-issue. I just wanted to explain certain sonorities in the easiest way I can get to it, in words. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” was so utterly gorgeous, teeming with gravitas and pathos, overwhelming, I almost blew a circuit right there and had to gird myself to keep from breaking down weeping at the huge depths of beauty Harvey kept turning over like stones on a beach. It’s times like this that you think of our little planet floating around out here in space and you are reassured that humanity is this blessing, for some of us little humans to create something like this? In this murky little Lower East Side door gig of a club? Harvey played “Ruby My Dear,” tremendous. The only other Monk in the series showed up as a B-section of a tune played by Jameel Moondoc Quartet. “Mel Baby” and “You Go To My Head” were also given the Harvey treatment. Touched up here and there, adding a little more paint around the edges, doing things the composers only wished they’d thought of. And then, all of a sudden it was over. He had compressed an hour into a rain drop. He looked at his watch and mouthed quietly to Connie in the front row that he’d play one more, bowed his head, then realized he was done. Finis. A humble man, he made music for us.
By the way, I think we should introduce a referendum to have President Obama demand, by Presidential Order that this set of music that Harvey laid down be released on CD, ASAP. The entire series was sensitively recorded by musician Ben Manley. He also performed the dual chores of handling the sound system. Among other things. It was good to be in his company.
The Raised Bar and those who addressed it…
Virg Dzurinko, Carol Liebowitz, Kazzrie, Eva Lindal, Adam Caine, Lorenzo Sanguedolce, Bud Tristano, Nick Lyons, and Richard Tabnik, went to almost every concert in the series, so did Connie, of course (she was the producer). It didn’t take us long to realize that the level of expression on these concerts was going to be deep and honest and astronomical. None of us were scared, but we did have sympathy for Carol when she stepped to the piano on Sunday night, September 20th.
An observation from Kazzrie Jaxen:
Here are a few thoughts off the top of my head — I’ll send more as/if they arise:
Listening to everyone — all the incredible music — for the ten nights that I was there, I couldn’t believe the power and beauty emanating from each person as they stepped into the light to share their entire being with us. I was awed by the immensity and vulnerability of their sharing. It was a cumulative effect — every night of music added a new and intricate layer to the music that had come before. And I could feel this music growing within me, gathering and overtaking my cells, so that I was turning into the music I was hearing. I remember lying in bed one particular night, overtaken with harmony, melody, myriad sounds washing through me — a great dissolving taking place — yet at the same time a new creation being born — all music, atoms, cells, universes, galaxies. When I drove out of the city on Monday morning, I was still music, still in a birth-trance created by the womb of sound and energy and love we had all been part of and would always be part of. The whole Universe was there — in the Stone.
What more can we ask for, than the deep intimacy of sharing our souls and our lives simultaneously through an art form that we love? –email from Kazzrie Oct. 1, 2oo9
So, when Carol walked to the piano and sat down to play solo the only surprise that it was nothing short of great was: that it was one of the great solo piano recitals since Steinway shot his first elephant. It was outside the category of “great” or “good” and “best” it was phenomenal. The level of honesty and the huge leaps into meaningfulness that took place, not to mention just the great sounds she created. Even if she wasn’t playing stories and spinning lyric portraits for us, just the intriguing sounds she conjured out of that Yamaha were enough. I’m starting to wonder WHAT goes on in these lessons at Connie’s studio? Every one of these associates of hers are stunning honorable members of the human race. The fact that they’re artists is merely their cross to bear. Somebody like Carol Liebowitz must have already had the germination of such ideas to have searched out Connie to be her teacher so many years ago. A case of the student being ready for the lesson. In fact, I was a little surprised that Carol still studies with Connie, being that her playing is already on such a high level, but she says she finds the lessons valuable.
Like those ancient philosophers who point out that your most beautiful self is already there from the beginning, that, because of the demands of modern life, it becomes layer’d and blanketed by our masks and our public persona.
Carol’s music this night was somewhat somber, though not melancholic or dark, it just seems related to the seriousness she finds in the music, and then, in turn, what the music tells her about herself. No, she’s not tearing her heart out and flogging it on stage. But, she is being completely open and honest. In a lot of ways it was my favorite concert of the series, it just completely knocked me over. [ NOTE to Carol: please release this concert on CD.] We were watching a great spirit reveal herself in the great mysteries of life, and reverence and joy and wonder. The chords were like nothing I’ve ever heard, the cadences so complex and clear you felt like you were watching a master painter like Pissarro taking his canvas out for a spin. The pieces were all 4 or 5 minutes long. Curiously, between tunes she’d look at Connie in the front row for reassurance ( I was sitting with Connie), almost beseechingly. (My jaw was in my lap so I don’t know what telepathic messages CC was sending back to Carol.) These people are intellectuals. Carol told stories with her music, and what an amazing left hand, wow. It quite simply was one of the greatest solo piano concerts I’ve ever witnessed, easily on the same level as Harvey Diamond’s of two nights previous. Easily on the same level of expression as the Horace Tapscott solo piano recitals of the 1980s (examples of which are found on Nimbus West Records). I had heard her two CDs on New Artists Records but had not heard her play solo before. My big dream is to present Carol, Virg, Kazzrie, and Connie, in Albuquerque, this town would love their music. Carol also makes extensive use of foot pedals. She’d have big cloud formations of dense gorgeous dissonant block chords (like Chris Kelsey says in his great blog review, something about the “dissonant” chords made them seem consonant) and then an abrupt halt and a little crystalline melody would shoot out as she builds another construction of harmony around it. So, I asked her about the pedals and she says she shifts them around a lot and that sometimes she uses two pedals at once, “Sometimes I shift from the far right pedal to the middle pedal so that I sustain some bass notes while I’m building on something. Occasionally a certain thing happens that I can never figure out how it happen’d. . .” says she’s too busy playing to stop and investigate what just happen’d with the pedals for this “certain thing” to occur. There are three pedals on grand pianos.
The far right one sustains everything when it’s engaged. The far left is the soft pedal. The middle pedal quite often doesn’t do anything on most pianos but on grands it sustains the bass notes, which can be useful. “I shift them around a lot, to shift the density.” Carol would reference only briefly, in impressionistic wisps, faint echoes, whatever melody she had used as her departure. That old departure and return, as the classical world would have it. The only tune she announced, was “That was Lennie Tristano’s line ‘Leave Me’” that he wrote on “Love Me or Leave Me.” She chose not to sing this night, on purpose. The other tunes she used for launching were “Out of Nowhere” “What is This Thing Called Love” “How About You” and a few free shots. What is the logic Carol has figured out for these dense chords and how they ring so deep and true, and mostly how she has worked out chord movement, chord progressions, with these monsters, is truly a marvel. There must be inner notes stringing them together, whatever it is, it is pure pleasure to listen to. AND how often do you get to walk the pianist home! Carol was part of our subway gang that negotiated the late night confusing subways over to the Upper West Side where we all lived. I stay at my wife’s sisters’ place on 113th & Broadway right directly above The West End cafe ( ! ) (Thank you Barbara and Paula for always hosting me with such grace and lovingkindness.) So, Carol lives near Broadway on 103rd and for some reason the One train was not stopping at 103rd that night so we got off at 96th and strolled up Broadway in this dear old town. Our America. Carol wearing her shimmering velveteen blue-black pants suit, very pretty. The summer weather was fading into fall. She grew up in the Bronx, has lived her entire life in NYC. Earlier, while waiting for an F train she said that she meant to title one of her free improvisations after something Phil Schaap had played on his WKCR Bird Flight radio show that morning — ie. Barry Ulanov’s All-Star Modern Jazz Musicians, Sept. 20, 1947, Bird, Diz, Lennie, Max, Billy Bauer, et el. — that was exactly 52 years ago that day. Well, when she puts out the CD of this magnificent concert she can rectify that oversight. See Chris Kelsey’s insightful review of Carol Liebowitz here.
The Myth of Un-biased Opinions, and then, my unbiased opinion
I have a radio show here in Albuquerque that I’ve been doing for 13 years every Thursday afternoon KUNM (and streaming on the web @ KUNM.org). About ten years ago a local cranky guy suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome complained that, “Mark only plays his friends.” To which I said two things.: I can’t help it if my friends make great records, and two: What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t play their records?
Still another constantly grumbles that I play too much Connie Crothers. And I say the same thing back to them every time: Why not play the best and skip all the rest! Not that I ever try to reason with these people. Life is too short. I might as well tell the story of how I met Connie and come clean about all of my “conflicts of interest” so that my critics will have something to really chew on. Toss ‘em a bone, as it were. For many years I cover’d the Los Angeles jazz scene with my own by-line for CODA jazz magazine. And every year they’d ask the writers to pick their ten favorite records of that year. So, along about 1978 — it was a Saturday, on one of those golden California mornings — I have the weekend off from my day job, and I’m in Alpha Beta supermarket on Rt.66 & San Antonio Avenue, and I’m picking up a jug of that great California burgundy and some sardines or some damn thing and while standing in line I see a stack of LPs for sale. They don’t normally sell LPs in supermarkets in California, this is very unusual. So, I thrum threw them, there’s only about fifty or so, and at 99 cents, who can lose? I see this one called PERCEPTION on the Inner City label. This is Connie’s first album. I only vaguely know this name Connie Crothers through her association with Lennie Tristano. I grabbed one and took it home. When I told this story to Connie many years later I had to confess that I’m pretty sure I open’d the bottle of wine first. But, then, I remember it clear as day, the first time I put that record on my turntable. It was around 1pm and the golden light of California is streaming across the floor of my livingroom in my little alley house and I turn this record on and it just blew my mind. It was as if someone had crawled into my brain and played music the way I’ve always wanted to hear it. I sat there amazed and so full of joy that I had found this record and this mysterious Connie Crothers. Wow. Wowowowow. I went back to the supermarket and bought the ten remaining copies of PERCEPTION and handed them out to friends. And when CODA asked my favorite records that year PERCEPTION was top of the list. Now, I was impartial in the main, because I didn’t know Connie from Adam. Nor would I meet her for another ten years. I fell off the planet.
That wine is a clue as to where I went for awhile. And then, when I got back, and found myself living in Albuquerque USA, and somehow fell into being a jazz disk jockey for the big station around here (we blanket the state of New Mexico), and one day I was looking through KUNM’s library and found that Connie Crothers had made a LOT more music while I was away. WOW ! ( I didn’t really have plans to be a disk jockey but now it’s a big part of my life, I love it, and try to make the most of it.) The world wide web was in it’s nascent stages circa 1999 but Connie’s record label New Artists Records had a website and her bio on there made note in the first paragraph ( ! ) that I had listed PERCEPTION as one of the top records of 1978 or 1979. So, in probably one of the first emails I ever wrote, I wrote Connie and introduced myself and we’ve been friends ever since. I regularly have her on my show via telephone and she’s a great scholar and thinker about music and art and the audience loves hearing her thoughts. I’m always surprised when I bump into a jazz musician that knows anything about Literature so was doubled-gassed when Connie floated the idea that maybe we should try playing together someday — poetry & jazz. The first time I performed with her quartet was March 26, 2001 here in Albuquerque at the Outpost Performance Space.
Quotes: from Wikipedia:
“Man is always partial and is quite right to be. Even impartiality is partial.” – Georg C. Lichtenberg
“Balance is the enemy of art.” – Richard Eyre
“Our impartiality is kept for abstract merit and demerit, which none of us ever saw.” – George Eliot
“What people call impartiality may simply mean indifference, and what people call partiality may simply mean mental activity.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton
“Impartial. Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy.” – Ambrose Bierce
“If we keep an open mind, too much is likely to fall into it.” – Natalie Clifford Barney
Pilgrimage to 317
I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. After this series of concerts I’ll not be the same person musically. Then there’s the resilience to live & survive in this city (the meek don’t stand a chance).
ON THE STREET
You must buy a hot dog
from a surly New York City street cart vendor
those cranky guys that
skipped charm school, “You want
mustard? that’s a dollar extra”
Well, I already got my card punched
for this special New York tradition, back
in 1986 on my first visit, so I’m cool,
I’m not sure these hotdogs promote
cardboard just as nutritious
and filling –
the carts these days seem to be mostly
operated by Arabs, who have their own set
So, one morning I decide to take the subway down to midtown and look up the address of Lennie Tristano’s famous Manhattan Studio — 317 East 32nd Street — which he occupied 1951 -1956 and recorded so many masterpieces, “Line Up” “East Thirty-Second” “Requiem” “Turkish Mambo” “Descent into the Maelstrom” “Ju Ju” “Pastime”. Sessions with Mingus, and those 2 tracks with Bird & Klook and so much other stuff — “317 East 32nd Street” is that sinuous line he wrote over the changes of “Out of Nowhere.” He had to move out because they were tearing that street down, in 1956, (he moved to Hollis), in fact East 32nd Street ends at Second Avenue now. The developers put up a 21-story apartment complex of glass & cement that covers two square blocks called Kips Bay Towers, 330 E. 33rd. Lennie’s studio would have been on the north side of the street. There’s a cover’d outside sidewalk there now and a gated garden area with trees.
Brother Caine and the big bottle
I missed Adam Caine’s solo performance Wednesday Sept 30 because I had flown back to Albuquerque Sunday. But I can tell you about the recording session we had together at John Wagner’s studio on the afternoon of the 24th. I took the L train under the East River and Brother Caine picked me up in his Volvo at the Bedford stop and we tooled over to Wagner’s Recording Studio. Adam is a student of Connie’s, he was raised in Rochester, born 1976, lately he’s playing the fatbody guitar w/ a gang of foot pedal EFX. We laid down some duets — poems + guitar — and his instincts were to incredibly attuned that he nailed the pathos of every poem, he zoomed in and put down some haunted at times crazed electro-shocked sounds decorating my poems of modern day life in America. His sound reminds me a lot of my old friend Nels Cline, who I haven’t seen in a coon’s age but recorded with back in the old days. I asked Brother Caine how his performance went . . . .
hey man! the set went great. just a blast. a very intense day for me, lots of nerves but knowing that I’d be doing my favorite thing in the world. I played a bunch of free pieces, a slow blues in Ab, and my melancholy baby – not in that order. I didn’t have the pedals plugged in for the first four pieces but added them half way through the set for a little sonic stimulation. I had this idea that I’d keep it simple, but I don’t think it happened that way! Peter Gannushkin, the stone house photographer (responsible for the wall photos), snapped a few photos. I don’t know when he’ll be posting those to his website, but you can repost his photos, as per the info at www.downtownmusic.net. –Adam Caine, email 2oct09
His new CD is: Adam Caine Trio THOUSANDFOLD (NoBusiness Records) and they’re smokin’ from the first downbeat, gone, bang, forty-seven miles down the road before you figure out what happen’d. You missed the bus and you’re running after them. So much dust in your face you can’t see. You’re wondering where the Intro went? or maybe something like a prelude or a nice polite obligatory reading of the head? Hells bells they chucked all that stuff overboard and got right down to business. Pronto. Just blazing. Rhythm section already at full boil, Adam is firing shots over the castle walls. Tom Blancarte on upright bass loading in the heavy artillery. John Wagner on drums carrying out the dead. –AKA John Bernard Wagner
After my session with Adam I jumped on the subway and met up with Richard and he marched me over to hear his hero Ralph Nader speak at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Union Square. One thing you should know about Richard Tabnik is that he’s devoted to Ralph Nader, which is a good thing. Myself, everytime I’m in Union Square I’m always trying to figure out which of these buildings that face the square was where Bix & Tram recorded all that great music in the 1920s for OKeh Records, as well as Eddie Lang, Adrian Rollini, Miff Mole, the Dorseys, Jack Teagarden, and Louis Armstrong’s immortal “Knockin’ a Jug,” with Kaiser Marshall on drums who is the grandfather of San Francisco drummer Eddie Marshall and when Eddie was a guest on my radio show a few years back I got him to play along with “Knockin’ a Jug” live over the airwaves of New Mexico, playing his sticks on the countertop along with his grandfather!
Tom Blancarte & John Wagner duet | second set September 24
Bass and drums. Stomping, raucous
detail in minutiae
time out of time
out time that pulsed
pulsing that swung
interactions that blended into one
the one refracted
splintered into twenty-six shapes, jumped a south-bound barge
two blocks away on the East River with all of the nighttime seagulls of NY
swirling in a crazy funnel above it
the rhythms combine, recombine, split apart, rumble jumble
and are carried forward, propulsion
completely engrossing you could hear the ghost of that old bass & drums duet of
the 1938 Bobcats “Big Noise from Winnetka” yeah –
nothing perfuctory here, or, for that matter in the entire concert series thus far. Not
one note played without conviction or commitment.
Virg Dzurinko | solo piano | second set | September 23
Virg Dzurinko is a Dutch realist. Her and Vermeer go hand in glove. I’m looking at a picture of “The Milkmaid” while her cd FUN CITY is on the stereo. The Vermeer show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was too crowded and besides I got sidetracked by those mummies in the Egyptian corridor, on my way to see the collections from India. The Imperturbable Buddha. And Avalokitesvara, the all-compassionate one. Virg’s music like Vermeer. Introspective, burnished, playful, self-aware, exquisite, hip, it was so calm, and deep, and personal she becomes the self fully realized via the music, the imperturbable Buddha! She came out and first announced that the series thus far — she was the 12th show — was like a symphony, that all the performances have grown together into one grandiloquent statement. Her first number was something she called: “Inhale — Exhale — Stoned” then, “I Will Have Remember’d April” and along the way, “All You Need” wistful, cerebral, haunting, pure invention. Her cd FUN CITY (New Artists Records) from twelve years ago is in constant rotation here at our house and quite often on my radio show as well. I’ve come to realize that she hasn’t made another since, simply because, this one cd has it all. It is a comprehensive, all-encompassing complete document. It’s perfect. A masterwork. If she ever made another record it would be nice to hear her with a rhythm section. I asked her what the story is about the deconstructed grand piano on the back of the cd.
Short version — I was walking along in the Village with a friend of mine who is a photographer and we saw this destroyed piano lying in the gutter. Somehow the whole look of it just appealed to me. So I asked my friend to shoot a few pix. Which she did. About ten years later, when I was trying to figure out the artwork for Fun City, I decided to use one of the photos she took that day for the back cover. — Virg email 12oct09
Virg Dzurinko was a participant in the jam sessions at Lennie’s studio but was a student of Connie’s in those early days. Connie remembers Virg as being completely fearless at the sessions.
You really are in the boiling center of the
beast, the beast of America — grinding,
turbulent, slamming crashing speed and
action, activity coming at you from all
sides . . . .
I asked Eva, the violinist from Stockholm
who was part of our Upper West Side
transport crew every night (Kazzrie, Carol,
Virg, Eva, and me)
as we descended the stairway into the dank
passage, “Do the subways in Stockholm look
like this?” she laughed
and as politely as possible without insulting our
trashed-out beloved metropolis, said, “No, actually
they are quite beautiful in Stockholm, you just
want to take the day and ride around on them.”
The New Generation
This new generation of Tristano lineage are a promising bunch. Nick Lyons, Lorenzo Sanguedolce, John Wagner, Gary Levy, Cheryl Richards, Adam Caine. I’m just impressed at how smart they are. Intelligent. Most of the young cats ( & kitties) that come along in jazz always seem to concentrate on rewriting the book, re-inventing the world, always so concerned with writing original compositions. I’m not so sure that’s the way to go. Though, if you’re going to be a composer it’s good to start early. There’s so much yet to be done with the American Songbook, with Tin Pan Alley, with Broadway show tunes, with rhythm changes, and the blues. At least, that’s where my head is at these days. Besides, it makes for a common language that we all can understand, that’s the fun of jazz, listening to an old song and hearing where the soloist takes it. We have the tune in our heads, and can sing the lyrics, and listening to someone like Carol, or Harvey, or Virg, open doorways into songs and peek inside to places you never dreamed of, is why I fly across the country to sit in these jazz dives.
After all, what is it we want from music? To what end?
Ultimately, it’s for pleasure. But pleasure has it’s own parameters.
At a certain evolution in your own music investigations & reveries the laws of consonance & disonance are thirsty.
“You gotta put a little vinegar into it.” as Bradford says.
Sometimes one note is all it takes.
I missed Lorenzo Sanguedolce & Michael Bisio’s performance but, I heard good things about it from Connie, and I’m listening to the recording of it right now and they jump right into Charlie Parker’s solo from “Lady Be Good” (Carnegie Hall, January 28, 1946) (Lorenzo b. Jan. 28, 1975, grew up in Rochester NY) and take off from there. I asked Lorenzo what tenor sax he plays: “I play a King Super 20. No Selmer for me!” Good stuff all the way. They’re on their way to the moon.
I thought this generation was given over completely to hip hop & rap? Lyrics that rhyme, so it must be true. Rhyming cadences make all the sense in the world, right? Sure. I was kicking heroin in Chino one time (years ago) and they’d given me librium for the muscle spasms. Librium couldn’t relax a pill bug. I was explaining this to the croaker and he chirped, “No gain without pain.” A moron. I said to him: Just because that rhymes doesn’t mean it makes sense. Where do they find these guys?
Connie Crothers Quartet | September 26
One purely ineradicable fact about Connie Crothers is that she is brave. This quartet is proof, these guys are stone crazy. You put together a band like this and sparks are going to fly. They started off with a slow version of “Deep Friendship,” moved over to a buoyant “Linearity,” and then “Carol’s Dream,” cascading piano, splashing waterfalls, they played the entire set very quiet like they were whispering these great songs to us — they achieved ultimate coolness, riding the music like a breeze, floating like ice skaters — the unison piano & alto sax a marvel to behold, always, light and feathery, poignant — “Smile My Baby” again, and then the late Bob Casanova’s “Why Aren’t You Laughing.” They become airborne, this quartet is so tight they can turn on a dime and give you seven cents change.
(That last line is not original — I heard it somewhere, and it certainly sounds tailor-made for Connie’s band.)
CONNIE CROTHERS QUARTET
How do you open up music this far, all the while
leaving its nature to be itself? Connie’s band is like
seashells who all spiral in the same direction, the core
mystery is how the spiral is really the improvisation.
How do you open up music this far, all the while
leaving its nature to be itself? It is the mystery of seashells
and why they all spiral in the same direction. Connie’s band
is the spiral and the sea and the seagulls.
Why do seashells all spiral in the same direction? Connie’s band
is the spiral and the sea and the seagulls. Improvisation that is
pure nature. How do you open up music this far, all the while
leaving its nature to be itself? It’s a wondrous mystery.
Kazzrie Jaxen Trio — September 25
- “There Will Never Be Another You” trio
- “My Foolish Heart” duet KJ + CK
- “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” RH + CK * a free spontaneous piece for trio
- “What Is This Thing Called Love” trio
Charlie Krachy is the possessor of one of the warmest and most soulful sounds on the tenor saxophone imaginable. It is a round inviting luxuriant sound. You can see why Kazzrie continually chooses him for her small ensembles. He also possesses the sensibility not to play a note that he’s not committed to. He lays out as much as he joins in. He’s the soul of brevity and then he’ll turn around and play thirty choruses on “My Foolish Heart.” He plays a Selmer Mark VI that he bought in 1963 for $350 ( ! ) He lives upstate. Ratzo Harris lives on the top end of Manhattan somewhere around 207th Street. He switched to 6-string upright bass in 1991. He has one extra low string tuned to B, and one extra high string tuned to C. His artistry and musicianship are of the highest order. In a band like Kazzrie’s trio he can triangulate counterpoint in pure tangents. Nautical. Centrifugal. That’s the best word: centrifugal, because he can churn up a band till it’s spinning out of the osterizer. The music hit the ceiling. He plays triple stops with his chin! Chin on the fret board, yes. He has an immense, commanding sound. I sure wish they’d release this set of music.
Trance Formation | Connie, Andrea Wolper, Ken Filiano | September 20
spontaneous music from a universe where songs are in process — bits & parts of oddments traveling by night, magnetic attraction, folklore & incense, back & forth in time, infinite, transfigured night, sovereign.
Ursel Schlicht | solo piano | September 22
Wonderful — played about 6 pieces — one of them reminded me of Stockhausen’s “Klavierstuck” and the wide intervals of say Stefan Wolpe’s music, or Ralph Shapey. Another tune added tremendous new ideas to that ever-present left hand boogie woogie ostinato thing. Another tune had postcards laid on the strings — prepared piano — and then the strings snapped, also a drummer’s brush swished over them. She played inside and outside the piano. Marvelous. Sure would like to hear more.
Bud Tristano & Valentina Nazarenko | guitar & piano duets | September 22
Lennie Tristano’s son on Ibanez electric guitar w/Fender twin reverb amp — they played a continuous one-hour set of spontaneous improvisation. Bud mostly with long single-note lines, with a scattering of chords here & there — Valentina did the chords, mostly — neither one dominated, it was pure give & take, let the music go where it wanted to go, very easy to listen to. Bud lives 50 miles north of Pittsburgh in the woods.
Dori Levine | solo voice | September 23
- “Hymn to Nature” (she spends a lot of time upstate in the woods)(and the rest of the time in the city)
- “Go Away Come Here” a masterpiece of indecision and confusion — a drama on the intimate relationships or lack thereof between couples
- “Mood Swings” And on the last two tunes her husband Giacomo Franci accompanied her on piano — and he showed some more new ideas for the boogie woogie Tristano ostinato thing!
Jemeel Moondoc Quartet | Saturday September 19
“This guy really knows how to play time.” — Bill Payne on Henry Grimes.
Grimes playing with big rubbery wobbley strings (cat gut?) and walking so powerfully it lifted everything off the stage, wow. The first tune was sort of a Coltrane-esque thing welded onto a line from Monk’s “Green Chimneys.” Strong statements. Huge surging sound. Could be the soundtrack for the Lower East Side. A band like this should play for the mayor’s gatherings. So, the mayor doesn’t forget who lives in New York. [NOTE: Ratzo says cat gut is a misnomer and that the old strings were made of sheep guts]
Artist Jeff Schlanger sits nearby and works with two hands at once! I’ve never seen anything like it. First time I saw him painting a Live music set was at the Knitting Factory almost twenty years ago and I never forgot it. He works in large medium — paper @ 30″ x 50″. Go to his website here..
Sometimes it’s good to listen with your eyes closed.
Download listen to the Connie Crothers Quartet | New York City in the Blue Hour
This track is from the Connie Crothers Quartet record Music Is A Place which can be found here…
Connie Crothers Quartet + Mark Weber
Live at The Stone
Connie Crothers, piano | Richard Tabnik, alto saxophone | Roger Mancuso, drums | Ken Filiano, bass | Mark Weber, poems
Recorded at The Stone, Corner of Avenue C and East 2nd Street, New York City, September 26, 2009. Cover photograph – Mark Weber. Band photographs – Scott Friedlander. Band painting – Jeff Schlanger. CD design – JB Bryan. Recording engineer – Ben Manley at Systems Two, Brooklyn. Mixing engineer – Joe Marciano. Mastering – Max Ross
Tracklist: 1. You Walk Purposefully Download 2. There Are Two Worlds 3. Finally You Have 4. Softly Morning 5. From Odyssey 6. On Breathing Down the Spine 7. Turtle Night 8. No Other Better Place Download 9. But It Could Be 10. 10:45 at The Stone 11. Reluctance 12. Ontology
It was autumn. In New York.
Warm days and chilly nights. The Lower East Side. Down at the Stone, where did Connie’s band find that amazing chord for that Sanskrit chant? Wow.
We created the arrangements the day before at rehearsal but this chord has grown overnight. Transcendent. The ancient words speak to the blessings of plenitude and how everything is perfect just as it is. How plenitude arises again and again from plenitude, the universe complete in its perfection. Om, purnamadah.
Every year Connie and I try to do something together. Either a public performance or a recording session, or just have lunch. This year Connie scored a gig at the Stone on the Lower East Side and asked me if I’d like to join her quartet for the second set. Long ago I told Connie: Anytime, anyplace. Just say the word and I’ll be there. Autumn in New York City! I fly out from Albuquerque. My wife has two sisters that live in the same building as the West End Cafe where I’m welcome to crash. This gig was part of a 2-weeks series Connie was asked to book at the Stone. (See my report @ metropolis.free-jazz.net)
Other things you need to know about this recording: Most of the arrangements were by Connie but there was a lot of input from all sides, for example, it was Ken who suggested that I repeat the last line of the last poem over and over. Track 5 is a double-poem sequence from my fanciful re-telling of Homer’s ODYSSEY – this track is strictly NOT for RADIO AIRPLAY – be forewarned.
In all other ways Connie’s Quartet is so connected to my poetry it’s like we think as one. And indeed, Connie wanted me to be sure and stress that these arrangements “were just loose sketches, that most of what you are hearing is spontaneously improvised, right in the instant.” — Mark Weber 20july10
Life is nothing you want to waste,
We all want leaningfulness and joy and love,
You go to a museum for truth & beauty
and reassurance of our humanity
to connect with the past and to feel
something for the future.
The same goes for concerts,
You brave the elements, the highways and subways, the gamble
and it’s only fair that the musicians
that they breach the chasm
a connection into our shared humanity.
14 EURO incl. shipment cost world-wide