Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Early Winter Update

Winter Solstice/2008

As winter begins its characteristic dance here in New England, I want to share a few things with all of you: wonderful things that have either already occurred or are on their way.

The Double Trio recording on Engine is landing on this years “Best Of” lists, including our friends at Avant Music News (where we landed in the top ten!) and All About Jazz, where we expect to see a new review in February of 2009.

It looks as if my first quartet CD, Bugaboo, recorded at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, will be released through the Swiss Hat Hut label. Too soon for details, but conversations are under way.

Work is underway on a new chamber project with Mario Pavone, Peter McEachern, David Darling and Satoshi Takeishi. This is newly-commissioned work, thanks to significant support from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. We have been workshopping new material all fall, and look forward to concerts and a recording session during the spring of 2009.

I have put my feet into the water locally with a planned concert series during the summer of 2009. Plenty of my own music, along with invited guest artists such as Hank Roberts, Jordan McLean and Leni Stern. Stay tuned for details.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jazzword Reviews The Double Trio

Stephen Haynes-Taylor Ho Bynum
The Double Trio
Engine e026

Mazen Kerbaj/Birgit Ulher/Sharif Sehnaoui
Creative Sources CS 110 CD

Throughout the history of improvised music and jazz, two-trumpet sessions have never been as popular as duets between saxophonists. Oh there were dates featuring Art Framer and Donald Byrd in the 1950s, for example, and Roy Hargrove and Marlon Jordan in the 1980s, plus a whole collection of Norman Granz-instigated blowing sessions in between. But it seems as if the preferred locus for dual improvising is a commingling of many saxophone keys rather than sets of three valves.

Twenty-first century musicians don’t seem to be limited by these conventions and both of these notable CDs centre on the sounds produced by two trumpets – or a cornet in Taylor Ho Bynum’s case. Each session also includes guitar. Yet the disparity between the discs isn’t that the two brass players – Stephen Haynes is the other besides Bynum – on The Double Trio, are spelled by two guitarists and two drummers, while guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui alone provides the additional sounds besides those exhaled by trumpeters Mazen Kerbaj and Birgit Ulher on 3:1.

Rather the reason for the marked divergence in conception and creation between the CDs is that The Double Trio takes its impetus from Free Jazz, while 3:1 is in the Free Music tradition. Furthermore while the players on The Double Trio – note the echo of Ornette Coleman’s double quartet here – are for the most part playing tune-oriented music in its broadest sense, Kerbaj, Ulher and Sehnaoui are manipulating sounds.

Bynum’s seconds are guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Thomas Fujiwara, both of whom have worked with him in other situations, including his stand-alone trio. Meanwhile Haynes, a Connecticut-based arts advocate and educator, who has worked with everyone from Bill Dixon to the Dells, is backed by seldom-heard guitarist Alan Jaffe and veteran percussionist Warren Smith.

Not that the interactive polyphony splits into trio verses trio. For instance on “mm (pf)”, the second part of “Suite Miscellaneous”, both trumpeters squeeze lip-burbling Bronx cheers from their horn as the drums rattle and the dual guitars strum and pick. Progressing in a tempo close to a drunken stagger, the horns parry interjections from the guitars that turn to descending licks while the drummers beat paradiddles and flams. Eventually the brass timbres divide, with one smoothly tattooing the melody and the other ejecting skyscraper-high notes. As the piece turns to diminuendo percussion rebounds, off-centre guitar frailing meld with downward slithering trumpet lines.

In contrast, Bynum’s “YX 6C” comes complete with a rhythmically sophisticated melody, chorded in African High-Life fashion by Halvorson. As the drums roll and rebound, the cornetist’s brassy blasts shape this serpentine construction chromatically, as it’s further decorated by Haynes’ slide-whistle-like discord. While the guitarists conclude by crunching splayed runs together, one plectrumist recaps the initial theme as one drummer continues outputting ruffs.

Even more traditional – in this Free Jazz context – is the six’s treatment of Coleman’s “Broken Shadows”. When one drummer press rolls, the other splashes cymbals, as the guitarists expose a sonic rainbow of finger picking, crossing and re-crossing one another’s lines until the sprightly melody is heard again. Then as the brass players contrapuntally spin out the theme, one guitarist sounds a distorted counter-theme. On other places on the CD, wood-block smacks are heard and one of the brass men –Haynes? – outputs a series of Miles Davis-like smears and slurs on top of booming strumming from the dual guitars.

There’s nothing that overt on 3:1, concerned as it is with textures and tones rather than linear improvisation. With no hierarchical division between the front and backline, each instrument has the same prominence, with Sehnaoui’s playing as obtuse and opaque as the trumpeters’. His looping asides and pedal point string sweeps do however provide a fundamental base on which the tongue slaps, mouthpiece oscillations and spit blows that characterize much of the brass exposition can rest. Discerning Ulher’s singular contributions from Kazen’s is nearly impossible, except for passages on “0:0” where the falsetto yelps are probably from her horn and the basso slurs from his.

Most of the session is concerned with shaping dissonance into movement, with both trumpeters auditioning the results of such extended technique as air-blowing without moving the valves, buzzing the mouthpiece against a solid object, playing quick bursts of concentrated triplets and spluttering and humming through the horn’s lead tube. For his part, the guitarist slides and scrapes along the strings below the bridge and pops the strings head on with mallet-like blows. Piezo pickups may be in use, but if they’re not, somehow Sehnaoui still manages to create oscillating buzzes equivalent to the trumpeters’ droning resonation.

Essentially spherical in construction, the six-track CD is defiant in its staccato dissonance, with no crescendos or diminuendos. Instead chiming friction, yawning echoes, thick, metallic-sounding rotations and jack-hammer like patterns are followed. Tremolo tonguing and a series of onomatopoeic and animal-like tones encompassing dog yelps, feline purrs and woodpecker patterns are more prominent than traditional brass notes.

Considering these sessions plumb the limits of trumpet expression in improvisation without remotely resembling one another, both confirm the versatility of a brass instrument duo.

-Ken Waxman

Visit Ken and Jazzword if you have not already!

Image of Taylor and Stephen at Firehouse 12 by Jeff Burns

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Taylor Ho Bynum & Spider Monkey Strings

Firehouse 12/New Haven

If you are wondering why Taylor is stuffing his face, there is a very simple explanation that I would be happy to share with you: he has been busy, busy, busy! While his recent activity as a sideman and a leader is too abundant to list here, that fact that Taylor still has not unpacked after moving back to New England several months ago gives you an idea of what I am talking about.

Last night, my wife Brigid and I drove down to New Haven and caught the first set of music from Spider Monkey Strings at Firehouse 12. The venue is so ideal for deep listening: a small room, acoustically designed (and used) for recording that holds no more than 75 audience members. The occasion was a local premier of new work, Madeline Dreams, based on a novel written by Taylor's sister, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, entitled Madeline is Sleeping.

The music was a delight, a integrated blending of Taylor's influences and current stance in the music. Lyrical through-composed passages seamlessly flowed into guided improvisation, moving with a delightfully complex but clear polyphony. He really has understood Ellington's mandate around selection of instrumentalists and deployment of individual voice as a means of orchestration.

The big surprise for me was hearing the newest member of the ensemble, Kyoko Kitamura. Her role in the new work was operatic but her delivery, tone and timbre were coming from a different source: clear tone, limited usage of vibrato, seemingly-perfect pitch (this without the traditional use of guide tones!), wide range and clear enunciation of the text. What sealed the deal for me was when the band kicked into a twenties Ellington composition. Kyoko played Ivy Anderson to Taylor's Bubber Miley and brought the house down!

Today, Taylor and his crew spent the day recording this music for release on Firehouse 12 Records. Tomorrow they will be in Boston at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Taylor and his colleagues exhibited a truly modern conception, and were all non-genre-impaired. It doesn't get any better than this!

Image of Taylor at home by Rachel Bernsen, his wonderful wife.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blues for Gene Solon

Hartford, CT

Gene Solon passed away on October sixth.

I met Gene when I first moved to Hartford. We ran into each other where one could often find Gene, up front at a concert, digging the sounds and issuing commentary. Gene did with me what he did with many of us - quickly got to work weaving connections between me and people that I “just had to meet.”

Gene turned me on to much over the years. In Hartford, he mentored me by bringing me on board as a grant panelist at the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, where he worked. Much of what I know today about grant writing came through that ten year experience. Gene was part of something we have lost at the Commission, where he was part of a group of arts administrators, many of whom were either artists themselves or might as well have been, who were so passionate about the arts and those who created and presented it (Betsy Mahaffey comes to mind!).

Gene’s sensibilities and manner of inhabiting the world, personally and professionally, were infused by a deep and abiding love of family. He raised three children as a single parent. As his son Kendall put it, “my father was good for people.” Gene was certainly good for me.

I love you, Gene. I really miss you!

Image of Gene Solon by Sanda Schuldmann

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Atmospheres of Thought

Go: Organic Orchestra
Roulette/New York, NY

Adam Rudolph returns with the east coast version of Go: Organic Orchestra for another Monday series at Roulette on October 20, 27 & November 10, 17. We are moving into the next phase of the development of the ensemble and the steady unfolding of it’s understanding and fluency of/with Adam’s conception of blended notation and conduction grounded by a delightfully distinctive poly-rhythmic stew.

Some recent reports from listeners:
I caught a performance of Go: Organic Orchestra down in SoHo last spring and was swept away by what they were doing. It was fascinating and ahead of its time, in the best possible way. I loved every minute of it.
Marc Meyer/jazzwax.com
I was fortunate to have attended two nights with Adam Rudolph's Go Organic Orchestra at Roulette a few months back and was blown away by Adam's distinctive blend of jazz and world music as well as his conducting.
Bruce Lee Gallanter/Downtown Music Gallery
The musicians:

Stephen Haynes, Amir Elsaffar, Graham Haynes, Steve Swell, Peter Zummo/Brass; Ralph Jones, Ned Rothenberg, Charles Waters, David Rothenberg, Avram Fefer, JD Parran, Sara Schoenbeck, Salim Washington, Batya Sobel, Sylvain Leroux, Ze Luis, Michel Gentile, Kaoru Watanabe /Reeds and Flutes; Daniel Levin, Kirsten Jerme, Charles Burnham, Sarah Bernstein, Trina Basu, Jason Hwang, Lindsey Horner, Kevin Farrell/Strings; Kenny Wessel, Leni Stern, Marco Cappelli, Stuart Popejoy /Guitars; Harris Eisenstadt, Brahim Fribgane, Jonathan Singer, Dende de Bahia, Magnus Lindgaard/Drums and Percussion; Chris Dingman/Vibraphone; Alex Marcelo/Acoustic Piano plus additional TBA artists.

Not to be missed!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Next Project: A Bill Dixon Update

As we continue the process of preparing the recordings and film of our recent residency at Firehouse 12, we have begun working on a new project that combines aspects of archival activity with Bill’s recent direct connections with a range of players whose work bears the stamp of his influence.

Bill has drawn up a short list of his solo pieces (see Odyssey) that will be transcribed and published as a folio of music for study and performance. The accompanying CD recording will feature a raft of trumpet/cornet players, each performing and/or interpreting (too soon to tell) a solo composition originally created by Bill.

A simple, elegant concept that opens the door to a range of questions regarding combined systems of notation, as Bill’s technique moves on and off the instrument as regards tempered tuning, and employs a range of extended technique including non-vocally generated multiphonics and controlled usage of pedal tones. This then begs the development of performance notes to accompany any prepared notation of the work.

How much of Bill’s technique can/should be replicated? Are there alternate methods (this would seem likely given the field) one might use to (re)create Bill’s sound and way of moving? What is the relationship between the technical and the aesthetic in Bill’s solo language and how can the apprehension of this relationship inform the creation of new work by future improvisers? These are some questions (there are more, believe me!) that come to mind.

Stay tuned for details as the work unfolds.

Images of Bill at work by Nick Cretens

Friday, September 05, 2008

Forbes Graham, Peter Evans and Me

The Music Workshop
Hyde Park, MA
September 25, 2008

Young Forbes Graham has asked me to participate in his ongoing performance series, The Music Workshop. Wunderkind Peter Evans will also perform. Too soon to say what the combination of players will be, but I have always had a fondness for grouped trumpets.

Not for nothing, Peter and Forbes are two of a growing phalanx of players (Rob Mazurek, Nate Wooley, Taylor Ho Bynum, Franz Hautzinger) whose work is strongly indebted to that of my friend, colleague and mentor, Bill Dixon.

With Bill approaching his 84th birthday in October, this begins to feel like an early opportunity to create a sonic birthday card. More on that notion later, I promise.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Butch Morris and Trumpet Nation

BRIC Studios
Brooklyn, NY
September 23, 2008

The Festival of New Trumpet Music is upon us! FONT (Dave Douglas and Taylor Ho Bynum) has always been kind to me, providing early performance opportunities for my string ensemble, SALT; and my quartet, Bugaboo, as well as opening the door of opportunity that led to a recording and release of The Double Trio in concert at the Jazz Standard.

The last time that I joined Butch Morris for this semi-annual trumpet conduction, we squeezed about twenty trumpet/cornet players onto the stage at the Cornelia Street Café. We should have more room this time, and the music continues to grow every year.

Not for nothing, the evening always serves as a bit of a family reunion. I see folks that I rarely connect with but have known for years and get the opportunity to meet new players.

Images of Butch Morris & Trumpet Nation at the Cornelia Street Café by Scott Friedlander

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Double Trio: Live At The Festival of New Trumpet Music

A new review of our work by new music stalwart
Bruce Lee Gallanter of
Downtown Music Gallery.

Two trios apart, together, and all over!

Trumpet hero Stephen Haynes has collaborated at length with Bill Dixon and plays in the Vision Orchestra. Recordings with Stephen as a leader have been rare until now. Haynes co-leads this marvelous sextet with that ambitious whippersnapper and Braxton collaborator, Taylor Ho Bynum. Haynes and Bynum both composed tunes on this fine disc with a couple of covers by Ornette Coleman and Dizzy Gillespie. The rest of this double trio features two fine guitarists, Allan Jaffe, (who has worked with Bobby Previte & Ray Anderson) and the ubiquitous Mary Halvorson who has also worked with Mr. Braxton & Taylor in other contexts. The legendary percussionist, Warren Smith, has worked on hundreds of sessions in different genres for more than forty years while Tomas Fujiwara plays in a couple of Taylor's projects. A stellar crew!

This disc was recorded live at the Jazz Standard in NYC during the 2006 Festival of New Trumpet Music. "HeBeSheBeWeBe 1" begins with eerie trumpet and stark percussion but soon the sextet kicks in with some tight ensemble playing. Both guitars and both drummers swirl intricately around one another. Eventually both horns also sail on the top. Mary plays a great Sharrock-like solo before the lone trumpet spins together with the percussion.

"Yx 6c" splits the band evenly with one trio playing one theme while the other trio plays an interconnected theme with them. Both horns spin layers of lines, bouncing notes back and forth. What makes this ensemble so intriguing is the way the different styles or approaches of each player are utilized most fully. Both guitarists have much different sounds, yet they work so well together since the pieces seem to use them just right.

Ornette Coleman’s "Broken Shadows" is covered and done spaciously with a couple of different lines swimming around one another in waves. Both horns play the theme together yet slightly off center.

Taylor composed the "Miscellaneous Suite" in three parts, starting with "Triple Duo" which features three different duos intersecting. When somebody says, "fortune cookie, my ass!" Joe and I just cracked up. On "mm (pf)" the melody is split between each player in fragments, yet it still works with an overall thread or logic that holds it together somehow.

Original modern jazz trumpet hero, Dizzy Gillespie’s "Kush" is deconstructed a bit, yet retains a certain charm. Commencing with "Notes from an Autumn Diary," a long, intense yet freer work that has charted passages and focused freer sections as well.
Without a doubt, this is one of this year's most thoughtful and stimulating releases.

Image of Taylor and Stephen at Firehouse 12 by Nick Cretens

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Pea Pod Trio Plus One

Niles Street Community Garden
Hartford, CT

Some images from last week’s musical exploration with old friends Bill Lowe and Billy Arnold. Hartford chanteuse and poet Margaux Hayes was invited to jump in and swim with us, and swim she did!

The food was locally grown, abundantly served and delicious. Our audience was attentive and called out to us and danced along with the music. Can I get a witness? I could hear my sound bouncing back off of the apartment buildings across the gardens as the sun went down-organic echoplex. What more could we ask for?

It is important to understand that these community gardens fill a range of essential functions here in Hartford-from knitting community to nourishing families-and are something that we have that must be supported consistently. In many of the neighborhoods these gardens inhabit, they provide a real, and sometimes hidden, heart for the neighborhood.

Consider making a donation to Knox today to support the vital work they perform year-round.

Thanks to Charmaine Craig and Knox Parks Foundation for the invitation to join the annual Community Garden Celebration.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Tribute

Sigourney Park
Hartford, CT

Saxophonist and local sonic stalwart Rich McGee, a veteran of Anthony Braxton’s knotty saxophone ensembles, has cooked up a big band tribute to the singular Nigerian artist and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

While I have never played Rich’s music, he and I have played together at times, occasionally alongside my oldest Hartford musical friend Mixashawn.

This event is part of a larger outdoor community music festival chock full of local talent and seasoned with savory out-of-towners like Bobby Matos. Not to be missed, and the weather looks to be an ideal late summer/early fall mix with low humidity. Bring a bottle of rose, a blanket and someone you love. Sunday, August 31, beginning at 2:00 PM.

H*E*R* Plus Size

The Stone
New York, NY

A reprise of our recent Montague Mills experience, H*E*R Plus Size lands at John Zorn’s storied East Village venue later this week. The last time that I worked at The Stone was in a trio setting with JD Parran (also a good friend of Peter's-check out their Hellacious Trio) and Mary Halvorsen.

Composer and vocalist Yvette Perez has corralled a merry bunch of mischievous musicians for the occasion: Peter Zummo, trombone; Danny Tunick, vibes; and Todd Merrell, transmission manipulations. I plan to bring along my alto horn.

We will perform expanded/ing arrangements culled from Yvette's lovely songbook/CD, Songs About the Mysteries of Housework and Nature.

Notice that Todd and I have to meet outside of Hartford to make music. Someone do something about that, please!

Thursday, August 28, 10:00 PM.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Pea Pod Trio

Niles Street Community Garden
Hartford, CT

The Knox Parks Urban Community Garden Program has seen a dramatic increase in demand for gardening space this year. Currently there are 202 gardening families cultivating and feeding themselves fresh local produce at the 300 plots located at thirteen garden sites throughout the city of Hartford.

The folks at Knox have asked me to join them for a tour and celebration of our wonderful community gardens, several of which I have worked in as an organizer over the past ten years. After the tour, we will return to the Niles Street Garden for a clam bake with fresh local produce and plenty of friends from throughout the community.

I will perform with a group built especially for the occasion, the Pea Pod Trio, with my old friend Bill Lowe from Boston on tuba. Springfield stalwart Billy Arnold, who I met while working with Mixashawn Rozie, will join us on drums and percussion. If you live nearby and want to check out this rare local performance, contact Knox Parks Foundation for a seat on the bus.

Images of Bill and me with the Boston Jazz Repertory Orchestra
in Cambridge, MA 2002 were taken by Craig Bailey

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hartbeat Ensemble/Plays in the Parks
Blue Back Square/West Hartford, CT

I spent last Saturday playing duets with one of my best musical friends, Joe Morris. I love Joe, and we just jump into the music without having to discuss anything: a bit like continuing a running conversation. Add to that the fact that Joe is a quintessentially orchestral player, as Bill Dixon would say, and you have the makings of a delightful work environment. Joe always creates such beautiful form!

We were invited to join Hartbeat Ensemble, a wonderful local theater group, for the third year of their Plays in the Parks summer performance series. Okay, Blue Back Square is not a park, but it was a pleasure to perform in West Hartford, something that almost never happens for me. The last time I threw down in this neighborhood was at a benefit for Real Art Ways, where I used Salim Washington, Wes Brown and Alvin “Abu” Carter, Senior.

Big ups to Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut for their ongoing advocacy for public healthcare and for choosing the arts as a medium to convey this essential message.

Image of Joe Morris by Nick Lacy

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bill Dixon Recording Residency
Firehouse 12/New Haven
Project Journal

July 10, 2008
We began the morning early, filming the ensemble without Bill, seated in a semi-circle downstairs in the wine bar, below the recording studio. Questions were directed to the entire group and to individual musicians. Some wonderful stories of experiences with Bill arose, along with a range of mostly parallel takes/assessments of the methodology that Bill employs in creating music and his overall significance in ‘this music.’

When we went upstairs to warm up, Bill had already begun work at the piano, and he continued while we prepared, finally voicing an entire page of horizontal material that we had used the previous day. What had been employed as distinct but linked language sets for each brass player now became a slowly moving harmonic bed played by the brass for an improvising grouping of contrabass clarinet, cello, bass, marimba and vibes.

It is worth noting one particular aspect of the music that we produced over the two days of recording that is distinct from the work produced with the full orchestra (17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur) during the summer of 2007. Nothing that we did here was conducted by Bill. He would rehearse sequences and events, adding verbal notes or demonstrating changes in individual/group stance (e.g., attack, spacing); and then say “okay, let’s try this. It should go on for about twenty minutes.” The music would begin. Bill would listen intently and occasionally make subtle indications when they were needed. For the most part, he would let the music unfold naturally, making corrections verbally afterwards and then recording another version. We seldom used playback as a tool.

Nick Rueschel took some marvelous formal portraits of Bill, alone and with different groupings of musicians against a white background and got images of the full ensemble in front of Firehouse 12. Isabelle (Michel’s wife) stood back from the goings on and took images of the photography in progress. You may remember Isabell’s candid images of last summer’s orchestra rehearsals, posted on this blog.
The ensemble arrived at a particular place at the end of the second day of recording that would have been a nice starting point for a curve of work. We really could have used another week to work together. Food for thought, indicative of the ironies of the struggle inherent in creative work in this culture during these times.
The Bill Dixon Recording Residency Project at Firehouse 12 is funded by the LEF Foundation and Firehouse 12 Records, and receives essential support from FONT: The Festival of New Trumpet Music.
Images by Isabelle Moisan.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bill Dixon Recording Residency
Firehouse 12/New Haven
Project Journal

July 10, 2008/Climbing the Mountain

Yesterday we worked from 10 in the morning until 11 PM, with breaks for meals. Much was accomplished, but the way ahead was not easy initially. Bill spent the first half of the day working relentlessly to get the ensemble members to surrender so that they could receive and fully inhabit the music. When we finally did manage to cross this creative threshold with the completion of the first fully-realized ensemble piece, it was a relief. The material for the first piece was a suite-like combination of the line for Judy Dunn, delivered as a chorale, and a page of new lines that Bill had written for the residency week. He ended up dividing the line finally, giving each brass player a part of the material and instructions to use the material as the basis for individual voice in the composition.

After lunch, a spontaneous trio emerged with Bill, Ken Filiano and Warren Smith. No directions, just pure music created in the moment between three sympathetic individuals. The first piece was a long arc, slow-moving and beautiful. Suddenly, Bill leapt into aggressive movement: bursts of pure sound driven by force through the horn, visceral and vocal. Ken laid a rhythmic bed and Warren moved across the vibraphone, marimba and cymbals. The music made us all want to dance. Michel was in tears when Bill finished. Pure joy!

Next, Bill developed new music for the full ensemble through dictation, employing a deceptively simple grouping of three pitches (‘call this an exercise’) that, when employed independently by the brass created either subtly phased unison lines or clusters of pitches. What I would call cloud sound. On top of this, Bill built layers of sounds with the rest of the ensemble and weaved through the entirety with his singular trumpet voice.

During a break, in conversation with Graham, he talked of one of the primary and persistent difficulties that flowed from this instrumentation: finding one’s place in a cluster of brass players who all, though possessing distinct voices, have consistently dark sounds. Both Graham and Rob have employed electronics freely, but even that method does not solve the problem completely.

We ended the evening in a sound environment that was unlike any I have ever heard or participated in before. Again, no instructions, not even a signal to start. Bill began slowly and softly intoning pitches. I added a chant, a single pitch in the pedal register, and stayed in that position invariably. What unfolded was almost dreamlike in quality, and had the feeling of suspension, with motion so slow as to be almost imperceptible, shimmering like light on water. For a moment after we finished, no one spoke or moved.

Today, we will begin with a group interview of the ensemble by Robert O’Haire. There will also be a formal photo shoot of Bill, as well as a group image in front of our short term home, Firehouse 12. Throughout, Nick Ruechel and his assistant have done a wonderful job moving through the musicians during rehearsal and break periods, managing to capture image without disrupting the energy in the room. No small task.

Hard to imagine what will occur musically today.

Images by Nick Cretens

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bill Dixon Recording Residency
Firehouse 12/New Haven
Project Diary

July 9, 2008
Yesterday’s schedule of transportation had a few bumps along the way. Warren’s car broke down somewhere outside of Bridgeport. Fortunately, Taylor and Graham were enroute and able to pull over and meet Warren. The percussion equipment was loaded into Taylor’s already crowded coupe along with Anton, Warren’s assistant, carted to Firehouse 12 and offloaded. Later, Taylor drove back and collected Warren.

Bill had a productive morning with Nick, and succeeded in setting up his equipment and blocking the stations for all of the ensemble members. The recording contract was also discussed in some detail.

Meanwhile, I made two airport runs. First, picking up Rob, who came back to my house for a late lunch of buffalo mozzarella with basil and olive oil and a few glasses of pinot grigio. We had a long conversation about our shared desire to create performing opportunities for this ensemble (or some variation of it) and Bill during the coming season.

We realized that Sharon (Bill’s partner) has a birthday coming soon. On the way back to the airport, we stopped at Mozzicato Di Paquale Bakery on Franklin Avenue in Hartford's South End to pick up the previously-ordered cake (forgot to mention yesterday was Rob’s birthday), adding Sharon’s name to it, and then swung over to Spiritus Wines to get a bottle of calvados as a gift.

We collected Michel (resplendent in blue tropical shorts) and Isabell and drove down to New Haven with Ruben Blades (Mundo) and Dizzy Gillespie (Old and New) on the box. We all agreed that there is a clear connection (heard so well in these earl sixties quintet recordings!) between Dizzy’s work-his sound/use of dynamics/register, air attack, articulation and Bill’s conception. Ask Bill about Dizzy sometime. Begin with the stories about going to watch the big band rehearsing in the fifties.

After all the layered events of the day, we managed to spend time before dinner playing some music. Bill sat at the piano and dictated a lovely, three-phrase, lyrical line. This was then played as a canon with all the brass players entering in staggered fashion and gradually extrapolating from the material. Bill had rediscovered this line in an old notebook and worked at it on the piano at his home studio (where it sounded considerably darker). The material had originally been written for a duo concert at Judson church with Judith Dunn in the sixties.

The evening was capped off by a dinner at the wonderful Chinese restaurant across the street from Firehouse 12. The steamed fish and tofu, pea pod greens with garlic and twice-cooked pork were slammin’ but nothing compared to the company and storytelling that swirled around the table as folks got reacquainted and new friendships began to be forged. As usual, the hippest rehearsal is always dinner!

Images of Bill & Taylor by Nick Cretens/my studio setup by Isabelle Moisan.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bill Dixon Recording Residency
Firehouse 12/New Haven
Project Diary

July 8, 2008
Spent yesterday on a long leisurely drive to Bill’s home in Vermont, then drove Bill and his partner Sharon down the hill to New Haven. The best thing about my driving trips with Bill are the stories. He told one that took place early in the fifties, revolving around a touring big band that included Dennis Charles and Cecil Taylor. Someone should write a book (and I don’t mean Dixonia) filled with these anecdotes. Perhaps an audio book, as more than half the fun resides in the delivery and the sound of Bill's voice.

Today we begin the technical setup for the recording and film process. Bill hits the studio in the morning with Nick Lloyd, engineer and director of Firehouse 12. Warren Smith will roll in mid-afternoon to set up his battery of instruments: tympani, vibraphone, marimba, drums and percussion. Videographer Robert O’Haire will be there capturing the early work and getting his feet wet. Our photographer, Nick Ruechel, will arrive early Wednesday morning. The rest of the ensemble will arrive throughout the afternoon and early evening from Chicago, Quebec, Boston, Connecticut and New York.

Bill plans to play the piano, a lovely Steinway, and has asked for a large black board.

We finish the day with a big family style meal, during which Bill will begin the reveal of his plans for the ensemble and set the tone for the next few days.

The last image was taken by Isabelle Moisan of Ken Filiano's setup.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Peter Zummo in the Woods
Montague Bookmill and Café
Montague Center, MA

After meeting Peter (and Jon Gibson) years ago through JD Parran, I have recently had the pleasure of playing with Peter at Roulette with Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra. I always thought Peter would be fun and I was right.

Peter just called me for an informal concert in Massachusetts, an hour from here. He will mike and manipulate the sound of the river that flows outside this historic converted 1842 grist mill site. And that's just for starters...

The ensemble is called HER and features Peter, Yvette Perez and Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers). Ernie unexpectedly can’t make the gig, so my Hartford friend Todd Merrell has agreed to tag along and add his sonic seasonings to the broth.

Should be fun.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bill Dixon Orchestra Reviews and News
Signal to Noise and WIRE

First, a thoughtful and nuanced assessment of the new 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur by Marc Medwin from the Summer 2008 issue of Signal to Noise.

This release, recorded at last year’s Vision Festival, is the first publicly available document of Bill Dixon’s orchestral work in forty years. The landmark Intents and Purposes, released on RCA/Victor in 1967, remains inexplicably and unjustly out of print. Consequently, Darfur is the only example of his orchestral music in the CD era, aside from his recent collaboration with Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra on Thrill Jockey.

I attended the performance as well as a rehearsal, where I watched the music taking shape under Dixon’s incisive guidance. The 16-piece orchestra assembled for the occasion featured a stellar line-up that emphasized wind instruments (participants included Karen Borca, Taylor Ho Bynum, Andrew Raffo Dewar and Steve Swell); throughout they played with unflagging energy and understanding of Dixon’s idiom.

What separates the live and recorded experience is the sheer volume of detail obtainable from repeated listening. One of my most vivid memories of the concert involves the all-encompassing chord that is now aptly called “Intrados” (the inner curve of an archway). In both rehearsal and performance, it swelled to fill the whole room, threatening to overflow into the street below and hush it with its unnerving beauty. On the disc, the chord is revealed to be a series of undulating sustains; Michel Côté’s contrabass clarinet is one of the first instruments to swim into focus, but repeated listening demonstrates a series of interconnected but fluid masses of sound. Jackson Krall’s cymbals shimmer and roar as Warren Smith’s vibes trill, providing a transparent backdrop over which the wind instruments slowly dance.

“Intrados” turns out to be a microcosm of the whole hour-long structure of arching crescendos and decrescendos where the orchestra swells and fades as a single body; at times the music even suggests the interwoven cycles of Pierre Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître.

“Countour II” is half an arch, an astounding upward sweep ending on a plateau of unisons and trills, with Dixon’s “Hit it!” indicating the high energy level in the performance spacet; the astonishing further elongation in the 23-minute “Sinopia.” The arch is, however, not the only structural device at play; disjunct, highly chromatic unison passages recur throughout the work, notably during “In Search of a Sound” and “Darfur.” The latter is a menacing study in semitones, stark thirds and rapid-fire interjections, shot through with the tympani’s repeated rhythmic pattern. The unison passages never repeat exactly, adding another evolving layer to Dixon’s multivalent structure. That structure deserves careful analysis beyond the limits of a CD review.

If the chaos of the “Darfur” section invokes that region’s current state, do the series or “Pentimenti” imply an uncertain outcome to the conflict? In any case, Dixon has fashioned a work around which new formal paradigms will need to be constructed. Dixon’s music explodes category: it is neither free nor through-composed, though elements of both approaches are often discernable. If Darfur eclipses Intents and Purposes in scope, it is because Dixon has made huge compositional advances that are still little known to the general public. I hope that this fine addition to his discography, coupled with a renewed interest in his work, will allow more of Dixon’s orchestra compositions to be performed by equally sympathetic interpreters.

The July 2008 issue of WIRE contains a feature article on Bill, The Great Learning, written by Phil Freeman and accompanied by wonderful photographs of Bill at home and in his studio produced by Mark Mahaney. Bill's conversation with Phil is also available online-highly recommended!

Image of the Bill Dixon by Nan Melville

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Bill Dixon Recording Residency Project
Firehouse 12/New Haven, CT

We will spend the first week in July encamped at the wonderful Firehouse 12. Bill has gathered another singular grouping of improvisers that centers on brass; specifically trumpet and cornet players that have been influenced by Bill's work. We will rehearse, record, and film new work for a nine-piece ensemble. The resulting product will be issued on the Firehouse 12 Label early in 2009.

Funding for the project is from Firehouse 12 (big thanks to Nick Lloyd!) and the LEF Foundation with essential support from FONT: The Festival of New Trumpet Music.

Taylor Ho Bynum, Nick Lloyd, Sharon Vogel and I are managing and coordinating the project with Bill.

Bill Dixon/trumpet, electronics, leader
Taylor Ho Bynum/cornet. flugelhorn
Stephen Haynes/trumpet, cornets, flugelhorn
Graham Haynes/cornet, flugelhorn, electronics
Rob Mazurek/cornet, electronics
Michel Côté/contrabass clarinet
Glynis Loman/cello
Ken Filiano/double bass violin
Warren Smith/drums and percussion

Portrait of Bill Dixon by Nick Ruechel, who will join us at Firehouse 12 as photographer in residence.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur
The Bill Dixon Orchestra

Recorded in Concert/2007 Vision Festival

This stunning new release of Bill's work for orchestra is recorded on the AUM Fidelity label and will be available June 24. Wanting to avoid hyperbole, I will simply describe the music-it's performance, the composition-as a landmark in Bill's ouevre.

The ensemble was hand picked by Bill, relationship-based in the definitive tradition of Ellington, and includes players who have known/worked with Bill for over thirty years. That front-loaded familiarity is apparent in the remarkable cohesiveness of performance in a less than optimum rehearsal/performance environment.

To create Intents and Purposes during the sixties, Bill used a through-composed methodology. "This was the only way that I could be sure to get what I wanted from the musicians at the time." Bill's method now is a seamless blend of calligraphic notation, conducting and placement of elements and ways of moving revealed during the rehearsal process organically woven together with charismatic leadership ("in this music, if you are a leader, the notation is how you enter the room, how you take your horn out of it's case") in the moment -everything informs the music.

Bill is truly a painter of sound.

Buy the recording, take it home, turn it up loud and listen. The dynamics range from a whisper to a roar and the music will give your shivers and make you scream for joy!

Portrait of Bill Dixon by Nick Ruechel

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stephen Haynes & Taylor Ho Bynum
Double Trio Live at FONT

Engine Records

A wonderful blending of Taylor Ho Bynum's trio and my quartet (minus one) recorded in performance at the Jazz Standard during the Fall of 2006. Original compositions from both principals and arrangements of standards (Ornette/Dizzy) by me.

Dave Douglas' Blog Review of the Concert
September 21, 2006, 02:04 PM

Taylor Ho Bynum and Stephen Haynes gave us a unique take on the double trio format at the Standard last night. On one side Taylor with Mary Halvorson on guitar and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Stephen on the other with Allan Jaffe on guitar and Warren Smith on drums. The sound and compositions were rich and filled the space. It was refreshing to see something so different at a club in New York, and during the particularly abstract moments I found myself beaming at the big sign over the bandstand that says JAZZ STANDARD. Yes, finally!

Both brass players have full sounds, Stephen ranging from airy and transparent to cutting and brassy, Taylor delving often into half-valved burry tones and squiggly lines. The construction of the pieces was ingenious, constantly shifting the relationship of trio to trio, instrument to instrument, melody to melody. Lots of memorable exchanges between Mary and Allan, Tomas and Warren.

When I walked in and saw the stage it seemed there was something wrong with the set-up: Warren Smith had a large kit with a wall of gongs and an orchestral bass drum behind it. Tomas played a small kit arrayed on the opposite side of the stage, almost hiding behind the piano. Once the music started it was clear there was no disparity at all, just two very creative percussionists with two very different sets of instruments. It made for a great evening with a wide variety of sound.

Thanks, Dave.

Read another review at the Free Jazz blog.

Buy a copy. While you're at it, get one for a friend. Tell us what you think of the music. Here in Connecticut, copies can be had at my local record store, Integrity 'N Music.

Distribution through North Country.

You can purchase the CD online at CD Baby.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Playing in the Garden
Knox Parks Foundation/Hartford, CT

From time to time, I get a call to come and provide music for my friends at Knox Parks Foundation. More often than not, I end up playing outdoors in a natural setting. This time, Joe Morris came and joined me, and we played duets together inside the Knox greenhouse on a lovely early spring day as volunteers prepared tomatoes, herbs and other plants for distribution through the network of community gardens here in Hartford. The effervescent Margaux Hayes pulled off her work gloves and booted up her voice to sit in with us. Joe and I may soon record in a duo or trio setting. Stay tuned for details.

Photograph of Stephen Haynes by Jack Hale

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jordan McLean
Piano Music and Song Trio

Just when I thought there were no more interesting new trumpet players, I meet Jordan McLean. I drove down to New York yesterday for the final night of our most recent Go: Organic Orchestra concert series at Roulette. In walks this tall, unusual looking fellow wearing a distinctive fur-lined hat and carrying a Wiseman case.

Our section last night was Graham Haynes, Jordan and I. What a sublime experience, instant chemistry really. Jordan brought along a Benge pocket trumpet and a rotary-valve flugelhorn and some hip mutes (and a hip musical mind). He laid a copy of his new CD, Piano Music and Song Trio, on me. The music is powerful, full of beauty, with an almost meditative quality.

Jordan weaves a musical thread that reveals the aesthetic resonance between the music of Federico Mompou, 12th century troubadours, Siberian folk songs, Charles Ives and Samuel Barber; adding a suite of Jordan’s original compositions; all scored for a lovely chamber ensemble consisting of trumpet, piano, violincello, organ, voice, dobro and jews harp in various combinations.

I won’t even attempt to describe the non-genre-impaired world this young man inhabits so fully and authentically. Go check him out (link to his site through my links list) and buy his CD while you are at it.