Thursday, December 08, 2011

Improvisations II: New Music at Real Art Ways

Improvisations II
November 10, 2011
Real Art Ways
Hartford, CT

We recently gathered for the second event in our new music series at Real Art Ways.  The space we used has been dubbed The Ephemeroom, as it is filled to the brim with memorabilia, gathered through an open community call, celebrating RAW's 35th (and Director Will K Wilkins 2oth!) year anniversary.  Reading through the posters of the scores of musical events, featuring artists such as Morton Feldman, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Davis and Julius Hemphill just reinforced our sense that Improvisations has arrived at the right time and is in the right place.

Joe Morris invited two young musicians to join us: Ben Hall and Noah Kaplan. I had never met or worked with either artist.  Ben has made a record, Weight/Counterweight, several years ago with Bill Dixon and is completing an advanced degree in sculpture at Columbia University.  Noah is a composer and improviser of some note and lives in Brooklyn.

We performed in two trios, and then a full quartet.  The music was a delight, and Joe is already talking about recording the quartet.  We will soon set performance dates for the Improvisations series through the summer of 2012.  Stay tuned for details!

Images of Improvisations II by Rob Miller

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trio for Trumpet and Dancer

Trio for Trumpet and Dancer
Charter Oak Cultural Center
Hartford, CT

I can't remember how many years I have been working with Olivia Iliano-Davis.  I do remember the first time we met.  Olivia was headed into Betances School, where I worked at the time, running the arts component of an after school program.  Olivia was bringing ballet into the school for the Hartford Ballet.

Olivia got my attention immediately.  She is a small woman with great energy.  She also dresses well, and the combination of these two elements made me notice her right away.  Not too long after that, she decided to form her own company, Spectrum in Motion Dance Theater Ensemble.

I provided music for the company from time to time, but Olivia and I had never found a way to work together in a more deeply collaborative manner.  Her ensemble is made up of young dancers, some of whom she has known since they where school children.  She has a love of black music, and uses it consistently to fuel her composition.  You should see her choreography of Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter.

Olivia asked me to create music for her to dance to this fall.  I invited Charlie Dye, a wonderful young drummer to join us in a trio improvisation.  And while we did improvise, each night moved closer to formality in the movement as Olivia did what she always does and worked on building a composition.

Throughout the experience, I found myself thinking of Bill Dixon and his work with choreographer Judith Dunn.  Bill loved to tell stories about pieces they had done together, how the music and dance were integral to each other in their collaborations.  I was fortunate to meet and work with Judith on a revival of her work, with Bill, shortly before she passed away.  She was/is a remarkable woman.

My dream is to conduct a year long residency with the dance ensemble and a group of musicians, teaching everyone to move together.  If this is possible, it will happen here in Hartford.  Let's see what happens.

Image of Stephen Haynes and Olivia Davis by Rich Davis
Image of Judith Dunn from Yvonne Rainer's website

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Improvisations I: New Music at Real Art Ways

Improvisations I
October 22, 2011
Real Art Ways
Hartford, CT

Following our concert with Parrhesia at Real Art Ways this past June, Joe Morris and I approached longtime friend and colleague Will K. Wilkins, Executive Director at RAW, with the notion of curating a long-term music series centered on improvisation.  To our delight, he agreed to the concept.  

Our first evening of music took place several weeks ago in a lovely, high-ceiling gallery at Real Art Ways.  We gathered two groupings of musicians.  The first centered on two English improvisers, clarinetist Alex Ward and bassist Dominic Lash, alongside Joe Morris on guitar.  This trio had performed the previous night at The Lilypad in Boston.  

I worked with bassist Ken Filano, reedist Charlie Waters and drummer Andrew Barker.  Charlie I got to know through our work with Adam Rudolph and Go: Organic Orchestra.  He asked to bring along his friend Andrew, who I had not encountered before this evening.  Ken is an old friend and colleague, who I have gotten to know through work with Bill Dixon and, recently, as a member of Ken's new quartet, Baudolino's Dilemma.

Having the opportunity to engage in work this close to home is, to say the least, a delight.  This is an ongoing series, and we are planning events well into 2012.

 images by Maurice Robertson and Byron Dean

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Tuba Tricksters and More

The Connecticut Jazz Composers and Improvisers Festival
The Buttonwood Tree
Middletown, CT

Several weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of working again (it's been a while!) with my longtime brass confrere Bill Lowe.  The occasion was the seventh annual Connecticut Jazz Composers and Improvisers Festival.  The festival is the creation of bassist Joe Fonda, who invites several improvising composers to gather and share their music with local listeners.

I opted to stir things up a bit by inviting tubaist Ben Stapp and trombonist Peter McEachern to join us.  Following a wonderful set of solo music on the contrabass violin by Avery Sharpe, our quartet let loose with a rambling and raucous set of improvised music.  At points, we had two tubas in play, bringing to mind our old co-op ensemble Paradigm Shift (w/Taylor Ho Bynum, Bill Lowe, Joseph Daley, Syd Smart and Warren Smith).  We had a ball!

The following day, I drove Bill home to Boston and was more than pleased to hear of his new project with director Gilbert McCauley, setting the work of Jean Toomer to music in a new musical theater project.  When we last gathered  this way, the work centered on Rahsaan Roland Kirk's version of The Old Rugged Cross.  "The purpose of the cross is not to cross you up but to help you get across."  Stay tuned for details!

Thanks to photographer and deep listener (not to mention thirty plus years community radio host) Maurice Robertson for his tireless music work as a local music witness.  When Maurice is in the house, you know that you've done something right!

images by Maurice Robertson

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ken Filiano and Baudolino’s Dilemma

Ken Filiano and Baudolino's Dilemma 
Local 269
Manhattan, NY

Ken Filiano/contrabass violin
Stephen Haynes/cornet
Warren Smith/vibraphone and percussion
Michael TA Thompson/drums and percussion

I recently joined Ken Filiano for the launch of a wonderful new ensemble, Baudolino's Dilemma.  Baudolino is a character from Umberto Eco's novel of the same name who, as Ken put it, has great difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy.  That notion was our point of departure. 

While we worked, a powerful storm unleashed record amounts of rain outside.  The water and the chatter from the regulars at this small neighborhood bar made for a singular atmosphere.  The ensemble that performed before us was a wonderful surprise and the audience was full of friends and other musicians: JD Parran, Steve Dalachinsky, Jason Hwang and Sara Bernstein, among others.

I would be remiss if I did not tip my hat to Brad Farberman, who organized the evening and presented a wonderful piece for strings and spoken text after our set.  As Brad put it "nobody makes any money with this, but it is an opportunity to work on new ideas and to share the work."  For more images and another view of the evening, visit Jason Crane's site, The Jazz Session.

images of Baudolino's Dilemma at Local 269 by Brigid Kennedy

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hommage à Bill Dixon

We Speak: Honoring Bill Dixon
The Festival of New Trumpet Music &
Jazz in the Himilayas
The Rubin Museum of Art
New York, NY

Stanton Davis, Stephen Haynes, Taylor Ho Bynum &
Wadada Leo Smith/trumpets and cornets 
William Parker/contrabass
Warren/drums and percussion

Early in June, we gathered in Manhattan to celebrate the spirit and work of Bill Dixon.  The work took place at the The Rubin Museum of Art.  Taylor and I arrived early and toured the large collection of Buddhist art.  The museum asks performing artists to connect with the collection and the raison d'être of the museum, linking it to the work they plan to present  Artists choose images from the permanent collection to be projected during their concerts.   As is true of Bill Dixon, the museum and it's work is singular.  Housed in a wonderful art deco brownstone, the original home of Barneys clothing store, the museum has a small, acoustically perfect theater with one caveat: no amplification.  I kept finding myself imagining Bill there with us.  He would have loved the place!

Stanton, Taylor and I brought music in for the ensemble.  We began the evening with the four brass players improvising collectively.  This was a sound particular to Bill's language for many years.  The night before, I had felt what is best described as a tugging feeling.  I filed the music I had written for the concert and pulled material from my folio of  Dixon music.  I selected a portion of a larger, through-composed work from the early seventies that Bill had shared with me at Bennington College.  Long, modal lines, narrative in quality. 

I arranged the music as a series of slow repeated readings of the lines, adding horns with each repetition, something I had often watched Bill do.  During the performance, things did not go as planned.  I restructured the music in process, pulling Wadada to the fore for an unplanned solo.  Leo rose to this, soon joined by Stanton and we stoked the fires underneath them.  William Parker ended the piece with an arco solo over a brass chorale drawn from the lines.  William played pure love, singing his heart out to Bill.  Remarkable.

In the end, I felt Bill had been there, pushing my shoulder and admonishing me to loosen up and trust what I know, what he taught me: to allow the work to unfold in the moment. 

images for The National Jazz Museum in Harlem by Richard Conde

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Parrhesia Redux

 Stephen Haynes and Parrhesia w/Joe Morris and Warren Smith
Vision Festival XVI
New York, NY
Real Art Ways
Hartford, CT

The New York City premier of my trio, Parrhesia, took place in June, a year after the release of our album on Engine Records.  We were invited to perform at the Vision Festival on opening night.  This was a double pleasure for me, as I have never worked the festival as a leader and rarely present my work in the city.  The music was a delight, as was the audience.  Peter Gannushkin captured a beautiful set of images of the work.  Read Bruce Gallanter's (Downtown Music Gallery) review here.

A week later, we performed at Real Art Ways here in Hartford.  This was a return of sorts, as the trio was conceived and developed at RAW during my year-long artist residency five years ago.  We encamped in a small gallery, with the ensemble surrounded on three sides by listeners - an intimate, acoustic environment.  The venue was/is ideal for direct contact with audience and I was happy to see/meet folks that have never heard my work, as well as long-time local listeners.  Read the local coverage here and here

On both evenings, the music unfolded with an air of controlled mystery, steeped in a ritual sensibility.  There is something powerful and essential about creating music with partners that are long-time friends as well as colleagues. 

Joe Morris and I sat down for a long conversation with Will K. Wilkins, Real Art Ways' Executive Director, several weeks after the concert.  We have agreed to begin a regular series of artist-curated events at RAW early in the fall. 

triptych of images of Parrhesia at Real Art Ways by Maurice Robertson
images of Parrhesia at the Vision Festival by Peter Gannushkin

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Brasstet Reflections

 Stephen Haynes/Steve Swell Brasstet
University of the Streets
New York, NY

Last month, Steve Swell and I launched a new co-led brass quintet.  We gathered on a sweltering hot day in Manhattan for a rehearsal at Steve's Union Square loft, followed by a long, sweaty stroll through Greenwich Village to The University of the Streets.

The ensemble consists of Steve and myself, along with Herb Robertson, Mark Taylor and Ben Stapp.  Ben joined us to cover the charter tuba seat held by Joseph Daley.  Each strand of this quintet carries a story or two.  Steve and I share a deep love of orchestra playing.  We first met twenty-five years ago working with Makanda Ken McIntyre's orchestra.  While we have worked together in a range of orchestra projects over the years, this is the first time that we have collaborated on a project.  Herb is a long-time favorite on trumpet and cornet who I have rarely worked with but have always carried an abiding affection for.  It is great to work alongside a trumpeter who loves (and carries and uses joyfully) mutes as much as I do!  Mark and I have been dancing around the notion of building a project together for some time.  I love his dark sound and consistently focused conception.

Ben was the wild card for me.  We first met at the rehearsal, and it was easy to see why folks remark on his ability.  He has an easygoing manner and plays the tuba as if he was born to it.  Folks who have followed my work will understand that this was a treat for me, as I have an abiding affection for the tuba.

Bill Dixon was on my mind throughout the evening, as he had conducted orchestra rehearsals and concerts at The University of the Streets many years ago.  I believe he would have gotten a kick out of our gathering, and likely would have joined in, coaching us on what path best to follow in the music.

Adding to the delight of the experience was an audience stocked with some of my favorite listeners.  Jeff Schlanger, known to many as musicWitness, was with us. He created a lovely window into the work.  Click on the image below for a larger view. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the presence of Will Connell.  Another lover of the large ensemble, Will worked with Steve and me in the orchestras of Bill Dixon and Cecil Taylor.  Stalwart recordist Robert O'Haire was on hand capturing the goings on, and shared these photos of the ensemble in action.  We look forward to more time spent together in the very near future!

images of the Brasstet by Robert O'Haire

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Looking Back I: Bill Dixon in Italy

Summer of 1980
Verona, Viareggio, Padua, Firenze, Milano

This is the first in a series of posts that will look back at a number of important periods/events in my development as an artist. 

Thirty-one years ago, I traveled to Italy with Bill Dixon for a series of concert performances culminating in a recording session for Soulnote Records.  The work we captured in the tiny studio in Milano - Bill Dixon in Italy, Volumes I & II - has recently been reissued by CamJazz.  The boxset edition includes all of the recordings that Bill did for Soulnote and has been remastered.

The ensemble that Bill put together consisted of Bill Dixon, Stephen Haynes, Arthur Brooks, Stephen Horenstein, Alan Silva and Freddie Waits.  Jimmy Lyons and Art Davis were also asked to join us.  Jimmy was scheduled to be at the Verona Jazz Festival as a member of Cecil Taylor's ensemble.  Bill urged Jimmy to take a plane ticket from him, in order to ensure his place in our group.  When Cecil decided not to perform, Jimmy was unable to join us.

We flew into Milano and drove up to Verona, where we met Alan and Freddie.  The full ensemble had it's first rehearsal onstage during an afternoon soundcheck.  I will never forget Bill's instructions to Freddie Waits.  "I want pulse, but I don't want to hear a one every four beats.  Play in a long meter, 11 or 15 if you like."  Bill then indicated a tempo from the piano to set up a rhythmic ground that he used with dramatic effect throughout the tour.

The music evolved every night that we played it.  Other than the soundcheck, there were no rehearsals.  The core of the ensemble, the four horns, rehearsed in Vermont and all of us had been there for years teaching and, in my case (though, to be fair, everyone learned from Bill!), studying with Bill Dixon. 

My favorite performance was in Firenze, where we played in an outdoor piazza, a junction of four cobblestone streets.  The audience was a sea of upturned faces and the music was on fire.  Freddie Waits stalked Bill on the snare drum, Alan Silva did what he does so well - never repeating himself - and Bill summoned the spirits with his trumpet.  My understanding is that there is a recording of this concert.  I'd love to hear it someday.

I first met Warren Smith in Verona, where he performed with Julius Hemphill, Olu Dara, and Abdul Wadud. Andrew Hill payed solo piano without a net, and I got to know him and his lovely wife Laverne over the course of the tour.  For me, one of the highlights of the tour was getting to spend time with Freddie Waits.  Freddie hipped me to travel techniques that I still use, and he helped me out when I moved to New York a few years later. 

After Italy, we followed Bill to Paris, though there was no work for the band.  Bill played with Steve Lacy's rhythm section, and those concerts deserve a separate post.  We spent a memorable evening listening to Chet Baker together.  Chet and Bill both played Conn Constellation trumpets, and Bill dedicated his set later that night to Chet, playing extensions and abstractions of My Funny Valentine.

When I got back home, I hitchhiked to northern Wisconsin with artist (now author) Eric Green.  We rode the freight trains out to Portland, Oregon subsisting on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, sardines, and Bushmill's Irish whiskey.  After a long, slow leg traveling through a northwest desert I never knew existed, we rolled into Portland covered with ash from the recent Mount Saint Helen's volcanic eruption.

black and white images from 1980 Verona Jazz Festival by Elena Carminati
album photos by Renzo Chesa and Luigi Zanon