Saturday, August 12, 2017

Afro Yaqui, Karen Borca, Cecil Taylor, David Stock

Yesterday I played at Ginny's Supper Club in Harlem with Afro Yaqui Music Collective. One of the special guests with the ensemble was bassoonist Karen Borca.

That might not ring bells with many, but I recalled her name immediately when I read she would be sitting in. Permit me to set this up:

The first group I helped assemble in Pittsburgh was the original Morphic Resonance Trio. I played saxophone, Jason Gibbs on bassoon, and Chris Koenigsberg on bass (plus all doubling and whatnot). We sometimes played with a drummer, or a trumpeter. It was largely a free improvisation group, with some nods to prepared form in later performances.

For years I had a relationship with WRCT. Sometime in the mid-80s, I found the Jimmy Lyons Quintet CD Give It Up, on Black Saint. The lineup was alto saxophone, trumpet, bassoon, bass and drums, Karen being the bassoonist. I gave the first track a spin on the air, without much of a preview. (This was often how I would treat my radio broadcasts, play tracks based more on name and track length rather than what it sounded like.) By coincidence, Jason was in the air studio at that time and we both pricked up when we heard this great recording. There was the briefest of moments where we weren't sure if this was us playing. But we also agreed, these guys were much better than us.

That name stuck with me, Karen Borca. I think I just liked the sound of it. Maybe it sounds like what a bassoon sounds like.

I got to hang out with Karen a bit before the gig. She mentioned her time in the Cecil Taylor group, and their residency at Antioch College, and how she was responsible for rehearsing the group when Cecil didn't show up.

This rang a proverbial bell with me. David Stock had some association with Antioch at that time (early 70s), but I don't remember exactly the situation. David would later found the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. David was an advocate for improvising musicians, and the PNME sponsored people such as Ornette Coleman and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, not to mention commissioning Leroy Jenkins to write for the group. (I also wrote a piece for the PNME at David's invitation.)

David and Cecil must have overlapped in some way, because I remember David once saying, "If I don't have any hair, it's because Cecil Taylor made me pull it out." He later swore me and at least one other person not to mention that quote when Cecil was to play town. David has since passed so I figure, no harm.

I told all of this to Karen. She said, "Cecil made a lot of people want to pull their hair out. He was practicing once in his apartment, and it made his next door neighbor jump out the window. But, he was on the first floor..."

On a break between sets, Karen admitted she really hadn't been reading much music for a long time. She probably didn't handle it any better or worse than on my first Afro Yaqui gig, with its sometimes labyrinthine arrangements. Regardless, it was nice to come into contact with someone whose name I've known since the mid-80s, and another connection to much larger musical world.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Geri Allen

I have only a few things to say about Geri Allen. I first saw her in Philadelphia in 1986 or 7, the New Music America Festival. Two nights of concerts, and what a strange lineup: Geri solo, ROVA, Borbetomagus (quartet formation), a Roger Reynolds piece, Invite the Spirit (Henry Kaiser/Sang Won Park/Charles K. Noyes). Plus one or two I'm forgetting.

Invite the Spirit was great, much more active than their double LP, which I also like. (I'll have to dig that one out.)

Seeing ROVA was always essential to me at that time, when I had the chance.

Regarding the Borbetomagus set, Donald Miller later told me, "Oh yeah, that wasn't loud enough." This was the brief version of the band with a bass player.

The Roger Reynolds piece was a work for solo baritone voice and recorded media, maybe, I guess. I remember talking to my friends (Fetko and Marky) about how much I really disliked it. A person behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if the composer was in the audience. I'm pretty sure it was Roger Reynolds himself. (Roger, I'm sorry, your piece was bad.)

Geri...I had mixed feelings about Geri's set. She played solo and was obviously someone on the rise. I wasn't convinced it was great, but, it was clear she had something going on. She was just recently out of grad school at Pitt. I should have had such a voice at that time, or even now for that matter.

So I've taken my time to get to the point. I found it so unfortunate that Geri Allen died recently. Sixty is entirely too young for anyone, let alone someone who had so much to offer to the world. I figured she was someone I would encounter eventually, and I'd tell her about see her on a billing with Borbetomagus years ago. No such luck.

Unlike her predecessor as the head Pitt Jazz Studies, she was known to show up to concerts locally. She was more engaged locally, if not always present. So of course I thought at some time I'd be able to sit down with her.

Well, that time has passed with her recent death. I don't know why she died, and frankly I don't care. Not because I'm callous, but because I'm greedy. I wanted that experience of just buying her a coffee and talking music, something I won't have the opportunity to do.

Here's a small anecdote. My friend Jason Gibbs, a doctoral student at Pitt, inherited Geri's office. He told he, "She didn't turn her key in." A few months ago I tried to tell this story to current Pitt students, who got very upset that Geri wouldn't be there. How prescient that turned out to be.

Sound/Unsound, Cleveland

Hello. I haven't been posting to my blog much, as noted previously.

So please note, I have a new CD by Sound/Unsound available, in addition to the Concerto for Orkestra CD, and a new MM 76 compilation.

I know, as someone who owns many, many CDs that I would like to unload, hardly anyone likes them and I understand the move towards non-physical delivery. But, there is something gratifying about putting an object into someone's hands.

So I'll post the URL for the CDBaby pages for the recent issues, where available.

Also, if you're in or around Cleveland and don't have anything better to do on July 15, Thoth Trio is playing at the Bop Stop. We had maybe fifteen people at our previous performance, which I consider to be pretty good considering we're an unknown band playing in a town for the first time. Can we go for twenty? Thanks.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Concerto for Orkestra on CD and download

Hello, if anyone is reading this. It's been a while. With the Space Exchange series going on hiatus (I hope not permanently) and my playing schedule cut back tremendously, I haven't had much reason to revisit this blog and post messages regarding events.

The first reason I'm posting is to help promote the new CD of Concerto for Orkestra. If you've followed my online presence before, you no doubt know about this work. It's not likely the work will ever be performed again, unless by some miracle an organization discovers my work and decides to throw its backing towards it. I sometimes am a little skeptical when someone writes this, but I was especially burned out after that performance (a little over a year ago) and have no desire to relive the experience of putting that piece on again. So, the recording is the final step in presenting this work.

The album is available in CD or download formats, and I'll be pushing them into local stores and have them for sale in person in the near future too:

Some other things happening soon: I'll be playing in a trio with my old stalwart David Throckmorton, and up and coming guitarist Anthony Ambroso on Saturday, April 29 at James Street Gastropub, downstairs, 9pm.

I'll be playing with the Afro Yaqui Collective May 5 (May Day!) upstairs at the James St, with the Low Down Brass Band from Chicago opening, in advance of Pittonkatonk.

And looking to later May:

Sunday, May 1, 2016


OPEK is making a all-too-rare appearance at Pittonkatonk this coming Saturday.

What is Pittonkatonk? It's an all-day picnic/party/brass band festival held at the Vietnam Veteran's Pavilion at Schenley Park. It's a super-fun event, and a covered dish; bring something.

What is OPEK: if you're reading, do you not know? There's rather a long story as to the origins, but OPEK is my reduced-sized big band, inspired by Sun Ra. Our first gig was maybe all-Ra, but that quickly changed as I started arranging some Miles, Mingus, Monk, other obscurities, and even writing a few originals.

We had a fairly regular gig at the Club Café, not to mention the old Quiet Storm, but that has fallen to the wayside.

Our last gig was at the Frick Museum/Clayton House, playing a program of Strayhorn; prior to that, at the Washington County Wine and Jazz Festival in Canonsburg. Plus, OPEK was the core of the ensemble for the performances of my Concerto for Orkestra.

There hasn't been an unhinged OPEK show since Canonsburg last year. It's a similar situation at Pittonkatonk, we'll play what we choose for 40 minutes or so. I'll pack it in however I can.

Our usual opener, which you can expect on Saturday:

PS. I miss Chuck.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Tomorrow is the last regularly scheduled Space Exchange show. The Thunderbird Cafe is closing for renovations some time in May. Colter Harper is playing with Ghana musician Osei Korankye, Jeff Berman, and others.

Throck and I will be hunting for a new space, and/or we hope the series will continue once the TBird reopens.

I've made this statement on our Facebook group, and I reiterate: I have been determined to be positive from day one. If it only lasted a year, then it would have been a great thing for a year. It's been four and a third years. That's pretty amazing.

Some of the theme nights we've staged: music of The Band, Paul Motian, Anthony Braxton, James Bond films, Thelonious Monk, David Lynch films. Presented Dylan Ryan, Lina Allemano, Reb Beach, Tony Grey, Sean Jones.

You should probably attend Tuesday, and we hope to see you in the future.

Some examples:

Friday, April 1, 2016

Concerto for Orkestra, movement by movement

Concerto for Orkestra is a ten movement suite for creative music orchestra. The movements, in order:

1. Processional
2. Fiat
3. Gyrodyne
4. Pram
5. Incline
6. Bumper Car
7. Dirigible
8. Monorail
9. Dromedary
10. Recessional

Movements 2-9 are named for some mode of transportation (and even movements 1 and 10 suggest movement by foot). Notes on each:

1. Processional. This is one of two movements actually performed prior to the composing of this work as a whole. The minor third opening in the bass underlies many elements of the piece as a whole. The movement is very Sun Ra-like, unapologetically, an additive structure to open the suite.

2. Fiat. Fiat is a sporty Italian car, or an edict. The opening in particular had a taste of Ennio Morricone's '60s/'70s crime drama films.

3. Gyrodyne. The opening eighth-note pulses are another important element to the work as a whole. The 12/8 rhythm suggested a helicopter motion to me.

4. Pram. The word Pram has multiple meanings; most pertinent, a pram is both a old-styled baby buggy, or a simple dinghy. This movement is generally aqueous, ebbing and flowing. I referred to it as "fake Takemitsu", and I stand by that. Nizan considered it to be an improvisation captured on page, and I won't argue that.

5. Incline. A bittersweet love poem dedicated to my adopted city. Anyone in Pittsburgh knows what an inline is. 

6. Bumper Car. The other movement performed (once) prior to the composing of CFO. Its original title was Action Figures, and in that form was dedicated to Willem Breuker. The melody has a Vivaldi feel.

7. Dirigible. The working title for this was "dirge-like", which transposed to "Dirigible" pretty easily. Nizan mentioned something about Lalo Schifrin, and I can't deny it, I would add David Shire.

8. Monorail. Is it too obvious to name a largely monophonic melody "Monorail"? I don't know. This was the last movement started, though I consider it very important for the flow of the piece as a whole. This one rings of Messiaen, at least some of the simpler, more relaxed movements from his orcheatral works.

9. Dromedary. This refers to camels crossing the deserts, moving on when nothing else will. It's also a reference to dromedary-class warships. What better way to align with that than a mutated military march.

10. Recessional. This is inspired by another piece that I won't mention. All I can say is, write a closing theme that leaves them wanting more.