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.