Light as a Feather

Yuji Imamura & Air
Three Blind Mice : 1977

Yuji Imamura, congas, tabla, percussion; Yasuo Shimura, flute, soprano sax, voice, synthesizer, percussion, electronics; Renkichi Hayashi, electric guitar, kalimba, electronics; Nobuyoshi Ino, electric bass, guitar, percussion, electronics; Hiroshi Murakami; drums, percussion.

Call it bliss-out psychedelic electric jazz, but really the sole recording from Yuji Imamura and Air is simply beyond category. It’s an effortless concoction of layered percussion, processed brass, burbling bass, flowing grooves, echoing ambiance, piercing flute, swelling windchimes, tape effects, and rumbling synths. The sort of adventurous sonic fusion that had vanished from the U.S. by this time.

The structure of this 18-minute track isn’t immediately evident. It morphs between various peaks and valleys, equally comfortable generating gorgeous stasis and propulsive grooves. But there’s an internal cohesion and intense pleasure principle at work here that should win over even hardcore skeptics.

The 1970s had its fill of bands named Air: The collective jazz trio featuring Henry Threadgill; the back-up band for Herbie Mann; the French electronic act whose sound hailed from that decade even if its members did not. But we think Yuji Imamura and his cohorts deserve ownership of the name for their elemental embodiment of lightness.

There’s nothing complicated about enjoying this music. Breath in, breath out. This is Air.

Category Yuji Imamura



Herbie Hancock
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (OST)
United Artists : 1973

HH, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; Hohner Clavinet; Bennie Maupin, reeds; Julian Priester, trombone; Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Buster Williams, bass, Patrick Gleeson, synthesizer; Billy Hart, drums.

The Spook Who Sat by the Door brought the political undercurrents of the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s to the surface with a vengeance — and for its efforts was swiftly suppressed. The story revolves around an African-American FBI agent who uses his guerrilla training to start a Black insurgency against the U.S. government. Director Ivan Dixon had filmed the movie covertly and partly financed it with money made from his acting stint on Hogan Heroes. Best of all, Spook is a revolutionary movie with a happy ending. Highly recommended.

Of course he also had the good taste to hire Herbie Hancock’s visionary Mwandishi band for the soundtrack. It turned out to be their final recording together. Here’s Pat Gleeson on the sessions (from Bob Gluck’s recent book devoted to the Mwandishi band You’ll Know When You Get There):

We did the Spook orchestral sessions quickly — one double session for fifty to sixty pieces, and another smaller session. David Rubinson produced the original, never released sessions, which were recorded at what was then Columbia Studios and which shortly thereafter became David Rubinson’s Automatt. The players were mostly from the San Francisco Symphony and the Oakland Symphony, with the guys in the band assuming solo roles. Amusingly, when the charts were handed out, the copyist handed me one labeled “Synthesist,” which had staves and, I believe, a treble clef, but was otherwise blank. Later that week we did small group sessions at Wally Heider’s.

Fans of the band may recognize strains of “Actual Proof” in the reprise of the title theme.

Category Herbie Hancock

In, Demons, In!

Dark Revolution Collective
Dark Revolution
R.E.P. : 1978

Kawabata Makoto, percussion, synthesizer; Kawagishi Tetsushi, percussion; Iwaki Yasuo, percussion.

So there’s a famous incident where The Fugs tried to exorcise the demons from the Pentagon, gathering musicians and chanting “Out, Demons, Out!” Listening to the Dark Revolution Collective’s demented percussion and synth music, we couldn’t help but think they’d managed to reverse the Fugs’ formula. This pulsating and textured racket has a determined ritualistic vibe, the trio intent on calling down a demon infestation and possessing the listener by proxy.

This trio features Makoto Kawabata before he came to fame as the leader of the experimental/psychedelic/rock outfit Acid Mothers Temple. Way before. He was a mere… wait for it… 13 years old when he recorded this! It’s fairly mind-boggling and we guess that means it’s time to start buying our kids some broke-ass synths and a 4-track recorder. What were you doing at that age?

To be honest, we’re not sure if this is what you’d call free jazz. But it sure is OUT and we figured our readers might enjoy this sonic change of pace. As for classification, Byron Coley calls it “an other-world field recording of frantic percussion and galacto-whuzz.” So there you have it. Play it loud and catch the spirit.

Category Dark Revolution Collective Tags , ,

The Weirdness

Woody Shaw
Song of Songs 
Contemporary : 1973

WS, trumpet; Emanuel Boyd, tenor sax and flute; George Cables, electronic piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Woodrow Theus II, drums. 

Looking back, 1973/74 was probably when we hit Peak Weirdness. Formerly inside cats who cut their teeth with Blue Note in the 1960s — e.g., Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, and today’s poster boy Woody Shaw — headed Out, if briefly, for points unknown. New York, Chicago, West Coast, and Euro players were mixing it up. The fusion of divergent styles hadn’t yet calcified into capital-F Fusion. Miles was digging deep into the bedrock. And that’s not even getting into the whole Nixonian psychodrama that was unfolding all over the land…

So out of this progressive musical stew and agitated historical moment emerges “The Awakening.” It’s a fairly strange slice of Mwandishi-inspired soundscaping — and different from what people normally associate with Woody Shaw. Moving from open atmospherics to funky back-beat and back again, the tune ebbs and flows under the masterly hand of bandleader Shaw, who does most of the soloing. Cables supplies some truly oddball knob-twiddling and other supporting noises, while Franklin and Theus ride out the waves in strong sympathy with each other, throwing in some of their own freak grace notes. It’s all over before you can even muster a “Wow, man.”

Finally, a side note: what is it about trumpeters and longevity — Lee Morgan, Mongezi Feza, Clifford Brown, Shaw himself at 44, in 1989. We lose them too early!

Category Woody Shaw Tags , , , , ,


We admit it: We’re not generally fans of jazz poetry. The stuff tends to deserve the bad rap it gets. However, the work of Jayne Cortez is a blazing exception. With the help of George Scala, we’ve put together this memorial post paying tribute to her undersung work — work that melded free jazz, funk, and searing poetry into unique and combustible songs.

Cortez was a published poet who received awards from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation; a spoken word artist; a social activist — and most crucially for this post — a crack bandleader. She was married to Ornette Coleman for many years and ably adapted his harmolodic concepts into new musical shapes. Call it a 22nd Century Talking Blues.

She put together remarkable musical ensembles – often under The Firespitters name — that included such jazz luminaries as James “Blood” Ulmer, Ron Carter, Ed Blackwell, Frank Lowe, Bobby Bradford, and Richard Davis. Not to mention Ornette, her son Dernado, plus key members of the Prime Time band such as Bern Nix, Al MacDowell, and Jamaaladeen Tacuma. Scroll down for a selection of her most trenchant tunes.

Jayne Cortez
Unsubmissive Blues
Bola Press : 1979

JC, vocals; Bern Nix, guitar; Joe Daley, tuba; Denardo Coleman, drums.

For all its harmolodic swagger, Cortez’s music and poetry was always deeply rooted in the blues. Here she struggles with the impossibility of writing the sort of blues that hits you like a Joe Louis punch and turns the computer into an event like Guinea-Bissau. But that’s always been the key component of all true literature — its attempt to express the impossible. You know?

Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters
There It Is
Bola Press : 1982

JC, vocals. Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Moffet Jr, tenor sax; Bill Cole, flute, muzette, sona; Jamaaladeen Tacuma,  electric bass; Farel Johnson Jr., bongo, bell, conga; Abraham Adzinyah, conga; Denardo Coleman, drums.

This is Jayne Cortez’s most devastating track, even more pertinent now than it was when she first waxed it. Over a pleasantly loping groove, she mercilessly dissects the capitalist state of being and the victims it creates. She begins: “My friends, they don’t care if you’re an individualist, a leftist, a rightist, a shithead, they will try to exploit you…” If Angela Davis was one of The Last Poets, she’d still be struggling to come up with something this stirring.

If we don’t organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is…

Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters
Maintain Control
Bola Press : 1986

JC, vocals; Ornette Coleman, alto sax on “Explanations”; Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Moffet Jr, tenor sax; Al MacDowell, electric bass; Denardo Coleman, electro/acoustical percussion.

“No Simple Explanations” is an especially moody and hypnotic track, a wonderfully slow-burning hoodoo groove given extra emotional heft by Ornette Coleman’s snaking solo. Against a subtly complex backdrop, Cortez holds the stage with forceful declamations and urgent imagery. “Conjuration and syntax,” indeed. Our favorite line: “The altar will not fit another skull.” Or put it another way, when the great ones are gone, baby, they’re gone.

The Afro-futurist “Maintain Control” mixes a robotic flow with unpredictable percussion accents. It creates a rhythmic straightjacket that embodies the monomania which is the song’s true subject. Cortez’s voice creates another rhythm, urgently spurring the song forward while evoking the anxiety of being left behind. After all, the more you feel like you’re falling apart, the tighter you have to wind yourself up.

Jayne Cortez
Everywhere Drums
Bola Press : 1990

JC, vocals; Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Moffet Jr., tenor saxophone; Al MacDowell, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums.

Riding a relentless boogie choogle and surging saxophone riffs, Cortez evokes the connection between half notes, war dances, Santeria shrines, and abolitionist politics. An impressionist gumbo whose ingredients include Gullah, Yoruba, Havana, and Zydeco. She lays down the lyrics like incantations:

Not tweet tweet
But Mau Mau

Jayne Cortez & The Firespitters
Borders of Disorderly Time
Bola Press : 2002

JC, vocals; James “Blood” Ulmer, guitar; Bern Nix, guitar; Frank Lowe, tenor sax; Sam Furnace, alto saxophone; Alex Harding, baritone sax; Al MacDowell, bass; Charnett Moffett, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums.

Cortez lays out a recipe for the ultimate postmodern jazz track — something that almost sounds like some lost Bill Laswell, circa mid-1990s. But is it really an advancement? “What about the history of humans imitating machines?” she wonders. “Can you really shop at the supermarket, bag up all the groceries, and then act like what’s in the container is your creation, even though you didn’t invent one item in the bag?” Over a herky-jerk rhythm, this track — like all her best music — offers listeners that rarest thing: A reality check.

Category Jayne Cortez, tributes Tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The White House Band
aka Ornette’s All-White Cover Band

Ornette Coleman
Skies of America
Columbia : 1972

OC, alto sax; Dewey Redman, tenor sax; Charlie Haden, bass; Ed Blackwell, drums, and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted By David Measham.

1st Album + Live At CBGB 1980
DMG/ARC : 2008

George Cartwright, tenor sax; Nicky Skopelitis, guitar; Bill Laswell, cello; Tom Cora, cello; Denardo Coleman, drums.

So you’re Ornette Coleman. It’s 1980. You’ve recorded an epochal series of records with your original quartet, twenty years ago. You’ve traveled the world with small groups, and written major works for symphony orchestra, and introduced the world to harmolodic funk. But you’re still feeling like your music isn’t receiving its due. So what do you do? 

Naturally, you need to start an all-white cover band to play your own tunes. You realize it’s a way to make your music instantly seem more “accessible” to a wide audience and finally achieve a major payday. As saxophonist George Cartwright put it in this 2002 MN Star Tribune article: “I’m 28, I’m in New York City, and I’m gonna play with Ornette and his band. He had this idea that if he hired all white musicians, it would be successful. He was gonna call the band White House. I’m white, I’m from Mississippi, and that’s how it was presented to me.”

As Ornette told critic Robert Palmer in the early 1970s: “America is a very good country for a Caucasian human being, because regardless of what his native tongue is, if he changes his name and speaks English, he could be of any Caucasian descent. And I think this is very beautiful thing for a human to have, where he can go out into the world and make a living for himself and then come home and have his ancestral roots still intact. That is one thing that black people here have never yet had. I’ll tell you, man, I’m so tired of feeling that being black in America has something to do with not being white in America.”

The band never panned out, though apparently there were a number of rehearsals. Another great “what if” from jazz lore. In lieu of anything from White House, please enjoy a relevant track from Mr. Coleman, along with a live cut from Curlew, featuring Cartwright and Ornette’s son Denardo on drums, in 1980.

(Special thanks to Doan Brian Roessler for inspiring this post)


Category Ornette Coleman Tags , , , , , , , , , ,

Free Music Premieres!

Johansson & Reichel, 1977. Photo by Dagmar Gebers.

We are incredibly excited to present two previously unreleased FMP titles! The first is an entire album by Hans Reichel, recorded live with Sven-Åke Johansson and slated for release as Erdmännchen (a different Reichel duo ultimately got assigned that name, and cover image). The second is a single, unreleased cut from the performances that became 3 Points and a Mountain.

Yes, there are TWO Erdmännchens. The two on the cover, of course, and two versions of the album. This one, recorded live in 1976 or ’77, was planned for LP but never released. The eventual Erdmännchen release, FMP 0400, turned out to be a different duo, Reichel with guitarist Achim Knispel (available elsewhere in the D:O Store). With only two overlapping tunes, this is an entirely different — and entirely new — story in the Reichel saga.

Recorded at the same concerts later memorialized as 3 Points and a Mountain, here is a previously unreleased and untitled epic featuring Brötzmann (on bass clarinet, among other reeds), Mengelberg (in a delicate way), and a particularly bash-full Bennink. Removed from its erstwhile spot on an alternate (but never realized) 3 Points, this lost slab of improv allows us an even fuller appreciation of these three mountains of music.

Category commerce, FMP, Han Bennink, Hans Reichel, Misha Mengelberg, Peter Brötzmann, Sven-Åke Johansson