"Towel Still Present"
Red Light New Music, Barbary Coast
Scott Wollschleger

Official blurb:

Barbary Coast, the debut album from New York-based ensemble Red Light New Music, features works by the group's founding composers: Christopher Cerrone, Ted Hearne, Vincent Raikhel, Liam Robinson, and Scott Wollschleger. These works represent ten years of collaboration between the composers and performers, and showcase the collective’s imaginative approach to contemporary chamber music.

Vincent Raikhel: "Cirques." Droning, almost tuning up, resolving to minor-key hocketing dances in fine post-minimalist style. Good introduction to ensemble and the contemporary idiom.

Liam Robertson: "Chamber Concerto." Features my friend Yegor Shevtsov on piano (he gave me this CD). "Sonata," "Hymn," "Rondo." Goofy, virtuosic, extended techniques: handclaps and slide whistles? That sounds terrible, but Robertson is a serious composer who musters a coherent argument. Cool polyrhythms. "Hymn" perhaps most impressive movement with tasty tunes and spread counterpoint.

Christopher Cerrone: "The Night Mare."  After the initial sting I'm not even sure what I'm listening to. Timpani maybe and...? Dread and sorrow, at any rate. Eventually a kind of mysterious B-flat minor tune in piano/percussion loops around the roil and rumble. Accelerando ensues, dissipates, races off page. Compelling.

Ted Hearne: "Crispy Gentlemen." Punk-rock high modernism: Atonal, pointillist, banging drums. Bass clarinet feature! I would dig this more live, on headphones I get a little tired before the 12 minutes is up. Still an intriguing listen, though.   

Scott Wollschleger, "Brontal No. 3." Four similar movements, a kind of brutal pocket viola concerto. For me the highlight of the disc. Wow. This is some serious madness. Alternating microtonal monumental sonorities conjure Lovecraftian visions. The outraged viola "sings" stunted melancholy.


I'll be looking out for more Wollschleger. There is fair amount of piano music for me to explore, including something on Ivan Ilic's recent The Transcendalist. I've heard Ilic's recording of the left-hand only Godowsky-Chopin paraphrases and was impressed. I'll be investigating this disc and the rest of Ilic's records soon; for now, kudos to Ilic to adding Wollschleger to the distinguished company of Scriabin, Feldman, and Cage. Wollschleger's "Music Without Metaphor" is the dead intersection of Chopin and Feldman and simply a lovely listen as well.

Ivan Ilic interviews Scott Wollschleger.

Wollschleger SoundCloud page.



Universal Remonster




Larry Appelbaum interviews Muhal Richard Abrams. (1996)

Sam Stephenson on Monk in North Carolina. (2007)

While I'm posting older pieces, let's take another look at Vinnie Sperrazza's "Five Awkward Conversations with Paul Motian." 


There's been a snafu on DTM, somehow the interview with Oliver Lake by Alex Lewis and Jake Nussbaum wasn't listed under "Contents" until just now. 

Good news: This valuable interview has been ported over to a well-produced audio document at Clocktower Radio. Highly recommended listening.


A. O. Scott published a NY Times article relevant to anyone who cherishes high culture: "Film Snob? Is That So Wrong?" 

It's a thoughtful essay full of amusing self-deprecation. While my own tastes in film are not usually highbrow, I occasionally manifest similar symptoms when enthusing about jazz and classical music, both of which are not "better" than indie rock and hip-hop, correct?

On a related topic, Ted Gioia suggests in the Daily Beast that going "artisanal" is the way to save the ailing music industry. I desperately hope he's right, yet also somehow dread the term.

Are "artisanal" movies next? Perhaps we should ask David Rees


Stephen Hough -- who's The Piano Album is a modern CD classic that I listen to quite a bit --  has blogged more than I had realized. This 2010 take on gay classical pianists is interesting. Love the Shura Cherkassky anecdote at the end.

Of course Hough is not out to prove anything about sexual identity and music. Stereotyping falls at the first fence. Just yesterday I was listening to Roger Sessions's "From My Diary" played by Robert Helps. Helps was gay, yet offers the most convincing argument for Sessions's "thorny-hetero-modernism" both in performance and in a sympathetic liner note. 

On the other hand, my cherished rare Desto LP Robert Helps: Music for Piano Played by William Masselos, David Del Tredici, and Robert Helps does admittedly give off a rather steamy vibe. (I believe Masselos and certainly Del Tredici were/are gay as well.) Would a straight composer-pianist ever invite two male friends to share the turf on an early-in-career recording?

Somehow the side-long "Quartet" lacks a digital reissue, which is really too bad as I believe it is Help's finest piano piece in one of the best recorded piano performances by the composer.


For "The Crimes of the Century" I included Vanity Row by W.R. Burnett. Admittedly, I've mostly only looked at the most famous Burnett titles. In The Life Sentence, Cullen Gallagher reviews a Stark House pairing of Row with Little Men, Big World, the latter of which is now in my TBR pile.



Universal Remonster


(Central Park)


RIP Henning Mankell. I admire Mankell's series of police procedurals starring Kurt Wallender tremendously. In "The Crimes of the Century" I note that One Step Behind is my favorite and also give a nod to the last installment, A Troubled Man. It would be a good project to reread them all again.

Late in life interview by John Preston.


Christian McBride reviews Mac Miller in the Talkhouse.

Fred Kaplan hears first Trio 3 w/ Jason Moran then Ravi Coltrane.

Hank Shteamer applauds the Cornell gig of Jack DeJohnette and Made in Chicago.

Randy Brecker interviewed by Marc Myers.


"Donald Trump." Those words kept jangling in my ears, so finally I read about him. Pieces by

Mark Leibovich (amusing on the go with Trump)

John B. Judis (telling analysis of his supporters)

Michael Barbaro (Trump's "mastery" of Twitter)

were all helpful.

As an antidote, perhaps: Alex Ross on the late Carl Schorske. "Fin-de-Siècle Vienna is itself a political work, a study of the dangers both of vicious populism and of high-minded retreats from the fray. What we need, and are not likely to get, is the Schorske of our days—someone to write Fin-de-Siècle America.”


With thanks to Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, who sends out a weekly newsletter of links, and the daily Mosaic Gazette. My personal newsletter is Floyd Camembert Reports.)



It Was Easy

H'mm, the blurb on Joyce website is good, I'll just copy and paste:

Dance Heginbotham has been celebrated for its vibrant athleticism, humor, and theatricality, as well as its commitment to collaboration. Brooklyn-based choreographer and performer John Heginbotham’s work is known for its “tight formal structure and inventive movement, bolstered by a disarming wit and strangeness” (The New Yorker). The company’s Joyce debut includes three New York premieres, each performed with live music: Angels’ Share, premiered by Atlanta Ballet and featuring a string trio playing music by Dohnanyi; Diamond, a solo for Kristen Foote with pianist George Shevtsov playing Milhaud; and Easy Win, a collaboration with jazz pianist and composer Ethan Iverson, of The Bad Plus, who will perform his original score.

The performances are Saturday night, Sunday matinee and Sunday night. An hour + set with no intermission. More info and tix here.

Manager Adrienne Bryant snapped an intriguing candid of Courtney Lopes in rehearsal yesterday. I've spent about about half my life in dance studios, and I guess this is usually what it looks like:



(Further DTM explanation of Easy Win)

(Dance Heginbotham turned up in this recent NPR profile of Mikhail Baryshnikov and the BAC)



Questions for Mark Padmore


(photo by Marco Borgrevve)

Mark Padmore returns to New York soon for all three major Schubert song cycles Winterreise, Schwanengesang, and Die Schöne Müllerin as part of the While Light Festival at Lincoln Center.

After Billy Budd at BAM in 2014 and St. Matthew Passion at the Armory last year, Padmore was the toast of the town. These upcoming Schubert lieder recitals are undoubtedly going to be exceptional events as well.

I've known Mark for several years and he agreed to do an email interview previewing the concerts. Originally Paul Lewis was slated to join Mark in the Schubert, but due to a (non-life threatening) health emergency, the great Kris Bezuidenhout will be at the White Light Festival instead.


Ethan Iverson: Tell us more about Kris Bezuidenhout.

Mark Padmore: Kris is one of the most interesting and inventive musicians that I know. Like Paul Lewis, he came to the piano relatively late (they both started playing aged about 12). Kris now specializes on the fortepiano - so uses instruments or replicas of instruments from late 18th and early 19th century. The thing about those early pianos is that they each have distinctive characters - they are by no means all equally good and some are frankly pretty lousy - but if you find a great instrument then a player like Kris can make a wonderful variety of sounds. He also plays with an almost improvisatory freedom unusual in a classical musician.

EI: Kris must have a unique network of contacts simply to get him the right instruments for concerts everywhere.

MP: He does seem to know where the good instruments live. For the concerts at Alice Tully he is going to use a fortepiano from the Juilliard School that he has played and enjoyed. The other aspect to note about old pianos is that the design and technology was constantly changing - so that in 50 years from 1780 to 1830 the development is comparable to the automobile between 1910 and 1960. The difference between an instrument that Beethoven would have imagined using for his first piano sonata and the one he wrote the Hammerklavier for was enormous.

EI: When I heard you together at Zankel a few years ago playing Schumann, I was struck with how well the fortepiano fit with the vulnerable qualities of more intimate lieder. While a pianist almost has to hold back on a concert grand, on the fortepiano the touch and affect can always be direct.

MP: There is definitely a transparency about the sound - so I can sing really quietly and still be heard clearly. I think once the audiences ears get used to the sound it seems entirely natural and appropriate to the repertoire.

EI: You have worked with so many great pianists. Is it hard to adjust to everyone’s idiosyncrasies?

MP: Working with lots of different partners gives me endless possibilities for exploration and discovery. You just can’t reach a point where you know all there is to know about a piece like Winterreise. Even the process of reiterating what I think I know about the cycles gives me opportunity to see and hear things differently. I also don’t want to become fixed to one way of doing things - or, God forbid, an ‘interpretation’ - that would kill it stone dead.

EI: I suspect you prefer the term “partner” than “accompanist.”

MP: I usually try to use first names. Job titles are pretty reductive. But it is true that I believe that pianist and singer should be regarded as equals partners in this music.

EI: Some classical artists don’t like to discuss their record collection, but are there any documents that you have found particularly useful or engaging? You once mentioned a Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recording of Winterreise made shortly after World War II.

MP: One of the most interesting recordings of Winterreise is actually with a hurdy-gurdy - the instrument played by the beggar at the end of the cycle. To hear the songs played by Matthias Loibner, the Austrian virtuoso hurdy-gurdy player is a revelation. Check out "Der Leiermann" on YouTube.

EI: You don’t object to someone “modernizing” these hallowed songs?

MP: I really believe that the most important thing is to communicate - to hold an engaged and interesting conversation that includes the composer, the performer and the audience. In conversation you often rephrase or interpret someones words in order to try to understand them. I think you need to be alive to all aspects of a piece of music - how it might originally have been conceived - yes - but also how it has been understood since and what it might mean to us now. We kill old music if it has to be treated only with respect.

EI: I know you love to research your repertoire very thoroughly. What texts (besides musical scores) have inspired you in regard to Schubert lieder?

MP: Samuel Beckett was a great lover of Schubert and even included some references to them in his plays. The protagonist of Winterreise could easily be one of his characters. Robert Walser is also a writer that seems to me to have a similar spirit - particularly when Schubert is writing songs about outsiders and loners.

EI: As with Mozart, one wonders how Schubert could be so productive before dying so young.

MP: I think the really interesting thing about Schubert is that you can identify a ‘late style’ that kicked in when he was about 28. It is almost as if he crammed the whole of his compositional life into 15 years.

EI: How does Schubert’s instrumental music relate to his lieder for you? I remember you were listening to all kinds of Beethoven before performing some Beethoven lieder.

MP: I definitely hear things that they have in common - the incredible switches from major to minor, the obsessively repeated notes and the singing in 3rds and 6ths. It is also one of the reasons I enjoy working with solo pianists who have intimate knowledge of the piano repertoire. "Only connect," E. M. Forster tells us, and making connections - actively engaging our memories in creative ways - is what music is all about.

EI: What is your favorite non-vocal Schubert?

MP: Radu Lupu playing the late A major piano sonata - the slow movement is unbelievably beautiful. Or, on the same disc - the opening movement of the A minor sonata. I could go on ...

EI: How many times have you sung each of the three Schubert cycles by now?

MP: I’ve always thought that counting performances has a slight tinge of notches on the bedpost - it somehow seems ungallant.. What I can say is that I have never tired for a moment of rehearsing and performing the song cycles. And I am incredibly grateful that, unlike an actor who may get only one chance to perform Hamlet or Lady Macbeth, I will spend many years in their company.

They have become like walks on a favorite mountain. The weather is never quite the same. Or I could try a food metaphor and say that I never tire of cooking and eating a particular dish as long as I have good ingredients and good company to share the meal with.

EI: I’m going to put you on the spot here and ask if there’s anything in the three cycles you feel might have been a minor mis-calculation by the composer.

MP: I don’t think there is a note of Winterreise or Schwanengesang that I would choose to alter. The earlier cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin, does contain some weaker songs but the overall effect is extraordinary - the ground covered from eagerness and naïvety to despair and suicide. The lullaby at the end is heartbreaking.


Oct 14: Die Schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Mill Maiden) 

Oct 15: Schwanengesang (Swan Song) 

Oct 17: Winterreise (Winter's Journey) 



Universal Remonster


(Intake at the Tombs)


RIP Phil Woods. Peter Hum anthologizes some valuable comments; Nate Chinen's tumblr offers a fascinating interview

I always admired Woods. He was a real cat; sounded great as a young man with Monk, Quincy Jones, and Red Garland. Much later as a leader his long-term quintet with Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin was best experienced live, where they held down core acoustic values in a non-pretentious way.

If I had the time I'd write an essay about two of his most familiar albums, Phil Woods and his European Rhythm Machine and Musique Du Bois. They are classic LPs (or bizarre one-offs) worthy of complex analysis. Perhaps for the book...


RIP Wilton Felder, big-toned Texas tenor saxophonist and important Motown bassist. Good LA Times obit by David ColkerSoulful memories from Steven Ivory.


Jazz Tokyo has a page for Masabumi Kikuchi, with many diverse views of the late great pianist. Thanks to Kenny Inaoka for curating this tribute.

John Coltrane's home is on its way back, writes Andy Battaglia in the Paris Review.

In advance of the movie, Vulture offers an amusing look at Miles Davis. We all see the Miles we want to see. However, it must be noted that Birth of the Cool is not from 1957.

Giovanni Russonello talks to Andy Milne

Previously I linked to Larry Blumenfeld's story about jazz, NOLA, and Katrina 10 years on in Slate. Larry has followed up on his blog, starting here. Great reporting, thanks Larry.


Bill Loehfelm is rewatching all The X-Files. His thoughts at the Life Sentence are really fun and provocative

In the Telegraph, these new tidbits about Ian Fleming's interactions with fans are rather fabulous.


(With thanks to Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, who sends out a weekly newsletter of links. My personal newsletter is Floyd Camembert Reports.)



When In Doubt, Read a Book

(Considered below: Hermann Hesse, Mark Leibovich, Anthony Powell, Douglas Adams, Charles Willeford, Ernest Cline, Lee Child, Lawrence Block)


My wife finally convinced me to look at The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. Better late than never.

A fair number of jazz musicians have dealt with Glass Bead Game over the years. For Tetragon, Joe Henderson recorded a significant piece of free jazz called “The Bead Game.” One of Clifford Jordan’s best albums is Glass Bead Games. When I asked Keith Jarrett to word-associate about Andrew Hill, he responded, “Glass Bead Game. I dunno. Something like that.” Last week I texted Mark Turner what I was reading and he responded, “Love that book. Western spirituality at its best.”

The Glass Bead Game breaks down into essentially three parts: An introduction to the future world and the game, the story of Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht, and an appendix of Knecht’s own writings.

For me, the most revelatory section was the slightly pompous and comic introduction. Not only does Hesse predict the internet and the postmodern age with uncanny precision, but the description of the Game, which combines art, math, science, music, and sociology, also could be helpful for those interested in the best American music. At the least, the following paragraph is relevant for anyone attempting to interface with an older jazz master:

We stress that this introduction is intended only for popular consumption and makes no claim whatsoever to clarifying the questions being discussed within the Order itself on the problems and history of the game. The time for an objective account of that subject is still far in the future. Let no one, therefore, expect from us a complete history and theory of the Glass Bead Game. Even authors of higher rank and competence than ourself would not be capable of providing that at the present time. That task must remain reserved to later ages, if the sources and the intellectual prerequisites for the task have not previously been lost. Still less is our essay intended as a text book of the Glass Bead Game; indeed, no such thing will ever be written. The only way to learn the rules of this Game of games is to take the usual prescribed course, which requires many years; and none of the initiates could ever possibly have any interest in making those rules easier to learn.

Clifford Jordan cared about history and society and how things really work on a macro scale. Musically, he was a master craftsman of straight-ahead tenor but also appreciated the avant-garde; in other areas, he was master of the hang and top-level weed dealer.

Jordan’s first leader dates like Spellbound and Bearcat are brilliant but reasonably conventional. 1966’s tribute to Leadbelly, These Are My Roots, changes it up by becoming superbly surreal. (Tootie Heath told me, “We had to rehearse a lot for that one.”) For the first Afro-centric record label, Strata-East, Jordan offered a curated set of sessions called “The Dolphy series.” While the late Eric Dolphy was a serious intellectual, much of those sessions' groovy space-outs are only that much better when in an altered state of consciousness.

Billy Hart calls the jazz tradition, “A sociological experiment manifested through music.” Glass Bead Games, Jordan’s best Strata-East session, offers the full exertion of a community that is the product of a sociological experiment.

Hesse explains in terms a jazz master might endorse about their own art:

These rules, the sign language and grammar of the Game, constitute a kind of highly developed secret language drawing upon several sciences and arts, but especially mathematics and music (and/or musicology), and capable of expressing and establishing interrelationships between the content including conclusions of nearly all scholarly disciplines. The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual property — on all this immense body of intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ.

To make his point about the community of “noble thoughts and works of art” extra clear, Jordan programs several pieces that explicitly honor musicians not present at the session: Paul Robeson, Eddie Harris, John Coltrane, Cal Massey.

Back to my own opinion about Hesse: I joked to Sarah that the main story of Joseph Knecht was a bit of a sentimental slog, something akin to Tolkien. She was rightfully furious: “Tolkien is so bad and Hesse is so good.”

I defer to all those that love this book unreservedly. It may be that I am just a bit old for the big bildungsroman; I’ve heard before that Hesse is really for teenagers, so I regret not reading him much earlier. At any rate, I’m very impressed with the Game, and a puzzle piece about that “sociological experiment manifested through music” has definitely clicked into place.

(DTM review of Mosaic box The Complete Strata-East Clifford Jordan Sessions.)


Much of The Glass Bead Game is connected to the question, “How much should the pure artist interface with politics?”

For myself, I don’t really follow politics. I just vote as liberal as I can, and occasionally read something that comes highly recommended from a trustworthy source.

Vince Keenan tweeted Mark Leibovich’s recent profile of Larry King. I was seriously impressed with the voice of author. Vince then told me that This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! - in America’s Gilded Capital had changed the way he viewed politics.

I got This Town and was blown away. Just an amazing document: A Washington reporter and anointed insider dishes on the way it all really works.

A work of non-fictional reportage is inevitably episodic, so I am particularly impressed with This Town’s large-scale structure. We begin at Tim Russert’s funeral and end at the “Last Party” of Ben Bradlee. In between, each chapter flows seamlessly into one another. Just one exceptionally brilliant link: When Leibovich profiles Harry Reid and Tom Coburn in sequence, the transition is the former hanging up on the latter.

This Town is scathing and hilarious. I want to quote the whole damn book, but here are just two tidbits. The first one is short description of, “Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, known as ‘the Macker.’”

McAuliffe made his mark as one of the most irrepressible money men in political history, or better. “The greatest fund-raiser in the history of the universe,” Al Gore dubbed him….So committed is the Macker to his art that he even stopped off at a fund raiser on the way home from the hospital with his wife, Dorothy, after she gave birth to their newborn son, Peter. Dorothy stayed in the car, crying, while the baby slept and the Macker did his thing. “I felt bad for Dorothy,” he would later write. “But it was a million bucks for the Democratic party.”

If McAuliffe’s signature is fund-raising, his principal identity is as professional best friend to Bill Clinton. The title of McAuliffe’s memoir What a Party! might as well be Let Me Tell You Another Story about Me and Bill Clinton….To deprive McAuliffe of the words “Bill Clinton” would be like depriving a mathematician of numbers.

And the second is a self-contained parenthetical bouncing off what “cordial” means in Washington:

Here is an example of how two senators with a “cordial” relationship deal with each other: In 2005, when Rick Santorum was still in the Senate, I wrote a profile of the brash Pennsylvania Republican, who had managed to claw his way into his party’s leadership despite being disliked by many of his colleagues. Santorum’s unpopularity was common knowledge on Capitol Hill. As a reporter, however, getting a senator to disparage a colleague on the record can be next to impossible, given protocol against even the mildest slander of fellow members. I tried. And I turned up the predictably limp platitudes from senators who plainly could not stand Santorum — which is “Latin for asshole,” as Democrat Bob Kerrey of Nebraska once helpfully translated. Finally, I encountered Democrat Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, just off the Senate floor. As she walked by, I asked her, “What do you think of Rick Santorum?” To which Landrieu grimaced and replied, “You couldn’t quote what I’d have to say about him.” That was good enough for me. I quoted Landrieu saying exactly that. Sure enough, next time they were on the floor together, Santorum made a beeline for Landrieu, saying in so many words that his feelings were hurt. In turn, Landrieu did what most self-respecting lawmakers do when cornered about saying something objectionable: she blamed her staff; specifically, she blamed her communications director, Adam Sharp, who by any reading of the situation had nothing to do with it. But Landrieu reamed him out anyway demanded he craft a letter of apology to Santorum. He did; Landrieu reviewed it and then refused to sign it herself, apparently not wishing to authenticate this travesty with her pristine signature. The office autopen had to suffice.

This Town climaxes with three sections about Obama’s re-election campaign, after which Leibovich drily notes, “By ten p.m. on November 6, the results were sealed for POTUS and the $2 billion cacophony was officially in the books.”

Now that the current monstrously expensive cacophony is underway, I expect to be frequently clutching at my memories of This Town. The truth hurts, but the truth also sets you free.


It’s best for artists to be politically aware, but I’m also suspicious of art that seeks approval through political correctness, a topic at the forefront of the epic 12-volume cycle A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell.

Somehow, Powell’s conservative and Tory perspective never ceases to not bother me.

This is unusual. Mostly when I sniff out that kind of atmosphere I give up on the author. A lot was explained when both P.D. James and Ruth Rendell died recently. After learning from the obituaries that James was conservative and Rendell liberal, the penny dropped and suddenly I understood why Rendell was so much more compelling than James.

At the conclusion of my fourth go-around with Dance, I had a minor revelation about Powell's politics. If "reactionary" means "closed to discussion," then there is nothing reactionary about Powell. Powell is always interested in the internal dialogues of every single character. In his underdone and ironic way, Nick Jenkins is willing to believe nearly everybody is just trying to live the life they want the best they can while pursued by furies. This is a liberal sentiment I identify with.

There is one caveat, however: You must be interested in art. All is forgiven if you can make an intelligent comment about a painting, a book, or a piece of music. Widmerpool, the big villain of the series, fails in the end almost because he has essentially no critical faculties about art.

Powell repeatedly makes fun of those who march under the banner of the Left, in particular those that see a kind of mid-century political correctness as the final arbiter of worth.

I myself dislike the narcissistic self-righteousness of some lefties these days: It was a revelation when I realized that Powell’s comic characters eager for Communism in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50's might find an echo in our contemporary culture of finger pointing and internet outrage.

This is not to say Powell is without failings politically. But I suspect a certain class of liberal will always find ways to excuse Powell just as easily Nick Jenkins excuses, say, Mark Members. Recently I discovered two long essays by Christopher Hitchens that are well worth knowing for Powell fans: "Powell’s Way" and "An Omnivorous Curiosity."

(DTM overview of A Dance to the Music of Time has been updated with the above.)


I was not only exactly the correct age when I discovered Douglas Adams, I was fed him in a perfect sequence of incremental amounts. Step one: The first few years of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who and serious SF like Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein (the latter’s Double Star foreshadows Adams). Step two: The comic years of Tom Baker culminating in the Adams-penned "City of Death." Step three: The BBC television adaptation of Hitchhiker’s. Step four: The first four books by Douglas Adams.

I was about 15 when the cycle was complete.

At first I enjoyed all the books rather uncritically. (“Enjoyed” undersells the transaction, frankly: “memorized” is more accurate.) However even as a teen I was rather disappointed by So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Years later when Mostly Harmless came out I was even more disappointed.

Paging through the texts now I can confirm that the first two books The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe are the genuine article. The imagination is incandescent and the tone is consistent. (Apparently the publisher, anxious to capitalize on the success of the BBC versions, rudely took away what was done of the first manuscript to publish. This is why the ending of Hitchhiker’s is so abrupt and also why Restaurant is so smoothly connected: They were not initially planned as separate books.)

Life, the Universe, and Everything is frequently hilarious but falters when Adams gets involved in a heroic/action plot.

Mostly set in modern England, So Long and All the Fish shows the biggest indebtedness to P.G. Wodehouse. There are some great scenes but Fish is essentially a romantic comedy that might have been more successful as a standalone. Is this really the same Arthur Dent as from the first three books?

Finally, Mostly Harmless is nearly unreadable, a truculent and bitter missive determined to end the series on the darkest note imaginable.

Now that I know Charles Willeford’s famous unpublished book Grimhaven I see Mostly Harmless in a more sophisticated light. A few years ago, I wrote up Grimhaven for "Nothing is Inchoate":

[The second Hoke Moseley thriller] New Hope for the Dead has a remarkable history. Willeford intended Miami Blues as a standalone. When it was a hit, his agent asked for a series. Willeford didn’t turn in New Hope for the Dead right away, he turned in Grimhaven instead….After his agent rejected the transgressive manuscript, Willeford tried again.

Grimhaven has detective Moseley killing his daughters and ending up in prison. This was Willeford’s truculent and bitter missive determined to end the series on the darkest note imaginable.

Willeford’s agent refused Grimhaven, but no agent could refuse a book by Douglas Adams. Adams was too powerful and famous. Mostly Harmless was published and Adams had some kind of obscure revenge on his fans.

Looking at Mostly Harmless again has lowered my opinion of Grimhaven a bit. I still enjoy Grimhaven because it was a unique and transgressive and remains a terrific anecdote about Charles Willeford. However, it’s good to remember that I have the luxury of enjoying that opinion because there were three more Moseley books.

If an agent had brusquely returned the manuscript of Mostly Harmless to Adams, if Adams had slept on it and called it off, we might have had a much more tolerable ending to the Hitchhiker canon.

Sometimes you should really listen to your agent.

(DTM overview of Willeford has been updated with the above.)


Like so many others, I was transfixed by Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Regrettably, like so many others, I have found Armada to be a serious sophomore slump.

There’s no need to discuss further, really, except that Armada did certainly hold my attention. Possibly if I hadn’t known Ready Player One I would have enjoyed Armada much more.


Since he wasn’t working with a series, Cline had to invent a new world. Those in genre fiction using a personalized template from a previous effort have a much better chance of getting the tone of a new book right.

Make Me is the 20th volume by Lee Child exploring the violent investigative adventures of ex-MP Jack Reacher. The books are all the same, and that’s a good thing. Make Me has the giant Reacher striding wherever he wants.  Along the journey are impeccable descriptions of middle-of-nowhere American vastness and humorously precise accounts of fist fights and gun battles.

Child might be the biggest name in the thriller genre these days. He deserves the success. The twenty books are all ideal escapism. They are all very good, and all exactly the same. As soon as the next Reacher book comes out in a year I'll immediately buy that one, too.


A genre writer who has made sure to not write the same book over and over is Lawrence Block, who surprises with his brand-new The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes. The graphic sex scene starting on page three must be why Girl has been called, “James Cain on Viagra.”

Not all the book is sex, and indeed the book’s real strength is Block’s informed assessment of a long tradition. He tweaks the conventional Gold Medal noir pulp situation into something really meta and sophisticated. The conclusion of The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes is singularly impressive. I’d write more about it but can’t afford to give anything else away…



Songs, Arrangements, and Improvisations

Tomorrow,  Thursday, September 24, Anthony De Mare takes over Birdland for many great piano re-imaginings of Stephen Sondheim. The list of composers involved is truly impressive. 3-CD set due on Friday. Amusing to see cover: Wynton Marsalis's ECM debut.


Sunday, September 27, at the Cutting Room, there is a major celebration of Cy Walter, who turned 100 earlier this month. 

About ten years ago I reviewed the first CD issue of Walter. More recently Mark Walter has assembled an astonishing website with memorabilia and all of his father's scores. My impression is that Walter's reputation has risen, that I could no longer start a review, "Who was Cy Walter?"


Next week Trio 3, Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille, play the Blue Note with guest pianists. I start on Tuesday 29, followed by Vijay Iyer (Wednesday) and Jason Moran (Thursday). Vijay and Jason have played with Trio 3 before and even made great records with them, but this is my maiden voyage. 

I first saw Trio 3 at an outdoor gig like in 1993 or so. I loved it; since then, they've always been one of my favorite bands. Recently I got Lake and Cyrille to play with me at Smalls a couple of times. These are sincere masters who have devoted their lives to beautiful and edgy music. Whether you come to my night or not, I strongly suggest everybody check out at least one of the six sets.



Universal Remonster




Nate Chinen on Jon BatisteJon Irabagon, Erroll Garner, Tepfer/Peacock/Hart, Banda De los Muertos

Speaking of Gary Peacock, he's interviewed on NPR. I confess I don't think that headline "At the Soloist's Service" is quite right for Gary Peacock...Closer perhaps would be Carlos Henriquez, who was caught in soulful action by Ben Ratliff.

Stanley Crouch in the Oxford American. From 2012 but just now online. (Ronald's Ghost on Twitter: "Peak Crouch: maddening, delightful; perceptive, over-determined; beautiful, bitter; illuminating, reactionary.")

Richard Brody on Mary Lou Williams. Brody is previewing a new Mary Lou doc tonight in Harlem that includes a solo performance by Geri Allen.


(With thanks to Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, who sends out a weekly newsletter of links. My personal newsletter is Floyd Camembert Reports.)



Agatha at 125

Responding to clickbait only validates the mechanism, but the headline in the Irish Times, Agatha Christie: Genius or Hack? astonishes me with its insolence.

Agatha keeps on being genius, a pure concentrate of escapism. Analyzing her merits in a literary sense is a false proposition. She has already lifted away personal burdens for millions of readers spanning multiple generations, and probably we will still be reading her a hundred or 200 years from now.


In modern times our escapism has become more complicated. Much of crime fiction has been obsessed with the desecration of the body, especially lurid serial killers, explicit forensic lab work, and gruesome gang slayings. 

The most celebrated crime novel this year might be The Cartel by Don Winslow. On page 3 are these sentences:

The stench of scorched metal and burned flesh.

One man’s carotid artery spurts in rhythm with his racing heartbeat. Another keels over, shrapnel obscenely jutting from his crotch…

Winslow needs to write whatever he needs to write to make his books go and that's fine.

However, there are those who think that, compared to moderns like Winslow, Agatha isn’t edgy. That she’s cozy. Sedate.  

It's worth recalling that Agatha wrote during a horrific and violent time in human history. Usually her "stiff upper lip" forbids much mention of personal fear, but it peeks through in Crooked House (1949) when the narrator complains about an inconvenient murder to his fiancée:

"You and I have survived a world war, we've had plenty of escapes from sudden death. I don’t know why the death of your father [should change our engagement]…”

One can’t blame Winslow for overstating his case in The Cartel: The drug lords of Mexico are an authentically violent setting. However, I wonder if those in the genre imagining explicit sadistic situations in America or England are doing so because these areas are actually pretty unruffled, especially when compared to the chaos of Agatha’s age. Perhaps we need obvious desecration of the body just to feel alive?

Agatha didn't need to invent anything especially dramatic to work against because it was the background her daily life.

That everyday violence comes out in unusual ways. Agatha is remarkably unsentimental about her characters. I admire Joan Acocella’s article “Queen of Crime” in the New Yorker, which concludes with the choice quote:

As for crime, she seems to think that it’s been around forever, and that small, stable communities offer no protection. “One does see so much evil in a village,” she says. She enjoys describing the poisonings, clubbings, rapes, stickups, and so on that have occurred in St. Mary Mead. This is comical, and the comedy is there, as the theorists have claimed, to tame evil. But always, in Christie, there is a melancholy note, a skepticism. In “The Body in the Library” (1942), the body belongs to Ruby, a dance instructor in a hotel. She has been strangled with the satin waistband of her party dress. “She may, of course, have had some remarkable qualities,” a police commissioner says of the girl. “Probably not,” Miss Marple answers.

Who is really more hard-boiled here? Winslow’s “shrapnel obscenely jutting from his crotch” or Agatha’s “Probably not?”


I don't think the Irish Times would've written “genius or hack?” about any sort of comparable male author.

Well, of course, there aren’t any comparable male authors, are there? No one else has been as big a seller.

Anyway, Agatha is double jeopardy: She is the popular star and female.


Apparently some feel that Agatha wasn’t feminist enough. This is a self-involved and modernist misreading. Miss Marple is always treated with respect by senior police officers. Perhaps a junior cop might be dismissive of the old lady, but the old dog at the head of the force always corrects this hubris by saying something like, “Oh my gosh, you can consult with Jane Marple? I want to hear what she thinks.”

This is automatically empowering of Marple and, by association, feminine intellect.

When I spent a moment researching the first-generation female private eyes from the 70s and 80s, I was struck by how many seemingly obligatory scenes there were of an oafish man telling the female lead, “This isn't a ladies’ job.”

Some of those scenes probably needed to be written, but it's hard not to conclude that the instantaneous respect Marple commands among fellow professionals is really landing the heavier blow against stereotype.


Even the biggest Agatha fan wouldn’t argue that all of her books are equally good. At the same time, I believe she deserves extra credit for a hardy willingness to experiment. Of her 75 books, many are unusual or downright odd.

Endless Night has shown up on many recent “best of Agatha Christie” lists. I actually don't love the “deconstructed Gothic” Endless Night that much: Still there's no doubt it's a hell of a book, and a hell of a risk for the elderly master. Much earlier, the comic Partners in Crime satirizes her peers, with each chapter written in the style of a different one of her contemporaries. In between these two poles, there is everything from pure romance to costume drama to the utterly surreal. (A personal favorite, The Mysterious Mr. Quin, has all of the above.)


“Best of Agatha” lists are fun for insiders but essentially miss the larger point. When I was first dating my future wife, she asked me about all the crime fiction I was always reading. I gave her The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and she said, “Wow!” This was the correct transaction.

That book alone would give Agatha immortality, but of course there are more at the same level in terms of unforgettable plot: Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, Curtain, Crooked House, The ABC Murders...

But I’m getting distracted into making a list myself. Agatha’s literary landmarks aren’t the point. You don’t need masterpieces to escape.

A couple of years ago I happened on Five Little Pigs and Elephants Can Remember, two entries that I somehow hadn’t yet gotten around to consuming. I munched them down like milk and cookies.

While both feature Hercule Poirot, the mid-career Five Little Pigs is frequently hailed as one of her best, while the late-in-life Elephants Can Remember is often dismissed as among her worst.

For myself, reading these books was a near-identical experience. For a blessed hour or two, I forgot my cares and enjoyed Poirot doing his thing. Why bother to look for spots on the sun?


(To be fair, the Irish Times article after the clickbait headline is quite interesting. Probably writer Martin Doyle was not responsible for the headline, anyway. I especially like what Megan Abbott says; John Banville, on the other hand, needs to straighten up and fly right.)



Back in the Saddle

Finally home after months of sleeping on friends' couches...

It shows the level of my addiction that even when I had no stereo, I was buying LPs and CDs off of eBay.

While unpacking and organizing today, I played prized new acquisitions. In the main they were James P. Johnson-related.


Hank Duncan. Hot Piano: A Tribute to James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Duncan is a shadowy figure. He reminds me of Paul Lingle. When you hear Lingle or Duncan you say, "Who the hell is this and why aren't they better known?" 

This LP is cheap document, maybe a bootleg. Live performances at a small venue, perhaps a party; tubby piano; no information given. Duncan died in 1968, this LP is possibly posthumous. 

The feel is perfect but his left hand is sloppy. For no respectable reason I think Duncan was a drinker, like Donald Lambert. Perhaps he's got a bottle of booze on the piano, which doesn't impair the swing but makes the left hand hand leaps a bit blurry, just like Lambert's late recordings in Jersey. The most impressive tracks are on the slow side, like a seriously beautiful "Old Man Harlem."

A bright, charming, and inaccurate "Carolina Shout" is either at wrong speed or is in G-flat (instead of G). No other tracks seem as nearly as off-key so maybe Duncan just likes the black notes. 

Jim Turner: Old Fashioned Love: A Tribute to James P. Johnson. Turner is still around, like Mike Lipskin and Terry Waldo one of the remaining links to a once-glorious stride tradition. (Jim Turner website.) This recital is from 1981 and must be one of Turner's first discs. Very impressive! His version of "Carolina Shout" is in B-flat (of all things) and sounds both like the tradition and a young turk who's making this stuff his own.

The last track is "The Turner Shout" dedicated to Turner by his teacher, authentic jazz great Johnny Guarnieri. It's a short charming rag that sounds like a real devil to play. 

At least at this stage of his development, you can tell Turner is an academic whereas Duncan really lived it. However, that doesn't invalidate Turner's approach. Indeed, I am most happy to have this rare Euphonic Sounds LP.

Euphonic had one of the most esoteric catalogs of blues, boogies, and stride. Paul E. Affeldt died in 2004; I wonder who has the rights to his stuff? A box should really come out of the complete Euphonic.

Playing the Black and Whites: Dick Cary, Cliff Jackson, Art Hodes, and Nat Jaffe. Released 1989 in the early years of historical CD issues. You can still find it around but eventually I expect this to be worth a little money, too. Black and White was an independent 78 company who sold a few sides "during and after WWII" (according to the liner notes).

I got the CD to have Hodes's astonishing rendition of "Snowy Morning Blues," which I might vote as the best James P. Johnson cover yet. 

Cary is known for a few key Louis Armstrong records and offers two mellow duos with George Wettling; Nat Jaffe is even more obscure but is virtuosic and pleasant enough in a guitar trio setting.

However, the other essential tracks on this compilation belong to Cliff Jackson. Somehow Jackson has mostly eluded me so far but the uptempo stride performances on "Limehouse Blues" and "Who?" are simply jaw-dropping. Giving Donald Lambert a run for his money! Unbelievable. I see "Limehouse" is on YouTube, with a fair number of similarly-astonished comments. 


The classical LP awaiting my return was Harold Shapero's Serenade in D for String Orchestra; Arthur Winograd conducting the Arthur Winograd String Orchestra. Completed in 1945, this was recorded in the 50's. Never digitally issued and very hard to find. I won the auction at $45 or so. 

Much later Shapero slimmed the Serenade down for string quintet, a version that was recorded by the Lydian Quartet for one of the essential Shapero CDs

At some point I'm going to get a score and see what is different between the two orchestrations; however my first impression is that little was changed in the argument. The chamber music version is charismatic but I just loved that full mid-century orchestral sound blasting out of a mid-century LP.

I haven't yet gotten close to Shapero's supposed masterwork, Symphony for Classical Orchestra. As of now, I think the Serenade is better. A fabulous work.



Universal Remonster


(Brooklyn Bridge)


I've just become aware of Mel Martin's extensive archive of interviews. The one with Joe Henderson has really interesting information.

Sonny Rollins is 85; Ted Panken offers interviews and commentary.

Phil Woods played his last gig. A sincere tip of the hat to this master bebopper.

I don't link to Mosaic Record's Jazz Gazette enough, there is always a lot to explore on their front page.

Anthony Tommasini on Stravinsky and Bernstein.


Agatha Christie is 125. Sarah Weinman offers a top 5 for Time;  Chris Hewitt read the whole set for the Pioneer Press

I've thought about covering Christie for DTM as she's always been one of my favorites. Hard to think of a new angle, though...


(With thanks to Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, who sends out a weekly newsletter of links. My personal newsletter is Floyd Camembert Reports.)



10,000 Lakes and Plenty of Old Iron

Went to the Minnesota State Fair Sunday with Spencer. Photo essay follows.

Continue reading "10,000 Lakes and Plenty of Old Iron"



Universal Remonster


(Irvington, WI)


America has a couple of great jazz festivals over Labor Day.

The Chicago fest has Craig Taborn and Fred Hersch today and Mark Turner tomorrow (among many other acts).  Peter Margasak offers a comprehensive overview.

The Detroit fest features an artist-in-residence; this year it is Pat Metheny, who collaborates with Kenny Garrett, Gary Burton, Ron Carter, and others. The rest of the line-up is compelling as well. Mark Stryker previews all, and don't miss Stryker's interview with Metheny.

Very special thanks to Margasak and Stryker for treating these events with such good care in the press.


Interview of Benny Golson by Steve Wildsmith.

Interview of Vijay Iyer by Peter Hum.


Is George Walker having his moment at last? Tom Service gives an overview at The Guardian

(Related DTM: Interview with George Walker.)


(With thanks to Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, who sends out a weekly newsletter of links. My personal newsletter is Floyd Camembert Reports.)




Robert Blocker put his foot in it properly last week. Outraged tweets on my timeline were soon followed by several valuable longer objections.

Alex Ross.

Michael Lewanski.

Matthew Guerrieri. (If you look at just one of these links, make sure it's this one, a brilliant set of unlikely connections concluding with a luminous call to arms. Soho is always a good read.)


It's so nice when a member of the opposition makes a public mistake, it gives us a chance to pile on and declare what we are striving for on our side.


Despite wonky essays on DTM and professional entanglement with European classical music, I do not self-identify as a product of "academia." Therefore I have no serious opinion about what should be taught in music schools. Certainly jazz greats need the gigs at colleges these days, so...sure! Give our masters tenure. Of course. I nominate Billy Harper to lead the new Yale jazz program.

This next bit is addressed to students:

1) It seems to me that if you do go to college for music, the best thing to study there is European classical, the stuff that Blocker calls "canon." They know how to do it, they've been doing it for hundreds of years, it is material that makes sense out of textbook.

Learning that stuff is not going to stop you from dealing with black music, the blues, or anything else. It will just give foundation and context for all sorts of song form and harmonic modulation. The last time I played with Ron Carter, he had already done a jazz record date earlier in the day. In between the session and the gig, he listened to Beethoven in order to, "Clean out my ears and get me ready for B-flat seven again." (Ron Carter studied European music at Eastman.)

2) All the jazz greats existed outside the system. Indeed, most of them ignored the limitations of their racist society to create not just music but whole ways of living that forced fellow Americans to give respect. This kind of cunning, streetwise, and unstated elegance is a key to the music. I've never met an important jazz musician who wasn't some kind of gangster. (The last sentence could be said of most significant artists in any field, but it might particularly apply to jazz.)

So: If you are in a system, like a college jazz program, think about ways to undo the rules and make the system do something it might not think it can do. 

3) Finally, go to the library! After you leave school, civilian libraries will seem terribly unimpressive compared to those at any major conservatory. Ta-Nehisi Coates's bestselling memoir Between the World and Me is in part a magnificent homage to the library at Howard University. Possibly the best part of my sad and truncated career at NYU was just being able to go peruse the scores and books at Bobst every day. 


I've gotten quite interested in Harold Shapero, a major composer who just might have been the greatest American Neo-Classicist. When he died only recently, I had barely even heard his name, partly because he hadn't composed much since about 1960. 

There were apparently two reasons Shapero stopped composing, both connected to college. He became a teacher himself: He stopped being a gangster. He fell in, raised a family and had hobbies. (All this is very bad for artistic production.)

The other reason was peer pressure to deal with the twelve-tone system. "Academic" is right! A whole crew of postwar intellectuals seized power in the universities and declared that rigorous atonality was the perpetual future. 

When Blocker says, "new music," I suspect that this kind of  unpopular "academic" genre is what he's talking about. Of course, "new music" could mean just about anything these days, and I certainly don't know what exactly they are up to at the Yale composition department. But surely a gold standard for the phrase "new music" is Milton Babbitt, and it is impossible to divorce Babbitt's (terrific) music from Columbia and Princeton. 

It makes sense. You research science, math, and the most esoteric and obdurate combinations of tones in the Ivy Leagues. Few people will know, few people will care, but you should still do it. 

I like Babbitt and a lot of other serialists, but I don't like how a whole generation of great composers were seemingly forced to march to that serial drum. Shapero tried the twelve-tone system in his Partita for piano and orchestra. It's his last major piece, and it's terrible. 

The real Shapero is found the the piece written just before, Credo for Orchestra. There are only nine pitches in it, the C major or the F major scale. A masterpiece. Really! I mean it. Check it out. On iTunes for 99 cents. 

I can easily hear Credo as a requiem for all the melody/harmony-oriented composers who gave up under the onslaught of academic serialism.


So: Be careful what you wish for. Sure, it would be great to have all American institutions give money and respect to jazz. But based on the historical record, getting in the ivory tower doesn't help to sing the blues or make your girlfriend dance. And if there's no blues or dancing anywhere, then there's not much jazz, either.