Other People's Gigs, Links, Transitions

As usual, NYC offers a truly bewildering amount great jazz. This week alone:

Larry Willis, Gary Bartz, Buster Williams, Al Foster at Smoke. Jazz like this still exists? Apparently they are playing McCoy Tyner tunes. Fine. Whatever gets them on the bandstand together.

Steve Coleman residency at the Stone. An avatar keeps pushing the envelope. One of these days I'm going to nail Steve down for a no-holds-barred DTM interview. (Update: five minutes after posting, I learned that Steve was just named a MacArthur Fellow. About time! Congrats Steve and well-deserved.)

Orrin Evans with Clifford Adams, Reid Anderson (!) and Steve Williams at Smalls. This is a serious Philadelphia operation - did you know that Reid spend some important years there? The ringer is D.C. legend Williams. 

Eric Reed with Ralph Moore, Gerald Cannon, and McClenty Hunter at the Vanguard. As far as I know, this is Moore's first real high-profile showing since returning from LA. I'll be there.

Richard Wyands with John Webber at Mezzrow. Wyands is one of the last of the authentic poets of bebop piano. He's on more records than you remember. Ted Panken's interview is fabulous.

Chucho Valdés, Pedrito Martínez and Wynton Marsalis at JALC. I'm a confirmed Pedrito fan. The best "date night" gig on my list here...

Mark Turner with Avishai Cohen, Joe Martin and Marcus Gilmore at Jazz Standard. The MTQ is now really a thing, with a great new ECM album Lathe of Heaven and a big tour

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Alex Ross has been very active, fighting the good fight against the dumbing down of culture, the encroachment of corporations, listening online, and other modern problems.

The Kennedy Center Honors Go Pop

The Naysayers

The Classical Cloud

Last I heard, Alex's next book was going to be about Wagner and related topics. However he also seems well on his way to a compelling volume challenging status quo. 

I did acquire the new Leon Fleisher album All the Things You Are (recommended in The Classical Cloud) was rather astonished. Terrific disc. I've never heard music for left hand rendered with such poetry.

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Jazz has lost many important musicians recently.

Joe Sample (by Anthony Dean-Harris)

Idris Muhammad (by Nate Chinen)

John Blake Jr. (by Patrick Jarenwattananon)

Kenny Drew Jr. (by George Colligan) (Speaking of left hand performances, that "Sophisticated Lady" is is insane.)

I'm still thinking about Frankie Dunlop and John Ore, and will have something for them on DTM soon.

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From Josh Jackson's mass email yesterday:

I want to let you know that this Friday, September 19th is my final day in the office at WBGO.  I resigned my position effective September 30th, and I'm burning some vacation days to give myself a moment to enjoy the view from my terrace (and to pack).  I'm moving to Roanoke, Virginia, where I will be Program Director and Content Manager of WVTF/Radio IQ, a regional NPR news/talk service of Virginia Tech.  The new gig starts October 6th.

Thanks, Josh, for all the good times at WBGO and the Checkout. Josh was an obvious supporter of TBP at a time when not everyone was. More importantly, Josh just loves the music and was a fun hang for all the cats. 

Also from the email:

Join me if you dare for a few hangs before I leave New York.  This Thursday night, DJ Brother Mister (aka Christian McBride) will be spinning at Spike Hill (186 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211). Showtime is round midnight.  Next Tuesday, I'll be at the Vanguard bar on Trane's birthday while Kirk Lightsey plays "Never Let Me Go" and more great music.  

JoshJackson1

09/17/2014

 

Floyd Camembert Reports

This Saturday, I'm in John McNeil's quartet with Jonathan Michel and Jochen Rückert for a 10:30 set a Cornelia St. Cafe, part of the estimable Festival of New Trumpet (aka FONT). Full schedule here. I like playing with John partly because he came up with the last generation who learned jazz as a complicated folk music. His original compositions are tuneful and memorable, kind of like some children's songs placed atop Wayne Shorterish harmony.

John's memorial for Horace Silver is amusing and edifying. 

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The word got out fast, even before Nate Chinen's piece on new club Mezzrow: I'm playing duo with Ron Carter October 9 through 11. 

Some have the impression that this is Ron's gig. No way. We've never even really met. Ron knows some of the stuff I've written about him (at the very least, I'm quoted in his biography) but I'd be shocked if he has heard much of my playing. When Spike Wilner asked me to play duo at Mezzrow I thought about it, smiled, and emailed Ron with the guarantee of a hefty fee if he showed up. When he agreed I was thrilled. 

There will be no paper, just a list of familar standards; I also plan to learn a few of Ron's tunes. It will be as if it is 1980 again, an era in which every jazz pianist played with Ron, frequently duo.

Mezzrow is small, reservations are recommended if you want to check this gig out.

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The next big project TBP takes on is a detailed look at Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction album with guest stars Tim Berne, Ron Miles, and Sam Newsome. We premiere the work at Duke University on October 18 and play it in New York on October 23.

A DTM essay about this project is in the works...for now we are just trying to learn the tunes. I was assigned "The Jungle is a Skyscraper." Good lord. Is this even close to correct? 

Jungle head

The Jungle Is a Skyscraper head


Of course this music didn't really exist on paper ever anyway, but with three hired guns we gotta start from somewhere.

Tim, Sam, and Ron are listening hard as well. Anyone else have any insight into how to write down "Jungle?" Hit me on Twitter...

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TBP starts an American tour on Monday. This is a really nice swing, including stops in many towns we rarely get to and a couple shows in Berkeley playing Stravinsky with the Mark Morris Dance Group.

(below copied from website)

22 Seattle, WA -- The Triple Door
23 Seattle, WA -- The Triple Door
24 Portland, OR -- PDX Jazz
26 Berkeley, CA -- UC Berkeley*
27 Berkeley, CA -- UC Berkeley*
28 New Orleans, LA -- One Eyed Jacks
30 San Antonio, TX -- Aztec Theater

October 

01 Baton Rouge, LA -- The Listening Room
02 Little Rock, AR -- South on Main
04 Fayetteville, AR -- Starr Theater
05 Atlanta, GA -- Variety Playhouse

09/16/2014

 

Without A Song 2: Errata and Transcription

Ever since hurriedly commenting on Joe Henderson’s “Without A Song,” I’ve been nagged with the feeling I got something wrong.

While working on a transcription, the penny dropped. I called the substitute changes “Coltrane changes.” However, that’s not correct.

Eb / A7b5 / Ab maj7 / Gb7
B / Eb over E (or E maj7) / Db maj 7/ Bb7

The mediant movement in the bass is not Coltrane-esqe. While descending thirds are like the melody of “Giant Steps,” I don’t think Coltrane ever used descending thirds in the bass. His famous “Coltrane changes” uses an upward third in the bass, followed by normal dominant/tonic stuff.

The second four bars of JoeHen’s “Without a Song” actually recalls the changes of Henderson’s own tune “Inner Urge.” And that big Eb over E thing is pure 60’s modernism. I’m fairly certain Coltrane never used that chord except in passing. That is JoeHen’s world, along with contemporaries like Woody Shaw, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter. That generation sat on that chord.

Still, the idea of using obtrusively hip alternative changes in order to give an old tune new meaning stems from Coltrane. I got that part of it right.

And just one more fun detail: JoeHen has chromatically alter the melody to make it fit the reharm, playing Gb instead of G in bar four in order to go with the new key. This reminds me of Coltrane playing a shocking Bb instead of B in bar seven of the melody of “Summertime.”

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“Summertime” is an interesting tune to consider when thinking about jazz politics. It’s the most famous tune from the white composer’s black opera.

Duke Ellington’s trio version is a takedown.

But I think Duke is the exception. Unless I’m missing something, most straight-ahead jazz versions of “Summertime” are free of an ironic frame. Miles Davis and Gil Evans have a wonderful sophisticated arrangement but they don’t attempt redo the basic emotion. The only other possible “meta” version that I know about from the classic years is Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake, but Blake’s gospel rhythms seem honest despite the unusual pitches.

Perhaps - and this only a suggestion - Coltrane’s wildly swinging, Afro-Cuban influenced version with that big “blat" of Bb is a subtle rejoinder to white privilege’s appropriation of blackness. Certainly nothing McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones play on that track could be appropriated the way Gershwin appropriated spirituals.

“Summertime” is on the same album as the premiere Coltrane performance of “My Favorite Things.” Is “My Favorite Things” a political statement? It could be. I wouldn’t put anything past John Coltrane, all of his choices had depth. At the same time, we know that Coltrane tried out “The Inchworm,” “Nature Boy,” and “Chim Chim Cheree” explicitly to find another hit for his band like “My Favorite Things.” Hard to see that as really political (beyond how his band made these tunes really Afro-American and profound); rather it is a way to gain more audience by playing current hits on the stage, radio, and silver screen.

This is all rather tangential, but after my first post, I got private correspondence from JM suggesting that JoeHen was reclaiming racist material and transcending the lyric as a purely instrumental work.

This is a familiar interpretation of certain events in hip-hop and other places where Black Studies plants a flag. But I just can’t see it as common-practice for classic jazz. Duke or Monk or Archie Shepp in certain cases, maybe. But not Joe Henderson.

Sonny Rollins has always said he plays standard repertoire because he loves the tunes. The Freedom Suite features not just one of the most famous political suites in all of jazz, but also cheerful renditions of "Someday I'll Find You,” "Will You Still Be Mine?,” "Till There Was You,” and "Shadow Waltz.” Those standards feature fearsome black rhythm and a certain amount of natural Rollinish irony but I can’t believe they are in any way an overtly political statement.

There’s no difference between the way Sonny plays the standards on “Freedom Suite” and the way he plays “Without a Song.” These are just good tunes for a improvisor to dig into.

Probably I should have mentioned Sonny Rollins in the previous “Without a Song” post. That song came up when I interviewed Bob Cranshaw: Sonny's bassist says, "I like this tune." Checking the discography, it seems like at one point Sonny played it a lot. It opens 1962’s classic studio date The Bridge. JoeHen certainly paid attention to Sonny Rollins, so maybe his selection of “Without A Song” was a tip of the hat to Sonny as well as Trane.

“Without a Song” is not in the category of "standards that everybody plays." The only other version in my record collection is a rather frantic rendition on Freddie Hubbard’s The Hub of Hubbard from 1969.

I myself have actually never looked it at for my own use, probably because while I admired the melody I thought it was a bit foursquare, especially with the conventional changes. JoeHen’s solution is interesting, I should practice that version.

Anyway, now that he knows that Eckstine changed the racist lyric on his hit record from 1946, John Halle’s renewed contention that “Without a Song” is politically incorrect for jazz musicians is baffling. I wrote the whole above post before reading his second sally, which includes this bit:

The difference with respect to the claims for Henderson’s arrangement of Without a Song is that there is nothing to debunk.  While Iverson will, of course, deny it, I’d be willing to bet that he, or the other jazzers reacting with such outrage, never had any idea of the original lyrics before they encountered them on Sunday.   His construction of the ex-post facto ironic narrative is pure invention-a bad faith attempt to shore up the ideological foundations of the music-a task which is both futile and, as I mention in the piece, entirely unnecessary.

Unless I'm misreading him, he’s essentially still scolding Joe Henderson for this repertoire choice. And, no, I didn't know the racist lyric, and I'm surprised he thinks any of the masters knew it, either. If the racist version was common parlance, I doubt they would have played it. But if Mr. B did it! And if Mr. B did it, you knew you were cool.

Certainly one can make a case for scolding JoeHen (or Sonny, or Freddie) for other bad decisions, usually in the 70’s or 80’s when there was a lot of money and/or a hands-on producer involved. In fact, I tend to have fewer problems with “jazz is dead” think pieces than many of my peers. This music has been in trouble since the death of John Coltrane. 

But the heaviest masters using “Without a Song” as a gateway to a greater aesthetic? There’s absolutely nothing there that I can see getting upset about. Halle’s idea is academia at its most disconnected. To double down on it with a bunch of references to Shostakovich and irony strikes me as pretty bizarre. I didn't use the word irony once in my first post. 

If there is anything in jazz even remotely comparable to the conversation concerning Shostakovich, it would probably be Louis Armstrong and minstrely or Uncle Tomism. (Which I don't know all that much about but spent one day on recently. Not that I know much about Shostakovich, either.) 

To be fair to Halle, after my friend JM texted me something similar, I did suspect that my post could be misinterpreted as this kind of "ironic" defense, which is why I spent so much time above trying to define further what I mean. Before reading Halle today, I was going to cut him more slack in this space, mainly because I do believe in the left. However, now I'm less sympathetic, and am more aligned with Mark Stryker's caustic tweet: "White pinhead playing racial 'gotcha' on point so irrelevant to black innovator's art/life/politics = institutional racism."

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My speculation about "Without A Song" being a tribute to the departed Coltrane gained a bit of unexpected weight from MG reminding me that Sonny Rollins has a recent record called Without A Song: The 9/11 Concert. Instrumentalists like titles; the title "Without a Song" is evocative. People are gone: we are without a song.

But my Henderson/Coltrane riff is just a theory. At any rate, it has been fun for me to check out this track in detail. Right or wrong, I'm learning.

I’ve never transcribed Joe Henderson before, and frankly this was a bit of a trial. At some point I lost patience with the double-time flurries. They are so fast and growly! What I ended up writing in the second chorus is occasionally just a pointer in the right direction.

JoeHen doesn’t play on the Eb over E chord much. Both he and Kenny Barron change it to E major when threading.

After trying to deal with this solo, I have even more respect for how funky Joe Henderson is, even at this fast tempo.

I do hear a little Sonny in there, certainly some Trane. But they only made one Joe Henderson.

Without a Song 1

Without a Song 2

Joe Without a Song.wmv

 

09/10/2014

 

Without A Song

In "Jazz After Politics," John Halle says he is a jazz fan. 

Shuja Haider responded in a most inspired fashion. Thanks! (Also thanks to Darcy James Argue for debating with Halle on Twitter a little bit and privately pointing me in the direction of Haider's piece.)

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The nice thing about these little internet dust-ups is how they give us occasion to re-listen. I've owned Joe Henderson's The Kicker forever, but I can honestly say "Without A Song" is not a JoeHen track I've really dealt with until tonight.

Halle says:

A nadir of obliviousness was reached by the legendary tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson through the inclusion of the standard “Without a Song” in a sequence of classic recordings paying tribute to the then-dominant Black Power movement. Some of the titles of the albums are “Power to the People,” “In Pursuit of Blackness,” “If You’re not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem,” and “Black is the Color.” So it is more than a little disturbing, in this context, to encounter the vile Jim Crow racism of the second phrase: “A darky’s born/ but he’s no good no how / without a song.”

Henderson is by no means unusual among jazz musicians in being oblivious to the silliness and, worse, to the casual racism and misogyny informing the sensibility of the golden age of American song from which jazz draws. 

H'mm. Okay. Well, Haider says it all, really, with his tart comment, 

I wish I could state this with more restraint, but how dare John fucking Halle purport to know what Joe Henderson was thinking?

...But I'd thought I'd check out this track for myself and see what I could discover. It was an enjoyable investigation.

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In 1967, the Blue Note label was fading fast, so JoeHen tried out Orrin Keepnews's new venture. It seemed to be a good fit: There were a dozen Milestone JoeHen albums produced during the next decade. 

For a long time, these albums were only available on CD as part of a box set Joe Henderson: The Milestone Years. So maybe that is why Halle claims that "Without a Song" is part of "a sequence of classic recordings paying tribute to the then-dominant Black Power movement." 

Even given the box set, this is sloppy reporting worthy of FOX News. In reality, the first two Milestone records, The Kicker and Tetragon, are utterly conventional jazz dates. Only with 1969's Power to the People was there a turn to the four albums with an overtly political theme. 

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For his Milestone debut, JoeHen had a sextet: Mike Lawrence, Grachan Moncur, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and Louis Hayes. It's a great collection of great musicians, especially in the rhythm section.

However, for those that love experimentation, this configuration is a bit of a disappointment. It is inarguably more conservative than the bands on JoeHen's previous classic Blue Note dates. The key figure is Louis Hayes. Mr. Hayes is one of the greatest bebop and hard-bop drummers, but no one thinks his major virtue is flexibility. Previously on Blue Note, JoeHen used Pete LaRoca, Elvin Jones, and Joe Chambers, all musicians who could bend to an avant-garde notion if needed. Mr. Hayes just isn't that kind of player.

Not that Louis Hayes isn't truly great. If his deep musicianship on The Kicker doesn't satisfy, see any of his records with Horace Silver or Cannonball Adderley. My point is that the inclusion of Hayes suggests that JoeHen (or his producer) thinks this new label needs groovy sextet music in the Art Blakey and Horace Silver mold.

Trumpeter Lawrence and trombonist Moncur only get limited solo space, mostly playing on the heads and supplying backgrounds. The major soloist besides JoeHen is Kenny Barron. Despite his very young age, Barron had already been with Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody, and his playing on this album is marvelous in every detail. But just like Hayes, Barron is essentially conservative.

As far as repertoire goes, "Mamacita," "The Kicker," "If," and "Mo'  Joe" are blues-based originals dispatched in fine style. More and more, I think this marriage of funk and velocity is the ultimate in jazz virtuosity. A couple of these themes were recorded before, it is interesting to compare different versions.

"Chelsea Bridge" is a revealing choice, suggesting that JoeHen's much later album of Billy Strayhorn has more depth than one might guess, and (more importantly) also that Strayhorn's suspended harmony really meant something to JoeHen.

"Nardis" is a rather weak attempt to make these hard-boppers play some Bill Evans-style modality. Ron Carter gets it (of course thanks to his Miles Davis training) but Louis Hayes is perhaps a bit lost. I wonder if this tune was an Orrin Keepnews suggestion, as Keepnews seemed hell-bent on getting Evans back on his new label. (Previously Evans was Keepnews's most-beloved project on Riverside.)

"O Amor Em Paz" is a nice bossa done by João Gilberto; as far as I know this was the first jazz instrumental version. JoeHen loved not just the bossa-nova influence in jazz but also loved Stan Getz, the tenor sax player most associated with bossa. Indeed, JoeHen's tribute to the genre, "Recorda-me," may be his most-covered tune.

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Anyway, before I get to "Without a Song": There's absolutely nothing about The Kicker that overtly suggests social ferment. Rather, it almost seems to suggest that the great records on Blue Note made a decade earlier are the correct model for happening jazz. 

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In his 1967 liner notes, Jack Springer says "Without a Song" is

...an old standard that Joe loves to stretch out on.

Fair enough. Jazz cats play old tunes. "Without a Song" is from 1929. 

I am not an expert in how old tunes become "standards," but when looking at the Lord discography, it seems like "Without a Song" was only taken up by jazz players after Billy Eckstine made a hit version in 1946. Being Afro-American, naturally Eckstine changed the word "darky" (or "darkie") cited by Halle to "man."

Every elder Afro-American jazz musician I've ever met reveres Billy Eckstine for being one of the most profound, sophisticated, and stylish Afro-American entertainers. 

I personally believe this is why John Coltrane repeatedly made Eckstine's "I Want to Talk About You" his outrageous ballad feature in the 1960's. After all, Trane could have selected one of a thousand other non-black composers for royal deconstruction midway through his intense sets. It's a political statement to repeatedly choose something by Eckstine.

I hasten to add, this is speculation! But if you are jazz fan who understands anything about black history, it becomes impossible not to read between the lines.

JoeHen must have known the Eckstine version of "Without a Song" as a kid. Intriguingly, that glamorous arrangement is full of chromatic chords. (I don't know the arranger, but it is clearly someone hip to bebop.) These changes are not "Coltrane changes," that difficult mediant movement given life by Coltrane in "Giant Steps" and other compositions and arrangements...but they aren't so far off from mediant movement, either.

In August 1967, JoeHen had a record date. He needed to fill out the rep with an old standard. John Coltrane had just died a couple of months ago. Hey, why not arrange an old tune with Coltrane changes, just like Trane did with "How High the Moon" and "Body and Soul?" And since Trane always played that Eckstine ballad "I Want to Talk About You," why not play one of Mr. B's classic hits, "Without A Song," but with Coltrane changes? Even the title suggests the loss we feel from Trane's sudden absence...

Again, I'm speculating!

But John Halle definitely shouldn't have seized on this track as "oblivious" politically. From where I'm sitting tonight, the 1967 JoeHen reharmonized "Without a Song" is absolutely a political statement about pretty tunes, hard bebop, Coltrane, race, velocity, and transition. If you love jazz, it's impossible not to admire it.

At any rate, no speculation is required when listening to Louis Hayes here. Hayes plays like a man possessed! For me it is Hayes's best performance on the album. The ferocious solos by JoeHen and Kenny Barron are great too.

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Of course I get why John Halle and others are so interested in putting jazz down these days. It's fairly moribund time, and jazz fans (like me) clearly respond to clickbait.

I also dig Halle's leftist perspective in general. By all means let us address his list of racial inequities!

At the end of the day, though, I just can't really accept anyone weighing in on jazz without proving that they actually love and care about the music first. In my view, musicians like Joe Henderson and Louis Hayes have never gotten the credit they deserve. Halle inadvertently reinforces the importance of JALC (an organization Halle seems to disapprove of) by fumbling around in this amateur fashion. Can you imagine the rage Wynton Marsalis has privately felt during a lifetime of trying to convince white establishment that this music deserves a proper platform and a proper elucidation? 

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Louis Hayes is still around: Perhaps Halle could talk to Hayes about jazz, race, and politics. Now that would be an interesting read.

09/07/2014

 

Masterclasses Next Week

IMG_4607

(Two Harbors, MN, or "What I did on my summer vacation")

One Week from Today:

Tootie Heath will be giving a 3-hour masterclass for drummers Tuesday, September 2nd from 2 to 5 PM at:

“The Drawing Room”

56 Willoughby St. #3

btw Jay and Lawrence St. in downtown Brooklyn. Almost every subway train gets extremely close: Borough Hall for 4/5, Hoyt St for 2/3, Jay St for A/C/F…the very closest stop is Lawrence on R.

$20 for drummers that want to participate. $10 for those (including non-drummers) that want to watch and listen. The money goes straight to Tootie.

Ben Street and I will be on hand to play with Tootie a bit and perhaps play with others, depending on what Tootie wants to do.

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The same day

I'm going to have the first free Iverson masterclass for pianists from 6 - 9 at the same venue. Mostly for pianists; others welcome too. Sorry I haven't had one of these in so long; frankly I doubt I'll be able to have another real soon, either.

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The Tootie Heath/Iverson/Street trio is at the Chicago Jazz Fest this coming Sunday afternoon. 

Then: 

Wednesday, September 3, Jazz Standard NYC

Thursday, September 4, Ars Nova Workshop, Philadelphia

Saturday, Septever 6, An Die Musik, Baltimore

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Also, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman plays Detroit Jazz Fest Friday. Mark Stryker interviews Joshua Redman.

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The Bad Plus has a new album out, Inevitable Western, with artwork by David King. On Twitter, Mr. Daniel Pinkwaker just called it: "Transfusatory interbrainic non-objective vision-inducing." Which certainly is the best pull-quote about TBP I've ever seen.

Also on Twitter, David Wolff sent me this link, which I admit goes rather further than TBP Rite in certain ways...

08/26/2014

 

Summer Vacation

IMG_3770

I'm taking a month off from DTM and Twitter. Back around Labor Day.

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Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim with pianist Anthony De Mare will be coming out on ECM in fall 2015. This IndieGogo page is raising funds for the last recording sessions. My arrangement is of "Send In the Clowns."

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Good recent online reading includes:

Kevin Whitehead at his spirited best, "Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity Turns 50." Wondering Sound is a site I need to pay more attention to; at any rate I'm glad Kevin has a place where he can work so freely.

Jeremy Eichler muses about modernist mechanical music via George Antheil. (Kudos to Boston Globe for running such an interesting think piece.)

Nate Chinen on an important Jimmy Giuffre release. (Kudos to New York Times for running such an interesting think piece.)

In the Paris ReviewSam Stephenson profiles C.O. Simpkins, author of an essential text on John Coltrane. 

Sarah Deming's boxing coverage for Stiff Jab continues with "Open Letter to Gennady Golovkin."

In The Believer - not recent, but still just about my favorite essay ever - Paul La Farge suggests we "Destroy All Monsters." 

(I never played D&D; the closest I've ever really gotten to any kind of fantasy world was my youthful immersion into Doctor Who. While in no sense a firm fan of the reboot, I admit I will be looking out for Peter Capaldi's debut next month. Wish the music would get less Harry Potter, though.)

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Crime fiction critic: Three Graves Full Jamie Mason A terrific debut in the vein of Peter Abrahams. Perhaps A Simple Plan by Scott Smith is also an influence, but Mason is more pleasingly zany. Night Film (Marisha Pessl) Intoxicating metatextual postmordern noir; should have been 100 pages shorter. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Joël Dicker) A smash hit, but I found it obvious and unengaging. Twin Peaks without any surrealism: who cares? Very French. No Man's Nightingale (Ruth Rendell) Superb. She's still got it. You'd think with Rendell still being around some other popular UK crime writers would feel the heat and up their game more. The Inside Man Jeff Abbott Likeable trash in the post-Bourne techno/spy/secret world power genre. The endless amping up of action feels a little rote: Abbott's characters are good, he should let them be contained in a space where they can actually develop.  

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Amateur television critic: Sarah and I gulped down True Detective in just three sittings. It's hard to believe TV looks like this now. Just amazing cinematography and editing.

I mentioned Twin Peaks above. True Detective also brings Peaks to mind by use of the dead girl's diary. More tellingly, both shows lose their way immediately after the murderer is revealed. Apparently the show runners have to start desperately throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in an attempt to maintain tension. Fortunately for Detective, they only had one episode to flounder though, instead of half a season like Peaks.

After viewing, I went online to investigate further, where I quickly became bewildered: not just by all the ludicrous and fantastical hypotheses by cult fandom, but by what seemed to be almost the whole culture's relationship to the show. Just one example: In Slate's finale recap (spoilers!), David Haglund says:

The lowpoint of the finale, for me, was when Rust and Marty were looking at Marty’s laptop, going through ... tax records, I think it was? That did not strike me as the tightest bit of writing.

What? For me, putting the clues together was the best part of the finale. Indeed, that's my favorite thing about this show in general: cops using casework to chase down crimes. If you don't like clues, why are you watching a show called True Detective

The correct antidote to all this novice interpretation is Vince Keenan's superb overview of True Detective in the latest issue of Noir City. (How do you get Noir City? Sign up, donate, and a few hours later a download link is in your inbox. The whole issue is great.)

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Amateur movie critic: Sorry, but I thought Frozen was absolute dreck and one of the least feminist things I've ever seen. However, The LEGO Movie was a really nice surprise, a compelling mixture of many of my other favorites: The Matrix, The Princess Bride, Cabin in the Woods, and of course WALL-E

The song from LEGO Movie is a hit. But there's more to this current earworm than may be obvious on the surface. Looking for answers, I transcribed it.

Everything Is Awesome

Lotta fascinating details here. I missed out on some word painting ("stick together" - like LEGOs!) at first. The second voice harmonizes on the bridge with just one note, like a robot that can only speak an Eb.

The main event, though, is the unusual movement towards the end of the bridge and the change of key. Using the terminology of the film, this is very "weird" moment. (Word painting again: we are "working in harmony.")

The composers could have easily straightened this out and made it more of a chain restaurant: 

Everything Is Awesome (not weird)

The "weird" section is surely a nod to film's general theme of celebrating wacky individuality.

Unfortunately, I don't think the rest of the tune works so well. Hip-hop depends on swinging rhythm and precise texture, and that section in "Everything is Awesome!!!" shows once again how hard that genre is to appropriate. However, the goth rock Batman song "Untitled Self Portrait" is pretty great.

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A few days ago, Aline Rollin (webpage) did some lovely sketches of TBP performing in Souillac. Thanks Aline!

Bad-plus-batterieA

Bad-plus-contrebasseA

Bad-plus-pianoA

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Coming up: In August, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman swings back into action:

07 Rockport, MA -- Shalin Liu Performance Center 
08 Great Barrington, MA -- Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center 
09 East Hampton, NY -- Guild Hall 
29 Detroit, MI -- Detroit Jazz Festival

Josh has been really inspiring to work with. It seems like this grouping (the name, "The Bad Plus Joshua Redman," is official, BTW) will be active quite a bit starting next summer. I still can't get over how he showed up at the first gig a few years ago and played better than me on tunes I'd been working on for a decade.

In other TBP news: Our next record, Inevitable Western, comes out late August. All originals somewhat in the Never Stop and Made Possible tradition - or for that matter, the same tradition we've always been in. TBP music. To me, it seems like we just keep getting better.

The next new non-trio project is also rather exciting: The Bad Plus perform Ornette Coleman’s SCIENCE FICTION with Tim Berne, Ron Miles & Sam Newsome. As with On Sacred Ground, Duke Performances is the commissioner; thanks Aaron Greenwald! Much more about SciFi when DTM returns in September. 

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Thanks, George W. Harris, for the nice little review of Tootie Heath, Ben Street and me at the Blue Whale recently. It really means a lot to performers when gig is written about on the internet.

The Tootie trio plays the Chicago Jazz Festival on August 31, followed by a few East Coast hits: The Jazz Standard in NYC on Wednesday September 3, Ars Nova in Philly on Thursday 4, and An Die Musik in Baltimore on Saturday 6. We will also be making a follow-up recording to Tootie's Tempo that week. 

It's an honor to be associated with Tootie. I couldn't resist taking a candid of him driving me and Ben around in Alberquerque.

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At 79, Tootie has done and seen it all. There's absolutely no "Get off my lawn" about him, though. He's really open and nonjudgmental about young people.

Unlike me? Perhaps because I've been playing more standard tunes with Tootie these days, I've been having fun hitting some of the jam sessions after the gigs when touring European festivals...

Get off my lawn! Don't use a fucking iPhone to look up the changes to common-practice repertoire! Get off my lawn! A jam session needs to be interactive and non-digital! Get off my lawn! Learn the tune by ear in a chorus or two, that's the jazz tradition!  Get off my lawn! Using the iReal Book dumbs this music down!

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I'll be going to Henry Threadgill at the Village Vanguard this week, won't you? Also, I'm going to take a full posse to Pedrito Martinez Group at Celebrate Brooklyn! on Friday. The Tyshawn Sorey residency at the Stone looks compelling, and don't forget Billy Hart, Buster Williams, Billy Childs, and Dave Liebman up at Birdland.

What else is coming up? Harold Mabern and George Cables both have weeks at the Vanguard. (It's been way too long since I've seen the great Victor Lewis play, I'll be laying for him with George for sure.) I really dig Steve Nelson, he's having a birthday gig at Smalls on August 11. 

Speaking of birthdays, Pierre Boulez is going to be 90 soon. If you have a taste for unrepentant modernism in uncompromising doses, Taka Kigawa's traversal of the the complete Boulez piano music at LPR on August 24 is a must.

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While I'm home during the next few weeks I'm going to spin LPs. A recent discovery is Piano Music of Haydn by Wilhelm Backhaus. I can't say I know Haydn all that well, but these old-school and tremendously virtuosic performances are making me want to learn more. The humorous "Fantasia in C Major" is brand-new to me, I can't believe I haven't heard this major work before. I do know the familiar "F minor Variations" of course but few play it as well as Backhaus. He's occasionally too stiff for me in other repertoire but here his sternness offsets the strange phrases in an enchanting way. A London LP, maybe late 50's? Great record. 

Aquiring the Backhaus reminded me to pull out some other LPs of sublime beauty and similar vintage. Also on London, The Artistry of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli has an astonishing second side, Galuppi and Scarlatti sonatas with absolutely incandescent piano tone. And from the Monitor label, Sviatoslav Richter's epic renditions of Schumann's Humoreske and Franck's Prelude Chorale and Fugue remain the best I've yet heard. Piano the way it was meant to be played.

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07/29/2014

 

Sonny's Blues

I see from Twitter that today is Sonny Clark's birthday...

Sam Stephenson's pieces in the Paris Review have the most information on Clark extant (one, two). "One day a book," Sam says: Let's hope so.

By happy accident I transcribed some Sonny Clark yesterday on the plane. Dexter Gordon's Go is justly famous. Throughout the whole date, Clark, Butch Warren, and Billy Higgins set up a groove that just won't quit.

On "Second Balcony Jump," Clark plays some immortal rhythm changes.

Sonny C.

Sonny Clark on Second Balcony Jump

I took down only the first two choruses, a really marvelous mixture of blues and search. (The third chorus always seems like a mistake, like he has to keep going in order to perserve the exquisite take. I might be wrong, though.) 

It was probably only happenstance that James Baldwin called his famous short story "Sonny's Blues." The biographical details of the "Sonny" in Baldwin's tale don't match Clark's. Still, the short story and the real life story go together extremely well.   

(Update: Ahem. There is no fourth bar of rest! Also there's a wrong note in bar 59. Please blame my copyist.)

07/21/2014

 

For Charlie Haden

1) Liberation Chorus (brand new memorial thoughts from Charlie Haden's extended family of musicians)

The above is the important thing. But DTM pages can talk to each other, so:

2) Interview with Charlie Haden (2007)

3) This is Our Mystic (Haden with Ornette) (2010) (slightly re-edited last week, still one of the best things on DTM)

4) Hampton Hawes and the Low Blues (2013)

5) Silence (A little new personal history, and an anthology of other bits about Charlie on DTM)

07/16/2014

 

Processional

New DTM page: "The Triumph of Time," for Harrison Birtwistle's 80th birthday.

07/15/2014

 

Big Band Detective

New DTM guest page: Adventures in Big Band Musicology, by Jeff Sultanof. 

Jeff's essay is another response to various DTM commentaries on Duke Ellington, this time by a professional editor and publisher who has spent decades unearthing and preparing scores. Jeff works with Rob Duboff for Jazz Lines Publications.

07/11/2014

 

This Here

One final DTM reminder: Tootie Heath, Ben Street, and me start a short tour tomorrow:

July 9 Dazzle Jazz (Denver)

10 Dazzle Jazz (Denver)

11 Blue Whale (LA)

12 Blue Whale (LA)

13 Outpost Performance Space (Albuquerque)

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There are hundreds of albums featuring Tootie Heath. For a quick overview last year to accompany the JazzTimes cover story, Ben and I choose 10 of the best. It was a hard exercise: for example, we didn't even list Coltrane, John's first album as a leader. (The Nina Simone that did make the cut is her very first album, too.) And since compiling this list we keep hearing new stuff with T that is just amazing: Ben found J.J. Johnson's J. J. Inc.; I found the Riverside Reunion Band Plays (Mostly) Monk

Still, these ten really are awfully good:

Nina Simone Little Girl Blue Like Connie Kay, Tootie Heath took the influence of Kenny Clarke and spread it to other kinds of black music besides straight-ahead jazz. His brushwork here shows remarkable depth for a 23-yr old, and his naturally undulating pulse helped some of these tracks become Simone’s biggest hits.

The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery This wasn’t a working band, just a thrown together assemblage for a record date, but many consider this to be the greatest jazz guitar LP ever made. Brothers Percy and Tootie Heath provide an immaculate carpet. Ben Street comes directly out of Percy on “D-Natural Blues.”

Bobby Timmons In Person This marvelous trio with Ron Carter has tight arrangements and smooth rhythm. They are kind of like a funkier version of the classic Ahmad Jamal trio with Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier: Indeed, Tootie knew Fournier personally and credits him as an important influence.

Clifford Jordan Plays Leadbelly: These Are My Roots Tootie is heard giving his unique weight to a variety of folkloric beats, including an early appearance of his virtuosic tambourine. Jordan and Tootie both loved the old music and loved to experiment. They can change from being tricksters to intoning the deepest blues in a single phrase. 

Charles McPherson Bebop Revisited A great record that should be much better known, with Detroit turks McPherson and Barry Harris partnering with Tootie, newcomer Carmell Jones, and Bird bassist Nelson Boyd for playful yet deadly serious bop.

Kenny Dorham Trumpeta Toccata Dorham’s last album as a leader would be one of his best. Four long tracks with diverse feels give Tootie plenty to do. Tootie was almost the house drummer for Riverside, which may be why he isn’t on as many Blue Notes. At any rate, it’s nice to hear Rudy Van Gelder’s touch on the drums here.

Sonny Rollins In Denmark Vol. 1 A bootleg, yes, but what a bootleg: the longest, most ferocious “Four” ever recorded with Kenny Drew and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. Tootie kicks the Colossus along for over 40 minutes, neither giving the other any quarter.  

Herbie Hancock The Prisoner Tootie preceded Billy Hart in the Herbie’s first working band, a sextet. All three Hancock/Heath discs are great, but The Prisoner may be the best for some of Hancock’s most intricate writing, marvelous Tootie/Buster Williams interaction, and Joe Henderson solos that are simply outrageous.

Clifford Jordan Half Note A rough and tumble live date from 1974, when down-the-middle music like this was going out of fashion. With Cedar Walton and Sam Jones, Tootie shows he is in the elite of New York drummers like Billy Higgins and Louis Hayes. 

Albert Heath, The Offering. Tootie’s own albums include a few group efforts with peers, several with the Heath Brothers, and now Tootie’s Tempo. The neglected gem of the bunch is this ultra-rare solo album, a dedication to his late son Mtume Patrick Heath (named after the well-known percussionist, R & B producer, and family member James Mtume). In the liner notes, Scot Ngozi-Brown explains: “For Heath, Mtume's death is a source of meditative reflection on life's complexity and brevity. In concert with many African spiritual and philosophical systems, the physical shrine on the cover is filled with some of Mtume's cherished possessions and commemorative objects which invoke a memory of different aspects of his life. The music itself flows from Tootie Heath's deeply personal and integrated perspectives about life as a beautiful, brief and contradictory odyssey.”

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More about the current trio under Tootie's Tempo. We are working on new repertoire in anticipation for the next record; those that come out for the tour this week may hear John Lewis "Concorde," Bobby Timmons "This Here," and Denzil Best "Move."

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(photo by John Rogers)

07/08/2014

 

Forumesque 15

This Sunday, June 29, Sam Newsome and I play duo at the Greenwich House Music School as part of the Sound it Out series.

Sincere thanks to everybody who came out for the Billy Hart Quartet this past month. Great gigs!

Now the Tootie Heath-Ethan Iverson-Ben Street (Tootie's Tempo) trio does a little tour in July:

9 Dazzle Jazz (Denver)

10 Dazzle Jazz (Denver)

11 Blue Whale (LA)

12 Blue Whale (LA)

13 Outpost Performance Space (Albuquerque)

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Tomorrow, an all-star tribute to Stephanie Stone (DTM guest post: "Stones" by Kevin Whitehead) is at Roulette.

Speaking of guest posts: if you enjoyed Dan Schmidt's ranking of Bond songs, his wife ranked the movies themselves.

And speaking of blogs: Thanks to the Jazz Journalists Association for choosing DTM as blog of the year recently. Naturally, I immediately informed Sarah that she must address me as "lord blogger" (accompanied by a special curtsy) at least once each morning, noon, and night. 

In all seriousness, it's a nice honor, although it also seems like jazz blogs (and maybe personal blogs in general?) are in a bit of a slump these days. I've just ruthlessly updated the links page and trimmed away a good deal of dead wood. Many of those left post only infrequently... 

Probably bloggers lose heart if they feel like they work in a vacuum. One thing that could help is what A Blog Supreme used to do, a weekly round-up of interesting links. 

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While working on the update I was pleased to see some recent interesting activity by some who have been on the blogroll for a long time.

Ronan Guilfoyle interviews Keith Copeland (part two, part one)

Matt Smiley transcribes a whole album of Charlie Haden 

Nicholas Payton returns with more about BAM and jazz

Excellent Ted Panken article on Geri Allen

Peter Magarsak has links and commentary about the late Lee Hyla (a very important composer for many members of the Brooklyn jazz scene including Tim Berne, Josh Sinton, and Darcy James Argue)

Sam Newsome remembers Gilles Laheurte 

Peter Hum listens to me at the Ottawa jam session (honestly, I started "Move" a bit fast that night)

And, new to the blogroll:

Dfan Says (the Bond song enthusiast, but also look at the Threadgill)

John Schott (old buddy and influence, this post made me laugh)

Steve Wallace (digs James P.)

Übergreifen (I know Dan Voss from Twitter; his blog uses Schenkerian analysis for jazz. Kind of unbelievable, try the voiceleading on Trane's "Transition"

Atlas Cops and Kids is Sarah's blog about her gym. Amazing writing by her kids (one, two)

(Another side of my wife's diverse activities is told in her memoir about writing erotica, "Game Face.")

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Presumably everyone has already read "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The Narrative Bibliography is also fascinating. Coates sparred wonderfully with Stephen Colbert and his constant Twitter feed is amusing as well as enlightening. Mr. Coates is clearly the man of the hour.

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Forumesque 15 is an opportunity to weigh in on recent posts and anything else in the contents. Factual corrections are welcomed; general questions are fine too. I will close the comments in about a week.

A guest post by Jeff Sultanof is up next on DTM, after which I will take a summer break.

32 Comments | 06/26/2014

 

Friends and Neighbors

New(ish) recordings of note:

Eric Revis In Memory of Things Yet Seen Wow, a really fun listen! Great tunes and a beautifully mysterious line-up: Darius Jones, Bill McHenry, and Chad Taylor, with Branford Marsalis on two tracks. Frequently the reference is the kind of blistering avant-garde music from the 60's Leroi Jones dubbed "New Black Music." But I haven't enjoyed a record made in that style so much as this one in years. Truthfully the compositional element trumps freedom, and on some tracks the horns don't even improvise. Revis's provocative and groovy bass is recorded well; the production overall is excellent. Branford sounds great in this context. It's more standard turf for Darius and Bill, and when they intertwine both pay attention to building a statement, not just blowing their brains out. Chad Taylor is a relatively new name for me; I'm paying attention as of now.

Bill's group with Eric, Orrin Evans, and Andrew Cyrille is at the Village Vanguard starting tonight. Cut and pasted from the website:

June 24 - June 29
BILL McHENRY
Bill McHenry-sax, Andrew Cyrille-d,
With:
Orrin Evans-p, Eric Revis-b (Tuesday, Wednesday)
Duo: Bill McHenry & Andrew Cyrille (Thursday)
Ben Monder-gtr, Reid Anderson-b (Friday & Saturday)
David Bryant-p, Jonathan Michel-b (Sunday)

Johnathan Blake Gone, But Not Forgotten Another seriously entertaining date. Who doesn't want to hear Mark Turner and Chris Potter try to cut each other in a bare bones situation? Actually the superb repertoire choices ensure that the testosterone stays at a managable level: Johnathan has selected pieces by recently departed masters Charles Fambrough, Trudy Pitts, Sid Simmons, Cedar Walton, Jim Hall, Mulgrew Miller, Paul Motian, Frank Foster, Frank Wess and Eddie Harris. Nifty arrangements with a very full sound despite the absence of piano. In this case I have to fault the production a bit, for Ben Street's bass really should be louder. Very swinging drumming and nice notes by David Adler, though. The standout track for me so far is "Firm Roots," I'm tempted to transcribe both Mark and Chris burning through this famous steeplechase.

Hiroko Sasaki Debussy Preludes The most unusual thing about Hiroko's recording - which is technically and musically excellent by any standard - is the instrument, a 1873 Pleyel. The sonority is grainier and more intimate than usual, and makes these familiar works sound new. "Historically informed performance practice" is one of the most exciting areas of classical music, and naturally sonority is one of the most important elements in that voyage of discovery.

That said, if you don't know the Debussy Preludes, than this wonderful recording is still a good place to start. (That's not true of all historical instrument recordings I've heard.)

When Sarah Deming interviewed Hiroko a few years ago for Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, I especially enjoyed this exchange: 

Sarah: What does classical music have to teach us in the 21st century?

Hiroko: You tell me!  Actually, I think about this quite a bit.  Sometimes it feels so silly to me, everyone playing the same old repertoire that has already been played by millions of people.  It’s not like the old days, when recordings were not readily available, and people had to go to a concert to hear music, and the performers were closer, culturally, to the composers.  Or the really old days, when the performers were the composers.  Having said that, these are great works of art that have survived the test of time. We can always go back to them and be nourished.  I often notice that my impressions of a certain historical time and place are quite vivid, though they are informed almost entirely by music. Classical music takes people to different places in space and in time.

06/24/2014

 

Talking Harrison B

In the Talkhouse, I review Chamber Music by Harrison Birtwistle

Bonus tracks: Tom Service discusses Birtwistle in the Guardian. Two additional works I especially admire are The Triumph of Time for full orchestra and Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum for chamber orchestra. (A live performance of Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum by Alarm Will Sound in New York was one of my memorable concert experiences. )

For those sad that Ligeti only wrote a finite number of piano études, I highly recommend Harrison's Clocks. Both the Joanna MacGregor and Nicolas Hodges recordings are excellent.

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There’s a nice little Sinfini Music film about Sir Harry at home where you can see him find pitches on a keyboard and beat out polyrhythms.

06/20/2014

 

It Harrows Me With Fear and Wonder

What is American music? What is Black Music?

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Opus 1

Opus 2

Opus De Funk excerpt

This obviously isn't a proper obit: I'm still working on a more detailed Silver appreciation, perhaps for a future book.

From any angle you look at it, though, Horatio was one of the baddest. RIP

06/19/2014