Friday, November 30, 2012

Reflections on Young, Gone Pianists

Make a new sound on the earth
  Play skillfully with a loud noise…
Austin Peralta, 1990-2012

“The joint is mobbed – it’s Friday night,” the saxophonist remembers. “Funky club, great session, great players – but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to meet the piano player…All I noticed was a little guy, playing music I’d never heard before hunched over the piano with an inch thick pile of hand-written music on the bench beside him…The piano player turned around, slightly dazed – and I saw a kid.”

The saxophonist’s name is Leroy “Sam” Perkins, and he’s recalling the night at Boston’s Bowdoin Bar & Grill in 1945 when he first saw and heard a young 14-year-old prodigy named Richard Henryk Twardzik. Within a decade the kid would be dead of a heroin overdose in a Paris hotel—even before the release of his groundbreaking (and only) trio session on Richard Bock’s L.A.-based Pacific Jazz Records. Years later, fellow Boston pianist Marc Puricelli would tell writer James Gavin: “If he had lived, [Twardzik] probably would have changed the course of jazz piano.” No less than Charles “Yardbird” Parker and Chet Baker – both of whom he backed – considered him a genius.
On this rainier-than-usual final week of November, as the city’s music community is still reeling from the ripple effects of the death of 22-year-old L.A.-based pianist Austin Peralta, we returned to this brilliant, near-forgotten artist to find some sort of solace for losing someone so promising at such a damnably young age. The jazz world, of course, is full of such tales: Parker, Buddy Bolden, Bix Biederbecke, Scott LaFaro, Charlie Christian, Clifford Brown, Eric Dolphy. (If you want to get even more general about the vulnerabilities of young musicians, you might want to add in Jay Reatard, D. Boon, Richie ValensKurt Cobain or The Notorious B.I.G.)

Like Peralta, Twardzik was thin and tall with bony, delicate features and a perpetual baby face. (He reminded a fellow musician “of someone you’d see on the streets of Vienna in the twenties.”) Taking equal influence from Art Tatum and Art Rubenstein, Twardzik melded classical harmony (especially Bartok), blues and boogie-woogie with the complex, avant-gardisms of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, making him a forerunner of Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans—and Austin Peralta. “As Twardzik brought these elements into his combo work, he created a provocative hybrid, much more than mere imitation, but rather a fresh trail blazed in the annals of American music,” wrote West Coast jazz historian Ted Goia in a 2009 appreciation. “There are…hints of deranged Harlem stride, oddball walking chords, falling snowflakes of harmonic color alighting on the high register of the keyboard. Only a few jazz pianists of this period would have been able even to imitate this futuristic style back in 1953, let alone create it afresh.”
Richard Twardzik, 1931-1955
(w/ Chet Baker in background)
Peralta’s style was Twardzik brought past the Millennium. Like Twardzik, he was born to an artistically minded father (Z-boy skateboard legend/film director Stacy Peralta) and was classically trained from a young age, later falling under the tutelage of older lions like saxophonist/bandleader Buddy Collette and pianist/composer Alan Pasqua. He could play acoustic standards like “Green Dolphin Street” or “Someday My Prince Will Come” on a Yamaha mini-grand and then switch to a simultaneous, two-handed fusion attack on a Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3. Both pianists, when they performed, seemed to be driving themselves further and further into a trance. Like Twardzik, Peralta was musically omnivorous: electronica, swing, psychedelia, Indian music, groove, funk, hard bop and classical all mixed and fell into new forms under his long fingers. The title of his third solo album (Endless Planets) and its song titles all spoke to some sort of trippy, Siddhartha-like spiritual journey: “The Underwater Mountain Odyssey,” “Renaissance Bubbles,” “Capricornus,” “The Lotus Flower.” You listened to it, and you couldn’t wait to see where it would go next.
Along with such contemporary keyboard iconoclasts as Robert Glasper, Matthew Shipp and Vijay Iyer, Peralta reintroduced a bit of verve and fire to what is still called “Jazz Music” but years ago stopped resembling such a monolithic reduction. Like Shipp, Peralta was certainly not afraid of criticizing the genre’s self-inflicted pretensions. “Jazz can be so stuffy and the audiences can be so pompous that…it needs that kind of energy,” he told L.A. Record in 2011. “It needs to make people feel like they’re having a deathgasm. And it can be through jazz—why not? Who’s to say that punk rock is more hardcore than jazz? It’s not true.” Dig it: he even formed a group called Deathgasm.

Peralta was also a part of the stable of talent for jazz-inflected rapper/producer Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder Records, an extremely exciting and vital musical milieu that – along with Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar of South L.A.’s OFWGKTA collective – has put Los Angeles back on the vanguard musical map. Unfortunately, Peralta is now the scene’s first tragedy – and still a bit of an enigma, as the cause of death has yet to be determined. “[Brainfeeder] was one avenue in which Peralta connected to a greater musical community, one beyond ‘jazz,’” wrote Patrick Jarenwattananon on NPR’s A Blog Supreme. “Of course, it seems likely he would have gotten there anyway.”
Dick Twardzik died on October 21, 1955, thirty-five years and four days before Austin Peralta was born. A thin bronze tombstone in a cemetery near West Newberry, Massachusetts marks Twardzik’s final resting place. It is emblazoned with the words of the 33rd Psalm: ‘MAKE A NEW SOUND ON THE EARTH, PLAY SKILLFULLY WITH A LOUD NOISE."
Amen to that.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Harry Partch Explains It All For You

The following is a lecture delivered by composer Harry Partch at UCLA (May 1966):

There has been, at least ever since Aristotle, a certain strong tendency in the West towards explanation -- a kind of syndrome. The first and initial step is fairly innocent -- to consider a verbal explanation of a creative art as necessary to the understanding of the art. The second step is less innocent. In this second step the explanation of the art becomes a substitute for the art. But the third step is really something. It is a sort of apotheosis. Where the explanation actually becomes the art.

Words are not only surrogates for action but are just as good as action, and whole shelves of libraries are eloquent testimony to this tendency. Here is an example. We have preserved and preserved Aristotle and Plato, who explained everything in the then known world, including scales and modes. We have preserved Aristoxenus and Euclid, who also explained scales and modes. But the enharmonic, one of the most beautiful modes invented by man, was lost as an art and as an act long ago. Anyone who knows ancient literature knows the explanation of the enharmonic; Yet, I seriously doubt whether anyone who knows all the explanations of the enharmonic has ever thought to consider it not as an explanation but as an act.

I have noticed that most interviews for radio, TV, magazines and newspapers are far else interested in hearing my music or seeing a show of mine than they are in hearing me explain in words why I have created this music. How does someone explain his reason for existence? If I could come up with a version of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" in unusual timbres, produced, for example, by using beer cans, the interest in my music might suddenly become enlivened. This was actually suggested to me in a phone call from New York by a TV producer. I did not, I hasten to emphasize, include all interviewers in these observations.

There are areas of human endeavor where words are inadequate (the enharmonic is a conspicuous example). where they should be considered as vehicles of illumination, and where they might actually become inhibitory to insight, as they did in the case of the enharmonic. And if I seem to be suggesting something that might tend to undermine the whole university system of education, well I'm not really that radical. it has been said, in public print, that if my ideas were to become dominant in music schools it would be the end of music as we know it. May I say, first, that the danger is singularly slight. However, beyond this is the implication that music must be monolithic, that whatever is decided by the majority or the most powerful must be adhered to by everyone. This idea is totally outside the thrust of western civilization, which has prided itself for over two thousand years, off and on, in the concept of allowing strong individualism without alienation. Monoliths are just dandy -- in stone. They do not belong in the world of ideas. To be sure, they have their advantages: because of the present musical monolith it is possible for twenty or thirty musicians to get together in a recording studio and to create, practically on sight, a sound track for a film or TV series. This is fine. Let the commercial people have their monolith. But in schools of higher education, It is an obstacle to higher creative thinking, and I prophecy that it will not be tolerated forever.

Underlying the various musical systems and philosophies in our libraries is a common, basic assumption: 12 tones, equal temperament -- the piano scale. But when we force acoustic intervals into an octave, or x octaves, we falsify every interval involved, we effectively close all doors to any further adventures of consonance and also, amazingly, we close all doors to any meaningful adventures in dissonance.

A great deal has been said about quarter tones, about cutting each semi-tone exactly in half and creating twenty-four tones to the octave. This would not give us acoustic intervals; on the contrary, as far as I can see, it would simply provide material for a twenty-four tone row.

It is not necessary to assume anti-music or non-music attitudes. It is not necessary to resort to noise or non-rhythmic music, or even excessive dissonance to achieve dynamism in creative art. We have done no more than scratch the surface of possible harmonic music.

One way in which musicians have endeavored to break out of the monolith is by so-called "improvisation." There are some exceptions to what I am saying, but, generally, the improvisers use the same instruments that were developed by this monolithic culture -- the same harps, celestes, pianos, vibraphones, woodwinds; they even use the same chord progressions we have been hearing for 100 years! The only difference is that now these things are "improvised."

In this matter of breaking down the barriers to individualistic freedom in music, I suggest that the answer is not in improvisation, not in light-hearted chance, but in the contribution of several lifetimes of lonely dedication.

I use the word "ritual," and I also use the word "corporeal," to describe music that is neither on the concert stage nor relegated to a pit. In ritual, the musicians are seen; there meaningful movements were part of the act, and collaboration is automatic with everything else that goes on. How could it be otherwise? The various specialists do not come from sealed spheres of purity -- pure art, pure music, pure theater, pure dance, pure film. As far as large involvements of music in this modern world are concerned, we have really only two choices: we have the pit, or we have the excessive formality of the concert stage.

On the theater stage, with Bertolt Brecht, and occasionally with others, there is something like a ritualistic approach -- a corporeal approach to music as an integrated part of theater. But the degradation of either the actual pit or the mental pit is the fate of nearly all other music. If this ritual or corporeal approach accomplishes nothing else, it frees the beautiful rhythmic movements of musicians from the inhibitory incubus of tight coat and tight shoes.

Reprinted from source: Music of the Avant-Garde, 1966-1973 by Larry Austin & Douglas Kahn (University of California Press: 2011)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Gary Clark, Jr. Live at Berkeley Street Studios

[all photos courtesy of Jeremiah Garcia]
We always love a private show. We get to feel all special and included—and this happens so rarely. Especially when it’s located in a swaggy Westside recording studio owned by legendary rock & roll mixer Bob Clearmountain (The Rolling Stones, Roxy Music) and his wife, Apogee Electronics CEO Betty Bennett. If this wasn’t enough, the place was stocked with a classic Wurlitzer jukebox (Richie Valens, The Dell-Vikings, Dion) and more bottled water than an Electric Daisy Carnival and hung with Gothic, Joel Peter-Witkin-esque prints by legendary Hollywood makeup artist Rick Baker and featuring not one but two free beer/wine bars. It may not be the era of the lavish ‘70s junket, but it sure soothed the savage Beast.

That is, until the Texas guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. and his quartet took the small stage just after 8pm and the "soothe" was replaced by "savage" for a primal, soulful, earsplitting two-hour-concert of KCRW's Berkeley Street Sessions. A protege of Fabulous Thunderbirds axe-man Jimmy Vaughn and Clifford Antone of Austin's legendary Antone’s club, Clark has been releasing albums on his own Hotwire Unlimited label since 2004 but first poked his head above ground with the release of his Bright Lights EP on Warner Brothers in 2011. His new CD Blak & Blu has only upped the critical “savior of the blues” genuflecting that hasn’t been heard of (at least in the mainstream) since Robert Cray in the mid-1980s. To whit: Blak & Blu sold around 35,000 copies its first week out and eventually landed at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 40 Album Charts. Clark has dueted in concert with Alicia Keys (her request) and joined B.B. King, Mick Jagger and Buddy Guy in a performance at The White House (Barry’s request). To paraphrase Junot Diaz, Brother is blowing UP.

Part of it has to do with the stagnating cul-de-sac in which The Blues has found itself in (set in stone by tourist traps like Memphis’ Beale Street and Chicago’s North Lincoln Avenue). Another might have something to do with the fact that a young black artist who grew up on Hip-Hop and Michael Jackson might draw back musicians and fans who felt The Blues was the lingering language of slavery and represented a powerless acceptance to one’s fate. (Given this perspective, who wouldn't find solace in Public Enemy or Ice Cube?) What Clark has done in his embryonic career is join that schism together by not really playing The Blues at all, but making it just part of his seamless mix. And he does like to wear a knit cap onstage...

During a sitdown interview conducted onstage by KCRW DJ Anne Litt, Clark, Jr. revealed in a soft, contemplative voice the mix of his influences that have made people like Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton perk their ears up at his arrival: Al Green, Prince, Snoop Dogg2PAC Shakur, even Tito Jackson (!!), whose “fuzztone solo” on the Jackson 5’s cover of Isaac Hayes “Walk on By” he noted was one of the most influential guitar tracks of his musical upbringing. Growing up in the musical melting pot of Austin didn’t hurt either. “Diversity is here I come from,” he said of the early years honing his craft on Austin’s 6th Street. “Reggae, Jazz, Blues, Country – I just soaked it up.” His openness to seemingly opposing genres may have gelled when he “indulged in turntables and a couple of cheap drum machines while I was learning to play guitar.”

This was evident later on Clark’s gene-splicing of fellow Texan Albert Collins’ “If You Love Me Like You Say” with Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun,” where he used his guitar to mimic a “scratching” turntablist over a smouldering slow-funk workout. But his powers didn’t end there. Clark offered up clean Chuck Berry riffs on the rockabilly-flavored “Ain’t Messin’ Round” and Johnny Cash’s driving chika-chika sound on “Don’t Owe You A Thang.” He then switched to nasty, molten-magma splats of heavy reverb for the thunderous “When My Train Pulls In” that sounded more like Black Sabbath or Cream than Albert Collins or Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. The extraordinary “Travis County” veered more towards power pop. “Things Are Changin’” began with a dewy, autumnal prologue seemingly taken from a nature film, before chugging into some E-Z soul worthy of Al Green or The Chi-Lites, with Clark demonstrating his surprisingly soulful vocals. This wasn’t a mimic at work; this was a lab scientist.

Oh, and there was a raffle, too.

[Check out more photos from the concert here.]

Friday, November 2, 2012

Oh the Music You'll See... [**UPDATED]

Lots of jazz club news this month. First off, The Jazz Bakery's new monthly newsletter The Bridge debuted, and with it the news that Wynton Marsalis has signed on as a project advisor. (That’s good, right?) The Jazz at Lincoln Center poo-bah is the latest B-I-G name to be attached to the multi-million dollar new space that the Bakery has snagged next to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. Starting in January, there also will be a new fundraising push to coincide with the Bakery's 13th anniversary and as Bakery maven Ruth Price told the Beast in a recent interview, the push will be sparked by the much-anticipated unveiling of Frank Gehry's design for the new club.

Also, if you fondly remember Venice's The Red Garter fondly as a claustraphobic, gone-to-seed dive boit (and the Beast does) you might not want to head down there this Thursday night. Apparently, the place has been hipster-flipped into the new JAZZ space (!!!) dubbed The RG Club. Kicking things off the with a rather unprecendented (for L.A.) seven-week run of a powerful quartet of LoCal luminaries: saxophonist Azar Lawrence, pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Henry "The Skipper" Franklin and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. Whoever is behind this is throwing out a lot of L-O-V-E that we havent't seen in this city in years -- I mean, when the last time you saw a 25-ft. advertisement on Lincoln Boulevard for a jazz show? "I haven’t had a steady three night a week jazz gig with the same group of musicians for many, many years," Theo Saunders marveled in an email to the Beast. "Over the course of two months, I think we’ll have the opportunity to develop something really special. We hope that you will be a part of this. It’s important for us to have people who really know how to listen! Live jazz is a reciprocal art form. The circle of energy and love cannot be whole without you!"

In less happy news (of which maybe the new owners of the Red Garter should probably take note), Little Tokyo's Blue Whale club got served an ultimatum by the city: "Unfortunately, due to a recent inquiry with the Alcoholic Beverage Control of L.A. County, we can NO LONGER ALLOW MINORS inside. ..This is without exception and regardless of the accompaniment of a parent or guardian. We thank all the amazing young fans of Jazz who have helped build the blue whale and we welcome them back when they are of legal age."

Nov. 2-4: Kenny Burrell Quintet @ Catalina's....Nov 2: Eric & Mary Ross: Ultimedia Theremin @ REDCAT....Benefit for Dayna Stephens @ The Blue Whale....Nov. 3: Carl Saunders Quartet @ Vibrato....Wild Up presents Tending Towards Tranquility: John Cage's Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano @ Hammer Museum....The Jazz Bakery presents Jane Bunnett, Hilario Duran & Candido @ The Musicians Institute....Nov. 4: Dan Clucas Quintet & Alexander Vogel (solo sax) @ Open Gate Theatre....Onaje Murray @ Hal's....Plas Johnson, Nolan Shaheed & Bruce Forman @ Nic's....Nov. 5: Alexei Lubimov @ Zipper Hall....Nov. 6: Chris Speed, Jeff Parker, Devin Hoff & Matt Mayhall @ The Blue Whale....The Makers @ Seven Grand....Nov. 7: Jon Bremen, Ariel Alexander, Vardan Ovsepian, Tim Lefebre & Louis Cole @ The Blue Whale....Nov. 8-10: Azar Lawrence, Theo Saunders, Henry Franklin & Alphonse Mouzon at The Red Garter Club (new jazz club!)....Cat Power @ The Hollywood Palladium....Shlomo @ Curve Line Space....Lydia Lunch presents Retro Virus, Richie White Orchestra & Phantom Family Halo @ FIDM Museum....Nov. 9: Machine-Man: The Musical Mayhem of Raymond Scott @ REDCAT....Putter Smith @ LACMA....The Jazz Bakery presents The Clayton Brothers Quintet @ The Musicians Institute....Terry Trotter, Chuck Berghoffer & Peter Erskine @ Vitello's....Nov. 10: Spain @ The Echo....Billy Childs, Bob Sheppard, Jimmy Johnson & Joe Heredia @ Vitello's....The Sea and Cake @ Bootleg Theater....SCREAM Finale featuring Wadada Leo Smith....Nov. 11: Rickey Woodard Quartet @ Mt. Olive Lutheran Church....Nov. 12: Tin/Bag @ The Blue Whale....Nov. 14: Angel City Arts presents Lisa Mezzacappa & Fay Victor Trio featuring Nicole Mitchell @ The Blue Whale...Kim Fowley at the Hyperion Tavern....Nov. 15: Angel City Arts presents Harris Eisenstadt Golden State @ The Blue Whale....Yacht Rock Revue @ The Satellite....SASSAS presents Liquid Land screening @ Eagle Rock Center for the Arts....Nov. 16: Bob Sheppard Group @ The Blue Whale....John Weise w/ Ace Farren Ford & Provisional Riviera @ Hyperion Tavern...Cold Specks @ The Getty....Nov. 16-17: Brian Auger's Oblivion Express @ The Baked Potato....Nov. 17: Bob Sheppard @ Vibrato....Nov. 18: The Jazz Bakery presents The Proverb Trio @ The Musicians Institute....Nov. 20: OHM @ The Baked Potato....Nov. 21: Roy McCurdy Quartet @ The Lighthouse Cafe....Nov. 23: Morris Tepper @ TAIX....Chuck Manning Quartet @ Vibrato....Nov 24: Ahmad Jamal Quartet @ Segerstrom Concert Hall....Ulrich Krieger Brass Trio @ Beyond Baroque....Zane Musa @ The Seabird....Brian Auger @ Alva's Showroom....Nov. 27: Theo Saunders and Intergeneration @ The Charleston....Nov. 28: Plotz! @ La Cita....Nov. 29-30: Kneebody @ The Blue Whale....Nov. 29: Marcus Shelby Quintet @ Skirball Cultural Center