of the Week #9
Art Ensemble Of Chicago
For The Warriors, 1974)
a fantastic experience it is, to listen to this album for no other reason than the
sheer pleasure of it (no anniversaries, and none of those "commercial
reasons" that usually go hand-in-hand with such anniversaries, those
reasons of commerce becoming more and more urgent as the number of potential
listeners dwindles with every passing year: tempus fugit).
is an album that is dear to me for many reasons. If I'm not mistaken, this is
the first "jazz" album proper that I bought. But the main reason is
that it's an album on which I've often measured my "growth" as a
listener, my understanding of serious musical topics concerning the actual
making of music, and the many facets that pertain to its creation.
album was recorded in 1973 and released in 1974. I bought a US
"import" copy in 1975. Though recent, the album was already sold as a
"cut-out", but whether due to it being already "out of
print", or an "overstock", I can't say. While not being terribly
important, I believe that this particular piece of news enriches the background
of this story.)
really pleased I can say that listening to Fanfare For The Warriors all over
again confirmed to me the high quality of the music featured on the album -
which evoked no particular sense of "nostalgia" in me - and its being
what I'd call an "archetype". So I feel totally at peace with myself
when I say I regard this album as "required listening" (especially,
but not exclusively) for those who don't know that much about "jazz".
Not because it offers "all jazz". But because the featured music is
quite varied, rich with different approaches to composing, quite skillfully
performed, and presented in perfect recorded sound. (In fact, this is exactly the
way the album was envisioned, as we'll see in a short while.)
but is it 'jazz'?"
could appear as a strange question, especially so when asked about this album.
But one has to consider there are many reasons this question could be asked,
and for different goals. Different criteria apply, especially according to the
identity and the specific role of the one who's asking, be them listeners,
critics, journalists, concert promoters, or those bureaucrats who have to sign
those checks for that Festival, and so on.
is no idle chatter. How many times, while listening to music, one has asked
oneself the question "... but is it rock?". Or "... but is it
music?" (in recent times, mostly about rap, hip-hop, and techno, I guess).
picture a "cross-examination" of three albums released in 1971,
taking place at the time of their original release: Sticky Fingers, by the Rolling
Stones; Master Of Reality, by Black Sabbath; and The Yes Album, by Yes. What
would fans of Black Sabbath say, if attending "by mistake" a concert
by Magma? Is it "music that never changes" really music? Should one
call "music" something whose existence is governed by a
"random" process that will make the same exact configuration appear
only after 254 years have passed? (Not sure about the exact number, but you get
the idea.) Should one call "music" something that one is not able to
listen to (meaning, existing at frequencies that human beings can't hear)?
the tag "Great Black Music" (with its corollary, "Ancient To The
Future"), the Art Ensemble Of Chicago miraculously avoided the word
"jazz". The intention obviously being that of highlighting the
plurality of styles placed under the same umbrella (better not to ask too many
questions about the umbrella, though), and of building a bridge between
different eras. The unintentional consequence was to put the group outside the
many wars that at the time one could only hope would cease, given time. And cease
they did, but for complex reasons that will be briefly discussed below, they erupted
were still pragmatic reasons to be solved. Where in the shop's bins one is
supposed to place "album x"? How should one define the music
appearing at Festival x? What to call the Govt.-backed grant given to a musician
a "rock" listener of much experience - at least, that's the way I saw
myself at the time - I considered "jazz" as being afflicted by two
serious curses, which I regarded as permanent: no timbral variety, and a high
degree of predictability. Now I obviously understand that as criticism goes,
this isn't much - I can only say that I had stopped wearing short pants not too
long before - but let's think for a minute about the line-up that for many listeners
is still synonymous with "jazz": trumpet, saxophone, and
"rhythm" (this was the wording, a long time ago), or "a jazz
trio", featuring the piano. What about the performances? Theme, solo,
solo, solo, solo, theme.
goes without saying that in the period 1969-71 "rock" music gave a
lot of space to saxophones, and there were albums released such as Uncle Meat by
Frank Zappa, and Fourth by Soft Machine (their first album I bought, Third being
a double, and so, "too expensive").
after listening a certain number of times to Fanfare For The Warriors, what were
my favourite tracks? Those penned by Roscoe Mitchell: Nonaah and Tnoona. Precisely
those tracks about which one could hear people saying "... but this is not
I have to warn listeners about a particular bias of mine: I immediately found
myself liking the music by Roscoe Mitchell a whole lot. While - though I
happened to buy about eighty of his albums in about fifteen years - I've always
considered the music by Anthony Braxton as "somewhat a bit alien",
"something to investigate" (maybe because it featured... too much
jazz?). While Mitchell's music always sounded "natural" to me, though
of course quite difficult.
left their music base, Chicago, after the release of the album titled Sound,
where Roscoe Mitchell & friends started exploring different ways to build
music, as an alternative to the "energy music" coming from New York which
at the time was the prevalent blueprint for making music outside the beaten
path, the Art Ensemble (of Chicago) emigrated to France, as soon did Anthony
Braxton and other musicians whose names are quite well-known today. The group's
decision to highlight the "ethnic-ritual" side of their music, their
wearing masks, paint, and costumes, their explicit endorsement of an
"African" cultural identity, all were of some importance for the
group's success in France, as the high number of albums recorded by the the
group at the time in that Country testify.
was only a few years after the fact that I understood that the bunch of LPs I
had seen in the largest record shop in my town, all designed to be part of a series,
were those released under the BYG-Actuel banner. And that the strange-looking
guy I immediately decided had to be a "nutcase" was Daevid Allen, the
album in question being Magick Brother. While looking at a picture I found
online I recognized one album by the Art Ensemble Of Chicago I had seen in that
shop at that time: Message To Our Folks.)
threw bricks and stones at Braxton & co. (Something similar had happened,
at another place and time, to Ornette Coleman: beaten, his saxophone being
badly damaged.) While the Art Ensemble Of Chicago became a symbol of what
"now music" was. Which had Anthony Braxton thinking very deeply about
I say here about Anthony Braxton can be checked on the fine book written by
Graham Lock titled Forces In Motion, which since the days of its original
publication I've read quite a few times, and which I read again in the last
couple of weeks.)
a "rock expert" who didn't know the first thing about jazz I tried in
vain to find a source that could work as a guide in my trying to understand
music that I found inscrutable, and for whose understanding I lacked any points
of entry. I noticed i liked Monk and Mingus, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, and not much
else. I wondered who Jimmy Giuffre and Andrew Hill were. While I didn't like
much Weather Report, Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea.
had me quite puzzled was the type of coverage given to jazz by the majority of
the press I read, which was - I have to say - quite "on the left" of
the political spectrum. The same being true of the many "free radio
stations" that appeared at the (the facto) end of Italian State monopoly of
all radio (and television) broadcasting. The music called "jazz" was
often understood according to a "dress code" (the Gato Barbieri
"disguise" was there for a reason); or, worse yet, as a projection of
one's "personality" (I happened to read that Roscoe Mitchell urgently
needed to take some medications).
we perfectly know, this is not a problem specific to jazz - I remember both
Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson hiding their deep knowledge of music, and the
"political" side of things being the main point of interest when
dealing with many artists, from Bob Marley to Patti Smith to (Tamil) M.I.A., who
was triumphantly presented on the pages of the Village Voice. It's an attitude
that makes it possible for many critics and journalists to hide their ignorance
and their lack of understanding, with "personalities" and "real
life tales" being discussed instead of music. Without batting an eyelid,
those who had written about Captain Beefheart and Can soon became "instant
experts" on Steve Lacy and his "thin bladder" (which was another
name for his main instrument, the soprano sax, and not a diagnosis of
worst ones were those pieces about Misha Mengelberg and a lot of (so-called)
"improvised music", be it Dutch or not. There were those who
presented Mengelberg's quite complex background as the source of a process that
could be compared to that of a child who, while awakening, starts improvising
by producing sounds. (Sounds, OK. But is it music?)
often told I should stop lamenting those old facts - "even your readers
must have enough by now!". But what one shouldn't forget is that a large
number of listeners, upon understanding they have been put on, but lacking
autonomous criteria of critical judgment, simply stop believing any source,
whatever the source. And so, they miss their chances to appreciate a lot of
music that could enrich their lives. While at the same time abdicating to their
(potential) role as an audience for those musicians whose music remains unheard
it's musicians themselves that do their best to make things muddier. I've
always found what written by Leo Smith (in the liner notes to an album by
Anthony Braxton, as quoted by Graham Lock on p.10 of his book) about Braxton's
titles, which for a long time were a source of heated discussion about
listeners, to be quite amusing:
titles are primary mystical, and any advanced student of mysticism or
metaphysical science can readily read the code and symbolism embedded in his
But what about the case of two "advanced students" proposing
different interpretations, are we supposed to call somebody who sits higher in
the "mystical hierarchy" to decide who's right and who's wrong?
a lot of good stuff featured on the albums recorded by the Art Ensemble Of
Chicago in their "French period". Should I limit myself to just one
title, I'd recommend People In Sorrow as required listening. Two sides that
require a fair amount of concentration, a work that's not really difficult but
that needs to be listened to when one finds oneself to be in the proper mood
(it's not the kind of album one listens to while checking one's mail).
leaving France, the group returned to the United States, where they made some
recordings. Sometime later, after a live concert that was presented on an album
- Bap-Tizum (1972) - Michael Cuscuna organized a three-day studio session. Every
day the group recorded those seven pieces that would appear on the album, in
the end choosing the best versions.
the original version from 1974 of Fanfare For The Warriors features liner notes
(and an excellent recorded sound, just like the album's first CD edition, which
in the booklet has the writing "Digitally remastered by Stephen Innocenzi
at Atlantic Studios"), the second digital edition (which was available
both as a CD and an LP in the Jazzlore series) features some quite informative
liner notes, written "after the fact" by Michael Cuscuna.
writes that on that specific occasion it was decided to feature those aspects
of the group that were best presented in the studio, in all their various
guises. It was also decided to add the colours and the high interpretative
values offered by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams: the outcome was excellent
(adding a piano to a pianoless group can be a very risky move). Fanfare For The
Warriors was destined to remain the group's last studio album til the day ECM
gave them a contract (Nice Guys, 1979).
track Illistrum offers the by-now typical percussive-poetical side of the
line-up, with a spoken-word text that uses the typical mnemonic methods of
knowledge transmitted orally. Multi-coloured percussion, great
"chiaroscuro" work by Abrams.
solo piano performance opens Barnyard Scuffel Shuffel, like an
"almost-Monk" reading, then the track explodes in an almost rock 'n'
roll vein, with lively saxophones and trumpet, and a "funky"-sounding
presents an angular theme, quite spiky (I've often thought that quite a few
themes penned by Mitchell, when slowed-down and after a process of light
"adaptation" could almost pass as having been written by Hugh
Hopper), then a piano solo quoting the theme, excellent backing by double bass
and drums (it took me a long time to notice this, the piano really steals one's
attention), then the saxophone, and close.
For The Warriors is a piece that - especially in its first part, where the
saxophones come to the fore - reminds me of the "energy music" to
which the group's music was an alternative. There's a very fine trumpet solo,
while the piano - this is something one is bound to notice after a few listening
sessions - kinda sounds like steel drums, with a fine timbral effect.
To Say is a light, joyous, moment, featuring both flute and piccolo,
percussion, piano, 4' that are gone in a flash.
is another piece penned by Mitchell. The trump "blows", like the
wind, coupled with long held phrases performed by the saxophones, alternating
between the high and the low register, something which is perfectly mirrored by
a piano ostinato, played percussively at both ends of the keyboard. Then, a
saxophone explosion, something resembling a march, that for me is the true
"Fanfare For The Warriors".
closing, the light, breezy, The Key, featuring vocals, ends the albums in a
more relaxed way than expected.
time ago, I happened to read a fine interview with Henry Threadgill by US pianist
Ethan Iverson (recorded for the BBC, the transcription is available on Iverson's
webzine, Do The Math). The name Gunther Schuller is mentioned, and Iverson notices
that for many jazz musicians, classical music is "off-limits".
I'm not jazz, though", says Threadgill. "That was a period."
the course of the conversation, Threadgill remembers an episode that I found
touching: having to write, at eighteen, a report about a concert of classical
music, he found the doors closing, and no way to enter the theatre. A man of a
certain age offered to guide him into the auditorium, which he appeared to know
quite well. While looking for a seat, Threadgill noticed that the man was
sitting at the piano: it was Arthur Rubinstein.
met Hindemith e Varèse" (...) "I listened to Berio, to many names in
contemporary music. I listened to all that music, live. Schoenberg" (...) "So
I listened to all that music while others practiced their 'fake books' and how
to play like Coltrane. They were not at those concerts."
jazz players used to hide their awareness of classical music, while Braxton was
crucified for mentioning Stockhausen and Cage instead of Africa.
discussed the problem (this is from p.92 of the Lock book): "Why is it so
natural for Evan Parker, say, to have an appreciation of Coltrane but for me to
have an appreciation of Stockhausen is somehow out of the natural order of
human experience? I see it as racist."
a parallel formulation of the problem argued by Braxton (on p.114 of the Lock
book), about "the reality of the sweating brow".
is interesting with this concept, however, is that 'the reality of the sweating
brow' is not so much dependent on the actual music but instead on 'how' the
actual 'doing' of the music looks."
in my opinion, in so differently from what argued by Braxton, this is a problem
that also pertains to white musicians. For a long time it was possible to read
articles and reviews where Robert Fripp was an object of ridicule due to his
playing on stage while sitting on a stool. For a long time the music "rich
with sweat, very physical", by punk and new wave groups, was regarded as
being "more authentic", when compared to the more
"static-looking" music by many "Prog" groups. And this is
not a point of view argued by critics alone, as the opinion of a great slice of
the listening audience proves.
won't discuss the phenomenon of the devaluation of the "mental"
sphere, compared to the "physical", that's been going on for a few
go back to "jazz". Like in any process of communication, problems
concerning definitions abound. Would we call "a horse" an animal
that's just like a horse, only as large as a medium-sized dog? Would we call
"a dog" an animal whose appearance is like that of any other dog,
only as large as a cow?
in those days when "jazz" was really "the popular music",
for dancing, it's plausible that most problems of definition were
"absorbed", so to speak, in the act of consuming. But while jazz
became more and more complex, and with the appearing of rock 'n 'roll, jazz
audiences dwindled; while at the end of the Sixties, with the birth of more
complex forms of rock music, jazz lost those listeners from the university
campuses that had kept it commercially alive. Jazz political act of
radicalization in the Sixties didn't help, either (meaning: when it came to the
number of listeners).
an "art form", the greatness of jazz remained fully intact - with
many newspapers reporting on it - even at the times of Free. But the fact that,
upon opening his eyes while playing, Charlie Haden saw Leonard Bernstein a few
inches away from his double bass, concentrated in listening to the music, did
not entail that, in a short while, New Yorkers would flock to listen to the
Ornette Coleman quartet.
a lot of critics have always refused to apply the "jazz" tag to all
the music that in their opinion was not "jazz" - remember the
"anti-jazz" tag used when talking about the music of John Coltrane
and Eric Dolphy - I think it could be said that in time a curious fact
happened: While in the past many musicians asked for their music to be
considered as "jazz" - a notion that in their opinion had to become
quite more "inclusive" - today many musicians ask for their music not
to be labeled as "jazz", since the definition has become an obstacle
in their search for grants given by "respectable" institutions, in
such amounts that only can finance a high-cost work such an Opera. In so,
mirroring the change in the way "difficult music" is founded today:
from "the market" to the "cultural sphere".
perfect example is the work of Anthony Davis, a pianist who in the 70s and 80s
was among my favourite musicians, whose work is not accessible to me on record
since the time he left... well, jazz, for opera. A career rich with
satisfaction, the most recent episode being the Pulitzer prize he won just last
son of a very respected Faculty member, Anthony Davis had very clear ideas at
the very ripe age of 32. I've recently read again the fine interview by Joe
Blum which appeared in the Issue Aug.'84 of US monthly magazine Keyboard. Here
it is: Tom Bailey and the Thompson Twins on the cover; appearing in a tiny
picture, Jeff Lorber.
he is well on the way to becoming established as a classical composer: 'Really,
I would rather not be referred to as a jazz musician. My feeling is that I'm
creating essentially American classical music. People have to realize that
American classical music comes from all kind of sources. It becomes a political
question at some point: You can draw on the Hebrew folk tradition, the way
Steve Reich does, and there's no question that his music is classical music,
but when you draw on our folk tradition, it's another thing'".
sure many musicians greeted with joy the article penned by Graham Bowley which
appeared on Jan. 15, 2021 in the New York Times:
Trump Tried To End Federal Arts Funding. Instead, It Grew.
Each year, President Trump's proposed federal budget eliminated funding for The
National Endowment for the Arts. But the agency survived, largely by relying on
bipartisan support in Congress.
who recently got a prize by the National Endowment for the Arts? Roscoe
Mitchell, as the 2020 NEA Jazz Master (I found online a video of the interview
by Jo Reed, and the interview transcription).
what a surprise to notice on the cover of Fanfare For The Warriors the
following writing, whose presence I had totally forgotten about: "The work
on the compositions in this album made possible through a grant from The
National Endowment For The Arts".
Beppe Colli 2021
CloudsandClocks.net | Jan. 28, 2021