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Irene Schweizer / Joey Baron : Live! (Intakt)

Two generations and two masters of monumental free improvisation from Europe and New York joined together at the unerhort!-Festival Rote Fabrik Zurich in 2015 to unleash this technically awesome and ebullient and duo in a fantastic concert of dynamic power, lyrical insight, intense rhythmic support and counterpoint, and profound musical ideas; incredible! ... Click to View


Die Enttauschung (Axel Dorner / Michael Griener / Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder): Lavaman (Intakt)

The remarkable European Free Jazz quintet Die Enttauschung, crossing bop forms with modern creative approaches to jazz for over 20 years, take a new drummer--Michael Griener--and adds trombonist Christof Thewes, to join Rudi Mahall on clarinets, Axel Dorner on trumpet, and Jan Roder on bass, for an exciting and upbeat album of succint tunes that both revere and abuse jazz history in wonderful ways. ... Click to View


Trio Heinz Herbert (w/ Dominic Landolt / Ramon Landolt / Mario Haenni): The Willisau Concert (Live) (Intakt)

Textural improv of improbable grooves and tones driven by intense periods of interaction balanced with spatial sonic environments; adventurous and exuberant dialog caught live at the Jazzfestival Willisau, in Switzerland, 2016 from the trio of Dominic Landolt on guitar, Ramon Landolt on Hammond organ, synthesizer & samples and Mario Haenni on drums. ... Click to View


Aruan Ortiz : Cub(an)ism (Intakt)

Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz explores a range of musical idioms and styles, drawing on experiences from many phases of Ortiz' life in Cuba, Spain, France and the US, exploring cubist principles, faceting, and multiple perspectives with folkloric elements, as he presents 10 original compositions of passionate and playful music, performed with virtuosic skill. ... Click to View


Aki Takase / Paul Ayumi : Hotel Zauberberg (Intakt)

Pianist Aki Takase and voilinist Ayumi Paul's 1st collaboration is an 18 movement suite for violin and piano blending composition and improvisation, with 11 movements from Takase and 5 written with Paul, plus Mozart's "K. 1 minuet in G major" and the Preludio movement from Bach's solo violin partita in E major; an absorbing set of recordings inspired by the writings of Thomas Mann. ... Click to View


Hans Hassler: Wie Die Zeit Hinter Mir Her (Intakt)

Swiss accordionist Hans Hassler stands above the (small) crowd of improvising accordionist in the breadth of his career, his ability to balance both lyrical, abstract, serious, and humorous aspects in his approach the instrument, a true original in intent and ability to engage his listeners, in 15 original and diverse compositions recorded in 2017. ... Click to View


Pan-Scan Ensemble: Air And Light And Time And Space (PNL)

"Pan-Scan" refers to pan-Scandinavian, and the nine players on this thrilling and joyful recordings are all of that origin, performing live at Blow Out in Mir, Oslo, Norway in 2016, including both Lotte Anker and Ann HOgberg on sax, Thomas Johansson, Emil Stranberg and Goran Kajfes on trumpet, Sten Sandell on piano, and Paal Nilssen-Love and Stale Liavik on drums. ... Click to View


Xavier Charles / Michel F Cote / Franz Hautzinger / Philippe Lauzier / Eric Normand: Torche! (Tour de Bras)

An exceptional free improvising quintet of Montreal & Quebec improvisers--bassist Eric Normand, drummer Michel F. Cote, and bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier--with French clarinetist Xavier Charles and German trumpeter Franz Hautzinger, performing live during the 2016 Festival de Musique de Creation, creating fascinating commontion with incredible restraint. ... Click to View


Fraufraulein: Heavy Objects [CASSETTE] (Marginal Frequency)

The duo of Brooklyn electronics, field recording, bass guitar and french horn artists Billy Gomberg and Anne Guthrie, using musical and abstract sounds to create something between the concrete textures of field recording and spontaneous composition, presenting restrained yet detailed sound that engages the listener through transition and mystery. ... Click to View


Joda Clement / Mathieu Ruhlmann: Kindred (Marginal Frequency)

A unique cover of Brian Eno's "Taking Tiger Mountain" using synthesizer, field recordings, electromagnetic feedback, treatments, objects, oscillators, shruti box, reel to reel, ukelin, guitar, piano, clarinet, cello and voice, from Joda Clement and Mathieu Ruhlmann joined by Cristian Alvear, Gregory Moskos, Alexandra Spence, Tim Clement, Judith Hamann and A.F. Jones. ... Click to View


Mars Williams presents (w/ Berman / Lonberg-Holdm / Baker / Kessler / Sandstrom / Hunt): An Ayler Xmas: The Music of Albert Ayler & Songs of Christmas (Soul What Records)

Chicago saxophonist Mars Williams directs his Albert Ayler tribute band, Witches and Devils, to merge Ayler-esque compositions with Christmas songs, performed by Josh Berman (cornet) Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Jim Baker (keys, viola), Kent Kessler (bass), Brian Sandstrom (bass, guitar, trumpet); an unexpected and welcome present for your free jazz festivities! ... Click to View


Boneshaker (Mars Williams / Paal Nilssen-Love / Kent Kessler): Unusual Words (Soul What Records)

A CD intended to sell at concerts from Mars Williams' own Soul What Records label, a studio recording in 2012 from the powerhouse trio of Chicago multi-reedist Mars Williams, in-demand Norwegian drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, and Chicago bassist Kent Kessler, running the gamut from furious blowing to introspective interaction. ... Click to View


Elliott Sharp / Mary Halvorson / Marc Ribot: ERR Guitar (Intakt)

Elliott Sharp's New York Studio zOaR was the meeting place for three New York guitarists--Sharp himself, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot--who find common ground by blending a variety of approaches to the instrument in 12 excellent and generally succinct collective improvisations, stretching, bending, plucking and inexplicably effecting their guitars. ... Click to View


John Cage: Klang der Wandlungen [3 CDs] (Edition Rz)

An impressive triple-CD box with recordings of some late works by John Cage, including "Seventy-Four for Orchestra, 1992", "103 for Orchestra, 1991, part 1 & 2", In a Landscape fur Harfe", "Postcard From Heaven fur Eine Bis Zwanzig Harfen", and some of "The Harmony of Maine"; including a 32 page booklet with photos and liner notes by Jakob Ullmann. ... Click to View


Jurg Frey: L'ame Est Sans Retenue I [5 CDs] (erstwhile)

A massive work from composer Jurg Frey focused on the dynamic relationship between sound and silence, and how it can affect our perception of the silence in a frame of space and time, using environmental sounds of field recordings and silence to create a massive work over six hours, modifying pitch, rhythm, dynamics, texture, and overtone, here properly released on 5 CDs. ... Click to View


Michael Pisaro / Samuel Dunscombe / Steven Andrew Flato / Wen Liu / Celeste Oram / Johannes Regnier: Organ For The Senses (Marginal Frequency)

San Diego's Parkeology director Kate Clark and composer Samuel Dunscombe organized this concert to take advantage of the Balboa Park's Spreckels Organ, inviting local and regional experimental composers to develop works for the 5,017 pipe instrument, attracting artists like Michael Pisaro, Samuel Dunscombe, Steven Andrew Flato, Wen Liu, &c. ... Click to View


Jon Irabagon / Joe Fiedler / Todd Neufeld: In Formation Network (Nuscope)

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trombonist Joe Fiedler, and guitarist Todd Neufeld met in April, 2017 in Mount Vernon at the Oktaven Audio studio to record these nine varied compositions, presenting a unifying trio sound and identity that reflects Chicago's Giuffre trio, but with a unique collective attitude as the trio employs a varied set of compositional strategies. ... Click to View


Joe McPhee: The Willisau Concert (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

Recorded in 1975 at the Swiss Willisau Jazz Festival, Joe McPhee's trio with John Synder on synth and Makaya Ntshoko on drums, and McPhee on tenor and sopranox sax, was Hat Hut's 2nd release and has been out of print since; Corbett vs. Dempsey asked McPhee what unavailable album he'd like to see in print, and this suberb album was his first choice. ... Click to View


Eugene Chadbourne : The Lost Eddie Chatterbox Session [2017 REISSUE] (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

Reissuing free improvising guitarist Eugene Chadbourne's 1977, San Francisco recording of compositions by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, plus a few standards and originals, captured on an ailing quarter-track tape deck, but saved for the force of his playing, here restored, corrected, and remastered. ... Click to View


Sun Ra: Discipline 27-II [2017 REMASTER] (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

The 2nd volume in Sun Ra's "Discipline" series was recorded during the same sessions as 1972's Impulse release "Space Is the Place", with Sun Ra on electronic keyboards and Moog, and a large band including Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Danny Davis, Akh Tal Ebah, June Tyson, &c. ... Click to View


Leap of Faith Orchestra: The Expanding Universe (Evil Clown)

The Leap of Faith Orchestra is a large improvisation ensemble comprised of 5 ub-units--Leap of Faith, Metal Chaos Ensemble, String Theory, Turbulence, and the New Language Collaborative--all assembled here for a massive and far-ranging experience, scored with time indices and English language descriptions by leader David Peck; dense and spectacular. ... Click to View


Lisbon String Trio with Luiz Rocha: Akuanduba (Creative Sources)

The 4th collaboration for Portugal's Lisbon String Trio of Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, Miguel Mira on cello, and Alvaro Rosso on double bass, with Brazilian clarinetist based in Barcelona Luiz Rocha, all captured live at Casa dos Bicos, Fundacao Jose Saramago, in Lisbon in 2017 for free improvisation that maintains a calm center amidst seething and commanding playing. ... Click to View


Lisbon String Trio with Etienne Brunet: Telepathie (Creative Sources)

Portugal's Lisbon String Trio with Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, Miguel Mira on cello, and Alvaro Rosso on double bass, in a series of releases adding one additional improviser, here joined by Etienne Brunet on soprano saxophone, for two extended improvisations of active counterpoint and beautiful open sections, an excellent and rousing collaboration. ... Click to View


Un Coup de Des (Barriere / Sainz): Volcan Evaporado (Creative Sources)

Two women in a duo of voice and amplified objects, Lali Barrier using a variety of devices that are clearly micro-amplifed and mixed in performance, as Marta Sainz intones vocal sounds, never speaking but creating innuendo and drama at a cautious pace, allowing Barrier's objects to interact, creating an unusual sonic environment of unpredictable and interesting discourse. ... Click to View


Steve Roden : Between Yellow And White On One Side. Between Blue And Black On The Other (Banned Productions)

Part of a trilogy of cassette-related works that began with a piece sound artist Steve Roden created for an online exhibition for ICA London in early 2012, these two works were composed from 1983-84 recordings Roden made in his bedroom, recorded at double speed and here playing at half speed, half in reverse, which were organized into these two compositions. ... Click to View


Kullhammar, Aalberg Zetterber & Santos Silva: Basement Sessions Vol.4 (The Bali Tapes) (Clean Feed)

The 4th volumes of this remarkable set of "basement sessions" from the Swedish trio of Espen Aalberg on drums & percussion, Jonas Kullhammar on saxophone & flute, and Torbjorn Zetterberg on bass, joined by Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, for a beautiful album of free hard bop, encompassing spiritual and ritual aspects of gamelan music in a unique and wonderful album. ... Click to View


Imaginary Numbers (McPhee / Niggenkemper / Solberg): Imaginary Numbers (Clean Feed)

Playing both pocket trumpet and tenor sax, Joe McPhee joins German/French/NY bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and Norwegian drummer Stale Liavik Solberg, for an authoritative and bold album of collective free improv, three extended conversations that center on "A Supreme Love (For John Coltrane)", pointing to the history and sympathies of these impressive musicians. ... Click to View


Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity : Live in Europe [3 CDs] (Clean Feed)

Three complete 2016 concerts at North Sea Jazz Festival, Ljubljana Jazz Festival and Oslo Jazz Festiva, and 3 CDs to present them, from drummer Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity, a superb free/post-bop group with a core of Nilssen, bassist Petter Eldh, and saxophonist Andre Roligheten, featuring 3 saxophonists: Fredrik Ljungkvis, Kristoffer Berre Alberts, and Jorgen Mathisen. ... Click to View


Tree Ear (Strinning / Troller / Hemingway): Witches Butter (Clean Feed)

After percussionist and composer Gerry Hemingway migrated to Luzern, Switzerland he joined forces with the creative improvising community in that city, in particular with guitarist Manuel Troller and saxophonist and bass clarinetist Sebastian Strinning, the trio taking the name Tree Ear, blending free and idiomatic improv in bold, uncommon and spellbinding ways. ... Click to View


Eve Risser / Kaja Draksler: To Pianos (Clean Feed)

Two pianists dedicate to their instruments at the Gallus Hall of Cankarjev Dom during the 57th Jazz Festival Ljubljana: Paris-based pianist Eve Risser (Umlaut, En-Corps, &c) and Slovenian pianist Kaja Draskler (I/O, Draskler Octet, &c.), to record these inventive duos, weaving their keys together or working inside and out of the piano in incredible sonic approaches. ... Click to View


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  When They Write the Book  

Pianist Lewis Porter's Creates an Encyclopedia of Jazz


By Matt Rand 2003-03-28

There's a fundamental difference for documentarians between exploring the past and organizing the present. The historian who mines the past is a detective, searching for ways to expand the scope and the cohesion of information that has been dwindling. Lewis Porter Clues abound, but they aren't growing. With each year, the potential for errors magnifies, and the uninspected moments recede into quiet solitude. The chronicler who gives order to the present, however, has to make sense of more information than he could sift through in a lifetime. The present is everywhere, is ever changing, and so the historian has to pick and choose, define general movements and trends. Sometimes, though, a historian comes along and wants to catalog everything, to leave no stone unturned. More power to him, the rest of us think. Let him be our Sisyphus.

For much of his career as a jazz historian (as well as a jazz pianist), Lewis Porter, the director of the Masters Program in Jazz History and Research at Rutgers University, has focused on the past. In one of his better known works, John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Porter investigated a life already much written about. But he took on the subject by starting at the beginning and taking nothing for granted. One example is the discrepancy he noticed between Coltrane's previously reported years of military service (December, 1945 - June, 1946) and the actual way in which military service generally plays out. How could he have started in the Navy band, as was previously reported, when he first started in the Navy? What about basic training? As it turns out, the date most biographers had used came from an interview where Coltrane said he was in the band from December, 1945 to June, 1946, not that he was in the military from December, 1945 to June, 1946.Military service records are publicly available, so Porter checked on it. Sure enough, the earlier figure was wrong, and Coltrane actually served from July, 1945 to August, 1946.

So what, right? We care about Coltrane the musician, not Coltrane the short-term soldier. But Porter insists, and makes a very convincing case, that this is exactly what is important. First, it gives fluidity and cohesion to a musician's life. Musicians are people, after all, with birthdays, anniversaries, family and sometimes also military service. Porter explains that "one thing that's missing in all the other reference works and a lot of what's written about jazz is any sense that jazz musicians have families. Look at a biography of anyone who's not a jazz musician: the first thing they go into is the family history. Whether you're looking at Edward R. Murrow, or any book about any president, or about James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway, the first thing they do is say his father was named this, his mother was named that and this is where he came from. So you have a sense that they didn't just land on this planet - Miles Davis didn't just land on the planet in 1926."

The second reason that comprehensive (and accurate) information is important is a little less direct, but is just as compelling. Jazz has always been an also-ran for historians, and even, more specifically, for musicologists. The discourse on Bach is very different from the discourse on John Coltrane. Keeping the history, then, becomes a struggle for the validity of jazz and its musicians. Huge institutional strides have been made of late, but we still look at its past with the kind of wonder that we usually save for mythology, or for things we don't know much about. Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker are colossal figures who could pick up rail cars with their bare hands and bend street signs with their minds.

For Porter, jazz musicians are real people living in real places, and that they are part of a community of musicians that they both affect and are affected by. This has brought him headlong out of the past and into the present. He is presently working on a jazz encyclopedia, but it won't be like the ones that came before it. Porter is aiming to include all living jazz musicians in his encyclopedia. Yes, all of them.

"It's great to have the Grove [New Grove Dictionary of Jazz] and the one that Leonard Feather did that was revised by Ira Gitler [The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz]," he said, "but they do a lot of picking and choosing of who quote-unquote 'deserves' to be in an encyclopedia. What I'd like to see out there is not to have anybody deciding whether you deserve to be in there or not, just a place to find anybody that you may hear on a recording or go see out in the club... The only bottom line is they have to be performing on a professional level."

Though don't take that to mean that a musician has to earn all of his money playing jazz, just that he plays actual gigs. Sisyphus, indeed, is in the building. ("Oh, no question about that," Portet said. "This rock is going to roll right over me.")

As biographical information goes, the encyclopedia is going to have everything. It'll have information on the musicians' parents, siblings, spouses and children; on radio, film and TV broadcasts and appearances; on unissued recordings; newspaper and magazine articles; awards; websites; contact information, and photos. There will be indexes based on last name, birth year and instrument. And, "because I'm a jazz historian, I have files on probably about 5,000 jazz musicians, of things that are in the news, things that I've observed myself and things that they've told me." Those will find their way into the book, as well.

There are a couple caveats (that the mam moth task requires superhuman patience is merely an aside). "The day it comes out, two things are going to happen," Porter said. "One is I'm going to have dozens of emails from musicians saying 'Oh, I changed my website or my phone number,' or 'I forgot to tell you something.' And the other thing that's going to happen is there'll be a whole new group. I'm sure there are going to be dozens of musicians a day saying, 'I didn't know about this - how did I not know about this? How come I'm not in there?'" But of course, he added, "that'll be the impetus for a new edition."

Another issue that will come up is that some musicians will pass away during the process of putting the book together. "I'm being a little bit flexible about that, because some cats have passed away in the last year or so. In some cases I'm in touch with the family. For instance, I know the widow of Ken McIntyre, and she says, 'you know I can give you a biography; I'm his widow; I know stuff that nobody knows.' And he just passed away, so why not?"

Porter understands that, for the encyclopedia to be a valuable reference tool, it must develop a context for the musicians. And so he aims to capture the essence of the jazz scene at this particular point in time. But he won't be writing articles on the music, like those that appear in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. What he will be doing to foster this context is letting the musicians write their own entries, which he says about a third of them have done so far (with Porter acting as fact-checker). Porter hopes that by encouraging musicians to write their own entries, they'll be able to share their stories as they see them, and in so doing, will create a collection of accurate representations of what's actually going on in jazz.

There are, of course, drawbacks to this system. Porter had initially intended to collect all of the information by January 1 of thi s year, but that hasn't happened yet. He's not drastically off-schedule, but he is certainly knee-deep in a lot more information than he expected. "It's been hours a day, getting my email, sorting it into files, making an index of who's responded so far," he said.

And the entries keep coming in. Porter said he's been surprised by the number of international submissions he's received from musicians he hadn't heard of, but who are very well-known in their home countries. They've been rolling in from the Netherlands, from Poland, from Finland. He's also been surprised by some of the big names who have personally sent him submissions, players such as Joe McPhee, Jane Ira Bloom and Roy Campbell. Initially, he thought he'd be doing most of the work for the musicians he knows of. ("Wynton Marsalis and Joshua Redman won't be sending me submissions.") So it's hard to step away from it all, although he knows he'll eventually have to. "There's going to be a point where I just have to call it quits. I'll just have to say, 'Okay, that's how big the book's going to be,' because it certainly could go on forever."

Until then, the pile of submissions grows, and the unturned stones are becoming harder to spot. It seems Dr. Porter might almost be getting this rock to the top of the hill. He comes back to explaining the value of contact information for the musicians, which Leonard Feather's encyclopedia had included, as well. Porter laughs and then says, "It's kind of fun, actually. You browse through it and it'll say 'Thelonius Monk,' and it'll have his address at West 64 Street." Time has a funny way of making history.

Lewis Porter is accepting entries for his jazz encyclopedia through May 15, 2003. He can be contacted at lrpjazz@aol.com



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