Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Giuseppi Logan re-examined

I got on the press list for the rejuvenated ESP label and received a package of discs in the mail a couple of weeks ago. In addition to reissuing their infamous back catalog, they've also started putting out new recordings. And not just newly released works by folks like Albert Ayler and Don Cherry. New music from new bands. I'm going to review a few of them for JazzTimes, so I figured I'd devote a couple blog entries to the back catalog.

Giuseppi Logan Quartet (ESP)

The big criticism that was lobbed at free jazz/avant garde/new thing players in the early days of that music was that the musicians couldn't play their instruments. Otherwise they'd do something besides creating that racket. Anyone who listens to Cecil Taylor - even his greatest detractors - would have to say that he has technique out the wazoo. Albert Ayler might not have been too adept at straight ahead jazz (the clunky themes on My Name is Albert Ayler hint at this), but listen to the tracks on In Greenwich Village where he plays alto. He makes it sound like a tenor, and it's only then that you may realize what an amazing tone he had. It sounds like the entire alto should be vibrating from the gale force airstream he's blowing through the horn. It gave me more appreciation for his tenor sound. He found a way to take his skill and create his own niche with it. Ornette Coleman too - he carved out his own movement and was able to get the sounds in his head out onto the bandstand. You think Prime Time is eight guys playing different things at the same time? Then explain how they all manage to stop on a dime together.

All this leads me to Giuseppi Logan, a saxophonist who the Music Hound Jazz Guide said encapsulated the "I can play that" line of thought. When liner notes of that era defended Archie Shepp and dissed "other guys who can't play," they were referring to guys like Logan.

On this album, recorded in October of 1964, Logan plays Pakistani oboe, alto and tenor saxes and - they're listed but I didn't quite hear them - flute and bass clarinet. Pianist Don Pullen, making his recording debut, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer/ESP regular Milford Graves back him up. I'm not here to bury Logan or praise him, but to shed some light on the album. First of all, his tone is pretty weak. As a one-time alto player who never stuck to it long enough to develop a good tone, I know of what I speak. On "Dance of Satan," track number two which introduces us to his alto work, he sounds wobbly, in some cases as if his embouchure failed him as he tried to get into upper register.

Had Logan stuck to just alto, he might have progressed at least a little bit more. There are moments, especially in "Dialogue" where he sounds like he could become a player in the same vein as Jimmy Lyons, the altoist who spent most of his career playing with Cecil Taylor. But he dabbles in too many reeds. He switches to tenor in "Taneous," making the bigger horn sound like it's half asleep.

Then there's the whole issue of the oboe, which opens the album in "Tabla Dance" a totally free excursion in which Graves plays tablas and Logan wails while Pullen and Gomez pluck and scrape. It's chaotic and loose, but..... they're all playing with a sense of restrain. It's not like the over-the-top screaming that marks Sunny Murray's ESP album. And that aspect of the music makes this album worth revisiting.

There are moments where Logan's expression reaches beyond his raw playing, like in "Dialogue." As loose as it sounds, this track even follows something of a structure. Sure it features bleating quarter notes in the bridge, if you can call at that, but they keep threatening to turn it into a ballad. "Bleecker Partita," the 15-minute epic that closes the album, and takes it well over the 35-40-minute length of most albums of that time, is built upon a droning riff that Logan uses as the background for a mournful, emotional solo that proves he does know his way around his horn.

Having Don Pullen, Eddie Gomez and Milford Graves back you is bound to put you in a better light anyway, or at least provide some high points when Logan stops soloing. One of the weirdest elements of the record is the sound of the piano on "Dance of Satan" which sounds just like a banjo when Pullen hits a certain chord, making the whole thing transform itself into a free jazz hoedown for a split second, only to shift back to its shambolic, New York City origins. I'd like to think Logan meant for that to happen.

The Giuseppi Logan Quartet is not classic ESP material and bellweather free jazz like Ayler's Spirits Rejoice and Spiritual Unity. But it's not awful-in-an-intriguing way like Erica Pomerance's You Used to Think (not a jazz album, but the polar opposite in the ESP canon). Instead, it's somewhere in between, a curiosity that can stand up to repeated listens.

Chances are anyone who has been curious about it picked up one of the myriad reissues of the album in years gone by. If not, ESP's package is essentially as simple as the original. Bernard Stollman offers a quick memory of the album's sessions, although a little more bio or background on Logan's affiliation with the label would've been nice. Everything written about him indicates that no one knows his whereabouts or if he's even alive now. Maybe I'll try to interview Stollman about the disc. We could run the interview here. Bernard, you listening? Enquiring minds want to know.