Friday, December 30, 2022

When They Play Donald Byrd In the Courtroom

Before we jump into another set from the Ivo Perelman album, a story...

On Wednesday of this week, I had a hearing in Traffic Court. I was pulled over back in early October because I hadn't renewed the registration on my car. I've heard The Man has special technology now where they can check your license to see if you're unregistered or not. My registration expired back in February. 

Despite my slang up above, the cop that pulled me over didn't come off like The Man. He was actually pretty laid back about it, perhaps because I was too. Hey, I goofed so, why get defensive? Since it had been several months, he said he had to write me up, but made it seem like no big deal. Plead not guilty, go to court and it would get straightened out. 

Wednesday morning, I took the bus downtown (why pay a big parking fee or risk getting a ticket) and walked the long walk down the courthouse. (It's waaay down on First Avenue, near the jail.) The last time I was there (where I got off!), there were several people in front of me at the information window, before the 9:00 a.m. opening and I had to wait awhile to plead my case. On this day, arriving around the same time, there were only four people ahead in line. 

Once I checked it and headed to the courtroom, I saw that the judge at the bench was Gene Ricciardi. This was interesting to me for a few reasons. First of all, the judge I had at my last hearing was a gruff guy who busted people's chops for doing dumb stuff but also seemed to understand the difference between that and a simple mistake. He was a wiseguy who seemed to like his authority, but if you could role with his jokes, you were okay. Not so for the woman who didn't understand something he said and responded with a very casual "What?!" He had to remind her that it's better to address such questions to as "Excuse me, your honor?" (He also cut her a break for doing something stupid and she kept getting argumentative.)

Judge Gene Ricciardi wouldn't remember it, but 30 years ago when he was on City Council, an Intro to Journalism student called his office to get clarification on a measure that was passed on the day that this kid was covering the Council meeting for his class. I was the kid. The future judge was very nice on the phone, though the details of that measure were still pretty puzzling. 

Little did I know, the Judge was also a swinging cat.

As he was plugging in his microphone on Wednesday, he said something casually that seemed to address us defendants. I thought he mentioned Donald Byrd. Then told his assistant, "They're probably all too young to know Donald Byrd." A few seconds later, it became clear he was talking about the late trumpet player. One of Donald Byrd's '70s crossover songs started playing through the courtroom sound system. I couldn't resist raising my hand and saying I knew who he was. "Oh, that guy must be older," the judge quipped. 

The song played for less than a minute before the pile of cases was brought before the judge. He looked at the first one. "Shanley." 

As I made my way to the bench, I started wondering if I should say something further about Donald Byrd and when. "You know, there was a tribute to him at the Pittsburgh International...." No, no, no, Too many syllables. Take it easy.

The judge asked if I had taken care of my registration, which I had, immediately after getting home back in October. The case was dismissed and I was directed to see the person at the window out in the hallway. 

"Thanks. By the way, I saw Donald Byrd at Pitt back in 1989." I think he responded with an amused, "Really?!" I can't quite remember, but I did get a positive reaction. By then I wanted to get out of there.

If you ever have to go to Traffic Court, just take it in stride. A few people I talked to grumbled beforehand :Yeah you'll probably get dismissed but it sucks that you have to go Downtown and go through all of that. Yeah, but my case was dismissed. And the judge played Donald Byrd in the courtroom!

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

DL Review: Ivo Perelman - Reed Rapture In Brooklyn, Part Two - With Tim Berne

Ivo Perelman
Reed Rapture In Brooklyn

Part Two - With Tim Berne

This is the second passage in what I hope will be a 12-entry write up that focuses on the sessions on Perelman's digital album, on which he duets with a dozen different reed players.

Unlike the tenor saxophonist's session with Joe Lovano - 14 tracks that didn't last longer than eight minutes, with most coming in well below the five-minute mark - this hour-and-change session with Tim Berne is devoted to longer conversations. Of the five of them, one goes on for 22 minutes, two for about 13 minutes each and another two for seven. 

Neither saxophonist is out of place in longer tracks. Perelman's Live at Nuremberg album with Matthew Shipp consisted of a continuous performance full of ripples and nuances. Alto saxophonist Berne is probably the musician who really made me appreciate extended compositions. His albums with the quartet Bloodcount included works that went on upwards of 40 minutes, taking all kinds of turns, detours and regenerative passages, which often seemed to come out of nowhere. The way "What Are the Odds" on the Unwound disc goes from solo to composition stands out as particularly memorable.

While Berne's compositions are engrossing, he hasn't always had the same impact when working in a purely improvisational situation. Granted, his recent work with guitarist David Torn and drummer Ches Smith has been an exception to that. Albums and live performances have been pretty fiery. But his Paraphrase trio seemed to wander. The Veil - a CD by the trio of Berne, guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Jim Black - was a strong set overall, but there were many times where Berne seemed to stick to raw growls and overtones when one of his flowing lines could have added more to the music.

So I'm breaking my own rule again. Originally I said I'd listen to each Reed Rapture session just once, treating it like a live performance and then writing about it. This piece is being composed while the music is playing again because I think I was doing a few things while listening to the first time, not giving it total attention.

My takeaway from the first listen was that Perelman and Berne spent a lot of time imitating whistling tea kettles, squealing in that upper register. In fact they hit that shrill spot at about the time in the first two tracks, right around 2:30.  Altissimo wails are fine but a little can go a long way. 

But Perelman and Berne seem to realize that. As often as they go high, they don't ever reside in that space for too long. They're ready to jump onto something else after making their point. In addition to that, their duets really sound like involved conversations. They listen closely to each other, leading Perelman to echo phrases from Berne, replicating dynamics and lines. In "2," a moment comes three-quarters in where it sounds like they're playing a Berne composition; Perelman joins in and it works, with Berne even bending his line to meet the tenor saxophonist's melody. At one point, their quick exchanges almost sound like, 

The final track, "5," even finds them delving into some musical drama. Berne blows low while Perelman seems to coo in response. It might be too much to call it a ballad, but it has a pensive quality to it. In the end, while the duo might have given into their wilder instincts a few times, they likely came away knowing a great deal about each other as players. 

Monday, December 26, 2022

DL Review: Ivo Perelman- Reed Rapture In Brooklyn Part 1 - With Joe Lovano

Ivo Perelman
Reed Rapture In Brooklyn

Part One - With Joe Lovano

One way to force yourself to see an idea through to fruition is to talk about it in the space online where it should appear. That way, an expectation is created for the follow-through. Otherwise, you look like you can't keep your word. And nobody wants to do that. At least I don't. 

So here we are. In my last post, I mused about doing entries for Ivo Perelman's Reed Rapture in Brooklyn, with separate posts for each of the twelve saxophonists who appear with his tenor. It seemed like the best way to explore such a lengthy project and a way to dig into each duet without getting bogged down somewhere along the way and reducing certain sessions to a phrase or two. That being said, I'm going to start writing about Reed Rapture and see where it takes me. Maybe I'll do it in 12 days, taking inspiration from my friend Steve Michener's Album A Day Facebook group or Pittsburgh saxophonist Ben Opie's entries about Ennio Morricone. 

First, some background. Tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman is one prolific player. He releases a lot of albums. In fact, by the time I reach the end of this project, it's likely that he'll have a few more sessions in the can or on the street. Within months of Reed Rapture being released (digitally only, at this point), he also released another set of duets with pianist Matthew Shipp on ESP-Disk', Fruition

All of Perelman's work in completely spontaneous, never working from pre-conceived compositions. While he can be a pretty intense performer, spending a lot of time in the upper register of his horn, he doesn't merely blow to fill up space. He's also not one to get locked into one ugly sound, which he repeats until all life is wrung from it. The saxophonist can use the altissimo range to create some challenging melodies. Plus, he's also likely to dive into some rich, smoky tones from the his horn's lower register, as this set proves.

Because of his approach to performance, which in a way makes each album somewhat akin to a live set, I want to consider these sessions as if they were 12 different live sets, trying to listen to them closely just once and describe them that way. That being said, I'm starting by breaking that rule and giving the session with Joe Lovano a second examination. I first listened to it about a month ago and didn't write down any notes about it, so a second view is needed. 

Rather than tenor, Lovano plays the C Melody and F Soprano saxophones here. The former is pitched a whole tone above the tenor, which makes it a bit easy to mistake for his typical horn. Like the other guests on this set, Lovano resides in the right channel while Perelman plays in the left. 

Of all the combinations on Reed Rapture, the meeting with Joe Lovano might seem like the one least likely to succeed. Lovano is a strong improviser though not someone known for eschewing chord changes and structure for all-out blowing. But he and Perelman had some interesting exchanges. Like the whole album, their 14 tracks are identified by numbers rather than song titles. Many of them end with the two players landing together on the same low note, concluding with a smoky, subdued feeling. That husky blend occurs frequently here, but they never stay with any mood for two long.  Perelman seems to challenge his guest to an altissimo shriek-off in "11" but Lovano jumps between the high register and more grounded lines. When he does wail away in "1," it elevates the melody that is Perelman playing. 

Throughout, they simultaneously bend the same pitch in different ways, imitate birds in quick two-beat/one-note exchanges and, in two tracks, even touch on a ballad or torch song mood. All but three tracks last less than five minutes, making brevity a key factor. When things clock in around seven or eight minutes, it still feels like time well spent. When they sound like they're playing on parallel lines, both saxophonists still manage to complement each other. It's easy to imagine that, after the tape stopped running, the two of them looked at each other and let out a laugh of excitement over what they created. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Just Keep Doing It. Eh, Why? No One Cares

As long as I hit "Send" after this post is completed (which I must have done if you're reading this now), this will be post #43 for 2022. That means I've posted exactly as many times as I did in 2021. But I'm not bragging about that. Last year's totals were a poor showing. In previous years, I've at least gotten into the 50 and 60-post range. 2019 was the exception but I think that was because I had a massive record collection that I was dealing with. Not an excuse. Just sayin'. 

This year has been a crazy one. I recorded an album with my band, though the band itself doesn't really exist outside the studio now. The album got mastered recently and soon I will be sending it off to a pressing plant to have it turned into shiny pieces of plastic. I ordered a split single, each side devoted to the basement projects of two friends of mine. (That's right - I'm not on the record at all.) If all goes well with the universe, both of these records will be out in the spring. 

While all that was going on, I came into another pile of records and I'm still working through the last one, which can take time. My place of work takes a lot out of me too, though much of that might be due to my headspace. 

All of that doesn't leave much time for writing. Sure there's the occasional, pretty much monthly reviews for JazzTimes but that's really all there is. I think it dawned on me this year, though it's been the case for longer, that I don't have a local outlet to cover music in Pittsburgh. Besides this blog. When you combine that realization with the low numbers of people who check out the blog, add a sprinkle of mental exhaustion after a day of work, and the siren call of records that would like to be sold online so they don't take up space anymore... is there motivation to write? Can I even think critically? Can I listen critically to music? Can I listen without nodding off, not as a reflection of the music but of me?

As I leave those rhetorical questions hanging in the air for the moment, there was another thing that prevented me from posting anything in the last few weeks. I finally caught the big C. 

Yes, I wear a mask at work 40 hours a week, pledging that I will keep doing that until the number of COVID cases in Allegheny County drops to 100 in a week (last week's report had 880 cases, down from the week before from the total of 914. Yay, Pittsburgh).  But the day after Thanksgiving I attended the reunion show of first-wave punks Carsickness and the Cynics. By Monday I was feeling like two miles of bad road. Tuesday, I figured out why when I took a home test. 

Thankfully, the lousy feeling didn't last too long. By Thursday, I had some energy back and was up and around in the house, though still being careful to keep my distance from the family. But in the thick of it, with all the fever dreams going on, there was a thin layer of depression on top of that. Wondering why I was dumb enough to get myself into that mess. Pissed that I was going to have to cancel a car inspection that was almost overdue. Panicked at the prospect of having to do that because who knows when I would be able to get it taken care of? (Answer- this week.) Car inspection has always been a source of great anxiety.

It was also giving me second thoughts about attending Winter Jazz Fest in New York next month. That was usually my big blow-out trip for the year (I don't really travel much otherwise.) I haven't been to a Winter Fest since 2020, when we were on the eve of the pandemic. Early this year, I was all set to go WJF '22, with passes purchased, bus tickets and hotel rooms booked, only to hear that it wasn't happening. Now, I'm kind of apprehensive about being around that many people and risking getting sick again. More significantly, I don't feel the drive that I once had to get to NYC and immerse myself in the shows, seeing everyone I know and would like to know. That part really feels sad. 

We go through periods of our life where things that we used to do aren't as fun as they used to be. Sometimes that's for the better. I never had a taste for recreational substances so that passed me by. One day a few months ago, I had a thought: Drinking just makes me sleepy. I haven't stopped drinking altogether but I don't do it as much. When I do, it's almost always at home, so I feel like I'm being responsible. Coffee, on the other hand, has become part of my routine at several points of the day. I have a feeling that when co-workers see me at work, I almost always have my travel mug close by. 

Hopefully writing about music won't be the next thing that gets cast by the wayside. Smaller freelancing opportunities, low blog readership and - most significantly - having to be both the writer and the one who imposes the deadline when something should be submitted to this blog, all tend to feel overwhelming and zap the energy these days. Listen to an album? Closely? Okay, which album? This one looks wait, how about this one? Wait - that's one I have been meaning to listen to. Along with those others. This one came out five months ago? Dammit. (In case any of my JT associates are reading this, I still relish any chance I get to write for them and the assignments still recharge my enthusiasm.)

In conclusion, this post might be more of a way for me to blow off the cobwebs and get back on the horse, so to speak. I had it in my head to do almost daily posts, going through Ivo Perelman's massive Reed Rapture In Brooklyn set, where he duets with a dozen reed players. I started listening to it, thought about smaller posts and then.....

Well, part of what happened was that two Sundays ago, there was a record fair in town. I had been hoping and waiting for the event for quite awhile. Pricing records for the show took several weeks. In order for me to release two records, I have to unload some too, which is what I did. I tested negative a few days prior, so I was in the clear, though my mask was on my face most of the time. 

Now that the event is over, maybe I could focus on some writing. 

Then again, Christmas is only five days away now. So we'll see. 

In closing, here are photos of Karl Mullen of Carsickness (who also came down with COVID following the show) and Gregg Kostelich from the Cynics.