Archive for the “jazz” Category

Last year, saxophonist Trygve Seim and pianist Andreas Utnem collaborated on Purcor, a recording for the ECM imprint (Seim’s sixth as leader). Drawing on material from a wide range of sources, including settings of the Mass, folk music, and Seim’s own compositions, it was among the recordings in frequent rotation when I got home from the hospital this past November. Needing a calm environment in which to regenerate and reflect, I found Purcor to be the perfect listening to accompany a healing respite.

Meditative yet soulful, earnest yet elegant, gently articulated yet substantively thoughtful, Seim and Utnem craft a series of duets that are spellbinding. Consistently succor supplying and diverse in mood and musical approach, the compositions on Purcor inhabit both jazz and an ecumenical kind of musical liturgy.

Given what they’ve crafted on the recording, I have no doubt that Seim and Utnem will provide an affecting evening of music this Sunday. Those seeking solace in artistic expression during this weekend’s commemoration of the September 11, 2001 attacks have many options from which to choose, including a marathon we’ve also mentioned as an excellent option. Seim and Utnem will doubtless provide calm in the midst of storms of media frenzy, terror alerts, and turbulent memories. Recommended.

In Concert
Trygve Seim / Andreas Utnem
September 11th, 7pm
Norwegian Seamen’s Church
317 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10022-6302
(212) 319-0370

Free of charge

Trygve Seim: tenor and soprano saxophones
Andreas Utnem: piano, harmonium

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“The composer’s job is to create a context for music-making to reflect the emerging consciousness.”  Hafez Modirzadeh

ETHEL performs music of Hafez Modirzadeh
By Cornelius Dufallo
Also published on Urban Modes

Hafez.jpgHafez Modirzadeh, a visionary saxophonist, theorist and composer, has been developing his own style of inter-cultural improvisation for three decades. His mentors and collaborators have included Ornette Coleman, some of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the great Iranian violinist, Mahmoud Zoufonoun.  ETHEL first encountered Modirzadeh in 2007, and the two parties felt an immediate artistic sympathy.

Since that time, Modirzadeh has created a body of work for saxophone, flutes, karna, string quartet, trumpet, santur, tombak, daf, and voice. On July 23, 2011 nine musicians came together to perform this music at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA. The lineup included ETHEL, Mili Bermejo (Mexican Argentinian jazz vocalist), Amir ElSaffar (Iraqi – American trumpeter), Faraz Minooei (Iranian santur player), Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh (Iranian percussionist), and the composer himself on saxophone and Karna. The unforgettable event, which Modirzadeh entitled In Convergence Liberation, was met with enthusiasm from a large audience, and all nine artists spent the following two days together at Open Path Studios in San Jose, recording the music for a forthcoming CD.

Matching-SpiritModirzadeh’s work combines fascinating musical and philosophical concepts. “Composting” (a specific type of improvisational dialogue based on pre-existing written material), “matching-spirit” (a process of group improvisation using shared interval structures), “intoning” (a technique of improvising within a unison, playing with the higher partials of the overtone series), “tetramodes” (a carefully calibrated microtonal system based on a synthesis of ancient and modern approaches to intervallic relationships), and  “Makam X”  (an overarching and inter-cultural musical system of various partials of the harmonic series) were some of the techniques that the nine musicians shared and practiced together. Rhythmic meters of 17/4 (5+5+7) –inspired by Persian poetry — were the foundation for improvisations that defied cultural boundaries. Persian modal systems, Iraqi maqam, Andalusian musical traditions, aspects of Indonesian gamelan, and references to western classical composers from the past three centuries were all called upon in this collaboration.

In 2009 Modirzadeh described his musical aesthetic this way: “It begins with a few ideas sounded together, each one in an incomplete fashion, as if light were peering through traditions’ tattered curtains.”  More recently he has started to speak of a “Convergence Liberation Principle,” which is directly inspired by the gathering at Tahrir Square, which he considers “the most concrete and brilliant example”  of Convergence Liberation. Musically speaking, the concept is connected to a dual approach of honing individual style, while also transcending all cultural distinctions. The strategies that we used to translate these concepts into sound were mostly intuitive. We each drew from our own years of discipline in our respective traditions, but we also abandoned that discipline to make ourselves totally vulnerable. The process was mysterious, but we could all clearly feel a deep connection to our nature as social animals. For a few days we rejected the concepts of right and wrong; instead, we created a group dynamic based entirely on trust.
Members of the Convergence Liberation Band
(From left: Cornelius Dufallo, Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh, Mary Rowell, Dorothy Lawson, Ralph Farris,  Amir ElSaffar, Hafez Modirzadeh)

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Shh! We’re improvising! The Lepers of Melancholy, Houston TX (photo by Jonathan Jindra)

While reading Conversing With Cage at a bus stop today, I stumbled across this funny yet in the end profound exchange (circa 1980) between John Cage and John Robert with Silvey Panet Raymond:

How do you consider new popular music – punk, New Wave?

What is the New Wave? I don’t really know what it is. If you could point it out to me, I might have some reaction.

It’s very simple, three – , four-chord stuff, aggressive, fast.

There’s a good deal of dancing on the part of the performers?

Usually jumping up and down

I’ve seen something like that. It was entertaining to see but not very engaging.

But they use very dissonant sounds; I wonder how you felt about that?

I have no objection to dissonance.

I know you have no objections, but I wanted to know whether you felt any pleasure that things were coming round to your way of thinking.

But this isn’t it, is it? Isn’t it a regular beat?

Not all the time.

I think it’s part of show business.

Aren’t you?


In a marginal way?

No. I’m much more a part of music as a means of changing the mind. Perhaps if you want to say that, I wouldn’t myself.

Opening up the mind.

A means of converting the mind, turning it around, so that it moves away from itself out to the rest of the world, or as Ramakrishna said, “as a means of rapid transportation.”

So your music in itself is not that important.

The use of it is what is important.

The use rather than the result.

That’s what Wittgenstein said about anything. He said the meaning of something was in its use.

As exasperated as I get by quotes attributed to John Cage regarding jazz improvisation, so-called popular music, and well, composing in general, I have been and will continue to be educated, provoked and inspired by his writings and music. My most recent work-in-progress for five electric guitars and electric bass is in part a homage to Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939) that utilizes notation borrowed from Leo Brouwer’s wonderful guitar quartet Cuban Landscape With Rain (1984) to realize various aleatoric events. How my new piece (or for that matter Brouwer’s) would sit with Cage and his desire that music realized via chance operations covert the mind of its performers and listeners is – since he’s no longer with us – open to debate.

Maybe including “…for John Cage…” in the title of my piece isn’t appropriate?

Cage also readily admitted he was “close minded…” about many things.

Does Cage present to you a similar grab bag of ideas – some valuable, some exasperating? Has your attitude and appreciation of Cage changed over time?

P.S. Have a safe and relaxing holiday!

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Skull courtesy of Casa Ramirez (photo by Chris Becker)

Skeletons! Witches! Vampires! No, I’m not talking about candidates in Houston’s midterm elections. I’m talking about Halloween and the two days that follow known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Like many other places in the Southern U.S., Houston culture is a healthy mix of the supernatural and the spiritual. In the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Meurtos, food, beverages, and sweets are placed on homemade alters as gifts for the spiritual manifestations of those who have passed who will, over the course of the 48 hours that is All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day, visit the people they knew before the afterlife. Gift giving and the ephemeral nature of playing music – particularly improvised music – have all been on my mind lately.

In his recent book Tradition and Transgression about composer John Zorn, author John Brackett includes a chapter describing Zorn’s music from the perspective of “the gift and gift giving.” The composer receives a “gift” from an artist – maybe an artist from an earlier time – in the form of creative inspiration and techniques that can be applied to their respective medium and then passes the “gift” along in various forms of musical homage. There are so many examples of this practice in music. Many compositions by Charles Mingus are named for musicians he knew and loved and directly referenced in melody, harmony, and/or rhythm (A few examples are Reincarnation of a Lovebird, So Long Eric and Goodbye Porkpie Hat for Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy and Lester Young respectively). Certainly there are parallels between creating art and celebrating our ancestors. Maybe there’s actually no difference between the two actions?

Who are some of the composers, friends, and/or family members you yourself have paid homage to in musical form?

Alexandra Adshead and Chris Becker at Avant Garden (photo by Jonathan Jindra)

For the month of November, the tireless Dave Dove and his organization Nameless Sound continue their They Who Sound “First Time Duo” series at Houston’s Avant Garden, every Monday from 7pm to 9pm. Each week, two to four improvisers who have never played together share the stage to perform a set of entirely improvised music. This is a great concept, and I wonder if it could expand beyond its current network of free improvisers to include pairings with members of Houston’s classical, jazz, and rock communities. Maybe some students from Houston’s School for the Performing Arts could share the stage with people with a history in Houston’s free improv and/or so-called noise scenes and try to find some common ground?

Also at Avant Garden on the last Wednesday of every month, keyboardist Robert Pearson presents a program of experimental music (Robert was kind enough to invite me and Alex to play last Wednesday, and we had a ball). These Wednesday shows are also an opportunity to hear Robert who doesn’t play like anyone I’ve ever heard before. Imagine Matthew Shipp, former Birdsongs of the Mesozoic Roger Miller, and Erik Satie all at 200 bpm and you sort of get an aural impression of what Robert sounds like on the keys. The resulting music is almost Zen-like in spite (or maybe because of) the tempi. Go hear him for yourself!

On November 2, 2010, 7pm at Talento Bilingue de Houston, Cuban tenor Alejandro Salvia Cobas and belly dancer provocateur Ms. Y.E.T. perform at show of artist and longtime A.I.D.S. activist Lourdes Lopez Moreno’s show of hand built clay skeletons. Moreno’s work will be on display through November 7th. A short, spooky video featuring Cobas’ voice is up on YouTube.

On November 7, 7:30pm at Zilkha Hall, Houston’s composer led contemporary music organization Musiqa celebrates the work of Benjamin Patterson, a groundbreaking artist who was a founding member of the avant-garde group, Fluxus, and whose work explores the experimental and improvisational possibilities in music. The concert Born in a State of Flux(us) is free, and Patterson will be there for what should be a crazy evening.

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Ornette Coleman photo by Jimmy Katz

Fort Worth-born Ornette Coleman will perform November 18th, 2010 8pm at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall with his son Denardo Coleman on drums, Tony Falanga on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell on electric bass. I can’t think of a genre of music that hasn’t been influenced by Coleman and his recorded legacy. He had a profound impact on musicians as diverse as Leonard Bernstein, John Zorn, and Jerry Garcia and at the age of 80, Coleman continues to disregard geographical, political and cultural boundaries in a relentless search to build upon his palette of sound.

A recent interview with Ornette Coleman conducted by bassist, singer, producer Jeremiah Hosea can be heard for no cost at It’s an unusually personal and far reaching conversation that you won’t hear anywhere else. Hosea has been instrumental of promoting the work of several exciting rock, jazz, and avant-garde musicians in NYC, and I had been meaning for awhile to direct Sequenza21’s readers to his site.

Thanks to Houston’s Dave Dove for the news tip.

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Besides helping out here at S21, composer Chris Becker has been racking up some excellent interviews at his own blog. One I wanted to share with you is his recent chat with brilliant, hard-to-classify musician Lawrence Sieberth. For the full interview just head to Chris’s blog (where you’ll also find a link to buy the Arkipelago CD, and a list of upcoming Sieberth concerts), but here’s the introduction and a sample:


After moving from New Orleans to New York City, I managed to stay connected to keyboardist/composer Lawrence Sieberth thanks to the Internet and email, keeping him posted on my music activities. My first memory of Larry is hearing him on piano performing his 1995 tribute concert Booker and Black at the Contemporary Arts Center which celebrated the music of New Orleans musicians pianist James Booker and drummer James Black with projected visuals by artist Jon Graubarth (Jon created the artwork for my CD Saints & Devils). More recently, Larry emailed to say he thought I might dig his latest CD Arkipelago and could hear the whole thing streaming on his website I downloaded the mp3 version, eventually got a copy the CD, and for several weeks listened to Arkipelago at least once a day. I just couldn’t get enough of the music and the production which reminded me of Peter Gabriel’s So, Jon Hassell’s City: Works of Fiction, and other recordings that artfully combine (to quote writer musician Michael Veal): “…the traditional conception of “note-based” music and the potentials of sound recording as an aesthetic medium on its own terms.” Larry is firmly grounded in the piano playing traditions of New Orleans. And Arkipelago will surprise some fans of that music and expand their perception of what “New Orleans” music is and has the potential to be.

Chris Becker: Your CD Arkipelago combines synth programming, extended through-composed compositions that include sudden unexpected breaks and rhythmic changes, and real-time “in the moment” improvisation. The title track (featuring Joo Kraus on trumpet) and the track ‘Le Serpente Volant’ (featuring Ed Peterson on saxophone) are two examples of what I’m describing. Can you talk about how you recorded those two particular tracks? Did you provide any specific instructions to Joo or Ed before tracking their performances? Or was that not necessary given your familiarity with their each musician’s approach to improvising?

Lawrence Sieberth: If I can backtrack a bit it will help help explain the way this project materialized. Over the last couple of decades I’ve been part of ‘free’ improvisational collaborations with other musicians, dancers and visual artists – the driving force of these performances has sometimes been spontaneous, a response to visual imagery or prerecorded tracks.  There is a range as to what the word ‘improvisation’ implies – playing ‘changes’, manipulating the form, responding to the moment, etc. are all ways of perceiving the options inherent in improvisational music – all idioms and musical combinations of personalities have a built in set of expectations, manifest as compositions, styles, forms, tonal centers, etc. even when it is not predetermined.  When the musician is faced with the option to create something new without preconceptions the creative mind is opened, allowed to connect with a communal state of being as opposed to reaching into the bag of tricks that our intellect builds – not to throw away that bag of tricks but to transcend it – for me, these situations have been some of the most joyful musical experiences of my career.  This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed arranging and composing in the traditional sense. I like the balance between the two extremes – in truth, however, it can be self-indulgent and not something I want to listen to all the time.  The ‘quality’ of the music, albeit quite subjective, can range from ‘totally happening’ to ‘totally boring’ whether I’m a musical participant or just a listener – it’s hard to convey why some ‘noise’ can be inspirational.

Arkipelago is the result of many performances of an ever changing group I assembled over several years called VooDooTek – the objective was to start with a blank canvas and draw upon the talents of the musicians assembled at the time – the idea was for everyone to contribute musical ideas to the direction of the music – responding and being open to the unexpected – whenever I felt the music had run its course I would abruptly change the musical context or mood. With electronics it is easier to cut through the volume of sound. The one prerequisite of the musicians was listening – for me a most important quality of musicianship. All the tracks on the CD started off as through composed synth soundtracks – soundscapes might be a better analogy – a combination of textures, industrial loops, otherworldly sounds – sometimes empty space – very sculptural – the charts are diagrams with emotional directives, sometimes a bass line, sometimes a tonal center – an integral part was the click that signaled sections and tempos that was removed – the core group, myself on more synths, Doug Belote on drums, Nori Naraoka on bass and Makuni Fukada on guitar, played with the prerecorded tracks – it was important for them to perceive those tracks as part of the improvised structure rather than a composition – since I was also incorporating more synth sounds and textures it was naturally impossible to separate what was virtual and what was live – so the whole track seems improvised but compacted due to its composition directives – most takes were the second take. Joo Kraus added his part in Germany and sent it back to me in New Orleans – I had played with him at a jazz festival and we really hit it off. I gave him no directions and the track you hear is virtually edit free.

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The orchestrion is a fairly old instrument, going back to the mid-19th-century.  Pat Metheny and the mad scientists at the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots have teamed up to create a 21st century version of an orchestrion.


I’ve spent the past few days listening to Metheny’s new CD, Orchestrion.  If you’ve been following his work for the past few years, it’s no big surprise musically or harmonically: lush diatonic harmonies and sweetly melodic improvisations. What makes this disc so special, though, is his interaction with a robot ensemble, one which is completely controlled or programmed by Metheny.  There is a surprising richness and warmth in these robot-played instruments that one does not find in MIDI accompaniments, and if you like Metheny’s music or you’re interested in seeing/hearing a mechanical instrument out of Jules Verne’s wildest dreams, do pick up the CD or catch Metheny and company on the road with this.

Lots of demos and explanations on Metheny’s web site.

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Michael Finnissy, Cecil Taylor

…Collide in a good way, that is… The world of “avant” classical and “avant” jazz (I know I know, half of you will cringe at the labels, but it’s as good as we’re going to get here) share so much in common: a long and staid tradition and preconception to fight past and against, to push and trespass beyond; interest in new sounds, new forms, new aesthetics; an intensity of commitment to their vision, even when it might mean a long spell of creating and performing in the shadow of those taking the safe path.

But for all their similarities, there’s also often a kind of fine barrier that keeps many on the classical side from truly “getting” the jazz side, and vice-versa. Differences in approach, language, culture maybe; maybe also a little intimidation with the unknown. (Like my own mystification upon entering a McDonalds — where do you go? How do you order off that board? Do I get my drink, sit down, pick it up where? — when every regular does it all on autopilot.)

To hear the voices cross over and talk about the other is always interesting, and a recent guest post at Jeff Jackson’s and  Jeff Golick’s jazz blog Destination:Out seems particularly welcome. In

Some Current Trends in Contemporary Classical Music: An Improviser’s Guide

Steve Lehman — one of the few who fully (and formidably) inhabits both worlds, as both composer and saxophonist — gives “out-jazz” folk an introduction to the likes of Gerard Grisey, Tristan Murail, Michael Finnissy, Helmut Lachenmann and Beat Furrer. The notes on each come from a slight jazz angle, and Steve thoughtfully includes audio of representative works. The comments after the post are also good and worth reading.

A few of the terms and comparisons may be unfamiliar to the avant-classical fan, but really we’re mostly talking, listening, and thinking about the same things. It’s a fairly “eurocentric” list, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And truth told, there are plenty of new-music types on our side, that are still largely unaware of some of these developments, and can only benefit from Steve’s little musical tour.

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Wolfgang Grajonca that is, who is better-known to us old hippies as Bill Graham, the late impressario of the Fillmores East and West and the man who brought the music to a thousand purple-hazed nights of our misspent youths. Graham taped and saved everything and you can stream hundreds of full concerts free (downloading costs a little money) at a site called Wolfgang’s Vault. Want to hear that dead band’s song before they were dead? You got it. Catch Steppenwolf doing “God Damn, the Pusher Man?” Stevie Ray demonstrating why no one else should ever be allowed to touch a guitar ever again. Jimi, the real Jefferson Airplane, even early Bruce.

And, if that isn’t enough, today Wolfgang’s Vault began adding concerts from the 50 years of Newport Jazz Festivals. There are three up now–the Jazz Messengers, Dakota Staton and a 1959 Basie set that gave me goosebumps when I listened to it earlier this evening. Talk about minimalism, you ain’t heard shit until you dig Freddie Green and the Count sliding into a groove. Get yourself over there.

Random thought: When I went into Starbucks this afternoon, they were playing Jimmy Durante’s version of “You must remember dis…a kiss is still a kiss” and I thought to myself–Greatest Album Never Made? Jimmy Durante sings Tom Waits.

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photo_by_Owen_Richards[Ed. note: Composer and S21 regular Chris Becker sat down recently with the one and only Matana Roberts. I told him I’d love to feature his interview, and so here it is: ]


Saxophonist, composer, fanzine writer, and blogger Matana Roberts is the current artist in residence at Issue Project Room (NYC) where she is developing and presenting in a series of concerts material for her “large scale…sound narrative” COIN COIN.  COIN COIN might be described as a multi-movement composition utilizing composed, improvised, and pre-recorded music along with elements of theater (projections, candles, chains) to give voice to a complex family history that extends from Louisiana to at least three other continents.  Matana – a Chicago native – combines her Midwestern roots (including the influence of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians of which she is a member) with a very Southern-styled “collage” compositional technique to realize performances that (in Matana’s words) “…create an atmosphere where the people witnessing it feel enveloped into the experience.”  Those words certainly describe the two COIN COIN performances I myself have witnessed, the most recent being last week (September 30) where Matana, on alto saxophone, clarinet, and vocals, was accompanied by drummer and percussionist Mike Pride.

Her recent CD The Chicago Project (2008) is a wonderfully varied collection of original compositions featuring Chicago musicians guitarist Jeff Parker (Chicago Underground Trio, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble), bassist Josh Abrams (Josh Abrams Quartet) and drummer Frank Rosaly (Ken Vandermark) and special guest tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson.  We talk a little bit about this recording in the interview that follows.

I first became aware of Matana’s work via her blog (Shadows of a People now called In The Midst of Memory). What I like about her writing is its immediacy and honesty whether she is providing details about her family ancestry or reacting to this country’s current confusions regarding race, gender, and class.  Matana’s will to give voice to her experience as a creative artist in the 21st century, as well as to the history of her Southern, African, and European ancestors is one of the things that inspired me to reach out to her for this interview.

Please note:  This interview was conducted and edited just before the untimely and tragic passing of Issue Project Room founder Suzanne Fiol.  Matana is certainly not the only artist to speak highly of Suzanne, and I would like to express my sincere condolences to everyone who knew and loved her.

Chris Becker:  As a composer and bandleader, can you talk about how you select musicians for a recording date or a Coin Coin performance? Do you compose with specific musicians in mind or do you go about the search and selection after the fact?

Matana Roberts:  I like to compose with specific people in mind when I have the luxury to do so.  Since I have been working on COIN COIN now for about 5 years as I re edit the work, I can pick and choose amongst sound makers that mean a lot to me not only as musicians but also as friends and almost honorary family.  I put together The Chicago Project with every musician that is on that record in mind. I wanted it to be a very specific document about my Chicago roots and development and all of the people involved are people who made it possible for me to play at the level I am playing now.

The only exception on that record would be Frank Rosaly– Frank showed up in Chicago right after I left, but I wanted him on the record because I felt he represented the positive new influx of creative direction Chicago has been getting in the last 10 years or so, and I also just liked him as a person. I’m more interested in musicians as people first, sound makers second. If they are not compassionate and open and considerate as people, that means that their sound output will (to me) be just as cold as their probable personality in my opinion.

CB:  Not to take anything away from the other musicians you play with, but one of the many exciting things about your CD The Chicago Project is the sound of Jeff Parker’s guitar playing alongside the sound of your alto saxophone.  You each have a very distinctive sound that blends as well as contrasts with the other throughout the tracks. What do you anticipate musically from Jeff when he is playing with you?

MR:  For whatever reason I have yet to figure out why Jeff and I have a very special musical connection that has always been apparent even in the little time we have played together.  Maybe it’s because he has such big ears.  He listens to some of everything and deals with the process of sound in so many different capacities – in collaborative groups, groups he leads, as a deejay.  He’s one of the busiest sidemen in creative music and so I just feel like he internalizes so much that allows him to connect with someone weird like me in a really empathetic and eerily intuitive sense.  He’s also just has an incredible big heart, the best laugh ever (Nicole Mitchell is a runner up to this though-her laugh comes from such an amazing wellspring of sound!) and speaks with such kindness about so many things, and knows how to speak on them with a tasteful brevity that I wish I could access more often… Read the rest of this entry »

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