Sunday, June 24, 2018

David S. Ware Quartet - Great Bliss Vol​.​1 (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"Ware says of this music, 'Just empty yourself and let the music take you.' And with this recording, his unit delivers heart-felt, adventurous music that captivates throughout. The session captures a striking ensemble playing with impassioned energy and decisive empathy." 
Michael Rosenstein, Cadence, May 1993

You'd have to be deaf not to hear this music's power spirit. I'd once written that David S. Ware's music is a form of jazz revivalism, "except that what he revives is the scalding-scrawling-sprawling free style of the '60s." These improvisations pack the same sort of excitement many of us first encountered in the break-through music of that time – the sound of old barriers falling and new towers going up: the sound of new spirituals. Still, I now know that that characterization of Ware's music was naive – not least because David himself set me straight.

"The way I play the saxophone now is the same way I've been playing it since I picked it up in 1959," Ware told me during a break in recording the two-volume Great Bliss project. "Of course I listened to all the great musicians of the '60s – Ornette Coleman, Coltrane, Rollins, Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Roland Kirk, Albert Ayler. But my music addresses itself to a universal kind of feeling that transcends decades and everything else. That's not to say that other musics don't do that. But I'm totally into the spiritual value of the music." That roster of greats aside, however, David S. Ware is not one of those musicians who carries a checklist of role models around in his head, ticking off one after another as he proceeds from derivative piece to derivative piece. You can attribute specific aspects of Ware's style to one or another of the players who've caught his ear over the years – if you don't feel vibrations in the air, Jack, you're dead. But Ware always sounds like himself. Multi-instrumentalism lets him expand his concept, even as he attends to each of his instruments' particular strengths. 

Great Bliss – which was conceived as a two-installment project, by the way; the second volume will be every bit as strong as this one – marks the first time Ware has played flute on records. But his douhle-and triple-tonguing, and the clear, reedy sound he gets, sets him apart from most saxophonists who take up that instrument. Ware has been working hard on the flute for several years, and the woodshedding has paid audible dividends. Listen to the first few minutes of "Forward Motion" for proof.

I'm particularly taken by Ware's stritch and saxello work here; on either horn his sound is a throaty, compelling holler that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Stritch, and the saxello's cousin the manzello, are of course closely associated with Roland Kirk. David says both horns date from the 1930s, when about 500 of each were made for use as band instruments. Both are fingered exactly like saxophones, and have conical bores like saxes. The saxello is really a B-flat soprano, except that the bell juts out at a 90-degree angle, and there's a slight crook at the neck.

The stritch is an E-flat alto, shaped much like the saxello, except it has only a slight crook before the bell as well as at the neck. Both horns have a vocal quality similar to that of the traditional straight soprano; the sound seems to leap out of them. "Roland Kirk was really my catalyst to play the flute and the stritch," David says. "I appreciated so much what he did on them. I heard those instruments as an open field – an open sky. A sound that grabs the ear. The night before I bought the stritch, I had a dream that I was holding a note on an instrument, and that note was so fulfilling. I didn't know what that horn was. But I had seen a stritch hanging in a repair shop in Greenwich Village, and decided to get it. I went back and bought the saxello a month later.

His fascination with these relatively recent acquisitions aside, Ware is still best known as a tenor player – that's the horn he started with, the one he played during extended stints with Cecil Taylor and with Andrew Cyrille in the mid-'70s, the one featured on his own previous alhums for Hat Hut, Palm and Silkheart, Ware's darkly brawny and full-throated sound on tenor is partially explained by the fact that he uses the most open mouthpiece that'll play in tune – a cavernous #10 model he had to special order. (Ware is a barrelchested man with no shortage of lungpower.) But there's much more to this sound than the mechanics – every note conveys how seriously he takes his music. "You have to be very cautious with the saxophone,"David says. "The instrument is so powerful, sometimes the body cannot assimilate all that energy, sound and power your nervous system has to deal with. The flute is a very powerful instrument too – playing it involves a pure airstream.

"With wind instruments, you're always dealing with air. Air is a purifier. In yoga, they use the term prana. The closest translation we can come up with is 'the lifeforce that's in the air.' In yoga, there are thousands of breathing exercises used to purify the body. But you have to do them as prescribed; if you do them wrong, you could hurt yourself. 

"You could spend 100 percent of your time working on each of these instruments – the flute, the tenor, saxello and stritch – and I'm sorry I can't spend all day on each of them. But you've got to know how much you can practice every day – after that, you can go and relax. Everyone was amazed by the things Rahsaan played – circular breathing, and playing three instruments at one time – but now he's gone. I'm not saying he shouldn't have done that, but there's a risk involved." 

Ware's caution explains one of the appealing things about his playing: for all his passion, he leaves space in his lines; for all his force, he doesn't crowd your ears. Which is not to say that he's taking it easy. "It's great to have a challenge. In music, there are certain problems to be overcome, that are inherent in a composition or a certain instrument, problems you have to get through to play what you want to play. There's only one way to do that: you've got to practice, you've got to play, and lead a disciplined life. It takes thousands and thousands of hours alone with an instrument. I love solitude – it's a form of bliss for me.

"Along with the other changes happening in the world, regarding the possibilities of the human spirit – like the Berlin Wall coming down – a lot of things should be happening in the arts, music especially. The further we go into the next century, the less garbage we should see and hear. We should awaken to a higher purpose in music.

"Music should bring out the inner quality in individuals and in life. The first purpose of music is not to entertain, but to raise the human spirit. Music is really a science. In India, where circular breathing may have originated, the whole science of music comes through meditation, revealed through silence – seers and saints, sitting in silence." There's a dramatic illustration of his respect for quietude on "Sound Bound" – the six seconds of silence that arrives about nine minutes into the piece. Other musicians might have nervously filled the space. Ware and company understand that silence is a precious as sound. This is a good a place as any to touch on the extraordinary way this music was put together. (It'll be dealt with more fully in the notes to Great Bliss, Vol 2, Silkheart 128.)

The problem with most jazz records is that they're under-rehearsed: by the time the players settle in together, the recording is over. This three-day sesssion was very much the exception – Ware began rehearsing the members of the quartet over three months in advance, and they played for five davs straight before heading into the studio.

In another sense, this music began forming long before that, when David and drummer Marc Edwards began playing together in Boston in 1968; Edwards has been on all but one of David's own dates, and played with him in a 1976 Cecil Taylor unit. Ware and Edwards first crossed paths with bassist William Parker in 1973, in a Taylor Big Band. Edwards and Parker were the rhythm section on Ware's previous album, the 1988 recording Passage to Music (Silkheart 113). When David made it known he was thinking of adding a piano player to the mix, Parker and fellow bassist Reggie Workman both recommended Matthew Shipp, who was 29 at the time of these recordings. His only previous record was a duo set (Sonic Explorations, Cadence Jazz 1037) with a Silkheart stablemate altoist Rob Brown. Shipp's one of the rare pianists who makes extensive use of extended techniques who isn't heavily indebted to Cecil Taylor. "People are going to find out about Matthew very soon," Ware says. "He's one of a kind, even now." 

About these sessions in general, David says "It takes a long time to prepare cats, the way I like to do things. The tenor pieces are more permanently structured. As you can hear, "Bliss Theme" and "Thirds" (the latter built on intervals of a third, obviously enough) are harmonized lines, even if David's tongue-talking tenor sails outside the chords. "But the pieces we did with flute, saxello and stritch are pure concept," he continues. "The rehearsals are a performance – we keep working on concepts till they crystallize. You have to know what to do with freedom – you can give yourself enough rope to hang yourself. But when you have the concept and the discipline, and a drug-free nervous system is there, you can really get it. It's an intuitive knitting and intertwining. Each thread comes together to make the fabric that is the piece."

Indeed, given the high spirits and raw edge that helps characterize this music, there's a wealth of wondrous detail to be heard as these pieces blossom. Take the way Parker's singing arco bass figure intertwines with Shipp's descending chords a little over seven minutes into "Forward Motion," their interplay eventually dissolving into Edwards' trap-set vignette. These pieces order themselves: on "Cadenza," the rhythm players drop out – to let the leader's stritch dance on its own – then dive back in, in spontaneous call and response. The subsequent solos evolve naturally out of the texture of the music. Indeed, the discovery of organic form in the playing is one of the marvels of improvised music, and one of the key pleasures of Great Bliss.

"I hope people take the time to sit down and listen to this music, to give it a chance," David S. Ware says as he brings our talk to a close. "Don't come to it with any preconceived notions. Just empty yourself and let the music take you. For those who like to travel, instead of getting on a bus or a train, put it on. It'll take you somewhere." 

Kevin Whitehead


not the dull colors 
of this morning's 
now in masses 
these colors disperse 
with the oncoming 

the music bounces from one 
skin to another 
one human cloud 
to another 

moving eastward – moving northward 
the skin outward up & 

the crowd gathers for 
the matinee performance 

we – even the rooted – are gypsies 

active sensing 
the cadenza pushing 
beneath the heart. 

Steve Dalachinsky 

Sound On Sound Studios

1. Forward Motion 12:11
2. Angular 05:19
3. Bliss Theme 09:02
4. Cadenza 11:48
5. Sound Bound 12:08
6. Mind Time 04:28
7. Saxelloscape One 04:33
8. Thirds 13:55

David S. Ware flute, tenor sax, saxello, stritch
Matthew Shipp piano
William Parker bass
Marc Edwards drums, tympany, chimes, bells, percussion

Roscoe Mitchell / Brus Trio - After Fallen Leaves (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"If, like yours truly, you are more familiar with multi-reedman Michell's more extroverted contributions to countless dates with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, you will find After Fallen Leaves a considerably more pensive (though no less entrancing) display of his compositional and interpretive talents... This is a beautiful way to spend one's musical listening time." 
Reuben Jackson, Jazz Times, April 1993

 "After Fallen Leaves": A journey to Sweden by the major American composer-saxophonist-multiple woodwind improviser, Roscoe Mitchell, in the autumn of 1989. There he rehearsed with the Sweden-based Brus Trio, gifted, versatile free jazz artists who quickly became proficient in his unique musics; as a quartet they played concerts in Stockholm and in northern Sweden, then at the end of October returned to Stockholm to record this remarkable disc. The nights were long and the season was changing, with "some good days and some not so good, though it wasn't really hitter yet," says Mitchell. Like the unpredictable season, the quartet's music also offers highly diverse, changing dispositions – pastoral peace, humor, severity, detachment and attachment, and so on – a variety that's certainly increasingly characteristic of Mitchell's art.

It's important that these are not simply the time-honored traveling-soloist-plus-pickup-accompaniment performances, but true quartet performances. "That was a good thing to have happen," Mitchell says. "I like people who can perform in several idioms, and deal with the reeds and stuff, and be up on a certain level technically for certain types of compositions – people who really want to be in full control of their concentrated power, to project what they're doing. These are interesting musicians – they study that kind of thing." In fact, Mitchell has not always had the advantage of such confident, accomplished players to perform his works, so Brus Trio's responsiveness is especially welcome.

The threesome's control, concentration, projection, and mastery of idioms has been earned through years of working and setting challenges together. Producer Keith Knox, who brought Mitchell and the trio together, offers biographical information about these artists. Gilbert Matthews (born 1943) was an established guitarist in his home city, Capetown, South Africa, when a clubowner asked him to take the place of an absent drummer; Matthews did, and a successful, wholly new career in music began. Like some others of that country's finest musicians before him, Matthews wearied of attempting to create music amidst apartheid's official harrassment, and left in 1974, settling in Sweden; Abdullah lbrahim, Chris McGregor, Archie Shepp, Sarah Vaughan and Ray Charles are among those with whom he's subsequently drummed.

Meanwhile, pianist Arne Forsen (born 1960, Umeå, Sweden) and bassist Ulf Åkerhielm (born 1962, Sundsvall, Sweden) were growing up with jazz, playing it in their youth – Åkerhielm was a tenor sax "boy wonder" at three Pori (Finland) Jazz Festivals – and they met when both were studying classical music at Kapellsburg music school in Härnösand, Sweden. By 1979 they were appearing as a duo, startling audiences with their "outside" jazz, and scuffling for engagements in Stockholm, Two years later, Matthews heard them in a club and played with them informally; the experience was so stimulating to all that they began Brus Trio. 

Usually original compositions, most often Forsén's, provide the takeoff for the trio's free flights, though in two earlier recordings they joined with lyrical saxophonists John Tchicai and Charles Tyler. Clearly, Brus Trio's eight years' experience in freely improvising together has brought vigor and sensitivity to MitchelI's compositions. For instance, Mr. Freddie is in a perfect, medium-up tempo for swinging – what Von Freeman has called "the Chicago tempo" – and the tense, eager, ahead-of-the-beat bass of Åkerhielm provides irresistible propulsion. Forsén's superb development of ideas in his piano solo results in a hard-edged line moving with a radical sense of drama, before Matthews, who is truly a "listening" drummer, at last breaks loose, enthusiastic assertion balanced by strong formal instincts. All of this is extension and complement to Mitchell's happy theme and wonderful alto solo. As the great bassist Wilbur Ware used to say, "Let's play this music together." 

The trio's dynamic and linear sensitivity to Mitchell's ideas is the subtle feature that makes this music flow, a sensitivity that's crucial to Sing. The music's constituent elements – color, harmony, rhythm, melody – are a step removed from conventional associations, as the work evolves to Mitchell's long-toned alto sax melody.

While Forsén's piano solo develops largely in rhythmic terms, to the complex, dancing accompaniment of Åkerhielm and Matthews, the composition's essential innocence is never violated. And in many ways Brus Trio's most impressive work on this disc is its freedom within the medium of free space as they interpret Mitchell's most unique works, presenting the interaction of sounds amid silence with uncommon clarity and responsiveness. The flowing quality of these performances, then, is their most pleasing feature.

Before meeting Brus Trio, Mitchell had heard them on record and knew they could meet his music's demands. The new kind of ensemble that he had brought to jazz in the 1960s, which eventually became the Art Ensemble of Chicago, thoroughly refreshed the art form by drawing on all of its resources, past, present, and future. Subsequently, he began isolating and investigating the fundamental elements of music, especially sound and its properties, and critic Larry Kart's comments on Mitchell's LRG/The Maze/S II Examples (Chief CD) could apply to much of Mitchell's 1970s works: "Harmony is nonexistent, as are melody and rhythm in the sense of variations from any norm outside the world of the piece. Instead, we hear timbre and the shape of phrases in space, with the space between each shape always clearly defined... he is discovering that when music is truly broken down into its component parts, a new order can emerge.

While Roscoe Mitchell continued to explore along these lines in the 1980s, his interests expanded in other directions also. The lyrical, melodic, swinging works that appear here are also typical of his present work, and a special advantage of the extended time available to compact discs is the opportunity to hear a wider variety of Mitchell musics than was hitherto possible in a single document. Apart from his works with his Sound, Space, and Chamber Ensembles, and his concert adventures with Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Steve Lacy, among others, his 1980s Quartet calls for special mention. The sad passing of his longtime associate, drummer Steve McCall, concluded the Quartet's efforts, but its explorations (note Mitchell's 1986 Black Saint album The Flow Of Things) were to blossom forth into the musics that the Mitchell-Brus Trio quartet presents here. 

To look at the performances in order, then:

Sing first appeared in the 1981 Mitchell Sound Ensemble release Snurdy McGurdy and her Dancin' Shoes (Nessa LP); in this colorful, highly decorated new version, Mitchell appears first on flute, then on alto sax.

The 55th Street point of Lake Michigan, in the heart of Chicago, is a magnet for swimmers, sunbathers, picnickers, and others. "I thought of sitting there on a nice warm day, and usually the drummers were playing and a lot of people were throwing balls or sitting and watching the lake – a lot of gaiety," says Mitchell. The isolated tones of his soprano sax and the other, distant, instruments here, all played very softly, present a detached individual's mood, with the faintest hint of sly expectancy on A Lovely Day at the Point.

From such soft, spaced sounds to the wild freakout of The Reverend Frank Wright is a long step indeed. Mitchell recalls meeting Wright in 1968, when the bold tenor saxman was in Cecil Taylor's band, which shared a California concert with the Mitchell-Lester Bowie-Malachi Favors trio – "We were out there just barnstorming, the way we usually did."

Amid the dense ferocity here, note how Mitchell's low, blatted, repeated tenor sax figure is the cell motive for a thorny solo. 

And Then There Was Peace is not exactly serene – the quartet's reflections include dark shadings. The work dates from 1962, when Mitchell led a pianoless quartet in Chicago. "Studying some of the stuff that we were doing back then is just a wealth of information."

Mitchell says that Everett Sloane is a fictional character but The Two Faces of Everett Sloane is not really a Dr Jekyll-Mr. Hyde shocker. Rather, one face is portrayed in near cubist fashion with broken sounds, and the other face is portrayed in an incredibly long, many noted, involved soprano sax phrase.

After Fallen Leaves is "improvised off certain theme lines," with the players creating in separate, independent parts that nevertheless share a pastoral mood; Mitchell is heard first on flute, then in a long-noted tenor sax melody.

And then, wham! A big, powerful alto sax tone over roiling accompaniment introduces Mr Freddie, which has no links to the early blues standard of that title by Freddie Shayne. Rather, this 1962 song honors Mitchell's trumpeter of those days, Fred Berry; Mitchell's wondrously melodic solo recalls his links to early Ornette Coleman, however, bathed in the chemicals of Mitchell's own intensity and cruel humor.

Come Gather Some Things and Play With The Whistler are improvised to a "formula" that uses space and many sounds: "It's supposed to sound like a composition. In improvisation on a high level, you're completely aware of every part, including yourself." It recalls his sound collages of LRG and The Maze, with a series of events from a few seconds to a couple of minutes long, which add a piano to the free motions of multi-wood-wind-string-percussion sounds in space. Forsén, who ranges from percussive to almost melodic in his brief not-phrases, often proves a humanizing element as he lends irregular degrees of harmony to the others' ever-changing sonorities: a sensitive, responsive improvising quartet indeed.

Since these recording sessions, Mitchell has continued to tour and record widely with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, including sessions with South African musicians, Cecil Taylor, and Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy. He's also composed for pianist Joseph Kubera and for his own several groups, and is planning collaborations with Henry Threadgill and performances with Douglas Ewart's Clarinet Choir.

He continues to teach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, his home city, where he plans to start a large repertory ensemble to perform music of "contemporary composers, like Ornette Coleman, Muhal Richards Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgill, and on and on." Hopefully, there will be future collaborations with the Brus Trio, too, for the stimulating success of After Fallen Leaves, its vitality; flow, and abundantly shared feelings, surely call for more. 

John Litweiler

1. Sing 15:23
2. A Lovely Day at the Point 04:41
3. The Reverend Frank Wright 07:06
4. And Then There Was Peace 04:51
5. The Two Faces of Everett Sloane 03:30
6. After Fallen Leaves 08:01
7. Mr Freddie 04:34
8. Come Gather Some Things 11:58
9. Play with the Whistler 07:25

Roscoe Mitchell flute, alto sax, tenor sax, soprano sax
Arne Forsén piano
Ulf Åkerhielm bass
Gilbert Matthews drums, gongs, chimes, percussion

Joel Futterman Quartet - Vision in Time (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"Futterman's piano sound is the result of having the strongest left hand technique in the business coupled with a unique three-hand technique developed while working in isolation for the past two decades. For me, though, the beauty of Futterman's approach is that his technique is always contained within the music, serving as a conduit for the development of ideas, and not used as a display of Lisztonian fireworks." 
Paul Niles, Jazz Review and Collector's Discography, March 1992

Improvised music is a warehouse full of paradoxes. Among them is the sense that this music, which promotes freedom and personal expression like no constitutional amendment ever did, is nevertheless governed by a set of clubhouse rules that often seem downright draconian.

Joel Futterman, who has been making music for a long time, with a 23 year involvement in New Music alone, is an individual whose career is well delineated by a healthy neglect for those rules. Currently working in theVirgina tidewater area, having forsaken the prototypical urban center, he is continually forging a music that is made with an early Ornette-like sense of separation from the neighborhood of creative and nurturing forces. As with Coleman, Futterman's music is indelibly his own, and has clearly and of necessity been reached through a continual and deeply-held belief in himself. 

It cannot be simple or easy to develop the urgent, frankly communal forms often found in New Music, while maintaining such a creative life apart. In truth, Futterman is not entirely alone in his work, for he enjoys a luxury almost as dear as his self reliance – that of a close and constant collaborator, Robert Adkins, who is the drummer on this recording. The bond that these two have achieved through their years of work together would be precious in any setting, but is especially focused, vital and well-kept in its own context.

Getting to hear the output of this collaboration is as great an opportunity as that of the two being able to bear down consistently on a shared vision, in lieu of working more intermittently with a wider circle of musicians. 

If anything, though, this work is under-documented. Vision in Time represents the first recorded venture forth for the pianist and drummer since 1984's Inneraction, made with bassist Richard Davis and the late altoist Jimmy Lyons.

That record proved to be Lyons' last date, a turn which had a deep effect on both Futterman and Adkins. Both speak of Lyons, to this day, incredulous that they encountered such a touchstone and kindred spirit, let alone that he's now departed. He is remembered here with the dedication of "There is a Smile". 

Having established a working closeness on his last recording, Futterman met with producer Philip Egert in 1988 and set about recapturing that quality in a follow-up quartet session, again with bassist Davis. The leader then contacted fellow former Chicagoan, Joseph Jarman, having written the music for this date with tenor sax and bass clarinet in mind, both prominent weapons in Jarman's arsenal of things great and small. Adkins, of course, was equally committed to recording in this setting.

He had met up with New Music when he met up with Futterman in 1974, after years of paying a surprising variety of straightahead dues with well knowns at home and abroad. He hasn't spared any effort in his development since. And, as is now especially evident, he has mastered the rigors of playing free time with purpose.

The way in which the quartet was formed for this recording is a measure of the acknowledgement given Futterman, despite his years of removal from the larger music making community. Jarman, a man of keen insight and curiosity, became interested in the project despite his being unfamiliar with Futterman's most recent work, and was furnished scores in advance of the date.

Davis, with customary elegance and assurance, agreed to fly in for the recording the moment the subject was broached. His admiration for Futterman's abilities and his offer of artistic support and fellowship (which is not lightly given) date back to his musical introduction to the leader some years ago. As to the present day, the ease of wresting Davis from the embrace of the American heartland for this recording was likely occasioned by a warm remembrance for the freedoms of the previous quartet project, and by his continued appreciation for the company of a player who shares his breadth of experience and length of service to the foundations of improvised music.

Indeed, as Futterman warms up the studio piano, it's clear that he is the master of many possibilities, some familiar; some, as Jon Hendricks would say, "unforeheard". When an artist of such range focuses on making a music that is continually new to his vision and capabilities, it's clear that such art is completely of necessity, and that it will be made regardless of the opportunity to record it. The pianist, who has miles of ideas waiting to be brought to sound, nevertheless has made the most of this occasion, and has fashioned the music into a distinct and evolutionary statement by changing some parameters from past work.

Vision in Time represents a more fully compositional effort for Futterman, and the compositions are of a relatively concise and discrete nature, as opposed to the extended format of Inneraction. Some multiple takes were made during the recording (running the risk of countering the freshness of the first take), and if the ensemble sounds close enough to have had the privilege of rehearsals, it is because the vital axis of this quartet, Futterman and Adkins, have been in rehearsal for all those years near the shore.

This undisturbed unity between the two men is clearly the great reward for their having kept faith apart from the bigger climates. They navigate the charged, dense structures of these New Music forms with complete and singular clarity, which should be a revelation to the listener. This clarity, obviously hatched from a distinction of purpose, is an empowerment that can help clear the way to higher ground for both artist and listener.

Thankfully, New Music is still the riskiest music in town to create, and when the risks are taken with such care and experience, they can be made irresistable to us. When the fruit of the risks is expressed with such clarity, we can be certain that when the notes have disappeared, as Dolphy said, into the air, we will have heard and been affected by them all.

William Tandy Young
November 8, 1989

1. Reality on Edge 09:45
2. Talking with You 10:14
3. Vision in Time 08:05
4. There Is a Smile 08:52
5. I Never Knew Her Name 04:31
6. I Remember 15:29
7. Round Two 12:31

Joel Futterman piano
Joseph Jarman tenor sax, bass clarinet
Richard Davis bass
Robert Adkins drums

Dennis Gonzalez New DallasAngeles - The Desert Wind (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"The latest New Dallassomething CD begins auspiciously, with an uplifting but surprisingly springy anthem called Hymn For Julius Hemphill. Brackeen's dry, dry, dry tenor makes a strong statement; Gonzalez rings out like Don Cherry on a day of sunny skies and good chops; Session's alto reaches for the heavens. Well worth hearing. Good recording as always." 
Robert L. Campbell, Cadence, June 1993

"I know where I'm weak, so I deliberately work with those weaknesses that I have and that's why my music sounds the way it does." 

I am hearing this, though not quite believing it, from a friend who sits just inches from me in a crisp, white shirt, and a dark silk tie. His name is Dennis Gonzalez. We're sharing lunch at a modest Dallas restaurant a couple of miles from where he will be teaching in about an hour. Earlier, Gonzalez and his Mariachi band class were preparing for performances in the citywide celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, a patriotic Mexican holiday. 

We've crossed paths in this city so many times before, but today we get to talk. His long black hair dangles as he leans forward to see me swallow what he is saying. "I point them out," he says, "because I'm a human being." He laughs at my surprise. "I have weaknesses. We all have weaknesses." He is still laughing. It is this laugh that is one of his finest assets and I, too, am now smiling broadly. 

Perhaps he oversimplifies, but he is not feigning modesty. It's simply his own analysis of his life's work thus far. An interesting angle considering the coverage of this man's artistic reach. He is famous for building his own expressive outlets in a city famous for its slow cultural growth. Twelve years ago, he, along with pianist Art Lande, established the Dallas Association for Avant-Garde and Neo-Impressionistic Music (daagnim), a new music collective inspired by Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

Since its inception, daagnim has become the tap root for original music in Dallas, spawning numerous workshops and concerts; a nine-piece large ensemble (The daagnim Theoretical Big Band), his Dallas-New Orleans-Jackson (Mississippi) double quartet, New Dallas-Orleanssippi; his Yugoslav New Music Workshop Orchestra; and a record company through which 21 major projects have reached production and distribution. The latest production, recorded live at Caravan of Dreams, features British guitarist Mark Hewins with Gonzalez's Dallas-London Quartet and a special guest, Canterbury bassist Richard Sinclair. And all along the way he has been attracting an increasingly solid American and European following. 

It was Keith Knox who first gave Dennis an outside lead to an international audience.

Knox planned on launching a Swedish record company dedicated to recording the new American jazz. Subsequently, Silkheart Records debuted in 1917 with Stefan, featuring the Dennis Gonzalez New Dallas Quartet.

The Desert Wind is now the fourth album on Silkheart with Dennis Gonzalez out front, and this time he presents New Dallas Angeles. Specifically, that's Alvin Fielder from Jackson; Kim Corbet and Michael Kruge, formerly of the Theoretical Big Band; and Henry Franklin, Michael Session, and labelmate Charles Brackeen – all from Los Angeles; and all serve him well.

For instance, on Hymn for Julius Hemphill, let Kruge's cello be the first clue to prepare you for what's coming. When Brackeen comes in, get ready to fly. And from Horace Tapscott's L.A. ensemble comes Michael Session, bringing buoyancy and color to the compositions, especially Aamriq'aa.

The difference in Gonzalez's composition is compassion, and it's evident on The Desert Wind. Its smooth opening is compassion charted, and from there we follow Brackeen to the leader. Then it's more compassion which separates Session and Fielder and then brings them together in the end. All have artful solos.

Right now, Dennis is glancing in my direction where the conversation will soon continue. I'm still stuck on this "weakness" thing. I am obviously intrigued, and, observing my puzzled expression, he speaks to fill-in the blanks: "The weakest weakness that you have can be turned into the strongest asset. That's really what everything I do is based on." Everything? The music, the teaching, the summer concerts in Europe, the two children he has fathered, his wife of 14 years, the ten years behind a Saturday night radio show in Dallas, the writing, the sculpting, the paintings displayed in 20 exhibits across the world – all of this is based on turning weakness into strength? Of course! 

"We all have these weak points, but in America we cover them up cosmetically. And I don't just mean physically." He looms closer, as if to whisper. "That's what the American culture is all about. You're supposed to show only the strong points." Dennis rests on this one, leaning back into his wooden chair. 

He sips his Sprite and speaks again. "In my painting, I have a technique like the primitive painters. The reason that they're so charming is because they're primitive. They have no tech..." He stops himself, and grabs at the air high above us with both hands. "Well, quote-unquote, no 'technique'. But that is their technique. In fact, it's such a strong weakness that there are big-time artists who are imitating this weakness and making it a hip thing so that they can sell."

Our laughter subsides. My giggle and his laugh dissolve into the crowded air of the lunchtime pace. I am thinking now (and I look to my friend who is toiling too) about the level of cultural standards in a capitalist society. Art that has reached the mainstream is rarely art. Music that can't be defined for optimum market value is left to struggle on its own.

What invariably turns up throughout Gonzalez's recordings is a spiritual heritage. In Mercedes, Texas, near the Mexican border, Dennis was brought up in the church, and as often as possible, he plays Sundays at the First Mexican Baptist Church of Dallas. He is clearly magnetized by the power of the hymn. His Hymn series, of which Julius Hemphill is part, is based on the signature tune Holy Manna with its eighth arrangement featured here. Previous Hymns have ben dedicated to Bob Marley, Sam Rivers, Albert Ayler, King Sunny Ade, Johnny Dyani, Don Cherry, and John Carter.

The arrangement for Hymn for Julius Hemphill is based on the music of African singer Salif Keita and the Griot music of Mali. Aside from his influence as a New Jazz pioneer, Hemphill's research into the music of the Dogon people of Mali strongly shaped Gonzalez's style of composition. "Because of my respect and love for him and his music," says Gonzalez, "and because he has sparked in me an interest in the folk music of Africa, this is dedicated to him." 

Aamriq'aa is the name given to America by the Persians. "After the revolution in Iran," Dennis explains, "I lost track of the Iranian friends with whom I attended college, and who had taught me much about the music and culture of the Middle East and Islam. This is a prayer that one day we will be reunited. This song is dedicated to my teacher, percussionist Fariborz Amirbehboody who helped me understand the way I hear."

Gonzalez wrote The Desert Wind specifically for Charles Brackeen's soprano saxophone. It is dedicated to a group of musicians from the Middle East, The East-West Ensemble, from Tel-Aviv. New Dallas Angeles shared a concert with the group in Albuquerque under the auspices of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop the day before this recording.

The title for Battalion of Saints comes from a book that sat on Gonzalez's parents' bookshelf when he was a kid. "When I first learned to read, the title intrigued me because I read the title as Battle Lion of Saints. You can imagine what kinds of visions that conjured up in my mind!" 

On Max-well, Alvin Fielder explores the drum musics of Max Roach and his friend and mentor Ed Blackwcll. "The melody line is very difficult for horn players", says Dennis, "and the composition reflects the style of Alvin's long-time association with Kidd Jordan in their Improvisational Arts Quintet." 

Getting inside Dennis' music merely involves recognizing his individuality and appreciating the strength of character that makes up the sound. A sound which is, by the way, a fresh, invigorating blend of international influences. World music. Gonzalez points to Don Cherry and to European trumpet masters Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stanko, and Manfred Schoof, and he also credits the Beatles for their open-minded sense of expression. He really does find inspiration in almost anything. He is a student of the world's many cultures.

In his travels he has collected well over one hundred musical instruments, become fluent in half a dozen languages, and all of it seems to seep in somehow. He and Brackeen are planning to record together again in the near future – another musical and spiritual collaboration between friends. 

Our noontime visit is at an end and I reflect on the men I've come to know a little bit better. Dennis Gonzalez and myself.

1. Hymn for Julius Hemphill 14:14
2. Aamriq'aa 11:10
3. The Desert Wind (The Breath of Jehova) 18:44
4. Battalion of Saints 05:24
5. Max-Well 10:55

Dennis Gonzalez conductor, Bb trumpet, C trumpet, pocket trumpet 
Charles Brackeen soprano sax, tenor sax 
Michael Session soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax 
Kim Corbet trombone 
Michael Kruge cello 
Henry Franklin bass 
Alvin Fielder drums

William Hooker Ensemble - The Firmament Fury (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"Hooker's music is good, unabash ed free-jazz improvising. He and Lawrence make an effective duet: Hooker's rolling bed of drumming avoids direct comment on Lawrence's strong, Lyons-inflected alto. Of the trio and quartet tracks on the album, Pralaya and Radiance are probably the strongest. The horn players get their solo moments and do well with them, but the music is framed to emphasize the group, and that's where a listener's ears are drawn. There's good group improvising to be heard here." 
Dale Smoak, Cadence, February 1993

1. Crises

"At first I was afraid; this familiar music had demanded action, the kind of which I was incapable, and yet had I lingered there beneath the surface I might have attempted to act. Nevertheless, I know now that few really listen to this music." 

Ralph Ellison
The Invisible Man

It's my firm belief that the task of the musician in playing improvised music is to anchor a higher level of existence on the material plane. This doesn't mean to say that this happens, or that this view is shared by other composers, players and colleagues. There are, of course, more superficial views which address themselves to money, fame, prestige, women/men, and power. These views should not be dismissed, for these people also play music, write compositions, do interviews, make records, and (indeed) cause the direction of improvised music to go a certain way. But my alternative view still stands. I feel that when one is making music, it is the task of the musician to create what flows on a higher level of life-thought and idea. I believe this abstraction is acknowledged by most musicians who see each other, and ultimately respect each other, just because we are musicians.

This is probably an unwritten code of thought in the creative field. It is one which seems to be realized wherever I go, amongst friends and enemies alike. We are neither promoters nor entrepreneurs first, we are artists with that unique talent to improvise and create music on the spot. This unites us. The other territorial boundaries separate us. But the first goal is in the bringing down from some higher place, an energy, a music, which exists on a realm outside of the ordinary everyday drudgery of life, and it is the realization of this that produces the crises. In coming down the music is used, abused, transferred and transformed, not always toward higher levels. And this music is (mostly) not heard by the human beings meant to receive its message.

2. Resolution

The fact of 'identification' with the music one makes is also a situation that can produce a desperate individual, with a life and creative juices that are even more desperate. I speak of the need to affirm self-identity for the artist. What is real (surely) is not only in the music's imaginative vista, but one begins to question the aspects of life and death which every individual questions, after a while. 

This is the scenario: the musician is creating and no one is listening, no one is affirming higher art, no one is crediting the individual with products of higher life (or beauty) – yielding bad vibes all around. 

At this point the artist asks, "Now am I just going to let these people destroy me and my own self-worth? Am I going to let them use me as their pawn in the scheme of technological know-how and materialism to place credence in their perverted vision of what art is, what my improvised music is, and what the direction of my improvised music is?"

This is an affront to my ability to say what my work is and my ability to be truthful in explaining it; thus making it impossible for me to teach it to others. At this point we stop asking what is correct for them, for I have (mistakenly) placed all of my self-worth in being an artist. For these people to tell me that my work is valid (or invalid) is to have the outside world confront my existence, my playing, and my outlook on life on this earth. I am and should be, the judge of this situation; yet it is important for me to have the final word on how I do my work, my improvisation, my life. Perhaps if the world weren't so specialized I would not have to deal with this. Perhaps, if money weren't the only yardstick for measuring the worth of things I wouldn't have to acknowledge this ignorance. 

Nonetheless, we decide that we (the artists) make the music. We have played varied styles in many cities/countries, and when we play with others we know that it is ourselves calling for the instantaneous response to our musical framework. Therefore, within (the 'order' comes from ourselves and whatever the societal context) we know whether our music is true or not. We know how we felt on the day and night of the gig. We know what club owner messed with us, and who we had to be hassled by about the tapes, the pay, the working conditions, etc. Finally, in response to the higher order of things, we know we will die when it's time for us to die, and this no one else can do. It is the musician himself who can legitimize himself; but this is a given, for when he plays he says – I AM. This is the ultimate legitimation. Our notes are our being. I am my music. I initiated the action, and the people involved.

Who can question me? I say to the arrogant mind-set I am confronting, "Do you think you have the right?"

3. Plateau

"All growth is committed to a foundation; time is growth – We are extensions of what always was – and so the TREE grows." 

It grows in its own fashion and in its own environment, and those that care will elaborate on it. This keeps the 'heart' of the matter in the correct place. The music is not merely a process of mix and match, of technological wizardry. There is a spiritual bond (if you will). The acknowledgement that another, be it the musician, the mentor or the teacher; is concerned, and would contribute. This encourages the individual to go to the next step of trying to get money from the business interests who must be persuaded to fund and support our work, so they can perhaps assuage their need to be respected as 'civil citizens' who have culture in mind. This may (or may not) be correct. 

But when we see the motivation of the true artist, we know that our journey is beyond the color of the participants; the race of the average audience; the environment of the presentation. We only know that we are to play and deliver in a strong and spontaneous fashion. Again, this challenge should be differentiated from the supporters. What is this? Talk, conferences, seminars, vocal meanderings... Sure we need the money, but this does not make our committment.

We try to measure up to what our observers cite. This can be positive. Yet there is a paradox. My value triples in Asia. The dollar is on a different scale in Europe. And the white Anglo-Saxon ethic can make me be reproduced on a level that is so cold that everyone will be listening on this scale. This is part of my struggle. My music is Afro-American classical music and I reproduce it myself. No one should tell me how 'hot' I should be, or who I should play with; and I must push to eliminate these problems.

I have realized that the offering I'm making is to a higher place. This doesn't make me an idealist, or impractical, because the vision is always tempered by the world's lack of creativity and fire, and interest in improvisation. This is to be expected, it is the way of the world. But when we take on the rules and values and speculative schemes of others to make our own creative efforts legitimate, we, as artists, are doomed. The music ceases to flow, and hence there is nothing in this environment in any way creative, or giving, to the spontaneous impulse or the music. I try to keep this thought in mind, but not for too long because thought, in itself is also a trap, where the naturalness stops and yields to the master plan of the mind, not the sentences of the music.

4. Crisis – "Once said"

Another crisis is arrived at, for the cycle repeats itself. After creating and going through the stages we have already mentioned, you will find yourself in another cloud. The SUN stops shining, and the western sense of culture stops the mood of the soul's impulse. A cold, closed environ. I will remember the past; I will live to try to stay fresh. My committment to improvised music is in my practice of the art. My necessity to protect its legitimation can only go so far, for the mind only goes so far. It's up to others to realize the process and to listen, openly. I only hope you, the reader, will realize that truth after the natural course of listening is submitted to.

William Hooker

1. For the Spirit of Earth / Cosmic 10:15
2. Prayala 14:07
3. Lustre 13:19
4. The Coming One / Evolve, Part One 08:21
5. Radiance 11:02
6. Evolve, Part Two 02:42

William Hooker drums
Claude Lawrence alto saxophone
Charles Compo tenor & soprano saxophone
Masahiko Kono trombone
Donald Miller electric guitar

Rob Brown Trio - Breath Rhyme (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"Breath Rhyme establishes a high level of creativity right from the first few minutes of Firewalk and maintains it for over an hour. This is one of the best trio record I've heard in some time. It makes a strong case for Brown's place amongst today's better alto improvisers and is another unqualified winner for Silkheart. His Breath Rhyme is an artistic triumph." 
Carl Baugher, Cadence, May 1991

Watching this trio in the studio was fascinating. For a fledgling leader, Rob Brown was almost eerily calm. (Technically this is his second album, but his first – Sonic Explorations, co-led with pianist Matt Shipp, for Cadence Jazz – had been privately recorded and then sold. So this was his first real studio date.) Brown quietly went over cues and solo orders with his rhythm section, and proceeded methodically from one composition to the next without pausing for many playbacks. He was undistracted by the trickle of kibitzers and fellow musicians (like tenorist Frank Lowe) who stopped by to check him out. But when Brown took up his alto and hollered on his horn – he'd lean back, bending his knees and rising on his toes, like a basket player at the foul line – another side of him poured forth. It's as if there's a part of him down deep only music can touch.

Drummer Dennis Charles is animated by nature, but on the days this album was taped he was even more up than usual – the day before, he'd finished recording his own debut as leader (Silkheart SHCD 121). Listening to a playback of "Firewalk" in the booth, he did an ecstatic Monkish shuffle, letting out with an occasional "Oh Yeah! William!" or "Keep that one!" You can hear that enthusiasm in his drumming, just as you can hear his West Indian background in his beats and rhythm. You can hear the shape of a composition there too – Dennis called for a retake of one tune because he wasn't thinking of the melody when he soloed.

By contrast, William Parker is peaceful and steady – the band's anchor when Brown and Charles spin off on tangents. But like Brown, he may reveal another side when he plays – as on "Beehive," one of the greatest displays of manic/controlled bowing I've heard or seen. It makes a case for Parker as the greatest arco bassist in jazz (as do his overtone manipulations on "Stillness"). For that matter, he's one of the greatest jazz bassists, period. 

A few weeks later, Rob Brown sat in a park near his home on NY's Lower East Side, and talked about the road he's taken from Hampton, Virginia (where he was born in 1962) to fronting a trio with two of the best rhythm players in the music. This is some of what he said:

"When I started playing saxophone at 12 or 13, I took it for granted I'd always be a musician – I didn't think it was strange, I just wanted to play. I wanted to play in big bands. Then I got into bebop when I was in high school. I used to listen to Bird records, and read biographies of all the bebop people – I read Bird Lives three or four times, as corny as that book is. I wanted to get into everything that had to do with the music, expecially interview material – it'd give me ideas. Some books I read later that I really liked were A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in the Behop Business, Val Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life, Amiri Baraka's Black Music, which has a chapter on Dennis Charles, and J.C. Thomas' Chasin' the Trane, which has interview material with my teacher, Dennis Sandole." 

Brown spent some of his college years in Boston, at Berklee. "I took an ensemble performance class with John LaPorta. I learned a lot about attitudes toward music from John – not to be inhibited or afraid to make mistakes. 'You'll learn as you play so don't be afraid to go after something that may seem to be out of your reach.' Joe Viola was my saxophone teacher, and he gave me a lot of help with my sound. But they didn't have much of a direct musical influence – I was learning mostly from playing and listening to records. I listened to a lot of Sonny Rollins – not the trio recordings orginally, though now they're my favorite Rollins. And I listened to Ornette, though I'm not really familiar with his trio LPs. I was more into the earlier stuff, the Atlantics and the Hillcrest sessions with Paul Bley.

"The only teacher who had a lot of influence on me conceptually was Dennis Sandole. Three or four years ago, after I'd been in New York a year, I'd take the train to Philly once a week to study with him, for a year and a half. He's a really great teacher – Coltrane, James Moody, Art Farmer and Tommy Flanagan were some of his students. His whole method is very well thought out, very comprehensive. He takes musical materials and puts them together in endless ways, ever and ever more complex. He gave me a real framework to keep working on my own, putting in my own material.

"Before that, I'd studied briefly with Lee Konitz at NYU – less than a semester. But what he'd been trying to teach me was very different from what I'd been working on. Lee wanted me to play Louis Armstrong solos, and though I realized the value of that, I was headed in a different direction, and found that approach stifling at the time. I'd been listening to Albert Ayler, Jimmy Lyons and Roscoe Mitchell. I always liked Jimmy Lyons, but never considered him a big influence – I was much more aware of Cecil Taylor. Roscoe was one of my biggest influences in a way, though I haven't really listened to him for years.

"At one point I totally cut myself off from playing anything reminiscent of traditional jazz. I felt like I had to start all over from a totally different premise, that it was necessary to develop my own vocabulary from which to improvise." 

So has he done it? "Well, yeah. It keeps going on, keeps expanding. I've developed my own language, maybe not radically different, but personal. For one thing, I think intervalically instead of harmonically – dealing with strings of intervals. As in bebop, the emphasis is on the line, but my lines are created by how the notes relate to each other, not to a chord sequence. Sometimes I write tunes that have chords, but they're tetrachords – groups of notes that happen to fall into chords. 

"I try to employ variations on as many musical elements as I can – rhythm, dynamics, timbre. I don't think in terms of traditional timekeeping, but sometimes I think my playing is rhythmically like a drum solo. I feel like I've had to create my own drums with the saxophone. When you don't have a regular tempo under you, you have to create your own pulse to sustain itself. But usually I think about all this stuff in a more intuitive way. 

"I first played with William Parker about three years ago, in a trio with drummer Frank Bambara. We'd rehearsed, and then William called me to play in his big band. A little while later, I put together the trio for a gig at the Knitting Factory; that's when I first played with both William and Dennis. I'd known Dennis was around, and had heard him play and I knew he and William had worked together a lot, with Jemeel Moondoc and some other bands. They'd even rehearsed as a duo for a while. And of course both have worked with Cecil Taylor, though not at the same time.

"To me, William is one of the greatest bass players – I've seen him do a lot of concerts where he'd do some amazing things. He plays in a lot of situations, but some don't show his talents. Dennis is a very interesting player because he comes from a straightahead kind of sound – he really digs Art Blakey – but has stretched that out, thinking in other terms besides the traditional. He really listens, and he's fun to work with. Unlike a lot of drummers in free situations, he doesn't overbear. His playing is very honest, simple but sincere. His playing starts from ideas, not showing of his technique – it's very well developed.

"On the record, I wanted to do a couple of different things – to make it compositional, and for the compositions to vary conceptually to get the whole spectrum of colors. I wanted to avoid just playing in a traditional melody-solos-melody format. We do some of that, but it's not the only thing. I wanted to make it clear that every tune had its own character. Records bother me when the compositions sound different but all the solo sections sound the same. I like to set up textures in advance – to conduct the group through textural changes. So I give William and Dennis an idea, and they do with it what they want. I might give William a melody to play with me, or a written bassline in counterpoint to the melody. But he may change it, which is okay – if it works, it doesn't matter." 

As we were wrapping up, I tell Brown what I've already told you: that the bluesy, hollering energy in his playing seems to come from some remote place – that he seems to tap into something elemental and spiritual. "I would never try to say that I'm a blues player. I have nothing against it, I just don't think in those terms. If it comes off that way it's 'cause people are hearing something I really feel." He mulls it over for a second. "Yeah, there's a spiritual thing there, definitely." 

Kevin Whitehead 
June 1989

Alto saxophonist/composer Rob Brown's music suggests a direct link with the naked expressionism of the 60's avant-garde. The trio interacts in such an intuitive fashion that it conveys improvisation on a level which recalls Cecil Taylor's notion of music being organic, a living entity. Brown's unyielding devotion to his art is also reminiscent of John Coltrane's onemindfulness; so much so that even the titles of this session's compositions were afterthoughts. Brown's compositions deal with the music in and of itself, rather than through any reference to personal experience. Finally, his dry piercing tone connects with an array of 60's players (Ayler, Charles Tyler) in its hard and sensual directness. But, far from being the avant-garde's Wynton Marsalis, Brown is an original talent whose music adds onto 'the tradition', rather than simply bathing in its glory.

"I don't think in terms of 'free', I like Albert Ayler for his sense of melody and his folk references. But my playing is different from music of that era because of its emphasis on an equal share of harmonic development and variation." For added points of reference, Brown cites Charlie Parker and the great Philadelphia teacher Dennis Sandole as being instrumental in his growth. It is the quality of 'growth' that Brown best exemplifies, be it in the firmly mature sense that he has of himself as a young artist or his daunting lyricism in the searing music found throughout this session.

I hope that Rob Brown continues to evolve this music. I hope too that he continues to maintain the fixed, poignant melodies that lie at its heart, the harmonic richness that elaborates on the past. I also hope that he continues to play with the likes of Charles and Parker, of course. "I have to play with people I trust," he insists.

I trust that on those terms you will enjoy both Rob Brown's bright future, and the music at hand here. 

Ludwig Van Trikt

1. Firewalk 10:56
2. Stillness 06:01
3. Breath Rhyme 07:35
4. PB 10:51
5. The Light 04:49
6. Beehive 11:34
7. Awake 07:31
8. Escape Velocity 06:38

Rob Brown alto saxophone
William Parker bass
Dennis Charles drums

Dennis Charles Triangle - Queen Mary (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"Named in honor of a revolutionary Black woman from St. Croix, Charles along with his brother Huss Charles on conga, a sturdy and outstanding Wilber Morris on hass, and a stalwartly strong hut woefully under-recorded Booker T. on tenor sax offer up a program which manages to emphasize solos without at the same time de-emphasizing the compositions. The balance is extraordinary and the music invigorating, especially because its rhythmic appeal is so strong that one quickly drops any prejudices that one has about the lack of swing in avant-garde jazz." 
Kalamu ya Salaam, Wavelength, October 1991

In 1878 three women canefield workers led a march across the Caribbean island of St Croix. Armed only with machettes, kerosene and matches, they burned down estates and the sugarcane crop in a revolt against the invidious wages and conditions that kept the people of the Danish-ruled Virgin Islands in a state of de facto slavery, thirty years after emanicipation. Many whites were killed before the rebellion led by Queen Mary, Bottom Bell and Agnes was quelled, but the gendarmerie needed massive reinforcements to do so.

Caught up in the mob was Dennis Charles' grandfather. "Are you on our side of Ironside?" went the battlecry - 'Iron-side' was Denmark – and the wrong response spelt death. It was an uncertain situation for a 12 year-old, and when the rum-drinking rebels sent him for limes, he took the opportunity to disappear.

Dennis Charles had this story from his father on a recent trip to St Croix, his first visit to his birthplace in 28 years. But the music, the song that grew up around the Queen Mary story was something he had carried with him since childhood. Like the other pieces here, he first heard it over fifty years ago. "In all the years that went by, I would rearrange these tunes in my head. I started hearing them as jazz."

Dennis Charles, disciple of Buhaina (Art Blakey) and Cecil (Taylor), percussionist veteran of the New Music's earliest wave, has never turned his back on his Caribbean childhood. Even working with pianist Taylor in the 1950s, he was doubling up in calypso bands and playing West Indian cocktail ships. For years he has talked of the music he heard while living in St Croix: the Christmas and New Year Masquerade (Carnival), the bamboula drum dances, the Wild Indians with painted faces, ("incredible dancers"), the story of David and Goliath played out in the streets. There were the Mother Hubbards, too, a hundred-strong contingent of women dressed entirely in white, who would take over the streets of Frederiksted, the capital, with their unique style of singing and dancing.

Charles had carried the idea of recording some of the music for a long time as well. A New Yorker since the age of 11, he first returned to St Croix in 1960 with his younger brother Frank, ('Huss'), also a percussionist. They caught the end of an era when the quadrille was still danced, accompanying their father to a ballroom called Come-along Castle where an elderly audience danced to the sounds of earlier times. With a metal flute to carry the melody and a squash scraped rhythmically in time, Charles père laid down the chords on his banjo. Another man maintained a cymbal-like beat on a triangle or 'steel', (so-called because generally made by a blacksmith), the bass being provided by an instrument unique to the region. Its exponent, a man Charles describes as a 'genius', was Joseph 'Paddy' Moore who blew, juglike, on an exhaust-pipe.

When a group of elderly women were persuaded on to the dance floor, Charles witnessed the life-renewing power of the music. "Really, it brought back their childhood. They would pull their dresses up when they'd play these quadrilles, and they were screaming and having a hall. Their age went out the window!" 

He remembers turning to his brother. "I said: now wouldn't this be a bitch if you had a rhythm like this – no jazz drumming – and a saxophone like Sonny Rollins soloing?" It was the first time he had considered the possibility of translating the music into a modern setting.

Back in New York, he sought out Rollins, enthused. The latter's pianoless Freedom Suite had not long been released, and the rhythmic possibilities of a similar group suggested themselves. He knocked on Rollins' door and introduced himself, and before long, the Charles brothers were coaching Rollins in the rhythms of their childhood. But the record-date that ensued was fraught with A&R interference and the specificity of the rhythms disappeared.

Over the years, Charles taught other musicians his tunes, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman and tenorist Jim Pepper among them. David Murray recorded his Maypole Dance, a hangover from the period when the islands were under British rule. (This song was called West Indian Folk Song on the recording in question in point of fact, DIW-809, a compact disc featuring Murray in 1983 as a member of Wilber Morris' Wilber Force.) However, it was not until the present date that an opportunity arose to fully explore Charles' material.

Growing up 'like nature boy' in St Croix, swimming and fishing to catch his own breakfast each day, Charles heard his first music from his father who also told stories by candlelight. Bass Space, done here as a light, airy dance with Wilber Morris playing a prominent role, is typical of one of these tales.

The original, which has Danish lyrics, (both his parents spoke the language), tells of the Devil appearing in human form with a flute. "In the meadow in the afternoon, the young kids would be watching the goats and sheep, the Devil sitting under a tree with a big burlap bag behind him. He'd play this tune for the young shepherds and call the kids closer. They'd come closer and closer. And he'd snatch 'em, put them in his burlap bag."

In addition to banjo and conga drum, the elder Charles played ukelele, tuning the string to four sung notes; 'I-Don't-Drink-Rum'. When Dennis acquired his first drumset, he remembered this method. Noted for his impeccably tuned instruments, he explained how he tuned his tom-toms in order to play 'Bom-bombom-bash!' in imitation of his father's procedure. Hearing these four notes as a major chord, he is able to play 'here comes the bride' on tom-toms and snare, (squeezing the floor tom with his left hand for the flattened third note). As a 'frustrated trombone player', (he studied the instrument for seven years), the drums must be in tune. "I hear the drums as notes, so I have all these notes to play with. I take time to tune them because if they're not right I can't play what I want to play." 

Raised in a Catholic convent run by Belgian nuns where the Mother Superior played piano, Charles was exposed to European music at an early age. He was something of a child-star, too, enlisted into St Croix' foremost band, the Rhythmakers, as a 7 year-old bongo player when caught sitting-in at rehearsal. In no time at all he had his own band uniform and was playing with them throughout the island until a fatal road accident altered his father's laissez faire attitude. "No more bongo, wongo fo yuh ass!" he told him, a saying which was to follow him all his life. To his amazement, he was greeted with those words on visiting the island almost 50 years on.

In 1945 he went to New York to join his mother who had left St Croix when he was three. The rough urban environment came as a shock. Harlemites were hostile to youths they perceived as 'countryfied' and Dennis and Huss were forced to take desperate measures for self-protection. But the city had its compensations: Charlie Parker at the Apollo and an older brother who took Dennis dancing at afternoon sessions featuring Fats Navarro, Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson. School was a block from Minton's Playhouse, and it was there, on the marquee, that he first saw the names of Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey.

But it was Roy Haynes who awakened the dormant drummer. "I was a drum freak, listening to everyone, but Roy, on Bud Powell's Wail! was playing something different. He had the slickest shit I ever heard. He gave me an inkling of playing double-time licks with the left hand. Horn players do it, but most drummers play on the beat. Roy Haynes, though, he doubled up. He gave me the germ of that idea." 

When he heard Blakey in 1954 he was captured for ever. He started to play 'Art,' he says simply, 'took my spirit.' 

The divergent trajectories of the Charles brothers' careers that intersect in this music, reflect the diversity and similarities of the Diasporean experience. While Dennis pursued bebop and 'hipness', Huss, two years his junior, stayed with the homeboys. From the late 1940s he played with calypso bands; one was led by Claude Brewster, an alto saxophonist from St Croix, another by a famous calypsonian, Macbeth the Great, father of percussionist Ralph McDonald.

A cousin, Raymond Charles, also played congas with Brewster, and it was from them that Dennis began relearning the music he'd forgotten to play. "Huss taught me how to play calypso, and I taught him how to play swing." Not to be overlooked, a frequent guest at these woodshedding sessions in a 'raggedy basement' on 118th Street was Cecil Taylor, with whom Dennis had just started to play. For a while, Taylor, Blakey and Charles roomed together downtown on Second Avenue.

Today, there is a highway in St Croix named after Queen Mary. The drummer's tribute to the legendary insurrectionist (who, incidentally, despite having killed several whites was pardoned by Denmark after a short exile and allowed to return), is in the tradition of acknowledging revolutionary leaders. As a question-and-answer piece, it is the one where he regrets having no additional horns. 'They ask her:

Queen Mary, girl, where you gonna burn? 
Queen Mary; girl, where you gonna burn? 
and she answers: 
Don't you ask me nothing at all, 
I want the match and oil. 
'Tis Basin jailhouse, a-dey the money dere.'

For the rest of the material, Stand Back comes from the repertoire of an entertainer named Holiday who "dressed real outlandish with long chains and all kind of raggedy clothes. A real creative dresser." 

Accompanied by two guitarists and another man blowing on an exhaust-pipe, he would crack jokes and tell stories before beginning to play. One of his characters was Johnny Cake-Boat who made a giant boat from pancake flour. Out on the ocean, the fish started eating the boat. Stand Back, sung slowly to guitar accompaniment, is more ribald:

Stand back, girl, stand back, girl, 
Give me the thing from behind. 
Some pay a dollar, some pay a dime, 
Some don't pay a single cent 
But they want the thing from behind.

It is played here as an up-tempo romp in keeping with the erotic sentiments of the original.

Charles was involved in an argument when Sweet Melanie jumped into his head. Originally a much faster number with elements of English folksong in the melody, he began to wonder how it would sound slowed-down.

Initially he had thought the calypso-style Rise Up, which exists elsewhere in the Caribbean as Mattie Grew, was concerned with rebellion. Researching further, however, he uncovered the words of an unfaithful husband, trying to persuade a lover to leave before his wife returns.

To create these inspired versions of the St Croix material, Charles recruited familiar New York figures. On bass is longtime associate Wilber Morris who has worked with him alongside Frank Lowe and Billy Bang and leads his own group, Wilber Force. Taking over the flute's traditional role is the Seattle saxophonist Booker T. Williams whose sonorities and passion call to mind the sanctified sound of Albert Ayler or Vernard Johnson. Huss Charles contributes to all but one track, but as Dennis, who has enough matenal for another album, puts it, "He didn't show all the rhythms he knows." The same could be said of the leader, still doing it after all these years.

1. Triangle 00:27
2. Sweet Melanie 15:55
3. Stand Back 05:39
4. Queen Mary 09:49
5. Bass Space 04:25
6. Rise Up 09:50
7. Afro-Amer.Ind 28:40

Booker T. tenor saxophone
Wilber Morris bass
Dennis Charles drums
Huss Charles congas