Table & Chairs is very excited to be collaborating with Pinkish and the Portland-based Creative Music Guild for our October 24th show at the Columbia City Theatre. T&C artist Neil Welch met with guitarist/composer Ryan Miller of Pinkish to discuss the fully creative world that his music occupies.
Many of our T&C artists have recorded in more natural environments like the woods, or maybe just a craftsman-bungalow dugout basement. I know you’ve recorded in both of these Northwest treasures. I’d love to hear how you approach to composing and ultimately producing your music.
My approach to composing and producing my music is simply to grow as much as possible everyday. This includes growing my relationship with the guitar and making every attempt to stoke my imagination. Improvisation has always been a vital element of composition for myself and every group or project that I’ve been involved with. New and exciting environments absolutely make for an exciting performance experience which absolutely influences whatever compositions I’m working on. I recorded all of the acoustic guitar tracks for “Hex Fortunes” entirely in my bathroom because I loved the sound of the room!
Your band Pinkish will be playing at the October 24th Apparitions show. How did all of you meet and come to be a band?
I’m incredibly excited for Pinkish to perform this month in Seattle. I’ve been playing with the incredible Andrew Jones for the past year playing mostly duo and our own compositions. Andrew is wonderful, we played as a duo for the Creative Music Guild’s Outset series in January and I sincerely hope that it was one of many collaborations with Mr. Jones in the near future and in my lifetime! I met the amazing Kyle Shipp and Grant Pierce at a house show in Portland not more than 6 months ago. The lineup was Anteater, Grammies and The Wisherman - As it turned out we had many friends and musical aspirations in common (also we all studied at PSU). There was very little time before we all played together and formed Pinkish.
Pinkish uses much more space and fewer grooves than a lot of your other projects. As a band, are exploring these open textures something that you have discussed, or is this more your natural approach together?
I think that the space that is created in our compositions simply comes from a place of wanting to leave room for each member to explore their own sound while rising and falling with each other. It is absolutely the natural approach to our collective writing but we have so many ideas and new tunes in the works do that may change soon!
You describe Pinkish as an experimental jazz group. Ryan, in your own music I hear many different influences but experimental jazz isn’t one of the first that comes to my mind. Is this specifically a musical area that Pinkish talked about wanting to explore, and is this an area that you yourself work in fairly often?
This is a tough question! I guess I will start to say that I think genre classifications are really not of the greatest importance to me. I get a bit perplexed at the notion of classifying the music that I’m a part of! I’ve never really felt like the music I’ve made has been particularly tied to any one specific genre. That being said, I have listened to and studied “jazz” and “experimental” music much more so than any other genre. I think I’d be safe to assume that the same is true for the other members of Pinkish. Grant Pierce, Kyle Shipp and I have all studied Jazz performance at PSU (although we didn’t meet at PSU). Andrew Jones also studied jazz performance at ASU. I think that while we have never actually talked about the kind of music that we would make as a collective - it just made sense to call it “experimental jazz.”
Many of our readers know that Seattle’s T&C artists work closely with the Racer Sessions weekly series here. Could you talk a bit about the Creative Music Guild in Portland, and how this collective has influenced your work?
The Creative Music Guild is amazing and I am forever grateful to be a part of the organization! I am inspired by my friends and local performers more than anything. It is utterly astounding to get be such an intimate witness to so many amazing CMG performances and to be involved with the guild as a board member! In my opinion, CMG shows are some of the most wonderful shows that happen in Portland! I am honored to be witness to our performance planning efforts and to be a part of our amazing organization! I am inspired by friends more that anything and since I have been a part of the CMG I have gained more amazingly talented friends and acquaintances than ever. The CMG has absolutely influenced who I am as a musician, and I dearly wish that it continues to do so forever.
Coming back to your own music now, I know that many artists are reluctant to pigeon-hole themselves into a genre, but I’m curious to know where you hear yourself fitting into the scheme of it all. Right now I’m personally in the middle of a long-term, daily recording project thats really re-defined my playing. I wonder what similar landmark moments you or your bands have had over the years?
I’ve had many “landmarks” in my playing and in my confidence as a composer and performer. I spent the better part of a decade writing, recording and performing with drummer Michael Dillon (With Eyes Abstract). Michael and I began playing together when we were both 17 years old and we recorded two full length albums and two EP’s together. We spent an incredible amount of time playing together at an early age and grew up very much in influence of each others playing. He is undoubtedly my biggest influence to date simply because we grew up composing together. Mikey and I discontinued With Eyes Abstract (WEA) in 2010 and since then I have been concentrating primarily on composing and performing with Phil Cleary (drumset) and Jon Scheid (electric bass) in our group U SCO (usco.bandcamp.com). Jon and Phil are absolutely incredible musicians and they just happen to be my best friends in the world. U SCO is an entirely collaborative effort and our compositions are completely the result of the sum of our exhaustive rehearsals and live performances. U SCO is recording our second full-length album in December and I’m incredibly excited about it!
In many of your own songs one rhythmic cycle morphs into another in really captivating ways. You also blatantly cut from one rhythmic world into the next. This brings to mind math-rock bands like Battles to me as much as it does the minimalist music of Steve Reich. Could talk about the strong persistence of rhythm in your music? Where is this coming from?
Some of my earliest influences are in-fact “math-rock” bands! I discovered Don Caballero’s “Don Caballero 2,” “American Don” and Hella’s “Hold your Horse Is” at a very developmental stage in my playing thanks to a mutual friend and wonderful guitarist and recording engineer, Stephan Hawkes. Needless to say - I fell in love. The “math-rock” format of rhythm changes and sheer intensity of playing shook me then as it does now. I can indeed say that I was just as infatuated with Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 musicians” not more than a year later. Rhythm comes from so many different places, it is the pulse of one’s thoughts and the beats in our imagination. The persistence of rhythm in my compositions simply comes from my relationship with the guitar and the intensity or feelings that I had at the time when I wrote the piece!
See Pinkish live at the Apparitions show this month.
Hello, friends! We are very excited to present an exciting Halloween inspired show, which we are calling Apparitions. It will take place at Seattle’s historic Columbia City Theater on Thursday, October 24th, 2013 at 8:00pm, and will feature performances by some of your favorite T&C artists! Keep scrolling for the details.
Opening the show will be the brand new duo comprised of alto saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman and pianist Gus Carns. Performing all original music, the duo features a unique brand of rhythmically complex improvisations. Their music is restless yet relaxed; precise yet spacious; with chaotic musical structures navigated in a flowing, intuitive way.
Following will be the newest addition to the T&C family: Burn List, a new collaboration featuring trumpeter Cuong Vu, tenor saxophonist Greg Sinibaldi, keyboardist Aaron Otheim, and drummer Chris Icasiano. This performance will be a little sneak preview for their debut album, which will be released by T&C in the Winter of early 2014. Be on the lookout!
This Fall concert will be especially fun because we are proud to be hosting a wonderful new Portland-based noise group Pinkish, which features Andrew Jones (Upright Bass), Ryan A. Miller (Electric Guitar, Electric 12-string Guitar), Kyle Shipp (Electric Guitar) and Grant Pierce (Drum set). Portland is pretty wonderful, we realized, and has some amazing musicians, so we decided it would be a great opportunity to collaborate with Portland’s Creative Music Guild and have them send a band up here to throw down!
Finally, we have King Tears Bat Trip. Yeah. Did I mention that Ted Poor will be a special guest? Yeah.
Looking forward to seeing you all at the show! To purchase advance tickets, click here!
NYC trombonist, composer and Table & Chairs artist Andy Clausen launches a LONG overdue West Coast tour in support of his 2012 release, "The Wishbone Suite."
Andy (who still does not have a driver’s license!!) and his cohorts will pile in his family van and navigate their way down to LA and back, with a few stops along the way:
Fri. July 5th at 8:00 p.m. at Backspace, 115 NW 5th Ave in Portland
Sat. July 6th at 8:00pm at 1078 Gallery, 820 Broadway in Chico
Mon. July 8th at 7:30 p.m. at Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th St in Sacramento
Tues. July 9th at 8 p.m. at the Center for New Music, 55 Taylor St in San Francisco.
Wed. July 10th at 8:30 p.m. at Lou’s Village, 1100 Lincoln Ave in San Jose
Thurs. July 11th at 9 p.m. at Blue Whale, 123 astronaut E S Onizuka St. Suite 301 in Los Angeles
Sat. July 13th at 9:30 p.m. at Duende, 468 19th Street in Oakland
Sun July 14th at 4:30 p.m. at Berkeley Jazz School, 2087 Addison St in Berkeley
Andy Clausen - Trombone
Ivan Arteaga - Clarinet
Aaron Otheim - Accordion
Gus Carns - Piano
Chris Icasiano - Drums
For more information, or to receive updates from the road, please visit:
What folks are saying about the record:
"Brilliant release by trombonist Clausen…finds a way to fuse these disparate musicians and their seemingly ill-fitting instruments into an alluring, whimsical, and just-plain-cool mix of jazz, classical, and experimental music. Challenging music that doesn’t shy away from also being pretty. Pick of the Week." - Dave Sumner, eMusic
"improvisational brushstrokes through elements of classical composition, frenzied syncopation, flashes of pop structure, and buoyant, melodic themes." - Gwendolyn Elliott, Seattle Weekly
"…the fluidity with which the band moves between composed and improvised approaches is truly staggering at times. Beautifully orchestrated by Clausen for a mixed ensemble of trombone, clarinet, piano, accordion and drums, the album ranges from lush melodies with Romantic-era harmonies and broad improvisations to swelling ensemble writing and energetic group interplay. There’s a bright future ahead for Clausen, based on this made-in-Seattle release by a group of talented young musicians." - Earshot Jazz
"Throughout the suite there is a folk song directness and simplicity of melody married to grander harmonies, an expression of unfiltered childhood experience washed—in a painterly sense—with the wisdom gleaned from Clausen’s musical studies. The mood of a chamber ensemble (one that is not averse to having some wide-eyed fun, or that hasn’t lost any sense of wonder) prevails. At nineteen years of age, Clausen displays some youthful wisdom in presenting his music before the end of his formal education, choosing rather to strike a creative spark while the memories and emotions are still sharp. These compelling tunes, songs that speak to the innocence and intensity of youthful experience, are arranged and played marvelously on his auspicious debut." - All About Jazz
Bay Area keyboardist and composer Michael Coleman has been on the Table & Chairs radar for quite some time. Some of you may remember an epic show at The Mine in February of 2011 where Michael’s group Beep! shared the bill with Heatwarmer and Chemical Clock. And perhaps some of you may have listened closely to Michael’s beautiful synth contributions to the debut Lawson album.
Beyond his impressive list of performance/recording credits, Michael is a restless creative spirit; a true artist never satisfied with yesterday’s solutions. Since the label’s inception T&C has been quietly observing his activities, waiting until now to pounce!
T&C is extremely proud to release the debut album from Michael’s latest project CavityFang, officially out on Tuesday July 2, 2013. The album will be available as a digital download, as well as a beautifully packaged compact disc. Check out the interview below for some really great insights into how “Urban Problems” came to be.
Jacob Zimmerman: You’re involved in so many different projects (Beep, Arts & Sciences, Young Nudist, Lawson, Kapowski, Chris Cohen…) and you seem to be coming up with new ones all the time! What compels you to keep starting new bands?
Michael Coleman: I sometimes think of music as a series of experiments. I’m always searching for new sounds and trying to realize some idea that’s been floating around in my head. Each group represents an exploration of a new idea or feeling. Instead of having one or two groups and taking them in a bunch of different directions, I like the idea of having a different band for each experiment. And in the process of exploring some musical territory, new things are revealed both about that specific group and myself.
JZ: Why is the record called Urban Problems?
MC: I wanted the artist SNEAL to create the artwork for the album. Each of his pieces include text in addition to the image and I always love the way they work together. It made sense that whatever text ended up on the artwork for the album should also be the name of the album. He gave me about 7 or 8 possible covers and Urban Problems really stuck out to me. I think it works as a title because it fits the energy of the music. Also living in Oakland for almost a decade has put me in close proximity to a lot of crazy urban situations. And lastly, as Oakland and other American cities become gentrified, the idea of “urban problems” begins to mean different things to different groups in the city. Is it rich, white tech people complaining about the lack of parking or Mexican immigrants worrying about being stopped by police? That’s interesting to me.
JZ: CavityFang is unquestionably an all-star ensemble, can you describe the superpowers of each musician?
MC: This is the most fun question to answer!
Ava Mendoza not only has a technical mastery over the guitar, but she has an extremely wide pallet of sounds and colors at her disposal. I would put parts in front of her and within minutes, she would find the right sound for each section. Her sound on Dreamzzz is wonderful and her solo at the end of Koala and Joey is super shredding.
Cory Wright can play any woodwind very well. I’d heard him play baritone with The Wiener Kids and I knew that he would be perfect for this band. For CavityFang, he plays the role of the bass much of the time as well as stepping out as the main soloist on several tracks. He’s one of the most melodic soloists I know and he blends flawlessly with the other instruments. And check his flute playing on This Will Be Your Bed!
Sam Ospovat is one of the hardest working and determined musicians in the Bay Area. I’ve played in bands with him for about 6 years now and I’ve watched him develop his musical voice and become a totally unique drummer. He can lay down nasty grooves or create beautiful textures equally well and always works to make a drum part that is both compositionally interesting and understated. Listen for his polyrhythms at the end of Armadillo. Too good.
Jordan Glenn is another master drummer. He’s a true group player in the sense that everything he plays and every sound he uses supports the rest of the band and the song. He’s also extremely inventive and is constantly surprising both himself and the rest of the band. The sounds that he makes at the beginning of Armadillo get me every time.
Hamir Atwal is known in the Bay Area jazz scene as having both the best feel and the sweetest touch on the drums. When he locks up with Sam on the groove during Dreamzzz, it’s pretty magical. And as the lead drummer on Rara, he just keeps pushing the energy higher and higher.
JZ: What are some of the most prominent influences on the CavityFang music?
MC: I was listening to a lot Captain Beefheart at the time and the Deerhoof record Runners Four. I also became obsessed with a few videos from Haiti of Ra Ra music. I transcribed my favorite and we did an arrangement of it. I think I also drew a lot of inspiration from my friends. There are hints of Sam’s Piki project as well as the music of Lawson and bits of Aaron Novik’s music.
JZ: The great Eli Crews (tUnE-yArDs, Deerhoof) engineered and mixed the record. You’ve recorded and played music with him quite a bit, what do you like about working with Eli?
MC: As an engineer, Eli is extremely inventive and creative. No situation is too weird or difficult for him. For example, we decided to record the whole group in the same room. This poses obvious problems in terms of isolation and bleed but instead of worrying about that, he put a mic in the middle of the room and one out in the hallway and decided to embrace a more live sound. He also enjoys recording to tape and for this record, the music never saw a computer until the mastering process. He treats recording and mixing in a very musical and improvisational way.
JZ: What else is on the horizon for CavityFang, and for you in general?
MC: I’d love to do some small tours with this group. It will be a logistical nightmare but well worth the headaches. I’d also love to write another batch of pieces exploring some other elements of the drums and percussion. I’m also considering augmenting this group with a bass player and another horn player and playing music that I’ve written for other groups. Apart from CavityFang, I’m hoping to release my solo record this year and possibly do some performances of that music. I’m scared to do it but I’m slowly building up the courage!
Alto, tenor and baritone saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase has been a mainstay of Boston’s jazz scene for over twenty years. Whether leading his two newest bands, performing in a dozen others or writing over 50 compositions, his music spans a broad range of styles with an emphasis on the contemporary and the improvised. In addition, he co-led groups with the great Danish/Congolese saxophonist John Tchicai for New England tours in 1997, 1998 and 2003. Charlie was also a member of Either/Orchestra from 1987 to 2001, playing throughout North America, Europe and Russia. His recordings with Tchicai and Roswell Rudd have received critical acclaim.
Roscoe Mitchell’s 2 LP “Nonaah” set really kind of scared the crap out of with when I first heard it. It had a similar impact to my first hearing of Ornette’s “Dancing In Your Head” which was probably a year earlier, although the two albums are ineluctably linked for me. My reaction to both was something along the lines of “What the hell is happening to music?” along with “How can I get involved in this music?” I was already familiar with Roscoe’s composition ‘Nonaah’ from its initial recording on the Art Ensemble’s “Fanfare For The Warriors” album but, particularly the extended solo rendition from the Pori Festival, here it was stretched out into the elements of sound, silence, repetition and intensity. A 3-note introductory motif and Roscoe’s subsequent tonal shadings and smears, a reflective quiet interlude and ultimately a return to the opening material and a virtuosic saxophone meltdown. This performance has a similar shape to another masterpiece from that era, the performance of ‘Chant’ from Studio Rivbea in 1976 that was issued on the Wildflowers anthology. I actually had the temerity to request ‘Nonaah’ when I heard Roscoe play a solo concert at Lulu White’s in Boston circa 1979. He very graciously played it as a short encore: what a nice fellow! My eternal thanks to the master Mr. Mitchell for changing the way I think about composing, shaping and organizing music.
Table & Chairs Presents: Roscoe Mitchell Performs Nonaah on June 7th, 2013 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.
It was Chuck Nessa who, after moving to Chicago in 1966 to manage the Jazz Record Mart, was responsible for bringing the AACM into recorded history. As a member of a group of jazz fans and JRM regulars including Terry Martin, John Litweiler and Jerry Figi, Chuck Nessa convinced Jazz Record Mart and Delmark Records owner Koester to record members of the AACM, then still a fledgling free jazz organization. Nessa Records was started in 1967 at the urging of Roscoe Mitchell and Lester Bowie.
My relationship with Roscoe began in the Summer of 1966 and continues to this day. It is so personal to me, I have trouble putting it in words.
His music grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go. I didn’t understand it at first and had a crash course at rehearsals. Within a month we were in a studio recording Sound for Delmark.
About a year later Roscoe and Lester Bowie convinced me to start a record company to record their music.
These events have set the course of my professional life.
Table & Chairs Presents: Roscoe Mitchell Performs Nonaah on June 7th, 2013 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.
Saxophonist/composer/improviser John Ingle is originally from Memphis, TN and now resides and works in San Francisco. His music is informed and influenced by contemporary concert music, improvised music, electronic music, jazz, various Asian folk music traditions, and the blues and gospel of his native Southeast US. He collaborates with electronics innovator Laetitia Sonami, and in duo with NYC-based composer/dulcimerist Dan Joseph and is a founding member of the sfSoundGroup. John’s solo saxophone music emphasizes multiphonics, vocal harmonics and subtle control of extended saxophone techniques, while his chamber music explores such musical parameters as spiral time, linear pulse, and non-linear harmony, and indulges in both simple resonance as well as complex timbre and auditory sleights-of-hand.
It was such a pleasure to be asked to write about why Roscoe Mitchell is important, as the question has brought me back to my earliest days as a musician, before I had any experience beside being in school band. I learned the saxophone in Junior High Band back when all public schools had music programs. So my musical experience was marching band in the fall and spring and “concert” band in the winter, plus micro-poly-pan tonal (out of tune) a cappella hymns at church, and, thankfully, songbirds and the general soundscape of woods and farmland.
I had just become serious about practicing and was hungry to hear jazz, or classical music, or anything but the country and saccharine pop that was available over the radio. I remember getting my hands on a magazine called “Musician” and inside was an interview with Roscoe Mitchell. I’m sure that I understood little about what he was talking about musically at the time, but I read that he was somebody who was playing the saxophone his own way and I just had to find someway to hear what this sounded like.
The nearest record store was forty miles away, but I drove to Jackson and went looking for Roscoe Mitchell. The store was both a record and “head shop”. That scared me a little, but I thought that they were more likely to have a small jazz section. They didn’t have any solo albums, but I found a copy of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Nice Guys and bought it, along with a Charlie Parker record and probably some David Sanborn or something much worse like a Jon Klemmer cassette (really…yuck). I was going to finally hear some jazz, or so I thought! The guy at the counter actually knew a little about the music, and he warned me that it wasn’t the “jazz” that I was expecting, like, “that doesn’t sound like Charlie Parker.” I didn’t care and I rushed home to listen. When I put the AEC LP on, I couldn’t believe my ears. That was the strangest music that I had ever heard. I didn’t know what the hell it was, it was so foreign to my young ears. But I listened. And again. And again… The tune with the lyrics seemed like a song at least, but I didn’t “get” it. SO I listened some more.
Eventually, some time later, I put the record back on and got distracted with something else. With the music in the background. I remember the moment when I was grooving to the music internally and then was compelled to really “listen.” I realized that I really liked the music! It was an epiphany. It sounded good to me even though it was strange, cacophonous, and not always pretty. I remember thinking that it was more like nature sounds that l did really like, more like birds than BIRD even (it would be many more years before I “got” Charlie Parker; ironically his music was more impenetrable to me at the time). I liked this weird stuff. It sounded good. It moved me, somehow. I was excited about sound. That was a long time ago and in later years I would hear a lot more of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and later Roscoe Mitchell. Eventually I got to hear him perform live both solo and in a performance of his alto saxophone Quartet “Noonah,” and Doulas Ewart introduced us.
His music is important to me because of that personal story I just told, and because in Roscoe’s music there is always a reverence for sound and the spaces around the sound. That is essential, and Roscoe goes right to the heart of it. He only sounds like himself. In his ensemble music and the Art Ensemble, the music is a combination of the personal sounds and narratives of the individuals combined with a group sound that is larger that the sum of its parts. This is important. I love how interested he is in the micro qualities of tone and how this focus on sound informs his music formally as well, with repetition and development. He makes music by himself, for himself, sounding like himself. He makes music with others and everyone’s own personal sound adds to the whole—it isn’t subsumed by it. That is why Roscoe Mitchell is important. Thanks Roscoe Mitchell!
Table & Chairs Presents: Roscoe Mitchell Performs Nonaah on June 7th, 2013 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.
Hailed by Village Voice critic Kyle Gann as one of “new music’s most valued performers,” JOSEPH KUBERA has been recognized as a leading interpreter of contemporary music for the past 30 years. Mr. Kubera has had a long and committed relationship to John Cage and his music since the early 1970s. One of the few pianists performing the difficult chance-based, post-1950 works, he has recorded the complete Music of Changes and the Concert for Piano and Orchestra, and has toured with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Cage’s invitation. Composers who have written for Mr. Kubera include Larry Austin, Anthony Coleman, David First, Alvin Lucier, Roscoe Mitchell, Howard Riley, and “Blue” Gene Tyranny, among others.
I can’t exactly recall the first time I heard Roscoe Mitchell’s music. I was introduced to him by our mutual longtime friend and collaborator, Thomas Buckner.
Roscoe’s music-making was astonishing to hear the first time, and it has amazed me every time since. It is not simply a matter of his astounding virtuosity, but of his sense of space, poise, and then the genesis, development and transformation of materials as they present themselves in performance, both in solo and ensemble contexts. Often I get the impression that it’s Roscoe’s instrument itself that is offering ideas, in real time.
Then, beyond his musicianship and creativity, there was the pleasure of getting to know this kind and generous soul on a personal level and as a collaborating performer. For a number of years, I was honored to be part of his New Chamber Ensemble, and particularly honored that Roscoe wrote a piano piece (8-8-88) for me.
A profound insight that I learned through working with Roscoe was a sense, new to me at the time, of allowing new musical ideas to take their own space within an improvising ensemble, and introducing them at the right time.
Roscoe has been a real inspiration to me, and I treasure our longtime friendship.
— Joseph Kubera
Saxophonist/clarinettist and composer Randy McKean leads or co-leads several bands, including the chamber jazz quartet Bristle, the improv trio Pluck Vim Vigour, the avant-folk duo Sawbones, the acoustic-electronics duos Wild Horsey Ride, Zap!, and The Gargantius Effect, and his latest project, the power trio Moch Mach I. He has composed works for string quartet and symphony orchestra. McKean’s releases include the CDs Wild Horsey Ride, Bristle’s Bulletproof (Edgetone), So Dig This Big Crux (Rastascan), the Great Circle Saxophone Quartet’s Child King Dictator Fool (New World), and the electronic release Gargantius Effect +1+2+3 (w/Han-earl Park, Gino Robair & Scott Looney). He studied with trumpeter Paul Smoker and composers Anthony Braxton, David Rosenboom, and Maggi Payne. He currently lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Grass Valley, CA.
Needle-drop moments—those instances when stylus hits spinning vinyl and your inner life is blown to smithereens, flies about your head, then reassembles itself within you, shiny new bits now insinuating themselves into your psyche for years and decades to come. An NDM oftentimes is ultimately surpassed in one’s estimation by other works in that artist’s oeuvre, but it remains that white-hot entry point into their particular universe of sound that one never forgets. My list of NDMs could serve as a shorthand sketch of my evolution as a musician, each NDM kicking me up the chain from a starting point of Midwestern-bred Beatles worship to a higher state of expanded saxophonics, extended composition, and attitude adjustment: XTC’s Life Begins at the Hop, Sonny Rollins’ Hold ‘Em Joe, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Anthony Braxton’s Composition 23B (first cut on New York Fall 1974), Morton Feldman’s For Four Pianos, Fredric Rzewski’s Coming Together, Ornette’s Body Meta, Captain Beefheart’s Hot Head, Xenakis’s Metastasis. Thing is, by the time I’d reached my late twenties, I thought I’d outgrown the gee whizziness of an NDM. Then I heard Nonaah.
It was late Saturday afternoon, Summertime 1989, Berkeley, CA. I was just out of grad school, Mills College, and feeling somewhat adrift. The saxophone quartet I’d started while at Mills had just finished rehearsing at Dan Plonsey’s house. With the recent defection of our tenor player, we were once again a trio. Dan, Chris Jonas and I had tried out some new material but couldn’t seem to get a handle on anything. I supposed the real reason for the malaise was the recent departure of Anthony Braxton from Mills for Connecticut, where he was to assume teaching chores at Wesleyan. I’d been a devoted student of his, and talk turned to teachers and mentors. Dan told us about his time at the Creative Music Studio and his two summers studying under Roscoe Mitchell. Although I was a big fan of Mitchell’s work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago—I had seen them during the Third Decade tour—I admitted I was not as familiar with his solo work as I should have been. Dan got out Mitchell’s album Nonaah and dropped the needle on the alto quartet cut.
NDMs—their sounds are always accompanied by the images they create in my mind’s eye. Nonaah’s four-in-one line, with its jagged kinetics, shifting weights and balances, relentlessly repeating itself, was a perpetually-motoring whirligig. Its extremes of range, its unity of ideas, its sheer ornery patience as its opening segment continually looped yet never occurred the same way twice. Its unhurriedness, its intensity burned itself into me. It spurred me on to new activity.
Not a month or two later, Mitchell delivered another NDM: Line Fine Lyon Seven, Side 1, Cut 3 of his duet record with Braxton. Braxton’s on contrabass sax, pounding out a riff. Mitchell on alto, playing with that singular, maxed-out sound of his, comes charging in over the top of the line—the syncopation, the angularity, the momentum of the melody caught hold of me. The pendulum nature of this line, its bopping ebb and flow against the riff, I played it over and over again, stretching the original minute and 15 seconds into hours of repetition.
My first glimpse into the magic of Mitchell’s material, the art and science of his method, came when I was preparing an arrangement of Line Fine for my first recording. As I juxtaposed one micro-section against another, trying to preserve the sway and swing of the line, it yielded new trajectories, generated new rhythmic fields. I was amazed at how much invention was contained in that seemingly straightforward duet.
Nonaah is another, perhaps greater font of material, and the program for the upcoming Seattle concert reads like my more recent experiences with Mitchell writ large: the audience will first hear Mitchell playing solo, then extended/expanded versions of this masterpiece. I got to see Mitchell play solo in 2011. For the first part of his set, he played from the alto quartet score for Nonaah. It was a dynamic, yet patient etching of sound as he stitched together elements from the spacious, sustained note section of the piece. He followed it with an intensely boiling extended improvisation. Just a few months later, I began rehearsing and ultimately performed Nonaah as part of James Fei’s alto quartet (along with Aram Shelton and Jacob Zimmerman) for a concert of Mitchell’s music at Mills in March 2012.
One might suppose that with this performance many mysteries were finally revealed to me. Although insights were gained, the fascination and wonder deepened. The music was scored in such a way that exactitude and spontaneous interaction were equal partners—the written and the improvised informed the other. That opening section that had grabbed hold of me 20 years earlier, here I was in the midst of it and discovering it was far from static. The intricate relationship among the parts ensured a living difference from one iteration to the next, generated an energy that drove the piece and brought our creative energies to the fore. Here I was on the inside of an NDM, shiny bits, new and old, spinning and swirling.
Thank you for this and other musical universes, Mr. Mitchell. I can’t wait to hear what materializes on June 7.
As a composer Vinny Golia fuses the rich heritage of Jazz, contemporary classical and world music into his own unique compositions. A multi-woodwind performer, Vinny’s recordings have been consistently picked by critics and readers of music journals for their yearly “ten best” lists. Vinny has been a featured performer with Anthony Braxton, Henry Grimes, John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Joelle Leandre, Leo Smith, Horace Tapscott, John Zorn, Tim Berne, Bertram Turetzky, George Lewis, Barre Phillips, The Rova Saxophone Quartet, Patti Smith, Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, Eugene Chadburne, Kevin Ayers, Peter Kowald, John Bergamo, George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennick, Lydia Lunch, Harry Sparrney and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra amongst many others.
I have been enthralled with Roscoe’s music since the first time I heard it in the early 70’s, this was before I started to play music and was still concerned with visual arts, his compositions were totally different from almost all the music I had been exposed to at the time. Roscoe’s composition “Nonaah” opened many doors for the use of the saxophone without the traditional rhythm section. His attention to all the details of saxophone performance is evidenced in this composition and his solo and group improvisations.