November 5th, 2013
Here’s the schedule for our big show on Sunday, November 17 at JACK:
3:00 PM doors open
3:30 PM Tiger Hatchery, ESP’s newest signing
4:15 PM Alan Sondheim reunion with Rafi Zabor
5:00 PM Giuseppi Logan Quartet
5:30 PM Michael D. Anderson (ex-Sun Ra Arkestra)
6:10 PM Elliott Levin (New Ghost)
7:00 PM Kali. Z. Fasteau (ex-Sea Ensemble)
7:45 PM Bruce Eisenbeil with Nels Cline
8:30 PM jam session
(I know the flyer says this goes until 9 PM, but really it’s 10 PM!)
Admission is just $10! ESP’s percentage of the door will ALL be donated to the Sun Ra Music Archives.
You can buy tickets here:
These tickets will be “Will Call” at the venue that day, so there is no shipping charge.
JACK is located at 505-1/2 Waverly Ave, Brooklyn NY 11238 between Fulton St. and Atlantic Ave. in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. It is easily accessible by taking the C train to the Clinton-Washington stop, one block away from JACK, or the G train to Clinton-Washington, a few blocks away. There is also free street parking available on Waverly Ave.
November 4th, 2013
Brooklyn drummer Kid Millions is well known as the drummer of indie-rock faves Oneida (so famous that The Onion has referenced them, and if that’s not fame I don’t know what is) and Man Forever. Here are his thoughts on one of his ESP faves.
“After reading Always in Trouble – An Oral History of ESP-Disk, you might be excused your trepidation when approaching the amazing recorded legacy of ESP. It seems like there’s a good faith effort now to address payment of royalties and other institutional shortcomings of an organization that despite its administrative problems, always attempted to document the furry fringes of popular music.
“I’ve got a lot of love for the ESP aesthetic, on all fronts — music most of all, but certainly for the album art. One of the many highlights of inspired marriages of jacket art and recording is Sonny Simmons’s incredible debut Staying on the Watch, introduced to me very recently by the gentlemen on Just Music, East Village Radio’s flagship experimental music program. I was stunned by the articulate, aggressive performances by all the musicians on the record especially by the “McCoy Tyner-unhinged” style of pianist John Hicks and the propulsive, devastating pointillist swing of drummer Marvin Pattillo…the captured performances have a hand in post-bop tradition but veer wildly from these moorings with a remarkable and exciting fluency. The tunes are great, the playing is always surprising, and the improvisations are satisfying to the extreme. Sometimes jazz and improvisation records give you the sense that “you had to be there.” Staying on the Watch feels so immediate and timeless that you are there and compelled to return again and again. And to address the amazing starkness of the cover photo of Simmons standing on a rock in Central Park, towering over the buildings in the background, his horn poised as if to bring more life to the fields of the park: You get the sense of a creative force so in tune, representing and transcending a certain environment — it actually enhances the extraordinary contents of the recording. It’s an incredible document and a testament to the artistic vision of ESP.”
November 2nd, 2013
Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano, Blake’s solo debut, has barely been heard since its appearance in ESP-Disk’s first batch of LP releases in 1965. The reissue programs in Europe on ZYX and Calibre did not include it; there was only one very poorly distributed bootleg Italian CD issue in the mid-’90s. Fans and aficionados, including members of the jazz press, have clamored for it to be included in our 50th Anniversary Remaster program, citing its musical and historical importance, so here it is! The slight distortion on a few high notes is a small price to pay to hear this jazz master at the beginning of his illustrious career.
Born in 1935, Blake developed a style of jazz playing unlike anyone else’s by incorporating classical elements (the Impressionists, of course, but Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Messiaen have also been cited), gospel music (which he experienced first-hand in a Pentecostal church while growing up in Connecticut), Thelonious Monk’s highly personal style (back when Monk was still considered a good composer but an overly eccentric pianist), and an abiding love of film noir that influenced the mood of his playing as much as his purely musical influences. Recording opportunities were sparse at first; by age 40 he had released only three albums: his 1962 debut with vocalist Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound Around (RCA), Plays Solo Piano, and another solo album, The Blue Potato and Other Outrages (Milestone, 1969, long out of print). Since then, fortunately, he has received many more opportunities to get his music heard and has established himself as one of the reigning American masters of jazz.
We have already had one spectacularly enthusiastic review come in, by Ken Micallef on eMusic.com
A singular talent’s beautiful mind at work
Jazz is often considered the art form of the individual voice — years of study leading to singular improvisations — but it’s usually not the case. You can usually quantify personal style as a number of components adding up to a whole: “Piano player X recalls the darker hues of Bill Evans yet intimates Tristano’s complex maneuvers, all fortuitously merging…” You’ve read it all before. But there’s nothing quite comparable to the work of pianist Ran Blake. He’s a singular talent. His 1965 ESP-Disk solo debut still wows not only as a jazz recording, but as a statement of artistic conviction, beauty, and talent. Blake’s influences only appear as fragments (Monk) or stylistic devices (stride); it’s his beautiful mind at work on Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano.
Whether it’s an innovative “Green Dolphin Street,” the ominous, explosive original “Birmingham, U.S.A.” or the happy dance of “Sister Tee,” Solo Piano is more an expression of that mind than the assembled songs Blake performs. This latest ESP-Disk reissue follows a series of remastered releases from the ’60s New York label, whose catalog — including Giuseppe Logan’s More, Don Cherry and Albert Ayler’s New York Eye & Ear Control, and Paul Bley’s Barrage— is the stuff of free-jazz legend. That Blake recorded his intimate solo set amid ESP-Disk’s turbulent fare is all the more remarkable.
Using a song’s melody as a jumping off point, Blake recomposes (a word often used when describing his approach) the material through wild dynamic shifts, jarring chords, abrupt rests and disruptive rhythms that in lesser hands would simply sound childish or worse, egomaniacal. But Solo Piano reveals fresh details and novel wrinkles with repeated listens. His renditions of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” and Billie Holiday’s trademark “Good Morning Heartache” acquire new personalities and give up new ghosts, creating fresh emotional responses to veritable jazz standards. When Blake wanders into 1925 smash hit “Sleepy Time Gal,” he establishes a brief stride cadence, but his stride is less a lark than a nightmare. The song quickly goes akimbo, like Monk falling down an airshaft, before turning twilight and lonely, as if Sinatra is about to sing “One for My Baby…” Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano is like that, a hundred thoughts turning into one sublime sound.
October 30th, 2013
Our friends at Tiny Mix Tapes just premiered a track from the album that’s going to blow your mind next month: Tiger Hatchery’s Sun Worship. Listen here:
October 29th, 2013
Nov. 12 Chicago, IL at The Burlington
Nov. 13 Cleveland, OH at The Happy Dog
Nov. 14 Washington DC at Union Arts
Nov. 15 Philadelphia at Millcreek Tavern
Nov. 16 Baltimore, MD at Coward Shoe
Nov. 17 Brooklyn, NY at JACK – ESP 50th Anniversary concert!
Nov. 18 Boston, MA at Charlie’s Kitchen
Nov. 19 New Haven, CT at Lip Gloss Crisis
Nov. 20 Buffalo, NY at The Facility
Nov. 21 Oberlin/Columbus, OH at Ace of Cups
October 22nd, 2013
Ronald Shannon Jackson died of leukemia on Saturday morning, October 19, in his hometown of Fort Worth, TX. He was 73 years old. The only drummer to record with Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman, Jackson was a polyrhythmatist of power and imagination who was also technically excellent to the extent that he could do a sort of one-handed role, albeit briefly. Perhaps more important than his drumming, as dazzling as it could be, was his composing. He developed Coleman’s harmolodic music into his own highly personal style with his group the Decoding Society — and, after nerve damage interrupted his drumming career, composed more classically oriented music, including string quartets. When he was able to make a comeback, it was unfortunately also interrupted, by a heart attack while on tour in 2012.
After an upbringing in a musical family (his father owned a record store and his mother was a church organist) and the sort of solid public school grounding in music’s rudiments that used to be common but seems endangered nowadays, Jackson played with such esteemed Texas locals as James Clay. Moving to New York in the mid-’60s, he became part of the free jazz scene, recording for ESP-Disk’ with Albert Ayler (Live at Slug’s, ESP4025), Charles Tyler (Charles Tyler Ensemble, ESP1029), and Marion Brown (the one track by Brown’s trio that’s on The East Village Other, ESP1034) even as he was also working with more mainstream musicians, including Betty Carter and Charles Mingus. In the following decade he moved more devotedly into the free scene; this was when he worked with Taylor and Coleman.
In the 1980s Jackson began recording as a leader, racking up an impressive discography while also frequently working in collaborative ensembles with the cream of the NYC scene. You can stack his ’80s output up against anyone’s in terms of in both quality and quantity. After returning to Texas in the 1990s, Jackson’s recorded output became less prolific.
Compositionally, Jackson (who also sang and played flute and shalmei) combined the collective voicing/improvisation principles of harmolodics with his complex polyrhythms, a knowledge of African music gained in travel there, and (though somewhat submerged) a feeling for the blues inherent in his Texas upbringing. He preferred higher-pitched instruments, saying that’s where he naturally heard musical lines, which explains his flute playing, his distinctive use of guitars (in particular, his Red Warrior album has three guitars and no horns), and his preference for alto and soprano saxophonists. His music is full of interlocking lines and rhythms and deserves wider dissemination, though its complexity may work against its casual use by other musicians. Jackson’s role as mentor to a generation of young New York musicians should also be noted, with a number of Decoding Society members (Vernon Reid of Living Colour and Melvin Gibbs of Rollins Band, to name just two) as having shaped their outlooks crediting him musically, philosophically, and in terms of business sense.
A more personal note from Steve, who wrote all the above: In 1990, starting out in music journalism, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Jackson for a small music magazine. I was armed with a moderate knowledge of his music (I owned all of his LPs as a leader that had been released by then) and practically no experience doing interviews – it was the first one I’d ever done in person. I was invited to his practice studio, where he generously shared his knowledge and his time with me. He was a true gentleman and one of the most astute musical minds it has been my privilege to speak with. And a pretty fair businessman for a musician: he told me that whenever he went in the studio, he made an album for the label and another album for himself that he could sell at a later date. This goes some way toward explaining the veritable flood of RSJ material dating from the 1980s: counting collaborative groups, at least 28 from just that decade! My favorites are Man Dance and Barbecue Dog, both with his band The Decoding Society and both on Antilles.
September 27th, 2013
Forged in the crucible of the Chicago free-jazz/indie-rock scene, Tiger Hatchery consists of brain-melting saxophonist Mike Forbes, visionary upright bassist Andrew Scott Young, and quixotically innovative drummer Ben Billington. When Forbes, in search of a like-minded bassist, first heard Young playing in Denton, TX, he approached him by asking, “Hey man, you ever heard of Albert Ayler?” After getting the hell away from the University of North Texas College of Music, they moved to Chicago in 2007 and searched for a drummer. Billington remembers, “I sort of just brought my sloppy ‘free rock’ vibe to the mix, but I quickly adapted to a more keen sense of improvisation and listening…it seemed natural…we knew we had something special going.” Soon a cheap 16,000-square-foot warehouse was discovered and The Mopery, a legendary DIY underground venue, soon came together as a cooperative venture among a number of musicians. Regular performances there honed Tiger Hatchery’s chops and made them a Chicago legend. They expanded their audience with national tours, international festival appearances, and a few well-received recordings.
Tiger Hatchery’s first post-signing appearance in New York City will be on November 17 at JACK in Brooklyn for the ESP-Disk’ 50th Anniversary concert. (More news on that to follow soon!) Here’s their Fall tour schedule:
Nov. 12 Chicago, IL: The Burlington
Nov. 13 Cleveland, OH: The Happy Dog
Nov. 14 Washington DC: Union Arts
Nov. 15 Philadelphia: Millcreek Tavern
Nov. 16 Baltimore, MD: Coward Shoe
Nov. 17 Brooklyn, NY: ESP 50th Anniversary concert at JACK
Nov. 18 Boston, MA: Charlie’s Kitchen
Nov. 19 New Haven, CT: Lip Gloss Crisis
Nov. 20 Buffalo, NY: The Facility
Nov. 21 Oberlin/Columbus, OH: Ace of Cups
A more extensive and colorful bio/history of Tiger Hatchery is available at their website: http://tigerhatchery.com/
Press for Tiger Hatchery:
“I caught Chicago free jazz crew Tiger Hatchery at Seattle’s best show so far this year. The Hatchery blew the roof off the place, still one of the most intense, relentlessly energetic jazz ensembles I’ve ever encountered. While I was there I obviously clutched a bounty of proper Tiger Hatchery stuff too: an insanely good one-sided LP on Pizza Night, a cassette on Baked Tapes, the best bang for the buck, with a live set on each side, and a split 7-inch with rock band Lechuguillas (who they modestly stated delivered the better side; modesty is great and all but please allow me to disagree, Tiger Hatchery.) Killer band, if you missed their tour, well, that was dumb.” – Auxiliary Out Redux
“Non-academic free spazz. So smart. Single sided.” – The Static Fanatic
“I thought, these motherfuckers are playing with the violence of European free jazz, but also birthing tuned, full-bodied edifices of sound that encapsulate the audience in the nearly tangible environment of their sustained harmonic interplay. I’m talking repetitive, prolonged interactions that were captivating in the way 60s minimalist performances were experiential.” – Critilogues
“The classic jazz trio is turned upside down and wrung out for all the noise shred it can muster on this.” – Killing Birds
Plenty of fire comes out of the trio but what makes them stand out is that they explore quieter territories and even get into some drone moments with all acoustic instruments! There is plenty of variety, dynamics and exploration. I cannot recommend these guys highly enough!” – Super Special Music
“You look for energy in opening acts – three-piece jazz/noise fusion Tiger Hatchery had it in spades. A wild-haired drummer beat out infernal rhythms while the other two variously belted out the brass squawking or laid down a searing bass line. Pedal to the metal for a good 35 minutes.” – Gromag
September 1st, 2013
Music fans have many reasons to feel grateful to Michigan-based “indie pop wunderkind” (All Music Guide) Fred Thomas: for his ’60s-referencing indie-rock group Saturday Looks Good to Me, his youthful math-rock ensemble Chore, pop-punk band Lovesick, “broken folk” group Flashpapr, his electronic-flavored project City Center, his varied and sometimes more avant-garde solo albums under his own name or pseudonyms, and his contributions to other peoples’ music, for instance His Name Is Alive. Thomas’s work runs the gamut from solo singer-songwriter to punk, from chiming underground pop to brooding electronica, including moments when those extremes meet to form compelling hybrids. He also runs the label Ypsilanti Records and, on top of all that, he’s well known as one of the nicest and most generous guys in the music biz, as people in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Brooklyn, and Portland have learned during his residences in those towns.
To help us celebrate the 50th anniversary of ESP-Disk’, Mr. Thomas reminisced about the impact our albums have had on him.
“When I was 19, for a few months that felt like several lifetimes I lived in a punk house that served as a crash pad for anywhere between 7 and 12 young folks. My roommate Steve was three years older than me and pretty over the Unrest and Superchunk records I was making mix tapes with at the time. He was on a whole other trip, staying up late partying, listening to Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane and the like. It all just sounded like blather to me until he played Albert Ayler. Sunny Murray’s incessant snare hits on ‘Bells’ and the low, ghostly wails that accompanied them challenged and electrified me more than all the punk records I’d heard put together at that point. As with any true love, I liked it so much at first that I doubted myself and was pretty sure I hated it for a while. I kept returning to Steve’s Ayler records, though, and eventually started digesting all of his free jazz stuff, gravitating towards the black and orange Impulse gatefold spines and the on-the-cheap (analogous with the punk/DIY aesthetic!) black-and-white covers of ESP-Disk. Reading ‘The artists alone decide what you will hEAR’ on some of the records implied a kind of freedom that I hadn’t considered, and soon I was annoying my bandmates by suggesting we try to include improvised free sections in our entirely normal Pixies-rip off sounding songs.
“As years passed, the spirit of freedom and honesty I felt from my initial exposure to the ESP catalog stuck with me. It was beyond formative to take in a label that actually had no rules, and the surprises and excitement of that would continue unfolding for me as I sat in strangers’ houses on tour hearing for the first time Patty Waters’ demonic cries of joy, taught myself how to play the drums listening to boundary-free albums by Milford Graves, or ended up living in Portland writing press releases for reissues of truly feral and outsider albums by Cromagnon and MIJ. If I hadn’t gotten into free music as an especially neurotic punk-bred late teen, something else might have had to teach me how to listen, consider and accept the complexity of the world around me. The label remains as important now as it was formative in its early days. Here’s to hoping the strange and unfettered sounds continue to inspire and change open-minded listeners for years to come.”
July 5th, 2013
Matthew Shipp is the top pianist of his generation, a superb composer, a free-jazz innovator, and the Artistic Director of record label Thirsty Ear‘s Blue Series since its founding in 2000. He has been called “one of jazz’s most provocative envelope pushers” (Thom Jurek, All Music Guide). In January, Thirsty Ear released Greatest Hits, a selection of some of his best compositions. His 44th album, Piano Sutras, will come out later this year, also on Thirsty Ear.
Mr. Shipp was kind enough to give us his thoughts about the Albert Ayler Quartet album The Hilversum Session:
“What an engrossing, well-rounded, colorful sound spectrum. This quartet states, develops and sustains a kaleidoscopic, cohesive and open ended universe. Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray are the perfect bookends for the rhythm section, both solid earth and air leaving beautiful space for Ayler and Cherry to twirl and do their magic. Don Cherry is the perfect complement to Ayler and fits into the continuum like a twin particle in quantum physics. Then there is the resonant and deep sound of Ayler, which sounds both like it emanates out of the center of the earth and also like thunder from heaven. His sound and this music sounds like it has all music behind it. It seems influenced by every folk and jazz tradition there is but it has digested everything so well into the group sound that what you get is a sound continuum. This is deep, graceful music with such a strong core—a four sided cube—it is hard to say why it coheres so well-but don’t worry about the why—the bottom line is it does. At the end of the day it is a beautiful lyrical stream of sound and pulse.”
June 27th, 2013
Sad news from Olympia, WA: saxophonist Bert Wilson passed away Thursday, June 6, after suffering a heart attack. He was 73. An outstanding tenor saxophonist who was also fluent on soprano, alto, and baritone saxes, clarinet, and bass clarinet, Wilson was particularly noted for his virtuoso use of multiphonics (playing two, three, or even four notes simultaneously) and for his dexterity in higher octaves of the tenor than most practitioners can play in. Wilson used a wheelchair after being afflicted with polio at age four. His mother was told by doctors that he probably wouldn’t live past eight, but they weren’t reckoning with his indomitable spirit.
ESP-Disk’ fans are familiar with Wilson’s first two recordings, made when he lived in New York City. The first is the track “Dolphy’s Days” on alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons’s Music from the Spheres (ESP1043, recorded in 1966); the second, playing on all three tracks, is James Zitro’s Zitro (ESP1052, recorded in 1967), which includes his composition “Happy Pretty.”
Frequent collaborator Simmons recalls, “I met Bert Wilson through Barbara Donald in the mid-Sixties. He was living at home with his mother out in the valley of L.A. and in a wheelchair. The enthusiasm and respect that he had for me and to play jazz impressed me. So I gave him some lessons and took him to some gigs. He was very intelligent and a good guy. I named him ‘Wheels Wilson.’ Wheels, my man! I will miss that guy.”
Wilson was born in Indiana, went to school in Chicago (where he first heard Charlie Parker), and after graduation moved to Los Angeles and got into the free jazz scene. He and Zitro moved to New York City in 1966; eventually they returned to L.A., but Wilson later lived in Woodstock (where Simmon had also moved), In 1979 he moved cross-country for the last time, settling down in Olympia, Washington, where he became a fixture on the Pacific Northwest jazz scene and a beloved teacher, his students including noted saxophonists Ernie Watts and Lenny Pickett. For the last three decades of his life, his life partner (and, for the past dozen years, wife) was flutist Nancy Curtis.
Wilson continued recording with Simmons (five more albums, usually as co-leader) and was a member of the Now Creative Arts Jazz Ensemble, which released an album on Arhoolie, and the Zytron Aquarian Ensemble, which released an album recorded in concert at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. There are at least sixteen albums as under his own name, including his bands Rebirth and BeBop Revisited, plus another six as co-leader in addition to the albums with Simmons.
Here’s a good interview with Wilson by Tim Price.