Friday, September 30, 2016

Stax of wax and wane

Well, creating a timeline concerning the rise and wane of Dylan's considerable talent is easy, but the criticism of his work is a more subtle enterprise. That is the actual analysis, inspection, parsing, interpretation, theorizing of the music and words themselves, and the taking into consideration the external factors --politics, fashion, religious conversions, divorces, age--that inform the creation of the music. Criticism is the x-ray we use to get inside the work and attempt to come up with adequate terms and descriptions as to how Dylan's material works and , perhaps, why it stands out among the throng of other singer-songwriters who hadn't near Dylan's resourcefulness.

Criticism, distinct from the consumer-guide emphasis with reviewing, is an ongoing discussion that seeks less to pass judgement than it does to comprehend large subjects thoroughly by interrogating one aspect of the work at a time. It is, of course, something like a make-work project as well, a means that some of us use to escape the terrifying silence that falls behind all of us at one point or another, that emptiness of space that sends a shudder down your spine when it seems even your thoughts are too loud and echoing off the rafters. Many writers keep writing, turning from mere expression into pure process, and it is with a good many worthy writers where we can look and see where their particular timelines became crowded with product that vacillates crazily between good , bad and awful, rarely matching what critical consensus considered their best material from their best period.

Edward Dorn is said that almost any good poet has written all their best work by the time they reach age 35, with the general output after that time becoming less daunting,daring, spry. Dylan is like this, I suppose, as is Woody Allen, John Ashbery , John Upidke, and Elvis Costello. I'd always thought that it was a hedge against death, that as the hair and teeth fall out , the arthritis escalates its assault on the joints and the memory takes on the consistency of swiss cheese, the writing, one poem after another, one novel after another, one movie, one song, one opera after another, the work somehow forestalls the inevitable darkness that awaits everyone. And criticism comes in again during these late period efforts of less notable content and turns itself into apologetics, where one theorizes about the proverbial canvas and kinds being changed, the brush strokes being bolder and less intricate as established ideas are played through yet again. It seems we're stuck with this crazy cycle ; even critics, great ones and mere carpetbaaggers, want to deny death in some sense and also avoid the idea altogether that they've nothing left to say about another man's words.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

the kids took over the city dump

In revelations still dawning, that hindsight suggests that if  the Sex Pistols had never come to being, someone would have been compelled to invent them. In fact,  someone did, Malcolm McLaren, an experimental fashion designer who felt that the music current at that time in the 70s--lots of Led Zeppelin, Eagles ,Journey and the Who being replayed beyond death and into the spinning rings of limbo--wasn't a suitable backdrop for what he wanted, a style, attitude , manner, a way of thinking relevant to the current wave of alienated youth. The 60s utopianism was a bad joke at this point, a snicker and a fluid snort of disgust at the mention, and the 70s up   til then amounted to nothing much of interest happening in music or radio. 

 The pretentiousness of the musicians and the gullibility of the audience had choked off the life force that made rock and roll exciting and worth caring about. Some of it might be laid at the feet of rock criticisms since the advanced discussions of Dylan's relationship to Chuck Berry's everyman existentialist demanded a musical technique and lyrical concept just as daunting. This is the danger when folk art is discovered: it stands to become something distorted, disfigured and bereft of vitality. I was lucky , I guess, in that I was a fan of the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges long before the Sex Pistols caught the punk wave. They and bands like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath were a grounding principle--rock and roll are beautiful because it's energetic, awkward, and stupid, but profoundly so. There are "concept albums" I admire and still like, if not listen to, but I won't name them here. 

I am pleased, though, that the idea of the Album being a literary object has been dropped in a deep grave and had dirt thrown over it's bloviated remains.I miss albums, though. I like holding them, reading them, mediating on their physicality while listening to the record. It was part of the experience of absorbing what the musicians were doing, instrumentally and lyrically. Albums made you think that their size and shape were part of the home you made for yourself--house, room, cave, apartment--and that the collection of them, along with books and other such things marked your growing interest in the world around you. Now it seems like disembodied noise too much of the time piped into devices, not really played nor considered before the music commences. It seems much of the time like a streaming hurry to get done with the whole thing and then move onto another distraction which , as well, will provide no real reward.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A fine saxophone blows this this

Image result for jc on the set james carter
JC on the Set--James Carter
Carter has a fat, honking sound on all the saxophones he uses, and this a good thing. He phrases wonderfully, and there is sass and a fast-quipping edge here, particularly in the galvanizing solo he takes on Ellington's "Caravan"; honks, blorts, grunts and street-crossing jabber make you think of a flurry of voices all singing into the same microphone. Ellington had made a name for arrangements that suggested "jungle sounds" ( so-called by critics who at the time still couched their praise in racist vernacular) , Carter keeps his notes crisp, sharp as pressed pleat or a knife's edge, nuance and edges of melodic creation and destruction timed with the lights of the Big City, a blues full of the funk of the city. Funk Carter has, as in the fatback workout of the title track. Did I mention that he lays out and reconfigures ballads with a rare artistry? 

This he does with the distanced eye of painter views a blank canvas and a palette of fresh paint. It's less important that he captures, after much labor and sweat and the semblance of agony, some questionable approximation of inner essences residing in the sweet notes that make up the melody than what he does to create new forms. There's a joyful aspect to Carter's playing that's perfectly contagious when he takes on the slower, more reflective tunes, and here one might guess that his soul is transformation, transcendence, recovering, a full swing of moods that he journeys through in order to regain the light of day. The playing on his exploration is marvelous, bubbling, never tentative. 

Carter excels here because he isn't afraid to mess with the material; these slow pieces are less sacred objects than they are sources of inspiration. One thinks that Carter's hand will come out of the bell of his sax and pull your face into it. That's a coarse image, perhaps, but it's another way of saying that the tone and phrasing are in your face (in the most pleasant way, of course), and is the sprite and fulsome virtuosity that won't let you ignore the grace and occasional genius emerging from the horn. The brunt of this man's playing is full-bodied blues and bluster. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

more words on verse that burns the envelope it came in

Experimental poetry used to be the kind of stuff that broke with established forms of verse writing , both in form and aesthetic . A good survey course in Western Poetry will pretty much be the history of one school of poetry arising in response and/or rebellion against forms that had long been dominant , with the more daring and expansive poetry influencing younger poets to the degree that the experimenters over time become the old guard. 

This goes on and on, exceptions to rules becoming rules until another generator of impatient experimenters come along with their contrarian notions of what verse should be, usurping fusty older poets and becoming the dominant ones themselves, fat, complacent and ripe for over turning. I don’t know if that’s a working dialectic , but it is something that has continued since literate men and women sought to express grand and vague inspirations in language that did more than merely describe or paraphrase existence. I feel that experimentation has become the norm and that we have these days are recyclings of previous Avant gard ideas and gestures, names if theories and practices changed ever so much.

But not so much.It’s gotten to the point that the school of poets who are referred to as the New Formalist, poets who’ve tired of free verse and variable feet and the several generations of “open forms” in poetry and compose poems that rhyme and which employ traditional meter, have become a controversial matter in that they threaten to usurp the hegemony of the Avant Gard tradition. To each their own. 

Myself, I am attracted to any kind of poetic writing that has that rare quality of being dually fresh and unique; I am less intrigued by the theory behind a poem, experimental or traditional than I am on it reads, on whether it works. If it produces a reader’s satisfaction, then it becomes useful to investigate what a writer has done as an artist in this odd medium, bringing skill and on the fly inspiration to bear in the writing. This can be the case with Ron Silliman, John Ashbery, two poets who arrest my attention with their creation of indirect address of the living expression, and it is the case for Thomas Lux and Dorianne Laux, two other poets who are not averse to letting in you follow their line of thinking and who still lead you results that are unexpected and extraordinary.

Ron Satterfield Rises Again

Ron Satterfield. Photo by Michael Oletta.
Ron Satterfield.
 Photo by Michael Oletta.
(This originally appeared in the
San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission).
It’s July 15th, and it’s jazz pianist/guitarist and vocalist Ron Satterfield’s birthday. Satterfield is preparing for a performance with flutist and long-time collaborator Lori Bell and versatile percussionist Tommy Aros at the cozy lounge just off the lobby of the Handlery Hotel in Hotel Circle. He’s diligently setting up the PA system, adjusting mic levels, securing a confusing cross section of wires and other attachments. The room is filling up nicely prior to the performance while Satterfield concentrates on perfecting the sound system just so. Bell greets us and provides a gentle warning… “Ron is in his operating mode before a performance, getting everything ready. It’s generally, not the best time to try and talk to him.” We repair to the bar, watch as the room fills even more, eager for the performance.

Satterfield’s due diligence with set- up pays off, noticeable when the troupe ( also known as Trio de Janeiro) works their magic. The sound is warm, bright, and fills the room comfortably. Nothing overwhelms the music. On guitar, Satterfield has the instincts and phrasing of seasoned pianist, not a soloist as much as he creates a feeling for accompanying the others. His chord work is delicate, off center, teasing various accents and melodic texture, linking with the sure, deft, and insistent percussion of Aros. Over this percolating combination of rhythm and melody is Lori Bell’s flute work, a combination of virtuoso precision and heartfelt swing—swift, jumping lines ranging from low bluesy swoops to exhilarating escalations in the high registers. With this come Satterfield’s vocals, a seductive combination of pop, jazz and Latin styles, a warm vocal instrument versed in the split-second wit of scat, the vowel stretching wonder of up-tempo vocals. He has mastered his voice, gracefully applied over a variety of styles. Pop tune to torch song, salsa to samba, blues to bosa nova, Satterfield does it all—distinct, swinging, and classy.

Ron Satterfield had a high profile in the bustling San Diego jazz scene in the 1980s when there were many lounges and restaurants that booked jazz regularly, and an impressive roster of local jazz musicians to play the engagements. It was a time when Elario’s, Chuck’s Steak House, the Blue Parrott, the Crossroads, and Our Place were alive with musicians like Peter Sprague, Charles McPherson, Hollis Gentry, Joe Marillo, Kevyn Lettau, Mike Wofford, Jim Plank, Bob Magnuson, and many others, Satterfield not the least of them. It seemed one could find a place to hear live jazz every night of the week and, as often as not, find Satterfield performing in one of the many musical combinations, singing, playing keyboards or guitar, as a utility player, a musician that brightened the stage. During the period I had seen him a dozen times by my estimation and was usually impressed at what he brought to the night’s music. Satterfield was a significant player in an active and rowdy music community, the special ingredient on the bandstand with whomever he was performing, bringing verve, a sense of swing and sway that transform many nights out into concentrated moments of transcendence. Like many of his contemporaries, he was a needed man to have around.
Satterfield was (and still is) prolific across the board, involving himself in a dozens of different combinations of musicians in a far stretch of jazz and jazz-pop styles, torch song to blues, scat to samba, more poppish, radio friendly songs, to New Age. He had an ear for finding the center of a groove, the soul of a chord progression, and the harmonies they underscore and create a host of sprite, inventive takes on whatever he decided to take on. His page reveals that he’s been featured on 28 album releases from 1986 through 2007 with a stellar string of musicians ranging from Dave Mackay, Lori Bell, Holly Hoffmann, Peter Sprague, and many others, and in four albums as half of the duo called Checkfield, a new age-Windham Hill-ish instrumental and vocal collaboration with John Archer. In his time, he was a busy man with large talents who, oddly, had all but disappeared from the local radar. As the 2000s commenced and the number of venues offering live jazz continued to recede, Satterfield disappeared from the scene as well. There was little jazz to be heard and virtually no Ron Satterfield among the few who could be seen playing live. So, what happened?
The original Joe Marillo Quartet at Chuck's Steak House, late 1970s: Satterfield, Marillo, Tim Shea, Gunnar Biggs. Photo by Michael Oletta.
An old story—drugs and alcohol—the curse of too many creative men and women who come to suffer. Falling prey to addictive substances, Satterfield was, by his own admission, a mess, a man doomed to an alcoholic death, a man with nowhere to go and no idea of what to do. Satterfield’s is a story of hitting a vulgar bottom, but it it’s also one of how he found help from a source he’d didn’t expect. But first, he had to hit what the recovery community terms “a bottom,” that point at which one has a moment of clarity, that one is truly powerless over drugs and alcohol, a point where they can begin a road back to the mainstream. Back in his East Village apartment on muggy August afternoon, Ron relates a crucial instance with long-time music partner Lori Bell. His voice trembles at times in the recollection.
“My decline was obvious because of my behavior. I feel I’m representing. I want people to know about the Salvation Army and that it’s available. I was a functioning alcoholic for a long time; I kept my drug use at home. It was something for when I got back home after a gig, when it was head phones, and I would snort away, smoke away, drink away, what have you, be it cigarettes, grass, alcohol. It never went with me. Cocaine had become impossible to find.
“Then I met with methself esteem and everything was about perfection. What I didn’t realize until getting sober was how much emphasis there was for approval and justification. Lori picked up on my lack of self worth.
“Back in the day many jazz musicians in were in the habit of overcompensating, that thing of saying, ‘I’m the best, I’m better than you,’ nasty sarcasm that always comes around. I always gravitated more toward female performers because I always got more love; I was terrified of men. Lori is very loyal, supportive to a degree that’s frightening. Once the meth came in, that was the first was the first time I started bringing alcohol with me to the gigs. It was in the car. Poor Lori would have to sit in the passenger seat probably terrified that I was drinking and driving. I had a little wine container that I carried my wine in; I tried 7-Up cans that didn’t work, and I finally came up with a coffee canister to hide my alcohol in; it looks like you’re drinking coffee. Alcohol, though, is really ethyl alcohol and it burns your liver; the first thing the liver wants to do is get it the hell out. It comes out of your pores, your breath, your pee, whatever it takes to get that stuff out of your body. I was bringing alcohol to engagements and I was not eating. I have a video of me doing a concert at Dizzy’s when it was downtown. I was emaciated because I wasn’t eating. I started drinking vodka with orange juice to rationalize that I was getting sustenance. I looked like an Auschwitz victim. Lori’s husband was telling her to be prepared, saying, ‘I don’t think Ron is going to be around much longer.’”
There was a fiasco in Carlsbad that was an instance of clarity for Satterfield, but his transition to a sober and productive life had a few false starts, among them a couple of “geographic cures,” the illusory idea among those struggling with their addiction that if they move to another city or state, they’d leave their problems behind. To coin a phrase, “wherever you go, there you are.” Satterfield sought his late brother’s help, who showed up in San Diego in 2007 to take him to a Kentucky asylum where they thought he could get the help they needed. Soon after he was admitted he realized it was a mistake.
“Every week I would I see the counselor who was ‘treating’ me, so to speak, and it would essentially be them asking me how I was feeling. I would tell them and they would write it down in the record and then say that they thought they should keep me a while longer.”
Realizing this was more a racket than a treatment for his malaise, he found out that he was entitled to a phone call, a privilege he used to call his brother to come back to the asylum and sign him out. Afterward, there were false steps and stumbling attempts to change his direction, more geographic cures and wavering attempts at being a truck driver. But for all his efforts to change his behavior with new locations and new occupations, his addiction was still active, and relapse wasn’t infrequent. In 2011, returning to San Diego from his last location in a car he’d borrowed from the late jazz saxophonist and mentor Joe Marillo, Satterfield received a suggestion that was the beginning of his return to sobriety and music making.
“I came into the Salvation Army program in 2011 because I had reached the place all people in addiction face: choose life or choose the street. I did the typical geographic, which didn’t work out; I went to friends and that didn’t work After losing everything, everything the last person I had a relationship with said, ‘I cannot help you, but I have one recommendation and that is the Salvation Army. I can’t think of any other place you can go and rebuild your life.’ That information was passed on to Joe Marillo, God bless him; I was coming back from Arizona with a car he had loaned me where I tried to build a life. After my final DUI, I realized I might as well come back to San Diego and give Joe back his car. I had no plan, had no idea what would happen, but I could do at least one thing right, which was to give Joe back his car. It was in God’s hands from there.
“On the way down I stopped off in Alpine because I ran out of gas. I had friends there, and a girlfriend from a past relationship said, ‘I have no money to give you, I have nothing to give you, I don’t really want to see you, why don’t you try the Salvation Army?’ Her daughter took pity on me and gave me enough money for gas; she bought me breakfast, and then I made a phone call to Joe. I called Joe and told him, ‘I am here, I’m on my way.’ I told Joe that I had gotten one suggestion about the Salvation Army and that I had no idea what to do with that information. Joe told me to make my way down to San Diego while he made some calls. God bless him, he made some calls. When I got to Joe’s, he said ‘Ron, I have some good news—I contacted a man named Steve Self at the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center. He said he doesn’t know what condition you’re in and you can’t go into the program unless you’re sober, so why don’t you crash here for a couple of days and sober yourself up and then we’ll take you down.’ That was April 21st of 2011, and that’s my sobriety date.
“I wasn’t as bad as I could have been, but I was beaten. But, Joe drove me down here. It turned out that we were so excited about the possibility of this that we got there almost two hours early before they even opened the doors. We had to go get some coffee and stand around and then, all of a sudden, the place starts to come alive and there were people flying up the hallways, down the stairs, and on and on and Joe’s saying, ‘Wow! These people are energetic!’ When I met with Steve Self, Joe took off, and the rest is history.
“I had no idea that this even existed. All this time help was available and I had no idea. Like everybody else I thought the Salvation Army was a place for homeless people, and they ha thrift stores, and they come out at Christmas with the Santa Clause suits, ring the bell, and ask for donations. This is a full-fledged six-month program. It has counseling, it has AA meetings, sponsorship, it has relapse prevention classes; the list of services is so wide, it goes on and on, and it was exactly what I needed. When you’re as far gone as I was, as much as you would like to go to family and friends for help, they cannot possibly understand your behavior and desperation, so coming to a professional environment with people who have the experience… what I got here was love and support, which I desperately needed.
“I was so filled with guilt and shame. This place is about life and rebuilding; they give you tools. I came here from the standpoint of desperation; it was a simple choice, the street or a program. It was exciting to realize that this was available. And this is free. They will feed you, they will clothe you. You need to have an open mind coming in here. Sometimes you have to go on a waiting list because there’s room for 100 people, but I lucked out.”
His two-year residence at the Salvation Army gave Satterfield the structure and order that he lacked during his seemingly endless battle with drugs and alcohol. Admitting that he was out of answers and weary of what awaited him if he didn’t try something different, he gave himself over to the program the recovery unit, making use of their many services of counseling, classes in relapse prevention, work therapy duties, 12-Step meetings, and, most tellingly, becoming part of the Center’s worship team. Spirituality and a reliance on God (or a Higher Power, as many 12-steppers prefer to say) is strongly emphasized in this path of recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, an element many new to recovery struggle with. Ron, however, had no qualms turning his life over to a power greater than himself. His struggle was something else.
“I never had a problem with the Lord; I never had a problem with religion. I’ve had a problem with organized religion, evangelists seeking financial contributions so they could have Lear jets, but I was brought up Presbyterian so I was pretty wide open. Religion for me was a personal experience. What I did have a problem with when I came into the program was that we were required to sing. It is devotion at seven in the morning, and then devotion later in the day. On Sundays and Wednesdays, they have other programs going on. It’s all about the Lord. The primary function is God and it’s very open; it’s not in your face, it’s to put you in touch with your higher power, your ‘wise advocate,’ however you want to address your Higher Power. What got strange for me was singing. My first experience was singing about God, and Jesus was kind of strange for me. I was so shut down that I didn’t want to sing. After a while, I would sneak down to the chapel, even though my hands were still shaking, and play the piano a little bit. I had to play the piano. Of course, somebody heard me and they realized that ‘this guy is a little more accomplished than our average rock band guy.’”
As a once-thriving jazz musician, Satterfield had reservations about playing music that praised and beseeched God exclusively, but in short order he was game enough to get beyond his prejudices and investigate the songbook used for the religious services. This was the beginning of his return.
“The resident manager at the time led the worship team and he was also a musician. He had a time of it. He was trying to work with me and I was so shut down. As time went on, I became more comfortable with the environment. We used to sit and talk over coffee and he asked me what I thought of worship music. At the time I was very opinionated, coming from a jazz background, and I said, ‘Well this ain’t Miles Davis, it’s not Bill Evans, what is this?’ And he asked what background I had, and I said ‘folk.’ And he said, ‘That’s perfect, that is where this all came from.’ The original worship music was people sitting around with guitars, singing about God, and now it’s grown into a contemporary thing. It’s amazing. All he had to say was folk music and that opened the door. I got beyond my reservations about the requirements of the program and started listening.
“That was when my musicianship and experience kicked in and I realized ‘oh my’ from a melodic and harmonic stand point that this is very well-crafted. I stopped listening to the lyrics and just listened to the music. I went to the piano and started playing the songs and got a completely different perspective on this. As fate would have it, the resident manager and music director got a new assignment, and he came to me. I was drafted; he asked me how I would feel about taking his place? I told him I was not up to that kind of responsibility, but I thought about it and wound up saying okay, but under one condition: if you let me get together with Major Dina Graciani and work with her one on one. She is now the head of San Diego Salvation Army, but at the time her husband, Major Henry Graciani, was. She is one of the most gifted singers I’ve ever worked with, a pure soprano. But there was one problem. My predecessor arranged all the songs in the key he was comfortable in, and Major Dina was singing in a key she wasn’t comfortable with. I thought this was unacceptable and told her we needed to change the book so she could sing in the keys that are natural for her range. She asked if we could do that. And I said yes, we could. Singing harmony became easier for me, I created the book with her. We started writing arrangements. Everything changed.”
Satterfield became more involved with the Salvation Army’s program, working full-time at one of their stores in San Diego County as cashier, receiver, and general retail duties, as well as organizing and directing the facility’s musical program for the weekly worship service. He reorganized the ‘The Book,’ the body of songs used for the services, giving them new arrangements, which allowed, as he explains, to do wonderful collaborations with Major Dina. He became close to both Majors Dina and Henry Graciani, a couple he came to trust for direction, advice, and wise counseling. He was becoming increasingly comfortable with his natural skill set as a musician once again, but there was a personality conflict he had with one of the workers at the store he worked in. The friction didn’t sit well with him, although, unknown to him, that would soon change.
“I was still working at the retail store, but I was having difficulty with the main person, the person who runs all the things in the store. I’d been talking to Major Henry about the experience. He said, ‘You’re going to be even stronger. Give it time.’ Lori [Bell] brought me in for a performance, my first live outing. She thought it might be fun to get together with [pianist] Dave MacKay, because he was getting older and it would terrific to play with him again. She was doing the Fourth Friday series at the La Jolla Community Center, so she booked the engagement. I invited Major Dina and Major Henry, telling Lori that I would like them to see the performance. I didn’t think they’d say yes, because what we’d been performing isn’t worship music, but they surprised me and said they would love to be at the performance. So they came down and were in the audience. Major Dina came back afterward and said, ‘I had no idea. How do you do that? I only know you from the worship music, but this… this is who you are.’ A little later Major Henry takes me aside. The show was over; everyone was milling around and he and I walked down a hallway. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘You have a gift. This is what you’re meant to do. I want you to do something for me. I want you to take a risk. I want you to leave the store you’re working in. Go back to your roots. I think you’re ready.’”
Fortune smiled on Satterfield, it turns out. Shortly after quitting his job at the Salvation Army store to focus on returning to being a working musician, he began receiving royalty checks. Unknown to him, his partner John Archer from the Checkfield days had converted their albums to “library format,” a digital conversion that allows for easier distribution of material. “The music is still out there,” he said, noting that there was a Japanese company that had a television show, which discovered Checkfield’s music. “They used the music, like 20 seconds here, a minute there, a two-minute dub on something else, and they paid. I started to receive quarterly royalties at about the same time I quit the store unconditionally. That went on for two years! That was extraordinary.” With the aid of Major Henry, Satterfield shored up his financial resources, continued his weekly duties directing the music for the Sunday worship services and ventured out into the world around him again, collaborating with the ever-creative and inspiring Lori Bell.
In fruitful collaboration with Bell, Satterfield hardly seems the shot-out shell of a man he described himself as, but is rather the picture of a confident, buoyant performer, a person with rhythm and wit and a contagious enthusiasm for the jazz music he performs. A look at the scheduled appearances with Lori on her website [] shows many dates, already played and forthcoming, which highlights a musician intimate again with his muse and finds himself once more in the mainstream of life.
The jazz audience in town should do itself a favor to seek out Satterfield’s work with Bell around San Diego. Evidenced by the many live performance videos that have been posted on YouTube, one may well, in a live performance, behold enthralling arrangements of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” or Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want,” two songs that are part of Trio de Janeiro’s set list. Syncopated, highlighting sterling solos, and a harmonies that offer a suggestion of just the right amount of complexity, Aros furnishes engrossing percussive accents. Bell carries the melody, leans in for sweet fills and short comments, and riffing echoes of Satterfield’s vocal lines, proffering a glorious bit of spontaneous composition with a solo or two, all of which underscores, showcases, and provides a frame work for Satterfield’s swinging vocals. One hears bits of influences in his style—strains of James Taylor, Kenny Loggings, Mel Tormé, and others, Satterfield has absorbed his influences, made them his own, and created his own, natural, swinging expression. His voice has a warm texture, malleable in the way it can be clear and precise in diction and then slide up and down the scale. The notes the chord progressions provide, animating the lyrics of bliss, yearning, and loneliness, with deftly applied emphasis on unexpected syllables, the percussive impact of consonants, and the soft, suggestive urgings of vowels. He finds the music tone in the sound of the words; he sings them to cohere with the pace and texture of the performance. More than a singer, Satterfield’s voice, on occasion, acquires a rare distinction: the transcendent quality of becoming a lead instrument.
I also suggest that jazz aficionados stay current with the local music calendars and seize the chance to attend a concert if they come across a listing featuring both Bell and Satterfield. Available also on YouTube are Bell and Satterfield in collaboration with pianist Dave Mackay and, elsewhere, with keyboardist Mike Garson. There is a stirring, Latin informed version of “Motherless Child” that highlights the rich, succinct lyricism of Mackay’s piano work, the left-handed chord work, and the hand accents and chord modulations performing miracles under the efforts of Bell. His solo, of course, is a wonderful combination of verve restraint. Also on YouTube is a wonderful reading of “Stella by Starlight,” highlighting pianist Mike Garson, formerly with David Bowie and Stanley Clark, along with Bell and Satterfield. It’s one of those renditions of a classic that makes it seem that one is not so much watching a musical performance as much as taking a journey. Here, Garson glides and persuasively guides the rhythm along, while Bell negotiates an obstacle course of rhythm and chords, segueing to a wonderful bit by Satterfield. He first offers a short guitar solo and then begins to sing, rhythmically matching his piano—suggestive guitar words to the flow of clipped language, creating harmonies one didn’t expect to emerge from a man with just a voice and guitar. And Garson, a musician for whom both impressive classical and jazz techniques are second nature, reveals a light touch on the keys, precise but not pristine on the fast runs, clean yet emotionally fulfilling.
What occurs to this writer is that at five years clean and sober, Ron Satterfield has found that the road he’s travelling is narrower than when he first began his journey into recovery. What may have seemed like a profession he couldn’t return to for fear of relapse and degradation worse than that he’d experienced previously is now an exciting and rewarding chance to recover his musical gifts and bring his art to the audiences of San Diego and, perhaps, the world beyond our zip code and time zone. Witnessing Satterfield live, it seems that one can only agree with what Major Henry told him: that he was ready to return to live performance, a day at a time, and a gig at a time. Ron Satterfield is a gifted and humble man, grateful to the good people at the Salvation Army and in the broader recovery community in helping him find his footing, find his sanity, find his voice again, a voice he brings to the audiences of San Diego. The gift he has recovered becomes his gift to all of us.

Image result for go dexter gordonGO --Dexter Gordon 
w/Gordon--tenor sax / Sonny Clark--piano / Butch Warren--bass / Billy Higgins--drums

A 1961 gathering, a roll-up the sleeves where only the music mattered, from the sounds of things here. Gordon has such an easy gait on the slower, bluesier tunes, and an engulfing sense of swing on the faster tracks. And in between, any number of moods , his phrases whimsical, suggesting , perhaps, what Paul Desmond might have wished he sounded like if he would only dare step out of that glossy, modal style and burn a little. He might have garnered a bit of Gordon's humor. Billy Higgins is wonderful here, and Sonny Clark is a bright star through out: his chord work and harmonic turns brighten up the room. This is the kind of music that makes you want to drink after shave and wash your cat in the sink.

Hooray for Eric Dolphy

Iron Man - Eric Dolphy
I put this 1963 session on the player yesterday and let saxophonist/flutist/bass clarinetist/composer extraordinaire Dolphy blast away; I am still putting my living room back together. Hyperbole, of course, but it underlines Dolphy's genius, and Iron Man highlights both his mastery of large group format and the balancing act of merging Modernist ensemble jazz, in the tradition of Monk and Mingus, with improvisation that tempts the abstract harmonica edges of Coltrane and Pharaoh Saunders. What emerges, though, isn't emulation in the slightest, but a new, vibrant, exquisitely abrasive sound. Dolphy carves up and flays forth with solos that are fluid, quick cut, full of pops, exclamations, and savage sonorities, and the band, including trumpet genius Woody Shaw and the very fine vibraphone work of Bobbie Hutcherson, compliments the dark, churning backdrop behind the leader's quicksilver delivery. Dolphy took up Mingus's ideas of starting within the chord progressions and then to attack the walls of what was restricting him, venturing beyond the barely comprehensible tones and textures of the individual notes and sending out probes into what lies beyond the formulations of sound that pleased the human ear. He didn't quite reach the heart of the sun, for which I am glad, because in any sense of the metaphor, he would have been finished with his mission to make his instruments create a jazz sound where none like existed previously. He died too young, yes, but we can also say the fire the started hasn't burned out. This music continues to burn hot and brilliant in the moonlight it defies.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tom Wolfe wrestles big ideas with an erratic syntax

Image result for kingdom of speech

I doubt that there's been a writer my age who hasn't been influenced by the hyperventilated prose of Tom Wolfe. He was a must read in the Sixties through the Eighties, journalist, critic, wise guy who got the Zeitgeist. His high octane paragraphs were masterpieces of overstatement, a mockery of nonsense and balderdash, a fun read combined with some potent talking points to whatever conventional wisdom happened to be in circulation at the moment. The problem, of course, is that as one gets older, youthful exuberance and stylistic license turn into mannerisms if one continues to use them into their senior years.

Wolfe,84, has continued his manner of composition, ratcheted up his disgust with cultural habits of the moment and has become, in fact, a cranky old cuss who is no longer the refreshing breath of fresh air blowing into a room full of overheated bloviating.  Wolfe's tirades have become the overheated blather he lampooned. I've not yet read his new book "The Kingdom of Speech", wherein he takes on Darwin and his theories on Evolution and the work and ideas of  Noam Chomsky. I will read it, to be sure, as there is not a Wolfe book that does reward with a solid phase, a brilliant metaphor, even a pertinent question that needed to be asked in the arena of ideas. But when Wolfe, who has a doctorate in American Studies from Yale, decides to get theoretical and trades realm of ideas rather than be the mere journalist or novelist, his reasoning gets skewed, confused, and seems little else than perpetual wallow in sarcasm and an unnamed source of bitterness. The open sequence is distressing for reasons that make you think less of James Joyce, who seems an obvious model, than it does of a man who lost his glasses, rummaging through drawers and desktops, making a mess until he finds the crucial lenses.  So that you know, Wolfe is attempting to broach the subject of Rice University. A sample of the slew:
 I surfed and Safaried and finally moused upon the only academic I could find who disagreed with the eight failures, a chemist at Rice University … Rice … Rice used to have a big-time football team … the Rice Owls … wonder how they’re doing now? I moused around on the Rice site some more, and uh-oh … not so great last season, the Owls … football … and I surfed to football concussions … exactly as I thought!” 
Some will find genius, as Wolfe diehards customarily do, but these are variations of a theme being played on an untuned piano. Wolfe is given to rants in these slim volumes he's produced over the decades, single essays on subjects like contemporary art (The Painted Word) and modern architecture (From Bauhaus to Our House) where he could handily lampoon the pretentiousness and walled off cosmologies of disciplines that confound and irritate the Little Guy. Unfair but effective, he entertained and forced readers to consider the babble and cant of vested interest they may have purchased the whole hog, critically uninspected. Lately, though, he seems less a bomb thrower than an old grouch hard-wired to complain, with or without a point or a quotable phrase. Figuratively speaking, of course, Digression is my middle name with regards to stylish prose concentrating on little more than what interests the author at the moment, but this seems more a stumble or a stall. All told, I will read this book and pray that there is a bit of lucidity lurking under the encrusted sarcasm that has become Wolfe's worldview.