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Black Music: Bringing Atlantis Up to the Top

Black Music: Bringing Atlantis Up to the Top

Black Music: A Particular Section
April 16, 1979

Bringing Atlantis As much as the Prime

…the rhythm is so hip that it may well comple­ment all that intellectual shit that’s been happening, which is cool to some extent. 
—George Clinton to Chip Stern

One of the nice issues of the develop­ment of jazz during the last 20 years is that the aesthetic battles engendered by the improvements of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and John Coltrane occurred in a group that was far removed from the sources of the music. In Greenwich Village and the Lower East Aspect, musicians played for individuals whose solely contact with the wealthy layers of African-­American culture that the music so typically symbolized was by means of the proxy of bohe­mian social life and interracial romance. In consequence, the music incessantly sounded very European regardless of the proclamations about its blackness: The dance rhythms and the ten­sions of syncopation towards a pulse have been deemphasized; restricted tonal vocabularies have been typically employed; and an abundance of absolute fakes, or players of small talent and far con, justified their ramblings with a fraudulent and pretentious mysticism (if one performed as horribly as a few of those males did, one ought to have been praying all the time — ­for talent if nothing else). Underneath the pres­sures of rejection and hostility a number of excellent gamers made use of inept or ignorant musicians, dismissing craft and information as too proscribing. Even Coleman, Coltrane, and Taylor typically hired musicians who have been “avant-garde” only as a result of they might not fulfill the technical requirements of another jazz type.

But at the similar time there was an incred­ible confusion over the nature of the black id. It infested artwork as well as politics and resulted in a substantial amount of somewhat simplistic and ludicrous ancestor worship, mental irresponsibility, primitive mask-wearing, and counterfeit militancy that ceaselessly had extra to do with renegade dilettante romance than more fascinating mixtures of notes, sounds, colours, and rhythms. It proved as soon as again that there is some kind of pendulum inside the black arts group that swings forwards and backwards between intellectual ambition and the rejection of mind in favor of a willed savagery. In fact, as with Duke Ell­ington, an unpretentious melding of the two would not only be perfect aesthetically but would in all probability obtain what probably the most intel­ligent of 20th-century individuals are making an attempt to do: Mix intellect with emotional, spirit­ual, and physical vitality.

The upshot of the confusion, nevertheless, was a scorning of intellect in favor of “power” and a narrowing of stylistic prospects that resulted from rejecting tempo, meter, har­mony, intonation, repeating type as symbol­ized by the chorus, and even swing as “European.” Consequently, some very gifted players have been caught saying things as stupid as “You’ll never play bebop better than Chook so why attempt? Do something new.” At one level, real artists comparable to Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp have been thought-about previous hat or reactionary as a result of they swung, have been lyrical, or reminded one of the richness and breadth of the custom. Not only had the infant been thrown out with the bathtub water but the tub as nicely. Thus, the avant-garde acquired an audi­ence only in Lower Manhattan and Europe. Coltrane alone led a band at the Apollo.

Coltrane had a black following whereas a lot of the avant-garde didn’t because Elvin Jones had orchestrated the triplet blues beat into a classy type that pivoted on the boody­-butt sway of black dance. In tandem, Col­trane and Jones created a saxophone and drum group that reached means again to the sax­ophone of the sanctified church shouting over the click of these sisters’ heels on the floor and the jingling, slapping pulsation of tambourines. The sound was lifted even larger by the antiphonal chants of the piano and bass performed by McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison, whose percussive phrasing helped prolong Jones’s drumming into tonal areas. In reality, one might say that both Coltrane and Coleman have been probably the most refined of blues shouters. But Coltrane’s fascination with African music gave him an edge, for he was to find in his personal approach the connection between harmonic simplicity and rhythmic complexity held collectively by repeated figures performed on the bass and piano. In truth, one might say that the actual time or the central pulsation was marked by the piano and bass whereas the complicated variations have been made by saxophone and drums.

What made Coltrane’s conception so vital was that it coincided with the interest in African or African-related dance rhythms and percussion that has been re­vived at the end of every decade for the final 40 years. One saxophone participant even advised me that the first time he heard Coltrane, around 1961, he thought that a new sort of Latin jazz was being invented. I recall, too, that during those highschool years the mambo and the cha-cha have been gauntlets of magnificence. Norman Whitfield’s writing at Motown for the Temptations and Marvin Gaye leaned on congas and bongos, and the dance power of the drums came to the fore, typically mild­ly and elegantly, as in the bossa nova. The very nature of most black African music, which is layers of rhythm in timbral and me­lodic counterpoint, and the exploration of the blues have been the sources of the dominant aes­thetic instructions in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock. For the jazz gamers these reinvestigations of roots referred to as for the sorts of virtuosity developed by Elvin Jones and Tony Williams if another degree of polyrhythm was to be achieved; James Brown’s massive band, whereas alluding to Gillespie and Basie, advanced a method through which guitars turned percussive to­nal devices staggered towards chanting bass strains, two drummers, and preparations that have been riffish, percussive, antiphonal; rock gamers began to research the electronic textures and contrapuntal prospects of Level overdubbing.

Point of reality: all the musics turned more complicated in a method or one other. They usually all influenced one another in a method or another. Percussion, multi-layered struc­tures, modality, social consciousness, and mysticism traveled via all of them.

However with the dying of Coltrane in 1967 and the media dominance of rock, the brand new jazz began to obtain less and fewer consideration. Jazz itself seemed to exist outdoors the large dance-­oriented rituals reminiscent of Woodstock or the live shows and dances given by men like James Brown. Virtually comically in tune with the occasions, Brown flipped over from “America is my house,” which has one of the nice strains — “I received a jet!” — to “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Militancy to bop by.

What was so necessary about Brown, nevertheless, was he had the most effective band in rhythm and blues and he might out-dance everyone. He had the sort of performance energy men like Mick Jagger have been in search of, however it by no means appeared to fall into hysteria or the stiffness blacks associate with white dancers. Yet the best way white individuals have been singing and dancing appeared to say extra about their precise ambitions than a lot of the nationalistic political speak in the black group. That’s to say, I consider Mick Jagger and all these others needed far more to enter the world of pul­sating grace and erotic magnificence they recog­nized in black music and dance than black individuals of the same era truly need­ed to be Africans. At present black individuals are back to making an attempt to make their approach into America. Mick Jagger continues to be coon-shouting and -­shaking. And if John Travolta, who was laughed at in Saturday Night time Fever by many black dancers I know, shouldn’t be a body snatcher, what’s he? Did America ever see Soul Practice?

Youthful black individuals in pursuit of identi­ties separate from those of both mainstream and alternate-culture America rejected traditional figures corresponding to B.B. King, Howling Wolf, and others as a result of they felt those mu­sicians had been taken over by hippies, whom they discovered crude, lame, weird, and nasty. It was additionally true that Chuck Berry’s rhythm was outdated for black dancing — the dominant beats have been these of Motown, James Brown, Otis Redding, and Sly Stone. Aretha Franklin reinvented the gospel beat for well-liked music as Ray Charles had earlier. The phrasing of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Ro­binson, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, the Impressions, the Temptations, and Dionne Warwick was rather more supple than that of the rock singers, suggesting the affect of jazz in the methods they soared via or syn­copated the time.

Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix turned the gods of the black drug tradition, which attracted black people who have been — in contrast to sanctimonious nationalists — social adventurers, touring from white to black circles, learning the language of the psychedelic world and reworking it for their own ends, keeping up with the dances and music of rhythm and blues while embracing the intellectual context of rock musicians’ experiments with electronics. Stone and Hendrix muscled in on that, Stone anchoring himself within the musi­cal blueprints of James Brown’s Stay at the Apollo albums and Hendrix within the innate avant-garde high-handedness of the blues guitar custom, people to city. Each worked with an audacity like that of Muhammad Ali or the basketball players who have been utilizing “the cling” and turning the game into a high-­velocity and illusive African-American dance. For the blacks inside the drug culture Hen­drix not solely prevented much of the clunkiness of rock but seemed to have conquered the shape. “Jimi’s out there castrating these acid­-head white boys,” they used to say. When he died, some advised me, “I guess all them white boys — Jagger, Eric Burdon, and the remainder of them — are glad he’s lifeless. It’s like this: the kinds of white boys who get over with white women because they remind them of nigguhs with out the nappy hair and the large lips, they get nervous when the actual thing comes round.”

Around that time legend had it that the Funkadelics came on stage bare at Mave­rick’s Flat in Los Angeles. Issues have been get­ting even looser than Hendrix had set up. But, there had been necessary rumblings within the jazz world as properly. Most blatant was Ornette Coleman’s performance at Town Corridor in De­cember of 1962, when he combined his common trio with r&b players for a bit entitled “Blues Misused.” It was recorded, however never launched. I have heard it. It predicts the fu­sion era in no unsure phrases. 1962. In 1967, Archie Shepp recorded Mama Too Tight, which was a bow to James Brown, just as Brown’s Tremendous Dangerous included a tenor saxo­telephone solo that appeared a bow to Albert Ay­ler, if not Coltrane.

Then Miles Davis stepped into the game. I contemplate Filles de Kilamanjaro his final completely masterful recording and “Mademoiselle Mabry,” which is included within the album, an absolute innovation in jazz rhythm that stands alone and has but to be investigated. It was recorded in 1968, apparently. However, in fact, Bitches Brew was his blockbuster and the document that unarguably introduced the start of an everlasting development. The document never actually gassed me, but I found the music on At Fillmore fascinating for it was typically phrased with such angularity, suspense, gloom, and wit that it made me think of how Thelonious Monk may need performed funk. On reflection, it was clearly funk not rock, that Miles Davis was struggling with there.

Most of all, it’s clear now that Davis had deemphasized complicated melody and concord in favor of percussion and sound. Virtually each piece from these years was too long for my style, and was often rough, typically sensible, off-handed, and sloppy at the similar time. Still, the sitars, tablas, conga drums, Fender basses, electric keyboards, reeds, and trumpet (first acoustic then electrical) got here collectively in very unique ways. By the early ’70s, Davis had recreated in jazz-funk lan­guage an African percussion ensemble fleshed out with electric instruments. The grasp drummer within the African ensemble sig­nals the top of a piece and cues the players to vary up gears and instructions; Davis sig­nals both together with his horn or together with his raised and lowered arm. (James Brown makes use of verbal cues.) In Concert is an example, though it’s so poorly recorded that the colors Davis was making an attempt to develop don’t come by means of with readability.

Since Davis started his experiments, jazz musicians have recorded quite a lot of music which has been referred to as crossover, fusion, jazz­rock, and what have you. Most of it is, to my ears, rubbish. Not as a result of crossing idioms is a nasty concept, but because so few of the gamers consider in the music, and since, as Herbie Hancock as soon as pointed out, many jazz gamers have issues enjoying the extra intricate funk rhythms and phrases with any creativeness or subtlety. R&b musicians like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Marvel, then again, have achieved very nicely with influences from jazz (e.g., the bridge of Marvel’s “Too Excessive” comes from the piano vamp of Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle”).

However, there’s now a search for a combination of the sophistication of jazz and the fluidity of the polyrhythms that have developed inside the black dance world over the final 15 years, or no less than since James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.” But we are additionally in a period of percussion fever. Drums are in all places and dancers are doing issues with the particular person elements of the preparations, not simply dancing to the apparent accents, which makes for a particularly intricate array of types. There’s also a reaction towards the pretentiously mental instructions certain wings of the jazz avant-garde have taken just lately. Additionally, increasingly more jazzmen are beginning to feel as if they are segregated from the black group. The bridge might be dance rhythm.

George Clinton is the man many youthful jazz players are listening to now, and Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Pricey is usually mentioned. Clinton is the Solar Ra of funk; his work exemplifies Miles Davis’s remark that things at the moment are so slick an artist can play the complete music of the last decade in a number of phrases. In other words, entire worlds of as­sociation might be summoned with the appropriately chosen notes. In a Parliament selec­tion, as an example, Sly Stone will probably be steered in one phrase, Marvin Gaye in one other; a flash of concord will recall the Impressions, just as a number of grunts on “Anger,” (Here, My Pricey) will reinvent in one’s thoughts all the arrangement of Sam Prepare dinner’s “Chain Gang.” It seems as if the comprehensiveness one hears in the music of Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, Charles Mingus, the AACM, and Arthur Blythe is now coming into r&b.

What appears to be about to occur is what LeRoi Jones referred to as Unity Music in 1966. It’ll embrace the complete vary of black music, perhaps in a single long performance, but pivoting on the drums. Jerome Cooper has developed a completely unique fashion of solo percussion that includes simultaneous use of lure drum set, African balafon, and a double-reed Mexican wind instrument. He writes compositions which are the blues and funk one other approach. In reality, I consider that when Clinton gets wind of Cooper he may use him. Someone will. Ju­lius Hemphill has typically labored with those rhythms; “Pores and skin 2” on Coon Bidness and the monumental Dogon A.D. (each on Arista) show greater than somewhat potential. James “Blood” Ulmer has not only created probably the most unique guitar type and system since Wes Montgomery however is now on the brink of ex­tend the chances of funk. After having conquered the European orchestra on his own phrases, Ornette Coleman is now making an attempt to foment revolution on the planet of dance rhythms; Dancing in Your Head and Body Meta show that he’s proper across the corner from the world George Clinton’s music is implying. David Murray has written a couple of songs which have the contact of well-liked hits and his background in funk provides, him command of the idiomatic nuances of the type.

None of this is to say that everybody in jazz will go over to funk, but I do consider that the best way through which Marvin Gaye organized rhythms on Here, My Pricey‘s “Time To Get It Collectively” exhibits that sure r&b musicians have been rather more successful than many jazz gamers in organizing a number of rhythms that sustain the dance groove and the uses of drums, not just for rhythms however colours and contrasting strains, is the key to what’s going on now. And wasn’t Charles Mingus’s last great com­position entitled Cumbia and Jazz Fusion?

The reluctant maestro of the Miles Davis faculty might be Wayne Shorter, while trum­peter Olu Dara appears to have most success­absolutely expanded on the more viable parts of the Davis fashion since 1969. In his collaboration with Milton Nascimento, Native Dancer, Shorter managed to take care of lyri­cism, intervallic boldness, great rhythmic au­thority, and swing. Having begun in 1976 what he calls the Okra Orchestra, Dara, who’s the adventurous equal of any contempo­rary trumpet participant, develops written and improvised music over orchestrated percus­sion, voices, acoustic bass, and electric strings. An album that would set new tendencies was recorded by Dara for Alan Douglas, however was by no means launched. It was an outstanding combina­tion of ethnic and common rhythms with sim­ple or intricate melodies and the vanguard improvising of Dara, Hamiet Bluiett, David Murray, and Arthur Blythe. Blythe’s two newest releases are additionally central to the discussion. Bush Child (Adelphi) finds the chief’s alto accompanied by tuba and single conga drum, comprising probably the most unique sounding rhythm part in current memory. The al­bum is a unprecedented exploration of the blues, of tempo, and of swing, while “Down San Diego Approach” (Lenox Avenue Break­down — Columbia) completely locations trendy improvising in a dance state of affairs. It can be danced to or listened to.

I am assured we’re on the verge of hear­ing some exceptional music, music that may minimize across extra strains than ever, and can be much richer than the mechanical get-down music and would-be dancing of motor-booty affairs. As George Clinton says, “The rhythm of vision is a dancer.” I’m positive that the brand new mixtures of rhythm will permit jazz to take care of its sophistication and yet be more simply communicated. It is as though what was avant-garde is now previous hat in cer­tain respects if it does not swing. In musical terms we’re shifting towards what literary scholar Werner Sollers has referred to as “populist modernism.” I feel so, anyway. ■

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