Tim Berne's Return

It's been an excellent time for Tim Berne fans at Ars Nova Workshop this season!  In mid-December of last year we had two back-to-back nights of Tim Berne projects and works as part of our Composer Portrait Series.  On December 11, Berne performed with the Collide Saxophone Quartet, and then led his Big Satan trio of Marc Ducet and Tom Rainey through an amazingly raucous set.  The following night, after a pre-concert discussion with New York Times music writer Nate Chinen and Screwgun Records (the label Berne founded in 1996) artist Steve Byrum, Philly-based pianist Matt Mitchell started the music off with a newly commissioned solo piano composition written by Berne.  The evening was concluded with a spell-binding performance by Berne's new all-star large ensemble, Adobe Probe, which featured Mitchell, Chris Speed, Shane Endsley, Marc Ducet, Michael Formanek, and Dan Weiss.  Then, on April 13 of this year, Berne was back in Philly again for the fantastic debut performance by Matt Mitchell's Central Chain with Oscar Noriega, Mary Halvorson, John Herbert, and Tomas Fujiwara.

Well, it's not over. 

On Thursday, June 24 Tim Berne's Los Totopos, a new touring quartet, will be taking the stage at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.  Always selecting the best and brightest musicians for his ensembles, this time Berne is working with Matt Mitchell, Oscar Noriega, and Ches Smith (who performed with ANW last as Congs for Brums when he opened for the Peter Brötzman-Hamid Drake Duo).  Like all things Berne-related, and as recent reports from Los Totopos' currently underway Invasion Of Privacy Tour suggest, this performance is not to be missed.  Please join us for one of the last shows of the current season and what is sure to be one of the best!

Bill Dixon 1925-2010

On June 16, composer, musician, producer, visual artist, and educator Bill Dixon died during the night at his home in Bennington, VT. He was 84 years old.

Since his first release in 1962, the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet, Dixon has ceaselessly produced challenging, unique, and creative jazz music.  Just like the Earth-shattering low-end blasts of his horn, his compositions and playing have had a massive impact on the trajectory of contemporary experimental music.  He worked with many first generation free jazz artists, including Cecil Taylor, Marzette Watts, Alan Silva, Jacques Coursil, and Jimmy Garrison, and in 1964 he organized the Jazz Composer's Guild and the October Revolution in Jazz, which hosted performances by Taylor, Shepp, Sun Ra Arkestra, Giuseppi Logan, Milford Graves, Rashied Ali, Paul Bley, Ornette Coleman, Andrew Cyrille, and many others.  In addition to his superb musical contributions, Dixon also played a relentless organizational role by bringing experimental jazz to new audiences.  Similarly, as the founder of Bennington College's Black Music Division, for which he was a professor and chair from 1969-1995, Dixon had an equal passion for enlightening students about the rich and frequently neglected musical traditions that were such a deep part of his life, and that he so greatly influenced.

In the past three years, Dixon created some of the most amazing music of his life.  In 2008, both his performance of compositions for large ensemble at the 2007 Vision Festival was released by Aum Fidelity, 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound: Darfur, and Thrill Jockey released his collaboration with Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, titled Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra.  Both of these recordings showed Dixon at the height of his talents and working with some of the best young musicians currently on the jazz scene.  Then in 2009 came Weight/Counterweight, featuring Dixon alongside Aaron Siegel and Ben Hall, and Tapestries For Small Orchestra.  The latter may very well be remembered as Dixon's greatest achievement as a composer and musician, and it is unfortunate that his death has come at a time when his musical imagination was so limitless.

Ars Nova Workshop is deeply saddened by the loss of Bill Dixon, who was such a monumental force in the world of jazz music.  We are, however, very glad and honored to have had the pleasure to host his first ever Philadelphia performance last December, when he played with Exploding Star Orchestra at International House.   That event will now be remembered as even more of a special occasion.  Our thoughts go out to Dixon's family and friends, and to the entire jazz community.

Odean's List

“Every time I pick up the horn,” saxophonist Odean Pope claimed in a 2001 interview for The Northern Californian Bohemian, “there’s always something that I discover I can do differently if I really seek.”  Born in North Carolina in 1938, Pope relocated to Philadelphia ten years later and began his music career performing with Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown, frequently at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater.  In the 1960s, Pope performed with Jimmy McGriff and Max Roach, building a strong relationship with the latter that led to decades of international touring and recording.  In the late-1970s, Pope formed Catalyst, a funk-infused jazz quartet with Philadelphia-based musicians Eddie Green, Sherman Ferguson, and Al Johnson.  While continuing as a soloist with Roach, in the early-1980s Pope began working more as a band leader, most notably with Odean Pope Saxophone Choir and Odean Pope Trio.  Pope continues to compose and perform music animated by the intersections of hard-bop, swing, and free jazz, steadily seeking new musical possibilities and directions.  About his most recent album, Odean’s List, All About Jazz’s Troy Collins wrote that it “is a compelling reminder of Pope’s relevance as a composer and improviser, one whose talent deserves greater recognition.”

On Wednesday, June 9 at 7:30, The Rosenfeld Gallery (113 Arch Street) will be hosting a performance by the Odean Pope Trio, featuring Philadelphia-natives Lee Smith – the father of bassist Christian McBride - on bass and long-time collaborator Craig McIver on drums.  What is sure to be an excellent and intimate evening with some of our city’s finest jazz musicians will also be preceded by a panel discussion entitled “Philadelphia Jazz: Past, Present, and Future” and featuring Pope, Smith, Iver, Jazz Host J. Michael Harrison from WRTI’s The Bridge, and executive director of Ars Nova Workshop, Mark Christman.  General admission for the event is $20, and space is limited to 60 attendees.  In order to attend, please RSVP immediately by emailing deena.adler@gmail.com. read more

In preparation of a selection of dead trees

On May 28 at Fleischer/Ollman Gallery, ANW is excited to present the US debut of Koboku Senju.  This cosmopolitan quintet features Norwegian sound-artists Martin Taxt, Elvind Lønning, and Espen Reinersten, along with Japanese experimentalists Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura.  Akiyama and Nakamura are both bold contributors to Japan’s vibrant experimental musics tradition - which ranges from the multimedia projects of composer Somei Satoh to free jazz saxophonist Kaoru Abe to the harsh noise of Merzbow - who are at the forefront of the contemporary Onkyo music movement.  Translating in English as “reverberation of sound,” these electroacoustic improvisers emphasize texture over structure, and minimalism and quiet noise in contrast to the maximal abrasiveness that characterized Japan’s 80s noise scene.  

This Tuesday night at Vox Populi Gallery, our friends at Philadelphia Sound Forum are also presenting Toshimaru Nakamura, and the three scheduled sets for the evening are not to be missed.  As if it wasn’t enough that Nakamura will be performing solo on his no-input mixing board, he will also be performing as a duo with Philadelphia-based clarinetist Gene Coleman, and with a quartet comprised of Philadelphia musicians Tim Albro, Ian Fraser, and Jesse Kudler.  These intriguing pairings promise to be daring, touching upon many diverse components of the experimental musics continuum, as Nakamura will be joining forces with several of the finest local sound-artists our music scene has to offer.  Philadelphians are fortunate to have these two challenging events in the same month, and we hope to see you all at both! read more

Creative Music

On Sunday, May 9, at International House, Karl Berger’s In The Spirit Of Don Cherry will be realizing a critical instance of the radical culture that grounds experimental musics and free jazz. The septet will be treating select works by visionary sound-artist Don Cherry as living texts that necessitate perpetual re-examination and re-interpretation rather than as static, historical documents that are looked back upon, distant and frozen in time.

Cherry’s grand body of work particularly demands such treatment, for his influence on the trajectory of, not just free jazz, but contemporary experimental musics as a whole, is monumental. By integrating seemingly disparate modes of sound, namely merging the North American jazz idiom with European, African, and Asian sound-languages, Cherry practiced a dynamic and new global sonic approach. His influence can be clearly heard across a wide spectrum of challenging contemporary musics, from free folk and free jazz to minimal drone and even various modes of psychedelic rock.

Karl Berger, founder of the Creative Music Studio, continues to embrace a similar cosmopolitan appreciation for seemingly disconnected and unbridgeable sound-worlds as did Cherry. The two worked together extensively beginning in the mid-60s, stretching the jazz category in previously unthinkable and exciting directions. The ensemble Berger has assembled for this special occasion, which features several Cherry collaborators, will re-animate Cherry’s spirit by critically exploring his remarkable catalogue. By treating his works in this way, Berger’s ensemble will open up even more possibilities within them, exemplifying how they speak, not just to the past, but the present and future of experimental musics and free jazz.

From 6-7PM at International House, Berger will also be participating in a public discussion alongside former Cherry collaborators Mark Helias and Peter Apfelbaum, hosted by jazz historian and musician John Szwed. Both are not-to-be-missed events. read more

Konk Pack Come to West Philadelphia to Explore the Outer Regions of the Aural Unknown

The Konk Pack experience is analogous to what it would feel like if strapped to the hood of a spaceship and blasted off into the outer regions of the aural unknown. The absolutely aleatoric sound-worlds that Tim Hodgkinson (lap steel guitar, clarinets, electronics), Thomas Lehn (analogue synthesizer), and Roger Turner (percussion) produce are vigorously alive with buzzing particles of humming static, mysterious glitches, pulses, and splatters of engaging and often terrifying sound. Despite the radical notion of freedom that grounds their performance, complex and marvelous structures begin to form for the open listener who, despite the dense and overwhelming textures, will find many silent spaces that enable exhilarating autonomous judgment. The disorienting, blurry, and rapid camera movements of this video -- which shows Konk Pack at a sound check prior to a 2008 performance in Germany -- visually captures the chaos of their sonic capabilities. While there’s really no time for one to fully adjust to the perpetually shifting directions of sound, aesthetic joy is realized by lingering within the absorptive unpredictability of it all.

Join us tonight, April 15, at The Rotunda for what is sure to be a challenging and rewarding evening of free sound. 

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Giuseppi Logan Is Currently Active In Music

Since it was revealed that Giuseppi Logan had returned to a more public existence, we've been overwhelmingly eager to host him in Philadelphia, his city of origin. Now that pianist Dave Burrell has been added to the date, we're duly excited to present what should be a very special homecoming celebration. Giuseppi's story is pretty deep. ANW friend Elliott Sharp contributes today's post in preparation of Thursday's visit by this exceptional human being...

“Giuseppi Logan is no longer active in music,” claims a footnote in Valerie Wilmer’s politically-charged 1977 book on the new jazz, As Serious As Your Life.  After recording two stunning albums released by ESP-Disk in the mid-60s, Logan vanished just a few years later.  His whereabouts were unknown, myths circulated, and family, friends, fans, and collaborators reluctantly began to accept the very real possibility that Logan was dead.  It would take roughly 45 years for such speculations to be proven wrong, as Logan was finally discovered, homeless and performing for change in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park.  Proof of his existence disrupted these dreadfully, and thankfully, false conclusions in much the same way that his early playing ruptured established notions about the future directions and possibilities of jazz music.

Born in Philadelphia, Logan taught himself piano, drums, and reeds at an early age, eventually moving on to study at the prestigious New England Conservatory.  In the early-60s, Logan began performing in New York City with emerging artists on the free scene such as Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders.  His first release as a group leader, 1964’s The Giuseppi Logan Quartet (re-released on ESP-Disk in 2008) features Logan (alto sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute, Pakistani oboe) stepping out on his own alongside Don Pullen (piano), Milford Graves (percussion), and Eddie Gomez (bass).  The five pieces the quartet laid down revealed Logan’s ability as a composer and ensemble leader, sounding just as enraged and challenging as John Coltrane’s OM and Sunny Murray’s Sunny’s Time Now.  

In 1965, ESP-Disk released More, consisting of a live performance captured at The Town Hall in May of that same year -- Albert Ayler’s group shared the bill that night, performing “Bells” --, and featuring the same quartet line-up with Reggie Johnson assuming bass duty on a few of the pieces.  The four improvisations here showed the group moving into further-out terrains, realizing a furious amalgam of aleatoric clangs, spinning piano lines, rumbling bass phrases, and Logan’s dizzying flute and reed work.  With these two releases, Logan and his team of improvisers proved themselves to be part of the vanguard of the new thing, incorporating non-Western sound-aspects and radically applying them to traditional conceptions of the jazz idiom.  Though, just as quickly as Logan began pushing these boundaries, he disappeared, leaving no trace but the sounds themselves.

Mystery ensued.  Where was Giuseppi Logan?   His sonically challenging and creative powers left an undeniable mark on his fellow musicians, greatly influencing the trajectory of experimental jazz in the years following his two monumental releases.  Logan’s history had its dark moments – it is known that he spent time in mental institutions due to substance abuse problems – and this is why some predicted the worst. 

In a short documentary film made by Edward English (available on youtube), in which Logan walks through Tompkins Square Park with his young son, he discusses the economic challenges that artists face.  Among other topics, Logan briefly speaks about his desire to be able to economically support his family with his art.  The monetary hardships that Logan’s generation of avant-garde jazz musicians experienced, and that current experimentalists continue to experience, are well known.  For, it is always already difficult to survive as an artist in a cultural world that values consumption and capital over artistic creativity, and being an outsider artist only exacerbates this difficulty.  There is no denying that Logan’s disappearance was at least partly the result of his being an artist with a unique and unrelenting vision in an age that punishes rather than rewards such visionaries.

But after years of being lost to the world, stories of Logan began to surface in 2008.  The rumors were validated when a series of videos, featuring Logan playing music in Tompkins Square Park, appeared on youtube thanks to fan, artist, and writer Suzannah B. Troy.  The details surrounding Logan’s 40 plus years off the map are still murky, but since his re-entry to the public world, he has performed several times and is currently off the streets and living in Brooklyn.  In addition, February of this year saw, in an interesting twist of linguistic fortune, the Tompkins Square imprint release Logan’s first studio album in 46 years.  Giuseppi Logan is back!

On The Giuseppi Logan Quintet, Logan (saxophone, piano) is joined by Dave Burrell (piano), Francois Grillot (bass), Matt Lavelle (trumpet, bass clarinet), and Warren Smith (drums).  The album features 5 of Logan’s original compositions and the quintet provide their own perspective to 3 standards.  While it is clear that Logan was without his instruments for quite a while, his atonal and surprisingly blue reed-work is undeniably compelling and deep.  Some might claim that it is simply his rustiness, but there is a fascinating deconstructive approach that Logan takes to the quintet’s version of Miles Davis’ “Freddie the Freeloader,” and it shows Logan embracing the same sort of irreverence for listeners’ expectations and the upkeep of traditional “purity” that made his past work so revolutionary and controversial.

In a recent interview, Logan speaks about his disappearance: “I was dead because I wasn’t playing…I didn’t have any instruments for about 30 years.”  For him, being able to create music and share it with others is the essence of being alive.  Ars Nova Workshop is incredibly honored and excited to bring Logan to Philadelphia and provide him the space to share his sounds with the world.  On Thursday, April 1 at Philadelphia Art Alliance, Logan will be joined by the full-lineup from the recent quintet recordings for what is sure to be a fantastic evening of celebratory, life-affirming sound.

This video was taken of an April 2009 performance at the Local 269 in New York City by Logan, Grillot, Lavelle, and Smith.

Elliott Sharp is a West Philadelphia resident who writes about music for Tiny Mix Tapes, Foxy Digitalis, and Biomusicosophy.

Photo: New York Portraits

Light Speed

We borrowed that brilliant title from the early March 2000 City Paper preview of our first show - Chris Speed's Yeah No at the Plays and Players Theatre. Nate Chinen, who has since graduated to The New York Times, writes "Yeah No’s sound is easier to identify than it is to define. Speed’s full, dry tenor is only one pigment on a vivid canvas — along with throbbing electric bass, atmospheric trumpet and precarious percussive textures." I think it's safe to say that some things haven't changed all that much in ten years - in this case, for the best. This Friday, we'll be hosting an extremely rare visit from Yeah No for THE special 10th anniversary celebration. We'll be sharing our excitement with you by serving cupcakes from Philly Cupcake (to the first 100 ticket buyers) and local beer, the first cup of which will be on us.  So, really, you have no excuse. To say that Friday's show is a bargain would be an understatement. See you there. read more

2000-2010

We're not the only ones celebrating our 10th anniversary this month. Our friends in Atomic are commemorating their 10th year of making exceptional music with a few North American performances, including the kick-off in Philadelphia. We've presented only one ensemble in our 10-year yesterday two consecutive evenings: Atomic in February 2007. Were you there? Either way, please do yourself a favor and join us for this celebratory performance, which kicks off a month of very special 10th anniversary performances. More soon.

Snowmageddon

Due to weather, tonight's performance of the Burton Greene/Perry Robinson Duo is cancelled. Stay tuned for a rescheduled date.