Saturday, April 25, 2020

The New York Art Quartet - 2010 - Old Stuf

The New York Art Quartet
Old Stuf

01. Rosmosis 15:47
02. Sweet Smells 6:22
03. Old Stuff 7:18
04. Pannonica 3:02
05. Kvintus T 2:52
06. Pa Tirsdag 5:51
07. Old Stuff 8:11
08. Cool Eyes 7:28
09. Sweet V 2:29
10. Karin's Blues 6:20
11. Kirsten 5:32

Alto Saxophone – John Tchicai
Bass – Finn Von Eyben
Drums – Louis Moholo
Trombone – Roswell Rudd

"The band sharing the bill with Sonic Youth at the Seaport Atrium in lower Manhattan tonight -- the headliners, actually -- will be the New York Art Quartet, a reconvened avant-garde jazz chamber ensemble.... This is no act of charity by Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth's founder and guitarist, and an ardent devotee of 60's free jazz. The show might be one of the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival's hottest tickets even without Sonic Youth as the opening act, such is the anticipation about the reunion of...the New York Art Quartet.... With the passage of enough time, virtually anything can become a source of nostalgia, apparently including even another era's racial frictions and cutting-edge music. But a double bill of Sonic Youth and the New York Art Quartet has even greater contemporary relevance. It demonstrates the long-term influence of 60's free jazz on extreme forms of rock-and-roll, beginning with punk and no-wave in the late 70's, if not a decade earlier with the Stooges and the MC5 -- a curious phenomenon, given free improvisation's supposedly negligible impact on mainstream jazz.... Collective improvisation was a cherished ideal in early free jazz, but aside from greater parity between horn soloists and their rhythm sections, this was often just talk. For the New York Art Quartet, collective improvisation was a raison d'etre, the band's musical starting point." – Francis Davis/The New York Times

This release is truly a remarkable archival find! Formed in the summer of 1964, although the New York Art Quartet existed for barely a year and a half, great interest remains in their work. They consisted of co-leaders John Tchicai (alto sax), who participated in John Coltrane’s ground-breaking Ascension album and Roswell Rudd (trombone), considered to be the first free-jazz trombonist, along with bassist Don Moore and drummer Milford Graves. The band participated in the legendary “October Revolution in Jazz”, which journalist Bill Shoemaker called, “Arguably the most seminal jazz concert series ever was a comprehensive four-day survey of jazz's cutting edge.... It marked the beginning of the Golden Era of do-it-yourself jazz culture in the U.S.” The New York Art Quartet recorded their self-titled first album for ESP and Tchicai went back to his homeland of Denmark to scout out work for the group. Only Rudd was able to join him, so the pair enlisted Copenhagen bassist Finn von Eyben and South African drummer Louis Moholo, who had very recently left South Africa with the Blue Notes; this is one of his earliest recordings. This lineup of the New York Art Quartet performed two concerts in Copenhagen in October, 1965, which is where these recordings were made.
Released on the 45th anniversary of the October Revolution, this historic issue features all previously unheard and unreleased recordings of brilliant and firey musical interplay that have really great, high quality, period live sound. In the 8 page booklet are never-before seen photos and a short, informative essay by writer Jason Weiss, who produced this album.

"An absolute gem of an album that is of great historical importance.... Both elemental and sophisticated, this is an invaluable document of an ephemeral outfit – that made a nonetheless invaluable contribution to the cannon of small group jazz, be it mainstream or avant-garde, or the space in between." – Kevin Le Gendre/Jazzwise, October, 2010

Forty-five years is a long time for unreleased music to gather dust before anyone gets a chance to hear it, but the genre of free jazz is littered with these types of time capsules. With each passing year the list of long-lost recordings grows with entries from Mingus, Monk, Coltrane, and other giants. These recordings, in addition to giving people something new to listen to, serve as a reminder of just how different things were back then. For example, by late 1965, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane had already unleashed some of the most challenging jazz that anyone had heard by that time. Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz was already five years old, and that gauntlet had been picked up many times over by the mid ‘60s. The era of free jazz was proving to be very fertile, especially in big cities where life was just plain crazy, and each musician had a need to express their crazy side. As a result, many acts have come and gone from that era without getting a chance to make a big name for themselves. So when I tell you that it’s the New York Art Quartet’s turn to drop some forgotten documentation of two 1965 performances this year, I can’t blame you for responding “Who?”

The story can be traced back to Danish saxophonist John Tchicai, who performed on Coltrane’s Ascension. Tchicai emerged from these sessions with an itch to form his own free jazz band, so he did. Enter trombonist Roswell Rudd, fresh off of Bill Dixon’s band from the early ‘60s. These two co-lead the New York Art Quartet with the powerful rhythm section of drummer Milford Graves and a rotating cast of bassists including Don Moore, Lewis Worrell, and Reggie Workman. They recorded two albums in a little less than a year and a half, then called it a day. There was an eventual 35th year reunion concert released on the DIW label, but that’s another chapter.

It was just before the New York Art Quartet was about to slip into retirement that the recordings of Old Stuff were cut. Tchicai had gone back to his native Denmark to book some gigs for his new quartet. For whatever reasons, Moore and Graves could not tag along, leaving Tchicai and Rudd no choice but to find a whole new rhythm section. Finn von Eyben ended up providing bass, while Louis Moholo, formerly of the Blue Notes, pounded the skins. So as it stands, this live album of two Copenhagen gigs both greatly benefits and slightly suffers from four musicians who hadn’t spent a whole lot of time together.

The lack of practice serves as a benefit because, well, circumstances for spontaneity don’t get much better than that. Add in the fact that an audience is involved, and a band can really soar. The lead off track, “Rosmosis”, a Rudd original from the quartet’s first album, has all the makings of a classic free jazz standard: an accessible melody, syncopated interplay between horns, a commanding drummer shifting gears mid-song, and plenty of fiery solos in between. The title track, which gets played at each of the gigs presented, goes its own merry way by halting the song intermittently to allow for Tchicai and Rudd to fill the space with trills and interval leaps. It’s one of those moments that remind you of all the other things jazz can be if everyone just stopped covering “Autumn Leaves”.

But the limited-time bond between these musicians works against them, slightly. One may think that in free jazz there is no such thing as sloppy playing. But even if one is playing experimental post-bop in a desire to say "nuts to the old formula," you and your band still need to adhere to a formula and know each other’s abilities. For the second date, the quartet trades in a small club for a larger concert hall. It could be that the different surroundings (the two shows were only 10 days apart) changed their mentality. “Karin’s Blues” finds Tchicai and Rudd too unsure of themselves or unsure of how to match each other. The mix tends to favor the drums over the bass, and it sounds as if the ensemble just wasn’t meshing the way that they did ten days prior. They still give it their all, trying their best to thrive from the generous audience, who offer up more applause than the previous crowd. But one gets the feeling that tracks seven through 11 of this 70-minute CD don’t show this band at the top of their game.

All things considered, these are two very promising shows from an obscure band buried under many legendary names from one of the 20th century’s most difficult musical eras. The level of interest in a release such as Old Stuff is bound to be narrow. But that’s not to say that it lacks any potential to reach a wider audience. In fact, it may be resurrected curiosities like Old Stuff that will give free jazz a shot in the arm for a new generation of listeners. The upstart music labels just need to keep releases like this coming, so as to give us all an idea what it was like to watch experimental music unfold back in the good old days. In fact, a re-release of the New York Art Quartet’s long out of print second album Mohawk would be a good place to go next. How about it, Cuneiform Records?

The New York Art Quartet - 1965 - Mohawk

The New York Art Quartet

01. Rufus 3rd 6:35
02. Mohawk 4:40
03. Banging On The White House Door 9:10
04. No. 6 6:15
05. Everything Happens To Me 6:35
06. Quintus T. 2:45
07. Sweet V. 3:35

Alto Saxophone – John Tchicai
Bass – Reggie Workman
Drums – Milford Graves
Trombone – Roswell Rudd

Recorded in New York City on July 16, 1965.

Many of the canonic jazz records—the absolutely necessary ones, urgent for any comprehensive jazz history or aspiring collection—have been issued on CD. That’s even true of the self-produced or small-label productions; consider that the signal New York underground company ESP has had most of its catalog in print—albeit sometimes in badly remastered form—almost continuously since the ’60s.

The Vinyl Freak column usually focuses on albums that slip through the cracks, rather than the major watershed events. The canon needs to be wider than it is, including all sorts of oddities. Those unusual items tell as significant a part of the story as the “classics.” The waste pail of history is, for an audio archaeologist, often more fruitful than the pantry.

But there remain a few items that should, by any account, be staples prominently placed in that pantry that haven’t been properly restocked. In the early ’60s, one of the forefront labels documenting the new jazz was a Dutch company called Fontana. A few of its important productions were reissued on LP by Freedom, enja, and Arista in the ’70s—Dewey Redman’s Look for the Black Star, for instance—but some of its early entries in the New York underground remain inaccessible. In many ways, Fontana was the sister label to Impulse! and ESP. It helped capitalize on mounting interest in free jazz in Europe, having been better distributed and more broadly collected there.

Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and alto saxophonist John Tchicai produced a tremendous quartet outing, Rufus, which, only ever having been reissued on French LP and in a tiny batch in Japan (where some of the rarest Fontanas have somehow made their way onto CD), joins Marion Brown’s Juba-Lee, the first record to feature pianist Dave Burrell and a tenor-only recording of Bennie Maupin, in the super-obscure Fontana category. Of Fontana LPs that have languished in obscurity, however, one is an absolute classic and should be reissued immediately. If they did they’d have to pay more historical homage to the group that made it.

The New York Art Quartet’s Mohawk was recorded in July 1965. It’s got pristine sound for a free jazz LP, having been recorded in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, which is good because the details are meaningful. The lineup includes Tchicai on alto, Roswell Rudd on trombone, and Reggie Workman on bass. But it’s the remarkable drumming of Milford Graves that makes this record more than another nice entry in the “New Thing” discography. Indeed, this LP is a major event, perhaps the best evidence of what a totally new rhythmic concept Graves had invented, and the top recording of unpulsed drumming, bar none.

Graves was just at the point of discarding his snare in ’65, and he’s still playing it on about half of Mohawk. Anyone who questions Graves’s prowess on snare will have to reckon with this record, where his playing is as shocking and revelatory as Tony Williams on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, and perhaps more so. Listen to him start and stop on the Rudd-less “Everything Happens to Me,” as Tchicai brilliantly and gently abstracts the beautiful melody. Or listen to the sensational “Banging on the White House Door,” where the rhythm is at once precise and clotted.

Graves proves that it’s possible to imply forward motion and at the same time resist the simple groove. His metrical overlays and wavelike fluidity are as astonishing now as they must have been then, in part because so few players have had the discipline to pick up on and develop them. Here’s an example of free jazz that’s ceaselessly creative and puts something new on the table. Happy hunting.

The New York Art Quartet - 1964 - The New York Art Quartet

The New York Art Quartet
The New York Art Quartet

01. Short 8:20
02. Sweet - Black Dada Nihilismus 12:10
03. Rosmosis 14:48
04. No. 6 8:07

Bass – Lewis Worrell
Percussion – Milford Graves
Saxophone – John Tchicai
Trombone – Roswell Rudd

Recorded in New York City on November 26, 1964.

The New York Art Quartet history according to Roswell Rudd
I think it was late ’63 when Don Cherry suggested I check out an altoist named John Tchicai performing with his group in a midtown (NYC) Tchicai soon after. We just started playing and it sounded good right away. Then not too long after that John asked me to write some arrangements of music by Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk for a band involving himself, Don Cherry & Archie Shepp (which I did and I’ve been told some were recorded.) The next thing that happened John arranged for himself, me and Milford Graves to work out in a loft in my neighborhood = lower lower west side. Again, we first started playing and it sounded good right away and it got better. Next time we got together I asked bassist Lewis Worrell to come along and we just started playing, and it took off again.

The name New York Art Quartet was something John ran by us, and my first impression was “too uppity, not funky enough for a jazz band” but damned if I or anyone else could come up with anything better. And the more I thought about the total improvisation that we had been doing (no prestructure of any kind up to that time) the more sense the word “art” made…even “the jazz” I had been playing all along was based off tunes, compositions, arrangements, suggested formats, etc. With the NYAQ we started, we listened, and responded to what each other was doing as we played and that was “the composition.” Of course written and head compositions were inevitable but all that free playing from the inception of the band was always the predominant thing. Over the summer of ’64 we kept rehearsing periodically and there were a few gigs.

In the fall we made our first recording; for Bernard Stollman’s ESP label . In addition to heads by John and myself, and a great deal of free playing, John invitted Amiri Baraka to join us and he did a reading of his work Black Dada Nihilismus on the Sweet V. track which is a gem of the times and made that ESP date particularly special. We also performed as part of the Bill Dixon/Cecil Taylor brainchild October Revolution in Jazz at the Cellar Cafe. This evolved into the Jazz Composers Guild and Four Days in December at Judson Hall with periodic performances at the Edith Stephen dance studio up over the Village Vanguard which lasted well into the spring of ’65. With help from abroad, John organized a recording at Rudy Van Gelder’ s studio… Lewis Worrell was unavailable and Reggie Workman very capably filled his shoes. John also invited Amiri Baraka to sit in with us and we did “Black Dada Nihilismo. ”

This was soon sold to Phillips Fontana and became Mohawk. John then returned to Denmark and by the Fall ’65 had set up a short tour beginning at the Montmartre Club in Copenhagen and included performances for Danish Radio on the same bill with Oliver Nelson and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam opening for Ornette Coleman. (Milford Graves and Lewis Worrell could not make the trip, so the band at this time consisted of John, myself, a Danish bassist Finn Von Eyben and Louis Moholo on drums.) Later on that year back in the States two concerts stand out: one at the New School with Richard Davis on bass and a collaboration with the great avant cellist Charlotte Moorman at Carnegie Recital Hall. But by the beginning of ’66, John had returned permanently to Denmark …he did however make all of us a final offer to incorporate permanently and go into the future with him, but I at least could not make the commitment to exclusive contract at the time, as beautiful as the offer was; I wanted to keep myself as open as possible to a variety of experiences. In sum I wish to stress more than anything else the phenomenal blend and complementarity that was there from the inception with John & the other great players. It was simply: great preordained organic chemistry.

Roswell Rudd, October 27, 1998

Alto saxophonist John Tchicai co-formed the New York Art Quartet in 1964 out of the ashes of the New York Contemporary Five. Enlisting trombonist Roswell Rudd (who arranged some of the latter group's book), the NYAQ was initially to include the Five's rhythm team of bassist Don Moore and drummer J.C. Moses. However, once drummer Milford Graves sat in, the group's pan-rhythmic die was cast. A number of bassists past through the ensemble in its short life — in addition to Lewis Worrell (featured here), Steve Swallow, Eddie Gomez and Reggie Workman occupied the bass chair. On the heels of the present album, they recorded once more for Fontana (the excellent and boppish Mohawk, with Workman) before disbanding until a brief reunion at the start of the millennium.

One of the things that always set the group's ESP date apart from contemporary brethren is its inclusion of a poem, "Black Dada Nihilismus" by Amiri Baraka(LeRoi Jones), which is woven into the group's fabric. "Nihilismus" is a beat follow-up to Eliot's "The Wasteland" in the clothes of mid-60s New York, "cool" as dead, disheartened and disaffected with no place in any artistic or racial community, yet somehow affirming singularity as solitude. In a way, the inclusion of Baraka's (Jones) poem perfectly mirrors the in- betweenness of the group, who certainly had grand claims as to their music as art-music, creative and experimental, but whose approach to that very artfulness was always brusque and extremely "street."

The horns sit out for "Nihilismus," which is propelled by the thrum of Worrell's bass and Graves' telepathic burbling accents, a true collective music-poetry exploration that soon erupts into Rudd's "Sweet." Rudd and Tchicai are in loose unison on the easy-tempo theme, Graves in a continual hum of activity often at odds with the front line. Somewhat analogous to Anthony Williams, whose dissection of meter acted as the fulcrum for a number of groups at the time, Graves is defiantly in his own orbit. Rather than providing a canvas to free the soloist a la Sunny Murray, Graves is impulsive and either ignores or counteracts the soloist with non-isometric phrases, creating tension through non-unison collectivity. Yet there's propulsion and swing by dint of disparity, a pulse that's kinetic even if it's multidirectional. Tchicai's "No. 6" grooves mightily, even if Graves' dense patterns aren't countable by traditional means.

Graves' counter-melodic approach to rhythm isn't the only way in which the ensemble moves at odds. Rudd and Tchicai are a curious foil, a clash of slushy tailgate, buzzing and vocal, with cool-toned, acrid and poised alto. Tchicai, who studied with the late Steve Lacy, has more in common with the free-associative burble of Lee Konitz than Dolphy or Ornette. Cooking through contradiction, the New York Art Quartet cut some of the most powerful music in the free jazz underground.

Roswell Rudd assembled the newly formed New York Quartet for an afternoon recording session at Bell Sound Studios in midtown Manhattan. They were joined by a small, youthful appearing individual, the poet Amiri Baraka. Their engineer was the late Art Crist, an accomplished pianist. I was introduced to Lewis Worrell, Amiri Baraka and John Tchicai. The group was short lived. I heard them again 40 years later, when they reassembled for a concert at the South Street Seaport in New York City, opening for Sonic Youth at the invitation of Thurston Moore. -- Bernard Stollman

One disc 43 minutes approximately. Digitally remastered-the sound is clean with good spatial separation among the instruments. This recording features Roswell Rudd-trombone,John Tchicai-alto sax,Lewis Worrell-bass,Milford Graves-drums and percussion,and on track two-Amiri Baraka(Leroi Jones)who recites a poem over a subtle background of music. The poem is strictly out of the sixties and is an example of how jazz was used in conjunction with the spoken word,and is valuable for that reason. This track is also the shortest on this set,about three and a half minutes. The music on the rest of the tracks is unstructured and atonal.

This is a perfect example of "outside" music that was touted as "the new thing" in the sixties. Fans of this style of jazz will find much to their liking here. The first track is used as a setting of style for the rest of the tracks. Track three starts off hesitantly but quickly finds a groove(if this music can have a groove),and finds all the players using their instruments to weave a subtle pattern of sound. The other tracks find the players playing over,with,and against each other-either "all-out" or with great subtly. The presence of Milford Graves on these sides gives this music a good grounding-he never lets things get out of hand. The same could also be said of Lewis Worrell-his bass playing,both within the group and on solos, is always just right. As for Rudd and Tchicai,their playing is always intelligent combined with a real feel for the music. Being totally subjective here,it seems to these ears and mind that each track,starting with track three,gets better and better. There is a subtly and a deep feeling in the music,that seems to increase. By the time the music has ended,there is a feeling of wanting more,or not wanting the music to end. On reflection,isn't that what we want in a listening experience?

The notes are short and to the point. Rudd formed this group for an afternoon recording session. They were joined by Baraka. The group played again forty years later,opening for a Sonic Youth concert at Thurston Moore's invitation. As it seems to happen,Worrell had vanished from the scene and was replaced by Reggie Workman on bass. This is another example of why ESP RECORDS was,and continues to be important. From the music,to the album graphics-this is a nice package. It's good to hear it again and again. For more good music of this sort,look for NEW YORK EYE AND EAR CONTROL on ESP RECORDS

This adventurous, short-lived quartet only made three albums in its two-year heyday. The best and most easily obtained (although that's relative) is the classic 1964 self-titled free jazz excursion on the ESP label. The unique front-line horn arrangement of trombonist Roswell Rudd and Danish alto saxophonist John Tchicai weaves rapid intricate lines around Lewis Worrell's bass and the frenzied drums of Milford Graves. Poet Leroi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) is added to the quartet for his revolutionary/militant spoken word diatribe "Black Dada Nihilismus." While it may sound like an intrusion to some listeners, it must be kept in mind that Jones was an active participant in the early avant-garde scene of New York, making his contribution to this disc vital in capturing the radical surroundings in which the music thrived. In 2000, the intensity and fervor was still thriving as the original New York Art Quartet (with Baraka, sans the late Worrell) reunited for their 35th Reunion concert, available on the DIW label.

New York Contemporary Five - 1966 - Consequences

New York Contemporary Five 

01. Sound Barrier
02. Wo Wo
03. Consequences
04. Rufus
05. Crepescule With Nellie
06. Trio

Alto Saxophone – John Tchicai
Bass – Don Moore
Drums – J.C. Moses
Tenor Saxophone – Archie Shepp
Trumpet – Don Cherry

Recorded in New York City on August 23, 1963 except "Trio" recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark on October 12, 1963.

In 1966, producer Alan Bates spearheaded a series of avant-garde jazz releases for the Fontana label (both Dutch and UK imprints), now prized by collectors not only for the fact that they document crucial years in the music (1962-66), but for their beautiful and unique color lithography by Dutch pop artist and lithographer Marte Röling. Röling's covers are fanciful renditions of the artists' heads, filled with whimsical cutaways showing the machinations of the jazzman's mind (Tchicai's, on Mohawk, includes group protests and a saxophone; Marion brown has numerals and valves). The lithographs themselves were culled from photographs of the artists by Guy Kopelowicz, Ray Ross and others. The sessions' origins are quite varied; live concerts make up a few of the dates, others were culled from the artists' own tapes. Two sessions are reissues of material originally released on Riverside in the US (George Russell's The Outer View and Rod Levitt's Dynamic Sound Patterns). Though the original series was short-lived, reissues have been produced in Japan, as well as collected on the Arista-Freedom and Black Lion labels - albeit with different cover art. 

Modern Silence present a reissue of The New York Contemporary Five's Consequences, originally released in 1966. The New York Contemporary Five barely lasted a year, all told, but they recorded five albums that shaped the jazz to come. They were a super-group after the fact -- the stellar frontline of Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, and John Tchicai all being relative newcomers at the time. Cherry had recently left Ornette Coleman and was only starting to stretch into world music. Shepp was fresh off a stint with Cecil Taylor and had just found his voice as a composer and performer. And Tchicai was virtually unknown. Their scorching music -- aided by the supple and hard-hitting rhythm section of Don Moore and J. C. Moses -- is a thrilling mix of adventurous soloing and post-bop structures, memorable heads and go-for-broke improv. Shepp and Tchicai offered two different ways forward for sax players: Shepp privileged texture, density, and fragmentation -- a pointillist take on Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins, perhaps. Tchicai was a master of melodic invention, teasing out hard and bright phrases that seem unpredictably off-kilter. What's still remarkable about these tunes is their sense of internal tension. They're wound tighter than a magnet coil, without sacrificing any spontaneity. There's little that's strictly free about this jazz, but it's full of reckless and unexpected drama all the same. "Consequences" is the record's barnburner, built on fiery performances and climaxing with a Don Cherry solo that sounds like the aural equivalent of a fifty foot skid mark. Their version of Bill Dixon's "Trio" is contemplative by comparison, offering a loping groove, overlapping textures, and a series of wonderfully sustained solos that show off the stylistic strengths of each player.

The New York Contemporary Five, although somewhat forgotten today, was a particularly noteworthy group during its year of existence — a pioneering avant-garde combo. Trumpeter Don Cherry had recently departed from the Ornette Coleman Quartet and he was just beginning to stretch out into folk music when he helped form the group. Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, who had played with Cecil Taylor, was still a minor name at the time but was maturing rapidly. Altoist John Tchicai first gained a bit of notice during his period with the quintet, while bassist Don Moore and drummer J.C. Moses formed a flexible and complementary rhythmic base. The New York Contemporary Five primarily played in Europe during its year, recording four albums from 1962-63 (two apiece for Fontana and Sonet) and one in February 1964 for Savoy (with Shepp, Tchicai and either Ted Curson or Don Cherry on trumpet being joined by bassist Ronnie Boykins and drummer Sunny Murray) before its inevitable breakup.