Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lemme tell you a story. I've probably told it before, but I'll tell it again. Back in the US summer of '99 I spent a week and a day in New York. I stayed w/ my good pal Jason Gross (of Perfect Sound Forever and now The Wire, MOJO and various other mags I probably I'm probably unaware of) in his miniscule apartment (sleeping in his hallway, so confined was the space) and made it my duty to not waste a spare second in seeing what NYC had to offer a rube from Down Under. Up at 7 every morning and out 'til the wee hours of the night for a week straight, I explored every nook and cranny of the city (except, ironically, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Observing the massive queues outside, I said to myself, "Well, there's always next time"). Browsing the gig guide every night as an outsider was a task of salivating joy. I mean, do New Yorkers ever stay inside? The list of jaw-dropping shows - even on a Monday night - available to the average punter was a goddamn smorgasboard. Will I see Terry Riley? How about the Dictators supported by Joey Ramone and Ronnie Spector? Well, I managed to catch all of that, but later in the week Jason tried to drag me to a goddamn Pavement show. I drew the line. Firstly, I wasn't a fan (and still aren't), but secondly I decided to brave it alone and see what the Knitting Factory had to offer. Jason assured me that the KF was bound to have at least something which may pique my vague interest, since they had three floors of performance space and the likelihood of a NYC jazz great playing on any of those stages any given night of the week.

I headed down, paid a nominal entrance fee and noticed a billing for the New York Saxophone Society, featuring William Parker, Sabir Mateen and Jemeel Moondoc, an all-star band of long-time free-jazz hotshots I not only knew about but actually owned several recordings by (not the band - which I gather is/was a thrown-together group which played for a kick and a gig - but the individual players). I purchased a brew and planted myself down near the front. A sparse crowd gathered and the band hit their strides. I sat in awe for a good 90 minutes, interspersed w/ regular trips to the bar for a top-up. Once it was over I dawdled around the venue then noticed a guy up the back of the room w/ a stall selling CDs. I went to approach him when he caught my eye and said in that classic American drawl, "Nice t-shirt dude", noticing my slightly ragged Minutemen "Buzz Or Howl" apparel. I asked him what he was selling and he told me he was the guy who ran the label which was releasing CDs by most of the guys who just played: Eremite. First words out of my mouth? "Dude, are you Byron Coley?!" The flabbergasted response"? "Umm... no, but he helps me out w/ it sometimes". Not a good start on my behalf.

So anyway, soon enough I discovered it was in fact Michael Ehlers, the brainchild behind the label and, weird enough, an old scribe for Forced Exposure. He used to write reviews for the mag back in high school, and if you trawl through any ancient issues of the rag you'll find them scattered throughout (I spotted a couple in the issue w/ Gibby on the cover). We yacked aimlessly until he said he had to pack up. I purchased a couple of CDs for my troubles and was about to leave when he asked me if I'd like to meet the band backstage. Hmmm... I wasn't sure. I mean, were these guys going to pull an old Archie Shepp/Miles Davis trick and ask me what the fuck a hillbilly cracker like myself was doing backstage on their turf? Michael assured me they were cool guys...

Well, of course they were, and I have the drunken photos to prove it, though they're too embarrassing to print. Anyway, finally we made our way out the front of the KF, where I noticed what looked like a kind of haggard old scruffy gent talking away to Michael. I was about to butt in w/ some moronic comment like "Sorry, we haven't got any spare change" when Michael interjected w/ "Dave, this is a good friend of mine, Alan Silva". Thank fuck I kept my mouth shut. The Alan Silva?! The man who played on a thousand ESP and BYG discs? The man who played w/ Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler?! Yep, that guy. I chewed his ear off about a load of nonsense, took a few family snaps and said my farewells. I flew back to the apartment on a goddamn cloud.

When I arrived back in Melbourne I made it my sworn duty to track down every Eremite release I could. I did just that. A few years later I was even working for their Australian distributor (we don't carry the label anymore... long story). So, why the long, rambling, hopelessly name-dropping story? That's my introduction to this Fred Anderson 2CD on the label. I'm back on a jazz kick, and one of the best places to start w/ contemporary jazz is Eremite HQ.

For myself, if you're going to take a dip into their expanding catalogue, I wouldn't start here. Want a Top 6? OK, here goes:

NOAH HOWARD - Patterns/Message To South Africa CD
Two '70s Dutch/Parisian sessions from this ESP dude. Highly recommended to fans of Pharoah Sanders' '60s/'70s Impulse discs and Ayler's gonzo-gospel forays.
RAPHE MALIK - The Short Form CD
Now deceased ex-Cecil Taylor sideman's awesome quartet recording.
Big band shenanigans from The Man.
Terrific big band recording from this under-rated alto player.
Stripped-down trio venturing into near-Don Cherry territory w/ a swagger of gongs, bells and trap drums.
Test is the name of the band; this is them recorded live. This is simply known as "LIVE/TEST". There ya go. Features the likes of Tom Bruno, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, so you know it's good. Improvised blowouts which find their feet early on and never let go.

OK, there's a consumer's guide to Eremite for you. They've also recently released an-as-yet-unheard-by-me 1972 recording by the Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble, one which apparently bridges the music gap between Sun Ra and King Tubby, but I'll give you the lowdown on that in a few weeks. Fred Anderson? Sheez, time to get around to the topic at hand.

Anderson was one of the founding members of the AACM (Association For the Advancement Of Creative Musicians) in Chicago back in the '60s, along w/ Anthony Braxton, Joseph Jarman et al, but fell out of sight for almost 20 years whilst he set up a bar in the Chicago area and raised a family. Rediscovered by several collegiate hepcats in the '90s, he's been highly active ever since. With a tenor sound not too divorced from that of Coltrane's he rarely delves into the squawking, room-clearing squeals of Sanders and co., but has a steady energy level on a par w/ prime '60'/'70s Ornette, and in this setting he glows. Accompanied by stalwarts Parker and Drake, as well as the obscured figure known as "Kidd" Jordan (actually a New Orleans-based music professor who, when not dabbling in the avant-garde, has played w/ everyone from Ray Charles to Fats Domino), two CDs is an awful lot to get through, but a treat to hear in 20-minutes grabs. My sole complaint regards the rhythm section which, great as it is, sounds a bit buried in the mix. Parker's bass should be carrying the momentum, but here is often too inaudible to give it the power it fully needs. Nearly 100 minutes of blazing free energy to behold, I'd like to see Wynton Marsalis strapped down and force-fed this on a daily basis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Dave,
I regularly goggle "2 Days in April" in the hope that I will find Emerite has re-issued it. That's how I found your piece. Thanks for your insights. I e-mailed Michael Ehlers halfway through last year about it and he said he was considering re-issuing it around this time. I really hope he does. It is the "holy grail' of my CD questing as I missed buying it before it sold out. I have most of the other ones you mentioned. I'd just like to concur with your opinion of Test - my favourite band. Thank you.