I was on the city-bound no. 19 tram a few months ago, ironically enough on the way to an opening party of sorts for a friend who had just bought and taken over two fairly well-known independent record stores, when I was unfortunately within earshot of just the kind of mind-numbing conversation which usually accompanies a trip on public transport. It was a 20-something blowhard loudly proclaiming to his mates that he couldn't believe - he was apopleptic on the topic - that anyone in this day and age would bother actually buying music, let alone visiting a record store to do so. He then went on to say that the entire business of music had shifted radically in the last few years - a truism - and that musicians should now accept the fact that income from actual recorded music will soon be zilch (because why should you have to pay for it?) and they'll have to make up the difference through touring and merchandise sales. There's about 80% truth in these statements, but it's the 20% which is so wrong - and even moreso when uttered from the mouth of a grade-A douche - that I was tempted to butt into their conversation to correct him on a few matters and maybe give him a clip over the ear in the process. But I didn't. After all, he might've had a knife, and I have a blog.
Where was I going w/ all of this? Probably nowhere, but it did have me thinking: if all music in the future, as some predict to be, will be purely digital and not be presented in any manner of physical form, where will the concept of labels stand? I don't mean major labels, as there isn't one in existence any more which actually carries any sense of identity (the way Warner Brothers, Elektra, Island, Atlantic, etc. all once did), but the independent label, the aggregator and subjective arbiter of sound. A great label is an excellent filter. Of course, none of this digital-age brouhaha transformation will ever fully take place: vinyl has already made a major comeback, and whilst the CD is currently going the way of the 8-track, I'll lay a $1,000.00 bet with anyone reading this that the format will undergo a strange revival in the next 15-20 years, as people tire of the concept of accessing music via computer screens and ipods. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia to revive everything. All those putzes who traded in their CDs for ipods will be doing the same thing as every twit who stupidly traded in their vinyl for CDs back in the '80s/'90s, believing wax to be a dead format: buying it back.
And in no way whatsoever, this brings me around to these two releases on one of my fave contemporary imprints, AUM Fidelity. I hope AUM Fidelity is still around in 20-30 years, though that's doubtful. At the very least, I hope their catalogue of CDs don't become landfill and can be aquired, consumed and appreciated in a form which gives creedence to the label's grand body of work. Much like its little brother label, Eremite (though they're both totally unrelated and unconnected, except for the crossover of a few players), as well as similar labels of yesteryear such as FMP and ESP'-Disk, AUM Fidelity is all about documenting a key scene of jazz players, whether in live performance or the studio and, despite the great joy that many of its releases bring to the listener in and of themselves, presenting each release as part of a wider catalogue of music. There's a Cooper-Moore CD on AF by the name of The Cedarbox Recordings which, by most standards (a solo album comprising of "diddley-bo, horizontal hoe-handle harp, ashimba, bamboo fife, twanger, piano, mouth-bow, three-stringed fretless banjo, percussion, synth, voice"), tests one's patience, yet guided by the label's freedom principle in allowing its artists to express themselves in any manner they see fit, it makes sense as a piece of the puzzle. You don't give birth to a label w/ something like that, but for a 51st release preceeded by a remarkable strike rate, it's an interesting indulgence.
Both David S. Ware and William Parker, two of AF's star performers and possibly (and likely) the two best players in contemporary avant-jazz, have been allowed to indulge themselves in a few curio releases the last decade (Parker's duet albums w/ Hamid Drake and Ware's strictly-solo outings), and both to rather excellent results. On I Plan To Stay A Believer, Parker has documented a series of live recordings from 2001-2008 from his project dedicated to interpreting the songs of Curtis Mayfield. It's perhaps an odd choice for a guy who's indulged in the world of free jazz for close to 40 years, and my worst fears were that it would result in a kind of faux soul-jazz slop. Of course, I'm not here to write bad reviews, but to point the way towards good things, and this is one of them. Being a massive Curtis fan (though I OD'd on his Impressions LPs and first four solo discs so bad about a decade or more ago that I haven't listened to them much in recent years), the songs and their nuances are well known, so it really comes down to what kind of balance Parker strikes between reverence and a desire to reinvent. The band, which features the likes of Dave Burrell, Sabir Mateen and Hamid Drake and ace vocalist Leena Conquest, actually manages to keep the interpretations quite orthodox throughout much of it, which I think is what makes this work. It's not a "jazz" take on Mayfield so much as it's a combination of deep soul with outward-bound jazz interludes, w/ both "People Get Ready" and "I'm So Proud" evolving into original Parker compositions, "The Inside Song" (an original) being a simply awesome gospel stomper. And yet this description doesn't do the sense of ebb and flow of the music justice, as it doesn't simply revert from interpretation to improvisation as a matter of rule. "New World Order" comprises a 90-piece children's chorus, the New York recordings a full gospel choir; "Move On Up" is a total reinvention, sounding not unlike Sun Ra/June Tyson's recordings from the early '70s. Parker is one of the great experimenters in jazz and a man of serious intent, he never stands still. I'll chalk this one up as another unique and inventive notch in his belt, and I'll quietly wait for a long-overdue follow-up to 1998's epochal recording, The Peach Orchard (thee finest jazz recording of the last 20 years, says I), with his In Order To Survive quartet. Put it this way: if you like either Mayfield or Parker, you'll be interested in hearing this, and if you're already a fan of both then there's little choice.
"Every song written or improvised has an inside song which lives in the shadows, in-between the sounds and silences and behind the words, pulsating, waiting to be reborn as a new song." - William Parker
Saxophonist hotshot David S. Ware is a man I've written about quite a few times before, though I believe the albums I covered were in fact his two major-label recordings for Sony (he was snapped up by Sony A & R guy Branford Marsalis, the less-assholeish brother of Wynton) from a decade back, both of which rate as (surprisingly enough, given most major-labels' track record of whitewashing any interesting artist they sign) perhaps his finest recordings. The bean-counters at Sony weren't that impressed w/ the underwhelming sales and he was shown the door pretty quick, and was of course allowed back w/ open arms by AUM Fidelity (as well as a few releases on Thirsty Ear, including an incredible 3CD live set), where he's done everything from power trios to a quartet aided by synths and electronic keys (2001's Corridors & Parallels: another one of his best) to a screeching, 40-minute rendition of Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite". And this time on Onecept, despite his recent illness - a lung transplant, I think - and what now marks his 50th year on the instrument (mind you, he started young), he's gone into the studio w/ stalwart sidekick William Parker and percussionist Warren Smith w/ zero rehearsals and nothing mapped out. It was all left up to chance, but given the telepathic nature of the performers, I had to read about it to notice this fact: I didn't hear it. Either this is edited to perfection or, more likely, the players are one-take perfectionists, because it's an enganging, fiery brew which, at least to me, had me thinking of Ayler's early trio recordings for ESP: sheets of sound which pretty much reinvented jazz for an entire generation. Onecept isn't reinventing anything and Ware has probably taken bigger artistic chances before (as mentioned), but maybe I'm just saying that because the mastery of Onecept sounds a whole lot more "composed" than it actually is. Walking into the studio w/out any preconceived notion of what it is you'll actually play together is a hell of a risk. I guess he just makes it sound easy. Best Ware disc in a while. Keep 'em coming...