Apr

19

2012

SHELL GAME

 

A year after 9/11, it is clear that George Bush and his administration are using the so-called War on Terror as an excuse to advance their dreams of unilateral domination abroad and their Right Wing agenda at home. The sooner we can be rid of This Disaster and his administration the better off we all will be.

Before 9/11 the Bush Administration established an arrogant, go-it-alone attitude toward the world community with acts such as withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty for climate change. Then, after a brief post-9/11 sojourn into talk of coalitions and allies, Bush & Co. returned almost immediately to its myopic, unilateral way of approaching all issues. They thumbed their noses at Russia and withdrew from the ABM treaty; they refused to sign on to the International Court of Justice and demanded exemption from it; they withheld our contribution to funding for the United Nations Population Fund, to name only three in a depressingly long list of examples of ways in which the Bush administration is an international bully.

And the president’s abysmal failure of leadership in the Middle East, his embarrassingly pro-Israel stand, and his increasingly bellicose rhetoric about invading Iraq have not only alienated and infuriated moderate Muslims everywhere, they have also alienated and infuriated and frightened our former friends around the world.

And here at home Bush & Co. seem determined to alienate everyone but the most conservative. John Ashcroft invents TIPS–the Terrorism, Information and Protection System–so that we can spy on each other in the name of security. It sounds like the McCarthy Era or Communist Russia or Maoist China. The same man who invented TIPS also spent thousands of dollars to cover up the bare breasts of The Spirit of Justice. A year ago we were attacked by religious fanatics from far away; now our civil rights and our own spirit of justice are attacked by a religious fanatic here at home.

George Bush & Co. have found that The War on Terror is a handy tool for doing what they wanted to do anyway: gut environmental legislation and regulations, give more tax breaks to the rich, cut support for the young, the old and the poor. The list is endless.

Yet the American people are silent. Why?

Is it because Americans are brow-beaten and bamboozled by the shenanigans of the last Presidential election–an election that was “won” with illegal and racist tactics in a state where the president’s brother is the governor?

Is it because Americans know that “our” president was not elected but appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

Is it because Americans are incredulous at the Bush administration’s self-righteous, moralistic bombast about business ethics while criminal CEO’s run the White House?

Is it because Americans are genuinely threatened by and afraid of future terrorist attacks? We want wise, far sighted leadership in the White House, not self-serving megalomaniacs.

Is it because Americans are frustrated and angry, because an unelected President declared a war that is not a war? We haven’t smoked Osama bin Laden out of any hole. In fact nothing has happened except we’ve got a huge, new deficit, the stock market has fallen apart and the President has proposed a military budget larger than all the rest of the world’s military budgets combined.

And for what? So we can fight Rogue States? Some wacko Axis of Evil?

The plague of Pax Americana is upon the world. And it is upon us also. We–you and I and our country–we are the Rogue State. As Pogo said once, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Yet as a nation, it’s as if we are hypnotized by a bunch of fast talking street corner con-men and shills eager to sell us a bill of goods we know we shouldn’t buy.

When are Americans going to wake up and realize that this so-called War on Terror is a sham, a scam, a shell game played on a cardboard box on the nation’s street corner? On September 11, 2002, it is clear that George Bush has found a way with his War on Terror to keep the American public from speaking out about and rebelling against the insane travesty of justice and governance that is now transpiring in our nation’s capitol.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay first appeared in a slightly different version in THE RUTLAND (VT) HERALD and THE BARRE (VT) TIMES ARGUS on September 11, 2002. The essay was originally commissioned by THE BURLINGTON (VT) FREE PRESS, a Gannett paper, but was rejected for being “too partisan” and because it was “a two-by-six to the face.”

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The most striking image for me in all the hours of television I watched on September 11th was the picture of a man and a woman, both African Americans, both dressed in business suits, both completely covered in gray ash, both fleeing hand in hand, their mouths open in gasping Os. Their ashen faces and bodies, their postures of woundedness, grief and confusion made me think of images I’ve seen of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the moments and days after we dropped atomic bombs on those cities.
A lot of people have been saying the American age of innocence is over. To cite just one example, shortly after 1:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, September 16th, Mara Liasson on National Public Radio said, “A certain amount of our innocence is gone.” She gave voice to a common misunderstanding. We as a nation have never been innocent. What is over is not our innocence. What is over is the American age of impunity. Now the jealousy, hatred, envy and resentment that we have generated for ourselves around the world comes home to visit us, now we get to suffer as the rest of the world has suffered.
Seeing those two people staggering through the rubble of the World Trade Center and thinking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, made me think about the saturation bombing and the napalm we loosed on Vietnam and that made me think about the TV pictures of our relentless bombing of Baghdad, you remember those squeaky clean images of our “smart” bombs falling all over Baghdad, you remember how we sat at home and watched on our TVs as Generals Powell and Schwartzkoff explained to us the technical details of our devastation of Iraq.
What unites all of these images of human suffering, these acts of carnage and devastation, from Nagasaki to Baghdad, until September 11th, is how all of them were so far away, just pictures to us, just TV images to be analyzed and watched with a cool and pristine fascination.
Not anymore.
My daughter stood on the Brooklyn shore of the East River and watched tens of thousands of ash covered New Yorkers stream across the Brooklyn Bridge as if they were refugees, this timeless image from Germany, Japan, Vietnam, China, Iraq, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, this image of dazed and confused refugees fleeing–this image come home now to New York.
No amount of macho, saber-rattling, bravado out of the mouths of politicians and generals can save us from the images of September 11th. Now we know what it’s like to have done to us what we do to others.
Let us pause a moment.
Let us ponder what unleashing yet another wave of violence will do to create yet another generation of people who hate us and vow revenge upon us.
Let us ponder what unleashing yet another wave of violence will do to continue this international curse of war on civilians.
Let us act now to stop the carnage rather than perpetuate it.

David Budbill © 2001

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A Listener’s Guide to O’NEAL’S PORCH the debut album of The William Parker Quartet released by Centering Records

William Parker is not only one of the world’s most accomplished and creative bass players, he is one of the great melody makers, song writers, of our time. In song after song on this CD, through the sheer beauty of his sweet melodies, his bubbling, effusive, good humor and the energizing, life-affirming, great joy that infuses everything here, William gives us the gift of his love for us and for the world. As pianist and composer Cooper-Moore says, “William is like Duke Ellington to us; he’s like Mingus, even beyond that because neither Mingus nor Duke had the compassion William has.” (50 Miles of Elbow Room, Issue #1)And it is compassion and love that drives this album forward–that and the killer rhythm section!

Which brings up the drummer on this date: Hamid Drake. Lewis Barnes, the trumpeter here, says,” William and Hamid play together like twins separated at birth! No two guys can better anticipate each other’s musical moves than these two men, and on top of it all they play in and out better than anyone and at the same time!” Or put another way, Hamid Drake takes in with him when he goes out. In short, the propulsive force of Hamid’s drumming means that no matter how far out a solo may go, it always swings. Louisiana-born, Chicago-based, Hamid Drake, who is in constant demand as a Reggae drummer–and when you listen to him on this album you’ll hear why–has been playing regularly with William only since 1998, yet it seems like they’ve been together for years. When a drummer who is as great a time keeper as Hamid is gets in a situation where he is free to go outside time you get the best of both measured and free playing.

In front of this rhythm section stand two soloists: alto saxophonist, Rob Brown, and trumpeter, Lewis Barnes. Rob Brown has never sounded better; his playing here is full of passion and confidence. As Lewis Barnes says, “I don’t know what Rob Brown had for breakfast the day of this recording but he played like a man possessed.” Lewis Barnes, if he weren’t so modest, could have said the same thing about himself. Again and again Barnes’s playing here makes me think of Kenny Dorham, yet Lewis’s tone is rounder and fuller than Dorham’s was, less angular, thus adding yet another element to the warmth and sweetness of the tunes on this album. Lewis’s self-effacing, almost reticent, way of playing adds, in its quiet way, great dignity and richness to these tunes. And Rob and Lewis together make a sound sublime. Again and again here, they play together as if the alto saxophone and the trumpet had been recast into a single instrument. Call it an altompet. Miles and Cannonball played the altompet too, lots of other players have, but none any better than Lewis and Rob.

PURPLE, the opening tune, and perhaps the hardest swinging number on the CD, begins with a statement of the melody line, then a little ensemble improvisation, then Rob Brown’s solo, then back to Rob and Lewis and off to Lewis’s solo. These players pass the tune between each other as effortlessly as a well rehearsed 400 meter relay team. Hear also how closely they keep to the melody in their improvisations. No matter how far out they go, they always carry with them fragments of the head. Lewis concludes his solo and passes the baton to Hamid. Very quickly William enters playing the Talking Drum. William begins by responding to a figure Hamid has just played, and off those two go. All four then back in, some ensemble flights of fancy, and back to the head twice through and fade out on the retard.

SUN opens with a figure in the alto similar to the one in PURPLE, yet this is a totally different tune. Bass intro, drums in, the simple six note figure of the melody in the alto, trumpet in playing quarter notes under the alto, then trumpet and alto together working out on the head. Now off to the solos. First Lewis’s sweet, legato trumpet solo. There is no rush here. This is thoughtful, pensive, graceful improvising, and Lewis always staying close to the melody. Rob’s alto solo is more out and away from the head than Lewis’s. Back now to the head, alto and trumpet together. Then William’s rich, deep pizzicato solo and Hamid always there keeping the groove going. William out and Hamid into a very brief outside drum interlude, William back in and back to the melody again for all four, repeating the original theme with delicacy and grace.

William’s Uncle O’Neal who lived in South Carolina must have been a wonderful guy with a great sense of humor. I wish I could have sat on O’NEAL’S PORCH. After the bass and drum intro, there’s that wonderful altompet to begin this good natured tribute to William’s Uncle. Rob’s solo here goes further out than is customary for this album, but his brilliant flights of imagination are always rooted in the groove-heavy, dancing bass and drums. It’s this combination of in and out, and both at once, that makes this tune, and all the other tunes on this album so remarkable. Listen to the bass line–William playing dance rhythms–as always–and Hamid’s in-the-groove drumming accentuating, driving forward William’s joy. Now Lewis; that rich and luxurious tone; those thoughtful phrases, adding up to sentences, paragraphs, a statement of his own. Then a bass solo, and a drum solo. And then all four go out, out there in the front yard in front of O’Neal’s Porch and dance in the yard. Then, as with all the tunes on this album, back to the head and out with all the joy and good humor imaginable.

RISE begins with William’s bass line walking down the street, that steady, determined, even stride of his, then Hamid in, playing on the rims, then the altompet again, then an ensemble dissembling in which Lewis even plays the call to the horses, yet as always when the players go out they take the in of both the melody and the rhythm with them. And also as always in the cacophony of the ensemble improvisation there is William holding everything together and at the same time driving everything forward. Then arco bass under Hamid’s solo evolving into a quiet, introspective section full of space and emptiness out of which William’s walking bass line emerges again and leads the four players back to the head and out.

The bitter-sweet, touchingly beautiful ballad, SONG FOR JESUS, opens with the melody on alto and Harmon muted trumpet. Rob is at his lyrical, yearning best here in his solo, while Lewis’s meditative and muted trumpet provides just the right foundation for Rob’s explorations. Opposing tempos in Hamid’s brushes on the drum heads and William’s bass create a rhythmic counterpoint against which the soloists play. Lewis’s solo is especially poignant and all the more so because William and Hamid engage in an up tempo dialogue, inspiring each other ever onward, right in the middle of Lewis’s meditation which takes place at half the tempo of the bass and drums. Then, as usual, back to the tender and sweet melody and out. Here, as elsewhere on this album, William’s great gift as a melody maker provides the foundation for these melodic and rhythmic flights.

LEAF is the story of a day in the life of William Parker. The tune begins with William’s bass line walking down the street, that usual, determined, focused walk of his. Hamid comes in, then Rob and Lewis, their horns–the altompet–the horns of the city–blaring and crashing in the welter and confusion, the energy and excitement–and the distraction–of the city. Yet plowing though all that hustle and chaos, is the determined William Parker intent on going somewhere with that steady, focused walk and his calm, undistracted manner–that ten note figure in William’s bass. While the sounds of the city crash and bang all around him, William moves steadily on, not oblivious to the life around him, but rather totally within that life, yet always focused on his own life also, always listening for the music coming from The Tone World. William Parker is a black, urban, Zen monk, a roshi, a self-possessed, yet completely modest and humble just-another-one-of-us, and therefore someone able to be fully outside himself and attentive to the world. William Parker is, as Christians would say, “totally in but not of the world.” As he moves through the weltering swirl, he is the point of reference, the inner eye, the stillness at the center of the storm.

SONG FOR JESUS 3/4, a reprise of the sweet ballad, up tempo now and the rhythm in three/quarter time, the melody in four/four. Lewis’s muteless trumpet retains its lyrical sweetness as it lags slightly behind Rob’s inventions, each soloist’s distinct personality defining itself in relation to the melody, and as always Hamid and William propelling it all forward.

MOON–up tempo and swinging–opens with that altompet sound as smooth as it’s ever been. Here as throughout this date Lewis’s trumpet makes a somewhat spare, almost reticent, statement compared to the fullness of Rob’s improvisations. Here also, as elsewhere, Lewis stays closer to the melody than Rob does. Then it’s out with that wonderful altompet sound again.

Each player in this group is a distinct individual with inclinations and ways of playing all his own. Each man knows musically exactly who he is, and all four men are radically different from each other. Because of their distinctive personalities and their differences, they make together a new song of great beauty. Here then is the debut album of The William Parker Quartet, four men and eight tunes packed full of all the groove and sweet soul of Reggae, the crackle and snap of Hard Bop, and the emotional intensity and outside flights of imagination of what some people call Free Jazz. This music, however, is beyond category. This is simply joyful and compassionate music full of love for this world. And, oh, my, does it swing!

Lewis Barnes summed it up better than I ever could when he said, “I felt so excited by everyone’s playing that I felt just as thrilled as a musical fan as I did as a musician on this date. These cats play!” Indeed they do.

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Go to New York City. Get yourself to the intersection of Canal and Bowery down on the Lower East Side in Chinatown. Brace yourself if you are from the country or the suburbs because this is going to be a scene from Beijing, Hong Kong or Singapore.

Great waves of humanity, mostly Chinese–But not all. I was there.–surge back and forth packing the sidewalks and spilling out onto the streets. The streets likewise overflow with cars and trucks of every description all of them blowing their horns all at once, or so it seems, and the traffic so congested the cars and trucks spill up and onto the sidewalk. Yet–in a wonderment that never ceases to amaze me every time I’m there–all these cars and trucks and people mix together in this chaos of noise–this halting, stalled, horn-blaring, weltering confusion–yet none is injured and all somehow progress, albeit slowly, toward wherever each intends.

Go south now on Bowery about a block. You can see him just ahead, over there on your left, rising above the cars and trucks, out there in the middle of the traffic where Division Street splits into a Y and joins Bowery. In that triangle of asphalt and concrete created by the forking Division Street, on a pedestal about seven feet high stands a ten foot bronze, and therefore green, statue of Confucius.

He’s looking southeast and stands there in his robes, still as a statue, deep in his meditative calm amidst the noise and chaos of commerce.

Most people who know anything about Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) or the ideas for the governance of human society he devised think of him as the perpetrator of a set of rigid, hidebound, legalistic, restricting rules and regulations for every imaginable human encounter, relationship or event. And certainly that is what “Confucianism” became over the centuries in ancient China. But just as there is no necessary relationship between the teachings of Buddha and Buddhism or the teachings of Christ and Christianity so it is also with Confucius. Confucius’ initial vision of a good society, “The Great Harmony,” as he put it, is a vision of societal peace, cooperation and understanding unsurpassed in the history of human contemplation.

On the base of the statue chiseled in the stone is the following quotation from his writing called The Great Harmony, the TA TUNG.

“When the great principle prevails the world is a Commonwealth in which rulers are selected according to their wisdom and ability. Mutual confidence is promoted and good neighborliness cultivated. Hence men do not regard as parents only their own parents nor do they treat as children only their own children. Provision is secured for the agŽd till death, employment for the able bodied and the means of growing up for the young. Helpless widows and widowers, orphans and the lonely as well as the sick and disabled are well cared for. Men have their respective occupations and women their homes. They do not like to see wealth lying idle, yet they do not keep it for their own gratification. They despise indolence, yet they do not use their energies for their own benefit. In this way, selfish schemings are repressed, and robbers, thieves and other lawless men no longer exist, and there is no need for people to shut their outer doors. This is the great harmony. ”

Imagine such a society. Imagine leaders in a society having this ideal toward which they strive.

Last year I saw a program called GREED on one of the TV networks. This was months before the game show of the same name. The show was an open and unabashed defense, and promotion, of pure and simple greed. Ted Turner–not exactly Mother Teresa himself–was on the show as a kind of straw man, a fall guy, to be ridiculed for giving away a few million of his dollars, by other corporate CEO’s who argued that the best thing for everyone in America is for people like themselves to make as much money as possible and keep it all for themselves or use it to generate greater profits for their businesses.

The program posited the idea that since profits in the private sector are what make our country prosperous and strong, any notion of anything even remotely approaching the idea of “the public good” is not only laughable but, in fact, actually bad for the economy.

These words from Confucius about the nature of the social contract and the public good, about how to be just and caring with your neighbors–even THE LONELY are cared for!–and how unchecked greed and the profit motive will destroy anything and everything, seem surreal in the middle of modern American life.

How far have we as a people strayed from the kind of Confucian humanism presented by this quotation from the TA TUNG?

Or perhaps my mistake is to imagine that we Americans have ever shared this Confucian vision of a social contract and the public good. Perhaps the real American vision is a loose fitting anarchy devoted exclusively to the aggrandizement of the individual and his or her ability to acquire money and power. Perhaps Donald Trump and Bill Gates are the only true American gods.

Yet a part of the American dream has also been movements devoted to something bigger than the individual. I think about J. Phillip Randolph and John L. Lewis and the Labor Movement born to resist the greed of the Captains of Industry, or the cooperative Credit Union movement born to overcome the rapaciousness and usury of bankers. Both of these movements sprung from visions of something bigger than the self, both come out of the idea that cooperation can benefit all. Or what about the phenomenon of Frederick Law Olmstead and the creation of public parks all across America–spaces for The Public to enjoy? Anybody who has wandered through Central Park in New York City or The Emerald Necklace in Cleveland or walked along the lake shore in Chicago, knows the joy of a public space. There is a tradition of “the public good” in America; it’s just been trampled to death by our stampeding economy here at the turn into this new century.

Yet I keep hearing a faint voice coming from that statue of Confucius, a voice saying that human community is better, fairer, easier, kinder, gentler, more effective and more just when we know there is a social contract and something called The Public Good. But it’s hard to hear that small voice these days.

Here at the beginning of this new millennium as the Stock Market soars off into the stratosphere or crashes or does one and then the other and no matter what happens the New Rich drive off into A Bright New Day in their Sports Utility Vehicles decked out in their Designer Clothes sipping a double-half-caf-decaf-organic-low-fat-latte, it truly is what Ronald Reagan said it was: It’s Morning in America, and, because it finally truly is Morning in America, finally Free Market Capitalism and “the private sector” can stand up and shout to the whole world what they’ve meant to say all along:

Anything public is not only bad for the economy, it is, in fact, evil and must be eliminated as soon as possible: public transportation, public parks, public agricultural and medical research, public libraries, public health care, public education, public care of the poor and the mentally ill–they all must go.

In other words, when we can’t hear that quiet Confucian voice or remember our own traditions of cooperation, when self-aggrandizing greed and personal gratification are all that matter, when Money and Me and an open hatred of “the public good” stand at the center of our society’s profoundest philosophy of life–what can we expect from the future?

© 1998, 1999, 2000, by David Budbill, all rights reserved,
permission to reprint must be gotten in writing from
David Budbill: david@davidbudbill.com
or from the publication in which the essay first appeared.

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These are the liner notes for avant garde pianist Cooper-Moore’s solo piano CD of a live performance recorded in Canada in the fall of 1999 and to be issued on Hopscotch Records, in March of 2000

The great Japanese wood-block artist Shiko Munakata tells a story about his first one-man show back in 1930 when he was still painting with oils on canvas, “I had a few older pieces I wanted to exhibit. For the rest, I took bare canvases and frames to the gallery the evening before the opening, and there, that night, I painted most of my show.”

As Oliver Statler says in an essay about Munakata, “Speed has always been a goal of the oriental painter. He distrusts self-conscious rational thought. He strives for the swiftest possible realization of conception, for almost automatic transmission of idea through arm and brush.” And so too with this music called African-American Improvised Music, which ought to be called American Classical Music.

In the film about a photograph of jazz musicians called A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM, Nat Hentoff says, “Spontaneity is what makes this music so continually fresh. . . . You don’t think of the passage of time. It is the immediacy of what that person was thinking and feeling at the time.”

Think of Thelonious Monk’s tune titled “That’s the Way I Feel Now.” No revisions. No time to go back and redo anything. This is the suddenness of a Zen ink painting.

Yet it would be a serious misunderstanding to think that Munakata’s methods or the methods of improvising musicians are in any way akin to the ego-maniacal, self-aggrandizing and self-indulgent obsessions of The Me-Me-Me Generation. Munakata is hooked deeply into the traditions of both Chinese and Japanese painting and he and his whole family before him were followers of Shinto ritual and practitioners of the Zen sect of Buddhism. And so it is with this tradition-rich music called improvised music.

Clearly the focus in a method like Munakata’s tradition and also the focus in improvised music is, or should be, on the preparation of the person who will make the product, and how that person grows up and out of the tradition. All of us have a history. We all come from somewhere, and for improvising artists be they Japanese wood cut artists or African American jazz musicians, the neighborhood of history and influence in which they grow up is of paramount importance.

At the end of A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM Art Farmer, his lower lip and chin quivering with the intensity of his emotion, says, “When I start counting heads and I think about how many people are no longer there anymore, it still comes as a shock to me, because we don’t think about people not being here. If we think about Lester Young, we don’t think, yeah, Lester Young was here, but he’s not here anymore. Lester Young is here! Coleman Hawkins is here. Roy Eldridge is here. They are in us and they will always be alive.”

There is no better illustration of what Art Farmer has to say about how “they are in us,” no better way to talk about the neighborhood of history and influence, than to listen to this piano solo by Cooper-Moore.

Here are ?? minutes of spontaneity, in-the-moment freshness, impromptu, improvised, on-the-spot music, and yet this brand-new, never-before-and-never-again piece of immediate art is so deeply rooted in the past, so much a part of the neighborhood of history and influence, that it is all new and all old all at once, which is what Art Farmer is saying, and what Cooper-Moore says too.

For the sake of writing about this piece of music I’ve divided it up into a Prelude and Nine Parts.

As Prelude to his solo, Cooper-Moore speaks openly about the process and meaning of history and influence in his litany of the people he wants to give thanks to, his list of people to whom he is indebted, all those without whom Cooper-Moore could not play the way he does. Cooper-Moore walks us through, both verbally and musically, the ways in which he is beholden to and inspired by his ancestors. You will find here in this solo a deep sense of history and an even deeper sense of gratitude.

The music begins on an abstract, angular and modern note, as if to make an announcement about what is to come. What follows however is an amazing variety and blend of styles and understandings; this is, in fact, one man’s history of the 20th century African-American, improvised piano.

Part One, abstract, restless and angular, may make some people think of Cecil Taylor, yet it is also filled with silence and emptiness and small sounds, delicate touches to the keyboard, and then, without warning, it stops. A pause.

Then quietly, lyrically, melodically–I thought I saw the ghost of some late 19th century Russian composer, maybe Shostakovich, float by–a dirge-like, meditative beginning in the left hand announces Part Two which slowly moves and modulates to more angular and abstract sounds in the right hand as the style of Part One incorporates itself into and blends with the meditative melody of Part Two and begins to establish a new motif in the right hand while way down on the keyboard the left hand clusters chords for a strong foundation on which to build this new, insistent, frenetic and tremulous motif developing up in the right hand. Then suddenly: another stop.

It’s as if Cooper-Moore’s two hands, in constant dialogue with each other, show us how all these great musics from the past meet and influence each other, blend together to make a new sound and then push off into the future.

Witney Balliet has a book of essays about jazz called THE SOUND OF SURPRISE, and true to that sound, Part Three begins unexpectedly with a joyful and delightful Erroll Garner-like descending figure in the right hand–the ghost of Thelonious Monk is in here too–supported and good humoredly heckled by the chords clomping around down there on the left. It’s as if some kind of comic tug-of-war is going on between the two hands. And no matter what those heavy-handed left-hand chords do, the comic descending theme in the right rises out of the thickness of the left hand chords and with its defiant and wacky humor it prevails. Part Three makes me think of Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. Part Three also ends abruptly, and we hear Cooper-Moore say, “That’s three!”

Cooper-Moore not only likes to play; he also likes to talk, and here follows a brief commentary on his influences including the powerful influence of Jaki Byard and also how as a child at his grandmother’s piano he learned, as everyone did, to play Boogie Woogie. This brief verbal interlude ends with Cooper-Moore saying, “I’m gonna play a little bit of Jaki and a little bit of blues.”

Once again, here in Part Four of this history lesson–what a way to learn history!–two periods of the music sit at a picnic table in the backyard, eat fried chicken and collard greens and visit. Part Four begins as the left hand walks through the Boogie-Woogie while the right hand works out on some blues changes. Then slowly and easily, while the left hand continues walking through the blues bass line, Jaki Byard slips into Cooper-Moore’s right hand, and so subtly and easily, as a matter of fact, that you can actually hear how the modern sound grows out of, springs up from, the blues.

As with Monk and Mingus, Bartok and Kodaly, the greatest musics never stray too far from The Folk out of which they all emerge and to which they all owe their deepest and most lasting debt. As Paul Robeson said, “We who labor in the arts, we who are singers, we who are actors, we who are artists, we must remember that we come from The People, our strength comes from The People, and we must serve The People.”

No abrupt stops now, rather a segue out of “Byard and The Blues” right into Part Five, into a return to something like Part One only more hyper, frenetic, what Cooper-Moore and his cronies once referred to as “tremble time” music. Rapid tempos full of tone clusters and repeated figures, Coltrane-esque “sheets of sound,” pushing, driving intensely onward, then a slight retard, then back to the hyper central figure, then onward again, always driving relentlessly forward, then a retard again and this time the sound emptying out, slowing down, coming to an almost stop. But before a full stop, Part Six begins with one of the most lyrical, sweet and painfully beautiful melodies I have ever heard.

Cooper-Moore announces, “This is a song by Susie Ibarra called, ‘Radiance.'” And, as always, Cooper-Moore takes this new hymn-like and luscious melody and begins to fold it into the angular, atonal pieces that have come before.

Here, as throughout all of this piece of American Classical Music, Cooper-Moore’s motifs evolve and devolve into one another, which is, of course, exactly what this music and the history of this music has always done. One figure or motif leads to another and that leads to something new and so on and on and on forever.

Within this particular piece of improvised music not only are various aspects and periods of American Classical Music illustrated, but the very structure and evolution of this piece, this solo, this performance, is itself a demonstration in miniature of the history of improvised music.

Another segue and the music evolves, devolves into Part Seven, an insistent knocking-like chord in the left hand, the hyperactive dashing of the right hand over the keys in the upper registers, more “tremble time” music, more sheets of sound and that knocking chord.

Then segue again into Part Eight, and here comes Jaki Byard again around the corner, with his pal Walking Bass. The two of them stop to visit on the street with that fellow from Part Seven, the one who is always knocking. They talk quietly together for awhile.

Then suddenly Cooper-Moore stops in the middle of a line–another verbal interlude–and says, “Some people might think he’s abusing the piano.” He launches into a lecture-demonstration on how a piano player either does or does not abuse a piano, and out of this commentary and musical illustration appears The Knocking Man from Part Seven who yields to another melody briefly stated, a melody which makes me think of something Abdullah Ibrahim might write.

Again, Cooper-Moore breaks off in the middle of the line and begins Part Nine, begins talking, singing, a poem that might be called “The Agony of These Feelings Felt,” this brief history of the African in America, this tribute to a thousand black poets, and tribute also to the frustrations of being an improvising musician in America, and all this yet another part of the history of this music.

Finally out of a welter of cries and screams Cooper-Moore’s voice comes slowly down to pianissimo and then in the silence we can hear him quietly say, “Thank You.”

© 1998, 1999, 2000, by David Budbill, all rights reserved,
permission to reprint must be gotten in writing from
David Budbill: david@davidbudbill.com
or from the publication in which the essay first appeared.

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