Books: Brian Arsenault Takes on Kafka’s “The Castle” and Writes To Son Brent About It

April 29, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

Hey Brent,

You asked me to tell you more about the class I’m taking on Franz Kafka’s The Castle. I’ll start with Ed. who’s teaching, or rather leading, the class.

I’ve taken literature courses with Ed before: Kerouac’s The Road, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio so I knew the course would be worth it.

Like Kafka, Ed’s a Jew and he started us off with what he self consciously acknowledged would be a Jewish interpretation of the novel, if indeed it is a novel (more about that later). Ed said that an essential aspect of Jewish life since Biblical times was the lack of “a place to stand,” a place to belong, a place of permanence.  Suddenly main character K’s relentless attempts to belong in a community that does not seem to want him took on a new meaning.

It also seemed to me that, agree or disagree with him, Netanyahu’s ferocious attempts to secure Israel’s continued existence made greater sense than ever. He will battle to hold on to a homeland, a place to stand, a place to be, against all enemies and one in particular. Iran, with its avowed intention to remove Israel from the earth.

Not being a Jew, though, I had to seek my own meaning, not in contradiction but in my own frame of reference. And what I found was the world turned upside down, with conventional reality no sure barometer of truth.

In Voltaire’s Candide, passengers on a ship without food calmly discuss cutting off one buttock of an attractive young lady to roast. The discussion seems reasonable enough; the collected crew and passengers are basically agreeing on a course of action that will save all. Yet they never seem to consider that their meat will involve the horrible mutilation and almost certain death of a young woman.

In The Castle, a family’s fortune is ruined and they become despised outcasts because one of two sisters, Amelia, declines the salacious written advances of an elderly member of The Castle‘s officialdom. What becomes the focus of the community’s ire, seemingly irrationally, is Amalia’s rudeness to the messenger by tearing up the note and throwing it in his face.

Somehow, in a single long monologue, the other sister, Olga, shows K that, looked at a certain way, the whole incident was Amelia’s fault and the family’s fortunes would have been saved, even advanced, had she gone to the offending official. It’s all very reasonable except Amelia would have had to accept thorough degradation. That never comes up.

We also learn throughout the novel, and particularly later on when our assumptions are all challenged, is that what was clear from K’s perspective was not at all the viewpoint of others in the village. A point Ed wonderfully illustrated when, after a particularly vigorous class discussion, he pointed out that we were all coming at the same information from the different slants of our backgrounds and perceptions of reality.

Kafka might have chuckled at that though I don’t think he chuckled often. What he did, though, was have a successful career in business where he was thought effective, efficient and kind but he considered himself a terrible failure.  Regarding his writings, Kafka asked that after his death everything should be burned.  He was only 42, long suffering from tuberculosis. A friend, fortunately, preserved Kafka’s writings and sought their wide publication.

The Castle is not an easy read, far from it. It is dense, repetitive, frustratingly vague, full of subtle twists and turns. The young grow old, the angelic turn soiled, even doorways are lowered as people pass through (Lewis Carroll anyone?)

High art is often difficult. If one considers Vince Guaraldi, say, as compared to Thelonious Monk it’s easy to like, and I do, those cheerful, youthful, Peanutsful melodies of Guaraldi. Monk on the other hand can be a difficult listen, with all that dissonance and melodic shifts. Yet there is little doubt which is the greater artist.

A friend of mine who has also taught me a great deal about literature says he thinks in 50 years no one will read Joyce or other challenging writers. Our devices will hand us ongoing easy entertainment and we just won’t make the effort for the hard stuff. I think he’s a bit pessimistic but I worry about how right he might be.

Finally, is The Castle a novel? That same question has been asked of Joyce’s Ulysses. Neither conform to our notion of a linear storyline which is a basic tenet of what we think of as a novel. Neither provides full resolution of the conflicts and issues within. Neither writer may think there is a resolution.

I think Ed said it best. One reads The Castle for the details, for the differing perception on what is real and what is illusion. The person K seeks most in the book is the elusive Klamm. I read one critic who said Klamm is a Czech word, or close to it, for illusion.

And in Chapter XX we find:  “illusions are more common than changes in fortune-”

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To read more reviews, essays and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


An Appreciation: Clark Terry

February 23, 2015

By Devon Wendell

There’s no way my piece on Clark Terry will be as journalistic and informative as my boss Don Heckman’s was in the L.A. Times obituary, but I had to say something about the master himself, in my own way.

I can’t imagine life without Clark Terry. That tone on the trumpet and flugelhorn was so warm and clean that it caressed and nurtured you out of the darkness. His phrasing swung harder than life but not in a flashy fashion. Terry’s lines were elegant, sly, and precise. They were perfect.

I grew up on Clark Terry. The first record I heard with Terry on it was Ellington At Newport from 1956. But it was Terry’s 1957 masterpiece on Riverside Records; Serenade To A Bus Seat that got me hooked. Like Coleman Hawkins, Terry came from the big band era and wasn’t afraid of the be-bop and hard bop schools of thinking and playing. Serenade To A Bus Seat is proof of that. Terry burns through Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” with confidence and soul along with bop masters Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. The entire album stays at that level of brilliance.

Clark Terry

Terry didn’t just go along with the changing music scenes, he added to them. A rarely spoken of gem and one of my all-time favorite recordings from the late ‘50s hard bop era is In Orbit, recorded with Thelonious Monk. Terry and Monk (along with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones) play some of the most beautifully twisted blues you’ll ever hear in your life. Neither musician is trying to reinvent the wheel here; they are just having fun and swinging beyond belief.

I got to meet Clark Terry at The Village Vanguard in NYC sometime in the mid-‘90s.  He wasn’t performing. Johnny Griffin was on the bill that night and I spotted Terry seated close to the bandstand.

After the show I nervously approached him and he joked, told stories of Duke, Basie, Miles, and the music business. He may be the kindest person I had met up to that time in the music business. I had worked with so many narcissistic jerks that Terry’s presence was warm and sweet, just like his sound. His smile and sense of humor were larger than life.

Of course I’m sad that Clark Terry has passed on and I send my deepest prayers and condolences to his family.  But I’ve got the album Top And Bottom Brass playing loud as I write this and stacks upon stacks of other classic Clark Terry recordings that I’ll be playing all night so I feel great. This man left us with so much to cherish and learn from and nothing can take that away.

Rest in Peace Clark Terry.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE.


Live Music: Dee Dee Bridgewater at Catalina Bar & Grill

October 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I love Dee Dee Bridgewater. I don’t hesitate to say that in public because I know my wife loves her as much as I do. And we both love her even more after experiencing the remarkable performance she gave at Catalina Bar & Grill last night.

To say that what Dee Dee and her impressive quintet offered in their ten song program was dynamic is like describing an atomic bomb as just an explosion. She and her players – trumpeter and leader Theo Croker, alto saxophonist Irwin Hall, keyboardist Michael King, bassist Eric “E-Dub” Wheeler and drummer Kassa Overall – fit together like the workings of a fine Swiss watch. And they did so with a combination of sizzling spontaneity, hard driving swing and interactive inventiveness.

Eric “Dub” Wheeler, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Theo Croker, Kassa Overall and Irwin Hall

Blessed with a voice that soars effortlessly across octaves with an astonishing range of timbres, Dee Dee transformed each of her songs into a dramatic short story, delivered in a compatible musical setting perfectly illuminating every emotional twist and turn that she brought to her vocal narratives.

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Michael King

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Michael King

The range of selections was extraordinary: from “”Afro-Blue” to “A Foggy Day,” from “Blue Monk” to “Love For Sale.” With occasional in between stops at tunes such as “Save Your Love For Me” and “Living For the City.” But whether the source was Thelonious Monk or the Gershwins, Dee Dee found the heart of the song, in brilliant creative exchanges with her musicians.

I’ve already mentioned interactivity several times in describing this memorable evening, and with good reason. All singers value a strong linkage with their players.

Theo Croker, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irwin Hall

Theo Croker, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irwin Hall

But what took place between Dee Dee and her musicians could more accurately be compared to what has taken place in some of the classic instrumental ensembles in jazz history (think those of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Modern Jazz Quartet). And, by the way, Dee Dee’s players – Croker, Hall, King, Wheeler and Overall – are not as well known as they should be.

Dee Dee wrapped the night by stepping down into the table area, cruising among the enthusiastic, hand-clapping crowd, singing Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music is the Magic of a Sacred World.” Occasionally bestowing hugs along the way, she concluded her magical music by inviting her listeners into her creative “Sacred World.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater and her players have one

more night to go at Catalina Bar and Grill. Don’t miss her one of a kind musical experiences. And when she asks you to get up and join her song, do it.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

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A Remembrance: Horace Silver

June 18, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When I think of Horace Silver I think of how challenging it must have been to bring that old style of blues and gospel back into jazz during the heyday of bebop. Sure the blues was a part of bop; Bird, Dizzy, Miles, and Monk loved it, played it, and used it in their compositions but in a more abstract and modern fashion. Silver’s blues, even when mixed with Latin jazz and bebop was more “old timey” or “back home” blues that many lovers (and some of the players) of the newer jazz sound veered away from and even felt ashamed of.

Horace Silver

Horace Silver

I first heard Horace Silver in high school on the album A Night At Birdland By The Art Blakey Quintet on Blue Note Records with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, Curley Russell, and Blakey of course. His style jumped out at me. A young Clifford Brown was playing much like Fats Navarro and Donaldson was using up all of his stock Bird licks. Russell and Blakey too were in that bebop groove but then this aggressive, cocky, and percussive blues piano sound came in and it was like a left hook to the face.

I was so used to straight-up bebop players like Bud Powell, Dodo Marmarosa, Al Haig, John Lewis, and Barry Harris. Although I heard remnants of Teddy Wilson and Count Basie, Silver’s approach, reminded me more of the Chicago blues pianists I had grown up on like Otis Spann, Little Johnny Jones and Eddie Boyd. But the purity of Silver’s blues/gospel style somehow fit perfectly in the bop idiom. It complimented it and brought more of the blues out in the soloists in his many groups or artists he backed up on a countless number of classic sessions.

After my encounter with the live Blakey album, I sought out other recordings by Silver such as Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers, Blowin’ The Blues Away, 6 Pieces Of Silver, Finger Poppin,’ and Song For My Father.

Horace silver

Horace silver

I also heard Silver’s piano work on Sonny Rollins Vol.2 (With two pianists consisting of Silver and Thelonious Monk) and Miles Davis’ Bags Groove. No matter what the musical setting or with whom he was swinging with, Silver let it be known that pure blues and gospel are and will always be valid in jazz. It helped to create the music. It’s the heartbeat of jazz that makes everything swing.

Silver (along with drummer and collaborator Art Blakey) wanted jazz to be more accessible and danceable to people and less of a secret society of highly skilled players who may have seemed harmonically, rhythmically, and socially unapproachable to the masses. And so hard-bop was born and many of its greatest practitioners played and honed their skills in Silver’s bands – players such as Junior Cook, Hank Mobley, Louis Hayes, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Blue Mitchell, Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, and James Spaulding to name only a few. Silver schooled musicians back into the blues at a time when many players were studying Ravel and Schoenberg looking for something new outward.

Silver’s style changed jazz. Even though he isn’t on the recording, Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers Moanin’ was a direct reaction to Silver’s influence. Bobby Timmons who wrote the hard- bop anthem was a descendant of Silver’s style. Silver’s classic composition “Song For My Father” continues to reach audiences of all ages, even many of whom aren’t jazz geeks like myself. For me, Horace Silver’s sound will always be synonymous with Blue Note Records.

Horace Silver passed away Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at his home in New Rochelle N.Y. at the age of 85. From now on, whenever jazz musicians try to ditch the blues and gospel roots — as has happened many times throughout the music’s history– I hope the ghost of Horace Silver will come down from Heaven, kick their tight butts and remind them where the swing came from. Goodbye “Senor Blues.”

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 

 

 

 


Live Jazz: Fred Hersch and Julian Lage at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall

March 12, 2014

By Don Heckman

There were only two musicians on stage Saturday night in a CAP UCLA performance at the University’s cozy Schoenberg Hall. But no more were needed. The musical encounter between pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage offered a definitive display of jazz improvisation at its finest.

Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch

Hersch’s long, musically rich career has showcased him in a far ranging array of settings. He is a prime improviser, a superb vocal accompanist, an intriguing composer and a master of various jazz genres. It’s not surprising that Vanity Fair described him as “The most restlessly innovative pianist in jazz over the past decade or so.”

Lage is more than a generation younger than Hersch. But the 26 year old guitarist is also a musical adventurer, open to new ideas, with a similarly inventive approach to improvisation.

Julian Lage

Their performance together at Schoenberg produced an evening of memorable musical delights. Playing material that reached from a group of compelling original works by Hersch to various jazz and songbook items, the duo played with the sort of creative intimacy one recalls from the duo performances of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

The 90 minute program glowed with one highlight after another. Hersch opened the performance with some originals, including a piece dedicated to his mother. Standards on the bill included an especially imaginative rendering of “You and the Night and the Music.” And the interaction between Hersch and Lage was especially responsive to jazz works by Thelonious Monk, Fats Waller and Egberto Gismonti, as well as a captivating dedication to the late Jim Hall..

It was also fascinating to observe the interactive presence of the audience. Responding to every number enthusiastically, they were linked to each of the Hersch/Lage excursions in a rare example of what can happen, at its best, between performers and listeners.

CAP UCLA”s /Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds – who is responsible for Saturday’s performance, along with an upcoming season of similarly compelling events – has best described how events such as the memorable Hersch/Lage performance fit into the broad concept of her programming philosophy:

“We are all part of a collaborative essentialness in the art of performance,” writes Edmunds, “involved in expanding dialogues that inform our unique experiences.”

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Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA


Bye Bye Bird From Hollywood: The 59th Anniversary of the Death Of Charlie Parker

March 11, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When listening to “Dizzy Atmosphere” recorded live on September 29th, 1947, with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall, it’s hard to believe that tomorrow, March 12th, Bird will have been dead 59 years. In that solo alone, Bird captured the future, present, and the entire history of jazz in a frenetically beautiful but blatantly violent and brutal manner.

It’s those kinds of contrasts that made Bird so great. And it can be found at any point of his career.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

On recordings like “Koko” and the famous alto break on “A Night In Tunisia,” Bird launched us into the stratosphere like a rocket on fire. And on ballads like “Embraceable You” and “Meandering,” he took us plunging down deep into frozen arctic waters like a falling meteor from space. At times he defied nature and at other moments he altered it with a supernatural ease and dexterity.

Charlie “Bird” Parker died almost 20 years before I was born and before I go any further, I’d like to state that I don’t care how much junk he shot, or how much booze he drank. None of that is my business and Bird’s music is larger than all of that. I can only fixate on the sound and the unfettered energy that it gives me. Every accented phrase, crescendo, substitute chord, passing tone, and “altered” melody line or “head” follows me throughout every nuance of my life.

I first heard Bird’s music in grade school on a compilation cassette from Japan, featuring a mix of Bird’s Verve, Dial, and Savoy recordings. “Leap Frog” was the first track on the tape and the sound of his alto sax was like a laser beam. I saw thousands of colors not yet named by man, dancing in my head. I heard the blues from deep inside the dank, all-night bars in Kansas City with its patrons of prostitutes, pimps, and people trying hard to avoid the nightmares of all night, home bound isolation. Bird painted so many pictures, so fast. It’s hard to keep up with the imagery and sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. The boundless history of music is all there too, from Bartak, Stravinsky, and Shoenberg to Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Johnny Hodges.

Bird’s ghost is on the move too. Not in Kansas City and certainly not in Los Angeles. It’s in New York City. Bird owned the spirit of New York when he lived there like no other artist in history. I’ve felt his sinister duplicitous charm while walking through Alphabet City.

Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach

One time in a tepid state of depression, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment sipping chamomile tea and reading Ibsen’s The Wild Duck Rosmersholm, unable to pry myself out of my beat up old arm chair. Suddenly I heard “Yardbird Suite” in my head and I felt invigorated for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I was able to get up and at least make myself a good dinner. I grabbed a copy of Bird’s Dial recordings and played “Yardbird Suite” over and over as I made a plate of spaghetti and a tossed salad for one. It may be the anniversary of Bird’s death, but all I can feel is the sheer vitality in that composition as well as on pieces like “Scrapple From The Apple,” “Donna Lee” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.”

After being baptized by Bird’s music I soon discovered Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billy Eckstine, Tadd Dameron, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane to name just a few. For a while, I was dismissive of post-Parker jazz (I hate the word “be-bop”) because I felt that he and many of his disciples had taken the music as far as it could go, especially around the time of his death. I still often wonder if that is the case as I still hear Bird’s influence all around me on every instrument.

Well, Bye Bye Bird from Hollywood. I’m glad you made it home, far away from this place. Maybe we’ll meet up someday on the old Avenue B.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Review: Helen Sung “Anthem For A New Day” (Concord Jazz Records)

January 15, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Pianist and composer Helen Sung has quickly established herself as a jazz veteran over the past decade, performing and recording with icons such as; Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, T.S. Monk, Lonnie Plaxico, and Terri Lyne Carrington to name a few.

She is one of the most consistently brilliant recording artists in jazz today. And her sixth and latest release, Anthem For A New Day, scheduled for release on January 28th,  is her hardest swinging album to date. The album is also produced by Sung.

Helen Sung

Sung wastes no time, kick starting the album with her hard-bop tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled “Brother Thelonious.” The horn section of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor sax has a Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley at the earliest stages of The Jazz Messengers feel to it. Sung’s solo proves that she has a clear understanding of Monk’s harmonic complexities and knows how to incorporate them into her own virtuosic style.

Paquito D’Rivera’s melodic clarinet soloing dances around Sung’s polyrhythmic textured piano playing on her adventurous arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba.”

Another guest is Regina Carter who offers some tasteful and thematic violin lines to Sung’s “Hidden.” Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet truly shines on this piece, as does Sung’s elegant phrasing on Fender Rhodes electric piano.

One of the most impressive elements of this album is how clean the rhythm section (Reuben Rogers, bass, Obed Calvaire, drums, and Samuel Torres on percussion) was recorded. No effects, compressors, or reverb were added to the drums and upright bass, which is refreshing in a time when many traditional and contemporary jazz recordings are destroyed by overly adventurous producers and engineers.

There’s a wonderfully pure tone to this album as a whole. Sung’s reading of Duke Ellington and Irving Mills’ swing anthem “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is an album highlight. Sung uses her own chordal voicings, and her improvisations blend bop-styled pedal tones with classical elements in a completely natural way.

Sung’s originals — “Hope Springs Eternally” and the album’s title track – dip into a more late ‘60s fusion- jazz groove with a hint of third stream. John Ellis provides colorful bass clarinet shadings atop Sung’s funky staccato Fender Rhodes arpeggios on the album’s title track.

Sung’s rendition of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Never Let Me Go” is the perfect vehicle for the piano trio format. Obed Calvaire’s drums are subtle and melodic and Reuben Rogers’ bass solo is dynamic and mournful.

“Chaos Theory” brings to mind early Weather Report with fast changing meters, and piercing alto-sax runs by Seamus Blake. This composition shows off Sung and her band’s tight chemistry and creative fearlessness.

In order to truly capture the spirit of Thelonious Monk, a musician must bring forth what makes them truly unique when covering one of the High Priest’s compositions. And Sung and company achieve this on an utterly funky, gospel take of “Epistrophy.” The energy of the band is ecstatic. There’s lots of love for Monk here.

The album closes with a beautifully haunting solo piano cover of the great Stanley Cowell’s “Equipose.”

What stands out most on Anthem For A New Day is not only Sung’s fluid and imaginative piano playing but her awe-inspiring talent as a truly unique composer and arranger. Her music is adventurous, personal, and a powerful force to be reckoned with in the jazz world.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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