Monday, February 26, 2007

Leroy Jenkins: 1932-2007

Violinist Leroy Jenkins died of lung cancer over the weekend at the age of 75:

Born in Chicago, composer and violinist Leroy Jenkins was one of the most important musicians to emerge from the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), the legendary collective of which he (was) still a member. Like many of the Association's members, Jenkins studied under the legendary Walter Dyett at DuSable High School, where he learned the alto saxophone.

He received a music degree (in violin) from Florida A&M University, where he studied composition and the classical masters of the violin. Subsequently, he taught music both in Mobile, Alabama (1961-5) and in the Chicago schools (1965-9). During the latter period, Jenkins joined the AACM. He made his first recording with Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and Leo Smith in the sixties before achieving international acclaim in Paris along with Braxton, Smith, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In 1970 Jenkins moved to New York, where he founded the Revolutionary Ensemble, the critically acclaimed ensemble which recorded 7 albums and toured North America and Europe.When many of the AACM musicians left during 1969, Jenkins went to Europe with Anthony Braxton & Leo Smith. There, with drummer Steve McCall, they were called the Creative Construction Company. He also played with Ornette Coleman, whose house he & Braxton stayed at when they subsequently moved to New York City.

Playing with Taylor (1970) and Braxton (1969-72), he also worked with Albert Ayler, Cal Massey, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp & Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Between 1971-7, he played in his Revolutionary Ensemble, a trio featuring Sirone (Norris Jones) on bass & trombone, and drummer/pianist Jerome Cooper. Thereafter, he toured the US & Europe, led the Mixed Quintet (Jenkins and 4 woodwind players), a blues-based band called Sting, and again played with Cecil Taylor.

Jenkins...received a number of major commissions and (was) in demand for experimental and theater-based work. Mother of Three Sons, a dance-opera collaboration with Bill T. Jones, premiered in Aachaen, Germany and had ten performances. The Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and Mutable Music...awarded him numerous commissioning funds and grants to support several new theater works. Among them are Fresh Faust (a jazz-rap opera), which was performed in workshops in Boston at the Institute of Contemporary Arts; The Negro Burial Ground (a cantata), performed at The Kitchen, New York City; and The Three Willies (a multimedia opera), performed at the Painted Bride, Philadelphia. He (had) also been commissioned to create new works for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, the Albany Symphony, the Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and the Kronos Quartet.

Among his recordings are 3 Compositions of New Jazz (1968; Delmark); Lifelong Ambitions (1977; Black Saint; with Muhal Richard Abrams); Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival America (1978; Tomato); Live (1992, Black Saint); Carla Bley's Escalator Over The Hill and Braxton's Three Compositions Of New Jazz.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Word From Our Sponsor

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I Was A Big Girl's Blouse: A Memoir Of The War Years

It’s a curious thing, but I’ve noticed it on more than one message board in recent years:

Regardless of what subject the board may be devoted to, there’s always one yahoo who can’t stomach any criticism of George W. Bush or the War in Iraq. The mere suggestion that Bush could be capable of any human failing sends them into a dither that usually results in them releasing a torrent of abuse that far exceeds the original criticism.

During the course of this abuse, the poster then usually expounds on how the “Bush-haters” on the Left only argue with their emotions, while the cool, clear heads represented by our friend the author prefers to argue with facts, such as “Cindy Sheehan should be shot!” and “Liberals should be eaten!”

But the interesting part is how, invariably, these writers always turn out to be draft-age men who, for all of their unwavering support of the War, have decided that they, like Dick Cheney, have “other priorities.”

You ask them why they aren’t over there, since they seem to be so passionate about it. The answers are all different and always the same: they’re at a crucial point in their “career,” they feel they can serve the country better here, Mom said they couldn’t go.

It figures, though. If all of their heroes, the ones who got us into this mess, had decided to serve, where would we be now? Better to conserve the talents and abilities of these brave warriors for later probably.

After all, from what I hear, the enemy’s going to follow us back here. Let’s hope nobody tips them off about their parents’ basements.

We recently passed a sad milestone, by the way, when the War’s 500th amputee returned home.

Because of the many roadside bombs involved in the conflict, losing a limb has become more common in this war then in previous ones.

I was wondering what would happen if, say, for every 100 limbs lost in the conflict, someone in the administration had to donate a replacement.

You know, someone could get Bush’s arm, Condi’s leg, or Cheney’s…

Ah, probably no good replacement parts there at all, come to think of it.

Maybe it would slow down the zeal with which they decide to turn more young men and women into cannon fodder.

We could call it Limbs For Liberty!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Quick One

Andrew Sullivan points out that at least one man was brave enough to come to Tim Hardaway's defense in the wake of his I hate gay people meltdown: Michael Medved.

The shanda fur di goyim award is in the mail, sir.

Dennis Lim takes on David Lynch's traveling inkblot Inland Empire and compares it, interestingly, to Scott Walker's The Drift.

And the wife and I have seen some cool shows at NY's Joe's Pub, but nothing like this. Some quick Googling shows that everyone else in the world knew it was happening, too.

Vice Admiral Tigerbomb says, "All that grey hair must play havoc with the lighting!"

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


You’ve seen it sitting there in the far right column for some time now (the only thing far right about this location, come to think of it).

The little box that informs you that Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 15-hour epic Berlin Alexanderplatz is being restored for re-release in 2007. Well, it’s true. The word’s come down that Criterion will be releasing it in its entirety on DVD later this year.

I haven’t seen it in about 20 years, but when Public Television aired it back in the ‘80’s, it felt like one of the most mesmerizing things I’d ever seen. It appealed mightily to that part of me that believed that the world was an abattoir and/or charnel house, full of unending and unrelieved misery. I mean that in a good way, of course.

How could I not love a story that opened with a man leaving prison and a title that informed us, “The punishment begins”?

Not to mention the fact that its last installment is a surreal tour-de-force that gives the last episode of Twin Peaks a run for its money and justifies every second you spent watching everything that led up to it.

Plenty of time to talk about it when it gets here, but along those lines, let me mention that I finally caught up with the striking Werckmeister Harmonies, the Hungarian film from director Béla Tarr that came out in back in 2000.

If you’ve not seen it, it’s a black and white film shot with very few cuts, maybe about 40 in the course of its two hours plus change. At this deliberate pace, we discover that a truck has arrived in a small Hungarian town bearing the carcass of a large whale. We see flyers trumpeting its arrival posted about town, but there’s a very sinister undercurrent to this so-called circus. It is, in fact, a distraction that allows certain political entities to foment suspicion and violence, rendering the village easy pickings as it prepares to move on and do the same thing to the next.

The villain of the piece is, in fact, played by Hanna Schygulla, who is so crucial in Alexanderplatz and so many other Fassbinder films. One could be forgiven for concluding from this description that the movie lands just this side of an old “Dieter” SNL sketch (“Ants! Ants! Ants!” “Nun! Whore!”), but it feels uncomfortably topical, especially here in the home of the brave where we can’t seem to get our fill of circuses these days.

Having said all that, the movie I’m really looking forward to at the moment is Grindhouse.

You’ve heard about it: Tarantino and Rodriguez each contributing a 90-minute homage to the B-movies of the past, with some fake trailers in between as a sort of palate cleanser.

I’m going to love every minute of it.

Back when I was going to school in center city Philadelphia and dependent upon public transportation, I discovered that if you rode the subway to the terminal at the end of the line (this is right across the street from the fabled Tower Theatre, which does not belong to Philadelphia so much as Upper Darby), you’d find a small movie theatre that was built into the complex.

Known as the Eric Terminal (it was an appropriate name in more ways than one), it showed cheap double-features of the kind celebrated in Grindhouse and I spent many an afternoon there, missing classes and soaking up all the Eastwood/Leone pictures, Super Fly, Black Mama, White Mama…it was sort of a Tarantino repertory theatre, come to think of it.

But the best part was that, because it was built into a subway station, every ten minutes you’d hear this rumble from behind the screen as another train pulled in.

It only made it better.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

You And The Night And The Mueslix or: Out Of Orbit, Unstuck In Time!

So for a few months now, I’ve been working this very strange evening shift.

It changes a great many things. For instance, your social schedule, threadbare as it may be, undergoes an unwelcome metamorphosis. It doesn’t match up with anyone you know anymore and leaves you sort of like a wallflower at the dance.

The other thing it screws up is your eating schedule. Lunch becomes Breakfast, Dinner becomes Lunch, and you can’t really establish any kind of regular pattern with it. I find myself eating salami sandwiches at 8 o’clock in the morning which, aside from providing the mild frisson of feeling like a social rebel, makes me feel like I’m slightly out of synch with the rest of the world although, arguably, someone is undoubtedly eating a salami sandwich at that moment somewhere in the world.

There’s no true awake and asleep time either. They blend together, the awake begging to fall asleep and the asleep preferring to remain awake.

There was this Outer Limits episode where this couple became unstuck in time. They could see everything around them moving in extremely slow motion and learned that they had one shot at getting back into the timestream. If they failed, it would doom them to an infinity of limbo, existing in the spaces between time.

That’s sort of the deal here, only without the theremin music.

So it’s a welcome thing when the wife and I can coordinate our schedules to arrange a dinner that we can both attend at the same time.

Now a very interesting thing has happened in the neighborhood recently. The folks who ran our favorite Chinese restaurant a couple miles away decided to hand off the place to someone else and open up a new place.

Up the street. From the house. A block away.

You may recall that there is literally a short brick road that leads from our house to the main street, a road which two years ago was festooned with short yellow lamps in an attempt to beautify the neighborhood.

Actually, a lot of that has been happening since we moved in.

Anyway, at the end of its brief duration you can find the Buddhist college to the left and the hardware store on the right. It’s an interesting arrangement: you know, if you ever find yourself getting too lost in affairs of the spirit on the one corner, you can always cross the street and buy a handful of washers or nails to bring you back to Earth.

But now, as if in answer to some unspoken universal need for balance, the new Chinese restaurant appears equidistant from both, at the apex of its implied triangle. Here, one can feed the mind and the body simultaneously. Furthermore, it now marks the ultimate destination of our little brick road, its lights marking the way to the approach.

That isn’t all: the guy helping to run it is someone we haven’t see in ages who used to run our other favorite restaurant around 20 years ago. He recognized us right away and called me by name.

And, in between the egg roll and the dumplings and the hot tea, I couldn’t help but think about all these bodies, all these orbits, ceaselessly moving, in and out of the years and the jobs, and how pleasant and rare it can be when they can be at rest for a moment, passing some mustard across a table.

It seemed appropriate that we were there the night they were celebrating yet another orbiting return, that of the Chinese New Year which our placemats informed us was about to introduce the Year Of The Boar.

Like that doesn’t describe every year.

But for an hour or so, it felt like we’d hooked back up with the timestream and escaped that dreaded limbo, where the unlucky spectres caught in its vortex dine on their temporally displaced salami sandwiches and watch the world unfold in slow motion.

It certainly didn’t describe our waiter. He had the main dish out before we’d finished the appetizers.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Soft Suicide At The Barber's or: Another L Word

“I had a plan worked out and everything. I knew exactly how I was going to do it.”

Abe is in his 70’s now and has been cutting my hair longer than I can remember. My hair-cutting regimen consists of letting it grow long enough to become irritating, at which point I drop in on Abe.

He’s cut both my hair and my father’s for years now and he usually begins by telling me how he just saw my dad a week ago. “Good head of hair, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” and it’s true: the family hairline is, by and large, a solid and uncompromising follicular wall.

I can pick up some of the conversation coming from the other chairs and the subjects are usually benign: sports, family, the weather. Abe, on the hand, can be shockingly candid, offering up elements of his life that don’t usually come up in polite conversation.

“I was going to go to Sears and get this hose and then hook it up to the car.”

Abe lost his wife some years ago and moved in with his daughter’s family, not because he had to, but because he didn’t want to sit around an empty house. “I look at my friends and they’re all miserable, you know? And they think I’m crazy for moving in with my daughter, but I tell them, look at you, sitting all alone. At least I come home and it’s a house that’s full of life!”

A little while ago, however, the family started to wonder what was wrong with him. “I don’t know…I just didn’t want to see anybody, I couldn’t get out of bed…I didn’t even eat with them anymore. My daughter even said that my granddaughter, who’s my pride and joy, asked her, ‘Why doesn’t Zadie eat with us anymore? Doesn’t he like us?’ That just about broke my heart! She’s what I live for, my buddy, my best friend.”

“I couldn’t stand it. So I starting hoarding pills and making plans, you know?”

There was a woman in Abe’s life after his wife’s death, but he wasn’t interested in committing to another marriage.

“But then I thought, you know, the carbon monoxide, the gas smell, would ruin all the furniture and I hated the thought of that. And the pills, you know, just my luck, they’d only work well enough to turn me into a vegetable, which would only be worse.”

At another chair, I can hear conversation drifting by about a recent high school football game.

“I couldn’t do it. So I talked to my doctor about it and she prescribed something for me… it begins with an ‘l’, I can’t remember the name…and now from the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep, I’m great. I don’t think about anything like that anymore.”

“You know,” he tells me, brushing the last of the hair off my neck, “after your father had that defibrillator put in, he’d come in here and walk around like an invalid, afraid to move. I’d tell him, ‘What are you afraid of? You aren’t going to hurt anything! What are you doing?’ I think he was afraid he’d hurt something. Mine woke me up in the middle of the night once, though, beeping.”

What, like a smoke alarm?

“Yeah, I had to get it replaced.”

Sheesh, I hope I can put that off.

“Hey, look,” says Abe, reaching into his wallet. It’s a list of his prescriptions. “I had the name of it here all the time.”

And with that, my father and I get out of the chair, not at the same time, of course, but as simultaneously as you can otherwise get.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Don't Ask

But it's coming to a store near you later this year.