Performance night of beyond-jazz critics

Monday 11/16, NYC: writer-guitarist-conductor Greg Tate‘s Burnt Sugar plays the Blue Note, and the late journalist-reedsplayer Robert Palmer is celebrated by biographer-world musician John Kruth, historian-memoirist-social commentator-radio producer-singer-songwriter Ned Sublette, and the Master Musicians of Jajouka with at Le Poisson Rouge. Are the inmates running the asylum?


Not really — when music critics take the stage they don’t generally intend to cast musicians as critics (though more musicians are writing good jazz journalism — cf. Steve Coleman and Ethan Iverson). We just want to get in on the performance fun. Burnt Sugar as I last saw/heard it is a party band not too reverently indebted to Butch Morris‘ significant work on conduction, George Clinton’s P-Funk revues, Sun Ra, Miles, James Brown and whatever other grooves it digs. It”ll be good to catch up with what they’re doing now, as it is always bracing to read Brother Tate’s incisive, original thoughts on race, music and the whole damn thing. 

Robert Palmer was at the height of his career when I met him a couple of times briefly in the 1980s, but I’d read him whenever I could find his byline for a decade before, our interests and tastes coinciding: Delta and Chicago blues, Ornette, electric Miles, post-Coltrane jazz, music of strange places, truly edgy rock ‘n’ roll, 20th century music of the globe, pop and contemporary composition included. His articles were always clear, respectful and illuminating of what drove the musicians he admired — passion, depth, fire. His book Deep Blues is a compelling read as is his Unruly History of Rock and Roll — both are out of print, but a new collection of his work Blues and Chaos has just been published and a film about his obsessions, The Hand of Fatima by his daughter Augusta who was not one of them, is currently being shown at Anthology Film Archives. It also features the Master Musicians of Jajouka directed by Bachir Attar, of whom I wrote enthusiastically last February.
 Sublette, author of The Year Before The Flood, one of the finest books I’ve read this year and two fine ones from years just previous, and Kruth, awarded the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for To Live’s To Fly, about Towns Van Zandt, earlier biographer of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, superb songwriter-mandolinist-flutist and Tribecistan/Eva Destruction auteur –are serious double-threat writer-musicians (which Palmer, despite his credits as clarinetist with Insect Trust, never seemed to be). At Le Poisson Rouge they are featured along with singer-songwriter-guitarist Eric Anderson, guitarist with Patti Smith and occasional poet Lenny Kaye and music journo Anthony DeCurtis, editor of Blues and Chaos
That lineup should result in quite a tribute to Bob Palmer, and might encourage more music journalists, rightly or not, to look at public performance as another potential outlet for our energies. I’m going to check it out very carefully, with fantasies about about an evening of reading aloud interspersed with my flute playing, though I can’t imagine who’d sit for that. Maybe other inmates. . . .
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  1. says

    Well, something happened to my last comment, so I’ll try again: I had expressed surprise at the idea that the critics were the inmates, rather than the overseers. I guess it makes sense if you consider the absolute power of a certain cut-and-paste phenomenon–the czar of the downtown jazz scene, to whom said critics defer accordingly…On the other hand it could be a Panopticon phenomenon, a Spy vs Spy thing–there I go again. All roads lead to Zorn…
    HM: Inmates, overseers, I guess it depends upon one’s perspective. But I’m sure Mr. JZ doesn’t consider himself czar of a “jazz” scene, He’d never stand for that, he’s the composer saxophonist genius beyond jazz.