Album Review: Alternating Current

Alternating Current by Jeff Cosgrove: drums / Matthew Shipp: piano / William Parker: bass

By Devin Brahja Waldman

I listened to this album several times, and in a few different settings: daytime, nighttime, speakers, headphones, bathtub, etc. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two of these musicians perform live a number of times. I wasn’t previously familiar with Jeff Cosgrove though, the drummer and leader of the date.

Let me start with Matthew Shipp. He provides strong flavors to the musical mix. There’s so much content to every chord of his. His two handed thrusts aren’t impenetrable to the ear but act as gateways to a new way of hearing things. It’s a good headspace to be in. Wacky, hip, sophisticated. And beyond. His regular working trio— with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey— has some serious synergy to it. They go way out. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Although it’s hard for a session band— and I’m making an assumption here— to compete synergistically with a group that plays together all the time, this trio with Cosgrove definitely has some positive empathic vibrations to it as well. You can hear that they’re all listening to each other, having a good time speaking sounds to one another. As they should. This definitely goes a long way.

Shipp’s piano seems to be the priority in the mix. It’s mixed very nicely, I think. But the bass and drums don’t seem to get the same love from the mixing man. I don’t mean this simply in terms of volume. Then again I did get used to the mix after a while. Perhaps the defect was within me. I thought the bass and drums could use some extra love though. Microphones as tools of harmonious texture: a harmony between blurry and in focus. Adjust that lens until ahhh. I’m picky though. Especially at around thirteen minutes or so into the first song when Cosgrove switches to his ride cymbal. I’d want a telescope on that thing, so to speak. Not a microscope in perfect focus. It’s borderline abrasive. I know that’s a strong word to use and I don’t mean to be rude. Yet, I ought to mention, there were at least two times I listened to it where it didn’t bother me. I won’t edit out the contradictions. And to be clear, I’m not criticising it for being low-fi because it’s not. I have nothing against low-fi or hi-fi anyway.

This is an improvised album. Off the cuff. They do well creating music out of thin air. Following each other into new moods. They do play a Paul Motian tune called Victoria towards the end. It’s probably my favorite one. It’s so lovely. They approach it tenderly and solemn-like. Paul Motian passed away not long ago. You feel the weight of that; as well as the flight. They chase each other around just to end up back where they started. Short and sweet.

Some people may roll their eyes at this, but the only other thing I would add as so-called criticism is that in an ideal world more thought would be put into the overall aesthetic of this music’s delivery. I mentioned the mix before. That falls under the same category to me. Now I’m talking about the artwork, photography and design. I mean absolutely no disrespect, but ideally an object like a CD should make the owner feel cool for owning it. Or, with time, a feeling more profound than feeling cool. Once, jazz had world class producers and cultural revolutionaries overseeing the aesthetic of the music’s delivery. Now the savviest and most dialed in producers seem to be involved in other styles of music. So be it. Things change. But it’s something to take into consideration for everyone who is still involved. Style and substance are a powerful combination. That’s my only gripe.

What, you thought I would criticise William Parker’s playing? As you must know, William Parker has been around for eons. No one can touch him. He’s the don, the daddy, the boss of living low frequency freewheeling jazz musicians. He’s a champion, a survivor. Thank you for this, William Parker. Thank you also to Matthew Shipp and Jeff Cosgrove.

“a person woven in jazz”: Album Review of Jaguar Harmonics

By Klara du Plessis

The album Jaguar Harmonics is a magical hybrid of richly evocative poetry written and recited by Anne Waldman, set to a landscape of sound by Devin Brahja Waldman, Ha-Yang Kim, Daniel Carter, and Ambrose Bye (at Fast Speaking Music studio in NYC). Here word and music combine to birth a brilliantly contemporary genre that straddles storytelling, opera, and a general free jazz kind of sound.

The poetic content centers around the jaguar as mystical guardian and “keeper of the cosmos,” channeling myth of the Amazon jungle. It is told how the jaguar navigates the forest at night, seeking out the hallucinatory Ayahuasca vine, so that by ingesting it, it can purge, and experience visions. While this narrative of the jaguar introduces a spiritual overtone for the album as a whole, it is also the catalyst for larger questions of environmental and humanistic ethics. For example, the speaker takes up the environmentally disastrous issue of fracking, creating a mantra through repetition: “hydraulic fracturing, don’t like it, don’t do it, don’t like it, don’t do it.” Deity is infused into humanity when, instead of exclaiming: “oh my God!” the speaker deliberately articulates: “oh my persons!” Persons become godlike, so that crimes against humanity are exponentially grotesque: “You can’t just go around at night and kill and rape and conquer persons.”

The number of atrocities referred to throughout the narrative – environmental destruction, genocide, displacement, rape, murder – insinuates a degree of righteousness or of judgment. When the speaker recites “wrong, wrong, wrong” it could seem that the album is very message-oriented or didactic. Yet when listening more closely, “wrong” interchanges with “run”: “wrong, run, wrong, run.” Judgment is deconstructed so that a negative sentence (wrong) also becomes a route to escape (run), escapism, but also a transformation toward mobility, then the freedom to react productively against the problem. Through a savvy layering of voice, judgment is not localized in a single entity. The speaker, the voice, is the Ayahuasca vine, but it is also the jaguar; the voice is mysticism; the voice is the poet; the voice is Anne Waldman; the voice is the music. Polyphonous, responsibility for judgment or utterances of truth is dispersed through the mouths of different beings, and so by definition nuanced, rendered multiplicitous.

Polyphony is of course also an integral aspect of the album as a whole, since its production hinges on the collaboration of poetry and music. Although each musical track comes across as perfectly polished, to the layman’s ear even composed, the jazz soundtrack is apparently freely improvised, implying a unified conversation between musicians. Individual instruments express themselves with collaborative purpose. As a whole, the music creates an excellent atmospheric backdrop for the narrative, never crowding the recitation, rather supplementing, expanding it and drawing pictures for the mind. As such, the music is interpretational only in the positive sense that it enriches the word with wider expressive possibilities. At the album’s best, poetry is music, performative, rhythmic; music is poetry, a language in pure sound.

Enjoy streaming Jaguar Harmonics.

Anne Waldman: text and vocals
Devin Brahja Waldman: alto saxophone
Ha-Yang Kim: cello
Daniel Carter: trumpet, clarinet, flute and saxophones
Ambrose Bye: sounds and production at Fast Speaking Music Studio

Anne Waldman born in 1945. Grew up in NYC. From 1968 to 1978 served as director of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, curating readings with The New York School and Beat Generation poets. In 1974, with Allen Ginsberg, co-founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University; has continued to teach there on-and-off since. She is the author of 50 or so books of poetry. Has collaborated with countless musicians, filmmakers, dancers, visual artists and poets.

Devin Brahja Waldman grew up in Cherry Valley, N.Y., New York City, and Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Lived in Montreal between 2003-2013. Has performed with Anne Waldman, Patti Smith, Daniel Carter and Thurston Moore. Has lead Brahja Waldman’s Quintet since 2008. Also performs in Land Of Kush and YouYourself&i. Currently vice president of Fast Speaking Music in NYC.

FSM (Fast Speaking Music) has released recordings of Amiri Baraka, Joanne Kyger, CAConrad, Marty Ehrlich, Thurston Moore, Akilah Oliver, Edwin Torres, Clark Coolidge and many more.