“I sometimes feel like I am some kind of mystery to people abroad: the odd one, the visitor in the room. As it relates to Jamaica, that feeling has always been strangely similar.”
There were few glints of light or reasons to feel upful about 2020, one small exception being the monthly drip of oddball new Equiknoxx productions dropping on Bandcamp. I got to chat with main man Gavsborg island-to-island about this past year and provide a little listening guide for the quickly expanding Equiknoxx galaxy.
Last year, I was asked by PBS station KCET in LA to contribute a brief history of jazz. Which was a massive, sprawling topic that no one book –much less one essay– could possibly contain. It was to serve as complement to this awesome documentary about the current state of Los Angeles creative music and a feature on the lasting legacy of pianist/ composer Horace Tapscott. Both are well worth your time.
That said, I attempted a meditation on jazz as an expression of folk, a living music, a form of protest, and how jazz embraces the world and reflects it back to us, as messy and vital and loud as a functioning democracy. If anything, it often comes back to the alchemy of taking the creative act and making it a part of life. Or as Cecil Taylor once put it: “Living becomes a musical process. It becomes a search to absorb everything that happens to you and incorporate it into music.”
“There are three challenges in my life. The first is being Black in a White culture. The second is being transgendered in a heteronormative culture. The third is being an artist in a business culture.”
“Freedom Suite was Sonny Rollins’ protest, but he didn’t need to utter a word or sound a full-throated roar through his reed. It’s not a raised fist, and never needs to shriek. Freedom Suite is so disarming that you might not recognize it for a protest anthem at all.”
An unbelievable honor to have my name appear on a Sonny Rollins record. At the height of his career, Rollins cut Freedom Suite, his brief liner notes throwing down a gauntlet in 1958: “How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America’s culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed, that the Negro, who has exemplified the humanities in his very existence, is being rewarded with inhumanity.”
The album was quickly retracted and butchered by his label. They changed the cover, title, and put the massive title suite on the b-side. I wrote the liner notes that accompany the new Vinyl Me, Please reissue of the album. You can order it here.
“I was pretty lost. I had a real identity crisis after it was over. I questioned my own validity as an artist. I left my recording studio one day and didn’t turn it on for 10 years.”
I got the chance to chat with Eddie Chacon for the New York Times. Chacon’s curious tale winds through the likes of Cliff Burton, Uncle Luke, The Dust Brothers, Daddy-O, and a Sir Elton John co-sign, before arriving at the rarefied space that is his new album, Pleasure, Joy and Happiness. Call it R&Bient, the Lewis album Laraaji never made, or what Marvin Gaye with Martin Rev might have sounded like, it’s a dreamy little listen.
“Sarah has a real gift for using the palette of sound. Her guitar tone is classic, precise, and could have been on a Ventures or Shadows instrumental. But there’s a brooding and undulating maelstrom that she develops until finally it’s just blasting. I like the emotion but also the intelligence.” Anxious, turbulent, foreboding –but with stunning glimpses of great beauty– I went deep on Sarah Lipstate’s pandemic-friendly soundscapes.
“I was going to stop playing music as a career. I felt that with all this mess, we didn’t need another musician. I was ready for the Black Panthers, or to leave the country or something. I knew I had to do something.”
“You look at early rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, soul music, there were hundreds and hundreds of small labels in Memphis that were saying ‘why not me?’ Of course, there are hundreds of reasons for ‘Why not them,’ but they still persevered and cut a record.” Deep into the Mississippi mud of a Singing Dentist, a future prophetess boogie-fying Pigmeat Markham’s “Order in the Court,” and Gutbucket Chic, this is a great comp for fans of Dâm-Funk, PPU, and the like.
“I try to look at these records as collaborations between the label and the musicians. We have no interns, I pack every order, I answer every email, I try to take as much pride in the daily operations as I do the grand picture.” Exploring eclectic, trailblazing guitar soli in the 21st century (inspired by Johnny Smith, John Fahey, punk, and noise) with the Vin Du Select Qualitite label.
“Al Green made seriously sensuous music, but the fascinating, evergreen quality of it all is in how he embraces and wrestles with both the carnal and spiritual manifestations of love. The friction between the sacred and profane can be heard in nearly every note, alluring and manic in equal measure. Al Green is as suave and silken as he is shattered.”