Sunday, October 30, 2011

Record Reviews #2: '70s Private Press Free Jazz Records

Jayne Cortez "There It Is" (Bola Press, 1982)

Jayne Cortez' 1982 album "There It Is" is a caustic, agitprop offering, mating her outraged, self-righteous wordplay with the churning music of an expanded ensemble (tagged "The Firespitters") featuring Cortez cohorts Denardo Coleman, Bern Nix, Bill Cole, Prime Time bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, saxophonist Charles Moffett Jr. (son of Ornette alumni and master percussionist Charles Moffett) and two percussionists. I have paid for this record twice: the first time, in 1989, I bought it new from the NYC mail order company NMDS (another post on this topic in the future), attracted by the personnel. At the time I had difficulty relating to it. Although the music had some appeal, the spoken word aspect was very off-putting - it's pretty easy to understand why a white, lower-middle-class teenager living in a bland Midwestern town might not be able to deal with Cortez' gritty urban minority outlook. Now that I have found another copy of this scarce record, I find the presentation no less unsettling, but have a somewhat wider worldview window to peer at it through.

The opening title track is an uptempo mutant-blues supporting Cortez' biting socio-political commentary. Bern Nix's guitar is typically smooth and sour as it jangles away over the stomping Tacuma/Coleman rhythm section. Cortez is livid as she casts a wide net of anger towards the American establishment in a message of revolt before Moffett takes a traditional, albeit unintentionally out-of-tune tenor solo. This music could be a sort of African-American counterpart to the slashing polemic of the second Pop Group album, substituting blues for funk, and showing a black and female bias instead of hormonal white British teenagers? The assault continues with the punchline-based track "U.S./Nigerian Relations" as she simply repeats "THEY WANT THE OIL, BUT THEY DON'T WANT THE PEOPLE!" over a dense, fast pileup of chaotic free playing, including Bill Cole's pungent double reed whines. The third track "I See Chano Pozo" is no respite from the aggression. Although superficially it seems like a tribute to the Cuban percussionist Pozo, deeper listening reveals that Pozo led a turbulant, short life which Cortez equates with the potency of his music. The track is an obvious showcase for the percussion duo of Abraham Adzinyah and Farel Johnson Jr. and the rest of the players remain in the background as support. Side A ends with "Skin Diver", a short but bludgeoning track in the harmolodic tradition of Ornette Coleman's contemporary music. After a series of convoluted riffs, a middle section of wild, angular, rhythmic free playing convenes, with Moffett in the lead and Denardo Coleman's deranged, loose bashing subverting the flow in his signature manner. "Opening Act" opens the second side with a bout of intense chaos from the ensemble before settling into a slow, but pushing blues form, peppered by saxophone and bitter lashings of Cole's double-reeds over which Cortez essays on the struggles of performers trying to continue in the face of apathy. "If The Drum Is A Woman" features only voice and percussion, with Cortez creating an evocative allegory between the drum-as-man's possession and women's rights. It's not completely clear, but it's not meant to be: this song is an outpouring of hurt wrapped in impressionistic verbiage. "To A Gypsy Cab Man" is a swinging, tonal funk groove with text concerning the underground economy and social implications of independent cab drivers in the ghetto, driving where no other cab might dare. The LP ends with the ranting "Blood Suckers", an indictment of imperialist big industry corruption slithering through an agitated mock march. Overall, "There It Is" burns with anger. It is somewhat monochromatic emotionally, but resounds as a powerful document from a different era - one which is showing signs of returning as injustice thrives and the world economy takes a dive, the wealthy minority reclining smugly on their thrones of complacency built on the beaten backs of the teeming multitudes.


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