Sorry 'bout the potted intro, but (a shorter version of) this was for the
Collegetown paper; gotta clue in the newbies, hopefully no one else is turned off
by that, or anything else here:
COSTA-GRAVAS, COSTA LIVIN'
by Don Allred
In the early 1980s, Miles Davis came back from hiatus, but his music,
though engagingly quirky and rough-edged, no longer seemed innovative. And
post-Miles jazz-rock had hardened into fusion. Fusion was notorious for flashy
but ponderous displays of technique, like bad progressive rock. This resulted in
a throwback to 50s-style hard bop, the so-called Young Lions (or "jazz in
suits") movement, led by Wynton Marsalis.
But not all young jazz musicians were fusion heads or conservatives.
Drummer/composer Bobby Previte was well-schooled at The University Of Buffalo in
the 70s, where the music faculty included progressives like Lukas Foss,
trance poet Morton Feldman, and the anti-authoritarian authority on conceptualist
strategies, John Cage. Even earlier, Bobby P. was a underage soul/rock bar
band veteran, and both kinds of training served him well when he moved to New
York City in 1979, where he quickly became a leader in what was sometimes called
Downtown Jazz. Previte and his cohorts were as technically accomplished as
Marsalis and the fusion virtuosi, but they were also experimental, intent on
taking up where Miles had left off.
Previte's latest release, Coalition Of The Willing, is startlingly
fresh, despite familiar names, production elements, and political implications.
Trumpeter Steve Bernstein was the musical director of New York's post-punk
"fake jazz" rowdies, The Lounge Lizards, and is a key member of the calmly
audacious Sex Mob. Like Previte and others on Coalition, Bernstein doesn't let his
energy get in the way of thought or feeling: check his album Diaspora Soul,
which taps the improvisational and emotional resources of klezmer music. Stanton
Moore, who plays drum duets with Previte on several Coalition tracks, is also
a member of Galactic, a typically "fonky" New Orleans jam band, which
nevertheless rose to the occasion, when they got a chance to back Algerian exile
Rachid Taha, on his blisteringly defiant Made In Medina. (Songlines magazine
reviewer Nigel Williamson rightly considered this album to succeed, where Unledded,
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's album with North African musicians, failed.).
Multi-instrumentalist Skerik limits himself to subtle saxophone on Coalition,
but his more varied work with the sardonically moody Critters Buggin, especially
on their 1998 album Bumpa, might be a key precedent to Coalition. Toward the
end of Bumpa, there's a sense of looming enclosure, but it's an enclosure
that's made to resonate with deep, bending, metallic tones.
On Coalition, this kind of rebellious sound (with flickering treble
added, so it also evokes John McLauglin's eerie 1970 peak, Devotion) takes on a
political context. Not only does Coalition's title refer to the Iraq War, but
several tracks (like "The Ministry Of Truth") reference George Orwell's 1984.
(As a Vietnam War era album might have, of course.)
But Coalition doesn't rely on righteously retro rhetoric, or any other
kind of default setting. Stu Cutler adds occasional harmonica, minus blues
cliches. Charlie Hunter abstains from his Blue Note albums' eight-string guitar,
and from the effects box that makes him sound like a (so-so) organist. (Why
bother, when an actual organist, the judiciously theatrical Jamie Saft, who just
released an album of instrumental Dylan covers, is always lurking nearby, and
with his own guitar as well.) Here, Hunter plays incisive six-string
Telecaster, and a twelve-string guitar that sounds nothing like The Byrds: it chimes
like an evil, elegant parody of Big Ben. (Appropriately for Orwell's dystopian
England.) Previte's lean, hungry beats and bright tonal colors (keyed by
electronic touch pads) find their way through dark shifting backdrops and corridors.
Coalition's a thriller, tracked by really good, inescapable security cameras.