Daily Archives: October 1, 2007

Feature on a Clean Feed artist: Wally Shoup

Double-Threat Artist Wally Shoup Works With the Music of Boulders and the Texture of Stones

By Mark D. Fefer

Wally Shoup on Clean Feed (CF 073)

That Wally Shoup was a man unlikely to experience spectacular commercial success was apparent early. Arriving in Seattle in the mid-’80s, he managed to get some of his painted-silk scarves—with their distinct muted colors and aboriginal-like patterns—into some area boutiques. But then shopkeepers would say, “We want more of these, and we don’t like these,” he recalls. “And I’d say, ‘Well, that’s your opinion.'” Likewise, store reps wanted pieces that customers could order in advance. Shoup’s response: “Well, I’m an artist.” How could he know what he’d come up with tomorrow? Needless to say, Shoup’s future in retail was limited.

Then again, anyone who turns to Shoup for something preordered and prespecified could not be barking up a more poorly chosen tree. Shoup’s entire cellular structure pines for the spontaneous, the unplanned, the unruly. And not just in visual art. For two decades he’s been at the center of Seattle’s free-improvisation scene—a fertile but perpetually obscure underground, where the intense energy and volume of guitar rock meet the open soloing of jazz, but without any formal structures of rhythm or song. It’s always a hard sell, and “the problem is, I’m not a salesman,” says Shoup.

But he’s been doing something right lately, as this fall he’ll have a critical mass of public exposure that’s damn near unprecedented. It starts with a major exhibit of his paintings at Wall of Sound (beginning Oct. 5). Then he’s got a series of shows around town with his trio, courtesy of a city of Seattle grant—the 63-year-old artist’s first. (“I haven’t really participated in the grant game,” he says.) Finally, he’s got a high-profile quartet gig with the Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle’s invaluable three-week celebration of jazz and world music (Oct. 19–Nov. 4). While Earshot brings in big names from New York and around the globe, the fest also provides home-based artists a more visible platform than they’re typically afforded.

Raised in a North Carolina family that “would not have seen ‘artist’ as a viable way of life,” Shoup says art “eventually just came bursting out of me” in his early 30s, when he picked up both the saxophone and the paintbrush. In recent years, his paintings have been seen most often at Garde-Rail Gallery, Seattle’s home for “outsider” or “folk” artists, many of whom, like Shoup, are from the South. No one would mistake the articulate Shoup for an uneducated rube, but his pieces have an unstudied, “naive” quality to their shapes, colors, and themes. And they bear an earthen texture reminiscent of Jimmy Lee Sudduth—perhaps the most famous in Garde-Rail’s stable—who paints with mud.

Padding around his old apartment in the CD, Shoup says he creates his textured effect using commercial painter’s joint compound mixed with coffee grounds. Smearing this concoction, unevenly, onto the canvas before painting “creates something that’s like the surface of a rock or the side of a building,” he says. “I try to use the texture [in the work], but not make it the whole point.”

Shoup’s paintings have often adorned the covers of his recordings, and lucky recipients of his CD-Rs have sometimes found an original watercolor inside—square slices from a larger sheet that Shoup says he creates at a fevered pace. “It’s kind of like improvising. You let the chips fall where they may.” Over the years, Shoup’s art has become a powerful accompaniment to his music, each enriching the other.

Audiences will have a chance to experience that intersection directly at Shoup’s opening night at Wall of Sound, where he’ll perform with drummer Dave Abramson in front of a great wall of his work. There’ll be varied sizes and styles jumbled and juxtaposed. “It’s very different from a gallery, where it’s boom, boom,” he says, his hands describing dots along a horizontal line.

Shoup does not like to get too caught up in the connections, if any, between his work on canvas and his work in sound, but he allows that, as a musician, he’s “very influenced by visual forms.” You’ll hear that immediately: Hard-blowing and aggressive with a subterranean pulse, Shoup’s music feels more about shape, surface, and movement than melodic lines. “A tree has different rhythms from a stream or boulders atop one another,” he says; and those, more than the architecture of a jazz standard, are his models.

Though Shoup has performed with many of the power names in new music (such as Nels Cline, who’ll be here for Earshot, too), and has won some notoriety among rock audiences for his work with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, he says he “sensed right away that the jazz world in Seattle was never going to respect what I’m doing.” Young, metal-minded listeners without a single Archie Shepp record in their collection often have more open ears than the jazz crowd, he says.

Shoup admits “there’s an implied critique in the way I play.” But, he says, “I have no patience for people who say this or that music ‘sucks.'” He relies on the “music-as-river” metaphor. “Can you ride it, balance it? I’m always going for that, and with some people, you get there quicker and stay there longer. I just do my thing and hope there’s a few people around who resonate with it.”
(Photo by Steven Dewall)

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

Evan Parker / John Edwards / Chris Corsano – A Glancing Blow (CF 085)
Recorded at London’s Vortex in 2006, “A glancing blow” features Parker on tenor and soprano sax, Edwards on double bass and Corsano on percussion. I’ll borrow Brian Morton’s pugilistic hint at the beginning of the liners to associate the relentless drive of this trio to the image of those Asian fighters who, particularly in the lower weight classes, gain victory through overwhelming, incessant attacks without caring too much about tactical exercise, only by keeping throwing leather until their foe collapses near the ropes. This is especially true of Corsano’s drumming, an example being the first section of the title track which literally leaves no room for thought, Parker attempting to perforate the surging steamy mass with doses of immediate realism in the shape of atonal zigzag and small eruptions of garrulous inquisitiveness, Edwards trying to act as a moderator but rapidly establishing his elegantly chiseled voice as the third element of a timbrally cultivated family row. When the waters get a little calmer – because that’s what everyone needs, listeners and players alike, after all that fury – the trio’s finely interpreted concept of responsible interplay comes to a magnificent proportionality between the parts, the music remaining not only totally credible despite the lengthy physical effort but allowing us to penetrate, at least partially, the collective vision that the three musicians share, saluted by the audience with an enthusiastic cheer at the end of the set.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

Joe Morris / Ken Vandermark / Luther Gray – Rebus (CF 083)

Recorded two days after having played at Tonic in 2006, “Rebus” consists of six improvisations where the relationships between the instrumental forces at play is exquisitely balanced, despite the well perceptible urge alimenting every single gesture of the involved artists. Joe Morris, whom in recent times we had also appreciated as a gifted, uniquely styled bassist, suggests loads of new directions to launch a guitar towards, his unmistakable tone – all high frequencies cut off in a rotund, meaty muscle of a voice – finely complementing Vandermark’s extracurricular tenor sax activities and, incredibly, often at the basis of a rhythmic skeleton that uses the axe as a percussive element (check the third part to have an idea of what I mean). Vandermark himself appears to be unable of limiting to sheer self-expression, coordinating furiously ripping combinations of linear nervousness and ecstatic instigations in a whole that calls Morris to a continuous game of exchanges and immediate reactions: one moment almost anarchic, an instant later seemingly thought out in advance. It takes years to function like that in a trio, and no one more than drummer Luther Gray – a longtime Morris partner – incarnates the correct attitude and technical ability that are necessary to sustain and propel soloists of this caliber, his expertise so distant from over-refinement yet still adorned with those minute particulars and attentive acquisitions that make a style comprehensible and personal. There is much to learn from “Rebus”, our engagement with the music’s significance growing with each listen, an incessant progress that – although not revolutionary in the truest sense – defines this release as an important contribution to better explain the advancement of modern jazz.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

Anthony Braxton / Joe Fonda – Duets 1995 (CF 079)

This album was originally released by Konnex, one of those unsung milestones that necessitate of a reissue in order for people outside the experts’ circle to dip their toe in something that is described – often, and very superficially – as difficult, if not plain hostile. I’m referring to Anthony Braxton’s music, one of the most important expressions of advanced composition and off-commonplace reed playing of the last century, which jazz purists classify as “too cerebral”. I remember, a while back, a review of a Leo CD in which the poor writer misjudged Braxton’s quarter-tone dexterity and unyoked improvisational acumen as “errors” in the interpretation of some standard, causing an amused email reaction by Feigin himself who reportedly was “roaring with laughter” upon reading that nonsense. In these duets, in which the saxophonist plays C melody and alto sax, contrabass and B flat clarinets, bassist Joe Fonda – himself a stalwart of intelligent jazz – lends his dazzling technique, both with arco and bare fingers, the couple generating music that features everything at the right place in the right moment. The record is opened and closed by two homages to tradition, “All of you” and “Autumn in New York”; I dare you to find more atypical approximations and tasteful deviations from the classic rendition of such well-known pieces, all the while without lacking an ounce of respect for the originals. But, as told before, this could be a good entrance door for “Braxton beginners”; if one looks for more dramatic absences of compromise, “Composition 168+147” will do the job, Braxton’s unpredictable flutters, superb dissonant lyricism and forward-looking open mindedness once again making the difference. Not between himself and other players, but among prepared and unprepared audiences.

Feature on a Clean Feed artist: Michael Attias by Celeste Sunderland

Michael Attias

Paris has always been a haven for musicians. In the late 1980s a stream of jazz greats passed through the bar at Alan Silva’s music school where saxophonist Michaël Attias manned the tap. “I remember pouring [saxophonist] Frank Wright a beer two weeks before he died,” he recalled. “Sunny Murray, Jerome Cooper, Abbey Lincoln rehearsing…I remember her eyes… what a beautiful presence.” At the time, many of the musicians discussed the work they had done in the 1960s, with reluctance. “It was kind of like a shameful secret. I felt that. But the climate has changed,” he explained, noting how a revival in styles these players had developed, later emerged.

Attias ponders the relevancy of the past a lot these days. He recently played with drummer Paul Motian for the first time during a recording session for an album with the Terumasa Hino/Masabumi Kikuchi Quintet, set for release this fall, and found the modernity of the drummer’s playing particularly striking. “His records from the 1970s sound like they were done a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “They seem very current. I think the past changes in that way. What’s useful from it changes. Certain things come back. Time is not linear, especially not in art. Charlie Parker constantly comes back in different ways for me.”

Names like Charlie Parker were unknown to Attias until the day he discovered a copy of Nat Hentoff’s Jazz Is on the library shelf at his elementary school in Minneapolis, where he moved with his parents from Paris at age eight. Intrigued by photos and stories about John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, he began to seek out their music and at fifteen, around the time he discovered Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come (Atlantic, 1959), he started playing the saxophone.

Born in Israel to Moroccan parents, Attias grew up in Paris and Minneapolis. When the first track on the album, “Lonely Woman” began to play, a lot of things started to make sense. “It sounded like the music of my childhood,” he said. “It sounded completely North African. Charlie Haden sounded like an oud. It seemed so un-Western, so much closer to the way my grandfather sang in the synagogue.”

Last June [2007], Attias actually played with Coleman. A pianist he met at Masabumi Kikuchi’s house invited him to join a jam session. “He was so beautiful. He really lives, breathes and speaks like his music. I’ve never been so impressed with a sense of somebody knowing exactly what they’re doing and being so free because of that.”

”MichaelThe session helped validate a concept of letting go that Attias had lately been contemplating. “There was a period when shedding meant two things. It meant going to the woodshed to practice, but it also meant shedding a layer of yourself. Somebody like Coltrane didn’t play like he played in 1957 in 1964. Once he had done that he left it behind him. But I think we’re in a different time now. We want everything to be available to us, to play like this one moment and this another and it’s a beautiful thing this eclecticism, but it’s a dangerous thing too, we lose that sense of shedding, really letting go of things.”

Six years after Attias recorded his sextet album Credo, Clean Feed released it in 2005. He had composed all eight tracks. “It was really someone else’s music. Somebody that I liked actually, but who wasn’t me anymore, who was like my little cousin.” It reminded him of something Anthony Braxton once told him in the early 1990s, when Attias was sitting in on his classes at Wesleyan. “He said something like, ‘What you will be doing in ten years will not invalidate what you are doing now.’ It’s not about reaching the golden moment. It’s about documenting the moments as you go along.”

For the next few years Attias worked intensively with Braxton, playing in his piano quartet and his orchestra and at a festival in Belgium as a duo. Since 1997 they haven’t worked together as frequently, but last year Attias played the alumni concert for Braxton’s sixtieth birthday. “It was very important in a way, that life created this distance,” Attias said. “Because he would be the first to say that nothing grows in the shadow of big trees. Find your own way.”

Attias now lives in New York, leads three groups and has big plans for them all. After a tour of Japan with the Hino/Kikuchi Quintet in December, his trio Renku will hit the road together for the first time, in Europe. Consisting of Attias, bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, they released their self-titled debut in 2005 on Playscape. “It was the right combination of feeling comfortable and feeling uncomfortable,” Attias said of their first gig at Barbès in 2003. “Both are very important. Comfort you need for obvious reasons, but discomfort you need because that’s what’s going to make you stretch. It’s the germ of what’s going to be new and original and important in that music.”

Take Renku and add Russ Lossing on piano and Tony Malaby on saxophone and you get Twines of Colesion, which Attias describes as “a trio in expansion.” They play this month at Cornelia Street Café and next June [2008] record their debut album for Clean Feed Records at a three-day festival in Portugal. While Twines of Colesion centers strongly around improvisation, Clinamen is a larger group that includes Hebert, Malaby, vibraphonist Matt Moran, French horn player Mark Taylor and Takeishi and Tyshawn Sorey on drums and percussion and plays Attias’ more heavily-notated compositions. He’s been working with Clinamen for the past five years and has an extensive catalogue of music written. All that’s needed is a grant to fund a recording.

”MichaelAttias also curates a weekly series at Barbès called “Night of the Ravished Limbs,” that features a cross-section of New York musicians. He plays in a variety of groups as a sideman including a quartet led by bassist Sean Conly with whom he recorded an album last month and a trio with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and keyboardist Anthony Coleman that he considers one of his favorites. In 2003 he started working with theater director Doris Mirescu, and continues to create live scores and sound designs for projects they develop for their group Dangerous Ground Productions.

At seventeen he wrote and performed a little piece of music for his brother’s production of Le Mort by Georges Bataille, which was performed at the Espace Kiron in Paris in 1985. A reviewer raved about the production, save for two things: a marionette play-within-a-play and the “brutal interventions of a grotesque and sentimental saxophone.”

“To be insulted at seventeen by a leading magazine, by L’Express, I was so proud,” he gushed. “I think if I make a solo record that’s what it will be called, The Brutal Interventions of a Grotesque and Sentimental Saxophone.”