Music

New York Art Quartet: Old Stuff

After eight U.S. presidents have come and gone, the New York Art Quartet finally gets around to letting us hear two European performances from the golden era of free jazz.


New York Art Quartet

Old Stuff

Label: Cuneiform
US Release Date: 2010-02-02
UK Release Date: 2010-01-25
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Forty-five years is a long time for unreleased music to gather dust before anyone gets a chance to hear it, but the genre of free jazz is littered with these types of time capsules. With each passing year the list of long-lost recordings grows with entries from Mingus, Monk, Coltrane, and other giants. These recordings, in addition to giving people something new to listen to, serve as a reminder of just how different things were back then. For example, by late 1965, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane had already unleashed some of the most challenging jazz that anyone had heard by that time. Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz was already five years old, and that gauntlet had been picked up many times over by the mid ‘60s. The era of free jazz was proving to be very fertile, especially in big cities where life was just plain crazy, and each musician had a need to express their crazy side. As a result, many acts have come and gone from that era without getting a chance to make a big name for themselves. So when I tell you that it’s the New York Art Quartet’s turn to drop some forgotten documentation of two 1965 performances this year, I can’t blame you for responding “Who?”

The story can be traced back to Danish saxophonist John Tchicai, who performed on Coltrane’s Ascension. Tchicai emerged from these sessions with an itch to form his own free jazz band, so he did. Enter trombonist Roswell Rudd, fresh off of Bill Dixon’s band from the early ‘60s. These two co-lead the New York Art Quartet with the powerful rhythm section of drummer Milford Graves and a rotating cast of bassists including Don Moore, Lewis Worrell, and Reggie Workman. They recorded two albums in a little less than a year and a half, then called it a day. There was an eventual 35th year reunion concert released on the DIW label, but that’s another chapter.

It was just before the New York Art Quartet was about to slip into retirement that the recordings of Old Stuff were cut. Tchicai had gone back to his native Denmark to book some gigs for his new quartet. For whatever reasons, Moore and Graves could not tag along, leaving Tchicai and Rudd no choice but to find a whole new rhythm section. Finn von Eyben ended up providing bass, while Louis Moholo, formerly of the Blue Notes, pounded the skins. So as it stands, this live album of two Copenhagen gigs both greatly benefits and slightly suffers from four musicians who hadn’t spent a whole lot of time together.

The lack of practice serves as a benefit because, well, circumstances for spontaneity don’t get much better than that. Add in the fact that an audience is involved, and a band can really soar. The lead off track, “Rosmosis”, a Rudd original from the quartet’s first album, has all the makings of a classic free jazz standard: an accessible melody, syncopated interplay between horns, a commanding drummer shifting gears mid-song, and plenty of fiery solos in between. The title track, which gets played at each of the gigs presented, goes its own merry way by halting the song intermittently to allow for Tchicai and Rudd to fill the space with trills and interval leaps. It’s one of those moments that remind you of all the other things jazz can be if everyone just stopped covering “Autumn Leaves”.

But the limited-time bond between these musicians works against them, slightly. One may think that in free jazz there is no such thing as sloppy playing. But even if one is playing experimental post-bop in a desire to say "nuts to the old formula," you and your band still need to adhere to a formula and know each other’s abilities. For the second date, the quartet trades in a small club for a larger concert hall. It could be that the different surroundings (the two shows were only 10 days apart) changed their mentality. “Karin’s Blues” finds Tchicai and Rudd too unsure of themselves or unsure of how to match each other. The mix tends to favor the drums over the bass, and it sounds as if the ensemble just wasn’t meshing the way that they did ten days prior. They still give it their all, trying their best to thrive from the generous audience, who offer up more applause than the previous crowd. But one gets the feeling that tracks seven through 11 of this 70-minute CD don’t show this band at the top of their game.

All things considered, these are two very promising shows from an obscure band buried under many legendary names from one of the 20th century’s most difficult musical eras. The level of interest in a release such as Old Stuff is bound to be narrow. But that’s not to say that it lacks any potential to reach a wider audience. In fact, it may be resurrected curiosities like Old Stuff that will give free jazz a shot in the arm for a new generation of listeners. The upstart music labels just need to keep releases like this coming, so as to give us all an idea what it was like to watch experimental music unfold back in the good old days. In fact, a re-release of the New York Art Quartet’s long out of print second album Mohawk would be a good place to go next. How about it, Cuneiform Records?

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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