John Zorn’s Stone Rolls Into Brooklyn’s Crown Heights

photo by Liane Fredel

The darker blocks within the wood floor of happylucky no. 1, an art gallery and community arts space in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, spell out the name of the place in morse code, according to Liane Fredel.

Fredel, the former graphic designer who bought the space five years ago, renovated it to express, “an inviting concept, open but with an air of mystery,” she said, and she intends it to foster “more than just art, but rather a larger sense of culture.”

There is no sign outside announcing the place. There is, however a website, that offers this by way of description:

…a gray, fishscaly building…. The façade is marked by a door and a yellow neon dandelion. We are not exactly sure what happens, or what will happen, within the elongated rectangular box that is the interior of happylucky no. 1.  Vaguely speaking, there will be events, exhibitions and experiments, the subjects/results of which might occasionally be edible, or medicinal.

There will be things on the walls and floors and floating through the air; sights, sounds and ideas requesting your assistance in their propagation.  There will be triumphs and, as this is a human endeavor, the occasional disaster.

All of the above—the subtly encoded messages, the overarching mission and the blend of seriousness and humor—make happylucky no. 1 a fitting home for the latest iteration of The Stone— which began as a tiny but influential East Village performance space in an unmarked windowless former Chinese restaurant, founded by John Zorn in 2005 to present experimental  music, and that has grown into a somewhat sprawling initiative.

Zorn, whose influence as a producer and presenter now equals his stature as a musician and composer, has curated “The Stone Series” at happylucky no. 1, beginning March 1—Friday and Saturday night performance that will run at least through 2020. Continue reading “John Zorn’s Stone Rolls Into Brooklyn’s Crown Heights”

All The Things Roy Nathanson Is

Roy%20NathansonIf you see Roy Nathanson on the Q train, head down and pen out, he’s working on a poem. If you see him with his saxophone raised, he’s exulting in song or free improvisation.
More and more, the two activities have merged for the 64-year-old Brooklynite.
From June 2-7, Nathanson’s residency at The Stone, the tiny club John Zorn founded in Manhattan’s East Village, will explore the words and sounds and, most of all, the friendships that fuel Nathanson’s restless and genre-bending creativity. His duet partners will include guitarist Marc Ribot, pianists Myra Melford, Anthony Coleman and Arturo O’Farrill, and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, Nathanson’s fellow founder of the Jazz Passengers group. His bandmates include the members of his unusual Sotto Voce ensemble, in which everyone sings and a beatboxer rules the rhythm section, and all-stars from Manhattan’s Institute for Collaborative Education, where Nathanson runs the music program.
Nathanson has an uncanny knack for translating words into music and vice versa. His poem inspired by the tune “All the Thing You Are” contains this verse:

Today when we were cooking oatmeal
I heard Sonny Criss drive his Selmer
through the “Angel glow that lights a star” line
and I marveled at the metaphorical power of stars
How they rise above the bridges of all these old tunes

Nathanson also has a way of drawing great musicians into his own world regardless of the material. But this week, such communion will focus very much on one song: “The Nearness of You.”
Nathanson shared with me his enthusiasm for the program, and for that song:

This week of concerts feels particularly emotionally powerful since somehow, at 64, I’ve fallen back totally in love with my saxophone. Reed craziness and all. These last 10 years or so I’ve been concentrating almost entirely on connecting text and words—particularly on understanding how poetry, metaphor, voice and saxophone work together as language. This has also corresponded to the period I’ve started the ICE music department and involved my students in much of my artistic exploration.
A combination of aging, life troubles and changes, and diving again into Eric Dolphy’s language for Russ Johnson’s “Out To Lunch” project made me remember how my saxophone itself can tell a story without words. How just breath moving from note to note is a magical thing to savor. That a singing note is just a crazy cool thing.
For this Stone residency, I’m exploring duo conversations with old collaborators and friends whose language I know well: Marc Ribot, Curtis Fowlkes, Anthony Coleman, Arturo O’Farrill, Myra Melford, Claire Daly and Napoleon Maddox. These are people with whom I’ve spent years playing concerts with and sharing life experiences with. Anthony and I recorded 3 CDs and worked with musical gesture, words, free improv and composition. Curtis and I started the Jazz Passengers with this duo process. Marc and I have played together for over 35 years. The duo with Anthony hasn’t been heard in years, and others like the duos with Myra and Arturo are projects I’ve always wanted to do. If words come out of this duo process at the Stone, fine; but mostly the improvisations will be an older kind of storytelling for me. I will also have the pleasure of playing with the groups I’m most associated with: The Jazz Passengers, Sotto Voce and the recent Out to Lunch project.
While rehearsing last week with Arturo, he had the idea of playing “The Nearness of You,” a song I always loved. Arturo discussed how the song always seemed full of ambiguity, and I felt that too. That ambiguity was part of what I always found beautiful about it. Musically I remember both my dad [also a saxophonist] playing it, and how it in organ bars while I played in  Charlie Earland’s band, I felt it swing in ways that were almost oblivious to the lyrics. So I’m going to do a version of that song in every single duo.
Photo: Charna Meyers

Full schedule below:
6/2 Tuesday
8 pm
Roy Nathanson and Curtis Fowlkes Duo
Roy Nathanson (sax) Curtis Fowlkes (trombone)
10 pm
The Jazz Passengers
Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) Roy Nathanson (sax) Brad Jones (bass) Bill Ware (vibes) Sam Bardfeld (drums)
6/3 Wednesday (RJP)
8 pm
Marc Ribot and Roy Nathanson duo
Marc Ribot (guitar) Roy Nathanson (sax, poetry)
10 pm
Roy Nathanson Organ quartet feat. Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot (guitar) Greg Lewis (Hammond B3 organ) Nasheet Waits (drums) Roy Nathanson (sax)
6/4 Thursday
8 pm
Myra Melford and Roy Nathanson duo
Myra Melford (piano) Roy Nathanson (sax, vocal)
10 pm
Russ Johnson’s Still Out to Lunch
Roy Nathanson (sax) Myra Melford (piano) Brad Jones (bass) George Schuller (drums) Russ Johnson (trumpet)
6/5 Friday (SC)
8 pm
Roy Nathanson and Anthony Coleman duo (Lobster and Friend)
Anthony Coleman (piano) Roy Nathanson (sax)
10 pm
Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce
Roy Nathanson, Napoleon Maddox (beatbox) Tim Kiah (bass) Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) Jerome Harris (guitar) Sam Bardfeld (violin)
6/6 Saturday
8 pm
Arturo O’Farrill and Roy Nathanson duo
Arturo O’Farrill (piano) Roy Nathanson (sax)
10 pm
Institute for Collaborative Education All Star Band
Roy Nathanson, Isaiah Barr (saxes) Leo Hardman-Hill (trumpet) Sean Sondregger (sax) Max Balton (guitar) Nadeghe Giraudet (vocals) Zuri Gordon (poetry) Pete Karp (drums) Zara Acosta (clarinet)
6/7 Sunday
8 pm
Roy Nathanson, Napoleon Maddox, Claire Daly Trio
Roy Nathanson (alto and soprano saxes) Napoleon Maddox (beatbox) Claire Daly (baritone sax)
10 pm
Roy Nathanson with Zack O’Farrill Trio

Phillip Johnston's Many Moods (And The Microscopic Septet, in Three Acts)

photo by Andrew Cowen

Composer and saxophonist Phillip Johnston has been living in Sydney, Australia for the past decade. Yet his music still speaks of and to downtown Manhattan, of an attitude that had little use for convention and that grew out of a scene full of willing co-conspirators. This wide-ranging music was first heard some 30-odd years ago in now-defunct clubs, yet its sound and attitude endures.
Through the years, some critics have seemed to overlook Johnston’s obvious talent and his large and fascinating body of work—his unusual blend of early-jazz elements and late-breaking ideas; the casual, even grudging sense of humor that never hid the seriousness of his accomplishment; the ways in which he’d bond tightly with a single musician (like accordionist Guy Klusevcek) or lend coherence to a wild amalgam of players for large-scale pieces. It was as if Johnston might as well have been living in, well, Sydney.
Maybe now, as he arrives in New York City for an extended March run beginning tonight, Johnston can be celebrated as a returning hero. Or just an extremely talented and motivated guy with a soprano sax (he also plays alto, but the soprano horn is his signature), a bulging bag of original compositions, a loosely connected set of wild ideas, and enough ensembles to them all justice. A guy whose music never really left town.
The core of what might be an extended 60th birthday party for Johnston here in New York City is his weeklong residency at John Zorn’s club, The Stone, presenting twelve different musical offering over 6 nights, from March 3 through 8. These will include both new and old collaborations, ranging through solo soprano saxophone, a series of duos and trios, and some medium-sized ensembles. While Johnston is primarily known for carefully notated compositions, many of these evenings will feature improvisation, both free and structured. Some of these will be groups that have not performed together for quite a while, ranging from Phillip Johnston’s Idea, a band from the punk-funk days in New York in the 1980s that used to play at venues like CBGB and Tramps, to his duo with Guy Klucevsek.
An annotated schedule is here.
I first got to know Johnston through the group he co-led with pianist Joel Forrester, The Microscopic Septet—a wildly idiosyncratic, devastatingly accomplished ensemble that, from first stirrings in 1980 through dissolution in 1992, built a small, devoted following and a big catalog of brilliant tunes. (Yet the Micros seemed never really to die…)
One centerpiece of this March Phil-apalooza is a mini-festival of sorts focused on the possibilities within the Micros chemistry. Continue reading “Phillip Johnston's Many Moods (And The Microscopic Septet, in Three Acts)”