Peter Brotzmann/Joe McPhee, presented by Experimental Arts Union of Florida Karpeles Manuscript Museum, 101 W. 1st St., Jacksonville Tuesday, June 4, 8pm Tickets: $20 (advance) $30 (at the door); brotzmannmcphee.eventbrite.com/ http://
Free-jazz is a niche market within a niche market, so all of those involved in making, marketing and presenting such music are engaged in a labor of love—as are the fans, of course. Literally so, in the case of Jamison Williams: The saxophonist, who helped found the Experimental Arts Union of Florida (EAUF) late last year, took a financial leap to bring the pioneering saxophonist Peter Brotzmann to town for a duet concert with Joe McPhee on Tuesday, June 4. Williams spent much of the two months prior to the performance working random jobs to cover his ass in case the ticket-buying public flaked on him the way local media often does with such material. (Although my colleague Nick McGregor did write an excellent article and inteview with Brotzmann/McPhee previewing the show for Folio Weekly.) Thankfully, Williams is used to thankless work on behalf of the cause. This writer has heard him sing the praises of Brotzmann since we were both teenagers in the Clinton Years, building our out-jazz skill-sets via retailers like Stripmine Records, Coconuts, CD Warehouse, and public assets like the Jacksonville Public Library and the one at UNF, both of which maintain boss jazz collections; and one can’t forget the libraries in Gainesville and Orlando—studded with out-of-print titles like precious jewels in brass knuckles, glorious. Trade notes, trade fours, trade mix-tapes, building archives. Being a jazz fan is fun, first and foremost, but it’s also the hardest work in fandom, and Williams embodies that spirit. A former punk-rock drummer, Williams abruptly shifted into jazz over a decade ago, becoming largely self-taught on alto and soprano while founding his own Vantage Bulletin Publishing label to market the music being made within his circles. After years of performing in random bars, clubs and coffee-shops (often as part of the region’s burgeoning “noise” scene), Williams made the jump into opening his own place. +SoLo Gallery opened on Bay St. in 2012, right by Underbelly, and it was a hub for improvised music of all kinds prior to its premature demise that same year.
The EAUF emerged from those experiences, as Williams and his colleagues wanted to devise a more formalized mode of streamlining their collaborative efforts. It may well be that, the less structured the music is, the more necessary it is to organize the musicians, so as to make the most of what is ultimately a limited audience. Williams has shown infinitely more patience in that regard that most could muster, and it is for that reason only that Brotzmann, 72, is coming here from Germany for what may be his only performances in the state of Florida ever. There was no other alternative, no second choice. Williams has gone 180 degrees, and then 360, and then another 180, coming back around to the place he began with Brotzmann: as a fan. “I used to go to the Jacksonville library three times a week, checking out stacks of discs,” he says. “I wound up picking up an album with a great cover, simple, clean, and resonated with me, called ‘Machine Gun’ by Peter Brotzmann.” Recorded in May, 1968, “Machine Gun” is the seminal document of the European free-jazz scene, a commercial tipping-point in both the LP and (later) CD formats. Brotzmann’s sidemen include other heavyweights of that scene like saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist Peter Kowald and ace drummer Han Bennink; the music burns with an intensity appropriate for what was, at that very moment, the height of disorder, discord and discontent in the post-war western world, and small wonder that resonated so quickly. Its re-release in 1971 helped put the Free Music Productions (FMP) label on the map, helping to spawn an explosion of this type of material in the 1970 and ‘80s through labels like ESP-Disk, Soul Note, Hat Hut, etc., running parallel to stuff like the AACM in Chicago. The album was first issued on CD in 1990, and ended up at the Jacksonville Public Library soon after; I listened to the same copy Williams did, but it not leave as profound an impression. Today, there is a global network of improvised musicians and labels and venues catering to that stuff, including hundreds of musicians and fans just here in Florida (for whom the EAUF was created), and Peter Brotzmann’s contributions are a very big reason why. “Black Flag is ultimately my rooted source of musical passion, [and] everything Brotzmann said just seemed like a perfect and natural communicated message for my ears. I could listen to ‘Machine Gun’ all day, and I did. ‘Machine Gun’ reminded me of Black Flag, only with horns, and much much bigger. I could understand it. I can appreciate that sound, brute power, acoustically; he makes a non-amplified instrument instantly electric. Listen to his tone, the power, his musical constitution; that is singularly the most powerful projection a horn has ever made; I mean, people talk about [Pharoah] Sanders’ sound, [Albert] Ayler’s and [Ornette] Coleman’s, [but] Brotzmann is a living sonic beast: he is hardcore punk gone jazz.” The Karpeles is a really interesting choice for hosting Brotzmann/McPhee. It’s got a very scenic exterior, sitting just a couple blocks back from downtown—well within walking distance of the jazz festival action. Imposing columns and high stairs lead into big wooden doors; the place was built as a church in 1921 and reborn as the Karpeles in 1992. The building is part of an organization comprising a dozen privately-owned museums working together to house and present key documents and manuscripts from history. With over a million items in the collection already, a steady stream of new materials are rotated freshly through the buildings; other nearby branches can be found in Charleston and Shreveport. The acoustics are great, as you’d expect from an old-school church; voices from the stage can be heard in the balcony, without amplification, and there’s an an in-house piano, which usually sits on the stage and may well come into play—or, shall we say, interplay. The Karpeles has hosted all kinds of events over the years; there was an exhibit of Alan Justiss memorabilia last year, and I helped judge an oratory contest there for the American Legion just a few weeks ago. For years, it was obvious that the Karpeles was an ideal spot in which to present chamber music or jazz, but as far as I know it’s not really happened before; it was the vision of Jamison Williams and the EAUF that finally put that notion into motion. Joining Brotzmann will be Joe McPhee:“He’s a powerhouse, a tentet contributor, and an American asset,” says Williams; “his direct involvement with outstanding historic free jazz figures since the 80’s is unsurpassed: Borah Bergman, Rashied Ali, Evan Parker, [Ken] Vandermark, and Brotzmann.” To call him an “instrumentalist” would be putting it lightly. Born in Miami in1939, McPhee trained on trumpet and flugelhorn, then self-taught himself on a variety of saxophones, as well as valve trombone; Williams cites Ornette Coleman as a rare example of someone proficient on brass and reeds, and I’d add UNF’s Bill Prince to that list. HatHut has released over 300 recordings since 1975—featuring artists like Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Sun Ra, Matthew Shipp, Lee Konitz, Max Roach, Mary Halvorson, Taylor Ho Bynum, Clusone 3, John Zorn and Braxton [whose “Eight (+1) Tristano Compositions 1989, for Warne Marsh” is my favorite; bought it at Stripmine Records]—and has now spun off into five distinct labels under a 15-year sponsorship deal with UBS (who’ve also helped underwrite Art Basel operations in Switzerland, Spain and Miami Beach) but the Swiss label was founded specifically to document the music of Joe McPhee. Brotzmann/McPhee are working nine cities in 13 days, from May 31-June 12: Austin; Chicago; Orlando; Jacksonville; Philadelphia; Peterborough NH (a stacked bill with Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley and saxophonist Paul Flaherty); Washington DC; Montreal; and Buffalo. In terms of the cities, and the organizations involved in booking all nine of those events, that’s really good company for Duval. It’s worth noting, also, that Florida and New York are the only states hosting Brotzmann/McPhee twice, and both shows were put together essentially by artist-run collectives. (The Civic Minded 5, in Orlando, is also hosting a free show by the Mary Halvorson Septet on Monday, July 1; more about that elsewhere.)
These two masters of modern music will work duets that night, their highly individual sounds contrasting each other, unadorned by sidemen. Coming just days after the yet another successful Jacksonville Jazz Festival (where Williams led EAUF members in a tribute to Ayler at Burro Bar), this show further cements this city as a hub for free and improvised music, which is proving an increasingly lucrative market. Tickets start at $20 for advance tickets, with some prices at $30 on the day of the show. To say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime musical opportunity puts it mildly; most American jazz fans won’t have the chance to see this even once in their lives.