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…the distance between the living and the dead and the distance between the living.”

            —Frank Murphy, poet 

The instrument doesn’t give a damn.”

            —Bill Dixon, trumpet player, painter, composer

Hello again from the city of light. I’m sure I’m, ha, greatly missed. I know I’ve missed you and all the good music, poetry, and art in New York this past month. One thing about Paris, it hasn’t completely become an overcrowded ghost town filled with designer dogs, designer donuts, and endless lines of folks waiting to buy fancy milkshakes and raw cookie dough—or maybe I just haven’t seen it yet, zombie that I am. Anyway, here goes:

Ugly Duckling Presse (UDP) has gone vinyl with two releases. The first is by guitarist David Grubbs and drummer Eli Keszler. Grubbs, who is known for (amongst other things) accompanying poet Susan Howe, demonstrates his writing abilities on side A of the LP, One and One Less. Grubbs reads several of his pieces accompanied by Keszler. Grubbs’s voice is firm, calm, and assured. Keszler’s accompaniment couldn’t be more inventive, gracious, or empathetic. Side B consists of a sound installation originally done by the duo for the M.I.T. exhibition Open Tunings. It is a dense and intense sheet of intermeshing sounds. The package comes with a foldout that graphs the installation, supplies acknowledgements, and provides a good portion of the text, much of which deals with music in concrete and abstract terms, presented like poetic storytelling:

“Was the singer silenced? Did the Long Island Sound?”

“Now that the audience is assembled for the musicians bruited first contact with an instrument we can’t yet visualize and cannot imagine what it can be made to sound like”

“Audience, musician, heap”

“In the absence of scale, degree, even of continuum” 

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The other vinyl release from UDP is Wayne Koestenbaum’s Lounge Act which is just that, or maybe not. The poet plays piano as he breezily, irreverently, comically, and most assuredly politically (in)correctly talks his way through Scriabin, Chopin, Faure, Milhaud, and Poulenc. It’s a live performance at REDCAT Gallery in L.A. Koestenbaum states in the liners, “I feel more comfortable playing piano in public if I’m talking while I play…my lounge act treads near danger in order to find a form of sincerity.”

His stories range from Scriabin’s closet gayness, Rosa Luxembourg’s encounter with Emma Goldman, to getting his tubes tied at CVS while imparting details of the composers’ lives that he’s presenting. They run the gamut from poor Chopin’s cough to a heavy bisexual Brando tale, while actually in some crazy way doing justice to the music. “What is a body? It is a musical being divided into measures.” Not for the faint of heart. 

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The latest issue of Pioneer Works Journal includes insightful interviews with Milford Graves and John Ashbery (timely), plus Victoria Keddie, Andrew Lampert, Yuka Honda, Esperanza Spalding, and many more. It is a beautifully done, large formatted magazine.

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Mary Halvorson’s first week-long engagement at the Village Vanguard with her octet was a complete success. The band included Jon Irabagon, Ingrid Laubrock, Susan Alcorn, and Ches Smith. The oddly shaped compositions were a mix of inside/outside and went from extremely mellow to incredibly chaotic in an instant, with Mary’s unpredictable guitar there to always throw us off balance. The others, who like Halvorson have a multitude of projects, were impeccable as individual and collective voices. Catch them next time they’re around.

Caught clarinetist Sylvain Kassap and bassist Benjamin Duboc along with Francois Tusques, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Sabir Mateen, and Joelle Leandre while in Paris, and Frank Grotowski in Germany. Kassap will be in New York in mid-November. Catch him if you can.

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Tony Malaby at his best incorporates incredible amounts of structure while at the same time disrupting that structure. In his ever-expanding diverseness Malaby has also taken part in Fred Hersch’s ongoing, ambitious undertaking of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which appeared in September at Lincoln Center. I spoke to Tony recently, during a three-day stint at Cornelia Street Café, about how he seemed to be one of the few artists I knew who didn’t have an agenda. Who didn’t have a million different projects partly for the sake of getting grants. Just Head, Heart, and Hands. Just going where the music takes him. Just playing as pure as possible. “Courage,” he said, “It takes courage. That’s why I don’t make a lot of money.” Other things were discussed, and then there was: THE MUSIC.


       pliable malaby / head mirrored glass / hopeful multiple live wires / strong candidly candled tremor / the electricity in action / what spots authenticity /  it is within the grasp of how & why / though neither is important in the mix  / just how good drink affects the body & not necessarily how it is conducted in the mind / how the mind wanders within its stationery post of plausibility & possibilities / & extracts / solos / & bypasses / & why where within does one with the same but different voice react to the other’s approach / here it is / a positive profile /  windows & each reflection seen within each / reflecting the other’s voice… 

                             this is what that has done to me! 

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Peter Gannushkin, whose photos grace the wall of the Stone, has a lovely little catalogue of black and white photos simply and aptly titled World Traveller. Russian-born, long-time Brooklyn resident, and avid music lover Gannushkin travels the world chronicling the musicians he has heard and come to revere. In this mere 4 × 6 inch, thirty-four page book of sharp, well-contrasted images, we experience Barre Phillips, Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, Lotte Anker, Magda Mayas, Joe McPhee, Hamid Drake, and a host of others either in casual repose or in performances from Brooklyn to Norway to Austria. This gem should be explored time and time again, as should the musicians it depicts. 

“Designer dogs, designer donuts.” Illustration by Megan Piontkowski.
“Designer dogs, designer donuts.” Illustration by Megan Piontkowski.

Speaking of the Stone, for those of you not aware of it yet, the club will close officially in January and move to the New School’s glass room on West 13th Street off Sixth Avenue starting February 2018, with the same structure but fewer nights a week. The room holds about the same amount of people but is clean, has better acoustics, and above all toilet access during the music. The only things missing are the hip, funky atmosphere, a green room, and sadly all those great photos. The old Stone had its semi-comfy musty basement whereas in the new venue the artists hang out in the hall. But hey, there’s central air, more comfortable seats, and pleasant security guards.  

Matt Wilson’s latest effort is a tribute to poet Carl Sandburg. Wilson grew up a town away from Sandburg in Illinois and was nourished on his poetry, so to some this project comes as no surprise. The music is snappy, fun, and like Wilson and Sandburg, very American. It fluctuates between sung and spoken versions of the poems. The readers include Sandburg and a unique array of musicians: Christian McBride, Carla Bley, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Rufus Reid, John Scofield, etc. The CD also includes long-time musical collaborators of Wilson like Ron Miles. Try it out. It’s as tasty as apple pie.

Another combination of spoken word, song, and music to pick up is the heartbreaking, strength-giving Rebel Portraiture CD by the Liberation Music Collective. Inspired by Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, this CD creates—in both music and word—moving portraits of those slain throughout the world for speaking out and fighting for justice. Included are a piece on Kent State and pieces on “martyrs” like Ruquia Hassan and Noxolo Nogwaza. These short “afterlife” pieces and others on this project reinforce what has been and still is ongoing abroad and at home.

As a friend and an ardent listener, Maurice, puts it, “Challenge your assumptions.” 

For John Ashbery.



Steve Dalachinsky

Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become one—the french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2017

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