Another live review for All About Jazz, this time of a recent concert by bassist Bill Laswell, drummer Milford Graves, and saxophonist John Zorn. Click my concert photo below to read on.
The first studio duet of drummer Milford Graves and bassist Bill Laswell, both yielding warriors of their respective dark arts, is a selfless proclamation. Residing in their speech is the yin for the other’s yang, a drop of sun for moon.
In approaching this vessel, one does better to go below decks from the first sounding, interpreting this axis from its crux outward. And toward the end, we have that very intersection in the form of “Autopossession.” More than a title, it is a mission statement by which the body is rendered inert through spiritual process. Being a solo from Graves, it melts surrounding ice, stopping just before it reaches steam. Thought and action likewise turn into liquid. But the drummer’s is more than a beat-driven consciousness, for here the specter of regularity serves only as the reminder of a talismanic past. If the head nods at all, it is because the mind has left it behind.
Regressing a level of reality gives us “Eternal Signs,” one of four collaborative improvisations that include “Another Space” and “Another Time.” Each is a ring linked to the others in a multidirectional chain of being. Drums and bass serve as equal partners, connected by lightyears of shared experience. The energy seems violent in origin, even as it breeds nothing but harmony. A pliant strum or forceful tap: either closes the gate as easily as opening it, sealing terror exhaust from the inevitability of inhalation. The more such improvising develops, the more macroscopic it becomes, crumbling outward in an explosion of planetary dimensions. It is the repression of history, demystified in music.
Yet the most willful approach reverberates throughout the dedicatory “Sonny Sharrock,” which like its namesake unwinds the familiar into unexpected filament. Laswell applies an echo effect, allowing it to float above the ionosphere of influence over which his instrument’s dreams wander. Amid gamelan-like touches from Graves, he adds flame upon gnashing flame, so that oxygen expends itself at shaman’s touch. There is a shape to that fire, one that flits between human and animal with the unpredictability of an autumn leaf’s path. Percussive chemicals seep into those four heavy strings, while the drums eject prophecy from the pilot’s seat in favor of crash landings, leaving Laswell’s branch-bending scriptures to flutter alone in the final breeze.
There is no mystery, other than the space to which the album’s title refers. It would seem to be our own by virtue of our listening, organ-less and multiple, a mirror fogged by the breaths of gods too far away to see yet too close not to sense in the shifting of tress at night just before sleep shades your retinas. But on closer inspection the reflection is that of a star child breastfed on shadow, now spitting words of light for our foraging. It returns the gaze and whispers: Wings were not invented for flight, but flight for wings.
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Drummer Milford Graves and bassist Bill Laswell, live at The Stone in New York City. Two stalwarts of their respective instruments, passing in the night on April 22, 2014. Separately: wanderers of this musical world, toting satchels of invention for the sonically weary. Together: architects of flexible structures to house the enormity of their collective imagination.
Laswell fades into frame riding a harmonic for the ages, organic and initiatory. His is the vertical signature. Graves, meanwhile, drops to the floor and rolls around in his drums, for all the horizontal motivator. These are the stirrings beneath the floorboards of your childhood, the magic of beings you always knew were there but were sworn against discovering by parents who didn’t know any better. Now they have emerged, ready to perform.
The actions of this duo are kinetic and headstrong. Like muscles of the throat, they twitch in anticipation of speech. Only words never materialize. Graves is, nevertheless, quite vocal at peaks of expression. His hi-hat is the measure of a defibrillating heart, around which sticks converge like bones. The mounting corporeality of his playing underscores the circularity of this meeting. Laswell rides the wave, respectfully and patiently, before chorusing his approval through improvisation.
The bassist’s densities match those of Graves step for step before cutting out to leave the drummer running wildly across the savannah, of which every plant is an instrument waiting for contact of feet and hands. Laswell rejoins sagaciously, exploring the flanged interior of a fallen vessel, whose engine must be resuscitated by clean attention. He attends to broken wires and gears, giving life by electric injection.
Short blasts of data, each made knowable by the gift of vibration, project themselves across the inner ear. Motivations fall victim to their own causes. Despite having been designed for harm, the musicians are here to put an end to that cycle with their heavy light. The passion of experience wins.
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