Matthew Paris :: Xiccarph :: View topic - The Fort Apache Concert
The Fort Apache Concert
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Matthew Paris
 

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Post Mon Dec 22, 2003 9:32 pm - The Fort Apache Concert
There is below 125th street the common musical notion that there are polar dialectics between uptown and downtown; what are we to make of the musical realms that are further north than uptown but much more rooted in populism than the ones downtown? Aaron Davis Hall on Convent Avenue near West 135th street is a gorgeous performing arts center with gorgeously colorful Afro-Latino artifacts on the walls mirroring its mission to be a public vista for its local populations. This musical series is running a series in a part of Manhattan rather close to the ultimate uptown sanctorums of Columbia and the Manhattan School of Music; it claims to offer a fascinating look at some of the musical movements coming out an area of New York of mostly descendants of the Dominican Republic and North Carolina.
Perhaps behind this kind of concert is the notion that certain groups are on the rise in America; also there are soaring and legitimate musical worlds who are leading that inevitable ascent. Such was I think the pitch of ragtime, jazz, swing, cop and modern jazz in the first half of the 190th century. Itís a sell based on what we all are familiar with in our view of the Americana musical and cultural \post. It may be that history isnít taking up that pattern anymore. In fact it is as likely that music will accompany the descent of various groups to the bottom as it eve was that it would adorn the soaring of some groups to the posh league of the now affluent ones.
Given the cultural emptiness of materialism and the suburbs one might imagine both people and music taking a different direction than the one that animates our social causes about half a century ago. There must be more opportunity for change than a choice of the suburbs or the sewer. However, both this evening and the country in general is these days basking in the past because they don't much like the present; to them itís covertly like a set of ghostly clowns in medieval buskin haunting the New York Cloisters.
One has to be aware that jazz has not been the only museum art in town for the past quarter of a century. It does sustain the continuing careers of people who remember when it was fresh and new retro groups like those around Wynton Marsalis who listen to the dead on records and make much more money than those who made the music by reproducing what are almost authentic imitations of the past in every way but the most important ones.
Itís certainly true that in a vague way music is wedded to history. Unfortunately history is usually much more dismal that the story of individual talent. Beyond that finance and talent courts all sorts of oblivion beyond history in mysterious ways. My own perception of the Apaches was of a band not unlike the Cuban Social Club oldsters that had made a nice nearly posthumous carder of being survivors.
I don't wish forever to be the child in The Emperorís New Clothes; we havenít had any rises in ethnic groups in America in a while beyond the Asian explosion. Weíve yet to see nay Asian-American music to accompany it.
Sometimes history, untainted as it is by our will, escapes the sentimental discernment of our worst historians. We never know at the moment what is important in the present; we are always ferreting out in the past what seems in this passing season to be central though yesterday it was less than idler marginal. Optimism is not other than a perilous presumption to apply to history, culture or even common stocks.
It might be better if harder given our waxings and wanings under the moon to pitch a concert as a bunch of talented people. The Apaches has some gifted musicians, especially Larry Wills on piano. He gave his Oscar Peterson derived routines some virtuosity Peterson perhaps hadnít thought of. Joe Jerod on soprano and tenor sax was a strong player if he wasnít all that far from Lester Young.
I think we need music for the beat up a little by the beat up a little. Life is tough for all of us. Itís nice to hear a band that looks in their visage as if itís been tough for them. Outside of an occasional burst of original pianist from Larry Wills I can't say I hears a single note this evening that I hadnít heard before from other bands, mostly in their heyday a half century ago, now currently perished. Itís occurred to me that in this commercial world Wills might be told be sincere and sober managers not to be too interesting; talent mostly irritates people.
I donít know whether itís worthwhile to hear a concert of anybody unless they bring me some new idea of what music is or might be; itís a standard obviously that isnít held by too many people. One commonly hears New Yorkers say that theyíve gone to some club to hear jazz as if jazz by Charley Parker and jazz by Moe, Curly and Larry were the same thing.
I have a feeling that the audience in New York and elsewhere these days has a tendency to applaud at banalities because they are like political jingoistic axioms from demagogic lawyers who have programs they want to pass off if they are elected present to bring us a quick remedy for our woes. Music isnít about clichťs. Itís about hearing something one has never heard.
How we ever got the point where we cheer and are happy when we hear stale mimicry, are baffled and annoyed by originality I donít know. I like reliability in plumbing; I want to be astonished by the Arts. I donít know why anyone listens to records of the dead who originated music the living now imitate beyond that it is still for some magical reason startling. I;ím grateful it is. I canít explain it.
Physically this experience is different not in its music but its furniture. Even getting to Aaron Davis Hall is very different than showing up at Julliard near Lincoln Center or the Knitting Factory in Soho. One commonly takes the IRT a quarter of a mile north of Morningside heights, finds oneself in a Dominican neighborhood where everybody seems to be living outdoors, then walks up the hill to the imitation English architecture of CCNY where so many less than affluent New York students have trod to this excellent space that doesnít look physically all that different than Columbiaís Miller Hall.
On this evening, October 18th, I saw Jerry Gonzalvez and the Fort Apache band at Aaron Davis Hall. It was advertised as a concert of supposedly new trends in Latin jazz by two bands. I only saw the Apaches, porque el otro combo, Los Piratas, para razones desconcidas no llegaron. Es mejor ser invisible y muy lejos cuando esta con Piratas, verdad? However, entre nous, it turned out to be good for the Apaches. Their second set after the intermission was soulful, original and beautiful. The first set was tight and dutiful.
This is a band billed on the program as ďone of the Lagan jazz movementís most important ensembles...easily recognized for the groupís ability to bring a jazz flexibility to the Latin rhythm section. Veh iz mir. The notes go on to say: ďAs noted in the New York Times: A Fort Apache tune may start out swinging with the feel of the drummer Ark Blakey, then move into a Cuban rhumba, then take on a shuffle, then return to swing.Ē
Itís a meretricious pitch I found on this night to be at least less than half true. The Fort Apache Band is more of a retro fusion combo interesting in ways I hadnít expected to savor from this sort of pitch. If people had come to hear salsa with jazz overtones they must have been surprised. These guys were playing pre-Parker and Gillespie pretty straight small club jabs circa 1940 with very little Latin overtones.
The idiom of these un-Indian Apaches is much less cognitively a departure from jazz than Dizzy Gillespieís excursion into Latin rhythm and congas in the 50s and 60s; the Apaches are an old time jazz band with a few cosmetic conga drums. The Congas were fairly marginal to the musical impulse. It wasnít African either in the way that, let us say, Candoble and percussion ensembles in Brazil are, or how Cuban music often can be. If two of their musicians are ethnically Black, the other three Latins, the Apaches are retro and eclectic as the Times article implies; in fact half their music would have seemed very familiar, even danceable, to the Roseland world of the 1930s if harmonically they were more like Chick Correa and Stanley Clarke than the old swing masters.
I didnít hear anything like Art Blakey tonight or even a smidgin of the now retired Jazz Messengers. Two of the five performers performed as pure Afro-Americans; I heard very little old or new Latin sound either. There were however as in many salsa bands two percussionists, Jerry Gonzalvez playing his conga drums with no authority as he had in his flugelhorn and trumpet solos.
That trumpet might have bane a cornet, which really makes him a traditionalist since that is a 1920s jazz instrument. As a percussionist, if one thinks of the piano and double bass as rhythm instruments, I had a feeling Gonzalvez wasnít a serious conga player; it was a bit of plastic surgery for the hype he repaired to now and again to pay honor to the market. Many of the songs they ran with a written out head and tail, then supposedly improvised solos with a the rhythm section in the middle in the Hot Five and Hot Seven manner, were to me not as persuasive as their very lovely ensemble work.
This is not, irrespective of their hype, a hot band that knocks one out with their virtuosity and daring vigor. They all look like old musicians that have played a lot of strange places in towns they donít know, living in anonymous hotel rooms on tour and doing gigs in front of many strangers.
The two melodic instruments, Jerry Gonzalvez doubling on trumpet and flugelhorn, Joe Jerod doubling on soprano and alto sax, much like the lineups of timbre in modern jazz bands at the Five Spot in the late 50s. They ere still playing heads, then supposedly improvising solos for each instrument leading to a written out or at least rehearsed ensemble finale, much as Dixieland bands did in the 1920s. I would have preferred more full ensemble playing instead of the faked invented solos.
Jerry Gonzalvez, playing in the low register with a mute, often sounded like early Miles Davis if he had a harsh and piercing quality of loss and life beyond hope in his playing that was entirely his own. All of these players seemed to be in their late 50s, perhaps over 60. They had the look of musicians who had been around and about for decades. Not merely many of the styles they played in but their songs they picked like Tenderly were composed a half century or more ago.
Gonzalvez has an old time Iíve been around the block quality with his black hat and bopster dark glasses that suggests not an innovator or leader in trends but a long time service to the past. One might say the same of his band, all men not far from Social Security. There is lots of grey hair and lack of it altogether among them.
Had I been their publicist, I would have billed them as they are, intriguing relics of a prior time, eclecticism who have take up many new influences, essentially 40s jazz musicians rather than salsa people, musicians who have a memory and a Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra quality of having been in their old place and times rather than how they were pitched. I understand that when one gets beyond friends and relatives in the music business one reaches out to markets that may not want to hear what one is offering. Still theyíll only show up once if theyíve been cozened; they wonít come back If one travels fast enough that may not be a problem.
The people who go to music concerts in volume are oldsters, music school students and jingoistic ethnic cadres. His audience was ethnic. Yet they got basically a band that wasnít retro because they had been there at the organs with the idiom was all fresh and really intrepid; it was a group that was bringing the crowd a bit of authentic musical history.
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