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No Roads Are All Roads Lead To No Roads

Certain things you hear hit you and hurt you. I remember coming out of my punk rock phase into the arms of “Money Jungle” by Duke Ellington and being enthralled. What were these sounds? Who could make such noise and thunder with just a piano and bass and drums? Was there really rage after (for me) and before (for chronology’s sake) punk? How could one note on the piano express such beauty and such discontent?

The Duke has been with me ever since.

And so has his most detested label: jazz. But by the time I came to buy “Unit Structures” by Cecil Taylor I had (like most arrogant youths) a pretty good idea of what was and what wasn’t jazz. And what jazz wasn’t was Cecil Taylor. Muscular, sure. Full of rage, you bet. But to my well seasoned ears (I had been listening to hard-core punk since I was 11 and Duke Ellington since I was 15) Cecil just didn’t have the goods. So at the tender age of I6 gave up on Taylor and all the subsequent avant-jazz and became a mouldy fig.

At 18 I came back and tried with no results.

Same at 20.

Again at 22.

I kept coming back to “Unit Structures” and I kept getting rid of it. In fact, it is a record I have bought and sold 5 times.

Which brings me to the moment where a sound hits you and hurts. The next time I came back to Cecil I decided to skip “Unit Structures” and hear “Silent Tongues” and “Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within)” – two records of Cecil in his grandest form playing live and solo. I was devastated. I heard it all. Everything that arrogant critics claim they can hear: Brubeck, the church, and most of all Ellington. It was all there, just waiting for me to hear it in the right way at the right moment and for it to sucker punch me in the right spot.

I don’t try to convert people to Cecil. You can’t. All you can do is tell your loved ones over and over again “His music is beautiful, just keep listening”.

It is. It hasn’t stopped inspiring me yet.


Eastern Sounds

This is a picture of my Chinese Ocarina, also called a xun – or less simply, a Chinese Globular Flute. I first heard the amazing sounds of this instrument on a Yusef Lateef record called Eastern Sounds. I bought the record because I was talking with a guy at a record store about impulsively buying ethnic instruments and never learning to play them. He said one instrument he always wanted was a Chinese Globular Flute that he had heard on the aforementioned Yusef Lateef album. I impulse bought the album, and the next day I was at Musideum impulse buying the flute.

I know. I have a problem.

The flute languished in a corner with the many other ethnic flutes I have impulse bought over the years. But I kept thinking about it. And I kept thinking about hockets.

This weekend, amidst the terror and trouble of the G20 summit in Toronto, Herbie Hancock played a concert at Nathan Philip’s square. Herbie has done everything – he has played out, he has played in, he charted the first turntable sounds on his hit record Rockit – but Herbie also used a hocket in the introduction to his song Watermelon Man. It’s a sound one doesn’t forget, and today I finally made a piece of music using both my Chinese Globular Flute and a hocket:

It isn’t as funky as Herbie’s, but no one is perfect. I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing something funky under it, feeling like I was appropriating music that didn’t belong to me. Yet I have no problem poaching from Chinese, Balinese and pygmy music. Influence is funny that way.

Ethnic music – not including C&W and African-American Vernacular music – has always been an idyll for me. A strange, embarrassing respite best represented by the homoerotic paradise seen below:

I wish I could be there right now.

F for Fake

Old World