New Music Now 002
Pat Greene and Matt Gorney talk about Promises, from Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Stream this week’s show for new music from an unexpected throuple keeping it together through 9 movements of solid jazz to put on while you do any darn thing at all.
Today’s episode was produced by Frank Dreyer, Ian Koss, Pat Greene, Rose Petralia, and Gregory Schaefer. Theme music was composed by Avi Bortnick—check him out online at avibortnick.com. Big thanks to Pat Greene from Ink 19 and Matt Gorney.
Pat Greene: I’m here with my old friend, Matt Gorney who I think, haven’t you written for Ink 19 before?
Matt Gorney: Probably in the ’90s would be, would be my last bylines, in Ink 19, yeah.
P: Well, and Matt Gorney started the Civic Minded Five, he does Jazz in the Bible Belt on WPRK at Rollins College. What is the Civic Minded Five real quick before we get too far into it?
M: Creative music presenter.
P: I’m one of the Five, so I actually wanted an to answer to this.
M: You wanted an answer, so. And that’s something that we’ve been doing since the second half of the ’90s.
P: Wow. When I was like 7, I think.
P: So today Matt and I are going to [play] the new album Promises, uh, by Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders and uh…
M: London Symphony Orchestra.
P: Oh yeah. Let’s not forget them.
M: Big project.
P: Matt, what did you, what’d you think about all this?
M: I think the first point is, uh, this is, I think this is first of all, just a record to listen to. This is one of those records that makes a lot of sense in quarantine. There is…
P: I like that you said that. I like was actually thinking of the same sort of thing.
M: Right? I mean, there’s certain records that have a certain, um, they’re not musak. There is an emotional thread that develops on the record, but at the same time, uh, there are also these soothing balm-like sonic moments in it as well.
P: And it’s meditative, but it has substance. It’s not just like, it’s not background music, like you said, it’s sort of…
M: And it’s interesting to see that there are these certain records that, um, you know, the last Mary Latimore record seemed to really resonate with people because it’s interesting, but also at the same time, there is this sonic balm to it. So it is, um, it’s not background music, but nor is it intrusive foreground music, if you care to make the distinction.
P: Yeah, cause I feel like it’s, it’s not background music, but it’s something that I think could be played for different audiences and they would just, you could play it if you had people over at the house and nobody would be like, “What the fuck is this?” or, you know. Well, I’m sure somebody would… have the right people over.
P: But I’m like, but it would be something that would, it’s also the idea that, uh, like if you just put this on at the house and you had a Pharoah Sanders fan at the house, I don’t know if they’d necessarily pick out that that’s Pharoah Sanders, but…
M: They might, but you know, there is, obviously if you’ve heard enough of the players, you’ll get the phrasing from somebody or the tone of the saxophone and, uh, and his, you know, at the age he’s at now hasn’t really changed that much. No, I mean, the tone is still there. There is obviously less reed biting and, and, uh, overtone, you know, like overt, loud overtone playing in it, but that just that more-so fits the nature of the recording than the fact that, you know, he is now an elder statesman of jazz.
P: Well, it’s funny because I was thinking, I was telling somebody else about how he might’ve been a little more like the more melodic free-jazz people. But then I was looking, going back and listening to something like a classic, some of the Impulse recordings and listening to, like even like The Creator Has a Master Plan, and I heard a lot more kind of stuff that probably could irk a person who’s not listening to that kind of music, you know?
M: Right. Yeah. And pretty early on, he was doing both meditative music and you know, the energy music of the ’60s. Um, and you know, the point is, when you go back and you look up the beginning of his recording career and he gets to New York, you know, his, a couple of early mentors of his are going to be Sun Ra in the first half of the ’60s. And Sun Ra, regardless of how, you know, perceived as out he was, there was, he always leaned on that, on jazz tradition and the blues.
M: So, you know, when you look into Sun Ra as, a, you know, being a band member and a lifestyle, um, you know, Sun Ra had these intense rehearsals, you know, sometimes they would go around the clock and would just end. Um, so in effect, you know, people that joined Sun Ra’s group were, were going to basic training, they were getting an education, they were getting… you know, it depends. They were either getting educated or re-educated in some cases when you were in Sun Ra, and standards would always be part of the language.
P: And he’s also, it was, I was reading the interview. Then when he ended up with Coltrane, John Coltrane, and then Alice Coltrane, uh, but he’s, he was talking about how he really loved Coltrane’s ballads, which I was kind of like, I thought that was really interesting too, because, uh, because I also look at both of those guys, Coltrane and Pharoah, kind of being, having a similar sort of ballad feel and also just going way out there, too.
M: Absolutely. I mean, you know, the, uh, notion of mentorship. Is he going to the second half of the ’60s, between, I mean, you know, people hearing Coltrane being in New York, and just hearing him, and getting an education, but then playing with him, you know, as yet another thing. And it’s really not that different than Sun Ra, right? I mean, you have, you’re pushing new boundaries, and you always will think about pushing new boundaries, but there’s always, uh, you know, you always reference uh, the language of older jazz music and blues. That’s always part of the story. And, um, yeah, that was the Impulse Pharoah Sanders records, I think anybody who heard that in the time, with only what came before that, would know, “Oh my gosh, there is this really strong Coltrane reference.” It’s much easier to see, you know, because now there’s decade after decade after decade for us to use in context. But I think that if in the early ’70s, if you got an Impulse, uh, Pharoah Sanders record, and Coltrane was on Impulse, it was like, here’s the continuing, along with Alice Coltrane, here is the continuation of the Coltrane legacy.
P: Yeah. I thought what are you, um, ‘cause I really didn’t know too much about Floating Points and Sam Shepard. And you also said that’s not the same Shepherd that was friends with Patti Smith.
M: I don’t think so. I don’t believe that was this guy.
P: Yeah, this guy’s like 35. I think he’s British.
P: What, he has a doctorate in, uh, I can’t even say the word?
P: And what was that?
M: That was the studying of the variability in genetics without change… without altering DNA, like how the variance, uh, or the mutable ability of how genetics affect, uh, affect the human being or affect an organism.
P: But I think he studied music composition as an undergrad, too.
M: And why not?
P: Yeah, so it was just, I think, but I also, because a lot of times, I mean, somebody that comes kind of from a, from an electronic background, you don’t see the, you know, you don’t necessarily know if they have all the references, but yeah.
P: You said that, I think you said it sounded more like a Floating Points album than Pharoah, what did you say about that?
M: Yeah, and, and when I heard this was a new release and it, I mean, as a new release, it clearly struck me as, um, this is not a Pharoah Sanders project. It’s a project that Pharoah Sanders, uh, you know, attached himself to.
M: and you know, if you do the due diligence of looking this up a little bit, uh, Pharoah Sanders apparently contacting Floating Points is, uh, you know, in most cases it’s usually the opposite, right? You’re a composer. You come up with a composition, uh, you’re looking for funding. You know, especially if you want to do something with, uh, London Symphony Orchestra, you have to find the funding to pay, you know, uh, for union rehearsals and it just is a, is an expensive thing, so you’re always looking for a hook and how to get this thing made. It’s writing the, I’m not saying writing the composition is easier, but the real task for a contemporary new music composer is to how to get this thing realized and, um, and, and get an audience to hear it. And the next step is how to make the music good enough, uh, to attain the composer’s vision. M: So it’s easy to get people to play your music, but often, it will fall short because of lack of rehearsal or it’s articulated in a way that didn’t express the composers original intent. So in a lot of cases, what you have is somebody will create music, they’re, they get funding, but that funding will be contingent upon, “Who can you attach to it as a soloist?”
M: So this is a very common thing that we’re, if we’re telling this to a composer, or a composer hears this, they would be like, “Yeah, no kidding.” Um, that’s the process.
M: But what’s interesting about this is Pharoah Sanders apparently contacted Sam Shepherd, this guy Floating Points, and it became a project, but really it, it is a Floating Points project that Pharoah Sanders basically is coloring. And that is…
P: I thought it worked well though.
M: It does work well. And I think that, um, you know, my last listen-through of this, more obviously, it’s a pretty subtle piece of work in a lot of ways. And a a lot more things sort of came out in relief in the last listen to it. It’s, uh, give it a few listens and, uh, you know, it’s something that you can, you can put on while you do, any darn thing, any, you know, any function in your life and it, and it may just mean something different based on how actively you’re consuming it or how passively you’re consuming.
P: What also was, it’s nine movements, but it kind of is played like it’s one piece, like you don’t notice the movement change, I mean, for the most part, but there are, that doesn’t mean it’s all the same sort of thing, but it does have changes, I mean. But, but you don’t like, between tracks, you don’t necessarily notice you move to another movement.
M: To me, I heard it and if somebody had told me that this was, uh, maybe, a John Luther Adams piece, you know, that uses some electronics and uses orchestra in John Luther Adams, working with, uh, a pretty open toolkit in a lot of his pieces, uh, you know, upon, upon first glance, it’d be like, yeah, it does sort of sound like John Luther Adams will, there’ll be, um, a maybe deceptively simple motif that recurs and, uh, and maybe slowly modifies as the piece moved forward, but that motif, uh, will be in more than one movement or over a longer period in a piece that would represent one movement. And, uh, initially yeah. It felt like, gosh, this does, this does sort of track like a John Luther album. Some John Luther Adams pieces would track. Um, and then because it’s so open, it’s quite easy for somebody who is, is sensitive to is to how this is developing that, uh, you know, Pharoah Sanders would basically just plug himself in.
M: Uh, in sort of, it would be interesting to find out like how determinate the points where he’s playing…
P: I was actually thinking about a lot about that. Yeah. And I didn’t know if it was like, sort of like, it almost felt like this sort of like, it could have been like an Exquisite Corpse kind of situation where they were, um, Sam Shepherd passed the recording on and just said, you know, play to this, or…
M: There was a lot of that going on in quarantine, but I have a feeling, this is an elaborate enough project that it predates quarantine, and, um, you know, it’s almost better to not know maybe how they assembled it…
P: But you’re going to wonder.
M: Yeah, you know, you’re gonna, if you care, you’re gonna wonder.
M: In my head I’m always like, well, you know, this is a Floating Points project, uh, he got the funding to attach London Symphony Orchestra, which is, you know, that basic for-hire orchestra and they’re open for a lot, you know, that’s their, that’s their provenance, and they’re open for a lot of that. And look, they got Pharoah Sanders attached, so therefore we’re doing it. And, um, you know, not to denigrate the process, because I think Pharoah Sanders, um, you know, sounds like Pharoah Sanders, but also was very complementary to, um, to the process as a whole.
P: Yeah, and we were, we were talking about, um, before about the, how it sort of resolved and it felt like it felt like sort of that the resolution like A Love Supreme or something like that, where it had this kind of, it could go out and it kind of came in at the end and kind of mellowed out a little or sort of, uh, it was, it was a resolution, I guess.
M: Yeah. The, I think the more you listen to it between movements, you would pick out more things that were really developing in the first four movements. And you start to get an idea that we are going to have an emotional… and maybe some motific change as you go, in the sixth movement, it really comes out.
M: And when you get to the sixth movement, you realize this is not simple meditative music, or you’re going to do yoga to it, or get your, you know, or go have a massage therapist work on you to this record it, it moves into another space. And then in the sixth movement, all of a sudden it kind of felt like, okay, well, here’s this story developing and maybe, maybe Promises is a threnody or possibly a keen and is in a way either, um, moaning or questioning, uh, the process or what this, uh, what this project stands for. And of course, uh, it doesn’t hang there very long, right, and then it sort of, it’s almost like a flight, right? I mean, so, you know, you get in a jet, it’s going to start roughly at ground level and it’s going to get up to 36,000 feet or whatever, and when you get up there, it’s kind of bumpy, maybe, you know, you get up in the clouds and that’s the sixth movement. And in that final movement as you mentioned there’s a resolution, and who the heck is, is Pharoah Sanders, you know, training ground in the ’60s, but John Coltrane as you’re mentioning like “Resolution” by Coltrane and, um, in a way the final movement is the wheels touch the ground and everybody realizes they’re gonna get to live for another day and get off the flight.
P: Yeah, I enjoyed the album. Uh, so did you enjoy it or did you sort of, are you sort of like ambivalent about it, or you are a sort of a, or was it just perfect for your situation?
M: I think the first time through was I, you know, the idea of trying to listen to a new record every day or as new music every day? It wasn’t one I immediately thought I would come back to. And, uh, this was the perfect opportunity to like, “Let’s talk about this and come back to it.” And, uh, coming back to it, it slowly reveals, as so many, you know, records that were thought of as, you know, like ’70s ambient, or, you know, late ’70s or early ’80s sort of, uh, spiritual, New Age record or some sort of, um, you know, like weird hybrid animus, New Age, you know, meditation type of thing, and, um, you know, if you’re into, if you’re into that and, uh, you know, there’s enormous amounts of sort of Japanese, um, obscure Japanese artists doing that, and if that plugs into your life, um, this is, uh, this is maybe one to put in rotation.
P: I think that, like, with me too, like the first time I listened to it, I think I was, it was a bit of a superficial listen, then I think that I had a little, like, I might’ve, it might’ve came off a little bit as background music to me the first time, but the second time I definitely went deeper and I kind of really thought, like, you know… but I think I do that a lot of times, but something like this, it’s easier to do it with because it’s, it does have a meditative characteristic and then you kind of, you can get away with listening superficially…
M: Easygoing. You know, that’s all music, and giving something a second and a third and a fourth listen, and spread it out over a period of time. You know, I remember, uh, in the first half of the ’80s, probably the mid-‘80s, a friend giving me a copy of Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come and I put it on knowing it was an important record, and I felt like, well, I’m not quite ready for this yet, but I didn’t trade it away. You know, I kept it in the collection and then at a certain point, put it on again, and it was, it just had entered its its time and in my timeline and of course never left. And that can be said of any music.
M: Um, I could say the same thing about AC/DC’s Back in Black. I was a freshman in college, and that thing was a new release, and every knuckle-dragging doofus in every dorm cranked that out of every room, the college bar, uh, you know, the college bar, um, jukebox, it was on all the time. You know, it was just the worst thing in the world. And then later in life going back and listening to AC/DC Back in Black, and you’re like, “Well, of course this has sold 21 million copies in the US, it’s perfect.” You know, it’s, uh, it is basically, uh, a perfect expression for that type of music.
M: This meditation works for anything.
P: Yeah. And I, ‘cause I remember being a teenager and listening to the Beatles and finding out that they listened to… that John Lennon was listening to Stockhausen, or maybe the other one, John Cage. And I got these records from the library and took them home and I couldn’t fucking make heads or tails out of any of it, but then I just was determined that they would mean something to me or I would get some meaning out of it, and then I started reading about them and I was like, “Oh, I see.” And then, it is interesting, I think, to have that, to kind of find out why they’re doing some… especially when you’re young and you have no idea why anybody does anything, you know.
M: Yeah. It’s just about staying open to, um, to possibilities and not walling yourself off. You know, apparently, really it was McCartney of all people, the guy doing the, you know, the English music hall songs, that was the one.
P: Oh, really? I was going to say, I said “Lennon,” but I thought it might’ve been somebody else, too.
M: It was mainly because, um, as the band wasn’t on tour all the time of working around one another all the time as they had sort of split up and were separated, and were no longer 24/7, but importantly, McCartney stayed in London where the other musicians had sort of gone farther afield. So he was the one now with some free time going out and, uh, you know, uh, with the Beatle scholars, apparently was the guy who was introducing everybody else to, to a lot of those most avant garde things.
P: Interesting. So, Matt, um, I appreciate you doing this for me, doing this with me, I guess, for me, and we’ll have to do another one soon.
M: This was a blast. Yeah.
P: Thanks buddy.
M: Take care.
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