Thursday, May 7, 2009

Valerio Cosi / Enzo Franchini: Conference of the Aquarians

My mother knew something about jazz, but I didn't want to know what it was until I was much older. I can't quite remember the moment that I decided that not only was my lack of knowledge an impediment to really understanding anything essential about music, but it was also an impediment to knowing something essential about my mother.

My mother grew up in Brockton, Mass. and whenever she was able, she escaped to Boston to go to nightclubs like Wally's and the Jazz Workshop. She always stayed after hours when, she once told me, all the really great music was played. All the people had gone, and it was just the musicians and some good friends. I have signed photos dedicated to my mother from Stan Getz and Billy Eckstine, proof that she was really there.

Educating myself, with my mother's help, was a long excercise in listening to everything until I could start to understand it. But it was the language of improv that I found most difficult. Negotiating a standard made sense, and there was a sense that no matter how out-there you went, there were still some boudaries to keep it all in check. You could veer away for a long time, but eventually you were pulled back toward that recognizable core. Even though I had spent years lisetning to experimental music, I was still not much of a risk taker. The standard was a way to keep it grounded. I could do with a little free jazz, such as Love Supreme, but that was because Coltrane was still reminsiscing bop. Eventually I found my way to avant garde klezmer, particularly the music of David Krakauer, who is certianly one of the best living reed players.

The new wave of klezmer experiments with free jazz, but it uses traditional Eastern-European music as its standard, and so no matter how noisy or improvised, there is this kind of spiritual tether that anchors it that peculiar mix of melancholy and joy that only klezmer can evoke.

Recent explorations of experimental have led me into some avant-garde jazz territories, but I have still been a little skittish. Recently I was sent a package in the mail from Italy and sat down to listen to the CD with the most intriguing title, Conference of the Aquarians. And then my third-eye turned on.

Valerio Cosi
is a young saxaphone player of considerable talent, but his real genius is in his ability to use noise and electronics as stitching. His compositions seem deeply influenced by a vast array of Eastern sounds, not only klezmer, but raga as well. The mix works and they serve as that standard core. I felt for the first time that I understood what free form music could be, and why it's important. I was always skeptical that it couldn't offer any real emotional resonance, that it only pretended to some kind of transcendence. But Cosi has converted me. There is something graciously human about this record, and while there are moments of extreme noise, they eventually give way to certain kinds of temperate and even lovely expressions of mind and heart.

--Valerio Cosi/Enzo Franchini: Part One

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