Jazz Avenues Special
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Bobby Hill Jr.
Transparent Productions provides avant jazz venue
By Steve Monroe
Of the thousands of jazz fans who come to Bohemian Caverns every year, the ones that come for the Transparent Productions shows are special. They are the niche within the niche genre of jazz, those that come to enjoy the free, avant garde music, that special blend of sounds that sometimes even goes beyond those makeshift categories.
Transparent Productions has been presenting this special music going on 18 plus years now. Its concert this Sunday April 12 features Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP. Not familiar? That’s the point of Transparent Productions. Its mission is to present those voices of the music that travel just outside of the mainstreams of traditional, post-bop, modern, contemporary, soul jazz, fusion or those other more popular genres of the music.
It is a labor of love and dedication, for those behind Transparent Productions as it is for the artists themselves. The crowd Sunday for Mazurek may be large and overflowing, but more likely it may be a modest gathering of serious listeners as many of the Transparent shows are. No matter. It is a genre, freed from the traditional and mainstream chord and melody structures for explorations in sounds that are often dissonant or extreme in their tone and intensity, a genre spurred by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler and many others and lives on forcefully and stubbornly regardless of the times, or the box office receipts in some cases.
“Our show attendance covers all … gamuts,” says Transparent Productions co-founder Bobby Hill Jr., well known to many as a WPFW-FM (89.3 FM) Pacifica Radio programmer. “Some sellouts, but even when the audiences are small the artists are always happy with the listening and feedback. Historically, we’ve had sell-out shows at larger venues such as the French Embassy and the Jewish Community Center.”
Thomas Stanley, another founder of Transparent Productions, doesn’t worry about the number of people who come: “You know, that used to matter to me a lot, recently, much less so. What’s important is that this music be prepared and presented with the highest level of care and commitment to listeners who are ready to parse this unique transcultural code. If you need to be coaxed into coming to one of our concerts, stay home. You’re probably a very boring person, anyhow.”
Mazurek’s group follows Transparent shows in its 2014-15 season that have included Ingrid Laubrock, Darius Jones, Cooper-Moore, Angelica Sanchez, Mario Pavone, Jeff Cosgrove, Jason Kao Hwang, William Parker, The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and Joel Harrison.
Mazurek, who plays cornet, will be accompanied by Mauricio Takara, drums, cavaquinho, vocals, Guilherme Granado, keyboards, vocals, and Thomas Rohrer, rabeca, electronics, soprano sax, vocals. Of Mazurek’s most recent recording, “Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost,” on Cuneiform Records, working with five sonic explorers in Black Cube SP, a sextet that builds on the celebrated São Paulo Underground collective trio with drummer Takara and keyboardist Granado, All About Jazz said “… cathartic and compelling, it combines avant-garde jazz expressionism, bold electronic experimentation and hypnotic Tropicália rhythms with a profound spirituality.”
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Mazurek moved to Chicago, joining the Chicago music scene in 1983, immersing himself in the eclectic jazz scene, playing alongside and studying with jazz masters like Jodie Christian, Billy Brimfield, and Fred Hopkins, according to Transparent Productions information. From 2000-2008, Mazurek lived in Brazil among the dense Amazon jungle. He formed the Chicago Underground Duo with drummer Chad Taylor, and released numerous recordings. See http://www.robmazurek.com for more on Mazurek.
Rob Mazurek’s album
“Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost”
is on Cuneiform Records.
There are shows at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Caverns; tickets are $15 advance and $20 at the door. For more information, see http://www.transparentproductionsdc.org or http://www.bohemiancaverns.org.
For the rest of this season, Transparent shows feature Tim Berne’s Snake Oil April 26; Eri Yamamoto May 24; AfroHORN June 14; and Leena Conquest June 21.
Toward a freer music
“My ears started to move towards the more free jazz music while still a teenager,” says Hill, who says, at Bohemian Caverns, he is “glad to be presenting just 1 block away from a home where I was raised.” He says he first came to free jazz through the “radio offerings of the infamous WGTB [Georgetown University station), and soon followed by the early days of WPFW, being influenced by folks like Greg Tate, Art Cromwell, the late Jimmy Gray [whose show was called ‘Black Fire’], and others.”
Says Stanley, “I was really lucky to be coming into advanced music in the mid-80s at the same time that Bill Warrell and District Curators were presenting a lot of amazing concerts. Bill had a club, [D.C. Space], that was his primary small audience venue and I got to hear some very important artists in that little space. My breakthrough moment came there in about 1988 while hearing Don Byron play a clarinet solo with Craig Harris’s Tailgater’s Tales. I had been listening to so-called free jazz for years, but up until that point, for me it had served as a convenient cultural signifier of something hiply progressive and emblematic of liberation.
“In the middle of Byron’s solo, however, something flipped and what had up until that point only been a stream of aesthetically interesting sound became a clearly comprehensible language, an articulate utterance complete with grammar and syntax. It was an utterly profound conversion and that’s the way I’ve experienced creative improvised music ever since. In other words, this music is nowhere near as ‘free’ as we’ve been led to believe.”
This observer’s real education on the avant garde genre also came at D.C. Space, notably a Don Cherry concert.
Hill says “I was always on the edges of the other forms of music that I listened to, so doing the same for the music that I most loved, jazz, was a natural transition. [Pianist] Cecil Taylor was the first cat for me. His attack and originality were like no other. After him, many cats – Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler.”
From the book “Jazz – The First Century,” edited by John Edward Hasse; “… Even before Coleman, Cecil Taylor was playing piano solos so dissonant and free they sounded atonal … turmoil grew in his highly complex solo forms, which often used fragmentary phrases to generate grad designs; he also composed knotty pieces with many mood changes and stops and starts.”
Hill says Transparent Productions, whose members are now Hill, Stanley, Sara Donnelly and Chris Clouden, grew from that fertile time of the free music in D.C. “We were all influenced heavily by District Curators and all the great work that they had done in the city, much at the now defunct DC Space club,” says Hill. “We were concerned that Curators was beginning to move away from regular presenting. Being jazz programmers for so many years, we all had interests, ideas, and contacts that we wanted to pursue, so we went for it.”
Transparent Productions started in 1997, says Hill, named a 2014 Jazz Hero by the Jazz Journalists Association. “That year, a number of mostly WPFW programmers met in a friend’s Capitol Hill home. The WPFW programmers were Herb Taylor, Larry Appelbaum, Thomas Stanley and myself, and Vince That Kargatis, who had done community jazz radio further west.”
Making it work
“Our first concert was in July of 1997, done in partnership with Curators’ annual 4th of July weekend series. We presented a duet of saxophonist Joe McPhee and bassist Michael Bisio at the now closed Food For Thought. Because our first show was done in partnership with Curators, we still weren’t sure if we could carry our own weight as presenters. Our next concert gave us the confidence that we needed, a wonderful sold-out solo concert by bassist William Parker at the now-closed Kaffa House. Almost 20 years later we’ve now presented over 300 shows, at venues through the city. Since 2011, we are honored that our home has been the historic Bohemian Caverns.”
Stanley says, “It was Larry’s model to use donated venues with 100% of the door going to the artists. We had a great run with Jennifer Carter at Sangha in Takoma Park and have presented some historic shows at Omrao Brown’s Bohemian Caverns. It’s primarily thanks to Omrao and Bobby Hill that this music is back on U Street to be heard in a well-established jazz venue.”
Of the proceeds going to the artists as a key for Transparent Productions, Hill said, “Let’s be clear; what TransP does is a glorified door gig, a door gig that is glorified by the energy that we put into the presentations and the attentive audiences that we’ve been able to attract,” says Hill, “We’ve had the opportunity to present so many great musicians that are now unfortunately ancestors. Artists such as bassist Wilbur Morris, trumpeter Roy Campbell, violinist Billy Bang, and saxophonists Fred Ho, Joe Maneri, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, John Tchicai, Frank Lowe, and Byard Lancaster. What honors!” And the name Transparent Productions, says Hill, “ … places the primary importance of our efforts on the music presentations. It’s not about us, but the artists and their art.”
Asked what musicians on today’s landscape are the masters of the genre,
“There are true masters, and their landscape is larger than just free jazz, though everything they do is still out there. Folks like [bassist] William Parker, bassist Joelle Leandre, guitarist Joe Morris, reflect a few.” Of the younger artists on the scene to watch, he says, “Flautist Nicole Mitchell, saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Darius Jones, would make a great starting of young lions.”