Conjure | Bad Mouth | American Clavé

american clavé 1052/53 – Double CD-Set

for Bad Mouth, Conjure is (in order of audio appearance): Alvin Youngblood Hart (voice, electric guitar) | Fernando Saunders (voice, electric bass) | Leo Nocentelli (electric guitar) | Anthony Cox (electric bass) | Horacio El Negro Hernandez (trap drums) | Robby Ameen (trap drums) | Yosvanni Terry (alto sax, checkere, voice) | Pedro Martinez (voice, congas, percussion) | Richie Flores (congas) | Ishmael Reed (voice: recitations) | Billy Bang (electric violin) | David Murray (tenor sax) | Dafnis Prieto (trap drums) | Kip Hanrahan (musical director, voice)

Tracklist Disc 1: 1. Mo Ku Lana, Mo Jinde Loni (Reed, Hanrahan, Nocentelli) 2. Conjuring a Calm Between Wars (Cox, Saunders, Hanrahan) 3. In War Such Things Happen (Reed, Hanrahan) 4. He Picked a Fight With the Haitians (Reed, Terry) 5. For Dancer (Reed, Martinez, Hanrahan) 6. Bad Mouth (Reed, Murray) 7. Tokyo Woman Blues (Reed, Hart)

Tracklist Disc 2: 1. Go To Jazz (Reed, Murray) 2. Louisiana Red (Reed, Nocentelli, Hanrahan) 3. At an Azabu Cafe (Reed, Cox) 4. medley: Jack Johnson / Skirt Dance (Reed, Cox, Hanrahan) 5. Prayer to Earth (Reed, Murray)

conjure | bad mouth | american clavé

It was after the ninth or tenth concert in Japan in August 2003

when Leo pointed out what was clear: that through playing and living the new materiel Paris, March of that year through that concert in Tokyo, the new materiel had assumed the form of the band, and the band of the new materiel. Pulling my shoulder, Leo nodded and said what was clear: “It’s TIME.” And although the money took a minute to snap to (hey, it’s this buisiness…), when it did, so did the band, immediately assuming the right form. So, during a week in a New Jersey studio in January 2005, Conjure recorded itself pretty much like a live set. There were a couple of punches on missed cues, but not many. The band breathed with the same music, ease and shared cadences and emotions as when on tour. Yeah, Conjure live in the studio. Just a better lit stage.

Ish is fond of pointing out that Conjure may be the longest running music / poetry project around, but I’m not really when it really started. There was a period before the first Conjure recording (1983) when he and I worked together on a few film projects – was that when Conjure really started? Anyway, I’m not sure it matters. The band, the music, the poetry, breathe right now, just like Ish’s magic-realist world outlook contained in his words (fiction, poetry, essays, activism, attitude…) – you can hear it in every turn of this music. Right? — Kip Hanrahan

P.S: There were (are?) a number of moments of magic from Conjure live in the past – Jimmy Scott’s awesome acapella singing of an earlier version of “Skirt Dance” in Hamburg, 1993, introduced by a sweet, reverential opening by DD Jackson (we were stunned to learn it was Jimmy’s first trip to Europe); Jack (Bruce), Billy, David and Anthony making “Petit Kid Everett” fill the room in Paris during the same tour; Taj second lining “Forest Fire Blues” in London, March 2003, and more. Those musics, or even the documents of them, didn’t belong on this record, but there is a future in which eveything is possible. If Conjure were to keep doing it’s job, it’d continually surprise us all. — Kip Hanrahan

P.P.S: Go Billy Bang! The Billy/David axis locked almost immediately fourteen years ago, but the Bill/Negro/Robby axis is still growing through the sealing. Although in any right context, Billy’s solos set fire to any room. — Kip Hanrahan

conjure | bad mouth | american clavé

We were eating black bread and
drinking goat’s milk when your
missile hit our house
I am the only survivor
and when I asked you why
you said well this is war
and in a war such things
happen …

 

By the time I met poet-novelist-essayist Ishmael Reed and Carla Blank, his dancer wife, they had moved from New York to California; from Chelsea to Berkeley’s East Bay, the 20th century was two-thirds gone, and the whole world was flickering. My wife Arl and I were still just reeling from the hit movie version of Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby. Occult imagery, metaphorical and actual, clouded the global landscape. A smoky funk and a tropical, heavenly fragrance graced our nostrils.

Ishmael invited me to his and Carla’s apartment. The vinyl album he played while we sat and talked was Dr. John the Night Tripper. This was the soon to be venerated Mac Rebennac’s debut LP: an underground showbiz celebration of New Orleans music and religion. Dr. John sang, muttered and groaned of gris-gris and all the healing and punitive powers of hoodoo, an Americanized version of vodun, as its Haitians practitioners called it. From Africa all of it flows. He was studying as well that region of Africa called ancient Egypt. Having learned from Ishmael that ancient Egyptians regarded as sacred the scarab, a large dung beetle, I wore as a talisman with my turtleneck sweaters in turtleneck the pendant of turquoise scarab he’d given me in friendship.

“Hoodoo and voodoo,” Ishmael told me, “I’m going to use them as an aesthetic.”

Ishmael kept his word. A word-master and word-dancer, he always keeps his word. Across the years he issued such pronouncements. Whether it was an altogether different kind of literary anthology (19 Necromancers from Now), or a new take on the western, America’s enduring cowboy genre (Yellow-Back Radio Broke-Down), he delivered. A grand outpouring of writing has followed: novels, essays, poetry collections, anthologies, op-eds, plays, a musical (Skydiver) the libretto for an opera (Gethsemane Park with composer Carman Moore), and several explosive audio albums.

That celebrated writer Ishmael Reed once played slide trombone in a little bebop band during his high school and University of Buffalo student days isn’t widely known. Music and the ever-shifting sound of the world form a polestar from which he has never strayed. In his maturity, he has devoted himself to the study of Yoruba, Japanese and piano. “Listen to this,” he’ll say to me of a late morning or early afternoon during a phone call. He might lay down his receiver and lean into some timeless standard (“I Should Care,” “All God’s Children Got Rhythm,” or one of Thelonious Monk’s blue-brilliant ballads). Pianist Bud Powell is still Ishmael’s idol. His keyboard touch, even before he studied jazz piano formally and systematically, was always Bud-like.

Growing up in the bustle of industrial post-war Buffalo, New York—where gifted performers like singer Joe Carroll and pianist Wade Legge lived and thrived—Ishmael loved bebop. How could bop not shape, map and target him for a lifetime of spiritual and creative adventure?

conjure | bad mouth | american clavé

You said that if we surrendered
you would give us cigarettes and
chocolate but instead
you put us in a place fit for
hens and when I asked why
you said
well this is war
and in a war such things happen …

 

Some of the legendary artists who perform on previous Reed albums (Conjure: Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon and Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed include Bobby Womack, Taj Mahal, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Carman Moore, Little Jimmy Scott, Lester Bowie, Allen Toussaint, Eddie Harris and Olu Dara. On such originals as “Running for the Office of Love,” “Beware: Don’t Listen to This Song,” “Jes Grew,” “Oakland Blues,” “The Wild Gardens of the Loup Garou,” “Dualism (2),” and “Rhythm in Philosophy,” composer-lyricist Ishmael Reed lays bare his affection for the eclectic.

Picking up from where the late Ted Joans left off, Reed drives home the gist and point of much of Joans’ poetry: “Let them go to Heaven / or let them go to Hell . / When I die I want to go to jazz. / Who needs Gabriel when we got Clifford, Clark, Lee and Bix? / And you can add Thad / to that distinguished mix.” Later for the “high-up Lincoln Center, / where it’s all about the money.” In a nutshell, this is Ishmael Reed. a populist poet-storyteller who forever sides with the underdog. He understands all too deeply the stark prospects for the American poor and the marginally employed working-class in which he himself grew up.

You hit those twin towers
because you wanted to address
the powerful, but you killed
secretaries, waitresses, janitors
busboys, dishwashers and civil
servants and when we asked you
why, you said, well this is war
and you wanted to make a point …

 

“In a War Such Things Happen” evokes another kind of starkness: a vision of life under the kind of martial law that, in the opening years of the 21st century, ruled war-shattered Iraq, and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast of my own origins. To the poet “some of that Louisiana Red” is always in order. Louisiana Red? Indeed, its meaning is always up for grabs. The Last Days of Louisiana Red, an early Reed novel, deals with it one way, and this truculent poem sets an altogether different mood to music It says: “A crocodile don’t hunt him victim; they hunt him. All he do is open he jaws.” As Billy Bang’s joyful violin attests on this offering, hope rests behind every issue Ishmael Reed brings into question. Who’s telling the truth here? Why should we care? With every concern that makes its way to the center or periphery of his wide-spread attention, he deals diligently—and never dispassionately.

With its smoke-and-whiskey evocations of solitude, reflection and “inky tears,” the transfixing “In An Azabu Café,” mesmerizes. From the bass line Anthony Cox lays down, from the choral repetitions to the mantric refrain Ishmael Reed serves up in English and Japanese, this poem-song sizzles tenderly. That tenderness melts over into “Jack Johnson,” “Skirt Dance,” and “Prayer to Earth.”

Before the term “multimedia” became a commonplace, Ishmael was busy working the notion of it into his fiction and poetry. His many fantastical novels, each of them stubbornly rooted in a vision of reality that to me very much resembles the Buddhist concept of inter-origination. From this viewpoint, time is organic; nothing ever really “goes away.”

Sun, rain, even the moonlight that nurtured the tree from which your notebook or your acoustic guitar or bass come stays embedded in those objects. And so does the presence of all the people and other creatures whose labor and caring attention produced those precious objects. If a slave in Ishmael’s novel Flight to Canada runs away to Canada in a Boeing 747, so be it. Not only is organic time circular; it is also recyclable. As native peoples have always observed, everything is alive. And if anything it alive, it’s also unpredictable.

A million years passed
Herds of rhinoceroses, elephants
and lions, roamed the African plains
There were more cheetahs than
you could shake a stick at
` You could see to the bottom of
the rivers with the naked eye
Snow had returned to Kilimanjaro
The oceans were filled with
whales, tuna, swordfish, sharks
The glaciers were once again
solid and imposing
The Amazon rain forest was
chirping away
Trees covered the city where
glass buildings once stood
A bear met a wolf
in the thick forest and
the bear asked
“What became of those creatures who
used to shoot us for sport
furnish their wives with the
fur off our backs
terrorize our young
put their saws to our homes?”
“They had a war,” the wolf said,
galloping off, “and in a war such things happen.”

 

conjure | bad mouth | american clavé

In “ Prayer to Earth,” co-written with saxophonist David Murray, Ishmael predicts that at the rate Americans are buying larger and larger automobiles, the time will come when every American will own and drive a bus. Upon such consciousness and unconsciousness, the fate of Earth hangs. Thank the gods, the ancestors, the spirits for inspiration and fresh consciousness. Thank heaven (whom traditional Africans believed to be the earth herself) for poets, storytellers, musicians, dancers, actors, painters, sculptors and griots of every description. Murray also co-wrote the title track with Ishmael as well as the sly, uplifting “Go to Jazz,” whose guiding sentiment is inspired by the late, world-renowned poet Ted Joans.

“I love working with David Murray, Billy Bang, Taj Mahal, Little Jimmy Scott, Bobby Womack, Carla Bley, and all the rest of those wonderful, great musicians,” Ishmael told me. “They respect writers. They love to collaborate. Kip Hanrahan, too, wrote some of the music.”

Kip Hanrahan didn’t just write “some of the music,” he is the musician-composer who, in the early 1990s. conceived of the Conjure audio project. Ever since then he has produced and directed the series of albums, conducting and arranging the many sessions and dates. As founder of American Clavé, a unique music and record company, or, as it describes itself, “an anthology of musics (sequences of passions, angers, sexualities made audible and intangible by music) formed by the labor of Kip Hanrahan.” It was his American Clavé album that jump-started Argentine tango radical Astor Piazzolla’s career toward the end of his life, bringing him recognition as a serious, world-class composer.

“For a long time,” Hanrahan admits, “I thought there was a charm in intentionally standing to the side of a musical piece or project I was really at the center of. It’s for that reason that I don’t always play on my own records, or credit myself when I do, even if I wrote the pieces on an instrument I might play better than the credited player. I’m now thinking that dance has lost its charm.”

Kip Hanrahan’s contributions to Bad Mouth, for example, include, in his words, “the bass stuff before and during ‘In a War Such Things Happen’ is based on my changes. ‘Louisiana Red’ is my melody and adaptation of Ish’s words over a Leo [Nocentelli guitar] riff. ‘I Was Born Yesterday’ is mine, as are the melodies for the Alvin over the free piece [‘Medley: Jack Johnson / Skirt Dance’].” In other words, as the credits reveal, Hanrahan’s role in shaping this brilliant album – from the overall concept to its many hands-on musical strategies — is extensive and prevailing.

“I just love it,” Ishmael confesses.

And who dares to bad mouth love? — AL YOUNG

Al Young is Poet Laureate of California. His books include The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000, African American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology, Mingus Mingus: Two Memoirs (with Janet Coleman), and the novels Seduction By Light and Sitting Pretty.

conjure | bad mouth | american clavé

 

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