Band in My Head

How Mojo, Bitches Brew, and Butch Morris inspired a funktional African American family unit

Everybody know (sic) you can divide modern artists up between Picasso and Duchamp, between those who want to change the way we visualize the world and those who want to change the way we conceptualize the visual. The Cagiest around today do both. You can also break Black American music down to two essential framers—Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Duke is the summation and the summit. It's all in there somewhere—Louis, Dizzy, Monk, Stravinsky, Ravel, ragtime, rock and roll, James Brown, Chicago house, Trane. Duke is the grand architect of Black Desire and Black Unity. Duke's place is the African American dream: the sound of What if democracy worked for us? Duke's place is what the world would look like if African people's house was in order. There's a short line between Duke's place, King's dream, and Diddy's pool parties in the Hamptons—they're all models of integration.

Monk lives there too, playing with his toys in the attic, grumbling in the basement, ripping and running with the people under the stairs. But Monk's house is made out of dice, you see; pure probability rules there and pure structure. Life in all its exigent splendor and the tempting, troubling knowledge that to change your luck you have to keep throwing it away. That's why Monk is the real godfather of hiphop, because everything he plays is a sample—a spectacular fragment of the vernacular whole—and it all rhymes. Any fragment will do, what matters is that we always know who's doing the talking. This is what we mean by hiphop. Chaos in a cadence, hacking-mad hyperlinks with a big Black personality to back them up. Jazz rarely produces big Black personalities anymore.

There's some cool cats trying to fuse jazz and hiphop today. Problem is, it's already been done. Go to On the Corner, Weather Report's Mysterious Traveler, Herbie's Sextant and Headhunters. I might also listen to the Freestyle Fellowship's "Inner City Boundaries": live acoustic trio and the scatting-cum-rhyming genius syncretism of the one and only Mikah 9. More promising though is when contemporary improvisers incorporate the sonic and rhymic language generated by hiphop's exploitation of the digital into their playing: the glitch, the break, the scratch, the clicks, the cut, the loop. The dialed-up ellipsis and the quantized non sequitur. What happens when the very Monkian editing processes of signature sampling musicians like the RZA, Tricky, Premier, Easy Mo Bee, Matmos, and Vladislav Delay seem to turn up in the fractured vernacular of today's hippest improvisers? Cats like Graham Haynes, Nicholas Payton, Cuong Vu, Steven Bernstein, Daniel Carter, Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer, Matthew Shipp, Marc Cary, Vernon Reid, Jason Moran, and Melvin Gibbs. Cats like us.

Burnt Sugar: Cats like us
photo: Shiho Fukada
Burnt Sugar: Cats like us


The Village Voice Jazz Supplement: Crossing Over Everywhere

  • Crossover Realities
    Seeking ways to get heard and to grow, and more often succeeding at the latter
    by Larry Blumenfeld

  • Fleishedik and Milchedik
    Jazzing the classics and classing the jazzers from Jelly Roll Morton to Uri Caine
    by Francis Davis

  • The Joan Baez of Jazz
    A great tradition strives to keep itself young by discovering its inner Melissa Manchester
    by Tom Smucker

  • Darn That Dream
    Major tie-up on the one-way street from jazz to jam
    by Martin Johnson

  • Summer Jazz 2004
  • Point blank, I go gaga for conduction because it aligns the information zeitgeist with jazz, providing improvising ensembles a real-time and highly risky platform for some highly unstable ritual operations, a means to possession and prophecy and once again getting Ignant with the thing. Conduction also brings the Information Age's best features to jazz: encyclopedic memory, democratic interactivity, hyperlinks, an infinitude of virtual realities. It's also a means for doing the jazz thing with mixed electric, acoustic, and digital ensembles and for those ensembles to be transracial, transnational, transgenerational, transgenre, and transgendered too and then getting them to play in unison beyond what they know.

    What do they know? They know from Kenny Dorham and the AACM, from Nusrat Khan and Björk, from the changes to "Little Wing" and the changes to "Little Church." They know from Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight" and Chaka Khan's "At Midnight" in dub. They know from A Love Supreme, Le Sacre du Printemps, and The Chronic. What lies beyond all of that? I'm done. I shouldn't even have to say it.

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