During the last two weeks of 2017 I was in southern Africa in communion with the Sun. Back here in the ice fortress of iron madness and temple of illusions it now seems impossible. All my dreams last night took place there where the sun reigns supreme. I have family in South Africa and Zimbabwe and I was welcomed with open hearts and open arms. I took my plastic trumpet and alto clarinet and hoped to speak directly to the sky.
The sky that went on forever spoke back to me.
The first thing I realized was that while almost everyone in NYC is fighting for something, from survival to dream realization or both, their missions often come at the price of being cut off from nature itself. Like people like to say these days, I don’t have time for that. In Africa, away from NYC, I felt like a part of nature. Everywhere I went, I felt the presence of something greater. I sensed the spiritual power of the Earth in a way I have never felt here. Lowering the barrier between this world and the next is what I seek to do in music, but in Africa I felt that the illusion. The first thing I was able to do was release a burden I had carried since May of last year when I found my brother Bern Nix in his room, though he himself had left never to return. Africa told me that Bern had found peace. I could feel it, and as such, I felt an inner peace that had eluded me.
The smoke that thunders would bring me in even closer. As I approached Victoria Falls a soft quiet voice whispered to me
g o m e e t g o d
Tornadoes of fire as big as three Earth’s erupting from the surface of the sun. 1300 mph winds on Neptune. Jupiter’s great red spot. Beyond comprehension. Standing in front of one of the seven wonders of the world I was able to see and feel the unbridled power of the Earth. I try to access this power through music.
Two particular birds in Johannesburg reached me with their songs. The Weavers are little bright yellow birds that are specialists at designing these elaborate orb nests. The nests are are like art improvisations and one is not enough for them, they just keep building and building, creating and creating. The Hadedas are huge, and the loudest birds I have ever heard. One morning there was one right outside our door that proclaimed his existence in dramatic fashion as soon as he was touched by even one drop of sunlight.
Seeking a musical connection by any means necessary, I heard a bird I couldn’t see sing a song by Jemeel Moondoc called In Walked Monk. In Bulawayo at 5am I listened to another bird sing A Love Supreme by John Coltrane for 20 minutes. For those who need evidence that God exists, I felt that I found it.
Music wise I was carrying a burden of sorts even before I began the trip. On the plane I made it a point to listen to every record I could find from a bunch of the top ten lists that had come out in December. I thought I might discover something. At the very least I felt an important need to listen to living artists as I’m an avid student of jazz history. What Africa helped me work out is that everyone has their own path to walk. Many of the musicians making the top ten lists are potentially raising the listening acumen of listeners worldwide. I respect that, but for me I have an inherent need to double down on the spiritual power of music. I have always believed that the doors to unabashed musical and spiritual expression opened in the 60’s were an innovation that could take us to the highest levels of the art. Harmelodic swing is how I get there, and that’s my path. Africa taught me to focus on what I have to do, what I need to do, and not feel any need to apologize for musically being who and what I am. I had the following realizations in Bulawayo:
In the Matt Lavelle Quartet the arc of Dixieland to Free Jazz doesn’t exist. Free Jazz was an event that was absorbed into an ongoing continuum. The music’s prime directive has always been to keep going, not to wither and drown in self reflection. The search must continue, encompassing all the parts of a living music. You could say that as Duke embraced Trane and Hawk embraced Sonny we are all sanctioned to move ahead and be ourselves by any means necessary. Are blues and swing still a part of us? Of course they are. There is still unexplored territory, and there always will be within ourselves.
Retrograde is an unabashed attempt to continue the exploration John Coltrane began on Interstellar Space. The universe as a source of musical inspiration and exploration is truly endless. The drum and horn format is quite popular these days, but we have a deliberate focus. We also double down on just how much Interstellar had both swing and extreme harmelodic improvisation. Look for our first release on ESP in April 2018.
Harmelodic Monk was born from sitting with Ornette and listening to Monk on WKCR on the Monk Birthday broadcast for 2 hours. No words were spoken-there was only deep listening. I have one eye witness account of Monk and Ornette coming into a concert as listeners and sitting together. Ornette was friends with Mingus and Miles, who tried to buy some tunes from him. Serious study of Monk has led to the idea that melody and swing were the absolute goal of his music. Melody is a core component of harmelodics as well. Being free to create Melody within the context of Monks universe and swing is the path.
In the 12 Houses we can try anything because everything literally exists within the group. Inside the 12 Houses exist the entire history of humanity. The past, present, and future all co-exist at once. Everything and everyone can be seen and heard. On a technical level we are multi-generational, multi-cultural and equally balanced between male and female. The entire world of music is available to us. It’s like the whole human race in one group. Spiritually, we step outside of Earth to see how every human being travels through the different houses on a quest to become who they really are. What unites all of humanity is that if you exist, you can seek out that one part of you that exists nowhere else but is a part of all of us. The 12 Houses in astrology are a path to human beings joining the universe, and music is how we get there. In 2018 humanity must continue to try and overcome our greatest and ultimate trial:
So I would like to thank Africa for giving me something I have long sought.
*written in early January 2018