Greece, nazi massacre and jazz music

This video from Greece says about itself:

Kyriacos Charitou singing Andonis Vardis song “To tsigaro to Kommeno“.

By Chris Searle in Britain:

Gunter Baby Sommer, Savina Yannatou, Floros Floridis, Spilios Kastanis and Evgenios Voulgaris

Songs for Kommeno (Intakt CD190)

Tuesday 18 December 2012

“We shall make Kommeno a village of music, a grove of peace and culture.”

So declared Christos Kosmas, the mayor of Kommeno – the Greek village where in August 1943 soldiers of the occupying German Wehrmacht massacred 317 villagers including 97 children and 13 babies-in-arms.

The album Songs for Kommeno emerged from a project led by the German free jazz drummer Gunter Baby Sommer, born in Dresden also in 1943, whose long experience began as a pioneer improviser in the days of the German Democratic Republic and who has subsequently played with some of the great free jazz giants like Cecil Taylor and Wadada Leo Smith from the US and fellow Europeans such as Irene Schweizer, Evan Parker and Peter Brotzmann.

He affirms: “What I can give is music. This is why I decided to develop a music project which puts the focus on the name of the village Kommeno and the memory of the suffering of the victims.

“What I have taken in from my ties with jazz since its beginnings is that we have to position ourselves in regards to the events taking place in our world.”

In the album Sommer joins with four Greek musicians to create a brilliant and moving sequence of evocations of the 1943 events. Savina Yannatou is an Athens-born singer of theatre and dance who has sung with free improvisers like bassists Peter Kowald and Barry Guy for two decades. The oud virtuoso is Evgenios Voulgaris from Patras and the soprano saxophone and clarinet master is Floros Floridis from Thessaloniki. Spilios Kastanis, who plays in a trio with Sommer and Floridis, is the bassist from a village in Arcadia near Patras.

In 2008 Sommer played a concert in Kommeno, beginning with a piece struck entirely on tubular bells “without realising what kind of associations this would trigger … people rose from their seats, some of them started to cry, some of them clasped their necklaces with the cross. That moment was the starting point of a close relationship between the people of the village and me.

“I postponed my departure for a few days and I was asked to go to visit them in their houses. They talked about their experiences, spoke about the massacre, of their families, fathers, grandmothers. They gave me food and drink and I didn’t leave a single house without receiving a small gift.”

All this gave birth to Songs for Kommeno and the opening track, Tears, where the Greek strings of Kastanis and Voulgaris make sounds close to the blues which their German confrere said “describes the love and suffering in life … the resignation, and awakening grief and joy.” It is all there certainly and stroked with beauty and memory with Sommer’s rustling percussion.

As Floridis’s clarinet enters over Kastinis’s pulsating bowed bass these sonic tears could be shed in Louisiana, Cape Town, Gaza or Dhaka, so cosmic is their resonance.

Of the track called Andartes Sommer writes: “The Greek partisans called themselves Andartes. The introductory drum solo could stand for the situation of the hard-pressed Greek people.” Then and now, perhaps, as Sommer booms, crackles and crashes and Yannatou’s wordless voice wails over the strings.

The 18 minutes of Mirias Miroloi includes the voice of Maria Labri, one of the survivors of the massacre, and is begun by Kastanis’s howling bowed bass and Floridis’s mournful clarinet.

Sommer’s drumming is astonishing. He resorts to gong chimes as Maria’s chanting begins, along with Tibetan cymbals, metal sheets and bass drum until the free improvisation explodes from all musicians and Maria tells the story of the brave priest who was cut down by nazi guns as he tried to prevent the slaughter.

Arachthos has Sommer striking what sounds like a steel pan, and suddenly the sound of Trinidad travels to Greece, while Lullaby has Yannatou’s voice like that of a child falling towards sleep. It prefaces Children Song, where Yannatou and Floridis’s clarinet find a floating amalgam of sound over Kastanis’s plucked infant heartbeats.

The final track is Kommeno Today where the past is a springboard to now-times youth, dancing, grooving, setting their village beyond the horror of history.

“Jazz is also liberation from everything which unnaturally restricts and limits us” is Sommer’s dictum and it applies here in earfuls as it does all through this extraordinary album.

Full of the past and full of the future. And how many more people will remember Kommeno and its people?

Rap music studied by neurologists

This music video says about itself:

Open Mike Eagle stopped thru Knocksville and did an encore performance of his song The Processional.

From Nature:

Brain scans of rappers shed light on creativity

Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows what happens in the brain during improvisation.

Daniel Cressey

15 November 2012

Rappers making up rhymes on the fly while in a brain scanner have provided an insight into the creative process.

Freestyle rapping — in which a performer improvises a song by stringing together unrehearsed lyrics — is a highly prized skill in hip hop. But instead of watching a performance in a club, Siyuan Liu and Allen Braun, neuroscientists at the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Maryland, and their colleagues had 12 rappers freestyle in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

The artists also recited a set of memorized lyrics chosen by the researchers. By comparing the brain scans from rappers taken during freestyling to those taken during the rote recitation, they were able to see which areas of the brain are used during improvisation. The study is published today in Scientific Reports.

The results parallel previous imaging studies in which Braun and Charles Limb, a doctor and musician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, looked at fMRI scans from jazz musicians. Both sets of artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be ‘deactivated’ are associated with regulating other brain functions.

“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity,” says Braun.

He adds that this suggestion is “a little bit controversial in the literature”, because some studies have found activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in creative behaviour. He suggests that the discrepancy might have to do with the tasks chosen to represent creativity. In studies that found activation, the activities — such as those that require recall — may actually be less creative.

“We try to stick with more natural creative processing, and when we do that we see this decrease in the dorsal lateral regions,” says Braun.

Pump down the volume

Rex Jung, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, has also studied the link between brain structures and creativity, finding an inverse relationship between the volume of some frontal lobe structures and creativity. “Some of our results imply this downregulation of the frontal lobes in service of creative cognition. [The latest paper] really appears to pull it all together,” he says. “I’m excited about the findings.”

Jung says that this downregulation is likely to apply in other, non-musical areas of creativity — including science.

The findings also suggest an explanation for why new music might seem to the artist to be created of its own accord. With less involvement by the lateral prefrontal regions of the brain, the performance could seem to its creator to have “occurred outside of conscious awareness”, the authors write.

Michael Eagle, a study co-author who raps under the name Open Mike Eagle, agrees: “That’s kind of the nature of that type of improvisation. Even as people who do it, we’re not 100% sure of where we’re getting improvisation from.”

Liu says that the researchers are now working on problems they were unable to explore with freestylers — such as what happens after the initial burst of creative inspiration.

“We think that the creative process may be divided into two phases,” he says. “The first is the spontaneous improvisatory phase. In this phase you can generate novel ideas. We think there is a second phase, some kind of creative processing [in] revision.”

The researchers would also like to look at how creativity differs between experts and amateurs of a similar artistic ilk to freestylers: poets and storytellers.

Jazz against the Vietnam war

This video from the USA about the Vietnam war says about itself:

“The Deserters” narrated by Rosko

Off of Pete Hamill’s “Massacre at My Lai”, 1969 with Ron Carter on bass and James Spaulding on flute.

By Chris Searle in Britain:

If music could stop war

The Revolutionary Ensemble Vietnam 1 and 2 (ESP 3007)

Tuesday 21 September 2010

In 1971 at the apex of the war in Vietnam, soon after president Richard Nixon had declared of the Vietnamese people: “The bastards have never been bombed like they’re going to be bombed this time,” three eminent jazz musicians formed an astonishing trio calling themselves The Revolutionary Ensemble.

The violinist was Leroy Jenkins, born in Chicago in 1932 and an ex-student of the luminous Du Sable High School where he came under the tutelage, like dozens of other future jazz musicians, of the formidable Captain Walter Dyett. He joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, worked briefly in Paris with other free spirits – saxophonist Anthony Braxton, trumpeter Leo Smith and drummer Steve McCall in the Creative Construction Co – returned to the US and settled in New York where he founded The Revolutionary Ensemble.

On bass was the outstanding Sirone – born Norris Jones in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1940 – with his superb bow technique, who had played with altoist Marion Brown and pianist Dave Burrell. The percussionist was an oft-times minimalist Jerome Cooper, another Chicagoan, born in 1946.

Together they produced expressively free and interactive improvised music creating a threesome of sheer jazz collectivism that lasted throughout most of the decade until 1977, cutting few albums but including a gem – The People’s Republic … in 1976.

Vietnam 1 and 2 were recorded in 1973. Nixon had launched the 1972 Christmas bombing campaign of Hanoi hoping to secure concessions from the Vietnamese at the Paris peace talks in January 1973. The US invasion forces had been defeated after nearly a decade of murderous aggression and by March 6 1973 all US military personnel had left South Vietnam, although lower-intensity conflict still ensued.

The Ensemble’s album was made during a period of upcoming victory and here was the music of three startlingly creative African-Americians registering their sonic solidarity with the Vietnamese people and their armed forces at New York’s “Peace Church,” a fitting enough venue for the recording.

When the Ensemble first started playing Sirone remembered how the local jazz musicians expostulated at their powerfully unusual instrumentation. “Violin, bass and drums, you must be crazy,” many of them declared. And yet this was a narrative of war in a place of peace and their sound needed to be full of that ambivalence, that terrible and real contradiction.

Vietnam 1 begins with shimmering bows, high and low, and bass strings skimming off each other as if they were locked into a life and death combat. It is a unique sound new to jazz, new to all music – a sonic picture of war by two virtuosi of peace.

As Sirone turns to plucking, the dualism becomes even more extreme with Cooper’s background cymbals becoming gradually stronger. When Sirone continually thuds the same dark note and Jenkins scrapes an agonised sound above him, the war’s terrifying edge becomes explicit for both sides, the invaded people and their drafted and compelled US aggressors.

This is truly audacious music of its time. Its meanings are not hidden by abstraction but made more awful by their sensuous truth. Perhaps it needed such an unprecendented jazz trio to conjure it, a wilful commentary on all that is wrong and excruciating, yet its torment of improvisation is so full of artistry and brilliance.

It is the Guernica or the All Quiet On The Western Front of jazz, a sound portrait of invasion since visited upon the peoples as the targets of terror in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As an unaccompanied Sirone darkly twangs out the sound of such shock and awe from his deep and pulsating strings we hear one of the peerless jazz solos inspired to create a timbre of consternation, dread and suffering from the very fingers of life and hope.

Jenkins’s violin shrieks and cries as the human voice is also perceptable inside his toxic and beauteous notes that shake with the sound of a dream of bliss. And when Cooper strikes his solo his rolling drums seem to unleash a thunderous freedom that promises peace and reconstruction.

Essential music for those times and these.

Over 30,000 citizens took part in Vietnam’s biggest ever parade today to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Hanoi: here.

Anti Vietnam war poster art: here.

“I looked down from the rooftop in Saigon…” John Pilger returns to Vietnam: here.