Shabaka and the Ancestors and the return to form of Impulse! Records

Impluse! is probably my favorite jazz record label of all time.

For the most part, my love for this label is an affection for a time capsule — the period from 1961 through 1976 when the label, led by Bob Thiele, was home to a singular cast of “astral traveling” musicians. The “House that Trane Built” featured, in no particular order (except the first): John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Ahmad Jamal, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, Archie Shepp, Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson and on and on.

Artists on Impulse! got freedom to swing for the fences sonically and spiritually. The productions were deep, clear and rich. The sound was typically avant-garde yet rooted in jazz traditions (see Coltrane’s era-straddling collaborations with Ellington and Johnny Hartman). If you look at record collections, a sign of good taste is often a lot of distinctive orange and black spines (often in a swath).

I first came across Shabaka Hutchings’ music through the release of his group The Comet is Coming and their album Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. I loved it and was thrilled to add a contemporary record with the orange and black spine next to my modest collection of old school Impulses! (grouped together).

We Are Sent Here by History by Shabaka and the Ancestors makes my heart beat faster. To me, the Ancestors octet not only evokes the “House that Trane Built,” it extends it. This record has many of the hallmarks of amazing jazz on Impulse! The bass (Ariel Zamonsky) strikes my ear first. It’s distinct, forward in the mix and as wicked as the best dub from Jamaica. Shabaka’s saxophone and clarinet are simultaneously driving and mysterious. The Fender Rhodes (Nduduzo Makhatini) adds heat to the cool piano (Thandi Ntuli). The spoken and chanted poetry scattered over the album remind me of the greatest Impulse! record (A Love Supreme).

The extension is the album’s embrace of Africa. African jazz has existed for a long time, but this record is more than Africans playing jazz. Its more like world-class jazzmen channeling Africa. This album contains entire worlds of music . I think I’ll learn something new on the 100th listen.

Crown of thorns

I found this NYT article about the cellular biology of coronavirus fascinating.

Corona means crown, and the graphics in the piece show why this virus is called crown. It creates spikes like the top of a crown, which play a role in the virus’s ability to hijack cells.

One thing stood out to me: the virus takes over cells by merging its oily surface with the surface of healthy cells.

Here’s the crucial line: the virus’s oily surface ” falls apart on contact with soap.”

So wash those hands, everyone, and do what you can to stop touching your face until you have done so!

I’m hoping for good news in terms of controlling the pandemic as spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, but I think we should all prepare for the worst.

Changing the frame

Happy new year, readers. Like most people I set some New Year’s goals recently. A couple of them fall into the category of stretch goals. Both are seemingly hard tasks.

These goals are to run 2020 miles this year and to reduce my body weight to 172 pounds, which would put me in the normal range for my 5ft10.5in height.

When I first think about these goals, they seem almost impossible. Like most people, I perceive difficulty based on what’s normal for me.

But what would happen if I changed the frame of reference just slightly? It turns out that both goals fall within roughly 10 percent of what I already do.

In the case of running, I ran around 1870 miles in 2019. There were many fun adventures among those miles and many days I slacked off. It turns out I only need to up my miles by 8 percent to reach my stretch goal.

In the case of weight, I will need to lose about 21 pounds from my current weight of 193 pounds. I understand that BMI is not the best gauge of health, since it distorts the picture for athletic people with heavy muscles. But still, making it to the “normal” range is a good yardstick and goal. Here too, I’m roughly within 10 percent of my objective.

When I think about these goals outright, They seem arduous. Yeah if I simply ask myself the question “do you think you can do 10 percent more? ” The answer is yes. The first frame is likely futile and burn up willpower and lead to depression. The second frame perceives the same reality, but makes the task seem a lot simpler and more incremental.

I will check back on the schools from time to time throughout the year. Wish me luck. Hopefully I can enjoy going the extra 10 percent.

 

Fly fishing

Casting
Fly fishing on the Rose River in Virginia

Last year I took up fly fishing. The photo above is me and Duber Winters, a guide and Orvis store manager, casting into the Rose River. Duber helped me catch a rainbow trout on that chilly day in March–my first fish caught on a fly.

Though I shouldn’t say “my,” since I got so much help that day.

Another reason not to say “my” is a dawning realization that probably comes early in most angling careers: fly fishing is a vehicle for stepping outside of oneself and melding with nature.

The rush of water against the waders, the interplay of insects, branches, and rocks, and the imperative to mimic the dance of river life — in each of these ways, fly fishing brings the angler into a focused yet transcendent state of mind. It’s a practice that combines sport, artistry, and meditation.

No wonder fly-fishers have the reputation as being good ecological stewards while also being secretive and territorial. Cold and clean water + solitude = good. Global warming + too many anglers on the river = bad. For this reason, conscientious anglers possess an ethical code that helps nature and respects others.

In my day fishing with Duber, I got the strong sense that he guides and fishes with these values in mind.

 

 

On MLK, Jr. Day: Time Out from noxious news

Count me among the chorus of disapproval of President Trump’s reference to Nigeria and Haiti as “shithole countries,” and a preference for Norwegian immigrants-just a few days before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day no less.

When I think of Trump, I think there’s no hope. His racism and economic ignorance makes my blood pressure go up. Yet futile anger empowers no-one.

So I think a good way to celebrate MLK Day today is to take a time out from noxious news, tune out the distraction of the day, and start to visualize a better future as Dr. King would do.

All weekend I’ve been doing this. After looking at one too many news article on Friday, I’ve gone on a three day news fast. It’s been a great way to clear my head, which I believe more American citizens need to do more often.

An interesting thing happens on a news fast: other productive things to do start to come to mind. A couple of examples: this is the second blog post I’ve posted this weekend and over the past three days I’ve logged 28.2 miles. This morning I went over to Home Depot and bought some potting soil. My wife, daughter, and I then replanted two plants, breaking one of them up into two pots to make three plants. And so on..

Don’t get me wrong. As a former reporter, I am a strong proponent of a free and fierce journalistic estate capable of conducting in-depth investigations and informing public opinion. I pay for subscriptions to the Economist and The New York Times and other publications. Yet in a “resistance” type situation such as the one that currently grips the United States, we all need to pace ourselves, keep our minds healthy since there is a long slog ahead. What matters to me is seeing that democracy can ultimately correct itself with a clear view about who our leaders really are. I came to a conclusion about Trump long ago, and looking at more news about him just makes me sick.

So what would Dr. King do? I’m not sure. In fact, I must admit that there’s a lot more I could know about the rhetorical genius and organizational mastermind who did so much to advance racial equality in America. I mostly know him through his writing, which is on par with Abraham Lincoln for its poetry and moral power.

So there’s another thing I can do while not looking at the bogus commander in chief and his gang of pilferers: go to a library and check out a book on Dr. King. I’ll write more about it here when I do.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day! Respect to the man and his memory.