Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mikhail Horowitz's The Blues of the Birth reviewed by Kirpal Gordon

The Blues of the Birth, Mikhail Horowitz with special guests, 9 tracks, Euphoria Jazz at, produced by Artie Traum & Bob Irwin;
The Opus of Everything in Nothing Flat, Mikhail Horowitz, Red Hill/CVS Outloud Books, ISBN 10: 1879969025 / ISBN 13: 9781879969025


Mikhail Horowitz celebrates many traditions musical, literary & theatrical to give voice to a new synthesis on the CD The Blues of the Birth. Right out of the gate, he’s blowing badass madcap internally rhymed bebop lines a capella accompanied by the chomp chomp sounds he utters in “Swingin’ Cicadas.” It’s nutball madhouse & hysterical histrionics, a Lord Buckley tribute of the hip-trippiest order, & through the filter of a Brooklyn-voiced story teller with uncanny skills at dialect, it becomes a Taoist parable about knowing when “it’s time to climb.” Performed live, the audience’s various outbursts of laughter become part of the tale, even more so on the title track.

Opening with a quote of “Round Midnight,” Joe Giardullo’s tenor sax wails bluesy & Horowitz jumps in & establishes a pliant lyrical form: “This is the gorgeous primordial moan of T-Bone Sphinx, a daddy who thinks he’s older than the ringed enigma of the universal magilla,” & we’re off on a ten minute ride way wilder than what came before. After six choruses, Giardullo comes back in wobbling & screeching, & Horowitz flips into a repeating blues form measure that Giardullo punctuates with riffs & squawks. Here are the first two of his thirty-six He-blew choruses: “He blew the yin-yang wormhole whole shebang Big Bang scatter this matter elsewhere blues. He blew the bored head Lord said Let there be light & get outta my sight before I smite thee a boo-boo blues.”

This is the all out/blues-of-the-birth shout, the wild bore/cry-for-more, full tilt/can’t wilt, certifiable Bug City boogie woogie of a Borscht Belt Papa Legba: flingin’ down the ludicrous with stingin’ motherwit, slingin’ Yiddishlekeit parody spoof with mouthful spews of hilarious hoo-doo, wingin’ double masked truth with double meaning mimicry goof & kingin’ a buffoon & an oracle wisdom in one. Peter Schickele writes, “He does with language what Jim Carrey does with his face. His stuff is not only funny, it’s bracingly pungent, surprising, ear-opening & is guaranteed to cleanse your mind of cobwebs.”

Mikhail Horowitz & Gilles Malkine

However, in the third track, “Litany of the Dead,” Horowitz takes us beyond the laughter. With his longtime partner-in-musical-time (check their two CDs: Live, Jive, & Over 45; Poor, On Tour, & Over 54) Gilles Malkine playing quarter notes on the bass, Horowitz opens, his voice pitched between song & spoken lament: “There ain’t no squeeze for Vito Genovese; ain’t no luscious number for Patrice Lumbumba.” For all his elegaic roll call on woe, the mood never goes morbid; rather, like his far-flung, outrageous but inevitable rhymes, he hits the note of death's certainty with flair & savoir-faire.

Sandwiched between two sweet one-minute solo shots (“Art” & “Death”) is “Bird Lives.” It opens like an Impressionist rapture of Spring with Horowitz on sopranino recorder dueting with Jim Finn on flute. As in track three, he turns & returns to the metaphor of jazz as multi-specied & pre-historic: “Yeah, this was back in the Mesozoic, the Mezz Mezzrow-zoic, to be specific. In those days the cats were not cats; they were dinosaurs: black, brown, beige and albino dino.” Comparing their chops with the abundant volcanos (“all of those dinos could blow & what they blew was antique bebop on a spikey array of archaic cornets, ancient basses, antideluvian tubas, proto-trombones and pre-lapsarian saxophones”), Horowitz narrates, interspersed with Finn’s gorgeous flute solos, the allegory of Archie “Bird” Archaeopteryx, a dying dino whose music lives on in all the twittering birds around us.

“Subway” features Joe Giardullo on talking drum dueting with Horowitz; together they create the eerie sensation of riding an uptown express. Although it’s a relatively short track at three and half minutes, it is one of the strongest; beat for syllable, drum & word really do wed into a unity. “CIA,” on the other hand, suggests yet another of his literary roots: the sunnier side of dada & surrealism. “Constantly incognito, almost certainly igniting a covert ion-activating cancer….”

The last track, “Apocalypse Wow,” the most musical & the longest at fifteen minutes, has the whole band blowing: David Arner on piano, Giardullo on bass clarinet & Finn on tenor. “It was 3 a.m. at the CafĂ© Afterlife,” Horowitz begins & weaves a theory about time's simultaneity before revealing that “this is the final send-off of T-Bone Sphinx.” Sax & bass clarinet begin to “answer back” & soon he & the horns are trading eights. A funeral parade ensues, Horowitz narrates over the horns, the piano comps, then the band suddenly lays out as he announces Mocha Java Man & a line-up of players that go all the way back to ancient Egypt & forward to Einstein with the band’s inspired interludes of Sun Ra & New Orleans second line before “the universe blipped & turned itself inside out & bopside down & old solitary T-Bone with meditative delicacy began to improvise once more from a blank score.”

Three of the tracks---“Litany of the Dead,” “Blues of the Birth,” “Apocalypse Wow”---are poems taken from The Opus of Everything in Nothing Flat published by Red Hill/CVS Outloud Books. By comparing the text to the recorded performance, one can better understand the CD’s stunning achievement for Horowitz brings all his gifts of wit, nuance & double entendre as well as what Jud Cost calls “the Gatling-gun word association free fall of Lord Buckley, Lenny Bruce, Jack Kerouac, Ken Nordine, Bob Dylan, Jean Shepherd or Allen Ginsberg.”

Finally, there’s his delivery. His inflection wails wacko wonders a la the great vocalese singers & scatters: Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendrix, Betty Carter, Mark Murphy, Babs Gonzalez, Ella Fitzgerald. He’s the unforgotten American radio sound in the background, sober as the voice of Carl Sagan but haunted with the ghost of vaudeville. He’s scary nutty like Jonathan Winters or George Carlin & psychedelic like the Firesign Theatre. He treats poetry as recitation, a schtick, a combination of what the jailhouse calls a toast (a rhyming, rolling yarn & tribute) with the multi-voiced impact of a Robin Williams routine. He’s the great-great-great grandson of Walt Whitman & he’s representing the hipster code as deeply dug in compassion & expressive of a sense of wonder, but most primarily, as Jack DeJohnette writes, “His poetry struts, swings, sings, laughs and cries the improvisational harmolodic multidimensional spirit we call jazz.” He brings us ancient to the future, backward-forward to a time most timeless when lyric & note aren’t separate & laughter & insight run together in one continuum of recognition.

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