PORTRAITS | Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, December 2014
“The New Age front cover art to Portraits: Wind, Thunder, and Love is more than a little misleading, the reverse liner photo giving the best sense of expectations to this CD and its environment: a small symphony ensemble arrayed around composer-conductor Joseph Daley. Portraits is the kind of novo-jazz nu-classical amalgam written and performed all too rarely on these shores. Long-time FAME readers know my affinity for this sort of music as portrayed by Anthony Davis in the 80s, and every new slab in league is always more than welcome as each travels back in time to a wrinkle in the neo-jazz canvas that was too briefly etched. Well, take heart, y'all, 'cause this is only the third of a highly ambitious 10-CD series of works to be completed by the time Daley reaches 70 years of age, all of them crafted in his recent rather dramatic conversion to post-Impressionist neoclassicalism.
Did I say 'post-Impressionist'? Hm, I may have been a tad hasty, because the term, as with so much of the linguistic baggage applied to art, embraces a good deal more than my trusty 1954 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians is willing to grant. That marvelous but sometimes wanting mini-encyclopedia states that the "chief aim of impressionism is to capture a momentary glimpse of a subject under certain temporary conditions rather than its permanent qualities", and this quite nails a good deal of what the estimable Mr. Daley is accomplishing here in the very first movement of his five-section Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith, at times searingly illustrative of the technique and its affective qualities.
Three of my all-time favorite CD box sets are obscure collections of rare sounds, all of performances taken from live recitals: New World Records' Music from the ONCE Festival: 1961 - 1966 (five discs); the Col Legno Leningrad 1988, Vols. 1-6 (six discs); and New World Records' Testament: A Conduction Collection (ten discs of Lawrence D. 'Butch' Morris' sessions with ensembles). What Daley is doing, and what Davis did and is still doing, is colliding the Classicalist and Romantic periods of classical music with what was sparked by Schoenberg and others, producing what I call 'incidentalism' (I've merely extended Grove's definition of 'incidental music' to its proper sphere): whole opuses, or elements within them, consisting of even briefer glances than Impressionism propounded, rendered serially, though not necessarily linearly, strung together either as an entire work or tossed in as garni. What this derived from, though, as shown in Cage and Stockhausen, was a historic expansion of consciousness and, after that, the artist's self-permission to create without necessity to adhere to stifling conventions.
However, the mid-ground within that (starting in utilizations of ancient hallowed traditions, moving to recent more peculiar rules, and then finally the expression of self as artist in a here-and-now granting far more anarchic space than ever before) is what Daley, Davis, and others occupy. This eradicates the too-often irresponsible avenues of free jazz (which is magnificent when done correctly—see, for instance, the new Frank Lowe issuance [here]), the vacuousness of the fruitier sidestreams of the avant-garde (can we say 'Laurie Anderson', boys 'n girls?), and so on. What I'm saying is: this is serious music ensuring the classicalist tradition does not slip into the 'dead music' realm Brian Eno accuses it of.
The long Wispercussion suite is segmented according to a quintet of expositions showcasing 80-year old Warren Smith's percussive excellences. Warren played with Miles, Aretha, Janis, Lena, Lennie Bernstein, and even one of the most maverick of all American musicians, the unclassifiable Harry Partch, among many many others. Daley, who knows from superlative, played with Sam Rivers, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, and others as well, all stellar names in jazz's various firmaments. The joining of the two men, then, is something of a major event in this rarefied sector. But also take note of Shadrack/Portrait of Bill Cole. Cole's the nagaswaram player in the piece, and his work is highly evocative of the late Elton Dean of Soft Machine, playing the distinctive double-reed in a stormy milieu.
Two more cuts appear, but I'll let you discover those for yourself. Again, though, this is music to listen to. There are so many colorations, images, emotions, and whatnots entablatured that experiencing the events requires one's full attentions lest so much be missed in work well beyond what Copland, Ives, Grofe, Gershwin, and other modern masters emitted. My favorite track is the closer, Industria, a moody chaotic 9-1/2 minute very progressive piece that could've erupted from Univers Zero or some of the highest caliber progrock bands, a grey wonderland of marvels, dangers, intrigues, and ceaseless fascination.”