Tag Archives: The Microscopic Septet

“FOREVER WEIRD”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET and FRIENDS at THE KITCHEN, PART ONE (Dec. 9, 2017)

For me, 2017 has been a year of wonderful music, meeting and hearing Nancy Harrow, interviewing Dan Morgenstern, and more.  The “more” includes hearing and recording The Microscopic Septet twice.

I know I am late to the festivities, since the Micros have been changing the world one song at a time for more than thirty years, but I am certainly enjoying them.

The facts, or what they resemble: the Micros are co-led by pianist / composer Joel Forrester and saxophonist / composer Phillip Johnston.  The five other nobles in the crew are Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone. They make uplifting, always surprising music.

The first time I had the pleasure was on June 6, at the Astor Room in Astoria, New York, and the results are here and heregloriously.

Six months later, I very happily found myself in a reserved seat in the front row of The Kitchen at 512 West 19th Street in the West Village of New York City, waiting for the music to begin.  Phillip had gathered the Micros and two other bands from the same time and place — the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, for what he called FOREVER WEIRD.

At times, the music was weird, but in the most friendly ways.  To attempt to “interpret” it would be an impudence both to the musicians and this audience. I will indulge myself in only one metaphor: imagine a train rhythmically moving through a constantly shifting multi-colored landscape, changing, morphing, returning.  Just as we’ve gotten comfortable with the purple stalactites outside the window, they are replaced with three (not four) upholstered kitchen chairs. And we are happy.

Not knowing the two other bands, I did not video-record them (although we might get to see the finale, when everyone gathered onstage and played DON’T MIND IF I DO — in a future post) but I devotedly captured the Micros. The premise of their hour-long set was a quick retrospective through their collective history — too rich to compress into eight performances, but what a satisfying jaunt.  Here are the first four:

Phillip’s A STRANGE THOUGHT ENTERED MY HEAD:

LIEUTENANT CASSOWARY, by Joel:

Joel’s SECOND AVENUE:

A “seasonal favorite” for the “generic holiday season,” recomposed by Joel:

The second half will come soon.  I know this offering is but a fraction — one-half of the closing third, but it’s a very rewarding sixth.

Thanks to Phillip Johnston, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, Michael Hashim, Richard Dworkin, Joel Forrester, Dave Hofstra, and to the kind people at The Kitchen, who couldn’t have been more welcoming.

May your happiness increase!

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THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET FINDS ITSELF IN ASTORIA, NEW YORK, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL: PART TWO (June 6, 2017)

Here is the first set of the Microscopic Septet’s performance at the Astor Room on June 6.

What follows might seem self-indulgent (the reference is back to me, not the band) but here is what I wrote for that first post.  I don’t think the Micros are as widely admired as they should be, and although Milton’s “Fit audience, though few,” still is true to me, I’d like to extend the circle of admirers just a little . . . through words as well as videos.

Had you told me, several decades ago, when the Microscopic Septet came, gently ferocious, out of the speakers of my stereo system, that I would be spending a June night in 2017, sitting in front of them with a video camera, I would have said it was cruel to tease me.  But it happened.  And to me, it’s one of the half-dozen accomplishments of this blog-endeavor I’m most proud of.

A brief digression.  I’m coming to the realization that most categorization has nothing to do with the subject.  Of course, at the farmers’ market, it is useful for the purchaser to know what kind of kale or apple or cucumber that unlabeled beauty is, because the purchaser might have certain tastes.  But music is thankfully more expansive than the space between the Ida Red and the Jonagold. So those jazz listeners who wish to debate whether their favorite band plays postmodern-New Orleans-Second Line-funk OR you could call it retro-modern-Creole-trad are encouraged to go outside and play, if the weather is nice.

I confess that I, too, have fallen into the categorizing urge (or is it prison?) now and again, and I even did it for one moment with the Micros, when I whimsically categorized their music to Joel Forrester (to whom I apologize) as “super-intellectual-rhythm and blues,” and the politely pained look that crossed his face as he said, “Well, I don’t know,” was the look you give to a dear friend or relative who has just said something quite surprisingly foolish.  So I gave that up and simply revel in the music: its energy, its surprising twists, its rollicking momentum, its dramatic shapes, its tender musing sadness.  They are too large and luscious to fit in any Facebook group, and that’s something to celebrate.  (Incidentally, I hope any readers who might get scared away by “modernism” give the Micros an attentive few minutes.  They’re not “the Dixielanderini,” but they certainly swing.)

I apologize for the brutality of the image that follows, but when someone asked William Carlos Williams why he didn’t write sonnets, he said, “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet–gosh, how I hate sonnets–is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through you don’t have a crab anymore.”

The Microscopic Septet plays within forms — the blues, other people’s compositions — but they also extend and stretch those forms, with ingenuity and love, so that no metaphysical animals are harmed.

For this New York gig, the Micros are Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone and articulate announcements; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Mike Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Joel Forrester, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

Here’s the first set of their evening at the Astor Room.  By choice, I sat as close as I could without joining the band, so occasionally the players on either end are bisected or in the dark, but I trust that the closeness of the sound recording makes up for this.

Now, here is the second set (I’d moved back several feet, so all the players should appear in the video as they do in life).

CAT TOYS:

DARK BLUE:

LOBSTER IN THE LIMELIGHT:

PANNONICA:

LITTLE BOBBY:

STAR TURN:

WHEN YOU GET IN OVER YOUR HEAD:

WHEN IT’S  GETTING DARK:

I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, with vocal chorus by Dave Sewelson:

Rushing time away is never a good thing, but I hope the Micros visit New York again — soon — if not sooner.

May your happiness increase!

THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET FINDS ITSELF IN ASTORIA, NEW YORK, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL: PART ONE (June 6, 2017)

The Microscopic Septet’s most recent CD.

Had you told me, several decades ago, when the Microscopic Septet came, gently ferocious, out of the speakers of my stereo system, that I would be spending a June night in 2017, sitting in front of them with a video camera, I would have said it was cruel to tease me.  But it happened.  And to me, it’s one of the half-dozen accomplishments of this blog-endeavor I’m most proud of.

A brief digression.  I’m coming to the realization that most categorization has nothing to do with the subject.  Of course, at the farmers’ market, it is useful for the purchaser to know what kind of kale or apple or cucumber that unlabeled beauty is, because the purchaser might have certain tastes.  But music is thankfully more expansive than the space between the Ida Red and the Jonagold. So those jazz listeners who wish to debate whether their favorite band plays postmodern-New Orleans-Second Line-funk OR you could call it retro-modern-Creole-trad are encouraged to go outside and play, if the weather is nice.

I confess that I, too, have fallen into the categorizing urge (or is it prison?) now and again, and I even did it for one moment with the Micros, when I whimsically categorized their music to Joel Forrester (to whom I apologize) as “super-intellectual-rhythm and blues,” and the politely pained look that crossed his face as he said, “Well, I don’t know,” was the look you give to a dear friend or relative who has just said something quite surprisingly foolish.  So I gave that up and simply revel in the music: its energy, its surprising twists, its rollicking momentum, its dramatic shapes, its tender musing sadness.  They are too large and luscious to fit in any Facebook group, and that’s something to celebrate.  (Incidentally, I hope any readers who might get scared away by “modernism” give the Micros an attentive few minutes.  They’re not “the Dixielanderini,” but they certainly swing.)

I apologize for the brutality of the image that follows, but when someone asked William Carlos Williams why he didn’t write sonnets, he said, “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet–gosh, how I hate sonnets–is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through you don’t have a crab anymore.”

The Microscopic Septet plays within forms — the blues, other people’s compositions — but they also extend and stretch those forms, with ingenuity and love, so that no metaphysical animals are harmed.

For this New York gig, the Micros are Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone and articulate announcements; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Mike Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Joel Forrester, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

Here’s the first set of their evening at the Astor Room.  By choice, I sat as close as I could without joining the band, so occasionally the players on either end are bisected or in the dark, but I trust that the closeness of the sound recording makes up for this.

MANHATTAN MOONRISE:

LET’S COOLERATE ONE:

WE SEE:

MIGRAINE BLUES:

TWELVE ANGRY BIRDS:

BRILLIANT CORNERS:

HANG IT ON A LINE:

Thrilling, no?  Also lyrical, pensive, multi-textured, raw, hilarious, moving . . . you can fill in your own praises.

A second set of videos will follow.

May your happiness increase!

JOEL FORRESTER’S MOVING WORLDS

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

My fascination with Joel Forrester and his music goes back more than a decade. I would guess that I heard the quizzically entrancing orchestra THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET on WKCR-FM and was intrigued by its unpredictable mixture of new and old.  And then I heard Joel in person with a few small bands he’d assembled — one called THE TRUTH, which was an accurate description.

Joel doesn’t strive to shock the listener, but he doesn’t follow predictable paths — which is, in an era of reproducible art, an immense virtue. His playing and his compositions can be hilarious, angular, tender — sometimes all at once, and his music is vividly alive, which is no small thing.

I write not only to celebrate Joel — in all his surprises that invite us in — but to remind New Yorkers of opportunities to savor his art.  Every Saturday, he is playing a solo piano gig at Café Loup, 105 West 13th St. at 6th Avenue, in Greenwich Village, from 12:30—3:30 PM.

On Tuesdays, from 6-10, Joel plays solo piano at the Astor Room (located in the Kaufman Studios complex) 34-12 36th St. in Astoria, Queens.  I suggest you mark your calendars for Tuesday, June 6, when there will be a special — no, remarkable — happening, where Joel will begin with a solo piano set (his custom on Tuesdays) and then there will be two sets by The Microscopic Septet with Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone (visiting from Australia!); Don Davis, alto saxophone; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Joel, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

And their latest CD — thirteen variations on the blues, with echoes of Johnny Hodges, a Basie small group, Mingus, rhythm ‘n’ blues . . . titled BEEN UP SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE DOWN TO ME — is frankly extraordinary.  Read more here.

and here’s DON’T MIND IF I DO from that new CD:

And I am not surprised that Joel is a fine writer — think of Joseph Mitchell at a tilt, an affectionate chronicler of urban scenes: read his “Three Memorable Drunks.”

Finally, since I expect that this will awaken some of you to the whimsical glories Joel so generously offers us, here is a link to Joel’s website and gig calendar.  As for me, I have new places to savor, which, even in New York City, is a wonderful thing.

May your happiness increase!