2011 Year's Best Jazz

This list is adapted from the ballot I submitted to Francis Davis for the 6th Annual Jazz Critics poll, which will be hosted at Rhapsody this year. I’ve consolidated his categories into one, and since opinions change with greater knowledge, I’ve rearranged the rankings after a couple of additional weeks of experience. The first four selections in particular I want to separate out as meriting extra attention for their deep ambition, as well as their sheer musical accomplishment.

1. Goldberg Variations/Variations, Dan Tepfer: Beautiful Bach playing, beautiful improvising, beautiful musical thinking. The range of expression and ideas is thrilling. The album of the year, across all genres.

2. Art of the Improviser, Matthew Shipp: Deep, gnarly, brilliant. An exploration of what this music is all about, not just idiomatic jazz but improvising in general. Shipp has been arguing with the jazz tradition for quite awhile, and this feels like hearing an artist fighting for and experiencing enlightenment.

3. Heart’s Reflections, Wadada Leo Smith: What a year for Leo Smith, book-ended last week by the release of his new, terrific disc from his Mbira group and a two night celebration of his artistry at Roulette. Six ensembles played free and electric jazz, cross-genre improvisations and structured and notated works for both chamber ensemble and chamber orchestra. It says something good about Smith’s expression as an artist and his notational technique that the modern classical players seemed immediately comfortable with and excited by his idiom, while some of the jazz players seemed to have been tossed into the deep end and asked to swim. The sets grew in comfort and stature as the music went along and Smith led with confidence and played with imagination, sensitivity and the power of a lip that belied his age (his upper register and multiphonic playing on the flugelhorn was impressive).

This double-disc is music from Smith’s guitar-heavy, thuddingly funky band Organic, and it brings together two important parallel streams in jazz that have had, strangely, a greater influence across popular music than they have with their original families: Miles Davis electric period and Don Cherry as musical griot. Jazz still holds pointless arguments about these musics, especially Miles. It’s hard to believe the basic features of Bitches Brew — a direct connection to the blues, an abandonment of popular song structure for groove and vamp, an emphasis on improvisation and group interplay rather than on getting back to the head and hitting the last cadence — and beyond were ever controversial, but they still are. But jazz is not a set of tunes, it’s a complete style of playing music, and electric Miles was about as jazz as jazz ever gets. And so is Heart’s Reflections, the best so far of Smith’s exploration of Miles legacy (his Yo Miles! bands with Henry Kaiser are strong, and you can hear the music collected in two good reissues, but Organic has a rhythmic vitality that is frequently more supple and propulsive). As Smith explained to me, stitching together all his musical endeavors, it’s about a fundamental value in and connection to an expressive idea that comes out of the blues, but needs as little of strict form and genre as Skip James, Robert Johnson, Son House and Blind Lemon Jefferson did. And that’s where Don Cherry comes in. The sound of this music is full of the colors of Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way and Jack Johnson, but Smith’s wide-ranging phrasing, ear and ability to gather together what seem to be disparate musical elements into a natural sounding whole is straight out of Cherry’s gift for speaking in musical language across cultures and idioms. Smith incorporates that implicitly, making this a true ‘world-music’ record of freely played, strictly composed, traditional, open-ended electric jazz. Almost two hours of music, each second casting a spell. An awesome record.

4. What is the Beautiful, Claudia Quintet + 1: Jazz and poetry has been a better idea in theory than in practice. Although the theory is pretty damn good. On the poetry side, it’s motivated great work by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman and others (there are two good collections of this style), but on the music side it’s mostly been the kind of flute-and-bongos-with-turtlenecks that is a cliché precisely because it’s true enough. Poets have loved jazz, and musicians have dug poetry, but more is needed to make the two work like chocolate and peanut butter. There’s a big difference between writing a pop song, even a sophisticated, complex song like “Lush Life” or “The Peacocks,” and an art song, and that’s what a composer does when they set the poetry of someone else to music. Pop song lyrics are crafted to work implicitly with music, poetry must be made to fit, and even more the composer must have an idea of what the poetry means to fit it in any way that has meaning.

That was Steve Lacy’s great breakthrough and contribution, above and beyond his great musicianship: he took poetry and made it into jazz art songs. With his pieces, there was the underlying quality of taste and judgment, the clarity that came from spending the time to read, sift, think, then make the music. His main compositional acolyte, Frank Carlberg, does the same, and his 2011 release Uncivilized Ruminations, a solid, enjoyable record but not quite as stimulating as some of his earlier discs, I think because the poetry he selects doesn’t have the same bite as Robert Creeley, et. al. A related disc is Nicholas Urie’s My Garden, big band jazz settings of poetry from Charles Bukowski. This is a strange puzzle of a record, and it leaves me wondering just where Urie stands as a reader and composer. Bukowski was never a major literary figure but remains a major cultural figure, with a large body of poetry. While he wasn’t always artful (he grew into the craft as he aged), he was always committed, and he is the great chronicler of the struggle to maintain autonomy while dealing with the necessary evil of work. He was also a tender misanthrope, an outside who wanted to be accepted on his own terms, which he eventually was.

Out of a slew of important books like “The Roominghouse Madrigals,” and “The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills,” Urie has selected a minor set of poetry and set it aphoristically. I have no idea what he thinks of Bukowski because I have no idea what he means. The stuff sounds good, but the words just come out of the great Christine Correa’s mouth as phonemes, as they seem to have no importance in the music. And the music itself is a problem. It’s not bad, although it’s pretty anodyne, but it sounds so much like the music of Carlberg, who handles the keyboards on the disc, that I’m not sure what Urie himself has done, other than orchestrate. I don’t think Carlberg ghost-wrote the disc, I think Urie follows the older man’s style so much that he doesn’t much exist himself as an artist.

The Claudia Quintet disc is entirely different, an important addition to the jazz art song, and completely satisfying. All the poetry comes from one source, Kenneth Patchen, an associate of the beats and of jazz poetry, perhaps most well known for his collaboration with John Cage on “The City Wears a Slouch Hat.” He was smart, irreverent, romantic, hip, and from the opening sound of the record, Kurt Elling’s dry baritone with it’s mordant edge, pronouncing the word “showtime,” you know this is going to be something special. The +1 in the title referes to Elling and Theo Bleckmann, who share the vocalist duties, with Elling only reading, and Bleckmann singing. It’s a creative, effective choice: Elling is the leading jazz singer on the planet, but he’s also an exceptional reader. Bleckmann, with his intimately insinuating tenor, conveys the poet’s cool warmth. And leader and composer John Hollenbeck has things to say about the poetry in the best way a composer can, by making the text clear, by meaning every note he sets under the words and by pushing the emphasis on certain phrases and passages. Since these are art songs, we don’t need to know a specific meaning, and that would cripple the pieces — we just need to know that they mean something to Hollenbeck. This is a key, subtle element. What does the metrically staggered beat for “Job” mean? Nothing, inherently, but it’s a way for the music to support the energy of the poem, which is an excoriation of the worst structural aspects of work, clothed in deranged absurdity. The music does not disguise, nor avoid, the poetry, but reveals it. The crafting of “Do Me That Love” is plangently beautiful, the music for the title track is a lesson in how simplicity is an essential value. This is modern jazz of the highest order, music that entertains and informs in equal, generous amounts. A gentle, thoughtful record, with great weight behind it. Special mention must be made for Elling, who is utterly masterful in his phrasing, his ability to use different colors and accents, his own comfort and confidence in what he is doing. It’s rare to hear poetry read at this high a level, not to mention, with jazz!

5. 1910, Les doigts de l’homme: This disc has grown for me throughout the year. Jazz is obsessed about its history but makes some odd value judgements about different eras, so it’s important to point our — and hear — how the era of the QHCF was so musically wonderful. In a music currently dominated by rhythm, it’s great to be reminded of how much fierce swing can be put out by hitting the downbeat. Tunes of the era and new music with period flavor, mixing joy with a rich sense of extended harmony. An absolute pleasure.

6. Steampunk Serenade, Honey Ear Trio: Creative, dynamic and totally kick-ass.

7. Blues and the Empirical Truth, Allen Lowe: This is a disc to either love or hate. Maybe both. It walks a deliberate, fine balance between primitivism and incompetence. I actually think it’s important to listen to the opening track on the first disc, “Blue Like Me Part One,” because it is both great and bad at once. With all-star support, Lowe has put together a massive project that is something like what Captain Beefheart might have done if he was a jazz musician, taking the most basic elements of the music and building it back up as some sort of alternative history, where Ornette Coleman, Robert Johnson, Otis Spann and Miles Davis formed a band, where there was no past or future, everything collapsed into the present. At times amazing, at times appalling, impossible to listen to straight through and completely necessary. Mind-cleansing and ear-opening.

8.There Was …, Aram Shelton’s Arrive: Brilliantly cool and sharp-edged take on the great legacies of Out To Lunch and Destination: Out!

9. Riptide, Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Hemingway is one of the premiere drummers, a great ensemble player and leader who at times tends to emphasize the style over the physical substance. This new disc has all his strengths and none of his weaknesses. A great band, great compositions and the indulgence in style is used as an excellent transitional device, leading the music from one concept into another. In some ways, this could be a big band record from sixty years ago, that’s the quality of Hemingway’s thinking. A crack, very hip big band. The new version of his standby, “Holler Up,” is a gem.

10. Words Beyond, Alon Nechustan: Top-shelf contemporary piano trio jazz, hitting all the notes from swing to free, with great tunes and great playing.

11. Chris Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder: On here as my debut of the year pick. Plenty of great music, but even more exciting is the sense of a young musician discovering his aesthetic values in the moment. Looking forward to a lot more from him.

12. Synastry, Jen Shyu and Mark Dresser: Underexplored territory, finely done. I wish there were more records like this, more singers doing what Shyu is doing. After Betty Carter, the next logical step is to take the voice entirely into instrumental territory, but there’s been so little of it (Lauren Newton?). Shyu is an extraordinary singer with sophisticated musicality, and the seemingly sparse setting of voice and bass is here colorful and rich (you can also hear her as an essential part of Steve Coleman’s band on The Mancy of Sound, a decent record but without the fire of last year’s release).

13. For honorable mentions: Akinmusire, Daniel Bennet Group, Endangered Blood, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Nate Wooley Quintet, Rudresh Mahanthappa times two, BANN, Asif Kehati, Brian Landrus, Darren Johnston, Ben Kono

The Radical Simplicity Of The Avant-Garde

Landmarks tell us where we are, they help us get to where we’re going. They appear differently to us depending on our distance and angle, and it is that relation which orients us. No matter how concrete and specifically defined they are as objects, their meaning and function are mainly subjective and relative.

In Brooklyn, the main landmark is the Williamsburg Bank tower, which tells us how close or far we are from two central hubs, the meeting place of the Long Island Railroad and the New York City Subway system, and the complex of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Both of those can tells us our distance and direction to an enormous expanse of places and ideas, but the latter is also a mirage. Like a false oasis in the desert, it fools people into thinking they can see how near the avant-garde is, but there is no avant-garde there. Because unlike a point in space or on a spectrum of style, the avant-garde is far less an idea (or in fashionably ‘concrete’ terms a construct), but a practice; the practice of radical simplicity.

If you’re in Brooklyn, though, and heading in a particular direction, the bank tower can help you easily find your way to a place where that practice of radical simplicity happens almost every night, the Issue Project Room, slightly west and due south from BAM. It seems like an appropriate relationship, in relative terms, and it’s even more appropriate that the future home of Issue Project is almost due west (or left) of the complex. It’s at Issue Project Room where you can see and hear, not things like the simplistic pop philosophy of a Laurie Anderson (who appears avant-garde only in relation to a range limited to the span from Talking Heads to Beck), but music in its most basic, unselfconscious state, sounds as the result of practice, sounds made possible through questions, not results circumscribed by easy answers.

In June the Darmstadt Institute 2010 was in residence at IPR, and the programs I saw were extraordinary, leaving powerful, lasting impressions that mock the concept of taste; of good and bad, of like and dislike. The series title is a multifold homage, both honoring and teasing the annual Darmstadt symposiums on Serious Music. Those have long been both a resource and a bane, a place to offer creative possibilities in music and also to ossify them into aesthetic dogma. Well, as Robert Greenburg liked to say in my graduate school seminars, dogma eats dogma. In contrast, the Darmstadt Institute at IPR could not be less dogmatic. Under the gentle and social auspices of Nick Hallett and Zach Layton, it presented programs with the idea of offering interesting music, and worthwhile areas of exploration, while agnostically declining to tell anyone how great or important it might be.

It’s a subtle and important distinction, and allows IPR to present important context to the programs without coming off as lecturing or dictating ‘proper’ responses. The result is a way into listening to music that may be so unfamiliar as to baffle, and the genuine pleasure of learning and incorporating a new idea or aesthetic view. A real triumph of this approach was the June 18th evening dedicated to Luc Ferrari that, with his widow Brunhild in attendance, was also a gracious and unofficial public tribute to one of the quietly monumental artist of the previous century. The structure of the program turned out to be, itself, musical, with the second half offering a musical response to the musical presentation of the first half, in a creative spiral built around Ferrari’s electro-acoustic work “Tautologos III.” To start, IPR screened a documentary, “Luc Ferrari: Facing His Tautology,” made shortly before his death, in which he supervises a recording session for the work. In the second half, Ensemble Pamplemousse and David Grubbs played the piece, and another work, in a living and ongoing dialogue with the composer, who, having just appeared in front of us, was as alive as everyone else in the space.

“Tautologos III” uses structured improvisation against an electronic audio track, the musicians creating their own material then following rules about repetition and entrances. The performances, as heard in the film and live, were completely different in sound (with very different instrumentation) and style, the common identifying thread being the audio. That track, as chaotic and random as it may sound, is the regimented part, the sonic events taking place in the same order and at the same times. In the film, the musicians created their material with an ear towards almost pop music riffs (Ferrari remarks to one of them, smiling, how horrible a phrase is), while Pamplemousse was more abstract and understated, more radically simple, carefully placing sounds in time and listening to each other. That is, after all, the fundamental practice of making music, with notation, tunings, harmonies and forms comprising the wonderful artifice of a developed, abstract art. The quiet, focussed, transparent and contemplative performance was a dialogue with the composer that came to a superb stopping point but which can never, thankfully, actually end. Pamplemousse and Grubbs finished the evening off with “Et tournent les sons dans la garrigue,” an instructions-based piece for an improvising ensemble. It was some of the finest group improvising I’ve heard. A punishing drum stroke began a ritual of listening and playing, call and response; beautiful, sustained sonorities in the strings, augmented with flute and then following by a quiet, repeated guitar note and the lovely tone of a bowed piano string. It was the sound of how civilizations began, ten thousand years ago, via the simplest dialogue and consensus. An improvising ensemble tosses ideas amongst its members, who ideally find a musical consensus and from it build a group expression. Pamplemousse’s consensus was in creating a group sonority, maintaining a constant, luminous sound while slowly adjusting the pitch material to move the music from one point in time to the next. As the audience listened and watched, they sculpted the air between, the musicians developing a varied palette of attacks, the piece expressing the paradox of taking on more coherent information while the sound itself began to disintegrate, a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics that only music can accomplish. The activity receded into a beautiful, sonorous end built around the return to the consensus of sustained pitches, colored by arpeggiations. Then, in a way that only the radical simplicity of improvisation allows, pianist David Broome broke with the consensus as the other instruments dropped out, and played a coda, a pocket ballad touching on standard ideas of melody and harmony, something simple, touching, attractive, transporting the piece from one place into another, completely different, brand new and absolutely fitting. The expressive beauty of the moment left the audience in awe.

Ferrari’s work is in part about how music makes civilization, and two nights later Darmstadt followed it up with how music works on the body, with an evening of discussion and performance titled “Biomusic.” It was mysterious, unnerving and stimulating, like a a vivid, provocative dream. In three parts, it was lecture, music and film (actually more of an exercise in extreme audio and visual stimulation). Branden Joseph, Frank Gallipoli Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, spoke about contrasting ideas of the simplest music of all, pure sound, as embodied in the most generously civilized idea of Max Neuhaus‘ public sound out (his famous Times Square installation is a prime example), and the materialistic dystopia of Manfred Eaton, who’s concept of “Bio-Music” shows what thoughts are possible when everything is a commodity, and every idea about governing is based on who controls whom. Eaton, an inventor more professionally known for his work on brakes for train engines and cars, developed a speculative but detailed system for creating sound and music via a direct connection between brain waves and sound producing apparatus, and sought to implement the idea as a means to control the consciousness of others. The combination of the creative possibilities and the malevolent intent was fascinating and disorienting to hear in discussion, like watching Donnie Darko and trying to figure out if there actually is a copy of The Philosophy of Time Travel in print. Joseph was an expert guide into these ideas; clear, logical, giving just enough detail and context for the oddness at their cores but trusting the audience to capably follow him along.

He was followed by composer David Dunn, playing two pieces each based on a biological premise. The first used ultrasonic sound, lowered down to the level of general human perception, to explore the idea of what bats might perceive sonically if they flew through his New Mexico backyard (or, really, what we might ‘see’ if we were bats). The second was described by Dunn as offering an answer to the question, what if viruses have ears? After thinking of the questions, Dunn removed himself as much as possible from the process of producing the sounds that made up the pieces, at least in terms of what it means to be a composer. For the first piece, he used a binaural ultrasonic mic and recorded the sonic landscape of his backyard, a landscape we would never hear under normal circumstances, but one that we can hear in the concert setting. The second piece was realized through two oscillators Dunn built, designed to work with and against each other via feedback, a bit of creative destruction applied to Eaton’s fundamental concept. Where Eaton was concerned with the idea of control taken to the extremes of social organization, Dunn is interested in autopoiesis, the function of the means of making a piece working to produce, and destroy, the piece’s form, and vice versa. A simple, extraordinarily elegant idea that can propagate itself as much as a compose produces it, and creates complex sounds. Some have a tactile quality, especially in the depiction of what a bat might see, which can seem startling at first but is essential to sound – touch at a distance. While composers use their art to organize sound to touch us in certain, frequently manipulative ways – they want us to feel something – Dunn has us observe sound being created in front of us, seemingly without any emphasis, as if it were a creature seen in the wild. His bats fly according to their own thoughts and needs, his oscillators work with and react to each other. The feeling that observable order was on the verge of coalescing in the second piece was riveting; after burning seemingly randomly through extremely fast pulse rates and frequencies, they would meet on a single pitch for brie moments, charged with the tension that their equilibrium was too unstable to hold. It was another effective demonstration of how simple ideas can create complex results, and how an increase in coherent information and ideas in a piece of music can seem like chaos when it is anything but.

Not a dirty projector

Biomusic came to an end with the singular work of Bruce McClure. He works with film, but he doesn’t make movies, and he works with sound, but he’s not a composer. His piece, Ventriloquent Agitators, accessorized with amiably eccentric hand-written program notes and a set of ear plugs with a noise reduction rating of 33dBA, was performed by means of four film projectors, threaded with simple patterns of light and dark frames, alternating as four sections of a square on the projection surface. As the film moves through projectors, the images are also produced as optical sound signals and processed through a series of guitar effects and then sent out through the PA system. The result is rapidly shifting/switching patterns of light and dark, on and off, binary images along with deeply thrumming, complex monotone sound, the image and sound closely coordinated. McClure is playing with, and exploring, the simplest biological reactions to input in our senses. The inexactness of the analog projection slowly, hypnotically transforms the heavy, hard sound into an irresistible rhythm, relaxing in spite of the sonic force, while the stimulation of the lights creates a powerful and vaguely pleasing sense of disorientation in the brain. The experience was unique, the power almost overwhelming but McClure’s complete guilelessness and his open-minded questioning of possibilities and curiosity about what might happen are communal, and so the feeling of having someone run their fingers through your mind was an appropriately dreamlike experience for an evening that beyond with a trip into the rabbit hole, and left us with the dazed refreshment of waking from a profoundly deep and much needed sleep.

Dunn stuck around for a couple days for an evening dedicated to the late composer Kenneth Gaburo, a difficult figure in very real ways. Gaburo is obscure, even in the world of contemporary music, for the singular quality of his work, which seems untethered from centuries of tradition, and his clearly irascible personality. He created an impressive and influential body of work, while exploring some of the most radically simple, and avant-garde, ideas and processes in music. He used standard instrumentation and forms for a period, even had a piece performed by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos. He also made some fine, important tape and electronic compositions, like “Lemon Drops” from 1964-65. Why he was being remembered, and the evening was as much remembrance as performance, with Dunn, Larry Polansky and Chris Mann present, discussing Gaburo as the man and composer they knew, with Warren Burt joining via projection from Australia, was for his creation of an unclassifiable art that combine linguistic raw materials, musical structure and theatrical performance, an idea he called Compositional Linguistics.

We need artists like Gaburo to think these thoughts and do this work for us. Language is at the core of the human species, and music is not only a language but arguably the very first human language. Language makes society, and thus civilization. The language of speech and writing and music has developed over thousand of years, especially that of music, which in the West has become an entirely abstract concept, a language without inherent meaning. In the context of our aesthetic culture, breaking down musical instruments to their common core – the human body that plays them – and breaking down music to it’s most fundamental component – the sound created by the human mouth – led Gaburo to a way of structuring spoken language as music. This is a necessarily simplistic description of things that not even a graduate seminar could treat with proper justice, but it gives some sense of what makes his most famous piece, “Maledetto,” what it is. A ‘Composition for seven virtuoso speakers,’ “Maledetto” is a forty-five minute opus that begins with a speaker describing and attempting to explain the origin of the screw. As he continues, other voice join in, working from a different but ubiquitous definition from screw, that is the verb, and exploring an impressively comprehensive set of slang riffs on the carnal act. The speaker is the straight-man, and by the time he mentions Archimedes’ endless screw, the effect is amazing and hilarious. His coda, where the screw becomes an object contracted by his brother-in-law for the government, and through which the government . . . well, you know what The Man does to us. The piece has a clearly made musical structure; a shape, sections, internal counterpoint, but although there are occasional sung tones the material is spoken. It’s music, it’s theater, it’s a lecture, it’s fascinating, indescribable, unsettling, prodding the listener to abandon every notion they previously held about the possibilities of music. It’s clearly loved and hated at the same time, and Mann described how it encouraged him to get on a plane and come argue with Gaburo, and argument that continues sympathetically after his death. Sitting on a stool, Mann offered his latest argument, which he called “The Art Of The Diff,” something newly completed but with elements of previous work like “a history of grammar” and the example below. While it’s not clear to me what he and Gaburo argue over, his use of language seems both sympathetic to and different from the composer. The wonderful combination of mutterings and gestures, the sense that we are watching someone in the process of thinking and trying to put those thoughts into language, seem in line with Gaburo’s work, and Mann uses much more specific material, that is words that we recognize and that have a real meaning. But he shifts the concept and context around him as he speaks, himself at the still center while we whip around trying to find or bearings. I do not know what to call it, but it has a magical effect, and is full of charm and human values.

“Maledetto” was not performed (you can listen to it here and read Gaburo’s notes), but there was a performance of his “Ave Maria,” Warren Burt played, via projection, a realization of a text piece he had recorded, and Issue Project screened an amazing and mesmerizing film, unfortunately not currently available, that Gaburo made of one of his text pieces in performance. The piece instructed the three performers to each take a children’s rhyme, “London Bridge” was one of them, and substitute a regular pattern of phonemes, vocal sounds and even body sounds like snapping and slapping, and perform them with the regular cadences of the originals. The work, and the film, alternated between the three performers in sepia-toned close-ups, revealing their physical humanity but cloaking their identities. This is very difficult to perform, and the results were virtuosic. Watching and listening was incredibly disorienting at first, like being spoken to by a space alien, but the repetition, and Gaburo’s true genius, worked on the language centers in the brain, so that the listener could gradually discern a structure and a purpose, and then began to look forward to hearing the next repetition as small revelations piled one upon the other. What Gaburo managed was to rewire the brain from the most basic materials, to return the brain to a fundamental state, free of the clutter of civilization and culture, to make music as if for the first time in history. An extraordinary concept and achievement, and radically simple.

UPDATED: Added photo of McClure’s projector set-up

UPDATED II: Ferrari piece now strictly identified as “Tautologos III,” as per David Grubbs via Nick Hallett


Speak, Memory

If it’s difficult at all to think of what to memorialize this Memorial Day, then start with Walt Whitman – today is the poet’s birthday.  The holiday began as Decoration Day, specifically to honor the Union dead in the American Civil War.  Whitman, who tended to so many wounded and dying soldiers, and created an essential American voice, is the ideal place to start.  And as the scales of DADT may actually be falling away from institutional eyes, it’s worth noting that Whitman was gay and a great patriot, a man on the side of the Republic against treason, a man on the side of American values against the right to forcibly enslave human beings because of the color of their skin.

Whitman also understood the idea of liberty far better than the so-called ‘libertarians’ and ‘conservatives’ who plague us in this country, people whose idea of liberty extends just to the dollar and no farther.  Liberty is this unpublished poem:

To What You Said (Whitman/Bernstein, sung by Thomas Hampson with Craig Rutenberg)

To what you said, passionately clasping my hand, this is my answer:
Though you have strayed hither, for my sake, you can never belong to me,
Nor I to you,
Behold the customary loves and friendships, the cold guards
I am that rough and simple person
I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting,
And I am one who is kissed in return,
I introduce that new American salute
Behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors –
What are they to me?
What to these young men that travel with me?

What are they to me?  Indeed, that is the essential question of liberty.  Money, the means to command others, to condemn anything that is different than me, to own other human beings, these things are nothing for anyone who believes in liberty, but those received models of the parlor are all to those who are cramped and choked in morals and values, to those who grasp only at material and secular power (and yes, wielding religion as propaganda in service to political power is as secular a goal there is).

So on this day, to truly honor memory, exercise liberty.  Ask, what are these things to me?  And if you want to listen to this idea of memory, then Charles Ives, another great and patriotic American who cared for his fellow citizens and gave them, those far less able and fortunate them him, the means to enjoy the reward of a lifetime of hard work (or what those opposed to liberty would call a socialist), has prepared a piece of music for you:

Poetry in the Most Unexpected Places

Jazz, poetry . . . and the Internets.  Just found when I loaded Kurt Elling’s website:

Lurking in the shadows,

beyond where you can see,

working on the server

to improve its quality.

The site will be returning

just as soon as we can swing it,

all night our lamps are burning

to more promptly quickly bring it.

Now, set that to music, Kurt!  It’s got a good beat, and you can probably dance to it.