Saturday, April 20, 2013

Konitz, Lee and Kuroda, Shigeki – Motion!


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Kuroda's aim is to express the concept of motion. Using the bicycle as the primary object, he soon added umbrellas. The idea came from a scene in a Hitchcock film.

Maybe it was the sense of mystery created by the visual absence of people, or maybe he simply felt that umbrellas would add mass to his compositions. Other changes in composition have developed over the years: in his early works, the bicycles and umbrellas were floating in vacant space. He then added trees, walls, fences, walkways, with the static structures emphasizing the rushing movement.

He uses a variety of different intaglio printing processes to achieve contrast in his lines some sharp and thin, others thick and blurred" and in his background or colour areas" some smooth and uniform, others dappled or textured.”
- Hanga Ten, Contemporary Japanese Print Website

Kuroda is one of the most important Japanese printmakers living today. He became famous in 1979 when the Cleveland Museum of Art organized the exhibition: 21 Young Contemporary Japanese Printmakers.

Kuroda suggests that things move so quickly in Tokyo that he wants to reflect the speed and movement in his bicycles. The umbrella is a very traditional symbol of Japan.
- The Verne Collection Website

Shigeki Kuroda, a long favorite at Luber Gallery, with his whizzing bicycles. He uses the bike image in the foreground, and is forever designing new environments for them to drive through.
- The Gilbert Luber Gallery Website

“If I were given Lee Konitz's name in a word association test, my automatic corollary term would be ‘integrity.’ At thirty-four, Lee is still firmly self-contained, direct and laconic in speech, and impregnably committed to his own way of personalizing the jazz language. The winds of change that keep most of the jazz world in a perpetual state of hurricane alert (as poll winners are toppled and ‘hippies’ change their definitions of what's ‘in’) have left Konitz unruffled. He keeps deepening the direction he has chosen, works where he can providing he has complete musical freedom, and teaches one day a week. In the past few years, as ‘funky,’ ‘soulful,’ hard,’ and various forms of experimental jazz have nearly monopolized the foreground of jazz publicity, Konitz has become part of what Paul Desmond calls ‘the jazz underground.’

Yet Konitz's jazz conception is so singular and provocative that his influence is still felt, especially in Europe. Nor certainly has that influence disappeared in America. Konitz has set standards of melodic continuity and freshness of line that are respected by musicians who are otherwise widely dissimilar to him in approach; and I'm sure that as the scope of jazz improvisation continues to expand, the worth of
in retrospect and he himself will again be considered an important part of the foreground of jazz explora­tion.

In this set of performances, which are among the most consistently resourceful Konitz has ever re­corded, his distinctive qualities are brought into especially clear focus. If, for one thing, jazz at its most stimulating is indeed ‘the sound of surprise,’ Lee's playing here is constantly fresh and unpre­dictable.

He avoids standardized ‘licks’ and limp cliché with persistent determination and instead constructs so personal and imaginatively flowing a series of thematic variations that the five standards he has chosen become organically revivified. Konitz goes far inside a tune, and unlike many jazzmen who skate on the chord changes or ‘wail’ on the melodic surface of a song, Konitz reshapes each piece entirely so that it emerges as a newly integrated work with permutations of form and expanded emotional connotations that are uniquely different from the results obtained by any previous jazz treatment of the piece. …

Consider the command of his instrument that Konitz must have to execute the swiftly moving and subtly interrelated ideas that make each of his per­formances in this album so pregnant with invention. In addition to the remarkable clarity of Konitz's supple and ingenious lines, he also is intriguingly skillful in the molding of series of climaxes of vary­ing intensities so that a topographical musical map of each performance would show considerably more complexity and variety than is true of the majority of jazz improvisations. Underneath this multi-layered logic of ideas is a firm, complementary resilient rhythmic line that is an integral part of the total design of Konitz's structure. He does not, in short, depend on the rhythm section to swing him but instead fuses with drums and bass so that a rare feeling of tripartite unity of execution emerges from these tracks.”
Nat Hentoff, original liner notes to Motion: Lee Konitz

One of my first impressions of Jazz was the sense of motion I felt while listening to the music.

This feeling of movement was enhanced when I began playing Jazz because I played it on the drums with all four limbs going at the same time, just about all the time.

No other musician experiences Jazz in quite the same way as the drummer.

I’ve been on bikes, in cars, small and large planes and helicopters, and on amusement park thrill rides – none of them compares to the feeling of motion generated by a Jazz group “in full flight” [sorry for the mixed metaphor].

One of the most jarring experiences I’ve ever had with motion in Jazz was my first listening to a Verve LP featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz with Sonny Dallas on bass and Elvin Jones on drums that was recorded during the late summer, 1961.

The name of the recording was – you guessed it – Motion: Lee Konitz [released on CD as Verve 314 557 107-2].

The original LP was comprised of the five [5] tunes that Lee, Sonny and Elvin recorded on August 21, 1961. The CD set is on three discs that contains this music plus a number of other tracks made around the same time with Dallas on bass and Nick Stabulas on drums that Konitz labels as “equally compelling.”

Prior to Motion: Lee Konitz, I had been accustomed to hearing Lee on recordings that featured a straight-ahead “Cool” style of Jazz. His improvisation on these recordings from the 1950s was very linear, fluid and heavily influenced by pianist Lennie Tristano’s harmonic conception of the music.

That all changed on Motion: Lee Konitz.


Here, Lee’s solos were very intense and jagged. They were made to sound even more so by his choppy phrasing which stopped and started so often that they forced he listeners’ ears to constantly move in new and different directions.

The rhythmic pulse that drummer Elvin Jones lays down behind Lee on Motion: Lee Konitz was also relatively new to me, sometimes, startlingly so.

With its many accented triplets and other syncopations, Elvin’s drumming interrupted the even flow of time then characteristic of most modern Jazz.

Elvin along with Tony Williams revolutionized modern Jazz drumming by altering its motion away from a linear, metronomic time. Instead of pulling the listener forward, Elvin’s drumming pushed, shoved and bounced the listener in all directions.

Elvin and Tony gave the rhythmic prism of Jazz different angles of acceptance and, as such, changed the manner in which the listener perceived it.

As trumpeter, composer and bandleader Wynton Marsalis once remarked: “Change the rhythm and you change the music.”

Lee, Sonny and Dallas are constantly changing the rhythm on Motion: the motion is still there, but it is unsettled, jagged and implied. It seems to become multi-dimensional, almost like the sense experienced when closing one’s eyes while riding on a roller coaster.

Lee Konitz had this to say about the music on Motion in the liner notes to the original LP:

“When asked on a radio show to comment on one of his records, Lester Young replied: ‘Sorry. Pres, I never discuss my sex life in public.’ Bless his sweet soul!

After over twenty years of playing, I find that music is like a great woman: the better you treat her. the happier she is.

There's not much for me to say about my music -I play because it's one of the few things that make sense to me.

When I left Chicago to come to New York in '48 I had been playing in my own way for a few years, but for various reasons was unable to understand what it was I had hold of. A woman can be very elusive! Then came the first recordings, the little reputation and the working all over the place and practically losing contact with my whole playing feeling.

Fortunately for me, I never really made it profes­sionally, so I've had the chance to relax and get a little insight into my life. Freud said something like it all happens in the first four years of our life and we spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what happened. I guess I've always had some kind of feel­ing to play; now I'm trying to eliminate as much as I can of what it is that prevents it from happening
I've been recording since 1949; I have always tried to improvise — lots of different settings — some things made it for me, some didn't. This particular record means something to me.

It was made one afternoon the end of August with Elvin Jones and Sonny Dallas. This was the first time the three of us had played together: in fact,  I Remember You was the first tune of the session. We just played what would be the equivalent of a couple sets in a club and got these five tune* for the album. I km loves to play and gets lots of things going on and the time is always strong; he really is something else. Sonny, to me, is one of the best bass players around. So I was fortunate to have a good strong rhythm section. Playing with bass and drums give* me the most room to go in whichever direction I choose; a chordal instrument is restricting to me.
The thing that I like about this set is that everyone is trying to improvise. The music will speak for itself.”



I was reminded of Lee Konitz’s Motion as a result of a recent viewing of the art of Shigeki Kuroda and after reading this annotation about it on Hanga Ten, a contemporary Japanese print website:

“Kuroda's aim is to express the concept of motion. Using the bicycle as the primary object, he soon added umbrellas. The idea came from a scene in a Hitchcock film.

Maybe it was the sense of mystery created by the visual absence of people, or maybe he simply felt that umbrellas would add mass to his compositions. Other changes in composition have developed over the years: in his early works, the bicycles and umbrellas were floating in vacant space. He then added trees, walls, fences, walkways, with the static structures emphasizing the rushing movement.

He uses a variety of different intaglio printing processes to achieve contrast in his lines some sharp and thin, others thick and blurred" and in his background or color areas" some smooth and uniform, others dappled or textured.”

Upon further research, I located this information about Kuroda on the Ren Brown gallery website - www.renbrown.com

“Born in 1953 in Yokohama, Japan, Shigeki Kuroda’s medium are etching, drypoint, mezzotint & aquatint and mixed media, watercolor paintings

Kuroda is an exciting artist with a distinctive style and subject matter all his own. After graduating from
Tama Art University, he began creating intaglio prints in 1976. He did further study in the United States in 1984, under the auspices of a Japanese Government Fellowship.

The works are readily recognizable, usually depicting blurred riders on bicycles, carrying umbrellas. Kuroda has been exploring this theme in a variety of ways, combining the sharp lines of drypoint etching with the softer tones and textures of aquatint, to create vivid prints. 



Although the figures remain similar in each work, the mood is altered by the backgrounds. In each, the artist gives the viewer a sense of the hurried speed of the cyclists, while exploring variations in line, color, texture, composition, mood, and the use of secondary imagery. He says the theme began as an exploration of the circle—horizontal in the umbrella or vertical in the wheel.

Since 2003, Kuroda has done some small prints of flowers, birds and other animals, occasionally with mezzotint. By different techniques applied to a copper plate, Kuroda manages to combine effects in such a fashion as to enchant the viewer. His work has received critical acclaim wherever he has exhibited--both in
Japan and abroad. He continues to live with his family in Kanagawa, and travels extensively in the United States and Europe.”

Given my perceived symbiotic relationship in the work of Konitz and Kuroda, I thought it might be fun to put them together in a Jazz/Art video montage.


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