Monday, March 23, 2015

The Sounds of Life - Tom & Ellen [NYCAC 501]

The Sounds of Life
Tom & Ellen

Ellen Christi    -vocals, percussion, flute
Tom Bruno    -drums, ashimba, bells, flute, piano

Side A

1.Oriental Tale
2.Moroccan Mode
3.Piece to Jimmy Anderson

Side A

2.Dirge for James B. Christerson

NYCAC 501 - NYCAC Records


In the not-exactly crowded field of recorded vocal - percussion duets , this record doesn't so much stand out, as stand alone.
I can't think of anything that this sounds similar to.
Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln come quickly to mind, but theirs was a dramatic, declamatory 'public' style. Quite different to this, which is largely personal, reflective, and intimate.
Besides, Max and Abbey were quite recognisably "jazz" musicians, often drenched in the blues. Christi and Bruno almost totally avoid conventional jazz gestures here.
Whilst 'ethnic themes' are the setup for pieces on side 1, and 20th century classical song may be informing part of the partly frantic Spaced, the impression you're left with is that Tom and Ellen are playing the music that they hear themselves - their music - and that's it.
No story is ever quite that simple though - I'd be interested to hear how it sounds to others ...

I'm not being accurate anyway in calling this purely a percussion-vocal duet
Bruno plays flute and piano on one section, and both Tom and Ellen duet on flutes for on the Dirge for James B. Christerson. This lament for the death of Christi's father is also the only piece that contains any actual sung words, in the opening of the piece.
From there on though, the vocal improvisations are wordless and range from quiet and introspective meditations through to loud, impassioned and agile muti-note phrasing.
Christi largely eschews the often heard 'primal scream' style of  free improvised vocals  - with its ululating, shrieks and big vocal scoops and slides.  Instead -whilst frequently clearly emotional - she tends to hit notes bang-on - and her pitch is really secure even in the more frantic passages.
I really like the colour of her voice (she varies it to great effect in some passages), which anyone who listened to the earlier two NYAC records posted here will be familiar with.

This duo LP predates those records - and was the first release on their newly established NYAC Records (New York City Artists' Collective). The And You Ain't Ready For This One Either LP followed it three years later in 1979, followed by the NYAC Plays Butch Morris in 1984.
To my knowledge, these were the only 3 albums released on the NYCAC label [Edit: Wrong - 11 years after this LP, came the last NYCAC release - Star of Destiny - Ellen Christi (1987). Thanks to blogger farosanderson for pointing this out] .  For further details about the NYCAC, albeit meagre, please see either of the preceding posts.

It seems kind of sad that this first LP has dedications for people who had died - both Ellen's father, and - as the liner notes explain - a composition/improvisation for a recently deceased friend .
The next LP featured a dedication for members of Juan Quiñones' family that had perished in a fire.
And the last record (and the first one posted here) was put up here anyway, in memoriam Butch Morris.

Although Tom Bruno died in 2012, Ellen Christi is still very much alive and has had a long career and issued a bunch of albums along the way.  Please consider - if you've enjoyed any of these NYAC Bruno/Christi posts buying some in-print material of the artists in question.
For Ellen Christi, you can visit her website.  There are a few MP3 samples there, although online stores may offer more in the way of sound samples. You will also find additional releases that Ellen hasn't included on her site's discography page.
As always - 9GC advocates purchasing from artists you enjoy and respect !

Tom Bruno plays what sounds like an African thumb piano at the beginning of the record - it is in fact an ashimba - struck with mallets, it's in fact more like an earthy xylophone. As the rear jacket notes, the ashimba was made by a gentleman in Leesburg, Virginia . The man in question Mr Gene Ashton, is one and the same as well-known multi-instrumental improviser Cooper-Moore.

When I was a kid, records would occasionally come out (sometimes books too ) - where the artist decided to name-check everyone who ever influenced them or they wanted to tip their hat to. Maybe sometimes they wanted to show off too - show how hip their list of influences was   So they'd end up with these enormous great mad lists paying tribute to God, Madame Curie, Mahatma Gandhi and Carlos Castaneda - or whoever.. Most of these lists tended to include the Creator - in one form or another - which, on reflection sounded pretty logical.
The great thing about these over-the-top 'thankyou' lists was that - in those pre-internet days - you could find out stuff about other marginal figures out there in the world whose work might interest you. Some of the names might be familiar, distantly or otherwise, others would be totally unknown. In the days when you couldnt google anything, because google and the internet did not exist, and you had no hip friends or relatives, these jumbles of names and works were like a cipher or pathway on to other interesting and exciting places.
The Sounds of Life has got one of the best thankyou lists of them on on the back jacket - well over 100 names. Most, but by no means all, are musicians. Check it out for some great names and some fabulous juxtapositions. "Don Cherry, Miss Carol, Earl Coleman, Betty Carter, Caravaggio..."   (spelled here "Caraveggio")
I like the list on the back cover, and I like the music on the record. It has an intimacy and honesty that's valuable and that's compelling in an understated way.
Your thoughts and comments, welcome.
Note that I have not split tracks in making these files - the performances flow from one title to another, so the 2 FLAC files in the download are simply Side A & Side B.  Large scans and info included.

Hope you enjoy.



Ellen Christie's Website -

Tom Bruno Memorial -

Eclectic Arts - NYAC Website -

TEST - Tom Bruno's group with Sabir Mateen, Daniel Carter & Matthew Heyner -

Tom Bruno 'White Boy Blues' on Eremite Records-

If you have respect for artists, please BUY music from them or through legit outlets !
It supports the prospect of continued creativity.


serviceton said...

The Sounds of Life - Tom & Ellen!U5UFFCAL!X5OA-TcBygHhTPcHAdTqriK5fhoN1IBIvmxtXf3r15w

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This seems like it will be right up my alley. I wonder if it will sound like the (great) Jay Clayton / Jerry Granelli album. In any event, a whole new sub-constellation of artists for me to explore...

Solomon said...

Thank you!

Benedrin said...

Thank you so much, for the music but quite frankly mostly for your presentation. I too have a ''musicologist'' tendency about music. We should always have in mind that music, and its documentation, don't happen out of nowhere. There are contexts, historical facts, biographical details, even economy in the sense of economy as a means of dialect for communication. And this is what I love about documentation: its political economic effectiveness, so when you listen back to History, like with this dedication to a deceased father, you do link yourself to a piece of art which content we all go through once in our lives, and this music here is a white stone on our path now that we have experienced it from an esthetic creative point of view, and whether or not we have lost yet as well. That's art, in its context and potency.

farosanderson said...

There is one other NYCAC (504) featuring Ellen with Tom Bruno, William Parker and Roy Campbell called Star Of Destiny from 1987. Although I haven't played it in a number of years, my recollection is that I preferred it to the Butch Morris album but memory is a fickle beast. Anyway good to see your blog active again.

serviceton said...

farosanderson - You are quite right, I missed Star of Destiny. Many thanks for the correction.

Benedrin - Thankyou! What you write is pretty much on my wavelength too. Your comment means a lot - appreciated.

Solomon - Nice to see you drop past, thanks for the comment. How'd you like it?

Anon - There is some common ground with Sound Songs I think - but perhaps more differences than similarities. (Jay Clayton is wonderful, agreed.)

Anonymous said...

yeah! this thing is grand! absolutely terrific continuation of NYCAC story in the form of it's commencement! the picture is very romantic - when i saw it, i thought that the music's must be kinda gentle and i wasn't expect it will turn to be such a spirited stuff. the second piece called "Moroccan Mode" is pretty hard-to-reach. All in all, it is a powerfull experience.
and yeap, that "thankyou"-list is very intresting to get acquainted with, it's pretty cool that Ray Anderson and Mark Dresser are there!
many and many thanks!!!


Benedrin said...

Serviceton: perhaps I should add some vague thoughts again, but first I have to talk about myself.

I long time ago I was bitter angry poet, wanting to change the world and all that jive, you know the kind. Probably I was a bit borderline too, so let's say that my life wasn't typical, although I diid got a job later and I was in love for a good ten years. Still, I was angry at society, capitalism etc... When you start to be angry at concepts... anyway..., till someday things started happening in my personal life and I began to have anxiety issues, which led to depression and other complications in the mental health department of my life. I stopped working, I couldn't do anything, and eventually my girlfriend decided to move out and actually no one ever bottered picking up the phone and ask me how I'm doing. So I went into ten years of solitude and isolation, it's still going on actually. But I had an internet connection and discovered how easy it is to find music and stuff like that, so I started collecting music files, and eventually I became to have quite a lot so I decided to sort them out by date of recording. So for ten years I have been collecting, sorting and I began to listen to them in chronological order, starting from the oldest in the 50s, and I eventually got up to 1977. So life didn't make much more sense than that: drinking beer and coffee, smoking cigarettes and listening to music. And always downloading new stuff.

Of course I tried to make new friends, meeting a new girlfriend, but what kind of pick-up line do I have when look at my life. I was going to my therapy sessions but it just didn't make sense: why live at all? Still over time I really got involved in my music enjoyment, I incorporated reading books about music and discovering a lot of things around it, and I eventually gave up drinking and stop messing with my general health, but again why do all that for? Let's say that I got a bit more lucid about what I'm doing and what I'm thinking. And after a long survey about my situation, I started to understand that I some point I should begin to capitalize about I have being doing for the last ten years, which was music and what I got to learn through it.

And frankly, I'm no longer bitter and angry, I really started to care about music, to care about life, about people, art is so important, we are all there in this Western White Civilization, not even starting to tap into what art means, what it means for other people, how Black people go through their creative side and how they live it, we are just consumers and doers, without purpose. Well, I'm a poet, and I'm just starting to understand what it means, the political implication of being a creative individual. And yes I was talking about the political economic effectiveness of recorded documentation, because as communicators, we consume our communication, we don't let what we are doing transform us, we always feel privileged to be the center of our ideas. We consume ourselves. But I chose to let art teach me and bring me to more consciousness of who I am. So voluntarily I started caring about music, I went back to the beginning again, back in the 50s and resumed listening and reading music. And it is light years better and more fascinating than ever. I learn so much about life, about who I am, about the world, and I love again.

So frankly, I understand the struggle of sharing music for free, the guiltiness and stress over people not being passive about their consumption, but really, if this little message here can reach some people and that they also start investigating about the art, about the implications of it, about their consciousness over what they are doing, as I finally became to see it myself by becoming a listener and searcher, about starting to care, I think a lot of good will happen. I know my life is better, so start to capitalize too about the task you put yourself to, dear serviceton, and make a change if you feel it's all worth something. I know you already believe it.

serviceton said...

Many thanks Benedrin for your heartfelt thoughts & words. People are scared sometimes to put themselves out there and talk about some of the things you refer to (anger, depression etc..) in a real way. It sounds as if you've walked a really dark road - but now a better, brighter one.
This, to me, sounds like HOPE
"I learn so much about life, about who I am, about the world, and I love again."

For me, I want a little LESS of everything in life including art - I've had enough of gluttonous over-consumption. I want a little less - but for it to mean more.

You mentioning being a poet reminds me - we should return to an earlier theme, and put up a couple more poetry records here this year. In your honour if you like.

Benedrin said...

Exactly, music (and arts) means more when you start caring about it. As does everything else. And of course there is an issue that comes along with consumption, and it good that you mentioned it, because as a "part-time downloader", I really made no sense in accumulating all this gigantic collection, beside it being a thing to do, and casually listening to it, but it's truly when I started capitalizing in the sense that owing to my actual capacity as a productive human being, I can't hold a job, and it may seem like fun to not have to work like everyone else, but everyone should just attempt to do nothing like I'm forced to just to see, it's not easy, I feel worthless in fact, it truly gets boring and it's wholly missing a purpose, I'd rather much feel useful like I used to, working at that foodbank for people in financial difficulties, it wasn't the most remunerative job but at the end of the day I always felt like my work meant something, but look at me now. Yes, it's when I started to capitalize on this accumulation of music, when I realized how much I always been a contemplatie type of person, on how I always seem to go forward when I discover things existence, and so and so, that's when I realize that this is what I am now, a listener, a researcher, a thinker basically, that how a meaning came to me about all kind of topics, and if I want to feel useful again someday, I'm hoping to find a way to give back, based on what I've learnt, on what I did, on how hope materialized in my life despite everything, just like you said you feel it's there.

So yes passive consumption is a very negative aspect, and that is why thanks to a blog like this one, I discover plenty material in my quest for meaning and enlightment, but I discover also a small community of bloggers and readers, whom can represent a sort of tribe if you will of like minded people, each one on board for a search for meaning, and this is what prompted me to write so extensively in the first place, this meaning about what we do, which involves music. At the very end, we all care about this music, and I think we would all like to give back and not being seen as free-loaders, and perhaps the time is ripe to develop something unseen or unthought of, that would perhaps crush this robotic, anonymous, avatar-ridden, virtual life, to think more in terms of collectivity, to really start making a difference for everyone as well as for the artists involved. Perhaps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot! I found the vinyl second-hand in Barcelona, Spain many, many years ago. I haven't played it in ages, it's nice to find it again in digital form. Keep spreading the word!

ponting said...

When your website or blog goes live for the first time, it is exciting. That is until you realize no one but you and your. Teak armchair