Here on the Galaxy, we love and embrace the sound of joyful, exuberant musical experimentation, especially when it comes to avant garde classical, jazz and rock. It can at times require a bit more effort on the part of the listener to understand the meaning behind the music, which can at times be confusing, initially unpleasant or even harsh. Yet, I find that some of the advances that have happened in music over the course of the last 40 years (jazz, bebop, free jazz, distortion in rock guitar, Jimi Hendrix, Coltrane’s use of overtones, Monk’s idiosyncratic compositional patterns, etc) could not have happened without the sense of freedom that has been created by the avant garde.
Tonight’s show is centered primarily around several innovators who changed the world through their willingness to question the musical norm. We started off with a few songs from Frank Zappa. Zappa’s music had many hues, ranging from full-blown avant garde jazz to sarcastic, biting humor, with plenty of his fine lead guitar mixed in. We started off with an experimental song from Weazels Ate My Flesh, The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque. We then heard two songs from You Are What You Is, Harder Than Your Husband and Doreen, before finishing with three more from Weazels Ate My Flesh – Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask, The Orange County Lumber Truck, and the title track (which was two minutes of feedback, recorded at the end of a 1970 concert).
Igor Stravinski was one of the key composers of the 20th century, and the premiere of his ballet Rite of Spring was the source of rioting in Paris. But Rite of Spring was just the third of three ballets commissioned by Sergey Diaghilev, and his ballet, The Firebird, while less controversial and not quite as avant garde, is no less interesting. It was premiered in July of 1910, and was so successful that it immediately resulted in two more commissions for Stravinsky, which resulted in Petrushka and Rite of Spring.
We then heard from saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Blind from an early age, Kirk was noted for his custom-made horns, built so that he could play them with one hand, thus allowing him to play multiple horns simultaneously. He was also noted for his frequent use of circular breathing techniques, which allowed him to engage in sustained passages, often for minutes at a time without stopping. We heard four songs – two from Domino, A Stritch in Time and Meeting on Tremeni’s Corner, and two from the live Brotherman in the Fatherland, Afro Blue and his cover of Coltrane’s Blue Trane.
We then finished with some Bill Monroe. Bill Monroe certainly doesn’t qualify as “avant garde”, but his music was of the same high quality as some of the legends that we played tonight. We heard Roanoke, Brakeman’s Blues and Close By, all from the Live Recordings 1956-1969 set on the Smithsonian Folkways label.