Artmosis: New York Art Quartet

Clifford Allen

New York Art Quartet, MoMA 1965                                                     ©Raymond Ross Archive/CTSImages


In criticism, it is curious how similar terminology can be used to both support and disavow certain work. In other words, one person’s problem is another’s solution. Take, for instance, visual artist and critic Donald Judd’s (1928-1994) use of the term “interesting.” In his 1965 essay “Specific Objects,” a treatise on new three-dimensional art of the period, he declares two things: “half or more of the best new work is neither painting nor sculpture” and “a work needs only to be interesting.”(i) In Judd’s mind, interest is equated with value, and drawn from his immersion in the American pragmatic philosophers like William James and John Dewey. At a time of incredible artistic diversity, with works labeled as “pop art,” “happenings,” “installation art,” “minimal art,” “post-minimal art” and so forth, aesthetic valuation drawn from repeated engagement was as close to fixity as one could get.(ii) Counter to this is one of Judd’s contemporaries, critic Michael Fried, who stated in his 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood” that “for Judd, as for literalist sensibility generally, all that matters is whether or not a given work is able to elicit and sustain (his) interest... (Literalist work is often condemned – when it is condemned – for being boring. A tougher charge would be that it is merely interesting.)”(iii) Using Judd’s own vocabulary against him, Fried considers the scientific, experiential process of engaging art as absent the transcendent weight that modernist painting, sculpture and music contain.(iv) When the stakes are high – and probably even when they are not – the critical discourse uses vocabulary as a fulcrum on which polar ideas dance, turn and ricochet.

A similar argument could be played with in dealing with a 1965 observation in the Village Voice made by Michael Zwerin (1930-2010). Like Judd, Zwerin practiced art as well as criticism – in his case, as a trombonist and trumpeter who, within two years, would be playing “free jazz” with figures like saxophonist/composer Archie Shepp and drummer Robert (Cleve) Pozar. In 1965, however, his feelings toward the new music were less rosy: “I spent an unenjoyable evening listening to jazz ‘in the garden’ at the Museum of Modern Art earlier this month. The whole scene struck me as somewhat dishonest. The music is presented as a sort of hip Muzak and is, in reality, not the prime attraction. The real show is all that expensive, well landscaped Manhattan real estate and the sculpture on it.”(v) Zwerin had been attending a concert by the Jazz Composers Orchestra and the New York Art Quartet (Roswell Rudd, trombone; John Tchicai, alto saxophone; Milford Graves, drums; and Reggie Workman, bass). While at first Zwerin is intrigued by the music, he goes on to state “I realized I’d heard all I was going to that evening. I couldn’t find any music other than the one tune those guys seem to play all of the time” and goes on to say that “in modern jazz, form must be obvious I think, almost superficial. The subtlety is provided by the content within the prescribed boundaries. A strong jazz player can be his own form. His instinct carries him and provides the necessary unity.”(vi) In other words, Zwerin’s argument is profoundly modernist and reads like his peers in painting – while a large variety of things can occur within the “canvas,” the shape is predetermined and necessarily holds the action. The action can be heavy – in terms of the play between supporting structure and contents – but it’s still framed, so to speak. Free music is much more akin to Judd’s “specific objects” – it is diverse and, more to the point, the action often dictates the form. Judd’s forms were dictated by their content, which required three dimensions but is in many ways non-sculptural.

The Museum of Modern Art’s Jazz in the Garden program began in 1960 and changed its name in 1970 to Summergarden – as one would expect, by that time it primarily featured pop groups. Very few of their concerts featured avant-garde jazz; in addition to the July 15, 1965 Jazz Composers Orchestra concert, there was a performance on July 14, 1966 by South African pianist Dollar Brand and fellow countryman, saxophonist/flutist Morris Goldberg, reedman Byard Lancaster, bassist Juini Booth and drummer Sonny Brown (though Milford Graves was on the program flyer). Goldberg recalls: “It was quite an adventurous show, with Byard and I exploring the avant-garde realm of Abdullah’s (Dollar’s) music. Songs like ‘Easter Joy,’ ‘The Dream’ and ‘Tintiyana’ lent themselves to free playing quite easily.”(vii) On July 13, 1967, the Steve Lacy Quartet with Aldo Romano (drums), Kent Carter (bass), and Enrico Rava (trumpet) performed, albeit curiously billed in lead-up press as featuring Sunny Murray, Alan Silva and violinist John Blair. At the time of the NYAQ/JCO performance, the Orchestra (culled from the recently-dissolved Jazz Composers Guild) also featured pianist Carla Bley, trumpeter Mike Mantler and saxophonists Ken McIntyre and Charles Davis, with Reggie Workman subbing on the gig for bassist Walter Booker. Initially the concert was supposed to provide material for a live NYAQ LP on Fontana, with the balance to be recorded in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio the next day. In reality, only the studio recordings were issued – as Mohawk (UK/Dutch Fontana 681.009, 1965).


Mohawk and the MoMA concert brought up the tail end, mostly, of a group relationship that began in the summer of 1964 at the loft of visual artist, experimental filmmaker and musician/composer Michael Snow. Trombonist Roswell Rudd was coming off of work in a cooperative quartet with Steve Lacy that performed almost entirely Thelonious Monk tunes; Danish-born alto saxophonist John Tchicai was reeling from the dissolution of the similarly short-lived super-group, the New York Contemporary Five (with Archie Shepp and trumpeter Don Cherry). They had recorded together on July 17, 1964 at Snow’s loft under the nominal leadership of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, with Cherry, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray. This was to be the soundtrack for Snow’s landmark film New York Eye and Ear Control (released as ESP-Disk’ 1016). Tchicai and Rudd also made up half of the four-man horn section on Shepp’s Four for Trane LP (Impulse! A-71, 1963), which featured Rudd’s arrangements. Early on displaying an affinity for Lee Konitz, by the Sixties Tchicai’s approach to the horn embraced a loquacious but studied penchant for repetition and odd variations, a personal, albeit distant warmth closer to Lacy than Ornette Coleman. Rudd was comparatively “hot,” drawing from Dixieland tailgate, but with a surface of atonality and free association.

Rehearsing a new quartet, Rudd and Tchicai first used the Contemporary Five rhythm section of bassist Don Moore and drummer J.C. Moses, a Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones acolyte from Pittsburgh. Reedman Giuseppi Logan was apparently in attendance at one of these open rehearsals and brought his regular drummer Milford Graves; Graves sat in and Moses was no longer the group’s drummer of choice. As Graves recalls: “This is deep: I remember Roz and John were smiling and saying, ‘That’s the kind of drummer we want!’” The three principals of the quartet didn’t quite “fit” anywhere else, ultimately – Graves never really was an insider with the Latin music scene, being African-American, and yet didn’t come up in the jazz ranks like his avant-garde drumming peers. Tchicai, who died in 2012 at 76, was of Danish and Congolese heritage and became something of a troubadour. In the mid-Sixties, Rudd was a Yale-educated white man playing black avant-garde music. The group would employ a revolving cast of bassists over their nearly eighteen-month run, including Don Moore, Lewis Worrell, Eddie Gomez, Bob Cunningham, Reggie Workman, Richard Davis, Steve Swallow and Hal Dodson. Two proper LPs resulted, both actually issued in 1966 after the group disbanded – the aforementioned Mohawk and an eponymous November 1964 date issued by ESP-Disk’ (ESP 1004) featuring poet LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) reading his post-Beat Waste Land, “Black Dada Nihilismus.”

With Graves unavailable, in fall of 1965 Rudd and Tchicai toured Scandinavia and the Low Countries with South African drummer Louis Moholo and the Danish bassist Finn von Eyben, billed as the NYAQ. Their Hilversum radio session was issued without consent under Rudd’s name by the French label America in the early 1970s (Roswell Rudd, America 6114). More music from the tour was released with the group’s blessing as Old Stuff in 2010 (Cuneiform 300). Back in New York, the horn men reunited with Graves and bassist Richard Davis for two performances in December of that year (one apparently featuring cellist/performance artist Charlotte Moorman) before parting ways. A reunion concert CD was issued by DIW in 2000 as 35th Reunion, though apparently there was talk of such a meeting occurring from the early 1980s. Triple Point Records collected five LPs worth of previously uncirculated material have been collected as call it art. Housed in a birch wood box with a 155-page cloth-bound book of photos, ephemera, and copious text, this is an extraordinary, redefining set. In addition to one alternate take from Mohawk (the great Rudd piece “Banging on the White House Door”), the set includes the group’s MoMA performance, a radio set from WBAI with LeRoi Jones, a Halloween 1964 concert at reedman/recording engineer/painter Marzette Watts’ loft, their set from the “Four Days in December” concerts, and music from a 1965 rehearsal at Snow’s loft.

New York Art Quartet, MoMA 1965                                                     ©Raymond Ross Archive/CTSImages


The disinterest expressed by Zwerin as a result of the MoMA performance is somewhat surprising, considering the brevity of the concert and the fact that each of the four pieces presented are just that – tunes. There are thematic arrangements, however sketchy and slight, and they house brief and caterwauling improvisations. Among the pieces played are Charlie Parker’s “Mohawk,” Rudd’s “Sweet V” and “Banging on the White House Door,” and Tchicai’s “Quintus T.” Like the LP that would result, the NYAQ here is comparatively crackling and concise, favoring short pieces with clear opening and closing statements. Graves’ Afro-Latin one-man drum choir is front and center, erasing bar lines and running an aggressive counter to the tempi and textures – explicit or otherwise – stated by the horns. Workman’s bass is nearly inaudible, thus focusing one’s ear on the interplay and sparring between Rudd, Tchicai and Graves. “Quintus T.” is the opener, named for Surinamese painter Quintus Jan Telting (1931-2003; he actually named the group) and beholden to a puckered series of unison horn calls, the drummer presenting a myriad of time/no-time/allover clatter that, were it not so crisp and factually decisive, might appear random and disjointed. Even as Tchicai and Rudd engage a series of skirling and knotty motions, they are “together” and Graves is most definitely “apart.” Parker’s line follows, rendered in a rickety fashion with the blur of Graves’ stabs, malleted whorls and ride-cymbal dissociation drawing Tchicai’s delicately-limned bop reference into a harrowed gooeyness. An agitated undertow of constant accent and rattling obsession characterizes the icy meander of “Sweet V,” an expression of love-balladry given over to distracted tension.

Often called the “Art Blakey of free music” for his massive draw on the African and Afro-Latin/Afro-Caribbean roots of jazz drumming (he started as a timbales player in Jamaica, Queens), Graves had a nearly obnoxious disavowal of meter, swing and drive more akin to Tony Williams’ work with the Miles Davis Quintet of the period. Graves isn’t nearly as light a player as Williams, but his committed subterfuge is remarkably akin. There is a constant barrage of activity coming from the drum chair, most glaring in how he obliterates the jaunty swing of “Mohawk” by quintuple-timing, dropping out altogether, or playing absurd martial fragments against the tune. In essence, Graves might as well be abandoning all precepts of song or composition and what they imply. Free music up to this point still relied somewhat on pulses or waves that, if not countable in the traditional sense, still swung – witness Sunny Murray’s work with pianist Cecil Taylor or with Albert Ayler (though Murray began to winnow his music to the point that it was so spare as to be delicately absent). John Coltrane’s regular drummer at this point was Elvin Jones, who swung mightily even as his percussive approach was inordinately complex; ditto his replacement, Rashied Ali.

Swing – even in terms of implied, pulsing movement – was pretty much gone with Graves. The support structure was there, but a large percentage of the music did not have anything to do with it beyond having something to rail against. Graves juts out – more than that, he aggressively acts with or without compositional bookends. Sure, he can count something, as he does in brief (and hilarious passages) on “Banging on the White House Door,” but ultimately Rudd and Tchicai hold the loose framework in place as Graves subdivides and explodes around it, a field of information that occurs in such rapid succession as to be impossible to compartmentalize.

Here is where Zwerin’s “Muzak” comment is especially germane, because it is precisely this field of action that the critic’s experience finds diffuse and background-music like. Zwerin is bored – for him, this music is “merely interesting,” to borrow from Fried. The fact is that Graves’ blur of sonic information is so overwhelming that there is little to latch onto, and while Tchicai and Rudd have something of tradition in their approach, it’s far from the music’s focus. The presence of forms could perhaps be seen to do more harm to their perceived cause than good – the knotty writing of “Mohawk” is an absurd demarcation where the activity is committed to something far from “tuneful.” What Zwerin calls “Muzak” is part of the point.

The NYAQ never totally jumped off the deep end into total improvisation, though a few collectively improvised pieces do appear across call it art; rather, there were always bookends of a sort, and even some suite-like pieces (Rudd’s “Rosmosis,” for example). Rudd and Tchicai were the group’s principal composers, though they borrowed from the books of Coleman and Cherry in addition to Parker, Monk, Dollar Brand, and the occasional standard (Mohawk features a wonderful rendition of “Everything Happens to Me”). Between those arrangements there was significant room for action that might have little to do with building upon the chosen tune’s original “meaning.” To borrow from art and cultural critic Clement Greenberg, improvisation reaffirmed the composition, allowing a greater understanding of the tune’s depth and possibilities.(viii)


The material culled from the Four Days in December concerts at Judson Hall in 1964 (under the auspices of the Jazz Composers Guild) is of a different breed. A little shy of two months after their ESP debut was recorded, Don Moore helms the bass chair, in for Lewis Worrell. Moore is an elegant and powerful bassist, but in the context of this music, his penchant for walking bass lines and a down-home bluesy sensibility is nearly a sore thumb. Moore certainly was available to free players – he held a prominent role in brass multi-instrumentalist and composer Clifford Thornton’s debut LP, Freedom & Unity (Third World 9636, 1967), and worked with trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon in addition to his previous place in the NY Contemporary Five. But most often Moore could be found in hard bop ensembles, playing straight-ahead. “Rosmosis” is an interesting point of comparison – on the ESP record, Worrell’s lengthy bass solo closes the piece and is a curiously isolationist soliloquy free from meter. Moore is earthy, almost funky and glibly referential in a propulsive and swinging statement occasionally accented by Graves’ motive flashes. Actually the third piece of the concert, “Rosmosis” begins in medias res, Graves flicking the ride cymbal in a taut, trance-like state as Rudd and Tchicai seesaw before horns and bass erupt into a ducky swagger, the trombonist moving through a series of slushy, vocal tailgate exhortations and animalistic growls against Graves’ nattering activity and Moore’s pizzicato shading. It’s an interesting situation, because there are three musicians playing at once and their actions are related by dint of occupying the same space and general parameters; however, their intersections are far from predictable and actually seem somewhat incidental. It’s what one would call parallel improvising, wherein the music coexists on a series of horizontal planes. One could compare it to being at a social function where several conversations may join without being explicitly related.

Following an unaccompanied trombone statement and a brief snatch of Coleman-like written material, Tchicai and Graves begin an appositional dialogue, the saxophonist’s searing cries bouncing off of the drummer’s fills and woven bombs. It’s a fascinating undermining of the traditional soloist-with-accompaniment model, placing musicians either out completely on their own (as the bass and trombone sections attest) or with a drummer whose interests are in strange relief to the “lead” horn voice. “Uh-Oh” follows and is comparatively slinky, Graves glinting off of a deep bass vamp, highlighting and discarding notions of time while Rudd and Tchicai converse and push against one another. They are oddly impressive foils, which is partly why the NYAQ’s front line is so intriguing – Rudd’s expressive, boisterous and nonlinear trombone language is a direct counter to Tchicai’s cyclic, cool-toned and oddly-poised approach. As a collective piece, “Uh-Oh” is almost environmental; one can dip into its waters and find something interesting, or one can allow it to work as a weird burble of background activity. While “listening” may not always be the locus of the NYAQ – in fact, quite the opposite – their creation of an improvisational field from which events and passages could pop out and take hold is rare and different from similar collective exploits undertaken by Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray and Gary Peacock during the same timeframe. Following a short, elegantly foregrounded percussion section, the group moves into the Tchicai composition “No. 6,” atonal impulses in nearly stop-time that spiral out into charged dialogue, Rudd and Tchicai wheeling like birds chasing an insect as Graves’ rolls and bursts subtly advance and recede. The trombonist may take the reins and charge with stitched-together declarations, or his broad, blatting notions may comment on thinly-searing alto saxophone, but either of the hornmen is just as likely to pop out of the collective canvas as be part of it.

In the interest of programming LP sides, the concert’s first two pieces – Rudd’s “Old Stuff” (later revised into “Yankee No-How”) and the rugged, dirge-like “Asprokhaliko” – actually follow, opening the second record of call it art. The former is one of Rudd’s most infectious tunes, and remained in the group’s repertoire up until the end; its hard-charging theme blends Dixieland fanfare and robust modernity, spanning into incisive alto/trombone dialogue and dime-turning rhythmic invention. But Graves seems unimpressed by Tchicai’s phrases at one point, and loudly bashes them to bits with a series of tom jabs; undeterred, the saxophonist continues his breathy self-dialogue counter to the drummer’s toothy crispness, Graves falling away to leave alto, trombone and bass to wander momentarily. Wandering is a legitimate part of the NYAQ’s aesthetic, and a brief bit of doldrums amid fiery group improvisation is strangely engaging, as if the listener needs a moment to right oneself as much as the ensemble experiences the same notion.

New York Art Quartet, MoMA 1965                                                     ©Raymond Ross Archive/CTSImages


The NYAQ’s relationship with poetry is one of their most enduring aspects; were LeRoi Jones not on their debut LP reading “Black Dada Nihilismus,” perhaps their impact might have been less keenly felt. It’s not that the rest of the music on the ESP album isn’t valuable and fascinating, but three and a half minutes of one of Jones’ strongest poems of the period is icing on the cake – enough so that a Dutch Situationist poetry magazine issued it on a flexi-disc.(ix) Jones, in his “Apple Cores” articles for Down Beat, praised Milford Graves at great length, writing that “he must be heard at once.”(x) A proponent of new black music, Jones’ words were sometimes at the expense of white musicians, though Rudd escaped this negativity. From a January 1965 recording at WBAI (now part of Pacifica Radio), Jones reads “Western Front,” “Bad Mouth,” and “In One Battle” offset by the music of Graves, Rudd, Tchicai and bassist Eddie Gomez. There’s an edgy, almost seething feel to the quartet’s music – perhaps abetted by the “in the red” recording levels and palpably condensed WBAI studio environment. Gomez has an allover impulsiveness that suits Graves’ salvos very well, his compact pizzicato tugging against midrange dissected beats. “Ballad Theta” starts the proceedings; what might otherwise be a wistful low-grade fever is, in the hands of these four musicians, full of haranguing repetition and sardonic wails, Tchicai’s singsong minimalism and Rudd’s bluesy commentary made tense by malleted clatter. This gives way to Jones’ “Western Front,” a tough poem railing against Allen Ginsberg and free/spiritual love bolstered by cymbal scrapes and wiry bass plucks.

Parker’s “Now’s The Time” gets off to a rickety start, Tchicai bringing out the Bird in Ornette before spiraling into dry, keening invention as Graves’ stop-start battery quickly nudges the music off the rails. The brief “Bad Mouth” is read unaccompanied before the quartet erupts into “Old Stuff,” Rudd embracing a violence not often heard from his instrument, and leading into a meaty passage for bass and percussion. As Jones reads “In One Battle,” the ensemble commentary is almost cackling and rude – not unlike Albert Ayler and Don Cherry’s interaction with the poet on “Black Art” (Sunny Murray – Sonny ‘s Time Now, Jihad 663, 1965). While perhaps among the rougher-sounding selections on call it art, the WBAI session is a valuable expansion on the NYAQ’s work with Jones’ poetry and captures a tense, volatile aspect of the music rarely heard elsewhere.

Jones’ East Village address at 27 Cooper Square is well documented as a historical heating kettle for Afro-American music/art in the mid-Sixties; Archie Shepp lived in the building, and saxophonist Marion Brown immortalized it with a composition of the same name in 1965 (Marion Brown Quartet, ESP-Disk’ 1022). Living on the ground floor was reedman Marzette Watts, who occupied the space with his expanded, commune-like family. Watts is an interesting character; involved with the SNCC, he studied painting at the Sorbonne and his art (none of which apparently survive) was reminiscent of Willem de Kooning, Ray Parker and Joan Mitchell. After recording two scarce LPs as a leader in 1966 and 1968 (the latter under Bill Dixon’s direction), Watts embarked on a career as a sound engineer for avant-garde sessions throughout the Seventies. At a Halloween party in 1964, he hosted the NYAQ for a lengthy “concert” of sorts.(xi) These are the earliest known recordings of the quartet; curiously, the core group is joined on two pieces by “original” drummer J.C. Moses, as well as trumpeter Alan Shorter. The version of “Uh-Oh” serves as something of a “what-if” piece; Graves sticks to congas and the pair of percussionists set up a Latin groove beneath the horns’ exclamations. Unfortunately Rudd and Tchicai are often beyond the mike’s reach, and the somewhat historically erratic Shorter isn’t in particularly compelling form. Their performance of Coleman’s “O.C.”(xii) – a staple of the New York Contemporary Five – is better recorded and more compelling. The feisty interplay between Moses (for whom this tune would be familiar territory) and Graves nudges Rudd to a strong passage of boisterously swinging, “idiomatic” improvising and Tchicai follows with quixotic, puckered baubles. It’s interesting to think of the NYAQ as a free bop band; if they’d remained with Moses and Moore in the rhythm section, the recorded legacy would be markedly different and more akin to other Coleman followers. While not entirely “conservative” in a field of boundary-setting peers, the results sound almost traditional. Compare this with the following take of “Ballad Theta,” which is more truly ballad-like than the WBAI version. It’s a loose walk through textural obsessions and flashes of fire, with a particularly gorgeous alto statement embedded. In fact, some of Tchicai’s “prettiest” playing of the set is on the Halloween 1964 recordings.


It’s possible that the most intriguing part of the NYAQ’s legacy lies on other shores. Following the European sojourn that Tchicai and Rudd engaged in the fall of 1965 (Graves was unable to make the trek), the saxophonist resettled in his native Denmark in 1966 and led the large improvising ensemble Cadentia Nova Danica. By that time, the NYAQ’s two proper LPs were available overseas to new-music-hungry artists and followers. Furthermore, with drummer Louis Moholo on board, the ersatz NYAQ of the preceding fall tour were surely influential on local musicians. Dutch drummer Han Bennink, a favorite of visiting American boppers, moved almost completely over to free music by 1966-7 and took his more theatrical cues from Graves’ work. The quartet that the drummer co-led with tenorman Hans Dulfer, Heavy Soul (documented on Jazz in Paradiso, HSM 1501, 1969), which featured trombonist Willem Van Manen and bassist Maarten Altena, owed a fair amount to the NYAQ and to the Archie Shepp-Roswell Rudd group of 1967. Interestingly, Tchicai sporadically lived in Holland throughout these halcyon years, and Bennink was a frequent performing partner – thus building on some of what the NYAQ started, but in a distinctly European vein.

The English drummer John Stevens (also a sometime mainstream jazz player) seemed to borrow heavily from Graves’ work by the time the Spontaneous Music Ensemble’s Karyobin LP (Island, 1968) was recorded. In an interview with this writer, expatriate American bassist Kent Carter’s observations about the UK outfit Spontaneous Music Ensemble amount to something similar: “[SME drummer John Stevens’] thing was to sit down and make music with no clichés, just through interaction and listening. So this sound developed which was quite exciting once it got going. It wasn’t so easy at first because you didn’t have anything to hold onto ... that fire was there but it came out in another way. The ensemble was the total thing, and it moved through space in such an incredible way.”(xiii) Darting cymbal attack and dead-sounding, almost muted tom playing, in conjunction with vocal ululations, was a hallmark carried over from Graves into the work of both Stevens and Bennink.(xiv)

As European free improvisation, especially of the English and Dutch varieties, might seem texturally diffuse to some, perhaps the NYAQ could be seen as something of a model or leaping-off point. Form as something to be superseded by (if not totally discarded) in favor of improvisational content is certainly a major factor in European free music, and after 1965 would be a greater factor in American creative improvisation. Considering the fact that “jazz” meant something totally different to musicians from England, Holland or Scandinavia in the mid-Sixties, the formal content of “other folks’ music” perhaps wasn’t as relevant as improvisation, and certainly engaged structure in a wildly different way than American critics of the mid-Sixties would have found compelling. While the NYAQ didn’t make the break themselves, their music – leaderless and sometimes even usurping itself, while also containing passage of great beauty and complexity – was an important and fascinating step in another direction from their peers. The three principal players’ journeys may have diverged somewhat afterwards – Graves in often dense and inordinately frenetic free groups, Rudd moving headlong into composition, and Tchicai taking a more whimsical path – but call it art is a reaffirmation of what they did together for a time, however brief that might have been.


i Donald Judd. (1965/1975). “Specific Objects” in Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-1975 (181-189). Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

ii David Raskin. (2010). “Credible Art” in Donald Judd (41-63). New Haven: Yale University Press.

iii Michael Fried. (1967/1998). “Art and Objecthood,” in Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (148-171). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

iv Ibid.

v Michael Zwerin. (1965, July 29) “Jazz Journal: Thoughts While Gardening” in The Village Voice (11, 19).

vi Ibid.

vii Email correspondence with Morris Goldberg, February 7, 2013.

viii Writing in 1960, Clement Greenberg’s definition of Modernism is, as follows: “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” Clement Greenberg. (1960/1993). “Modernist Painting” in The Collected Essays and Criticism: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969 (85-93). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. I have always felt that jazz improvisation, as it was understood up until post-Coleman free jazz, operated on similar grounds of self-criticism/self-definition, vis-à-vis improvising on a composition. 

ix The ESP recording of “Black Dada Nihilismus” was included with Situation 15, August 1967 (the Hague). It was alternately issued as a single-sided flexi and in a split with Hans Wesseling’s (1936-1998) “Who Wants Yesterday’s Papers.”

x LeRoi Jones. (1965/1998). “Apple Cores #2” in Black Music (121). New York: Da Capo.

xi Jones writes of the Halloween Party in “New Tenor Archie Shepp Talking,” reprinted in Black Music (154), which apparently also featured Shepp’s group, drummer Charles Moffett, and in the audience/among the partygoers were Coleman and Cecil Taylor.

xii As many Coleman compositions were left untitled until recordings were assembled – at least in his early years as a bandleader/composer – the title of “O.C.” was likely conferred by Don Cherry during the latter’s time in the New York Contemporary Five. In addition to “O.C.” he also brought Coleman compositions like “Cisum” and “Sound By-Yor” to the group’s book. The latter was also recorded by the New York Art Quartet and is featured in this set.

xiii Kent Carter, interviewed by Clifford Allen. (2004, August 13). “Kent Carter and the Continental Continuum.” All About Jazz. Retrieved from

xiv Stevens also drew a significant amount from Sunny Murray, and the SME of 1969-1972 was heavily related to the work of Ayler, Peacock and Murray – specifically in terms of space and group listening. A proper and detailed lineage of interaction and influences from mid-1960s New York free jazz to the nascent European improvisation climate(s) has yet to be properly distilled.

©Clifford Allen 2013

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