Black Music Matters, Volume Two: Multiples

Joe Henderson multiplies, Bobby McFerrin medicates, Machado Mijiga jams for the beach

If you’ve been following Fear No Music’s season, you probably caught Amelia Lukas playing solo flute music by a quartet of Black composers last week. Lukas has been performing fearlessly on FNM shows for years, and we consistently enjoy her sensitive, emotive, virtuosic approach to the often gnarly contemporary classical world that FNM specializes in. So it was unsurprising that her livestream performance on March 1st (recorded in an endearingly empty Alberta Rose Theatre) was some of the best modern classical I’ve heard in awhile.

My favorite of the four was by Dr. Carlos Simon, and although you can’t hear Lukas’ performance of it (those livestreams expire after 48 hours), you can hear it performed by the flutist who commissioned it, Dr. Brice Smith. According to Smith, here’s what Simon has to say about his 2019 composition “Move It”:

Dr. Simon characterizes his solo work as, “a syncopated joy ride. I want to explore the percussive and rhythmic nature of the flute; something moves with energy and forward motion.”

Rainbow bridge

I wish every composer I know would take notes from local maestro Machado Mijiga. The composer-drummer-saxophonist has been cranking out music for damn near a decade, and the beautiful thing about Mijiga’s Bandcamp page is how it archives this varied musical history, from his earliest student work up to the most recent EPs. And, lucky us, we can trace that history with two of Mijiga’s original compositions: “Heimdall’s Creek” and “Diffused Solstices.”

Both make their first appearance on Taken for Grant(ed), an album of original tunes Mijiga recorded in 2014 while still at Washington State University. The whole album is tasty, modern college jazz, performed by a tasty, modern college jazz octet. As on all of Mijiga’s earliest albums, the composer mostly plays tenor sax, only occasionally switching to the drummer role that has come to dominate his later recordings.

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Fast forward four years: 2016’s Mirror Images (a recital combining classical–Paul Creston’s Sonata for Eb Saxophone–and jazz) and the Machado Mijiga Collective’s Setting Sail, with its pair of Herbie Hancock covers; then 2018’s Mijigaludes and Dillaludes and a series of one-man-band singles (starting with “Concourse”), recorded when Mijiga first arrived in Portland.

That brings us to Beach Jamz ‘89 and the return of “Heimdall’s Creek” and “Diffused Solstices.” Heimdall, of course, is the Norse God charged with guarding Bifröst, the rainbow bridge to Asgard; in the Marvel movies he’s embodied by Idris “Gunslinger” Elba.

Anyhow, this is where it really starts for Mijiga. Here’s how the maestro describes Beach Jamz ‘89:

MACHADO’S GREATEST HITS!!!

SOME OLD, SOME NEW; ALL RE-INVENTED!!!

THE 80’S CASSETTE YOU NEVER OWNED, BUT WISHED YOU DID!!!

PROGGY VAPORJAZZ PLAYED BY MY BOY BAND “DJUNGOL JIM”!!!

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That “boy band” is damn solid: keyboardist Todd Marston, bassist Milo Fultz, and guitarist Mike Gamble. We all know about Mike Gamble, yes? He’s another of those Phenomenon guys: Artistic Director of Creative Music Guild and an alarmingly skilled session guitarist. It used to be that if you went to three shows in one week, odds were very good you’d hear Gamble at least one of them. Last year he finally channeled that energy into his own prolific year of Bandcamp releases.

But let’s get back to the Beach. You can hear the change in Mijiga’s sound right away, with these earlier tunes getting the electric treatment and gently drifting up into outer space. Still have that college jazz version of “Heimdall’s Creek” in your ear? Good, now pull up the Beach Jamz ‘89 version and bliss out on the reverb:

The following year, Mijiga and company got one nice big show on record before everything closed down–his performances at Jack London Revue for the 2020 PDX Jazz Festival yielded two live albums, both available on Bandcamp, both featuring what is (to my ears) a superior incarnation of that kickass boy band. Gamble is back on all of it, along with dueling keyboardists Alex Meltzer and Dario LaPoma (you can hear LaPoma on most of Mijiga’s recordings since 2019, and DoubleDash is Mijiga playing for him instead of the other way round). A handful of guests complete the lineup, most notably trumpeter Noah Simpson. 

One of those live albums–Fellowship–features mostly new music by Mijiga and LaPoma, but obviously I want to tell you about the other one. Here’s how Mijiga describes Beach Jamz ‘89–Live!:

This record pays homage to the original aesthetics of Beach Jamz ’89, and all of the original personnel are on it at some point, but this newer iteration of the band puts their own spin on the compositions, and I enjoy how it came out.

I also got a chance to play some sax on this record, which I regretted not doing when we recorded in the studio.

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The horns really make this one: it’s the return of that original college jazz sound, now integrated into the electric thing. Mijiga plays sax on “Heimdall’s Creek”–very ably supplemented by drummer Micah Hummel–and he just tears it up. Yes…this finally is how the song is meant to sound. Simpson’s trumpet gives a similar boost to “Diffused Solstices,” where his solo becomes one of the set’s highlights.

And across all these recordings, you can hear Mijiga evolve not only as a composer, arranger, bandleader, and producer, but as a drummer. He played kit way back on Taken for Grant(ed), on “Kombucha” and “Farmer’s Market,” where he’s already a witty, capable drummer. But compare those to the confident, sassy, controlled chaos on the Beach Jamz ‘89–Live! version of “Ultraviolet”:

Caveat auditor: this album is not available on Streaming Service X–you can only get it on Bandcamp!

Multiples

I happen to remember the first time I really noticed Joe Henderson. It was right after Freddie Hubbard died, and KBOO was paying tribute by playing most of his classic 1970 album Red Clay in the middle of the night. Do you know that one? It’s a little edgy if you’re mostly used to Duke Ellington–in jazz terms, it’s somewhat “outside” playing, the sort of stuff that was in vogue amongst seventies jazz players. It’s not that avant-garde, certainly not compared to the sci-fi jazz that folks like Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman were getting into at the same time (to say nothing of Sing Me a Song of Songmy, which Hubbard recorded later that year with electro-acoustic composer İlhan Mimaroğlu). But Red Clay is not exactly Kind of Blue either.

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Anyhow, about six minutes into the title track, Henderson takes his first solo. Hubbard and Herbie Hancock have already taken their typically funk-boppy turns, and then suddenly Henderson bursts in with a fluttering, bluesy series of deceptively simple, song-like phrases, building eventually to a full-blooded funk-bop wall of sound and finally settling into a smooth, groovy fade out.

Like most artists with long careers, Henderson’s output falls into three main eras: the early Blue Note stuff, what we’d probably all call “normal” jazz, albums like Page One and Mode for Joe; and there’s the late stuff, most notably his Grammy-winning recordings of classic jazz (Lush Life, Musings for Miles). But we’re interested in his somewhat lesser-known middle period, the Milestone era, covering most of that outrageously creative decade we call “the seventies” (c. 1968-1975).

Because, as with most trilogies, the middle is the best. We could spend a lot of time surveying this era, from the 1969 masterpiece Power to the People (featuring a rock solid rhythm section consisting of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette) all the way up through the double behemoths that closed the run–the funky big band of Black Miracle and the sizzling combos of Black Narcissus.

The album I want to tell you about today, 1973’s Multiple, falls right in the middle of this marvelous middle era. But in order to get into what makes this one special, I have to take you back to the preceding album, Black is the Color, recorded in 1972. How about we let Joe explain what happened:

The original idea for this album was to approach it entirely from the standpoint of having no preconceived ideas (i.e., melodies, themes, bar lines, etc.) for the musicians to relate to.

However, after listening to a tape copy of one segment of the original session, I became aware of further possibilities. Making full use of 16-track tape, we could add to and improve upon what had already been recorded by multiple overdubbing of new parts, by myself and others, that would become permanent additions to the track. So I proceeded, after the fact (hence its title Foregone Conclusion), to create a continuous pattern that would effectively support what had already been laid down.

As for the other numbers here, with the exception of Vis-A-Vis (which somehow managed not to defect from the original non-framework idea), the track concept was used extensively throughout.

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The next time Henderson and company went into the studio, early in 1973, they approached the whole thing with this tracking concept in mind. The basic tracks were laid down by a smaller band than the crew on Black is the Color, with the heaviest hitters here being DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland. Keyboardist Larry Willis adds electric piano and various ‘70s-era synths, and Arthur Jenkins adds a characteristically seventies layer of Afro-Cuban percussion.

Over all this, Henderson added his own overdubs: flutes, percussion, soprano sax, and more than a little singing. Listen to the opener, the Henderson-penned “Tress-Cun-Deo-La,” and then try not to get it stuck in your head. You can’t! But of course the sweet spot on this album is right in the center: “Song for Sinners,” another Henderson tune, with more percussion and a whole lot of spooky chanting. You’d never mistake Henderson for, say, Bobby McFerrin, but he has a nice voice–a smooth, subtle, unaffected sound that reminds me more than a little of Antonio Carlos Jobim (whose music Henderson later recorded, on 1995’s Double Rainbow).

What amazes me about Multiple is its restraint–I think most of us would have gone totally overboard in such a multi-track setting (ahem, speaking of Miles Davis). That’s typical of Henderson, though. It’s just like that “Red Clay” solo.

I leave you with a 1982 concert featuring Henderson playing with Chick Corea (may he rest in peace) and the classic Return to Forever rhythm section, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White:

A spoonful of sugar

Speaking of Bobby McFerrin–he’s another of those artists where the Phenomenon can obscure the Musician. The four-octave vocal range, the vocal percussion, the massive overdubs, the classical aspirations, the endless collaborations–it all contributes to knowing about, without necessarily listening to. But there’s one song you’ve undoubtedly heard, and I’m sure you got “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” stuck in your head as soon as you saw McFerrin’s name (don’t worry, “Tress-Cun-Deo-La” will be right back).

There’s a funny story about this wonderful One Hit–it sparked a dispute between McFerrin and George H.W. Bush, who in 1988 was running for president and (apparently unironically) using “Don’t Worry” as his campaign song. But McFerrin was pissed, and asked his manager to say so. Here’s what she wrote to the Bush campaign:

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We were quite surprised at this unauthorized appropriation of Mr. McFerrin’s rights. Indeed if anyone were to recognize the value of personal property rights, one would expect it to be the Republican Party. While we are amused that the Bush campaign would find its political philosophy reflected in the song, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ we do not wish to have the composition associated with any Presidential candidate.

You can get the rest of that story here, and it may interest you that this all happened at exactly the same time as the whole “Horton campaign” debacle. It’s easy to forget now, in these apocalyptic days, how much anger the oh-so-mild-mannered elder Bush could provoke. It’s entirely possible, of course, that the All-Time Champion Dog Whistler of Harris County wasn’t really a racist in his heart of hearts–perhaps what he wanted was (ominous pause) “deeper.”

Anyhow, the album this song is on, Simple Pleasures, is pretty good, but it’s not the one we want to talk about today. We could talk about McFerrin’s classical stuff with Chick Corea (him again!) and with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; the best of that end of McFerrin’s artistry is the extraordinary Yo-Yo Ma collaboration Hush. And I was thiiiiis close to focusing today on my favorite of his albums, Circlesongs, a masterpiece of proggy vocal loop jams that came along in 1997 and set the tone for the rest of McFerrin’s career.

But if you’ve heard more than just “Don’t Worry,” it was probably all of this. So I want to tell you about McFerrin’s fourth studio album, 1990’s Medicine Music, consisting largely of music composed for the 1989 documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt. Most of the recording is still in McFerrin’s early “one-man-band” territory, with perhaps less of the cute flashiness (nothing against the cute flashiness, of course) and perhaps a bit more depth and substance. Certainly we hear more compositional maturity here, especially compared to the preceding run of albums, all packed with jazz standards and Beatles songs. Yes, Medicine Man is the first McFerrin album to contain all original music, and it is always a pleasure to hear a songwriter evolving into a composer.

There are only a few collaborators on this one, but McFerrin makes them count. You can hear Pat Metheny Group keyboardist Lyle Mays on “Common Threads,” and percussionists Juan and Pete Escovedo on “The Train.” The first incarnation of the Circlesongs Voicestra adds a ton of sonic heft to “Sweet In The Morning” (which is now stuck in your head) and “Discipline,” the latter of which also features one Robert McFerrin, Sr. That’s Bobby’s dad, dear reader, a fine opera baritone and the first Black man to perform at The Met–right after Marian Anderson, in 1955, which you read correctly.

I leave you with another video immortalizing Mr. Corea: good luck getting that sticky “Spain” melody out of your head after hearing McFerrin sing it.

Want to support Black lives in Oregon? You can sign Resonance Ensemble’s open letter to the mayor and governor right here, and you can start learning more about racial injustice and police reform with Campaign Zero‘s #8cantwait campaign and the original Black Lives Matter.

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About the author
Editor / Correspondent | Website

Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

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