samedi 9 janvier 2010

Joe Gallant Illuminati : "Skin"

(Scratchy, 1990)

1- The Chilling tide (for Frank Smith)
2- Sacred heart (for Kathy Chambers)
3- Courtship
4- Metanoia (for prof. Lesh)
5- Centre street (for the Micros)
6- Belladonna (for Margaret Vititow)
7- Simulacrum (for Helen, Suzanne and Nina Gallant)

musicians :

Joe Gallant : bass
Tomas Ulrich : cello
Michelle Kinney : cello (1,3,5,7)
Phillip Johnson : sax (1,3,5,7)
Hagit Rosmarin : flute (1,3,7)
Steven Bernstein : trumpet (1,3,7)
Denise Puricelli : piano (1,3,7)
Ellen Christi : voice (1,3,7)
Tom Judson : accordion (1,3,7)
Vito Ricci : synthesizer & wrench guitar (1,3,7)
Dick Weller : drums (1,3,7)
Skip Reed : percussion (1,3,4,7)
Mark Feldman : violin (4,5,6)
Dennis Charles : drums (4)
Rashied Ali : drums (4)
Bern Nix : guitar (5)
Joel Forrester : piano (5)
David Hofstra : bass (5)
Richard dworkin : drums (5)
Suzanne Gallant : percussion (1)

Denise Cridge : viola (2,4)
Alex Zisk : violin (2)
Marina Zisk : violin (2)


When I first heard about Gallant's music, it was described to me as "avant-garde big band music." Although this cheeky description is in some ways accurate, like any label it fails to describe the breadth and flight of his compositions. Best known to Deadheads for his big band arrangements of the Grateful Dead albums "Blues For Allah" and "Terrapin Station," Gallant has also created several non-Dead related music projects of unusual beauty. With his band Illuminati, he released "Skin" in 1990, an early effort which evokes the tone poetry of the impressionist composers Debussy and Ravel and draws upon the thrills and difficulties of transforming one's life utterly, that period of transitional limbo and the entry into one's true destiny.

BS: How did music enter your life and consciousness?

JG: The big encounter was hearing a chamber ensemble when I was about 6 years old. They were playing a modern-sounding piece that was like an invitation from my future. I was completely transfixed. It was brilliant-sounding, like a laser lightsource. I took piano lessons at six, guitar lessons at ten, but I didn't hear those instruments inside me enough to embrace them. The next big encounter was my first rock concert: December 30, 1971, The Band at the Academy of Music on 14th street. It blew my mind. I was thunderstruck by the exotic, gypsy-circus vibe, the patchoulli/pot smell, the lights, the awesome hippy chicks! The Band just rocked that night. I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever magic was capable of happening on a stage full of musicians.

BS: And how did you hook up with the bass?

JG: I started "hearing" the bass in Freshman year High School and started playing upright and electric at the same time.

BS: Which bass players have turned you on and inside out over the years?

JG: Starting in 1972: The bass player with Steppenwolf, and Larry Taylor with Canned Heat. Then a few months later, Phil Lesh because I completely dug his approach and tone. He's the first of two bassists who changed and codified the course of my life, without a doubt. I had started trying to plunk out his bass lines on acoustic guitar the year before. Bruce Barlow, from Commander Cody is another important figure. On upright: Charles Mingus, Jean-Jacques Avenel, Alan Silva, Dave Holland, Ray Brown, George Duvivier, Charlie Haden. And, on electric, of course: Jaco Pastorius. What can you say? He changed it all up for all of us. In 1987 I heard my second most important bass influence: Anthony Jackson, a virtuoso who invented the 6-string bass. He's become a friend and teacher. I guess it's fair to say that if you want to hear where I really come from bass-wise, listen to Phil Lesh and Anthony Jackson.

BS: Which composers have particularly influenced your vision?

JG: First, Ingolf Dahl. His "Concerto a Tre" is my favorite composition of all time. Karlheinz Stockhausen, arch experimentalist, working in so many different genres. My favorite pieces are "Zeitmasse," "Telemusik," "Hymnen," and the remarkable "Adieu." I also like Schoenberg, Bartok, Berg, jazz composers like George Russell and Carla Bley and Cecil Taylor, a shimmering landing field of energy and ideas. Bach was a huge influence. Because I didn't study formally with a teacher for the first six years of playing, I would read through the Inventions and Cello Suites and try to imitate that contrapuntal, chordal style on electric.

BS: Why the name Illuminati for your band?

JG: I decided on the name in May of1982, while living on East 3rd Street, deriving it from the word "illumination," as used specifically in a text written by the philosopher Francis Bacon: "The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense. The last was the light of reason, and his Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of his spirit." I wasn't aware of the Robert Anton Wilson "Illuminati" books at that point. A friend turned me onto those books when I told him my choice for a name. I really didn't get much of an initial impression from the actual writing in the books. It seemed too pothead wink-wink for such a seemingly important subject. But I was very intrigued and went on to devour information about the history and legacy of those ideas, which led me through studies of the early Gnostic tradition, Rosicrucian, Masonic and Knights Templar philosophies, and lastly into a very deep and ongoing interest in Alchemy. I collect and read as much on the subject as I can, buying texts wherever I travel and ordering books from all over the US and Europe on a regular basis. Illuminati's music was always meant to be an expression of the spirit, at its metaphysical level, as well as being a continuing diary...
All of my solo CDs are very much about where I was at the time of their writing, gigging and recording. "Skin" (1990) was essentially a smaller-scale chamber writing/jazz disc, with a lot of melodic ideas and modernist string arranging, a bit on the poignant side, Ravel-esque, reflecting my love for my two French Impressionist heroes--Ravel and Debussy--in some of the harmonic aspects. Its music mirrors the period between 1987-90, when I was putting Illuminati back together relatively early in sobriety. It's sort of tenuous and fragile, but well-crafted.

BS: In your opinion what's the most interesting thing happening in the New York City music scene these days?

JG: There's no real high-octane launching-pad scene in NYC at the moment, where you feel swept up in a deep, spontaneous and fertile mission with people on similar explorations. Certainly nothing currently exists in Manhattan as an energy conduit, like, for example, Bebop in the '40s-'50s, or Abstract Expressionism in the '50s, or 1964-66 Warholesque, exploding-inevitable pop and happenings-into-the-free-jazz/'politics of revolution. Remember when there was sincere talk of necessary change for real, from a lot of different corners, in the national air? There's nothing now like the NYC Loft Movement of the late '60s or Punk/New Wave/'No New York in the '70s-early '80s, or the downtown, angular shriekback white hipster arrhythmia of the mid-'80s-The Present. These all began with ideas in fairly pure form, and became codified into scenes in a time of affordable housing (as necessary as laboratory Latin . . . work and prayer space, for committed working artists).
Astronomical rent increases in the mid-'80s, the arrival of yuppie-worship, Eurotrash and dotcom infection, the twisted cancerous fascism of the current mayor, and a generally distracted, disconnected national mindset (suffering from psychic hearing damage caused by the shrill desperate screaming hype of media) all helped kill or stultify anything as fragile (and potentially dangerous) as a new movement.
None of the truly important scenes of recent history would get very far if they were just beginning today, in this climate. I don't mean to sound like an old crank yelling at street signs, and I'm also not announcing anything that's unknown here. These scenes had a very multi-disciplinary mulch bed in which to cross-fertilize--painters, writers, musicians, poets, mixed-media artists, responding organically to the culture, politics and economics of their time, as do all ground zero environments of spontaneous artistic commonality and shared awareness defining a SCENE, as seen for example in the dazzling alembic of post-Beat San Francisco and its historic, never-to-be-repeated development, 1963-69.

article (excerpts) by Barry Smolin (2001/09/19 on

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