Artists as seemingly unconnected as Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, and Biggie Smalls all use a similar register of expression, wherein rhythm, pitch, and phrasing take precedence over substantive content - what's actually said always pales in comparison to how it's said. East Bay tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley says these free-form musical idioms have their genesis in the black church, not only in the clamorous sounds of gospel or ancient spirituals, but in how preachers phrase the words in their sermons. The sax player admits he can listen ten times to a rap by Biggie and not know what it's about, because he's more concerned with the shape and rhythm of the words themselves. He compares Biggie's musicality to that of artists who've had a more profound influence on his work, such as spoken-word poet Amiri Baraka, free-jazz artists like Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and a cappella singers from Angola State Prison, whose recordings formed the blueprint for Wiley's forthcoming album The Angola Project. "I heard a recording from Angola, [and they] spoke just like the deacons in church," the saxophonist says, adding that these prisoners' unrefined blues songs had the same "intangible quality" - something to do with soul, humanity, and endurance - that he'd hear in Coleman's Science Fiction and Coltrane's A Love Supreme: "It's that thing that I can't quite describe or put my finger on." At Angola, that thing is in its rawest state.
Friday, Wiley performs with bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Jaimeo Brown in a tribute to Ornette Coleman. This concert marks the first 2007 edition of Free Jazz Fridays, a series launched by local jazz booster Rob Woodworth, who's known for founding the now-defunct Jazz House performance space on Adeline Street in Berkeley. Woodworth started the new series at the behest of Scott Looney, an old Jazz House affiliate who operates a small listening space at 1510 8th Street in West Oakland. Naturally, it didn't take much behesting. Woodworth says he likes 1510 because it's not like a bar or a restaurant where the musicians have to play over a din of clattering plates or people hanging out and drinking. Plus it has a sense of continuity. "I walked in the very first night and said, ‘These folding chairs look familiar,'" Woodworth says, explaining he recognized some of the stickers plastered to the chair backs. "It turned out they came from the Jazz House. I'd donated them to 21 Grand, and they'd gone through a few different music spaces." Apparently, it all comes back around.
Free Jazz Fridays kick off at 8 p.m. and cost $5-$15. All proceeds
benefit the musicians. If you can't make it this time around, be sure to
check out the January 19 show, which features D'Armous Boone's Improv
Consortium. TheJazzHouse.com or HowardWiley.com
Time & Date: First and Third Friday of every month, 8 p.m.
8th Street Performance Space
1510 8th St.
Oakland CA 94607
Oakland: Jack London Square/West