"'Trane, brother!" So exhorted James Brown, urging his saxophonist Robert McCollough to channel the squalling incantations of John Coltrane in the 1970 hit "Super Bad." Brown was always keenly attuned to jazz, recruiting arranger and composer Oliver Nelson for the 1969 big band date Soul on Top (reissued a couple years ago by Verve) and keeping an ear open to Coltrane's radical moves in jazz during the mid- and late 1960s. The passing of Brown—a fundamental progenitor of disco, funk, contemporary R&B, and hiphop—should inspire an investigation into Brown's connection to the avant.
Brian Eno once declared, "Repetition is a form of change." So why did lengthy tracks like Brown's "Make it Funky," "Super Bad," and the aptly titled "Doing It to Death" arise at the same time that Philip Glass and others were also exploring repetitive, hypnotic structures? And what was Brown's role in the elephantine sound collage "I'm Paying Taxes What Am I Buying?" Credited to Fred Wesley and the JBs, the piece begins with a fade-in with Brown screaming along to a skittering sax solo, which quickly veers into some polyphonic doo-wop. The full band soon returns, but the remaining eight minutes include skits, a group chant, a superb trombone solo by Wesley, and Brown cooing a fragment of the hoary show tune "My Blue Heaven." You can hear "I'm Paying Taxes..." on the marvelous James Brown's Funky People, Pt. 2 (Polydor) and on the radio: I'm airing the track along with works by Luigi Nono, George Lewis, and other luminaries of the avant on Flotation Device (Sun Jan 14, KBCS 91.3 FM, 10 pm–midnight).
Another 20th-century genius of rhythm, Conlon Nancarrow used player pianos to probe the nebulous territory where sped-up rhythms accelerate into pure, continuous timbre. Painstakingly hand-punched on now-obsolete piano rolls, Nancarrow's inhuman tempos, hyperactive boogie-woogie licks, and impossible-to-play chords make live performances a rarity. To hear Nancarrow, you have to seek out the five-disc set Studies for Player Piano (Wergo). Fortunately, Trimpin digitized Nancarrow's piano rolls into MIDI data and devised the vorsetzer, an attachment which makes it possible to hear Nancarrow's dazzling creations on a live, decently tuned piano. Don't miss Trimpin's tribute to Nancarrow (Sun Jan 14, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, 253-272-4258 x3026, 3:30 pm, $5/$10).
Also, saxophonist Hadley Caliman, friend and disciple of the late, great Dexter Gordon, celebrates his 75th birthday this week (Fri Jan 12, Tula's, 2214 Second Ave, 443-4221, 8:30 pm–12:30 am, $12). I caught Caliman recently at Cafe Amore; his robust tone and earthy solos heated up a chilly December night. And though I have never heard the music of Igor Keller, I'm intrigued by the premiere of his oratorio, Mackris v. O'Reilly. Keller, a Seattle composer and saxophonist who describes his style as "neobaroque," sets texts from a 2004 sexual-harassment complaint against the right-wing Fox News loudmouth Bill O'Reilly (Fri–Sat Jan 12–13, Meany Hall, UW Campus, 800-838-3006, 7:30 pm, $10).