art, Brazilian, career, Codona, Collin Waldcott, creation, creativity, Don Cherry, ECM, film, fusion, improvisation, improviser, incongruence, inspiration, jazz, jazz-rock, music, musician, Nana Vasconcelos, Ornette Coleman, relationships, stream of consciousness, visual art, writing
Sometimes, I like to play what I call ‘Stream of Consciousness’ on YouTube.
I take a song I’m interested in hearing, type it in and listen to it, then see what links come up on the side and follow whatever piques my interest. I repeat this process as many times as it takes until I eventually find something amazing and unexpected. It’s how I discovered an extraordinary collaboration between Santana and a group called Tinariwen years ago. And it’s how I stumbled upon something called Codona.
Codona isn’t quite like anything I have heard before.
If nothing else, Codona is an expression of the three large musical personalities who breathed life into it— which might sound ironic, since these three musicians are largely unknown outside of their own respective musical idioms.
Don Cherry— perhaps best known in pop culture as the stepfather of the 1980’s pop music star, Neneh Cherry— was a very famous (at least within jazz circles) jazz trumpet player best known for his work with avant-garde jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. Nana Vasconcelos is an experimental Brazilian musician— probably best known in the U.S. for the other-worldly quality he added to Pat Metheny’s work in the early 1980’s. Loosely speaking, he’s a percussionist and vocalist, whose work always has struck me as having an ethereal quality to it. He can play a conventional drum set, but he’ll more typically use things like the Brazilian berimbau, gongs, rain sticks, clapping, talking drums, and much, much more. His vocalizations— whispers, whistles, sighs, low moans, murmured beats— often serve a percussive function— which, in itself, is not unique within Brazilian music; however, there is a darkness— sometimes verging on creepiness— in what he does that contrasts sharply from most other Brazilian vocalists I’ve heard. Collin Waldcott was in the legendary jazz-rock fusion group (at least to fusion fans) Oregon and plays the sitar on this piece. Honestly, I know less about Waldcott’s work than I do of Cherry’s and Vasconcelos’ work, but if you want to Wikipedia him, have at it.
As for the piece, I read somewhere that it is like Indian jazz, My reaction to it is a little different. For me, it is almost like witnessing the interplay of three great primordial and magnetic forces, with one of them being dominant at a given moment.
The introduction is brief and spare, involving all three musicians playing finger harp, kora, and other instruments. That soon gives way to vintage Vasconcelos, who plays on gongs while his vocalizations seem to inhabit the border region between chanting, groaning, and whooping. Eventually, it gives way to Cherry’s lyrical coronet playing over the surreal backdrop playing behind him— consistent, in some ways, with what he did in Ornette Coleman’s most famous experimental, avant-garde work. This gives way, in turn, to a langorous passage dominated by Walcott that would sound Indian, except that it’s darker and more foreboding. And then, the conversation among musicians takes off from there.
Independent of this collaboration, each of these musicians was experimental within his own genre throughout his own lifetime, and extremely open-minded to taking other musical idioms and weaving them into his own work.
What I find interesting about this song is just how far this principle is stretched. All is adventurous, and all is improvised and created within that instant, requiring each of the musicians to be exquisitely attuned to being present to each moment—simultaneously creating something entirely new on the fly that is at once their own and part of the collective work, while also listening to what the other musicians are playing in real time.
Thus, it’s not just about working with other jazz musicians or Brazilian musicians, it’s not just about assimilating other people’s work and ideas into your own— work and ideas that might be different, but still have a basic thread that is common to yours. (For example, in his 20s, the tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis worked to master and assimilate into his own style the styles of other jazz tenor saxophonists who came before him.)
Codona required its artists to blend what sometimes seemed like radically disparate, unforseen elements into a whole. To fuse disparate traditions, (musical) disciplines, and creative spaces to create something unique and original— in a way that had never quite been done before.
That is something we can do in our own lives. How many times have you felt like a flake or a dilettante because you thought your interests were ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ Or conversely, how many times have you felt unrounded or otherwise less sexy because you have a lot of in-depth knowledge in a relatively small number of areas, which aren’t always considered to be so useful? How about a new way to think about yourself: perhaps you have diverse interests that aren’t just confined to one area; or perhaps your in-depth knowledge in a few areas gives you a unique perspective to offer others, sometimes in unforseen disciplines or spaces.
What if you were to own that? And what if you were to utilize these as strengths, and build off of them?
And what if you were to engage fully with the world— fully present, and fully in possession of your gifts, of your individuality, of your flaws and your quirks, and of the unique light that only you can shine onto this world of multiplicitous lights, none of which are the same as your own?
Ask yourself this: how would that affect your work, your career, your art, your relationships, and your sense of self in the world?