Primary Instrument: Multi-instrumentalist
Signal To Noise By: Lawrence Cosentino
In the notes to his eight-part “digital box set” on Ayler Records, Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut calls himself a “moving portal,” a human receptor communicating “the all-out storm of the world.” From this and other basement-Buddha pronouncements, an ornery skeptic could make wild guesses about Shurdut’s life story: the one failed piano lesson, the uncommunicative youth, and finally, the burst of inspiration that led him to throw off the shackles of technique and realize that music isn’t created, but already out there, poised to rush on its own through a properly receptive “portal.” No, Shurdut doesn’t make it easy, but this collection tosses down an enormous gauntlet: listen to these astounding sonic cyclones, recorded guerilla-style in various venues around New York, and then brush him off �� if you can.
The Digital Box is a daunting package, and the first order of business is to skip past Shurdut’s post-obvious poetry and philosophy (“everything is already in front of us”) and go straight to “Etuning,” the set's centerpiece.
“Etuning” presumably stands for “environmental tuning,” an evasive concept until you hear Shurdut and his colleagues draw shattering soundscapes out of everyday noises. Most of Shurdut's sessions feature two or three hair-onfire reedmen, maybe a trumpet, prominent percussion, and wild-card elements such as viola, laptop, or spoken word. (Shurdut’s philosophy is to let anyone play anything, whether it’s “their” instrument or not.) Shurdut himself is usually under the waves, stirring up bottom murk on guitar, amp or piano. The first thing that hits you about this music is its hungry, amoeba-like cohesion. In “Etuning From the Shower Head,” everybody locks into thick, liquid pulsations, centered by Brian Osborne’s tremendous drum rolls. Reedman Blaise Siwula, an exciting and frequent collaborator on this set, sounds almost blithe, as if he’s singing in the shower. “Kitchen Sink” is full of stinging cymbals and high-hat splashes �� is the water too hot? �� and “Bathroom Tub” goes on a wild squeakathon, with Shurdut’s guitar sounding like a barnyard full of chickens. A bracing new sound combination is almost always around the corner. On “Siren to the Dishwasher Handle,” flutist Bonnie Kane adds a bizarre fairy dust of trills; on “Truck to the Wind Underneath My Door,” Daniel Carter’s huge tenor booms through dense layers of resistance and friction. The savage energy and palpable group spirit of Etuning is typical of the whole set. The longer tracks will challenge the patience of some, but the music's felicitous mix of random and precise processes, its organic integrity, makes it as hard to argue with as a wild forest, a busy street or a hunk of rock. The trick is not to follow this music, but to wander through it.
“Humanity,” for example, starts out like cave music, with piano tolling and cello slurs like a growling stomach. Welf Dorr’s alto sax spirals up through the dark like a silvery stalagmite. Most of the time, such comparisons fail, as when until the group stretches and strangles the music into a twisted rope of wet sound. The sheer power of most tracks will blow the scalp off your skull.
On “Emergency Broadcast System,” Siwula and tenor man Ras Moshe whip around like an unattended riot hose for a solid 20 minutes before starting to flag (though drummer Marc Edwards just keeps on going). They set the bar so high anything less than an all-out frenzy begins to sound like marking time, but Shurdut’s endings always rise to the occasion. Toward “Emergency’s” conclusion, Moshe takes a blazing solo, supported by low rumbles from Shurdut. Edwards skitters in with nervous brushwork, and then they’re off again, heading for a thunderous, drum-drenched climax.
“City Living” is among the least frantic, with Siwula and Ras Moshe on tenors and Marcus Cummins on soprano for the 42-minute anchor track, a study in the braiding and unbraiding of sax lines. Shurdut’s hand is lighter, in part because he’s on a background-mixed Fender Rhodes, so even the mass freakouts sound a bit like they’re happening inside a bottle. Shurdut’s inclusiveness works well here. For much of the duration, all three reedmen are playing at once, and their intelligently layered interplay, defying all odds, doesn’t get old.
On “This is the Music of Life”, Siwula and free-jazz legend Sonny Simmons sound great together, and it’s a thrill when Daniel Carter’s trumpet swoops in like a hawk, temporarily silencing them both. Of course, there are limitations to Shurdut’s approach. When the hornmen lay out and leave his piano out to dry for too long, he wears out his welcome. He’ll obsess over a cramped figure on piano or guitar for minutes on end, forcing the rest to make something out of it. Often they do, sometimes they don’t.
“Ayler Records Celebration” centers on Luther Thomas’ tribute to Charlie Parker, with disembodied Bird riffs and tired spokenword jazz worship that broke the Shurdut spell for me. But that was an exception.
Still, some people will call this set self-indulgent, and maybe it is. On balance, it’s a good thing surgeons and dentists don’t rediscover their instruments and channel their disciplines out of thin air, as Shurdut does with guitars and pianos. But we should all aspire to attune ourselves to kitchen sinks, windy doorways, and city sounds the way Shurdut does. Religion is about filling life’s empty bag, and etuning has more to do with religion than music. It requires a leap of faith, but if you’re game, etuning richly rewards elistening.
The Wire By: Daniel Spicer
New York multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut isn’t one to whisper when a shout will do. This third installment of his monumental download-only box set adds a further six CDs’ worth of live recordings, bringing it to around 20 hours. With Shurdut mostly playing a fire-spitting alto sax, the basic template is the explosive mass improvisation of Coltrane’s Ascension, but with the Afrocentric spiritual yearning replaced by nerve-jangling information overload. “Free Gravity” is a boiling scream, with Danny and Gene Moore’s guitars and electronics touching similar ground to uncle/brother Thurston’s Original Silence; “Indigenous Songs for Our People” features percussionist Lukas Ligeti; and “Middle Class Poverty” pits Sabir Mateen’s tenor against Shurdut’s piano pummeling. Almost overwhelming in scope and density, and gleefully sidestepping issues of subtlety or restraint, it’s not so much a joyful noise as an anguished shriek of existence.
CADENCE MAGAZINE By: Frank Rubolino
The Spartan record company No Labels of JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT, while shy on documentation and production frills, continues to issue challenging improvised music at a prolific rate. On PRISONERS OF HOPE (NoLabels 3968), the guitarist teams with tenor saxophonist KALAPARUSHA MAURICE McINTYRE in a scintillating duet of free exchanges (Cultural Bankruptcy in the United States/ A Gift Watch for 35 Years of Service/ Heaven and Earth Discontinued/ Hope/ 401K Blues/ Alone/ Degrees for No Jobs/ What Health Insurance?/ Work Will Make You Free. 36:10, 2003, 2005, presumably New York, NY). Shurdut uses his amplifier as an additional instrument to smear huge amounts of color over this abstract canvas. His input, including computer processing, becomes the backdrop for McIntyre to move through an array of emotional experiences while projecting impassioned, penetrating messages. His saxophone weeps with sentiment as Shurdut's electronic pulsations subtly wrap the sound. Shurdut's droning sparks and robust flow of electricity contrast with McIntyre's gutwrenching soulfulness to make this encounter meaningful and satisfying. JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT joins saxophonist/trumpeter DANIEL CARTER, cellist ANDREW BARKER, and drummer RAVI PADMANABHA on the live recording PEACE PRIZE FOR FREEDOM (NoLabels 3562). The setlong improvisation (Lessons in Morals, Values, and Mutual Respect through Free Music. 58:42, 2005, New York, NY) initially takes on ethereal qualities where upper register signals from Shurdut, who plays grand piano exclusively on this set, match the squeals bursting from Carter's and Barker's instruments. Carter expands the interaction with vivid trumpet blasts, being pushed by volatile outbursts from Padmanabha, infectious keyboard rumblings of Shurdut, and energized string manipulation by Barker. The action heats up even more when Carter transfers to his army of saxophones (listed simply as all things that shine in the sketchy notes). Carter is one of the most dominant musicians on the scene today, and his exhibition on this set further confirms that assessment. Telepathic collective improvisation becomes the order of the day as these four adventurers create intensity of high magnitude. Carter sears, Barker and Padmanabha incite, and Shurdut incisively probes on this absorbing display of dominance and power. JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT expands the group to a quintet on INTERNET ANNIE (NoLabels 3760). DANIEL CARTER again joins him, along with tenor saxophonist ELLIOTT LEVIN, percussionist JACKSON KRALL, and bassist ALBEY BALGOCHIAN. Levin and Carter play a cat and mouse game to warm up the proceedings as Shurdut returns to the guitar amplifier for the underlying coloration of this increasingly intense set. The saxophonists joust for position and then find a common ground from which to launch the attack. Carter alternates among a bevy of instruments and typically projects penetrating high tones in contrast to Levin's earthy tenor sound on the album's two tracks (WWW/ DDD. 37:03, 1/31/05, presumably New York, NY). The lengthier DDD is particularly exhilarating; Carter and Levin turn it up a notch, and Krall propels with his aggressive style while Shurdut and Balgochian put down a thick carpet of solidifying turmoil. Balgochian's agitated arco solo is in keeping with the pressure-cooker atmosphere generated by the group on this turbulent collectively improvised barnburner. They come up for air at intermittent points, but the action remains hot and heavy until the final wind-down. On A COST EFFECTIVE ORCHESTRA FOR THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE (NoLabels 4262), JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT constructs a massive sound by merging acoustic instrumentation with computer processing. With the guitarist/pianist are STEVE SWELL on trombone and WILL CONNELL JR. on alto, flute, and bass clarinet. The high-intensity free blowing drifts into a blizzard of electronic sound waves sweeping over a barren plain (13 untitled tracks. 38:07, 2002-2005, presumably New York, NY). Swell smears the landscape with bluster, Connell injects high-pitched screams, and Shurdut creates a guitar/piano blur that is forged into an acoustic/electronic blender. The tonality of the horns is filled with reverberant tension; Swell and Connell bounce projectiles off each other as Shurdut swirls eddies around them. On the final two short cuts, Shurdut uses sampled blowing from 1993-1994 by Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen to paint an even more raucous sound for the live trio. Shurdut changes the ambiance on one or two pieces, but typically, the action goes nonstop on this unique conceptual marriage of processes. On AMERICAN HOLOCAUST (NoLabels 3869), JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT sketches a vivid portrait of collective art with associates Blaise Siwula on tenor and other reeds; Enrico Oliva and Welf Dorr on alto sax; Nick Gianni on flute, violin, and tenor; Robyn Siwula on viola; and Chris Forbes on keyboards. Using music to make a political statement, Shurdut weaves in varied movements of alternating tempo as this septet builds the dynamics to a fever pitch between more pastoral segments (401K/ Corporate Slavery/ Our Communist Army, Socialist Family, and Dictatorship Corporate Structures/ Winning Without a Majority. 42:44, 2005, presumably New York). Shurdut again plays the guitar amplifier as the tonal foundation of this evolving drama. The four woodwinds create quite a stir in front of the penetrating viola input of R. Siwula. The violist and Gianni on violin produce vibrant stimulation to augment the woodwinds. In contrast to his totally improvised releases, Shurdut blends in structural elements on this set as a springboard for the band to leap into open expression. The combination is just the ticket to exciting music. DOWNTRODDEN MASS (NoLabels 4064) finds JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT again with saxophonist/trumpeter Daniel Carter, flutist Nick Gianni, and saxophonist Enrico Oliva. They are joined by Motoko Shimizu (voice, toy recorder and tiny drums) and Jerome James (percussion, voice and chanting). The music has solemn qualities built into its freewheeling exterior (two untitled tracks. 56:27, 12/18/04. New York, NY). James and Shimizu mete out a compelling beat while the horn players design an unstructured hymn of quiet beauty. James' subdued chanting and Shimizu's spiritual vocal cries are buried in the core of these extended live selections. Consistent with his previous efforts, Shurdut remains an underlying force with his ambient guitar and amplifier textures. The reverent quality of the music is infectious; on the second selection, Carter, Oliva, and Gianni pour mournful messages through their horns while James emits husky throat grunts offset by Shimizu's high-pitched psalms and Shurdut's subtle whistling. An Indigenous American rhythm surfaces amidst the collective praying. Carter's flute musings add further to the mystique of this impressive example of freedom typically cloaked in sereneness but ending with a flourish. Alto saxophonist LUTHER THOMAS leads the team with JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT (this time only on piano), soprano saxophonist/bassist NICK GIANNI, and drummer MIKE FORTUNE on yet another Shurdut release on THE RAP (NoLabels 4163). The quartet rips into the short set with aggressive blowing by Thomas while Shurdut runs the keys in the upper register (two untitled tracks. 31:01, 2005, Queens, NY). The lengthier second cut kicks off with a recurring bass pattern by Gianni and consistent drum rhythms by Fortune to spur Shurdut into deep concentration on his opening solo. Shurdut's rumbling explorations butt up against the structured rhythms to provide contrast and stability. Thomas can be heard in the far background with verbal phrasing that presumably is the source of the recording's title. He then joins the others with a slowly built alto exercise as the quartet begins to gel. Thomas periodically adds yodeling background between his saxophone sprints, which at one point touches the outer perimeter of My Favorite Things. Thomas's demanding call for noise changes the ambiance to primal screaming and aggressiveness by all. The dual personality of the piece makes it a rewarding endeavor on all fronts. SPIN-17 members ED CHANG and MOTOKO SHIMIZU, a duo specializing in experimental sound, interact with JEFFREY HAYDEN SHURDUT on 21ST CENTURY FOLK MUSIC VOL 3 (NoLabels 3661). Shurdut returns to guitar, underscoring Chang's saxophone, percussion, and shortwave infusions, and Shimizu's voice, toys, and turntable output. Droning waves of electronics smother this live collective encounter of space-age ferocity (eight untitled tracks. 53:17, 8/13/05, New York, NY). The buzzing of digital devices penetrates the atmosphere; Chang and Shimizu manipulate their array of instruments and accessories to piercing ends where their individual input becomes swallowed in the swirling mass of music/noise. Chang's screeching saxophone, which erupts in non-stop volcanic fashion on several cuts, is stirred into a mixture of high-pitched guitar screams and higher-pitched vocal phrasing. On three tracks, percussionist Ravi Padmanabha enlists in the cacophonous conflict that becomes tempered in spots by the rhythmic pulsation before returning to static-driven collective improvisation. Sheer energy spurs this set, yet the music has distinctive and intelligible communicative qualities*particularly from the saxophone contributions of Chang.
Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut, inventor of Environmental Tuning (tuning synchronized to the sound of one’s surrounding), is the founder of THIS IS THE MUSIC OF LIFE (Reality Music): A series featuring both inter-disciplinary and multi-instrumental artists who have a place in American History and emerging artists dedicated to documenting the essential connection between the visual, movement, music, and word in a living and creative space.
Expression is not a mean in the difficult task of understanding life - it is already part of this understanding. So thanks for reminding us that among all modes of _expression, the one you chose was to be a scream, men gathered to stab silence, not in the back, the way of traitors - not hidden behind skills, techniques, routines, plots - but right there, right away. This is the music of life : creating situations with the musicians (inviting individuals to join, act together, or even contradict with each other, which is sometimes what happens in your disc) as one creates situations with his friends, at his work, in the street... Records and performances that mirror life in that it stresses interactions, rather than depicting it. It is not representing it, like a picture, it is not figurative : it is life. Your slogan is incredibly meaningful. This is the music of life. -Julien Palomo Paris, France (2005)
QUOTES: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MELODY. THERE IS ONLY NOW. AND A BRIEF CHANCE TO HARMONIZE WITH SOUND AS IT IS BEING MADE. I WAS BORN OVER 3RD AVENUE IN 4D TO THE VIBRATION OF MACHINERY, ENGINES, AND SPEED PLAYING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF MY WINDOW. AND WHEN I WOKE THE MUSIC WAS ALREADY THERE. I JUST TUNED MY GUITAR TO 35 MILES AN HOUR. Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut /August 29, 2005
The closer you get to reality, the more abstract it becomes. -Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut /Norway, December, 1999
Awards:The Whitney Museum of Art Biennial 2008
First Living Artist Box on Ayler Records
Guest of The University of Pennsylvania, 2006. Recipient of The Annual Installation Grant Awarded by Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (Philosophy Hall).
“This Music Lives Up To Its Name.” -The Village Voice (2005)
“A luta continua… intense, astringent , multipoint,…engrossing level of improvisitory interaction… a viscerally thrilling ride.” -Cadence Magazine
“Shurdut pledges allegiance to the spirit of ecstasy with a band of ebullient blow torches, including Sonny Simmons, and Blaise Siwula.” -Time Out NY (2005)
“Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut leads a sextet featuring legend Sonny Simmons.” -The New York Times (2005)
“Daniel Carter with Jeff Shurdut ...Haunting, Reflective, and Engaging.” -Downtown Music Gallery
“Jeff Shurdut’s THIS IS THE MUSIC OF LIFE with Marshall Allen and Sabir Mateen… Wynton Marsalis should get this group over to Lincoln Center.” -The Village Voice (2005)
“Top notch incendiary Free Jazz from Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut's Collective.” -Time Out New York. November 17-23, 2005
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