1967: Randy Kaye Quintet - Brooklyn 1967, May 24th - Tears for a Year Gone By

Consider the winding propulsion of the jazz drummer. It’s called playing, but that doesn’t make the moves a game. These are movements that will neither be rushed nor fussed over nor entirely abandoned. Once accompanied, they become conversational segments that have no ulterior motive past keeping that conversation going. This is an ineffable sort of work that enjoys itself. But rather than adding up to solipsistic indulgence, it seems like a humble sort of way to express one’s gratitude for the raw joy of being alive. To whom or what is immaterial. It is the innate relief that one can experience and be experienced as an open, kinetic entity. The rhythms that one finds are everything, whether they’re ambling up the path, sprinting down the sunset or pausing to take it all in.

Unsung notable percussionist Randy Kaye (1947-2008) seemed to both intuitively and cautiously grasp his collaborative space. He led a storied career, accompanying greats like Paul Chambers, Bobby Naughton, and Jimmy Giuffre (not to mention a legendary free jam with Jimi Hendrix in Woodstock approaching his Band of Gypsies period). This 1967 document might be the best place to familiarize oneself with his work. Transferred from a near-half-century-old reel-to-reel session captured at Kaye’s Brooklyn apartment, the fidelity is not ideal. But as a riveting testament to both Kaye’s strength as a composer and his lithesome, limber prowess behind the kit, it is something of rare value.

But before I dig a bit into the exultant material on Tears for a Year Gone By, it’s worth looking at some of Kaye’s highlights as a sideman. One would be forgiven for not being aware of Giuffre or Naughton, especially if you’re only a pseudo-aficionado of the genre (aye). But one of the few good things about the times we are living in is the only thing stopping you from getting into an artist is you. There are always flame keepers on YouTube, Discogs, and various music blogs to help you see what you’ve missed, whenever it was made. Although I’d already landed on the reedist in the amazing Newport documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, I’d stopped short of looking into his later work. More fool me, as Giuffre’s contemplative style really flourished into something special in the early 1970s. And, no doubt aided by Kaye’s subtle percussive gifts, you can hear some of that potent spiritual searching that so ignited the genre at the time.

As for Naughton, the name rang a bell (perhaps through past explorations of Anthony Braxton or Wadada Leo Smith, with whom he toured and recorded), but I’d never glimpsed his work as a bandleader. Upon taking in 1973’s Understanding, there was that unmistakable feeling when you happen upon one of those records that you just know you must have. An album split between Carla Bley compositions and originals, and adorned with a Hans Richter abstract for its cover, Understanding is a compelling package. Kaye’s deft accents and slippery syncopation (save on tracks 3, 7, and 8, which feature Laurence Cook) really shine here, imbuing the quintet’s delicate swell/recede approach with a satisfying sort of forest floor rustle. The album plays like a quiet storm that is nonetheless so dramatic as to put you on a perfectly notched, strangely secure edge, with Naughton’s occasional soothing vibe tones (when not on piano or clavinet) never lingering long enough to lose this edge, but providing some of that snugness as well.

There are many other great sideman showcases for Randy Kaye, well up into the 2000s, but it’s time to get into his one and only foray (that we know of) as band leader/composer. More traditional theme/solo/reprise-structured than Understanding, Tears is nonetheless an expansive listen. The solos are not actually solos, but takeoff points for the band to converse in a lively, gleeful, faux-sporadic fashion. Clarinetist Joel Peskin and featured trumpeter Enrico Rava have a wonderful, practically telepathic rapport, their progressions reminiscent of arguments buoyed by spirited effort vs. bitter reproach. The main themes are all quite swoon-inducing, but the distances the quintet goes between them are always awe-inspiringly vast.

Even the ballads retain a charming sort of disarray, thanks to Kaye’s quietly anxious, halting technique. Rava also transmits this knottedness on the slow numbers, as he confuses the smoothing element of the piano, bass, and clarinet. The material may sometimes feel like the sort of cool jazz that usually has a bed of clinking drinks and chatter for accompaniment (re: Waltz for Debby), but it meets those swanky vibes with silence and, if not dread, a sort of fevered anticipation. Things really go off on the unhinged “Laughter,” which contains bellowing exclamations of the very same, seemingly from every member the group, throughout. The whole quintet brims over on this one (unfortunately, pianist Peter Lemer gets a bit buried), laughing through their playing as well. The track feels like a sort of shared manic purging. It’s neither this. It’s aggressive laughter. Defiant laughter. Laughter in the face of complacency and narrow-minded walking death.

The delicate title track is another highlight, even if it is briefly met with someone trying to get in touch with Randy by phone (it rings twice, on the beat, and is not terribly dissimilar from some of the bells Kaye employs on the track). If anything, this makes the piece more intimate and grounded, like its eponymous sentiment. There is not much of a stated theme this time. Every player tenderly breathes with the same slow, dusty phantom melody. It is a key showcase for the magic Kaye can create, seemingly out of nothing. At times, it feels akin to a lugubrious tidying up of one’s workspace, half-heartedly cataloguing deprioritized projects, letters you meant to write, books you meant to read. It possesses the bittersweet weariness of someone who exists happily out of time only to be brought down hard by holidays, calendars, and other reminders of its constraints. The piece never takes off, so to speak, or even cracks a window. But the tears dry and a stoic sort of grace emerges.

Thanks to the efforts of Randy’s son, Justin, we have this engaging and essential document of a drummer who was purely devoted to his craft and life’s work. Sadly, Randy Kaye passed on in 2008, but he made his mark for those open to finding it. Nothing is ever truly lost, no matter what hierarchical or trend-based hives beat one down into feeling. In an effort to further preserve and promote his father’s legacy, Justin Kaye has been working on a documentary about him. For copies of this CD, feel free to contact him directly.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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