i'm currently studying naturopathy and acupuncture at the national college of natural medicine in portland OR. (check out my study blog: ncnmnotes.blogspot.com) my goal musically is to create sounds that reflect the meditative mind in all its forms, with the aim of artistically depicting the rich processes in the mind during meditation as well as creating music that will directly aid in meditation. i eventually plan on opening up my own clinic in the boston area that combines acupuncture, music, meditation, and martial arts (and loose leaf teas and free wifi).
Eugene Lee | Pure Potentiality Records (2009)
By Jeff Dayton-Johnson
On this solo disc, his third, Portland, Oregon-based saxophonist Eugene Lee marks a further step in the disciplined path that led through his last release, Meditations (Pure Potentiality, 2008).
equilibrium (all the titles are in lower-case, e.e. cummings-like) shares some elements of Meditations, notably the presence of Lee alone and the liberal use of electronics to generate a wealth of sonic variety: echo, loops, distortion. While the earlier record depicted the various states of the mind during meditation, this recording opts for less programmatic themes, and fewer, longer numbers. The electronics, meanwhile, are live this time round, relying on guitar pedals to modify the signal.
"rain" charts the progress of a rainstorm, with electronic effects approximating rainfall and thunder. Unlike, say, Beethoven's celebrated version of a thundershower in his Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral), Lee doesn't present the storm as a story with an anthropomorphic narrative arc: Lee's storm ebbs and flows, quiets down and gets loud again, just like rainstorms do. Ultimately, the storm passes. At various junctures, Lee's saxophone returns to a repeated melodic fragment, which lends unity and coherence to the performance.
"clarity," too, returns to a melodic center amidst the swirling effects set in motion by the electronics, though perhaps less successfully than on "rain." This longest of the three compositions suggests a tumultuous quest for the clarity of the title, though the long sustained, harmonic chord at the end sounds like success—much like the seated meditator, who was the protagonist of Lee's previous disc, finally calming his or her "monkey mind." "unity," finally, is an affecting solo soprano saxophone performance without electronic embellishment.
Lee's long performances draw a lesson from the late classical composer Toru Takemishu, who once likened the progression of his pieces to walking through a garden: "You keep walking, but sometimes you turn back to have another look at that rose bush or that statue." That's a good way to write about a storm. The music on this disc is challenging material, at the juncture of improvised jazz and electronic music, at times bordering on cacophony. But it is challenging material made welcoming and familiar by that gesture of going back and having another look at that rose bush.
Eugene Lee | Pure Potentiality Records (2008)
By Jeff Dayton-Johnson
Jazz musicians have showed a sporadic enthusiasm for meditation: experiments by John Coltrane (and Alice Coltrane), Pharoah Sanders and Keith Jarrett spring to mind, as does the clarinetist Tony Scott's quixotic Music for Zen Meditation (Verve, 1964)
The music on these records focuses either on the nirvana-like state to which meditation practitioners could aspire after years of practice—such is the connotation of the Japanese woodwinds that accompany Scott on his Zen record, for example—or the vigorous journey toward enlightenment, as in Coltrane's case.
In joining this line of jazz meditators, saxophonist Eugene Lee sought something different. "I wanted to capture the mind of the meditator in all its different incarnations," he writes, "from the serenity that is commonly associated to the word, to the various degrees of turbulence that are involved in the search for mental clarity."
He's certainly got the "turbulent" part down pat. Loop-like melodic fragments played on saxophones or the flute, electronically distorted, echoed and repeated, overlapping and interlocking, suggest the chaotic state of the beginning meditator's mind. "Immortality" is particularly unsettling in this respect; it is followed by the slightly calmer "Meditation," in which the repeated elements both suggest a calming mind and resemble phenomena like breathing or bells softly tolling.
This is challenging music, drawing deeply from experimental electronic sources and minimalism, that effectively communicates the experience of the meditator. The key drawback is that the listener could be left unaware that Lee is a fine jazz improvisor in the robust, energetic manner of Roscoe Mitchell, as his borderline-free début recording Srivbanacore (Pure Potentiality, 2007) made clear. We can be grateful, thus, for the unaccompanied alto number "Locus," which shows off these gifts and also hints at an emerging clarity in the spiritual searcher's mind.
The record concludes with a piece that employs the same motifs—repeated phrases, electronic echoes—but less jarringly and with less distortion than on earlier tracks. Entitled "Candles," it is a fitting musical coda but not the achievement of enlightenment. Perhaps, nevertheless, the seeker has caught a glimpse of what Zen Master Ejo called the "treasury of light."
Eugene Lee | Pure Potentiality Records (2007)
By Jeff Dayton-Johnson
Srivbanacore is the début record from twenty-five-year-old Framingham, Mass.-based saxophonist Eugene Lee, and the first release from the Pure Potentiality label. Fans of the free will want to lend an interested ear.
The record is more or less split between three tracks that feature the lower range of the alto instrument (”Voices,” the title track, “There Will Never Be Another Pluto”), quite freely played but with one foot squarely in the tradition, and three very different minimalist compositions in the alto's higher register (”Subway,” “Self Portrait” and “Freedom in Two Parts”), the Zen-like quietude of which provides repose between the wailing numbers. In the middle is “Life,” pianist Ben Stepner's spare, unsettling interlude.
In contrast to a perhaps stereotypical view of free jazz, in which the musician seeks frenetically to quickly convey an enormous amount of information, with Lee the bit rate feels lower. Lee wants to savor the textures allowed by freedom. That's likely why there are so few instruments playing at any given time (often only Lee's saxophone), and why so many parts are played slowly. In the middle of “Freedom in Two Parts” the musicians stop their gentle, whirling statement of the interlocking elements of the composition to sit in silence for nearly a full minute—except it's not totally silent, you can hear them shifting in their seats. A similar preoccupation with sonic texture probably lies behind the atmospheric mix; you can hear the room here, and it doesn't always sound like the same one.
“Srivbanacore,” Lee writes, is a “…word that woke me up suddenly from a mundane dream during an afternoon nap.” Like an immediate post-nap state, this track's motivating idea is not as clearly focused as the others, though Dan Nadeau's drum maelstrom propels things along. Nadeau is even better on “Self Portrait,” where the disjunction between the drummer's manic energy and the leader's pretty statement of the theme is surprisingly effective.
At the end, a lagniappe: Lee and Nadeau's boisterous duet on “There Will Never Be Another Pluto”— substitute “You” for “Pluto” and you'll know the tune. Not quite of this record because of its high bit rate, Lee nevertheless pleases mightily, a font of improvisational ideas with a rich palette of melodic, timbral and rhythmic devices. His obstinate repetition of statements, lengthened and with variations each time, will recall both Trane's famous sheets of sound and Roscoe Mitchell's declamatory style, but above all you hear the emergence of a distinct personal vocabulary, that of a player who will be at home in a variety of contexts and who has already staked out an idiosyncratic niche of his own.
By Jeff Dayton-Johnson