Liner Notes for Michael Carvin’s Lost and Found Project 2065
by Michael Lowe May 3rd 2010, New York City
Master drummer Michael Carvin has come full circle. His storied career has led him all over the world both as a leader and side musician. He has played on more than 150 recordings with countless Jazz luminaries, and has become a luminary himself. From his days as an in demand Motown session drummer, to his duo music with Jackie McLean and the special relationship they shared, to his work supporting Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, and many other greats, he was a masterful side musician. Then 37 years ago Carvin took up the helm as a band leader with his first recording, The Camel. He followed this with a series of remarkable recordings as a leader, including a moving and powerful solo drum performance, Drum Concerto at Dawn. His last recording--for the Marsalis Music Honors series--was perhaps the crowning achievement of his trajectory as a leader, and is a perfect Jazz record. For that recording of his quartet, he selected and arranged standards that had inspired his passion for Jazz when he was much younger, and he intended it as a love letter to inspire up and coming Jazz musicians.
The recording you hold in your hands, however, is very different. Most musicians when they find perfection tend to stay there, at least for a little while. But Carvin’s deep artistry and commitment to understanding the world through music led him in a completely different direction, seeking a new kind of perfection. Like all truly great artists, Carvin looks only forward, toward what he has yet to accomplish. The music of Lost and Found Project 2065 is about his pure love for rhythm and for music without traditional structures. It is also about deeply felt passion. Carvin’s mother told a story about him as a toddler, when he first understood that music was coming from that little box in the corner: He would dance unselfconsciously in front of that radio, even when it wasn’t playing, as if to call the music into being. He was hearing music all the time, feeling rhythm in his bones, even then.
If Carvin were any less of an artist, his new record could easily have been another great straight ahead Jazz record, but with Lost and Found Project 2065 he returns to that little boy dancing in front of the radio--all passion and love and rhythm--who is completely free. But as Carvin would say, “you can’t have freedom without structure.” And you can’t, because without structure, how can you understand freedom? This is as true for listeners as it is for musicians. In fact, it is his deep mastery over the opposing concepts of freedom and structure that brings the music in this recording into being. The great poet TS Eliott, in the last of The Four Quartets, wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive at where we started / And know that place for the first time.” Lost and Found Project 2065 could not have been made without Carvin’s 59 years of total dedication to playing music from the heart, and it also could not have been made without the fearless passion of that little boy dancing to the music in his mind. The difference, of course, is that the child simply is free, whereas the adult must learn to be free. This new recording is not just a profound musical statement, but the beginning of a new world of exploration by a master musician. Joining Carvin on this project is Antoine Roney, who has recorded with Carvin once before on Muse records, and Jansen Cinco, who has been playing with Carvin for four years.
The recording opens with a rhythm that emerges out of the silence, but as the opening unfolds the listener realizes that it doesn’t come from silence, but from the noise that fills nearly every corner of the modern world. Unless you live in a very rural area -- and even then -- chances are that if you stop and listen carefully, wherever you are, you will hear an overabundance of sounds. Lost and Found Project 2065 emerges from this inescapable drone and rises above it with the first minor third cadence that sets the music in motion. From here it is clear that a story has begun, and as a listener you are along for the ride, with Carvin propelling the music with great force.
The second piece, Gift to Haiti, begins much more sparely, with Carvin delicately creating the melody on the drums while Antoine Roney accompanies with haunting lines and variations. Jansen Cinco is more felt than heard here, but his presence is unmistakeable to a careful ear. Carvin’s legendary control of dynamics is in full swing, and as the piece moves forward, Carvin and Antoine Roney deftly play out a call and response before Carvin drops out completely and lets Antoine Roney fly solo. When Carvin and Jansen Cinco finally return, they create a cushion for Antoine Roney so he can safely land. There is a pervasive feeling of openness to Gift to Haiti, encouraging the listener to imagine all the people who continue to suffer in that embattled nation.
Geometrics continues with a sense of openness, with Jansen Cinco’s electric bass effects forming the textures that set the tone, a sine wave pattern straight from the circuitry of his stomp boxes. Then slowly over seven minutes the piece expands, patiently building, and when it ends abruptly during a maelstrom of sound energy, the listener is left uncertain, without closure and needing something more. But the ending is perfect because the next piece, Dr. Too Much, begins simply but with incredible energy that is barely contained. Whereas Geometrics seemed to be headed toward chaos, Dr. Too Much flirts with entropy, exploring the borderline between control and loss of control.
Cinco is the longest piece in the set at nearly 10 minutes, and the listener is ready for it after the intensity of the last two pieces. In fact, this long piece is really a mediation that the last two pieces prepared us for. Nothing is hurried, with plenty of space to explore the sonic fields created by the three musicians. A crescendo builds between five and six minutes, but feels thoughtful and not rushed as crescendos often do. There is a settled and introspective feeling to this piece.
Next is Antoine’s Dance, the first sustained rhythmically structured piece in the set, and perfectly placed after the thoughtful Cinco. The first four pieces set up the long meditation of Cinco, but here the strong rhythmic feel truly allows the musicians to dance. There is joy in this piece, a feeling of letting go and returning home, as though the journey is coming to an end and all that is left to do is paint the town red.
The last piece, Antoine’s Journey is a summary of the entire recording date. Written for Antoine Roney to celebrate his travels in Africa, from which he had recently returned before this recording was made, this piece is the denouement of the whole set, drawing all the strands of the other pieces together into one coherent statement. This piece also ends abruptly as did Geometrics, but this time there is a feeling of completion, that nothing more is needed. As a listener you have returned home, but you have been changed by the music in some inexplicable way.
I would strongly recommend that you try to find a place to sit and listen to this entire recording without interruptions. There is a clear trajectory to these pieces, and a comprehensible journey. But the beauty of them, and this again speaks to Carvin’s mastery, is that the journey naturally becomes your own. Carvin is not there leading you, he is there with you, wherever the music takes you. I had the privilege to be at the studio when this recording was made -- notably all in one take with no overdubs -- and it was a profound experience to be in the presence of a master musician who disappears into the music. Perhaps this sounds a little esoteric, but I mean simply that for Carvin, everything is about the music, and only the music. Nothing is gratuitous, nothing extra for personal gratification here. In fact I have seen Carvin play many times and have never heard him play something that wasn’t for the music. All three musicians at the Lost and Found Project 2065 date were totally committed and while they played I had the sense that time had stopped.
Master drummer Michael Carvin exists in that rarified place with all the great musicians in history. The Canadian composer R. Murray Shafer once wrote “The great revolutions of art history are changes of context rather than style.” Lost and Found Project 2065 re-contextualizes improvised music by clarifying the relationship between freedom and structure. It thus opens a whole new world to both listeners and players of improvised music. The music is inclusive rather than exclusive and creates a perfect balance between structure and freedom, something rarely achieved.
For many years Michael Carvin has been quietly bringing masterful music into the world, and teaching drummers and musicians what really matters. He doesn’t seek fame, but simply wants to continue to grow as a musician. Carvin checks his ego at the door, effortlessly disappearing into the music whenever and wherever he plays. And we all ought to pay attention, because this great musician is showing us the way, now more than ever.