IRAQNOPHOBIA/WAKE UP DEAD MAN
RELEASE DATE: JUNE, 2005
COVER LINER NOTES / TRACK LIST BIOGRAPHY
IRAQNOPHOBIA/WAKE UP DEAD MAN
In 1986 I returned to my home in Texas after two years of living in Europe. With the State in the midst of its Sesquicentennial celebration, I received a commission from Tina Marsh to compose a new work for the Creative Opportunity Orchestra. I had recently discovered Clifford Jordan\'s tribute album to Leadbelly, These Are My Roots (Koch 8522). This, in turn, led me to further explore the original Leadbelly recordings and many of the early Alan Lomax recordings. A direct inspiration for the title and form of the piece came from the Bruce Jackson book, WAKE UP DEAD MAN Afro-American Worksongs from Texas Prisons (Harvard University Press, 1972).
In early 2001, Wake Up Dead Man saw a second performance by the CO2 at Symphony Square in Austin, Texas. I had admired Alan Pogue\'s photography for years and heard he had photos of various southern prisons. Although they weren\'t from the same time period as Jackson\'s book, I felt having the photos at the concert would provide a link to current issues in the Texas prison system. Alan graciously came to the concert and set up a display. At that point, I knew I would want to integrate his photos and my music in some future project as well.
Shortly after the tragedy of September 11, I was commissioned to write another piece for the CO2. The event, coupled with the U.S. government\'s subsequent rush to war, affected me deeply. I wrote Iraqnophobia and again thought of Alan\'s photography. He had been in Iraq several times since the Gulf War and had recently returned to escort a young girl and her father to the U.S. for medical treatment. Originally I had hoped to make a DVD and was thrilled when Alan agreed to let me use his photos. The DVD idea is still in the works but, meanwhile, here is a small sample of Alan\'s work. It\'s important to me because he\'s been an inspiration for many years, both as an artist and a human being.
Alex Coke\'s WAKE UP DEAD MAN and IRAQNOPHOBIA are deep meditations on human rights, peace, and social justice. For all their sensuous aesthetic appeal as contemporary ensemble jazz, these compositions are also critical works of musical citizenship. Like Alan Pogue\'s stunning photographs which accompany the presentation, they directly confront the brutal circumstances of life in prisons and war zones. They cause us to ask about the pain and misery of these places, and in doing so they advocate for compassion and human dignity.
Tina Marsh and Creative Opportunity Orchestra have for many years commissioned and performed works of musical conscience. As the premier aggregation of progressive musical spirits in Austin, Texas, their agenda has been as much social as musical, asking us to remember that music is not just a passive pleasure but also an active form of soul searching. VoxLox is proud to include this recording in our human rights catalog. And we do so with gratitude to Alex, Tina, the players, Alan and co producer Mark \'Kaz\' Kazanoff for their commitment to creating provocative art in troubled times.
On jazz, fear and shifting sands
Alex Coke and Creative Opportunity Orchestra perform \'Iraqnophobia\'
By Brad Buchholz
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Alex Coke\'s jazz suite \"Iraqnophobia\" begins with the imagery of shifting desert sands -- a solitary flute and a muted trumpet, dancing together in the Middle Eastern wind. Nature blows the music into different shapes and evokes different moods.
What do we feel in these foreign winds? Fear? Fate? Foreboding? Laughter? The sense of something savage? The presence of something divine? The composer encourages us to let go, to get caught up in these breezes, and allow them to carry us where they will.
Coke, long regarded as one of the most innovative voices in Austin jazz, has been thinking a lot lately about \"Iraqnophobia\" -- about the condition and the composition, as well as the debut of his new CD of the same name. He\'ll also be performing the 34-minute piece this evening, as part of the Tina Marsh/Creative Opportunity Orchestra\'s annual spring concert at Austin Museum of Art-Laguna Gloria.
As its title suggests, \"Iraqnophobia\" plays off the ideas of irrational fear and the Middle East, in the context of jazz. Coke\'s creative aims in the piece are both humanitarian and musical, but there is no overt political statement. In fact, the music is frequently playful. Coke intentionally wrote the piece in eight movements -- playing off the pun of arachnophobia. You know: Spiders. Eight legs. . . .
\"I wasn\'t anxious to make a big political statement one way or another,\" says Coke, who intends to present \"Iraqnophobia\" with projected photographs from the Middle East by Austin photographer Alan Pogue. \"Although it may seem politically charged because of the name, I really think it would mean 20 different things to 20 different people who hear it. I don\'t intend to beat anyone over the head. One thing I like about Alan\'s work is that it\'s really humane -- and that\'s something I was hoping to do with this music.\"
In many respects, \"Iraqnophobia\" feels like an Arabian daydream, scored in the style of Gil Evans -- the pianist and arranger who collaborated with Miles Davis on \"Sketches of Spain\" in the 1950s. Like \"Sketches,\" \"Iraqnophobia\" is orchestral in scope, a musical statement that blends the soul and instruments of two different cultures to evoke mood. Coke\'s music conjures visions of caravans and the sounds of the call to prayer. One movement depicts a wobbly camel ride, played as a blues on trombone, as might be envisioned by Thelonious Monk.
Coke showcases the soprano sax of Steve Vague and the soprano voice of Tina Marsh, pairs flute with trumpet, western drums with eastern hand percussion. He flavors the mix with guitar and violin and piano and guitar, but never groups them all together to form \"big\" sounds in any one movement. As a musical editor, Coke aspired to \"erase sounds more sounds than I kept, to make the music more transparent, as if you were seeing it through a veil.\"
\"Iraqnophobia\" began for Coke on Sept. 11, 2001. He was on tour, in Iowa, with the John Jordan trio -- and the band went on with its show in Cedar Rapids. Coke recalls the audience lit candles and placed them on stage that night. Generous townspeople drove the band\'s van to a gas station during the show and filled the tank, responding to rumors that there would be price gouging the next day.
\"As an artist, I often feel pretty powerless, that I can\'t actually do anything,\" says Coke, who had recently moved back to his native Texas after living several years in Europe. \"But we played every night that week -- in Kansas City and Lincoln and North Platte -- and it was just amazing and positive. I was thankful to be playing music at a time when so many of my friends felt helpless. And when I got back to Austin, and started feeling that outpouring of (American) fear -- that phobia -- I began working on this piece.\"
Coke completed \"Iraqnophobia\" in 2002. Last year, it was \"discovered\" nationally by Steven Feld, renowned for his popular \"Voices of the Rain Forest\" recording from New Guinea. Feld was so enthused upon hearing \"Iraqnophobia\" that he asked to release it on a CD with Coke\'s prison suite, \"Wake Up Dead Man,\" on his new VoxLox label, which is devoted to humanitarian and ecological causes. Coke and the Creative Opportunity Orchestra recorded \"Iraqnophobia\" on Sept. 11, 2004.
\"I guess you could say that these pieces are socially conscious,\" says Coke, a master reed player who performs all the flute parts on \"Iraqnophobia.\" \"But when you start with those sentiments and then turn them into a piece of music, it needs to work as music on its own terms. It should stand up on its own.\"
Alex Coke, born in Dallas, Tx in 1953, received his B.A. from the University Of Colorado at Boulder in 1976, with emphasis on flute. An original member of the Austin-based Creative Opportunity Orchestra, Coke has performed with Tina Marsh in various formations for over 22 years. From 1990-2000 he played and recorded with the internationally renowned Dutch jazz group, the Willem Breuker Kollektief. An improvisor at heart, Coke\'s eclectic attitude has led him to explore everything from Be-Bop to Huddie Ledbetter to Rahsaan Roland Kirk. His flute studies have ranged from Eric Dolphy to Indian ragas on the bamboo flute to extended flute techniques such as those researched by Robert Dick, Ann LaBerge and Wil Offermans.
Before moving to Amsterdam in 1992, he received several awards including:
1990 Best Saxophonist, Music City Critics Poll/Austin Texas
1990 Best Jazz Bands Music City Critics Poll/Austin Texas
(Countenance #1, and Worthy Constituents #3)
1990 Best Unsigned Bands Musician Magazine
(Countenance, and Worthy Constituents)
1988-1989 Best Jazz Band, Austin Chronicle Music Awards
(Chris Duarte and Justus)