Oct 7, 2015
When I spoke with Bob Belden this spring, I had no idea that it would be the last conversation I would ever have with him. Oe tht he would have with a jazz writer.
The outspoken Belden had just returned from a trip to Iran with his band Animation, the first American performer to play there since the Islamic revolution in the late Seventies. He had wrapped work on two new CDs, and performed in a well-reviewed show celebrating the legacy of the Royal Roost club and Miles Davis.
And then he was gone, dead of a heart attack on May 20th, after lengthy struggles with various illnesses.
His legacy as something of a renaissance man - performer, composer, orchestrator, conductor, arranger, record executive – is considerable, highlighted by Grammy award winning CD The Black Dahlia and the genre-bending Miles from India. He also won Grammys for his liner notes to the box set reissues Miles Davis Quintet 1965-1968 and Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings.
His final recording with Animation, Machine Language, continues the trend he began two years ago with Transparent Heart, both releases on Rare Noise Records. Little about these records can be considered “jazz” in the sense most of us think of it. And that was exactly what Belden had in mind, he told me in that final conversation, calling his music “intimidating” and “adult music”. Jazz as we know it, he said, is “not an intellectual music. Not anymore. It’s basically college music. Music for students…It’s becoming like Colonial Williamsburg, where everyone is expected to play a role. Everyone is expected to imitate someone from the past. You’re the reincarnation of this person and you’re the reincarnation of this person. And so forth. “
Machine Language fits that bill in spades. The group for this session features Belden on saxophone and flute, Peter Clagett on trumpet, Roberto Verastegui on keyboards, Bill Laswell on electric bass, Matt Young on drums and Kurt Elling guesting as narrator. It is intended to be part of a trilogy of work that would attempt to meld music, literature and film into a cohesive form. Regrettably, I doubt we will ever see it finished.
Prior to Machine Language, Belden had collaborated on In an Ambient Way, a reinterpretation of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, a recording he loved due to its modern recording techniques. The recording was credited to “Powerhouse”, a group composed of Wallace Roney (trumpet), Belden (soprano sax, flute), Oz Noy (guitar), Kevin Hays (Fender Rhodes), Daryl Johns (bass) and Lenny White (drums).
So Podcast 499 is a bittersweet one for me, knowing that I will never get to speak again with a man I came to know as a friend. There will be no more emails forwarding news items he found outrageous, no more early listens to work in which he was engrossed. I will miss him.
Musical selections include the title track, "Genesis Code" and "A Machine's Dream" from Machine Language and appropriately enough, "End Titles (Master)" from Bob's soundtrack to the movie Three Days of Rain, as played by Jason Moran.