A Book of Five Rings
Live concert from the Knitting Factory, NYC 1997 Jayna Nelson, Flute and Piccolo Matt Schulman, Trumpet Eric Person, Alto and Soprano Saxophone James Finn, Tenor Sax and Bass Clarinet Tony Underwood, Tuba John Esposito, Piano Hilliard Greene, Bass Peter O'Brien, Drums Compositions by Esposito (From the liner notes) The making of this recording is the result of the kind of bizarre circumstances and odd confluence of artists, pirates, and extraterrestrials that in the jazz world is not strange at all, or strange but not unusual. I was asked by a saxophonist at a Cafe Espresso 1995 Woodstock jam session if I might be interested in recording for ESP Disk. It's catalogue was being re-released on CD by a distributor in Germany. The owner, Flavia Stohlman, wanted to produce some new artists once the licensing deal was over and the catalogue came back into her control. We met and had a lovely conversation, during which she gave me the history of ESP Records, which included her husband, the Esperanto movement, Mossad, CIA funding, Willis Conover and the Voice of America, 60's black militants, Albert Ayler and Charles Manson, who was sending her a package of new songs every Christmas ('What were they like?' 'Oh, I don't open the package!'). When asked if I would be interested in recording for ESP the following year I said, 'Sure, I'd love to.' After all, these were the people who brought us Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Timothy Leary, and the Fugs (I didn't know about the Manson record). And as Flavia pointed out - 'ESP records, Esp-osito, it's a perfect match.' The following Tuesday, Flavia called. 'You know that session we talked about for next year?' 'Yeah?' 'Can you do it sooner?' 'How soon?' 'Friday.' She explained that the Smithsonian Institute was coming to Woodstock to 'observe her operation.' She told them there was no operation. They asked to see an ESP recording session. They had a gap in their collection of recordings for the 1960's and wanted to acquire the ESP catalogue to fill it. I quickly put together a band and arranged three pieces ('Two Worlds,' 'Bwarat,' '...and His Spirit Ascended') for three woodwinds and rhythm section. We arrived at Applehead studio in Woodstock to find a pavilion filled with about two hundred people. The Smithsonian delegates, three Alien Greys, wanted to meet the artists of Woodstock. Free food and drink; the record date was now a Roswell commemorative bash. Herds of artist types wandered through the studio as the engineer tried to find a way to record us live in one room. The Smithsonian triumvirate interrupted for a photo op and to explain that American culture had taken a wrong turn back there in the late 70's with hip hop and that by releasing the complete ESP catalogue (me included), they were going to turn it all around. Eventually we nailed the doors and windows shut and finished the recording. I'll try to get the video footage up on my website. The ESP label was held up with contractual entanglements for the next year or two. Flutist Jayna Nelson was working for ESP as a producer around that time and in August 1997 arranged for the band, now called A Book of Five Rings, expanded with tuba, trumpet, and vocalist Pamela Pentony, to play two nights at the Knitting Factory as part of a jazz festival. Several vocal and horn compositions were under-rehearsed, poorly conducted (by me), and are therefore not included on the present CD, for those of you who attended the concerts. The rest of the music really worked and the band was on fire. One more confluence: some friends, a young couple I hadn't seen in a while, showed up bringing with them a young African man. During the second set we played 'Bwarat,' a piece, I explained to the audience, which grew out of my love for a field recording done in the 1950's of a village festival of the Yergan tribe in Bwarat, Nigeria. I told them I knew nothing about Bwarat but that their music had moved me very much and this was my tribute to them. The young African man came up to me after the set. 'I thought my friends were playing a joke!' 'What do you mean?' 'I am from Bwarat, I arrived in the U.S. this morning.' - 'Welcome to America, my friend.' -John Esposito.