A Miracle Reissued Today.
Paris, May 2008 – I’m actually at present standing not too far away from the »Quartier Latin«, the »Boulevard Saint-Germain« or »La Sorbonne«. – »Times they are a-changin’« used to sing Bob Dylan … Well, I don’t really know anymore. It doesn’t seem to matter even. The 40th anniversary of (what to call these?), the »joli mois de mai«, namely 1968, is rather confused at all levels – and even the marketing-mercantile operation turns out to be quite flat here (I haven’t yet bought a single item, book, memory, T-shirt or other stuff). And this clearly reissues the only question in terms of history, art, moments, periods, events, which is: what remains?
Media’s first, then people who consume or get consumed by the first ones always tend to forget facts. The facts are, in almost every single event or case, that the traces left get overlapped, confused, mistaken for a global »timeframed« picture of a given event and time. If you’d look carefully and deeper what you’d mostly find is this: there are pieces of art, statements, speeches, facts, books, records … on the one side. And on the other they always happen to come out before the actual global picture made of that time (»La Chinoise« – Jean-Luc Godard; »E.T.« – Steven Spielberg; Alan Vega & Martin Rev; »correspondance« by Flaubert, Céline or Nietzsche … or the fact that the seminars of Jacques Lacan were actually empty and deserted in the 60s). What is concrete and invariable in history of thoughts is: no one never gives a shit when it actually happens (but far later, when a dead picture was made by all sorts of people who claim valid passports for it). Anyway: »You have never heard such sounds in your life« – this was ESP’s slogan at the time, reproduced on most releases, on the back cover of each LP.
»You have never heard such sounds in your life«
In 1966 (some say ???64, which I couldn’t verify yet), Bernard Stollman, a lawyer in New York, debuted a label dedicated to any sort of »new music« (or literally: »new« music). In about a year and half only he already had issued about fifty albums, all to remain and count in music history (any music and any history, here). Almost each release was presenting premium recordings from rather unknown artists (most would become legends later, some were at most musicians‘ musicians, as they say). Of course all the productions, now recognized as some sort of golden age (and very concrete banking collectors on the market and in original editions), sold pretty bad at the time. Stollman slowly was heading towards a clear bankrupt and no mercy for (as usual in such visionary cases). When you dig and credit you can be sure someone else will cash in. People bullshit a lot (and even more today I find) about Warhol’s Factory (not him, no question – just the glittering clichés, most useful for »generations«), but they could open a bit, and they would easily find so much more happened a couple of blocks away even (or in same street: Sam Rivers‘ Rivbea Loft, Ornette Coleman on Prince Street, James Blood Ulmer’s loft etc. …). ESP’s last attempt were some earlier jazz releases (Billie Holiday, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker etc …) more or less »live & bootleg«, then it finally collapsed in 1974. Since then, all sorts of strange or semi-reissues appeared on numerous labels, at least the music was available, but the original statement and gesture were gone.
From Ayler to Yuganaut
»Extra Sensory Perception« plus the three first letters of »Esperanto«: This is ESP! And this is absolutely what you can now find again in its integrity, density and original artwork – such recordings and facts don’t lose through the years, not at all, it’s the opposite even. Think: The New York Art Quartet of John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Lewis Worrell and Milford Graves together with LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). »Spiritual Unity« from the Albert Ayler Trio (with Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray), or the Ornette Coleman Trio live at »Town Hall 1962«, or Don Cherry, James Zitro, Sun Ra, or Leandro Barbieri (soon to become Gato), or Giuseppi Logan, Paul Bley, Bob James, Burton Greene, Ran Blake, Marion Brown, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Sharrock, Charles Tyler, Ronnie Boykins, Frank Wright, Karl Berger … but also The Fugs, Patty Waters, Yuganaut, Pearls Before Swine etc. …
When a label really holds together, you can take any release and it’ll find you. There aren’t any better or weaker recordings on ESP, they all are ESP and this means each one is a beginning, a takeoff, a unique moment of a kind. Stollman didn’t only help these artists to issue »records« when no one cared for, but he heard in each of them something that was there. He probably heard it so loud in himself that he didn’t want to keep it a secret, he made it a fact – something for all of us to share, experience and care as well. ESP is like a great photo book, it’s so much embodied that you quickly forget when the shot was actually taken, you simply let yourself deep inside. Sure, it was during the late 1960s, but it doesn’t really matter further than this – it isn’t some Holy Gral, or a goal to keep there – this series of reissues much rather questions us today (art is always present time, otherwise it’s an ersatz): What do we do? Where do we go? Or even: Let’s go. And »Let’s go« is a move we all know, it allows absolutely any desire, production, concept or gesture. Only one thing is to be avoided: to go back. – Please help yourself, the ESP catalog is a world in itself.