James Tartaglia

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Biography of James Tartaglia

A Dark Metaphysic is a negative systematic conception of reality, such as Schopenhauer’s view that life ‘swings like a pendulum’ between the displeasure of unsatisfied desires, and the displeasure of boredom when we satisfy our desires. Some rare men have given everything to the pursuit of dark metaphysics, going about their business like explorers charting a new land, although never expecting to discover wonders, only ever darker and more forbidding paths of thought. This album is inspired by their unique spirit of adventure.
Dark Metaphysic is a synthesis of jazz-funk, the avant garde, and conceptual art; some of my reference points in writing the music were John Coltrane’s Om, Miles Davis’s On the Corner, and Ornette Coleman’s Opening the Caravan of Dreams. The album is characterised by funk grooves, the human voice (occasionally singing), continually shifting tempos and keys, risk-taking jazz improvisations, avant garde fire, passages of complex harmony, memorable melodies, and above all, the continual attempt to represent unusual ideas, themes and perspectives, such as faith in black magic, a young jazz musician’s bitter disappointment after a jam session, or the art of Bruce Nauman. My interest in themes that go beyond the traditional inspirations of the jazz musician, such as romance, blues, swagger, politics, and spirituality, is indebted to Sun Ra, although I’m not particularly interested in outer space!
‘Priests in White Coats’ is the most conventional track on the album, a funk blues that makes for a good opener. It is about the view of some French philosophers that belief in the scientific world-view is akin to religious faith; scientists in lab coats have taken over the cultural role of priests in ceremonial robes. As always throughout the album, this is not necessarily a view I share, just one I find interesting and want to represent.
‘Rhythm Pitch’ is based on the idea that the structure of a conventional AABA ‘bridge tune’ like ‘I Got Rhythm’ could be preserved if the B section (the bridge) were marked not by a change of harmony, but rather by a change of pitch. We didn’t keep exactly to this concept because musicality took over, but that was fine by me.

‘Silent Soliloquy’ provides a break from the funk. It is about talking to yourself: the silently thought words we opaquely describe as ‘in our heads’. The violent disruptions (notable in the transitions between soloists, for instance) represent the lightning fast changes in direction that occur whenever we think of something new.

‘Tribute to the artist Bruce Nauman’, named and conceived with Anthony Braxton’s For Alto in mind, is an attempt to turn Nauman’s conceptual art, which continually hints at a dark metaphysic, into jazz; I think this is probably my favourite track.

‘Pornographer Scum’ is a disco number. It could be thought of as an angry condemnation of an industry that profits from ugly desire by degrading and exploiting young women. But then again, it sounds more like an orgasmic glorification of retro-70s porno-cool, although given the title this could just be sarcasm.

‘Hermetic Emanations’ is about Hermes Trismegistus (not to be confused with the Greek messenger god Hermes) who has been at the centre of black magic cults ever since he began dictating his Hermetica through Earthy intermediaries in second century Egypt. For this number, we found a medieval witch, and reunited her with her ‘thrice-god’ within a contemporary setting.
‘That boy were gonna play a solo’ is the oldest composition on the album, a bossa nova I wrote after attending a jazz birthday party on the Thames in around 1993-5. The first band on that night was led by an aging tenor player, who had agreed to a young tenor player sitting in; I had been listening to the young player warming up with some impressive Coltrane licks. After many dull numbers, each involving lengthy and boring solos from the leader, the young player sidled nervously up to the microphone and began to play a solo. The old man, furious, quite literally shouldered him out of the way, and then proceeded to play a second solo. The young man looked devastated, but to my amazement, a roar of laughter erupted throughout the crowd. Standing in front of me were two aging jazz fans in jumpers, probably in their early sixties and with strong country accents: the one turned to the other, his face animated with laughter, and said ‘That boy were gonna play a solo! HAHAHAHAHAH!

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