Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 9 Dec. '54, Bronx, NYC) Percussionist, composer, bandleader, record producer, label boss; also sometimes sings in an idiosyncratic half-speaking voice. Traditional composers wrote down their music on paper for other people to play; jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus used their bands to help create their music as well as play it; some of today's artists, like Bill Laswell, John Zorn and Kip Hanrahan (each very different) do it with a studio. Half Irish and half Russian-Jewish, Hanrahan grew up surrounded by Latins, and played congas and guitar in Latin bands but knew he wasn't good enough. He landed a scholarship to Cooper's Union art school, studying with conceptual artist Hans Haacke; travelled to Africa and India, worked with Carla Bley's JCOA and the New Music Distribution Service; worked on a film in Paris late '70s, and subsequently compared producing a record to making a film. He formed the American Clav, label '79 on a shoestring (a clav, is one of a pair of hardwood sticks struck together in a Latin rhythm section, also the rhythmic figure played on them). In his music he began re-creating the sound of his Bronx childhood, with jazz, Latin, rock and voices coming out of the windows and around the corner, elements arguing with but also supporting one another, the whole carefully planned yet attempting the spontaneity of jazz. He thought his first album Coup de t^te '81 would change his life, and it did: it put him in debt. College radio loved his work but he was aiming too high for the pop charts.

The two-disc song cycle Desire Develops An Edge '82--3 incl. vocalist Jack Bruce, sidemen Steve Swallow, Jerry Gonzalez, Ricky Ford, John Stubblefield, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Teo Macero and others; a French critic wrote that 'Kip Hanrahan is the Jean-Luc Godard of contemporary music,' and indeed Hanrahan's work may have evoked wider interest overseas than at home. EP A Few Short Notes For The End Run '84--5 incl. Bruce, Swallow, Andy Gonzalez, Clem Clempson; Days And Nights Of Blue Luck Inverted '85--7 incl. several of these plus David Murray, George Adams, Lew Soloff, others. Pan-American Tenderness '89-- 90 incl. Sting, Diahnne Abbott, Carmen Lundy, Don Pullen, Chocolate Armenteros, Chico Freeman, Andrew Cyrille, many more. Two-disc Anthology '79--90 was followed by Exotica '92, the usual suspects incl. Ralph Peterson; All Roads Are Made Of The Flesh '85--94 incl. live tracks and unreleased stuff; A Thousand Nights And A Night (1-Red Night) '96 was Tales From The Arabian Nights done poetry-and-jazz style, incl. Charles Neville, Henry Threadgill and others as well as Pullen, Swallow etc.

More than a showcase, the label also released Milton Cardona's Bembe '86, music sung in Yoruban and accompanied by three percussionists for the Afro-Caribbean Santeria religious deities; settings of texts by poets Paul Haines (Darn It! incl. Robert Wyatt, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Paul Bley, Wayne Horvitz, Pullen, Swallow, Bruce etc etc) and Ishmael Reed, whose Conjure did Music For The Texts Of Ishmael Reed '83 (written and played by Taj Mahal, Allen Toussaint, Carla Bley, Lester Bowie, Swallow etc) and Cab Calloway Stands In For The Moon '87--8 with some of these plus Eddie Harris, Bobby Womack, many more. The poets were not accompanied by the usual banal vamps, as in the jazz-poetry of the early '50s; Calloway was described by the LA Times as 'just your basic, everyday smoky- bluesy-swinging-funky-literate-jazzy-tight-improvised-crafted- ensemble thing. In short, a model for intelligent creative pop music.' A financing and marketing deal with Sting's Pang]ae[a label was a disaster because of record-industry attitudes; people wondered what Hanrahan was doing producing a record by an Italian bandoneon player from Argentina, but Astor Piazzolla was approaching the cusp of his world fame, and when Tango: Zero Hour '86 was released it soon sold in the tens of thousands, followed by two more albums (see Piazzolla's entry). Hanrahan knew exactly what he was doing, as usual, but wasn't getting paid much for his production work. In between meetings with lawyers, Sting performed on Tenderness, which should have made the accountants happy, but on a Hanrahan record Sting didn't sound like Sting, and the music doesn't stop reinventing itself.