Ornette Coleman: Somethin’ Else!!!

Got a text yesterday… “Ornette has gone”. At the age of 85 years old Pulitzer Prize winning master musician and composer, Ornette Coleman passed away due to cardiac arrest. His heart could take any more. The curtain on an era of radical innovation in America that gave us musicians like Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Horace Tapscott, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon and Philip Cohran is gradually drawing to a close.



The LP

The LP

I first heard Ornette via my dad’s record player back in the Sixties. I think it would have been ‘The Shape Of Jazz To Come’ on Atlantic Records. As a teenager I didn’t really know what Ornette’s music was except it was out there! That LP combined the unique skills of Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell and I grew to love that quartet. It was slamming. Ornette was living in Los Angeles and married to the poet Jayne Cortez at that time – another extraordinary being. He was the man with a white plastic ‘Grafton’ saxophone. It was simply Ornette’s time and through that quartet he took things to a whole new level while crashing through a critical wall of skepticism and even derision within the jazz world.

Ornette didn’t want his musicians to follow him. He wanted them to follow themselves but be with him. That approach inderpins all of his recordings which gradually evolved to embrace his theory of “harmolodics” – a contraction of harmony, movement and melody.

Ornette LPThe Sixties saw the ‘Free Jazz’ album with its wicked gatefold sleeve and a cut out window that revealed a Jackson Pollock painting. The album was truly radical in the sense that it featured a double quartet – one in each of the stereo channels. Check it out. Then there were the classic trio albums for Blue Note which fetaured Ornette on alto and violin and David Izenzon on bass and Charles Moffett on drums. The follow up album – ‘The Empty Foxhole’ – showcased his 10 year old son Denardo on drums!

I vividly recall reading a brilliant piece in 1972 by Val Wilmer, in the Melody Maker, about Ornette and the London Symphony Orchestra and how he dealt with the elitist and potentially racist attitudes of the classical musicians enlisted to play the score for ‘Skies Of America’. That was something a revelation.

In the mid Seventies Ornette had us ‘Dancing In Our Head’. Sidestepping the concert key system of Western tonality he transported us to the Rif mountains of Morocco where he united with the deep trance inducing reed players and percussionists of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. That LP also introduced Ornette’s first electric band, Prime Time, and paved the way for the saxophonist’s own record label Art House.

Prime Time - Saturday Night Live in 1979

Prime Time – Saturday Night Live in 1979

Prime Time made their first London appearance at a theatre in Victoria. It was most definitely the session to be at that week! It was post punk times. James Blood Ulmer was on Rough Trade. Expectations were high. I recall arriving in the theatre and seeing these weird round white speakers onstage and when Prime Time strolled onstage and plugged in this was definitely no straight ahead jazz gig. Two electric guitar players – Charles Ellerbee and Bern Nix, Jamaldeen Tacuma on electric bass and Shannon Jackson on drums… it was rockin’ and Ornette on alto was firing on all cylinders. People at the front were shouting that “It’s too loud”. Ornette’s response was something like “Maybe you should move back!” The Rip Rig and Panic crew… Neneh Cherry, Andi Oliver and co… were dancing wildly in the aisle. That was a night to remember and though I’ve consistently delved into his fresh, sometimes demanding, recordings and seen him play live several times, that’s how I want to remember Ornette – alive and attuned to the times, blazing a revolutionary pathway through the music of his comrades.

ABOVE: 1978 Germany. Ornette Coleman – sax, violin; Ben Nix – guitar; James Blood Ulmer – guitar; Fred Williams – bass; Shannon Jackson – drums; Denardo Coleman – drums

Ornette Coleman – March 1930 – June 2015. RIP.

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BRIAN CASE presents ON THE SNAP : Three Decades of Snapshots from the World of Jazz Film & Crime Fiction

BRIAN CASE presents ON THE SNAP: Three Decades of Snapshots from the World of Jazz Film & Crime Fiction courtesy of Caught By The River

The Book

The Book

It’s mid-week, mid-day and the sun is shining in Soho. Upon entering the customary gloom of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Frith Street I’m immediately welcomed by Jeff Barrett, a prime mover (along with James Oldham) behind the publication of journalist Brian Case’s On The Snap – the first book to be published by the Caught By The River crew. I make my way upstairs and into the room which I hadn’t been in since Dave Hucker was resident DJ there in the late Eighties. Back then we’d slip out onto the roof for a reefer while a side-long Fela or Franco tune held sway on the dancefloor – a most pleasant experience.

Scanning the room for familiar faces there was journalist Emma Warren, journo/author Paulo Hewitt, A&R/PR don Eugene Manzi, Rough Trade’s Jeff Travis, playwright Alex Webb, the legends that are John Jack and Val Wilmer, Glyn Callingham, Mike Gavin and Paul Pace from Ray’s Jazz Shop and our interview/host Richard Williams – former editor of the Melody Maker, retired sports writer and man behind the excellent http://thebluemoment.com/

Settling into a corner at the rear of the room perennial mod Glyn Callingham recalled how they used to organise “a hang” at Ray’s just so they could indulge in the diverse repertoire of yarns that Brian Case had to offer and what followed at Ronnie’s was definitely in the tradition and provided an excellent taster for On The Snap.

Brian Case - On The Snap

Brian Case – On The Snap Portait by Brian David Stevens

The son of Deptford copper, the teenage Brian Case dressed like a Ted but listened to Lee Konitz. He failed to escape National Service and went on to study history at Hull University where he inevitably clashed with an uptight and nasty Philip Larkin. On the suggestion of Charlie Gillett – who pointed out that he’d get free LPs if he took up reviewing music – Brian ended up writing for the Melody Maker, NME, Time Out and Uncut amongst a host of other publications.

As a jazz journo at the NME he inevitably became a soul mate for the paper’s “practical rabbit” – Roy Carr and during the Q&A he readily recalled them embarking upon a joint mission to communicate with the late Buddy Holly. A very funny story! At the NME Brian was cast in amongst a crew of inveterate rockers like Charlie Murray, Mick Farren and Nick Kent –“who always had two pairs of leather trousers on – one covered the holes in the other” – but clearly enjoyed the cameraderie of the post publication pub sessions. The picture he paints of the teenage Julie Burchill is scathingly funny.

As the Q&A gathered momentum he recalled being dispatched – along with Big Don, a beefy 6’3″ photographer clad in a damson coloured suit – by the Observer to Caerphilly where they were to report on the Sex Pistols Anarchy In The UK tour. In short, once past the Baptist Watch Committee picket line and into the fleapit cinema he finally got his interview. The Pistols were essentially a bunch of “cunts”. However, Case concedes that Malcolm McLaren was altogether something else – “a hustler of the highest order”.

His interviews have carried him far and wide and I’ve definitely picked up a few choice reads on the back of Brian’s Time Out book reviews. On The Snap reflect his diverse passions and this modest 63 page volume consists of short pieces/reminiscences – occasionally accompanied by the illustrations of Joseph Ciardiello – on a serious array of players from Art Blakey to Al Pacino to Duke Ellington to Ian Dury to James Ellroy to Dexter Gordon to Sam Fuller to Michael Caine to the Sex Pistols to Richard Harris to Johnny Griffin et al.

To cap off the Q&A Brian told us the story about a doctor enquiring of Robert Wyatt what he going to do, career-wise, after being confined to a wheelchair. Robert explained he could still play percussion and sing and write songs. The doctor then turned to another patient, a former cat burglar who was also confined to a wheel chair, and asked what career he now planned to follow. “Fraud” was the reply. OK, it was undoubtedly funnier when Brian dropped the punch line live… but you get the vibe. So, check the book… a nice addition to the bookshelf and/or a lovely little present for some lucky person.

To check the man himself reading from the book: https://soundcloud.com/caughtbytheriver/sets/on-the-snap

The book is on sale now from : https://caughtbytheriver.greedbag.com/buy/on-the-snap-by-brian-case/

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Bristol sound system culture  flyer

The Boxes!

The Boxes!

Let’s Go (Yorkshire) is proud to present Sound System Culture: Bristol, a new photographic exhibition celebrating the history of reggae sound systems in Bristol from the 1950s to now. Expect to visit The Bamboo Club, The Dugout, St Paul’s Festival…. and get a taste of the culture that provided the bass driven foundation of Portishead, Smith & Mighty, Appleblim, Shackleton, Pinch and, of course,  Massive Attack.

Sound System Culture: Bristol is a part of national tour documenting the history of the sound systems that provided the musical edutainment for the Afro Caribbean communities of Bristol, Birmingham and London. It’s curated by Al “Fingers” Newman – think Clarks in Jamaica, Greensleeves The First 100 Covers – and Mandeep Samra who developed this tour following the positive response to her 2013 project Sound System Culture: Huddersfield.  


Enterprise Imperial HiFi and friends, circa 1977

Enterprise Imperial HiFi and friends, circa 1977

Taking place in the Glass Room, Colston Hall from 8 June–17 July 2015,  visitors will have an opportunity to interact with Heritage HiFi, a vintage-
style sound system which comes complete old skool record deck, amps, speaker boxes and a stack of vinyl including a dub-plate special  featuring sound bites from foundation Bristol sound-men. The HiFi was custom-built for the project by Paul Huxtable.

Reaching out to the next generation of potential sound system lovers the project also includes a children’s picture book, The Sonar System by Ras Mykha.

After its stay in Bristol the exhibition moves on to document the history of sound systems in Birmingham (August) and London (February 2016).

Sound System Culture: Bristol exhibition and sound installation
8 June–17 July 2015
The Glass Room, Colston Hall, Bristol BS1 5AR
Opening times: Monday/Wednesday/Friday, 2pm–4pm
Free admission

Sound System Culture: Bristol exhibition launch event
Saturday 13 June 2015, 2pm–4pm
The Glass Room, Colston Hall, Bristol BS1 5AR
Free admission
For further info: http://www.facebook.com/events/629429537190641

Roots Revival Showcase with Bristol heavyweights Sir Bastian, Enterprise & Jah Lokko
Saturday 27 June 2015, 10pm–3am
Malcolm X Centre, 141 City Road, Bristol BS2 8YH
Ticketed event
For further info: http://www.facebook.com/events/690048074458126

THE  BOOK: Sound System Culture, Celebrating Huddersfield’s Sound Systems is available from: http://www.onelovebooks.com/Sound-System-Culture-1#.VWgyYVKqmYk

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Hustler’s Convention premieres @ the Sheffield Doc/Fest

Hustler’s Convention premieres @ the Sheffield Doc/Festival and the 90 minute film will be shown at the Molinare Library Theatre
Jun 7th @ 15.30.

Jalal: 2014  Pic by Carl Hyde

Jalal: 2014 Pic by Carl Hyde

Riverhorse have just announced that ‘Hustler’s Convention’ – the documentary that traces the impact of the 1973 long playing record of the same name and the journey of its creator Jalal Mansur Nuriddin aka Lightin’ Rod- is poised to hit the big screen at the prestigious Sheffield Doc/Festival in June.

Public Enemy’s Chuck D is on board as Executive Producer: “‘Hustlers Convention’ is a verbal bible to understand the streets” but maintains that, “Very rarely does ‘Hustlers Convention’ get mentioned in the annals of what emerged from it. Jalal’s legacy is important – both as a member of The Last Poets and as the creator of this profoundly influential work. This is a story that needs to be told.”

In early 2014, through the tireless efforts of Liverpool based poet, activist, Abdul Malik Alnasir, we were able to witness Jalal deliver a staggering performance of ‘Hustler’s Convention’ at the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town. We were all – including Mr George Clinton – blown away. Some of the footage from that night is included in ‘Hustlers Convention’ – the documentary – which also blends archive, photographic imagery, and interviews with unique animated sequences set to the album score. The film locates this hugely original album in its wider social context and explore Jalal’s personal mission as one of rap’s undisputed pioneers.

‘Hustlers Convention’ is in many respects a forgotten masterpiece. The scores were composed by Kool & The Gang, Brother Gene Dinwiddie and Eric Gale. The musicians recruited to play on the album included King Curtis, Billy Preston, Cornell Dupree, Philip Wilson and Julius Hemphill. It is a tale within a tale of ambition and greed, of culture and identity and of an ongoing struggle to get paid. Released in 1973 on Douglas Records this classic album tells the story of Sport and Spoon – two young hustlers who attend the eponymous convention, only to get tangled up in a financial disagreement that leads to a shootout, a police chase and finishes with Sport on Death Row weighing up what it all means:

It had cost me twelve years of my time,
to realize what a nickel and dime,
hustler I had really been,
while the real hustlers are ripping off billions,
from the unsuspecting millions,
who are programmed to think they can win. 



For the Premiere & Q&A with Jalal Nuriddin:

For more info check: facebook.com/HustlersConventionFilm.
Or follow on twitter: @HamhocksHall

The Jazz Cafe review : http://ancienttofuture.com/2014/02/12/jalaluddin-mansur-nuriddin-hustlers-convention-40th-anniversary/

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SWIFTY joins forces with Rob Swain at Gamma Proforma to produce Full Circle – a retrospective book of his “typo-grafix” from the Eighties to now.

swifty book pg

Even if you’ve never heard of Swifty you can bet your life you’ve seen or even owned a piece of his artwork. For over two decades this man has cast an innovative and distinctive visual shadow over contemporary urban culture as we know it. However, we need to go back in time to the dawn of clubland to fully get the picture. Back in the late Eighties, Swifty was fresh from art school in Manchester. He moved to East London and was operating as right hand man to the most radical designer of the day, Neville Brody, and working on The Face and Arena magazines.

Inn the beginning there was the Apple MacSE

Inn the beginning there was the Apple MacSE

I was introduced to Swifty by Neil Spencer, a former editor of the NME and a co-founder of our “designer fanzine” – Straight No Chaser. Swifty was looking to do something of his own and Straight No Chaser was a blank canvas. The arrival of Apple Macintosh had laid the foundation for a DIY revolution and Swift was a “Mac Daddy”. He was totally on it. Swift’s design of Chaser rapidly notched up a ‘XYZ Magazine Designer of The Year’ award. Chaser was at the hub of into the jazz infused wing of the club scene. ‘E’ swept into town and “Rave” nudged the rare Groove scene onto the sidelines. There was a surplus of energy. We were all on a mission.

In ’90 Swifty left Neville Brody’s Studio and we set up shop in Hoxton. The area was derelict and run down, it bore little resemblance to the thriving Shoreditch we know today. The Chaser office became club flyer central. Prior to Swift, club flyers had been knocked out, punk fashion, cut and paste, either with a felt tip or Letraset. It was Swifty on his twinned Mac SE’s who revolutionized the art of the club flyer. It was those designs that brought him together with the flyer queen of the day, Janine Neye. Yes, it’s the same Janine who organizes annual Dingwalls session with Gilles P and Patrick Forge and they’ve been together ever since.


Talking Loud & Saying Somethin’ at Dingwalls was our “office” each and every Sunday. It was all about the music and the session was a radical melting pot of inner city cultural politics. The club became synonymous with the ‘Acid Jazz’ movement through bands like the Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai and the James Taylor Quartet. In reality, the session was fierce meeting point between the hard core post Electric Ballroom Jazz dancers, refugees from the Rare Groove and boogie scene, the musicians at the heart of the Jazz Warriors, the Acid Jazz crew and a controversial hip hop sensibility best characterised by the recordings of Tribe Called Quest. Hip hop’s sampling sensibilities found their way into Swift’s artworks where they collided with the classic sleeve art of Blue Note records.


When Gilles Peterson launched Talkin’ Loud records, Swift was the natural choice for art director and believe me he made the most of it. His output was staggering – a seriously radical body of work. Check out those Talkin’ Loud album covers and 12” singles – Young Disciples, Galliano, Incognito, Marxmen and Omar amongst others. Cast your eyes over the spreads from Straight No Chaser. We weren’t looking to develop “a look”, we simply embraced the creative energy that is implicit in change. Chaser had a format but there would be seismic shifts with every issue. At the heart of that was Swift’s fonts. This is a man who took a font and then blasted it with 12 bore shotgun – the result was a new font called “Gunshot”. Swift’s growing body of work was mightily impressive and pretty soon he was designing for labels as far away as Japan.


Limited edition etching done for the  'Build & Destroy' exhibition @ the Saatchi Gallery

Limited edition etching done for the ‘Build & Destroy’ exhibition @ the Saatchi Gallery. Click to enlarge.

When 17 year old James Lavelle appeared in the Chaser office suggesting we give him a column ’cause “we needed him”  another phase in Swift’s work ensued. Swifty and James were on the same page. They were united by their herbal intake, the joy of “toys”, a love of Japanese graffix and Seventies TV programmes like Man From Uncle (hence U.N.K.L.E – geddit?). Both had a passion for NYC subway art and street artists like Futura and Stash. James was hungry and eclectic and he set about releasing music from Japan’s Major Force and DJ Krush along with a US crate digger, DJ Shadow. Once the Mo’ Wax records was up ‘n’ running they were “kickin’ more funk like a shaolin monk”. When it came down to Mo Wax’s creative vision it was Swift and James who laid the foundation.

In ‘95 Swift moved from Hoxton to the Harrow Road end of Ladbroke Grove. He set up shop and invited a bunch of younger designers to join him. It was became known as ‘Studio Babylon’ alongside Swift it was home to Mitchy Bwoy , Kam Bohgal , Robi Walters and Fred Deakin. Swift’s stay in the Grove resulted in hundreds of album sleeves for labels like Far out and B&W Music. In 1995 he Art directed and curated the ground breaking Fosters Ice ‘Street Art’campaign which won a Media Week award for the best use of a singe medium. The effect was so radical that it inspired a whole generation of Graffiti artists from Bristol to London and beyond and help lay the foundations for the ‘Street art’ movement we know today! Mode2 and Delta both traveled to London in ’96 to check out what all the fuss was about and resulted in Mode joining studio Babylon as a permanent member until its demise in ’99.

Studio Babylon Posse + Fosters Ice VW

Studio Babylon Posse + Fosters Ice VW

Not content with print Swift then expanded his skills to include title sequence design and as he slipped into the new millennium Swifty graphics hit the TV screen via Peep Show, Smack The Pony and Derren Brown as well as music docs like Jazz Britannia and Soul Britania. Today, Swift still does flyers, album sleeves, logos, fonts, TV Titles, clothes for Addict and designs and makes his own skateboards (old skool – he still skates!). But most crucial are his own artworks. Branded but twisted, he loves the opportunity to mesh the technology with rootsy lo-fi production techniques. Visit him in his shed and he’ll be knocking out screen prints or working on etching techniques! He’s a modernist with a nostalgic streak.

Swifty skateboards : check 'em at http://swiftytypografix.bigcartel.com/

Swifty skateboards : check ’em at http://swiftytypografix.bigcartel.com/

My working relationship with Swifty has spanned 25 years – 97 issues of Chaser along with dozens of other projects. We are good friends and kindred spirits. The “Freedom Principle” lay at the heart of what we both did. Producing Straight No Chaser was all about respect and trust and under the guidance of the “Graffix Overseer” the magazine was an ever changing phenomenon. For that I’m eternally grateful.

PB – Straight No….

FULL CIRCLE is a full colour, hard back, 200+ pages, strictly limited to 300 copies. Preorder’s will be signed by the artist. 30 hand made boxed special editions with screen print, t-shirt and original archive items are also available. FULL CIRCLE is a pre-order item, expected to ship in Autumn 2015


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OKAYPLAYER FILMS PRESENTS QUEST FOR CUBA! A Mini-Documentary featuring ?uestlove as brings his own brand of funk to Cuba. This is the story…. WORDS by JAURETSI.

?uestlove: Selfie bizniz.

?uestlove: Selfie bizniz.

Yup. ?uestlove‘s Cuba trip finally gets the full mini-travel documentary it deserves. ?uesto made good use of his time in Havana, engaging in extensive cultural research both by digging up some classic Cuban-made vinyl and by visiting the legendary EGREM studios, where most – if not all – of those Cuban classics were recorded. Cultural exchange is a two-way street of course–in this case a narrow two-way street full of classic cars and beautiful people and lined by palm trees on one side and the waters of the Caribbean on the other. In that spirit, ?uesto also showed a cross section of party-goers how he gets down, delivering two nights of DJ goodwill at Fabrica de Arte Cubano. But as you’ll witness today, there’s much more to the story, including a brief cameo from Cuban Salsa group Azucar Negra’s dance crew and a chance reunion between ?uestlove and Cuban hip-hop artist Brebaje Man, who opened for The Roots when they played Havana in 2002. That meeting lead to a spontaneous freestyle and beatbox duet that is also one of the doc’s most hilarious moments thanks to one very vocal under-aged music critic (just watch to the end!)

These are the kinds of things, of course–incredible DJ sets, rare vinyl, deep studio history, unplanned street concerts–that we get excited about every day over here at Okayplayer. But we can’t escape the feeling that this particular weekend of incredible DJ sets and music discovery has a greater sense of emotion and, well, history, attached to it…coming as it does mere days after President Obama’s meeting with Raul Castro at the Summit of The Americas in Panama. So rather than further recap what you’ll see in the mini-doc, here’s a bit of the background you need to know in order to understand just how momentous what you’re seeing on the screen is.

Questlove & Edgaro Productor’n’Jefe dig for records on International Record Store Day in Havana Cuba. Photo: Daniel Petruzzi

?uestlove & Edgaro Productor’n’Jefe dig for records on
International Record Store Day in Havana Cuba. Photo: Daniel Petruzzi

EGREM is the studio where The Buena Vista Social Club recorded their albums, not to mention numerous other legendary Cuban bands including Beny More, Los Zafiros, Barbarito Deiz, Omara Portuondo,Los Van Van and Chucho Valdez (famous stateside artists such as Nat King Cole also recorded there). Due to the Cold War US Embargo, American artists have been forbidden to records albums with Cuban artists since 1959. Most forms of collaboration on the island violate America’s Trading with the Enemy Act, thereby resulting in large fines for Americans. To make the math simpler and more stark: These laws have effectively prohibited collaboration between Cuban and US artists for 55 years–laws that Obama and Castro have at least begun the groundwork to roll back, promising to open a whole new era in U.S.-Cuba relations.

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, all Cuban culture, including the record industry, was nationalized. This means Fidel Castro shut down Panart studios in 1961 (originally founded by Cuban owner Ramon Sabat in 1944). Between 1962-64, it was renamed The Imprenta Nacional de Cuba and acted as the only legal label in Cuba. In 1964, it was re-named EGREM, absorbing the assets of Panart.

By the 1990s, young Cubans were creating illegal antennas improvised out of material at hand such as wire hangers and coke cans, mostly on the roofs of homes in Alamar, which happens to be the birthplace of hip-hop in Cuba. In spite of the embargo, the island was not totally isolated and American hip-hop, soul and rock continued to seep into the country through these guerilla antennas, spawning a mixed tape market in the process.

Against this backdrop, ?uestlove’s trip to Havana as an unofficial ambassador of stateside hip-hop looms large indeed, a welcome chance for music heads to exchange ideas as well as a pound–and hopefully a sign of great things yet to come. Much respect due to Productor n Jefe for the use of his music throughout, as well as his invaluable knowledge. Watch and enjoy below:

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Reflections on ‘Wisdom Of Taiji Masters: Insights into Cheng Man Ching’s Art’

The Book!

The Book!

Going back a few years to the Straight No Chaser HQ in London Fields I had a bagua circle marked out in the basement, would regularly receive shipments of vcds/dvds from Jarek Symanski’s China Online and elsewhere, along with the odd sword or spear. It was around that time that suddenly there was wealth of visual information coming out of post Cultural Revolution China to reinforce the somewhat sketchy information we had on some of the internal arts. For example, it was mind blowing to have access to the whole Chen village taijiquan curriculum or have comprehensive breakdowns of the baguazhang palms from the Cheng, Gao, Jiang, Sun and Yin systems.

Inevitably, I’ve always encouraged others to take up the internal arts but the only people at Chaser to venture into the world of taijiquan were our graphic designers – one of whom was living in Essex at the time and commuting into London. It therefore made sense for him to find a teacher near home.

Cheng Man 'Ch'ing: Single Whip

Cheng Man ‘Ch’ing: Single Whip

After a portion of research we came across a former Chief instructor of the Penang Taiji Association with more than 35 years experience. Scanning the curriculum it looked very thorough. Master Ch’ng Lay Seng taught Cheng Man Ch’ing /Yang taijiquan, push hands, Da Lu, San Sou, qigong and weapons. I’d spent several years practicing Cheng and Yang taiji and to me this looked very authentic. Fortunately, I was right, the teaching was of a high standard and my man – let’s call him ‘Monkey Boxer’ – became very proficient at push hands.

Nigel Sutton:

Nigel Sutton:

As I approached Nigel Sutton’s book Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ching’s art I was reminded of the stories of training in Penang that my friend’s teacher had told him. It’s a long time since I’d done Cheng’s taiji short form – the form that brought taiji to the Western world – and maybe this book would reveal why I had eventually abandoned it for Chen family taijiquan.

Nigel Sutton lives in Malaysian and has been immersed in the world of taiji there training with all the local masters. As he points out there were dozens of martial arts schools in each city and competition was fierce – if you lost a challenge you lost your school! And so, there are people in this book who have proved beyond all doubt that their taijiquan was capable of standing up against the harder styles like Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane or Eagle Claw.

The book is divided into 4 sections: The Younger Generation (Wu Chiang Hsing, Koh Ah Tee), The Senior Generation (Lau Kim Hong, Lee Bei LaiZhou Mu Tu, Ho Ah San), The Disciple (Tan Ting Ngee), The Theoretician (Dr Wong Fung Tong). Each master covers the full spectrum of their experience, their and we also get a genuine and unique insight into a community of martial artists who live their art and are dedicated to the teachings of Master Cheng Man Ch’ing.

Master Koh Ah Tee: Push Hands

Master Koh Ah Tee: Push Hands

Each master is given a brief profile by Nigel Sutton and he then allows them to speak with out interruption – there are no interjections in the text by the author, his questions or comments are simply edited out to allow each interview to flow. That said each chapter has a structure which deals with: Principles and secrets, Personal Training, Pushing Hands, Application and Competition, Physical Mental and Spiritual Development, Teaching, Weapons Training, Chen Man Ch’ing, and The Future. Wang Chiang Hsing, Koh Ah Tee and Lau Kim Hong get to deal with all subjects while others focus on less.

Master Tang Ching Ngee

Master Tang Ching Ngee

From the first interview I was completely gripped. This is a book that needs to be read by those practitioners who believe push hands to be a waste of time and not real preparation for fighting. In fact, it’s made me reconsider some of my own practice and I think I’ll be heading down to Regents Park on Saturday to join in with push hands posse who are there every week of the year.

There’s plenty of food for reflection in this book, not least of all the revelation that nei gong is crucial in developing applied power. We never learned any nei gong or qi gong when I practiced Yang taiji but it appears that within the Malaysian community, despite Master Cheng being quite secretive about who his teachers were, they have nei gong practices which are like “iron shirt” but not like “iron shirt”! It is, according to Koh Shifu, “spring like”. I’m definitely in the dark about the Zuo Lei Feng method that Dr Wong Fung Tong talks about and I would now like to read Shifu Wu Guo Zhong’s book on qi gong and taijiquan.

There is a lot information in this book on the many different kinds of power (jing) – jie jing (intercepting power), ting jing (listening power), peng jing (ward off/expanding power) etc. – and it’s all rooted in the practice of these extra-ordinary guys who look like like they’ve just stepped out of the office to do some practice with their mates.

If you train in Cheng Man Ch’ing’s taijiquan or Yang stlye you should be thrilled by this book as you’ll find plenty of information here that will definitely inform your own practice. Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ch’ing’s Art does go some way to explaining why I abandoned the path of Yang taijiquan but I’d also say to anyone who trains in martial arts – internal or external – this easy to read book offers some deep insights into a unique martial arts community and their practice.

Grandmaster Cheng Man Ch'ing

Grandmaster Cheng Man Ch’ing

Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ch’ing’s Art is published by http://www.TambuliMedia.com

PS: Mark Wiley’s Tambuli Media imprint have also just published ‘Chinese Gentle Art Complete: Bible Of Ngo Co Kun’ – a manual on Five Ancestors Kung Fu. For a deeper insight into this book than I can offer check out the excellent Kung Fu Teahttp://chinesemartialstudies.com/2015/01/31/the-chinese-gentle-art-complete-reviewing-the-bible-of-ngo-cho-kun-five-ancestors-boxing/

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