28 December 2009

Time Marches On

Another year has come and gone. Just in case you missed it, below are links to my end-of-year and end-of-decade lists. See you in 2010...

Some Good Albums from 2009
Some Good Albums from the 2000s
Some Great Books from the 2000s

23 December 2009

Some Great Books From the Aughts

Greetings from Miami, the perfect place to get away from a blizzard. We are living in a golden age of jazz studies, as musicologists, historians, journalists, and American Studies professors are all producing great works on jazz. Below are some of my favorite books on jazz from the past decade, all of which I highly recommend. This list is just a starting-off point, as I still have a ton of reading to catch up on (such is always the case with me I'm afraid).
Honorable Mentions (because I haven't read these yet but I'm sure they are good)

What did I miss? Let me know in the comments...

16 December 2009

An Open Letter To Senator John McCain

Dear Mr. McCain,

Since this is a blog post that you will probably never read, and since I still don't believe you know how to use a computer, I will skip the usual pleasantries. Instead, I will cut straight to the point. As Peter Hum and Jason Parker, among others, have pointed out, in your zeal to identify every misspent cent in the federal budget, you recently noted that Jazz at Lincoln Center received an $800,000 grant. You find this prospect to be wholly repulsive, it seems. "Next time you're in New York, go to the Lincoln Center," you said, adding sarcastically, "Jazz lovers rejoice."

I understand the principles of limited government which you hold dear (that is, when you are not calling for the escalation of foolish and unwinnable wars halfway around the globe which cost thousands of times more than these grants for jazz programs). Frankly, I agree with the assertion that the current economic crisis is the result of overextension in both the private and public spheres. However, as the old saying goes, you are being a pound foolish and a penny wise. With the 2010 federal budget deficit coming in at over a trillion dollars, it is simply asinine to be haggling over such a trifle as NEA grants.

I suggest you drop your vendetta against jazz, and try to balance the budget by focusing on programs that actually make a dent in the ledger (like outmoded weapons programs, for instance). Jazz is one of the most important cultural legacies of our republic, but you would not know it from the support (or lack thereof) it receives from our government. Moreso than just about every industrialized nation, the United States depends almost solely on the private sphere to fund and promote the fine arts. Judging by the status quo, you have effectively already won your battle to defund the arts. So leave us the hell alone and allow institutions like J@LC, the Monterey Jazz Festival, and the NEA to at least keep the pittance they receive from the federal government.

Most Sincerely,
David Hill

11 December 2009

Bonus Friday Album Cover

Yesterday Patrick Jarenwattananon informed us that Justin Vernon's (of Bon Iver) recent benefit performance with his high school jazz band was recorded and now is for sale. I haven't listened to any samples yet, but check out the album cover:

Referencing the Blue Note Special, but distinctive. Simple, but effective.

December Links

It's the holidays again. You may want to buy some books and music for your friends. On to the links...

08 December 2009

Review: Un Monton de Notas

Emilio Teubal & La Banteuband
Un Monton De Notas

First, a confession. Latin jazz has been woefully underrepresented in this space. Luckily we live in a world that includes people like Chip Boas, whose blog, The Latin Jazz Corner, is essential reading. And today I'll take my first dip in the water with a review of an album that recently landed on my desk which I find representative of the depth and breadth of Latin jazz.

Patrick Jarenwattananon wrote recently that Latin jazz is "not just a synonym for Afro-Cuban jazz any more." Indeed, like other broad subgenres (postbop, avant garde, etc.), Latin jazz can include influences from any number of Hispanic cultures, and those influences can be at the forefront of the music or simply another ingredient in an artist's style.

Emilio Teubal falls in the latter category, employing a style that is informed by Latin rhythms while not allowing it to overshadow the rest of the ingredients. His new album, Un Monton De Notas, is the best kind of multigenre fusion: it reminds me of diffeent things (the opening track, Ping Pong, recalls the melody of Jitterbug Waltz over a faint clave rhythm) but sounds like nothing else.

Teubal uses this album to explore not only melody but also sounds. The instrumentation is very textured; there are very few open spaces sonically (though there are plenty spaces melodically). Teubal is an interesting composer whose tunes feature a strong pulse set against melodies that take their time to bloom. He himself has a subtly percussive style of piano playing, which match the airy flow of the winds on tracks like X-cetera (After) quite nicely. Teubal is still young, but he already possesses a keen knowledge and strong musicality, as well as the perspective to keep things in balance.

Video: Emilio Teubal & La Balteuband play Ping Pong at the Release party for Un Monton de Notas

Track Listing: Ping Pong; Before the Outerspace; X-cetera (After); Un Monton De Notas; El Amanecido; Baguala; (T) La Arania '08; A La Pantalla A; Coda(1:39)
Personnel: Emilio Teubal, piano, fender rhodes, accordion; Xavier Perez, soprano and tenor saxophone, flute; Felipe Salles, soprano and tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Moto Fukushima, bass; Franco Pinna, drums, bombo leguero; Kobi Salomon, Ivan Baremboim, clarinet; Greg Heffernan, cello; Marcelo Wolski, percussion

Thelonious, Nica

I promise I'll review Robin Kelley's new Monk biography, but I'm taking my time with the book. Although I can already tell you it is a good read. Kelley goes into great detail to give the reader the fullest portrait of Monk possible. Kelley succeeds in presenting the inner world of Monk, free of the mythologizing that dominated the popular image of Monk for so long.

Kelley was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air today, have a listen. Terry also interviewed Hannah Rothschild, whose documentary on her Great Aunt, the Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, is airing on HBO2 this month. Listen to it here.

04 December 2009

Some Good Albums From 2009

As I said last year, my status as an amateur critic and holder of a day job means I cannot review more than a tiny fraction of the new music that gets released in a given year, so I will leave the year-end lists to the more than capable critics listed below (to be updated as more lists pop up).
Meanwhile, here are a few of my favorites from 2009, which was not a bad year for jazz, all things considered.
Also, let me give one final farewell to George Russell, Rashied Ali, Hank Crawford, John Patrick Diggins, John Updike, Ian Carr, Mark Fidrych, Bud Shank, George Tiller, Ed McMahon, Ali Akbar Khan, Les Paul, and anyone else I may have forgotten.

Photo of Joe Lovano at Newport 2009 via A Blog Supreme

03 December 2009

Today's Listening Assignment

Today is Herbie Nichols' birthday (h/t: Destination:Out's Twitter). Nichols is a vastly underappreciated artist in the jazz canon, who, apart from AB Spellman's Four Lives in the Bebop Business, receives little coverage in many histories of the music. Like his contemporary Booker Little, Nichols bridged the gap between bebop and the avant garde of the 1960s.

Nichols grew up in the San Juan Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, an area which produced fellow musicians Thelonious Monk and Denzil Best, among others. In his recent Monk biography, Robin Kelley notes that Nichols was an early supporter of Monk, championing his music in his column for the black-owned weekly New York Age. Nichols was present at the creation of bebop, serving as the house pianist at Monroe's Uptown House during the late 1940s, one of the crucibles of the new jazz.

Though he did not get many opportunities to record his own music (he had to support himself playing Dixieland gigs), Nichols did record a number of sides for Blue Note during the mid-1950s, which have since been rereleased as a box set and are excerpted below. Sadly, Nichols died of leukemia in 1963, depriving the world of a unique talent whose music has since been championed by many of the significant avant garde musicians of the 1960s. These Blue Note tracks are your listening assignments for today. Special thanks to YouTube user leonocusto2009 for uploading these tracks.

Finally, below is Billie Holiday singing Lady Sings The Blues, to which Nichols composed the music, on the 1950s television special The Sound of Jazz, featuring solos from Ben Webster and Lester Young, among others:

27 November 2009

The Art of Criticism 2

An occasional series which highlights customer reviews of classic jazz albums on Amazon.com. Consider all material (sic'd).

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out

Five stars (out of five), Unexpected hyperbole: If Jesus liked jazz...
...he would have had Take Five playing at the Last Supper. This recording has such depth, such intensity, it's hard to believe that it's been captured on a CD. As I sit here now, I am waiting to get home, decompress and play the album in the background of my mind. I won't get into the technicalities with you, but take my word for it, this is a CD that will never end up as a coaster.
Two stars, The rebuttal: Re: If Jesus Liked Jazz
A fine jazz album for people who are not sure if they like jazz. The music is pleasing without being offensive, or particularly moving. Sure it is a fine place to start, but one would hope that a person's tastes would deepen quickly. I always had a suspicion that this album was rediculously over-rated, and seeing the reviews here confirm my feelings. It's a good pop jazz album, not as swinging or interesting as anything else back then, and a bit dated now. One reviewer said "take out your Kenny G and put this in," I am sure it was meant as some kind of slam on Kenny G, but it seems like a fair estimation on the impact this record has had on jazz. I am sure that Jesus likes Mingus more.
Five stars, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little: It *still* tickles.
The 5/4 on "Take Five" baffles, soothes, and delights on a level usually reserved for watching puppies and the springtime. It makes me happy in a primal kind of way.

Holiday Weekend

A little late, but enjoy...

23 November 2009

List: Best of the Aughts

As we approach the end of the decade, requisite best-of lists are popping up, so I thought I would add my two cents. As I mention in my annual year-end roundups, my status as an amateur critic and holder of a day job means I cannot review more than a tiny fraction of the new music that gets released in a given year. With that in mind, the list below is necessarily incomplete, so I will supplement it with other best-of lists from professional critics as well as crowd-sourced lists. Feel free to list your favorites in the comments.

Some Good Albums from the 2000s (in alphabetical order by artist)
And here are some other end-of-the-decade lists by people who listen to far more music than I do (updated as I find them).

Image via Circulations

20 November 2009

Friday Album Cover: In My Element

Robert Glasper
In My Element

In a recent interview on Jason Crane's The Jazz Session, Robert Glasper said something that revealed the inherent trickiness in playing hip hop-flavored jazz:
"As far as I know, most people, you know, when they do do an electric album, it's after they finish doing their acoustic stuff and then they do an electric album."
At the risk of digging too deeply into one sentence from an hourlong interview, it seems like Glasper is implying that if you want to be taken seriously as a jazz musician, you have to start out by playing acoustic jazz. I will not argue with Glasper here, some people will still reflexively dismiss a musician who only plays fusion, and not any kind of straightahead postbop (those people were a convenient straw man to one side in the jazz wars of the 1980s and 1990s). Instead, what interests me is how this line of thinking can be extended to album art as well.

A while back, I examined a common template used on Blue Note album covers during the 1950s and 1960s, which I dubbed the "Blue Note Special." The cover to Glasper's In My Element features many characteristics of the Blue Note Special, including black-and-white photography, minimal text, the color blue, and a simple layout. That Glasper would reference such a classic design makes sense when considering the style of this album (which I would roughly classify as an adventurous postbop album) and his comment that jazz musicians often hew more closely acoustic jazz during the early stages of their careers. It is as if Glasper wanted to make sure we know that he is both referencing and updating a jazz tradition. In this case, the art, and the album itself, manage to deftly point forward while referencing a revered tradition: the classic Blue Note album covers of the 1950s and 1960s and the adventurous hard bop that filled the label's catalogue during that era.

17 November 2009

Read This Today

Whenever I sit down to play, I'm quiet for a couple of seconds. Then I ask permission from the ancestors to allow me to do these things that have already been done.

A joke about that comes from "Sweets" Edison. After I played a drum solo, he said to me, "Yeah, you thought that shit was something, huh?"

I said, "Well..."

"That shit was nothin' but a bunch of old Sid Catlett licks!" Of course, nobody in the club even knew who Sid Catlett was.

-Albert "Tootie" Heath, interviewed by Ethan Iverson

Ethan Iverson posted a wonderful interview with Albert "Tootie" Heath at Do The Math last week in anticipation of the pair's short trio run with Ben Street at Small's this week. Read it! Then go listen to last night's set at Smalls' website. You won't be disappointed by either. Many thanks to Ethan, who is fast becoming the Art Taylor of the new millenium.

12 November 2009

November Links

08 November 2009

Pardon the dust.

I'm switching templates today, so if things look a little off, it's because I haven't finished yet.

UPDATE: I'm mostly done. The label cloud may get a few tweaks, and I can't seem to get my Amazon widget working, but this is pretty much it. Complaints or suggestions in the comments.

07 November 2009

You see, basketball is like jazz...

h/t: The Great Barstoolio

Update: From Jason Crane:

Fascinating talk with basketball writer Nathaniel Friedman from @freedarko about the "jazz=basketball" meme. On The Jazz Session soon. #jazz
I bet this'll be good.

06 November 2009

04 November 2009

Programming Note

Tonight PBS will reair last week's Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize American Humor ceremony, awarded to Bill Cosby. While Cosby received the prize for his contributions to comedy, he will also be acknowledged as a longtime advocate for jazz, with musicians Wynton Marsalis and Jimmy Heath appearing at the ceremony. Cosby has hosted the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles every year since 1979, and has appeared on a number of jazz albums, including Charles Mingus And Friends In Concert, a favorite of mine.

Below, Cosby ruminates on Lester Bowie and Louis Armstrong on the set of The Cosby Show.

28 October 2009

The Art of Criticism 1

Introducing an occasional series which highlights customer reviews of classic jazz albums on Amazon.com. Consider all material (sic'd).

Miles Davis: On the Corner

One star (out of five), Categorical dismissal: absolute junk
Jazz purists please avoid this title and stop with nefertiti or Miles in the Sky...You will be very happy that you didn't waste your money like I did. This cd got traded in to the used department so quickly out of my collection. I wouldn't even call it fusion let alone good funk.
One star, Off topic: Concerning the credits
This issue of 'On the Corner' contains a mistake in the credits. Not a single percussionist is mentioned, although at least half of the music consists of percussion. The German issue of the Miles Davis autobiography (which includes an elaborate discography) lists three percussionists: Billy Hart (who is mentioned in the credits for drums, but not for percussion), Don Alias and M'tume. (P.S.: The single star is NOT for the music, but for the credits!)
Five stars, Overwrought metaphor: Not for weak ears
So much has been said about this album, I couldn't write anything further, in general terms I agree totally with what Ashurra wrote(see his review below). What I can tell you is this: this album is just a like a hard drug, it will totally blow your mind the first time you listen to it, you will problably never go back to it, but if you dare, it can prove to be the most addictive thing on earth. If you're looking for something "pretty", go buy Kind of Blue and don't go back here, but if youre open to new experiences and if you have a pair of very adventoruous ears, then maybe you can get hooked by Saint Miles. This is NOT a jazz record, this is NOT a funk record, whatever that is, this is music that admits no cathegorization and only reveals its beauty after repeated listenings. Amen