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

24 October 2009

Local Legends

Despite the occasional pronouncements of the death of jazz, it is still possible in many American towns to find a small but dedicated community of musicians keeping the oral tradition alive. This is especially the case in college towns like Charlottesville, my current base of operations, where jazz studies programs at colleges and universities provide real value to local residents interested in jazz.

Each community has its own share of local legends who do much to spread the word, and in Charlottesville, John D'Earth does the yeoman's work of teaching and gigging incessantly. Last night I finally caught D'Earth in action with his quartet at Bel Rio, a local restaurant that books a lot of live music. It was an enjoyable evening of straight-ahead hard bop reminiscent of the great Miles Davis quintet of the mid-1950s. And though the music wasn't necessarily cutting edge, neither was it a museum piece. D'Earth's quartet swung nicely and offered thoughtful takes on a number of standards. And the audience at Bel Rio (which was nearly full through the first set) was younger than you would have expected in light of Terry Teachout's recent piece on the decline of the jazz audience.

Musicians like D'Earth are integral to the survival of jazz. They promote the development of young musicians (giving lessons and leading ensembles at high schools and colleges) and perform at just about any venue willing to have them. Find out who these figures are in your community, and go see them live. They deserve at least that much from us.

D'Earth photo via UVa

23 October 2009

A Very Special Friday Album Cover

Today the British newspaper The Independent reviews Freedom, Rhythm and Sound by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, a compendium of rare jazz cover art from the 1970s. Many of the covers in the book reflect the Black Power aesthetic of pride in blackness, signifying on African and African American cultural forms and tropes.

You can view a slideshow of some of these album covers here. The book makes a great holiday gift for any album coverphile you know.

h/t: jazz.com

20 October 2009

Money Jungle

Time for the October links...

Image via
The Big Money

19 October 2009

Review: Historicity

Vijay Iyer Trio

One of the major undercurrents in the recent Jazz Now discussion was the thorniness inherent in addressing a Jazz Tradition. For those of us, like myself, who consider jazz to be an oral tradition, it follows that the best jazz can both reference (and even revere) the past while situating itself firmly in the present and offering a jumping off point for the future (hence the oft-cited Ralph Ellison quote, "One of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time").

But referencing the past while making a statement of the present is not so easily achieved, which makes Vijay Iyer's latest effort, Historicity, all the more impressive. Iyer and his long-standing trio featuring bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore tackle a number of tunes already familiar to listeners, as well as a couple of originals recorded on earlier Iyer albums. While the song selection is bold (including covers of the M.I.A., Ronnie Foster, and Leonard Bernstein), the execution makes the album seem less like a novelty and more like the work of artists who are genuinely interested in finding out whether great music retains its endearing qualities when recontextualized.

And the answer, in this case, is assuredly affirmative. The trio effectively creates little worlds in each track on the album, from the ethereal mist of the title track to the expansive voids of Somewhere to the jagged iciness of Dogon AD. On the latter and Mystic Brew as well, Iyer, Crump, and Gilmore show the limitless possibilities inherent in a single rhythmic motif. The music on the album reflects a trio with a very detail-oriented and well-conceived purpose of vision. Such planning often yields fruitful results.

Perhaps predictably, Iyer has run into some unnecessary criticism surrounding his intellectualized approach to jazz. One recent album reviewer, writing for All About Jazz, complained that the "miasma of cerebralization" surrounding Iyer's music is irritating, and that Iyer's liner notes,1 which quote the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, "rings alarm bells." However, these complaints, which were limited to Iyer's liner notes, and not his music, ring hollow upon listening to the album. Iyer is an incredibly thoughtful musician who pours a lot of intellectual energy into his music (his recent interview on The Jazz Session is a great example, as is this article he wrote for the Guardian about Fibonacci numbers and his rendition of Ronnie Foster's Mystic Brew). However, his music retains a deeply intuitive sense of rhythm which prevents things from getting too sterile. Indeed, if you listened to the entire album before reading the liner notes, the "miasma of cerebralization" critique would likely make little sense.

Video Content: The Vijay Iyer Trio play's M.I.A.'s Galang:

BONUS MATERIAL: Vijay pops in at Destination: OUT to post two live recordings of his trio from February. Many thanks to Vijay and the Jeffs for making that happen.

Track Listing: Historicity; Somewhere; Galang; Helix; Smoke Stack; Big Brother; Dogon A.D.; Mystic Brew; Trident: 2010; Segment for Sentiment #2
Personnel: Vijay Iyer, piano; Stephan Crump, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums

1Iyer posted the full text of his liner notes in the comment section of this review.

13 October 2009

Review: Overtone Quartet at The Kennedy Center

Dave Holland announced to the crowd at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater Saturday night that the Overtone Quartet is a collective operation. Each member contributes tunes for performance, and all four are given time in the spotlight. When a group consists of such powerful, diverse, and unselfish personalities as Holland, drummer Eric Harland, pianist Jason Moran, and saxophonist Chris Potter, this organizational model often pays dividends. I have mentioned before that Holland is very much a bandleader in the mode of Art Blakey: attracting talented young sidemen and creating an environment in which they can thrive.

And thrive they did on Saturday. The quartet opened with a Harland tune, Treachery. Harland set the tone for the evening with a driving rhythmic pulse, coupled with crisp accents that managed to pack a lot of notes into a little space without sounding clutter. He and Holland were locked in throughout most of the night; it was not uncommon for the two to smile to each other as they settled into a groove.

Indeed, the only disappointment of the evening was that we did not hear much from Moran, one of the most original voices on the piano at the moment. The quartet played one of Moran's tunes, Blue Blocks, and Moran only got two opportunities to stretch out by himself. However, complaining about this is a bit like complaining that you don't drive your Mercedes enough because you spend all your time in your BMW.

The group closed with Interception, from Holland's 1973 album Conference Of The Birds, one of the best jazz albums of that decade. The group tore through the tune's disjointed melody and followed with a frenetic free solo from Potter, with all three bandmates adding wind to his sails. Harland followed with a fantastic excursion of his own, befitting of the Superman t-shirt he wore under his jacket. It was a fitting end to the evening: four dynamic musicians forging their disparate identities into a beautiful cacophony.

Bonus Overtone: Nate Chinen reviews the quartet's September performance at the Blue Note in New York.

09 October 2009

A Minor Corrective to the Jazz In Crisis Meme

Jazz fans are passionate to a fault, and us jazz bloggers even more so. In the wake of Terry Teachout's Wall Street Journal piece on the decline of the jazz audience, a whole host of bloggers have picked the piece apart, started a campaign to promote live jazz, and offered suggested albums to recommend to non-jazz listeners, among other responses. While the responses were thoughtful, they also (inadvertently) reveal a sense of defensive panic, as if we bloggers need to prove the vitality of jazz in the 21st century.

But I wish to offer a slightly more optimistic take on the situation. Instead of talking about the audience, I'll follow Patrick Jarenwattananon's lead and instead focus on the music. What is lost in the uproar over the audience is the fact that we are currently living in a golden age of piano trios. Not only are there a bunch of exciting groups putting out fantastic music, but the pantheon of these trios all have such an individual sound that even jazz neophytes can tell them apart. Below are just a few of the trios that are making the present moment such a satisfying one for jazz listeners.

Brad Mehldau Trio: Mehldau has loomed large over the jazz scene for over a decade, and his trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard have put out a number of great albums over the last decade. I consider them the standard bearer of this group.

The Bad Plus
: Though we may be tempted to dub them enfants terribles for their deconstructive covers of pop and rock tunes, The Bad Plus are more of a postmodern edition of the traditional jazz piano trio.

Vijay Iyer Trio
: I'll let the rest of the jazz blogosphere do the talking here. I'll be giving their newest album, Historicity, a full review soon, but suffice it to say that it might be the best album of 2009. Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore have a fantastic musical rapport.

Keith Jarrett Standards Trio: The reigning master of repertory, along with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, will consistently knock your socks off with their discursive explorations of standards.

Robert Glasper Trio: Glasper gets a bit more pub for his Experiment band, but the acoustic trio is also a pretty good show.

Jason Moran's Bandwagon: Moran packs the entire history of jazz piano in his playing, but keeps it fresh and exciting. Bassist Tauras Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits match him blow for blow in energy.

Medeski Martin & Wood
: Probably the most sui generis of this list, which is saying something. John Medeski usually sticks to electric instruments, but he is underrated on the acoustic piano.

Did I forget someone? Let me know in the comments...

Image via EyeShotJazz.

06 October 2009

A Non-Jazz Recommendation

Blogging activity has been sporadic as of late, but I will have some new reviews and material up for you all soon.

In the meantime, check out Dirty Projectors, an experimental indie rock band out of Brooklyn. I recently got their latest album, Bitte Orca, and think their adventurous harmonies and idiosyncratic phrasing would appeal to fans of jazz. Below is the band playing Cannibal Resource, the album's opening track, on Letterman last month. It's very cool stuff, indeed.