23 February 2011

Stop what you're doing

And listen to this...
In Bb 2.0 is a collaborative music and spoken word project conceived by Darren Solomon from Science for Girls, and developed with contributions from users.

The videos can be played simultaneously -- the soundtracks will work together, and the mix can be adjusted with the individual volume sliders.


From Kind of Blue, by Ashley Kahn:
Evans's introduction is light and airy as originally conceived, creating a peaceful landscape for the group to enter into. The bass keeps a subtle beat while Cobb's two-handed brushwork on the snare drum offers tender reinforcement. Miles's muted solo arrives with an intensely languid, three-note phrase made even longer and more resonant by the natural echo of the studio (turn up the volume, and the vaulted ceiling is almost visible). Davis limits his vocabulary to long-held notes, dividing his phrasing into a series of whispered, two-part statements.

Evans told writer Brian Hennessey of a visit he paid the trumpeter in late 1958. "One day at Miles's apartment, he wrote on some manuscript paper the symbols for G-minor and A-augmented. And he said, 'What would you do with that?' I didn't really know, but I went home and wrote 'Blue in Green.'"



h/t: Nextbop

21 February 2011

Review: Bird Songs

Joe Lovano Us Five
Bird Songs

NPR recently ran a list of the 100 quintessential jazz songs, as determined by a popular poll. As you might expect, most of the songs on the list were over 40 years old. The top-ranked song recorded after 1970 (at number 8) was Birdland, by Weather Report. Nothing on the list was recorded after 1980. I found this especially annoying, since polls like this only reinforce the biases of some that jazz is dead.

Yet while a poll venerating old material annoyed me, I greatly anticipated an album doing just the same thing, Joe Lovano Us Five's Bird Songs. A tribute to the music of Charlie Parker, Joe Lovano has spearheaded a self-conscious look backward that remains fixed in the present. Lovano's quintet, in its second offering for Blue Note, reworks and performs a number of Charlie Parker tunes without reflecting a slavish devotion to the past.

This is not Lovano's first foray into the repertoir of the bebop era. His 2000 nonet album 52nd Street Themes included a heavy dose of Tadd Dameron. But while that album featured a number of sidemen in varying groups, Bird Songs is performed by a group that is very comfortable with itself, and this comfort allows for more risk-taking and spontaneity. Pianist James Weidman is a seasoned pro who knows how to best accompany Lovano, leaving him plenty of space while providing a light counterbalance to Lovano's gruff tone. fluidly works together

Plenty has been said about bassist Esperanza Spalding's solo work in light of her surprise Grammy win last week, but this album finds her in a different setting than her own albums. Even without the spotlight, her contributions are crucial. With two drummers constantly shifting between background and foreground, Spalding is a strong rhythmic anchor. And when she solos, as on Yardbird Suite, she shows the incredible chops that made even Grammy voters take notice, dexterously working all over the neck of her bass.

A number of tunes have a Caribbean feel, with drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela making ample use of the multifaceted tambres, inflections, and feels afforded by featuring two drummers. Barbados, Birdyard and Dewey Square all capture a calypso influence which occasionally popped up in Bird's work. But here it is played up, to my delight. A Parker tribute with only bebop rhythm would both sell his own music short and provide an unnecessary restriction to the possibilities inherent in his tunes.

Lovano dares to take Parker's tunes in unexpected directions, though, like when he takes the Miles Davis tune Donna Lee, originally a barnburner, at a strolling pace behind the freeish drumming of Brown and Mela. On Birdyard, a variation on Yardbird Suite, Lovano switches to Aulochrome, a polyphonic saxophone (the first of its kind), alternating between unison, dissonance, and consonance in a way that suggests the competing songs of birds. On Ko Ko, a trio with his drummers, Lovano shows how easily he can carry a tune on his own with his forceful sound and fiercely individual personality. As with the rest of this album, the performance fittingly reflects an artist who knows himself well enough to take the listener on personal explorations of sound, with a group who also knows the way to go.


Track Listing:  Passport; Donna Lee; Barbados; Moose the Mooche; Lover Man; Birdyard; Ko Ko; Blues Collage; Dexterity; Dewey Square; Yardbird Suite
Personnel: Joe Lovano, saxophones; James Weidman, piano; Esperanza Spaulding, bass; Francisco Mela, Otis Brown III, drums

On Exclusivity

When Esperanza Spalding was awarded the Best New Artist Grammy last week, surely somewhere some Esperanza fan was secretly lamenting the fact that the entire world now knows who she is. If jazz fans share a [defect], it is a sometimes regretful fetishizing of the little-known. For some of us, a (very) small part of the joy that comes from listening to jazz is the knowledge that we are hip to some artistic stuff most people have missed. And when the rest of the world catches up to you, it can be disappointing. "I knew about Esperanza before she won a Grammy" showed up once on my Facebook newsfeed this week, and I'm sure I'm not alone in the regard.

We can't help it. Jazz is in a cultural place partly of its own creation, outside the mainstream (for the most part) except as a curious historical artifact or marker of artistic respectability, depending on the situation. It takes devotion to seek out and learn about jazz. You can't "get it" all at once, you must work at listening to the music to fully appreciate its majesty. That's what we tell anyone who claims not to understand jazz, at least.

Case in point, I like to tell people that my younger brother was hip to Herbie Hancock before I was. He is two years younger than me, and in eighth grade or so he started picking up Herbie's Blue Note work, and went into some varsity level Herbie before I even comprehended what Herbie was doing. He was especially fond Empyrean Isles, the 1964 album that introduced Cantaloupe Island. But that now-standard aside, the disc is a knotty piece of postbop, whose advanced harmonies, polyrhythms, and melodicism are not readily apparent to most listeners, much less the sixteen-year-old version of myself. But Ted had it around, along with Takin' Off, Maiden Voyage, and Head Hunters (the only non-Blue Note in his collection at the time, to the best of my knowledge).

But within a year, I had heard Herbie enough to start to absorb what he was doing, and now Empyrean Isles is among my favorite albums of the 1960s. And I feel better about liking it having had to work at it. The fact that I only slowly warmed up to it means little intrinsically, but it deepens my affinity for the album, knowing that others may not have the stamina to work their way up to an album like this.

And there can be nothing worse (or more inconsequential) than learning one of your perceived little-shared favorites becomes popular all of a sudden. But here's the deal: Don't complain about it on Facebook. Seriously, you look like an asshole when you do that, please give it a rest. Thanks!

14 February 2011

What They're Saying About Esperanza Spaulding

Peter Hum:
Cyber-vandalism aside, it has to be a good thing that with Spalding's victory, more people outside the jazz bubble are receiving one more gentle poke in the ribs that jazz is out there and that it matters.
Patrick Jarenwattananon:
There's a theme here. Among many of her fans, the biggest takeaway of her win was that "real," comprehensive musicianship was being rewarded over commercial success (at least among the choices given). Indeed, plenty of the underpinnings of Spalding's music — risk-taking, improvisation, instrumental mastery — are severely underserved in the pop mainstream.
Nate Chinen:
With hindsight, the calculus behind her win seems deceptively clear, though the Recording Academy doesn’t divulge vote tallies. Drake and Mr. Bieber — both Canadians, both accessing a current of R&B — may have split one segment of the voting body. The other two nominees, Florence & the Machine and Mumford & Sons — both English, both slightly throwback in their appeal — may have split another. More important, though, was the marvel of Ms. Spalding’s effervescent prowess as a musician and a singer. Virtuosity has always played well with Grammy voters, and so has the comforting vision of a bright young artist upholding established ideals of quality.
Howard Mandel:
It's hard not to gloat about talent winning out. Of course, Bieber is crying all the way to the bank. On the other hand, Spalding may have a longer and more interesting career. Here's hoping...
Andrew Durkin:
I don't know Spalding's music very well, and I don't know Bieber's music at all. (Lucky for me, my six year old doesn't know Bieber's music either.) Plus, it's silly to pretend that the Grammys are a true barometer of musical value. But even from a distance, this was a pleasant turn of events, and it should make us all smile a little bit.
I agree wholeheartedly

Congratulations Esperanza

Via Peter Hum, Justin Bieber trolls are both racist and uncreative:

Congrats to Esperanza on her Best New Artist Grammy. The Bieber fans are probably just jealous that she never needed a swagga coach...

09 February 2011

On Jazz Critics

Last week, the LA Times ran an interview with Wynton Marsalis, in which Wynton said of music critics:
A lot of times, reviewers don't really know enough about what you're doing to have an intelligent comment on it. It's hard to sit down and listen to something one time. A musician has worked on something, it has a lot of references, and it's full of things the reviewer doesn't know. A person doing a jazz review -- how much jazz do they know? How much symphonic music do they actually know? I understand the practical aspect of it. Yours is a piece they reviewed on Tuesday. They have a piece to review on Wednesday. I'm not mad at them.
Martin Williams had this to say about jazz criticism in 1989:
I think that the state of criticism of jazz in America is low, but I also think that the criticism of movies, plays, music in general, and painting is also low. Literature is lucky -- it has a top level of criticism which is an excellent counter to the average American book review.

The innate critical ability is not enough in itself. It needs to be trained, explored, disciplined, and tested like any other talent.
We have all heard it said that the criticism of jazz was once left to amateurs. That is not entirely true, nor is there any lack of amateurs today. But we do have now several writing about jazz who, although they really know what criticism is, don't know enough about music. On the other hand, there are some who know music, but don't know what criticism is. In jazz, of course, there is danger in knowing music since we are apt to apply the categories and standards of Western music rigidly and wrongly thereby. And there is also danger in knowing jazz: we may reject truly creative things because our knowledge of the past makes us think we know what a man ought to be doing [ed. note: Remind you of anyone, Wynton?] -- but that is true in any art.

The man who reviews jazz records has a terrible task: he can never, like his "classical" brother, judge an interpretation or performance against a norm because every jazz record is, in effect, a new work. Also, as George Orwell said of the hack book reviewer, day after day he must report on performances to which he has had little or no reaction worth committing to print -- and that is true of the best critics and is neither a reflection on them nor necessarily on the music.

On the other hand, there could not possibly be as much true creativity in jazz as we are constantly told there is, even though the medium is very much alive. How many novels, plays, poems, symphonies, paintings done in a year are really excellent?

-from Martin Williams, Jazz in Its Time

05 February 2011

The Only Time You'll See Kenny G on This Blog

This has been linked everywhere this week, but just in case you hadn't seen it:

Well played, Gorelick. Nice subtle dig at Chuck Mangione.

01 February 2011

First of the Month

Avishai Cohen did a studio session for The Checkout recently:

I like his latest album (featuring Nasheet Waits on drums and Omer Avital on bass) more and more with each listen. Also, Nasheet Waits wins the week for his sweet Unity tee.