30 April 2010

King Porter Stomp

This morning's selection on the Songs from Treme tumblr was the original Jelly Roll Morton recording of King Porter Stomp, a tune that never gets old for me. Let's listen to some more versions of the classic, shall we?

I'm pretty sure I am required by law to start with Fletcher Henderson's arrangement for the Benny Goodman Orchestra:

More after the jump:

29 April 2010

Must Read

Today brings a thoughtful takedown of Eric Lewis by Peter Hum. Lewis was recently interviewed on CNN in a very favorable light (which I linked in my Polar Bear review on Tuesday), with a CNN reporter lobbing numerous softballs his way. The worst of the bunch had to be "What do jazz purists think of your music?" Such a question implies that only a purist could dislike Lewis' music, which he brands rockjazz. Hum, of course, is far from a purist, and his post is best read in full, so go read it.

Extra credit: Nate Chinen recommends Ben Ratliff's review of a 2009 Eric Lewis performance.

27 April 2010

Review: Peepers

Polar Bear

Polar Bear is not the kind of name most people would associate with a jazz ensemble, but then again, I'm sure many people would not consider Polar Bear to actually be a jazz ensemble (but those of you who have read this blog know that I would). I must confess that this group, which just released its fourth album, Peepers, was not on my radar when I got an e-mail about them from a publicist at their record label. But oh, how glad I am to know about them now. Led by drummer Sebastian Rochford, Polar Bear fuses jazz, old-school rhythm and blues, and alt-rock into a wonderful amalgam (rockjazz?) which puts a smile on my face when I hear it.

From the opening track of Peepers, titled Happy For You, you can tell that this album will tread off the beaten path. Rochford's drumming is a bouncy delight, busy without sounding cluttered. He favors a hard, almost shuffle-like groove over traditional swing rhythms, and brings a great deal of energy to the table, giving saxophonists Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart a nice platform. Guitarist Leafcutter John comps with a steady strumming pattern, playing plain, unaugmented chords that give the saxophonists plenty of room to explore. The rhythm section is anchored by bassist Tom Herbert, who stays on top of the beat and matches John's spareness, often staying on the root of each chord.

A highlight of the album is the title track, which is embedded below. The head reminds me of a Black Keys song, featuring a backbeat reminiscent of Ray Charles filtered through a crunchy guitar. Arranged creatively (the saxophones and guitar take turns being the melodic and accompanying instruments), it sticks in your head easily (and you don't mind that it stays awhile).

My favorite track, though, is the sprawling but brief Hope Every Day Is a Happy New Year. The tune features a simple riff repeated by the saxophones over Leafcutter John's electronic noises. The melody can't help but stick in your brain. After a minute and a half of melody, one of the saxophonists (I'm not sure which is which since they both play tenor) begins a solo full of honks over cartoon-like noises comped by Leafcutter John. This leads into a quiet calm, then silence, and a  wonderful segue into the next track, Want To Believe Everything.

As of this writing, Polar Bear has no US dates on their itinerary. Promoters and organizers of America, make a Polar Bear American tour happen! Have them open for Spoon or another indie rock band, book them at a few festivals, or pair them up with a similarly adventurous jazz outfit like The Bad Plus. Such a tour won't break records, but it will surely make some money, which is rarely a sure thing in jazz these days.

Bonus material follows after the jump...

22 April 2010

Apropos of Nothing

Via the indispensable Uni Watch Blog, below is a photo of Louis Armstrong's baseball team, Armstrong's Secret Nine. I would love to get my hands on one of those jerseys, as well as the sweet striped stirrups. Only 246 shopping days left until Christmas...

Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

Today is the 88th anniversary of Charles Mingus' birth. I was first introduced to the man in high school, when a friend lent me his copy of Mingus Dynasty. I was hooked right away. There was so much to love about his music: the arrangements, his periodic screams of ecstasy, and not least of all his bass playing, which was very present without overpowering the ensemble. Mingus could hammer on the strings with his fingers, propelling the band while simultaneously feeding off of the wonderful drumming of his musical soulmate, Dannie Richmond. Then there was his writing. Mingus was also the greatest Duke Ellington disciple in the history of jazz, and his compositions still excite me fifty years after they were written and ten years after I first heard them. He was an American original.

One final note: According to Wikipedia, the Ellington band performed a version of Mingus' The Clown at a 1969 music festival, with Duke performing Jean Sheppard's narration. If a recording of this exists (and Wiki says it does), then the world needs to hear it.

Below the jump are some Mingus tributes.

16 April 2010

Christian Scott and a New Jazz Orthodoxy

It has been a long time since Wynton Marsalis made the cover of Time Magazine. Twenty years ago, actually. Though he had risen to the top of the jazz world by that time, the October 20, 1990 issue of Time served as Wynton's unofficial coronation as the most well-known jazz musician in mainstream America. With that, of course, came his role as the major tastemaker in the jazz world (and the accompanying backlash which still lingers). But in the intervening two decades, we have yet to see another jazz musician rise to the top of the heap, as it were, and become the new face of jazz for the mainstream.

Enter Christian Scott. His latest album, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, was released last month, and Scott has made a media blitz which is rare for a jazz musician. Scott has appeared on late-night talk shows and NPR, sat in with Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and been featured in Vibe, New York Magazine, and the Village Voice, just to name a few. None of this matches Wynton's Time cover, but Scott could very well add a few more high profile notches to his belt before the year is up (it should be noted that Maralis had been leading his own groups for almost a decade before the Time cover). On top of that, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow could very well make everyone's year-end lists of the best albums of 2010. I will not predict that Scott will become the Marsalis; such predictions rarely end up being true. But whether or not he gets noticed by the rest of America, he could very well play an important role in the ongoing evolution of jazz.

The question "What is jazz?" is beyond cliche, but Christian Scott is fast becoming the embodiment of an answer to this question (though not necessarily the answer), whether he likes it or not. Though I suspect he may like it. Having read and watched a number of different interviews of his lately, it is plainly evident to me that Scott is not afraid to share his feelings on jazz. Case in point, in his recent All About Jazz interview, Scott recounts his own disagreements with Marsalis, and criticizes his narrow conception of jazz, "He got to this place where he's at the top of the pile, and then he decided he was going to tell everyone else in the country what to listen to and how to play jazz." Scott goes on to dismiss the idea of recording a standards album, as well. None of this is, of course, anything new for a jazz musician to say. However, Scott and a number of his contemporaries, to me, embody a conception of jazz that moves beyond the Jazz Wars of the 1990s (Marsalis complaints notwithstanding).

Musicians like Christian Scott, Vijay Iyer, Robert Glasper, and Jason Moran (just to name a few) seem to experience jazz as an oral tradition, one that is adaptable to various external forces and one which can incorporate new strands without losing its identity as jazz.1 You can find ample evidence of this relationship with jazz in the music of these artists. For one, they seem to fill out their repertoire with both nonjazz tunes (from genres as diverse as classical, rap, alternative rock, and gospel) and standards written by some of jazz's universally-recognized masters, like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, or Andrew Hill. They are reverent of the past, but they value individual expression over belonging to a certain school (as Davis, Monk, and Hill did).

As for the nonjazz tunes, they run the gamut from M.I.A. to Radiohead to Ligeti and beyond. What's important is not the specific music but the fact is that far from jazz, yet these musicians love it enough to bring into the fold. This is obviously not the first generation to listen to other kinds of music besides jazz, nor is it the first to incorporate it into its own music. Rather, Christian Scott and company draw heavily from one strain of jazz tradition that is ecumenical in its source material. Some forebears in this strain would include Lennie Tristano, Anthony Braxton, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock.

So Scott has made a powerful argument for bridging the gap between Marsalis' neoclassicists and his detractors, who maybe were a bit too preoccupied with denying boundaries (or maybe not, and their resistance to Marsalis was less about boundaries in general than Marsalis' specific boundaries). Regardless, though Christian Scott may become just another jazz musician who occasionally pops into the popular consciousness, he has made his position on what is jazz quite clear, and he is not alone in his artistic choices.

Note: Moran and Glasper appeared on my Jazz Now list last year, and two of the three other groups on my list, The Bad Plus and Happy Apple, I would say share this relationship to jazz I am describing.

Jason Parker on jazz and cultural relevance (I'd say Jason and I are on a similar wavelengths)
Time's 1990 cover story on Marsalis
Christian Scott's AAJ interview
A Blog Supreme's Jazz Now project

1 Of course, calling jazz an oral tradition is somewhat anachronistic, as the music can be preserved in a number of physical forms (recordings and sheet music most prominently) which are vastly more efficient means of propagation than oral transmission. But even so, because of the existence of recordings, we can experience music in its historical moment well after it was created, allowing up-and-coming musicians to become familiar with a vast musical history in a relatively short amount of time. We can arrange our introduction to the past in such a way as to learn the tradition chronologically, as if witnessing a century of history in order. In other words, we can comprehend jazz as an oral tradition through artificial recreations of the past (i.e. recordings).

12 April 2010


Today is Herbie Hancock's seventieth birthday. Here are some musical tributes to Herbie.

Robert Glasper, Maiden Voyage/Everything In Its Right Place

More after the jump...

April links

I'm not in Paris, but Charlottesville is pretty nice in April, too. Time for some links to wash away the Monday.

07 April 2010

Review: Lost in a Dream

Paul Motian

I'm gonna stay with the youngsters. When these get too old, I'm gonna get some younger ones. Keeps the mind active. -Art Blakey, A Night At Birdland, Vol. 2

I was thinking of Art Blakey's words when I picked up the new Paul Motian album. Having been long celebrated for his trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell (among many other projects), Motian now finds himself also touring with another pair of youngsters in saxophonist Chris Potter and pianast Jason Moran. As with his work with the former, Motian's trio with the latter reiterates his status as the foremost musical heir to former employer Bill Evans. Evans freed up the piano trio with Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro, giving immense freedom to each member of the trio. Motian has taken Evans' impulse a few steps further, giving each member of his trio complete freedom.

I am rarely as predisposed to like an album as I am with Lost in a Dream, but I cannot say that Motian, Moran, and Potter did not follow through on their potential. At their best moments, like nearly five minutes into Casino, when Potter builds up to a Coltranesque wail over Moran's plaintive chords and Motian's dirge-like pulse, they are truly sublime. The three have enough personality and fertile minds between them to make such free music and a loose organizational structure work. Moran has been one of the most rewarding pianists to listen to over the past decade, while Potter's consistency is rare among today's musicians (I cannot think of a single project of his that I have not liked). Motian is in good company, which pays dividends throughout the album.

As much as I am sure to keep enjoying this album, I cannot escape the wish that Motian had employed a more groove-like feel every once in awhile. He comes closest on the title track, but it is much too subtle to feel like a departure from the rest of the album. However, this is but a minor inconvenience in an album that seems destined to age well.

Track Listing: Mode VI; Casino; Lost In A Dream; Blue Midnight; Be Careful It's My Heart; Birdsong; Ten; Drum Music; Abacus; Cathedral Song
Personnel: Paul Motian, drums; Chris Potter, saxophone; Jason Moran, piano

06 April 2010

It's Tuesday

And all I want to do is hear Dizzy Gillespie.

More Diz after the jump...