31 December 2011

2011



Thanks to my return to school and other blogging obligations I've been pretty quiet around these parts lately. Which is too bad, since I would have loved to take the time to comment on the latest jazz internet controversies.* I've still got three album reviews in the queue that I have barely started, but alas. I resolve to blog more at some point, but that's as much of a commitment as I'll make for now.

As always, I will list some of my favorite music of the year (jazz and non-jazz) below. I can never listen to anything approaching a comprehensive list of the music released in a given year, but suffice it to say these albums below made me take notice this year.

Ambrose Akinmusire - When The Heart Emerges Glistening
Gretchen Parlato - The Lost And Found
Ben Williams - State of Art
Joe Lovano Us Five - Bird Songs
Orrin Evans - Captain Black Big Band

And my favorite non-jazz of 2011:
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Cults - Cults
Feist - Metals
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
The Roots - Undun
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Tune-Yards: w h o k i l l
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
Wye Oak - Civilian

And one final farewell to Paul Motian, Sam Rivers, Bob Brookmeyer, Andre Hodeir, Hitch, Mad Dog, Hubert Sumlin, Pete Rugolo, Al Davis, Fred Shuttlesworth, The Big Man, Gil Scott-Heron, Harmon Killebrew, Sidney Lumet, Pinetop Perkins, and anyone else I have left out.

Here's to a happy 2012.

*Especially the jazz/Black American Music debate. I'm all for moving beyond the word "jazz," which is way too small a word to encompass all the music stuffed under its umbrella. But suffice it to say, anyone who calls himself the savior of anything (as Nicholas Payton does vis-a-vis "Archaic Pop") sets off my bullshit detectors immediately. I'm glad someone is not afraid to write candidly about the racial aspects of American music, but maybe one day the internet can handle a complex discussion like this without devolving into a pissing match within a few minutes...

28 September 2011

W H O K I L L

tUnE-yArDs are an indie rock outfit surrounding Merrill Garbus, whose personality and ecumenical style would fit right in with the Nextbop/Revivalist set. W H O K I L L, their album released earlier this year, is among my favorite albums of 2011 so far.

26 September 2011

Just call him George Steer-ing

Not an Onion video, Playing jazz for cows in France:


I've been a vegetarian for ethical reasons (i.e. anti-factory farming) for four years. However, I would most definitely eat a steak made from one of these cows. I'd put some Miles on my turntable while I ate it, too.

24 September 2011

Autumn

It's playlist time again...
  1. Brad Mehldau: August Ending
  2. Happy Apple: Green Grass Stains on Wrangler Jeans
  3. Miles Davis: Fall
  4. Dave Holland: Four Winds
  5. Vijay Iyer Trio: Mystic Brew
  6. Chick Corea: Windows
  7. Medeski Martin and Wood: Your Lady
  8. John Coltrane: Moment's Notice
  9. The Bad Plus: Flim
Listen to this playlist on Spotify

    01 September 2011

    29 August 2011

    Happy Birthday Bird

    1. Ballad (Hawkins, Bird, Jones, Brown, Rich)
    2. Celebrity (Bird, Jones, Brown, Rich)
    Personnel: Charlie Parker, alto saxophone; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Hank Jones, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Buddy Rich, drums

    25 August 2011

    A Lost Art

    Baseball stadium organ players are an endangered species, but in Atlanta one man keeps on keepin' on, and readers of this blog would probably dig him:


    His Twitter feed is a must-follow. Even a Marlins fan (I know, I'm probably the first one you know) can like him.

    12 July 2011

    16 June 2011

    When Webster's Added Jazz to the Dictionary

    From The Atlantic:
    In a musty Brooklyn bookstore this past weekend, I went looking for an old dictionary for a very special secret project. Among the teetering stacks of books, I came across a gorgeous 1927 Webster's International New Dictionary, and paging through it at Karloff down the street, I found myself drawn to the NEW WORDS section. These words were not invented in 1927, but represent additions to the book since its original publication in 1909. So, what we're capturing here is change between 1909 and 1927, a fascinating historical moment of great technological and social change.
    ...
    jazz, n: a. Music. A recent type of American music, esp. for dances, developed from ragtime by introduction of eccentric noises and negro melodies, and now characterized by melodious themes, dance rhythms, and orchestral coloring.
    Other new words from that edition: bootleg, super, Yuan, airplane, and Great White Way.

    11 June 2011

    Tina Fey on her Father

    Don Fey certainly had friends of other races and religions. He has told me a couple times about the night he kissed Lionel Hampton. He was at a jazz concert as a teenager with an all-white audience. At one point in the show, Lionel Hampton would invite a woman from the audience to dance with him, but the white girls were all too scared to be seen dancing with a black man. To ease the tension, Don Fey jumped up and fast-danced with Mr. Hampton, at the end of which Lionel Hampton kissed him on the forehead to a round applause.
    The quote is from Bossypants. Ah the self-mythologizing of the Depression generation...

    08 June 2011

    List: Jazz Nicknames

    This week A Blog Supreme lists 12 great jazz nicknames. Here are 12 more, sans commentary:
    1. Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge
    2. Oran "Hot Lips" Page
    3. Jeff "Tain" Watts
    4. Billie "Lady Day" Holliday
    5. Johnny "Rabbit" Hodges
    6. Arthur "Zutty" Singleton
    7. Willie "The Lion" Smith
    8. Johnny "Little Giant" Griffin
    9. Harry "Sweets" Edison
    10. Albert "Tootie" Heath
    11. Jay "Hootie" McShann
    12. Sonny "Newk" Rollins

    24 May 2011

    Help this dude publish an Eric Dolphy graphic novel

    Via Peter Hum:
    My plan is to self-publish a 74-page book, a sort of interpretive biography. I've been researching Dolphy's life for some time, and I've read everything about him I've been able to get my hands on. I'd like to tell his story the way I see him—a musical prince. I chose to draw the novel in a style reminiscent of the great album covers from 40's and 50's. Artists like David Stone Martin and Ben Shahn were an inspiration.
    The artist is Keith H. Brown. You can contribute at Kickstarter. Below is a video describing the project. Needless to say, I love the idea.

    --

    Beyond Category

    Duke Ellington is 112 today died 37 years ago today.. To celebrate the Duke, I will be very suave all day. Also, below is an excerpt from my favorite Duke biography, John Edward Hasse's Beyond Category: The Life And Genius Of Duke Ellington.
    In 1969, Leonard Garment, a former clarinetist with Woody Herman, and then an attorney serving as a key aide to President Nixon, teamed with the Voice of America's Willis Conover and several others to arrange for a special White House celebration of Ellington's seventieth birthday. Ellington was asked to submit a list of fifty people he waned invited. The joint Ellington-White House guest list included, besides the expected politicians, musicians Count Basie, Billy Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Mahalia Jackson, Richard Rodgers, and Harold Arlen; Ellington friends Arthur Logan and Stanley Dance, critic Leonard Feather, producer George Wein, director Otto Preminger, the Smithsonian Institution's Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, the Voice of America's Willis Conover, and Ebony publisher John Johnson. Ellington's sister, Ruth, and his son, Mercer, and his wife and three children also attended.

    In a remark that became often quoted, Ellington said, "There is no place I would rather be tonight except in my mother's arms." Nixon winning declared, "In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke." Ellington kissed Nixon twice on each cheek. "Four kisses?" asked the president. "Why four?" "One for each cheek," Ellington replied. Nixon was momentarily dumbfounded. The climax of the evening came when Nixon presented Ellington with the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the nation's highest civilian honor. The medal was the supreme recognition the US government could offer Ellington, and it must have gone a long way to compensate for the disappointment of the Pulitzer rejection. 
    One can only hope to have such wit.


    image via Flickr

    22 May 2011

    Critiquing the Critics

    Jazz bloggers like two things: navel gazing and "what does it all mean?" questions. When the two can be combined, hoo boy does the blogosphere erupt in hand-wringing soliloquies (I'm only being slightly facetious here).

    Peter Hum:
    There needs to be some critical distance when it comes to jazz writing. It's not quite like holding politicians to account, but even if a jazz writer is an unabashed advocate for the music, I think there has to be some sense that the critic likes some discs or musicians more than others and is more than an uncritical booster. Reader will have a better sense of how their tastes line up with a reviewer. And the absolutely gushing reviews have more meaning if there are lukewarm and even negative reviews to offset them. For comparison's sake: what would you think of a film reviewer who only gave out four-star reviews? And yet, you can easily find the equivalent in the jazz Interweb.
    Jon Wertheim:
    There are so many jazz blogs out there, and too many of them are wary of making any definite pronouncements. In doing so, they cheat us of their true potential. 
    Anthony Dean-Harris:
    Should we hold back negative criticism because our scene is so small and squabbling would be detrimental to our overall proliferation? This seems to have been the thinking for some time now in a era of logorrheic praise that borders on the fellacious. Yet while the this positivity may have turned jazz press into the Lollipop Guild (yours truly included), it may be time for us to move on to true criticism. Just as we have in the last few years moved from a genre with a very limited internet presence to that of one in which a jazz blog of noodling pontification is a stone’s throw away, maybe we can start making the Wertheim-noted value judgments that every other genre has been making for a while. It may be time to lift that moratorium.
    It should be noted that there exists a variance among types of critics, thanks to the democratization of media through the use of the Internet. Writers like Peter Hum and Ben Ratliff, who are paid to write full-time about jazz, should cover a substantial breadth of jazz such that they are bound to write critical reviews in the course of their day-to-day writing duties. I like that I can count on Hum to opine on just about every significant new release.

    But people like Patrick Jarenwattananon, Anthony Dean-Harris, Alex Rodriguez, and others whose jazz writing is only a part of what they do cannot so easily cover as many new releases and performances. Is it better for them to simply champion what they really love, and spend less energy on what they do not favor? Surely their readers are smart enough to figure out that they are not obnoxious fanboys, just writers who have chosen to expend their energy on the musicians who get their writerly juices flowing.

    I will say, though, that one of the books which most stimulated me in the past few years was Stanley Crouch's anthology Considering Genius, mostly because I found myself disagreeing with him often. As a result, I had to interrogate my own rebuttals to his points, which made my arguments and thoughts about jazz much better articulated and deepened my understanding of why I like certain albums or artists so much. So perhaps a little negativity is in order. At the very least, the negative stuff can often be fun to write, if the writer is really into a takedown piece.

    And which writers among us don't like giving a rhetorical smackdown every once in a while?

    16 May 2011

    Stranger things have happened

    On Google's Genius clone:
    There are 18(!) songs on this 25 song playlist that are not justifiable. There's electronica, rock, folk,  Victorian era brass band and Coldplay. Yes, that's right, there's Coldplay on a Miles Davis playlist.
    The sample mix also contained a George Jones track, which gives me an excuse to post this:

    08 May 2011

    Update

    So, if you guys chip in and buy me this shirt, I'll start blogging again.

    I kid, I haven't given up. I'm stretched a bit thin at the moment, but take heart, I will return. Soon...

    22 April 2011

    Mingus Dynasty

    "How would you characterize the kind of music you play now?"

    "There once was a word used--swing. Swing went in one direction, it was linear, and everything had to be played with an obvious pulse and that's very restrictive. But I use the term 'rotary perception.' If you get a mental picture of the beat existing within a circle you're more free to improvise. People used to think the notes had to fall on the center of the beats in the bar at intervals like a metronome, with three of four men in the rhythm section accenting the same pulse. That's like parade music or dance music. But imagine a circle surrounding each beat--each guy can play his notes anywhere in that circle and it gives him a feeling he has more space. The notes fall anywhere inside the circle but the original feeling for the beat isn't changed. If one in the group loses confidence, somebody hits the beat again. The pulse is inside you. When you're playing with musicians who think this way you can do anything. Anybody can stop and let the others go on. It's called strolling. In the old days when we got arrogant players on the stand we'd do that--just stop playing and a bad musician would be thrown.
    --
    "What about British jazz? Have we got the feeling?"

    "If you're talking about the technique, musicianship, I guess the British can be as good as anybody else. But what do they need to play jazz for? It's the American Negro's tradition, it's his music. White people don't have a right to play it, it's colored folk music. When I was learning bass with Rheinschagen he was teaching me to play classical music. He said I was close but I'd never really get it. So I took some Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson records to my next lesson and asked him if he thought those artists had got it. He said they were Negroes trying to sing music that was foreign to them. Solid, so white society has its own traditions, let 'em leave ours to us. You had your Shakespeare and Marx and Freud and Einstein and Jesus Christ and Guy Lombardo but we came up with jazz, don't forget it, and all the pop music in the world today is from that primary cause."
    --
    "I'll never make much money and I'll always suffer 'cause I shoot off my mouth about agents and crooks..."

    -from Charles Mingus, Beneath the Underdog, His World as Composed By Mingus, 350-352.
    Mingus was not simply making music, he was creating a canon of American art music. But it wasn't simply American music, it was a reflection of his identity as a light-skinned black man in a racially segregated country where he felt alienated from both white and black people (hence the title of his memoir, Beneath the Underdog). As such, he drams from so many traditions (blues, gospel, classical, various Latin folk musics), but brings it all together into a style that is completely jazz but also a departure from it. Like his hero, Duke Ellington, Mingus saw himself as creating a high art form that was self-consciously African American. Of all Duke's children, he has gone the farthest in fulfilling Duke's aim, "the development of an authentic Negro music."1


    1Eric Porter, What is this Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists, 1.

    17 April 2011

    Jazz and Neurology



    The most fascinating thing I've read about music lately was not written by a critic or a musician, but an economist.1 Tyler Cowen's The Age of the Infovore is a broad examination of the information economy, and he makes some suggestions about the way people experience and think about culture. It makes for a thoroughly thought-provoking read, not least of which because he shoots down the annoyingly glib "Is Google making us stupid?" thesis with relative ease.

    Most pertinent to this discussion is Cowen's chapter titled "Beauty Isn't What You Think it Is," wherein he argues that neurology plays a far greater role in musical taste than you may think. The internal wiring of individual brains, more than cultural backgrounds and aesthetics, determines whether people can connect emotionally and intellectually with a certain piece of music. To prove the point, he discusses atonal classical music, which sounds like noise to many people.

    An assumption undergirding his argument is that "part of the joy in atonal music and related forms is discovering the order and in the meantime enjoying the surprise of what is to come next." While this implies a "mechanical" relationship with art, Cowen argues that emotion and structure are actually "quite connected." Pop music bores some people because it is too easy to figure out, and no amount of emotional content can make up for that (Cowen likens it to "doing a crossword puzzle we have already solved").

    If listening to and appreciating music is about finding order (in addition to tapping into the music's emotional core), then those that listen to seemingly disordered music must be especially adept at finding order. It is here where he expands his discussion to include people on the autism spectrum, who excel at finding order and are overrepresented in the population of atonal composers.2 At one point he goes so far as to write, "it could be said that non-autistics have systematic cognitive deficit when it comes to music."

    What does this have to do with jazz? Cowen does not mention jazz in this case, but surely it crossed his mind while writing (he is, after all, someone who once called Sun Ra "a musical god of sorts for me"). It is relatively easy to extrapolate his argument into the jazz world, where audiences are small and neophytes often struggle to grasp the emotional content and structure of the music. That struggle itself is why there is a smaller audience for modern jazz (relative to most other "popular" musical genres): it is (purposefully or not) geared at "pleasing people with unusual neurologies." Thus, "The aesthetic lushness of the world will be increasingly distributed into baroque nooks and crannies," to borrow a phrase from Cowen.

    This is not to say that the brains of jazz listeners are wired wrong (or that jazz cannot appeal to more than a handful of minds). But when we wonder why jazz always struggles to get noticed into the mainstream, we would be wise to remember Cowen's argument, coupled with Scott DeVeaux's observation about the development of bebop in The Birth of Bebop. When the beboppers realized there was a market for more challenging jazz that may not attract dancers, but still fill nightclubs, they seized on this new art market and propagated a music which, while it may not gain an audience as large as swing did, it was enough to make a living and fulfill their own artistic desires.

    Combining Cowen's demand-side analysis with DeVeaux's supply-side history of bebop, it becomes clear that jazz has a small audience because of a break from pop music (not always enforced, as the history of the music shows) made over half a century ago. Since then, the trend has mostly reinforced itself. I'm willing to bet a majority of jazz listeners played music as children, and a majority of those played jazz in school bands, creating an early habit of listening to more challenging music (and probably overrepresenting a group of neurological outliers). Jazz self-selects from a smallish segment of society: musicians (or former musicians) who can see order in music where others do not.

    This does not mean that jazz will never become popular again, or that the music is worse off (the musicians may be a little worse of financially, but that is another topic altogether). But it does make it seem like the odds are stacked against a popular renaissance of jazz.


    1The second most fascinating thing I've read about music lately was Ethan Iverson's blog post on Stravinsky's rhythm.
    2Cowen also argues early in the book that people on the autism spectrum should not necessarily be viewed as disabled. Indeed an autistic mind is particularly well-suited to the information age, for a number of reasons. He goes to great lengths to correct any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge about autism that the reader may have, and as a result he does make you reconsider autism.

    16 April 2011

    Happy Record Store Day

    Today is Record Store Day. This is just a hunch, but I imagine jazz fans are overrepresented in the community of vinyl fetishists (since we listen to a lot of old music, obvs.).

    Rolling Stone has a slideshow of the 30 best record shops in America, so if you live near one of these stores, go check them out! There's nothing better than perusing the bargain bin at a shop like Amoeba Records, you never know what you'll find. Three of Rolling Stones' 30 selections are in my soon-to-be adopted home of Seattle, giving me yet another reason to look forward to my impending cross-country move.

    I won't be heading to a record store today, since the only decent shop in Charlottesville doesn't have a bargain bin (it's my silent-but-futile protest). I will, however, be spinning a lot of vinyl this afternoon while I catch up on some unfinished posts and watch some basketball. Today's playlist:
    • Cannonball and Nat Adderley: Them Adderleys
    • Miles Davis: Saturday Night at The Blackhawk
    • Leo Kottke: My Feet are Smiling
    • Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsies
    • Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins
    • Charles Lloyd Quartet: The Flowering

    04 April 2011

    Kind of Dub

    Via Largehearted Boy:
    In 2009 Secret Stash Records dusted this collection off breathing new life into it via a vinyl-only release. From the label: 'In the spring of 1981 a group of reggae studio musicians from Jamaica gathered in New York City under the direction of Jeremy Taylor, a music professor at NYU at that time. The result was this Reggae Interpretation of Kind of Blue.' As fate would have it, several weeks after directing the sessions Taylor passed away in his Paris hotel room while on a speaking tour of Europe. A final mix of the album was never released though it existed subrosa in rough, lo-fi, cassette form among genre enthusiasst. In 2009, Secret Stash Records began working with the Taylor estate to finally release the album creating both final mixes and dub versions. Reggae Interpretation of Kind of Blue the result of their efforts.
    Listen to the reggae rendition of So What here.

    03 April 2011

    Artistry and Sincerity


    Donald Glover on LCD Soundsystem, who played a farewell show last night at Madison Square Garden:
    The sincerity is what made LCD Soundsystem really dope to me. There's no half-ass. No one's "cool." They like stuff. They're really particular and hardworking. Everyone's always talking about how they hate shit. Cause if you say you like something, it makes you a little weaker cause people can attack that. So, as I look at it, LCD Soundsystem are super brave. One of the braver bands ever, especially since they were around when irony and sadness about the state of the world is pretty high.
    Truer words were never written. This taps into why I like musicians like Robert Glasper, The Bad Plus, Jason Moran, and Esperanza Spalding, among others. They like what they like, and they've found an interpretive framework (jazz) which allows them to work it all into their art. And their polyglot tastes often end up turning me on to hosts of new music that I may not have found on my own.

    The great thing about art in the 21st century is that music nerds can carve out these wonderful little corners of the universe to create their own monuments to whatever they like, and thanks to the technological revolutions that brought us Twitter, Facebook, etc., they often find that their own combinations of tastes are shared by more people than you might suspect. Further proof that we are living in a golden age of music (though not necessarily a golden age for musicians, but that's another issue for another day).

    Thx

    Via Elements of Jazz:
    30 Best Blogs for Jazz Students
    Hot House: Jazz students hoping to pump out some well-researched criticism should turn to Hot House for inspiration and advice. David Hill may be an amateur, but his stuff still leaks passion and insight well worth consideration.
    Read the whole list here.

    29 March 2011

    "So God bless Freddie Hubbard"

    Stop what you're doing and listen to Christian McBride's story about his first gig with Freddie Hubbard on the Moth.

    26 March 2011

    Exercises in Complainbrag

    Phil Freemen interviewed the jazz-famous pianist ELEW this week, and I read it (overcoming an admittedly first instinct to ignore the interview). If you do not like his brand of jazz, the interview will likely not change your mind about it. Regardless, it is an interesting read, mainly for the People don't understand me, probably because I'm too awesome for them vibe ELEW gives off. He's clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the music, and what it all means, but he has a habit of complainbragging. 

    Here are some actual quotes from ELEW, devoid of any context:
    I, having won the Thelonious Monk Competition only to be ignored by the aforementioned jazz labels like a non-connected jerkoff outside of a chic nightclub trying to get a bouncer to bend the admission rules, was pissed off and growing increasingly disenchanted with touring the world with the likes of Wynton Marsalis and Elvin Jones, ruminating in a musical cone of ’60s-era activism pathology.

    I was ridiculed by the New York Times for stating that the screams of Chester Bennington reminded me of late-period John Coltrane‘s wails on the saxophone.

    My work is quite conceptually identical to the work of Erroll Garner, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum.

    Also I have more reason to be pissed off, which fuels my determination and creativity in the face of abject hopelessness and socio-economic roadblocks.

    People like me make people like [Wynton Marsalis] hostile. As his type should be about people like me.

    But branding eclipses righteousness or being correct.
    RTHTH. I don't listen to ELEW, his music does not connect with me. Also, I find his incessant need to present himself as something pure in an ocean of artifice grating (and his self-proclaimed lack of artifice is a form of artifice itself). But as far as I can tell, he seems to be sincere about his music, so I can't get real worked up the way some in the anti-ELEW crowd do.

    20 March 2011

    Spring

    1. Bill Frisell: Winter Always Turns to Spring
    2. Emily Remler: Mocha Spice
    3. The Wee Trio: Avril 14th
    4. Tobias Gebb and Unit 7: Softly as in a Morning Contemplation
    5. Eric Dolphy: Bee Vamp (1, 2)
    6. Joao Donato: Tim Dom Dom
    7. Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics: Chinese New Year
    8. Vince Guaraldi: Baseball Theme
    9. Duke Ellington: Lotus Blossom
    10. Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers: United
    Spring by dave6834

    14 March 2011

    List: Favorite Tracks From the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-1968

    All tracks available from the Columbia box set, which is a necessity for all jazz fans (especially considering it can be had for $33 at the Amazon mp3 store).
    • E.S.P., from E.S.P. Has any other band made a better opening statement? Perhaps, but I doubt it. At the end of the tune, Miles needs to drain his spit valve. To this day, whenever I hear the end of this track, my suppressed trumpet-player mind tells me to drain my spit valve, though I haven't picked up my horn in years.
    More after the jump...

    13 March 2011

    Joe Morello


    Joe Morello, Dave Brubeck's longtime drummer, died this week. Patrick Jarenwattananon eulogized Morello at A Blog Supreme yesterday. Brubeck wrote of Take Five, Morello's greatest contribution to the jazz canon, in the liner notes of the Time Out reissue:
    Paul Desmond once said of "Take Five," "It was never supposed to be a hit. It was supposed to be a Joe Morello drum solo.

    Some people may be able to analyze in a scientific way what will "catch on" with the public, but I never could. I think it must be a serendipitous combination of a "catchy" melody, an insistent rhythm, and the general musical climate of the times. Creating a "hit" out of the odd-meter experiments of Time Out was the farthest from any of our minds in 1959 when Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Eugene Wright and I went into the studio to record.

    10 March 2011

    Reason 4,163 Why the Yankees Are Evil

    They allowed Kenny G to take batting practice at their Spring Training facilities. See the video here.

    On second thought, watching Mr. Gorelick's feeble attempts at swinging a bit did induce some laughter, so I'll forgive team Steinbrenner for this one...


    via Hardball Talk

    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.

    Blue/Green

    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.

    30 January 2011

    Milton Babbitt

    Farewell to an iconoclast. Read his obituary here. From Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise:
    Thick dissonances are rare; like Japanese drawings, Babbitt's scores are full of empty space. What's more, the harmonies are in many places surprisingly simple and sweet. Six bars into the second of the Three Compositions for Piano there is, out of nowhere, a loud B-flat major triad. Before you can come to terms with the psychological effects of such "tonal puns," they disappear, like half-familiar faces in a crowd. This rigorously organized music ends up feeling mysteriously prankish, antic, loosey-goosey; it shuffles and shimmies like jazz from another planet. (pp. 403-404)

    See also the jazz-influenced side of Babbitt, in All Set for jazz ensemble:

    29 January 2011

    List: Jazz and the Single Man

    Floating around social networks this week was an essay by Jason Moran listing five essential jazz albums (recorded by living musicians - so you could actually see them live) every man should own. Why should he own these albums? To impress women,* of course. Here is Moran's list. I think it's a good start, but it veers into jazz boyfriend territory (Ornette? Free Jazz? I don't know many people of either sex who can handle Ornette, bless their simple hearts and minds). So in the interest of choice, here's my list of 5 jazz albums every single man should own.


    Robert Glasper, Double Booked. Moran and I agree on this one. Glasper's deftly amalgamated jazz, with flourishes of hip hop, fusion, funk, and postbop, can hook anyone who claims ignorance on modern jazz. I've been touting this album to my friends for the past two years, and it connects with just about everyone. Plus, Glasper tours with Maxwell, a spoonful of sugar to hide preconceived notions about jazz if ever there was one.

    Greg Osby, Jason Moran, et al, New Directions. Sadly out of print, but there are copies to be had on Amazon. Not a bad choice to play for someone who is at least a little familiar with jazz, since they would likely recognize a few of the reworked classics from the Blue Note era on this disc. I highly recommend the Moran-Stefon Harris duet on Sam Rivers' Beatrice.

    Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus. Moran picks a great Wayne Shorter album, but I was always more of a Sonny guy myself, and if a lady can't dig Newk, then she is most definitely not worth your time.

    Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, Time And Time Again. For quiet moments, you can't beat the master of subtle intensity. Frisell's atmospheric guitarisms set the mood for Lovano's gruff tenderness. This trio to me embodies a particular strain of masculinity that is equal parts vulnerable and assertive.And no other group better demonstrates the sublime intensity of free improvisation, despite playing such pretty music.

    Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, Out Louder. Sometimes you have to dance. This should do the trick.


    *Would a list of jazz albums for women to impress men look a lot different? What about jazz for gay men or lesbians? Obviously the answer is yes, but I'm pleading ignorance here.

    28 January 2011

    Blue Note T-shirts

    Via Peter Hum, Blue Note t-shirts. Alas, the site selling them is in Japan, so you'll need the aid of a translator to make the order. But 22 designs are available from Uniqlo, including Sonny Clark's Cool Struttin, Joe Henderson's In 'n' Out, and Jackie McLean's Let Freedom Ring. Solid.

    23 January 2011

    An Oral Tradition

    A blog post from James Hale this week had me reconsidering a question which I had wanted to ponder in a blog post awhile back, but eventually decided it wouldn't be worth the effort. At Jazz Chronicles, Hale asks, "Is 'Jazz' A Dated Term?" The impetus for this question was an ostensibly heated debate at a Jazz Journalists Association conference panel entitled "The State of Jazz Journalism" (any panel titled The State of _______ foreshadows contentious debate that may not be worth it, in my opinion). Alex Rodriguez responded to the post and posted his thoughts on the subject as well. Rodriguez contends that jazz journalists and critics share a responsibility to help the jazz audience (which is "sort of like a big, dysfunctional family") achieve balance in its understanding of the music, navigating between the poles of an ahistorical and "only-historical" approach to understanding jazz. I'm left with the intention to simply ignore both poles in favor of a different analytical framework altogether.

    My only reservation about writing a jazz blog is that jazz writing is surrounded by this aura of responsibility. Jazz writers and critics are assigned (or assign themselves) a gatekeeper role which is unmatched in most areas of music journalism. Classical critics are superseded in this role by repertory, rock and hip hop critics by a more easily-arrived-at definition of the musics they cover (I'm overgeneralizing here, but bear with me). I follow a lot of indie rock blogs, and I can't recall any of them ever contending with the existential dilemmas that jazz bloggers address every few months or so. To mention just one example, nobody batted an eye when Gorilla vs. Bear included albums by Beach House, Big Boi, Arcade Fire, and Erykah Badu on its 2010 albums of the year list, even though those four artists occupy vastly different corners of the music world. I can't think of any jazz blog that included nonjazz on its year-end list (even my own list was divided into jazz and nonjazz). What strikes me about this is that probably not many people would mind if someone did this, but jazz bloggers effectively policed themselves, driven by the self-imposed responsibility to promote jazz ahead of other types of music (ostensibly because jazz is always dying, or at best, holding steady). The irony here, of course, is that the jazz world is such a complex ecosystem, a place where Wynton Marsalis, the Robert Glasper Experiment, and any number of swing, traditional jazz/Dixieland, postbop, neobop, acid jazz, and jazz-rock artists can coexist on a single record-store shelf. Adding a layer of segregation to year-end lists seems arbitrary to a silly degree.

    But I digress. On the question of jazz being an outdated term or an inadequate genre signifier, I must confess that the word has a continually decreasing utility to me except as a quick and dirty signifier when people ask me what kind of music I like. When I reply "jazz," the conversation never goes in the same direction, because the fact is, stories of the death of jazz to the contrary, most people know what jazz is, and a surprising number of them have at least some jazz artist they can count among their favorite musicians, be it a singer like Nina Simone or Billie Holiday, a deceased legend like Miles Davis or Charlie Parker, or a current act like Medeski Martin and Wood or Esperanza Spaulding. This is because jazz remains an oral history with many branches, one with the "only-historical" approach to understanding the music already incorporated into individual artists' personalities and musical background. It may not be immediately obvious to everyone who hears the music (indeed, you can't really hear jazz until you've listened to a lot of it first).

    Indeed, Rodriguez makes this point when he champions Jason Moran, whose music "starts from a historical place." Moran is not the only artist whose music is historicized. In a recent interview, Vijay Iyer (who titled a recent album Historicity, in case you were wondering how he grounded his approach) said of jazz:
    I don't think of it as a style even. I think of it as a community of people who are invested in it. And I also think of it as a body of knowledge. You can say it's a history of ideas, and also, a history of actions. I think part of what's happened is that its reason for existing has transformed in terms of who's involved and why.
    I am tempted to block-quote his entire answer, but he goes into a lot of detail, so I'll paraphrase here. Iyer notes that because the socio-economic circumstances upon which jazz was built have changed (i.e. jazz musicians for the most part no longer come from an oppressed minority whose avenues for artistic self expression were limited by society), jazz itself has changed, and has grown and diversified to the point that the word cannot contain the music anymore. But even still, jazz musicians are still striving towards an expression of the self that feels "in its own small way impossible." For Iyer, this is connected to his own status as a man born from first-generation Indian immigrants, creating a new identity of the South Asian-American jazz musician. For someone else, there is another identity to invent. Because jazz is a music of invention, as time moves on the inventions multiply into a fractal of multitudes which may not all sound alike, but nonetheless remain jazz. They are born into the same tradition, but take it places that make sense to them.

    I am reminded of what Esperanza Spalding told Anthony Dean-Harris in an interview last year:

    We need all the aspects of it [jazz] and that’s okay. We need the Wynton Marsalis and we need the Anthony Braxton and we need a Chris Botti and we need Christian Scott. We need a Ledisi and we need a Rachelle Ferrell. We need everything... We need it all because that word doesn’t belong to anybody anymore. It’s become so broad that to me the only element of that word that has any meaning universally is just improvisation. Jazz can be anything but maybe the only element that's there across the board is that people are creating it in the moment.
    Improvisation, too, but that is merely the tool for the self-examination and expression which unite the myriad sub-genres which constitute jazz in the 21st century. I'm going to take a break from the big-picture questions for awhile, but when the other debate making the rounds is whether or not Keith Jarrett is an asshole (and he is), I'll choose the big-picture topic anytime.

    photo via

    22 January 2011

    Performance

    Vijay Iyer, on playing the material from his recent solo album live:
    I'm taking more risks with it and feel empowered to do that. There's a version of it that exists that's fairly stable that someone can revisit if they want, but now I don't have to do that -- now, I can do something else with it. It makes me want to transform it and try new things with it. For example, taking some of the Solo material and playing it with the trio. We've arrived at a related, but a very different arrangement of "Human Nature" that has its own dimensions to it that are kind of hinted at on the Solo record. Playing live with people in the same room as you is just a different experience than setting down a document of a studio performance because it's so much more about connecting in real time with the people around. I might be impelled to push my playing or push the structure of the music in a way that's more disruptive or more active or just sort of has more of a gravity to it, so that it really becomes an event in the course of a performance rather than just another song on an album. That sort of hints at what the differences are of playing live… it's hard to explain [laughs]. You have to be there.
    Read the whole thing here.

    18 January 2011

    Review: Saturn Sings

    Mary Halvorson Quintet
    Saturn Sings

    I must admit that I am wary of jazz guitarists. I am not too sure why, but I do not have many current guitarists in my iTunes library (those I have are the ones you'd expect: Metheny, Scofield, Frisell). I'm not an anti-guitar guy; I loved Matt Stevens' contributions to Christian Scott's Yesterday You Said Tomorrow and one of my favorite albums of 2010, Polar Bear's Peepers, featured a guitar-heavy rhythm section. But for some reason, I rarely seek out guitar-driven albums. For me to take notice of a new guitarist, the guitarist usually needs to do something I have not seen or heard before. Such is the case with Mary Halvorson, whose latest effort, Saturn Sings, features a unique approach both to the guitar and composition in particular. Sometimes accompanied by trumpeter Jonathan Finalyson and saxophonist Jon Irabagon, other times just with bassist John H├ębert and drummer Ches Smith, Halvorson weaves together ten songs that take surprising turns, utilize unconventional meters, and flow with idiosyncratic phrasing. The result keeps me coming back for repeated listens, looking for new moments of beauty uncovered with each tick on the playcount.

    Her band includes strong personalities, like Thelonious Monk Competition winner Iarabagon, but this album is clearly Halvorson's show. The tunes are so completely her own (though I can hear flashes of inspiration from Mingus and Shorter, among others), that even her sidemen's solos are colored by her compositional style. Rather than sublimating themselves into her footprint, the sidemen get inside her style, speaking her language while expressing their own thoughts (see for instance Irabagon's solo on Crack In Sky). Halvorson's own playing is dexterous. Halvorson can shift from a flurry of runs along the fretboard into an amelodic thunder of guitarisms utilizing effects pedals and the whammy bar that are truly unique. One thing she does that delights me is the way she makes her intense noises sound whimsical. She produces a wonderful cacophony of sounds both inside and outside the harmonic structure, but her playing contains a playful element which keeps me coming back to this album. I've often thought that a major problem facing jazz today is the fetishization of the new at the expense of music which may not be cutting edge but is nonetheless well-executed and fresh. Saturn Sings has both the excitement of the new and the polish of a veteran group. I can't wait to hear what's next, but I won't tire of the recent offering for a while.


    Halvorson plays Sea Seizure (No. 19) at the 2010 Saalfelden Jazz Festival


    Personnel: Mary Halvorson, guitar; Jonathan Finalyson, trumpet; Jon Irabagon, alto saxophone; John H├ębert, bass; Ches Smith, drums
    Track Listing: Leak Over Six Five (No. 14); Sequential Tears In It (No. 20); Mile High Like (No. 16); Moon Traps In Seven Rings (No. 17); Sea Seizure (No. 19); Crack In Sky (No. 11); Right Size Too Little (No. 12); Crescent White Singe (No. 13); Cold Mirrors (No. 15); Saturn Sings (No. 18)

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