Thursday, December 28, 2006

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp

End of year lists, everybody has one. I don't have "bests", I just haven't heard enough, only favorites. I talked about quite a few of these on the blog in the past- links beefed up 1/14, more commentary to come.

Favorites of 2006:

Jennifer Kimball "Oh Hear Us" Jennifer's solo outings have been too few and far between. I blogged about it when it was released, and on many listenings I only like it more.
John Hollenbeck et al ""Joys and desires"" The best large jazz ensemble album I heard this year. John's style of writing is like nothing else I've heard. The suite that is the centerpiece of the album is really something, formally, vocally, energetically.
Dave Douglas ""Meaning and Mystery"" The best album so far from Dave's quintet, I think. There's a comfort level with the material absent from the first two, and the interplay that has been evident for some time in live hits is more obvious here. And "Blues for Steve Lacy" is my favorite new jazz tune in several years, a great composition.
Dominique Eade and Jed Wilson "Open" Mostly overlooked outside Boston, this a beautiful marraige of jazz singer and pop singer-songwriter esthetics. Clean, clear, unpretentions music from two great musicians.
Crooked Still ""Shaken by a Low Sound""
Ornette Coleman "Sound Grammar" Can we pray for a studio album this year? Please?
Prince "3121" Not his best, but I think better than "Musicology". Which is better than most artists can hope for in a career.
Gnarls Barkley "Gnarles Barkley" This album has been so well hyped that I can't say anything that hasn't already been said. I love "Feng Shui".
Keith Jarrett "The Carnegie Hall Concert" This time last year I got "Radiance", and thought it a beautiful departure. This one blows it out of the water. The best solo Keith I've ever heard. His decision in the past few years not just to blow headlong through a set, but stop and let there be shorter pieces yields more coherent results, which occasionally even resemble tunes. I can only imagine the energy in the room- just the recording fires up a room. (But ECM, do we really need 2 minutes of applause on every track? Please!) Interestingly (to me at least), I find myself listening to the second disc a lot more than the first, and not jsut for the encores. But I digress- this is badassed. Is it too much to hope for a quintet record from Keith in '07, as was famously planned before he got so sick? It wouldn't have to be the band planned at that time (in '97, I heard from DeJohnette among others that they had studio time set up for a record of the standard trio plus Lovano and Tom Harrell, playing new original music) It could be with five chimps for all I care- it would be beyond fascinating.

Car Songs (I won't change the station until it's over, and I have a hyper finger in the car. Probably wouldn't seek them out, except for "Crazy", in another context)
KT Tunstall "Suddenly I See"
Ray Lamontagne "Three More Days"
Gomez "See the World"
Gnarles Barkley "Crazy"

Note the lack of hip-hop. I liked The Roots' Game Theory, especially the single "Long Time" (should've been a radio hit), but I thought the album was inconsistent, and took to long to get going. I liked Tipping Point more, though no one single was as strong as "Long Time". (I have a totally opposite view than Mwanji. In general, I love his list) And I still haven't heard the late entry, Nas' "Hip-Hop is Dead" In general, though year for hip-hop on the radio in my book.

Change the station songs
"SexyBack" Justin Timberlake. I liked the last record's singles. I hate this one.
Anything by a Creed sound-alike. (There are three or so right now. I never hang around for their names.)

New websites
Destination Out. Can't say enough nice things about it.
Ear of the Behearer. Mind you, I'm biased.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

we'll tak a right guid-willie waught

This is the first New Year's Eve in awhile that I won't be working. (Not yet, at least, the phone could still ring.) And since I'm single and well, haven't yte regained my crazy social standing in these parts, I was looking around for musical options on Dec. 31. And I'm afraid that in Boston, the pickings are slim. By contrast, the Times today picks out highlights of the evening in New York. Bernstein, Bargemusic, Brazilian Girls- I'd go broke before I got bored. (Too many Bs in one sentence)

Back to the bean, the big jazz clubs have gone either really smoothy (Earl Klugh), faux-funky (Chicken Slacks at Ryles) or bluesy (Sugar Ray and the Bluetones Big Band (?) at the Regattabar). I can't imagine a rock club that night.

And First Night, probably the best cultural NYE event in the country, is a little slim this year as well. Among the hundred or so events are the Boston Jazz Voices, an old fashioned jazz choir, and local straightahead stalwarts Rusty Scott and Yoron Israel.

On the bright side, Sessions Americana, a good roots band is on the menu, as is what's being billed "visceral electronic music" by Intrasitive Recordings at the Hynes. Could be interesting. Of course, there's also improv- comedy, juggling, theatre, and just about anything else you could think of.

So, barring any last minute calls, I've decided to ring in the New Year with, yoga. It seems right to end a very topsy-turvy year (to quote Peter Gabriel)right-side up, upside down.

(For those keeping score at home, all New Year's Eve/Year in Review posts will have actual lyrics from "Auld Lang Syne in the title" Full lyrics here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The hardest working man takes a vacation

RIP James Brown. With Jimi Hendrix, the most important pop musician (possibly musician) after 1965. A few years ago in amongst the trailers for a movie I was seeing was a BMW short, starring the then seventy-ish Godfather, where he makes a deal with the devil to be eternally young. Naturally, he cheats the devil, keeps his Soul, and is seen as a cackling twenty-five year old driving away in a (what else) BMW convertible. I think a lot of us thought this might actually be the way it would go down in real life. It would've been something else.

JB is mourned especially in Boston, oddly enough. As the Globe reported this morning, Brown went onstage at the Boston Garden the night MLK died, pleaded for calm, and performed for more than two hours. He was widely credited for preventing the kind of race riots many other cities saw. Farewell to one of the greats.

via Ryshpen- Questlove's thoughts

Friday, December 22, 2006

singing the unsung heroes

The Bad Plus has wrapped up their second invitational with answers from the great Billy Hart, and a nice recap. A few thoughts:

- I love the "underrated on your instrument" category, Django Bates' inside joke aside. A few names I didn't know, and many wonderful "oh, yeah!" moments. Notably, Fred Hersch highlights his teacher Art Lande, and absolute badass piano player, and a beautiful nut. I'm fortunate enough to know Art a little through my friend Khabu, and he is a great inspiration. (Must be something about Denver- Art, Ron Miles, Shane Endsley, Bhu, and many more- all great musicians and some of the most beautiful people I know) Fred, Michael Cain and countless others cite Art as an important teacher and influence.
I also wouldn't have equated Fred with Peter Gabriel's "Big Stuff".

- Count on Billy Hart to come up with two underrateds I've never heard of, so need to go hear now. I think many musicians would put Billy on their list- he deserves so much more credit than he gets.

- My list of hip-hop and world records just exploded. Again.

Finally, like so many others I am humbled and a bit confused to be named Time's "Person of the Year". (Actually, I'm confused most of the time, so I shouldn't blame a magazine for it.) All kidding aside, thus far this humble blog was originally devised as attempt to hold some sanity on Cruise Ship X. (which, by the way, was NOT a Celebrity Cruise ship, as has been reported. I'm trying to avoid alienating the cruise lines, on the ungodly chance that I need to work there again) It has morphed, obviously, into something quite different, and much better I think, and should only improve once I get off my ass and get my work on really happening. Thanks to Darcy for a great model, and to Dave Douglas, Ethan Iverson and TBP, Mwanji and many others for their support.

Side note- incidentally or not, S.R. Sidharth, better known as "the Macaca guy" and a featured webizen in the Time article was's Man of the Year. If you read the article, I'm also embarrassed to admit I recognize Tila Tequila from her, er, earlier incarnation. I most enjoyed the advice Mark Foley exposer (pun unintended, really) Lane Hudson gives: "Politicians have to start being themselves from the beginning, then they won't screw up so much." Good advice for everyone, I think.

Blogging will resume sometime next week, so I can take this time to do all the usual, delightful holiday stuff, notably see some relatives I've never met before, and to eat a lot. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday, and pray for peace. It's possible if we do.

P.S. I apologize for in advance to the Bloglines and other subscribers to my blog. I am in the process of updating all the Amazon links to take advantage of their affiliate program, so there will be a lot of false new posts over the next week. In the long run, this is a really good thing, that I should've done long ago.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Back when there was some jazz in the Pazz and Jop poll

The Behearer nugget of the week comes from user WebsterHodges, who posted a summary of the 1990 Village Voice "Best of Decade Poll": I defer:

"The Jazz Critics’ Poll in the August 28, 1990 edition of the Village Voice was a wealth of information about jazz recordings of the 1980’s. Each of 33 critics was asked to name the ten best jazz albums recorded between 1/1/1980 and 12/31/1989.
It’s an indication of the diversity and richness of the jazz of the 80’s that only one recording appeared on as many as nine of the 33 lists: Revue by the World Saxophone Quartet."

read the rest here. It's a great post, and worthy of some more digging. Does some packrat still have a copy of the poll?

I know for me, in high school my bible for jazz was a list of the "great saxophonists" given by Steve Massey at a summer music camp. For that time (1991) it was remarkably thorough and diverse, including Bird, Ornette, Dolphy and Sanborn on alto, Bechet and Lacy on soprano, etc. (I'm pretty sure I would never have found the "Free Jazz" double quartet album otherwise.) In college I found a lot of "out" music through the Rochester Public Library, whose collection was nothing short of remarkable. The ways we find into our interests always fascinate me.

Monday, December 18, 2006

one more thin gypsy theif

This weekend found me writing Christmas cards, and trying to be cheerful about it. (If you didn't get one, I'm not done yet. If you still don't get one, don't worry I love you anyway) I mitigated the inevitable drudgery by catching up on some concert movies. (The Patriots winning big helped too.) The two on the hit parade so far were Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man and a Masada concert film from 1999. The fact that all this music has a very Jewish bent, and I'm a formerly good Catholic boy writing Christmas cards is not lost on me, but I don't know what it means.

More on Masada in a later post, but I highly recommend the Cohen video. Cohen himself only sings one song, "Tower of Song" backed by U2 of all people. Most of the music comes from a tribute concert featuring Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave and several others. Of note to jazz fans, Hal Wilner produced the concert, 3/4 of Sex Mob anchor the house band, and Kenny Wolleson is great.

I was introduced to Cohen by one of my favorite jazz pianists, a Cohen nut, and am a fan but not a very knowledgeable one. The music is for the most part quite good, and really lets his lyrics, the most remarkable part of his writing, shine. The best part of the video, however, is doubtless the interviews with Cohen himself. He is a warm, thoughtful man, and I feel like his ruminations on the creative process is must material for just about any artist. And his speaking voice is pretty killin' to boot.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Do the Math Invitational, part duex

Ethan and the gang over at The Bad Plus' Do the Math blog have had an interesting project this past couple of weeks, a survey of their friends about music and musicians. Of course when your friends include Tim Berne, Fred Hersch, Django Bates, etc, it's going to be a worthwhile read. They opened the floor, and since I'm always so short of opinions, I thought I'd jump in.

One caveat- as I'm sure it is with most people, this list is totally arbitrary and for the most part could be completely different if you asked me tomorrow. (B & C would be the same, for sure)

1. Movie score. Cinema Paradiso (the best of a certain breed)
2. TV theme. “Suicide is Painless” from M*A*S*H
3. Melody. This Is Always, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy”
4. Harmonic language. Claire Fisher, Bartok (esp. string quartets), James Carney's "Miracle Mile"
5. Rhythmic feel. Prince “Now” from the Gold Experience,
6. Hip-hop track. The Roots “Long Time”, Talib Kweli “Get By”
7. Classical piece. Bartok String Quartet #4, Morton Feldman “Rothko Chapel”, Bach Well-Tempered Clavier
8. Smash hit. The Police “Every Little Things She Does is Magic”
9. Jazz album. Wayne Shorter “Ju-Ju”
10. Non-American folkloric group.
11. Book on music. Toch “Shaping Forces in Music

A) Name an surprising album (or albums) you loved when you were developing as a musician: something that really informs your sound but that we would never guess in a million years: Tracy Chapman, “Crossroads”
B) Name a practitioner (or a few) who play your instrument that you think is underrated: Billy Drews, Dick Oatts, George Adams, Gary Bartz
C) Name a rock or pop album that you wish had been a smash commercial hit (but wasn’t, not really): Jennifer Kimball, “Veering From the Wave”
D) Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer: Joey Baron on Bill Frisell’s This Land, Michael B. on Prince’s “Rainbow Children” (skip straight to the last track)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

return to the workshop

Last night the New England Conservatory Jazz Composers Workshop Orchestra, (that's a mouthful) the only school big band I know of devoted to playing only student composition, played it's first concert of the year. This band is close to my heart because I was a player and writer in it for two years, and helped run it the second year. The band, only seven years old has also been a springboard for some well regarded young writers, including Ayn Inserto, Rob Bauer, Camille Jentgen, and some guy named Darcy. It was an important concert for the band for two main reasons. One there were thirteen writers, a new record, and two, it was the first time the band played without the guidance of founder and mentor Bob Brookmeyer, who is on sabbatical. Frank Carlberg pinch hit.

Due to the sheer length of the concert, I only stayed for the first half (a mere eight tunes and 80 minutes), but I can safely say that it was the strongest, most consistent concert I've seen from the group. Of course I liked some things better than others, and there was no one piece that blew everybody's ears off as in years past, but all the pieces were solid, interesting compositions, well prepared and well performed. Anyone in a workshop situation knows this is nothing short of a miracle. (I'm loathe to talk too much about any one piece, since I wouldn't have wanted critics on me when I was a student.) There was a lot of stylistic variation as well, from more traditional big-bandy sounds to pieces that drew strongly on Ligeti, rock-steady and latin language. It's refreshing that while Maria Schneider is clearly still the strongest influence on many writers, she was not the only or even the overriding one at this show. Congratulations to Frank, my buddy and band coach Jeff Claasen, and the composers and players of the band. It's clearly in good hands.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

arch-viceroies of old media

Behearer hits the old media in the New York Times Wednesday, courtesy of Nate Chinen. Welcome to those of you who are here for the first time thanks to that article. I hope you keep coming. For those of you who missed it the first time:

The pre-Behearer version of the list
my first suggestions
Steve Smith's passionate plea for John Carter
Darcy and the boys over at D-out have taken care of business- see sidebar.
Talyor Ho Bynum recently wrote a long post about Bill Dixon records, which is worth reading.

I could go on, but better to move forward. Dave mentioned the 90's a while back. While I think it's far too early, I'm currently slogging through my record collection listening to music that has been collecting dust for far to long and reporting back. Much of it is from that 90-00 bracket, so hopefully that will illuminate, well, something.

(This post will be the top post for the week, to accomodate the folks who come from the NYT. Another good idea brought to you by the Secret Society.)

Wet behind the ears

Behearer is already paying the kind of dividends we (or at least I) was hoping for. I'm not able to keep up with everything, but this one caught my eye. (There's no real attribution for this post except KAJKfm. According to ontheradio, KAJK is a pop station in California. But I digress...)

"... I thought you might like to know the origin of the "Ear of the Behearer" album title. At the time the album was recorded, I was a recording engineer/producer working in classical and world music and my honey was Ed Michel, the fabuloso Impulse producer. Dewey's album was recorded in New York, but was mixed at Tom Hidley's legendary Westlake Audio in L.A. I was in the control room when the mix was completed and Ed, Dewey, the engineer and I listened to the final playback. As was his habit, Ed worked way into the wee hours of the morning, so by the time the playback was finished we had all been there for a very long time. It was so overwhelming to hear music in that room, one of the best mixing rooms ever designed, and Dewey's album had turned out so wonderfully, so it was truly, in the parlance of that day, mindblowing to experience that playback. We all sat there dumbstruck after it was over and eventually Ed said, "OK Dewey, what are you going to call the album?" Dewey had been thinking about it and remarked on the personal nature of perceiving beauty, and he said "If you're talking about paintings, you say 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder', but what do you say if it's music? 'Beauty is in the..." "...Ear of the Behearer", said I, as the answer seemed obvious. Under the combined influence of sleep deprivation and our mutual ingestion of an impressive array of controlled and uncontrolled substances, we all took this to be a construction of singular brilliance, and dazzlingly apt. I have to admit that just about everything seemed singularly brilliant at that point, but you know how that goes. Anyway, Dewey really liked the idea and so he did in fact choose Ear of the Behearer as the album title.

I really miss Dewey, who I believe was way underrated his entire career. Though the circumstances of his life always seemed really difficult, somehow his playing was so incredibly UP. In that respect he reminds me of Cannonball, not because his playing sounds like Cannonball's, but because the attitude, the affect of his playing was always so incredibly positive, a kind of eternal Up Jump Spring in sound."

"Eternal 'Up Jumped Sprig'. Another great way to put it. Whoever wrote this, please e-mail me so I can attriblute properly. And THANKS!

P.S. I'm still working out all the particulars, but I'm hoping in early '07 to do a concert presentation of "Ear of the Behearer", hopefully in the newly renovated Lily Pad in Cambridge. The whole album is too much, so we may intersperse with some of my originals, or Old and New Dreams stuff. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 08, 2006

old lady awards

Edited 12/9, to add the arranging categories. Will try to make it neater soon)

Passing over the fact that the allegedly hippest award in entertainment sounds like me calling for my father's mother at age five, it's Grammy time again! What it says about the state of music today, didly squat. But for those keeping score at home, the "jazz" categories this year are:

Best Contemporary Jazz Album
The Hidden Land- Béla Fleck & The Flecktones[Columbia]
People People Music Music- Groove Collective[Savoy Jazz Worldwide]
Rewind That- Christian Scott[Concord Jazz]
Sexotica- Sex Mob[Thirsty Ear Recordings, Inc.]
Who Let The Cats Out?-Mike Stern[Heads Up]

Best Jazz Vocal Album
Footprints- Karrin Allyson[Concord Jazz]
Easy To Love- Roberta Gambarini[Groovin' High/Kindred Rhythm]
Live At Jazz Standard With Fred Hersch- Nancy King[Maxjazz]
From This Moment On- Diana Krall[Verve]
Turned To Blue- Nancy Wilson[MCG Jazz]

Best Jazz Instrumental Solo (For an instrumental jazz solo performance. Two equal performers on one recording may be eligible as one entry. If the soloist listed appears on a recording billed to another artist, the latter's name is in parenthesis for identification. Singles or Tracks only.)
Some Skunk Funk- Michael Brecker, soloist Track from: Some Skunk Funk (Randy Brecker w/Michael Brecker)[Telarc Jazz/BHM]
Paq Man Paquito D'Rivera, soloistTrack from: From The Heart (Hilario Duran And His Latin Jazz Big Band)[Alma Records]
Freedom Jazz Dance Taylor Eigsti, soloist Track from: Lucky To Be Me[Concord Jazz]
Hippidy Hop (Drum Solo) Roy Haynes, soloist Track from: Whereas[Dreyfus Jazz]
Hope Branford Marsalis, soloist Track from: Braggtown[Marsalis Music/Rounder]

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group
Ornette Coleman- Sound Grammar [Sound Grammar]
The Ultimate Adventure Chick Corea[Stretch Records]
Trio Beyond — Saudades Jack DeJohnette, Larry Goldings & John Scofield[ECM]
Beyond The Wall Kenny Garrett[Nonesuch]
Sonny, Please Sonny Rollins[Doxy Records]

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Some Skunk FunkRandy Brecker With Michael Brecker, Jim Beard, Will Lee, Peter Erskine, Marcio Doctor & Vince Mendoza conducting The WDR Big Band Köln[Telarc Jazz/BHM]
Spirit MusicBob Brookmeyer — New Art Orchestra [ArtistShare]
Streams Of Expression- Joe Lovano Ensemble [Blue Note Records]
Live In Tokyo At The Blue Note- Mingus Big Band [Sunnyside/Sue Mingus Music]
Up From The Skies — Music Of Jim McNeely- The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra [Planet Arts Recordings]

Best Latin Jazz Album (Vocal or Instrumental.)
CodesIgnacio Berroa[Blue Note Records]
Cubist MusicEdsel Gomez[Zoho]
SimpáticoThe Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project[ArtistShare]
Absolute QuintetDafnis Prieto[Zoho]
VivaDiego Urcola, Edward Simon, Avishai Cohen, Antonio Sanchez & Pernell Saturnino[CAM Jazz]


Best Instrumental Composition
(A Composer's Award for an original composition (not an adaptation) first released during the Eligibility Year. Singles or Tracks only.)

Taylor Eigsti, composer (Taylor Eigsti)
Track from: Lucky To Be Me
[Concord Jazz]

A Concerto In Swing
Patrick Williams, composer (The Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra & Big Band)
Track from: Elevation
[Concord Records]

A Prayer For Peace
John Williams, composer (John Williams)
Track from: Munich — Soundtrack
[Decca Records]

Sayuri's Theme And End Credits
John Williams, composer (John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma & Itzhak Perlman)
Track from: Memoirs Of A Geisha — Soundtrack
[Sony Classical]

Fred Hersch, composer (Fred Hersch)
Track from: In Amsterdam: Live At The Bimhuis
[Palmetto Records]

Best Instrumental Arrangement
(An Arranger's Award. (Artist names appear in parenthesis.) Singles or Tracks only.)

Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes
Gordon Goodwin, arranger (Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band)
Track from: The Phat Pack

Three Ghouls
Chick Corea, arranger (Chick Corea)
Track from: The Ultimate Adventure
[Stretch Records]

Three Women
Gil Goldstein, arranger (Gil Goldstein)
Track from: Under Rousseau's Moon
[Half Note]

Tom & Eddie
Patrick Williams, arranger (The Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra & Big Band)
Track from: Elevation
[Concord Records]

Up From The Skies
Jim McNeely, arranger (The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra)
Track from: Up From The Skies — Music Of Jim McNeely
[Planet Arts Recordings]

Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)
(An Arranger's Award. (Artist names appear in parenthesis.) Singles or Tracks only.)

For Once In My Life
Jorge Calandrelli, arranger (Tony Bennett & Stevie Wonder)
Track from: Duets: An American Classic
[RPM Records/Columbia]

Good Morning Heartache
Gil Goldstein & Greg Phillinganes, arrangers (Chris Botti & Jill Scott)
Track from: To Love Again — The Duets
[Columbia Records]

My Flame Burns Blue (Blood Count)
Vince Mendoza, arranger (Elvis Costello With The Metropole Orkest)
Track from: My Flame Burns Blue
[Deutsche Grammophon]

Slide Hampton, arranger (Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band)
Track from: Dizzy's Business
[MCG Jazz]

Gil Goldstein, arranger (Gil Goldstein)
Track from: Under Rousseau's Moon [Half Note]

taken from the Grammy site.

Congrats especially to Ornette (way past due) and Bob Brookmeyer, though I think both are at the point where voters feel compelled to nominate them if they put something out. (Don't get me wrong, both albums are excellent) To Sex Mob as well, the only useful entry in their category. And I love Fred Hersch's tune "Valentine", both the vocal recording with Norma Winstone and the nominated version. (Fred makes a cameo at Do the Math this week)

Who the hell is Taylor Eigsti? Two nominations??!! I know I'm not as well versed as I used to be, but damn...

I have no special beef with Mike Stern, and he's a helluva guitar player, but "Who Let the Cats Out" could well be the Worst. Album. Title. Ever.

My two cents- I'd say a better than average year for both the vocal category, even if we all know Diana Krall is going to win, and the instrumental album category as well. My heart and brain say Ornette, my gut says Chick... !~$#%@n popularity contests.

Current listening: "You Can't Have Everything" from Winter Truce (and Home Blazes)- Django Bates. Seemed appropu.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Crosstown traffic

First, housekeeping. I have (finally) added links to my first posting of the '73-'90 list and Behearer to the line on the left. I've also edited the list to add a couple of records we overlooked- Hemphill's Cool Bidness, and Bill Dixon's November 1981.

Tonight features a surfiet of improvised riches, not a given in Boston these days. Over in the people's republic of cambridge, the remarkable John Tchicai (pronounced, I think, ti- CHAI) is honored at the Longy School of Music, as part of the 10th anniversary of their Modern American Music program. The program also features Boston stalwart (and these days, criminally underrated saxophonist) Charlie Kohlhase and Longy students and faculty. The music will mix Tchicai's improvised music with more notated works.

Over at Jordan Hall, the New England Conservatory Big Band plays the music of Gil Evans. Knowing Ken Schaphorst, their director, it will be an interesting mix of the famous and less famous, vintage and later Gil. Since coming on board at NEC, Ken has done a yeoman's job with that band. I also think that big band is one place in jazz where a repitoiry band is a good idea- it's often hard to get a sense of the physical impact of the music from a recording, based on where people are, how the doublings of certain notes are physically positioned. With someone like Gil, who was so careful about everything, I expect to learn a lot. I've played some of this music, but never sat in the audience for it, so I'm looking forward to it.

Finally, the Boston Globe has a nice piece about "alternative classical concerts", concert music performed in non-concert venues. I read quite a lot of buzz about this in some of the classical and new music blogs elsewhere, but not surprisingly, Boston is a little behind the curve. (Actually, versions of this have been going on for several years now, so maybe just the media is behind the curve.) Again, I think those of us in the improvised music field have to think harder, and more creatively, about presentation. I do, just don't have many answers yet.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Behearer here! Finally.

Please go, browse, bark, bring it up to snuff. Several pieces of the puzzle, including my content, is still in process, but what we have is a great beginning. I'll be posting the Behearer content here as well.

Flux explodes out of the box

Kudos once again to Mr. Darcy James Argue, who was featured this week at New Music Box, and had his most recent gig with his Secret Society big band reviewed glowingly in the Grey Lady herself. As always, the performances are posted at his blog. I’ve known Darcy since our time together in Brookmeyer’s studio at NEC, and have always admired his work and valued his friendship and advice, and it’s always pleasing to see the good guys win one. (Less known but equally important, he also mixes some of the best drinks in Brooklyn.)

One great advantage of Darcy’s blog is the ability to hear the evolution of the music from gig to gig, something you don’t often get to hear even with a working big band. (It helps that he’s very articulate about his process, moreso than most) Most charts by someone like Bob or Maria Schneider get defined in most listeners heads by the recorded versions, and in a workshop band the listener (and the band) usually gets only one or two cracks at a piece in performance. Which is a shame, and not representative of a composer’s process; when charts get played often they breathe, grow, bitch, and are revised, reorchestrated, or flat out rewritten sometimes. Or different players give a piece a totally different feel- the Indian influences Richie Barshay brings to “Phobos” (the August hit) make it feel radically different from Kendrick Scott’s version last week.

For the record, I’m with Darcy on Ratliff’s take on “Flux in a Box”; I really like the alto solo. My beef- it’s waaaaay too fast for me- a lot of the really sharp lines that define the chart get lost. And one question I’ve always had- how does he determine what sounds the keyboard player uses, or does he? I know if I’m facing a venue where I know I don’t have a real piano (which is most), I always adjust so that the player is instructed to play a Rhodes or Wurly sound, or something else. I’ve never heard a piano patch that makes me happy, so I always work around it. On the plus side, to my ears the reading of “Transit” is the best to date in my book. What a bone solo. Kicks my ass to write more better.

In the news

The Boston Globe today put forward two articles too good to pass up for me:

"For Rick Looser, the last straw came on an airline flight a couple of years ago when a 12-year-old Connecticut boy sitting next to him asked, "Do you still see the KKK on the streets every day?"
That prompted the Mississippi advertising executive to spend his own money on a campaign to dispel Mississippi's image as a forlorn state of poor, illiterate, racist "good ole boys." (full article)

On the one hand, I admire this guy and his efforts. But in case we needed any reminding, Mississippi has the second highest rate of extreme poverty, the worst literacy rate and the highest infant mortality rate in the country. You can put a coat of paint on a trough, but that doesn't make it a townhouse. Maybe that money would be better spent advocating for a better Mississippi, not a glossier image. (Full disclosure: I misspelled Mississippi twice in writing those few paragraphs...)

On a more local, more relevant note, Berklee School of Music announced the beginnings of a big expansion plan in the Back Bay of Boston today. This is good news on several levels, though I imagine it will make Mass. Ave. a bigger mess than it already is. I have mixed feelings about elements of the Berklee education (did spend some time as a high schooler in programs there), but it is a vibrant place who has certainly outgrown its current digs. And I have no doubt that a new performance center would be fantastic, if the current one is any indication. However, I did a double-take on this one:

"Mainzer-Cohen (spokesperson for a neighborhood association) said she did not object to Berklee building dorms in the neighborhood because its students are more well behaved than many other colleges' students; Berklee students are usually busy practicing and composing and do not have much time to devote to partying."

She just doesn't go to the right parties...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Robert Altman

I am late to lament the loss of Robert Altman, one of the great directors certainly of my lifetime, and probably of all time. There are many great posts about him, and I don't know nearly as much as they do, but let me add the "Nashville" is one of my favorite films, and I think he more than any film figure resonates with me as an improviser. Part of my just wants to write the way he directs- big, messy, stepping on itself, and beautiful.

I just watched his adaptation of A Prarie Home Companion, his last effort. Not his best work, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. (I think how much you like it will hinge in large part on how much you like the radio show) I recommend it highly, though, because there is a director's commentary with he and Kevin Kline riffing for a hundred minutes. In between the usual inside jokes and raving about actors, there's a lot there about Altman's process, how he thought and how he created. And Kline is the perfect guide into his head- knowledgeable, intellegent, and sympathetic to Altman without being a doormat. Worth the watch, certainly. It's just sad that's the last we'll here of him,

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Skycaps and Spider Monkeys

Again, I'm late to the party, but let me point out trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum's literate and thoughtful SpiderMonkey blog . Great posts on Braxton and Cecil Taylor, among other things.

Speaking of Taylor, he will be in Boston this weekend with the Fully Celebrated Orchestra at fellow FCO member Jim Hobbs' Skycap festival. (can't find a useful link) The festival also features Joe Morris and Timo Shanko's organ trio. I've never seen the FCO live, so I'm looking forward to it. I've seen conflicting information about the times of the festival, so I'll post full details tomorrow. Without any fanfare, as is his way, Jim has put together a remarkable series of improvised music concerts at the Brookline Tai Chi center this season, including both local and national talent. A big step forward for the scene here in town in a year of setbacks. Bravo Jim!

UPDATE, AGAIN: I screwed up. Because of the venue change, there's been some confusion. The gig is actually Saturday, one night only, starting at 7pm. Taylor and the FCO hit at 10pm. Still at Brookline Tai Chi, in the Washington Square of Brookline, MA. (No relation to the real one, and on the not quite interminable C line)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Peace piece

I've been meaning to get to this one for awhile. Last week Marianne Williamson, known to me through some of my yoga friends for her new-agey self-help books, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe next week advocating a Department of Peace, a new Cabinet-level department in the US government. This may seem pie in the sky, but the more I read over it and thought about it the more sense it makes. For less than a tenth of the defense department's budget, imagine what could happen. Call your rep- let's start the ball rolling on this one.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Signs of Life

Next in the record collection- Peter Apfelbaum & the Heiroglyphics Ensemble, Signs of Life.

I was hipped to this band by Fred Sturm, my jazz writing professor at Eastman, when I was 19. I was at a point in my development where "new" was the most important thing to me. (Of course, in hindsight, precious little of what I was doing was new at all, but I was young enough to cling to that illusion.) Peter was incorporating a lot of "world-beat" influences into his music, and his band had a fairly unusual instrumentation, featuring bassoon and multiple percussionists. (I hadn't heard Gil Evans' 70's band either at that point, so that seemed really new.) So I bought two CDs, thought they were okay, didn't know what to make of them, and put 'em away.

Listening to it now, I like it a lot more than I did then. Both the harmonies and the line writing smack of Fela Kuti and other Afro-pop, which I hadn't really heard any of at the time. Back then, lack of linear development = not good enough. Now, the grooves are a lot of fun- "Walk to the Mountain" is in a big, heavy spacious 3/2 (that's how I feel it, how they actually notated it I don't know) The only vocal track, "The World is Gifted" shifts from an almost Argentinian, guitar-driven groove behind the (rather silly, sadly) vocal, to a thick 12/8 feeling horn romp, to a ridiculously twisting half-time section. (with the time shifts and stop times, this is probably the most interesting writing on the album) The blowing is solid but unspectacular (probably another strike against back in the day), with Peter and trombonist ____ taking the best star turns. Now, the music, especially the grooves, seem to hold up well on their own.

Recently, Peter has released a new Hieroglyphics record, It Is Written, with a scaled down (11-piece), New York version of the band. Hope to hear it soon, and if anyone has it, let me know what you think.

Friday, November 24, 2006

New Digging In

As I mentioned in passing recently, this month I moved back to Jamaica Plain, my favorite neighborhood in Boston and my home before I landed on Cruise Ship X. I really lucked out with the apartment- it's a block from Arnold Arboretum, on a quiet residential street, with good roommates and parking. And it's not outrageously priced, either; I feel pretty lucky.

One of the things I do like about moving (one of the few, actually) is that it forces me to look at all the music in my collection- I must have 600 CDs now, plus various odds and ends in other media. (Of course, my record player is broken...) I haven't listened to some of this music for at least five years, so I'm going to try to go through a lot of it over the next couple of months for my own amusement, and maybe blog about a little bit. I'm hoping some time away will give me fresh ears for some of it. So to begin (I'm going alphabetically through pieces of my collection)

Cannonball Adderly, Something Else. I think this was in the first dozen or so CDs I bought, in my attempt to cover all the important jazz alto players. (Hey, I was fifteen) I never warmed to Cannonball as much as most alto players, perhaps because he was such a dominant model among my peers. Listening now, I am stuck by just how good it is, and how fresh it sounds. Having heard so much secondhand Cannonball it's astonishing to hear the real thing. Particularly here, where the band and the tunes mean he leans more on his bop than his R'n'B proclivities. (Yes, I know that's a terribly reductionist way of putting it. There's a whole chapter of a book right there)

I'm also struck here by Hank Jones. I'm not the biggest HJ fan, and I feel that he drifts off into cocktailville a little too often. (See cadenza on "Autumn Leaves") But when the rhythm section is going he swings his ass off.

public mallings

A brief (if belated) reminder that today is Buy Nothing Day, a day where we are encouraged to boycott the consumerist mess that is the American day after Thansgiving. (aka Black Friday). Just avoiding the crowds is all the reason that I need, but BND gives many, many other good ones.

Full disclosure: despite my best intentions, I did buy a toothbrush today. And a cup of coffee. Next year I will plan better...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bill Frisell's Unspeakable Orchestra @ The Berklee Performance Center, 11/12/06

Anytime Bill Frisell comes to town, it's a big deal for me, has been for more than ten years now. If there is such a thing as postmodern authenticity, then he's it. He was embracing an eclectic mish-mash of Hendrix, folk Americana, thrash and bleep and blurp long before most of them were in vogue, and the times seem to have caught up with him, in a good way. He is one of my musical heroes. I haven't seen Frisell in five years, so that was reason enough to get up for it. To add to the excitement, the band he is on tour with is both bigger and more star-studded than usual for him: a hornline of the man, Ron Miles, and Greg Tardy, a string section of Jenny Scheinman, Eynvid Kang and Hank Roberts, and his usual rhythm section of Tony Scherr and Kenny Wolleson.

With the title of the band drawn from his "Unspeakable" album, which felt like an attempt at something more "mainstream", whatever that is, and the big group, I didn't know whether to expect a repeat of the record (already a couple of years old), or something else. We got an awful lot of something else. The MC announced that the band would play a set of brand new music, to polite applause. Then they unleashed the music, and the applause got less and less polite as the evening went on.

According to this very good review by the local Patriot Ledger (much sharper and more thorough than the one in the Globe, interestingly), some of the music was from recent Frisell releases. (I haven't heard the 898 band or the Carter/Frisell/Motian stuff yet. But Christmas is coming...) They stopped only occasionally between tunes; some pieces were connected by collective, noise based improvisation, some were direct segues. At the end of the evening, they did do some covers- Lee Konitz's "Sub-Conscious-Lee", the Delfonics nugget "La La La (Means I Love You)" and Monk's fairly obscure "Jackie-ing".

In brief, it was a fantastic show, delivering bigger than I anticipated, and I had high hopes. While this unit is a fairly recent entity, everyone but Tardy has a long relationship with Bill's music, and thier connection with the material resonsated far more than the few small cuing problems that showed the band's newness. Rather than rehash the Ledger review, a few things that struck me.

The more I hear Frisell, especially with these larger groups, the more I am fascinated by the way he moves harmonies inside of pedals. He'll set up an ostinato in the bass, and perhaps he himself will outline the chord related to the bass' pattern, but then the strings or the horns will roll around it, through it, in and out of it. This is hardly a new device, but something, I'm not sure what, about how Bill writes it is always fascinating to me. (Best example on recording is his wonderful Blues Dream)

Ron Miles, in the whole evening, never took a solo. That was the one bummer of the night for me, given my huge fandom. (Ron and Nguyen Le, my other unnoticed hero, get their own column soon, I promise.) The other soloist were wonderful studies in contrast. Frisell was understated for the most part, playing on and around the melodies when he did blow. Hank Roberts attacked the cello like he was chopping firewood on a frigid day. He seemed to find every possible way to bow the thing, from shrieks to moans to remarkable melodies. Jenny Scheinmann floated over everything with warmth and grace. And Greg Tardy was one part blues shouter, one part polytonal whirlwind. He played with a huge, almost overblown tone, shifting back and forth between a very bluesy language and one that was, well I don't know quite it was, except that it was the smartest, headiest post-Trane blowing I've heard in a long time.

When the band came up for an encore, a couple of people started shouting requests from the audience... requests for "Eat S*&# Jazz Snob". (From a John Zorn Naked City record where Frisell is prominently featured) Never thought I'd see the day... Frisell went for the Delfonics instead, replacing the sugar of the original for a folkier, maple syrup reading of the tune, plucking out the melody, then letting the strings whitewash down the line of the chorus. No less sweet than the original, but definitely more wholesome.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We ARE the spaceways

I was just reminded by Ryshpen that the new govenor of my fair state, Massachusetts, is the son of a member of Sun Ra's Intergalactic Arkestra, the late Pat Patrick. (more here) Gov. Deval Patrick was not at all close to his dad, but according to an old teach who interviewed Pat in research on a Sun Ra project, Pat was aware of Deval's success earthbound. As if anyone needed any more evidence that our state, where the legislature will spend today (again) fightin over gay marraige, isn't quite in the same orbit as the rest of the country...

While I'm on topic, I was grateful for the outcome of the election, though not due to either Deval's name or his jazz roots. Patrick's major opponent, Kerry Healy, ran a tasteless, bitter campaign, trying to tar Patrick (unfairly) as a lover of rapists and danger to children and small animals. And it didn't work. It was nice, at least here, that voters were energized to beat back such a vicious and unnecessary attack. (Don't get me wrong, I don't mind negative ads, if they're on issues. My favorites of the year are probably these two, this rather off-color bit run by one of the others vanquished by Patrick in Massachusetts, and this one that ran in several swing races across the country. Negative, yes. Below the belt, absolutely not. (insert joke here) There's a difference.

Now, let's see what our new govenor and his bastion of excited supporters (myself included) can do. There's no lack of hard work to do...

Monday, November 06, 2006

hang your chad

To all the Americans in the house:

VOTE, gaddamit!

Tuesday is the day. I've heard every excuse there is, and I don't buy any of them. You either are happy with the way things are (which most likely means I've never met you, or your the parent of one of my suburban students, in which case have a lovely day) or you think like I do that the bunch in power are not up to the task. (and that's being kind) In either case, there are a lot of interests that are working hard to make sure what you care about is NOT the law of the land, and this is one small chance to make some noise.

I have a couple of other, not so partisan election thoughts, but they can wait until tomorrow.

Revision: see Alex Ross today. I'm sure this ain't the only one. As Darcy mentioned, if you have a problem voting, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE - lawyers for both parties are geared up to make sure their side is heard, so take advantage if you need to.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

finally, the ears have it

I promise soon I'll write a post for a reason other than to explain why I haven't been blogging...

I am pleased to announce that Ran Blake's book Primacy of the Ear, which I've been a contributor and editor to for way too long now, has cleared the last hurdle (a grant review at NEC) and is headed to press this month. Anyone who knows Ran knows how dear this project is to him, and what a long and surreal road it's been to its completion. (But with Ran, is there any other way?) Details as they come to me, but suffice to say I'm elated and relieved.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I certainly wasn't ready

For the beginnings of Monday Night Football. For those who've never seen it (or couldn't care less), country pop legend Hank Williams starts every broadcast singing a cute little ditty with the tagline "Are you ready for some football?" It got popular, and each year it gets a little more produced, and a little more surreal. Until...

I'm watching MNF for the first time this year, since the hometown Patriots are playing (and winning, I might add). The intro for this year features Williams, his longtime fiddle player, Stevie E and Clarence Clemmons from the E Street Band, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, drummer Questlove, and (wait for it...) Little Richard. And is that Flavor Flav??

HUNH? Every week it seems my surreal-o-meter needs to be recalibrated...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Destination Brooklyn

(I know this is a little slow in coming, but I got home from NYC in time to start apartment hunting, which ate my life this week. But it's over for now, I think)

I never know quite what to expect in a visit to New York anymore. I'd like to hear from others in who used to be New Yorkers, but are no longer, but I think it's a very different experience than a tourist or a rookie who's looking to move there. There's the excitement of being THERE, but also the nostalgia that comes with visiting any old haunt, and the feeling of being an anachronism- they put that THERE? (Case in point, the newish shiny Chase building at Cooper Union, and the scaffolding and red brick where CB's used to be.) I actually enjoyed this trip more, partially because I don't have any plans to live there again soon, and I don't feel quite so attached to any particular idea of New York. It's nice to come, and nice to leave again.

That said, some highlights. I stayed with old, old friend Tim Kiah, who as I write this is on his way to Europe on tour with Roy Nathanson's new project, a 4-star in Downbeat project no less. (Side note, if you had asked anyone who knew us as teens who of the five NYC-bound musicians at my high school who would stick, I guarantee Tim would've been #4 at best. We're all gone, and he's still there; goes to show you.) We had a great time catching up, and enjoying his great new apartment in Brooklyn. I also sat in with Citigrass, the "urban bluegrass band" he anchors. The "urban" part is covering tunes by Def Leppard, the Pointer Sisters, and Sisquo in a bluegrass style. I took an extended alto solo on the "Thong Song", trading 4s with the fiddle player. Even after eight months on the boat, that ranks as the most absurd musical experience I've had all year. That said, they all play great, and the music, food and company was a lot of fun.

Sunday night it was off to Park Slope to catch James Carney at his own Konceptions series at Bar 4, tonight in trio with Dan Weiss and Chris Lightcap. The bar itself is a nice, cozy place with good beers on tap and a little stage in front. (It also hosts a monday night series run by old friend and up and coming guitar player Mike Gamble.) I am an enormous fan of Jim's compositions, and he is a great pianist, facile and smart, so the gig was a pleasure. I think, though, I am a jinx on Jim; every time I go to one of his gigs, I seem to be one of six people or so, and last night was no exception, sadly.

Other highlights included the Union Square Farmers Market, which even so late in the season was teeming with people and great food, a visit with relatives I haven't seen in several years, and my first trip to Jikvamukti Yoga (that gets its own post later). Side note: Union Square has become yoga central in New York, with both Jivamukti and Prana Yoga, featuring Baptiste protege now rival Rolf Gates, Om Yoga, and a few other wmaller entries within eight blocks of each other. No lack of down dogs...

For those interested, the playlist for the journey was:

Ngyuen Le: Dancing on the Tiger's Tail (this one will get it's own post)
The Police: Message in a Box
Telephon Tel Aviv: Map of What is Effortless
Johnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways (via Tim)
Bill Frisell: Further East, Further West
Booker Little: Booker Little & Max Roach

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New York is (finally) Now

After a month of procrastinating and delaying, I'm (finally) headed down to New York for a quick visit this weekend. The current plan is to hang with old friend Tim Kiah , maybe catch his band CitiGrass, and Sunday night hear the great and underappreciated James Carney at Bar4 in Brooklyn, and maybe catch the Evan Parker solo show at Stone. Saturday night is still open- haven't seen anything I like so far. Suggestions for musical ingestion are greatly appreciated.

Sleep talking

Okay, back to the spaceways...

Ethan Iverson put up a great post explaining Ornette and harmelodics as he understands them. This is the clearest explanation I've seen in fifteen years of grappeling with that music. Thanks Ethan. He also puts in a guest spot on Destination Out about the wonderful, criminally underappreciated Henry Threadgill. (I think Henry is going to get a lot of love at

I am reading "Future Jazz" by Howard Mandel right now. Or, I should say I'm reading the stuff that interests me; I have a hard time devoting an hour of my life to David Murray, or Roy Hargrove interviews. There's a conversation with James "Blood" Ulmer in there about harmelodics that's interesting, and revealing. Ulmer seems to be one of those few musicians who really grasped harmelodics as something that he could use. I will try to find more and report back.

One last thought on the Brubeck/Mwanji/Ornette strain of thoughts: I was taken back to a conversation in a jazz history class, where the teacher read a page of a very theoretical breakdown of a Louis Armstrong track from Gunther Schuller's Early Jazz, followed by a quote from Armstrong talking about his own music. To say there was a stylistic disconnect would be an enormous understatement; to me at least the Schuller, while accurate, sounded tremendously silly. It seemed to see all the veins on the leaves but miss the forest. I felt the same way about the Brubeck post. (And certainly, he's not alone in this by a long shot). If he had spent a little longer thinking about Ornette's larger method and intent, instead of getting hung up on if he plays sharp or plays the changes, then maybe we'd have something to talk about.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Freedom Fries

Destination Out strikes again- A Beginner's Guide to Free Jazz, complete with a playlist to go along, covering several critical "strains" of the music. (The links they mention are great as well, particularly the "Common Misconceptions" link, aka the "why should anyone but jazz nerds give a rat's ass."

One of the cool things about a list like this, complete with useful commentary, is it lets me take a step back and hear with someone else's ears. I love "Rated X", but would never think of it as "proto-punk noise". Pre-jungle, psycho acid-trip funk, absolutely, but punk? But when you listen through their explanation, that makes perfect sense.

I would quibble that Ornette, father of the genre, is not represented, but as I said, I quibble. Thank you gentlemen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why Patty can't Blog

I know the title stinks, but I don't know why Johnny can't read. (NOTE: please don't ever, ever, EVER call me Patty in real life. I know I look scrawny, but I have my methods, and my pacifism, while extending to various Korean, Afgan and even American religiofascists- and Kenny G fans- has its limits, and that's one of them.)

A couple of weeks ago Dave spilled the beans- this is what's been eating a lot of my blogging time. Working title "Ear of the Behearer", in honor of the late great Dewey Redman, it will be a site that combines the hivemind's list with the magic of Wiki software, creating (hopefully) a reference guide to music of the 70s and 80s of all stripes, but focusing on jazz and creative music. I've been working on it with a great musician/programmer, Brett Porter, with Dave and Ethan providing some direction and guidance. (As it shapes up, I'm thinking my role will be primarily with the non-Wiki content, doing articles, interviews and digging up new and interesting stuff about this already interesting music. Especially as too many of these musicians pass on, it'd be great to hear from THEM about the music, since they really are the authorities.) I'm pretty excited about it, especially as it gets closer to actually getting up and running. So stay tuned.

gettin' chippie

As previously mentioned, Mwanji recently posted a thoughtful response to this essay by Darius Brubeck (Dave's son) about which opened the floodgates. I think the conversation is more interesting, and more informative than the essay itself, which while claiming to look at Ornette impartially, basically just tries to damn him with faint praise.

Update: This post, by Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, is probably the best analysis of and Ornette I've ever seen. Highly (and belatedly) recommended. And, as usual, Ethan's a helluva a lot more polite that I'd be...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Now that I have a real life again, I'm afraid blogging has taken a hit. I'll try to find a better balance, but in the meantime:

Mwanji comments on Darius Brubeck's article on Ornette. I had been trying to get to this one, but Mwanji does a better job than I would've. The comment track is also interesting I'll come back to it this weekend, I hope.

Ben Ratliff listens with Branford Marsalis. I tend to find Branford in print almost as grating as his little brother (even without the absurd comment on Cecil Taylor), but I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said about (as Ratliff so aptly puts it in caps) What's Wrong With Jazz Today. He is given to gross generalization, but he I think some of his comments aren't too far offbase. To wit:

“But musicians today”— and he was talking specifically about jazz musicians — “are completely devoid of charisma. People never really liked the music in the first place. So now you have musicians who are proficient at playing instruments, and people sit there, and it’s just boring to them — because they’re trying to see something, or feel it.”

Again, GROSS overstatement, but worth considering. I was at a concert last night at NEC with completed a residency by Roscoe Mitchell, a founding member of the AACM and the Art Ensemble. The music, featuring primarily student ensembles with a couple of cameos by Roscoe, including an amazing solo alto improvisation, was uniformly good. However, with the exception of Roscoe himself and a the very exciting altoist Ashley Paul, most of the players dressed and behaved like this was just a rehearsal in front of people; there was no real acknowledgement of the audience at all. And I see this happen on a regular basis, especially with younger players. I'm not by any means an advocate of the return of a dress code to the stage, but jazz musicians need to pay much more attention to how the music is presented. In this day and age, it matters a lot. (Again, many do, but many more do not, at their own peril)

Okay, now that I've proven myself the crotchetiest 30-year old in Boston, I'm going to retireto my rocking chair.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Saturday's at the Beantown Jazz Festival

As anyone who has lived in Boston knows, it's the biggest little town in America. For good and for ill, it's much tighter knit (and wound) than most other cities our size, and you can't go anywhere without seeing someone you know, no matter how antisocial you are. (Critics would call us myopic, and they're right, but maybe they mean it in a nice way...)

I bring that up because from the minute I walked onto the site of the Beantown Jazz Festival, I started seeing people I know, which is normal, I suppose. But there were people from as far back as high school band camp, two guys from Cruise Ship X, former students, former teachers, the whole shooting match. The whole thing had a feeling of old home week, and looking around, I wasn't the only one getting that vibe.

The city had closed Columbus Avenue for about four blocks above Mass. Ave, and the festival did its best to use every inch of it. There were three stages, one each at the edge of the blocked off area of Columbus, and one in the corner of the park that abuts it. This worked well for crowd flow, less well for acoustics. When the band on either the park stage or the back stage got even moderately loud, the sounds of the two stages started bleeding into each other. This led to some interesting, Cage-ish juxtopositions (a really steamy vocal rendition of "At Last" creeping into a laid Jimmy Cobb-propelled bop head), which I don't think was the festival's intent. Other than that, the sound was very good across the board

The crowd was still fairly sparse for the opening acts, the NEC Jazz Composers' Ensemble and the Mike Tucker quartet. I played in the NEC band at one point, and know a lot of the players in it, so I abstain comment. And I had pretty much the same reaction to Tucker's group that I had to Esperanza Spaulding's group Friday. Namely, "Oh, that's nice."

The aforementioned Mr. Cobb was next, with a quartet featuring tenor player Javon Jackson. Jimmy still swings his ass off, that's really all that needs to be said. The set was mostly standards- "Sweet and Lovely", "Up Jumped Spring"- enlivened by Cobb's fantastic hookup with his pianist (sorry, I missed the name- bad critic!) and, as old professor Allan Chase called it, "THAT right hand". Javon was less exciting. I've heard him live several times, and while he's certainly a very good player, I've never heard any real spark or energy in his playing, and didn't on Saturday.

Jimmy is, sadly, one of those "see him while you can" kind of guys; when he and DeJohnette are gone, so too is that older style of swing that they, in very different ways, have carried on for so many years.

The highlight of the day was Kenny Garrett. As an alto player, I was absolutely enamored with Kenny in high school and college- nobody sounded like him, and he always played with the intestity of a tornado. (Now, of course, it seems like everyone under 30 sounds like him, usually minus the tornado, which is annoying, but I don't blame him for that) Kenny started a little late, due to a presentation with our mayor Mumbles Menino, but made up for lost time with a blistering opening tune. He continued with a set of tunes from his new album Beyond the Wall, mostly pentatonic melodies which he attributed to Asian folk melodies. It almost didn't matter; in many ways Kenny's music hasn't changed a lot in the last ten years, he comes out firing with a fiery, post-Coltrane pentatonic language, relying a lot on crash-bang interplay with a firebrand drummer (here the new to me, but soon to be on everyone's A-list Jaleel Williams). Jaleel reminded me, both physically and musically, of Kenny's former drummer and personal favority Chris Dave. (That's a very good thing) The crowd, which seemed to include half of Berklee's jazz department, faculty and students, loved every minute of it.

The last act I got to see was an unusual appearance by Christian McBride, featuring DJ Logic and the seemingly ageless Oliver Lake. I'm afraid that it really, really didn't work. The music would sort of fade in, with either McBride or Logic finding a groove, and the other matching it, then either Oliver or the keyboard would blow on top of it, then it would sort of drift away, and they'd do it again. The set lacked any sense of pacing or, except when Oliver was playing, focus. Lake did sound great though, a shining light in an otherwise dim set. (For a much better recent accounting of Oliver Lake, there is great video of him with MeShell N'Degeocello's recent project here).

Other obligations kept me from hearing the rest of the music, but I left a pretty happy camper (Despite some of my tepid prose here). The papers said that the crowd was estimated at almost 50,000, up a lot from last year. And most people I talked to seemed to deem everything- the location, the acts, the layout, the whole day- a success. Hopefully next year is another step up.

MonikaH @ Ryles, Tuesday night

Fresh off her album being called "The best debut of the year" by the Boston Phoenix, old homey Monika Heidenman takes a victory lap around the Charles River, and lands at Ryles to sing a few tunes. Featuring Brian Drye and Sean Moran. Monika a smart, hip singer the likes of which we don't see around hear all that often- I've raved about her in this space before- and this one is not to be missed.

Monikah band, Tuesday 10/3, 9pm, Ryles Jazz Club, Inman Square, Cambridge

Friday, September 29, 2006

McCoy Tyner, live in review

A few thoughts on the Beantown Jazz Fest opening concert, in real time (ah, the joys of simulcast):

Esperanza Spaulding's group opened, a straightahead/modern jazz quintet, with the added bonus that Esperanza (a bass player) sings. A good young set of Berklee players doing their thing, and you can take that any way you want to...

The main event: I'd heard this summer that due to health issues McCoy was not playing at 100%. Not the case tonight. His playing is as big, burly and technical as I remember it when I've seen him live. The rhythm section section- Charnett Moffett and a drummer who I don't know- is playing big and burly to complement him. The tunes are primarily modal vamps, a la "Miles' Mode" or the like.

The concert is billed as "A Celebration of Impulse Records". To me though, it seems to only be representing one piece of Impulse; that is, the modal mid-Trane. The rest of the lineup is probably not going to give it to you either- Wallace Roney, Liebman, and Steve Turre. I guess that development not too surprising, given that it is a big venue with big sponsors, and the allure of being big, acceptable, and testosterone-filled are obvious. They'll give you the image of Impulse without actually challenging you the way the label did. Still, I for one am a little disappointed. Impulse to me means Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, etc., and I don't think we'll get a whiff of that tonight.

Roney took a solo on his first tune up (something by Curtis Fuller that I didn't know) that was killing. I'll be completely honest, in case you couldn't tell by my commentary of "the list", I'm generally pretty dark on Roney- he looks like Miles, he plays like Miles, he even boxes like Miles, and it's grating. But tonight, he opened with two choruses of a very personal, very chromatic language with none of the affectations I usually associate with him. The solo wasn't perfect- I wish he'd let it breathe a little more, so we could absorb all the dense chromatic stuff he was throwing out- but it was light years from what I expected, and I wanted to hear more.

Oh, the other horn players. Turre is a little out of tune, and they're having trouble with Liebman's levels. Other than that, they sound fine.

God, that was a short set- he just closed, and the MC is asking for an encore. That was four tunes (45 minutes), and the horns only played on one of them. One more tune, another modal vamp, this one in 3.

If you're familiar with any of the post-Trane McCoy, this set is exactly what you expect. High quality, no surprises. I would've liked a surprise or two, but he is McCoy Tyner, and there is certainly something to be said for that.

Last one standing

There was a time in Boston, not too long ago, when we had two or three legitimate summer jazz festivals every year here. Growing up, I got to hear Joe Lovano, Brad Meldhau, Ruth Brown, and many others (often for free) at the Boston Globe Jazz Fest. The Phoenix (our weaker answer to the Voice) also did a series of summer concerts, as did a Bob the Chef's, a soul restaraunt in the South End.

Times have changed. The Globe is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the NY Times, and has decided that jazz is no longer worth either its column space or its funding. (More on this soon) The Phoenix nixed its funding also, and suddenly that little restaraunt, with some help from Berklee and other funders, is the only game in town. Now dubbed the Beantown Jazz Festival, it's a halfway decent game too, featuring Kenny Garrett, Jimmy Cobb, and Omar Sosa among others free and outdoors tomorrow. The opening concert, a ticketed affair featuring McCoy Tyner's history of Impulse, is being simulcast both on the radio and online tonight on WGBH radio.

I plan to be there tomorrow, at least for the first half of the day. (Family birthdays are the order of the evening.) The plan is to split time between saxophonist Mike Tucker (there was some good buzz on him before I left) and the NEC Composers' Ensemble (kind of an obligation, I played with them five years ago), then hit Kenny Garrett's set and play it by ear from there. A report is to follow, of course

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Senate passes torture bill. Wubba will sign tomorrow.

I'm embarrassed to be an American at this moment. We've passed a bill that our own military opposes because they fear it puts our soldiers at risk. It tramples the Bill of Rights, and takes away what little high ground we have left in the "war on terror".

Embarrased, and ashamed. Remeber, first they came for the aliens...

Monday, September 25, 2006


Happy (belated) 80th Birthday to the master, John Coltrane. Do the Math has a great list of 80 reasons why we all should celebrate, and a mind-blowing download. (more on Trane later this week.)

This weekend in the times, listening to Keith Jarrett with... Keith Jarrett. This is as close as you get to buzz for a new release these days. That said, I'm looking forward to it. Radiance, which I had a hard time with initially, is really growing on me.

Mwanji returns with his usual eclectic links and interesting commentary. More soon...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Bad Plus Live at the Regattabar

Ethan Iverson, pianist of The Bad Plus, came onstage last night in a dapper suit and a fishing hat. (apparently a gift from Jason Moran at last week's Blue Note hit) The comedic effect of this unusual outfit was to make it look like everything he wore didn't fit quite right.

The music felt a little like that as well. The set had the humor of watching someone try to put on a pair of pants that are six sizes too big, and the skill of someone who could probably tailor those pants precisely with a pair of scissors and leftover string. The set was comprised primarily of originals, a few new, most from their most recent album, "Suspicious Activity?", along with one of their famous covers, a remarkably subdued version of the Beegee's disco classic (Ethan's descriptor, not mine) "How Deep is Your Love". There was no distance in either style or content between the originals and the cover; depending on your perspective, the music was treated with the same level of earnestness, or the same level of irreverence. (They did, after all, play an "Anthem for the Earnest") Reid's solo on "You and I is a Comfort Zone", his tune, was equal parts Charlie Haden and Bach. Ethan's lines exuded clarity even when they were at their furthest harmonic reaches. Dave King bounces on and off the drums with his sticks (including a shaker that doubled as a drumstick half the time), with his hands, with his whole body.

Much of the music coexisted on another level as well. TBP are, at least 50% of the time, the model of Ornette Coleman's Harmelodics, at least as I understand it. (At a workshop once, David Murray said that anyone who says they really know what Harmelodics is is full of it. He said he's talked with Ornette at length about it, and said he didn't have a clue.) The Ornette influence was clear even before they played his "Song X", with the pregnant pause worthy of a mother three weeks overdue. Everything in the music coexists equally, there are fewer solos per se than in most bands' sets, and the playing "behind" the solo really isn't behind it, but next to it. (This was reinforced be the fantastic work their sound guy did.) The effect is music that comes at you like a solid object, all at once, again frustrating any attempt to label it.

Finally, live, the band is hilarious. They laugh a lot on stage, and I laughed more than I have at any gig in a long time. They don't make many obvious jokes, but the irreverence they bring to the music is palpable all the time; they play with their tongues set firmly in their cheeks. Ethan, fishing hat and all, doubled as the evening's MC, setting up OG (Original Gentleman) with a story about Elvin Jones and a donut shop in Cleveland, and Dave King's new "1980 World Champion" with a reflection on a skiier who never quite got over winning the gold, much to the dismay of his neighbors.

The Bad Plus appear Friday and Saturday night at the Regattabar, Harvard Square Cambridge. Tickets to the show were supplied by TBP. Full disclosure- I am also working on a web project with Ethan, details TBA.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Once Only

Ben Ratliff of the New York Times listens with... Ornette Coleman, to Josef Rosenblatt, Charlie Parker, and white gospel music. Ornette often presents himself in interviews as a mystery inside an enigma, and here is no exception. But I think in many ways, Ratliff nails it in one observation:

"Mr. Coleman talks about “music” with care and accuracy, but about “sound” with love."

On a side note, has anyone picked up "Sound Grammar" yet. Neither of the two big record stores in Boston had it this week (I'll look again today), and I'm hesitant to do ITunes. Any early thoughts?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

If the violinist is kicking a field goal, is it chamber music?

Don't answer that. Please.

Blogging has been slow this week- there are a couple of things in the works, one a biggie. Plus, I just started teaching lessons again, and that's kept me busy. But a great busy- my God I missed this.

In the meantime, ESPN, to my surprise, brought us two nuggets this week:

The Sports Guy contrasts the Rock's cloying new movie "Gridiron Gang" with "The Wire", which he calls the best show ever. (I haven't seen either, so I abstain.) Sounds silly, but it ain't. The last three paragraphs are absolutely worth reading, even if you don't give a damn about sports or movies.

And, what would happen if an honest-to-god policy wonk wrote about sports? It might look like the Tuesday Morning Quarterback, a sports column by New Republic editor Gregg Easterbrook. In between commentary there's a couple of great bits about Segways and executive salary.

And, Darcy wins the quote of the week in his review of a "chamber music" concert featuring Nils Kline and Elliot Sharp:

[By the way, we know this hit was still chamber music because the audience was seated and drinking (complimentary!) wine. If everyone had been standing and drinking beer and/or liquor, that's not chamber music anymore.]

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Home Front

Now that I'm more or less settled in Beantown, I've managed to note a couple local points of interest:

The Boston Globe reported (in April, I know): "Virgin Megastore is moving out of its Newbury Street digs to make room for a new high-end retailer at the landmark Frank Gehry building where luxury condominiums are opening this fall. Virgin has agreed to vacate its 40,000 square-foot music store by June 2007 and seek an alternative location in Boston in the near future, according to a statement released this morning."

I noticed this because they're having a "grand closing" store, which means their CD prices finally fall into the realm of the mortal human. (The average CD price, not on sale, is $19) I'll be pleasantly surprised if that last promise in the PR comes true- they are fighting Newbury Comics locally on one side, and ITunes on the other, both of which have them beat on price points. But, they are the only store left in Boston to have an actual classical music section, and I'm sad to see that go. And further yuppification of Newbury Street is never a good thing- I wonder how the new condo residents and the local goths will get along. This ain't New York, after all.

On a happier front, the music bargain of the week is tomorrow night: Judi Silvano appears at Ryles with George Garzone and her husband, some guy named Lovano. Whatever you think of Judi's singing, ( I think it's always interesting and adventurous, which is both a good and a bad thing), George and Joe toghether will undoubtedly tear the roof off. And it's $7, how can you beat that?

Judi Silvano, @ Ryles, Inman Square Cambridge, Tuesday, 9pm.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

We Need an Ascension

John Coltrane would have been 80 this coming Saturday (9/23). To celebrate, Lincoln Center kicked off its season with a concert of Trane's music set for big band. It will follow with a concert version of the legendary Coltrane/Hartman album (Todd Williams and Kevin Mahogany will do the ghost conjuring.) In a generally positive review, the NY Times noted on Saturday:

"Two things were missing from the concert. One was any reference to Coltrane’s squalling late period, which Jazz at Lincoln Center will acknowledge on Wednesday with a discussion called “Did Coltrane Lose His Way?” (The panelists, including Coltrane’s drummer from those years, Rashied Ali, seem predisposed to dismiss that question.)"

Stop right there. "Did Coltrane Lose His Way?" Can J@LC get any more arrogant and wrongheaded? (Wait, don't answer that.) Do they intentionally wheel one of these ridiculous titles out once a month just to piss off those of us who haven't drank their Kool-Aid?

Admittedly, late Coltrane is challenging and controversial, to listeners, to critics, to musicians. I myself don't love it, never have. Respect, but don't much enjoy. (I don't know it as well as I ought, and don't even pretend to understand even the stuff I know.) I have no problem with people who don't like it, or even discount it. But you have to recognize that the "way" that took Coltrane to "Om" (a record he supposedly never wanted released, interestingly) and "Interstellar Space" is the same "way" that took him to "Giant Steps" and "Alabama", and "A Love Supreme", which J@LC has heaped canonical attention on. Coltrane's music always combined his passion for music and spirituality, theoretical and practical, with a tireless search for new ways of expressing himself. I don't think anyone outside the process, particularly critics, get to call an artist's process into question, even if they don't like the result.

Why did J@LC start the conversation with such a needlessly provocative title, so that Rasheed Ali and Ravi will probably have to come out counterpunching? (Would the New York Phil title a forum on late Stravinsky "Did Stravinsky Lose His Way"? Somehow I doubt it.) Would calling it "Considering Late Coltrane" or the like have been so hard? Are they trying to be an academic forum or the musical equivalent of the Heratige Foundation or ANSWER, tilting the debate before it even starts? (Again, don't answer that)

It was fun, and heartening, to see the beginnings of a great conversation online these past week which reconsiders the music of the '70s, music that owes itself in no small part to late Trane. It's frustrating that back in the real world we are still dealing with this crap.

EDIT: Dave Douglas was apparently thinking on the same lines today, only he's much nicer, and has a really cool Jon Stewart link.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Some people have lives, I have lists...

After still one more posting, the list has be rebraised, baked a little more and put out on the ledge to cool. Soapsuds is a good enough reason all by itself. Other things I just thought of as I looked at the list:

- Ran Blake recently put the word out that his second duo record with Jeanne Lee, You Stepped Out of a Cloud, has be rereleased by Universal France. (It also joins the list)

- Joe McPhee. Someone added his name to the list, and while I don't know the record, that made me happy. Joe is a player who has never gotten his due, partially because I don't think a lot of people know where to "put" him. He played after me on a bill at the Knitting Factory a few years back with the great Pauline Oliveros, playing this half sax/half EWI thing. According to his website, he's doing a bunch of playing up in Canada this week, for relatively cheap. Worth checking out if you're up that way.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

New Tunage

FYI, I updated my MySpace page today to include some new music, sort of reflecting places where the lately balleyhood list affected my music. (BTW, "the list" merited a mention in Ben Ratliff's review of The Bad Plus and Jason Moran in today's NY Times). Submitted for your enjoyment:

Honest Malice- a vignette I did with Ralph Alessi on my first record, On Any Given Day (soon to reappear on CDBaby, I hope). Man, Ralph kicks butt.

Little Victories- a big band chart I originally wrote for Bob Brookmeyer- I think his imprint is all over it. I was fortunate enough to have the man himself play it at a studio session, and here's an excerpt of the results. (Damn you, myspace, and your 6MB limit...)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Around the horn

I keep seeing new and interesting additions to the '73-'90 list, so I keep adding them. If you have more or see good ones, please pass them along. I can keep this up for a least a couple of more days. In the meantime, here are some other tidbits:

Destination Out comes through yet again, this time with the Brotherhood of Breath (apparently before I even asked.)

Through them I found this more mainstream radioblog, Daily Jazz. More Marion Brown, who D-Out also highlighted recently.

A man, a plan, Garageban= Adam Benjamin's Standards Project. I met Adam at Eastman, and kind of knew he had something like this in him.

A couple of new additions on the right there- Thich Nhat Hahn (mentioned yesterday) and a cool new Chicago music blog, Post No Bills. (via Steve Smith, who's presence on the blogroll is long overdue)

Just in case we needed to be reminded of the mess we're in in Iraq, and why.

On to happier things- I saw my first Red Sox game in three years Sunday- beautiful (if cool) day, great seats, good times. Everybody says this, but it's true: the new ownership has worked miracles with old Fenway Park. If you can afford it, it's an amazing place to see a game, much more than when I was a kid. And Sunday they even won. Hope springs eternal...

Speaking of sports, on Friday the Sports Guy debuted his 2006 football prognostications, with the comedic twist that his sport-clueless wife will pick the same games, as well as provide an unedited 300 word commentary on anything she likes, this time (because you know we all needed it), Lindsay Lohen and ProActiv. It's a little too Ozzie and Harriet, maybe, but it scores high on my Unintentional Comedy Scale. (By my count, he got 7 picks right this week, she got 5.)

And finally, yesterday's 9-11 post marked post #100 for this little blog. Thank you all for checking it out. To mark the occasion, I decided to try Blogger's new beta version, and in the process spruce things up a little. Feedback is always appreciated. In addition, since I've seen a recent spike in readership, thanks mostly to "the list" (and couldn't be happier), I thought I'd highlight a few favorites over the last few months. (by subject, not preference)

Music: Degeneration X, (I think it's my best-written post) Billy Hart, and, of course The List
Cruise Ship X: Food Talks, Hyperreality
Yoga: Baron, Seane Corn
Oh, and Hasslehoff. Sure cure (or sure... something) for a glum day.