Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gigs to see, coming up...

June brings to Beantown, well, the struggling New York Yankees, but you probably don't care about that. June is rarely a really hot month for live music here, with schools out and outdoor stuff not yet completely in swing, but there are some strong highlights...

Judy Silvano w/Joe Lovano- "Women's Work" Ryles, 6/5
Either/Orchestra, Lily Pad, 6/6, 6/8, 6/10
Don Byron and Ivey-Divey, Regattabar, 6/8 & 9
Julie Hardy, Ryles, 6/12
JFJO & Club D'Elf, Regattabar, 6/19
Bill Frisell Trio, Regattabar 6/22 & 23 (my review of Frisell's last pass through Boston is here)
Toots Thielsman/Kenny Werner, Scullers, 6/22 & 23
Lou Donaldson, 6/22 & 23
Meshell N'Degeocello at the Paradise, 7/3 (Tues.) I'm not crazy about the new material on her myspace page, but a chance to see the woman is a chance to see the woman.
Tortoise, 7/5, Museum of Fine Arts

Please send me other suggestions, or things I may have overlooked. And, wherever you are, go support live music!


D-Out's conclusion to the 90s party. Comments thread is really great. Relatedly, here is the youtube clip that features the World Sax Quartet with Bluitt, Lake, James Carter and Greg Osby. Hamiett Bluitt is a force of nature...

via Darcy- Galapagos is moving. I can't remember- where is Dumbo, and the new Galapagos, in relation to the soon to be built basketball arena/mall that's being built for the Nets in Brooklyn? That puppy is going to have a big effect on everything, I just don't know how.

On the political side, I really like Glenn Greenwald's analysis of macho actor, soon to be candidate Fred Thompson. Especially if you skip his obligatory hissy fit about Chris Matthews. I think this theory he puts forth is dead on, that the image of the candidates is much more important than the actuality of them, and is driving this presidential campaign, especially (but not exclusively) on the Republican side. Not a good sign. If the reality mattered, we'd be gearing up for a Richarson vs. Brownback race, which I certainly wouldn't oppose... (Why Brownback you say? Well, I don't think I'd vote for him, but if this is any indication, he has a brain. I'm not so sure about the rest of the elephant herd...)

More to come...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

... And Their White Tigers

Now, back to my rant about why I Love the 90s. This is the addenda to my list, (I think, at least) the best jazz records you probably didn't hear. As I said earlier, I'm probably a more forceful evangelist for these than I am my top 10. I love him too, but I think Ornette's (and Wayne's, and Threadgill's) greatness is well established by now. I hope these guys (and sadly, they're all guys) get 1/10th of that kind of love in the coming years:

Nguyen Le, Three Trios (Act, 1997)- The 90s were good for guitar gods (Frisell, Stern, Abercrombie, especially in the short-lived Gateway reunion) but somehow Le seemed to fall by the wayside. It could be that his background doesn't fit the mold- Vietnemese, living in France, influenced seemingly equally by modern jazz, traditional Vietnamese music, and Hendrix. 3 Trios is his second widely available US release, after a good debut, Miracles, with another luxury rhythm section of Art Lande (see below), Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine. 3 Trios alternates between (duh) three groups, one featuring Jamie Haddad on hand percussion, one with Johnson and Erskine again. Le favors twisty vamps (Straight No Chaser, the only standard on the album, appears in 5), a strong rockish sound and smart, careful harmonic vocabluary. The tunes are great, the musicians are great- more people need to know this record. (Le's last album, Chasing the Tiger's Tail, with Lande, Paul McCandless and Haddad is good too. A bit overarranged for my tastes, but still good.)

James Carney, Offset Rhapsody (Jacaranda, 1997)- James Carney is, IMHO, the best jazz composer under 40. Period. His compositions are smart, twisty, and tremendously well crafted. The Wayne Shorter influence is obvious, especially on tunes like "Miracle Mile", but he is equally comfortable with groove tunes ("Photo Op"), pretty waltzes ("Last Call at the West Lake Inn") and the occasional Celtic drone ("Tipperary Hill"). Ultimately, his music sounds like him. The band here is a west coast A-list, with Ralph Alessi, Peter Epstien, and Derek "Oles" Oleskiewicz, and even a cameo by Nels Cline. (Okay, Ralph's been in Brooklyn for awhile now...)

(James, now also based in Brooklyn, has a new album coming out this summer, with Ralph and Peter joined by Tony Malaby and Mark Ferber. I can't wait.)

Michael Cain/Ralph Alessi/Peter Epstein, Circa (ECM, 1997)- This is a more personal choice than any of the others for me, since I was studying with Michael and Ralph when they made this. It's ostensibly a sonic tour of the Las Vegas Cain grew up in, and it has the cheesy titles and warped jaunts through that sonic world to prove it ("And Their White Tigers", "Marche". The unusual trio instrumentation and great writing calls to mind third stream thinking, but all three musician's word is much broader than that, from the meditative, deciptively hard "Circa" and the soulful "Red Rock Rain" to another loopy waltz, "Egg". Sadly, this trio stopped performing a couple of years after the album came out, but they left us a wonderful document of what it was.

Art Lande/Mark Miller, World Without Cars (Synergy, 1999) Art is, to my mind, one a criminally underrated pianist, possibly due to the fact that he's never really left his Denver home. He counts Fred Hersch and Michael Cain among his students, and his groups in Denver have included Shane Endsley, Ron Miles and Khabu Doug Young, among others. This is a duo date with old friend and reed player Mark Miller, and a great place to start checking out Art, a set of loose compositions and improvisations that highlight his amazing sound, techniques and versitililty.

Either/Orchestra, The Half Life of Desire (Accurate, 1990)- short list of great musicians who passed through the Either/Or in the '90s: Medeski, Matt Wilson, Doug Yates, Andrew D'Angelo, Jeremy Udden, Jaleel Shaw... This band was for real, the best unit in Boston in a very good time for the scene. (Other bands working out of Boston at the time included Human Feel (the Speed/D'Angelo/Black trio), Frank Carlberg's groups, not a bad deal. Oh, and a bunch of one-and-done young lion outfits, all of whom had major label deals... for a minute) I like the earlier stuff better- Either/Or has always been, to me, on the opposite end of the spectrum from what's "cool" on the jazz scene. They went out of they're way to be weird when buttoned-down rebop was the rule of the day. And when CEF (crazyexpirimenatlfreedom) started to creep back in with the ascent of Dave Douglas and Jason Moran, they went much more straight ahead. Needless to say, I like the weirder stuff better, and this is the best of a good lot with the earlier versions of the band.

My final thoughts on this little project:

I find it interesting the "young lions" barely represented on any of the lists, as their hype, albums and images dominated the first part of the decade in many ways. I know that using D-Out as home base is going to tilt the list left of center, but even so- Mark Turner, Rodney Kendrick and James Carter, in the second wave of kiddos make cameos, but no Marsalis, Redman, Hargrove, etc. (I part ways with Gary Giddens on one I did see; I hated "Jurassic Classics". Carter both live and on record was one of the biggest disappointments of the 90s for me.) Then I tried to think of a really good '90s record from that crop, and I had a tough time. Maybe Branford's "Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born", maybe Blanchard's "Malcolm X Jazz Suite", but then again, those didn't make my top 40 either.

I can't imagine any other place where Sharrock and Braxton would score in the top 2. I know even a very "mainstream" list would certainly include Dave and Ornette, but we took it way, way out. It'd be interesting to go back to Downbeat and see what they're five star albums for each year were, and which ones crossed over to here. (Not that a 5-star in DB guarantees anything, as Ethan I so aptly pointed out recently in, of all places, Downbeat)

Mostly, I'm just glad this happened. And of course, my "must buy" CD list is bulging again.

Regular programming resumes later this week...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dear Leader's Hit Parade

Salon reported last week about a paper studying North Korean pop music. Well, maybe pop is the wrong term. And we thinkTimberlake is force-fed to us...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Name that tune. No really, I mean it.

Yesterday at 4:29pm marked the 12,000th visitor to the visionsong blog. That's twelve thousand hits in a little more than a year- you do the math. Readers come from lands very familiar and some I only dream of. (Tibet, New Zealand and Brazil are my favorites when I look at sitemeter). Thanks to everyone who stops by, and everyone who links here. It's really flattering.

To celebrate, I'm wanted to send you more music, and get more feedback. (I already know green is not my color, and rogaine is a bad idea, so not that kind of feedback...) I just posted a new tune to my Myspace. It's not really new, but it's never seen the light of day before. I recorded it in 2003 with my band Lift, featuring the amazing Jed Wilson on piano and Jason Nazary on drums. The problem is, I never came up with a proper title for it- it's been nicknamed "The Happy Tune" every time I've every played it, and I've never liked that name. (I feel like parts of it also need a rewrite, but that's coming too.) So, please send me a new title for the tune- I'll consider anything as long as it's not profane. If it fits the vibe of the tune, even better. The winner, if they so desire, gets an personally autographed copy of one of my CDs. (my autopen is broken). Post suggestions (or praise the tune, rip the tune, I'm okay either way) to the comments section below. Contest closes 5/31.

And thank you for your support.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Little Pocket SIze Demons

Today was my turn at bat for a "top 10" in D-Out's We Love the 90s week, and I'm thrilled to appear there with the likes of Taylor Ho Bynum and Nate Chinen. I didn't even think of it, but the title (the first track on "Too Much Sugar"... see below) seems a very apt descriptor of the time. Don't all the problems, compared to now, seem like cute little monsters, compared to the vicious ogres we deal with now? Whitewater/Lewinski vs. Iraq/Katrina. The rise of J@LC vs. the collapse of the jazz economy, club and album. Culture wars vs. real wars.

First, two brief disclaimers that I gave Chilly and Drew, when they asked me to send a list. I went through my own record collection and found forty CDs that could've easily been on the list- the fifteen or so I sent were just the way I felt that day. And I didn't send them in any particular order- while This Land is probably my favorite, how do you compare it to Shirley Horn, or Steve Coleman? I don't. So here is a little more about these for those who don't know, and a few more for you list-o-philes out there. (This post will be updated several times, mostly for links, so I apologize to you rss feed people. But I wanted to strike while the iron's hot)

I'm probably more passionate about the "overlooked" list than I am about the top ten. Nguyen Le is SUCH a good guitar player and intersting composer, James Carney is SUCH a badass writer, and Circa is SUCH a great concept album. I should devote a whole post just to them. Hell, I will, and add a few to it. In the meantime...

Steve Coleman- The Sonic Language of Myth (Warner?) (some of the tracks are available free through Steve's website) In the early 1990s, Steve Coleman began to take regular trips to Cuba to study the music and culture there, particularly with the group AfroCuba, who plays a brand of traditional music that is probably closest to what came over with African slaves of any music made in this hemisphere. The “results” of his trips clearly affect his music of this period, overtly on the 2-disc set “Genesis/Opening of the Way“, but also on the other Warner recordings of this period.

I have to say I prefer the Coleman records of this period- starting with “Tao of Mad Phat”, and ending with this one- to anything he's done before or since. Before, the music, while brilliant and difficult, is very rigid and hard to approach as a listener, even for me, a big fan. After, with Steve working almost exclusively with a younger generation of players, the music again gets a little less organic, too often again favoring structure over expressiveness. Here Steve works with a nice mix of peers, elders and students, who bring an exciting blend of energy, curiosity and confidence to the music. (full disclosure: several Eastman colleagues, including Ralph Alessi, Shane Endsley and Tim Albright, appear on this disc) The rhythm section of first Reggie Washington and Gene Lake, then here Anthony Tidd and Sean Rickman are certainly as precise as the early M-Base anchors, but more fluid inside the grooves.

Bill Frisell- This Land (Elektra) One of my favorite records of all time, actually. This album in many ways marks the best blend on recording of Frisell's two worlds: the cutting-edge jazz that made his mark on the music scene, first with ECM then with the great trio + 1 of Frisell, Kermit Driscoll, Joey Baron, and cellist Hank Roberts, then the post-Americana which brought him a larger audience, presaged on “Have a Little Faith”, and full blown on “Nashville” and “”. Many of the tunes here are folky and hummable, but the improvising and the energy of the band- featuring the trio plus Don Byron, the criminally underrated Billy Drews and Curtis Fowlkes- is as nutty and downtowny as anything of this era. My favorite tune here is a frenetic, bouncy take on the twisted blues “Resistor”, with Byron and Drewes' amazing star turns.

Henry Threadgill- “Too Much Sugar for a Dime
Ornette Coleman's Sound Museum sets- “Hidden Man” and “Three Women

I hope that a lot of words will be posted about these two, so I won't say much yet. Plus, there's an MP3 posted today so you can judge for yourself. “Too Much Sugar” is my favorite Threadgill album, a great band playing amazing tunes. Geri Allen's playing with Ornette is amazing- after being introduced to her through her post-bop Blue Note records, her comfort in this music was a revelation. For me, a better and deeper listen than the much-hyped “Tone Dialing” that preceded it.

Motian/Lovano/Frisell- “You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart- Live at the Village Vanguard” (Verve/JMT) (Note, I sent the wrong title in my list to D-Out. This is the one I meant.) When I was studying with Ralph Alessi at Eastman, he called this “the best band in jazz right now, period” Listening to this album, you're hard pressed to argue. These three musicians have been playing together for twenty-plus years at the time of this record, and their comfort with each other and enduring experimental spirit shines through on this live set. I chose this set over all their great 90's records (The album “Trioism”, with special guest Dewey Redman, is also a must-have from this era), for Frisell's wild, bendy looping feedback-y solos throughout, and for their gorgeous rendition of the title song, a too-obscure standard that Monk recorded solo on his San Francisco solo set. (You know that one, right? Oh, you have to hear that one...)

Wayne Shorter- “High Life” (Verve) This album, the week before its release, was the subject of a screed by New York Times then jazz critic Peter Watrous called “A Jazz Generation and the Miles Davis Curse” (I finally found the article! Now I can get my back up on cue!) I still get angry thinking about it, especially after hearing this album, to my mind one of Shorter's crowning achievements. The album is an intricate set of orchestral compositions, using a chamber orchestra augmented by several synths, and Shorter himself. The pieces are fascinating in and of themselves- he turns his Blakey-era tune “Children of the Night” into an extended ten minute overture. (I wrote a paper about the transformation in grad school- the inventiveness and technique he displays still blow me away) Shorter's careful, perfect solos on tenor and soprano are the icing on the cake.

Maria Schneider- “Evanessence”. I'll leave it to the likes of Darcy to tackle this one. It blew everyone's mind when it came out, and made Maria The “it” jazz composer of the '90s (and now, for that matter) and made a whole lot more of us want to write for big band. (It's $85 on Amazon, or you can buy it direct from her with lots of extra goodies, hence the different link. Always support the artist, please...)

Dave Douglas- “In Our Lifetime” Dave's first sextet tribute album, this one spotlighting the brilliant and too often overlooked Booker Little. The writing on this record struck me from the first listen- the way Dave can shift moods, tempos, instrumentations and soloists without ever losing the direction of the tune. It's big, ambitious, intricate and challenging to player and listener alike, but never seems the least bit forced. And James Genus and Joey Baron is a Rolls Royce rhythm section, one I'd give a limb for.

Hal Willner- “Weird Nightmare- Meditations on Mingus” - Mingus tunes + the mainstays of the downtown NYC scene (Frisell, Cohen, Baron, etc) ] + left of center pop stars (Elvis Costello, Henry Rollins, Chuck D) + Harry Parch instruments, the first time they'd been used for anything other than Harry Parch's music. Gee, what could possibly go wrong? Actually, nothing; this is a brilliant record, one that manages to capture the intricacies, energy and brilliance of Mingus without reverting to a canonical approach. In some ways, it's a wonderful (if much more fractured) bookend to Joni Mitchell's attempt at the same, “Mingus”, almost twenty years prior (here Sue Mingus, not Charles, was the collaborator). Willner's intelligence, vision and irreverence shine through on the best tribute album of the 90s. And there were many good, vibrant ones- the aforementioned Douglas album and the two to follow it, Stargazer and Soul on Soul, Joe Henderson's beautiful run of tributes, “So Near, So Far (musings for Miles)”, "Lush Life" and the Jobim Tribute. (On the flipside, this is a steal for $11 at Amazon.)

Myra Melford- “Above Blue” This was her second album with a quintet featring Michael Sarin, Eric Friedlander, Dave Douglas and Chris Speed. I love the way the album balances form and free blowing, discipline and wildness. As someone who was just starting to deal with the idea of composting rather than simply tune writing and arranging, this, along with Maria and Dave's recordings, were huge inspirations. Myra's own playing here is focused and tremendously powerful- she combines the two-fisted power of blues piano with a huge harmonic vocabulary and a left-of center bent.

Briefly, a few notes on the "almost" list:

Henderson- "So Near, So Far (Musings for Miles)"- the best of his really good run of Verve Albums in the 90s. And such a great cross-section of Miles tunes, from the bebop "Milestones" to "Side Car".

Horn- "Here's to Life" I want to arrange like Johnny Mercer. And play piano and phrase like Shirley. A couple of the tunes are a little syrupy, and I would have prefered Miles as soloist (as was planned before his death) to Wynton, but hey, that's nitpicking.

Getz/Barron- "People Time" I'm of the opinion that Getz did his best work in his last ten (sober) years- all the Verve stuff. One wished this hadn't been his last album, but it's a great sendoff.

Previte- "Weather Clear, Track Fast"- this band (Previte, Byron, Robin Eubanks, Anthony Davis, etc.) made two albums, both fantastic. Bobby Previte the composer is underappreciated, and I wish he'd gone farther with the ideas this band explores a little. And as a player, he's a tighter, more manic Joey Baron (okay, that shortchanges both of them, but it gives you an idea), which is a lot of fun.

Others that made the top 40 CDs. On a different day, any of these could've made the cut:

Geri Allen- "The Nurturer"
Jane Ira Bloom- "The Nearness" (w/Kenny Wheeler)
Clusone Trio- "I Am an Indian"
Dave Douglas: "Charms of the Night Sky", "Convergence"
Kenny Garrett: "Black Hope" (I've seen both this and "Pursuance", his Coltrane tribute, on lists. While the fusion tracks on this are cheesy, Joe Henderson plays his ass off, as do both Kennys, Garrett and the late Kirkland. This completely changed the way I played saxophone, which at the time was a really good thing.)
Charlie Haden "Dream Keeper" (this really should've been on the top ten, I just forgot. I talked a little about this album here.)
Fred Hersch "Let Yourself Go"
Frisell/Baron/Driscoll "Live"
Bill Frisell- "Quartet"
Herbie/Wayne "1+1"
Joe Lovano- "Universal Language"
Abbey Lincoln- "World's falling Down", "You've Got to Pay the Band" (w/Getz)
Ron Miles: "Woman's Day" (featuring Bill Frisell)
Joni Mitchell "Taming the Tiger" (not jazz, you say? Listen to Wayne and Blade here.)
Danielo Perez- "The Journey" (Danielo records are like Star Trek movies, every other one is great)
Kenny Wheeler- "Music for Large and Small Ensembles" (this was on the 73-90 list too, which was probably why I passed it over. A great, great album.)
Wheeler/Konitz/Frisell/Holland- "Angel Song"
Cassandra Wilson- "Blue Light'Til Dawn"

A list that strays beyond jazz records would include:

Solas (self titled)
Caetano Veloso- "Livro"
Jennifer Kimball- "Veering from the Wave"
Sting "Soul Cages" (to my mind, his least commercial and most musically successful album. Dig Kenny Kirkland on organ)
The Roots- "Things Fall Apart"
Radiohead- "Kid A" (duh!)
D'Angelo- "Brown Sugar"
Meshell N'Degeocello- "Peace Beyond Passion"
Prince- "The Gold Experience" (not the best Prince by any means, but the best of the '90s)

more to come... Oh, yeah, I made a record in the '90s too, my first. Even I'll say it's not top 10 material, but I still like it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

As we used to sing

The ever-reliable Destination Out! has unveiled it's newest contribution to the musical conversation, the We Love the 90s! series of top 10 lists of the era. Many wonderful musicians, bloggers and critics have contributed, and of course there are sounds. The 90s was my real initiation into music, more nights at the Regattabar than I can fathom hearing McCoy Tyner, Gateway, Lee Konitz and (yes) Wynton Marsalis for really short money, my first real performing and gigging in high school, college, and finally a move to New York in '99. My own thoughts and lists are soon to come, but there's so much great music there already, and it's only day 2.

Darcy has posted his crackerjack set from Saturday night. Yowzah. His own addenda to his D-out list is thoughtful and worth following up on. It dovetails nicely with Marc Ribot's recent piece on his protest site and in this month's All About Jazz. Now that all the old models are falling apart for recording and presentation of new music, for good and ill, now it the time to really think about both past and future alternatives.

And completely unrelated, several of my yoga friends have been buzzing about the big twenty-page spread in this month's Vanity Fair, featuring basically the biggest names associated with yoga, including Iyengar and Pathabhi Jois, but also Sting and Christy Turlington (yes, her lead photo is silly). I actually prefer the web outtakes to the full shoot. (Notable absences to the list: anyone associated with "power yoga"- Baron, Barbara Benagh, the Kest brothers, etc., Seane Corn, Krishna, Ram or Bhagavan Das) I leave it to others to judge this or say what it means, but based on the yogis here who I've actually met (Shiva Rea, David Life, Gurmukh) and the ones whose work I've studied at any length (Erich Shiffman, John Friend, Rodney Yee, and of course Iyengar) the photographer really seems to "get" his subjects. The photos capture them, the positive and in some cases the less so, brilliantly. The portraits of Iyengar, Deshikar and Sri Vishwa are particularly moving.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Downtown Saturday Night

Sometimes New York just fits. My past few trips down there have been overly harried, too many problems in transit, or meeting people, or missing music I came for. So it was nice, for once, to have a smooth ride from start to finish. (Well, almost. The train home was two hours late.) I think as a result I enjoyed everything more.

The musical portion of the trip kicked off at the Bowery Poetry Club Saturday night big band massacre. Kyle Saulnier's Awakening Orchestra, a group I know nothing about, led off. It was a big, bold big band, Saulnier conducting in wide, agressive gestures and the band powering through his music. Everything was really well played. The writing, though, left me a little short. Saulnier is clearly a skilled composer, with a lot of nice sections in the charts, but little of it hung together well. His language stems from a fairly standard modern big-band sound. The grooves were more backbeat and less swing, funk but not too funky. I found very little coherence in the writing, a neat free or noise-based intro that didn't really connect to what came after, solos that, while uniformly good, didn't connect to the bigger picture. He wrote a great punchy odd-metered tune that devolved into a very standard 12-bar blues. My favorite moment of the set was a great bari solo on "Protest"- not flashy, but tremendously interesting and rewarding. . His last tune hung together best, well built and richly orchestrated, if a bit abrupt in its end. This band feels like it's in its infancy, and I think there are better things to come.

Darcy James Argue and Secret Society's set, the last for awhile, was rock solid in every way. Both friendship and, frankly, envy preclude me from saying a whole lot more, but soon you'll be able to hear it for yourself. I will say that Darcy's skills as MC and rabble-rouser have grown exponentially since I last saw the band live two years ago. (He gave Mark Small the star turn on “Phobos”, which he ate up, but hung him out to dry introducing the tune, obliquely comparing him to the unstable, ultimately doomed moon of Mars.) And Ingrid Jensen just tore Transit to pieces-every time I hear her she sounds better.

After the set, I had just enough time to tramp over to the western edge of the island to the Jazz Gallery and Henry Threadgill's Zooid. The second set was advertised as 10:30, but walking in at 10:15 I was treated to the last ten minutes of the first set. I don't pretend to understand Threadgill's music- see Ethan's post at D-out for one great description, or hunt out some of the stuff Myra Melford has written about her experience studying with him for a more informed view. I will say that inasmuch as I've followed his music, especially in the last fifteen years, while the structures have not changed radically, their presentation, both on recording and here live, gets more and more abstract. The band- Liberty Ellman on guitar, two cellos, one acoustinc and one occasionally processed (and doubling trombone on one tune), tuba and drums- read the compositions from big oversized manuscript paper, but dammit if I could follow along beyond the occasional unison melody. The beat was always clear, often quasi-martial, but the meter was rarely obvious, with the tuba and drums dancing all over the stated beat. The comping (all three strings comped, though rarely at the same time, Ellman favoring octave strumming, the cellos short figures, often with double-stops.) Sometimes the interplay and textures sparkled, sometimes they wallowed. Through this density Threadgill, when he played, cut like a master fencer, everything clear, bold and striking. The other soloists had their moments, especially Ellman late in the set and bone/cello ace on several tunes, but too often couldn't match the leader's strong sense of direction. (I see a theme emerging here in my review...) The music was a well-rehearsed high-wire act, and while there was the occasional toppling body, there was foremost a marvelous spectacle of sound.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The weekend

For those of you within 500 miles of New York, Darcy Argue's big band hits the Bowery Poetry club tomorrow evening at 8pm. It's their last gig for awhile- you owe it to yourself (and to the great musicians) to go.

Later in the evening just a little ways uptown, Henry Threadgill makes a rare New York appearance with his band Zooid at the Jazz Gallery. I can't say enough good things about Threadgill, and I've never seen him live. So go.

Hmm, sounds like a good weekend to be in New York, weather notwithstanding. I should go...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

No Justice, Just Us

And now, a political aside. I would point everyone to Glenn Greenwald's blog on Salon today about yesterday's dramatic (and Tom Clancy-like) testimony by James Comey, the former assistant Attorney General under Bush and AG John Ashcroft. (excerpt here) Now Ashcroft is nobody's civil libertarian, but here he's the good guy, fighting off a domestic spying program even HE thinks is illegal! But behind all the theatrics, I think Greenwald (who I agree with 60% of the time, but find overly hyperbolic 90%) nails it:

"The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law."

There has been speculation in the punditry that Alberto Gonzalez, the current AG and arch-villian in this story, will keep his job, partly because Bush is so ridiculously behind him, and partially because the Democrats like having him as a punching bag. Putting aside the cynicism of that second statement, he's a two bit petty thug, and he's running the JUSTICE department. He needs to be gone, yesterday. Call your senators.

Fred Hersch Trio @ The Regattabar, 5/15/07

The crowd to see Fred Hersch last night was decidedly more supper club than I'm used to seeing at Boston jazz events. A nearly full house was full of seersucker jackets, professorial eyeglasses and people swishing and sniffing their wine. And certainly in presentation, Hersch obliged the crowd- he introduced each tune genteely, and put together a program heavy on the standards of Cole Porter, Gershwin and the like that he has covered so beautifully throughout his career- "So in Love", "I Fall in Love too Easily" and the title of his new album, "(You and the) Night and the Music". The standards were delicately rearranged with clever bass and drum hits and little reharmonizations; a bass ostinato punctuated "Change Partners" "I Fall in Love..." was translated into a waltz.

This band, though, is no one's supper club music. Probably the best working piano trio out there is what it is. With Drew Gress, legendary downtown veteran, and Nasheet Waits, the drummer of choice for Ralph Alessi, Jason Moran and the late Andrew Hill, how could it be? From the first note the three took off over, in and around these tunes, never quite leaving the form or the time, but always playing its outer edge. Almost ironically, their one Ornette tune of the evening, "Fort Runner?" seemed most canonical in its presentation- the group played the head, then collectively improvised the rest of the way, almost in the manner of Evans, Lafaro and Motian circa "Portraits in Jazz", puncuated by short drum solos. Fred announced "a Monk tune, I'm not sure which one yet", then dove into a five-minute virtuosic improvisation which kept Monk very much at the forefront, but never bothered to tell you which tune it would be. (Seemingly at the last minute, he settled on "Work")

Nasheet Waits shines mightily in this band. First, he is one of those musicians who seems to hear and respond to everything- the other musicians, the crowd, the glasses clinking, the flies buzzing, EVERYTHING- and transates it on the kit. He and Fred had a constant back and forth interplay throughout the set that was magical, each one egging the other. Nasheet is very busy, but never overpowering- he seems to be able to channel the wild rumble I associate with Elvin Jones into a linear style of playing that fits the somewhat lighter touch and linear sensibility that so many of the musicians he works with need.

The set closed with an encore combining two Wayne Shorter pieces, Miyako and Black Nile. And the supper club crowd liked it all just fine.

Monday, May 14, 2007

paper trail

I guess for creative music to be important, we need to write a paper about it:

"Improvised and creative new musics have been on the upswing in recent years, but listeners, critics and scholars have said little, so far, about the relationships of the various forms and practices of improvisation to gender and sexuality. With an ear to addressing this gap, the second Creative Music Think Tank, presented by Coastal Jazz and Blues Society in conjunction with St. John’s College and the Department of English at the University of British Columbia, is inviting proposals for critical and scholarly conference papers on gender, sexuality and improvisation. "

Now, I'm all for bring more attention (of any type) to what we do. And certainly while there are more, and more prominent, musicians who don't meet the traditional stereotype of the jazz musician (i.e. assumed straight white or African-American male) there are not nearly enough. (particularly in prominence, not necessarily in number or qualiy) But do we really need more papers with names like "Auscultation and other Apparatuses of Audience"?

I had several bad experiences with "The New Musicology" in college (in the classical, not the jazz tradition, but I fear it would carry over). It seemed like it was trying to hard to be cutting-edge, and seemed to treat the music it studied like a medical class treats a cadaver, as an object to pick apart instead than a living, breathing organism to engage. I think of the Pavarotti quote: "Learning about music by reading about it is like making love by mail."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Just another orgy

It's finals season again at Harvard, which means that while they toil, the rest of us can enjoy their orgy season, many hours of programming based around a single composer, player or theme. (I'm late on reporting this one, and already missed the massive Brahms orgy.) Current listening is the "Film Jazz" orgy, which so far has featured the Miles "Elevator" soundtrack, Terence Blanchard's film tribute album (good playing, lousy recording) and right now the "Round Midnight" soundtrack. Other highlights, both jazz and otherwise:

Sunday 5-11am: Bhangra orgy
Sunday noon to Wednesday 10pm (exept overnight): Igor Stravinsky Orgy
Thursday 9am to 10pm friday (exc. overnight) "Liberation Music Orgy"
Tuesday 5/22 to Friday 5/26 6am to noon: Art Blakey Orgy
** Wednesday 5/23 and Thursday 5/24, 1 to 11pm: Ligeti Orgy
Sunday 5/27 all day (exc. 11am-12:30pm) Victor Feldman orgy

Locally, it's 95.3 FM. Online, it's here.

What, what did you think I meant by the title?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Kenny Werner @ Killian Hall, MIT, 5/8/07

I was fortunate while at Eastman to take several masterclasses with Kenny Werner, who did residencies twice in my time there. One was about his approach to composition. He had this almost random system where he would generate a little pitch material and three or four ways of harmonizing it -at least two well beyond unconventional- and spin that into some kind of tune. (It was clear that he absolutely OWNED this technique, spinning coherent little numbers from seemingly nowhere like a genie spining gold from straw) I had yet to run into that level of (depending on your perspective) controlled chaos/heady "freedom", and while I never used the idea literally, it opened up some ideas for me as a composer.

I hadn't thought about these until I saw the first set of Kenny's solo concert at MIT. He opened with a tune that may or may not have been "Strangers in the Night"- I couldn't quite tell, repeating the first melodic gesture, often in octaves, over a sea of swirling arpeggios, clusters and rolling lines. Kenny seems (perhaps as a consequence of his little composition game) to have forty different ways to harmonize any note or line, and he used literally dozens of them. But because he's so fluent in this language he's created, even the most dissonant or unusual of them isn't too jarring.

In every way, the music was very dense. A Beatles medley of "Blackbird" and "Here Comes the Sun" alternated between a sort of gospel stride, 70s pop and dense post-bop harmonies. An arrangement of "All the Things You Are" lopped at least a section of the original form by cutting resolutions short and alternating between 3/4 and 5/4 that I figure out entirely. And I'm certain he didn't drop a beat the whole time. When I was 19, this Effortless Mastery, as Kenny famously called it in his book, blew my mind. Thirteen years later, I'm no less impressed, but nowhere near as moved. Kenny's touch, particularly melodically is very hard for my tastes, and sometimes I want the music to breathe- there's so much there to absorb. But I also wish I could do half of it...

Kenny was using the concert to celebrate his new Blue Note disc, Lawn Chair Society, a fascinating effort with Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, Scott Colley, Brian Blade, and Kenny and Lenny Pickett (yup, that one) doing programming. I'm listening to it now. More on it, and my two other pickups today, by Bjork and The Bad Plus, by week's end.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spider Senseless

I spent a few hours away from diminished scales and downward dogs this weekend to see SpiderMan 3. (I was a major league comic book geek in middle school, so most of the comic book movies have been required viewing. Except the pastel version of Batman, that was just silly. And Daredevil; I didn't know a film could be that bad) I won't bore you with a full review- briefly, pretty good, not great by any standard. Amazing effects, too many underdeveloped plots, ridiculous ending. But one thing relevent to this space caught my attention.

After a brief spin on Broadway, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst, doing her best acting of the series thus far, which I know is damning with faint praise) takes a job as a singing waitress at a club called the Jazz Corner. (This is fantasy New York, where geography doesn't matter, but it looks like one of those converted factory spaces in the West 20s.) This is interesting for two reason- one, the club looks like how I imagine the late lamented Detour if it were three times as large as it is, er, was. Long, somewhat dark, and a little dingy, with gorgeous, occasionally talented, singing waitresses. The music, at least as much of it as you hear, is mostly standards sung cabaret style (the two songs featured in the film are "They Say It's Wonderful" and "I'm Through with Love". Points for good songs that fit the movie.)

Second, except for one side character at the Daily Bugle, seemingly every single speaking actor in the film is white. (again, a fantasy New York, one that doesn't speak too well of the filmmakers.) But, magically, at the Jazz Corner 50% or more of the crowd is African-American. Again, something I've rarely seen at a jazz club south of Harlem. I don't know what that says about anything but it caught my eye.

For the record, Kirsten Dunst sings her own parts, and she's not good. Not good at all-. At least it makes the losing her Broadway role after three performances more believable.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The B section

I'm a little late to this, but the Voice covered Take it to the Bridge's protest at New York City Hall. It's heartening to see the city councilor for the district step up.

The issues that are hitting the Lower East Side are very much at play here in Boston, and I wonder if similar solutions would help. I'll have to talk to my city councilor about it next time I see him. (I'm lucky enough to know my city councilor, who happens to be a decent guy and very supportive of the arts.)