Thursday, December 30, 2010

looking back, I see you smile...

As 2010 comes to a close, I've been thinking back to the year in music (and blogging) for me. It's been the quietest in years- while the album I recorded in 2009 has gone from rough cuts to mastered entity, it'll be a few months before it sees the light of day, and what focus I've had on music has been on teaching. Clearly, not blogging, but we'll see what 2011 brings. In the meantime, favorites from 2010. (I said this a couple of years ago, I don't feel comfortable about claiming any bests- I just don't hear enough these days.

Favorite Album- "Ten", Jason Moran Trio. It's the critic's darling for a reason. Compelling from beginning to end. If you haven't heard it, go now.

Honorable Mention: "Never Stop", the Bad Plus. Their best yet- though I feel like almost every record has improved upon the last.

Favorite Gig to hear, local: The Bad Plus at Berklee. Again, the best I've heard them live. Any kitch that the band may have relied on in the past is giving way to a more seamless communication. And some of my favorite free playing in a long time.

Favorite Gig to Hear, elsewhere: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at the Newport Jazz Festival. Readers know how much I love Darcy and his music, but something about playing Newport took the band to another level, a combination of excitement and determination. (And ego, I'm sure, a lot of folks in the band had husbands/wives/kids in tow on an amazing August day, something you don't always get to do.)

Favorite Blog Post- Ethan Iverson on Herbie and Wayne. (I think this one is from this year- it's the third one down. So well thought out, so well said.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Listen to THIS

Alex Ross very casually announced on his blog today that he'll be in Boston tomorrow, hosting Afternoon concerts on WHRB from 1-6, and then speaking at the Harvard Bookstore. I'll be tuned in for a good part of the afternoon, but sadly can't make the talk. I do have the new book, Listen to This, and am happily digging in. Even if you don't think you care about classical music, go check Alex out- he's more than worth your time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

RIP Billy Ruane

This comes as both a shock and not a surprise, sadly- the Boston Globe is reporting that local music booker, promoter and raconteur Billy Ruane was found dead yesterday at the age of 52. (here and here) To call Billy an oversized personality is a tremendous understatement. I was introduced to Billy in 1999 when I was trying to book gigs in Boston from New York to promote my first CD, with a band that included now Crooked Still bassist Corey DiMario and onetime NYC hots*&t drummer Michael Plunkett. (For better or worse, Michael and I both moved on from New York) I don't remember the content of Billy and I's first conversation, but it was frenetic and heartfelt, incomprehensible except for the passion he had for all music, and that day my music, and sure enough he came through with a date at the Green Street Grille for my band Demodacus. And we had an great gig with an okay door, not amazing, but he made sure we had enough money to get us back to New York. (He didn't bank on the blizzard we drove into, but that's another story. A story I think Billy would've taken credit for if he could've)

Judging by the tributes in the Globe, Billy was a friend to many in different realms of Boston's musical world, and he was certainly a friend to the jazz and avant community. The series he I played that he was involved in included many local and national left-of-center jazz names, and I'm sure that was hardly the only propers he did for our kin. I say not a surprise because the last time I saw Billy was around last Christmas at a Jennifer Kimball gig at the Lizard Lounge. He was his usual gregarious self, but a little out of control, and I was scared from him that night and beyond.

The Boston scene used to be filled with Billy Ruanes- mercurial, difficult people who believed passionately in the music they liked, who would drive you crazy one day and give you the coat off their back the next. I'm lucky to know a few of them. They channel their eccentricities for the good of many artists great and small, and we are a little smaller when they leave us. Billy, I hope your next ride is as wild as this one was!

Monday, October 18, 2010

I didn't get to see

A colleague from my NEC days wrote on his Facebook recently about his disappointment with a recent gig at Johnny D's in Somerville. He was touring with John Tchai, the great and underrated saxophonist who has a huge boosted here in Boston in the now nearly legendary Charlie Kohlhase. My friend (name withheld to protect the guilty) said something to the effect of "I can't believe how bad the crowd was for the gig. Boston is a lame city- no band, in any genre, should bother to even come here."

I was disappointed- in the unnecessary bitchiness of the comment more than a little bit (that's another post), but more that I DIDN'T KNOW THE GIG WAS HAPPENING! I would've hyped it, and tried to get there- Johnny D's is a fun, intimate venue that I've always enjoyed, and Tchai is a great player. And if I, who follows the papers and the blogosphere, who periodically get e-mails from publicists to hype a gig (publicists, feel free, I don't mind the spam), who wants live music in Boston to thrive, doesn't see it, God help the NEC kid who should be at the gig.
Press has gotten harder, no doubt. I read the Boston Globe online now, where I have to hunt out listings instead of just turning the page. And I'm rarely at the music schools or record stores where the signs are up, but still, I feel like it shouldn't be that hard to find me, an excited jazz consumer. And Boston's scene still leaves much to be desired, as I've mentioned before. But that in and of itself isn't a sufficient excuse.

So rather than gnash my teeth, what am I missing here? Are there more blogs I should be reading and don't to get gig recommendations? Thoughts? I'm all ears

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Link Dump- Levine being Manny?

This was too good not to mention- the arts blogger at compares James Levine and his uncertain contract status to... Manny Ramirez? I don't know where to start...

Destination Out has a great set of Steve Lacy/Evan Parker duos, on sale at their new shop! Congrats to the guys on their fantastic new ventures, and buy it already, will ya?

And Ethan Iverson continues his great interview series with the legendary Gunther Schuller. It's worth the long read, even if Schuller is just a name on the sleeve of "Birth of the Cool" to you. I don't know Gunther personally, though Ran Blake still considers himself Gunther's student, and one of my colleagues in my time at NEC, Eric Hewitt, served as his assistant for a number of years. Even now, according to them, his energy is amazing, and he is more impassioned and engaged in his work than most folks half his age.

Reading the interview brought up very mixed feelings about Gunther that I hadn't thought about for awhile. He is, of course, a peerless musician, with insanely good ears, and in his day was probably the best French horn player in the world. As president of New England Conservatory, he probably did more than anyone to try to bring the full spectrum of the jazz tradition to music schools. I continue to be so grateful for the small-c catholic vision of jazz that NEC teaches, where eminent musicians who probably can't agree on anything teach next to each other, and have for years. Personally, I find his writing like Elliot Carter's- clearly brilliant, but inscrutable and often way too dense for my ears.

The but... I remember in a workshop on jazz history at Eastman a visiting musician read a paragraph of Schuller's Early Jazz describing a seminal Louis Armstrong piece, and then a paragraph of Armstrong talking about making music. The language, the tone, the approach were not even on the same planet. In, I believe, an attempt to legitimize the brilliance of the musicians he clearly adores, he placed their music in a context they wouldn't even recognize. It may too have something to do with the patrician world Schuller had to function in as a classical musician. This disconnect between process and study, while almost inevitable in the arts, always struck me as a particularly acute problem in jazz education, and here may be the beginnings of it. (I should note that I think things here are better in many quarters than they were even ten years ago)

I'm not trying to dis Gunther Schuller here at all- for one, I don't have near the requisite credentials, and two, the brilliance and impact of his work is undeniable. But those who read this blog regularly know that the impact of jazz education on the music and culture of jazz is one of my bugaboos, and Schuller is in many ways the first king of jazz ed. Thoughts?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Gigs to see, October edition

Here, after a hiatus, is a completely biased list of gigs you should see in Boston this month. Feedback is welcome.

Monthly events:
First Wednesdays with Jim Hobbs, (10/6 this month), 10:10pm, Lily Pad. Don't sleep on Jim.
Second Wednesdays with Allan Chase, Lily Pad

10/6- Chris Potter @ Regattabar
10/6- Kenny Werner @ Scullers
10/7- Florencia Gonzales Big Band @ Lily Pad
10/9- David Maxwell/Jim Hobbs duo @ Lily Pad
10/14- Joe Lovano's US5, Regattabar
10/15- Hugh Masakela @ Berklee Performance Center
10/15- Mike Reed's People Places and Things, Lily Pad
10/19- Fringe plus 3Play, Berklee Performance Center
10/23- Aubrey Johnson @ Ryles
10/28- Chucho Valdez @ Berklee Performance Center
10/29 & 30- Regina Carter @ Regattabar

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Because I play better when I'm breathing... next gig, this Friday.

This weekend I will be playing my first public gig in awhile: I am involved in a Boston Fashion Week benefit at the Langham Hotel on Franklin Street. The website is here. I'll be playing before the runway show with a trio featuring fantastic guitarist Greg Duncan. All proceeds benefit the Zakim Center for Integrative Medicine. It is sort of a collision of my professional worlds- it will be a yoga-heavy crew, and a lot of my friends and colleagues in the yoga world were photographed for the exhibit. I'd love to see you there.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Bad Plus, Berklee, 9/17/10

The usher who introduced The Bad Plus at Berklee lauded their "avant-garde populism" and career longevity. (Their new album, Never Stop, celebrates their tenth year together touring, and is the first to eschew covers of pop tunes, relying wholly on the band's originals) If you can get past the inherent contradiction of that descriptor, both were on display Friday night. The band started the set with Ethan's free ballad "2pm", then the band went into a run of their most familiar originals: "And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation", "The Empire Strikes Backwards", and "Anthem for the Earnest". (Possibly also three of the best jazz song titles ever) I don't think I've been to a jazz show where so many people cheered after the first phrase of so many tunes. The second half was devoted to the material on the new album: "People Like You", "Beryl Loves to Dance", "You Are", fashion ditty "Never Stop", and "The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart". The guys gave each tune backstory recently on NPR's Blog Supreme.

The second half was vintage Bad Plus- tremendously tight, with forms taking hairpin turns through tremendously virtuosic meter change. Some tongue in cheek playing- Ethan pounding away in the "Never Stop" transitions, free jazz power balladry on "Radio Tower", and a downright loopy illustration of "Beryl". The first head of "People Like You" was quiet to the point of shy, then the tune built to a point of bombast, before bassist Reid Anderson reeled it in with a few beautiful lines. I've reviewed TBP a few times in the past, and in this music I have little to add.

But the first half was different from anything I've heard them do. From early in "2pm", the comfort with both the music and each other led to some really transcendent music making, from the way pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King hooked up on and built an idea together, the kind of hookup Herbie and Tony Williams or McCoy and Elvin knock you out with. Reid followed with a solo that reminded you of Charlie Haden, again, in passion and tone rather than content. The band has frequently talked about its passion for Keith Jarrett's American Quartet, and it was on display here. That kind of brilliance- in my notes I wrote "kinetic transcendence"- was obvious throughout. There was an elasticity to the breaks and transitions in "Anthem", as if they could have stopped on a dime.

For encores, the band played their cover of "Flim", then an abuse of "Have You Met Miss Jones" that changed speed every six bars or so. Here perhaps was the kicker- if you got past the goofyness of the conceit, when the band settled on a tempo it really swung. Despite my enthusiasm for the band, I wasn't sure they had it in them (Sorry guys) to the point that I'd happily stay for a set of "Perdido" and "Nardis". Not that that'll happen anytime soon, right guys? Guys???

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ran Blake Birthday Celebration at NEC

Tonight at New England Conservatory there is a celebration of the inimitable Ran Blake, 75 years young, featuring an all-star cast of current and former students, live music to wild films, and surely many surprises. I was fortunate enough to be at the 70th birthday (I'm not able to make it tonight) and it was a remarkable evening. John Medeski reflects with Ran in yesterday's Globe. It should be a great evening, and Happy Birthday Ran!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM, Berklee Performance Center, 9/15/10

The president of Berklee, on hand to kick off the Berklee, er, Beantown Jazz Festival, quoted no less than Bill Frisell in describing Kurt Rosenwinkel as one of the most distinctive voices on guitar today, playing brilliantly and wearing no particular influence on his sleeve. Last night at Berklee, Rosenwinkel took his most distinctive playing to a venerable setting, painting his playing and writing on top of a big band, in this case the Portugese OJM (Orquestra Jazz de Matosinos). The concert consisted of seven of the nine charts on their new album, Our Secret World.

I have to admit I stupidly slept on Rosenwinkel in my time in New York- when I was there he was playing at Smalls a lot- so listening to his records in preparing for this concert has been a pleasant discovery. Frisell is not overstating; his improvising is at once thoughtful and virtuosic. I bumped into a former student who is studying at Berklee, and she said in his afternoon workshop Kurt talked a lot about guitarists paying more attention to the sound of the guitar, and trying to be musical and thoughtful in even the most mundane parts of your practicing. You can here it in his playing- his block chord intro to "Zhivago" was lovely, a warm tone and clever dense chords lingering in a wash of reverb. And his lines are remarkable, smart, clean and at once studied and kinetic. While Kurt took most of the solo turns, there were a couple of saxophone solos (the band was introduced, but I couldn't catch names through the thick Portuguese accent of the conductor and the fuzzy acoustics of the room). They were solid players, clearly very competent and checking out all the hip New Yorkers- the tenor player owed a lot of his phrasing choices to Donnie McCaslin. The rhythm section was generally solid, with the drummer shining on the brighter tempos and a little sluggish on the slower waltz "Cloister".

While I came out a much bigger fan of Kurt, I can't say I loved the show. Part of the problem was the charts- Kurt writes twisty, abstract tunes, which are inherently hard to arrange. (having not once but twice written terrible charts on Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge", I understand both the attraction and the peril of this work) "Zhivago" was the most successful chart, with Kurt's long but lilting waltz form embellished attractively with lots of twisty counterlines, and a nice Kurt plus saxophones soli just before the final restatement of the head. But the title track was more the norm- I felt like the tune was hard to grab onto, and then there was a lot of dense writing thrown on top of an already dense tune, which left me more confused than happy as a listener. And the writing favored long pads and, with few punches in the brass against the melody, which especially in a tall room like Berklee can make the band sound wishy-washy. (The band didn't help by being very casual with the end of notes. Even at the end of some of the tunes the cutoffs weren't clean)

In addition, I thought there was a sameness to a lot of the writing- brief intro, Kurt playing the melody doubled by a saxophone, Kurt solos, with backings coming in somewhere in the second half of the first chorus, then a little writing- usually development, only one tune, "Deja Vu" had an old fashioned shout chorus, then the head out. There were beautiful nuggets in the writing- the middle of "Cloister", with the drums only barely present and an ethereal melody, shimmered and glowed, leading to an inspired bit of blowing by Kurt, and the aforementioned "Zhivago" was a lot of fun- but my ears screamed for more space and clarity. It reminded me of some of Kenny Wheeler's and Dave Holland's lesser big band work in both good and bad ways. The good- ambitious representations of challenging music, with a lot of harmonic richness and brilliant blowing by the frontman. The less good- a certain monochromaticism and muddiness in both writing and ensemble playing. That said, there was some great music made, and I hope both sides pursue this collaboration further- there is room to expand here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Baked bean updates

I neglected to mention in yesterday's post that both Rosenwinkle and the Bad Plus are giving workshops at Berklee, 1pm on the day of their respective shows. A work commitment keeps me from TBP, but I'm hoping to check Kurt out tomorrow. Both are free and (I believe) open to all.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The beans slowly start to simmer

This week the annual (is this 5?) Beantown Jazz Festival kicks off, and it is in many ways a step up. The BJF is a mix of focused concert booking by Berklee, it's major sponsor, high impact visibility by the two big clubs of Boston, Scullers and the Regattabar, and a free all day concert in the South End, behind the other gargantuan of music education, New England Conservatory. The full schedule is at their website.

I'll be writing a little more as it gets closer, but the hit of the week is Kurt Rosenwinkle with big band Wednesday night. Darcy tweeted that they were great in New York, and I'm interested to see what they bring to the table. The Bad Plus follow on Friday, on the heels of their tenth anniversary album, out tomorrow. I'm also excited about (hopefully) my first listen to Robert Glaspar live, and Greg Osby for free!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

RIP Bob Bowen

(via Josh Sinton) I am shocked and saddened to hear of the death of wonderful New York bassist and educator Bob Bowen. This is terrible news. A bio skecth is here and there are details here of his passing, including a fund for his family. It's been years since I saw Bob, but when I was in New York he was a friend and occasional collaborator- we had many friends and bandmates in common- and I was always honored to be able to play with him. A few years ago he helped run a summer creative music academy, which was a beautiful addition to the music scene in New York. I think the last time I talked to him was when a student of his was starting at NEC, and he wanted me to keep an eye on him. (That student ended up being a Fulbright scholar and studying Carnatic music in India) That's how he was. My condolences to his family and friends.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sing me a movie

A brief plug for the Regent Theater in Arlington- all weekend they are showing documentaries from the legendary Isle of Wight Festival. Of interest to readers of this blog- tomorrow at 7, "Electric Miles- Another Kind of Blue", which I've seen and like, and at 9, "Lenord Cohen Live". I will be at a meeting, but if you can, check it. (link coming, I'm haveing cookie issues. Ummm, cookies...)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

RIP Abbey Lincoln

NY Times obit here. Fresh Air has some wonderful interviews from the 80s and 90s. Jason Palmer has been writing little bits on his Facebook about his friendship with Abbey.

Ethan Iverson wrote about three Abbey tracks that moved him early and mid-career. I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know that music very well, though Ran Blake assigned the great track "Laugh Clown Laugh" from Abbey is Blue, so I know that. But I am most grateful to Abbey for her records in the early 90s on Verve/Polygram. I grew up around classic jazz- my dad had lots of Ella and Sarah and Anita O'Day, but none of it spoke to me for some reason.

But in about 1990 both Abbey Lincoln and Shirley Horn put out records on Verve that totally, radicaly changed my conception of a jazz singer. Shirley, who I've raved about here before, taught me about sophistication, and patience, and phrasing. Abbey's disc "The World is Falling Down" was about raw power. Not uncontrolled power- she was far too smart and stylish for that, but from that record I always got the feeling that just under that voice was a tremendous force that could come up and smack you silly if you were being dumb. (Some of that is obvious in the NPR interviews, when she talks about married life.) But listen to a track like "I've Got Thunder" (also excerpted on Fresh Air)- sometimes she'll put a little hitch in a multi-syllable word- some folks talk about my po- WER- not because she can't find the time, but because it packs that extra little punch. And as great as her own songs are, the covers are fabulous too- for years I played "How High the Moon" in three, just because Abbey did. (This album also benefits from some fabulous, elegant playing from the great Clark Terry.) The whole album is great, from the cheeky but dark title track to her reimagining of Charlie Haden's "First Song" to the music mentioned about.

The other Abbey album that killed me as a teenager was "You Gotta Pay the Band", the last record Stan Getz recorded in studio. Stan's impending death looms large here, but as on "People Time", his last album, he plays impeccably, as if his mortality focuses him even more than earlier in life. And Abbey's choice of music does nothing to soften the coming blow- "When I'm Called Home" is a meditation on meeting the Maker, and the title track ruminates on the idea of paying the piper that every hard-living artist must ruminate on.

One of the yoga teachers who I studied with early on is big on cute aphorisms, one of which is "Hold Nothing Back." To me Abbey is the epitome of that- from the time she connected with Max Roach on, she was entirely in your face power, entirely who she was and unapologetic for it. That beacon was very powerful to me as a young artist, and now as I approach middle age it is still a beacon and a challenge to stand your ground and speak your peace. I am tremendously grateful to Abbey for being who she was, and challenging us, artists and audience, to play big too.

To close, here's Abbey singing "First Song" on David Sanborn's Night Music. I don't love the backing as much as I do the album version, but here delivery is impeccable.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Your enlightenment gets me off...

Two random notes as I continue to try to compose my thoughts about Newport, and move to a new apartment: highlights the seedy underside of the guru in Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray Love". Really, they're just compiling older reports, but I think it's worth highlighting. I've had no contact as a teacher or a student with the SDYM, so I have no particular insight into these accusations. But I can say that I've studied with teachers who, while they were tremendously helpful to me and to my journey as a yogi, have behaved in ways that I find downright despicable. (Omgal sums it up beautifully) And there are other teachers whose ideas I greatly admire and work with who have been accused of the same. My own personal solution- I work with their ideas, meditations, and processes at a distance, not up close. I vividly remember something my father said to me once when I had my first experience with institutional politics: "you want to test someone's character, give them just a little bit of power". As a teacher, it's easy to let yourself believe the idea that somehow the fact that you came across this cool insight somehow makes you hot %$#t, which then gives you the right to shtoink anything you want and pull power trips at will. Ahhhh... not so much. It's not about you; it's never about you.

On a ligher note, the recently resurgent blogger (and author of the amazing The Rest is Noise. If you care about music of any stripe and haven't read it, I'm not sure I can talk to you...) Alex Ross collects suggestions of the "worst recording ever" after suggesting his own. I know it isn't the worst, but one of my least favorites is a collection of Howard Hanson conducting his own symphonies. I know it doesn't reach Ross' depths- for one, the fidelity is decent- by I have a personal animus against Hanson from my Eastman days, and the music itself is crap. If you have better suggestions, please send them to Alex. I also remember completely from my days studying with Brookmeyer his rant against a couple of comps he got from the Aum Fidelity label- he thought the music (mostly free, which wasn't typically to his taste) was ill-conceived, and then badly recorded at that. I don't think I agreed with him about those particular records, but I'm starting to see where he's coming from. But that's another post...

UPDATE: The Siddha Yoga Foundation responds to the Salon article here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Newport was now, now it's then

I'm still working up my notes from a fabulous Saturday in Newport- suffice to say it was a great time, and I heard some great music. In the meantime, a lot of what I heard and will be blogging about can be heard here. I'm currently taking in Dave Douglas and Brass Ecstacy's set, since I couldn't be there in person to see it. Check it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Coming Back, Heading Out.

So after a long, long delay, I'm trying to get things up and running again here at visionsong central. I'm debating which direction to take the blog, which will probably be the topic of upcoming posts. In the meantime, a couple of brief updates:

- Album number 3, working title "Who We Are Together" is in the home stretch. All the tracks are edited, now I have to cut 90 minutes of music into a 60 minute album, and master it. Details (and samples) forthcoming.

- My next big post will be a review of Saturday's piece of the Newport Jazz Festival. I'm tremendously excited to see the lineup, especially old friend Darcy's hit with Bob Brookmeyer, as well as seeing Maria Schneider's band. If you're there on Saturday (and if you're within 200 miles, you should be) and see me (I'll try to wear something garish) I hope you'll say hi.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Decisions, decisions

After a fairly slow winter, there's an uptick in good club shows. Tomorrow, there are two... at the same time! Check out:

Christian Scott Quintet, Scullers, 8 and 10pm (Haven't heard the new record, but heard them live with what eventually became the Live at Newport CD and was impressed.)


Respect Sextet, Lily Pad, 10pm (Darcy profiled them ages ago. They formed at Eastman just after I left, and I'm very curious to hear where the sound has gone.)

Depending on my teaching schedule, I'm hoping to hit up the Lily Pad gig. See you there...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And no one's gonna catch me

Apologies for the dearth of blogging- I had the notes for both Fred Hersch's and Darcy's show (which you can now hear over at his blog), in a car that was stolen from in front of my house. Now, two weeks and a thousand dollars later, the car was found by the Boston Police, and life, including blogging, will start to resume as normal. I think.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

John Mayer/Michael Franti, TD Garden, 2/24/10

There's a famous New York Times review of either Gershwin or Ellington, where NYT's classical critic pans him visciously. It's often held up as a case not of the critic being wrong, but of the Times sending the wrong guy. I often feel like that when I go to pop concerts- I don't get into singalongs, or an artist bringing people onstage, or most of the conventions of the form. I would rather hear someone play the new stuff, not the hits. So maybe I'm the wrong critic. But that said, a few words about tonight's show:

- Michael Franti and Spearhead have been touring for ten years, this being their biggest tour ever. (Amazing what a top 20 single will do, even now). Their music has that comfortable, lived-in feeling of a band who like playing together for that long. The set (which I was late for) covered some of Franti's better known songs- "Yell Fire", "Hey Hey Hey", and "Hey (I Love You)", the tremendously catchy radio hit. The last was much faster than the recording, and Franti brought kids up from the audience to sing and dance along in a wonderfully cute Sesame Street moment. (A seven year old white girl upstaged him.) I have nothing but the highest regard for Franti the public person, and his latter day hippie vibe went over great tonight.

- John Mayer is for real. He brings out equal levels of admiration and resentment among musicians, and I've been in the former category for some time. (see this post from ages ago. Still my favorite Mayer record.) He opened with the current hit "Heartbreak Warfare", but the set jumped through all of his records, hits and obscurities alike. (hits included "No Such Thing", which he said he wrote in the Berklee dorm, "Half of My Heart", Why Georgia Why", "Waiting on the World" and "Who Says" as the encore. Un-hits included "Good Love is on the Way", "Who Did You Thing I Was" and a covers of "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Message in a Bottle") For me, the best moments of the set were when he was riffing at the end of a tune- playing an improvised guitar duet, or jamming out. His tangent at the end of "Assasin" was perfect, playing off the pointallistic mbira-ish opening of the tune. He played a short solo set with his electric, and the solo "Who Do You Think I Was" and an improvised, looped intro to "Neon" were worth the whole price of admission. Both he and the band seemed most alive in these moments- the hits weren't quite mailed in, but for me they didn't have the spark of this music.

- While Pino Palladino wasn't on the gig, drummer Steve Jordan was, and he was a literal force of nature. He was the only player besides Mayer to get a feature solo; more than half of it was just a groove, leaving the high hat open just so through most of a measure to make it much funkier. The crowd went nuts for a long 3/4 hemiola and the bigger banging, but that first bit for me was amazing. It almost reminded me of a rock version of the famous Max Roach hi-hat solo; what would happen if you had only the little stuff, could you still kill it?

- Mayer's singing and guitar playing continues to evolve and improve. His delivery in most of the songs he sings is very free, and you can tell the set is not the same each night. Most of his guitar playing was tasteful to tasty, owing a lot to B.B. King and the like for sure, but not gratuitously so. (His solo on "Ain't No Sunshine", a tune I love, did sadly devolve to, er, something Mayer has overshared on in interviews.)

- Speaking of which: Mayer has deservedly gotten into some hot water this month for his dumbass comments in Vanity Fair and Playboy. (I won't link, but they're not hard to find. I felt bad for Franti in this mess. He's getting the shot of a lifetime, something he's been working on forever, and now he has to take questions about the stupid stuff John Mayer says, and he can't really answer them well because it would mean criticizing the meal ticket.)

Specifically in the Playboy interview, he said some things about sex and race that were at best impolitic, at worst racist, and no doubt stupid. gave him the "crazy of the week" award for it. I joked on my Facebook page today if I would come out more wowed by Mayer the musician or annoyed by Mayer the cretin. It was mostly the former, thankfully, BUT... Coming out of "Waiting...", itself a shameless lift of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", he riffed by singing a re-written "Change is Gonna Come", punning "Change" to mean money, joking about being born near a Toys R'Us. I'm sure a lot of the audience didn't catch the reference to the Sam Cooke song, but I sure did, and I resented turning a sort of anthem of civil rights into a dumb joke. John, haven't you filled your "saying dumb S&*(t" quota twice already this month? Don't do that, not now. Cut it out.

(Jazz nerds in the house, I promise an overdue, glowing review of Fred Hersch's solo set last week is coming by Friday...)

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Infernal Machines come to visit

Bostonians who don't know yet, Darcy James Argue brings his amazing big band to the Regattabar for one (maybe two?) set on this Thursday night. I am trying like crazy to move things around to make it- you do the same, yes???

Monday, February 15, 2010

Must see gig: Fred Hersch, Jordan Hall, Wednesday 2/17, 8pm

Fred will be playing solo. As documented in the recent profile in the New York Times, we haven't heard much from Fred recently due to poor health, which makes this gig all the more exciting. I was lucky enough to see Fred's last Jordan Hall concert in 2002, and it was spectacular. I'm sure this will be the same.

but dreams are only made by you...

Ethan Iverson takes on the "fusion" Wayne Shorter in a blindfold test, then a long post over at Do the Math. I commented there, but wanted to follow up.

I'm glad Ethan points out the proclivity of certain jazz "legends" to coast on their reputations at big concerts, rather than show up and play. I've seen several examples of this in my own concert going, including the Wayne/Herbie Carnegie Hall concert Ethan references (I'd be even less kind than he. I left the building angry).

First, I have before, and will again professed my love for High Life. I think it's a great, great album, and both the writing and Wayne's playing are beyond spectacular. However, I think some of the criticisms Ethan (and others) make are valid. Specifically, that the music doesn't especially groove- the rhythm section play, despite the amazing musicians involved, would be right at home on Smooth Jazz FM. I have two thoughts on this. One, those bass lines are ridiculously hard. I saw Wayne's touring band for that record, and the bass player, whose name I forget, had clearly worked her ass off, and was still struggling to hit the lines. I think it's hard to find a groove when you're scuffling.

Which leads to point two: I don't doubt that Wayne has had orchestral ambitions for many years, and to that date High Life was the closest he'd gotten to that goal. (He has since had multiple commissions and orchestral performances, including one I reviewed last fall.) So I have a hunch that presenting the compositions clearly and beautifully trumped the other considerations on this record. (Isn't this the downfall of many a studio album anyway?) If you listen to Alegria, the orchestra is handled very differently. He also has Blade and Danielo, which I'm sure has something to do with it, but still, there it feels like the orchestra is superimposed on top of the quartet. In High Life, the writing is THE important thing. I try to evaluate the record starting there. And God is the writing incredible! (The other records, I can't speak to here. Maybe soon. Remember, only in the last five years or so has a lot of love been shown to 70s Miles. Maybe 70s and 80s Wayne records are still waiting for their time.)

I appreciate Ethan's respect for Peter Watrous, who waylayed Shorter when the album came out on the front of the NY Times Arts page. But especially for that piece I don't at all share it. At all. Go back and read the piece; I'm not sure that Watrous ever actually listened to the record. I don't feel like he ever actually addresses the music, just dismisses it. To me this is the height of intellectual laziness. I'm all for a writer making me angry to make me think; I just want to be sure s/he put some thought into what they wrote to make me angry.

Finally, to Ethan's request for a "fantasy football Wayne band". (Confession, I love fantasy football, and am still bitter about my early exit from my league's playoff this year because Wes Welker blew his knee. But I digress...) I actually don't wish Wayne would make a standards record, or anything but he wants to make. And it's not just "respect for the musician/artist's prerogative" reasons. I like many people was waiting with baited breath for the Keith Jarrett quintet record of the mid-90s that never arrived, with Keith playing new music accompanied my new players.

As I mentioned in my comments to Ethan, it doesn't take much study of Wayne's music in the past thirty years to come to the conclusion that he's more than a little bit obsessed with anthems. One of Ben Ratliff's subtitles in his fantastic Listening with Wayne piece from 2004 is "A Taste for the Heroic". In concert he quotes the "Superman" theme. A lot. As far back "When You Dream" on Joy Rider, and maybe before, Wayne has been writing very anthemic music. You could argue there are strains of this in the classic 60s stuff, but the later in his career you go, the more explicit it gets.

The great songs of Tin Pan Alley that make up the bulk of jazz rep pre-1970 are wonderful, flexible forms, but very few in my view are particularly anthemic. (There are exceptions, of course) That's not what they're built to do; most were originally sung, and many are built on some level to further the plot of the show they're in. The "Just in Time" solo Ethan transcibes is amazing, but it's hard for me to imagine how Wayne's playing today would address that form. Listen back to Wayne in this jam session, which I've linked to before- he's already over the edge of playing on a "conventional blues". Or to his playing on his last two appearances on Herbie records- "Cottontail" on Gershwin's World, and "Nefertitti" on River. Where he is artistically, would playing "Just in Time" be even a useful artistic choice? Interesting to us jazz nerds, nostalgic certainly, but useful?

Is there a musician in the history of jazz more constantly adventurous than Wayne Shorter? More willing to follow his ears whether or not they fit the trend? I think that's why so many of the commenters on Ethan's blog talk about a Wayne performance as "over in one note". Like Ornette, his commitment to whatever he's doing is complete and total. Every performance of the current quartet that I've heard is a high wire act- the architecture is so fluid that the level of risk is tremendously high; I've never heard another band on that level risk and fail as often as they do; I've also rarely heard another band fly as high. I wonder if there'd be any risk left if Wayne paid a visit to Tin Pan Alley. Maybe, I don't know. But I'm happy to hear Wayne continue to push forward.

I'm not trying at all to trash Ethan- quite the contrary, I love the piece and what it brings up, and I agree with him more than I don't. Just coming at it from a different angle...

(Two vaguely related requests- has anyone seen the video a commenter referenced of Joni singing at the Olympic opening ceremony? Didn't even know. And does anyone have a lead sheet to "When You Dream" On my list of tunes to play soon.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Give, Buy, Listen

Like most of us, I'm sure, I was stunned, dismayed and heartbroken this week by the terrible turn of events in Haiti. There were a number of Haitian students in my high school class, and some were friends. One of the sad realities when I worked at City Year was going into urban schools and seeing how Haitian students were discriminated against... by other black students! I can only imagine the heartbreak, fear and anger in the community right now.

In addition to all the other ways you can help, CD Baby, my online record distributor, is donating $1 of every CD sold for the next two weeks to relief efforts in Haiti, via Portland OR based Mercy Corps. Artists still get their full payment- this is coming right out of CD Baby's pocket. So, for the music connoisseur, this is a win-win. You get great music on very artist-friendly terms, CD Baby gets business, Haiti gets money. If you haven't checked them out, CD Baby has an incredible number of great artists, famous and obscure. Let me suggest:

No Sale Value- my second CD, and a good one if I say so myself. Featuring Jenny Scheinman (now touring with Bill Frisell), Chris Vataloro (now playing with Antibalas on Broadway in Fela), and well as many other great players. And me...

Ron Miles - one of my personal heroes. The album with Frisell is great.

Anna Dagmar- an old friend and wonderful songwriter

Four Across- with friends Josh Deutch and Carmen Staff. Great players, great writers.

Erik Deutsch- the toast of Brooklyn these days, I'm told.

Kellie Lin Knott- another old friend and good songwriter.

Maybe Baby- It has Jennifer Kimball on it. What more need I say?

Leni Stern - great guitarist, mainstay of the 55 Bar.

And that's just scratching the surface. So go buy already, K?

Monday, January 18, 2010

we've seen this show before

It's time for a political tangent- those of you who don't care or hate my politics please come back later this week, when I finally get around to more decade recaps, and actually review recent offerings by Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Rez Abassi. Now then:

I posted this as my Facebook comment yesterday, but felt like saying more about it. In case you don't read the news, tomorrow in Massachusetts voters will elect Ted Kennedy's successor in the Senate, in a surprisingly close race between Democratic attorney general Martha Coakley and Republican state senator Scott Brown- here's some analysis from the NY Times.

This race reminds me eerily of the Bush-Gore 2000 campaign- not in the hanging chads and court case sense (I somehow doubt it will come to that), but in voter mood and the disconnect between what people say they want and how they say they'll vote. You have a very likable, handsome (certainly moreso than Bush) very conservative (for Massachusetts, anyway) Republican anyway running a great campaign against a seemingly aloof Democrat, who people are more likely to agree with on positions, but who is running a campaign that could charitably be called lackluster. (I'd use the word awful) Then you had a lot of folks vote Bush because he was the one they'd rather have a beer with. Now you have Brown, a former Cosmo model who rides around the state in a pickup and smiles real big. (To be fair, his grammar is vastly better than Bush's) Then and now you have an electorate disenchanted with what they see as the mess in Washington- then the moral and ethical stink the Clinton White House left, now the bad economy, sputtering legislative agenda and seeming aloofness of Washington (and certainly Boston) Democrats.

People, step back a second. By most reasonable measure most Massachusetts residents are worse off economically, and less optimistic about their prospects, than they were in 2001.
But what you have in Scott Brown is a man advancing the agenda of, well, George Bush circa 2001. There is one candidate who has actually gone after corporate and government corruption, huge causes of our current mess, and it isn't Scott Brown. Based on statements re: waterboarding and "war on terror" legal issues, there is one lawyer (they're both lawyers) in the race who actually seems to understand law regarding war, and it isn't Scott Brown. You catch a pattern here?

I know Coakley is a uninspiring candidate who's run a terrible campaign, but I firmly believe, based on both record and policy positions, she will be a much better senator than Brown. (We forget that for his first ten years, Ted Kennedy was nothing to write home about, but I digress.) But I would ask voters to remember what happened the last time we chose a "likable" major officeholder ahead of a competent one, and how that puppy worked out. So Massholes, vote tomorrow, vote Coakley. Thanks.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The ruin of many a poor boy

(Note: I try to stay away from PG language in my posts, but here it seems appropriate. Hide the little, little kids)

I've written before here about my contempt for American Idol, what it represents culturally, and how to tip it over. (In probably the only moment I ever agreed with Howard Stern, I wanted Sanjaya (sp?) to win to show the show for the ridiculous s*^tstorm it is)

Apparently, Andrew Fenlon had the same idea. Or at least that's how I interpret it. For those of you who (like me) missed it, Andrew is (to date) this year's American Idol villain, he who drew the ire of the judges, not for being bad (I actually think by Idol standards, his performance is OK, not great, but not bad by any means. And I'm sure his odd diction in intentionally ironic), but for being a little punkass who pisses the judges off. (Side note- does he not look incredibly like Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent? It's a doppleganger)

I have mixed feelings about this one, partially because I actually know Andrew casually. He's a very good trombone player, and he was a contemporary improvisation major at NEC when I was studying there with Brookmeyer. He and I worked for the great Ran Blake at the same time, and worked together occasionally on stuff for Ran. On the one hand, I think it's strangely laudable that someone would stand in line for hours in the blazing (not rising) sun in July at Gillette Stadium in Foxborogh for the sole purpose of pissing Simon Cowell and Victoria Beckham off. To my eyes, there is an element of Warhol-ish performance art in that video. And he will undoubtably become a momentary hipster icon. And as someone who wants to see Idol crash and burn, I enjoyed it to a degree.

On the other hand, he does come off as a total dick, which in my experience isn't much of a stretch for him. (To be clear, in my experience he's not a jerk at all, a nice guy, but if you don't know him he can come off as stand-offish, a little cocky, or worse. I've heard similar complaints about myself...) I hope to explore the relationship between Brooklyn hipsterism and '00s jazz in future decade in review posts, but I'm not real high on it. To me, looking in from the outside, a lot of what's come out of Brooklyn in the last five years is irony without context, looking sarcastically at things the hipsters don't really understand at all. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you have to, or should. And it isn't going to work- my hunch is the blogosphere will love Andrew, he'll have any interview he wants (to his credit, he's turned them all down), but middle America will be confused, and forget him when the next KFC ad comes on.

I know Andrew isn't a Brooklynite, but I imagine if American Idol did their audition at Brooklyn College, there would have been fifteen Andrew Fenlons. And part of me says, "go for it, stick it to the man! And get your 15 minutes doing it!" And part of me says, "oh, grow up!"

Monday, January 11, 2010

home, home again

Continuing the occasional "aught to review the decade" series.

Reading Ben Ratliff's review of the NYC Winter Jazzfest reminded me of the last time I saw the event, and how much just the physical space of the scenes I've been on has changed. (I feel like the psychic space has changed too, but that's another post.) When I moved to New York in early '99, there were three big jazz festivals, and a few little ones. Now the Winterfest, which didn't exist, is the only modestly sized one left. To say the scene in New York has transformed is an understatement.

I did my most prolific gigging in New York at the beginning of the decade, and not one of the "jazz" venues I played at that time exists now in the form it did then. Not one. The Knitting Factory, and Makor moved (is Makor still there at all?), Tonic, the Internet Cafe, Detour, and a half dozen other venues elsewhere just folded. I suppose that this is due somewhat to the nature of New York, where change is really the only constant- I heard older musicians talk about Bradley's, Visiones, and other once hot venues that are no more. But there's a larger trend too- the real estate boom made Manhattan property so hot that it priced out so many clubs that in earlier times had a prayer. (See Tonic, Wetlands, etc.) Brooklyn has certainly replaced Manhattan as the hot incubator of new things.

It's certainly not my place to say if it's better or worse now that it was then- I like several of the new venues that have popped up since I left, notably Le Poisson Rouge- but it sure is different. When I visit New York now, it is very much as a tourist and not an insider, though a tourist who sees a lot of folks he knows at gigs. But sometimes I wonder, is the jazz scene in New York just another evolution, or the empire in decline?

I do have many happy memories of a decade of music in the city. My favorite gigs in NYC, more or less chronologically (this list could be ten times as long)-

Olu Dara at the Verizon Jazz Fest (formerly What is Jazz?), summer 2000

Andrew Hill sextet w/Nasheet Waits, Birdland, spring 2000

Last Wetlands jam, Black Lily w/the Roots, summer 2000

Bill Frisell/Paul Motion/Joe Lovano, summer 2000 (my first time)

Living Colour reunion concert, Central Park Summerstage, summer 2001

Masada, Tonic, early 2001

Killer Joey w/Joey Baron, Tonic, spring 2001

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Verizon Festival, summer 2001 (NYC debut)

Bob Brookmeyer and the New Jazz Orchestra, IAJE Convention, winter 2005

Tony Malaby/William Parker, Stone, winter 2006

Darcy James Argue Secret Society, CBGB's basement, spring 2007

Boston, my home now, has changed too, for better and worse. The good news is that, as I've written before, the Beehive is a great new venue that books a lot of good mainstream music, and the Stork Club just opened where Bob the Chef's used to be. (Haven't been yet) And some eutrepenurial artists continue to bring interesting concerts to Boston, notably the Bennett Alliance concert series, as well as the occasional offerings of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Gardiner Museum. But as far as venues go, that may be the only good news, and the bad news keeps coming. The Regattabar gave its booking to the Blue Note conglomerate, scaled back its booking a lot for both local and national acts, and raised its prices a lot. The venue that the ex-booker of the R-bar started in Cambridge didn't survive. Scullers is hard, risky, and expensive to get for local acts, and Ryles seems to eek by- when I was in grad school they would occasionally book the likes of Chris Potter and Bob Brookmeyer, but they haven't had any act like that in awhile. The legendary Wally's plugs on, thanks in no small part to the amazing trumpeter and genial session host Jason Palmer. The Zeitgiest Gallery gave way the Lily Pad, a nice but pay to play venue (and not cheap anymore either), and then reopened down the street in cozier (read smaller) digs. Atwoods, B-Side and several smaller bars who booked alt-jazz along with a lot of toher things, have shut down, and the Milky Way has moved to smaller digs in JP. One new jazz festival, the one and a half day Beantown Jazz Festival, replaced two long-running summer festivals sponsored by the newspapers, again a sign of the times.

One of the most promising developments in Boston was the creation of JazzBoston, a not for profit designed to promote the music and local musicians in Boston. Thus far they have created a "jazz week" once a year with some original programming and a very glossy flier to hype all the gigs in town. So far I don't see or feel any measurable impact on either the frequency or visibility of the music in town, but I hope that could change.

The good news in both these cities is that there is always an infusion of young talent who will hustle and dig to find ways to get music out there. And as long as there are big music schools, there we be a lot for the listening public. The bad news is that playing for nothing (not a great thing either) has been replaced by pay-to-play, especially if the music is free improvised or hard to buttonhole, which is a tough way to grow an audience as an artist.

My Favorite Boston(ish) concerts:

Meshell N'Degeocello, Paradise, summer 2002 (Cookie tour)

Chris Potter Quarter, Ryles, fall 2002

Fred Hersch solo, Jordan Hall, fall 2002

Steve Lacy solo, Jordan Hall, fall 2002

Danielo Perez/Steve Lacy duo, winter 2003

Joe Lovano superband featuring Dave Douglas, Mark Helias, Joey Baron, R-bar, winter 2004

Radiohead, Hail to the Thief tour, Tweeter Center, summer 2005

The Bad Plus, Regattabar, winter 2007

Stevie Wonder, Comcast Center, summer 2008

Bill Frisell 858 Quartet, Regattabar, spring 2008

Brian Blade Fellowship, Newport Jazz Fest, summer 2008

Wayne Shorter Quartet, same

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

tick, tick, BOOM

This is an expanded version of the comment I left on the Greenleaf blog, more thoughts about metronomes and time. (The M-Base stuff is not on the comment):

I've done commercial work where I was playing with a click track, and at those moments I was eternally grateful for the work I'd done with a metronome. But as several people have mentioned, it's not that way in a real band, ever.

I've found this analogy useful- I think I got it from Michael Cain, the great pianist and one of my teachers. He said something to the effect of- as young players we often tend to think of the beat as a single dot, a spot to be hit (like the click of a metronome). In reality, the beat is a circle (think of a compass drawing a circle, it leaves that middle point- the metronome's "beat"- but has much wider area). The interaction that happens inside and around that circle is where time feel and groove happen. Different musicians, and different musical styles, have very different relationships to that circle, and they change over time. In "jazz", some of the most exciting rhythm sections have worked in the tension created by two or more players landing consistently at different points inside that circle.

One obvious example for me is the evolution of what used to be called "M-base" music, the music Steve Coleman and his crew has created over the last twenty-five years, and what the myriad of musicians who've played with Steve (Osby, Shane Endsley, Vijay Iyer, Cassandra Wilson, etc) continue to do. The first "M-Base drummer", Smitty Smith, is the closest thing to a human metronome I think I've ever heard- the precision of those 80s M-Base records is incredible. When Gene Lake replaced Smitty in Steve's band, and then more so when Steve started to explicitly explore Cuban music, I feel like the feel of the music changed dramatically. The grooves are no less complicated, but the feel is looser to my ears. With Smitty you get the spot at the center of the circle, with Gene you get a different spot inside the circle, maybe a little further back. (Compare "Black Science" with Smitty to "Tao of Mad Phat" with Gene to hear what I mean, and then )

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Jonah and the ticking whale.

A couple of addenda to the metronome conversation that's still popping across the blogosphere. When I studied with Steve Lacy, he discouraged practicing scales with a metronome, but instead walking slowly, playing one note per step. (I think Steve talks about this, as well as many other things, in his book Findings, which I highly recommend. I find even seven years later, I still find a lot of Steve's voic in how I approach practicing.) I've modified this in my own practice to start at one note per step, then two notes, up until I can't pull it off, which is often 10, or 12, or 16 notes per, depending on the exercise and how adroit or rusty I am. I thought about this approach when I would play duos with Steve- when we played tunes, as opposed to free music. While the process was tremendously rewarding, and I always knew the tune better afterwards, it was very hard, I think partially because Steve's time was so personal and idiosyncratic, perhaps the product of literally walking to his own drummer. Friends said the same.

Second, when I was gigging a lot with No Sale Value in Boston, we would have various guests sit in, cellists, guitarists, dancers if we could, you name it. One night we had a rapper join us on a pretty straight up funk jam. Our drummer at the time, Jazon Nazary, had (and has) great time, but afterwards the MC complained that he had a tough time getting his flow going. He rapped primarily with tracks, almost always mechanized, which I suppose is the equivalent of rapping with a metronome. Playing with a live drummer, where the beat ebbed and flowed a little more organically, he found it hard to adjust.

David Ryshpen brings up issues of time and/vs. groove, which are fascinating, and I hope to follow up on.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Radiohead- jazz artists of the decade

One of my resolutions for 2010 is to do at least 60% of the blogging I meant to do in 2009. So, just two days into the next decade (what are we calling this one), here is the start of my decade in review. Call me old fashioned, but I want something to end before I write it's obit... As I've mentioned in year's past, I don't feel comfortable doing "best of" lists, since there's so much I don't here, but I will do favorites. In the coming days, I'll get a little more myopic and review some of the records that crossed my desk in '09, looking for trends and ideas. Thought I'd start big and then break it down.

In my humble opinion, the Jazz Artist of the Aughts was... Radiohead. I'm not joking. Were you expecting Dave Douglas or Jason Moran, Wayne or Tain? You could, make an cogent argument for any of the above, as well as a dozen others, but did any single band change the sound of jazz more than Radiohead? I remember when I first was first hanging in New York, as the buzz for Kid A was building, seemingly everyone was talking about them. Meldhau had already covered "Exit Music", and the covers and sound-alikes followed. I heard more jazz compositions without solos, more bands with piano and guitar, and much more sonic consideration in how music in small groups is arranged and recorded.

Radiohead was in some ways a perfect storm- they're a great band with a lot of musical ambition. "Creep" broke them big enough to give them tremendous exposure and name recognition, but not to the megastar level that would turn. At the same time, they are a perfect band to get "jazz cred"- Johnny Greenwood cites Messien as a major influence, they use a lot of noise techniques, their sound is very forward looking and "modern" (as opposed to the many good indie bands at the back end of the decade who looked backward to American folk music as a primary influence) And as the decade wore on they were the biggest act to play with new mechanisms of releasing music directly on the web with the In Rainbows experiment.

Lots of jazz artists covered them, Brad Meldhau most notably, but more importantly the number of artists that cite them as an influence and rave about specific things they do are huge and range across all but the most Lincoln Centric places in the jazz world. I know they affected how I write- the first tune I performed in grad school. I certainly wasn't alone. And I honestly can't imagine a band like Christian Scott's band, who I reviewed at Newport in '08, without a band like Radiohead as a reference for how they write and play.

And they're a nerdy white British band, reflecting in many ways the new nerd hipster ethos that has come to define a lot of twentysomething culture this decade. (I'll write more about this later when I talk about trends.)

The larger trend at work here, I think, is that of jazz musicians openly, rather than covertly, taking broader licenses with what a jazz band is and can do than was acceptable in the 90s. It's no longer even surprising to hear jazz artists talk openly about how J Dilla, or Grizzly Bear or even Miley Cyrus is influencing what they do. (Okay, maybe that last one is a little stretch) And you're the listening public less likely to raise an eyebrow. To the point where when Darcy made a joke about Wynton's upcoming Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tribute album, I stopped and said "gee, what would that be like?" More germanely, I heard a story in the early 90s about a well known young Blue Note artist who had his record contract threatened because- in private, not on gigs- he was making electronic music. Labels don't have the sway they did then, for sure, but I have to think now they'd probably do the opposite.

I know that "Artist of the ___" statements are inherently a little silly- Wynton was as important in the '80s for the trend he came to represent as for his music and even his visibility. Radiohead didn't do any of the things I write about here by themselves, or maybe even best. And would all of this happen if no one had picked up "The Bends"? More than likely. But I'd argue that Radiohead, and what they've come to represent, had a bigger impact on the jazz world than any other single artist or band in the music. Any better ideas?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Looking back, the road seems empty...

I'm working on several year/decade wrap-up posts at the moment, but in the meantime, Happy New Year! Tiding you over:

Congratulations to Darcy, Dave Douglas, Vijay Iyer, and the other friends of this blog who picked up tremendous acolades in the big year-end lists. Richly deserved. If you haven't bought "Infernal Machines" or "Histiocity" yet, what are you waiting for? And check out:

Bob Brookmeyer turns 80, and Darcy (speaking of himself) celebrates with a great post, including sound samples. "K.P. '94" literally changed my life, as I'll blog about soon.

NPR posted the concerts they presented for the "Toast of the Nation" show, including Anat Cohen in Boston and The Bad Plus at the Vanguard.