Thursday, December 30, 2010
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Monday, October 04, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
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
Monday, September 13, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
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
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
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
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
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.