Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More Esbjörn Svensson

As if you're interested, I have spent the last several weeks recording lectures onto computer files. I am teaching two classes in July: Intro to Philosophy, and Human Nature and Human Values (a course on the biological origins of political behavior). But I am going to be gone the first week of class. I am attending the Illinois Biology and Politics Institute. So my students will have to make do with canned Blanchard. Recording these lectures has been three times the work of a regular class. But I have been learning a lot of new technology.

Meanwhile I am working on a paper on Lincoln and Darwin. I can't wait to find out what I have to say.

But just right now I feel the need to post a bit of jazz, but I am too tired to say anything interesting. That's assuming anything I say is interesting. Anyhow I have been listening to the brilliant and unfortunately late Esbjörn Svensson. I commented on Svensson's Monk tribute album last month.

Two other albums put me on that shadowed, cobblestone walk, damp with evening dew. From Gargarin's Point of View is a title that suggest a genius for arrangement. Likewise with Winter in Venice. I have never been to Venice. But I cannot imagine that such a place exists in winter.
Esbjörn Svensson could imagine that, and he does on this superb album. Both of these albums remind me of walking Boston, alone, on a rainy afternoon. Red stones and the smell of lobster boiling.

I will finish this damn paper if it kills me. But before it does, here are some samples from the two albums:
Esbjörn Svensson/From Gargarin's Point of View/From Gargarin's Point of View
Esbjörn Svensson/Semblance Part 2/Winter in Venice

Enjoy. And if you do enjoy them, post a comment. That's all I ask.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nonstandard Standards & Ethan Iverson

I just read on an eMusic post that JazzTimes is suspending publication. This probably says less about jazz than it does about the publishing industry, which is deep in trauma right now. But it does worry me.

The history of jazz begins around the turn of the twentieth century, and probably ends in the 1970's. That period constitutes a history because it has what Hegel called a dialectic: each generation establishing a statement to which the succeeding generation could reply. It is a common idea in modern aesthetics that such histories ought to go on without stop, but that is not usually how artistic genres work. Each reaches a point where further avenues of progress are limited or not available. I don't see anything in jazz that is really new after the avant garde movement and the fusion movement.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. It happened to classical music much earlier, and maybe it is the fate of all genres. But it means that contemporary jazz is left exploring the contours of existing jazz space.

What is to be done? Lenin's question is answered for jazz by such works as Jim Snidero's Standards + Plus, and pianist Ethan Iverson's Deconstruction Zone. The latter, Iverson's standards album, shows what is to be done. The greatness of jazz lies, it seems to this humble fan, in two virtues. First, it established a basic sound, a wide avenue in music space, that was persistantly and uniquely its own. Wynton Marsalis thinks that is rooted in blues and swing. Second, it developed a taste for mining all the riches of any music melody, and building new structures in any number of directions.

Iverson's trio certainly exemplifies the latter virtue. He takes a number of standards, and my goodness what he does with them! Who could have guessed what realms were open from starting points like 'I'm getting sentimental over you,' or 'Have you met Ms. Jones?'

Here are two Iverson samples. Reid Anderson plays bass, and Jorge Rossy is on drums.
Ethan Iverson/I'll Remember April/Deconstruction Zone
Ethan Iverson/Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/Deconstruction Zone
If you like these, get the whole thing. It's available at eMusic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

David Murray's amazing grace

My good friend Ken Laster, whose incomparable In the Groove is my favorite podcast, has calmed me down a bit. I will probably keep going as I have been, and let Mother Mary or Jizo Bodhisattva protect me. But this last few days did get me to finally use Audacity, and I may find it very useful when I also find the time.

Anyway, I just downloaded David Murray's Spirituals (when you are asking for divine protection, you need to cover all the bases). Being a member in good standing of Murray's church, I couldn't really turn this one down.

Murray is famous for his wide stretch from avant garde to Wynton Marsalis-like conservatism. I think he combines the best of both jazz planets. I have always loved Amazing Grace. It is one of those songs that manages to express the hope of people who wear hats not because they are cool, but because they are cooler when you are working under a hot sun. It also shows how music can pack so much depth into a single word like "amazing." The rise and fall of pitch in that single word is worth a ton of theology.

Murray's Spirituals is worth investing in. Pianist David Burrell finds his voice as a Murray sideman. Bassist Fred Hopkins and Drummer Ralph Peterson fill out the team. Here is their amazing Amazing Grace.
David Murray/Amazing Grace/Spirituals
Murray doesn't just play the song. He prays. As he does, so shall ye do also. And while you are at it, drop a comment into the offering plate. You know that God is watching while you download.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hardbop Muscle from Jim Snidero & Eric Alexander

I am having fun playing with audacity. I am having more fun listening to Jim Snidero's magnificent recording, Close Up. This is straightforward hard bop with all the impurities cooked out of the ore. Eric Alexander joins Snidero on a couple of cuts, a fact that promises a lot and delivers more. But the rhythm section is just as brilliant. David Hazeltine plays piano, Paul Gill bass, and Billy Drummond, guess what, is on drums. If these guys had played like this back in, say, 57, they would have their own stars on the broadway sidewalk.

The best cut on the album, I am thinking right now, is a Snidero composition 'Nippon Blue.' Stanly Crouch has said that all good jazz is blues based (I think Wynton Marsalis agrees). Look up jazz based blues in an online dictionary, and you ought to find an audio link to this number. There's power here, and these guys know what to do with it.

Here is the intro to get you started:
Jim Snidero/Nippon Blue/Close Up/intro
Okay now, here's the thing: that intro is followed by two solos. Seasoned jazz fan that I pretend to be, I ought to be able to tell Snidero's alto from Alexander's tenor. But I can't. I'm a fraud I'm afraid. I did see a note that says they are both playing on this number. Maybe you can tell me. anway, here is the first solo:
Jim Snidero/Nippon Blue/Close Up/solo 1
Here is the second solo:
Jim Snidero/Nippon Blue/Close Up/solo 2
All I can tell for sure is that they are both toe-curling good. Jim Snidero ought to be a lot more famous than he is. Look this one up. It's available at eMusic, and I am sure, elsewhere.

Friday, June 19, 2009

RIAA, Angst, Audacity, and Jim Snidero

Okay, that was quick. In about a half hour's time I managed to produce an MP3 clip from Alto man Jim Snidero's version of 'Round Midnight', on the marvelous album Standards + Plus. I am pretty sure I can post this under fair use law, as this is a scholarly website. Trust me, I am a scholar. It strikes me that there are advantages in this procedure. I can talk more or less intelligently about portions of a jazz number. Maybe the RIAA has done us a favor.

I have been listening to Standards + Plus today, and it is, as the Penguin Guide puts it, "a strong, vibrant set." Everything on the album is good. Here is some of the information at the Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians:
Snidero is on the faculty at the New School University, is an active jazz clinician for the Selmer Company, and author of the best selling Jazz Conception and Easy Jazz Conception series, published by Advance Music. As a side man, he has worked with some of the biggest names in both jazz and rock. He was in Frank Sinatra's orchestra for 4 years. He has been a member of the Downbeat poll winning Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra for 20 years, and toured extensively with The Mingus Big Band.
This is a jazz academic who walks the walk. Anyway, here is the clip:
Jim Snidero/Round Midnight/Standards + Plus/solo
Was that not enough? Well here is Mike LeDonne's piano solo.
Jim Snidero/Round Midnight/Standards + Plus/piano solo (Mike LeDonne)
Backing Snidero and LeDonne were Dennis Irwin on bass, and Kenny Washington on drums.

Okay, readers, I really need your input on this. Is this kind of thing worth coming to the site for? It will be interesting to see if this affects my traffic. Like I said, it may make the site better, as I can focus on some bits of music that seem most interesting to me. Anyway let me know.

It may be time to close this thing down

I love jazz very much, and this blog has been part of that affair. I have provided songs hosted on drop.io to give my readers a taste of the music I am talking about, and to encourage them to buy the music for themselves. I never post entire albums. I get between 25 and 50 visitors a day. I do not participate in any of the infamous file sharing sites. I do not have a single piece of music that was illegally downloaded. All of the music I have posted here has come from CDs I have purchased, or music I downloaded from iTunes or eMusic. Most of the music I talk about and provide samples of has come from classic jazz albums, many of them decades old. My sole interest has been to serve the music and the muscians.

But now I have to worry about this:
A federal jury on Thursday found Jammie Thomas-Rasset liable in the nation’s only Recording Industry Association of America file-sharing case to go to trial, dinging her $1.92 million for infringing 24 songs.
I am very dubious about RIAA's strategy, but I certainly have to be concerned about it. I am going to consider alternatives to my procedure here. One might be to post portions of songs rather than the entire song. Another would be to invest in the equipment and software to launch a podcast.

I certainly understand the concerns of the recording industry. But I think this ridiculous award will do little to stem the tide of file sharing. That is a consequence of current technology, and it is clear from such events as Apple's decision to drop copy protection that resisting that tide has no future.

As I say, I haven't quite decided what to do. I had hoped that this blog would be a forum for discussions about jazz, but apart from a few gracious and intelligent contributors, that hope has not been realized. I really want to continue doing what I do here in some form, but I am not sure what that will be. But don't be surprised if much of this disappears, or goes away entirely. That will only be a small loss for jazz, perhaps, but jazz can ill afford small losses. At any rate, thanks to my readers and contributors. Meanwhile, watch this space.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dan Berglund (E.S.T.)

Dan Berglund is the drummer on the Esbjörn Svensson Trio albums. I posted recently on this trio, and the untimely death of its leader. I just chanced upon Berglund's MySpace Music page. He has a solo piece there, Impro 1, that is simply superb. I don't think it's downloadable, but it is a pleasure to listen to with the imbeded player.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet

JazzTimes has an interview with saxophonist, arranger, composer, John Zorn, who comes off as less a jazz man than some minor god or at least an angel of music pretending to be a jazz man. According to the article, Zorn records five to ten discs a year. He doesn't own a TV. At that rate, a listener would have to give up anything but Zorn just to get a handle on Zorn.

Most of Zorn's music, from my brief sampling, is way too far over the rainbow for my ear. I certainly like the themes: film noir to Jewish culture and history. But unfortunately, I own a TV. One of the "Zorn essentials" featured in a sidebar did catch my ear.

In 1986 he recorded Voodoo, a tribute to Sonny Clark. Wayne Horvitz plays piano, Ray Drummond is on bass, and Bobby Previte on drums. There is a little boundary stretching on the title cut, but it's mostly solid hard bop translated into contemporary jazz textures, with a lot of avante garde side streets. This is a great recording to slide into your stacks next to Sonny Clark's Cool Struttin' (see my review of this disc).

Here is the first cut. I especially like the way Zorn rolls over the piano.
Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet/Cool Struttin'/Voodoo

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Berkman's Workmen

My copy of the Penguin Guide to Jazz is not the most recent edition. I was somewhat shocked to discover, when I thumbed through the Ninth Edition, that piano David Berkman's entry had disappeared. In my copy the piano man is described as "a composer of substance." This certainly seems right to me, after listening to a couple of Berkman recordings.

Communication Theory
, and Leaving Home, both prominently feature the three main saxophones, alto, tenor, and soprano. But Berkman's piano is exquisite and luminous behind them. His compositions are impressionistic: page three and four jazz in structure, but with a lot of feeling suggested by even the most abstract episodes. This is jazz worth savoring.

The first recording is the better one, I think. Sam Newsome (ss), Steve Wilson (as, ss), Chris Cheek (ts, ss), Ugonna Okegwo (b), and Brian Blade (d). Here is a sample:
David Berkman/Blutocracy (Blues for Bluto)/Communication Theory
On the second disc, Dick Oats (as) replaces Wilson. I think this one reminds me a bit of a Wayne Shorter composition, but less creepy than advertised:
David Berkman/Creepy/Leaving Home
Both discs are available at eMusic.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Let the Sunshine In

Sun Ra, that is. You don't have to be insane to do jazz, but it might help. Herman Poole Blount, who I gather legally changed his name to Le Sony'r Ra, was pretty far out there. Sun Ra, as he styled himself in the musical world, claimed to be from Saturn. He really did. Whether he really believed that or not, he stuck to his story.

Sun Ra was clearly a composer and band leader of some genius. He recorded a lot of music, and experimented with a wide range of jazz subgenres. Most jazz fans know only his record The Helicentric Worlds of Sun Ra. This is unfortunate, because his best work (so far as I have sampled it) is Jazz in Silhouette. There is really some interesting stuff going on here. I am not a big band fan, but this gets me listening. Here is a sample:
Sun Ra and his Arkestra/Enlightenment/Jazz in Silhouette

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jim Snidero & Joe Henderson

The "Sixties" was, in most ways, the most disastrous period in the history of Western Culture. Bad art and horrid architecture. Horrific fashion design (bell bottom jeans!). Incredibly stupid popular movies (Love Story). There was so great Rock and Roll, but most other bled and warped. Classical music never recovered. Jazz almost died, but not quite.

Joe Henderson's Power to the People is a period piece. With tunes like 'Afro-Centric,' and 'Black Narcissus,' Joe was mau-mauing the flack catchers. But there is a jeweler's eye in the jazz composer that sees through the temporal mist. Power was recorded in two sessions in May of 1969, about as by-God sixties a year as ever happened. The second session, on May 29th, included Herbie Hancock on electric piano (another Sixties touch), Ron Carter on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

'Black Narcissus' is a very sweet and subtle composition. Hancock's electric piano gives it a mystic landscape sort of feel. Acid, maybe. Carter's bass is genuine architecture. Henderson has a soft quality here that comes as something of a surprise if you just listened to State of the Tenor, as I did this afternoon. It is almost as if he were trying to sing you into a dream.

I chanced upon Jim Snidero in the Penguin Guide. Snidero (a year younger than me, damn it) has been all over the place in the music business. His tribute album of Henderson's music is very strong. Joe Magnarelli plays trumpet, Conrad Herwing (tb); David Hazeltine (p), Dennis Irwin (b), and Kenny Washington (d). It's all lively and good, with a very bright sound. Jazz did indeed survive the sixties.

Joe Henderson/Black Narcissus/Power to the People

Jim Henderson/Black Narcissus/The Music of Joe Henderson