Monday, August 19, 2013

New Stuff on Jazz Note

I have deleted a lot of numbers with very low ratings.  I can see no sense in some of the deletions, but what other guide do I have?  I am adding some more music to challenge my listeners. 
Rebus, by Ken Vandermark (sax), Joe Morris (guitar), and Luther Gray (drums) is one of those albums that caught my ear and wouldn’t let go.  It’s both raw and abstract‑all the cuts are labeled Rebus 1, Rebus 2, etc. 
I also nailed a couple of recordings by Oliver Lake.  Dedicated to Dolphy is a superb tribute to a jazz genius frequently celebrated on this blog.  Here is the Quintet:
I am playing ‘245’, a Dolphy composition.  It is a hearty blues with a surprisingly old timey feeling. 
Also by the Oliver Lake Quintet is Talkin’ Stick.  This is a must have for your collection.  I am playing ‘Hard Blues,’ a Julius Hemphill composition.  Everything is here.  Ringing swing, avant garde digressions, hard bop energy, and amazing sax. 
I note Geri Allen on piano.  I really like her style.  I also note Jay Hoggard’s vibes.  He lends the number a soft, magic touch. 
I also have a rocking good melody by Wayne Shorter from Wayning Moments. 
Trust me.  Finally I have a lyrical piece of such beauty that one can only point to it.  William Parker’s Raining on the Moon will water the driest heart.  ‘Old Tears’ is exquisite. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Free Flying by Fred Hersch & Juian Lage

One of my favorite albums from my early days as a jazz fan was Undercurrent, a duet with Bill Evans on piano and Jim Hall on guitar.  Guitar/piano duos seem to be rare.  I have very few of them in my collection.  This pairing has a very different feel from the more common piano/bass or piano/bass/drum trio.  The piano has so much the greater range, while the guitar can smear sound to create a larger ensemble impression. 

I have recently acquired a very fine example of this pairing: Free Flying (Palmetto).  Pianist Fred Hersch and Guitar virtuoso Julian Lage remind me a lot of that earlier album.  I am playing two cuts, 'Monk's Dream' and 'Beatrice' by Sam Rivers.  These guys have that feeling.  If you like duets, you will like this one. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Newport Jazz Festival 2013

I have been covering the Newport Jazz Festival for WHUS FM for the last 5 years, and the 2013 festival is one of the best I've had the pleasure to attend.

Musically, the festival covered a wide range of jazz styles; fusion, latin, avant garde, funk, modern post-bop. So many of the artists were exploring new sounds. There was a lot of experimentation with electronics and effects creating interesting sonic textures. Rhythmically the music was moving away from bop and more towards progressive rock-fusion or "free" jazz. In general I felt that most of the musicians, young and old were taking the music beyond its reliance on traditional jazz constructs from the past. 

Highlights at the festival for me were:
The Festival was themed as an 80th birthday celebration for Wayne Shorter. Herbie Hancock was his special guest. They played a duo performance before Shorter's quartet took over with a rousing somewhat avant-garde set. Wayne took a much more aggressive role in his playing than I had seen in his past performances with this group. Herbie took the stage again at the end of the set to share the piano with Danilo Perez in a 4 hands one piano accompaniment.
Terrence Blanchard with a surprise appearance by Herbie sitting in to play Footprints. Terrence's entire performance was memorable. It was a modern sound, with subtle electronic effects that provided sonic interest but did not overwhelm the music.
Chick Corea's new band was reminiscent his electric bands of the fusion era, with a bit of a latin feel, and based more on Chick's compositions and arrangements than the musicians pyrotechnics. 
Jon Batiste brought the New Orleans feel to his music with a fresh modern sound. It combined R&B with straight ahead jazz chops. His use of the melodica added an interesting twist to his great performance.
Gregory Porter is an outstanding new vocal force in jazz. You can hear the influence of R&B and Gospel with his tremendous vocal chops. He has a talented jazz band that know how to swing hard to his tunes.
Guitarist David Gilmore was the final show we saw at the Festival. He had a great All-Star band with Miguel Zenon (sax), Jeff Tain Watts (dr), Christian McBride (b), Luis Perdermo (p) and Claudia Acuna (v). They played his Numerology suite, an hour long set that was smoking.
Other notable performances we saw: Marcus Miller, Mary Halverson, Robert Glasper Experiment, Eddie Palmieri Salsa Band, Bill Charlap w/Anat Cohen & Bob Wilber, Lew Tabakin, Joshua Redman, URI Big Band, Jim Hall, Hiromi, (and more).

with Chick Corea
It was a thrill to meet the great Chick Corea backstage
Check out our picture gallery from the 2013 Jazz Festival (credit Claire Laster)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Brilliant Avant Garde from Kaze

Appreciating brilliant avant garde jazz is a little like sudden enlightenment in the Zen tradition, or maybe being born again.  Before it happens to you, say those to whom it has happened, it is very difficult to believe in it.  So just sit still, pray, and listen to Cecil Taylor.  Sooner or later you will raise the Bodhi mind. 
Unfortunately, there is a logical obstacle to plunging in.  Just because some brilliant and compelling music is inscrutable on the first few hearings doesn’t mean that all inscrutable music is brilliant.  I still think Jackson Pollock was a fraud and that James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake is not only unreadable but is not even a book. 
All I can tell us that I love a lot of music now that I once found disturbing or incoherent.  I would add to that list some pieces of music that I now find so compelling that I cannot imagine how they were ever opaque.  Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto is one.  Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch is another. 
Tonight I am reviewing I am reviewing an astonishingly strong album that displays all the strengths and makes virtues of the weaknesses of avant garde jazz.  Tornado (August 20, 2013) is the second offering by Kaze, a quartet consisting of:

1.       Satoko Fujii (piano)
2.      Natsuki Tamura (trumpet)
3.      Christian Pruvost (trumpet)
4.      Peter Orins (drums)

I have a rather restrictive definition of the terms “avant garde” and “free” jazz.  The latter refers to the production of music without any advance score or even theme.  You just start playing.  The former refers to the way that the music is composed.  Avant garde jazz cuts music up into some set of constituent parts (themes, moods, etc.) and then rearranges it.  The arrangement is guided by the parts rather than any imposed narrative. 
Tornado is textbook avant garde and I found it immediately accessible and delicious.  It has a lot of the conspicuous instruments of the subgenre.  You get horns pretending to be screeching or farting or grinding the edge of a surgeon’s blade, passages that narrow to a single instrument or two pensively weaving a tale and then explode into a circus of sound, a little cookie monster warbling, and the occasional romantic waltz. 
The trick is in the weaving.  Each turn has to keep you interested and some have to make you want to cry.  Our lives are made up of vast array of sounds and stories.  Passion rises out of the burdens of flesh.  This music works that kind of magic. 
Fujii and Tamura are Japanese, I am guessing.  Pruvost and Orins are borrowed from the “French improvisers collective” Muzzix.  I am not sure what an improvisers collective is, or how many are running around loose, but the pairing of the two cultures pays dividends.  We get some Asian bells followed by horn work that could properly introduce a bull fight.  We also get, I think, a little spookiness.  That impression may be due to the fact that I watched The Conjuring yesterday.  If so, it is a testament to the power of this music to draw in elements of my own consciousness. 
This music is evidence of the existence of entire jazz worlds that most listeners and even collectors might easily be unaware of.  Satoko Fujii is obviously a master and a visit to her website reveals a rich catalog of recordings.  That such music can be recorded is evidence that such worlds can be easily visited by wanders who fly about in their internet tardis.  Tornado was released by Circum-Libra Records.  You can also get solo recordings by Fujii (Gen Himmel) and Tamura (Dragon Mat) on Libra Records.  I will review these in short order. 
I urge you to seek out and purchase these recordings.  This is music worth investing money, time, and heart in. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Free Jazz 4 Free (almost)

Somebody has finally figured out that you can market unmarketable jazz if only the price is right.  If we are talking about the Art Ensemble of Chicago, a very uncompromising avant garde institution, the price is about two bucks an album.  I'll download Reese and the Smooth Ones for that.  Yeah, it's nutty music, but I'm a collector.

Amazon has a small offering of Affinity discs for similar prices, and some of it is seminal jazz.  You can get  Archie Shepp's Yasmina, A Black Woman, for example.  It's a very hard driving blues based work and it will round out your Shepp.  Or just stroll through the 'under five bucks' jazz at Amazon.  I nailed Jackie McLean's New Soil, a marvelous album. 

 ps.  If you don't have Grachan Moncur's album New Africa, you should.  You can get it from Amazon for under four bucks.