The Best of the Recent Releases


According to my non-scientific estimate, between 2,000 and 3,000 jazz CDs will be released this year. By comparison, Downbeat received fewer than 500 albums to review back in 1959. So those who fret about the future of jazz are clearly looking at the demand and not the supply—which is growing faster than the fan base by any measure.

Much of this music is formulaic, yet every month exciting projects are released—many of them never finding their audience because they are lost in the glut of product. For this reason, features one track per day of exceptional merit, and presents it to site visitors as our Song of the Day. Our goal is to cut through the noise and introduce listeners to outstanding new music they might otherwise miss.

 Double Booked

Below are links to our reviews of the tracks highlighted during the last month. As always, our featured songs include both the well-known stars of jazz and less familiar artists who also deserve to be heard. The high profile releases this month, include excellent projects by Robert Glasper (jazz meets hip-hop), Bud Shank (his last CD recorded shortly before his death earlier this year), and Jan Garbarek (his first ECM leader date in five years). Roberta Gambarini, Stefon Harris, John Abercrombie and James Carter will also be familiar to jazz fans and have fine new releases on the market. But listeners are also advised to check out the less familiar names here, such as guitarists Rez Abbasi and Kobie Watkins, alto saxophonist Francesco Cafiso, pianist Mark Levine or Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.


We always throw in an occasional ringer from outside the jazz realm. This month the outliers on our distribution curve include a highly recommended electric blues project from the Oregon-based band Woodbrain, and an orchestral work by John Adams. Check out these and other tracks below, where you will find links to each review. There you will find a full assessment, complete personnel and recording info, a ranking from 0 to 100, and a further link to a third-party vendor where you can purchase a (legal) download.

Happy listening!

Jan Garbarek: Milagre dos Peixes
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Dan Moretti: Cajun the Squirrel
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Rez Abbasi: Why Me Why Them
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Alex Terrier: Tompkins Square
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Roberta Gambarini: Medley from Cinema Paradiso
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Francesco Cafiso: King Arthur
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Mark Levine: Nanã
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Bud Shank: Over the Rainbow
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Stefon Harris & Blackout: Gone
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

John Abercrombie: I've Been Overlooked Before
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Kobie Watkins: Spastic
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

John Adams: Guide to Strange Places
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Marcus Strickland: Portrait of Tracy
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Four in One
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Robert Glasper: No Worries
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Fiona Boyes: Howlin' at Your Door
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Mimi Jones: Suite Mary
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Dafnis Prieto: Si o Si
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Edmar Castaneda: Entre Cuerdas
Reviewed by Ralph A. Miriello

James Carter: Diminishing
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Woodbrain: Shake 'Em on Down
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments


A Forgotten 1959 Masterpiece

 Drums of Passion

The folks at Sony have worked overtime on promoting anniversary reissues this year. But the 50th birthday of one classic 1959 album in their catalog has gone by unheralded by the company and the media—even though this LP may have been the most influential of them all.

Next week will mark the 50th anniversary of the final recording session for Drums of Passion, the path-breaking release by Babatunde Olatunji that helped usher in the age of world music, and exerted a crossover influence in the realms of jazz and rock that can still be felt today. By any measure, Drums of Passion stands out as one of the least likely—and most inspiring—success stories from the 20th century music business

The late Tom Terrell argued that Drums of Passion was "note for note, rhythm for rhythm, groove for groove, vibe for vibe, and influence for influence—the single most important recording of the last century." This assessment was based on more than the five million copies sold in the US alone, or the release's validation of traditional African music as a commercial property. The real evidence emerges when we look at what happened elsewhere in the music world during the decade following the release of Olatunji's pioneering album.

In jazz, a host of artists from John Coltrane to Max Roach, embraced a more overt pan-African sensibility during the 1960s, and the rhythmic textures of their music revealed marked similarities with Olatunji's aesthetic vision. Even African styles of apparel and nicknames started showing up on the jazz bandstand and in the audience. But the biggest transformation took place in the rhythm section. The drum solo now happened more often, lasted longer, and erupted with greater vehemence. Even when accompanying, percussion stood out as louder and more demonstrative than in previous decades.

This was true not just in jazz, but even more in popular music, which developed a love affair with the drum that continues until this day. There were virtually no drummers who were pop stars in 1950s rock, but ten years later that had all changed, and the beat, primal and hypnotic, almost rivaled the electric guitar as the defining sound of the age. If one is looking for the turning point, the precedent that anticipated these changes, no better harbinger will be found than Drums of Passion.

 Les Baxter

Yet if Drums of Passion changed how music was played, it also shaped how audiences listened. In the 1950s, what we now call "world music" was the plaything of Les Baxter, Martin Denny and other expropriaters of aural exotica, whose recordings were to real ethnic music what Christy's Minstrels were to Robert Johnson and Son House. Drums of Passion signaled the end of this Hollywood-ized version of the Third World, and revealed that the musicians of Africa and other less economically developed parts of the globe were more than capable of presenting their own musical traditions to audiences—and of enjoying a hit record in the process.

The story behind Drums of Passion is as uncharacteristic and surprising as the music itself. Michael Babatunde Olatunji was born in 1927 in Ajido, a fishing village in southwestern Nigeria. One day in the late 1940s, the youngster read about the Rotary Foundation's scholarship program in a copy of Reader's Digest. He applied for and won the fellowship, which gave him the chance to study at Morehouse College in Atlanta—where Dr. Martin Luther King had been a student only two years before Olatunji's arrival on campus. After graduating, the drummer moved to New York, where he studied public administration at NYU. To help fund his education, he started a percussion ensemble.

By all accounts, Olatunji's performances were exciting spectacles, but they might not have been preserved on record without the intervention of John Hammond, a daring talent scout whose "finds" over the years, included Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, and Count Basie. Hammond had such a sure touch and glamorous associations, that his biographer Dunstan Prial doesn't even mention Drums of Passion in passing in his 350-page book The Producer. Yet this was one of Hammond's finest moments. He heard Olatunji at Radio City Music Hall, where the Nigerian was wowing the audience with his ensemble's combination of drumming, dancing and chanting. The visceral excitement of the band was palpable, yet John Hammond was probably the only decision-maker at Columbia who would have seen this as the starting point of a commercial record.

I have written elsewhere of the impact of long stretches of drumming on an audience. Since Andrew Neher's clinical work (published around the same time as Olatunji's recording), we have known that exposure to these rhythms can change our brain waves in a process known as entrainment. But it is only in recent years that evidence has emerged that a ten minute immersion in drumming not only alters our levels of adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol, but can even improve the immunological robustness of our bodies. If you want to understand what this means in the most basic layman's terms, just go to a concert where drums predominate and look at the effect on the people around you in the audience. Olatunji may not have had these clinical factors in mind when he recorded Drums of Passion, but his listeners were still very much put under his spell by the entrainment and not just the entertainment value of his music.

The album was a runaway success. And for most of these record-buyers, Drums of Passion was their first opportunity to hear African music without it being diluted and packaged by some intermediary. Their enthusiasm was a rare example of the mass market choosing the real thing over a shoddy imitation. Then again, maybe the general public would choose the real thing more often, if the media and music industry gave them the opportunity. Yes, fifty years may have elapsed, but not only can we still enjoy Drums of Passion—we also might still learn from it.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

September 27, 2009 · 1 comment


Julian Lage in Boston

Boston-based Roanna Forman set the house record a few days back by sending us 14 reviews from the Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Now she has narrowed her focus, and reports on a performance by the young guitar sensation Julian Lage, who recently appeared at Scullers. T.G.

Julian Lage by Michael Kurgansky

Listening to the technically fantastic and musically imaginative set by Julian Lage at Boston’s Scullers Jazz Club this week, I couldn’t help thinking of Paul Winter Consort and Oregon. Joined by Aristides Rivas on cello, Ben Roseth on alto sax, Jorge Roeder on acoustic bass and Tupac Mantilla’s consistent driving hand drumming and percussion, Lage’s often acoustic feel, while original, with sophisticated, meaningful statements, had definite echoes of Ralph Towner.

Lage’s accomplished, original musicianship and the ECM quality of his sound explain his broad appeal, which was evident from the overflowing crowd. You can dig on Lage if you’ve never listened to, or even cared for swing, hard bop, fusion, or post-modern jazz, in the same way that Pat Metheny’s fan base is widespread. Speaking of Pat, his influence on Lage’s phrasing and use of finger picking is evident in Lage’s playing, although Julian clearly has his own voice.

The band, which has played together for a while, navigates the shifting meters and moods, accents, and dynamics changes with ease, as in “Circle Limit,” which moved from a furious guitar-drum jam to a peaceful ending like a vanishing hurricane. Unlike its work on the CD Sounding Point which was carefully arranged and mixed in the studio, the band went out on improvisational limbs in spontaneous jams. Lage’s guitar dominated the jams, with swift lines, picking, fluffy arpeggios and harmonic accents.

He managed to duet with every instrument during the evening, often with fierce rhythm strumming, feeling the music’s pulse with his partner at displaced stops. The many unusual colors of Tupac Mantilla’s percussion—a small glockenspiel on the galumphing “Wedding Movement Part I,” the boing of spring drum on “Bluegrass Underscored,” or the elastic ripple of the African djembe and Turkish frame drum—contributed significantly to the feel of the music.

There were new compositions, which Lage apparently dashed off last week, to supplement tunes from Sounding Point—a reharmonized “Lil Darlin,” the quirky and sunny “Peterborough,” and a more hard-driving “Motorminder,” with free floating alto lines and an explosive solo by Mantilla on flamenco cajon.

Sounding Point

The pretty, diatonic “Working Title” (not to be confused with Sounding Point’s “All Purpose Beginning”) opened the evening, with alto accents arranged in flute-like lines, all pushed along by cajon and other percussion. Lage got a kora-like effect on the introduction to “Circle Limit” by combining the stringed instruments, and took a meditative solo over its form of alternating descending runs and a fat slower section. Roseth’s angular alto lines moved the uptempo section of the “The Nest,” and bassist Jorge Roeder added bluesy verve to “Ode to Elvin.” Lage decided on Astor Piazzolla’s “La Muerte del Angel” for an encore, moving from a langorous repetition of the opening figure to a wild wrap-up by the whole ensemble.

That Julian Lage waited to develop his music before making his first CD is as apparent as it was wise. His sound, already mature, should ripen as he moves in new compositional and musical directions. He is currently working on a new release.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman

September 25, 2009 · 0 comments


No Big Macs for Jazz

As seasoned readers of this space may recollect, perhaps with a shudder,'s version of Sherlock Holmes, intrepid curmudgeon Alan Kurtz, last year led us to Buddy Bolden on the Holodeck, for a voyage so fantastic it seemed like science fiction. (Hmm, maybe it was science fiction.) Now Holmes—make that Kurtz—briefly returns from his self-imposed exile amid the fog-shrouded bogs of Dartmoor, where he has taken refuge from the tar-&-feather brigade of irate bass players, to tell us about … the phone that did not ring. T.G.

Bohemian Caverns

On September 22, the philanthropic MacArthur Foundation announced its latest Genius Awards, selecting 24 Fellows for their "creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions" in the arts and sciences.'s Chris Kelsey summed up the results with a droll Variety-style headline on his own blog: "2009 MacArthurs Announced, Jazz Gets Bupkis."

As in previous years, recipients learned by a phone call "out of the blue" (as the Foundation likes to put it) that they'll each receive $500,000 in 20 quarterly installments, with "no strings attached," and "may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers." Considering jazz's current economic outlook, if a jazz artist were to win such a grant, the latter choice might be wisest. In any case, it was the phone that did not ring that caught my attention, much as the dog that didn't bark intrigued Sherlock Holmes. For nowhere on that list of newly minted MacFellows was the one name I'd expected: Dr. Clive Cabman, director of Cabman Laboratories, cutting-edge developer par excellence of artificial intelligence and virtual reality systems applied to jazz.

This was, I knew, not a simple case of snobbery, for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has proven itself a generous patron of jazz. To date, of 33 Genius Awards in Music, 40% have gone to jazz artists, including such notables as Regina Carter, Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, Max Roach, George Russell and Cecil Taylor. However, it was not among musicians that I'd expected to find Dr. Cabman, for he has never played, sung or composed a note. Rather, I looked for him in either the Computer Science or Technology & Invention category. Inexplicably, he was missing.

How could this be? Surely the Foundation's hundreds of anonymous nominators couldn't overlook so conspicuous an achiever as Dr. Cabman. I realize that Genius Awards are not based on past accomplishment, but rather serve to encourage individual recipients to fulfill their potential for the future benefit of humanity. Yet that's precisely why Cabman's omission is so glaring. Who has more humanitarian potential than a scientist striving to relieve homo sapiens from the dangers and drudgery of creating jazz? It must've been the Foundation's 12-person Selection Committee that failed to recommend Cabman to their Board of Directors.

As for why, you need only recall that the MacArthur Foundation was a principal sponsor of Ken Burns's epic documentary JAZZ (2001), which has served since its premiere as flagship for the controversial Axis of Evil comprising Burns, Wynton Marsalis & Stanley Crouch. No doubt neocon cultural politics were responsible for snubbing Dr. Cabman. After all, not once in Burns's marathon of ten 2-hour episodes does a jazz-playing robot or android appear, nor is a single cyberneticist invited to join the scatting heads. Yes, the terrible triumvirate's bias against nonhuman jammers could not be more apparent. They ought to rename themselves the John D. and Catherine T. MacLuddite Foundation.

Indignantly, I set aside my customary morning reading of Hunting Quail in Your Retirement by Dick Cheney and began the painstaking process of telephonically tracking down Dr. Cabman for comment. Hours later, I finally reached him in the south of France, where he was inspecting producers of top-of-the-line saxophone reeds.

"Saxophone reeds?" I repeated incredulously. Cabman was always up to something.

"My latest project," he explained. "Robo Bird."

"Hasn't that already been done?" I inquired, reminding him of the YouTube video where an electromechanical device toots John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" on a disembodied tenor sax.

"Ridiculous," scoffed Cabman. "A clumsy gadget unfit for a high-school science fair. Godfried-Willem Raes's Autosax plays better, but is no more anthropomorphic than a lawnmower. It's damn silly looking, if you ask me."

"Something more humanoid, then." I mentioned Toyota's 5-feet-tall robot violinist with computer-controlled joints in its arms and fingers; in 2007, this remarkable invention took to the stage at a Tokyo showroom and fiddled "Pomp and Circumstance" with childlike naïveté before invited guests. The YouTube video of this momentous event has since amassed 1.3 million views and been rated an average 4½ out of 5 stars by thousands of impressed respondents. (By comparison, YouTube's clip of a proper English symphony orchestra doing the same piece conducted by its esteemed composer, Sir Edward Elgar, 1st Baronet OM KCVO, no less, has attracted a million fewer visitors.)

"A fine technical achievement," Dr. Cabman allowed of the Japanese Perlman, "but artistically infantile. Robo Bird can render not merely a familiar melody, but improvised passages of dazzling complexity and infinite variety. Come January, this shall all become clear." Cabman laid out his breathtakingly ambitious demo plan. Equipped with an ordinary alto sax, Robo Bird will re-create "Now's the Time" as recorded by Charlie Parker's Reboppers in November 1945. However, instead of Bird's three ad lib choruses, Robo Bird will deliver, at the same laidback tempo of 144 BPM, a staggering 1 million uninterrupted, uniquely extemporized choruses, breaking only as needed at irregular intervals during bars 11 and 12 while technicians hurriedly exchange his mouthpiece to keep Robo Cop supplied with a fresh reed. The total performance will last 231.48 days and will be freely available on the Internet as live streaming video. "Wait till next year!" Dr. Cabman exhorted. "Those clowns on MacArthur's Selection Committee can't possibly ignore me again!"

And then a sinister, devilish, brilliantly paranoid thought hit me, as out of the blue as a MacArthur Foundation phone call. What if Cabman, that secretive, reclusive figure who has never been photographed—does he even have a passport? It's rumored he travels abroad entirely by automated corporate jet, programmed to land at only the remotest private airports—what if Cabman himself is … well, a robot? A magnificent android of his own design! Maybe the MacArthurs passed him over not because of interference from the Axis of Evil, but due to his indeterminate species, like last summer's star athlete of unclassified gender.

I was thunderstruck. This, I perceived with blinding journalistic clarity, is big. Watergate big. If I can dig to the bottom of such an important story, I'll probably cop a Big Mac in 20 quarterly installments myself. Hell, one of 2009's winners is an investigative reporter. Why not me in 2010? Yes, I must now take my leave to solve this urgent mystery and spare humanity the pain and suffering of a million uninterrupted choruses of "Now's the Time." Who knows? Next year it might be my phone that rings out of the blue.

This blog entry posted by Alan Kurtz

September 23, 2009 · 2 comments


Day Three at Monterey

Pamela Espeland, who writes on jazz for and her own blog Bebopified, concludes her coverage of the 52nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival below. For Espeland's earlier reports on the event, click here for her dispatches on day one and day two. T.G.

Monterey Jazz Festival

In the early evening, just before Jason Moran takes the stage in the Arena for his 2009 Monterey Jazz Festival commission, Clint Eastwood walks by. A man beside us at the bratwurst booth says, “Now I’ve gotten my money’s worth.” He laughs, but no Monterey experience is complete without at least one sighting of Eastwood, who has been a friend of the Festival for so many years.

Our day begins at a conversation between NEA Jazz Master Tokisho Akiyoshi, who turns 80 next year, and journalist Yoshi Kato. This is another thing that makes Monterey special: opportunities to hear from jazz greats like Akiyoshi and (yesterday) Bobby Hutcherson in the relaxed setting of Dizzy’s Den. We learn about Akiyoshi’s childhood in Manchuria; her early love of the piano; how, when she was 16 years old, a record collector named Mr. Fui invited her to his home to hear a recording of Teddy Wilson playing “Sweet Lorraine.” To Akiyoshi, each note was a pearl.

She tells us about her first recording and how Downbeat gave the album three stars and its cover five stars. That “it’s good to have music knowledge but…the most important thing is to have a musical mind, a musical attitude.” Kato asks about her 40-year relationship with Lew Tabackin, her husband and band member. “Every great band has a great soloist,” she says. “Lew is a supreme tenor player and a supreme flute player.”

I don’t know Akiyoshi’s music and won’t hear her play this year—her performance is scheduled at the same time as Moran’s in the Arena—but spending an hour in a room with her, listening to her stories and being in her presence, has made me want to listen to her music. Akiyoshi fans, I’m open to suggestions on where to start.

The Alfredo Rodriguez Trio is performing on the Garden Stage. A friend heard Rodriguez solo at the Detroit festival a few weeks ago and raved. Rodriguez’s story is fascinating. In January of this year, he defected from Cuba, leaving his family and friends, risking arrest, deportation, and imprisonment.

Backed by Nathan East on bass and Francisco Mela on drums, he plays two originals; then East begins a low, soft solo that whispers “Body and Soul.” We have to listen hard to hear it; planes fly overhead, it’s an outdoor stage, and the crowd in the nearby food court is noisy. But it’s worth it. And when the piano enters and Rodriguez brings his own interpretation to the American jazz standard, you can hear his great love of this music.

We can spend only a few moments with trumpeter/flugelhorn player Dominick Farinacci in the Coffee House. Just 25, the Juilliard grad recently released his first U.S. album, Lovers, Tales & Dances, which features jazz greats including Kenny Barron, Lewis Nash, and Joe Lovano. (Farinacci previously made six albums as a leader in Japan.) He connects well with the crowd and his tone is warm and golden. With Dan Kaufman on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Carmen Intorre on drums, and Matthias Kunzli on percussion, he plays Piazzolla’s lovely “Libertango,” followed by a blues. Kunzli’s percussion adds new layers of sound and rhythm to the standard quartet.

Buffalo Collision played the late show last night at the Dakota in Minneapolis, then took an early flight west to make their afternoon date at the Garden Stage. Probably the most outside group at the Festival (I say “probably” because I haven’t heard everyone, but it’s a safe bet), Buffalo Collision is pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King (both of The Bad Plus), saxophonist Tim Berne, and cellist Hank Roberts, all monster improvisers. This show will later get at least one scathing review (“I’ve never witnessed a set so hostile to the notion of melody”) but to me it’s bliss.

Monterey took risks this year by booking Buffalo Collision and commissioning Moran, whose work is known to be progressive, but jazz is not made by Brubeck alone. I wonder how Ornette Coleman was received when he first played the Festival in 1959.

Buffalo Collision plays four or maybe five pieces during their hour-long set; it’s a little hard to tell and it doesn’t really matter. At one point Iverson stands and leans inside the piano, doing something with the strings—plucking? pressing?—while King and Roberts explore the outer limits of their instruments. Roberts coaxes sounds out of his cello that would have Rostropovich spinning in his grave: screams and growls, clicks and groans. For a time, his cello sounds like a stringed Chinese instrument.

There is an underlying rhythm to this music but who’s making it? Without a bass player, the timekeeper’s job logically falls to King, but that’s not where he’s at. Yet the rhythm exists somewhere between the notes, like a sympathetic vibration. It must exist because I’m tapping my foot.

The music rises and falls, with solos and duos and full-blast ensemble sections, blending tenderness and wit, cacophony and lyricism. In between are interludes by Roberts, like rope bridges stretched over canyons. Hold on, don’t look down, and you’ll make it safely to the other side.

In the Arena, Jason Moran and Bandwagon are playing a tune by Moran’s teacher Jaki Byard. It’s a warm-up for the reason they’re here: for “Feedback,” this year’s Festival commission. Moran is a risk-taker, an experimenter, a thinker, drawing freely from all of the resources available to him; standards, history, the Jazz Loft Project archives (for his recent In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall 1959), technology, his own prodigious and playful imagination.

I see him whenever I get the chance; he often comes to the Walker Art Center, which has also commissioned new work by him, for performances and conversations with performing arts curator Philip Bither.

Tonight Moran tells us that Jimi Hendrix played this very stage in 1967 at the Monterey Pops festival. “I was intrigued by his performance and how he used the technique of feedback,” Moran explains. “He worked it into all of his music. I took all these sections where he used feedback and chopped them up.” He warns us that it might get loud, we might want to cover our ears, we might even want to leave. Several people do leave, but for those of us who stay, it’s a fascinating and rewarding experience.

Loops of feedback moan and screech, buzz and hum. Over them, Moran and his trio, the Bandwagon—Tarus Mateen on electric bass, Nasheet Waits on drums—play intelligent, melodic trio music. Moran moves between the big Yamaha grand and a Fender-Rhodes. The mood shifts from poetry to funk. Then Moran howls into the mic before inviting the audience to participate in the piece. One side of the crowd, he says, should sing a single note—a low ahhh. The other, a rising and falling whoop. They oblige. Human feedback, live and in the moment.

We spend ten minutes with the Shotgun Wedding Quintet—jazz meets rap, big band and boom-bap, tons of fun—before heading back to the Arena to see Dave Brubeck receive an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music. “A while ago I was offered an honorary doctorate,” Brubeck says, wearing full academic regalia, “and I asked my brother, ‘Should I accept it?’ He said ‘Do—you’ll never earn one.”

When the curtain opens again, it’s on the Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck on piano, Bobby Militello on alto saxophone and fluted, Michael Moore on bass, Randy Jones on drums. “I told my group we would play Ellington,” Brubeck says by way of introduction, “and asked them to please just follow me wherever I go.” A lively “C-Jam Blues” segues into “Mood Indigo” and “Take the A-Train.” They don’t play like young men—they don’t have the speed or the elasticity—but they play like the pros they are, with joy and generosity and mastery. And Militello still blows like a typhoon.

We’ll hear the end of the set—and the expected, beloved, thunderously applauded performance of “Take Five”—over the speakers inside the Coffee House, where we’ve gone to hear the Vijay Iyer Trio. Remember, Monterey is about choices, often hard choices. I’ve seen Brubeck often, Iyer only once, and I’ve been reading so much about Iyer’s trio and their new CD Historicity that I’m dying of curiosity.

Iyer is said to make complex, mathematical music (he has his B.A. in math and physics from Yale), and the radio announcer who introduced him quoted Iyer as saying “Music is mathematics in action,” but I don’t hear math. I hear beauty and emotion. Julius Hemphill’s “Dogon A.D.,” an original Iyer work, “Questions of Agency,” selections from Historicity. Solid, supple, expressive, inventive, intriguing stuff, played as one by Iyer, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and bassist Matt Brewer (replacing, without explanation, regular trio bassist Stephan Crump).

Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White are still playing in the Arena when we leave the Coffee House, but I’m more than content with Iyer as my final Monterey show. We hang out for a while on the grounds, talking with friends, stepping briefly into Lyons Lounge, where DJ Logic is unplugging his equipment, watching the vendors tear down and pack up. Even at this late hour, if you want, you can still buy chili, a cup of green tea, or sweet potato fries.

This blog entry posted by Pamela Espeland

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments


Day Two at Monterey

Pamela Espeland, who writes on jazz for and her own blog Bebopified, continues her coverage of the 52nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival below. For her report on day one at Monterey, click here. T.G.

Monterey Jazz Festival

The weather changed on the hour and the music was just as eclectic on the second day of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Morning haze gave way to hot afternoon sun in time for John Scofield and the Piety Street Band, fog rolled in and saved my brain from boiling (the Arena is open-air), the temperature fell along with the evening, and by the time the big red curtain opened on Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, people were wearing coats and gloves. The Festival is its own collection of microclimates.

We enter the Arena in time for “The Angel of Death,” guitarist Scofield’s take on the Hank Williams tune. He introduces it as “the scariest song he knows” but it’s hard to be scared in a happy crowd of people in floppy hats and sunglasses.

I have not been a close follower of Scofield, my bad, but I do like this group. Rootsy, rollicking, soulful. The set closer, “It’s a Big Army” (“I’m a soldier in the army of love/I’m a soldier in the army”), rocks the audience. Roland Guerin takes a slappy bass solo, drummer Shannon Powell bangs the tambourine, and pianist/organist Cleary shouts the lyrics. I want to be a soldier, too.

Next up in the Arena: one of the Festival’s most anticipated events, the first-ever appearance here of folk music icon Pete Seeger. I’m not a folkie but I hold Seeger in highest respect for his lifelong political activism, plus he has written some fine songs: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” His band is family and friends; at one point, his guitarist (and grandson) Tao Rodriguez-Seeger urges, “Come on, Grandpa, play some banjo for me.” Standing at stage left, out of the sun, we hear “Midnight Special” and Woody Guthrie’s “Dustbowl Blues.”

Off to a conversation at Dizzy’s Den: “70 Years of Blue Note Records.” On stage: host Ashley Kahn, Blue Note’s Michael Cuscuna, and two great Blue Note artists, Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Lovano. Kahn lets his guests do most of the talking and they share stories and memories.

By now we’ve met up with friends and spend the next couple of hours parked at a picnic table in the grassy food court. The open-air Garden Stage is nearby and the music of Ruthie Foster is our soundtrack. It’s glorious. According to Festival tradition, the end of the table we’re not using is taken over by a changing cast of characters bearing chicken wings, mud pie, and stories of why they’re here and what they’re enjoying.

The first Arena show of the night was originally pianist Hank Jones and the Joe Lovano Quartet. When Jones cancelled for health reasons just before the Festival began (he recently played the Detroit Jazz Festival, lucky Detroit), Scofield stepped in. So the set we hear is completely different from what it might have been.

With the dream team of John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums, the group powers through Lovano’s “Fort Worth,” Scofield’s “Since You Asked,” and what I think is a Monk tune. Lovano starts the set by telling us what they were playing, then stops, caught up in the music. (Not for the first time, I submit this humble request on behalf of writers everywhere: Please, mighty jazz greats, take a second and tell us what you’re about to play or have just played.) It’s raucous and wailing, a showcase for four remarkable musicians; at one point, Lovano plays two soprano saxophones simultaneously. People sitting near me think it’s a bit too squawky.

The group Wayne Wallace and Rhythm & Rhyme takes a long time setting up on the Garden stage, and we soon know why: It’s a big Latin band, complete with at least twelve musicians and seven vocalists. This is a group I don’t know, chosen partly because when we duck into the Night Club for the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet (with the wonderful Gerald Clayton on piano), it’s steamy inside. So we wait while the crew brings out what seems like an endless supply of microphones and instruments, then someone tests every microphone, and finally the band members take their places.

A big Latin band is a thing of beauty, its leader the eye of a musical hurricane. Seeing Wallace, I’m reminded of the estimable Pancho Sanchez. A lot of people play a lot of instruments and several rhythms simultaneously. It’s exciting. I’m especially interested to see a woman saxophonist on the front line, and I’m sorry I don’t catch her name.

The band plays music from their acclaimed CDs, The Reckless Search for Beauty and The Nature of the Beat, including Wallace’s arrangement of Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru,” Duke Ellington’s “A Chromatic Romance,” and Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm.” They throw in something by Earth, Wind & Fire. Wallace calls them “transmogrified songs,” a perfect description for what we’re hearing: tunes we think we know turned into something new.

It starts out a bit uneven and fusiony (to my ears) and at first I wonder how long I’ll stay on the cold, hard metal Garden Stage bench, but I’m soon won over by Wallace and his band, who now have two more fans in Minnesota.

We think we might be late for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Arena but we’re just in time. The curtain opens on a band that gets better every time I hear it. It’s JLCO’s first time at Monterey since 2001 (when the Festival happened very soon after 9/11; I wasn’t present for that one but it must have been something). Tonight they’re all heat and excitement and precision, a wall of brass held together by the splendid rhythm section of Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums.

The set is simply thrilling from the first notes of Kenny Dorham’s “Stage West” (arranged by the fine young trombonist Vincent Gardener) through Henriquez’s final notes on his arrangement of Joe Henderson’s “Shades of Jade.” In between: Lou Donaldson’s “Blues Walk” (arr. Sherman Irby, so swinging), Wayne Shorter’s “Free for All” (arr. Wynton Marsalis), and Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” (arr. Ted Nash). Nash’s take on this tune is sweet: breathy flutes, muted trumpets, room for a sparkly solo by Nimmer. Say ahhh.

The band is billed as Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, but nearly everyone had his turn in the spotlight tonight. The whole set was ridiculously stellar. I stood the entire time (at the side of the stage) and if they were still playing I’d still be standing.

It’s late. After midnight. Time to head back. But first, a Dee Dee Bridgewater nightcap. She’s playing at Dizzy’s Den (her second set of the night; she preceded JLCO in the Arena), it’s on our way to the gate, and she must be wrapping things up by now, right? Wrong. She’s just getting started and she’s on a tear.

I’ve seen Bridgewater several times before—an October 2007 date at the Dakota with her Malian project has a permanent place on my Top Five list of live music performances—but never as she is tonight: Dee Dee unbound. She sings, she talks, she flirts with the audience, she flirts with her band: Edsel Gomez on piano, Ira Coleman on bass, Vince Cherico on drums, Luisito Quintero on percussion. She tells us about her upcoming divorce (her third), she scats and growls, she makes her voice a horn, she fills the room with her personality and broad, sweeping gestures. She pulls no punches and she’s spicy tonight, a little too spicy for some people. The man sitting next to me hates her. And yet, he doesn’t leave.

We get a taste of her forthcoming CD, a tribute to Billie Holiday. “All Blues.” “Speak Low” from her Kurt Weill project. “My Favorite Things,” Dee Dee style—not the perky whiskers-on-kittens ditty but a dangerous song about a girl who knows what she wants and you’d better not stand in her way. She follows with a down-and-dirty “Dr. Feelgood” blues. And finally a magnificent “Afro Blue.”

We stagger out the door at 1:45 a.m., after the patient stage manager (a 25-year veteran of the festival) has politely asked Gomez to politely ask Bridgewater to please wrap things up so folks can go home. I’m guessing this is one of those Monterey shows that will go down in the history books. Dee Dee Bridgewater, force of nature, shaved-head warrior queen.

This blog entry posted by Pamela Espeland

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments


Day One at Monterey

Pamela Espeland, who writes on jazz for and her own blog Bebopified, is sending us dispatches from the 52nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival. Below is her report on the first day of the festival. T.G.

There are many ways to experience the Monterey Jazz Festival: as a sit-down meal of many courses, as a buffet, as a snack tent (like the new-this-tear Taste Tent on the Midway, where you can sample foods and beverages from a variety of festival partners). This is my fifth year here and I should have a routine by now but I don’t.

 Monterey Jazz Festival

The happy problem with Monterey, and any festival where you have to make choices, is you have to make choices. You can’t be in two places at once, or in this case six, the number of venues where you can hear live music. I start with a plan but it always falls apart as I’m distracted by a new name, a buzz, or sounds coming out an open door.

On Friday, the opening night of the three-day festival, we enter through Gate 3 and duck into the Night Club for a few moments with the Scott Amendola Trio. Screaming guitar. Too much, too soon. I learn later that the show worked up to this level of frenzy and had we been there from the beginning it would have been fine. I promise to get a CD.

Next brief stop, the Garden Stage for the Berklee-Monterey Quintet 2009, a reminder of the MJF’s ongoing commitment to jazz education and featuring young artists. (Much of Sunday afternoon will be devoted to performances by young artists.)

My photographer husband and I catch the end of New Orleans piano player Jonathan Batiste’s first set at the Coffee House Gallery. (At the Coffee House, artists tend to stay put for the evening, playing more than one set.) A bit of “We Shall Overcome,” then something in which Batiste sings “you got to hold on.” He sings, he plays piano with his hands and his fists, he plays melodica and piano at the same time. He’s amazing.

His fired-up band includes Eddie Barbash and Matt Marantz on saxophones, Philip Kuehn on bass, Joseph Saylor on drums, and someone on trombone whose name I didn’t catch. All look almost too young to be out without their mamas.

It’s near the end of Esperanza Spalding’s set at the Arena. This year, the young bassist/vocalist/composer is the Arena opener, a sign that You Have Arrived. We saw her earlier this year at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, and she also played the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in June, an outdoor event during which Prince sat in his limousine behind the stage, listening and calling her on his cell phone.

Earlier, as we walked toward the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the Festival site, we overheard a woman ahead of us tell her companions “Esperanza Spalding is a good bass player, but she also wants to be a singer, and if she asked me, I’d tell her to stick to the bass.” Perhaps she felt differently after tonight. Spalding’s singing and bass playing are intertwined. Although I can’t begin to understand how someone plays bass the way she does and sings at the same time, which often includes complex scatting, I’ve seen it enough to believe that this is who she is and how she expresses herself. Her supportive and intuitive band is Lee Genovese on piano, Ricardo Vogt on guitar, Otis Brown on drums.

The Arena’s second event of the night, one we’ll see in full, is this year’s version of the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars supergroup: Kenny Barron on piano, Regina Carter on violin, vocalist Kurt Elling, and Russell Malone on guitar, with Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. As the curtain opens, the band is already playing and Elling is already singing: “My Love, Effendi,” his vocalese spin on the McCoy Tyner tune. He slides from words into scatting, which many in the audience have come to hear (someone yells “Go, Kurt!”).

Throughout the set, Elling acts as unofficial emcee, announcing the group members and occasionally passing the mic to someone else. He and Carter take the spotlight for the lovely old Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein song “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” after which Carter and Barron play a ballad that acts like a big, gentle, quieting hand on the crowd; it seems that everyone listens and no one wants to miss a single sweet note from Barron’s piano or sigh from Carter’s bow.

Malone is featured next in a quartet with Barron, Kitagawa, and Blake, then the mic goes to Barron, who announces his original composition “What If?” It’s a Monkish tune that opens up midway for an Elling vocalese that begins “What if Jack Kerouac showed up tonight with his pockets full of snippets of ideas?” Then he tosses out several—“Girls running up library steps with shorts on,” “boys smashing dandelions with a stick,” “all day long, wearing a hat that was not on my head,” “drunk as a hoot owl, writing letters by thunderstorm”—and someone in the band responds to each in a playful back-and-forth.

More highlights of this generous set—for which, Elling explains, the group prepared with only two short rehearsals together, “but together we probably have over 300 years of rehearsals, all so we could be ready for you tonight”—include the saucy Jon Hendricks/Horace Silver collaboration “Soul Food,” and Malone’s take on “Time After Time.” After a naughty introduction—something about an older singer who taught him how to treat a ballad like a kiss—Malone does that thing he does: plays guitar so beautifully you could swoon. Backed by Barron, Kitagawa, and Blake, he hands us soft, feathery notes, delicious chords beneath the melody, and an elegant ending.

All four of the All-Stars shine tonight, but it’s Malone who steals my heart.

Festival director Tim Jackson has made Forro in the Dark one of his Top Ten picks, so we head next to the Night Club. Forro is the rural party music of northeastern Brazil, and this Brooklyn-based group of Brazilian expats probably isn’t used to playing to a seated crowd. They urge us to get up and dance, and a few do, but it’s hard on a carpeted floor. This is a fun, energetic group I would like to hear on their home turf, which for now is the East Village nightspot Nublu, where they play weekly.

As they update the sounds of their traditional music, they do it with a blend of new and old instruments: electric bass and guitar, pifano (bamboo) flute, zabumba (a type of bass drum that is worn by the musician and played on both sides), saxophone, percussion. They play originals, at least one song by Caetano Veloso, and a ballad.

The band members are Jorge Continentino on saxophone, pifano flute, and vocals; Joao Erbetta on guitar an vocals; Gilmar Gomes on percussion and vocals; and Adriana dos Santos on zabumba and vocals. The only non-Brazilian among them is bassist/vocalist Masa Shimizu, who’s originally from Tokyo and met the others in NYC. The house is nowhere near full but no one is sitting still.

Across the way at Dizzy’s Den, Esperanza Spalding is still playing her second set of the night, and we score seats near the front in time for her final tune, the audience sing-along she’s becoming known for: She scats a simple phrase, we repeat, another, repeat, and then she lets loose with a long, showy verse that makes everyone gasp and laugh. It’s a joyous end to the evening.

Back at the Hyatt, the hotel where most musicians stay (it’s within walking distance of the fairgrounds), the bar is full and noisy. We spot Regina Carter right away; Kurt Elling walks in wearing a white baseball cap. New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, who performs on Saturday evening, plays “Caravan” on the piano; Jonathan Batiste joins in on his melodica. My only regret: missing the John Patitucci Trio earlier tonight, which I’m already hearing was awesome.

Random first-night memories: Tepanyaki rice bowl from the Korean BBQ booth. The kids at the Best Buy tent (Best Buy is this year’s seller of CDs) playing “The Beatles: Rock Band” game and paying no attention to the jazz on the Garden Stage across the way. The Hat Man at the Arena gate, wearing a felt moose head hat and telling everyone “It’s my chocolate moose.” A couple here for the first time, wondering what to hear and see, up for anything. That’s the spirit.

This blog entry posted by Pamela Espeland

September 19, 2009 · 0 comments


New Reviews of Well-Aged Tracks

We're nostalgic types here at So in addition to highlighting the best of the recent releases, we review lots of old tracks. Our coverage is more-or-less evenly split between the current scene and "heritage music." By my measure, this makes us slightly more oriented towards the historical roots of the music than other jazz media outlets, which tend to focus on what's happening this month.

Below are links to 15 reviews published during the last few weeks. Each of the songs included here is at least twenty years old, and some of the tracks covered date back to the 1930s. The result is a well-aged playlist that features a number of important artists whom you need to know, if you haven't made their acquaintance already.

As always, each review comes with full personnel and recording info, a ranking based on our almost-patent-protected 0 to 100 scoring system, and the best appraisal you will find this side of Sotheby's. Also, each review features a link to a third-party site where you can get a (legal) download of the music.

Happy listening!

 Fats Waller

Fats Waller: "The Sheik of Araby" (1938)
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

 Emily Remler

Emily Remler: "Blues for Herb" (1988)
Reviewed by Jared Pauley

 Stan Getz

Stan Getz: "I Thought About You" (1986)
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

 Tito Puente

Tito Puente: "Mambo Diablo" (1985)
Reviewed by Jared Pauley

 Steely Dan

Steely Dan: "Reelin' in the Years" (1972)
Reviewed by Marcus Singletary

 Modern Jazz Quartet

Modern Jazz Quartet: "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" (1955)
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong: "Tin Roof Blues" (1955)
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

 Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson: "Blue Skies" (1977)
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

 Johnny Griffin

Johnny Griffin: "Blues for Harvey" (1973)
Reviewed by Scott Albin

 Count Basie

Count Basie: "Exactly Like You" (1937)
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

 Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter: "Deluge" (1964)
Reviewed by Jared Pauley

 Django Reinhardt

Dicky Wells (with Django Reinhardt): "Japanese Sandman" (1937)
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

 Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce: "Star Eyes" (1988)
Reviewed by Scott Albin

 Wes Montgomery

Wes Montgomery: "Full House" (1962)
Reviewed by Jared Pauley

 Ike Quebec

Ike Quebec: "Blue and Sentimental" (1961)
Reviewed by Scott Albin

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Ron Carter, Mulgrew Miller and Russell Malone in DC

Michael J. West, a regular contributor to, reports below on the performance by an all-star trio at Bohemian Caverns. Ron Carter came without a drummer, but hardly needed one with pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone on hand. T.G.

Bohemian Caverns

Washington, D.C.’s Bohemian Caverns is a rare breed: a jazz club that’s operated out of the same location—a U Street basement whose speakeasy origins are obvious—for nearly 90 years, making it a truly historic venue. “The last time I was here, it was with Miles Davis in 1964,” Ron Carter told club owner Omrao Brown, making a sweeping gesture at the club’s fake rock walls. But Friday evening, the legendary bassist returned, this time as a leader. His all-star Golden Striker trio (featuring pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone) did a sterling performance of jazz standards that they kept low-key, but also infused with an overpowering but sublime sense of the blues.

For Friday’s 10:30 set, Carter, Miller, and Malone, dressed identically down to the green-and-blue striped ties, took the stage without a word—climbing over the tables crowding its front to compensate for the packed house—and opened on a mellow rendition of Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’ “Don’t Blame Me.” The pianist took the lead very early, carrying the written melody and the first solo. Hank Jones has called Mulgrew Miller “one of the greatest living pianists,” and in concert it’s easy to see why; he belongs to the same lineage as Jones, caught between early and modern traditions. Miller played a stride line on his left hand and light bebop figures on his right that were built on sly blue notes, groaning under his breath with the right-hand phrases.

Malone was even softer. Much more restrained from the showmanship he exudes as a leader, the guitarist focused instead on his tone, clear and so naturalistic that the click-click attack of his guitar pick was audible through his Roland amp. On the band’s second tune, a super-fast “Oleo,” it was often the only audible sound in his amp; Malone played accompanying chords, but so softly it was as if he was stroking the strings with a brush. One had to listen intently for the notes. He also turned the guitar into a percussion instrument, ceasing his comp shortly into Miller’s solo to begin patting the surface of his Sadowsky archtop like a bongo drum. Malone’s solo was pointed but very precise, with amazing speed that brought to mind Louis Armstrong’s onstage “Tiger Rag” shtick about how the tiger was fast, but the band could outrun him.

As for Carter, he did what he always does: make the most convoluted, difficult runs of bass notes sound lyrical and look easy. He was subtle and economical on “Don’t Blame Me,” but turned around and blew the crowd away on “Oleo.” Throughout Miller and Malone’s solos he was incredibly stable and solid, even at the tune’s crazy tempo, and maintained that nimble rhythm in his own solo…but his harmonic progression was in another realm, as though he were playing the changes on an adjacent but completely separate song. It was the next segment, though, that had real majesty. Malone delicately chorded a dark little structure, with Miller playing broken time against him; Carter equaled them for delicacy, although his confidence shone through every note.

Then, on a dime, piano and guitar fell away and Carter took off on an odyssey. His fingers floating all over the neck and even strumming there at several points, he zoomed through double stops, note bends, slides, harmonics, blues fragments, and quotes from “Willow Weep for Me” and “All Blues.” (When he briefly quoted from “The Mickey Mouse Club,” a shout came from the back of the room: “That’s what I’m talking about!”) Despite his grimaces and the sharp barbs he played, Carter made the whole musical trek a thing of fragile grace; it looked as though any one of us in the club could have gotten up and replicated his every move without a second thought.

It was at the conclusion of that magnificent showpiece that Carter finally introduced the band. “They have the same taste in ties that I do,” he joked, “And they accept postdated checks.” He then called “Autumn Leaves”—a song the trio had first performed on The Golden Striker, the 2003 album that gave them their name—such a common standard that musicians tend to know if reflexively, but in this case the arrangement had Miller and Malone carefully reading charts. But they nonetheless made it a triumph, Miller with a gospel-ballad tack and Malone following with a slightly sharper course that echoed Miles’ “Walkin’.”

Finally, though Carter had announced “Autumn Leaves” as their closing number, they threw in one more: Fletcher Henderson’s “Soft Winds.” This piece was so bluesy that it was actually deceptive: This writer was convinced it was a standard 12-bar until counting the measures and finding 32 of them to a chorus. Yet it was stocked with blue notes and blues changes, and the hard-bop flavor was so strong that Miller took an extended quote from Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” Carter and Malone added to the blues atmosphere, while simultaneously playing endlessly melodic chords around and behind Miller before drawing to a close with a subdued reading of the melody.

It was a bit of a curveball from Ron Carter; the dexterous bassist certainly exercises tasteful restraint, but the delicacy and subtlety of the Golden Striker trio was a horse of a different color—blue. It did, however, make for an extraordinary night of music.

This blog entry posted by Michael J. West

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments


The Secret Jazz Festivals

This may be the best kept secret in jazz. Most jazz fans have never heard of the jazz showcases. These private events allow a small group of insiders to hear a range of up-and-coming artists. Casual fans are not invited, but concert promoters, booking agents and critics get a glimpse of the new generation of talent. But here's the catch: you won't find them in the US. Thierry Quénum, a leading jazz critic based in Paris and a regular contributor here, reports below on a showcase he attended in Bruges, Belgium a few days ago. T.G.

 Flemish Jazz Meeting

Even in Europe few jazz buffs are aware of the fact that various countries � or regions that have a certain political and economic autonomy � have chosen to promote their emerging jazz groups through showcases that only professionals have access to, and that are held annually or every second year.

Norway usually couples them with a festival in Bergen or Stavanger. The Netherlands and the Belgian Flanders organize a showcase every second year. Germany also holds its German Jazz Meeting every second year in Bremen, during the huge international jazz fair called Jazzahead!. Catalonia has its special way and organized its last showcase in Paris and London clubs for two nights last year, swapping groups from one capital to the other. It also presented a short showcase during the European Jazz Meeting at Jazzahead! this year. But Catalonia seems to be the only Southern European country or province that�s rich or organized enough to be able to afford an international showcase, anyway.

On this first week end of September, the beautifully picturesque city of Bruges was home to the 3rd Flemish Jazz Meeting (FJM). A good dozen groups were presented to a board of festival or club directors and journalists from about ten European countries. People in attendance are expected to hire these groups in their venues or write about them in their media.

 Flemish Jazz Meeting

From Flemish people, you can expect a warm welcome and a well organized event, and indeed it was. No wonder: De Werf (�the workshop� in Flemish), a 20 some years old arts center that specializes in theater, theater for children and jazz, was the host. De Werf houses a nice 150 seats auditorium that is used for concerts�and for studio sessions when Rick Bevernage, its director and producer, records one of the CDs that will be issued on W.E.R.F. This label offers more than 60 releases, most of them devoted to Belgian musicians, essentially those hailing from the Flemish speaking part of the country. De Werf was perfectly ready to welcome this get together of the microcosm of European jazz organizers and writers, and to handle properly the hugs, kisses, chats, city visit. . . . including an evening opening cocktail party under an aptly prepared tent under the rain, and an afternoon barbecue later on under the Bruges� late summer warm sun and blue sky.

As far as music is concerned, the prevailing rule of this type of showcase � about 20 minutes for each group, and at the FJM five groups per night � is rarely totally compatible with the well-being of the players, nor that of the listeners. The former are often stressed to play such short sets in front of an exclusively professional audience; the latter are often frustrated when they like what they hear, and just as easily bored when they don�t. But that�s the rule and if you�re here on either side you somehow have accepted it. In both cases you must be ready, alert, efficient.

The first global remark that could be made by foreign observers was that Flanders don�t have a nationalistic perception of what jazz should be: Hijazz, the first group of the first evening included an Armenian, a Tunisian and a Moroccan, respectively on duduk (a Middle Eastern double reed instrument), oud (the Middle Eastern and North African lute) and percussion. Together with the piano, bass and drums that formed the rest of the sextet they played a nice, soft east-west mix that somehow lacked the festive or loose improv� dimension one can usually expect from that type of reunion.

Pianist Pierre Anckaert�s trio was next with its guest, virtuoso flute player Stefan Bracaval. They went from impressionist climates to Cuban rhythms with a beautiful piano sound and interesting interaction between the leader and his guest, supported by a subtle rhythm section. Yet 20 minutes were not enough for them to get rid of their initial stiffness and really convince the audience. Free Demyster, again a pianist, has a quartet that features John Ruocco, a veteran US reedman who�s been living in Belgium and the Netherlands for some time now. The group favors Ornette Coleman type of climates and its rhythm section is tight and efficient, but the interplay could be looser and the leader displays too heavy influences from the most in-view contemporary piano players to be considered original.

The atypical trio that followed was a real surprise: neither accordionist Tuur Fiorizoone nor cellist Marine Horbaczewki are virtuoso players. Their ability to improvise can also be discussed. But together with young veteran Michel Massot on trombone and tuba they have coined a very fresh and original trio sound. The repertoire favors simple melodies and supple grooves, and each instrument takes care of the song or the rhythm in turn, with Massot doing the chief job with his huge sound and seasoned creativity. It may sound strange that the least �jazzy� ensemble was the most convincing so far, but obviously here the �less is more� motto applied again.

To end this first evening with a full fledged Coltrane-like (latter period) set by the quartet of tenorist Jeroen van Herzeele may not have been the best choice as far as the concentration of the tired � though professional � audience was concerned. Fortunately this short concert started with an awesome solo by veteran French bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel (a former pillar of the Steve Lacy European ensembles), a master musician after whom it�s difficult for other player to catch the listener�s attention.

The next morning, at Bruge�s Memling Museum, the saxophone quartet Saxkartel displayed the formal sonic beauty of a classical sax quartet on compositions by its baritone player Tom Van Dyck, Dutch violist Oene van Geel, or modern and classic standards. The members of this quartet are definitely virtuoso players and their ensemble playing is perfect, but here again one would like to see them clutch less to their scores and turn their talent towards more improvisation.

On the second night the quintet of young Peruvian born pianist Christian Mendoza presented an interesting blend of rhythms and melodies where the leader�s romantic piano and the reeds and flute took the main place, but the group�s ability didn�t quite match its noble intentions, or maybe again the limited 20 minute time it was granted wasn�t enough for them to convince the audience. The following RadioKUKAorkest, a cello / accordion / clarinet / bass quartet, played a well written chamber jazz that sometimes sounded like baroque music, sometimes like film music, and even cartoon music. The frequent tempo shifts, the intertwined timbres of the instruments, and the groove of the bass were all delightful, but here again improvisation was a minor element.

Finally, one of the youngest bands, the DelVita Group, attracted interest by playing swinging, subtle post hard-bop compositions that mixed tradition and creativity with great spontaneity and fire. This sextet is co-led by two horn-men in their twenties � the brothers Steven (tenor sax, also a member of Saxkartel) and Peter (trombone) Delannoye: the �Del� in the band�s name � supported by drummer Tony Vitacolonna (the �Vita� in the band�s name). They are very promising musicians, indeed, including a very convincing tenorist, who makes clear that Mark Turner�s frequent stays in Belgium have had a positive influence on local sax players.

This was a great way to conclude a showcase that couldn�t escape the limits of the genre:

•  Though the jazz schools in Europe produce more and more young musicians, it's still difficult to find 12 bands that are good enough to be presented to an international panel of professionals every second year.

•  Playing in such conditions (as if they were passing an exam) is not the best way for musicians to show their skills, and indeed the level often was that of an end of the year concert in a music conservatory.

•  The amount and diversity of music to be "absorbed" by the invited listeners in a limited time doesn't favor the quality of their judgment. Maybe, then, it�s the very idea of that type of showcase that should be questioned. The years to come will tell if Northern European countries are able to find a better way to "sell" their emerging bands to their neighbors.

This blog entry posted by Thierry Quénum

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


The Artistry of George Russell (Part 2)

A few days ago, published part one of Jeff Sultanof's overview of the life and music of the late George Russell. Sultanof concludes his article below. T.G.

 Jazz in the Space Age

In 1957, George Russell was commissioned by Brandeis University to compose “All About Rosie,” a three movement composition which is quite possibly the composer’s masterpiece. It is one of the few pieces of concert music using the language and instrumentation of jazz that is fully convincing. Not until movement three do we hear improvised solos, but Bill Evans’s is one of his greatest—in fact, it was transcribed for inclusion in the full score of the work published by Margun Music and now available from Music Sales (Schirmer). Russell later re-orchestrated the piece for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, and in some ways the resulting recording was better than the original.

Milt Gabler at Decca Records took an interest in Russell when the composer wrote some new pieces for Hal McKusick’s Decca albums, and he produced Russell’s next two projects, both gems—New York, New York and Jazz in the Space Age. The first of these albums, with an all-star big band, had many compositional and improvised highpoints. Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Max Roach, Phil Woods, Benny Golson, John Coltrane and Bill Evans are featured. The second is an album-length composition broken into several sections in which Russell continued to explore form and the written vs. the improvised.

Bill Evans once again is outstanding and Paul Bley plays against him brilliantly. Even though the entire piece is over a single or several rhythmic patterns, a few of the soloists play quite freely (Bley and Evans sometimes ignore the beat entirely). Russell uses a bass line in 5 for several sections; he’d used such a bass line in “All About Rosie” as 5 against 4.

 The Stratus Seekers

Critics were ecstatic over these albums. Ornette Coleman had arrived on the scene and his Free Jazz approach shocked and disturbed many faithful jazz critics and listeners, and Russell was showing how jazz composition could go in a new direction that they had some chance of understanding. At the same time, Miles Davis was moving in the direction of modal improvisation directly influenced by Russell’s concept, and Kind of Blue became the war-cry for the new jazz. On the one hand, modes freed up the soloist to explore new directions in melody and harmony. On the other, soloists with minimal talent now played endless solos over one or two chords.

Musicians now beat a path to Russell’s Bank Street apartment to learn the concept, and Russell’s new sextet included students of his (David Baker, Al Kiger) along with more experienced musicians, over the years including Don Ellis, Eric Dolphy, Chuck Israels, and Steve Swallow. Carla Bley wrote one of her earliest compositions for this group. The group made four excellent albums for Riverside Records (all of which are available on CD).

However by 1964, Russell was one of many jazz musicians who felt the pinch of the British invasion of rock and roll. Jazz clubs were switching to rock, record labels cut back on jazz product, or ignored the music entirely. Russell had a gig in Europe and decided to stay there. Scandinavia became his home for several years, where he taught such musicians as Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal. Bosse Broberg, the conductor of The Swedish Jazz Orchestra asked Russell to write for his ensemble. Many of Russell’s compositions were commissioned and premiered by that organization.

It was in Europe that Russell further explored a compositional idea he called “Vertical Forms.” In essence, he would create ostinato rhythms or lines, and they would repeat, expand and contract while other musical materials and improvised solos would play over them. At this point, his musical palette took in jazz, rock, Latin rhythms, Free Jazz, and even electronic tape for his work “Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature.” Like Gil Evans in the seventies and eighties, Russell embraced the popular music of the time, and was met with great interest by adventurous listeners, and dismay and indifference by his older fans. Some of the early “Vertical Form” pieces sound repetitive and directionless to these ears, but Russell continued to explore and refine.

In 1969, Gunther Schuller was the director of the New England Conservatory, and perhaps one of the most important things he did was hire Russell to teach the Lydian Chromatic Concept at the Conservatory. As he had shown for years, Russell was a born teacher and students flocked to his classes. He began to tour with a big band; a later edition of the band was called the Living Time Orchestra.

he African Game

In 1985, the then-dormant Blue Note record label was revived with two albums from the same Russell big band concert recorded in Massachusetts. One of the albums, The African Game, was one of Russell’s finest achievements and was nominated for two Grammy Awards. Several years later, I heard a live performance of this work played by the New England Conservatory Jazz Ensemble at an International Association of Jazz Educators convention, and the piece and the performance received a well-deserved standing ovation. As an important innovator in World music, Russell was honored with a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 1989, the 1990 National Endowment for the Arts American Jazz Master Award, two Guggenheim fellowships and several other honors.

By 2001, the Concept was available in a newly revised and final version. A beautiful hardcover book, it cost a whopping $125.00, hardly a casual purchase. But Russell and his wife Alice had a booth at the previously described IAJE, and I was one of many people who bought a copy and asked Russell to sign it for me. The man seemed tired but happy to see the long line of people buying his book. I did not know that he probably had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, but I had a pleasant chat with his wife Alice, during which I informed her that I’d found one of George’s pieces in Miles Davis’ collection of music, and urged her to contact Peter Shukat so George could obtain a copy. I then asked why Russell did not make his music available. Alice said that George was very concerned about photocopying.

While I understood his concerns (as I’ve written on this website and elsewhere, there are some real crooks who have pilfered one-of-a-kind manuscripts of big band pieces from major collections; others have sold copies of them illegally), if he would have appointed a print licensee, much of his music could have been made available and he could have realized income from copies sold.

The fact was that Russell did not want his music available and he wanted to control how his concept was taught. If one needs proof, the following sentence may be found in all four editions of the Lydian Chromatic Concept: “The teaching of all or any part of this material by unauthorized persons is an infringement of copyright.” In fact, when he gave weekend courses on the concept outside of Massachusetts, the advertising promised new material that was not yet available except at these weekends. Ironically, in the 2001 edition, he made it clear that this was Volume 1 and that Volume 2 would be available at a later time. To date, it has not appeared. Will it ever be published, and under what circumstances? Will the concept become one of those interesting ideas that was once influential and eventually disappear, such as The Schillinger System (once THE course of study for professional arrangers from the thirties through the sixties)?

It is my hope that the estate does what is necessary so that Volume 2 of the concept is published, and that his students organize in some way so that the concept can continue to be taught by those who have thoroughly absorbed it. The text itself is dense and requires working through a great deal of information and sounds that run counter to traditional harmony. But the result is more than worth the trouble.

Thankfully, George Russell’s contributions to music were recognized during his lifetime, and he did not die penniless and unknown. But now is a crucial time to assure that his legacy continues and thrives.

This blog entry posted by Jeff Sultanof

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Pianist Laurence Hobgood with Kurt Elling at Smalls

Laurence Hobgood is best known to jazz fans as accompanist and musical director for vocalist Kurt Elling, but discerning listeners have recognized that this pianist is big talent in his own right. Now on the heels of his recent CD When the Heart Dances, Hobgood is doing some gigs as a bandleader, and in a turnaround he brings in the dynamic Mr. Elling as his guest. Ralph A. Miriello, a regular contributor to these pages, was on hand to hear the proceedings. T.G.

 Laurence Hobgood

It was an overcast Monday evening, the end of the Labor Day weekend. I made the trek from Connecticut to the tiny basement club, Smalls, in the West Village, a venue I had never patronized. A tarnished saxophone hung over the arched entrance that led to the club as I made my way down the steep narrow stairway into the bowels of this lower level bar and performance space—a music lover’s dive in the best sense of the word.

The opportunity to see pianist Laurence Hobgood and his trio in an intimate setting was just too enticing to pass up. I had reviewed a couple of songs from Hobgood’s latest CD When the Heart Dances—an album on which he collaborated with the fine bassist Charlie Haden and the vocalist Kurt Elling—and found it to be one of the most enjoyable releases I had the opportunity to listen to this year.

Small’s is around the corner from the venerable Village Vanguard. This no-frills club can accommodate about seventy-five patrons at capacity. The stage is compact and not elevated. There is a photo portrait of a young and smiling Louis Armstrong hanging over center stage, setting the mood. Carefully placed mirrors give the audience an illuminating view of the pianist’s keyboard and the drummer’s traps.

The audience was packed, listening to the music of the Lafayette Harris Trio as I made my way into the club. Harris is a talented, straight-ahead pianist whose playing is steeped in the blues. His trio included Lonnie Plaxico on electric stand up bass and Montez Coleman on drums. I heard the trio play songs from Sonny Rollins and Cassandra Wilson before they closed out their set to an appreciative audience.

As the Laurence Hodgood Trio made its way to the tight stage, many in the audience were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the special guest, vocalist Kurt Elling. When Mr. Elling did arrive he and Mr. Hobgood warmly greeted each other. Before the set began, Mr. Elling exercised his vocal chords to set the gain on the microphone he would be using. The audience responded with knowing applause as his voice bellowed over the sound system.

Hobgood began the set with the title cut from his new album When the Heart Dances. Starting, as he so often does, with a miniature masterpiece of an introduction, he set out the pretty waltz-like melody. He used cascading right-handed arpeggios that he anchored with block chords from his firm left hand. His rhythm section, consisting of bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Ulysses Owens, responded with increased intensity as Mr. Hobgood expanded on his theme with his own enthusiasm and vigor.

In a passing comment, after he finished the first song, Hobgood alluded to his three-year absence from live performances. Be assured it was as if he had never left. With its appetite whetted, the grateful audience was anxious for more.

The second song was an old Doris Day favorite “Que Sera Sera.” Hobgood cleverly disguised the melody with an intro that only gradually revealed his musical direction. He took the popular song and refashioned it with dignity and grace, transforming it into a vehicle of tremendous expression. His approach to music swells with a fresh and sophisticated beauty that is never sappy, maudlin or contrived. A cool, hip beauty, if you will.

As the evening went on, his playing became increasingly more animated. During some of his solo passages you could see him elevate himself and sway into the rhythm of the music. He hovered over the keyboard with a motion that allowed his hands to dance over the keys. His rolls of notes and chordal crashes were infectious. Both Raghavan and Owens responded with stirring solo efforts as Hobgood spurred them on.

The Cole Porter classic “All of You” was played up-tempo; Hobgood’s improvisation spanned the entire keyboard during this song. On “The Smuggler” Hobgood used rapid right handed runs and chordal bursts and was answered in kind by Owens, whose delicate use of cymbals at precise moments complimented the music nicely. During his rapid bass solo, Raghavan’s high-pitched voice was heard softly mimicking the notes he was playing on his bass. All the while Hobgood comped lightly in the background encouraging a direction. The trio performed as a tight complimentary unit throughout.

All during the first five songs of the set Kurt Elling was perched at the bar listening attentively and patiently. Mr. Hobgood introduced Mr. Elling to anticipatory applause. The first selection was Duke Ellington’s “Daydream,” another number featured on the new album. While I have long respected Elling’s vocal abilities and sense of time and space, I must confess to not being a dedicated follower. I’d found his stylizing was at times too much for my taste. Watching him perform in this intimate setting with Hobgood proved to be a revelation. His voice has a tremendous range—from woody baritone lows to reedy tenor highs; and as someone next to me noted, he made it all look so effortless. I came away from this performance a convert.

The trio rolled into the next song unannounced and without pause. After a few bars it was obvious that we were in for a very special rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic “Golden Lady.” Hobgood started the song with a clever use of his piano strings, plucking them to create an almost electronic effect. Elling’s treatment of this pop classic was superb as he traversed through a couple of octaves without missing a beat. His inflections and timing were impeccable. Like any great singer, Elling has tremendous breath control and uses his proximity to the microphone to adjust his voice as he increases his volume to reach more difficult notes without overpowering his listeners. In the repeating chorus he was also able to improvise a complex scat at break neck speed to the coda (and to thunderous applause).

Hobgood and Elling did one final encore, a duet entitled “Motherland,” for which Mr. Hobgood wrote both the music and lyrics. This ballad is a lament about the current precarious state of our country, but with a message of hope of what could be.

I came away from this extraordinary evening of music with a renewed appreciation of the artistry of Laurence Hobgood and with a new more fully realized admiration of the brilliance of Kurt Elling. The late night trek from Connecticut to the throwback, West Village jazz club Small’s proved to be a trip well worth the effort.

This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello

September 13, 2009 · 1 comment


Regina Carter at Tanglewood

Half ethnomusicology lecture, half concert, Regina Carter's performance was significant on many levels. It introduced audiences African music, through field recordings she played and with her own interpretations. Searching back to the real roots of jazz, these melodies from her upcoming CD Reverse Thread, due out in January 2010, are the precursor to the blues, and the music that would develop from it.

Regina Carter

The feel was light, and at times resembled cajun or celtic music because of the instrumentation: violin, accordion, acoustic bass, and kora, a harp-like instrument made from a calabash. But those similarities to music from other continents were passing, and mostly in the solos. This music, with its simple melodies, whether infectiously joyous or quietly plaintive, is hypnotic, like the glassy smooth, "Kothbiro,” by Ayub Ogada, which repeats and turns on a simple minor melody. Two things account for the trance effect: repetition, and anchoring the phrases with single notes or beats from bass and drums. Carter fell completely under its spell during performance, playing the ending to one song, then singing along with the line, finally pulling down her violin and chanting alone.

She set up her version of "This Child Will Never Walk," by playing a recording of this folk melody by Ugandan Jews which is less about a child's deformity than its laziness—the child simply would rather be carried! It is done a cappella, and there is a drum-like quality in the singer’s voice; it sounds almost like a thumb harp. Bass player Chris Lightcap's arrangement transcribed the voice parts to bass and violin, with accordion harmony. After repeating the melody, Carter used harmonics to produce an eerie, high-pitched sound, and ended the song with long peaceful lines. Later, the MP3 of a brisk tune by a Madagascar accordion chorus, with the men playing instruments, and the women relegated to hand-clapping, morphed into a galloping, accordion solo by Will Holshouser and a "fiddled" solo by Carter. Some country fiddler. Regina Carter continues to have the same impeccable tone and technique, critical to sustain the mood of this kind of ensemble playing. When she did solo, she would start with simple figures, adding rhythmic variations, accents, and runs.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the concert was putting the kora on an international stage. Played with mastery by Yacouba Sissoko, this phenomenally complex and magical-sounding instrument, somewhere between a harp and a sitar, is both light and densely meshed. Bass line, fingered accompaniment and complex improvisation are all played simultaneously. On "Diamonds and Gold," a song about rejection by a woman who can't be won at any price, Sissoko's solo had a furious and diaphanous beauty. He also was the happiest musician on the stage. In green native attire, he would smile at Carter as if to say, "How lovely to be here making this music with you."

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller at Tanglewood

Facing each other on nine-foot grands, these two pianists played through the harmonic and stylistic interstices of several standards and one blues with relaxed virtuosity. Although Kenny Barron is a more mature player, Mulgrew Miller more than rose to the occasion, notably playing complex lines as opposed to Kenny Barron’s chordal motion and rich harmonization. After a low-key, swinging “Just in Time,” Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” was a vehicle for Miller’s bright, advanced lines and Barron’s solid backing, which has the feel of an entire rhythm section. In “Recorda Me” Barron kept steady rolling rhythms under Mulgrew Miller’s polyrhythmic solos, and developed Latin accents around Miller’s syncopations.

Each pianist did a solo selection, Mulgrew Miller building a whimsical stride version of Gershwin’s “Liza,” his solid left hand supporting supple, rigorous right hand runs. Barron’s solo piece built harmonies around post-modern lines with advanced turnaround runs. He seemed to develop progressions within progressions as he improvised on the tune. During “Blue Monk,” they traded a series of increasingly more complex lines, before going back to the head and ending the tune to a standing ovation.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Dreaming the Duke at Tanglewood

Pairing classical soprano Harolyn Blackwell and jazz singer Nnenna Freelon in a program of Duke Ellington songs brought out, among other things, the enduring power of his music, which worked equally well with both singers. Mark Garson's arrangements for three horns (sax, trumpet, trombone), string quartet, piano bass, and drums and tried out some unusual ideas. Such as—"Caravan" as a ballad fugue for strings over a swing tempo, and subtly quoting "Maiden Voyage" behind sections of "In a Sentimental Mood." Scoring "A Train” as a slow, attenuated vocalise worked because it laid bare and showed off the beauty of the line. Superimposing Rachmaninoff's Vocalise in C# minor over "Beginning to See the Light" was perhaps a less than successful experiment; playing these songs together demonstrated their incompatibility rather than producing a meaningful hybrid.

The centerpiece was the vocals, the format usually swing and jazz ballads for Nnenna Freelon, and lyrical treatment with a few uptempo numbers for Harolyn Blackwell. Blackwell had fun with an occasional venture into a genre so different from her classical training and predilection, in swing treatments of songs like "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," although the high point of her performance was an almost elegiac rendition of "(In My) Solitude" for voice and solo piano. Often, Blackwell would begin a tune with a slow, lyrical arrangement over strings, as with "I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart," then the band would switch into a swing arrangement behind Nneena Freelon. "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" followed the same formula, although Freelon began it in 3/4.

With poise and star quality, Nneena Freelon sank her teeth into the lyric and emotional content of the jazz ballads and slow tempo songs she sang to Mark Garson's pungent reharmonizations. She changed the nonchalantly sexist lyric of a slow "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" into a firm belief in unchanging and committed love, and, undulating up and down half steps, she glided through rich, sexy phrasing of "In A Sentimental Mood" and “Prelude to a Kiss." In contrast, her scat on the swing was undeveloped, almost amateurish. One wonders if singers listen to the horn players behind them anymore.

The band finished off with an encore of "C Jam Blues," featuring some fine solo work on French horn by Jeff Stockham, bringing this unconventional salute to the Duke to a close.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


John Pizzarelli at Tanglewood

Owing either to the weather (gorgeous); the format (pleasant and amusing); his music (engaging, solid and polished); his dad (still playing metronomic rhythm and velvety solo guitar); or his Foxwoods commercial, John Pizzarelli was the biggest draw of the Festival. Broadcasting his "Radio Deluxe" show from "high atop the Berkshires," Pizzarelli, his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, and preteen daughter Madeline, hosted a two-hour throwback to the days when his Bucky sat by the AM/FM to hear the latest swing.

The format was shticks upon shticks with a little music thrown in. This was at first maddening, even though John Pizzarelli worked the audience with such aplomb and charm that one eventually warmed up to it. But hadn't we come to Tanglewood for music? Perhaps it's always better to carry a big shtick.

But seriously, folks, there was plenty of music. From the moment he went into the first tune, scatting the lines he played, Pizzarelli reaffirmed his gifts as a guitarist. All the numbers, although they were carefully staged, showed the type of professionalism that puts an audience at ease, especially the vocals. Jessica Molaskey, a musical theater performer whose well-placed, personable voice has a touch of huskiness, sang a gentle "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams," and shared a "meditation on co-dependence" with her husband that cleverly bound the lyrics of "I Wanna Be Happy" with "Sometimes I'm Happy."

The band benefited from John Pizzarelli's solid guitar playing, Bucky’s comping, and pianist Larry Fuller's clean, light, fluent, intelligent lines. Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and violinist Aaron Weinstein, both fine musicians who were featured on a tribute to Zoot Sims and Joe Venuti, may have been having an uninspired day. Their work was good, but not exciting.

Given Les Paul's recent passing, there were several stories about the Pizzarelli's neighbor in Mahwah, New Jersey. Like the party where Les Paul threw Bucky Pizzarelli his guitar, shouting, "Come on, Bucky, play one!" Or the time they were playing the Hanover Trail Steakhouse, where Les Paul decided to detune John's guitar. When Bucky and John played a Les Paul sort of arrangement of "It's Been A Long, Long Time," Bucky's solo—buttery, soft, and humble—was one of the most poignant moments of the program, if not the weekend.

Another such moment was the guest appearance of Kurt Elling, who entered with the just-folks family time prop of a Dora the Explorer bag. But when he took the microphone for "Polkadots and Moonbeams," the air in the room changed. It filled with his larger-than-life vocal presence, head-on intonation, intervallic leaps from rich baritone to delicate upper registers, and the saxophone-like cadenzas and melismas that give stately lift and finish to his songs. Hopefully, Elling will do a full concert at Tanglewood next year.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Paquito D’Rivera at Tanglewood

Conversations with Cachao, commissioned when D'Rivera was composer-in-residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts and premiered in 2007, was originally a double concerto for contrabass, clarinet/alto sax, percussion and piano with orchestra, but was performed at Tanglewood as an ensemble of the four soloists: D'Rivera on woodwinds, Garah Landes on piano and his brother Greg on percussion, featuring Robert Black's wonderful bass work as the principal voice of "Cachao"—Cuba's beloved bassist Israel López Cachao, popularizer if not "inventor" of the mambo, whose long career included dates as varied as symphonies, nightclubs, and, yes, weddings. Proving D'Rivera something of a Béla Bartók with Latin flavor, this piece frames and stretches traditional Cuban melodies, particularly Cachao's favorite lick, G-C-Bflat-C, and the Cuban rural guajira, inside a modern compositional setting. Put a group of Cubans in a room, and let them start a conversation—even if they all agree, there's bound to be some fast talking. If they're classically trained, as Cachao and Paquito were, the banter is elegant.

The concerto's three movements placed heavy demands on the musicians, who were more than equal to the task. Sharing, trading, and developing theme statements, they moved with fluency through the brisk runs and percussive and rhythmic accents that provide a commentary to the scored bass lines or improvised cadenzas. Robert Black more than held up the bass's end of the conversation, with furious bowing, seagull-like glissandos, harmonics, and hand drumming on the sides and rear of the instrument, offering all his technique and expression up through his instrument to honor the bassist for whom the concerto was composed. D’Rivera, by turns lithe and raucous, led the lyricism of the second movement on alto sax and clarinet, improvising a coda that showed why he is arguably the best living jazz clarinetist today. The piece being Cuban, whether riotous or lyrical, gave an equal role to the full panoply of Latin percussion, played with panache by Greg Landes. Triangle, tambourine, suspended cymbal, xylophone, glockenspiel,woodblock, , bongos, conga, handclaps, bells, maracas, snare—all spread through the piece like Cuban rum spice. .

The strong physicality of this music, here stylized and distilled, rippled through the ensemble, as handclaps by the percussionist were later repeated by the pianist, who would also sometimes accent a line with hand-drummed accents on the side of his instrument. As D'Rivera returned to the concerto's main theme in the third movement, led its development, and wrapped up the exposition with the upward thrust of his fist, one could only marvel how his compositional genius matched his instrumental virtuosity.

D'Rivera is as generous and prescient as he is talented, and he gave the stage to two young musicians, flutist José Valentino and pianist Tony Madruga, who performed D’Rivera’s “Fiddle Dreams,” commissioned by Library of Congress and originally played by Regina Carter. They played with tremendous authority and sophistication for musicians of their age. The many moods and tempo shifts of this fairly abstract piece, with both scored and improvised sections for both instruments, exploits both the percussive and lyrical capabilities of the flute, over a rolling, sometimes roiling, piano accompaniment. By turns jaunty and blues-tinged, these progressions pushed the musicians hard, especially as they traded fours: José Valentino's vigorous lines were each played to the last breath, like a man who has a point to make before he is finished having his say. Pianist Tony Madruga supported Valentino fully with the dissonances, lush voicings and Latin figures that propel this complex piece through development with continuous rhythmic motion.

In "Panamerica," D'Rivera scored the free-text poem honoring "Alaska to Tierra del Fuego" for soprano Brenda Feliciano and Latin orchestra, featuring instruments from different countries that are not usually played in the same piece, sort of a musical OAS. Backed by clarinet and alto, six-stringed fretless bass, drums, trumpet, valve trombone, and keyboards (piano and Rhodes), Afro-Cuban congas, bandoneon, and Colombian harp. This splashy piece, framing the spoken and sung text of the poem, celebrates the territorial and spiritual grandeur of the two continents, shifting between alto sax, piano, and brass solos, and spotlighting the featured instruments—harp, bandoneon, and congas. The show-stopping energy of Edmar Castaneda's llanero harp was as ferocious and percussive as the classical harp, twice its size, is light.

During the original and Latin band numbers which followed, D'Rivera indirectly continued his homage to Cachao, who essentially invented the Cuban jam sessions, or descargas, that gelled into the type of band arrangements with solos that we know today. Hector del Curto’s fluency with the bandoneon, an Argentine concertina with four keyboard layouts—two for each hand depending on the opening or closing motion of its bellows, or "an instrument that only a masochist would play," as D'Rivera commented, offered a chance to present two by Piazzolla, "Libertango" and "Oblivion." Del Curto's tone, timbre, control of dynamics, ease with key changes and chromatics on “Oblivion” proved that his self-inflicted condition is apparently incurable. "Oblivion" segued into a Cuban “son,” with Pedro Martinez's commanding conga work, and after the seductive insistence of the bandoneon led the band through "Libertango," it rode out on a drum solo and ended in a rip.

As he often does, D'Rivera ended the program with the full band riffing on Bach. After the woodwinds soloed, each instrument entered in turn, and by the end, harp, flute, clarinet, valve trombone, and rhythm section brought the piece to a gregarious but harmonious and steamy close.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at Tanglewood

This sixteen-piece big band is the current iteration of the original Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra started by those two musicians in 1966. Performing each Monday night at New York’s Village Vanguard, the band is currently concentrating on less well known works in the Jones-Lewis book.


They opened with the spiky “Mean What You Say,” featuring Scott Wendholt’s engaging, urbane lines. Two Bob Brookmeyer charts followed, one brand new and the other equally as fresh sounding after a good forty years. “Oatts,” written for lead alto player Dick Oatts, was the perfect platform for Oatts’s biting, angular post-modern solo. “ABC Blues”—another Brookmeyer chart from the sixties, contained solos by Joe Magnarelli’s rapid trumpet, Mark Small’s melodic tenor sax, and Jason Jackson’s spacious trombone, with opening and closing piano sections, riotous full band polyphony, and an interlude for drums.

In “The Waltz You Swang for Me,” Rock Ciccarone took a bright, fluent solo on trombone, but Billy Drewes was all but airborne on soprano sax, with a cadenza both abstract & lyrical. As band leader and trombonist John Mosca introduced “Kids are Pretty People,” he added, “when they’re not your own.” With beautiful tone, he carefully developed his solo on this chart from a simple statement into double-time layered complexity.

When Thad Jones wrote “My Centennial” in 1976, he may have had Latin America in mind. Led by the trumpet section, its mambo groove cleared out room for the rounded bebop lines of Gary Smulyan, who appeared later that evening with the Dave Holland octet. The band closed with the rich and gentle “To You,” scored for horns in close harmony and dedicated to the memory of Ted Kennedy.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Ben Powell at Tanglewood

With a lovely tone, sophisticated lyricism, and a wonderful sense of swing on classics like “Opportunity,” “Tournesol”, “I Won’t Dance” and the original “Light” from his CD of the same name, Ben Powell plays swing through modern ears, relishishing the genre he “self-discovered” after solid training in classical violin. Enlisting a solid rhythm section – veteran bassist Bruno Raberg, fellow Berklee alumnus Cedric Hanriot on piano, and drummer Devin Drobka, Powell has put his considerable technique to work in his improvisations on uptempo tunes and in ballads like “Andre.” Powell chose his sidemen wisely for the Tanglewood date. Raberg, an experienced hand in laying down a walk, a pocket, or a groove, rounded and underscored the sound, building a smart solo around the melody line of “I Won’t Dance.” Adding spice and snap with Rhodes and polyrhythms on acoustic piano, and swagger to a more conventional conception of jazz violin, Cedric Hanriot enhanced the group’s sound, with Drobka’s tasteful rhythmic underpinnings. Powell’s set was very satisfying listening, and it will be interesting to hear how his music develops.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Kat Edmonson at Tanglewood

Kat Edmondson sings with ingenue sex appeal and emotional sophistication, which was shown off to best advantage in John Lennon's "Just Like Starting Over," taken as a lyrical ballad and arranged by pianist Kevin Lovejoy. Her band does solid work, with excellent bass intonation by Danton Boller, especially the ending cadenza of Carole King's "You're Gonna Want Me for Your Girl,” and soulful, bluesy solo playing by John Ellis on sax. Chris Lovejoy adds good colors on percussion in tunes where drummer J.J. Johnson lays down steady grooves.

Several of Edmondson's arrangements, however, use "creative" reharmonizations in which melodic and harmonic forms of songs are often gutted, using the model of "trance music." They seem to be recreating an electronically enhanced sound with an acoustic band. Even Edmondson's voice has a metallic, almost other-worldly, timbre and a matte delivery that one could imagine in electronic music.

Edmondson's band, which can play on changes, has been informed by a sampling-electronic mentality which tends to dumb down the songs it presents. This was the case in the majority of their selections: "Summertime"—which droned on; two Cole Porter standards; and an impressionist, noir take on "Angel Eyes." "My Funny Valentine" became a hip-hop "My Funky Valentine, " and "Charade" slid by over a slow conga groove. Not to fault the band for trying to innovate, but the changes in a chord progression are needed to define and develop the relationship of harmony and melody, and lyrics, and the composers of these songs knew that. Hopefully, this will not be a widening trend in jazz.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Michael Kaeshammer at Tanglewood

Unlike Benny Reid, who was tense before going on, and whose serious-faced band members channeled their energy into deadpan concentration, Michael Kaeshammer swung his arms a bit to loosen up before hitting the keys, and—sitting, turning, mugging, and grinning in white shirttails—clearly was having a ball playing superlative ragtime, stride, boogie woogie, blues, and New Orleans beats with his excellent drummer Mark McLean. The repertoire, except for two originals, was the appropriate selection of songs like "John Brown's Body," "Mardi Gras New Orleans," "Tico Tico," "Amazing Grace," and "Moonglow." His vocals on original material tend to have a touch of Harry Connick in them.

Kaeshammer’s performance was significant in many senses. First of all, it happened. Here was an act that drew on and preserved the history of American jazz, in the best way to do so—live. Furthermore, drawing on a rock solid knowledge of Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and other early great pianists, Kaeshammer did more than play the way they did. He entertained the way they did. Sidestepping hokum, he took requests (Some wise guy yelled out "Play in F# in 11." Another act did that, read on.) He had all of us singing, in spite of ourselves, as he broke into "On the Sunny Side of the Street.” This isn’t meant as sentimentality, but to say he tapped into a part of music that's almost lost—connecting deeply with the audience on a gut level, so they are no longer spectators in the music-making.

In the tradition from which he drew for this gig, Kaeshammer set up a cutting contest with his drummer, who pulled snare and throne to the piano's side, and brushes in hand, had at it. Easing from a Teddy Wilson tune into Fats Waller's "Handful of Keys," they traded beats and licks, with Kaeshammer knocking off perfect bars of the likes of "Maple Leaf Rag" and Mozart's “Turkish Dance.” A melodramatic run announced it was McLean's turn with snare and brushes, after which the piano picked up a fast stride, a badass "Swanee River," and finished off with a little Basie ending.

Good for the digestion.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Evgeny Lebedev at Tanglewood

On the piano and musical continuum, you couldn't get much farther away from boogie woogie and stride than Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian-born recent Berklee graduate. The post-modern, polymetric, high intensity arrangements of his compositions were like a refined, rarefied acoustic Meshugah. Lebedev's comfort with complex rhythmic patterns is no wonder since they are a key element in Eastern European music.

The impressionistic opening of "Russian Dance" (on which I thought I heard recorded vocal tracks) meandered from 11/4 to 5/4 to 3/4 and back to the combination of figures of 6 and 5 as the band added heft and textures. When they played "Footprints," you could hear it in 3/4 or 4/4, so integrated was the feel of triplets on four.

Lebedev, an accomplished pianist, is a highly lyrical, astute player with sweet edges, but the trio, an integrated, communicative unit supported by the taut, fierce drumming of Lee Fish, pushed into more hard-driving grooves for this set. "Fairy Tale" started with a rubato bass solo, and as Haggai Cohen Milo shaped and heightened it, the piano entered with a chromatic run that set the move towards a fierce solo worthy of the Brothers Grimm. The mood ranged from the meditative introduction of "In Her Eyes" over light pedal point to the Jarrettesque solo on "From East to West" The bass had an assertive role, setting up the embellished rolling groove to the Shorter tune and plugging into the development of a hard-swinging solo over the changes. Later, Milo added fat, feathery guitaristic bass lines and strummed chords to a Bulgarian-inspired tune.

Lebedev has matured a lot in just one year; his music has deeper conviction His upcoming CD, From East to West, will feature Terri Lyne Carrington.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Benny Reid at Tanglewood

This young alto player, poised to release his second CD “Escaping Shadows” on September 15, writes fusion, ECM-ish material—vamps, funk, open-ended blowing—and runs a tight organization. Backing him on original material are a group of musicians able to pull off the unusual accents, mood changes, hits, heavy syncopation, upper structure harmonies, advanced progressions, and contrapuntal lines of his music.

Reid has a very good embouchure and sweet tone. All his tunes have head arrangements with the sax making the initial statement and guitar sometimes doubling, playing harmony, response or counterpoint improvisation. Reid tends to compose long smooth lines of melody, although he certainly can build the intensity, as with "Escaping Shadows," which moves from a dreamy introduction and waltz with tight kicks into some furious alto improvisation.

The energy of his band sustains Reid well. Chalk that up in large part to the steady rhythmic intensity of drummer Kenny Grohowski's drums, kicking, pulling and guiding the band with snap and verve. Strengthening the mix, too, is the Metheny-influenced guitar of Richard Padrón. Soloing on the lilt and lift of "New Days" or the funk "Firelight," Padron delivered fast, fluid lines that curled in on each other or developed through repetition.

Although fusion is his defining sound, Reid added a more conventional ballad, with pretty, rounded lines and good melodic and harmonic logic—"The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," written for his sister.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Jazz Café - Emerging Talent at Tanglewood

This large tent, whose irregular tuffets resemble the sails of a surreal schooner in the green sea of Tanglewood's manicured lawns, staged lunch and dinner shows with young performers during the weekend. Generally speaking, they were highly accomplished, representing the full spectrum of jazz from ragtime to post-modern, from handslapping to the effects pedal. What they all had in common was their birthdays – it’s unlikely any of them were born before 1985—and their looks. They all would look very good on album covers—in today's image—conscious market, that's high up on the list. Luckily, when you closed your eyes, by and large you liked what you heard.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Jon Faddis, Wallace Roney, and Sean Jones “A Triumph of Trumpets” at Tanglewood

Hosted by Jon Faddis, the concert saluted Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis, and began, naturally, with Pops. Setting the mood with “Sleepytime Down South,” Faddis let out a hearty “Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen” in Satchmo’s unmistakable voice. After a note-for-note transcription of the cadenza of the “West End Blues,” Faddis gave the spotlight to Sean Jones, whose fat, lazy period solo showed how thoroughly he understands early jazz history.

Jones has a warm, mature voice; his sharp lines on “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” and lyrical, directed solo on “Easy Living” were musically logical and well-structured. Add to this a rich, rounded tone and an adventurousness that makes for intriguing listening.

Wallace Roney bore an uncanny resemblance to Miles Davis, in whose honor he played “Round Midnight.” Roney, who has previously chafed under critics’ description of his musical resemblance to Miles, seemed to assume the same posture, trademark sunglasses, behavior, and, above all, phrasing of this influential jazz giant, although Roney has far cleaner articulation, better chops and more refined tone than Miles. He also seemed curiously aloof not only to the audience, but his bandmates, standing to the side of the stage when not playing, as Miles would often do.

Faddis played Gillespie-like runs on “Con Alma,” and evoked Cat Anderson with his signature high-register lines on “Body and Soul” while his rhythm—David Hazeltine on piano, Dion Parson on drums, and Kioshi Kitagawa—gave the trumpeters dynamic accents and a nice momentum.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Dave Holland at Tanglewood

If ever the phrase “last but not least” was fitting, this concert applies. Last act of the Tanglewood Festival, it was musically possibly the most exciting. Dave Holland, a powerfully assertive bass player and highly original composer, might be fairly characterized as the Charles Mingus of the 21st century. The simultaneously driving, visceral grooves, and intellectually intricate meters and harmonies of his compositions challenge the ears of his listeners, the capabilities of his musicians, and the parameters of ensemble jazz.

 Dave Holland

The monstrous kick and virility of Holland’s bass led the band into an opening tune pulsating in 6/4 with hits from the brass section as the woodwinds mounted a counter line toward Alex Sipiagian’s trumpet solo. The slippery runs of the elegant funk “How’s Never?” opened out onto contrapuntal and single line figures supporting Jaleel Shaw’s fluent alto solo over the insistent propulsion of drummer Nate Smith. The tightly scored horn lines of a Chris Potter composition threw the spaces and harmonic choices of Steve Nelson’s vibe solo into bold relief, and the tune closed in a cluster of unexpected bell tone intervals. “Blue Jean,” a twelve-bar blues, featured Gary Smulyan, who tapped into the melancholy mood of this tune.

In “Shadow Dance,” opening as a 12/8 shuffle with figures of 3, the African-influenced polyrhythms pushed dramatic horn lines toward the rising lines of Robin Eubanks’s solo. After Chris Potter pushed hard on tenor, Nate Smith’s explosive solo lifted him off his seat like a fighter throwing punches. He brought the beat back down to a fatback, and the horns wrapped the tune up.

With Tuesday, the crowds, and the sun, left, reminding this writer that the most important testimony to the power of jazz—live music—is paradoxically its most ephemeral element.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Can Robert Glasper Unite Jazz and Hip-Hop Fans?

Jared Pauley spurred some heated dialogue and debate with an article published in this column last year on jazz and hip-hop. (See one skeptical response here.) Now the debate is likely to start up again, with Robert Glasper's high-profile new CD mixing the two genres. This new CD is already climbing up the sales charts, and looks to be a big crossover success. Pauley reports on the release party below. [Note: a track from this CD is currently featured as Song of the Day at] T.G.

 Double Booked

The champion of hip-hop and jazz, pianist Robert Glasper, returned to the world of music with his August 25th release Double Booked. Featured on the disc are his acoustic and electric working bands. The acoustic line-up includes Vicente Archer on bass and Chris "Daddy" Dave on drums while his electric band adds Casey Benjamin on alto sax and vocoder, and Derrick Hodge on electric bass. On Sunday August 30th, in conjunction with Revive Music Group and Le Poisson Rouge, Glasper held his album release party at an esteemed and legendary West Village location (the old Village Gate).

From the start there was buzz in the air as people wondered what special guests might show—since Glasper plays with many well-known artists in the industry. DJ Stimulus got the party started a little after eight, switching up between old school soul records, neo-soul tunes and old school hip-hop. Glasper hit the stage roughly at 10:30 p.m. with Vicente Archer and Chris Dave.

I found the interaction of this trio to be very electrifying and satisfying. Chris Dave moved seemlessly around the playing of both Archer and Glasper, creating complex rhythmic tensions and even stronger resolutions. Archer showed why he is one of the best bassists around right now, effortlessly incorporating swing grooves with well thought-out and intelligent solos. Glasper also complemented the mood with warm melodic passages and intricate harmonic movements.

Yet at times I wondered whether some of the fans at the show were really "getting" the jazz part of the show. There were moments where I felt as though the audience was just waiting on Mos Def or Q-Tip to pop out of the sky and grab the mike. Aside from this—and the occasional mess up of the sound man misjudging Glasper's piano levels—the set was well worth it. I always like hearing Vicente Archer, and this performance really sold me on the straight ahead talents of all three musicians.

Walking through the crowd I noticed many well-known jazz musicians, from Gretchen Parlato to Marcus Strickland, eagerly awaiting the next set as much as I was. After a longer than expected intermission, Glasper returned with his electric band, adding Derrick Hodge and Casey Benjamin. By now the crowd was reeling with anticipation. When the sound check was finally complete, the group was ready to start doing their thing. The group performed several tunes off of the electric part of Double Booked, adding nice textures and inflections which were strongly aided by Glasper's Fender Rhodes playing.

As WBGO's Josh Jackson has pointed out, Casey Benjamin a.k.a. Stuts McGhee, is single handedly bringing the vocoder back into popular music. Some might see this as a curse but Benjamin stood out from the rest of the band, stealing the show in my opinion with powerful solos and wonderfully timed excecutable, melodic ideas. When the group started playing Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly," I was more than impressed with their versatility as an ensemble. Derrick Hodge was the anchor, grooving like the ghost of Paul Jackson was sitting on his shoulder steering him into unchartered waters.

The drumming style of Chris Dave is hard to describe. There are moments where I thought Tony Williams had been resurrected. Dave's shifts between styles and meters almost seem to happen through osmosis. Although Mos Def and Q-Tip didn't show up, guitarist Lionel Loueke did arrive, garnering much deserved praise and adulation from the crowd of 300. I didn't catch the name of the tune, but Loueke fit in well with the quartet. Vocalist Bilal was also present, joining the band for "All Matter," which was recorded for Double Booked as well. My personal favorite song of the second set had to be Derrick Hodge's "Open Mind." He started off the song with an astonishing electric bass set-up that blended harmonics and chordal movements.

Overall, the Robert Glasper release show was what I expected it to be. I was a little surprised at the fluidity of the acoustic trio, even though I found both sets of music to be equally refreshing. One thing that I didn't like about the show was the sound man. LPR has an onboard sound man and also has sound people in the back controlling the house mix. Whoever was running sound on stage just couldn't seem to get it right when it came to adjusting Glasper's audio levels. I shouldn't have been that surprised though, because every single show I've been to at LPR, there has been some kind of issue with the sound. Whether it's mike feedback from the horns or inappropriate levels from the instruments, something always seems to go wrong.

I think it's safe to say that Robert Glasper has really found his niche with Double Booked. Some might find the electric band to be too much at times but I think others will find their music to be just as refreshing and inviting as music from the 1970s and beyond. Double Booked charted at number 7 on Billboard's jazz chart, number 1 on ITunes jazz and 453 on Amazon's download charts, which is a good sign that Glasper has successfully found a way to bridge the gaps that exist between the hip-hop and jazz audiences. Only time will tell but if Glasper is able to convert some hip-hop fans into jazz lovers and jazz lovers into fusion fans, I think we should say "Salud!" And give credit where credit is due.

This blog entry posted by Jared Pauley

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments


The Jazz Party in Vail

For his Labor Day weekend getaway, Thomas Cunniffe traveled to Vail for the 15th annual Jazz Party. During this marathon of music, our indefatigable reviewer heard some 14 ensembles. He reports on what he encountered below. (You are also encouraged to check out Cunniffe's Dozens on scat singing, published today.) T.G.

 Marriott hotel in Vail

The 15th annual Labor Day Jazz Party was held September 4-7, 2009 at the town square and Marriott hotel in Vail, Colorado. The party was the final event of the Vail Jazz Festival, which included a series of free outdoor evening concerts from June-August and a jazz workshop for outstanding high-school musicians.

For this year’s party, producer Howard Stone brought together Ann Hampton Callaway and her trio, Brian Lynch’s “Spheres Of Influence” quintet, the Jeff Hamilton trio, and the Clayton Brothers Quintet. Added to this mix were soloists Joel Frahm, Dave Corbus, Wycliffe Gordon, Benny Green, Tony Monaco and Antonio Hart. The party atmosphere allowed the musicians to play in various settings and for the audience to hear all of the musicians without attending the entire event. In two music-filled days, I heard 14 different combinations of players ranging from solo piano to a 25-voice gospel choir.

Jeff Hamilton played in three different groups on Saturday, opening the afternoon with his trio (featuring guest soloist John Clayton), then powering Monaco’s explosive evening set and closing the night with the Hart/Gordon/Terell Stafford jam session. Hamilton, one of the most adaptable drummers on the scene today, was perfect for all three sessions. His trio set (with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty) featured a wide range of repertoire. The highlight was an original samba featuring a drum solo on which Hamilton used—in turn—sticks, brushes and hands. Both Clayton and Luty played wonderful bowed bass solos in Clayton’s original “Blues For Stephanie.”

When Monaco took the stage that evening, his all-star band played a wild, go-for-broke set with all participants playing at their peak. Frahm, equally comfortable in R&B and jazz settings, played blistering solos that balanced the two styles and excited the crowd. Lynch, playing more inside than with his own quintet, and Corbus, a fine guitarist with roots in electric blues and straight-ahead jazz, were superb foils on the front line. Monaco, a wild organist who must be seen live to be fully appreciated, provided an energetic mix of every jazz organ master from Jimmy Smith to Larry Young—usually within the same solo! Midway through the set, Hamilton followed a series of brilliant horn solos on Coltrane’s “Impressions” with a kinetic set of 8-bar exchanges (has anyone ever traded eights on that tune before?). An hour and a half later, Hamilton was behind the drum kit again to provide solid support through the late-night jam session.

 Wycliffe Gordon

If Hamilton was the star of Saturday’s show, Wycliffe Gordon had the same duty on Sunday. I doubt he slept much after playing on the late Saturday night sets, but there he was at 10 o’clock Sunday morning for the “Gospel Prayer Meeting”, a longtime staple of the festival. Gordon, Stafford and a slightly more reserved Monaco were joined by alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton and drummer Obed Calvaire for a spirited program of traditional standards including “Down By The Riverside” and “Amazing Grace”. Gordon led the first group of the afternoon in a delightful set of New Orleans-inspired songs. Hart shared the front line with Gordon, while Hendelman, Luty and drummer John Riley provided backup. Gordon’s wide-ranging talent was on full display here, singing and scatting on most of the tunes, playing exquisite plunger trombone on “Basin Street Blues” and agile tuba (with multiphonics) on “Honeysuckle Rose”. The latter tune also included a delightful tuba/bass duet, and a sprightly “Rhythm-A-Ning” opened with an alto/tuba/drums chorus which burst into a full-throated alto solo by Hart.

Gordon also participated in Bill Cunliffe’s Oliver Nelson tribute, “Blues & The Abstract Truth, take 2.” The band played Cunliffe’s new arrangements of songs from Nelson’s classic Impulse album, with Jeff Clayton contributing a gorgeous solo on “Stolen Moments” and Frahm blazing through “Cascades”. The rhythm team of Cunliffe, John Clayton and Lewis Nash played a lovely version of Nelson’s “Black, Brown & Beautiful”, which as Cunliffe pointed out, has a more-than-passing resemblance to Leon Russell’s later pop hit “You Are So Beautiful.” In addition to being a superb pianist, Cunliffe is also a fine jazz historian (and despite the similar surname, he’s not related to me). Later that evening, Cunliffe presented the latest of his multimedia tributes for the festival, this one featuring the music and life of Freddie Hubbard, with live music provided by the Clayton Brothers quintet.

On Saturday afternoon, the Clayton Brothers (with Stafford on trumpet, Cunliffe subbing for the absent Gerald Clayton and Nash on drums) presented a tribute to their mentors and influences. The Adderleys might be the most obvious models for the Claytons (and they performed a Cannonball inspired piece, “Big Daddy Adderley”), but the finest moments were the tributes to Ray Brown and the Jones brothers. John Clayton told the audience that he now plays the very same bass that Brown did when the two bassists first met. The instrument is truly remarkable, and Clayton drew a deep rich sound in his bowed version of “Round Midnight.” The set concluded with two movements from John’s new piece called “THE Family Detroit,” dedicated to Thad, Hank and Elvin Jones (the brother’s first initials form the “THE” in the title). Hank’s movement was very slow and achingly beautiful; Elvin’s movement featured rolling 12/8 rhythms and an impressive solo by Nash. The entire piece was premiered (with the quintet and big band) at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Labor Day, so the quintet left Vail late Sunday to fly to Detroit for the performance. Here’s hoping that a recording will be forthcoming.

The Vail All-Stars, an astonishing group of high-school jazz musicians, were a constant and welcome presence all weekend. Led and tutored by the Clayton brothers, the 12 players all have a strong grasp of the jazz language and even if they are not yet masters at soloing, they are all far beyond the average soloists in high school and undergraduate university jazz programs. John Clayton expected each player to create new tunes and arrangements, and insisted that all the music be taught aurally. The students worked together in an intense week-long workshop and then played superb hour-long sets for the Saturday and Sunday afternoon shows and at a dinner for pass-holders and benefactors of the festival. Keep an ear out for these talented musicians as they may be the giants of the future: Noah Hocker, Benjamin Kreitman, Cody Rowlands (trumpet), Braxton Cook, Tyrone Martin (alto sax), Maxmillian Zooi (tenor sax), Luke Celenza, Alec Watson (piano), Jared Mulcahy, Bill Vonderhaar (bass), Daniel Higuera & Evan Sherman (drums).

For me, the highlight of the weekend was the set by Ann Hampton Callaway. While she has several fine albums to her credit, she is another artist who is at her best in front of an audience. Her stage banter is fast-paced, her humor is disarming, and above all, her voice is simply amazing. Most of her singing is in the low, sultry and rich alto range, but when she scats, she soars almost two octaves higher with the bright sound of a soprano. After her slow heartfelt “Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye” (sung in memory of her recently deceased father, broadcaster John Callaway) she turned the mood around with uncanny impressions of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan singing Callaway’s original theme song from the The Nanny. At the end of the set, Callaway went to the piano and improvised a new song about Vail, based on audience suggestions of “snow” and “real estate.” Callaway’s live show is just too good to be a secret—perhaps her next album should be recorded live.

Other party highlights included Stafford with Lynch and his energetic band on a Latin-drenched arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Solar,” the excellent Mile High Chapter Choir from Denver who closed the Sunday morning prayer meeting with an exuberant sing-along of gospel hymns, and the solo piano sets that opened the evening concerts. Benny Green played a spellbinding “You’re Blasé” which completely captivated the audience. On faster tunes like “Bean and the Boys,” his technique was stunning, with very clean articulation and brilliant single-line improvisations. Hendelman was equally impressive the next night, with a set of songs tied to seasons and months. While Hendelman can play convincingly in the uninhibited style of Gene Harris, he can also play very sensitively, as in his opening rendition of “September Song.”

With its congenial atmosphere, beautiful setting and challenging programming, many musicians have made the Vail Jazz Festival an annual stop on their itineraries. This year, the Clayton brothers, Cunliffe, Gordon, Hamilton, Callaway and the Mile High Chapter Choir were all returning participants. While I’ve attended the Vail party before, I’m always impressed with the new combinations of players and the fresh way that the musicians approach their new surroundings. Even when some of the cast stays the same, I come back because I know it will be a new experience. Of course, that’s why the musicians come back, too.

This blog entry posted by Thomas Cunniffe

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Three Cheers for the University of the Streets

Jared Pauley, an editor and regular contributor to, recently wrote about the history of the Fender Rhodes electric piano and the current state of jazz in Harlem. Now he turns his attention to a deserving and under-appreciated New York jazz institution: the University of the Streets. T.G.

New York City is home to more jazz venues than any other city in the United States, maybe the world. Many of the city's best known venues and performance spaces are located in the West Village while others line the streets of Midtown and Uptown Manhattan. Nestled away in the East Village on E. 7th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A is a little place called the University of the Streets. The space has been in operation since the late 1960s, founded by the late Muhammad Salahuddeen. The University of the Streets is different from other "venues" in NYC because its original focus centered around the idea of a program, where kids and teenagers in gangs could find an escape and a place to better themselves.

University of the Streets

Muhammad Salahuddeen's story begins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1930, where he spent his childhood and adolescence studying art and playing the clarinet and flute. At the age of nineteen, he packed his bags and moved to New York City in 1949, where he followed his jazz musician idols around from club to club, soaking up the sounds of bebop.

By the time the 1960s had arrived, Salahuddeen was studying and teaching art at various places in New York. Around this time, he conceived his plans for the University of the Streets. The organization was incorporated in 1967 and officially moved into its current address in 1969. Born out of the anti-poverty programs of the late 1960s, the U.O.T.S. began weekend jam sessions that featured some of the most revered jazz musicians in New York City.

The heyday of the jam session was during 1969 through the late 1970s. It wasn't uncommon for artists ranging from Jackie McLean to Art Blakey or Lionel Hampton to show up and grace the jam sessions with their presence. Another musician who has enjoyed a close relationship with U.O.T.S. is pianist Barry Harris. A good friend of Salahuddeen, he still rehearses and gives piano lessons at the establishment several times a month. Salahuddeen met his wife Saadia in 1968 and following a long courtship they married in 1976. Since Muhammad's death, Saadia has been running and maintaining the space. Although the organization hasn't been a recipient of a large grant since the mid-1970s, things are hopefully about to change for the group.

I played at University of the Streets recently and the space is something you won't find in any other venue in Manhattan. The feeling of intimacy is very high and the Muhammad Salahuddeen Memorial Jazz Theater is the perfect place for aspiring jazz musicians to put on a show. The beauty of the space lies in the seating arrangement. It reminds me of a high school theater set-up. and the seating helps to enhance the performance, allowing for close interaction between the audience and the musicians. This leads me to wonder, where has our public and federal support of jazz gone? While huge art organizations can easily obtain grants and favor from our local, state and federal governments, a place like U.O.T.S., is being heavily slept on right now. Even though it's located close to the New School and NYU, there's little support for the venue right now.

I'm not sure if it has to do with the general decline in the support of jazz or if it's something else. But one thing's for certain, the history of U.O.T.S. might only be rivaled by places like the old Village Gate, Slugs and the Village Vanguard. The appeal of the organization is its humble beginnings—using the streets of NYC as its launching pad. The organization currently has music almost seven days a week and the cover charge rarely tops ten dollars. In addition, you can bring your own food and drinks. Find a bar in Manhattan that will let you do that!

On Thursdays, aspiring vocalists can come in for the Vocal Workshop series where a hired rhythm section will play the singer's original material, and on Friday nights there's a jam session with a rotating rhythm section that starts at 11:00 p.m. On Wednesday nights from 6 til 8, Richard Clements, one of the program directors, leads a piano workshop where beginners to intermediate players can pay a modest fee and learn from a professional musician.

This leads me to wonder, is our culture at large dead? Has the communal approach and aesthetic completely gone to the side? I know all of the hippies and free thinkers are close to their seventies if not already there, but where is the support for a place like U.O.T.S. in New York? Don't get me wrong, I have respect and admiration for all things jazz but it's time that the little guy got some shine alongside places like JALC. With the emergence and implementation of social advocacy in this country, I would hope that jazz music, America's music would start to receive more funding. I hope that our current president starts spending money where it needs to be spent; in our schools and on our culture so the youth of America can be instilled with some kind of appreciation and knowledge of their collective pasts.

And when this happens, places like University of the Streets might finally start to see their long and overdue appreciation come to the surface. There's nothing wrong with being an underground force, but it's even better to move beyond the underground. I think Muhammad said it best in an interview in 2000: "I've done the best that I could. I've tried to stay independent, and a lot of people have grown from it. The people can do it themselves if we can get together and realize that we're doing something together."

That's what I'm talking about, let's get together and do it ourselves! For further information on University of the Streets, check them out on the web at

This blog entry posted by Jared Pauley

September 07, 2009 · 0 comments


The Artistry of George Russell (Part 1)

Jeff Sultanof is our resident expert on arranging and composing at As an editor, he is responsible for making many classic jazz scores available to the public—including the Birth of the Cool charts—and in his contributions to this column he has championed unfairly neglected artists such as Don Ellis, Bill Finegan and Jan Savitt. Now Sultanof looks at the music of the recently departed George Russell. T.G.

 The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization

On July 27, 2009, George Russell lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Russell was yet another artist whom many people hardly knew existed but had an inestimable impact on music in the twentieth century. For those readers who are unaware of Russell’s influence on jazz in particular, I offer the following statement: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, perhaps the largest selling jazz album in the music’s history, would not have happened without George Russell.

Russell was not only an inspired composer, but he wrote and developed a concept of scales based on the Lydian mode that revolutionized the music of jazz, and jump-started the use of modes in the music. Even those who did not know of or study The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization were influenced by it if they listened to the jazz of the late 1950s as played by Davis, Eric Dolphy, and Bill Evans to mention only a few. It has been called the only theory of music that came from jazz, and has had a tremendous impact in contemporary concert music as well. This is why in celebrating his life, we need to understand the depth of his influence, as well as a summary of his journey.

Russell was surrounded by music as a child, singing in the choir of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was a drummer with a Boy Scout Drum and Bugle Corps, and later attended Wilberforce University on a scholarship. Attempting to enlist in the Marines, it was found that Russell had tuberculosis and spent six months in the hospital, during which time he learned music theory.

 George Russell

Russell later joined the Benny Carter Orchestra as a drummer. Carter heard some of his music and encouraged him to write; Russell contributed a piece to the band’s book called “New World.” Max Roach later gave an interview stating that even then, Russell was writing “strange stuff.” Russell went on to write for Earl Hines and some other bands in the Chicago area. He came to New York, but tuberculosis again put him back in the hospital in 1946, as he was about to become the drummer for Charlie Parker.

It was during this second hospital stay that he reflected on a conversation he had with Miles Davis, which has been quoted many times. In 1945, Davis told him that his aim was “to learn all the changes.” At first interpretation, one might think that Miles wanted to be comfortable knowing and playing every chord in every key. Russell took the statement differently. He assumed that Miles already knew all of that; that what he was actually looking for was, in Russell’s words, “the need to relate to chords in a new way.”

How could chords be expanded beyond their basic structures, wondered Russell. He determined that every chord belonged to a musical scale, and once the player knew the scale, his materials for improvisation would be expanded. He also found that the Lydian scale, a mode rather than a major or minor scale, had the capacity to be a springboard for an entire series of scales because of the structure of the scale itself. (Briefly, Russell determined that the raised fourth step in the Lydian mode sounded more ‘major’ because if one constructed a series of fifths on top of one another [C, G, D, A, E, B], the note above B would be F#, not F natural as in the major scale.) He was soon off and running, although it would be some years before he was able to fully formulate his ideas.

Russell’s career took a major leap forward when he was asked by Dizzy Gillespie to co-write a composition called “Cubano-Be, Cubano Bop.” According to Russell, the work has the first usage of one of the subscales in his Lydian concept. Performed at Carnegie Hall in 1947, this was hardly the first meeting of jazz and Latin music, but the piece did get a lot of publicity and was recorded by RCA Victor.

Russell was part of the group of musicians who later put together the Miles Davis Nonet of 1949-50; Russell was considered the group intellectual. When Miles Davis’ music was taken out of storage sometime after his death, the “Birth of the Cool” library was found in the three boxes of music I helped to sort through. A composition by Russell with no title was among the pieces found, minus a piano part. It is one of my great regrets that I did not edit and restore this for the Birth of the Cool folio since it was composed during the period when Russell was refining his concept, but the folio was pretty big as it was, and getting a copyright clearance probably would have been difficult.

Russell arranged for Claude Thornhill, Charlie Ventura, Artie Shaw (he wrote “Similau” for Shaw’s short-lived 1949-50 band), and for a recording date for Buddy DeFranco and big band, he wrote “A Bird in Igor’s Yard.” The side was not released until it came out on an EMI Holland LP in 1971 (1972 in the U.S.). While not a wholly successful piece, it is invaluable to hear where Russell was going musically at the time. He admits he got very few calls to write because of his musical direction, and it would have been interesting had Stan Kenton become his patron—as Kenton was to Robert Graettinger. In fact, Kenton called him to contribute to the Innovations Orchestra (the dance orchestra with a string section). If he did write something, it was not played.

Lee Konitz asked Russell to write “Ezz-thetic” in 1949 (based on the changes of “Love for Sale”) in honor of heavyweight champ/bass player Ezzard Charles, but Russell had to work odd jobs outside of music for the most part for some years. The first edition of the Lydian Chromatic Concept was published in 1953. According to Russell, the book sold very few copies because it was quite expensive, but word spread that this volume had some interesting ideas.

By 1956, Russell, Gil Evans and John Carisi, the three most advanced thinkers of the arrangers associated with the Miles Davis Nonet, were all getting opportunities to write album projects. Russell’s pieces for Hal McKusick’s RCA Victor Jazz Workshop album impressed producer Jack Lewis enough so that he commissioned Russell to make an album of his own. Russell called these compositions ‘vignettes,’ and the album is one of the finest arranged small-group albums of all time. Russell was able to show the world how his theories could be used musically, and Art Farmer, Bill Evans and McKusick were excellent spokespeople for the new language. (Russell later stated that Evans never formally studied the concept with him, contrary to what has been written elsewhere.) While the album didn’t break any sales records, it was reissued in 1962, first issued on CD in 1987 and has been available from one label or another since then.

This concludes the first installment of Jeff Sultanof’s two-part article on composer and arranger George Russell. Check back soon for part two.

September 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Twenty Jazz Lives

Unless you dig into the deep recesses of this web site, you might miss the Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians. This project, founded by Dr. Lewis Porter and continued under the leadership of Tim Wilkins, aims to provide a free, comprehensive guide to jazz biography. Entries on current-day and historical jazz artists are linked to’s reviews, interviews and other content, so with a few clicks of the mouse, site visitors can get a proper overview of the significant contributors to the jazz idiom.

The Encyclopedia is a work-in-progress, with a number of gaps that Tim and his team of jazz experts aim to fill in the coming months. But this guide already offers more than 1,800 entries—including detailed articles on many artists not covered by Wikipedia or other reference works.

Barry Harris

                                             Barry Harris

Below are twenty jazz biographical sketches added to the Encyclopedia in recent weeks. They span more than a century of jazz lives, from New Orleans pioneer Pops Foster to current day artists such as Greg Osby and David S. Ware. If you are looking for information on other artists, you can consult the index of musicians included in the Encyclopedia here. But even if the musician you are seeking is missing, check back from time time—since dozens of new entries are being added each month.

Feel free to send your comments or queries about this on-going project to Tim Wilkins at

Muhal Richard Abrams
by Eric Wendell

Randy Brecker
by Eric Wendell

Gary Burton
by Jared Pauley

John Carter
by Sean Singer

Serge Chaloff
by Gene Seymour

Thomas Chapin
by Sean Singer

Tommy Flanagan
by Eric Wendell

Sonny Fortune
by Eric Wendell

Pops Foster
by Sean Lorre

Joe Gordon
by Matt Leskovic

Barry Harris
by Eric Wendell

Stefon Harris
by Jared Pauley

Jon Hendricks
by Gene Seymour

Milt Hinton
by Eric Wendell

llinois Jacquet
by Eric Wendell

Bennie Maupin
by Jared Pauley

Jimmy McGriff
by Bill Carbone

Greg Osby
by Jared Pauley

David S. Ware
by Sean Singer

Nancy Wilson
by Sue Russell

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Duane Allman: A Rock Visionary on the Cusp of Jazz

Bill Barnes, a regular contributor to, recalls some memorable musical performances from almost four decades ago, when a rock icon seemed on the verge of crossing over into jazz territory. Barnes shares his story below, and speculates on what might have happened, had Allman not died in a tragic motorcycle accident—at the age of 24. T.G.

Duane Allman

It was an oppressively hot July day as my shaggy friends and I headed down toward Byron, Georgia, for the Second Annual Atlanta International Pop Festival. A year earlier its predecessor had actually been held in Atlanta—a month before a similar, but much more famous event in White Lake, New York. More than just a ‘pop’ or rock festival, the first AIPF had included an impressive, musically diverse lineup from Janis Joplin to Dave Brubeck, the latter being an encyclopedic nod to jazz.

However, the 1970 Byron festival had less musical diversity on its bill. With Jimi Hendrix as the star attraction and a lineup including the Chambers Brothers, 10 Years After, Grand Funk and Johnny Winter, promoter Alex Cooley probably felt little need. Other than the quirky Captain Beefheart group, there would be nothing resembling jazz on the program in Byron—or so we thought.

We struggled through the 100-mile traffic jam on I-75 and endured the merciless sun for hours before surly Hell’s Angels security guards let us through the gates onto the Byron Speedway. Finding our place among over 100,000 shamelessly wasted, semi-naked freaks, mostly squatting on blankets in various shades of psychedelic bliss, we had arrived just in time to hear the emcee gleefully tease, “That’s the Allman Brothers tuning up,” as the musicians adjusted their instruments and amplifier settings.

Their opening number was typical blues, but what followed was fresh, bold and genre-busting. When the band broke into “Every Hungry Woman,” I was intrigued. It was still recognizable as blues-rock, but with grittier funk intensity and the liberal usage of augmented 9th chords, clearly a deviation from the typical rock structure heavy with root-five voicings. However, it was “Dreams,” Greg Allman’s mystical, languid 6/8 piece, that convinced me something new was happening here beyond the limits of blues and rock- this was bordering on modal jazz. While “Dreams” wasn’t exactly on the same level as “A Love Supreme,” Duane Allman’s solo danced freely between the ionic and mixolydian, even as he switched to his trademark bottleneck midway. The drum kit duo of Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson kept the whole composition airborne in an intricate waltz awash in a bluesy B-3 undercurrent, offsetting the impassioned growl of Greg Allman’s dusky suscadine-tinged vocals.

It was the introspective, tortured guitar work of Duane Allman that elevated this number beyond the boundaries of blues and rock. His phrasing was thoughtful, structurally simply, but harmonic complex—cliché-free and powerful. Later in the set, any doubts about Duane Allman’s jazzy aspirations were dispelled when the band tore into the explosive “Whipping Post.” From the forceful 11/8 intro to the dynamic dorian climax, the evidence was damning—these scruffy blues hounds from Daytona Beach were coming dangerously close to committing jazz.

The 1970 Byron performance of “Whipping Post” was more intense, streamlined and straight-ahead than the version captured live at the Fillmore East a year later, months before the young guitarist’s fatal motorcycle accident. At the Fillmore, the band expanded the arrangement, spacing out in an orbital ballet freeing the guitars for more involved modal exploration. It would be the greatest recorded performance of that signature tune, unfortunately a swan song for the guitar player who died just before his 25th birthday. For one so young, Duane Allman left some pretty deep footprints. But would he have played a significant role in shaping the fusion movement, or have ventured into the exploration of other jazz subphyla? When such a nova burns out quickly, there are often more questions than answers, but there are some clues.

As a much-in-demand session man at Muscle Shoals and Criteria studios, Duane Allman had plenty of exposure to other types of players. His guitar work appears on releases from R&B artists like Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Clarence Carter, and contributed to a variety of other sides alongside more mainstream rock personae from Boz Scagg to Derek and the Dominos. He had a genuine feel for funk and blues and was apparently starting to explore the jazz idiom as well.

According to Randy Poe, author of the Allman biography Skydog, his musical horizons were significantly expanded by bandmate Jaimoe Johanson’s record collection, especially his Coltrane, Miles and Tony Williams Lifetime albums. These influences leeched into his playing and, conversely, his playing helped expand the minds and open doors for young hardcore rock audiences in the South, much the same way Carlos Santana’s genre-crossing efforts had opened doors between Latino music, rock and, ultimately, fusion.

During his all-too-brief career as a studio musician Duane Allman actually contributed to only one jazz album, Herbie Mann’s Push Push, arguably the least ‘jazzy’ of Mann’s discography. But Allman’s presence on the session helped make this one of the most commercially successful of all the flautist’s recordings and offers a hint of what could have been.

Of course Duane Allman wasn’t the only prominent guitarist crossing the boundary into jazz during this period—along with the aforementioned Santana, who spent a considerable amount of time with John McLaughlin, there were others like former Yardbird guitarist Jeff Beck, whose Wired would include Mingus’s “Goodbye Porkpie Hat;” and the late Tommy Bolin, who recorded with Billy Cobham. However, I don’t believe Allman ever deliberately moved into the jazz realm—it’s more likely that he incorporated jazz into his particular style of playing, while never consciously making the distinction.

At least some of his modal ideas could have been absorbed by osmosis through playing with other session players during his countless record dates, many of which were uncredited. During his early studio days he shifted gears from soul to blues, to rock and roll as easily as some people change shirts. Along the way, he developed a jazz sensibility without abandoning the dynamic principals or phrasing of his blues, much like a trick rodeo rider astride two horses, with feet comfortably planted on each saddle. It worked for him because he always seemed to remain loyal to his own inner voice.

If he couldn’t feel it, he wouldn’t play it; in fact, he was known to call off a session if he wasn’t ‘in the zone.’ Because of this intensely personal commitment to musical fidelity, his solos always had a refreshingly organic, heart-to-wood quality. While many guitarists get lost in technique and theory, gimmickry and gadgetry, Allman shared a common trait with guitar favorites such as B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix as well as jazz icons like Benson and Burrell—he played right down to the wood.

After his death in 1971, the Allman Brothers Band’s recordings and concerts took a decided turn away from their more fusionesque material. Though Allman’s bandmate and guitar foil Dickey Betts was a gifted player and songwriter, his style leaned a bit more towards traditional country and as a result, the band’s sound would soon become firmly rooted in more Southern aesthetics. Under Betts’s lead, there would be few wild leaps and forays into the modal ionosphere. As for the other Southern bands that allegedly followed in the Allmans’ footsteps, their music remained largely uncontaminated by jazz, Marshall Tucker Band’s prosaic flute notwithstanding. Had Duane lived, it’s likely that his band’s evolution toward jazz would have continued, but we’ll never know. All we do know is that, in his absence, it became less progressive.

I was fortunate to hear this band with its original members intact on one more occasion. December 5th, 1970 is a date I’ll never forget- it was the one time I would see Duane Allman play up close, in a club setting. The band’s star was rising—they were now a concert act with two albums to their credit, filling stadiums to capacity wherever they performed. A landmark live recording at Bill Graham’s fabled Fillmore East was yet to come. But the Allmans had already been booked into a Greenville, North Carolina nightclub called the Music Factory, a huge concrete rectangle of a beer hall that catered to the East Carolina University crowd, and there was no getting out of the date.

I was a student at a college within just an hour’s drive and jumped at the chance to hear them again. That Saturday afternoon, some friends and I piled into a Dodge van and headed toward Greenville, partying all the way down, arriving a few minutes before the opening set.

It must be said that, when it came to embracing late sixties counterculture sensibilities, many in the Carolinas had lagged behind the rest of the country. Not surprisingly, the crowd that night was an odd mix of long-hairs in bell bottoms and jean jackets and the more typical rowdy, shag-dancing frat boys with their trim Caesar haircuts, alpaca sweaters and Ban-Lon shirts. Back then, we “effete snobs” with our fledgling pony tails would often refer to these gentrified crackers as “grits,” too stylish and affluent to be classified as rednecks, but definitely un-cool, out of touch—not the Allmans’ ideal audience.

The band eventually meandered onstage amidst a Pabst and Bud-fed barrage of hooting from the grits, all with the same homily: “’Whippin’ Post!’ Play ‘Whippin’ Post!’ Come on, we want to hear ‘Whippin’ Post!’” Ad nauseam. Duane Allman, barely 24 years old but seeming much older, was in no mood. With a look on his face like he had just swallowed a palmetto bug, he moseyed up to the microphone, pulled his Les Paul to one side and snarled: “We’re not a God-damned jukebox—I call the tunes!” With that, the band ripped into one of their slide blues numbers, “Trouble No More.”

The crowd settled down, but the first set was rough, the band seemed unsettled, sound system balance all askew. Fortunately, after a brief intermission in which technical issues seemed to have been resolved, the boys took no prisoners in the second set, ending with a rousing performance of Dickey Betts’ haunting instrumental, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Duane played with an angry intensity, cutting like cold steel, his phrasing slightly tinged with sadness. The band was molten-hot, vulcanized by the flawless, synchronized precision of Trucks and Johanson. It’s hard to imagine them ever sounding better. They left the stage to thunderous applause, cheers and foot-stomping, which showed no signs of abating.

If the motorcycle crash had not taken his life in 1971, Duane Allman would have been in his early sixties today. Imagine what paths his playing would have taken in the interactive Internet age, after decades of cross-pollenization occurring between jazz, blues, r&b, hip-hop and rock ‘n roll. Even more tantalizing is the thought of how he would have influenced new generations of guitar players. As it stands, in his brief life he had opened the door a bit wider for many aspiring guitarists sitting on the borders between jazz and more comfortable, less intimidating styles. Would he have completely abandoned his bottleneck, blues riffs and band of Brothers to take up permanent residence on the ‘dark side’ of fusion or avant-garde? Probably not. But I hate the idea of this unique guitarist being remembered only as an R&B session player, Eric Clapton sideman and a founder of southern rock. He was so much more, a formidable supernova who could have easily toed the technical mark with the likes of Scofield, Kahn and Metheny.

After the last set at the Music Factory in Greenville on that late Autumn night in 1970, the audience kept stomping and clapping, until the Allmans drifted back onstage for their encore. Duane Allman once again approached the mic, this time with the hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth: “Well, you’ve never heard this one before.” Berry Oakley started the unmistakable rumbling 11/8 ostinato, launching the band into “Whipping Post.” I will never forget the raw, unbridled force of Duane’s solo—as always, that night he played it right down to the wood.

This blog entry was posted by Bill Barnes

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Keeping Track of 1,144,341 Jazz Tunes

Will Friedwald has contributed a series of articles to focusing on the great discographers of jazz. For previous installments go here, here and here. He continues his investigations below with a profile of Tom Lord, whose online discography covers more than one million songs and close to 200,000 sessions. T.G.

If you own an iPhone or follow the world of consumer technology, you'll doubtless be familiar with the term "iPhone Killer"�every rival piece of equipment to be marketed by a competitive manufacturer (ie the new revised Blackberry) has been touted as an �iPhone Killer.�

Not for long however, the iPhone shows every sign of being unkillable, and likewise, for most of my life, Brian Rust�s Jazz Records 1898-1942 just could not be �killed.� I accumulated dozens of other discographical books through the decades, but nothing could replace the basic Rust two-volume set, which I had permanently opened on my desk. Even into the age of CDROMS and digital data, and the first decade or so of the world wide web, it seemed like Rust�s durable volumes were unkillable. (If anything could �kill� Rust, it was the way I ransacked it every day that left the two volumes literally falling apart; some collectors I know have had their editions re-bound.)

 Tom Lord�s Online Jazz Discography

It�s only now that I�ve been using Tom Lord�s Online Jazz Discography for nearly two years that I realize that I have hardly opened Rust Jazz Records since 2007. Somehow, even having Lord on CDROM wasn�t enough to displace those big green Arlington House books. But now, God help me, I�m actually considering the once unthinkable option of putting JR into storage (especially in my new, smaller apartment, where every inch of space counts). The Rust books put out to pasture�have mercy!

Rust gives you more than just the original issue: he lists English, and, in some cases, overseas pressings. Even in the 1930s & 1940s, classic tracks, like those by Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, were reissued repeatedly while still within the 78 era, on specialist labels like Hot Record Society and Commodore, and Rust tracks all of these. Lord goes considerably farther, trying to keep on top of all known LP and CD issues; there�s practically no end to the number of times that Louis Armstrong�s Hot Fives or the Teddy Wilson - Billie Holiday sessions have been reissued and re-re-re-re-issued ad nausem, particularly under the European copyright law where virtually anything goes (in terms of material over 50 years old). Even dealing with the pre-war era alone, the details of the zillions of redundant reissues is an overwhelming task.

Another useful feature of TJD online is a feature that lets you see which releases have been added in the past one to 31 days. The �new issues / reissues tab� is a thoughtful application that could only exist in an online edition. It shows how the web has enabled TJD, unlike any printed volume, to become a living, breathing organism. (Hey! There�s a whole bunch of new Sun Ra reissues, taken from the interplanetary guru�s own Saturn Records label.) Like any Internet entity, TJD is more of a two-way dialog with readers than a book could be, in that Mr. Lord reviews additions and corrections from readers (even me!). But mostly he just adds, and adds and adds, between brand new releases and reissues, he estimates that about 600 releases per month go up on the listings. (One that I�m very psyched to see go up recently is The Anachronic Jazz Band, a particularly hip French ensemble that specialized in traditional jazz arrangements of modern jazz classics�ie, �Giant Steps� rendered a la King Oliver.)

Looking at the several hundred titles added in July 2009 brings up another point: Jazz is essentially an American music, but TJD is the first major general discography compiled on the North American continent (compared to Charles Delauney, Brian Rust, Jorgen Jepsen, Walter Bruyninckx and Erik Raben�whom Mr. Lord acknowledges). A significant portion of the contemporary albums being added are by musicians who have never come to New York to play the Village Vanguard or Dizzy�s, and, as I�ve mentioned in this column before, Mr. Lord has gone to the trouble to include details of many European bands going back to the Jazz Age.

As he reports, �I have sessions in the database from the Dutch Jazz Discography, Swedish Jazz Discography, Norwegian Jazz Discography, Swiss Jazz Discography, Hungarian Jazz Discography, Belgian Jazz Discography, Australian Jazz Discography, Canadian Jazz Discography, etc. They all have information that isn�t in Rust.� I recently obtained a CD anthology of European swing that includes �Rag Mop� by a Berlin trombonist, hitherto unknown to me, named Walter Dobschinsky (you haven�t heard �Rag Mop� until you�ve heard it in German). I was then fascinated to discover through TJD that Dobschinsky was a storied bandleader who was playing hot jazz in Germany back to the early Nazi era. (His name seems to be given as both �Dobschinsky� and �Dobschinski� in different sessions in TJD, but Lord is working to straighten out such inconsistencies.)

I will leave it someone with an internationalist axe to grind to try and use TJD to make a point with regards to what Stuart Nicholson has described as the �glocalization� of jazz. Such a statement would be impossible to qualify in terms of the entire work, since the sheer volume of information include in TJD online is almost frightening. To compare the statistics listed from a year and a half ago, with the current count:

January 2008
July 2009
Leaders 34,861 36,969
Recording sessions 181,392 189,629
Musician entries 1,030,109 1,077,379
Tune Entries 1,077,503 1,144,341

One helpful piece of advice is to acclimate yourself by reading the �useful tips,� section on the left hand side of the sign-in page; there�s a lot of hints on how to get around, how to follow a musician from date to date and how to follow a song from musician to musician. One point I missed until recently is that it is possible to narrow down the date range of a particularly prolific musician. For instance, to follow Duke Ellington from after 1935, go to the leader search and enter �Duke� and �Ellington,� then, once you�re in the Ellington listing, you can go to a specific date by clicking on the red tab labeled �Date Search,� on the top of the frame, mid-left side. Enter 1935 (or even a year, month, and day) and you can find everything by that artist from that date onwards. It�s very useful, and I could have saved a lot of time had I known about it earlier.

The Jazz Discography is the kind of work that you spend a lot of time with; I imagine that I�m on TJD at least as much as Wikipedia, the All-Music Guide, or the Internet movie database and Broadway database (and one subject for a future column, the marvelous online discography project, which isn�t a session-oriented discography like Rust or Lord, but a massive set of 78 RPM number catalogs, and another resource that I check all the time) all put together. (Even so, the day when Rust�s other seminal works, The American Dance Band Discography, The Complete Entertainment Discography and British Dance Bands are similarly superseded by a digital successor seems a long way in the future.) Quite possibly the best thing about the Online Jazz Discography is that, as much as I use it, it won�t fall apart and force me to have it re-bound.

This blog entry posted by Will Friedwald

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments