Chamber Music America announced its latest rollout of commissions today: a dozen separate grants, awarded under the aegis of its New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development program. Among the recipients are John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet, a quartet led by Rudresh Mahanthappa (pictured above), and Mario Pavone’s Double Tenor band. (For a full list, scroll to the bottom of this post.)
Commissions like these have become a fundamental part of the jazz economy. And, I’d add, now a significant factor in jazz’s creative life. Last year I confessed some guarded ambivalence about this fact in a related Gig column, musing about the specific qualities of these “new jazz works” that tend to look good in grant-proposal form.
I know, I know: Gift horse, mouth. It seems churlish, maybe even foolish, to question any institutionalized program that sees fit to distribute funding in the name of creative music.
Looking over the list of past recipients, I can’t help but notice many who later made excellent related albums. Consider Chasing Paint (Arabesque), by soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom; Swimming (OmniTone), by French hornist Tom Varner; Tragicomic (Sunnyside), by pianist Vijay Iyer; Ivey-Divey (Blue Note), by clarinetist Don Byron; and Codebook (Pi), by Mahanthappa. Or Steve Lehman’s Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi), one of this year’s best so far.
That’s just a small handful, and it doesn’t even begin to account for the many commissions -- from Chamber Music America and other organizations, including venues -- that only led to concert and festival performances. I’ve seen quite a few of these, including some that felt overwrought or overthought. Whether that was a consequence of the commission is, of course, impossible to know.
I would be curious to know how musicians feel about the state of commissions. Does the current system create more or less freedom(s), more or less pressure(s)? And I’d love to hear what other listeners think. Sound off in the comments below. Before you do, I humbly submit that JT column again (in case you skipped it the first time). And here’s a list of this year’s recipients (from a CMA press release):
Grantees and their Projects
Rez Abbasi Group (New York, NY) In Motherland, Abassi will draw from indigenous Pakistani music and his experiences as a Pakistani-American to create a work for his quartet—guitar, piano, bass, and drum set—and a guest vocalist.
Amir ElSaffar and Two Rivers (Yonkers, NY) ElSaffar’s piece for sextet will integrate a harmonic language based on the intervals of the Maqam, a system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music; alternative tunings; a melodic and rhythmic template, and improvisation. The piece will feature voice, trumpet, alto saxophone, santour, oud, buzuq, violin, bass, dumbek, frame drum, and drum set.
John Escreet Project (New York, NY) Escreet explores his interest in the relation between speech and music with a new work that looks into the compositional possibilities of multiple, simultaneous speech tracks. His ensemble includes alto saxophone, trumpet, electronics, piano, bass, and drum set.
Ellery Eskelin and Different But the Same (New York, NY) Eskelelin plans a work in which the instrumentalists will improvise as composers, rather than simply playing solos in a pre-composed piece. Instrumentation includes tenor saxophones, bass, and drum set.
Joel Harrison Group (Brooklyn, NY) Harrison draws from the formal concepts of Charles Ives, John Adams, Oliver Messiaen, György Ligeti, and Aarvo Pärt to construct densely textured suite for alto saxophone, violin, cello, guitar, bass, hajini, dejmbe, frame drum, and drum set.
John Hollenbeck and The Claudia Quintet (New York, NY) Suite Lorraine—based loosely on structures, melodies, and harmonies of select jazz standards—will feature polyrhythms, sonic “tapestries,” and rhythmic counterpoint. The piece will be scored for clarinet, tenor saxophone, accordion, vibraphone, bass, piano, percussion, and drum set.
Jason Kao Hwang and Edge (Jersey City, NJ) Jason Kao Hwang will sequence written notation and improvisations, creating “a musical landscape through which each instrument, as a character, will journey.” Instrumentation: cornet/flugelhorn, trombone, tuba, violin/viola, erhu, pipa, bass, and drum set.
Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet (Brooklyn, NY) Gamak is planned as a multi-movement work for alto saxophone, guitar, bass, and drum set. Mahanthappa will explore melodic ornamentation, alternative tunings, and rhythm beat cycles derived from Indian, African, and Indonesian music in a jazz context.
Ole Mathisen and F.F.E.A.R. (New York, NY) Mathisen conceives Mirage as a multi-movement work built on unusual meter, tempo, and micro-tonal relationships. As the title suggests, the piece is meant to project the illusion that the quartet (saxophones, clarinet, trombone, bass, and drum set) is part of a much larger group of instruments.
Josh Moshier and Moshier/Lebrun Collective (Evanston, IL) For a work inspired by Studs Terkel’s memoir Touch and Go, the composer will utilize both sequenced song and through-composition in five self-contained songs. The work will be scored for tenor saxophone, piano, guitar, bass, and drum set.
Mario Pavone and Orange Double Tenor Ensemble (Prospect, CT) In anticipation of his 70th birthday, Pavone will compose a polyrhythmic work for sextet that alternates composed sections with structured and open improvised sections. The five-part suite will feature tenor and soprano saxophones, trumpet, piano, bass, and drum set.
Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures (Maplewood, NJ) Yeyi: A Wordless Psalm of Protypical Vibrations is envisioned as a 12-part suite for six multi-instrumental improvisers. The work will investigate rhythm themes, thematic melodies based on intervallic materials and develop Rudolph’s “Cyclic Verticalism” and prototypical signal rhythm patterns. Instrumentation includes winds (B-flat and bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, bansuri, hichiriki, shakuhachi, bass, C and alto flute, cornet, flugelhorn, and kuduhorn), strings (guitars, oud, banjo, dotar, and sintir), and percussion (djembe, dumbek, tarija, cajon, bata, conga, thumb piano, bender, qarqaba, gongs, slit drum, marimbula, udu drum, caxixi, achimevu, and drum set).