From: Hank Shteamer
Nate, Peter, Andrey and Ben,
Very nice to have the opportunity to e-dialogue with you all. If you’ll pardon me, I’ll begin by stepping away from jazz for a quick sec...
One of the big stories in rock this year was the supergroup outbreak. The oft-ridiculed trend yielded cheesy one-offs like Sammy Hagar’s Chickenfoot, but it also gave rise to at least one great album, the self-titled Interscope debut by Them Crooked Vultures, which brought together Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme and Nirvana’s former drum basher Dave Grohl with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. It was great to see these players decimating the generation gap so successfully, and it’s worth noting that similar collaborations have been brewing in the jazz world.
Take 31-year-old saxist Darius Jones (left), who tapped two under-appreciated veterans -- pianist and diddley-bo expert Cooper-Moore (63), and drummer Rakalam Bob Moses (61) -- for his powerful debut, Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing), a gutsy, blues-infused free-jazz session that came in at No. 5 on my year-end list. Cooper-Moore and Moses each have lengthy résumés to draw on, but Jones isn’t interested in nostalgic references. Like Them Crooked Vultures, Man’ish Boy sounds vigorous and inventive, with the younger player lighting a fire under his elders and vice versa.
Ethan Iverson, pianist in the Bad Plus, was another player who pursued intergenerational collaboration in 2009. For a few years now, Iverson has made a habit of interviewing elder musicians on his blog and then engaging them on the bandstand. This two-pronged approach obviously has a self-promotional angle - “You’ve read the interview, now see the show” - but it works beautifully nevertheless.
Iverson’s lengthy chat with Tim Berne, posted in late June, felt like the perfect preamble to their duet gig at the Stone later the same week, with each encounter providing a different window into these artists’ strange yet fruitful rapport. This year, Iverson also anchored a band led by drummer Billy Hart, another artist he’d previously interviewed. A September gig by this quartet was for me one of the year’s true highlights; it struck the perfect balance between classy and challenging. And the pianist isn’t done yet: This coming weekend he stops by Iridium with a quintet featuring two other veterans with whom he’s published Q&As, saxist Lee Konitz and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath.
A few other strong 2009 releases demonstrated the flip side of the coin, namely an older artist drawing on the vitality and enthusiasm of considerably younger players. Henry Threadgill’s This Brings Us To, Volume 1, cited as a year-end favorite by myself as well as Nate, found the composer riding the exquisitely open-ended grooves of drummer Eliot Humberto Kavee, while Borah Bergman’s gorgeously minimal Luminescence featured the airy lift of bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Kenny Wollesen.
Of course there were tons of great releases that didn’t fit this template. My three favorite jazz discs of the year -- Ran Blake’s Driftwoods, Chad Taylor’s Circle Down, and Jon Irabagon and Mike Pride’s I Don’t Hear Nothin’ but the Blues -- were the products of, respectively, a 74-year-old loner, a trio of midcareer inside-outside specialists and a pair of ultraversatile young mavericks. Elsewhere, I was happy to hear strong compositional visions shining through, in ensembles big (Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Warren Smith’s Composer’s Workshop Ensemble), small (Linda Oh Trio -- a band to which Ben tipped me off -- Loren Stillman, Seabrook Power Plant) and somewhere in between (Steve Lehman Octet, John Hébert’s Byzantine Monkey, Bill Dixon).
In the live arena, duos captured my imagination. The pairings of Håkon Kornstad and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, (above, and heard at Monkey Town in April -- I know Andrey and Nate dug this gig as well), and Bill McHenry and Ben Monder (at Cornelia St. Café in September) each tapped into a special kind of meditative poetry. (To be fair, Connie Crothers’s quartet and a Joe McPhee solo set took me to a similar state of grace.)
The coming year promises more duo delights, namely the mindblowingly weird tandem of guitarist Steeve Hurdle (formerly of Candian prog-metal heavyweights Gorguts) and pianist Craig Taborn (Tim Berne, The Gang Font, James Carter, etc.), playing the Stone February 13. And for now, back to Robin D.G. Kelley’s fantastic Monk bio...