From: Shaun Brady
Dear Nate, Chris, Jen, and David:
A happy holiday of choice or lack thereof to each of you. Can’t think of better company to be huddling around a virtual Yule log with.
Nate, you led with the seeming lack of narrative to this year’s jazz developments, but perhaps it’s the absence of story that is the story. My year-end blizzard of list-making and poll-taking also involves film, and many of this year’s slots are taken by works that are at least ambiguous if not downright opaque in their storytelling. So why shouldn’t our music of choice reflect this non-linear reality? You and Chris both raise the specter of those perennial arguments about what we’re allowed to call jazz or whether the genre still has a pulse, but it seems that even within the more expansive definition that I think we all subscribe to, the boundaries -- between jazz and rock, inside and outside - are being blurred in increasingly thrilling ways.
Take those guitarists who made such an impact this year, for instance. Nels Cline’s output was nothing if not sprawling, from the epic landscapes of Dirty Baby to the deliciously skronky excesses of Inititate, which deserves its spot on my Top 10 jazz CDs list but may equally deserve the top perch on a 2010 rock wrap-up. Once upon a time there was such a thing as an instrumental hit -- classic rock radio can still be counted on for regular spins of “Frankenstein” or “Hocus Pocus” -- and if we still lived in that world, Wilco may well be opening for the Singers these days.
Mary Halvorson snagged the first slot on my list this year with Saturn Sings, a prime example of a new generation of jazz that has the lessons of rock burned into its brains, revealing itself through an emergent pop sensibility in compositions, band interaction, a certain aggressiveness, without having to strive consciously for so-called “fusion.”
None of this, of course, would please the Crouch-Marsalis faction, the latter represented this year by Jason’s “Jazz Nerds” screed, a somewhat more nuanced argument than that usually associated with his rearview-fixated older brother. If the Marsalis name is too tainted by the tired old “Jazz Police” arguments, a similar line in the sand between “emotional” and “intellectual” approaches in other camps. As its members will eagerly point out, the provocatively-named Tarbaby is meant to provoke just such a discussion, one involving tradition, swing and race that pianist Orrin Evans delights in provoking.
You can add Evans (pictured at top) to that list of pianists who dominated the year, by the way. Besides the fine sophomore Tarbaby disc, he released Faith In Action, a tribute to mentor Bobby Watson, and assembled his Captain Black Big Band with the bandleader’s equivalent of spit and chewing gum. A recording is on the horizon, but here in Philly we got to watch the band evolve in real time through a months-long residency last winter at Chris’ Jazz Café, from a raucously skin-of-their-teeth ensemble to a still-raw but cohesive ensemble. Evans is also a dedicated exponent of the dying art of the jam session, having hosted several in the city in a willful attempt to recreate the conditions in which he came up (under, I should add, the guiding presence of pianist Sid Simmons, a sad addition to the year’s obituary list).
But an equal part of Evans’ output this year comes through his intentional provocations on Facebook, in which he has, among other no-punches-pulled rants, called out musicians playing what he refers to as “metrosexual jazz” (roughly equivalent to Jason Marsalis’ “Nerds”). Though his voice doesn’t have quite the reach, if you’re looking for the outspokenness of a Miles or Kanye in today’s jazz, Evans is as good a place as any to start.
Nate, it’s been about two years since your JazzTimes column regarding Facebook, and how friending musicians offers an ethical quandary for a critic. I’m wondering how you weigh in on that debate now, and how everyone here handles it, as the site has become an increasingly interesting locus for conversation, debate, and sharing of thoughts, videos, et cetera. I haven’t built the wall around my Facebook that you wrote about, Nate, though I see your point and think it might be ideal to maintain separate professional and personal identities (advice I haven’t taken, as the thought of checking two separate Facebook profiles horrifies my antisocial soul).
As I glance over at your Twitter feed, I notice that mine is the sole name amongst our round-tablers who lacks an “@” symbol next to his name, and it’s true -- I’m a curmudgeonly holdout on the Twitter front. So for those of you who dwell within the jazz Twitterverse, how that has impacted the real-time conversation for you, and are you dealing with similar moral minefields there?
I mentioned some of the advantages of being in Philly with regards to Orrin Evans, and I’ll also take up your suggestion to celebrate the decade of Ars Nova Workshop. David and Nate especially, you know how much bleaker the jazz landscape would be here without Mark Christman’s efforts, and as other programmers have come and gone it’s especially impressive that he’s stuck to it for so long. Beyond simply bringing the avant-gardist du jour, ANW’s programming has gotten increasingly inventive, especially via its Composer’s Portraits series, which early this year saw Ken Vandermark, Trevor Dunn and Karl Berger all presenting unique Don Cherry-inspired programs.
Sorry, Chris, didn’t manage to sample a bottle of Bitches’ Brew, despite Dogfish Head’s brewpub being as close as I get to beach in Rehoboth, Delaware these days. Maybe I’ll go hunt down a bottle as I pass the baton.