From: Nate Chinen
Joe Kohen for The New York Times
Dear Chris, Shaun, Jen and David,
Well, here we are, closing the lid on another year in jazz, and I can’t decide what narrative to impose. Was this a time of mortal reflection, with the departures of Hank Jones, Abbey Lincoln and James Moody, among so many others? Or a season of triumph, as we observed the endless vitality of Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and Roy Haynes? Was this the year that proved, with a horde of hard-charging younger talent, that jazz is -- in the words of a certain upstart summer festival -- not dead, but Undead? Or was it just another 12 months of hustling, out in the clubs and concert halls, and in the cloistered spaces where we do our solitary listening? Maybe Option E, for all of the above?
Whatever it was, we tracked and chronicled this year in real time (or, as our social-media metabolism might have it, hyper-real time), and I’m wondering how it looks to you now, with a wisp of hindsight. So to keep up a tradition of sorts at The Gig, I’ve asked you all to engage in a bit of year-end banter. Thanks for joining me -- this should be fun.
At this point you’ve probably sent in your ballots and compiled your lists, and it’ll be fascinating (to some of us, at least) to see where consensus forms. My Top 10 will be posted later this week, so for now I’m going to change the subject slightly. I recently appeared on BBC radio to air my conviction that pianists came out in full force this year. It would have been startlingly easy for me to construct a Top 10 of just pianistic efforts. Others might do the same for guitarists, or drummers.
But consider: Geri Allen, Vijay Iyer, Benôit Delbecq and Matthew Shipp each released a provocative solo disc. Keith Jarrett took the duo route. For trios, try Fred Hersch, Dan Tepfer, Frank Kimbrough, Delbecq again, Kris Davis, Russ Lossing, etc. Larger concepts? Try Myra Melford, Randy Weston, Danilo Pérez, Brad Mehldau. And then there were Jason Moran and Ethan Iverson, each with a band commemorating a decade of strong, unmistakable work.
About that commemoration: we like anniversaries and round numbers. It’s a way of organizing time, reselling material and sifting winners out of the historical mess. (We jazzbos are not alone in this.)
There was nothing perfunctory or contrived, though, about Ten, the album released this year by Moran’s Bandwagon, or Never Stop, the one put out by Iverson with the Bad Plus (above). In both cases you heard the cumulative weight and wisdom of the last 10 years, and a clear sense of intelligent artists taking the measure of their art.
A similar sense of purpose lit up several other commemorative moments this year. (I refer you to the aforementioned Rollins and Haynes.) Shaun and David, I’m sure you both paid close attention to the 10th anniversary of Ars Nova Workshop, the nonprofit Philadelphia presenting organization run by my friend Mark Christman. (More on that in a future post, perhaps.) We commemorate because we care.
And, in some rare cases, because we can make a lot of money. (I’m using the Royal We, in case there was any doubt.) Remember Bitches Brew? Perhaps you know that it turned 40 this year. Perhaps you noticed the all-out promotional push, the shiny new product, the unreleased live footage, the licensed Dogfish Head brew. I never said I was opposed to all of this, by the way.
Why bring up Bitches Brew? I’ll blame Kanye West. (Stay with me here, people.) In the musical world beyond jazz, which most of us also cover in one form or another, this is shaping up to be Annus Kanyebilis, with his new-school media strategy a proven success and his recorded opus landing rave upon rave. No one in pop was more compelling to watch this year, whether you believed you were witnessing aesthetic genius or riveted by a car crash. At times West himself seems unsure about which is which; you all saw the Runaway movie, I presume.
Thinking about how West conquered every room he entered this year, I drew the only parallel that seemed really apt: to post-Bitches Miles Davis, another frequently bedeviled African-American sound-sculptor drawn to aggressive reinvention, unbridled ego and rococo indulgence. This parallel doesn’t entirely flatter either artist.
But jazzfolk often complain about how their music gets left out of the mainstream conversation. Miles would have none of that, for better or for worse. If the timing had worked differently, I suspect he might have put in a cameo on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even if that title is more Mingus-esque in syntax and scope. Look at how much steam can still be generated by Bitches Brew, all these years later. That level of cultural cachet seems to be precisely what West is reaching for.
Speaking of reaching, I believe this exhausts the air in the room, for now. I gladly pass the baton to Chris, out in Los Angeles. Take it in any direction you like, good sir, but just answer me this: was the Nels Cline Dirty Baby premiere as unmissable as it seemed? (Sub-question: how hard should I be kicking myself, still?) cheers to all, Nate