From: Giovanni Russonello
This thing just keeps chugging along, like the last tune of the jam session. I’m loving reading everyone’s thoughts and recollections from the year.
Jim, your description of the Tyshawn Sorey-Ben Gerstein show had me smelling the evening air and the god-awful Gowanus Canal and the sweat on Sorey’s back. It had me hearing those cutting trombone wobbles, and Sorey’s broken cymbal clanking on the ground. It left me coveting that experience, and it really hammered home your main point: that jazz is about strengthening the ties that bind. So no matter where the music is going (toward a surrender to electronic idioms; toward free excursions; toward more tightly wound interplay) we know it won’t really be dead until the only people left calling themselves jazz musicians are playing solo sets with pre-programmed beats on their laptops. I don’t see that coming any time soon.
I’m glad you folks took a minute to meditate on Tim Berne’s warm-blooded masterpiece, Snakeoil. (Berne wrote the music, and conferred its sense of communitarian purpose, but to me this really was Matt Mitchell’s record. His piano creates the space it lives in; he’s a master of evaporating tones, and every chord he plays is broken crystal — sharp and translucent.) One we’ve given only glancing attention to, though, is Accelerando, from the Vijay Iyer Trio. The trio’s first record, Historicity, was a cabochon, but this one’s a diamond. The group sounds bounding and monstrous in its whirl of mandala-like propulsion and buried reference points.
You’re absolutely right, Nate: That record was a refinement — but to me, the fact that this band has been ahead of the curve doesn’t preclude seeing 2012 as a turning point, so much as it anoints Iyer as a sort of prescient chieftain of the zeitgeist. (Someone’s always ahead of the curve, and yet a curve it remains; hey, Greg Osby and Steve Coleman had some of these ideas 20 years ago, and Gary Bartz was nearly pulling hip-hop into jazz before hip-hop even really existed.)
As long as I’m responding to responses, Peter, I’m glad you mentioned your trepidation about the idea of assigning any sort of governing “direction” to jazz’s present or future. It’s a cat-herding exercise, for sure. But I wonder if you agree with me that critics have a right — responsibility, even — to inject some adhesive logic into the ethereal. (How else to explain star ratings?) As you point out, jazz’s diversity, especially now, is enough to leave anybody’s head spinning. Also true: Not knowing where to begin, or what the music relates to, can scare off folks who might otherwise fall for the music. At the least, I think teasing out some commonality gives us points of reference, and helps jazz gain some traction in a broader societal conversation.
It also paints musicians who defy the greater trend with a special, luminous hue. In 2012, going against the grain meant explicitly inhabiting a particular tradition. Maybe that’s ironic, or maybe by now it isn’t. Two people who did this and caught my ear were Branford Marsalis, whose disc made my year-end list, and David Virelles, the Cuban pianist who got a lot of love on those New York Times ballots. Branford today isn’t a ripple in the tide, or even a countervailing force, so much as a stalwart who seems to gather steam with every passing year. Four MF’s Playin’ Tunes was, well, an MF of an album: I’ve never heard him reaching this hard for an explicitly post-Coltrane ideal, partly because I’ve never heard him sounding so alertly himself (though he always does that, in some way or another).
And Virelles, while definitely an alchemist, struck me with how firmly and effectively he dealt with the other branch of John Coltrane’s legacy: vaguely political/spiritual, avant-garde, acoustic jazz. The choice to use Andrew Cyrille, whose sound is inextricable from that lineage, was inspired. I don't love everything Cyrille plays today — he didn't fit in with Bill McHenry at the Vanguard earlier this year, at all — but he gave this record a bristling timelessness.
Anyway, that does it for my chorus. This has been loads of fun. Thanks for the opportunity to join the rap session, Nate. On to the next soloist.