Gabriel Kahane, "Where Are the Arms"
Gabriel Kahane, "Where Are the Arms"
Willie Davis for The New York Times
Le Poisson Rouge, April 25
A few songs into their rampagingly good first set at the Village Vanguard on Tuesday, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon played a somber version of “Artists Ought to Be Writing,” from Artist in Residence, their 2006 album. The track hinges on a spoken text by the conceptualist and philosopher Adrian Piper, whose work, Moran averred onstage, had been important to every member of the band.
Artist in Residence, as you may recall, opens with “Break Down,” a choppy backbeat roil whose refrain is a sampled deconstruction of the same text. So when you reach “Artists Ought to Be Writing,” a few songs later, you hear Piper’s statement through a fog of recognition. These are the words you hear (w/ pauses notated, I think, by Moran):
Now online: this month’s column, about the NEA Jazz Masters, the Marsalis Family, and what I believe to be a certain lapse in judgment. I should note that I filed my copy to JazzTimes on Aug. 10, a few weeks before the hullabaloo caused by saxophonist Phil Woods, who announced his boycott of all future NEA Jazz Masters events. (Peter Hum covered this well over at Jazzblog.ca.)
When the Woods grievance hit the airwaves, I piped up on Twitter that I disagreed with his actions but had to acknowledge that he had a point. In response, guitarist-composer Anthony Wilson wrote this (I’ll collapse his serial installments into one statement):
Maria Schneider kicked off her heels within the first few minutes of the early set at Birdland on Tuesday night. I mean literally, as in: she conducted her band barefoot. This small, seemingly extraneous detail struck me as noteworthy, though I thought twice about commenting on it, for fear of dredging up some bad associations, or seeming unduly focused on Schneider’s image, rather than her music.
Here’s the thing: the notion of conducting barefoot is emblematic of Schneider’s modus operandi as a bandleader. Much has been made of the flowing, intuitive feeling of her music, a feeling that tends to get coded (by critics and, I suspect, no less by audiences) as somehow essentially female. That’s hogwash, of course, but it shouldn’t preclude talk of intuition -- and yes, even comfort -- in Schneider’s work. Her compositions reflect a deeply analytical perspective, but they’re always mediated by discernable human emotion. That’s a rare gift of communication, shared by few composers in jazz, and the only reason it gets gendered in conversations about Schneider is, well, her gender.
I hadn’t intended on approaching Schneider’s Birdland run from the angle of “women in music,” which both honors and reduces her art. What brought me to that angle here was a worthy feature currently underway at NPR. For the record, I believe the Maria Schneider Orchestra to be our best large jazz ensemble, period. (This is hardly a minority opinion.) It occurred to me, halfway through Tuesday’s set, that the MSO also fits the bill of an excellent prog-rock band.
My review of the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters ceremony and concert is now up on the web. This was a heartening evening, obviously. And coming on the heels of a big week -- via the APAP conference, which had an official jazz emphasis this year (and of course, gave rise to the Winter JazzFest) -- it created the fleeting sensation of Global Jazz Domination. Or something to that effect. It felt good, anyway.
NPR had a live stream of the event on its website, and I believe there’ll be an archive link soon. Meanwhile, WBGO has posted illuminative interviews with all of this year’s honorees: George Avakian, Yusef Lateef, Bill Holman, Annie Ross, Muhal Richard Abrams, Cedar Walton, Bobby Hutcherson (above) and Kenny Barron. (I thought I’d list them by seniority. Did I get the math right?)
Among the takeaways from last night, one that didn’t fit into my review was just how pithy jazz folk continue to be. (How prolix they can be is another story.) I leave you with a few choice quotes:
Programming note: tomorrow (Wednesday) night I will be at the Issue Project Room for a performance of Matana Roberts’ COIN COIN, a so-called “blood narrative” that draws on family history, genealogy, folklore and myth. I’m conducting a post-concert conversation and Q&A with Roberts. The evening -- featuring her string ensemble, which includes violist Jessica Pavone and cellist Daniel Levin, among others -- is a benefit for the Bread and Life Soup Kitchen, a healthy-food initiative in Brooklyn.I reviewed a previous chapter of COIN COIN two years ago. Roberts tells me that the concept has evolved considerably since, in form as well as content. The image above is from her score, which makes that point better than I can here. I’ll leave further elaboration to Roberts herself, via email:
Deadlines have prevented me from commenting on the commenting sparked by last week’s Chamber Music America post, which has been extremely instructive to me. Thanks to everyone who has waded into this discussion -- and please, keep it going, if you have more to say.
I hope to add a few more thoughts soon, but in the meantime it feels appropriate to pay my sincere respects to composer George Russell, who died on Monday night. His example puts this subject in perspective: it’s hard to imagine another jazz musician who sustained a longer or more productive relationship with the academy. We’ll see tributes across the jazz blogosphere; I’ll update this post accordingly.
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.
This morning brought
news that pianist Arturo O’Farrill has been commissioned to write a piece for judge Sonia Sotomayor, premiering in November.
the best of my knowledge, this will [NOT] be the first time a jazz musician has
composed new music inspired by a Supreme Court Justice nominee -- though I
suppose Don Byron could have an acerbic “Clarence Thomas Suite” stashed in a
drawer somewhere. [Oops. See comments below.]
The selection of O’Farrill for this commission makes all kinds of sense from an institutional perspective. He has experience with arts commissions, and a former affiliation with Jazz at Lincoln Center. His Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra is one of the city’s eminent large ensembles, with resident status at Symphony Space, which is sponsoring the new work in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
But unlike, say, Eddie Palmieri, who has also been known to roll out a dynamic big band every now and again, O’Farrill doesn’t share Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican heritage. Born in Mexico, he hails from a different substratum of Latino culture. So while there are in fact jazz musicians forging rigorous new hybrids out of Puerto Rican music -- the best examples are saxophonists Dávid Sanchez and Miguel Zenón -- O’Farrill holds a less literal (i.e., ethno-political) claim on Sotomayor: La Celebración. (Need I point out he’s also not a woman?)