Bowery Ballroom, April 9
Bowery Ballroom, April 9
Barry Altschul, Arve Henriksen, Ryan Keberle and Catharsis, Kevin Eubanks, Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet
From: Nate Chinen
First, a word of gratitude: thanks to all for such a lively first round. I’m honored that you guys accepted my invitation, and have already brought so much to the table — and so much to respond to! OK, let’s do this.
Jim, you ended your excellent post by suggesting we all take a moment to tip our beanies to the Tim Berne-Matt Mitchell hookup on Snakeoil. Since I pegged that as the best album of 2012, I’m perfectly happy to pick up the thread. The first time I heard Mitchell in person was at a Berne mini-festival of sorts in Philadelphia, three years ago: he was executing a complex script of Berne’s invention, brutish and gnarled at some points and cathedral-still at others. And while it was a solo piano piece — i.e., no interaction between the two players on an instrumental level — the depth of engagement was already there in nascent form. (For a simulacrum of the more reflective moments of that performance, here’s a clip filmed earlier that year, in what appear to be meat-lockeresque conditions at the Stone):
Mitchell spoke with me about the process of unpacking Berne’s compositions, back when I was gathering materials for a piece in JazzTimes. “Compared to a lot of contemporary classical music, it doesn’t necessarily look like it’s ultra-complicated on the page,” he said. “Then you sit down and try to play it, and it’s got all these little potential snags. So you have to play these charts accurately, and it has to groove.”
When I got my advance of Snakeoil, I was struck anew by the level of mind meld between the two musicians, whose dynamic might skew a little too mentor-pupil if not for the expansive liberties taken by Mitchell (who, it should be noted, commits all of the written material to memory). Sometimes, too, their altopiano — shades of Bru and Des in that portmanteau? — forms a fulcrum for the rest of the group. (Clarinetist Oscar Noriega distinguishes himself on the album too, and Ches Smith does some exceptionally strong and subtle things on percussion.) Then there’s that last word in the Mitchell quote above: this music really does groove, even when the pulse gets atomized, as is often the case.
Speaking of liberties, I absolutely loved your account of the deconstructive Tyshawn Sorey and Ben Gerstein performance, Jim. One thing it called to mind for me was some of the A.A.C.M.-inspired experimental fiction of Nathaniel Mackey, especially in his mind-bending epistolary trilogy. (There’s this one riff involving an onstage telephone, from the first volume, Bedouin Hornbook. I won’t spoil it for you.)
But it also reminds me of the DIY efforts Gio brought up in his first post. Did you all know about Music Factory, a sort of performance-art endurance marathon presented last weekend at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in the Chelsea gallery district? It was scheduled to last 96 hours, continuously, with some 70 improvisers drifting in and out of the mix, and earning an “extrapolated wage” based on pay-what-you-wish admission. (There was a point being made, I think, about the intrinsic “value” of the artistic process vs. its explicit “worth” as determined by market forces. Yay?)
On a similarly enterprising but (much) less esoteric note, I spent a recent afternoon dashing about Central Park for Jazz & Colors, which featured 30 ensembles and the same two sets of standards. Just as was presumably the case in Music Factory, the artist and audience were encouraged to interact meaningfully with a physical environment; in both instances the organizers played around with notions of scale. There are pitfalls to making this the hinge of your endeavor — Jazz & Colors was more of an enjoyable blur than a deep musical experience, which also tends to be my chief critique of Winter and Undead fests — but I’m all for tweaking the interface. Greg, as I registered your understandable concern about the incredible shrinking jazz-club engagement, I thought of 40Twenty, a post-bop collective so enamored of the two-week run, as a chimerical ideal, that it went out and created one for itself.
Not to suggest that everything’s peachy, since the shrewder jazz musicians have learned to write grant proposals by day and pass the tip jar at night. (Doesn’t that sound like a description of the world’s least empowered superhero?) I think we should continue to care about the fate of the aboveground jazz economy, under extraordinary circumstances as well as those that pass for ordinary. What I’m saying here — what I think everyone else has implied, in one way or another — is that the preponderance of options is an essential boon, and a good way to expand the base beyond those who think a $40 cover and a $10 minimum represent an acceptable transactional cost. Jason Moran has obviously been kicking around this liberated notion, and I see hints of it in the programming of a place like Shapeshifter Lab.
Let’s get back to Top 10s for a moment, shall we? And in so doing, we’ll sidle into some of the points that y’all have already raised. Like everyone here, it seems, I felt this was an extremely strong year for jazz. My best-album list, open to all genres, reflects that conviction: in past years it has included more pop or hip-hop or indie-rock or whatever, and while there were certainly good options out there this year, I couldn’t justify losing the real estate when there was so much jazz to be touted. (Among the albums I loved that missed the cutoff: Billy Hart Quartet, Dave Douglas, Fly, the Brad Mehldau twofer. Probably a dozen others that escape my mind at the moment.) Peter, I’m with you on the Gil Evans Project: it squeezed in at No. 10, because even though I have a natural critical bias towards newness (not to be confused with novelty), that album struck me as a triumph of concept and execution, and probably would in any era.
I’ve said this before, but I’m not the sort of critic who lives for quantifying: the act of ranking interests me far less than the art of explanation. That said, I am always fascinated by the differences in opinion that lay themselves out for inspection. In a few weeks, Ratliff and I will be discussing the year in jazz on the NY Times Popcast; for now, I’ll note that we had more overlap this year than ever before. And there are albums on Ben’s 10 that I didn’t consider for inclusion but can happily endorse. (Every recent album by Jeremy Pelt has made a strong case, but Soul may be the derby winner.)
Gio: I agree about the visionary qualities that bind ERIMAJ, Karriem Riggins and Rafiq Bhatia, bursting out beyond the jazz frame. (I also agree that Bhatia’s album is a head-turner; haven’t seen him live yet, but I’m looking forward to it. “Summit-seeking and fastidious” strikes me as a great thumbnail description.)
But I’m not entirely convinced that 2012 was some kind of tipping point, or even “the year when we got a full picture of how well jazz’s foundations can undergird eclectic ventures.” The album that received the most jazzcritical consensus, Accelerando, was a refinement rather than a breakthrough; likewise Christian aTunde Adjuah. The eclecticism of scope and taste represented by someone like Justin Brown is marvelous, but not an especially new wrinkle, either.
As for the crossover traction of Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding, I’m totally on board, but we’ll see. Radio Music Society seems to me an ennobled but weirdly hermetic exercise, even with all the guests; Spalding’s influence in the world, which I hailed in this space last year, won’t have much to do with the album. And Black Radio has resonated with a stylish constituency that maybe embraces jazz more as a signifier than as a process. I don’t think Glasper moved the needle so much as he rightly spotted which house the party was at. (As I write this, I’m waiting to see what Ratliff had to say about his Stevie Wonder tribute at Harlem Stage.)
Late the other night, after a long evening that included one crowd-pleasing set at the Vanguard — and I use that modifying phrase without a touch of the pejorative — I checked in on the live stream of 121212: The Concert for Sandy Relief. The cause was eminently worthy, as Jim can attest, and the assemblage of talent was impressive. (I tuned in just in time to witness Sir Paul McCartney beckoning Lady Diana Krall to the stage. I didn’t pay any attention to what she was wearing.) But as I caught up with the show on my DVR the following evening, it seemed to me like a dispatch from a distant and rapidly fading ghost world.
The old monoculture that a benefit like this is designed to mobilize — you’ll know what I mean if you slogged through the concert, or read the bullet-pointed recap by Sasha Frere-Jones — really no longer has a sustainable future. Forty years from now, what will we all hold up as the epochal pop of this here moment? Bruno? Mumford? RiRi? Taylor? I doubt that you could poll 10 random people and get a quorum. So Gio, you talked about jazz finally accepting its position on the fringe, and there may be something to that. But I’d counter that it’s almost all fringe now. Jazz just got there first.
Enough for now; I’m looking forward to the next few choruses. Greg, we’ll expect a full report from that Chris Botti gig. Wonder if he’ll call up another famous guest to do his “Nessun Dorma” shtick?
On to the next one,
From: Giovanni Russonello
Hi Nate, Peter, Greg and Jim,
It’s been a joy reading everyone’s posts so far. First off, I have to thank all of you, my “elders” in this jazz writing game, for all the inspiration that your work has provided me over the years. It’s a thrill to be hashing this stuff out with you folks.
I’ve been thinking lately about how jazz has a way of conveniently marking itself off by decades. How considerate it was of Coleman Hawkins, say, to record his bebop-auguring “Body and Soul” right as the 1930s were giving way to the ’40s. Or of all those luminaries who happened to wait until 1959 to give jazz a full-body makeover. Or of Miles Davis to release Bitches Brew in 1970, guaranteeing that the next decade would be given over to jazz-rock fusion. Then there was Wynton Marsalis, in early 1982, issuing his debut album and ushering in a decade of phoenix-like bop playing. You get the point.
To me, 2012 was that kind of year. A lot of forces converged to renegotiate jazz’s place in American culture. I think the 2010s will go down as the time when open-armed symbiosis with all sorts of art — mostly other music, but not exclusively — became the governing paradigm. Musicians are crossing boundaries at a fast clip, yet almost always avoiding the mainstream. That can be both a good and bad thing.
Nate, in your wrap-up last year, you noted the “stealth jazz influence” in a lot of the creative pop music that’s been coming out recently. I think you were right on in saying that this has the markings of jazz education’s influence all over it. There’s something else at play now, too: Spotify memberships became a commonplace this year. So we have to reckon with the impact of an unprecedented global aqueduct of musical dispersion; it can seem like everyone is listening to everything.
Most young jazz performers are reaffirming the postmodern definition of jazz that’s now more or less indisputable, as far as I’m concerned: Jazz is whatever jazz musicians play. But that hasn’t totally changed what it means to be a jazz musician; you have to know the tradition. The music’s finest fruit will always come from those who understand West African-born rhythm from the inside out, and who understand jazz as expressing some sort of insurgent ideal. (That’s part of why the #BAM discussion, which spilled over into 2012, was very much worth having, even if tempers on both sides — and a blackout from major media — prevented it from blooming.)
This was the year when we got a full picture of how well jazz’s foundations can undergird eclectic ventures. To some degree, that’s what was happening on this year’s two most talked-about records made by jazz musicians: the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio and Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society. The common word in those titles is a tip-off; I’d argue that the records will end up having a more important effect on the future of commercial music — principally hip-hop and R&B — than on that of jazz. But it was still good to see some prominent jazz musicians draw attention for their interest in other “great American art forms.” Plus, it points to another upside to all this cross-pollination. A friend of mine said she came across Black Radio online, when clicking through Erykah Badu’s catalog. From there, Spotify’s “related artists” feature guided her to a Christian Scott (aTunde Adjuah?) record. Who knows where that will lead her.
But when I look back on this year’s harvest, I’m convinced that albums like Rafiq Bhatia’s Yes It Will (which snuck onto my top 10 list),or ERIMAJ’s Conflict of a Man, or even Karriem Riggins’ Alone Together actually tell us more about the direction jazz is going. These discs, all debuts by musicians under 40, don’t force any dualistic conceit about fusing two genres; listening to them can feel like drinking up an ocean of influences.
The goal of Bhatia, Riggins and Jamire Williams of ERIMAJ is fundamentally the same as any classic jazz player’s: to throw light on the ironies of struggle, the productive partnership of pain and joy. Sometimes it can just be easier to evoke those contradictions when your music encompasses John Coltrane, Soft Machine, Sunn O))), Flying Lotus. (I’m thinking especially of Bhatia here. Both in concert and on record, I am thrilled by how his music can be so simultaneously summit-seeking and fastidious.)
If this is where we’re headed, it makes sense that Jason Moran seems to be the hottest name on the lips of jazz fans these days. After Dr. Billy Taylor died, Moran took over as artistic advisor for jazz at the Kennedy Center here in D.C. This past October marked the beginning of his first season as a jazz curator, and its scope has been something to celebrate. So far, he’s held an election night jam session with bluegrass musicians and opera singers sharing the stage with his own sextet; converted an area of the stately center into a dark-lit dance hall for a Medeski, Martin & Wood show; and presented a “KC Jazz Club” concert by Christie Dashiell, a young, adventurous singer from D.C. who’s relatively unknown on the national stage.
It takes a while for fundamental changes in the music to seep up into major performing arts institutions, so when you see the Kennedy Center already opening its arms to Moran’s experimental approach, you can almost watch the Young Lions vanishing from the rearview. (I wrote a piece for CapitalBop comparing his vision to that of Jazz at Lincoln Center; it might have felt like a potshot, if the differences weren’t so stark.)
In a JazzTimes profile of Moran earlier this year, I thought about why he seems ready to bear the music’s standard in an age of artistic crossbreeding. A big part of it is his embrace not just of varied musical influences, but of multimedia; at the recent Whitney installation that you mentioned, Nate, Moran and his wife — the opera singer Alicia Hall Moran — incorporated music, video, performance art and much else. That’s status quo for them, and for a growing number of jazz players.
The price of such wide-ranging artistic exploration is, of course, that you separate yourself from the mainstream. But a place on the fringe doesn’t connote stagnation. I think it works the other way — freeing you from certain commercial considerations and making room for straight-up expression. For once, I feel like jazz is learning to accept those advantages. The “jazz is dead” conversation now feels like a crude joke that’s been told too many times: The punch line doesn’t have any bite left. Even the awkwardness of the suggestion is gone. Jazz isn't dead, it's just spreading its wings. Nate, to respond to your question, people now seem at peace with the idea that the jazz tradition is itself a constant innovation.
I don’t mean to suggest that jazz lives in some distant, utopian world where all mercantile worries vanish. I don’t want to paint the internet as an absolute plus, either. A struggle for donations and the technology-triggered decline of radio have quietly eviscerated jazz on the airwaves in Boston, Los Angeles and D.C. Radio is a force that brings us together, gives people a touchstone, invites listeners to hear things they wouldn’t otherwise. For those reasons, the medium is a boon to any marginalized music (or strain of thought), and it's jarring to watch it disappear.
Still, the web has also empowered folks to think and work outside the box in helping the music thrive. You guys are right that the attrition of venues is a serious problem, including in D.C., where U Street (Black Broadway, as it’s long been known) is down to just two bona fide jazz clubs. To help make up for that, and build an audience for future clubs, CapitalBop puts on DIY shows at non-traditional venues, and we get the word out through our web presence. We’re far from the only ones. House Party Starting in Chicago, Search & Restore in New York, and a handful of similar organizations across the country are filling a need vacated by disappearing clubs, while showing how the web can help corral young listeners who are oblivious — but open — to contemporary jazz. (Just before the Undead Music Festival’s nationwide Night of the Living DIY in June, I wrote something for A Blog Supreme about the importance of DIY jazz organizations.)
And as long as we’re talking venues: Greg and Nate, I’m definitely concerned about the downfall of St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem, and the future of Lenox Lounge. But as you observed, Greg, there are still a handful of spots there. And what matters most to me is that the neighborhood is again a hotbed where a bumper crop of young stars lives, works and practices together.
I was in the pianist Gerald Clayton’s kitchen a while back, talking to him for a JazzTimes story on the Harlem scene, when he got to raving about his roommate, the drummer Justin Brown. He was talking about the endless wealth of music that’s liable to gust out of Brown’s computer speakers on a given day: singer-songwriter stuff, Indian classical, gospel — the gamut. The best part is that when the urge strikes them, Clayton and Brown get to call any of the dozens of young, professional musicians living in their neighborhood and convene a living-room jam session. I’m eager to see how the partnerships between these Harlem players — Clayton, Brown, Moran, Jamire Williams, Ben Williams, Fabian Almazan, Taylor Eigsti, Kendrick Scott and plenty more — help them churn something new and intimate out of their vast collective ken.
All this talk of the future reminds me that I need to pause for a moment, as you guys have, to recognize the great ones we lost this year: Dave Brubeck, David S. Ware, Pete La Roca Sims, Pete Cosey, Ted Curson, Shimrit Shoshan, Austin Peralta and so many others. I only had the chance to experience the first two of those names live (Brubeck with his quartet, and Ware in a heart-stirring solo soprano saxophone show), but every artist on that list calls up a distinct and enthralling sound in my brain. Which reminds me why we fight for this music: It shows us how to communicate, cooperate, construct, without ever compromising the essence of what gives us freedom.
Until the next Time Out,
So this here is the cover of Diana Krall's new album, Glad Rag Doll, due out on Verve on Oct 2. This afternoon I posted it on Twitter, with a link to the Rolling Stone preview that marked its official unveiling. The response was, shall we say, the social-media equivalent of a raised eyebrow:
Bret Sjerven Expanding demographic in horny middle aged men. They tend to have the disposable income. Ask the porn industry.
Now, maybe it's the death this week of Helen Gurley Brown, with her pioneering but problematic legacy of female glam-powerment — but I found myself wondering about the uniformity of this feedback, which (it must be said) came uniformly from male observers. Is there any reason to think Krall's female fan base might hold a different opinion? (Seriously, I'm asking.)
As you may know, Krall is 47, the mother of two children (twins), and the wife of Elvis Costello. By all accounts they are happily married; Costello did some playing on the new album, which was produced by his longtime pal T Bone Burnett. One could argue that her boudoir pose is a sex-positive move, a statement of smoldering purpose, even a courageous revamp of her image.
But Krall doesn't exactly make it easy to sympathize. "It was like I was a completely clean piece of canvas," she says in that RS story, suggesting the blank passivity of an object being acted upon, rather than an agent pursuing her own agenda. (The fact that it's her very first quote in the piece is damning, too, but let's remember that it was written and shaped by a dude.)
[Addendum: I should have mentioned this, from a press release: "Diana Krall has collaborated with Academy Award winning costume designer, Colleen Atwood and acclaimed photographer, Mark Seliger to create a series of beautiful and striking images for Krall's new album, "Glad Rag Doll". They are inspired by Alfred Cheney Johnston's pictures of the girls of the Ziegfeld Follies taken during the 1920s. Said Krall, 'If there was an era to which I could choose to go back in time, it would be the 1920s, just because of the whole wildness of it all.'"]
I'll have more to say about the music on the album at a later date, but today's, um, bombshell seemed to warrant some standalone commentary. I'd welcome more thoughts from the jazz patriarchy — and, even better, from some women, especially those sympathetic to Krall's situation. (Anyone?) I'll add that as a newish dad, I actually cringe-laughed in recognition at this next response, though that shouldn't be construed as any sort of endorsement:
Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio, Anna Ternheim, Joe McPhee and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Tom Harrell, Mike Gamble
Lionel Richie, "Tuskegee"
Anoushka Shankar, Steve Lehman Trio, Grégoire Maret,
Daniel Rossen, Chemical Brothers
My current feature is about Robert Glasper Experiment and its new Blue Note album, Black Radio. The piece takes a long look at Glasper's m.o., which has been in place almost from the start. (For time-travel purposes, here's the profile I wrote for JazzTimes in 2005.)
I have one regret about this weekend's piece: that concerns about space and clarity prevented me from talking more about the other members of the Experiment, and the ways in which their alchemical contribution defines the band. As you probably know, Glasper isn't the only guy here with a genre-fluid background. Derrick Hodge, the bassist, is as widely known for his past affiliations with Common (the rapper) as with Terence Blanchard (the trumpeter). Casey Benjamin, who plays saxophone, keyboards and vocoder, can often be found on tour with Patrick Stump. And you can hear drummer Chris Dave on both 21, Adele's brobdingnagian smash, and the fierce bootlegs from D'Angelo's recent trip to Stockholm. Also, here:
Derrick Hodge and Chris Dave were both gracious enough to speak with me for this Arts & Leisure assignment, Derrick at considerable length. I wasn't able to incorporate their voices into the piece, but there's no question that they helped illuminate the subject.
I've been listening to some really promising rough mixes from Hodge's forthcoming Blue Note debut; some of the songs were recently heard on WBGO/NPR, via his concert at 92YTriBeCa. And on the day that Derrick and I sat down to talk, he was in town for a session: the next Blue Note release by guitarist Lionel Loueke, which will feature Hodge, Glasper and drummer Mark Giuliana. As I said in the piece, we're going to be hearing a lot more of this vibe.
ArtsBeat: So is it Jazz?
Gig: Maxwell and the Band