There was plenty of good information, and at least one terrific cosmic gag, that couldn’t make it into today’s feature about Pi Recordings. Some of that material was too granularly, and would have been a drag on the flow of the piece. Some of it was of dubious interest to a civilian readership. But you’re here now, so let’s get into it, after the jump.
Hey, look what I forgot to mention: NPR’s All Things
Considered ran a brief Henry Threadgill profile last week. I’m in there
mouthing off about his approach to form. Tom Vitale wrote the segment, which I should
have plugged sooner. Then again, this is a story pegged to an album released
last year, so tardiness may not be a cardinal sin here.
Part Two of a year-end email conversation with Andrey
Henkin, Peter Margasak, Ben Ratliff and Hank Shteamer. (Jump: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 )
From: Hank Shteamer
Nate, Peter, Andrey and Ben,
Very nice to have
the opportunity to e-dialogue with you all. If you’ll pardon me, I’ll begin by
stepping away from jazz for a quick sec...
One of the big stories in rock this year was the supergroup outbreak. The oft-ridiculed trend
yielded cheesy one-offs like Sammy Hagar’s Chickenfoot, but it also gave rise to at least one great album, the self-titled Interscope debut by Them Crooked Vultures, which brought together Queens of the Stone
Age leader Josh Homme and Nirvana’s former drum basher Dave Grohl with Led
Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. It was great to see these players decimating
the generation gap so successfully, and it’s worth noting that similar
collaborations have been brewing in the jazz world.
Take 31-year-old saxist Darius Jones (left), who tapped two under-appreciated veterans
-- pianist and diddley-bo expert Cooper-Moore (63), and drummer Rakalam Bob
Moses (61) -- for his powerful debut, Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful
Thing), a gutsy,
blues-infused free-jazz session that came in at No. 5 on my year-end list. Cooper-Moore and Moses each have lengthy résumés
to draw on, but Jones isn’t interested in nostalgic references. Like Them
Crooked Vultures, Man’ish Boy
sounds vigorous and inventive, with the younger player lighting a fire under
his elders and vice versa.
Ethan Iverson, pianist in the Bad Plus, was another player who pursued
intergenerational collaboration in 2009. For a few years now, Iverson has made
a habit of interviewing elder musicians on his blog and then engaging them on
the bandstand. This two-pronged approach obviously has a self-promotional angle
- “You’ve read the interview, now see the show” - but it works beautifully
Iverson’s lengthy chat with Tim Berne, posted in late June, felt like the perfect preamble to their duet gig at the Stone later the same week, with each encounter providing a different window into these artists’ strange yet fruitful rapport. This year, Iverson also anchored a band led by drummer Billy Hart, another artist he’d previously interviewed. A September gig by this quartet was for me one of the year’s true highlights; it struck the perfect balance between classy and challenging. And the pianist isn’t done yet: This coming weekend he stops by Iridium with a quintet featuring two other veterans with whom he’s published Q&As, saxist Lee Konitz and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath.
A few other strong 2009 releases demonstrated the flip side of the coin, namely
an older artist drawing on the vitality and enthusiasm of considerably younger
players. Henry Threadgill’s This Brings Us To, Volume 1, cited as a year-end favorite by myself as well as Nate, found the composer riding the exquisitely open-ended
grooves of drummer Eliot Humberto Kavee, while Borah Bergman’s gorgeously
minimal Luminescence featured the airy lift of bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Kenny Wollesen.
Of course there were tons of great releases that didn’t fit this template. My three
favorite jazz discs of the year -- Ran Blake’s Driftwoods, Chad Taylor’s Circle Down, and Jon Irabagon and Mike Pride’s I Don’t Hear Nothin’ but the Blues -- were the products of, respectively, a 74-year-old loner,
a trio of midcareer inside-outside specialists and a pair of ultraversatile
young mavericks. Elsewhere, I was happy to hear strong compositional visions
shining through, in ensembles big (Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society,
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Warren Smith’s Composer’s Workshop Ensemble),
small (Linda Oh Trio -- a band to which Ben tipped me off -- Loren Stillman, Seabrook Power Plant) and somewhere in between (Steve Lehman Octet, John Hébert’s Byzantine Monkey, Bill Dixon).
In the live arena, duos captured my imagination. The pairings of Håkon Kornstad
and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, (above, and heard at Monkey Town in April -- I know Andrey and Nate dug this gig as well), and Bill McHenry and Ben Monder (at Cornelia St. Café in September) each tapped into a special kind of meditative poetry. (To be
fair, Connie Crothers’s quartet and a Joe McPhee solo set took me to a similar
state of grace.)
The coming year promises more duo delights, namely the
mindblowingly weird tandem of guitarist Steeve Hurdle (formerly of Candian
prog-metal heavyweights Gorguts) and pianist Craig Taborn (Tim Berne, The Gang
Font, James Carter, etc.), playing the Stone February 13. And for now, back to
Robin D.G. Kelley’s fantastic Monk bio...
Part One of a year-end email conversation with Andrey Henkin, Peter Margasak, Ben Ratliff and Hank Shteamer. (Jump to: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7| 8)
From: Nate Chinen
Dear Andrey, Ben, Hank and Peter,
Thanks for taking time out of your perennial list-making to kick around a few ideas about the year in jazz. (I’m not going to capitalize that phrase.) I’ve always been a big fan of the Slate Music Club, as spearheaded by Jody Rosen, and after complaining for some time about the absence of a jazz equivalent, I thought it would be fun and fitting to cobble one together. Just one thing, guys: this is a No Lady GaGa Zone. Unless you also mention Sun Ra.
Thus stipulated, I’ll open with a rhetorical question. Which did you expect to see first in this lifetime: Barbra Streisand at the Village Vanguard, or Esperanza Spalding at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony? Somehow we got both this year, and I’m not sure which event had the tougher guest list. At the Vanguard, Streisand made a nervous quip about the tight dimensions of the stage. In Oslo, our 44th President made a (nervous?) comment about being “at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.” Can’t help but wonder whether Spalding felt a twinge of recognition there. Also, can’t help but share this, courtesy ofJimmy Kimmel Live:
Tabloid angle aside, this was a gate-crashing year, whether we’re talking about the White House, where Spalding has appeared at least twice, or the House of Swing, where I witnessed several thunderous ovations for the eminent Ornette Coleman, a once-unthinkable season opener for Jazz at Lincoln Center. (It was his first-ever JALC concert, a so-what fact except that it seemed to mean something to all parties involved.) And up in Newport, George Wein effectively crashed his own festival, or at least that’s how it felt.
This was also the year that George Lewis, from his perch in the music department at Columbia University, finally published A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, a book about the challenges to convention made by a highly individualized collective. (Or maybe that should be “highly collectivized individuals” -- past a certain point, the distinction blurs.)
My two top jazz releases happened to be by Steve Lehman, an occasional teaching assistant to Lewis, and alto/flutist Henry Threadgill, a member of the AACM’s first wave. Coming in at a close third was Vijay Iyer, who could safely be pegged as part of the association’s extended family. (And I know that as regards admiration for Iyer’s record, I’m not the onlyone here.)
Maybe I’m just thinking about institutions and incursions because of another big piece of reading: Last week I popped into the Strand and bought Pops, Terry Teachout’s long-awaited Louis Armstrong biography. Really good so far, as expected, but I find it striking that Page 1 presents a survey of New York’s changing “cultural map” in 1956, vis-à-vis high-art complexes like the Guggenheim and Lincoln Center. It’s a strange way to begin a Satchmo book, except as a form of orientation: Teachout really knows that landscape, and he understands the tensions inherent in Armstrong’s presence there.
Speaking of important jazz books and once-inscrutable jazz heroes, you could argue that the year began and ended with revisionist Monk. Back in February we all braced ourselves for Jason Moran’s In My Mind, a conceptual gamble that turned out to be soulful as well as smart. Moran gave us a Monk of lucid ambition and shrewd humor and tangible Southern roots -- a humane vision of the man that Robin Kelley has now articulated evenmoreclearly.
What else? Ben, as you’ve noted, there was also something in the water this year that gave us one outstanding saxophone trio record after another. Marcus Strickland and J.D. Allen both found admirable focus in the format (though on further reflection, Allen’s entry was the sequel to an analogous 2008 release). I reviewed both Allen and Strickland live, and damned if I know which show wins. I do know that another tenor trio, FLY, which earned a spot in my Top 5 album berth, practically levitated at the Jazz Standard during an April stand. (That set made yet another list of mine: Top 10 gigs, for JazzTimes.)
I haven’t mentioned jazz’s incipient rhythm revolution, or the crumbling media infrastructure (and attendant blog awakening), or the postmillennial big band renaissance, or the great jazz audience debate. I haven’t mentioned any Norwegians. But take this in whatever direction you like, guys. No one will be calling the Jazz Police (not literally, in any case).
For the composer and multireedist Henry Threadgill, music is
momentum, and anything else shouldn’t even be an option. This and myriad other
convictions emerged during a long talk in advance of this Arts &
Leisure profile. We met at the same Italian pastry shop that Threadgill had chosen
for interviews with a couple of my colleagues (whose work is linked at the end
of this post). Every once in a while, another café regular walked by, and
pleasantries were exchanged.
Threadgill has just released a brilliant and intriguing new album, This
Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi). He’ll also be
the focus of a sure-to-be-epic Mosaic box, The Complete Novus &
Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air, which probably drops in March of next year. But when we spoke in person,
Threadgill was more focused on the impending premiere
of a Roulette commission called “All the Way Light Touch,” for a cello-enhanced version of his band Zooid.