With Jon Pareles, Ben Ratliff and Jon Caramanica. (Note: my picks are arranged chronologically.)
With Jon Pareles, Ben Ratliff and Jon Caramanica. (Note: my picks are arranged chronologically.)
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,
From: Nate Chinen
Dear Peter, Greg, Giovanni and Jim,
Have you all heard Jazz at Storyville, the Dave Brubeck album? Recorded for Fantasy at the Boston nightclub Storyville, mostly on a single October afternoon in 1952, it’s but a glistening fleck of foam in the oceanic expanse of Brubeck’s recording career. No surprise that it didn’t turn up in the acres of coverage of that venerable pianist’s death last week*, though I’ll confess that it’s one of the Brubeck performances that always springs to my mind, for the urbane and offhandedly searching aspects of its style.
Brubeck and Paul Desmond, his peerlessly sympathetic melodic partner, were both in their 30s at the time of this recording, which was made under somewhat larkish circumstances. According to Nat Hentoff, Brubeck’s bassist had to miss the afternoon set; moreover, “the bulk of the audience had not yet arrived and so they were playing entirely for and between themselves.” Brubeck’s delicate but impassive abstraction of “Over the Rainbow” would seem to bear out that point. As would this gorgeously mentholated version of “You Go to My Head,” a near-perfect distillation of the Brubeck-Desmond hookup, negotiated on absolutely casual terms (complete with the whistling of a patron):
You may be wondering why I’m hitting you up with these stirrings from a sparsely attended club set 50 years ago. For one thing, I was determined not to open our exchange with a mournful or valedictory tone — despite the enormity of Brubeck’s passing, less than a week ago, and despite some other flickers of finality. This weekend we saw the last of Zebulon, an important way-out incubator in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; we also received word of the change of ownership at the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, the same neighborhood that bid farewell to St. Nick’s Pub in the spring. (Greg, given your deep history in the area, I’m hoping you have some thoughts on this topic. Gio, you call D.C. home, but perhaps you do too.) I should add that the recent devastation of Sandy meant a temporary inconvenience for the Manhattan jazz-club ecosystem but a real game-changer elsewhere — Jim, as a native of Red Hook, Brooklyn, I know this was painfully true for you.
More farewells: It was just weeks ago that we lost Pete La Roca Sims and Ted Curson, a pair of musicians largely underestimated by the public, if not by their peers. It’s been a couple of months now since we lost David S. Ware, who reached his stature partly by making underestimation impossible. Unlike Brubeck, these were artists who might not have had the opportunity to say everything they wanted to say. Which brings me to pianist-composer Austin Peralta, whose death at 22 (and just barely that) must be the year’s most heartbreaking jazz story. I have no in-person frame of reference for his playing, which makes me feel both derelict and deprived. Every indication pointed toward a promising future.
But! (you knew there was one coming) I honestly can’t assess the past year with anything other than a sense of renewed wonder. Since we’re on the subject of promising young pianists, consider the wealth of talent currently fitting that description: Fabian Almazan, Bobby Avey, Jonathan Batiste, Kris Bowers, Gerald Clayton, Aaron Diehl, Eldar Djangirov, John Escreet, Lawrence Fields, Aaron Parks, David Virelles... and that’s just guys under 30, each with his own spin. Surely I am leaving some people out. This week I’ll be seeing Christian Sands at the Village Vanguard, about a year after he knocked me out in the same room.
What I love about this moment in the music is its openness, the sense of possibility that rumbles out in almost every direction. I witnessed a lot of things this year reminiscent of that Brubeck-Desmond expedition, and I’m not talking about style so much as feeling.
Consider one blessed three-day span from my calendar, back in April. On Tuesday I heard the Billy Hart Quartet, with Mark Turner on tenor, Ethan Iverson on piano and Ben Street on bass; their interaction was even looser and lighter than on the fine album they released this year. On Wednesday I heard alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry, with a band that featured Mike Rodriguez on trumpet and Pedrito Martinez on congas and Yoruban chant. On Thursday I heard the Vijay Iyer Trio (more on that in a moment). And all this during a week in which I was writing a Tim Berne profile for JazzTimes, on the occasion of his superb outing Snakeoil. All of you have similar stories, I know: Jim, you get out in NYC as much as anyone, and Peter and Gio, you cover scenes outside that scope. Greg, I have a hunch your highlight reel will differ slightly from mine, too.
Curious to hear whether you all agree that the old arguments about “tradition” vs. “innovation” ring so obviously hollow now. (Maybe so?) One of my indelible experiences of this year was hearing Cecil Taylor at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, as he served up an art he has been steadily refining for an eon. One of the most mysterious was hearing a sextet led by the aforementioned Clayton — not a vanguardist by reputation — work through its new variations on post-bop form. I’m leaving the Top 10 analysis for a later post (you’re all welcome to get an early jump), but it strikes me as salutary that Vijay Iyer, one of Cecil’s children, gathered so much critical mojo this year, cleaning up in an unprecedented five categories in the DownBeat Critic’s Poll. I rang the bell when Accelerando was about to drop, but even in armchair-prediction mode I wouldn’t have expected that. Then again, that album features the fondest Ellingtonian sendoff of any I can think of this year.
(One of the many shows I was sorry to miss, btw, was Iyer and Mike Ladd premiering “Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dream Project.” I’d be curious to hear your take, if you were there. And speaking of intertextural art by concept-minded pianists, scheduling woes kept me from catching Jason Moran at the Whitney Biennial, an omission that the review by Ben Ratliff instantly made me regret. I did hear Moran with the Bandwagon a couple of weeks ago, though, and left with plenty to chew on.)
There’s so much else to say, but I want to wrap up my chorus before I lose the crowd. Guys, thanks for taking part in this year’s roundtable — can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to your responses. Take the conversation in any direction you like. (And you at home, don’t hesitate to add your thoughts below.) So with that, I hand the mic to Peter. Every ending holds a new beginning, or so I’m told.
*(There’s an indirect allusion to Jazz at Storyville in Ratliff’s excellent obituary in the NY Times: “By the time of an engagement in Boston in the fall of 1952 they had become one of jazz’s greatest combinations,” he writes, referring of course to Brubeck and Desmond.)
From: Nate Chinen
What a terrific way to wind down the year. I’m grateful to all of you for agreeing to take part in this roundtable — and for bringing so much of substance to the exchange! You really made this a pleasure. Here’s my grasping attempt to close shop. Hang tight, this may be a #longread.
The issue of Arts & Leisure now sitting on your doorsteps (right, guys?) contains my Top 10, along with those of Ben Ratliff and the indefatigable Jons (Pareles, Caramanica). Aaron, you noted the inclusion of tUnE-yArDs’ whokill on my list. Merrill Garbus, the in-your-face dynamo at the center of that band, crammed so much into this record — Afropop rhythm, jangly harmony, vocals that bark or purr — that it can be easy to miss its jazz moorings.
Her bassist is Nate Brenner, who was raised by an old-fashioned boogie-woogie pianist and then trained at Oberlin; he’s the only other full-time member of tUnE-yArDs, and had a hand in writing some of the songs on whokill.
This stealth jazz influence was a big feature in some other highly touted releases this year: Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, which is up for Album of the Year; St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy; The Roots’ undun (dig that Don Pullenesque freakout by D.D. Jackson, with attendant ?uestlove fire); even, as Angelika noted, the gilt-armored hip-hop opus Watch the Throne. My current JazzTimes column (analog edition) discusses this phenomenon at length. You can also hear me discuss it with Ben Ratliff on a year-end Popcast. (He begs to differ re: tUnE-yArDs.)
Speaking of Ben and lists, did you notice what he did this year? High up on his Top 10 is an hourlong set recorded live at 713-->212: Houstonians in NYC, the 92YTriBeCa show that Angelika also mentioned as a highlight. “When it ended,” Ben writes of this high-kinesis jam, “I felt that it said so much about where jazz is now — inasmuch as it is black music, popular music, regional music, improvised music and a philosophy of play — that I didn’t need to hear any more for a while.” (Parenthetically, he adds: “If we can call it an album, it’s a better extended statement than most I heard this year.”)
Which raises a good question: is the album, as a discrete delivery system, still the best way to adjudicate success in jazz? Do the top-albums lists that we all pore over (Kelvin, you’re the rare exception) really tell us what happened over the past year? Obviously I don’t entirely think so, which is why we’re all here. But I want to use Houstonians in NYC as a springboard for another assertion, about how jazz at its best is the direct product of a social context, a cultural milieu, a moment in time. A scene, in other words. This may sound obvious, but it’s something we (critics and musicians) often take for granted. The music doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. Our perceptions of the music don’t, either.
This point was born out time and again in 2011. Consider the bonds of brotherhood on Captain Black Big Band, which some of you have mentioned; consider the spirit of inquiry on Miguel Zenón’s Alma Adentro. Consider the vitality of the Chicago scene, invoked by Aaron and ratified by Joe. Or look no further than the wise and pointed assertions made by Geri Allen, in that Alternate Takes interview.
Well, maybe look a little further. Aaron has a great new book out as part of the 33⅓ series, in which he lays out the social climate and cultural environment surrounding Aretha Franklin’s landmark album Amazing Grace. (I really am preaching to the choir here, so to speak.)
Another new book that smartly unearths the context around the music is Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, by Will Hermes. Its subtitle is “Five Years in New York City That Changed Music Forever,” with a timeframe of 1973 to 1977. Most reviewers have naturally fixated on the Modern Lovers, Patti Smith and Grandmaster Flash (not to mention Springsteen, Dylan, Byrne) — but there’s a lot of good stuff in there about the loft scene, the post-Coltrane avant-garde, and the early stirrings of salsa. David Murray figures into the narrative. So does Lester Bowie, and Eddie Palmieri. Jazz folk should know about this.
I think the issue of social context is one reason why we all feel a little weird about Jazz at Lincoln Center hanging a shingle in Qatar. What could be less organic than that? I’m not implying that good things won’t happen; as we know from many years of State Department subsidy, jazz has a way of winning people over across the globe. Still, this is the work of an institution expanding its footprint on luxury terms, which is why it feels less like Pops at the pyramids than like the opening of a new Bulgari flagship. Or, worse, like this:
Sheesh, I’ve gone on too long. One more thing: if we weren’t all invested in the notion of a jazz community, why would the challenges posed by a Nicholas Payton register so strongly, and spark such heated response? Why would we all argue so intently about so much? I’m among those who feel that the Year of the Cannibal, as I tagged it at the beginning of this exchange, actually reflects a defiantly thriving culture, with all the crosstalk and controversy that comes with it.
Last night I saw the Claudia Quintet +1 with Kurt Elling at Cornelia Street Café, unpacking material from their scintillating album What is the Beautiful? (Cuneiform). At the beginning of the set, drummer-bandleader John Hollenbeck dedicated the evening’s performance to Bob Brookmeyer, one of the dearly departed elders of our tribe. It was heartfelt and true.
And on that bittersweet note, I’ll simply add that this roundtable has been edifying and inspiring — and totally free of name-calling! — and that I hope to resume the thread in person sometime, with each of y’all. See you out there on the grid, and here’s wishing everyone Happy Holidays, and all the best in 2012.
From: Angelika Beener:
Dear Nate, Aaron, Joe and Kelvin,
What a panel. Nate, I’m very humbled to have been invited to discuss this year in jazz with such an awesome group of folks. Hi, everyone.
I know that the older we get, the faster time flies, but 2011 was a whirlwind, and particularly so as it pertains to jazz. A couple of years ago, during my break from working in various capacities within the “industry”, I realized that what I really wanted to do was write about jazz full-time; unabashedly, free of politics, egos, and high-handed outside opinions (based on ego...did I mention ego?). The idea of finally having that kind of freedom was super appealing to me. Then it was just a matter of the right time to launch something. If 2011 wasn’t a blogger’s dream, then I don’t know what would ever be.
This was most definitely a year of groundbreaking happenings and ideas. My first interview of 2011 was with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots, and it happened on the heels of the 31-category axe from the Grammy board, or as I fondly refer to it, punishment for a Black woman with a ‘fro and a bass taking one of the highest honors.
Seriously, though. Steely Dan over Eminem. The Herbie win over Kanye West (though most opposers were smart enough to grit their teeth and clench their fists, rather than say something stupid or step out of line), and now this?
I guess we should have seen a temper tantrum coming down the pike. Steve Stoute’s whining open letter to the Grammy board, where he complained that they had “clearly lost touch with popular culture,” was like a glass of cold water to the face. Not the wake-up-call splash kind, but more like the extremely humiliating and embarrassing kind. Further, that a Black guy of his alleged status could be so unknowingly ignorant and disconnected from his cultural and artistic heritage spoke to a much larger issue. An issue that has, in some form or another, ironically been the hottest debate on the table over the last couple of months. (Insert shadow lurking).
I know what you mean, Nate, about hopes being stirred up by the Esperanza Spalding win. Mine were. I remember getting into a big hullabaloo via Facebook with folks who were appalled by her win. My argument being that whether or not the Grammy board got it right (I happen to think they did), the point was the great symbolism a win like this had.
Ten months later, I kind of feel like that’s all it really amounted to. A lot of symbolism for people who want to see it, but not much more. It’s like the Grammys quarter-backed jazz a great pass straight toward the end zone, but it’s a little too early perhaps to tell if it will result in a touchdown. Hopefully it will pay dividends beyond what the Norah Jones shake up produced some years back, which is likely since there seems to be more of an acknowledgement from Spalding, and less overall denial from the community at large that Spalding is a jazz musician. I guess time will tell. I love Norah Jones, by the way.
On the subject of the recent jazz debates, Aaron, I totally understand the desire to want to stay above the social media jazz face-off fray, and though the argument is age-old and perennial, I think the cast of characters made it compelling this time around.
To my recollection, it started during the summer with pianist Orrin Evans, who received a lot of backlash for saying (amidst yet another club shut down), that there should be more Blacks participating in business aspects of the jazz industry. Then on the musical side, you had Nicholas Payton challenging his peers, the younger generation, and critics alike to respect a certain level of non-manipulatable, fundamental aspects of jazz (or what he was calling “so-called jazz”, before recently settling on Black American Music) established by African Americans. This Evans/Payton one-two punch caught a lot of folks off guard. As it morphed and developed, it even caused contention between Black musicians.
Overall, I thought the whole thing was great. For the first time in a long time, the scene looked less like Black folks watching along the sidelines while the Ken Burns-esque, self-congratulating, so-called experts psycho-analyze them as if they are behind plexiglass, and more like a big family fight which happened behind closed doors, but the neighbors heard through the wall, if that makes sense. Never have things been so seditious, interesting and thought-provoking -- not in my generation. But then again, never (in my generation) has the dialogue been inclusive of so many perspectives. I think we have social media to thank in great part for that. From musicians challenging critics on diversifying their subjects, to critics challenging women to jump into the dialogue in larger numbers (thank you, Nate), to musicians challenging each other to renounce “jazz” as a colonialist concept, I think the broad inclusion of participants made all the difference in 2011.
Incidentally, have you guys seen this?
Inclusion creates a broader perspective and frankly just more stuff to talk about. I think that’s why folks who are casual or non-jazz fans are intrigued by all this. It’s tangible, it’s relatable to something outside of itself. I think jazz desperately needs this kind of flexibility in its dialogue. If we’re trying to gain new supporters of the music, the last thing we can afford to be is rigid in our conversations. No matter how intricate the music, if the talk around the music is interesting and inclusive, I believe people will give it a shot. People will give anything a shot if it’s presented in a way that has some familiar tent poles, and that’s where we come in.
Aaron, I could not agree with you more about where things stand creatively. Jazz is definitely on the upswing, and I think this notion will continue to manifest in 2012, like, majorly. I also love Jason Moran’s recent move to become the Kennedy Center’s artistic advisor. I think if anybody in this business of this generation understands the dire situation of jazz and lack of funding for education, it’s him. (His parents set up the Jason Moran Scholarship at his high school alma mater, HSPVA, very soon after his graduating, and it’s still going). Anyone with that type of personal understanding is an asset to any arts organization. I’m really excited to see where he takes things. There are also so many great albums coming out next year! But I won’t skip ahead, guys. But I will say this: If jazz is in need of a savior, I think Esperanza will end up being just one of them.
All the best,
Arts & Leisure, July 3
(More on this topic here next week)
Mylan Cannon/The New York Times
Prospect Park Bandshell, June 24
Not long ago I sat down for a radio interview with pianist Jason Moran, for the excellent BBC Radio show Jazz on 3. We talked about the triumphant and humbling year he had in 2010, among other things. He played me some music that inspired him, some of it surprising. It was a fun, relaxed conversation, and I hope to hear a good portion of it when the segment airs tonight.
In the same episode, I engage in good-natured debate with the esteemed British jazz historian Alyn Shipton, one of the consultants on Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology. (You may be aware that I took some issue with said document, here and here.) Shipton's perspective was interesting, and while I stand by my critique, he should surely be heard.
The show -- which also includes a live recording of the Overtone Quartet, with Larry Grenadier filling in for Dave Holland -- will be streamed live at 6PM EST, and archived free for one week.
Daniel Barry for The New York Times
Results from the 2010 Village Voice Jazz Critics’ Poll are officially in, along with a brief contextual essay by its master undertaker, Francis Davis. No spoilers here: presumably you already knew that this was the Year of JAMO. I’m only sorry that my belated review of Charles Lloyd’s Mirror, slated to run in today’s paper, had to be bumped for space. It was a real pleasure to dive back into that album, after some months, and study Moran’s contribution anew.
While we’re still on the subject of year-end reflections -- and don’t worry, dear reader, this all ends with the arrival of a new year -- Jazztimes has posted my sixth annual Year in Gigs (hence A. Braxton, pictured above). The fun thing about this list is that it makes no claim for comprehensiveness. I saw a lot of jazz in 2010. Perhaps you did too. There’s a good chance that something you saw would have made this list, had I also managed to see it. So with that in mind, I’m welcoming any other Best Gig reminiscences in the comments below.
Please, though, nobody say “Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall.” I know a prank comment when I see one.
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