Belatedly: my current column for JazzTimes, which appears in the Dec. issue, is about the quandary of precisely when a critic should review a club engagement.
The spur for this topic was a March gig by tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, which I caught on the first night of a weeklong run, in what I thought was less-than-perfect form. I refer you to the column for more, but in the meantime, here's my review of that gig, and here is a link to the fine album recorded later in the run.
My latest JazzTimes column to reach the internets is "Live at the Village Improv," an extended riff on jazz, standup comedy and why Louis C.K. should be working at the Vanguard. Go ahead, read it.
And should you be reading this with no context for C.K., point yourself toward one of his brilliant standup specials, and start watching his show on FX. Here's a scene from the show, which will give you some idea of its off-kilter vibe. Bonus points for the jazz score, which I allude to in the column. (But note that despite the headline tag, it doesn't air on Tuesdays at 11pm anymore, at least not in the NY area.)
Back in January, I wrote an obituary for pioneering talent manager and former bassist John Levy, who died a few weeks shy of his own centennial. Soon afterward, it came time for the "bass issue" of JazzTimes, and I found myself thinking of Levy again.
So I wrote this column, which appeared in the April issue of the magazine — the one with Esperanza Spalding on the cover. I'm posting it here because it hadn't previously made its way online. All my pertinent thoughts are in the column, so I'll say no more. But here for good measure is a clip of Levy playing "Conception" with the George Shearing Quintet:
This month’s column tackles the subject of female jazz criticism, and especially the lack thereof — not a new issue by any stretch, but one worth considering anew. I’m not going to rehash my argument here, but I’d like to expand on one aspect of it. What initially motivated the column was the recent publication of Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music, which I urge any reader to purchase, like, now.
The new column is all about banjo and guitar player Brandon Seabrook, who appears on one of this year’s most slyly inviting jazz albums, If the Past Seems So Bright, by Jeremy Udden’s Plainville.
My piece doesn’t deal much with Plainville, focusing instead on Seabrook himself, and his approach to the banjo, and his demonic presence in Seabrook Power Plant, the band he formed with his brother, drummer Jared. Two years ago, sometime between their first album and their second, I reviewed the band in Brooklyn.
There’s a pull quote from my review at the band’s website, though it’s not the one that goes “...a manic clusterfuck of merciless banjo torture...” (That phrase comes from Christopher Weingarten’s blog post for the Village Voice. He’s not wrong, btw.)
This month’s cover story for JazzTimes, re: singer Kurt Elling, has been excerpted online. There’s way more insight behind the paywall, so if you like what you see, please go buy a copy, or swipe one from your neighbor. Meanwhile, I thought I’d expand on just one (major) aspect of the piece here, having to do with his thoughts on artistic maturity and its antipode, callow youth.
Elling is nothing if not a self-reflective artist, and soon after we sat down he was musing on his stature vis-à-vis jazz’s critical establishment. The tide had been turning for him in that regard, especially since the generally acknowledged triumph of his Coltrane-Hartman album, Dedicated to You, in 2009. But what Elling seemed eager to talk about were his detractors, some of whom he felt had formed their opinions early on.* Here is some of what he said: