From: Greg Thomas
It’s taken me more than a minute to recover a semblance of equilibrium in the aftermath of the carnage in Newtown, CT, which is about an hour from my home in Westchester. I actually found out about the loss of the Greene family’s little angel Ana right here at The Gig. Grief, rage, disgust and an irrepressible need to hug my teenage daughter were just a few of the swirl of feelings that beset me. My eternal optimism was deeply shaken. I’ve resolved to take some kind of action, and so began sharing thoughts on Facebook, with postings declaring the need for stronger gun restrictions.
That's why, Peter, I gladly accept your implicit challenge: “If I could wish for one response from the jazz community to what happened, it would be some kind of initiative, coordinated or otherwise, to lead the charge for gun control; to push for measures that could dramatically decrease the possibility of someone wielding an assault rifle against utter innocents.”
In my final remarks for this great exchange — again, Nate, thanks one mo’ time for asking me to join in — I’m going to venture a few answers to Jim’s earlier question: What artists taught your chemistry class?
Yes indeed, coordination and chemistry are the pillars that steady any critical response to what American philosopher Susanne Langer called, in describing art, “feeling in form.” No doubt. But after reading all of your pithy, poetic, puissant descriptions of the music you dug this year, and coming through the emotional wringer above, I’ve decided to risk sounding pedestrian and all-too-basic by sharing the basis-in-body of my reactions to the music I’m about to mention.
The music below met my gut-heart-head test, which is to say that I was mentally impelled, touched emotionally and stimulated to move. That’s my personal “adhesive logic,” though it’s more earth-bound than ethereal. I wonder whether, in our critical tendency to identify and champion what we deem as cutting-edge, we at times either take for granted or undervalue how much the fundamentals of the jazz idiom ground the connection to a lay audience? That's one of the main reasons I stay close to the center when writing to a general, mid-market audience for the New York Daily News.
Granted, I’ll have to make time to give additional listens to several cats that I — based on the artists you all mentioned — haven’t given due attention. I’ll dig deeper into Tim Berne mainly because you, my colleagues, hold his latest CD in such high esteem. My groove, apparently, is more “mainstream,” which I guess says that the foundation elements of the idiom such as the blues, ballads, ensemble swing, Afro-Cuban and other Latin rhythms, are my starting points of appreciation and evaluation. If those basics are good enough as grounding material for the acknowledged masters of jazz — those departed as well as most of those elders remaining today — then they’re good enough for me.
After the fundamentals, though, all sorts of factors come into play. This is where, to me, the critical reception of the music becomes most revealing.
Vijay Iyer’s music has always stimulated me intellectually while hitting me in the gut rhythmically. But with Accelarando the melodic content of songs by Heatwave, Michael Jackson, and Duke Ellington gave me reference points that touched my heart through “music giving resonance to memory,” to paraphrase Ralph Ellison. Here’s my take on his trio’s treatment of Jackson’s “Human Nature”:
Iyer plays the melody fairly straight as bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore refract time together, then separately. The pleasure comes from the play impulse, as the melodic, harmonic or rhythmic basis of any song here is not written in stone, are merely shards of measured time in the space of sounds. As when later in “Human Nature” all three dance around a center that’s not really there.
Considering my first post’s mention of the import of a center, I like Vijay’s gracious post-modern approach which yet and still flouts modernist assumptions. Vijay’s gentility is becoming. Nate, I also agree that his Ellington send-off was a fond one:
The Village of the Virgins,” by Duke Ellington, was a brilliant choice to close this date, as they somehow respect the master with church-like reverence, and seamlessly penetrate the bounds of the blues and soft rock until the lines erase.
Notwithstanding Diana Krall’s lingerie, we haven’t mentioned many singers, but I favor Kurt Elling’s 1619 Broadway for the way he re-interprets not only American songbook standards but pop or R&B numbers such as “You Send Me,” “A House Is Not a Home,” American Tune,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” If God is no respecter of persons, Elling isn’t a respecter of genres, yet jazz is his ken. Elling also ends his latest record date with an Ellington number.
Kurt and Vijay both experiment by crossing genre barriers with respect, yet their individual styles are entrepreneurial in the manner that they create signature musical value in the soundscape. And if Vijay’s Accelerando is a refinement more than an avant-garde like break-through, that’s cool. Aesthetic statement, says Albert Murray, involves “extension, elaboration and refinement” of idiomatic particulars. If so, then Kurt’s elaborations on great songs from the Brill Building and Vijay’s refinements of his own style seem natural parts of a creative process.
Novelist Leon Forrest has an essay entitled “The Labyrinth of Luminosity.” That’s a phrase I’d definitely use to describe the gathering steam of swing through Caribbean-esque repetition and interstitial fire on Branford’s opening cut (“The Mighty Sword”) from Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. Look at the video again, and just focus on the interaction between pianist Joey Calderazzo and drummer Justin Faulkner to decipher, if necessary, what I mean by interstitial fire. Damn—they swingin’ hard. Thanks, Nate, for including that video in Gio’s last post.
Though I understood not a word, I took to Luciana Souza’s Duos III like a black cat bringing good luck. That’s a recording one can make love to — another criterion, by the way, worth mentioning. Remaining in the Latin vein, I favored Arturo Sandoval’s Dear Diz (the arrangements and production value are off the chain), Poncho Sanchez’s Live in Hollywood (loose precision and hot solos), and Bobby Sanabria’s Multiverse for its mixture of jazz big band, Latin Jazz arrangements, and hip hop with a historically-rich message.
Looking ahead, I’d say that one aspect that we haven’t mentioned sufficiently that will continue to greatly impact the course of jazz is the emergence of a tipping point of female instrumentalists. Jazz discourse, past and present, is usually a guy’s game, but that’s changing not only by virtue of boundlessly talented artists such as Esperanza Spalding; or saxophonist Tia Fuller, who in her latest recording, Angelic Warrior, successfully cast off the shadow of Kenny Garrett; or singer-trumpeter Bria Skonberg, a dedicated student of Warren Vaché and his pre-bop trumpet diction; or just through Terri Lyne Carrington’s quiet but steady mentorship of a plethora of sisters-in-spirit, but also because of all of the women players in jazz programs in high school and college.
Look out, guys: there will continue to be more female instrumentalists teaching chemistry class in the years to come.
I wish you all a happy holiday season. Let’s keep Jimmy Greene and his family, and all those who suffered unimaginable losses last Friday, in our thoughts and prayers.