My apologies for posting this so belatedly, and for the
general silence at this frequency. I’ve been holed up in Deadlineville, and out
of town for personal reasons, and juggling this and that. There’s stuff on the
way, including a Playlist this weekend and a feature on Orchestrion, the mind-trippy new project (album, tour, quixotic obsession) from guitarist Pat
Metheny. Some context, in case you have yet to see it:
And while you’re here, allow me to steer you in the
direction of a back-and-forth involving a vested party, an impartial
observer and a worthy
riposte. The subject is big band innovation and critical consensus, more or
less. I’d be curious to hear the perspective of a certain blogger at the heart of
this debate, though I wouldn’t begrudge him some pragmatic silence. I should
note that my next JazzTimes column addresses
the issue of big-band progressivism, falling prey, as it were, to some of the
ostensible biases that Graham Collier decries.
Part Four 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: Andrey Henkin
Dear Nate, Ben, Hank and Peter,
I’m glad I got a later slot in this Algonquin round email. I could simply react to what everyone else has said thus far. I agree wholeheartedly with Peter in his assessment of Chicago. Having made my first trip out there for the Umbrella Music Festival in early November, I was impressed by the sort of community-building that scene of musicians engages in, something I find woefully lacking in New York.
Sure, there are circles of musicians here but I find far too few porous borders (let me book The Stone for a month and I’d bring together some interesting first-time collaborations: Peter Evans/Jeremy Pelt duo, anyone?). That said, since Obama has already displayed a penchant for plugging his adopted home state -- be it through the Olympics debacle or the just-announced plan to move Guantanamo inmates to a Northern Illinois prison -- he should listen to Peter and invite somebody new to play at the White House. My vote? The Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (above). With Chicagoans, Germans and Scandinavians, it seems a perfect band to reinforce the notion of global engagement. What would Steven Colbert have to say about that, I wonder? (One other note on Chicago: Muhal Richard Abrams/Fred Anderson duo as part of the AACM concert series...one of my gigs of the year.)
And using Umbrella as a jumping-off point, let me also echo praise lavished on Akira Sakata (left). I knew his work through Yosuke Yamashita mainly but had the chance to see him twice this year, once in Sweden in March and then at Umbrella. Both times he played with his trio of bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano. Nate mentioned sax trios... this is the best one out there for my money. Playing free jazz well is tapping into something internal and Sakata-san has an unending wellspring.
And Chris Corsano is a drummer exemplifying musicians not limiting themselves to jazz or noise or whatever. Any of us who saw his trio with Evan Parker and Nate Wooley at The Stone in October should agree.
Segueing from Japan to debuts, check out Nobuyasu Furuya’s sax trio on Clean Feed, Bendowa. The Portuguese label releases so much and from so many high-profile artists, a disc like this can get overlooked. Darius Jones’ album was a remarkably mature debut. I forget who described him as coming out “fully formed” but I think that is an accurate assessment. And as Hank mentioned, tapping Cooper-Moore and Rakalam Bob Moses was inspired. So much so that when the band played at the AUM Fidelity showcase at Abrons Arts Center in October, Moses’ absence (replaced by the younger and more frenetic Jason Nazary) was too much for the band to overcome. And lastly on the debut thread, after years of being so impressed by John Hebert’s deliciously open concept of bass playing (learned at the proverbial knee of Andrew Hill), his debut Byzantine Monkey was a dynamic first statement.
Håkon Kornstad is probably the most interesting saxist out there these days in terms of the breadth of his projects. The duo with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten was remarkable and Dwell Time just as much. He recently played that music live at Monkeytown (which is really growing on me as a venue for this kind of music), and I am most captivated by an “avant-garde” saxist who appreciates and strives for beauty above all else:
Not to bring things down, but one instance of the supergroup that disappointed me greatly this year was the Five Peace Band, with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. I heard the record and wasn’t very impressed and live at Jazz at Lincoln Center in April (a booking nearly as surprising as Ornette Coleman), the band seemed flat in the way only fusion bands can, which is to say, hyperactive yet hypoglycemic. Maybe Corea was tired from non-stop touring for the last couple of years but what’s McLaughlin’s excuse? Why can’t such an amazing player finally find a project that will make everyone forget about the Mahavishnu Orchestra?
As we enter a new decade, I am encouraged by all the labels supporting jazz and “related configurations”, to borrow an WBAI term, like the aforementioned Clean Feed, Intakt, Kadima Collective, No Business and even a resurgent ECM (great albums by Miroslav Vitous, John Surman, Evan Parker) as I am saddened by New York’s demotion in terms of “Jazz Capital of the World.” In January, I am making a trip to Philadelphia to see the Circulasione Totale Orchestra, who are skipping New York on a small tour, as do most traveling musicians. Club bookers either draw from the same pool of musicians or we have the curator model, which is nice but hardly inclusive.
Tonicremains empty and festivals held in small Austrian villages outclass anything we have here. I never have a problem choosing my Shows of the Year but find myself looking forward more and more to trips out of town.
Part Three 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: Peter Margasak
Dear Nate, Ben, Andrey and Hank,
I’ll echo Hank’s delight in engaging in this exchange. Turning back to Nate’s question about Esperanza and Babs... only the former strikes me as truly noteworthy, but I’m disappointed that Obama keeps inviting back the same musician. It’s exciting to see jazz get such a platform, but there are plenty of other worthy (dare I say, far more interesting) folks that should get the call from here on out.
I’m happy that the Lewis went into paperback this year, further extending its impact. As the sole participant here that doesn’t live in New York, I’m always happy to see Chicago get some props, even if Lewis and Threadgill haven’t lived here in decades; the city’s fiercely independent spirit lives on, certainly through the music of Lehman and Iyer (who, along with Threadgill, all landed in my top five albums). While big name organizations in Chicago, from the city-sponsored Jazz Festival to Symphony Center, draw the local media attention, what really matters in this city is increasingly the responsibility of musicians. All but one of the presenters behind Umbrella Music -- a loose constellation of three strong weekly series -- is a musician, and this year they curated their best festival yet, and probably the most exciting week in the city’s adventurous music calendar. These guys know that no one is going to give them anything for nothing, so they tend the garden themselves, and it’s been paying off.
It’s also nice to see some of the best groups from Chicago -- Josh Berman’s Old Idea, Jason Adasiewicz’s Rolldown, James Falzone’s Klang, Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things -- getting noticed by New Yorkers. I’m still thrilled and mildly shocked that Ken Vandermark (right) played some gigs in a quartet with Eric Revis, Jason Moran, and Nasheet Waits a few months back.
I suppose related to the early achievements of the AACM is the continued scrambling and/or disregard to any kind of purity, whether it’s a drummer like Tyshawn Sorey writing post-Feldman guitar music or the wonderfully bizarre amalgam of heavy metal, cracked bluegrass, and shambling funk by the Seabrook Power Plant. Maybe this is an irrelevant point as the present decade comes to its conclusion, but I’m consistently encouraged and excited as the flung open doors are torn off their hinges and the openings keep widening. Why the hell not? The problem with this reality in our profession (knock on wood that I can keep calling it that) is that more and more music falls off the “jazz” map, meaning that the radars of so many writers only go so far -- present company excluded, natch -- so that lots of the most interesting stuff, especially if it’s produced outside of New York, is largely invisible. Most jazz from outside of the US suffers the same problem -- if we don’t hear great music from Germany (Die Enttäuschung, pictured below; Christian Lillinger), Sweden (Jonas Kullhammar, Alberto Pinton) or Japan (Akira Sakata, Otomo Yoshihide) does that mean it doesn’t exist? And that’s always the rub about year-end considerations -- I mostly get frustrated about the music I still haven’t heard rather than rating the records I have.
So many records, so many shows, so many musicians. Although I don’t want to reopen the Terry Teachout jazz is dead can o’ worms, I’ve never seen such a crushing deluge of new music. Yes, much of it is boilerplate, but there are still countless musicians really pushing. I’m still lucky enough to able to buy records at real record stores (Jazz Record Mart, Dusty Groove), but I can’t deny that I’ve taken advantage of downloading to further add to the pile of music. I’ve spent more and more time thinking, “Where do I draw the line?” I take a certain pride in trying to be comprehensive, but it’s getting harder.
I’m not sure if Nate was referring to me when he mentioned Norwegian jazz, but I’ll take the bait. I too love the duo of Håkon Kornstad and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, but they’ve yet to perform out here. But I also dig Kornstad’s recent solo sax album Dwell Time, and he seems to be getting better at developing an original language through simple looping effects. I had the chance to hear him do the same thing in a gorgeous duet with singer Sidsel Endresen -- a one-time ECM folk-jazz singer who’s experiencing a mid-life radicalism, unleashing incredible, all-improvised vocal performances, both solo and with this saxophonist -- that defied categorization, a quality that so much of the best Norwegian stuff exhibits. Atomic didn’t release a record, but its powerhouse drummer Paal Nilssen-Love blew my mind in a trio called OffOnOff with electric guitarist Terri Ex (of the Ex) and bassist Massimo Pupillo (of Zu) that turned churning free improv/noise and gut-punching grooves into the most physical, fantastically brutal concert I saw all year. They have two good records, but they’re impotent next to the live experience.
I feel like I’m rambling a little, which is an indirect way of writing that I didn’t observe any clear consensus or dominant thread over the last year. I also feel like so much of my favorite music is increasingly genre-averse. I mean, I like and appreciate Eric Alexander as much as the next person, but I get more excited by head scratchers like the Tyondai Braxton solo record, the electro-acoustic improv web that David Sylvian croons through on Manafon, or Vijay Iyer reshaping “Galang,” as shown here:
It may not all be strictly jazz, but it all evolves from a kindred spirit of experimentation, individual voices, and curiosity that’s always characterized much of the best jazz, and lots of musicians seem increasingly fluid in their collaborations and interactions.