Zankel Hall, April 27
Zankel Hall, April 27
Anoushka Shankar, Steve Lehman Trio, Grégoire Maret,
Daniel Rossen, Chemical Brothers
Ruby Washington / The New York Times
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.
From: Nate Chinen
I was supposed to come up with the next link to this chain over the weekend, but snowfall and football turn out to be wicked procrastination-boosters. I do have some thoughts, though, beginning with this quotation:
“When you look at the history of jazz, everybody who made significant contributions to that music never really saw it as a kind of music. Anybody who can shed that preconception of what jazz is or is not, or should be or shouldn’t be, and can just approach it as human endeavor, I think will find something to resonate with here.” -- Vijay Iyer (via EPK )
The polls and picks are mostly in, and it looks like Iyer just might have had the consensus choice for best jazz album of 2009. Ben, you had his Historicity as your top dog, irrespective of genre (more on that in a sec). A casual perusal of the 50 JazzTimes critics’ ballots shows that only one voter, editor-in-chief Lee Mergner, had it quite so high -- but also that it appears on 12 total ballots, the same tally as Joe Lovano’s Folk Art, which came in just ahead at #1.
I’m no numbers-cruncher, so I won’t pursue that gauntlet further. But I’ll gladly pick up another one, the one Iyer throws down in his statement above. Throughout this roundtable so far, we’ve heralded artists who make their way without most of the old hang-ups, ducking the heavy drag of genre obligation.
Reflecting on that fact this weekend, I got to thinking about this first decade of the new century, and what it has meant for jazz, in some loose sense. Others have done this recently, including my man David Adler, who provides a kind of personal tour on his blog. Over at the Slate Music Club, my model for this email exchange, there was a subplot concerning the best handle for the 2000s, which has been known in some starchy circles as “the Aughts.” Carl Wilson kicked around a few ideas, settling on “the Singles” -- part nod to “Single Ladies,” part acknowledgment of the iTunes-abetted devaluation of the album. But since that trend doesn’t really apply to jazz, here’s another possible option: “the Oughts.” (Indulge me here for a minute, guys.)
Remember how this decade began? So much agita over definitions! On the one hand we had imposing cultural arbiters (right) telling us what jazz ought to be: blues-based, swinging, firmly rooted in the African-American idiom. On the other hand, there was the countervailing response, which spoke to a Balkanization of jazz, literally and figuratively (cf., the Knitting Factory). At that end of the spectrum, the thinking was that jazz ought to be open-ended and exploratory, not so serious all the time. (Maybe their version was the Naughts, or the Nots.) Of course this is a wildly reductive take on the “jazz wars,” itself a wildly reductive term.
The point is that we can now survey the Oughts in terms of a cycle of action and reaction. For much of the last decade, jazz was a pendular protectorate, swinging (or not) back and forth between entrenchments, toward some contested new center of truth. Look at Historicity -- or, for that matter, at Folk Art, which resides so comfortably in today’s modern mainstream only because that center has shifted. (Whether we can all admit it is another story.)
I’m not saying that Lovano is inventing a new syntax, or even that Folk Art is more “adventurous” somehow than, say, Congo Square. (We could play this game all day.) But I am indeed arguing that the “preconception of what jazz is or is not, or should be or shouldn’t be,” to borrow Iyer’s formulation, has buckled enough to allow for a wealth of new shoots coming up through the cracks. And there’s no zero-sum game anymore: you can dig Håkon Kornstad and Joe Lovano, the Bad Plus and James P. Johnson, Wynton and Dave.
If I had to designate a jazz artist of the decade, it would probably be pianist Jason Moran, who has gone out of his way, again and again, to deal with jazz tradition in an honest and personal way. (No accident that Moran is the present-day artist who closes Jazz, the new Giddins-DeVeaux book. Marsalis held down that spot in Jazz, the Ken Burns film and ultimate Oughts artifact.)
There’s one more thing to be said about Moran and Iyer -- and Iverson, whom we’ve also invoked, and Darcy James Argue, whom I can’t believe we haven’t. Each of these musicians has taken it upon himself to articulate his own ideas: about his music, about his influences, and about much more besides. Hank, you shouted out Iverson’s interviews at Do The Math; I’m guessing you’ve already seen his latest bit of jazz criticism too? And has everybody read Iyer on Monk (and physics!), Steve Lehman on spectral music, and Argue, just today, on Bob Brookmeyer? Hard to keep up with it all, right? And just think, we haven’t even gotten to Wynton’s Facebook notes. Has there ever been more transparency, more dialogue, more open-source debate, in all of jazz history?
I’ll end with a photo: the Vijay Iyer Trio backstage at Newport this summer, with drummer Billy Hart and WBGO producer-host Josh Jackson. What’s good about jazz in 2009? You’re looking at it. One facet of it, anyway.
That’s it for my hand in the roundtable, fellas. I’ll pass the aforementioned gauntlet your way, keeping in mind that the holidays loom. Farewell to the Oughts and all that; Hello to whatever’s rounding that corner!
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.
Dear Andrey, Ben, Hank and Peter,
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 of Jimmy 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 only one 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 even more clearly. 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).
Chamber Music America announced its latest rollout of commissions today: a dozen separate grants, awarded under the aegis of its New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development program. Among the recipients are John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet, a quartet led by Rudresh Mahanthappa (pictured above), and Mario Pavone’s Double Tenor band. (For a full list, scroll to the bottom of this post.)
Commissions like these have become a fundamental part of the jazz economy. And, I’d add, now a significant factor in jazz’s creative life. Last year I confessed some guarded ambivalence about this fact in a related Gig column, musing about the specific qualities of these “new jazz works” that tend to look good in grant-proposal form.
I know, I know: Gift horse, mouth. It seems churlish, maybe even foolish, to question any institutionalized program that sees fit to distribute funding in the name of creative music.