Zankel Hall, April 27
Zankel Hall, April 27
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.
From: Giovanni Russonello
This thing just keeps chugging along, like the last tune of the jam session. I’m loving reading everyone’s thoughts and recollections from the year.
Jim, your description of the Tyshawn Sorey-Ben Gerstein show had me smelling the evening air and the god-awful Gowanus Canal and the sweat on Sorey’s back. It had me hearing those cutting trombone wobbles, and Sorey’s broken cymbal clanking on the ground. It left me coveting that experience, and it really hammered home your main point: that jazz is about strengthening the ties that bind. So no matter where the music is going (toward a surrender to electronic idioms; toward free excursions; toward more tightly wound interplay) we know it won’t really be dead until the only people left calling themselves jazz musicians are playing solo sets with pre-programmed beats on their laptops. I don’t see that coming any time soon.
I’m glad you folks took a minute to meditate on Tim Berne’s warm-blooded masterpiece, Snakeoil. (Berne wrote the music, and conferred its sense of communitarian purpose, but to me this really was Matt Mitchell’s record. His piano creates the space it lives in; he’s a master of evaporating tones, and every chord he plays is broken crystal — sharp and translucent.) One we’ve given only glancing attention to, though, is Accelerando, from the Vijay Iyer Trio. The trio’s first record, Historicity, was a cabochon, but this one’s a diamond. The group sounds bounding and monstrous in its whirl of mandala-like propulsion and buried reference points.
You’re absolutely right, Nate: That record was a refinement — but to me, the fact that this band has been ahead of the curve doesn’t preclude seeing 2012 as a turning point, so much as it anoints Iyer as a sort of prescient chieftain of the zeitgeist. (Someone’s always ahead of the curve, and yet a curve it remains; hey, Greg Osby and Steve Coleman had some of these ideas 20 years ago, and Gary Bartz was nearly pulling hip-hop into jazz before hip-hop even really existed.)
As long as I’m responding to responses, Peter, I’m glad you mentioned your trepidation about the idea of assigning any sort of governing “direction” to jazz’s present or future. It’s a cat-herding exercise, for sure. But I wonder if you agree with me that critics have a right — responsibility, even — to inject some adhesive logic into the ethereal. (How else to explain star ratings?) As you point out, jazz’s diversity, especially now, is enough to leave anybody’s head spinning. Also true: Not knowing where to begin, or what the music relates to, can scare off folks who might otherwise fall for the music. At the least, I think teasing out some commonality gives us points of reference, and helps jazz gain some traction in a broader societal conversation.
It also paints musicians who defy the greater trend with a special, luminous hue. In 2012, going against the grain meant explicitly inhabiting a particular tradition. Maybe that’s ironic, or maybe by now it isn’t. Two people who did this and caught my ear were Branford Marsalis, whose disc made my year-end list, and David Virelles, the Cuban pianist who got a lot of love on those New York Times ballots. Branford today isn’t a ripple in the tide, or even a countervailing force, so much as a stalwart who seems to gather steam with every passing year. Four MF’s Playin’ Tunes was, well, an MF of an album: I’ve never heard him reaching this hard for an explicitly post-Coltrane ideal, partly because I’ve never heard him sounding so alertly himself (though he always does that, in some way or another).
And Virelles, while definitely an alchemist, struck me with how firmly and effectively he dealt with the other branch of John Coltrane’s legacy: vaguely political/spiritual, avant-garde, acoustic jazz. The choice to use Andrew Cyrille, whose sound is inextricable from that lineage, was inspired. I don't love everything Cyrille plays today — he didn't fit in with Bill McHenry at the Vanguard earlier this year, at all — but he gave this record a bristling timelessness.
Anyway, that does it for my chorus. This has been loads of fun. Thanks for the opportunity to join the rap session, Nate. On to the next soloist.
From: Greg Thomas
Dear Nate, Peter, Gio and Jim:
I too thank Nate for the chance to pitch in some musings for our literary jam session about jazz in 2012.
I can’t help but begin with some reflections on Dave Brubeck: when someone of his indelible cultural and musical import departs earth, it’s always a blow to those of us remaining who care. But I lean to the ancestral tradition of celebrating the life and accomplishments of a great man such as Brubeck more than mourning his death. No, Nate, I wasn’t hip to Jazz at Storyville but thanks to you and Spotify, I’ve added it to my storehouse of musical memories of what must be one of the greatest musical partnerships in jazz history.
Through Brubeck’s recordings I fell in love, as a teen beginner playing a Bundy alto sax, with Paul Desmond’s sweet and dry tone, his graceful melodicism, his beautiful counter-statement to the fires of Bird-derived bebop, and even his sense of humor. I recall once reading that Desmond claimed not to practice too much because when he did, he began to play too fast!
Yet, of course, Brubeck was for me more than just a bridge to the glories of Paul Desmond; for example, his 5/4 and 9/8 time experiments on “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk”— both from the classic Time Out record — stretched my sonic perception, while strengthening my appreciation for the ground of swing being never too far away, no matter how “further out” Brubeck experimented with “time.” Furthermore, the social and political significance of Dave and Iola Brubeck’s The Real Ambassadors cannot be overstated, particularly when considering the social and political era of its creation during the Civil Rights movement. His greatness extended to mastery not only because of his designation as a NEA Jazz Master in 1999, but because of the establishment of the Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific a year later.
When I had the great fortune to interview Mr. Brubeck preceding a double bill with Ramsey Lewis at Jazz at Lincoln Center a few years ago, his palpable pride in the educational achievements of the institution bearing his name was inspiring.
That’s a good word to sum up my overall feeling about jazz in 2012: inspiring. I confess that I’m an eternal optimist, but no matter the usual mainstream media blackout of jazz, no matter the sad closings of iconic, down-home venues such as St. Nick’s Pub and the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, and no matter the attention on the Internet to yet another jazz obit, this time in The Atlantic, jazz music not only survives but thrives. Although I’ve been writing about the music for about a quarter century, my newfound media perch at the New York Daily News has given me a perspective from which to see the exciting developments in the music, especially on record and in New York City.
But over this past summer, I experienced more of the music away from the media, financial, and (so-called) jazz capital.
For instance, I had the good fortune to visit Joburg, South Africa for the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival. I witnessed the open-arm receptivity of a native African audience, who drank in the music —without the consideration of strict genre demarcations — like it was the nectar of the gods. (I must admit, though, that, as a black American, it was very strange staying at a five-star hotel with toiletries that had the brand name “Plantation.”)
At the Montreal Jazz Festival, the world’s largest, an eclectic gaggle of ensembles presented music that festival founder Andre Menard calls “cousins and neighbors” of jazz. Unless one is a member of the genre police, I think such diversity is cool, as long as what some call “mainstream” jazz is represented in due measure. (Please, don’t ask me what that proportional measure should be, because I candidly don’t know.) I especially appreciated the chance to hear pianists making waves in Europe such as Tord Gustavsen and Jef Neve. (Peter, since you hail from Canada, I’m curious about your take on the Montreal Fest.)
The largest jazz festival in the U.S., the Detroit Jazz Festival, was another joyful summer excursion, where a felicitous pairing of Lew Tabackin and Randy Brecker was one of many highlights. And a road trip with fellow jazz scribes Howard Mandel, Laurence Donahue-Green, Terrell Holmes, Ted Panken and Kelvin Williams to the oldest jazz festival, in Newport, Rhode Island, was just plain ol’ fun.
The snapshots of these events were proof positive to me that a plethora of great music is being written and played under the banner of jazz and related forms. (And, as per usual, there’s also a heap of so-so and not so great music being produced, jazz and otherwise.) Now, I realize that as a native New Yorker, I’m prone to the myopic, misguided view that what’s happening here is indicative of the state of jazz overall. So my travels, as goes the cliché, broadened my horizons.
Yet some of my most expansive and thrilling experiences this year happened right in the Big Apple.
Take Brian Lynch. He gets my vote for Most Valuable Player on trumpet this year. I saw Lynch kickin’ it with Phil Woods at Dizzy’s, Charles McPherson at the Jazz Standard, and Eddie Palmieri at the Blue Note (and in South Africa). In each case, not only did he hold his own; he elevated the music with his intensity and power. I witnessed a wild concert by Donald Harrison at Symphony Space, and I mean wild in a good sense. He and his young charges — Zaccai and Luques Curtis, Christian Scott, and others — tore up the stage in the first half with standards and the progressive new style Harrison ambitiously calls “quantum jazz,” yet followed up in the second with imminently danceable New Orleans and R&B styling. Instead of sounding schizophrenic, the music seemed part of an organic whole with Harrison at the center.
In Harlem, shows at Harlem Stage (on the campus of City College) such as the tribute to Cecil Taylor featuring Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, and Amina Claudine Myers bristled with a spirit of creative experimentation and free improvisation. (“Holding It Down: The Veteran’s Dream Project,” Nate, was spoken-word and poetry-driven with a musical backdrop that at times over-powered clear hearing of the words. Vijay’s piano playing, however, respectfully took a back seat to the scenes depicted by the words and filmic images.) I had a whooping good time at the Apollo Theater for the second year where Wycliffe Gordon led an old-style music variety show for the Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival that maintained high artistry and entertainment value in comparable measure.
I regret the aforementioned closings in Harlem, as I feel sad about the closing of Mobay Uptown on 125th Street near Fifth Avenue, where the ambrosial Caribbean and Southern cuisine would often be accompanied by a live jazz band. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Showman’s Café, Bill’s Place, Creole Restaurant, Londel’s, and Ginny’s Supper Club (below Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster) are still presenting jazz in Harlem, as the National Jazz Museum in Harlem offers (mostly) free public programming every single week. As well, a re-opening of the historic Minton’s is planned for next year under the leadership of corporate titan Richard Parsons and restaurateur Alexander Smalls.
There’s always much to lament about the human condition generally and the state of jazz specifically, most surely, but I tend to accentuate the positive, such as the release by the young saxophonist Brandon Wright, “Journeyman,” a straight-ahead session that fired up my ears through a Bose Wave System and continues to please upon repeated plays.
I’m not much bothered, Peter, by Jarrett’s Sleeper and Truesdell’s Gil Evans Centennial Project being classed as two of the best of 2012, based on the criterion of release date. But if today’s music, say, pales in comparison — not an argument I’m making, and not you either, I suspect — then I think we should question the music of today, not fret over fears of being retro.
By the way, I’m going to hear Chris Botti at the Blue Note for his upcoming three-week run, Peter. Some feel about him as I do about Kenny G — nice sound, but damn, man: do you make music with the elevator and your bank account as the primary considerations? — but I’m reserving judgment so I can feel his integrity (or lack thereof) in person.
And as far as the tradition vs. innovation debate, it’s always rung hollow to me because of how it’s framed. To me, it’s both/and rather than either/or. I’m strong on the fundamentals of jazz as a form serving as a basis of innovation, and as indicative of a continuum of artistic growth. But an emphasis on innovation as a be-all and end-all, I think, is immature and flirts with the risk of decadence. My postmodern friends may disagree, but, paraphrasing Yeats, if there’s no center, things fall apart and anarchy reigns.
But I’m prayerful that we’ve transcended such debates, and can, instead, focus on how jazz, as a musical practice and value system, has suffused the consciousness and identity of people globally. On that I hope we can agree, especially in light of Herbie Hancock’s International Jazz Day initiative.
Lastly, have you noticed a trend toward even less long group runs at clubs where you live? I have here, with Dizzy’s changing from a 6-night a week policy to a usual, now, maximum of four days. At the Kitano Club a two-night run has become hard to come by. If this is a trend, is this because most groups these days, aside from the biggest names in the jazz biz, have inadequate drawing power to make such runs an even break-even proposition? Perhaps I’ve answered my own question just by asking.
From: Peter Hum
Hi Nate, Greg, Gio and Jim,
First, thanks to Nate for asking me to chip in from the Canadian jazz hinterland. Is there freezing rain pelting down where you are too, turning cars into giant ice cubes?
Let me give a jazz-related shout out to my Ottawa Citizen colleagues. Good on them — good on us, the major daily newspaper in Canada’s capital — for putting the obit for Dave Brubeck on the front page of last Thursday’s arts section. I didn’t even have a hand in that bit of stellar news judgment, I swear. Granted, Brubeck had played twice in the last five years at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, packing Confederation Park in the process. But judging from the chitchat in the newsroom, and from what I saw on Twitter and Facebook (where news, alas, happens first), I think that Brubeck’s passing really resonated at large, and not just with people like me who heard “Strange Meadowlark” decades ago and were forever hooked on jazz by that Ab7#11. What I saw spoke to the power of great jazz — especially when it’s a gateway into the music for an impressionable mind — to lodge itself, inextricably so, in someone’s memory as a treasured, sentimental favourite.
I’d love to extrapolate from the outpouring of attention to Brubeck’s passing — and, for that matter, in response to Austin Peralta’s sad, sad death — that jazz, whatever that means to everyone else, still matters beyond the jazz bubble, despite all the nay-saying. It’s not that the music’s dying yet again (Seriously, The Atlantic?), or riven by feuding clans, as if the Hatfields and McCoys were in some kind of tradition-vs.-innovation cage match. Brubeck’s death might remind civilians and us alike that jazz, while admittedly large, loose and even monstrous (as Henry James famously said of 19th-Century novels), can indeed inspire a sense of renewed wonder (as Nate almost as famously wrote in his kick-off letter).
In case you’re thinking that glasses in Canada are overly rose-coloured (sorry – colored), I’ll add that yes, it’s a drag that Taylor Swift is worth two Ottawa jazz festivals. It sucks that as much as everybody we know loves Vijay Iyer, someone else might write him up as a poster boy for jazz-that-can’t-be-popular. It’s a kick in the jewels that Café Paradiso, the leading (some would say only) jazz club in my city of a million or so — the way station for folks like Dave Liebman, Ben Monder/Theo Bleckmann, Sheila Jordan, Marc Copland, John Abercrombie and Steve Kuhn, not to mention innumerable Canadian players I’d love to hip you to — shut its doors in June after a dozen years or so of fighting the good fight. It pains me that when they name a street after Monk in New York, they can’t spell Thelonious right. It can be rough out there for jazz, but how significant are these setbacks and slights? I’ll side with Lee Konitz, who affirms that “as long as there are people trying to play music in a sincere way, there will be some jazz.”
My highlight reel from 2012 won’t be the same as yours. To get to the Vanguard or the Jazz Gallery, Korzo or Carnegie Hall, it’s a seven-hour drive from my house. But as admittedly very anecdotal evidence that great music is taking place beyond the coverage of the New York Times and the jazz periodicals, I’ll mention that, for example, I saw Dave Douglas play his ass off twice this summer. He was ass-less and practically leaping off the bandstand with the Sound Prints group he runs with Joe Lovano at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and then igniting things in a decommissioned church’s basement with a quartet that includes Steve Swallow and two Canadian youngbloods, Chet and Jim Doxas, at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival.
This summer, I twice saw the Fellowship Band turn a big park audience into a Vanguard-like congregation (although in the second instance I had to travel to France). I almost saw Dave Holland three nights in a row, playing pristine duets with Kenny Barron, with the sublime Thimar trio, and the inaugural gig for his visceral, molten Prism group with Craig Taborn, Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland. Take that, bifurcating traditionalists and innovators.
Oh — I twice passed on Chris Botti.
I was able to catch Jack DeJohnette’s hard-thrashing group without having to go to Newport, hear two burning sets of Liebman’s group without going to the Deer Head Inn. (Aside: does Lieb, even with his NEA Jazz Masters award, get all the love he deserves?) At jam sessions in Ottawa, I saw Eric Harland, Taylor Eigsti and Dan Tepfer (on melodica) put “Solar” through the wringer, and I saw Kneebody play “Epistrophy” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” If someone were to come up to me after hearing any one of these concerts, and say, “Ah yes, but I pined for more tradition or innovation in that music,” I would have smacked them for completely missing the point, which is the wonderment.
I want to ask you about two recordings that dropped this year and that I thought were wonderful. No points for guessing that I have in mind Keith Jarrett’s Sleeper and the Gil Evans Centennial Project release from Ryan Truesdell. How did you gauge those discs with the best of 2012, given that Jarrett’s European group made its incandescent music in 1979, or that some of the Evans material was older than Birth of the Cool?
What I’m inclined to take away from these delayed gratifications is that arguments about jazz styles evolving or decaying themselves shrivel up when time-defying music is pulsing through the Sennheisers. The power of those discs makes me hopeful that in 2042 or 2062, some freshly unearthed music by Iyer or Rudresh Mahanthappa, or Brad Mehldau or Kurt Rosenwinkel, or Ambrose Akinmusire or Robert Glasper, or someone none of us have heard yet, will be making heads spin.
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.)
Hafez Modirzadeh, "Post-Chromodal Out!"
Bill Douthart for The New York Times
Arts & Leisure, July 22
So hey: Accelerando, the new album by the Vijay Iyer Trio, is really, really good. I wrote about it, with what I hope registers as sufficient enthusiasm. My hosanna joins a chorus of others, from my fellow critics Chris Barton and Peter Hum to, in an instructive comparative exercise, Patrick Jarenwattananon of A Blog Supreme. There's sure to be more of this; feel free to drop links in the comments.
And speaking of comments: one of the principal ideas in my notebook has to do with Iyer's creeping influence, which I suspect is already considerable. Do you have a story to tell about that? I'd be curious to read it. I'm thinking of something like this:
If you're seeking a more thorough fleshing-out of Iyer's story, I recently reread the JazzTimes profile I wrote back in 2005. Amazingly, I'm not embarrassed by it, though it does read a bit dated in some respects. (Shouts to the IAJE!) And here are a few more resources:
Also, in the process of writing this piece I wanted to use the word "permutative" in a sentence, but wasn't sure whether it would pass muster with the NYT Style patrol. So I plugged the word into the paper's search engine to see about past usage. Looks like it appeared in the paper a total of three times since 1851 — and one of those instances was in this notebook by Robert Palmer, about the AACM saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell. (Palmer uses it twice in one graf!) Obviously there couldn't be a more appropriate accident: one of the first times I saw Iyer in person was with Mitchell's Note Factory.