Thursday, December 22, 2005

on the to-get list

Trombonist Robin Eubanks of the Dave Holland Quintet says:

"We finished recording a new Quintet cd today [21st of December]. It should be out late Spring or early Summer, 2006."

Monday, December 19, 2005

citizen jazz update

Fay Claassen - Two Portraits of Chet Baker
The Dutch singer does what the double-album says on the tin, with former Baker accompanists like bassist Hein Van De Geyn and drummer John Engels lending credibility. The first CD doubles as a Portrait of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet ft. Chet Baker, with Claassen wordlessly filling Baker's role. The second CD finds her singing standards in a somewhat expanded setting (add trumpet and piano). The first CD focuses tightly on its subject, the second, if heard blind, is just a nice and elegant, yet unremarkable, vocal standards session.

Ben Sluijs - True Nature
Up until two years ago, saxophonist Sluijs was synonymous with lyricism and a beautiful, light alto tone and his quartet with melodic West Coast-derived jazz. His new quartet is an altogether different proposition, the transformation amazing. The two saxophone line-up now mostly takes after the Ornette Coleman Quartet's openness and some of its peculiar brand of loose-fitting melody, with a little Coltrane thrown in, as well as Sluijs's abiding interest in African sounds. There is one strong link to his previous work, though: an incredibly fine-grained control of timbre. The Manolo Cabras-Marek Patrman rhythm section is fascinating, too.

Maak's Spirit - Al Majmaa
The Belgian sextet teams up with a group of Gnawas and a Malian string player, which allows me to essay some political commentary. I'm not sure how wise that is. Anyway, fantastic music in which Gnawa chants blend with Western horns, n'goni engages electric guitar, myriad percussion beefs up the drums/electric bass groove.

I bestowed Citizen Jazz's coveted "ELU" ("Chosen") distinction upon the last two CDs, ie. they're highly recommended, but may be lost in the shuffle, as three other discs got the same treatment...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Von Schlippenbach/Parker/Lovens - 18/12/2005, Brussels

The Archiduc is a trendy, expensive, venerable Art Nouveau bar, but it is also surprisingly often home to improvised music concerts. According to the presenter, the Alexander Von Schlippenbach Trio is the longest-running currently-active free music trio (however, he also said that the AEC disbanded after Malachi Favors's death, so what does he know), 33 years and ending a 12-concert tour in this cramped Brussels bar on a sunday afternoon.

Prior to that was a duo between Guy Strale on stuff (incl. piano, clarinet, a balloon, frame drum, a wind-up Santa Claus...) and English trombonist Gail Brand. It was low-key and enjoyable: they moved easily from soothing trombone drones + background sounds to rowdy dialogue.

I'd never really heard any of the three participants in the main act. I expected really forbidding improv, what I got was not-that-difficult and fantastic free jazz. The music, at its busiest, seemed a perfectly logical descendant of the latter years of John Coltrane's career (including the Quartet post-A Love Supreme), mixed a whole lot of Monk (both avant and straight-up; they even swung once or twice) coming from Von Schlippenbach. Parker was on tenor the whole time. Though I was poorly seated (directly behind him), a major moment came when he performed one of his famed circular-breathing multiphonics solos. I know many consider them old-hat, repetitive, circus acts, even, but I'd never heard one before, so I reserve the right to be amazed: for a few minutes, it was like hearing the whole of the saxophone at once, high, low and in-between. The Euro Free Improv guys are dominating my end-of-the-year concert-going: Peter Brötzmann played a fantastic duo with his son Caspar a few weeks ago that I still haven't written about, now another concert-of-the-year level performance.

The solo piano encore

Afterwards, I chatted with Parker a bit, breaking the ice by telling him that they'd been a trio longer then I'd been alive. He replied "I'll have to start getting used to the idea." True, considering that the same could be said for roughly half the crowd.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Omar Sosa Trio - 14/12/2005, Brussels

Omar Sosa is Cuban, prolific, charismatic (as a stage presence and as a player) and apparently relatively popular (hundreds filled the Espace Senghor's theatre to capacity), yet it seems to me that he's rarely discussed in jazz circles. I hadn't heard any of his music since a couple of rather old albums and had never seen him live. He was accompanied by the impressively pot-bellied percussionist Miguel Anga Diaz (who's as ubiquitous as one musician can be) and an African electric bassist whose name escapes me (it's always the bassists, isn't it?).

The first sounds to be heard came from backstage: an African chant accompanied by a small frame drum. Sosa came out holding a candle in one hand and a red cloth in the other, dressed as usual in white robes. He blessed the piano with the cloth. He then leant over and produced discreet electronic whistles on a sort of touchpad-controlled FX box set up to the piano's left. In just a few gestures, he let the crowd know that the Ancient To Future principle was in full effect, that ancient and modern rituals were going to mix and that great things were coming. Unfortunately, what followed wasn't quite as great as I hoped, or, perhaps more accurately, I found the style of a significant part of what was played to be kitsch and bordering on restaurant sonic wallpaper. Frustrating, as had the music's slant been set at a different angle, this could have contended for concert of the year status.

The very long first piece summed almost everything up. It was a kaleidoscope that flitted from New Age-y World Beat to fast 'n' furious post-bop to 80's blues-scales-on-syth-driven jazz-funk to salsa to a seamless Cuban funk melding. I had trouble with the New Age-y World Beat bit, which returned often throughout the concert. The 80s jazz-funk bit (think "Amandla") was achieved through FX boxes that processed the grand pianos sound. At times these effects were cool (and I'd never seen anyone do that before, so the novelty itself was interesting), but turning a nice-sounding Schimmel grand into a Casio... Call me old-fashioned, but it made me queasy, even if it was also kind of fun. The (all too) brief fast 'n' furious Cuban-inflected post-bop bit and the salsa bit displayed Sosa's thrilling virtuosity. More of that (salsa, són, danzón and things like that did return at various points, always to my great delight), combined with the *fantastic* "Cuban classical" piano-percussion duet that served as a first encore would have been a perfect night for me. But, misguidedly, Sosa did not ask for my opinion.

Sosa has a great sense of humour too: the second piece included a sequence of clusters he played by collapsing on the keyboard, first with forearm, then elbow, then backside and climaxing in some dancing. During the second encore, he got the crowd singing along gender lines, miming female beauty and male ponderousness.

That "Cuban classical" encore (yeah, it's not pristine, it's *raw*)

getting back to my...

Maybe old news to some, but my Okayplayer membership lapsed years ago:

The Roots on MySpace
?uestlove on MySpace
and Kamal too
and still... The Roots Live

Thursday, December 15, 2005

e - u - rup! e - u - rup! e - u - rup! (to the tune of "u - s -a! u - s - a!")

Stuart Nicholson does it again. "It" being singlehandedly creating a rift between the US and EU jazz scenes, vastly overstating its importance and oversimplifying the nature of each continent's music, thereby handily eliminating the myriad elements that prick holes in his argument (which you can get more of, as well as a taste of his Pitchfork-style reviewing).

At the root of Nicholoson's point, there's an odd conflation: the secessionist spirit of the 60s euro-free jazz guys is set against the staidness of the Marsalis era, even though both epochs are now very faded (and, obviously, didn't coincide at all). It's too easy to point out the flaws in Nicholson's arguments: the US progressives and avantists of the 80s and 90s and 00s, the Euro nothing-new-heres of all times, Django Rheinhardt rendering this whole debate moot before the Second World War was done, the ignorance of music outside the US-EU axis, etc. and so on. It used to be that Euro critics would look down upon their jazz-playing countrymen as inherently inferior to their American idols. Now we're supposed to believe that "Euros are inherently less hidebound" is a worthier line of thought. It's telling that in the Independant on Sunday article, the quotes from the musicians are far more nuanced, precise and interesting than the claims of the critics.

I'm discussing the first article mainly because cited in it, but barely discussed, is my man Alexi Tuomarila. Not someone I consider to be radically redefining jazz, but a really good musician nonetheless.

jazz drumming (detail)

One little effect I love is when the drummer doubles the tempo, but just on the high-hat, so that the original tempo is maintained on the ride and the high-hat is playing on every off-beat. The net effect is exciting, then destabilising: there's the initial double-time illusion, then the "wait a minute..." elucidation. Old stuff (Max Roach did it and probably others before him), I know, but still nice when it comes up on, say "A Handful of Stars," the first track on Serge Chaloff's "Blue Serge" (which is, as you might have guessed, the example currently in my ears).

Nathalie Loriers & Philippe Aerts - 13/12/2005, Brussels

Interesting midday concert yesterday at the Musée des Instruments de Musique. I saw the first Aerts-Loriers duo at the 2003 Django d'Or awards and found it really boring. I've seen her in other contexts (sextet, accompanying a singer, in the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, duetting with an oud player) and never really warmed to her. This time, however, she (they) had me from hello. That raises the old is it me/is it the performer/is it the space/is it the time of day questions. In this particular case, I put it down to the duo itself being better and the space being exceptionally well-suited to their music.

They started out at a high level right away and maintained it right through to the end. "Walking Through Walls" exposed her elegant manner, diamond-clear lines and a delicate swing that is occasionally reinforced with shifting rhythmic patterns, such as the 9/8 bass figure that interrupts the forward movement of "The Last Thought of the Day."

The template was set, which allowed the music to be at its best when setting a foot outside it. A so-new-it's-untitled piece did this by being more complex (a highly syncopated and unpredictable 5/4 bass that still managed to imply swing, less conventional, but not more dissonant, harmony) and thus being both attractive and interesting. The following "Danse éternelle" was inspired by the unending movement of trees and had something slower, darker and denser about it.

The last song before the encore was "Dinner with Ornette and Thelonious" began with a bass that had a Carribbean undercurrent to it and later developed a theme of Ornette-ish playfulness. As an encore, they played the set's only standard, [spoiler]"Someday My Prince Will Come,"[/spoiler] which Loriers prefaced with one of those extended "guess this tune" intros which inevitably make you smile at the moment of recognition. Relive it for yourself by listening to it below.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

ready for the desert

On friday I bought a second-hand jacket that looks a lot like Tyner's (a few shades darker, a bit longer, perhaps) and I thought I should let you know. Wearing it today, along with a lilac scarf (a semi-random combination I hurriedly arrived at this morning, but a rather succesful one, I think). And other pieces of clothing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters - 10/12/2005, Brussels

I saw David Murray's Gwo-Ka Masters project a few years ago in Antwerpen and came away somewhat dissappointed, despite the presence of Hamid Drake and the extraordinary charisma of singer/griot Guy Konket. The album of the time, Yonn-Dé, was better. Now I understand that they were in a transitional period between Yonn-Dé's rural atmosphere and the follow-up Gwotet's more driving funk (both albums are excellent). On saturday, both Drake and Konket were absent, but the rest of the band was the same, including the Senegalo-Vietnamese guitarist Hervé Samb, whose sophisticated afro-jazz-with-a-touch-of-Hendrix playing was a consistent highlight, whether he was taking a long unaccompanied intro or laying down chicken scratch funk rhythmic patterns.

The concert started with an overly-dense groove that left little room for dynamics and seemed to force the soloists to operate under their own steam. Progressively, the rhythm opened up. For example, on the third song, drummer J.T. Lewis played a traditional Guadeloupean rhythm led by a dancing hi-hat. Later, the two percussionists/vocalists engaged in a "mouth drum" duet before Murray returned to the stage and played a cheeky, tongue-slapping bass clarinet introduction to an easy-going reggae version of a Lee Morgan ballad. In his solo, the leader equally acknowledged two clarinet traditions: the creole roots of jazz and Eric Dolphy's 60s revitalisation of the instrument. The obligatory encore started with a disappointing tune, but was buoyed by a seamless segue into a Sonny-Rollins-meets-samba moment, thus completing the panorama of Murray's inheritance.

[with thanks to Jazzques]

Monday, December 12, 2005

new oldies #1: up and down and up and stop

In reviews of "One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note," special note is always made of Coltrane's 27-minute solo on the title track. It has apparently been reverently passed around among well-known saxophonists in bootleg form for decades. Bluntly put, I find it to have some off-putting aspects mixed in with its greatness. More importantly, the whole double album is something of a blue-balling tease.

The AAJ review puts a positive spin on things: "Rather than having the group make any kind of concession, the broadcast was more akin to casually dropping in for 45 minutes, regardless of where the musicians were in their set."* That's all well and good, but who in their right mind would walk out on "Afro Blue" just as Coltrane is gearing up for what promises to be an overwhelming solo and Tyner has just laid down a beautiful, nuanced statement? "My Favorite Things" takes 21 minutes to reach boiling point; at the 22nd minute, Alan Grant announces the end of the broadcast and, incidentally, the end of the album.

To return to the solo, it is awe-inspiring, but in a rather terrifying way. That terror lingers on until Coltrane plays "Afro Blue"'s personable 6/8 melody. It's the single-minded relentlessness that does it, I think. Jones is battering you, while Coltrane is staring down mere mortals with an immortal gaze. According to Archie Shepp, during those Half Note gigs "it was like being in church." If so, Coltrane was the god rather than the preacher, and I have some trouble with that. It's a plausible position for Coltrane to take, if you think back to the declaration in the BBC's documentary: "I want to be remembered as a saint." A saint isn't a god, but openly aspiring to that status is disturbing. Further, compare the band's progressive disassembly on "1D1U" to their flow on "Afro Blue:" on the former they're punching (against), on the latter they're rollicking (together), especially on the part of the soprano solo that we get to hear. It's a collective movement that strikes me as far more embracing and positive than 1D1U. It's so powerful, that every time I listen, I let myself get drawn in too deep and I'm disgusted all over again when Grant's voice comes in and recommends that we "stay beautiful."

I don't want to give the impression that the music is less than brilliant. The audio fidelity might not be all that, but it definitely captures the jazz club feel, with you sitting right up front and getting bowled over.

* It also calls the Jimmy Garrison solo that opens the album "one of his finest on record," which may as well be an insult, considering that Garrison is heard alone (ie. without Grant's voice on top, for about a minute and a half).

P.S. This remarkably inept (and mercifully brief) review almost sounds like randomly-generated, semi-coherent spam.

take me out to the music game

"Certainly nobody had to be educated to like classical music in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it flourished, and when in fact it was the only musical game in town... In those days, the music we now call classical spoke to people as readily as pop music speaks to us now."

This statement by Greg Sandow reminds me of something I railed against back in august.

A reader comments:

"What town are you talking about? My peasant immigrant forebears didn't know any classical music. What they knew was folk music, that was handed down aurally. Of course, this Type of music is dead in the West, and quickly dying out in the rest of the world. It has been replaced by composed pop musio."

I half agree: folk music is overlooked by classical music historians (I'm surprised to see Sandow do this, considering his background), but to call it "dead in the West" is an overstatement. Celtic music, Greek music, Balkan music, Gypsy music, does flamenco count?, various flavours of other Spanish folk musics, etc. continue to exist in core forms and as influences in other spheres (many European jazz musicians have pillaged folk for melodies and rhythms). I think that this myopia leads to the exageration of classical music's social importance, at least before the rise of a mass middle-class market extricated the music from the palaces and wealthy patrons. Maybe that was an exception rather than the historical norm.

opera is the new something-or-other

I don't know what happened. "I don't like opera" is the official line, but I spent a good part of yesterday watching it and enjoying it greatly. I randomly caught a broadcast of the Berlin Philharmonic led by Sir Simon Rattle performing Carmina Burana (admittedly just a concert, not a full opera). They were on "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi," so I had to stay and watch the percussionist go mad, but the rest was often great too. There's an odd mix of truly beautiful melodies, others that are almost irritatingly naïve and a moment of fantastic shout-singing in the second act. Serendipitously, IVN's mother offered us a double DVD containing Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi Fan Tutte" later that very day. I eagerly watched the first act of Cosi, principally to hear for myself what had been the source of Canadienne's south-of-France woes. I liked the light-heartedness of it ("touch my foot" (!)). I now feel primed, ready and compelled (by how rockin' Carmina Burana seemed to be, up close and personal) to go to my first-ever real, big opera: La Monnaie's production of Wagner's "Der fliegende Holländer" (it's also on TV a few days before Christmas).

Interestingly, the German audience didn't clap at all during the 2004 performance, preferring to cough and stir in their seats between movements, whereas the 1989 La Scala crowd applauded the end of every scene and the singers even took a bow at the end of the first act.

Friday, December 09, 2005

jazz and blogs #4

Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music
The first page is the blog, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Douglas created his own label and has built a ArtistShare-like model around it. You can buy official and less official music in CD or mp3 (albums or tracks at iTunes prices) formats, subscribe to get discounts and exclusives, listened to celebrity playlists. And the design is really nice. It seems like the online DIY route is becoming increasingly viable for people who aren't quite as famous as Prince. Chicago Creative Arts Online
mp3s, videos, podcast interviews, some free, some for-pay, at iTunes-style prices. Another really interesting concept, bringing lots of content from a part of the Chicago scene (Ernest Dawkins, Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Corey Wilkes...) to your computer, mp3 player and even phone!

Jazz Podcast Network
A handful of podcasts, often with a regional bent.

Laurent de Wilde
A well-known French pianist (he's also written a Monk biography). The link leads you directly to the blog, but also check out the main site's nice design.

Josh Roseman
I've noted this trombonist's blog before, but it seems to have become more accessible of late and continues to add audio.

Scratch My Brain
Trombonist Jeff Albert's blog. On his site, you can download his album "One," which is well worth your time.

Jake Hanlon
A guitar student at the University of North Texas, nice, extended thoughts on the learning process.

Journalist David Adler on jazz, politics (a Jewish-Conservative slant?) and links to his articles.

Talia is a non-profit label/events association run by Pierre Vaiana, a fantastic soprano saxophonist (L'Ame des poètes, Chris Joris Experience, Foofango...).

Tune Up
A new .be blog that's already making controversial statements ("always wondered what's so great about the BJO"). Always good to see more people discussing what's going on over here.

Jazz Podium
Dutch-language live reviews and nice photos. Check out the one of Solomon Burke in this post (click on it for a larger version).

The Daily Jazz
Discussion of classic albums.

WGBH Jazz Blog
A three-headed blog from the radio station's jazz department.

Miles Radio
Devoted to...

What's Cooking
Singer Yoon Sun Choi (not to be confused with singer Youn Sun Nah)

Jazz Envoy
Canadian jazz news

You might also want to keep an eye on AAJ's Jazz Blog Listing.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt

This country truly is the greatest in the world. Here's proof: the federal ministry for administrative simplification has launched a campaign under the name Kafka. Click on "campagne" and watch the video (no French or Dutch required). This ad runs on TV. There's a comparaison between Hercules's 12 tasks and the 12 goals assigned to the ministry. The minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, is referred to as Q. This is a great country, I tell you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

not what i asked for

Things seem all rosy on this blog: great new CDs, fantastic concerts, witty observations and comments... but there's a dark lining to this silver cloud. Like the night before last.

I went over to the Sounds to see the Grass Monkeys (Lionel Beuvens on drums, Nicolas Kummert on tenor, Alexi Tuomarila on piano, among others), but instead, Beuvens, pianist Erik Vermeulen and a bassist whose name I didn't catch were doing a clearly impromptu standards gig. I walked in on the set's last song ("Come Rain Or Come Shine") at around 5 to 10. This surprised me, as concerts at the Sounds usually start at 10. I stayed through the break and listened to maybe 30 minutes of the second set before deciding that the music wasn't worth going to bed at 1:30 for and left. Vermeulen was a lot more fiery and inventive a few weeks ago at the Archiduc, Beuvens more incisive last week backing up his sister. I probably spent more time in the car than at the club.

* title provided by Jef Neve

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

the dawn of a new jazzblogosphere

I'm listening to The Bad Plus's Suspicious Activity as I type. Some of it, I'm really taken with ("Anthem for the Earnest"), some less so, even if I have to admit that their music really doesn't sound like anyone else's (that I know of). Be that as it may, check out their awesome Ornette Coleman post.

Speaking of The Bad Plus: ironic or not? Discord rages in the pages of the Village Voice. Nate Chinen says no (scroll down to second article) Francis Davis says yes. Note Chinen's prescience (dating back to 29/03/2004): "The Pixies' 'Velouria' came across like Squarepusher wrangling 'Chariots of Fire.'"

Monday, December 05, 2005


Finally managed to make time to go see Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. Plans to go had been foiled every time, for weeks now. It was like I was an evil villain and an invisible, unknown to me hero was protecting the world from my dastardly doings. I'll admit to puzzlement at some of the characterisations, but enjoyed the overall structure. A nice touch: during the initial phone conversation between Julien and Florence, she says "Tais-toi" (shut up) and Miles Davis is allowed to take center stage. Funnily enough, Jeanne Moreau is currently starring on a big-budget TV mini-series. Not that you'd recognise her, what with her being 50 years older.

After the film, I was looking over a poster for an upcoming David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters show. A much older woman next to me seemed enthused. "Was he in the Chicago Art Ensemble (sic)?" "Um, no." She seemed unconvinced, but continued smiling beatifically, clearly not needing my reassurances that the show would be great.

Friday, December 02, 2005


I've just found another map/route planning site that covers Europe: Map 24. It's a thoroughly awesome and fun 3D Java app. It's slightly slower and more complex than rivals such as Mappy or Via Michelin, but has a lot of unique features: the map can be rotated left, right, up and down; plan a route, press play in the Route Flight box and watch yourself go!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

good talkers

Francis Davis gives a good, concise description of Lafayette Gilchrist. Although I haven't heard the album in question, much the same could be said of The Music According To (and indeed, I do say it in my Citizen Jazz review):

"In his early thirties and from Baltimore, Gilchrist talks about his love of hip-hop and go-go in interviews, and I think I hear these influences in his solos and septet writing—both of which stress the downbeat in a way more common to black pop since James Brown than to jazz. There might even be an element of crunk in his crashingly rhythmic use of tone clusters. But his music is jazz through and through, and the angularity and elegiac slant of pieces like "Thorn Bush," "Bubbles on Mars," and "Unsolved, Unresolved" suggest nothing so much as Andrew Hill circa Point of Departure. Oh, and did I mention the rumbas and habaneras that creep into his accompaniments? It's all flavorable, even if Gilchrist hasn't blended it all together yet and his sidemen (members of a Baltimore group called the New Volcanoes) aren't quite up to his level. Slide over, Jason Moran—you've got competition."

And The Bad Plus invite you to get lost in the Mehldau Vortex:

"It is a dizzying effect, and one that is particularly devastating to a fellow jazz musician following along the chord changes. It is when a standard played at a very fast tempo achieves a stupefying liquefaction.

( are tossed into the abyss and lose all comprehension of form...the piano, bass, and drums become a snake charmer…you gaze into the maw with not just acceptance of your fate but bliss...)"