Friday, March 31, 2006

slightly more famous than me

The Rambler's review of Corey Dargel's "Less Famous Than You" is not only pretty spot-on, it's also superbly written and evocative. I haven't yet listened to it as closely as Tim has, but a bit of "Gay Cowboys" was stuck in my head all day yesterday:

"compulsively sexual desperados
in our lavender chevrolet
and then we drove through chicago
which is not as gay as they say"

Inexplicably, the first two lines strongly remind me of some favourite lines from Outkast's "B.O.B.":

"So now we sittin' in a drop-top, soakin' wet
In a silk suit, tryin' not to sweat"


Interesting flute-for-multi-reedists comment by VisionSong:

"As anyone who either plays or writes for a multi-reed players knows, you can never play another reed instrument and expect to have a pure, "legit" flute sound. There’s something about playing with a sax/clarinet embochure that makes even the world’s best doublers, spectacular players in every way, have a certain breathy imperfection in their flute sound that a discriminating listener can hear."

I think I see what he means by "breathy imperfection," but I always simply assumed that to be the "jazz flute sound," what you need to do to be funky on the instrument, like Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Then, thinking about those who only play flute (Nicole Mitchell, Magic Malik), they have this full, silvery and lithe quality to their sound which is probably somewhere halfway between legit and RRK. I guess it's like the difference between a tenor player who doubles on soprano and, say, Steve Lacy.

Speaking of flutists, those of you who like James Newton's "Axum" or simply want to hear overdubbed solo flutes should check out Dominique Bouzon, if only to hear the the amazing 3-meter-long octobass flute. Both of her records are excellent.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

be.sightings #3

...AKA Moon bassist Michel Hatzigeorgiou withdrawing money from an ATM on Rue de Namur. I pondered his resemblance with French PM Dominique de Villepin, especially with his hair shorter now than it is on the photo below...

+ unrelated bonus

Corinne Bailey Rae (no, I didn't run in to her today) "Put Your Records On" = Erykah Badu + Nelly Furtado.

portugal diary #1: Lisboa

18/03/2006 - 26/03/2006

In a nutshell, Lisbon is a great city. We stayed with high school friend M and his girlfriend J (both expert guides, immesurably enhancing our visit) in an appartment with a view on a bridge that looks like San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and the Christo Rei, a replica of Rio de Janeiro's massive Jesus Christ statue. An uncharacteristically derivative view for a city of such character.

Lisbon's "old" centre is fairly big and, most importantly, integrated (unlike fragmented Brussels). Apart from the flat, rectangular grid of the Baixa quarter, Lisbon is a hilly and endless daedalum of narrow, winding, photogenic, cobblestone streets lined with pastel-coloured or azulejo-tiled houses in various states of disrepair with old women leaning out of first floor windows, surveilling their corner of the world.

A longtime inhabitant complained to us that the city was totally impractical: the "Portuguese stone" sidewalks (small white cobblestone, sometimes with elaborate patterns of black stone) are very slippery when wet, prey on high heels and tiring to walk, most houses are draughty and somewhat humid, etc. True, but all these impracticalities are what make you love the city in the first place. Anywhere best described as "really practical" is likely to slip from memory once exited. Here, some streets are so steep that they have a tram line dedicated to them alone, called elevators. There are modern trams in the flatter sections with wider streets, but otherwise, they are old fashioned, wooden vehicles with very narrow wheel bases that shake and creak and look like a can of Coke or Carlsberg (depending on the tram's sponsor) on its side.

Another notable Portuguese institution is the pastelaria, or bakery. They serve both salty and sweet pastry, such as pasteis de nata (cream-filled tartelettes, the pastelaria de Belém is reputed to have the best, retitled pasteis de Belém for the occasion. IVN and M were convinced, I, less so) that you sprinkle with cinnamon, bolos de arroz, which are sort of like big madeleines, meat pasties, orange-flavoured tartelettes and all kinds of cakes. At any pasteleria worth its salt you can sit down to eat, but you can also stand at the counter, which is rather impractical (that word again) for anyone behind you trying to order. You can also smoke in there, the mix of cigarette smoke and fresh bread was a new and unsettling smell to me.

One could go on about the views, the parks, the multitude of cool bars in the Bairro Alto, the community feel of the Alfama neighbourhood, the transversal stairs, the Soviet-era-sized line to get into a Womens' Secret store that was offering a one-day 40% off special, the crazy amalgamation of functions and architectural styles found in the Alentejo Regional Cultural Centre, "The Temptations of Saint Anthony" (totally mind-blowing, in itself worth a trip out to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua) and so on and so forth. But I'll leave it to you to discover it for yourself, or follow along as I post photos in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

a tale of two stories in one (two)

Jason Guthartz has commented on the Smith vs. Ratliff Braxton appreciations. He points to a Braxton mailing list, with particularly informative posts here and here. Of course, there's a lot more if you care to look around.

be.sketches: train announcements

There seems to be no standardisation or training given to conductors regarding in-train announcements. They range from terse "We're going to Charleroi" to incredibly long-winded monologues, from barely comprehensiblely mumbled to carefully articulated and from deadly serious to the taking on of silly voices.

Yesterday, yet another novel spin was put on it (the announcement is now, for me, as much of a standard to be given a personal interpretation as any Tin Pan Alley tune): the conductor sounded like before working on trains, he had been a pilot for Sabena. Incredibly smooth and articulate in both French and Dutch, with that this-is-your-captain-speaking warm evenness of tone that conveys a kind of parternalistic sense of responsibility for the passengers. The conductor even went so far as to "wish [us] a pleasant journey and a good evening." I was half-expecting him to give us the local time and weather in Charleroi.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

citizen jazz update (belated)

Brad Mehldau : nouveau trio, nouvelle perspective
A concert review in which I try to map the pianist's evolution in regards to clichés often attributed to him earlier. I've seen Mehldau five times over 6 years (twice solo, thrice in trio) and this was the best concert of the lot. I think the article's more-than-a-concert-review pretensions work pretty well. Then there's a bit about the VVG Trio tacked on. They're releasing their highly-anticipated sophomore album next month.

Phil Abraham - K.Fée Live
The first live release from this excellent club is a low-key old standards affair. Decent, but a bit too low-key to be really ear-grabbing. One of those reviews that can get banged out really quickly, as the merest description and the tracklist is enough to get the gist of the music.

articles of interest

Musicians Still Hear Paris' Call
Johnny Griffin and Rick Margitza, the past and present of saxophonistic expatriation.

While you're there, compare Don Heckman's ICP Orchestra review ("little more than musical chaos... solos took off into unrelated, uninteresting musical space... the ensemble's limited formal jazz skills... no real sense of dynamic swing") with Nate Chinen's ("Coordinated ensemble figures cropped up unexpectedly, hinting at a secret discipline and a fondness for bygone jazz styles").

Gentle Giant
Assif Tsahar on Yusef Lateef. [via erg and Don't Explain]

A savaging of Jason Moran's "Soundtrack to Human Emotion"
Notable for repeatedly calling Moran "Mason," the Vonnegutian repetition of "Permit me" and the final declaration: "This is apocalyptic!" I haven't heard this album, but it strikes me as a rather harsh assessment of a debut.

Monday, March 27, 2006

a tale of two stories in one

Granted, Steve Smith and Ben Ratliff didn't attend the same nights of Anthony Braxton's Iridium run. Still, are they talking about the same music? Apart from the line "the contrabass clarinet, which resembles a giant paper clip," Ratliff seems totally dispirited by the eternity embodied in a steady stream of eighth notes. Contrast that with Smith's extensive reports from three different nights, where you get the impression of a music that's lively, thrilling and unpredictable. Maybe it's that Smith is a Braxton devotee who easily looks past the 8th-note thing to the variations on top and that Ratliff is much less of a fan and largely stopped at that aspect. Or maybe the set Ratliff saw was radically different from the ones Smith saw. Sure, music exists solely in the individual ear, but the difference, not only of enjoyment, which is to be expected, but especially of "description," is stunning.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

jazz and blogs #6

Settled in Shipping
Pianist David Ryshpan.

Jazz Video Podcasts
Just-launched, Sonny Rollins at the moment, more promised.

Pat Donaher
Saxophonist successfully fighting the Cruise Ship Syndrome.

Jazz Corner
De beaux récits.

Musicians Moments
Entre autres, un homage exceptionnel à Oliver Johnson.

Mondo Jazz
Il Jazz dalla A(rmstrong) alla Z(orn)

Jazz à Paris
Agendas et chroniques de concerts.

Ma jazzothèque
Petites chroniques d'albums fétiches.

Willy's blog
Een vlaamse gitaarist.

Friday, March 17, 2006

harrison on chamber music on jazz

An interesting, if a bit long and possibly over-convoluted, article by Joel Harrison on jazz and chamber music.

"There is only one line I might draw, and it's an awfully uncontentious one. Chamber music implies art music. And jazz is art music. CMA should advocate for small ensemble music made by marginalized people that is provocative, sophisticated, and enlightening—music that is not being fed by consumer society.

"Still we have to remember that pop culture and folk idioms will always be a part of our best composer's and performer's vocabularies. Today's composers borrow from everywhere to create something new. Composer Alvin Singleton includes references to James Brown while Daniel Roumain uses a DJ, but that doesn't mean they are composing pop music, it simply means their ears are attuned to what's happening in the modern world. Jazz, too, has always had a healthy, active dialogue with pop music. Charlie Parker reinvented Tin Pan alley tunes in much the same way that Bartòk dissected Hungarian folk music. Brad Meldau has made it a point to include radical re-imaginings of pop composers Björk and Radiohead in his latest work."

In conclusion, he finds an unexpected, hunger-based bond between the two forms:

"Jazz is not doing well. The jazz education economy may be thriving—plenty of people are getting jobs in universities teaching jazz—but there are almost no substantial jazz clubs or venues left in America. Of course the major cities all have a club or two, but if one were to attempt to actually survive by playing these places starvation would settle in quickly. Small clubs are dead, and records don't sell. Grant opportunities are far fewer than for classical composition and performance. Where there is any money at all it is either abroad or in subscription series in concert hall and theaters. Sounds like chamber music to me."

Harrison is coming to Brussels next week with his star-studded "Harrison on Harrison" project. I'm kind of bummed that I'm going to have to miss it.

I've read a few of Harrison's contributions to message boards 10 or so years ago. He came across as a Wyntonian firebrand back then, he seems to have broadened his view since then, but the lin "I found myself taking the question personally and had to fight back my anger" discretely suggests that he has yet to mellow.

Listening to Tim Berne's "Big Satan: I Think They Liked It Honey," I couldn't help but think that this was the continuation of bebop. I like to draw a division between the spirits of bebop and hard bop: the former being more intellectual and tending towards complexity, the latter being more physical and dance-based. This division is an arbitrary and conceptual one that does not intend to neatly cover everyone or really stand up to prolonged scrutiny, but only to organise thought for a while.

The elaborate, long and twisting lines and rhythms of Berne's, Marc Ducret's and Tom Rainey's music paralleled those of Charlie Parker or Sonny Rollins ("Oleo"). I'd also put, for example, Steve Coleman, on the bebop side of things.

The continuation of hard bop would lie in music closely based on electronic dance and hip hop rhythms.

miles davis cipher

First, let me say "Hi" to The Bad Plus and thanks for the link. I promise to finish off that TBP post that's been languisihing in draft mode for a while now.

The TBP-DJA 70s Miles discussion continues. Thought-provoking points about how much Miles cared about his 70s sidemen, especially the interchangeable saxophonists. A little note on Al Foster: I first heard him on "Dark Magus." Those grooves that start the tracks are incredible. Later I heard him in more straight-ahead contexts and thought "Wow, he can swing too!" so my POV is kind of the reverse of their's.

For TBP's edification and to relieve DJA of having to write a book on electric Miles (poor DJA doesn't get enough sleep as it is), I'll point to some that exist (of which I have read none):

Phil Freeman Running The Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis (Phil's blog)
George Cole The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis 1980-1991
Paul Tingen Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis 1967-1991

These books have surprisingly unattractive covers, but if I had to judge them on that basis, I'd go for Cole's, but the problem is that I really don't want to read a whole book dedicated to Miles's 80s work... I am, however, willing to listen to the Palle Mikkelborg-as-Gil Evans album "Aura." [Please excuse the randomness of this paragraph]

Franck Bergerot's "Miles Davis: introduction à l'ecoute du jazz moderne" (Editions du Seuil) is in French but, unlike the above-cited books, I have read it. It is an awesome, concise and original dissection of Miles's playing that does away with rigid chronological divisions to find the overarching thematic concerns and evolutions. Highly recommended.

TBP: "Duty does require getting the Cellar Door set at some point, which we haven’t heard yet."
be.jazz capsule review: "Get it. The one-set-per-disc format makes it highly listenable. It's not duty, it's fun!"

be.sightings #2

...04/03 pianist Ivan Paduart, bassist Manolo Cabras and Maria Tarantino at a Dino Saluzzi concert...17/03 Peter Hertmans in Gare Centrale, with a guitar strapped to his back...

this 'n' that

From Night After Night's brilliant report on Braxton @ Iridium: "the Iridium run marks the conclusion of Braxton's GTM compositional activities. After this, [Halvorson] reported, he intends to move into electronics and video."

"What do you carry away from an avalanche besides awe?": John Coltrane in 1966.

Christina Channels Billie Holiday: Pop diva Aguilera, with DJ Premier, returns with a horn-studded jazz sound
I blame Herbie.

Zoilus on parenting: "I began to wonder if parents now consider Googlability when they name their kids."
As an as yet childless bearer of a highly Googlable name (Mwanji leads directly to me, but on Ezana I must bow before the respectable early Christian Ethiopian ruler), I feel particularly concerned by this issue.

None of that "we're all really great friends, honest" stuff for Massive Attack: "it becomes gradually apparent that Massive Attack don't work in the same way as most bands. In fact Marshall and Del Naja barely see each other, let alone record in the same studio. 'I haven't worked with 3D for six or seven years now,' Marshall says. 'We don't like each other very much.'"

The second column of this interview is great: "I'm a bit weird and they think I'm being sarcastic when I'm actually being sincere." Granted, it's boilerplate "look at me" pop starlet interview statement. But then she goes on to prove it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

not such a mystery

"For many an aspiring young musician, starting a rock band is about asserting independence and sticking two fingers up to the older generation."

Maybe it's just me, but I thought this rock-as-rebellion idea was long dead and buried. Those teenage girls screaming at Elvis are literally the grandmothers of Justin Timberlake's fanbase and surely Fiona Sturgess has noted how old Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney are? In fact, the most surprising thing about the Arctic Monkeys is that their fathers aren't in the band. The Mystery Jets (I'm going purely on father-in-band concept, I haven't heard them) is the reality of rock, even if it seems like a statistical oddity.

"By the time Blaine was eight, he was the proud owner of his own drumkit and a copy of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. That same year father and son began jamming together"

It's like Ornette and Denardo, so cute!

give me moore

"The Watchmen," of course, rocks and I enjoyed some of the ABC Comics (especially "Top 10"). I haven't read "V For Vendetta," but it sounds like I must (even though I haven't read comics regularly for years). Choice excerpts from an Alan Moore interview (for, of all places):

"I mean the police inspector in 'From Hell,' Fred Abberline, was based on real life: He was an unassuming man in middle age who was not a heavy drinker and who, as far as I know, remained faithful to his wife throughout his entire life. Johnny Depp saw fit to play this character as an absinthe-swilling, opium-den-frequenting dandy with a haircut that, in the Metropolitan Police force in 1888, would have gotten him beaten up by the other officers.

"On the other hand when I have got an opium-addicted character, in Allan Quatermain [in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"], this was true to the [original] character — he showed a fondness for drugs on several occasions. But Sean Connery didn't want to play him as a drug-addled individual. So the main part of Quatermain's character was thrown out the window on the whim of an actor. I don't have these problems in comics.


"CGI makes me spit vitriol and bile and venom. When it comes to films, give me someone like [surrealist filmmaker] Jean Cocteau. When he wants to have somebody reaching into a mirror, he spends all of about five dollars on the special effect: He gets a tray, fills it with mercury and then turns the camera on its side. That is poetry. That is magic."


"I've read the screenplay, so I know exactly what they're doing with [V For Vendetta], and I'm not going to be going to see it."

silent yet springing

I'm increasingly finding myself eating my words (and maybe even my hat) on Nathalie Loriers (I trace my change of heart back to this duo concert). Last night I listened to De Werf's reissue of 1999's Silent Spring, a very good album, 9 tracks, most under 6 minutes yet each one a complete statement. The standout was "Continuum," which employs a low-key ostinato and misterioso harmonies to create a dark-yet-open landscape. I don't always find her improvising compelling, but there are more than enough highlights to make up for that, such as the way bass and melody lines move in relation to each other, on "Novecento," for example.

I recently turned down an offer to be part of a jury for a "young jazz talents" competition. Partly because I wouldn't have been able to make the pre-selection meeting, but mainly because I don't feel credible in that role, at least not yet. Loriers will be presiding and I don't see how my opinion can be taken seriously next to hers...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

hof, hof and away

Miles Davis's entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been eliciting a wide range of reactions, from indifference to glee to denial to outrage. I'm so much in the yawn camp that I can't even really be bothered to form an opinion about it. But I can be bothered to draw up a list of links! Such are the mysteries of life.

Ben Ratliff is nonplussed: "This seems provocative for a second, and then a little meaningless." (the article can also be found here for posterity)

The Bad Plus give a level-headed breakdown, which is surprisingly negative on his 70s work: "He was never that interested in being a trumpet star, but instead just wanted the band to sound good... During the ‘70’s, he seemed to lose interest in having the best bands and instead concentrated on becoming a rock star personality."

Stanley Crouch finds solace in Miles's 1964 Valentine: "The notes had points on them; they were slurred and bent suggestively or painfully; a tone could disappear into a sigh or begin as a pitchless whisper and tellingly work its way up into a note. This delicacy could ascend through sudden moans to yelps or descend to dark growls devoid of vibrato that were nearly embarrassing in their exposure."
I'm forced to agree with Crouch that that solo is absolutely mind-blowing: Miles sculpts every single note with incredible precision, range and imagination. I part ways with Crouch's reduction of Miles to a romantic, however fierce.

Steven V Funk is combative: "But did he ever play 'rock and roll' music? Is his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame an honor, or an insult?"

Jazz Corner debates every which way.

Riff Raff tries to find the real scandal.

it's gone, recaptured

Jazzques links to a live Jef Neve recording/interview originally found on Vox.

Heather Nova - 14/03/2006, Arenberg Schouwburg, Antwerpen

I never see Heather Nova mentioned in the internet music circles I run in. I like her anyway. IVN's the real fan, though. Of the CDs I've heard, my favourite is "Storm:" very intimate and less guitar-strummy than her other albums. How can you not fall for an album that starts off declaring "Let's Not Talk About Love" but ends up admitting that it's a "Fool For You?" Live, Nova sounds just like she does on record, ie. incredible. Her voice is slightly veiled in the lower registers and improbably cristalline, strong and supple in her trademark head voice. Further, she doesn't just move between them judiciously, but naturally and fluidly. She strolled through two sets worth of songs culled from several albums and Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" served as encore.

The concert was pretty stripped-down, which suited the 810-seat theater fine: Nova on guitar, New Zealand violinist Fiona Pears and pianist Ian Tilley. The violinist provided an instrumental second voice and the pianist added body, but never led. He was like (to take a movie cliché) the super-dependable, dark-haired, not-quite-cute-enough-to-be-gay friend to the two blonde female leads. The first set was good, the second set was fantastic: Nova's voice gained in warmth and amplitude during the interval (maybe because she had traded her dress and high heels for jeans and Converse All-Stars and let her hair down (literally)?) and was devastating during a solo voice 'n' guitar stretch. Pears had ironed out a few clams and "let's pretend I played all the notes in that fast run" moments she had early on. Tilley was, well, as dependable as ever.

Both sets started with a little piano-violin tomfoolery written by Pears: a Celtic-influenced dance, tango-ish tune (but apparently titled "Turkish Fantasy"?) and a Russian folk tune. I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of this kind of skimming of various folklores, which I've witnessed in a number of concerts over the years and a few recently and has never seemed to serve any purpose. Heather Nova just does American folk-rock and makes it meaningful. Bandeonist Dino Saluzzi (whom I saw for the first time 11 days ago) plays sophisticated tango and explores it deeply. Too often, the superficial playing of folk tunes resembles a brisk guided bus tour for tourists ("on your left the Pantheon, on your right the Acropolis" vs. "and now a dance from Sardinia; and now a Moroccan rhythm") more than anything else.

There was some electronic enhancement when Nova sampled herself into a choir of virtual clones for one song's climax. She had used her "new gadget" (as she called it) previously to accompany a poem reading, but in a surprisingly "experimental" way: two high-pitched vocal drones in a close, dissonant interval and breath. Apart from a line about having to step out of (or did she say "remove?") one's skin to really feel it, the poem itself was rather bland and ineffectually delivered.

Those two gripes aside, a thoroughly mesmerising second set.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

quotables, quoted

"Everyone wanted me to do a straight-ahead album, but that’s like meeting a woman and trying to be like her last boyfriend." - Christian Scott via Doug Ramsey

"On entre en jazz, souvent, comme en religion (One often enters jazz like one enters religion.)" - Marc Moulin via Jazzques

"Finding people who say they love jazz is relatively easy."
"a jazz kudocast"
"Award, named the Louie"
- all via Variety

"It was always fun to be going into the studio, to see what songs you had around and choose the best, the two that worked together as a package and put them out within six weeks. The internet is the closest you can get now"
"I tend to take out verses and choruses and middle-eights so the songs always become more and more concentrated. After you've said everything in a song, it's pointless hanging around until people get bored."
- The Buzzcocks via The Independent

"The UK hip-hop producer Charlie Parker"
"Because this is Glyndebourne and they're trying to do something that would be perceived as trendy, there's a tendency to laugh at it."
Well, that's what happens when you call something a "Hip H'Opera."
- it all goes pear-shaped when Hip-hop meets Mozart

Saturday, March 11, 2006

michael j. west takes on the world

After reading Free Jazz: Separate But Unequal, I sought out Michael J. West's other articles.

Miles Davis: Not Overrated, But Overhyped starts out with a fair-enough position, but gets more ludicrous with every passing paragraph.

In Ornette Coleman: The Last Jazz Radical, Ellington is relegated from the Top Three (Armstong and Parker being the other Two) to make room for Ornette. The inanity of this approach is explained by the author's outlook on music history: "You see, the most important musicians are always the radicals who reshape the music entirely: they come out of nowhere and do something so completely different, so compelling, that everyone else in music changes their approach to adapt what the new guy is doing."

Ornette may be the only jazz great to whom this vision could be applied, which may explain his position in MJW's hierarchy (I'm not disputing his Ornette-worshipping, but his thinking more generally). Cecil Taylor had a similar path (rejection, slowly gathering and training like-minded musicians), but for some reason didn't have the same influence over more mainstream jazz that Ornette had (why is that?). At least, that's my impression.

"without Ornette Coleman there would be no Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Andrew Hill, Anthony Braxton, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, Dave Douglas, John Zorn, Captain Beefheart, or Miles Davis 60s Quintet. There would be no Sun Ra or Cecil Taylor. (Well, okay, there would, but they would have just been thought of as charlatans or lunatics. Far more so than they are anyway.)"

I'll give him John Zorn (is Masada anything other than a Jewish OC Quartet?). Does anyone think of Dave Douglas, of all people, as a lunatic? He seems to be the most anti-lunatical person imaginable. Anyway, I honestly hear little connection between Taylor and Ornette: Taylor comes out of a highly composed and virtuosic world , in 1955 he was already recording highly idiosyncratic stuff and by 1961 (of what I've heard, which is far from being even remotely comprehensive) was coming up with highly innovative group compositions and interplay, that had little to do with Coleman.

Miles's 60s quintet and Andrew Hill seem to me similarly not directly related to Ornette.

Further (French) fuel to the free jazz fire.

some links

The comments to this Blogcritics article on free jazz are more interesting than the article itself, and feature be.jazz local hero Godoggo making some highly nuanced statements.

A collection of Miles Davis blindfold tests and interviews.

Thurston Moore lists 14 unfindable free jazz albums that you absolutely must find.

tell that little purple mf to contact me!

Long Alan Leeds interview on the relationship between Prince and Miles. Relevant excerpts:

TLM: How did Prince view Miles?

AL: Eric [Leeds, saxophonist] joined the band in the middle of the Purple Rain tour and quickly became friends with [guitarist] Wendy Melvoin and [keyboardist] Lisa Coleman, who were familiar with jazz. Gradually they began turning Prince into this kind of music- he had little first hand knowledge of jazz. This was during 1984/85. They made it their own project of turning Prince onto different kinds of music. Eric would give him jazz records and turned Prince on to Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue and other stuff. Gradually the three of them had an impact on Prince and he felt that he needed to know this music and figure out what he liked and didn't like. He had a very genuine interest in expanding his musical curiosity. Young black guys were attracted to Miles because of his politics - he was an icon. I think as Prince learnt more about Miles he started to see some of himself in Miles. He was fascinated with Miles and used to ask Eric about stories about Miles and he'd share recordings with him. He'd show him video recordings and Prince would be fascinated and say 'look at the way Miles is standing.' - he was just studying his moves or his posture. There was a real fascination with the iconic aspect of Miles.

TLM: Can you describe the first time they met?

AL: To my knowledge, it was at Los Angeles airport and according to my diaries it was December 7 1985. (...) And as we were walking through baggage claim I spotted Miles Davis and I poked Prince in the ribs and pointed. I introduced myself and it ended up with Prince getting into Miles's car, which was parked a little in front of his. I didn't get in with him and they sat and chatted for twenty minutes or so and swapped phone numbers. (...) Prince had recently discovered Miles's music and his history and had a kind of falling in love with him as an icon to the same level as James Brown. He even began with Eric's help to rearrange some of the music, putting in jazz-based segues. There was actually a break between two of Prince's song where they would do "Now Is The Time".

[In late 1985, Prince composed and played on a tune for Miles called "Can I Play With U?" which Miles recorded]

TLM: Can you explain how "Can I Play With U?" happened?

AL: (...) Shortly after the meeting at the airport, they swapped numbers and I'm sure they talked about Prince submitting some material for the first Warner Bros album. As I said, there might even have been conversations before they met Tommy LiPuma [then head of Warner Bros jazz] and the Warner Bros people. So it was already in our mind that 'Miles was on Warner and you guys are going to end up doing something together.' (...)

Within a couple of weeks, Prince was in the studio and he recorded the initial track was on the 26th and 27th of December 1985. (...) Prince did the basic track on the 26th and Eric overdubbed his horn on the 27th. (...) In January [1986] Prince sent the multi-track tape to Miles for him to do whatever overdubs he wanted to do. This didn't happen until February and March. Prince was never present at any of those overdub sessions - he had absolutely nothing to do with them. He was enamoured with Miles but I don't know how ambitious Prince was about working with Miles.

TLM: It seems that Miles always wanted greater collaboration but Prince never seemed to countenance them working together in a studio on an album. Why was this?

AL: First of all, you're dealing with two people who are control freaks. And if Miles is a control freak, multiply that five when you come to Prince! As enamoured as he was with Miles, it was never to the extent that he wanted to sacrifice his control. (...) He doesn't see himself in the role of a traditional producer, whose job is to bring out the essence of what the artist is. With Prince it's a matter of 'This is how I do it and here's how you could fit in. Give it a shot and see if you fit in.' (...)

And Eric reminded me of a quote -and here I'm paraphrasing - he remembers Prince saying to him 'I can't imagine what it would be like to tell Miles what to do.' In other words, 'I wouldn't want anybody telling me what to do, so how dare I tell the great Miles Davis what to do.' So the idea of being in a studio with Miles and trying to direct him was foreign to him and he just couldn't even conceive of that scenario. The irony was that Miles would have welcomed it and that's what we were trying to get through to Prince. Unlike Prince, Miles was somebody who was open to that and who would be interested in seeing where you would take him. Miles had the spirit of adventure to be wide open to see what it would be like for you to direct him as a producer. It was really all about Prince being completely intimidated at being in that role and how he really couldn't understand someone being in that role.

TLM: Prince pulled the track from the album.

AL: I remember Prince's reaction when he got the tape back - he wasn't enthralled with it. Not so much because of what Miles had done with it. But he just lived with the song long enough and realised that there wasn't really anything brilliant about it. It was something that had been hastily and impulsively done. I feel certain that Prince felt that if there was going to be a collaboration that was officially released, it should be something more significant than what that track was. That wasn't a reflection of Miles's playing, but more about the composition and the significance of the quality of the track in itself. (...)

TLM: What happened after that?

AL: They stayed in touch with occasional phone calls back and forth. (...) Sometimes I'd come back from the grocery store and there'd be this raspy voice on the answer machine saying "tell that little purple motherfucker to contact me!"

TLM: Miles and Prince met in 1987?

AL: Prince asked Miles if he could come to the studio and hang out and maybe come over for dinner. (...) Miles hung out for a few hours and Prince then had Miles over for dinner. Prince invited his father, who had been a local jazz pianist. He was an extremely eccentric player - I think he styled himself as a local wannabee Thelonius Monk! (...)

Eric says it was one of the oddest dinners he'd ever had! It wasn't exactly tense, but it wasn't exactly casual! There was so much tip-toeing. Eric says it was like two boxers feeling each other out. At one point Miles turned to Prince's Dad and said 'So you're a musician too?' And Prince's Dad says: 'I was a piano player but always saw myself as [saxophonist] Lucky Thompson.' Miles replied 'what the fuck did you want to do that for?' and the whole table collapsed! Then Miles asked Eric 'How do you stand when you play? Stand up and let me see.' So in the middle of this dinner Eric stands up as if he was playing! Towards the end of the dinner Miles says to Prince's Dad, "Now I know why that motherfucking son of yours is so crazy!" It wasn't exactly relaxed, but there was a lot of love in the house.


TLM: But Miles and Prince DID perform on-stage at the famous 1987 New Year's Eve concert.

AL: It was a benefit that Prince had decided to do for homeless people in Minnesota. (...) At some point, it crossed Prince's mind that we should invite Miles. Miles flew in from Europe with Gordon and Foley. They attended the dinner and he was delightful - sociable, charming. He met my parents - they thought he was the nicest guy in the world! My mum's now 94 and afterwards she read the stories in Miles's autobiography and said "He didn't seem like that sort of guy to me!"

(...) Of course it was arranged that Miles would sit in. The upshot of this was, that like James Brown, Prince has a set of elaborate cues for his band that cue certain breakdowns and changes of tempo and so on that he will spontaneously signal. Now he might be doing a vamp and let's say Eric is doing a tenor solo, Prince would just spontaneously feel he wants to break down and so if Eric hears that signal, he'll know what to expect, so if there's a change in key or tempo in the middle of a solo, he can follow it. Of course Miles had no way of knowing all this and so didn't know what to expect. So after the performance Miles comes off-stage and says "That little motherfucker tried to set me up!"

they promised me songs for my love

SNL Arctic Monkeys skit: hilarious!

[via DJA]

jazz in the mornin' #4: Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong, Sonny Rollins

I've been rather lax in keeping you updated on De Morgen's jazz series.

#2 covered Billie Holiday. On one hand, earlier songs like "Deep Song" and "I Loves You Porgy" are heart-stopping. On the other hand, "Love For Sale" in 1953 - voice already seriously degraded and accompanied by Oscar Peterson (lyrics) - inspires the mix of disgust and grudging admiration that seeing an old prostitute on the street does. It's not a pleasant feeling. I can't make up my mind as to whether Peterson's frisky accompaniment represents a much younger and prettier colleague working half a block away or a pimp doing his used car salesman best to convince potential clients of the merchandise's worth. Is this contrast a good thing? Mal Waldron was Holiday's last accompanist and I can't help but think that he would have been much more apposite here (speaking of Waldron, I just picked up a second-hand copy of the 4-cd "Live At Dreher, Paris 1981" set of duos with Steve Lacy. 4 hours of elevated bliss in perspective).

Also, Holiday's inextricably deep relationship to the songs she sang and her unaffected delivery might well have a greater lineage in pop than in jazz. Admittedly, I don't listen to much vocal jazz, but I get a general sense of disconnection between the singer and the standard. For example, does "Love For Sale" make sense as a song about prostitution in 2006, when the issues, in Europe at least, revolve more around the lucrative smuggling of young women out of Russia or Eastern European countries, into Western European countries where they live semi-hidden, in clandestinity? The challenge is to make the song yours again.

Fay Victor found a fun way to do so: she wrote words to Sonny Rollins's "Way Out West" about her return to the US after several years spent living in Amsterdam. The joy and personal involvement are palpable in her performance. Her 2004 CD "Lazy Old Sun" is highly recommendable and features exactly that sense of connection, whether with old tunes like "Laura" (with Wolter Wierbos in a Roswell Rudd mood) or originals like the get-me-out-of-here "Stealaway."

For instrumentalists, this problem doesn't really apply, or much less so. Even the classic Cannonball/Miles version (taking an old example to prove that this isn't a new issue) totally leaves aside any allusion to the meaning of the lyrics, yet is undiminished for it.

#3 was dedicated to Chet Baker. I was kind of disappointed that there weren't any later works, as I've never heard any of his European stuff from the 70s or 80s. Two main revelations: compared to Mulligan and Baker, Lee Konitz swings much harder and is more adventurous, while respecting the form-is-everything context; the final track, Baker singing a capella is a perfect and beautiful way to end the compilation, even though it breaks the chronological flow. It's another sign (along with the packaging and accompanying info) that they aren't sleepwalking through these CDs.

#4 was Louis Armstrong's. No new insights, only the recurring ones: no, Armstrong is not corny, obviously not in the early days and not even in the later days; it could be argued that Ella Fitzgerald possessed jazz's most beautiful instrument.

#5 covers Sonny Rollins. I've often wondered how it was possible that one of the very greatest pure improvisers ever had not attained mythical proportions similar to those of Miles, Coltrane or Ellington. Marc van den Hoofd may have hit on the answer in the biographical portion of his liner notes: he was (and continues to be) the loneliest of the jazz greats. He "borrowed" bands left and right (Ornette's, Coltrane's, Miles's), but never found one that he could make great (consider the general disdain for his current working band). Didier Wijnants comes up with an explanation I hadn't heard before in the accompanying news article: wife/manager Lucille didn't want Rollins playing with his old bebop buddies because she was afraid he'd slip back into drugs and alcohol. I wonder if the same line of thought applied to him playing with current top-notch players (pick your Sonny dream team here)?

Anyway, the latest Rollins I'd heard was "The Bridge," so it was interesting to hear stuff from his Impulse! period and how he'd been influenced by the avant-garde. Also notable that Impulse! is on board...

jazz in the mornin' #3: the cartoons

No, you go see if it's free jazz!

sidebar: Jazz in De Morgen
"No, you go see if it's free jazz!"

...He says that he's part of the newspaper's jazz series...

sidebar: Illegal immigrants sometimes at their wits' end
"...He says that he's part of the newspaper's jazz series..."

Luckily the people on the left still subscribe to The Times...

sidebar: Jazz series
"Luckily the people on the left still subscribe to The Times..."

Thursday, March 09, 2006


What Doug Ramsey didn't tell us in his video post, what that Daily Motion user Alternativa is a veritable treasure trove of great videos.

I've just watched the Jazz Messengers in 1961 on a soft tune that features a Rubik's Cube Wayne Shorter solo and a Charles Mingus "Take The A Train" from his 1964 European tour (with Ted Curson) that's great all around, not least for Dolphy's partially a capella bass clarinet solo. And there are many promising others.

ding, hing, bing and ring

A very interesting Ellingtonian excerpt from the book "Composers' Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music" on NewMusicBox.

Ellington on "jazz":

"We don't use the word jazz. As a matter of fact, we haven't used it since 1943. Everything is so highly personalized that you just can't find a category big enough, and jazz certainly isn't big enough a category to combine so many wonderful people in it. Everybody's got his own individual style. Like the Diz has got his 'ding,' and Hawk's got his 'hing,' and Bird had his 'bing,' and Rabbit has his 'ring.'"

Ellington and women:

"It got around that I was playing the piano, and when you play the piano you get exposed to the ladies. You become aware of them, and they become aware of you. A lot of people think I got bags under my eyes writing music late at night, but it's not true. No, actually what the bags under the eyes are, that's an accumulation of virtues [laughter]."

Ellington the technologist:

"The popular "Mood Indigo" of 1930 was scored for a trio of muted trumpet on melody, muted trombone in the middle, and clarinet on the bottom. Not only did this create a totally new sonority, but it utilized new technology: Ellington instructed the trio to stand close to the microphone to achieve a perfect blend, and he recalled that this was 'the first tune I wrote specially for microphone transmission.'"

Duke and royalty:

"The Duke Ellington Orchestra made its first tour abroad in 1933, with enormously successful performances in England and Paris. Ellington also had the opportunity to meet some of the British royal family; on one occasion, the prince of Wales even sat in on the drums!"

Ellington on swing:

"Swing was all the rage, and big bands led by such white bandleaders as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Jimmy Dorsey were at the height of their popularity. This trend was an obstacle to Ellington's career. A key element of swing is rhythmic drive, and Ellington's band was criticized for not swinging. Its drummer, Sonny Greer, was more inclined toward elaborate and artistic drumming, and Ellington's compositions themselves tended to be more complex and innovative than the standard swing tunes. Ellington—who had written 'It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)' years before the rise of swing—said: 'My definition of swing is that part of music that causes a bouncing buoyant terpsichorean urge. It makes you want to dance and bounce about. Of course, that isn't what's accepted today as swing. Swing today is a commercial label on a music itself. But we always thought that swing was an emotional element. We've always accepted it as that. It is something that you feel when the music is played. When your pulse and my pulse are together, we're swinging. That's total agreement, you know.'"

Lots of other interesting sidebars from Gunther Schuller, Juan Tizol and others.

Furia lui Nikolai Petrov

Pianist leaves concert after audience member's phone rings twice. Most incredibly, the first time the phone rang, right at the end of a movement (how thoughtful of the caller), Petrov "waited for the person to finish their conversation." The second time, Petrov not only got up and left, but also cancelled an upcoming concert. Here's a longer report for those of you who read Romanian.

I haven't been able to check them out myself yet, but the Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday videos Doug Ramsey points to are appetizing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


For some reason, I am particularly amused (in a good way) by Sholto Byrnes's Kenny Barron concert review, maybe because they fit the (highly unsubstantiated) image I have of Barron, and despite the clunkers among the nuggets.

"Any jazz musician can play these tunes; they're the alphabet. Making "A B C D E F G" sound interesting is the trick."

"Barron himself sometimes alters the chords a little with mannerisms, which smarten up a standard as cufflinks do a shirt."

"the content of his phrases was always intelligent - a conversation with the audience that flattered their knowledge."

"swing like billy-o"


ee pov

Ellery Eskelin (whose Hat Hut records are pretty much indispensable parts of dangerous 'n' dirty 90s and 00s avant-jazz) makes a very interesting point which kind of relates to recent discussions here.

"It's a tricky thing, dealing with the past. I think it probably boils down to being removed from the environment that created those players that one may be trying emulate. (...) I often think that if you really wanted to copy an earlier player you would not only have to study that player but know what that player came up listening to and how they reacted to what they heard in order for you to really be able to do anything more than just mimic their surface qualities. If hear some early jazz on the radio, for example, I'm reminded that that sort of swing feel is almost impossible to capture any more. To try and copy it directly doesn't really get it. It's much more elusive than that...the subtleties...just where that feel comes from...what it came out of and what it felt like to play that way (meaning why you would play that way) in the society at that time. Otherwise it almost becomes more of a caricature.

"I'm not a person who goes around telling aspiring saxophonists that they need to know everything Charlie Parker did before they try and play something that came after him...sometimes people ask me if they need to know how to play bop before they play free and I say no, of course not. But this is an interesting issue since each successive generation changes what came before it in some way, even if it's by loss or change of meaning. This is natural and normal. I'll never be able to play like Prez even if I spent my whole life trying."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

free range symphony

Last night I was following up "Complete Communion" with the larger-scale "Symphony For Improvisors" (and Pharoah Sanders's crazy piccolo!) and thinking further about free jazz in general, stoked by Godoggo's comments on the "Complete Communion" post and the amazing concert given by the Ben Sluijs Quartet on the 18th of February during the Lundis d'Hortense Festival. In fact, Dave Douglas has just posted something tangentially related.

Godoggo's comments on Barbieri's changes-playing ability (or lack thereof) crystallised my long-held opinion that as many of the advances in jazz have been made through simplification as through complexification. For example, the simplifications Miles Davis enacted with "Kind of Blue" and "In A Silent Way" opened up new spaces that were progressively filled up. By muting the rhythm, "West Coast" jazz was able to explore other elements. Hard bop simplified certain aspects of bebop. Every time, though, this simplification comes with the knowledge (either direct, through study, or indirect, through hearing/environment) of complexity, which gives the simplicity depth. For example, John Coltrane ending up achieving similar effects on, say, "Impressions" as on the chord-laden "Giant Steps" or "Countdown."

Perhaps the most profound element free jazz brought or furthered is the possibility of foregrounding the simplest and most fundamental (but extremely difficult to truly achieve) element of music: listening. Spontaneously reacting to what is heard, with a certain rigour, but without rigidly predefined rules. The difficulty of doing this isn't restricted to the musical realm: try talking and listening at the same time. Even when not doing both simultaneously, really reacting, in real-time, to what is being said is very difficult: how many times have you participated in or watched debates and felt that everyone was talking past everyone else? No listening going on.

The Ben Sluijs Quartet concert was exemplary in this regard. Until two years ago, Sluijs was known as a highly lyrical alto player with a modernist bent. Think Paul Desmond with a dash of the spirit of the West Coast school who studied with Milhaud. Then he scrapped his piano quartet and got a new two-saxophone one. The line-up's first CD was the excellent "True Nature," which could be categorised as post-Ornette Coleman swing. The music has continued to evolve, increasingly putting the accent on open spaces, listening and reacting. Drummer Marek Patrman may not have played an explicit swing rhythm during the whole concert, but the rhythmic drive and suspensions were immense. Free jazz is often tagged as complex, which it sometimes is, but in many regards it is often vastly simpler than bebop and its descendants, and in the case of, say, Albert Ayler, wilfully so.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

eurovision - ter

I've just put this on YouTube: Telex's classic 1980 Eurovision entry. Belgium ended last, but first in our hearts, 'til this day. I guess the public wasn't ready for an absurdist meta-Eurovision song (or just incredibly self-unaware: didn't they realise they were confirming Telex's point when this won four years later? Check out the footwork!). Far better than "Waterloo," if you ask me. That piano run sounds like Daft Punk, and check out the obligatory modulation at the end of the song that occurs during the run.

Incidentally, Telex have just reformed and released a new album. And here's another song that's better than "Waterloo:" "Poupée de cire, poupée de son." Sure the singer (is it Françoise Hardy? helen comments that it was France Gall, of course. Coincidentally, you can consider this my tribute to Serge Gainsbourg, who died 15 years and 3 days ago.) isn't great, but Serge Gainsbourg's music is awesome, as is the descending melodic line and the perfect strings + driving drums combo.

Hey, even Kate Ryan is up there. And all things tagged Eurovision.

coleman revisited

Charles FMN comments on this old (yet pretty good) post on Steve Coleman:

"Your comment started slightly negative on SC work. But then there is something that caught my attention: when you say "I was listening to this not too long ago and some of the constructions in there are literally breath-taking"
What do you exactly mean ? Could you pleas expand a little bit ?
I am a huge SC fan, and would like to understand a little bit ( a lot more as a matter of fact !) of the technical aspects of his music.

I don't see where I was negative about Coleman. As for "Genesis," I have no desire at the moment to get into a real detailled analysis, but Coleman's integration of large ensemble writing, string writing and solo and collective improvisation is done in a way I don't think I've heard anywhere else and is pretty amazing.

The day before yesterday I bought his new album, "Weaving Symbolics," a double album. After listening to the first CD, it promises to be one of the year's best. Like on "Lucidarium," there are lots of shifting ensembles, one of which is a trio with Jason Moran and Marcus Gilmore (Roy Haynes's drumming grandson) that plays some mind-blowingly subtle music.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

and now our feelings on wind, sand and stars

Nat Hentoff makes an excellent observation in the liner notes of Don Cherry's "Complete Communion:"

"To be sure, all previous jazz has been dialogue in whole or in part. But in the new jazz, as here, the conditions for conversation have been greatly extended. The previous ground rules - of harmony, of 'permissible' textures, of melodic development, of beat - have been stretched to the expressive capacities of each player."

In this way, he recasts the history of jazz not as a succession of styles, but as a steady expansion of individual and collective possibilities, which is a much more interesting way of viewing things.

After "Complete Communion," I listened to Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet duetting (a week ago, it was Mulligan and Baker, earlier today it was Steve Coleman, Jason Moran and Marcus Gilmore holding an extraordinary conference) and the main difference, clearly, was all the extra tools and devices Cherry and Barbieri had at their disposal. Hentoff's view also goes against the "death of jazz" theory, as the process of finding new ways of dialoguing and new contexts for provoking certain dialogues (also called jazz composing) hasn't stopped.

While I'm on the subject of old things, one ability which has perhaps been lost, is the incredible condensation Armstrong, James P. Johnson or, say, Willie "The Lion" Smith were capable of: they could pack huge statements into a few minutes or even a half-chorus. When listening to them, often I'll glance at the CD player's clock and think "has it only been two minutes?" That's barely enough time for your average soloist to warm up, nowadays.

Friday, March 03, 2006

tap tap vroom vroom

Songtapper: tap a song on your spacebar, the site finds it for you. Improbably, it actually works.

After cookie monster metal, Strong Bad metal, parrot and two dogs metal, puppet hip hop and a vegetable orchestra, asking people to pay to listen to a composition for eight cars seems perfectly logical. Of course, extreme music veterans will find that quite old hat.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

the man on the hill (special edition): texts

Paul Olsen's Andrew Hill interview is, to me, more interesting than Ben Ratliff's Listening to CDs With Andrew Hill.

Olsen's article has a discography at the end. Have "Cosmos," "One For One" and "Involution" been re-issued? Anyone heard them?