Saturday, December 27, 2003

Lundvall/Redman/Ratliff round-table discussion

From Jerry Jazz (a site I didn't know and which seems quite interesting), a discussion involving Bruce Lundvall (head of Blue Note Records), Joshua Redman (Warner Bros. saxophonist) and Ben Ratliff (jazz critic for the NY Times).

It's not particularly interesting, but there are a few good moments.

Redman on jazz in an increasingly fast-food society:
That poses a great challenge for jazz, and creates a tough climate for an art that in its essential nature is a music of tremendous substance and subtly. Jazz is a very textured music. It is heavy in nuance, and also very detailed. It communicates outward, but is very introspective at the same time. It requires patience and participation from its audience. Jazz isn't the kind of music that pushes a listener's buttons and creates certain immediate emotional responses. It is the kind of music that can deliver as much passion, intensity, emotion and inspiration to its audience as any other music, but it requires an audience to participate, to really listen and put themselves within the music, and to be patient with it. You have to work for your pleasure in jazz as a listener, and that does run counter to a lot of the trends in our culture. I think it's a tremendous challenge.

Lundvall responding to whether or not "people who buy Norah Jones subsequently get into Coltrane, Greg Osby or Jason Moran:"
Probably not, but I have a good example of what Joshua was saying. Virtually every week I receive a phone call from one of the film studios who want to use Norah Jones in a soundtrack. I frequently tell them I want to get Jason Moran or Jacky Terrasson or Cassandra Wilson or Dianne Reeves or many of my other artists. They are not interested. They want Norah Jones.
(Lundvall later repeats that Norah Jones sales are not trickling down)

I always wonder about this kind of thing. I think it reflects a kind of jazz snobiness. I have one Cesaria Evora album and I've seen her live once. I can easily imagine Cap Verdean music fans deriding me because I have not explored other Cap Verdean musicians. More generally, I don't see the logical basis for this "gateway" argument. Being a music fan is a time- and money-consuming affair that most people don't have time for. Perhaps because they have a family to raise or perhaps because they are too busy reading books or going to art galleries. Casting aspersions on people (an amorphous mass consumer regarded as dumb, lazy and easily manipulated - sub-human cattle as it were) because they have just Diana Krall, Norah Jones, "The Best Of Mozart" and a Rolling Stones album (or whatever) on their shelves has always seemed quite shallow to me.

This air of superiority sort of ties in with the Redman comment above, this "jazz is too complicated for the lowly masses" argument. I've addressed this before: some forms of jazz are complicated, yes, but some are relatively simple and accessible, as is the case for most musics, be they hip-hop, rock or classical. Jazz does itself a disservice by constantly highlighting how profound it is and how much it demands from the attentive, and by association profound, listener. It's a disservice because it's simply not true, in objective (some jazz, thankfully, is made to be commercial, easy, danceable) and subjective senses (what's mind-numbingly complex for one neophyte might be quite immediate and clear to another).

Lundvall on CD length:
There is too much to choose from now, too much information, and CD's are far too long. No one can focus on a seventy-four-minutes of music, and chances are it is not going to be good all the way through. People should make shorter records with better content, and keep the extraneous stuff off of it. Period. Not everyone wants to hear seventy-four minutes of a vibraphone player.

I'm happy to hear this. There's a reason that at school classes are 50-55 minutes long, that people take regular coffee breaks, etc. Sometimes one might enjoy stretching the limits of endurance (a six-hour Morton Feldman string quartet performance, for example), but one wouldn't want to make that the norm. Personally, I feel most satisfied with 40-50 minutes of music where I can just put the CD in the player and enjoy it from start to finish, with no filler of course, but also without unnecessary alternate takes or pointless studio babble disturbing my listening pleasure (Verve Elite Edition Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster, I'm looking at you).

Ratliff on nostalgia:
And I do think that for most people there is only a certain time of their lives when they go out and hear music a lot, and when they are involved in some sense with music as its evolving and being created. That is their golden moment and they keep referring everything back to that. When they get into their forties and fifties they slow down and don't go out so much. They have mortgages and things

Definitely. That's why I quickly tire of "they don't make 'em like they used to" arguments. If you can't or won't follow, don't blame it on the music.

Lundvall on the weight of history:
As for young people and what jazz they listen to, an example I can think of is that of my personal trainer, who was heavily into rock and roll. I began spoon-feeding him CD's and he soon became a devoted jazz fan, but he was only buying Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, etc. I asked him if he was listening to any of the young artists, and he said he liked them but he had to start with the legendary people. He felt he needed a knowledge base before he could enjoy contemporary jazz artists. Javon Jackson once said to me, "I am not only competing with Joshua Redman and the other young tenor players, I am competing with guys who are no longer alive." I believe he is absolutely right.

Lundvall on royalty facts and figures:
I also want to mention that in every case where Blue Note artists were signed before 1970, we have brought the royalty rate to ten percent. So, from these reissues a lot of money has accumulated for many of the artists no longer with us. As a result, we have been able to pay out significant royalties -- I recall one in particular where a check was written to the family of Hank Mobley for something like three hundred fifty thousand dollars as a result of the revenues these reissues have brought in.

Redman on jazz evolution:
You can't tell the story of the development of jazz today the way the story was told from 1900 - 1960. You could tell the story of the first sixty years of this music in a neat, linear way. One style led to another which led to another, and there is a clear sense of what the next new big thing was, and who the leaders of that movement were. New Orleans jazz naturally led to swing, which naturally led to bebop, which became cool and hard bop, which became modal, which became free jazz, and with it you are left with a sense of what the next great "thing" in the music was. I think that the time where you can explain jazz history in a kind of modernist perspective -- where one thing leads to the next in a natural sense of progression and evolution -- has come to an end . You can't tell the story of jazz in those neat, simple evolutionary terms now. I don't know that there will be another great revolution in jazz in the same way that bebop was a great revolution it was, and because of that, there may not be the same kind of mythic figures in jazz the way Bird and Diz and Ornette were. But that doesn't mean that the music today is stagnant, or that it is not developing or any less creative. It may just mean that we have to view it through a different lens, and use a different paradigm to describe it.

It seems to me that this has become the more-or-less consensus opinion on jazz history, but I'm pretty sure it's false. Firstly because the next style does not (or at least, should not, if the audience is mature, which is not always the case) obliterate the preceding style. Styles (or more generally, conceptions of music) cohabit and overlap in shifting configurations, go underground and re-emerge in different forms. Then again, maybe it is easy to say this from today's vantage point, when buying a recording from 1930, 1950, 1970, 1990 or 2003 is essentially the same thing (tying in to Lundvall's Javon Jackson quote about competing with all the dead guys, to which he could add the back-catalogue of guys still living, like Sonny Rollins).

Secondly, a linear history can only be made in hindsight and when the jazz community was relatively small. In hindsight, the history books have been written, the derivative and uninteresting has been more-or-less forgotten (although a lot of good stuff is just as easily forgotten), the heroes stand tall. Back then, I get the impression from my readings that the pool of high-level jazz musicians was quite small: everyone was buying a lot of the same records, people were literally play "opposite each other" in New York clubs, there were relatively few media outlets.

Now, jazz is quite global, releases pour in, media outlets are numerous (around the world and in cyberspace), the notion of scene has broken down. Hindsight might well have nothing to gaze out upon from a lofty plane. Sure, there are a few releases that get talked about a lot (Jason Moran, Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett, Norah Jones, Diana Krall...), but 10 hard-core jazz fans can produce a list of 50 great recordings from the last few years with relatively little overlap. I'm over here in my little niche of Belgian jazz, sometimes hearing some really great things, but who else is hearing what I am? Others are deep into the much bigger French or Italian scenes. Even America isn't a monolith: it is itself regionalised and incapable of seeing all of its own talents (which is why so many New York musicians get discovered on Barcelona's Fresh Sound New Talent, or Ellery Eskelin is on the Swiss Hat Hut).

Okay, that was a ridiculously long post for something I first claimed was of little interest. I hope this had some added value.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Drummers getting the axe

Beat at their own game by Geoff Boucher (Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2003)

This article is, on the face of it, about how the rise of drum machines and other technology sidelined session musicians, but I am more interested by its depiction of musicians' lives more generally: those that work in car dealerships, survive on a pension, work for sitcoms or are simply forgotten. There are those who embraced new technology and adapted, others who could not or would not change and were left by the wayside. I like this because it shows us again how the life of the average musician is entwined with that of all other average people, a fact often forgotten because of the abundance of glossy images, gold and platinum plaques and TV shows that seem to place a select few stars outside of our world.

The parallels are of course easy to draw between musicians superseded by TR-808s and auto-workers displaced by factory machines. Similarly, the following generations of musicians grew up in a machine-tooled environment and see the new required skill-set as natural, be it The Roots's ?uestlove being both a drummer, a producer (in the hip-hop sense) and a DJ or some kid casually reproducing drum'n'bass beats that first sprang from machines.

I came across this article here, a round-up of good 2003 music writing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas!

And a Happy New Year!

I don't expect to be blogging much, if at all, until early January, so see you then.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Citizen Jazz update

There was supposed to be a page with a list of Citizen Jazz's top CDs of 2003, but I don't know where that got to. Anyway, amongst it all, I contributed three album reviews:

Ancesthree - Ancesthree A very nice sax-guitar-bass chamber jazz trio. It actually came out towards the end of 2002, but it was sent to me only recently.

Atomic - Boom Boom This one has to be one of the quickest album reviews I've ever done. Listened to it, loved it, went back to their first album and wrote the sucker. You saw it here first.

Jan de Haas - Doing My Thing Another relatively quickly-done review (I'm working on improving my turnaround time). This is a nice mainstream date led by drummer-turned-vibraphonist-when-leader Jan de Haas. It's a good follow-up to Bart Defoort's The Lizard Game, but you wouldn't know that, as Citizen Jazz published the de Haas review before the Defoort review, even though the Defoort came out months ago and I handed in my review well before the de Haas. Grrrr....

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Thirsty Ear's Blue Series

Jazz & Blues Music Reviews says of the Thirsty Ear Blue Series:

Mixing live improvisation of acoustic and electric instruments with both prepared and spontaneous electronics, the artists are able to create new soundscapes and new avenues for composition and improvisation. It seems that this also vindicates fusion and experimental musicians who were reviled in their own time for selling out. The influence of electric-period Miles Davis and the Sun Ra Arkestra are only now being felt.

The artistic success or failure of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series is an interesting topic for discussion, but I won't weigh in now, as I'm away from my CDs and I have several recent Blue Series releases that I still haven't listened to. A very good article to check out (far better than any thoughts I might come up with!) is Dan Warburton's SET SAIL FOR THE SUN: a critical appraisal of Matthew Shipp's Thirsty Ear albums at Paris Transatlantic.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Gasp 5tet - 19/12/2003, Geneva

Stefano Saccon - as, ss
Guillaume Perret - ts, ss
Gabriel Zufferey - p, fender rhodes
Francois Gallix - el b
Cyril Regamey - d

Even though I lived for several years in the Geneva region and having been to a few concerts there before moving to Brussels, last night was my first time ever in a Geneva jazz club. This one was called Le Contretemps (which could mean either the off-beat or delay/obstacle) and was a study in contrasts: first you get to it through some parking lot in a backstreet, then a short stairwell leads down to a nice, corporate building kind of glass door, which opens onto a small, too-brightly lit tickets/bar area. Another door leads into the somber rectangle concert area, which is painted entirely black (even the air ducts). The only splashes of colour are the red of the plastic chairs and of the door-frames. It called to mind a mixture of Kylie Minogue at the MTV Europe Music Awards and TRON.

The quintet was relatively young, although Gallix and Saccon were slightly more grizzled. The first set consisted of four compositionally and arrangementally (please excuse the barbaric term) quite involved compositions. The first one developed a long multi-thematic head over rumbling drums, which evolved to a slow, languid back-beat groove for the solos. The rapport between the two saxophones was consistently one of the most interesting parts of the concert. Saccon and Perret explored various types of unisson (tight, loose), little fugues, a bassline or riff under the other's improvisation, simultaneous improvising... For too brief a moment they slowly modulated long tones from unisson to harmony, creating interesting acoustic effects when the two frequencies were close.

The second set was less intellectual, looser, more overtly energetic and with shorter tunes, to which the crowd responded accordingly. The opening tune was a searing bop riff, over which both saxophonists gave solos that seemed to indicate that they had had stiff drinks during the break. Perret came out with a nice full-bodied tone and lines that built from soft and behind the beat to hard and urgent. This burst of excitement was followed by a ballad notable for Zufferey's delicate intro, strewn with little pools of delicately rich harmony, reminiscent of Herbie Hancock.

The last two tunes were quite memorable. The first opened with a melodic bass solo (thankfully shorn of any cod Jaco pyrotechnics) that Gallix doubled vocally, accompanied at first by Saccon's finger-snapping. The snapping built into clapping and eventually the whole band launched into a happy poppy-funky theme. Saccon gave a staccato funk solo over a nice tension-inducing restrained funk groove. The second, composed by Perret, called to mind Ellery Eskelin's trio work with its cyclical form: a strident melody played over a solid rock groove gave way to free improvisation (supported by Saccon's alto riff), only to return again and again in modified shapes. Afterwards, I asked him if he knew Eskelin. Perret said he didn't so I urged him to listen to Eskelin's recordings.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Miles Davis - 26/07/1969

Has anyone listened to this?

Despite the poor sound quality (which my steadily-dying headphones probably didn't do much for), it's great, hot set. One particular moment that sticks in my mind is a Miles-Chick Corea duet. For a couple of minutes, Corea creates an electronic setting for Miles's trumpet, playing under and around him and sometimes swirling up in a quick run. I have no idea whether or not this was common by 1969, but those few seconds seem to hold boundless promise. In fact, I liked Corea's playing a lot, another highlight of which is his comping on Nefertiti towards the end of the set (speaking of which, I don't think the session listing linked to in the original post correlates exactly with this mp3, most notably, the voice-over in the middle of the set is cut out).

More generally, the set goes in a long arc from frenetic to more settled and swinging. I hadn't heard this group yet (Sony released a recording a year or two ago, anyone heard it?) and found myself reaching for descriptors. This group's dynamic seems so idiosyncratic : it's not rocking, it's not funky, it's not swinging (for the most part) and it's not really free, even if you can hear elements of all of the above. I wonder: who, in your opinion, continued this kind of music?

Back on the road again

I'm heading south for the winter. Well, just to the Geneva region and just for Christmas, but you get my point. Last time I left I said I wouldn't blog but I did, so this time I'm saying nothing.

The Guardian Blog Awards

The Guardian picks the top blogs of 2003.

The Return of the King

Went to see it last night. I hadn't intended to, but my girlfriend walked in yesterday and asked "Do you want to go see LOTR tonight?" Considering she had already bought the tickets, I didn't have much choice.

Anyway, I loved the first two and loved this one. If you didn't like the first two, you won't like this one. The book fans will have the usual complaints.

I love this trilogy. I look forward to the release of the complete 14 DVD (just a guess on my part) box set (not that I could ever afford it...). A friday night, saturday, sunday LOTR long version triple-header sounds great. A similar 2nd trilogy Star Wars triple-header would probably (let's try to be optimistic for number 3) be torture.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003, Your World of Classical Music

You know that on the Naxos website you can stream their entire catalogue (well, almost, I get some errors some times). You know that, right? Tell me you know that! In any case, now you know.

On recommendation from Kyle Gann, I listened to Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. They say classical music is dead, stale or just repertory, but tell me: if you could play this music yourself, wouldn't you just play it every single day?

The beginning of the second movement is crazy: it sounds like the mother of all tear-jerking pop ballads. Fabulous.

Extremely minor revelations

Sit down at piano, glance over a litte Bartok children's piece "Study For Left Hand." For some unknown reason, play the left hand's D major chord (just D and its perfect fifth, A; does that even count as a major chord?). For another unknown reason, augment that fifth (A -> A#). Play two bars of 16th notes of each: presto! instant Eminem "Lose Yourself."

Good for 30 seconds of fun, 45 seconds if you add a little water.

Lost Miles Quintet - found again

1969 live Miles show. Go here for track and personnel details.

Link stolen from our new friends at Jazz & Blues Music Reviews.

Woody Shaw

Today I went from having heard no Woody Shaw albums to having heard 3:

Little Red's Fantasy
The Concert Ensemble
The Iron Men

It's clear to me now that Shaw continued the Gillespie-Brown-Hubbard line (any opinions on who's continued that tradition?). Here are some first impressions on the albums.

Little Red's Fantasy is a quintet session that derives from the Coltrane Quartet's bouncier side (rather than the more spiritual or meditative sides). On saxophone is Frank Strozier, who I hadn't heard from since Miles Davis's Walkin'. Where had he gone? A strong, but not exceptional, date.

The Concert Ensemble is a live date from 1976 and is even more energetic, powered by Louis Hayes. I really like this kind of high-energy bop (recently also found in Charles Tolliver's Music, Inc. Live at Historic Slugs, George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet City Gates and Atomic's Boom Boom). It's a little messy, but when the solos get going, it's quite fantastic. The German crowd is unbelievably receptive: if this is their reaction to a jazz concert, I can't imagine how they respond to David Hasselhof!

The Iron Men is a more intellectual pursuit, featuring Anthony Braxton, Arthur Blythe and Muhal Richard Abrams. Maybe I'll have to return to this one later, I found it a bit too strident for my tastes.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Newsflash: Europeans play jazz!

Our good friends over at Bagatallen pointed me towards this article at The Economist.

In the article we learn that although Europeans have been into jazz from the beginning (critical appreciation and jazz-classical fusion are singled out), Europeans were bound to lack the basic elements which informed the music—the subtle inflections of blues and swing which came from its African-American roots and which could be merely mimicked elsewhere.

However, nowadays Euros are more confident: In the words of a French drummer, “We are all inspired by American musicians, but our background and our freedom and our way of living should influence the music and we should let go.”

This ushers in EST: Depending on his mood, Mr Svensson regards the trio's work as a sign that European jazz has come of age, and is even challenging the native product in creative supremacy—“Europe is going to be the place for jazz”—or dismisses the connection altogether: “We're playing less and less jazz. It's more the e.s.t. sound...We just try to go to the heart.”

EST is cool, but really, Django Reinhardt created a totally European strain of jazz in the 1930s, generally referred to as Gypsy Jazz. Even though I'm no connaisseur of older European jazz, surely there are and have been plenty of musicians who have nothing to be embarassed about, whether they were working in the mainstream (e.g. Michel Petrucciani) or further out.

A resounding yawn.

Jazz & Blues Music Reviews

Finding an active jazz blog is only slightly more common than a sighting of the Loch Ness monster, so it's always a joy to find one, run by Tim, who writes for Cadence:

Jazz & Blues Music Reviews

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Commenting away

Please allow me to draw your attention to the comments at the end of the Lou Donaldson interview a few posts below. David's thoughts on John Coltrane are quite interesting, and I would be curious to hear other opinions.

Computer troubles

My computer is slowly but surely dying, so if the blog suddenly goes cold, you'll know why. I will try to get the computer out to repair before it goes totally dead (and hope that something can be done), so despair has not set in just yet.

Atomic - Boom Boom

Boom Boom Magnus Broo (tp), Fredrik Ljungkvist (ts, cl), Håvard Wiik (p), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (b), Paal Nilssen-Love (d)
Jazzland Records

To claim that jazz that such and such a musician proves that jazz is not dead is just as big (if not bigger) a cliché as declaring jazz dead. That said, listening to a group that merrily goes beyond (or around) the technical difficulties of contemporary jazz so as to simply expend their youthful energies and make some noise, still evokes a special kind of pleasure. Furthermore, just because Norway is a cold country doesn't mean the music should be too. It's not for nothing that Ken Vandermark wrote the over-excited liner notes: Chicago in the winter is probably almost as cold as Oslo.

With a name like Atomic and two albums titled Feet Music and Boom Boom, one could be pardoned for expecting electro-jazz of some brand or other. However, Atomic sports a most traditional trumpet-sax-piano-bass-drums line-up. As the Vandermark reference suggests, what makes this band a joy to listen to is that they are part of that fraction of the jazz world that is not afraid to combine the energies unleashed by both bop and free jazz. The title track shows this clearly, as Paal Nilssen-Love drums up a thunderous, Elvin Jones-like swing: he, along with pianist Håvard Wiik, is the group's lynchpin. While trumpeter Magnus Broo shatters his tone and pauses only to avoid fainting, reedman Fredrik Ljungkvist would rather draw lazy blotches or dotted outlines without breaking a sweat.

Feets From Above and Hyper show a marked Ornette Coleman influence. The former rests on a rickety melody, after which Ljungkvist is free to pay his own tribute to Coleman in his harsh herky-jerky phrasing. The latter frames a furious piano-drums bashing in a more dignified unisson theme.

Lennie Tristano and Bill Evans come into play on Re-Lee, its bouncy swing and three-way simultaneous improvising recalling the blind pianist, and in Wiik's solo on Cleaning the Dome possesses that barely restrained aggression tempered by only by the last remnants of lyricism of late-period Bill Evans.

Not everything is about high-energy playing. The calm and spare, but not austere, Toner Fran Forr cuts up increasingly New Orleans-tinged written and improvised material with clattering percussion interludes. Praeludium is a Hindemith transcription, a warm ballad which is slightly soured by Ljungkvist's uncertain clarinet.

The album closes with Radiohead's stately Pyramid Song. Not much is added to the original's unusually paced 4/4, but it's still a nice moment. It is often said that post-Tin Pan Alley popular music is too musically poor to make good jazz material, but I would argue, rather, that it is much more difficult to add something of significance to a piece conceived as a self-sufficient studio creation (be it Radiohead or Stevie Wonder) than to a Tin Pan Alley song made to be portable from one format to another.

Those who have heard Feet Music will notice that Boom Boom is more conceptual and less direct. While this could be reason to prefer the former to the latter, it is not a reason to pass it over.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Scarlet fever

Sifting through a second-hand bookshop (on the same trip as the epic CD harvest detailled below), I came across the sheet music to two Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) sontatas. His 555 sonatas were originally written for harpischord and have been killing me recently.

They're awesome, and I don't even like the harpischord. Rather, I didn't like the harpischord when I was listening to it like a piano: Scarlatti often makes it sound like a guitar, which may be due to him having spent a lot of time at the king of Spain's court. In any case, the guitar sound suits the harpischord's harshness extremely well. Also, what he writes for left hand is extremely hip and even modern sounding, even if you do sometimes get those clunky descending tonic-fifth-tonic figures.

For those of you in Belgium, check out Scarlatti's Complete Sonatas on that ridiculously cheap classical albums they have at Kruidvat. I have volumes 2 and 3, which are both 3 CD sets and cost around 4 euros each.

To come back to the sheet music I bought, my Clavinova has a harpischord setting which will be getting a much-needed workout. "1910" is pencilled in on the cover's upper-left hand corner, which merely added to my geekish excitement.

It's a disease

Eskelin, Ellery - Figure of Speech
Hill, Andrew - Passing Ships
Outkast - Aquemini
Radiohead - Hail To The Thief
Roach, Max - We Insist! Freedom Now Suite
Tatum, Art - Solo Masterpieces, Vol. 6

Adams/Pullen Quartet - City Gates
Jambangle - Trinity Song

Evans, Bill - Turn Out The Stars (6 CDs)
Music, Inc. - Live at Historic Slugs
Nilsson-Love, Paal - Dual Pleasures
Sclavis, Louis - Les Violences de Rameau
Shaw, Woody - Little Red's Fantasy
Shaw, Woody - Two More Pieces Of The Puzzle
Zulfikarpasic, Bojan - Koreni

"This should hold me for a while," he thinks, lying to himself.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Swinging fascists

From the news pages of the Belgian RTBF radio's jazz show:

Romano Mussolini is the youngest son of the italian dictator Benito Mussolini, but he has no interest in politics: his real passion is jazz. He had the opportunity to accompany Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Helen Merrill... This gentleman is forever a fan of the swing pianists he admired in the forties. "Le Grand Jazz" features him in an unreleased concert-series until december 16th.

Lou Donaldson interview

Lou DonaldsonLou Donaldson interview from 1981. Seeing Donaldson with Dr. Lonnie Smith on B-3 in january of 2002 was great fun, even if the music wasn't all that interesting. He really knew how to warm up a cold winter's night. Interview highlights:

Yeah, I’m way away from that commercial period in the ‘seventies. Well, at that time two of my kids were in college; so it was a different situation then. I needed a whole lot of bread. But they’ve completed it now—and I’m back to normal
People have seemed to shy away from the avant garde movement, and they’re coming back to the mainstream . . . straight–ahead jazz, whatever you want to call it.
See, everybody liked everybody—that’s all you need, to play jazz. That’s a funny thing; it’s different from any other type of music. If you’ve got the feeling between the drums, piano and rhythm, and the horns—that’s it. In fact, you don’t even have to like ‘em; you can hate ‘em, but you like the way they play.

I’ve heard of bands where guys didn’t even speak to each other for fifteen to twenty years; but they liked the way they played—so they played.
Most everything of intrinsic value in jazz left with bebop—that ended it. From then up to now, it’s nothing—it’s just a waste of time, really. They’ve tried to categorise jazz into something that it’s not. Spontaneous improvisation can be done with any type of music, not just jazz, but what they’re trying to do now—they’ve got ‘harmonic improvisation’ now. They’re concentrating on it in schools, and most of the young musicians are playing that way—and the essence of jazz is gone. You know, the bluesy feeling, and the soul, and the feeling in the rhythm—that’s gone. It even pains me to hear some groups now—some of the top, highly–rated people. It’s really sickening to hear it, because they don’t have the basic ingredients. Like taking the sugar out of cake—it’s got a lot of dough there, nothing else.

I had a young fellow ask me: “Man, why did they rate Lester Young so great? He doesn’t seem to be playing anything.” I said: “Well, my friend. . . I don’t know how to explain it to you. You would have to have lived back in that time, to understand what I’m telling you. It’s not a matter of how many harmonic changes you can play. You’ve got to realise that Lester Young was given two–and three–bar solos, and he had to get something in there, within two or three bars—and that’s really hard to do.” You didn’t have time to stretch out; you had to play what you were going to play, and play it quick. See, in those bands like he played in, it wasn’t a matter of how much a guy could execute a facility—it was just his concept of the music and what was done. And if you didn’t play to suit those bandleaders, that was your last solo. Some guys sat in those bands twenty years, and never got one solo—the bandleader didn’t like their concept. They had to accept it, if they wanted a job.

All they call jazz today is: soloing, knowledge of harmonics and facility on the instrument. Those things are very important—only if you’ve got the other ingredients to go with ‘em.
See, a lot of people don’t know that Coltrane was not a great bebop player. He was there all the time, but he never did really capture the bebop feeling in his soloing. Well, he was a hard worker; he practised a lot, and he got a lot of stuff together—but it has nothing to do with jazz. Not really. When you play harmonics, and play through the changes of blues, that’s really not playing blues. Some guys play one note and play blues; if you don’t believe it, you listen to some old records—those cats played at best, four notes, and they played a whole blues chorus. And it sounds good too.
Believe me, I have yet to meet one A. and R. man who knows anything at all about music—let alone jazz. They just don’t know anything about music, period. You could play a wrong note, play in the wrong key, anything—they’d never know. But the reason Blue Note was successful is that they had two guys who really loved jazz. When they’d get in the studio, they’d start the tape, you’d play what you were playing; when it was over, they’d pay you and you’d leave. They wouldn’t come up there in the middle of a song, and say: “Wait a minute—that doesn’t sound right. Do this, do that,” because they didn’t know what to tell you to do, anyway. So, by not getting in your way, they were very successful.
My name was on albums like “Sophisticated Lou”, “Sassy Soul Strut”, “Pretty Things”—and they earned me a lot of money.

What would happen there: they’d record it, and I just overdubbed it. A lot of times, I never saw the musicians; I don’t even know who was on the dates, unless you tell me. Because it was a drag to me, anyway. They’d say: “Why don’t you come and rehearse with the group?” and I’d say: “Not really—because if I do, I’d most likely have the arranger change all the music. So just put it on tape and I’ll come and play it. I’m not going to play it but once, anyway.” I never played ‘em more than once; I listened to it one time, and then I’d cut it—that was it. Because it was nothing to play—everything else was already there.

...But see, with that commercially packaged kind of stuff, you can’t do that; there’s nothing spontaneous about those records. It’s just one of those things, man. But fortunately, it didn’t hurt me at all; financially, it worked out fine.

Dangerously Beyoncé

Crazy in LoveListening to Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love for the first time, I'm quite pleasantly surprised. Maybe that's because I don't listen to much contemporary r&b, so I enjoy the diversion disproportionately. I don't even have any Destiny's Child album, even though I enjoyed a lot of the singles from The Writing's on the Wall.

There are a surprising amount of direct old-school references for someone many to be consider to be simply bubblegum pop. Straight-up sampling is, of course, not unusual in this day and age, but the way they are integrated and re-made into new songs take it beyond simple jacking: Beyoncé is showing her knowledge of the genre. Shuggie Otis samples on "Gift From Virgo" and on "Be With You" Shuggie is interestingly mashed together with a hook from a much more recent r&b hit, which I really can't remember the details of... (En Vogue?), "Work It Out" is a mix of James Brown vocals ("Huh, Break it down now!" and Maceo-like sax interjections) and updated The Meters-style rhythm, Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" is interpolated on "Naughty Girl" and of course I wonder where the horns on "Crazy in Love" come from.

To call Beyoncé pretty would be something of an understatement, but that doesn't necessarily mean the music itself is going to manage to be sexy. I think she pulls it off on "Speechless:" its achingly deliberate build-up to the prolonged "Yeeeesss-oooooohh" is pretty explicit, without being crass.

Clap clap pegged "Yes" as experimental, but surely so is "Hip Hop Star," with its heavy shuffle and Beyoncé's completely un-r&b-style singing. And of course a Big Boi cameo never hurts.

The only duds are the collaboration with Missy (maybe because discussion of Zodiac signs as a signifier of profound spirituality annoys me, as well as the totally needless shout of "Reeeeeeeewiiiiind!!!!") and "Baby Boy," as well as some of the sequencing. Maybe I'm too sensitive, but I find transitioning from "Be With You" to "Me, Myself and I" or from the slow "Speechless" to the bouncy "That's How You Like It." Overall, I'm not sure how easily the harder, more hip hop, songs sit with the r&b. There's also that odd line on "Daddy:" "I'm so proud of what you've become" is a strange thing to say to your father.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Coldplay it again

The ironic appreciation of Coldplay I hinted at here is bourne out in this Pitchfork review:

Coldplay are arguably the world's biggest rock band, so according to my indie rock guidebook, I should treat them with smugness and derision. In the past, Pitchfork has only given them compliments as if they were confessions-- and the site wasn't alone (or necessarily wrong), either.

I know lowercase has been listening to the album - how is it?

Monday, December 08, 2003

Unusual keyboards

Following on from the review below, here is a description of an East-meets-West instrument found in Iraq:

Early media reports after the war lamented the destruction of a keethara: an unusual piano with a dual keyboard, one tuned to Western scales, the other to Eastern quarter-tones. Actually, the keethara is intact, damaged but reparable.

Wajdi Cherif - Phrygian Istikhbar

Wajdi Cherif - p
Diego Imbert - b
Habib Samandi - perc
Jeff Boudreaux - d

Phrygian IstikhbarI received this CD on the 28th of october and have been completely taken by it, playing it three times in a row the morning I got it, and several more times since. Wajdi Cherif is a Tunisian pianist and as such mixes jazz and North African music. The particularity of his music is how natural it sounds. It can be put in the same ballpark as Rabih Abou-Khalil, but making the piano sound arabic is a challenge in itself, and Cherif comes up with beautiful results. The track titles hint at Cherif's position between France (he lives in Paris) and Tunisia: "Voyage," "Waiting For Paris" and "Tunis by Night." The title track seems to carry an unwieldy name, but in fact, "istikhbar" means improvisation in literary arabic and "phrygian" is the name of a mode.

The piano does not have a huge history in Tunisian music, for obvious reasons: its tempered nature does not lend itself to arabic music, with its quarter-tones, as naturally as stringed instruments. However, there is a tradition of vocal accompaniment (briefly cited in the closing "Tunis By Night") and nowadays many orchestras use synths. Cherif uses appogiatura (grace notes) and other forms of ornementation to achieve an "arabic" sound, to stunning effect. This procedure is neatly summed up right at the beginning of the disc, in the piano solo introduction to "Voyage." However, these colorations never sound like mannerisms. Rather, they ably convey his Arabic origins, just as his melodic and chiselled improvisations show how Cherif has absorbed jazz culture. On "Waiting For Paris," the pianist even abandons his Arabic side in favour of more Bill Evans-ish atmospheric playing.

The pianist is clearly the star here, but Habib Samandi is wonderful throughout on derbouka (a great percussion instrument in itself, it ranges from deep and booming when struck in the middle to high-pitched and metallic when struck at the edge, and being played with the fingers gives it great flexibility and subtlety), but especially so on the piano-derbouka duo "Phyrgian Istikhbar."

The only downside is that this is an EP rather than a full-length CD. At 30 minutes, I was definitely left wanting more. Quality over quantity.

The CD is available from Jazz Valley (for Europe) and CD Baby (for the USA).

Wajdi Cherif's website

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Dylan Drazen mixtapes

Nightclub jitters is already proving itself a valuable resource. I just downloaded a CD-length mix-mp3 from

If, like me, you don't like techno/house stuff enough to actually buy any, but would like to have some handy for parties or occasional background music, then check it out and help yourself. I downloaded the mix entitled "Carry On" and shall be returning for more.

Steve Coleman on boxing

There is a venerable tradition of jazzmen being fervent boxing fans (eg. Miles Davis) or even practicioners (eg. Red Garland). Steve Coleman is in this tradition and expounds on it at unusual length in an article on the Sudden Thoughts website, relating boxing to improvising in an interesting way. I'll quote two passages directly related to music below, but you can read the whole thing here.

Floyd, like many great boxers varies these rhythms in subtle ways that are difficult for opponents to time, and he can seamlessly flow from one rhythmic form to the next without any break in the forms. Usually the opponent is not even aware that the transition has occurred until it is too late.

This is something that is very difficult to teach, a boxer must recognize it on his own. The way this is done is similar to most forms of dance of the people of the African Diaspora (and in other sports like basketball, football, Capoeira, etc.) where there is a smoothness to the shifts of direction that is based on timing. I like to use the analogy of improvising in music where there is a sense of being in a zone during which you visualize the negotiation of the rhythms through time and everything is moving in a kind of slow motion dance. The mind operates on a level where time seems to be suspended and the constantly shifting 'paths of possibilities' seem to lay before you.

For the master boxers and musicians alike a lot of preparation is involved. The various 'paths of possibilities' have been studied, worked out, analyzed and internalized, after which the mind and body have been trained to respond by reflex to the dynamic configurations as they develop in real time. The artistry manifests when patterns unexpectedly shift and an alternate flow is established. The master boxer (or musician) must then time the shift and adjust the response patterns in mid flight. Of course without intense insight, research and training none of this will manifest, but the initial recognition of these dynamics is crucial to knowing how to prepare and train oneself in the first place.


Creative improvising is very similar in many respects to the boxing techniques I describe here. While improvising one needs to respond not only to the dynamic structure of the composition that one is playing but also to the possibilities that unfold as a result of the contributions of the other instrumentalists. In a sense the music itself is your ‘opponent’. One of the challenges is to execute your responses in the currently functioning window of time while still dealing with both the nuances of the structure. In addition to this the musician must manage the details of spontaneously composing musical phrases that represent what you are trying to ‘say’ in your music. To do this smoothly while maintaining your equilibrium is not an easy feat. A finely tuned and constantly adjusting balance needs to be developed where one can respond in reflex to the changing musical conditions. In this way it is similar to the responses of the great boxer.

In all music and boxing this would be true but in the African Diaspora this balancing act is as much about style (i.e. how it is done) as it is about what is being done. Style has always been important in the African way of being. For the inner city kids honing their basketball skills, putting the ball through the hoop and ‘how’ it is done carry equal importance. The same is true of the countless jam sessions of musicians or freestyle cutting sessions of MCs. What is most important in the style is the rhythm, the timing and ‘slickness’ of the endeavor. This is as true in a Nicholas Brothers’ dance routine as it is in a Charlie Parker improvisation. When the content is also on a high level it begins to take on the form of high art.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

William Parker/Matthew Shipp duo

BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3 show currently has some Parker/Shipp duo music online (as well as lots of other stuff in their archives). I'm heading over there to listen to it, myself.

Link stolen from nightclub jitters

The musician's life?

Not very glamorous, is it? This account is probably closer to the reality of the vast majority of musicians than what we get to read in glossy magazines about the very few (relative to the mass of musicians) stars.

devotion, determination and limited alternatives: a look into the life of a musician in a struggling u.s. orchestra

Monday, December 01, 2003

Young jazz singers still popular

Not exactly a newsflash, but the Diana Krall-Norah Jones trend seems to be spilling over into young male vocalists, at least in the UK:

Cullum First Jazz Artist to Get Platinum Disc

Cullum becomes first British jazz man to go platinum

Jamie Cullum
(Cullum is on the left...)

This kind of joins the discussion of jazz and dancing, detailling which brands of jazz remain today in the popular eye.

One Final Note reborn

After being shut down for over a year (if the online archives are up-to-date), jazz and improvised music magazine One Final Note is relaunched today.

I contributed a Jason Moran concert review which is slightly different from the one that ran here. I must say that it looks great surrounded by OFN's spiffy design. Plus, I'm in the company of really good, even famous, writers:

Joe Milazzo's review of the Jimmy Lyons Box Set is a detailled look at the music (which can be supplemented with other listener reactions over here).

In an opinion piece, the noted Howard Mandel asks:

What good is abstract, intellectual jazz if it isn't grounded somehow in blues, and rhythm, and soul? How can you dig Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, John Zorn, and similarly brainy players, if you don't sense the passions of Jelly Roll Morton, early Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Mississippi delta guitar demon Robert Johnson, Chicago's Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, pianists Otis Spann and Professor Longhair—not to mention Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Al Green, James Brown and George Clinton?

That's a good question, if you ask me.