Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lizz Wright @ Flagey Studio 4 - Brussels, 28/06/2006

When Lizz Wright's first CD came out, I assumed, from the ads and things read here and there, that she was some vaguely jazzy neo-soul post-Norah Jones singer, and promptly ignored her. Last night, she proved me thoroughly wrong: Wright is a superlative heir to Cassandra Wilson (and maybe a little bit to Ben Harper, too). The latter is present in Wright's voice (beautiful, deep, enveloping, warm, pitch-perfect and taking just enough unexpected turns to keep it interesting), the slow-paced guitar/percussion setting and choice of material (acoustic rock song covers, Madonna's "Stop," funk, blues, a bit of gospel, all done with a jazz-derived sensibility and harmony). When Wright said she was "trying to recreate that small, country feeling" she had grown up with, it was like she was starting from where Wilson has ended up.

Wright's voice was always effective, even on the MTV Unplugged-type material. The more stripped-down the arrangement, the more poignant Wright's voice became. The clearest demonstration of this came on the second encore (of three), when Wright and guitarist Marvin Sewell played "Amazing Grace." Not the most original choice, but they created a dramatic, cathedral-like stillness. Pierre Van Dormael had told me about a night spent playing impromptu voice-guitar duets in Wright's Parisian hotel room. I now understand his elation at the memory.

Throughout the concert, Sewell's sheer tone, loose-limbed phrasing and harmonically advanced blues playing made it obvious why Jason Moran added him to the Bandwagon for Same Mother. But Wright remained the star of the show, thrilling the sold-out crowd, and converting one non-believer.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

i'm still in touch with the world

Tuur Florizoone has a new website. The most original section is the Erratum page, which lists the various ways his name has been written, ranging from Tuur Verbruggen to apparently incorrect Mandarin.


Ellery Eskelin discusses his next album, which won't be on Hat Hut, but on his own label. More composed than Ten, and with singer Jessica Constable and a second keyboardist joining the core trio on some tracks. Tantalising.


visionsong takes on Dave Douglas's post-Vietnam jazz history challenge with a series of posts (cf. comments of second post).

Speaking of Douglas, this new AAJ interview is a good place to get lengthy explanations of things that have popped up on the Greenleaf Music blog. [via erg]


Alex Ross's New Yorker Morton Feldman article is highly worthwhile, even for those as ignorant of the composer as I am.

David Adler's Andrew Hill feature is excellent and by far the best I read surrounding the release of "Time Lines." His review of Jason Moran's "Rough Crossings" concert is also of interest.


It runs in the family: David Valdez on Jorge Rossy's trumpet-playing 12-year-old son ("A seventh grader playing better than most pros!") and other Barcelona happenings.


Doug Ramsey remembers Clifford Brown.


Why do people still write about jazz like this? At least Blogcritics redeems itself with this list of albums Impulse! should reissue and proof that John Coltrane smiled, at least twice.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

JazzFact - Antwerpen, 24/06/2006

[addition: the musicians' names are Seppe Gebruers (p), Nathan Wouters (b), Jakob Warmenbol (d)]

In February, I went to see the Brad Mehldau Trio and was genuinely surprised at how young the crowd was. IVN's 17 and 14 year old sisters are budding jazz fans that I'm doing a little bit to nuture, and the eldest's boyfriend is also a fan, but all three play instruments. The BMT concert's crowd, however, seemed to confirm a more general, young enthusiasm for the music.

JazzFact is a part of this generation: the pianist is 16, the bassist 17, the drummer 18. One of the consequences of their youth led to a rarely heard bandstand phrase: after checking his mobile phone, the bassist quietly said "My mother's on her way." They played a few standards: "All Of You," "All The Things You Are," "'Round Midnight" (at 2 PM), "Blue Monk." Normally, such young groups (and even more veteran groups) tend to play standards in a very, well, standard way, to the point of cliché, eliciting an "A for effort" kind of response. JazzFact is different: they took all the themes apart (the pianist's spreading of "Blue Monk"'s riff-theme all over the form was particularly succesful) and fearlessly launched into very open and interactive stream-of-conciousness playing. A very bold approach, that revealed imrpessive amounts of sophistication and knowledge.

The tiny, stick-thin pianist was visibly passionate, often going aggressively far out enough to make me wonder if he'd become the next Fred Van Hove. But it wasn't random, as was made clear when he came out of a free-time section with a Swing Era figure, or when, on "Blue Monk," the trio oscillated between free and bluesy swing. The drummer interpolated swing rhythms and cleverly injected polyrhythms into rubato passages.

Obviously, there were a also a lot of nits that could be picked: the tunes ran rather long, there could have been more dynamic and textural variety and rhythmic cohesiveness, etc. However, I'd rather be impressed by the trio's collaborative, listening-based approach and trust that they'll continue working at it enough that the next time I see them, it won't be in a random bar lost in the suburbs of Antwerpen.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

kristen cornwell quintet @ Sounds - 16/06/2006

I saw this band back in December, but have only just realised I never posted the draft I wrote at the time. I'll do that shortly. The band Kristen fronted (Pascal Schumacher on vibraphone, Frederik Leroux on guitar, Christophe Devisscher on bass) was the same, except that regular drummer Jonas Burgwinkel was there instead of sub Jens Duppe.

After warming up on "I'll Remember April," a voice/bass duo opened "What A Little Moonlight Can Do." Can a voice/bass duet not sound good? As if to really prove that point, a couple of songs later, they did another one on "These Clouds Are Heavy" (or something similar), which, if I understood correctly, is a Rilke poem Kurt Elling set to a Brubeck/Desmond tune. It was verbose, but suited Cornwell, a singer who projects a great deal of confidence. A more original arrangement was that of the concert-ending Joni Mitchell cover, for which the singer was backed only by a very active Burgwinkel. The other instruments appeared only for brief solos that broke the song up into sections. Again, Cornwell's self-confidence (and the sure technical foundation it's built upon) was evident.

She was also regularly featured as a composer, having written almost half the songs played. On "Billie Goat," she simply scatted the wordless melody and let the soloists dig in, which they did, forcefully. The first-set-ending "Frangipani" focused on a powerful and textured polyrhythmic groove. "Lies" was dubbed "an anti-love song:" over a rock/funk backbeat, she sang "The more I love you, the less you have to say." Even on "I Know You By Heart," a pro-love song, the lyrics displayed firm resolve to seize the opportunity, rather than be merely swept away by Prince Charming.

One of this band's characteristics is that the two harmonic instruments play more of a melodic-textural role than a traditional harmonic-rhythmic one. On "River," for example, Cornwell was resolutely less athletic and more focused on a narrower and lower range, which allowed Schumacher and Leroux to create a warm and enveloping atmosphere. A similar, pop-inflected approach was taken on Suzanne Vega's "Calypso" and "Distant Skies," another Cornwell original. Maybe this isn't quite the right reference (and certainly not in terms of voice, more in terms of harmony and feeling), but a lot of the tunes made me think of a post-Cassandra Wilson context.

The second set started with "Love For Sale," and all the misgivings I have about that song came back, perhaps especially because she didn't vamp it up all. That said, the line "Who will buy?" was, troublingly, blared in the manner of a paper boy on the street corner. I didn't get a chance to ask Kristen what she made of singing this song, though.

Friday, June 16, 2006

revelations #2: mccoy tyner

Having heard McCoy Tyner mostly in the Coltrane Quartet, I grossly under-rated him. I think that it was during the 2004 BBC Coltrane documentary that my mind started to change: Tyner played for the camera for a few seconds. I was blown away. A few months ago, I took the next logical step and bought McCoy Tyner's Sahara, based on the estimable Brian Olewnick's 5-star AllMusic review. I can't vouch for the historical and contextual comments, but the album description and appreciation is spot-on.

The opener, "Ebony Queen," is one of the most intense peformances I've ever heard. They go from 0 to 1000 in about 30 seconds and miraculously manage to stay there for the next 9 minutes. Sonny Fortune is still wailing as the track fades out. Hearing this group live must have been an indescribably physical experience.

The follow-up, "A Prayer For My Family," is solo piano, but barely less gripping. Tyner's virtuosity is on full display here: his florid, swirling ruminations are more prayer-meeting fervour than zen meditation (an agitated kind of zen is reserved for the koto playing on "The Valley Of Life"). Even counting God himself (although this status doesn't totally protect him from insults), is there a more virtuosic jazz pianist?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

sounds like money

Do The Math's nod to be.jazz is a good opportunity for me to point you towards the Klinkende Munt's 2006 line-up, which will be the first time I (finally) see The Bad Plus live. The rest of the festival looks very good, with heavy doses of "nu-jazz" and modern Eastern Europe/Middle Eastern music and a few servings of other stuff for good measure.

revelations #1: jackie mclean

Revelations are like love: you can't hurry them, you just have to wait. She said revelations don't come easy, it's a game of give and take.

1. For a long while, the only Jackie McLean album I had was Let Freedom Ring and I never really got past McLean's famously sharp intonation on that one. Even the section devoted to McLean in A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in the Bebop Business failed to spark renewed interest.

Last week-end, during a stroll down the hot and sunny Champs Elysées, I popped into the local FNAC and ended up getting Destination Out (along with the newly-(re)issued Andrew Hill Pax, Gnarls Barkely's St. Elsewhere and T.I.'s King). Darcy's awesome post on the importance of Jackie McLean (and on the album One Step Beyond in particular) really surprised me and it sprang to mind when I saw the album on the racks. His conclusion that "Virtually everyone playing today owes this Jackie McLean-Grachan Moncur-Bobby Hutcherson outfit a tremendous debt. We are all the inheritors of their 'New Thing' legacy" is proven true from the very first notes of Grachan Moncur's "Love And Hate." Its pace, harmonic texture and mood, as well as the space afforded the soloists (in clock terms, but more importantly, in terms of where they're allowed to go) and the creative yet immediately expressive and limpid ways they use it are still breath-taking, 40+ years later. I'll have to check out Let Freedom Ring with my new ears, especially as McLean's intonation wasn't even an issue for me on Destination Out.

There's often talk of eschewing the head-solos-head form (as in pop, where the verse-chorus-verse pattern is regularly derided by the avantists). Granted, it can be stifling and seem rote, but an album such as this one shows that the problem isn't the form itself, but the too-frequently unimaginative use that's made of it. Destination Out relies on the h-s-h on all four tracks, but brings in other elements to liven it up. It seems to me that this "livening up" has become a pretty important part of the slow widening of the mainstream Ben Ratliff likes to talk about.

It's too bad that I have to send out a belated RIP just as I'm starting to come to grips with his work and stature, but at least it has a little more meaning now.

André Canniere Group - As Of Yet

As Of YetAs Of Yet is trumpeter André Canniere's debut. Four studio cuts are complemented by (and, in two cases, overlap with) three live recordings. The inclusion of the latter is a good thing, as they yield a rawer view of the band (and not only because of the cavernous sound quality) and a better take on the title track: the studio version of "As Of Yet" is rather dry and inexpressive, but live, timbral nuances give it expressiveness and the particularly punchy rhythm section gives it lift.

Canniere's at his best as composer and arranger: long melodies that unfurl majestically before suddenly flaring up and melancholy ballads both sit easily on top of often complex rhythmic and harmonic patterns. As a writer, Canniere's melodic sense is highly informed by contemporary rock and pop, so a downcast ballad like "The Rest" has as least as much in common melodically with quiet indie-rock as with the traditional jazz ballad. This sounds natural: the sound of a generation that's been developing, on both sides of the Atlantic, since the late '90s.

There's an excellent rapport between bassist Ike Sturm and drummer Ted Poor, which sets the basis for a context that seamlessly blends jazz, rock and pop rhythmic feels while balancing extensive arrangements with spontaneous decision-making. The extended groove that opens the live version of "Accelerated Decrepitude" is a good example of how well the pair works together.

The trumpeter is conspicuously generous with solo space but guides his soloists with an unoppressive invisible hand. As the band digs in more aggressively and buoyantly outside the recording studio, the tunes' building blocks inspire rather than hinder, which is what jazz composer/arrangers are supposed to do, right? On the studio version of "Accelerated Decrepitude," the best of the leader's five compositions, Canniere fluidly swaggers through the changes before saxophonist Josh Rutner (both Rutner and Poor are members of the Respect Sextet) leisurely turns one of the tune's riffs inside out. Rutner mines the same idea on the live version, but this time shares the work with Sturm and guitarist Ryan Ferreira.

Ferreira, showcased on "As Of Yet" and "The Rest," is a strikingly patient improviser who extends the compositions in fitting yet unexpected ways: fragmented, fairly static phrases only slowly expand their note and rhythmic choices. For example, on the live version of "As Of Yet," he's happy to engage the groove solely with oddly-paced block chords.

Monday, June 05, 2006

hated by the jazzpolice?

Teun Verbruggen on MySpace. I still get a kick out of Jozef dropping a bright, sweet melody into the maelstrom, roughly four and a half minutes into "fry" (a re-titled "certified 31% evil"?). "the visitor" is a track from the excellent (and much more straight-forwardly jazz) In Orbit. Not my favourite track, though.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

assumptions challenged

At the Fête de l'Iris, I had a long conversation with guitarist Pierre Van Dormael before the Catherine/Luc duo set. He told me about his recent work: a score for the French movie Essaye-moi (Pierre's brother Jaco directed the Palme-winning Le Huitième Jour) and an upcoming recording of his "North Country Suite" by Octurn. The score allowed him to work with Lizz Wright. I'd dismissed Wright based on my perception of her label (Verve) and her publicity, but Pierre's rapturous praise of her talent, ability and importance to jazz convinced me to give her a shot (which has yet to be fired). And now, even DJA is hinting at a collaboration...

Later, I was once again confronted with label- (Blue Note) and publicity-generated negative prejudice while watching Raul Midon on TV, singing Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" in duo with French singer Tété (a rare French black bohemian?). I had assumed Midon to be some sort of smoothed-out soul crooner fit for the post-Norah Jones set, but it turns out that, yes, he has a strong voice, but he's also a virtuoso guitarist who plays like no one I have ever seen. His hand position is really weird and he seems to strike the strings rather than strum or pluck them, yet plays in a very detailled way.

Taratata (the show in question) has always been a great music show (well, apart from the interviews, which tend to suck: recently, the interviewer repeatedly addressed the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist as "Feal") with excellent production values. A highlight from the Midon show was a two-band cover of Blur's "Song 2," which began with just the two lead singers and two violins (one plucked, one bowed). Later, the IRCAM was mentioned, which is a rare event, even on late-evening national TV.

Taratata's quality is especially remarkable in a country where music shows tend to be more like Le Symphonic Show or Les 500 Choristes (on the same state-owned channel). The latter was particularly painful: a parade of popular singers do covers, backed by a band and the titular 500-strong choir, invariably with the worst/least creative arrangements imaginable. Each song is followed by the host's (it's always the same one for these ridiculous extravaganzas, I forget her name) petulant comments about the moment d'émotion that has just been experienced.

[Much later addition]
Further underlining the dire state of music on French TV, while Audiovisual Dinosaur #1 Michel Drucker had invited an opera singer currently moonlighting as a Luis Mariano impersonator (Drucker + Mariano + opera singer = new heights in cheese), over on the BBC, there was a an interesting simultaneous discussion and performance of Terry Riley's "In C."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

the minimalism of thelonious monk #2: are you making fun of me?

"Rhythm-a-ning," "Thelonious In Action," Thelonious Monk Quartet:
After Johnny Griffin's long, athletic and honking solo, Monk emerges from near-silent accompaniment to play a brief solo that seems to mock the conceptions underlying Griffin's: a constant flow of always-renewed ideas, unrelenting energy. I can't help but feel that he's making fun of Griffin. Well, maybe not, but there's a vertiginous drop in the transition from aggressive virtuosity to unobtrusive minimalism.

I wonder if "Thelonious In Action" presents the concert as it happened. On the opener, "Light Blue," Griffin treads lightly on the song's chords, but on the next track, "Coming On The Hudson," he digs more forcefully into the composition's odd contours. Then, on "Rhythm-a-ning" the gulf between Monk's sparse, ringing chords and Griffin's lines above is pretty huge.

Monk seems to loosen up over the course of the album. Initially his solos are very focussed on thematic manipulation, but by the last tracks (and the end of the night?) he's playing with more abandon. On the closing "In Walked Bud," he starts out by sticking close to the melody, but makes an abrupt 90-degree left turn on (or should I say off?) the bridge.

Johnny Griffin, a great player (he may not have generated religious fervour, but is certainly a minor, Hank Mobley-sized god) who's rarely brought up in conversation, is still alive and kicking in France.

From that last interview (translation mine):
On Holland, where he lived in for a time, but left

Essentially because of the weather. It's horrible... Five months without sun. Water everywhere, mud, grey people.

On first seeing Sun Ra, around 1955:
I knew all the musicians, apart from Sun Ra... Sun Ra arrived, played. I burst out laughing. It was too funny. That wasn't much appreciated, of course... I asked [John Gilmore] "What are you doing with these idiots?" I've since become friends with Sun Ra, but I still laugh. And he knows that. It's not an orchestra, it's a church.

On the Chicago scene:
Chicago was first of all a blues town. Most of the time, in the clubs, there was a blues singer we had to accompany, and a shake dancer: a beautiful young woman who wiggled like a belly dancer.

On Lionel Hampton as boss:
I made more money working saturday nights at the Persian Pershing Ballroom than a week with Hampton. Dinah Washington was with us: she earned the same as I did. It was ridiculous. Hampton never paid anybody!

On neo-boppers (circa 1992):
Fantastic. They abandoned free jazz and the avant-garde to come back to music.

Friday, June 02, 2006

31/05/2006, Brussels

Ialma @ Molière
Ialma is the five singers above (yes, they still have the bizarre one-hairstyle-fits-all thing going on) plus an array of instrumentalists. The basic aim is to take traditional Galician songs and place them in a less localised musical context: musicians included pan-world/folk players guitarist Pascal Chardome and accordeonist Didier Laloy (who play in S-Tres, an enjoyable pan-world/folk trio) and bassist Vincent Noiret (who plays in Tricycle, an enjoyable world/jazz trio, which I've discussed previously), Mexican percussionist Osvaldo Hernandez (heard advantageously in the Apikón Dia trio) and a gigantic African kora player. There were lots of guests, and every single one highlighted the stylistic distance between Ialma and Galicia. None more so than the old Galician lady who duetted, a capella, with the quintet's lead singer: the former's voice was rough-hewn, strident and physical, the latter's, far smoother and more conciliant. The old lady was one of four brought out to sing an inappropriately jubilant version of "Under The Bridge" in gallego.

It was by far the biggest (it was completely packed, maybe because the concert was free for members?) and most enthusiastic (fan club plants?) crowd I've seen at the Molière. I found it reasonably enjoyable, but, then again, I didn't have to pay.

Walrus @ Jazz Station
Steve Smith-style, we then dashed across town (well, not really, but it sounds cooler than "we leisurely drove a few streets down") to the Jazz Station to see Toine Thys's Walrus. It was my first visit to the relatively new Jazz Station and I was impressed by its cool, modern interior decoration, which bears no traces of the building's past as a train station, apart from the train tracks that you can see from the overpass leading to the toilets.

Walrus is made up of be.jazz regulars Nicolas Kummert on tenor and Lionel Beuvens on drums, with Axel Gilain on bass. I saw a similar Thys-Kummert quartet (can't remember if Beuvens and Gilain were in that one) a few months ago, but it was called Moblift back then. Last night, during the 40 minutes we caught, they played excellent loose cool jazz. Toine has a scrappy style and tends to get better as his solos go on. Nicolas continued to impress: his solo on the first song of the second set consisted almost solely of the bluesy, "Stolen Moments"-like phrase Toine had ended his solo with, seductively rephrased, toyed with and expanded upon (but not too much) over and over.

With no amplification save the bass amp, both the venue and the band provided optimal listening conditions. I'll be sure to return to the Jazz Station soon.