Saturday, September 30, 2006

super hearing

Last night, I was talking with Nicolas Kummert (see upcoming concert review) and the topic of what superheroes listen to briefly came up. This seems to me totally bloggable. Nicolas came up with Spiderman's entry right away, the rest are mine.

Superman: Doesn't listen to music, or even partake in any kind of cultural activities, really. When the only thing that can harm you is kryptonite (and no-one's managed to kill him with it in, what, 60 years?), what do you need music for? Clark Kent might listen to the radio and like a few hits, but he's a terrible dancer. Cyclops (of the X-Men) and Captain America are squares, too.

Spiderman: Spidey is definitely a Bad Plus fan. Hip and ironic/sarcastic. Peter Parker listens to emo.

Batman: He's into Wagner, but harbours a secret fondness for decrypting the psychological turmoil in Kylie Minogue. Bruce Wayne can discuss opera and the latest indie band. He's like Steve Smith, minus the depth.

The Incredible Hulk: Metal, obviously, but none of that hipster crap.

Namor/Aquaman: Namor's a serious guy. He doesn't actually listen to music, he reads Adorno. Maybe the occasional Schönberg, when he's feeling frivolous.

Spawn: In one issue, Spawn actually sings "Stayin' Alive," but I attribute that to Todd MacFarlane. Spawn clearly is/was a soul guy.

Rorschach (from The Watchmen): Whatever the Columbine killers listened to.

Marv (from Sin City): Johnny Cash murder ballads, but also Destiny's Child, with a kind of paternal affection.

Wolverine: A classic rock kind of guy, with a penchant for the genre's bad boys, obviously.

The Punisher: He used to hate punk, but totally got into gangsta and hardcore rap in the mid-80s. He's old, but keeps up with the times: he's into Atlanta and Houston at the moment.

R2D2 (one of the greatest heroes of them all): Timbaland, because they speak the same language.

Octurn - 01/09/2006@CC de Meent, Alsemberg

Bo Van Der Werf - bs
Magic Malik - fl
Guillaume Orti - as
Laurent Blondiau - tp
Jozef Dumoulin - kb
Fabian Fiorini - p
Jean-Luc Lehr - el b
Chander Sardjoe - d
Gilberto Nuno - laptop

The meeting between baritone saxophonist Bo Van Der Werf and flutist "Magic" Malik Mezzadri has become an important turning point for Bo's Octurn, as Malik has gone from being a guest on their latest album, 21 emanations, to the ensemble's principal composer. This was the third time I'd seen this line-up this year and Malik's presence has brought a softer and more accessible feel, though the music has lost none of its formal complexity: Malik spent several minutes explaining the rhythmic and harmonic patterns one composition was based on, ending with "and with all that, we made rock 'n' roll."

Malik combines serious and frivolous sides excellently. One composition welded together the ultra-modern elements with medieval polyphony, while the concert ended with a joyous, relatively straight-forward and un-selfconcious mazurka (of the Carribbean, not Polish, variety). As a player, he's instantly recognisable, because of his instrument of course, but especially thanks to his homemade harmonic system. I don't know its details, but it's what's most distinctive about him.

This was actually the first day of a two-day recording session with a small audience. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the second day. The instruments were set up in a wide circle and the audience in an even wider circle around it. We were invited to feel free to change seats between songs, but getting a good balance between instruments was difficult: at one point, I was overwhelmed by the piano, of all instruments! So I'm curious to hear what the recording sounds like.

The first composition was dreamy and ambient, with a lot of free-flowing subterranean activity, the highlight of which was a musicbox-like piano-Fender Rhodes duet. The whole first set was relatively subdued, perhaps overly so. Still, as one of Bo's solos showed, quietness is in itself rather attractive, especially when it's a collectively-played, slightly eery kind of quietness.

Excellent contributions came from all involved. Two things in particular contributed to the overall mood. Chander Sardjoe would vary dynamics within a single phrase, for example landing very softly on the crash cymbal after a louder fill. A bunch of little details like that added depth to the music. Gilberto Nuno produced translucent textures which sparkled like light playing on melting icicles, while also discretely sampling the instrumentalists in real-time.

I guess the album should be coming out some time next year. Octurn + Malik will be at London's Vortex on December 1st.

Friday, September 29, 2006

mr. bo is in the house, tbp are in the can and ww is in your face

I've just found out about Brian Olewnick's blog, Just Outside. If you've been reading Brian's writings at All Music, Bagatellen, Jazz Corner or elsewhere, you'll already know how great he is. If not, check out his thoughts on eai's use of pop songs, the smelliness of the No Fun Festival or the pros and cons of Ukrainian wedding bands. Brian's review of McCoy Tyner's Sahara is what made me get that great album.


The Bad Plus have recorded their next album. If this summer's concert is any indication, it will be great (and will the criticisms fade now that the Columbia-fuelled hype has?).


I haven't read it, but Wilbur Ware-ophiles may be interested in this doctoral thesis: AT ONCE OLD-TIMEY AND AVANT-GARDE: THE INNOVATION AND INFLUENCE OF WILBUR WARE by Karl Erik Haddock Seigfried.

MSG - 28/09/2006@Sounds, Brussels

Rudresh Mahanthappa - as (website | MySpace)
Chander Sardjoe - d
Ronan Guilfoyle - acoustic bass guitar

I first heard Rudresh Mahanthappa as sideman on a Belgian CD a few years ago. He stood out. I've also been following parts of Vijay Iyer's career (Fieldwork, mostly), so I've been aware of Mahanthappa for a while, but I'd yet to hear him live or on one of his own CDs. Then came Will Layman's article back in February (with the devastating quote: "The first time my name showed up in the Downbeat Critic's Poll, I couldn't afford to buy the magazine.").

The setting made a lot of sense: Chander Sardjoe is Indo-Dutch, has post-Steve Coleman tendancies and is an academic over-achiever. Lately, I've seen him several times with Octurn and he always brings a winning, human energy and a broad smile to often-complex music. Last night especially, Sardjoe's volcanic side was on full display. It's kind of like what Elvin Jones did to melt swing into a bubbling magma, only with a different starting point.

Ronan Guilfoyle is Irish.

Mahanthappa began the concert unaccompanied and instantly established a strong, arresting tone that had an Oriental keening but turned lusher on ballads. The other two joined in and quickly created a body-rocking swirl. Here, tone - or even individual notes - was less of a concern than the group's overall sound. One of the trio's characteristics is its constant intermingling of improvised and written material: amid furious rhythm topped with sheets of alto sound, a motif or unison passage will fleetingly appear, seemingly snatched out of thin air, or the group might shift directions, unexpectedly drop from high density to almost nothing, on a dime. It's power trio stuff, which only got more exciting as the intensity increased.

A few melodies pointed clearly to Indian roots, as did an occasional bass drone, and there's the attraction to complex rhythmic cycles, but, refreshingly, there was no overt fusion (or Fusion), no outsider view. Indeed, his jazz roots are treated much the same way. At a couple of points, it seemed to me that Mahanthappa was stringing together flayed quotes of standards, and the encore kind of sounded like the first couple of bars of "You And The Night And The Music," boiled down to very little.

The last song of the first set slid through a number of rhythmic feels, including the first appearance of straight swing. Listening to players born and raised on swing who then branch out, but continue to dip into it, is generally like snuggling up on an old favourite sofa. That wasn't the case here: it sounded quaint. The second set started out with a tune that explored walking bass swing more thoroughly and, though it wasn't quaint, it sounded less relaxed than the other stuff. Over a more regular, less involved base, Mahanthappa's soloing paradoxically seemed much more effortful, was dragged down rather than buoyed. I don't want to overstate the point or make it seem like some "Mahanthappa can't play straight jazz" diatribe, because it's not. In fact, the second set ended with a ballad perhaps intended to bring us down after a mostly high-octane evening. Here, the altoist's tone was delicate and breathy and his lines sweet. Then, via a bass solo, they launched into a burning sort of bastardised Headhunters, with Sardjoe dropping into a quasi-second line beat.

In a way, MSG's music was conceptually related to Mwandishi: applying a loose, jazz-oriented methodology to jazz-rock, but in MSG's case, minus the electricity and with mathematics that are both more complicated and more intuitive. A track title from Steve Lehman's Interface trio album captures the feel: "Structural Fire."

MSG is recording its first album this saturday. I picked up two CDs: Raw Materials, a duo with Vijay Iyer that has a very promising first track, and Codebook, Mahanthappa's latest quartet album. It comes with a disc that allows you to decipher a message written on the digipack's inside cover. I've cracked the first few words: "It is the."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

jazz and blogs #8

Terribly overdue: a link to Kellen Yamanaka's Song With Orange. A recent post discusses the decreasing portability of jazz compositions:

Today, it seems like "great" compositions are those that not only accomplish what all pieces must accomplish but also are unique to that composer, something inimitable and inherently, inextricably linked to that composer's voice and performance. (...)

Could Rosenwinkel's pieces be convincingly played by Scofield? Could Douglas's compositions be covered by Jeremy Pelt? (...)

Still, it's interesting that when we think of the "great" compositions of the past, we often value them for their universal "playability"; when we think of "great" compositions today, they are the ones that, in spirit, belong almost exclusively to the person who created it.

I would answer "yes" to both questions and say "not quite" to the last paragraph. Partly because people play tunes by Rivers, Motian, Hill, Corea, Holland, Marsalis, Mehldau, etc. (perhaps not the most idiosyncratic, but still) and The European Real Book was published recently (so somebody's playing or studying all those modern compositions), but mostly because the combination of an abundance of compositions and the fragmentation of the global scene makes dissemination much more difficult than it was in Monk's or Shorter's time.

Also, perhaps too much importance is placed on compositions. Insofar as jazz is an improvisational art, the dissemination of improvising techniques/concepts/approaches and of the ways in which composition and improvisation intersect is just as important, perhaps even more so. And that's definitely happening, as the 1973-90 lists (amongst other things) show.


A trumpeter's blog, by Ian Carey. Check out the gig announcements, or the Kansas City trip.

An old post has a weird Liebman quote:
Back when I was living in New York and taking the subway every day, I started making "mix" tapes for myself with stuff I really wanted to absorb; this was based on some advice I got from Dave Liebman that "you're not in the business of listening to music 'for fun' anymore. You need to listen in a focused way."

Liebman's somewhat overbearing asceticism aside—this was right after he'd told us that the air column in a saxophone looked like a "johnson," which was why "chicks [counldn't] play"
By that logic, men shouldn't be able to play trumpet.


A reminder: Los Angeles trumpeter Kris Tiner's Stop The Play And Watch The Audience. Another Jewish Angelino will be joining the blogroll: godoggone. He's been active lately.

brax in bxl

I don't usually do gig announcements, but four days of Anthony Braxton in a Brussels bar is worth an exception:

Anthony Braxton Quartet
plays standards

23,24,25 & 26th november 2006 at 09pm

Anthony Braxton : saxophones
Alessandro Giachero: piano
Antonio Borghini: double bass
Cristian Calcagnile: drums

Doors open at 08 pm

Price: 15 €
Student (- 26 years old): 10 €
Four-day pass: 40 € (Student: 35 €)

Ticket on sale at PP Café from October 1

28, rue Jules Van Praet - 1000 Bruxelles

Organisation & press contact :

It's also in the calendar on the right. Speaking of which, does the blog seem slower to load, to you?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

keeping up with the joneses

I've added two hi-tech widgets to the right-hand column:

  1. a roll of links that may or may not be properly blogged about (but can always be accessed or RSS'ed via ...all links...)

  2. a Google Calendar of upcoming concerts that replaces my old hand-made list. It doesn't really blend with the new sleek look and isn't quite as flexible, but is easier to maintain and may encourage me to list slightly more concerts.

Monday, September 25, 2006

taking the rough over the smooth

Sholto Byrnes's account of a Randy Brecker concert with a Russian band is slightly condescending, but also touches on a good point.

The Russians did not sound totally au fait with developments in jazz over the last decade or so, and played Brecker's inside-outside bop compositions as though they were as new as they must have sounded when the trumpeter first cropped up in Horace Silver's quintet in the late 1960s.

But the benefits of this relative lack of sophistication soon showed... The music mattered deeply to them, precisely because it did sound contemporary in their hands... the group seemed to have a direct connection to the earthiness of bop and post-bop that smoother Western groups have lost. The rawness bred excitement, and the quintet produced some fiery, compelling playing.
I think the technique-over-emotion argument is often overdone - or maybe I just don't come across the legions of soulless virtuosos as often as others claim to - but the last time I had that feeling was with the Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma: contemporary bop, maybe, but extremely cold. Of course, I'm a Steve Coleman fan, so what do I know?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

a lifetime ago

Do The Math celebrates Coltrane's 80th by listing their favourite moments and offering you a blistering "Creation."

Dave Douglas and visionsong took on the J@LC's "Did Coltrane Lose His Way?" panel. The description is more balanced than the title. Did anyone participate or obtain a transcript?

"Coltrane 101" was supposed to be the umpteenth presentation of J@LC's activities, but Ben Ratliff managed to turn it into something worthwhile.

Stephen V. Funk runs down his top ten tracks.

A very bizarre personal story of Coltrane discovery based on Soultrane.

debating prizing blogging

UPDATE: Darcy schools me on Colbert in the comments. I'm perhaps not the only one to have missed the sarcasm.

Ornette Coleman: debated by Darius Brubeck, talks with Ben Ratliff.

Sound Grammar still has not reached Belgian shores, shockingly.


Regina Carter and John Zorn win MacArthur grants. Colbert comments, resurrects the old "I could do that" argument, ironically proves that he couldn't. I wonder if someone there was hip to Zorn or if they simply picked a recent CD at random. I'm leaning towards the latter. What really puzzles me, though (because "noisy free jazz: not popular" is not exactly news), is how anyone could find deep sea exploring boring.


Young Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan wins Monk Competition. A Citizen Jazz colleague has been raving about Tigran for about a year now, calling him "THE jazz pianist of the next 30 years."

In his report, Ben Ratliff rightfully shoots down "the glib encomiums paid to [jazz]:" "No art should have to live up to such clichés." Indeed.


Trumpeter Kris Tiner has a good blog. The discussion of jazz textbooks and his addition and substraction of electronics from his trumpet are of particular interest. [via Don't Explain]

artists, cohabiting

The Bandwagon and The Bad Plus play double bills, but also talk to each other (I became a "Fleurette Africaine" fanatic the first time I heard the opening ghostly bass notes). The Iverson-Moran conversation confirms Darcy's comments on their similarities and should deepen his justifiable puzzlement with the differing media receptions.

The pop blogosphere regularly gets press, but I think that Ratliff's concert review is the first time the jazz blogosphere has gotten big Old Media exposure. We've definitely come a long way since 2003.

Speaking of Moran: is this any indication of what a duo with Ghostface would sound like? [via Do The Math] I spoke of Moran's Artist In Residence below.

Speaking of TBP: a video of a performance of the last section of "Physical Cities." [via rainblog] Here's what I wrote this summer:

Reid is an awesome composer, whose pieces tend to have a rock song feel to them. The first encore, "Physical Cities," was the biggest and best of them: it switched between ascending piano arpeggios over a hard-driving riff and a stabbing hip hop groove. The downshift from the stomping latter to the low-lying former was particularly delicious. And then, out of nowhere, came this unison morse code staccato section, with lots of dramatic rests. Imagine the rhythm of a Tim Berne composition, played on one note. It might have lasted 90 seconds, but what was so thrilling about it was that I truly had no idea how long it would go on, or what would come next (which happened to be a massive beat based on the morse code).
Of course, the song makes less sense truncated and it's slightly less suspenseful with the time slider along the bottom.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Jason Moran - Artist In Residence, or groove and the abstract truth

The playlist, like the cover art, mashes together different points of view: various commissions, settings and ways of dealing with similar material. The title itself suggests a non-linear approach closer to an art gallery than to a traditional album. Adrian Piper's "Artists Ought To Be Writing" manifesto suggests in part that artists should expose their creative process as well as the finished product. The concept of residency allows Jason Moran to do just that.

Piper's speech is used in raw form on "Artists Ought To Be Writing". Her flat voice provides far less melodic information than "Ringing My Phone"'s Turkish speaker, but Moran manages to derive an interesting phrasing from it. On "Breakdown," he chops up Piper's voice in a way that blends DJ Premier's use of horn samples (stabbing punctuation over a groove) and the RZA/Kanye West school of embedded vocal samples. Thus, the main points are hammered down: barriers, audiences and other impediments to communication need to be removed.

"RAIN" is the longest, most energetic track and, as general consensus rightly has it, AIR's centrepiece. Like the rest of the tracks involving the Bandwagon, it is squarely within the style the group has created for itself. As Ben Ratliff puts it, its "sound swims along, waxing and waning through elisions of its repertory, growing abstruse and stretching to the limit of coherence, then coming together into full coordination."

"RAIN" also shows why Moran's use of recorded materials is not a gimmick. Ralph Alessi's cylical melody initially has a slow, sad beauty. As it accelerates, it keeps the somber tone, but the tempo invites dancing. A complex question on the malleability of historical experience is posed here: can we dance now, while reminiscing on slavery? The transition to a bright, funky section provides a clear answer. After this questioning, "Lift Ev'ry Voice"'s rolls, swells and hints of stride are clearly intended as cathartic. "He Puts on His coat and leaves...," the album-closing solo piece, brings a final calm, as it lurches hypnotically between two chords upon which cycling rhythmic patterns and melodic motifs are patiently built.

A general point: Moran's use of pre-recorded material seems novel, but could very well stem from something like John Coltrane's "Psalm," where spoken cadences drive the melody. This reinforces the point that Moran is a very free thinker strongly rooted in the tradition (or, at least, a tradition). Indeed, he describes "Arizona Landscape" as "The West meets Willie 'The Lion' Smith meets Jason Moran." Listen to, for example, Smith's Music On My Mind after AIR; the commonalities between the two pianists are patent.

A series of solos and quasi-solos are nestled in the album's centre. The introduction to "Refraction 1" is wonderfully suspended and floating, while hinting at the chords to come. Unlike the quartet version of the same composition, it never leans into the groove. Instead, Moran lightly anchors his scrambled lines with a couple of bass notes. Joan Jonas's percussion is ambient, distanced from the piano's flow. It functions almost like Moran's mini-disc recordings on other tracks, but occasionally influences the pianist's playing, for example in the way Moran dissolves into the ether on the coda.

Only once does concept overrun music. If you don't know that the scratching sound on "Cradle Song" is an evocation of Moran's late mother taking notes during his childhood piano lessons, when the sound stops before the end of the song, it's a relief, rather than poignant.

AIR doesn't have the unity or driving force of Moran's other albums, but its more episodic nature provides an excellent account of several of Moran's modes and moods. Also, he could easily churn out excellent variations of his trio or solo music, but this album and recent performances (live, or on Don Byron's Ivey-Divey) show that he truly is an avid searcher.

Jason Moran's website.

My partiality towards Jason Moran.

Darcy's review.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

sonny pleases

Blogging has been slow lately, a trend which should continue for another week or so. Important events and discussions have passed me by, but I'm sure you saw them elsewhere (Dewey Redman, Do The Math's '73-'90). However, since I've become something of a Sonny Rollins fanatic of late (A Night At The Village Vanguard, The Freedom Suite, Our Man In Jazz and East Broadway Rundown are recent acquisitions), I wanted to pass along Rollins's 76th birthday page, which features one-song videos of mostly European performances ranging from 1957 (with Henry Grimes, whose face is more recognisable from back then than his playing) to 2006.

I particularly like the staging of the Rome 1962 video (with Grimes, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins) and its variety show intro music: the avant-garde square spotlights kind of make it look like a proto-iPod ad. There's plenty of melodic Rollins, but for his volcanic side, see the "Oleo" (Copenhagen 1965) with NHOP and Alan Dawson. Rollins's unaccompanied intro to "Four" (Copenhagen 1968) is another highlight. "Moritat" (Tokyo 1981) unfortunately features a lot of crowd pandering (and George Duke is listed as playing piano even though he's not), but, interestingly, sounds a lot like a precursor to Acoustic Ladyland, only based on Kurt Weill rather than The Stooges. The later dates have relatively unresponsive bands. Rollins has always been an autonomous energy source (as the solo spots show), but still...