Monday, October 30, 2006

the other other dre

Sound of Jazz informs me that drummer Dré Pallemaerts is soon to record his first album as leader, with Mark Turner, Bill Carrothers, Jozef Dumoulin and Stéphane Belmondo, on the Belmondo brothers' B-Flat label.

Dré's remixing work on Octurn's 21 emanations was excellent and he is perhaps Belgium's best jazz 'n' more drummer (his most recent sideman appearance is on Erwin Vann's excellent Let's Call Ed, with Jozef Dumoulin and Michel Hatzigeorgiou). I've never heard him as leader, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Friday, October 27, 2006

othin spake alert

The Wack Attack Barrack "is the Nr 1 e-label in Belgium." I first heard of it last night on the radio, while driving home from Fly's first Belgian concert. In WAB's jazz section, you can listen to and/or buy Jef Neve's and the VVG Trio's debut albums, each of which is 2-3 years old. Teun Verbruggen drums on both.

Teun's just released his own debut, with his guitar/keyboards/drums trio Othin Spake. I raved about an OS concert back in February and fully expect to rave about The Ankh (RAT Records) soon. Not just because it's the first CD in which I am cited in the thank you's, or even because the packaging is beautiful (no point in putting up a picture, as the shiny-black-angel-wings-on-matte-black-background isn't exactly screen-friendly) - continuing the trend I identified a few weeks ago - but because the music is a glorious, fully-improvised mess of grooves constantly falling apart and distortion coalescing into melody.

If you believe that Keith Jarrett circa Cella Door is the best the Fender has ever sounded in jazz and thought "Finally!" when you first heard Bojan Z's xenophone, then Jozef Dumoulin is the Fenderist for you. He's not quite as cataclysmic as Sun Ra at the Fondation Maeght, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Jozef and Teun manage to structure - or should I say, guide - the maëlstrom without sounding square or forced and it's often hard to tell Jozef and guitarist Mauro Pawlowski apart, which is precisely the point. It should be up on The Wack Attack Barrack soon. In the mean time, you can listen to a track on the Rat Records website.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

under water

I'm currently submerged in work. You know it's bad when you stay home and work into the wee hours rather than go see Randy Weston. However, I'd like to

  1. bid bon voyage to Darcy. I was planning on trekking to Cologne for the concert, but unfortunately I've ended up having to go to Paris that week-end. It would have been my first trip to Germany since I was nine months old and my slightly older cousin and I were a novelty two-black-babies! smash hit with the Germans. Or so I'm told.

  2. Direct you to this excellent article on Texan trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. I'll talk some more about Gonzalez at a later date.

Friday, October 20, 2006

who's new?

I promise that positive posts (ie. not just reactions to something else) are coming soon. In the mean time:

Peter Breslin has added some lively comments to the Dave Douglas interview and the Ornette debate (officially declared a dead horse). Peter expands on the latter on his own blog.

In the comment, he also mentions "certified, laminated Jazz License"-holder Branford Marsalis. Parisian bassist Manuel Marchès recently went to see Marsalis and came away impressed but a little unsatisfied. He also opines (translation mine):

Ten years ago, when Branford's creative modernism was routinely contrasted with Wynton's classicism... I never understood what that meant, but now I know it was wrong and that the most classicist of the two is not who we thought it was. It should have been known since The Majesty of the Blues and Wynton's other neo-New Orleans septet albums, which are more innovative, in terms of form at least, than Branford's Trio Jeepy.
Branford's recent listening session does indeed seem to confirm (after a number of repertory albums) that Marsalis family reunions are a lot smoother than in the Sting days.

Note: the only Branford I have is Requiem, which I like.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Nathalie Loriers/Chemins Croisés - L'arbre pleure
A nice album with a quintet featuring Gialuigi Trovesi and oud player Karim Baggili. The first track's expansive arrangement deftly plays with texture (low-register piano rumble, clarinet roars embedded in the middle of the band, a delicate handoff from unaccompanied piano to unaccompanied oud) and varied instrumental roles (piano seamlessly shifting from melody to groove to rumble as different instruments come in). The constant negotiating between and superposition of east and west (abrupt Arabic rhythms vs. fluid jazz phrasing, modal melodies vs. elaborate harmonisation) is handled with subtlety.

See also the recently reissued Silent Spring.


So Percussion! Alarm Will Sound! Swinging microphones! Things that groove! Things that don't! Rock sax vs. classical sax! All that and more, in Darcy's epic review of a Steve Reich celebratory extravaganza.

See the comments to Scratch My Brain's post for an interesting back-and-forth between Jeff and Darcy.


Last Plane To Jakarta relays an alert on an out-of-control police officer's rampage in a Houston club. Scary.


More cheerfully, Just Outside describes a birthday party souvenir.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

off the leash

Dave Douglas says:

"I get disappointed when I go to Europe," Douglas says, "and I'm sitting in some cafe and I'm talking with the musicians and promoters and somebody says: 'Isn't it ironic that the country that gave us this music is only capable of looking back? In America, it's all about playing Louis Armstrong music, recreating the 50s, and wearing old-fashioned suits.' I hear this all the time. I'm trying to prove that there is also progressive music in the U.S."
European arrogance/generalisation is as insufferable and ignorant as its American counterpart.

"What we do now on the frontier of composed and improvised music," he says, "has to do with learning a lesson from all that crazy experimental freedom in the 60s and 70s. We're learning to harness that and most 'free' music has some sense of structure now."

He is about to expound on that, when his dog Finley arrives on the porch barking loudly. He stops to hook a leash on her collar. But then he does not attach it to anything. Although Finley is free to drag her chain around, she doesn't. It strikes me as a kind of metaphor for harnessed improvisational freedom. Whatever, the dog stops barking.

I'm looking forward to seeing Douglas for the first time soon.

[via Greenleaf]


For the last few days, be.jazz has showed up as a nearly-blank page in Internet Explorer. As I use FireFox exclusively, I hadn't noticed. Thanks to Nate for alerting me.

Apparently, the problem arose when I embedded a Google Video player. That's ironic, since Google owns Blogger. If you've succesfully embedded a GV player on a Blogger blog (or had the same problem as me), please let me know.

Don't let that stop you from watching the video in the post below, however.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

planet earth doesn't produce sun ra

I just saw part of a documentary called "Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet" on BBC 2. Lots of footage from concerts, movies/videos and talking heads such as John F. Swzed, Amiri Baraka, Marshall Allen and other Arkestra musicians. And lots of Ra's own thoughts, obviously. Ra playing a keyboard angled at 80 degrees while spinning like a top is quite... something. It's weird that even here, the possible written elements ("Sun Ra would write out entire solos for you") are seen as legitimating the music in ways improvisation alone could not ("My daughter could improvise that." "But could she write it?").

It was late and I was drowsy, so by the end it was all a blur of glittering gowns. Luckily, it's been partially youtubed (cf. the beginning of part 4 for spinning Sun Ra) and completely google(video)d (which is the same thing now, I guess).

Friday, October 13, 2006

fighting for martial love

This week (9 - 13 October), France 2's 1PM news did a daily segment following three participants in this year's Concours Martial Solal. Click on "Feuilleton: 'le son d'impro'" in the window on the right to skip to the segment.

Sébastien is technically very impressive, but manages to come across as a jerk at every appearance.

I actually have both of Wajdi Cherif's albums. The first one, especially, is an enchanting piano trio arabo-jazz blend.

Ilan leads kids as young as 7 down the evil paths of improvised contemporary music. His scores and playing utterly confound the competition's accompanists.(each contestant is accompanied by the same bassist and drummer and has 10 minutes to acquaint them with their composition). Ilan seems like a great, free-spirited guy (the gloves, the rodeo shirt, the customised stool). In the first episode, a friend of his provides a delectable background pipe smoking shot. Will his unorthodoxy be accepted? What will Martial say?

Solal himself is also featured, of course, talking and playing.

The brief excerpts from the final are scary, and not necessarily in a good way.

the shark-tailed dog

A surprising article on Rudresh Mahanthappa's Codebook in Wired. They've chosen the geekiest angle possible, obviously (the article contains music samples).

the tune "Further and In Between" is based on the cyclical number 142857. Like all cyclical numbers, this one has some very strange properties; for example, if you multiply it by 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, you get the same digits in a different configuration (for example, 2 x 142857 = 285714).

By mapping particular musical pitches to each digit and running through his multiplication tables, Mahanthappa came up with a winding, circuitous melody that makes a surprising amount of sense. That's partly because he wedded it to a strong, swinging rhythm, and partly because he gave himself permission to fudge things a bit in order to prevent the math from overwhelming the music.
Math-rock (I considered crypto-jazz, but that sounds too sinister) was never truer to its name. I haven't had much time to spend with Codebook since I bought it at Mahanthappa's recent Brussels stop, but the bits and pieces I've heard suggest it to be impressive. Definitely complex, but not as nerdy as the article suggests (or as "accessible to the general public," which is the author's over-enthusiasm speaking). Iyer's suppler approach constrasts with the altoist's relentlessness and is blowing me away, at the moment.


Ethan, on Ornette, pragmatically and passionately defines a harmolodics for the rest of us. The post is titled "Prelude," hopefully there'll be more.

A question for the experts: what with all the substitutions of substitutions and other crazy harmonic strategies out there, has the line between playing changes and not playing them blurred out of existence? Or is it more a matter of intent? ie. Playing a system that makes it sound like you're not playing the changes qualifies as playing the changes, whereas playing "the idea of [changes]" (as Ethan puts it) doesn't qualify?


Bebo Valdes listens with Ben Ratliff.
There are books of sheet music by Rachmaninoff and Chopin; a photo of him in a tuxedo, tall and commanding, on the cover of “Cha Cha Cha & Mambo for Small Dance Bands,” a book he wrote and published in Havana in the 1950’s, aiming at the English-language market; paintings by Haitian artists; Joseph Schillinger’s “System of Musical Composition,” the dense theoretical books beloved by intellectual musicians of the 1940’s and 50’s that break down melody, harmony and rhythm into mathematic logic. There is, incongruously, a shelf of pop-music lead-sheet books like “100 of the Greatest Easy Listening Hits,” all well thumbed. Then there are some recent awards, including several Grammys, and a ceremonial key to the city of Miami.
Note that the awards are positioned below the easy listening hits.
“Even though I’m Cuban, I’m really an American arranger,” he reflected. “Because the way I write has as much to do with American music as it does with Cuban music. And at the same time it has to do with the fugue.” (An example of his fugue writing comes in the middle of “Devoción,” a beguiling part of his “Suite Cubana.”)

It was pointed out to him that fugues have little to do with Cuban or American music. “Yes, but I do it anyway,” he said. “Why shouldn’t I, if I know how?”

Settled in Shipping has gotten into the habit of spending a lot of time on trains to New York. Follow him around.


Phil Freeman on the perpetual joys of rediscovering Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. A quibble: no way does a two-CD collection qualify as a box set.


While I find the other three the tracks on Adam Benjamin's MySpace page horrendous or kitsch (his user name is E-Jazz-Q-Lation, after all), "Countdown" makes an unexpected amount of sense recast as digital Mwandishi-meets-electro-samba. More about It's a Standard, Standard, Standard, Standard World on Greenleaf.


In the don't-know-the-music-but-like-the-blog category: John Mayer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

of ornettean shaping

a Granada street

HurdAudio has written a great rebuttal to "Shaping Jazz." He opposes Brubeck's academy-bound careerism with artistic growth and progress and points out the limitations of Western/non-Western thinking.

TeledyN has another one. It bobs and weaves improbably from Ornette to whales to Denardo to "the static status quo smooth jazz black blues-bros suit and tie martini and ubiquitous cigarette world of New York 1959" to Stéphane Grappelli and Isadora Duncan and we're still only halfway through.

a simplicity plan.

on the way to the Alhambra

Listening to Ornette Coleman's At The Golden Circle, Volume 1, I find it hard to imagine that anyone, in 2006 (or even 2005), could fail to see "Faces And Places" as a heir to Sonny Rollins's earlier free-swinging trio recordings (and I love the bottomless resonance of Moffett's cymbals). In his liner notes, Ludvig Rasmusson says that "Ornette Coleman has been able to change our entire concept of what is beautiful," which he certainly did, just as all of jazz's initial innovators had to. Is a higher achievement possible?

Further, "European Echoes" and "Dee Dee" seem melodically and harmonically far more simple than old-fashioned bebop, or, at least, less formally organised. Jazz's history is often reduced to a narrative of growing complexity that chased away the audience, but it seems to me that, just as often, simplification was the way forward. The elimination of dixieland's front-line counterpoint and of stride's and ragtime's elaborate left hand gave the soloist more room by flattening the background. Kind Of Blue replaced bop's zillion chords with a couple of modes, after hard bop had put the working man (who parties hard) in the thinking man's stead. In A Silent Way did something similar in spirit 10 years later by doing away with telepathic rhythmic and harmonic interplay and putting ambiance and melody in its place. As free jazz's "unfettered" expressivity grew too dense, "Theme de Yoyo" channelled it into popular forms, with arrangements, vamps and beats. After jazz-rock spiralled off into meter-shifting extravaganzas, Downtowners made their own looser, dirtier version. While the institutional powerhouses were busy buttoning up and bowing to the past, others decided to expand sideways into hip hop and electronica. Alongside unwhistleable melodies based on arcane harmonic systems, there are other, immediate, pop-influenced ones.

I may of course be wrong, but this see-sawing between simplification and complexification seems to me either under-recognised ("jazz got complicated and lost the masses" vs. "Complexity = progress! March on!") or looked down upon ("can't play bop/chords/swing/blues/Armani suit music"). But often, those musicians who were able to deploy simple elements to better leverage the power of the complex ones were the best. They shifted the emphasis around, but forgot neither past nor present, simple nor complex.

calorie free jazz

Destination: Out's A Beginner’s Guide to Free Jazz makes for an excellent playlist. The single element I love most about Sun Ra's "Angels And Demons At Play" (title aside) is the semi-random clacking sound. That kind of semi-randomness is fairly rare and quite disturbing. As is Patty Waters's Janet Leigh screaming on "Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair."

One comment calls the list dumbed-down. While I disagree with the tone, I can understand the sentiment. As free jazz, I'm not sure how well it works, as there is no "straight-ahead free jazz" like, say Ayler's Spiritual Unity (the first album that would still qualify as free jazz today?). However, as a primer to the wide variety of avant-garde jazz, it's great.

Check out the links in the post as well. Common Misconceptions About Free Jazz makes some good points.


DTM tells us about Jazz Diet Pepsi. Other consumer goods to have tapped into this ever-lucrative musical genre include the Honda Jazz and, perhaps, the Hyundai Getz.


visionsong leaks some details on the 1973-90 aftermath.

Monday, October 09, 2006 guest: Philippe Elhem on Kris Wanders and the New York Downtown All Stars

UPDATE: a factual correction.

[Philippe is an eminent member of the Brussels Free Jazz Gang (and a fine vintage at that: Chateauvallon '72). He also writes for many prestigious music magazines and is a cinema buff. His report picks up where my Dave Burrell Trio concert review left off.]

It's too bad you didn't stay, at least for the first set: Kris Wanders's concert was remarkable. He's a really curious character and his story isn't all that far from Henry Grimes's.

Wanders was part of the first wave of European "Free Music," playing with Fred Van Hove, Peter Brötzmann, The Globe Unity and Schlippenbach, then, over thirty years ago, he exiled himself to Australia and rapidly ceased giving any signs of life. Many even thought him dead.

All of a sudden, he reappears out of nowhere, contacts a few people, reunites his old band puts together a new band and goes on a European tour! Peter Jacquemyn compared him to Brötzmann ("They're on the same level") and, for this concert at least, he wasn't wrong.

I talked with Wanders - he speaks very good French. He's very kind and humble and had the excellent idea of giving me his only recording (made in 2004!). One could easily confuse him with Brötzmann and the album greatly resembles the best of FMP's output, minus any "retro" flavour the music could have had, as the Australian musicians he plays with are young. (...)

On Friday we went to Lille for a fabulous concert by the NEW YORK DOWNTOWN ALL STARS QUINTET with Herb Robertson (as leader), Tim Berne, Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Dresser (what an incredible bassist) and Tom Rainey. We almost missed it, as we got lost in Lille. Two long suites, one per set, everything was fresh and the musicians themselves said it was the best concert of the tour.

Tim Berne is still as unfriendly as ever. Strange character. I think that there's some humour in his way of being, but it's hard to know just how much.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

euro house music

UPDATE: see Jazzques's report. Beer flavours corrected.
UPDATE: photos added.

Yesterday I stopped by at the grand opening of the European Music House. It's destined to be a combination bar/music store/office space (I'm not sure what kind of business will be taking place in the offices). It's still a little bare, but should fill up rapidly.

Also, they've launched their own line of beer: Jazz Sax (blond), Jazz Bass (amber) and Jazz Drums (brown). I've all but stopped drinking beer, but made an exception. The Bass is delicious and the Sax good as well (I'm not really a blond fan). They'd run out of Drums before I had a chance to taste it. These beers should be available in other jazz clubs soon.

Along the walls they had already put up a sampling of the CDs they'll be selling.

The display reminded me of something I've been thinking about recently. Namely, how ugly or boring most Belgian jazz CD covers are. De Werf, for example, puts out a lot of great music, but the packaging is almost always terrible. Recent exceptions have come from either the albums being on French labels (Octurn's 21 emanations) or the musicians using their own designers (Pascal Schumacher's Personal Legend).

Younger musicians putting out their music independently have also recently been bucking the trend, drawing either on an indie/Downton/DIY esthetic or on Dutch zany/coolness.

l-r: rawfishboys, VVG Trio, Frederik Leroux, Red Rocket

These covers also reflect an evolving music: Frederik Leroux's Angular reminds me of Chris Speed and Happy Apple and throws in some light hard rock riffs; Red Rocket's Mitten scatters glorious Sigur Róssian slow-rising soundscapes amongst more abrasive free-jazz-rock (or free-rock-jazz).

EMH pictures by Jazzques

Friday, October 06, 2006

the whitless strike back

"Whitless" (sic): see here.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the masses have been extending the Ornette-Darius debate in a way too multi-threaded and densely-argued to summarise right now. Check it out.


The award-winning Steve Smith and the Germany-hitting Darcy James Argue have both contributed excellent super-listening suggestions:


Cyclops can't/won't dance, but he does enjoy the math rock (power+control).

Hollywood probably would set Preacher to a soundtrack of Lamb of God and Rob Zombie, but I personally hear the '80s Touch & Go roster -- the Butthole Surfers and the Jesus Lizard, especially.

The young Cerebus was into Wagner and Basil Pouledouris, but from the time he was Prime Minister onward, he had no use for music. That was definitely true during his papacy and the long years he spent railing against feminism. He might have embraced traditional religious music in his final years, but in his last days I suspect Wagner's "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde was playing in the back of his head.

And TBP validated the Spiderman connection.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

a brief history of Sax

A summary of the incredible story of the birth of the saxophone, as told in this excerpt from Michael Segell's The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, from Noisy Novelty to King of Cool:

Fiery Belgian Adolphe Sax was determined to conquer the world, one invented or redesigned instrument at a time. Unable to be a prophet in his own land, he turned to the risibly bad French military bands. Sax knew his instruments were the Air Jordans these bands needed to equal the mighty Prussians.

The establishment and the instrument-making industry resisted, but Sax had friends in high places. A battle of the bands was organised on the Champ de Mars, during which Sax himself strode into battle, a saxophone under each arm. The souped-up, Sax-led group blew away the traditional band, and drove the 20,000 attendees wild. The newly-empowered French military bands rose, Hoosiers-like, through the international ranks, winning prizes left and right. The saxophone had arrived.

The rest, as they say, is history, until rock 'n' roll arrived and it all went downhill.


The be.jazz scene is slowly gathering under Rupert's banner. Here's a roundup. If you know of others, please add them in the comments.

On the keys and mallets:
Jef Neve (who recently signed to Universal Records. Maybe he'll be on Star Academy soon?)
Pascal Schumacher (luxemburgisch sounds like you're drunk)
Alexi Tuomarila ("Jazz / Death Metal / Regional Mexican")
Michel Bisceglia
Sabin Todorov
Eve Beuvens
Ewout Pierreux
Anne Wolf

On long strings:
Christophe Devisscher (already knows the way to Amarillo) and
Daniel Romeo (hot and funky)
Nic Thys
Yannick Peeters
Olivier Stalon
Manou Gallo (our Meshell)

On short strings:
Pierre Van Dormael (quite simply one of the greatest)
Benoist Eil's two bands: Animus Anima and Le sens du désordre
Quentin Dujardin
Cécile Broche (violin)
Karim Baggili (oud)
Giacomo Lariccia
Pierre Lognay

On vocals:
Kristen Cornwell (Australian blend)
Mélanie Di Biasio (slow and sultry)
Tutu Poane (South African import)
Kaat Hellings (a knotty sadness)
Anu Junnonen (Finnish import)

Winds 'n' things:
Rawfishboys, Red Rocket, Skakk Trio and le petit cirque (Joachim Badenhorst is bad, man)
Nicolas Kummert (big and smooth)
Toine Thys and Take The Duck (rocking and jazzing)
Bert Joris
Thomas Champagne
Erwin Vann
Robin Verheyen (Orval addict)
Toots Thielemans (hipper than you think)
Gilles Repond
Joe Higham
Antoine Praewerman
Steven Delannoye and Sammy's On The Bowery
Nicolas Dory
Erik Bogaerts

The drumming core:
Teun Verbruggen (thanks again for the lift home from the Octurn concert!) and RAT Recordings (look out for the upcoming Othin Spake album with Mauro Pawlowski)
Lionel Beuvens
Eric Thielemans
Lieven Venken
Stéphane Galland (known to wear an S on his chest)
Adrien Verderame

Slang (jazz-rock-ethno-Coltranien)
Collapse Quartet
The KMGs (funky soul power)
Uppotukki Orchestra
Monk By Four (gives an idea of the ambiance at De Hopper)
Wayne Shorter Tribute

Jazz Station
Jazz Break
A Jazz Experience Rijkevorsel
Jazz Olive

Jempi (mover, shaker and scribe)

Wheels of steel:
DJ Grazzhoppa

Reggie Washington (Reggie Washington!)
Jean-Luc Lehr

tech note: comments

Haloscan says that having post titles in the comment window "will be added in the future." In the mean time, if you use the comments RSS, you'll get the post titles (and be notified of all new comments, obviously).

I'm happy enough with Bloglines for my RSS feeds, but it is far from perfect.

housing jazz, euro style

As the FNAC's music selection continues to sink into irrelevance through dwindling choice, others are filling the space.

The European Music House, located above the Sounds, is opening this saturday. Here's the press release:

European Music House | Official Opening | October 7th - 2006 - 3pm

Marc DANVAL & Miel VANATTENHOVE presenting (5pm)
Jos L.KNAEPEN PHOTOS | Exhibition
PROGRAMME presented by Pascal NOEL


A very relaxing place where you can listen to and buy Jazz, World and New Music CDs and DVDs.

Simultaneously, The E.M.H is an information, promotion and archives Center for European music represented in the E.M.H. philosophy.


The E.M.H will be open daily (except on Sundays) from 10am to 8pm.

This may exceptionally vary but will not be in competition with other Concert venues.


The E.M.H. will be located on 160M2 in Brussels, the capital of Europe, directly above the oldest Jazz Club in town : “The SOUNDS Jazz Club”.

This location will allow various activities to confirm the identity of the European Music House.


Arts exhibition - Films screenings – Conferences - Projects development - European relationship – Events - Music promotion


00 32 2 644 97 91
rue de la Tulipe, 28 (Sounds 1floor)
1050 Brussels

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

more on soweto kinch

Nick Booth alerts me to a short, excellent podcast. There's bits of music from Kinch's new album, which seems much less straight-ahead and more hip hop than the concert was, and interview excerpts in which Kinch discusses the social elements that inspired the album. Unsurprisingly, he comes across as extremely intelligent and articulate.

Dave Burrell Trio - 03/10/2006@Vooruit, Gent

Dave Burrell - p
Michael Formanek - b
Guillermo E. Brown - d

Gent is incredibly beautiful. It has an amazing combination of serene canals, elaborate facades and, because it's a student town, hipper-than-thou bars, clothing shops and restaurants. Still, looking for a parking spot in a city you don't know is stressful and frustrating. I ended up missing the first half-hour, but thankfully the concert was relatively long.

I'd never really heard Dave Burrell before. I was expecting something of a free jazz blow-out, but that's not at all what happened. Instead, Burrell made the old-fashioned seem daring.

I wasn't too taken with Michael Formanek's sound, that I found rather thin and twangy, but otherwise he ably complemented all registers of Burrell's playing. Opinions within the BFJG (see below) on Guillermo Brown were mixed. I thought he did fine, following the leader, but bringing a lot of variety, from reggae to Art Blakey rolls to intricate clamour, and always orchestrated deftly.

Burrell often brought together slow, old-timey stride and back-of-the-hand-dragged-along-the-keyboard explosions, one emerging from the other (kind of like what he does on Blasé's "Sophisticated Lady"). It's a cool effect and I liked it, but by the end I also found it a little too systematic and strictly-policed: during the freer sections Brown always made sure to react to the first signs of the return to the theme. Interestingly, this stride-to-free playing mostly side-stepped modern jazz harmony, preferring to sprinkle piquant dissonance over a solid base, as on "Expansion." The one tune that did go into that Hancock/Corea-era kind of harmony was rather boring, actually.

The highlight of the show was a version of "Autumn Leaves" that recalled Hank Jones's playing on the classic Cannonball/Miles version. Burrell began alone, teasing the melody out of impressionistic swirls and then the trio trio ascended into a rarefied ether by being hauntingly quiet. Earlier, on "Cool Reception," Burrell had played some exquisitely distilled, elegant blues, and "Autumn Leaves" further spelled out his jazz piano lineage.

Of his originals, "Downfall" was the most interesting and cinematic. A stabbing, middle-register ostinato, a bass-register vamp and Brown's light, skittering break-beat created an unsettled mood, before collapsing into a cloudy rumble at the bottom of the keyboard. A brief flight of panic was squashed by a martial snare drum pattern and the inital elements returned. Burrell had introduced the piece by saying that it "was written around the time of 9/11." The parallels were clear.

Afterwards, I met up with the Brussels Free Jazz Gang (of which I consider myself a junior member) and met be.jazz reader Tony (hopefully we'll get to talk more next time!). We ate and walked over to the Damberd, where they wanted to see another concert (which I didn't stay for). Keep an eye on the mouth-watering schedule, especially the William Parker/Hamid Drake duo on 30/10.

a bookend supreme

JD Considine on Coltrane (and a nice Diana Krall concert review). [via Don't Explain] Generally good article, covers some basics, with special mention of how jazz education has assimilated Coltrane.

One sentence is pure nonsense, though: "his initial work with Davis and later ventures in the avant garde are generally seen as mere bookends to his recordings in the late fifties [1959-1961] for Atlantic Records." That means that, apart from two or three studio dates (that are far from its best work), the Classic Quartet is a "mere bookend."

Considine does nuance his statement a little bit, saying that that period "was what cemented his popularity as a soloist and bandleader." Perhaps at the time, the Impulse! recordings cemented more than just popularity, and I'd guess that they have long since become more popular than the Atlantics.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

shaping ornette - a darius brubeck debate

In Darius Brubeck's "Shaping Jazz – an Ornette Coleman debate" (published on Jack Reilly's blog) the author perches uneasily on a fence that should long ago have been torn down. His tone is odd, especially coming from someone who's been hearing Coleman for almost 50 years, since he was 12. While I appreciate the research and primary accounts, it is unfortunate that rather than take advantage of Coleman's current high visibility to investigate his contributions, Brubeck prefers to tear him down and give ambivalent praise. This essay hasn't really been picked up by the jazzblogosphere (at least, not as far as I know), but I think that it's a serious piece that deserves a serious response.

It starts with an interesting story that shows how Coleman continued to be rejected and shut out by certain jazz musicians. Not a new occurrence for him, and Brubeck later recounts Coleman's struggles with some sympathy, but facing the rejection of one's peers on the White House lawn must have borne a particular sting. What is surprising, however, is that Brubeck turns this incident into a careerist, don't-rock-the-boat strategy:

I also think this story resonates for 21st century jazz educators who, like jazz musicians at the Whitehouse, must take a pragmatic approach to gaining and exploiting prestige – not selfishly - but on behalf of their programs, their students and institutions and, of course, on behalf of jazz as a legitimate academic discipline worth supporting with funds as well as acclaim. I suspect that playing 'avant-garde' on the Whitehouse lawn these days would be an audacious act of protest and still not the best tactic for increasing the level of NEA support for jazz.
I'm not sure if the last sentence is sarcastic or not. If not, it's rather sinister that Brubeck places pandering to the current US administration for the sake of government grants above creativity. The irony, of course, is that Jimmy Carter was a Cecil Taylor fan:
In the late seventies, Cecil played at the White House as part of a jazz program. Carter was so moved by Taylor’s solo recital that he ran after him and gave him a spontaneous hug. He practically shook Cecil’s shoulders and asked: "Does Horowitz know about you?"

Brubeck then asks:
Should students be told to play whatever they can and feel like playing? Most of us harbour suspicions about 'free jazz'. There are problems with anti-disciplinary artistic extremism despite the fact that avant-gardism keeps the music from stagnating.
This is clearly the same old red herring that's fished up again and again to maintain the misunderstanding of what avant-garde jazz is. In fact, Brubeck implicitly undermines the notion of free jazz as "anti-disciplinary artistic extremism" in the very next paragraph:
When [Coleman] practiced alone it sounded like nothing in particular was being worked on. When he practiced with Don Cherry, it was the opposite; the same phrases over and over again. I now realize they were searching for the precise, yet unnotatable phrasing and inflection that became such a striking feature of their ensemble playing.

The first sentence of the section entitled "Ornette Coleman vs. Modern Jazz" has to be one of the most depressing I've read in a while: "Ornette Coleman’s emergence and the eruption of 'free jazz' in the 1960's marks the beginning of the end of jazz modernism until it resurfaces in the academy under the aegis of jazz education." The implications of this sentence are drawn out later.

He then sets out a taxonomony of jazz circa 1959:
jazz... was an overarching style built on a core repertoire of blues and popular song with adherence to swing and improvisation, instrumental proficiency and consistent performance codes. Successful experiments with counterpoint, modes, time-signatures, orchestration and form were extrapolations from a set of 'givens'.
What is a "given" in the ultra-compressed history of jazz? The time span between Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman (the beginning and the "end" of modern jazz) is shorter than the Rolling Stones' career. The scope of jazz's possibilities had been constantly broadened and enriched by Armstrong's "invention" of the soloist, the work of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus (how can you sideline what they did as "extrapolations"?), Tristano's early free-form experiments, The Birth Of The Cool, Coltrane's Blue Train and "Giant Steps" had just been recorded, etc., etc., etc.

I don't dispute the importance of the elements in Brubeck's list (though I'm not sure I fully understand what "consistent performance codes" are), but these are clearly arbitrarily-chosen, historical constructions. They cannot stand unproblematically as self-evident pillars that Coleman knocked down, because they were constantly being challenged anyway. For example, an important part of what Ellington, the MJQ and the beboppers did was to demand that jazz be considered as art, thereby challenging both performance and social codes.

Brubeck focuses very tightly on 1959-1960 and a 2005 interview (non-accidently coinciding with Coleman's new acoustic quartet). On a personal level, I can't take him to task on that, because I don't know Coleman's career well enough, but what about the other 44 years? The various trios and quartets, the symphonies and the electric bands? How can Coleman's relationship to jazz be understood without so much as an acknowledgement of all that?

Also, while in 1959 it was probably already well established that jazz was the Afro-American music form that most prized technique, that does not mean that technique summed up either jazz or African-American music. So a lack of it could not, by itself, reverse the music's historical march (towards where? hopefully not just Brubeck's academy). That Brubeck would conflate the two is perhaps unsurprising, given his point of view:
Since 1960 we’ve also heard plenty of music from other cultures using various tuning systems. Non-standard tuning is also a signifying sound used by jazz musicians laying claim to a non-western identity.
I've always felt that the "non-western" was already inherent in Afro-American music: take, for example, the foundational tale of W.C. Handy hearing a man play guitar with a knife. Or, quite simply, the existence of the blues scale and the new instrumental techniques jazz musicians invented - right from the start - to be able to play their music on European instruments.

It is clear from the quotes in Brubeck's piece that Coleman had made an imaginative leap that neither the younger musicians such as David Baker ("It never occurred to anybody that we would stop playing changes") or even the then-blossoming John Coltrane had been able to concieve of. And yet, Brubeck dismisses this as primitivism that served as a sort of high-falutin' black-face and "a public display of his ignorance of and disrespect for the musical achievements of modern jazz." It's ironic that Thelonious Monk is quoted saying "Man, that cat is nuts!" (approvingly or disapprovingly?), as 10 years earlier the same charges of lack of technique and primitivism had been aimed at him.

Brubeck leans on Mingus's famous comments to exclude Coleman from jazz modernism. Even on Brubeck's terms (instrumental proficiency and compatibility with the academy), Coleman's modernity has been ascertained: his music is studied and performed (even by the not-exactly-cutting-edge J@LC) and his style has inspired many traditionally virtuosic players. Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell were certainly far from incompetent. Don Cherry's subsequent work, enabled by what he had done with Coleman, aimed for much more than a techno-bureaucratic vision of progressive modernism. Cherry's humanistic goals (along with, say, Ellington's) are disregarded in Brubeck's modernism (as it is displayed here). All this indicates that Coleman carried the music forwards, rather than backwards towards some primitive state. Indeed, Mingus says as much.

When the issue of imagination is brought up - extremely obliquely - it can only be in derogatory terms: "It seemed unfair that he gave himself authority to change the game to suit his needs, like playing tennis without the net." To say Ornette took an easy path, or even cheated his way to fame, while elsewhere evoking his suffering ("I was being beaten up, my horn thrown away") is unsettling, to say the least.

The substance of Coleman's innovations is further marginalised when Brubeck declares that his
long-standing attempt to systematize his musical universe appears as unrealized and irrelevant as it ever was... Since his music is not set within normal conventions anyway, why the obsession with certain technical terms (transpositions, pitches, notes, unisons and modulations)? None of this relates to what he plays and how he improvises.
So why not detail some of the new possibilities Coleman's work brought to jazz? After all, there's already been plenty of discussion, in this article, of what he wasn't doing in 1959.

This makes the conclusion ("Ornette Coleman’s career demonstrates that there are people who simply don’t follow 'the rules' and have more to give as a result.") ring hollow, at very best. Once more, Coleman's career is framed in confrontational terms as an attack on "formal training and historical grounding," when it's actually a gift, a contribution. Isn't a non-confrontational approach what Coleman himself suggests?
That's why music is so free for people to cherish and so open – because it's how the idea is affecting you, and how you express what it means to you, regardless of what the style is.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Soweto Kinch - 30/09/2006@AB, Brussels

Soweto Kinch - as, rap (website | MySpace)
Abram Wilson - tp
Femi Temowo - g
??? - b, el b
Troy Miller - d

Talk about a come-down: after the acoustic bliss of the previous night, the first note of Soweto Kinch's over-amplified concert felt like an aggression. The sound was unnecessarily loud (unless you really believe that a trumpet cannot be heard from 10 metres away) and confrontational rather than enveloping. We quickly moved to the back of the room. Afterwards, I was told that the amplification made the blend of jazz, hip hop and sampled elements easier. It's a real shame that the sound system also muffled the rapping: it's dense, but vivid and often hilarious. I got used to it after a while, anyway.

I won't repeat myself too much: see a July concert review and my review of Conversations With The Unseen.

After a brief rough spot at the beginning, Kinch was spitting *fire* on all his solos - far, far better than the somewhat empty technical display he put on at Klinkende Munt. Abram Wilson had an earthier, soulful vibe that brought a welcome balance. I was worried that they'd play material I was already fairly tired of in July, but luckily they only did the brand-new second album (which I haven't heard yet, but is partly available on MySpace, and, coincidentally, was produced by the guy who produced The Bad Plus's upcoming album). The only songs I already knew were "Adrian's Ballad," a detailled portrait that highlights the quality of Kinch's lyric writing, and "A Friendly Game Of Basketball," an uptempo bop head. The two sum up the poles between which Kinch's music swings.

In fact, 70% of what he does is contemporary straight-ahead, really. Even the way the hip hop grooves are phrased evokes jazz. He also frequently used horn section samples to beef up the group sound, which he hadn't done this summer. That he has the ability and charisma to get people - young people - really enthusiastic about hearing bebop makes me happy.

There was one radical departure from the formula, called "Out There." The bassist picked up an electric bass, Kinch applied a warbling FX pedal to his saxophone and the band veered into rock. They returned to acoustic jazz for the soloing section, and ended with another electric part, but this time funkier. I'm not sure the collage made sense as a whole and it certainly wasn't as out as Kinch seemed to think it was, but at least he's keeping his options open. Overall, though, a very good concert.

Afterwards, on the way back to the car we dropped by the Beursschouwburg's bar for a little while. A band was playing a sort of acoustic downtempo Hooverphonic thing, with a bit of an An Pierlé vibe as well. They looked great on stage: three girls in front (l-r cello, keyboards/vocals, keyboards) and three boys in the back (l-r bass, drums, guitar).

more sidebar hi-tech

Finally, HaloScan has enabled a "recent comments" feature. The last eight comments are now listed in the sidebar. If you've not been commenting for fear of lack of recognition, you no longer have an excuse!

Furthermore, I've just found out how to link to the comments' RSS feed. The link is also at the top of the sidebar. Oh, happy day (for be.jazz commentors everywhere)!

more on Artist In Residence

UPDATE: Godoggone reproduces Nate Dorward's Signal To Noise review. I'm less bothered by AIR's "scrapbook" nature than Nate is.

Godoggone loses his Moran virginity and comes out of the experience both titillated and disappointed.

He also provides a link to another blog review, which is threaded with interesting quotes. On "Milestone:" "the guitar of Marvin Sewell imitates the voice timbres and melodic movement in swooping figures." I'd originally said something similar in my review, but removed it from the final draft. Maybe I'll put it back in for the French version.

A new (to me) thought: doesn't Moran use the avant-garde kind of like pop does? Folding it unostentatiously into a different style and thus reconnecting it with the rest of society (or of the listening public). Peruse Destination: Out and you sometimes get the feeling that the mainstream lost touch with the avant-garde and broke off the back-and-forth that binds the two. Of course, a band like the AEC could do that back-and-forth (and much else besides) all by itself.

I didn't know about Words and Music, it looks good. The review is logically followed up by a post on Cecil Taylor (and how organised his freedom was: "the fiery brio with which it is played disguises, perhaps, the underpinnings"), and a bit on the Moran-Sam Rivers connection.

There's also discussion of Giuffre's Free Fall, an album which failed to grab me so far, despite several attempts. However, since then I've come around to Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps (and some of Giuffre's earlier work, the trios and arrangements for Shelley Manne's septet, not that they sound much like FF), so maybe I should give it another shot.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

more on super hearing

Steve Smith adds an erudite rejoinder to my superhero listening list:

Captain America may in fact be a square, but he's a Glenn Miller man through and through -- as one might expect of any American soldier frozen in an iceberg during World War Two. When he lightens up -- which is seldom -- he dances a wicked Lindy.

I should add that I'm not at all a real comics connaisseur and that many of the assertions (such as Superman being a terrible dancer, or Punisher's entry) are personal extrapolations. Spawn did sing "Stayin' Alive," though. A couple of faves that have me stumped:

Jesse Custer (from Preacher): What music could capture Garth Ennis's insane mix of violence, perversity, debauchery, vampires, mutilation, conspiracies and religion - and the cool, down-home intellect with which Custer takes it all in? Southern rock that that both loves and abhors the south might do it.

Cerebus: The evolution from slapstick Conan The Barbarian parody to political/religious intrigue to über-intellectual concepts (I'll admit that tedium got the better of me when Cerebus and Jaka were on the boat, everything referred to F. Scott Fitzgerald and every issue came with lengthy annotations) surely has few comic book parallels. And, anyway, what do libidinous aardvark super-warriors listen to?

Suggestions and further entries are most welcome.

Nicolas Kummert Quartet - 29/09/2006@Sounds, Brussels

Nicolas Kummert - ts
Aleksi Tuomarila - p
Anja Naucler - cello
Lionel Beuvens - d

At this concert in particular, for some reason, I really felt a generation (mine, from mid-20s to early 30s) coming together. Partly because Nicolas and Aleksi (who's Finnish, but studied and has spent a lot of time in Belgium) have both moved to Paris, along with others, like Jozef Dumoulin, who are starting to break into that scene. I guess there's always been that movement (René Thomas in the '50s, David Linx and Eric Legnini in the '90s), but it kind of feels like everyone's leaving (growing up?), at the moment.

I don't think the move has fundamentally changed Nicolas's playing, but it has probably sped up his development. His playing has always had a real gentleness to it, but over the last couple years his sound has become really big, in all registers and dynamics and, when necessary, deliciously creamy. Though unamplified, he effortlessly filled the room and at times even threatened to smother all but the drums.

Nicolas and Aleksi have been playing together since their conservatory days and have built up a common repertory; Aleksi's "Sacrament" and "No ID" and Nicolas's "Two Elephants Are Always Right," all from Aleksi's quartet CDs (a new one is coming out soon), were played. To my surprise, and even that of the other band members, three Ornette Coleman tunes were also performed. I thought maybe Ornette's current two-bass band had inspired Nicolas to apply a cello to them, but it turned out that he had simply recently come across some sheet music and been listening to the classic quartet albums like This Is Our Music.

"Lonely Woman" opened the concert, tenor and cello voicing the melody slowly and with depth, but perhaps a little too slowly and without the shrillness that makes the original version so arresting. Afterwards, we discussed intonation in Coleman's music and Nicolas argued for not forcing himself to play out of tune just because it's Ornette. I'm of the opinion that well-applied out-of-tuness never hurts. "Congeniality"'s stop-start head provided space for a more chaotic, wilder energy.

One of the concert's great joys was in seeing how fluid and flexible the music was in terms of passing leads and solos around, forming duos and trios, slipping into unaccompanied passages, varying dynamics from forte to near-stillness and making it all seem spontaneous. The traditional and rigid head-solos-head format still has a place, but a more organic, unsystematic mode of organisation is, in my view, the nec plus ultra. This, combined with the instrumentation, gave much of the music a chamber feel, and the audience responded to that: you could hear a pin drop.

Anja's less of an improviser than the other three, so her parts - the occasional lead and lots of bowed or plucked accompanying figures - seemed more pre-planned. Still, everyone commented on the freshness and lightness the cello brought.

Aleksi really came into his own during the second set, notably for an absolutely superb unaccompanied solo which let the silence around it be heard, with notes sparkling in the darkness.

Lionel is another player who's really been stepping it up recently, becoming a great orchestrator and humorist. He's been playing with the Bulgarian pianist Sabin Todorov for years, and that's an excellent group to hear him with, but word has gotten out, and he's almost ubiquitous now. A highlight was when he mischievously accompanied one of Aleksi's solos solely with the squeak of his hi-hat pedal.