Saturday, June 23, 2007

jazz and blogs #17

Words from the Front
Bassist Reuben Radding. A particularly interesting post on navigating the cleavages within the NYC improv community.

Cryptogramophone's new blog. There are already a number of interesting posts by violinst/label boss Jeff Gauthier, among others.

Singer Carol Sloane. Musician bloggers tend to be relatively young, so it's nice to hear a voice from a different generation. Every post is carefully constructed. [via Rifftides]

The Jazz Session
Podcaster Jason Crane. Lots of interviews with musicians and, of late, reports from the Rochester Jazz Festival. [via Rifftides]

Shanghai Jazz Scene
What's really happening in Shanghai. [via a comment from godoggo]

the exceptional mr. zorn (addendum)

David Hajdu writes in to say that his article's subtitle of "The breathtakingly bad John Zorn" was not of his choosing.

Friday, June 22, 2007

industrialising jazz, in the netherlands

Andrew Durkin's Industrial Jazz Group was in The Netherlands recently and Andrew's recently completed a tour-de-force write-up in three parts (1, 2 and 3).

Singer/Queen Bee Jill has her own account and provides a live MP3, a fun track (aren't they all? Comedy is the IJG's 11th commandment) for those of you who've never heard the IJG.

the exceptional mr. zorn

Ted Reichmann reacts to a David Hajdu article on John Zorn in The New Republic*. Depending on the part of the web page you look at, it is called "Tzaddick" or "The breathtakingly bad John Zorn."

Hajdu best sums up his argument in this paragraph:

Zorn is an exceptional artist, without question, because he prizes and seeks exceptionalism above all. This is not to say that he is exceptionally good at his art. What he is good at--so very good as to suggest a kind of genius--is being exceptional. Unfortunately, uniqueness is not an aesthetic value; it is a term of classification. To say that Zorn is one of a kind, as he certainly is, is to ignore the larger matters of his nature as an artist and, more significantly, the nature of his work, much of which is thin and gimmicky, and some of which is elementally corrupt.
The first thing I wondered was why TNR chose "breathtakingly bad" as secondary title, rather than "exceptionally bad." Otherwise, it seems to me that Hajdu is feigning sudden surprise and indignation at things (He wears t-shirts and camouflage! He's more of a scene-builder than a virtuoso! He takes the Jewish thing too far! He's not necessarily particularly friendly to fans standing in the rain!) that have long been debated.

Hajdu presents very mixed feelings about Zorn's work. Some of his well-written descriptions make it sound wonderful, but there are a lot of put-downs, too.

Performing in a trio with piano and drums, Zorn played an improvisation of sound graffiti sprayed in bursts and flurrying splashes of accelerating propulsion. He began with a series of short modal phrases, but quickly abandoned modality and, in little time, dropped tonality altogether, screeching and cronking. Early in his career, Zorn began to develop an expansive vocabulary of extramusical sounds that he could produce with precision on the alto saxophone, often by using only the mouthpiece of the instrument, sometimes by playing the mouthpiece through a bowl of water. For a few years, he tried to devise a system to identify all the noises he could make and to notate them with hieroglyphic-like symbols, an effort along the lines of his idol Harry Partch's attempts to invent new scales and notational methods to accommodate the odd tones, microtones, and quasi-tones that emanated from the instruments that he constructed out of old light bulbs, empty liquor bottles, and driftwood. To the uninitiated, the sounds that Zorn produces may sometimes seem like assaultive noise blurted out arbitrarily. In fact, they are assaultive noise crafted with meticulous care. For this piece, Zorn employed the entire saxophone, though he blew into it so hard that the instrument rattled in his hands and appeared about to fly apart.
As Zorn explained, "What I came up with was this kind of game structure that talks about when people play and when they don't play but doesn't talk about what they do at all." Not what, but when: the content, the music itself, scarcely mattered to Zorn, who was concerned mainly with the novelty of its system of generation, a scheme not devised in service to the expression of human feelings, but brazenly indifferent, if not hostile, to them. As such, Zorn's game work was less an innovation in the creative process than a debasement of it.
That makes me think of Brian Olewnick's recent post in which he discusses the brutal beauty of the photography used on some of Zorn's covers.

The comments are kind of surreally humourous, too.

* STC provides no link, but yesterday, I was able to circumvent TNR's subscriber-only policy, by using links provided by Google. The article is also available here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

ornette down but not out

Saturday I was babbling excitedly to jazzfriends Nathalie and Ben about seeing Ornette Coleman's quartet at the last day of the Jazz Middelheim festival, in August. Today I learn that he collapsed on stage from a heat stroke. I hope he'll still be able to make it over here. Last year, Andrew Hill had to cancel his Blue Note Records Festival engagement and didn't get a second chance. Darcy links to Jon Pareles's eyewitness account.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Chroma - 16/06/2007@Jazz Station, Bruxelles

Karel Van Marcke - Fender Rhodes, synth, p (MySpace)
Nicolas Kummert - ts, ss
Bart Quartier - vib
Peter Hertmans - g
Cédric Waterschoot - el b
Lionel Beuvens
Geike Arnaert - voc

First of all, thanks for the great Barcelona recommendations. I'll try to get around to as many of them as I can. Special mention goes to Damien for pointing out this two-day John Zorn extravaganza, which brings together Bar Kohkba, Electric Masada, Masada String Trio, Asmodeus and the Jamie Saft Trio. I had intended that feast to break my concert-going hiatus (it's been a month since the last one!) with a bang, but the bang turned to a whimper, with Chroma's lacklustre set.

Pianist and composer Karel Van Marcke used to have a big band called Jambangle (named after a Gil Evans tune) that released two CDs. The second one, 2003's Rememberance, was okay, something of a Belgian version of Darcy's Secret Society, though not as good. Chroma, though managed to sound both undeniably sophisticated but also far too often crushingly banal.

The first piece of the set (the second of the concert, as I missed the first) was based on a reggae groove. I'm not a reggae fan, but I've almost always found jazz musician renditions of reggae terrible, and this was no exception. It's only when they loosened the stylistic likeness that things got interesting: Bart Quartier's solo was accompanied only by the steady bassline that ran through much of the composition, but without the drums, it took on an intriguingly abstract quality.

Geike Arnaert, along with Peter Hertmans, joined the band from the second song onwards, but most of what she sang was incomprehensible and sounded strained. David Linx appears on Chroma's CD, which I haven't heard, and I could imagine him tackling Van Marcke's long, wordy, twisted lines with his usual imperious brio, but not just anybody can pull it off.

The last two pieces were somewhat better. One was slow and atmospheric, as piano arpeggios rippled gently, Lionel Beuvens's mallets thundered quietly as his cymbals created an impressionistic haze and Arnaert elongated, melisma-free syllables transformed her into a part of the overall texture. Hertmans gave a carefully-distilled solo that gathered pace - but not too much - as a back-beat slowly built up. "Rememberance," the last piece was drawn from Jambangle's repertoire. At times, it sagged into a mire of '80s jazzy-funky background music, but made up for that with interestingly imbricated rhythm parts that provided vamp-based platforms for loose instrumental dialogue. And Lionel's exaggerated body language added a much-needed dose of humour.

On the album excerpts available on his MySpace page, Arnaert sounds better, so maybe the sound system is to blame, and the music is a lot looser and more engaging, so maybe the personnel changes (Nicolas Kummert instead of Joachim Badenhorst and Quartier instead of Pascal Schumacher - note that three of the four are be.jazz favourites) had significant impact.

Friday, June 08, 2007

who cares if you survive?

AAJ has published Marc Ribot's in-depth analysis of how avant-garde music is being squeezed out of existence by the dwindling playing opportunities and ever-smaller venues.

Musical fringes are often seen as the refuge of idealists, but Ribot puts a very concrete spin on things:

Over the past 25-30 years, there's been an assumption that the condition of a downtown jazz/new music venue's needing to be subsidized by benefits was an abnormal condition, a special situation necessitated by a particular emergency, after which the venue would return to its normal functioning... But a sea change has taken place in the relation of these clubs to the market with few really acknowledging it... The market is failing as a means of funding downtown new music venues... Musician benefit concerts and recordings... are being normalized as a means of funding.
New music composers of the '40s through the early '60s didn't expect to make money through the live performance market; many taught to earn a living. (...) In truth, our belief that the market could fund new music was always... illusory; European touring, heavily state subsidized, has been the real economic motor of experimental jazz/new music for decades, the light at the end of the tunnel of months of scarce and/or poorly paid NYC gigs. The fact that access to Europe was easier and cheaper for NYC musicians than for their LA counterparts is an important factor in the historical productivity of the NYC new music scene as compared with the West Coast.

European public subsidies have funded cutting- edge US music since the time of Louis Armstrong... Unfortunately, they're neither natural nor guaranteed. They were created by people through struggle and they are in the process of being challenged and to some extent dismantled by European neo-liberals.
While the independently wealthy, the extremely committed and those with no choice would remain in a scene without hope of money, the reality is that musicians tend to drift towards those scenes which pay.
Although ostensibly linked to a leftist/anarchist anti-corporate politics, “Do It Yourself” has also served quite well to foreclose discussion on state subsidy and fits quite comfortably with... free market/neo- liberalism
Without capital, venues either eventually fall back on the old strategies of musician exploitation, abandon new music priorities, fail or all three. If those venues are 'artist run', the only difference is that we get to exploit ourselves. Hooray for progress.
The European gigs were almost always subsidized: usually by the city or state government completely donating the performance space itself... This is real subsidy, coming from those with access to real capital: not peanuts from a bunch of musicians half of whom lack health coverage, pension or savings.
I'm not suggesting a moratorium on benefits. But if we're all bailing water so fast we can't take time to fix the gaping hole in the boat, we'll soon all be very tired and very wet.

It's not just venues who are struggling for funding: Montreal's Jazz Fest just got bailed out by a private donation after losing its federal funding.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


From the 27th of June to the 1st of July, I'll be in Barcelona on business. I love saying that: "on business." It sounds so grown-up. Anyway, I should have at least two free nights and it'll be my first time over there. Ethan has recommended the Jamboree jazz club and I'll definitely be visiting some Gaudi. Does anyone have any other recommendations?


I got a promo email containing an unexpected opening line:

New York, NY – May 30, 2007 – MTV Networks’ URGE will present the June 19th opening night performances of the Vision Festival XII as part of its URGE Nights series
Vision Fest goes MTV? What next, Phil Freeman hosting a special NYC free jazz edition of Cribs? That should be glamourous.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

scanty logic

Wall of Sound noted:

There are two startling things about [David Murray's Conceptual Saxophone]. One is the music – over the two nights Murray played solo tenor for 120 minutes – and the other is that it’s still possible to buy an original 1978 vinyl pressing from the original label.
That label is Cadillac Jazz and New Music Strategies has an extensive post about it. The line "That is the original pressing from 30 years ago" is inevitably included. I'm not too sure Murray's career can really be called "scantly documented," though. [via SoundSlope]


Jazz Club is a French bande dessinée (hardbound comic book) by Alexandre Clérisse. You can buy it, but you can also read it in its entirety for free on the web. There are an absu (early on there's a Montreux 1976 poster, but later the Miles Davis's Second Quintet turns up), but the graphic design is cool and the nutty plot involves sects and The Great Storm of 1999. [via Jazzman]


Darcy is risking life and limb - or, at least, his sanity - by liveblogging a 26 hour music marathon. The toll being exacted upon him is first expressed in unusually jocular language, then in worrying physical manifestations: "Okay, really starting to feel it now. How many hours left? Oy. I'm starting to shiver. Why's it still so damn cold?," "I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid." The lengths this man goes to for your entertainment...


Don't think I'm ignoring D:O's fabulous '90s poll (or the follow-ups, including Ethan's blindfold test, which has me thoroughly stumped). I'll come back to it later.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

marathons and quacks

In an upside-down-world turn of events, I caught part of the Eurovision Song Contest (which, against all odds, every manages to be as full of wonderfully bizarre and inexplicable schlock as ever), but missed the Brussels Jazz Marathon. Luckily, Jazzques was there and has a comprehensive three part report.


Rhodri has spun a characteristically hilarious story out of a brief Brussels getaway. I'm sad not to have been able to meet him, but I was busy painting my office.

I'm a little surprised/sad at the news that Kwak beer has abandoned the wooden stand, am on the non-fan side of the Gueuze divide, refute that it is difficult to find a cash point in Brussels (you just have to know where to look) and have yet to see the Timm's woman, but she seems to be part of a current spate of befuddling advertisements.

don't look now

jazz and blogs #16

Nels Cline
Lately, the guitarist has been writing about the tracks on his upcoming album, Draw Breath and also wrote about his previous Andrew Hill CD. Draw Breath is an excellent guitar trio album, by the way.

Crypto Musings
Cryptogramophone, the label releasing Draw Breath has its own blog, one very much worth visiting (also see their MySpace page). The IndieJazz store attached to Cryptogramophone is also worth visiting, as it carries interesting CDs from various labels and sells them at the price they should be sold. I saw Cline's New Monastery at the FNAC for 19 euros, but ordering it by itself from IndieJazz works out to around 16 euros, and that's including the $6 overseas shipping for the first item (it's $2 for every additional item, which in my case was Hill's A Beautiful Day). As an added bonus, you can be sure more of the money is going into the musicians' and labels' pockets.

Wall of Sound
In-depth, high-quality essays. The first part of the large and still ongoing series of David Murray posts here is particularly interesting.

C'est génial qu'il y ait d'autres gens qui aillent à des concerts ici, en Belgique, et en parlent sur leur blog. D'ailleurs, je vois qu'on va souvent aux mêmes. Bienvenue, Nath!

Le plus grand magazine de jazz français entre enfin de le 21e siècle, avec un site et un blog.

Brett Sroka/Ergo
Not the most active of musician blogs, but the trombonist's Ergo band is good contemporary electronic jazz.

104 Weeks
Matthew Wengerd, bassist who's just finished his first year of graduate school at the University of South Florida. If you've ever wondered what a bass being repaired looks like, see Matthew's here.

Brewing Luminous
Starting a full-album free jazz MP3 blog seems to be a must-do thing right now, perhaps because no-one in the genre has enough money to sue you. Brewing Luminous continues what can now be considered the tradition of naming such blogs after classic albums.

Jazz Fusion TV
Videos and live bootlegs.