Jazz music, news and views

Friday, April 28, 2006

Chris Potter Feature

Chris Potter has been one of the top saxmen on the scene since his debut on record at 18 years old with bebop trumpeter Red Rodney. Since then, he's been heard with veterans like James Moody, Ray Brown and Paul Motian as as well as later talents including Dave Douglas, Dave Holland, John Scofield, John Hart and even Steely Dan. He's known not only for his aggressive, searching sound and technical facility but also his eclectic taste in musical projects. Currently, he's touring with his band from Underground, which uses Rhodes, guitar, drums, him exclusively on tenor sax (usually he's heard on multiple reeds/winds) and no bass.

In this feature, hear about his earliest saxophone heroes, his musical philosophy on the bandstand, his battle with Meniere's Disease back in the '90s and what possibilities and projects lie ahead (hint: large ensemble!).

Listen to: a Chris Potter feature.

Visit HisSpace.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jeremy Pelt Feature

Over the course of only four albums as a leader, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt has proven himself to be not only a strong modern jazz player but also a perpetually evolving musical force. He currently maintains three different bands (Creation, Noise and his quartet) using varying instrumentations including vibes, Rhodes, trumpet effects, bass clarinet and other reeds. Between these groups, he keeps busy workshopping his unique sonic sketches and compositions to great acclaim. His newest album, Identity, finds his group achieving a heightened level of interplay with Frank LoCrasto on piano, Rhodes and other keyboards, bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Eric McPherson and vibist Warren Wolf.

In this feature, Pelt talks about his experiences in the studio, the dynamic of his band, how he composes, which Miles Davis recording got him into jazz (it's not Kind of Blue) and what kinds of sounds influence his music today.

Listen to: a Jeremy Pelt feature.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bright Size Legend

U.S. News and World Report has a great interview with guitarist Pat Metheny, touching on his thoughts on jazz’s history, present and future. The article runs contemporaneously with the PBS Legends of Jazz series hosted by Ramsey Lewis (Metheny appears with veteran Jim Hall, who has made significant innovations in jazz guitar concepts himself). Check out the video clips of Metheny and Hall and find out where you can watch the series.

And though it's old news, I’d enthusiastically like to add that Nonesuch has reissued Metheny’s much sought-after Still Life (Talking).

Sunday, April 16, 2006

ImPRESsive Discovery

The Library of Congress has recently unearthed some recordings from the archives. Among them: a live recording of Lester Young with trumpeter Shad Collins, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, pianist Sammy Price (there are only a couple recordings of Price with Pres) and drummer Doc West. The venue is uncertain, but it is believed to be at the Village Vanguard. Eugene DeAnna of the LOC says the recording picks up an emcee announcing, “The chili con carne is ready if anyone wants to order it.” They’ve dated the recording December 29, 1940, which is probably after Pres left Count Basie’s band but before coming out to Los Angeles where he frequented Central Avenue with his brother Lee. Hear a bit of the recording on NPR's Weekend Edition.

Young reunited with Basie in 1943, but the army caught up to him and, like many Basie band members at the time, Pres was drafted. Check out this News and Notes feature on his army days. It’s an incredibly thorough and informative account from Douglas Henry Daniels, author of Lester Leaps In: a Biography of Lester "Pres" Young. He discusses his hipster persona, his habits (alcohol, marijuana), and his harsh treatment in the military. He was certainly not cut out for army life: he’s described as a live-and-let-live pacifist (and perhaps somewhat passive); he once reported to duty while still high; he even showed up to his induction with his sax and a fifth of liquor.

Plenty of Lester fans believe his music was never quite the same after his discharge, and if this is true, then these recordings find him at his peak. But whether or not one agrees, it could be one of jazz's best discoveries this year.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pelt and Potter

Sorry to keep you waiting so long between posts. Much has been going on here recently, including prep and promotion for the upcoming KJazz High School Jazz Festival and two more features, which you'll find here before the end of the month: trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, whose new release Identity has been keeping my ear occupied with its airy, modern vibe; and Chris Potter, whose new quartet album Underground has been deservedly getting great press, featuring the multi-reedman exclusively on tenor.

So stay tuned! And my apologies for the suspense.

In the meantime, head to Jeremy's website and check out the juicy, full-length live mp3s with his various groups.

Ruller Measures Up

Hailing from Holland, guitarist Jesse van Ruller has proved himself to be a formidable talent on the rise since winning the Thelonious Monk Competition for Guitar in 1995 (and being one of the first Europeans to do so). Beginning classical guitar lessons in his youth, he gradually expanded his musical diet to include pop and rock (Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones) and bridged over to the world of jazz via George Benson and John Scofield.

Issuing his debut album as a leader at 29, Here and There, van Ruller has since been a rising international star, though he's still slightly under the radar. While some axemen today seem to be cashing in on the languid, bluesy/rock-ish sounds of Scofield or adopting the oceanic reverb of Kurt Rosenwinkel, it's refreshing to hear van Ruller building his own voice from several influences: a warm tone combined with assault rifle-chops. He cites older talents like Jim Hall, Jimmy Raney and Wes Montgomery as influences but also takes note of his contemporaries like Peter Bernstein and Pat Metheny.

He currently composes music for and plays with the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw and his performance creds include the Metropole Orchestra, the Berliner Symphoniker, Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine, and other straight-ahead players in the States like trumpeter John Swana, drummer Clarence Penn and saxman Seamus Blake. Blake joins van Ruller with organist Sam Yahel and drummer Bill Stewart for his ninth and latest recording, Views. This is his second date with these players, and it shows in their chemistry.

Buy Views!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

RIP Jackie McLean

Born on May 17, 1932, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean has long been a recognizable talent since his early days with Charles Mingus and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the late ‘50s and Lee Morgan in the ‘60s, having made his debut on record at 19 years old with Miles Davis. McLean was always known for his bright, slightly sharp tone (possibly because of an affinity for his first instrument, the soprano sax) and his explorations in freer jazz forms though he was for the most part based in bebop and hard bop traditions. His discography could certainly be considered a bridge between those two worlds, an idea that was reflected in his performance and in his career overall.

McLean actually joined the Jazz Messengers in a somewhat clandestine way because he was still with Mingus when Blakey approached him. Mingus had always encouraged the young saxophonist to have his own sound in an age when all altoists were copping Bird’s licks (“Man, why do you keep playing those Bird things? Isn’t Jackie McLean in there somewhere?”). McLean started finding his own voice and sensibilities and knew his bassist bandleader would be far from keen on letting him go at this point. While the band was in Cleveland, McLean gave Mingus his two weeks’ notice and Mingus punched him in the mouth, knocking out two of his teeth, fired him and left him stranded in Ohio. McLean had to pawn his horn to get back to New York. After a reconciliation, McLean rejoined Mingus’s band (Mingus bought him another alto). One night, Art Blakey approached him, offering him a place in his band, a new horn (so he could leave behind the one Mingus bought for him) and, presumably, a less hostile working environment. McLean left town for Pittsburgh with the Messengers soon after without telling Mingus who apparently sent him a fairly nasty telegram later on.

McLean began teaching at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, Connecticut and credits Archie Shepp with his entry into academia. McLean will always be known as an innovator, pushing the music forward in his own startling fashion, but he was also deeply indebted to the tradition of jazz, which was the focus of his curriculum at Hartt, where he founded the Jackie McLean Institute fo Jazz and serving as the Artistic Director. Some of his students on the scene today include tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene and altoists Julius Tolentino and Mike DiRubbo (both seem to have absorbed the sharp-toned brilliance of their mentor). McLean passed away Friday, March 31st at 73 years old.
He has about five dozen albums to his name as a leader, almost two dozen under Blue Note and several for Prestige and Steeplechase.

Read the AP obituary.

RIP Don Alias

Percussionist Don Alias passed away on March 28th, 2006 at 66 years old.

He was not always intent on becoming a professional musician. Born on Christmas Day in 1939, he studied medicine and biochemistry in college but began focusing more on performance when he met Tony Williams and Chick Corea whose influences would certainly shade his long career. His musical education took place on the streets and in clubs of New York. He served as the musical director for Nina Simone's band in the mid-/late '60s before joining Miles Davis, who gave him his start in the late '60s/early '70s, performing on his seminal Bitches Brew in 1969.

A talent equally adept in modern jazz, fusion and Latin idioms, Alias's drum work was always musical, passionate and perfectly complementary to anyone he accompanied. He was a skillful trap set player as well as a first-call percussionist. Heard on well over 200 albums (though having led none under his own name), he has graced the recordings of artists as diverse as Carla Bley, Chick Corea, Weather Report, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Michael Brecker, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and David Sanborn.

Check out this video of Alias soloing with the Nils Landgren Funk Unit from DrummerWorld.

His website has information on his wake and funeral service on April 5th and 6th as well as where to send donations. There will probably be a tribute to Don Alias on Sunday evening, April 2nd on NPR's "All Things Considered."
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