Jazz music, news and views

Friday, July 28, 2006

Tierney, Tension and "a Twist of Irony"

Stephen Holden gave a review of Tierney Sutton's Birdland performance in the NY Times today. I can understand Mr. Holden's lukewarm position on the repertoire (for some reason, songs dealing with happiness are never my favorites either), but there's probably no other vocalist/group that I'd rather hear tackle these tunes than Tierney Sutton's band. They performed a number of these tunes in L.A. earlier this year with remarkable personal flair, including a brooding 10/4 version of "Happy Days Are Here Again" with lush, pop-influenced harmony.

Sutton's musical training is not limited to singing; she's studied her share of theory and harmony with Jerry Bergonzi and she's generally considered as much of an instrumentalist as a singer. When I interviewed her for a feature earlier this year, I asked what it was about jazz that intrigued her. She responded: "You know, I think, in a word, it’s tension. Jazz has a bittersweet quality that I think is really appealing to me based on how I experience the world, frankly, and based on what seems true to me. There’s so much tension in life and in an odd way, a lot of the deepest beauty in life comes from the tension." I'm looking forward to hearing the new album, ironic or optimistic.

She also made a keen point about a widely perceived "mythology" about jazz, as she put it, where the music seems to be "more of a spirit than a craft. And it's a craft." I couldn't agree more. When the Tierney Sutton Band comes through town again, make sure you see them. They're crafty. And spirited.

Six-String Slinger Videos

Fun footage for your Friday: a duet of guitar duos.

1) Pat Metheny and Ulf Wakenius: "Bright Size Life.” Metheny originally recorded this tune at 21 years old for his debut album by the same name in 1975. In the liner notes, vibraphonist Gary Burton, who hired Metheny as a teenager, remembers the constantly grinning teenage guitarist as “an incredible blend of Missouri, hip, chops, and all those teeth.” His style is as fresh now as it was then, and over 30 years later, this song still sounds like it was written yesterday. Ulf Wakenius may be familiar to fans of Oscar Peterson’s work from the late ‘90s through the present. Metheny has clearly been an inspiration for the Swedish Wakenius, but other detectable influences include Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Pat Martino (an extensive list of his favorites is available on his “Links” page). He absolutely tears into this tune with an incredible wealth of fleet-fingered ideas (and a considerable dose of blues), and Metheny responds telepathically as Wakenius takes it “outside” just before the four-minute mark. Metheny may have written this tune, but Wakenius clearly owns it here as well!

2) John Scofield and Pat Martino: “Sunny.” This performance is remarkable for the contrast between the two leaders: Scofield’s languid, rock-tinged bluesiness is the perfect foil for Martino’s melodic, assault-rifle licks (Sco’s tone sounds a bit overly compressed but this probably more the fault of the video quality). This performance may not be either axeman's best, but they both deliver the goods with finesse nonetheless. Organist Joey DeFrancesco's subtle but funky accompaniment transitions into a tension-building, boisterous solo of his own. His longtime drummer Byron “Wookie” Landham cooks throughout with some syncopated and in-the-pocket grooves. The gravy is the guitarists’ exchange during the coda and cadenza in the last few minutes of the tune.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

New Hangs

More sounds for the curious ear:

The Daily Jazz: Based in the U.K., the Daily Jazz blog features reviews and writings on lesser known but recommended albums with an emphasis on hardbop, free jazz, forgotten favorites and soulful, funky sounds. You can check out tracks from recently reviewed albums on their radio.blog player.

Destination Out: Fans of adventurous, hard-to-find and out-of-print jazz will want to return here frequently for mp3s and thoughts on some bold, creative improvisations and compositions. Recent entries include Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Andrew Hill and Alice Coltrane.

wordsandmusic: Find more daring sounds from the U.K. courtesy of musician Rod Warner (a guitarist and laptop player), featuring regular mp3s with historical notes.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Gregory Hutchinson

Last night, I unintentionally played two neighboring tracks that both contained drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Of course, there wasn’t anything wrong with this, though he is fairly recognizable.

Hutchinson is about as tasteful as they come these days. While most of his fans may enjoy his work with the current crop of modern musicians (Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman, Eric Reed or Peter Martin), he came up through the ranks playing with veterans like Red Rodney, Betty Carter, Ray Brown and Joe Henderson. 36 now, he’s studied with Marvin “Smitty” Smith and Kenny Washington as well as with Justin DiCioccio at the Manhattan School of Music.

His swing feel (especially at fast tempos) hints at one of his favorite influences, Philly Joe Jones, but he can also give a wider swing like Elvin Jones (though staying more in the pocket). When coloring a group’s performance, you can hear the fluidity of Tony Williams and funky flair of Dave Weckl in addition to some soul and hip-hop influences. Listeners who enjoy the dynamism and crispness of contemporaries like Brian Blade, Weckl, Billy Kilson, Bill Stewart or Nate Smith will also find themselves gravitating towards Hutchinson’s endless chops and cleverly crafted textures.

Some visual aids:

The first video is an unaccompanied drum solo. When he starts playing “time” on the ride cymbal during the solo, you can hear him playing straight eighth notes on the snare over the swing feel on the ride, which will sound familiar to Art Blakey enthusiasts. This requires not only true limb independence but also a keenness for superimposing seemingly incompatible rhythmic figures over each other. It would be like rubbing your stomach while patting your head but much faster (and much hipper).

The second video is a drum solo over a vamp that closes Joshua Redman’s “Leap of Faith” at the Bern Jazz Festival. Hutchinson dishes out some fierce statements with finesse while accenting Redman’s equally powerful playing over a Tyneresque piano vamp from Aaron Goldberg. This is Redman at his best (brief though the footage may be).

Some listening:

Mark Whitfield: “Headin’ to the Wes’ Side” from 7th Ave. Stroll. Listen to Hutchinson “trading eights” with the group.

Incidentally, the two tracks I played were from Ralph Bowen's Keep the Change and Peter Martin's In the P.M., both of which I recommend. I love the sound of his drums on the latter.

More "L&O"

I couldn’t resist: Jacques Steinberg of the NY Times gives us a look at the inner workings of "Law and Order," a portrait of its creator, Dick Wolf, and a forecast of the show’s future (with particular regard to the cast changes in the coming season).

Be sure to check out the timeline graphic of the original show’s cast member changes.

I'm a rabid fan, so you'll have to excuse me once in a while.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

RIP Malachi Thompson

Trumpeter Malachi Thompson passed away on July 16, 2006 in his home. Though he was a native of Kentucky, he is strongly associated with Chicago’s jazz scene, having grown up and discovered jazz there. The city's deep jazz and blues roots are his as well. By his late teens, he was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and was discovering his voice, which would become rich with the influences of traditional R&B, bebop, hardbop, free jazz and, of course, the blues. He relocated to New York in 1974 with the encouragement of Art Blakey and freelanced with Joe Henderson, Sam Rivers, Jackie McLean, Frank Foster, Archie Shepp and Lester Bowie among others. Bowie and Thompson co-led Brass Proud from the mid-‘70s until 1980 and Thompson remained in the group when it became Brass Fantasy.

Thompson was also responsible for founding and leading some notable groups of his own. His Freebop Band first took form in the late ‘70s when he was part of New York’s loft scene, and he maintained the group through the ‘90s, which has featured some singularly powerful reedmen like Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, Carter Jefferson, Joe Ford, Oliver Lake and George Adams. Africa Brass was born after Thompson’s return to Chicago (he had lived for a time in Washington D.C. and Vienna) and blended elements of early brass bands, big bands and Afro-Cuban music.

The trumpeter received well-deserved honors from jazz media, as well as commissions from foundations, and recognition from the public for his tireless efforts to keep Chicago’s jazz scene vital in his lifetime. He served as a clinician, writer, historian and spokesman for jazz education. In addition to over a dozen recordings under his own name (and over two dozen with other artists), Thompson’s memory is preserved in the The Sutherland, a play penned by Charles Smith and loosely inspired by Thompson’s own life story.

He was diagnosed with lymphoma in the 1980s, and though it had been in remission for the past two decades, it claimed his life at 56 years old. Throughout his career, he explored all corners of jazz, spanning its varied history and bringing that history to its present audience in a reverent -- and relevant -- form.

- Thompson's obituary by Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune.
- An article by Thompson: “The Evolution of Jazz and the Survival of Our Democratic Society.”
- An article on his life, scholarship and thoughts on African-American music from American Visions.

Listen to:
- A feature on Thompson hosted by Steve Edwards of the program “Eight Forty-Eight” on WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio).

And pick up a copy of 47th Street, Thompson’s dedication to a jazz avenue in Bronzeville on the south side of Chicago where jazz and the city’s black community thrived (in a fashion similar to Central Avenue here in Los Angeles). Some of the music on this album was written for The Sutherland.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bang on a Can: A Ballad For Many

Darcy James Argue posted about this a while ago, but I let it slip by me and was recently reminded: the composers collective Bang on a Can has released a new album, A Ballad For Many, (on Cantaloupe Music) showcasing the music of clarinetist and composer Don Byron. Byron himself is featured on the album (a rare occurrence), and the pieces are tributes to figures like comic/satirist Ernie Kovacs, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Tuskegee Airmen.

I remember first hearing Bang on a Can in a music theory class -- David Lang's title composition from Cheating, Lying, Stealing. While minimalistic pieces are built on certain processes, this piece seemed to transcend rules and rigid concepts. The composition itself was certainly contemporary classical (for bass clarinet, cello, piano and percussion), but the asymmetrical melody itself that bookended the piece was like a jazz "head," and it had the queasy, industrial, percussive quality of Nine Inch Nails. The off-kilter experimental aura of the performance was hypnotic.

You'll find the same allure in Bang on a Can's newest project. Check out the second movement of "Eugene," a piece written for a 1960 TV episode with the aforementioned Kovacs.

Buy A Ballad for Many.

Non-jazz Notes

Detour ahead:

1) Check out Nate Chinen's New York Times write-up of TV on the Radio's appearance in Prospect Park last week. TVOTR is hardly considered jazz, but there's something to be said for the group's ambitious experimentalism. Their music is immediately identifiable, with its furious electronic churnings, lamentive, brooding soundscapes and their eerie, chant-like vocals. This indie buzzgroup started turning heads with their 2003 Young Liars LP (highly recommended) and announced their full-fledge arrival with the full-length Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes in 2004. The buzz hasn't stopped, and their highly anticipated Return to Cookie Mountain is soon to be released (it has already hit the stores overseas, though a stateside street date has not been announced yet). Read the full NYT story here.

Also, check out:
- Pitchfork's review of Cookie Mountain
- TheirSpace (you can download mp3s of "Staring at the Sun" and "Dry Drunk Emperor")
- Young Liars blog

2) The departure of Annie Parisse from "Law & Order" has made me a somewhat anxious fan these past few months (always happens when they need to fill a character's role), but viewers like me, both hopeful and skeptical, will eagerly await the inauguration of the assistant district attorney to succeed Parisse: Alana de la Garza (IMDb bio, NBC bio). A former cast member of "CSI: Miami," de la Garza will play ADA Connie Rubirosa in the 17th season of TV's longest-running crime drama. Read the AP story here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Michael Brecker Updates

A week ago, a New York Times article by Ben Ratliff covered the recent JVC Festival at Carnegie Hall where Herbie Hancock performed with some old friends including Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade. On Hancock's "One Finger Snap," the audience was lucky enough to hear a surprise guest performer: Michael Brecker.

A little over a year ago (spring of 2005), Brecker was diagnosed with a myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which affects the bone marrow's production of blood cells. After going through treatments and eventually getting a half-matching transplant from his daughter (though it hasn't worked as his family had hoped), he no longer shows signs of developing leukemia and has actually resumed playing for short periods and is writing some new material for EWI.

Though Ratliff notes Brecker's sound was not quite as vigorous as usual, his enthusiasm and determination to perform makes the jazz world hopeful of his recovery. Read the full story here. Also, this month's JazzTimes gave us an update on his situation and published a touching tribute to him: a collage of reflections, anecdotes and good wishes from some of his fellow musicians and colleagues. Dave Liebman is an especially close friend of Brecker's and also gives occasional updates in his monthly newsletter, Intervals (see entries for March 2006 and April 2006).

Brecker's health is returning but is still in transition and somewhat uncertain. To find out how you can help, including how to contribute to the Time Is of the Essence Fund, visit MichaelBrecker.com.
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