Jazz music, news and views

Monday, February 27, 2006

Andrew Hill's Time Lines


Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote this wonderful piece on Andrew Hill last Friday, touching on Hill's youth in Chicago, teaching himself accordion and piano, his brief but formative stint with Charlie Parker, and his fascination with melody as rhythm. Angular rhythmic concepts, unique harmonic language and dark, rhapsodic compositions are hallmarks of Hill's music.

Young Hill became a student of classical composer Paul Hindemith in Chicago and studied with Sun Ra saxophonist Pat Patrick later on. By the time he moved to New York in 1961, he'd already served alongside Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Patrick, Von Freeman as well as vocalists Johnny Hartman and Dinah Washington.In the early '70s, Hill was a composer-in-residence at Colgate University before coming out to the West Coast, specifically Northern California and later Portland, to continue teaching before going back to NYC in '89.

In analyses of Hill's music, you often find it said that it "follows its own logic," the same way Monk's identifiable style stood alone but was also coherent if accepted on its own terms. Hill was so focused on his own sound in his earlier years that he turned down a gig with Miles Davis. He felt he could not adequately serve Miles's music without a more developed personal style. Supposedly, Hill would keep the radio off, not listen to records and not go to clubs for days at a stretch so he could practice without the influence of others' sounds. This is not to say he doesn't value other players' contributions, of course; he cites Parker, Earl Hines, Dave Brubeck and Max Roach as some of his favorite innovators.

In the liner notes to Hill's recently issued Mosaic Select boxset, producer Michael Cuscuna recalls a performance of Hill's music in Tokyo with Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson. The windy weather caused the music to fly off, and the players tried to secure the sheets to the stands. Hill himself ran over to the players' stands on several occasions. Cuscuna thought Hill was trying to help keep the music from flying away, but after the gig Shaw and Henderson said to the producer, "This music is hard enough to play. Can you get him to stop rewriting it while we're playing it?"

Even now, Hill and his music have that same spirit of restless invention. In the March 2006 Downbeat article by John Murph, Marty Ehrlich notes, "Andrew is not a stylist. He hasn't codified an Andrew Hill way of playing for people to imitate. I don't know how you would even sound like him." While Hill's approach and compositions have the boldness and uniqueness of an influential voice, Ehrlich's right: true imitation of Hill is probably impossible. So much for the sincerest form of flattery.

His website has some full-length mp3s of an exclusive solo piano performance and other sound clips. Also, buy Time Lines, Hill's newest release as he enters his third fruitful relationship with Blue Note. Find more about Hill's new music, his recent and ongoing battle with lung cancer and praise from his contemporaries in the March issue of Downbeat.

And if you're in New York, Hill's playing with his quintet at Birdland, Wednesday, March 1st through Saturday, March 4th. You have to go listen and let me live vicariously through you.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Fred Hersch flies solo


Next week, pianist Fred Hersch will kick off an engagement at New York City's famed Village Vanguard with a solo appearance, February 28th through March 5th. His trio-mates had last-minute scheduling conflicts and their subs were delayed, which resulted in Hersch taking the stage alone. He'll be the first solo pianist headliner to perform for a week-long engagement at the Vanguard in seventy-one years.

Hersch's performance is always thoughtful, introspective and emotive. A jazz and classical composer, educator and stellar pianist, Hersch's trio is inspired by the sensitive lyricism of Bill Evans with the telepathic elasticity of Keith Jarrett. Hersch's recital at the Vanguard should also invoke the spirit of those stylists (no strangers to solo performance themselves), but of course with Hersch's own touch.

Last year, Hersch celebrated his fiftieth birthday by performing concerts to raise money for Classical Action, a nonprofit that solicits the help of performing artists to raise funds for HIV/AIDS prevention, awareness and education. Hersch himself has been struggling with HIV for about twenty years now, and drawing strength from his art while garnering accolades for recent projects like Leaves of Grass and his new solo album, Live at the Bimhuis. Fans of his compositions will eagerly await the publication of the Fred Hersch Fakebook (on CD in PDF format). News about that here.

Check out Nate Chinen's write-up in the New York Times.

Great modern sounds from '05


Check out the Jazz-Improvisation-Fusion-Funk spot: Papa Jazz has been recently featuring some of his top picks from 2005.

Click for the posts on guitarist Bill Frisell's East/West, Bobo Stenson's Goodbye, and Ben Monder's Oceana. Hip tunes and players, all.

More Maria


Earlier this month, I posted here about large jazz ensembles and their longevity. Doug Ramsey's Rifftides blog mentions a great post from DevraDoWrite, who has some welcome details on Maria Schneider's excellent management of her orchestra, which is obviously quite costly to finance (Devra was Maria's manager at one point).

In other Schneider-related news, buy the new issue of JazzTimes for an "At Home" portrait of Maria.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Central Avenue / JALC Feature


When the average jazz fan considers the West Coast's contributions to jazz today, he recalls the sounds of Chet Baker, Stan Getz, or Shorty Rogers. An often overlooked part of the West Coast scene, however, is Central Avenue in the 1940s.

Central Avenue was the main corridor in central Los Angeles that played host to numerous jazz clubs: the Club Alabam, the Downbeat, Glenn's Backroom, the Memo (pronounced "MEE-mo"), the Last Word Cafe, and others. In fact, the Avenue had the greatest concentration of jazz clubs in California. How was this possible? In 1920, about forty percent of L.A.'s African-American population lived on or around Central Avenue (between 10th and 50th Streets, approximately) and by 1940, that population had nearly doubled to seventy percent due to the restrictive all-white housing covenants that essentially kept the city's black population corralled in the area near Central Avenue. Paradoxically, this racial injustice resulted in one of the most fertile jazz scenes in California, which was enjoyed by all jazz fans, white or black.

The Avenue boasted a nightlife that rivalled New York City, Chicago, Kansas City and other jazz capitals of the country due to the round-the-clock labor employed by nearby defense plants during the war years. At any hour of the night (and often in the day), one could swing by the clubs and hear Hampton Hawes, Art Pepper, honking tenor Big Jay McNeely, KC blues shouter Big Joe Turner, or tenor battles between Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon ("The Chase," anyone?).

Several events and trends led to the decline of Central Avenue's scene: the closing of 24-hour factories after the war; the "cool" jazz craze of the 1950's overshadowing the music coming from the Avenue; the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the unjust housing covenants, finally allowing the city's black population to diffuse into greater Los Angeles. Most of the old hangs, save the historic Dunbar Hotel (the first hotel owned buy and built for African-Americans in L.A.), are no longer there. Central Avenue has been forgotten until recently, when the city's Community Redevelopment Agency approved a $500,000 plan to revitalize the avenue in February 2006, which would offer incentives to current merchants and encourage new businesses to develop there. Central Avenue may see its glory days again.

Coincidentally, at the same time of this overdue re-focus on L.A.'s 1940s jazz corridor, KJazz was been asked by Jazz at Lincoln Center to produce a 15-minute feature on Central Avenue's heyday and its place in jazz history. Written/produced by yours truly and narrated by KJazz's Music Director, Scott Willis (West Coast jazz and bop aficionado), the feature is available for exclusive download here:

Jazz at Lincoln Center and KKJZ-FM (KJazz) present: a Central Avenue Feature.

Check out the song at the tail-end of the feature, "It's April," a rare Buddy Collette recording from the definitive Central Avenue Sounds box set, which you need to buy! It's gorged with informative liner notes from Steve Isoardi, Ken Poston, and other experts of this seldom discussed L.A. phenomenon. You can buy its companion book here.

Friday, February 17, 2006

R.I.P. Ray Barretto


At age 76, percussionist Ray Barretto passed away this morning. Earlier this year, he had undergone heart bypass surgery and suffered from pneumonia since then in addition to undergoing a second operation. Barretto was responsible for bringing the conga drum into jazz, augmenting the already significant "hip" factor of several recordings from the '50s and '60s, performing alongside Kenny Burrell, Red Garland, Gene Ammons, Cal Tjader, Lou Donaldson, and countless others.

Born to Puerto Rican immigrant parents in the Bronx, Barretto listened to jazz radio while his mother went to night classes to learn English. He later enlisted in the army and was exposed to the modern jazz of the day, bebop. Upon returning to the States, he played in clubs until replacing Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente's band in the '50s. He saw success as a leader after forming the group Charanga la Moderna in 1962, propelled by a popular boogaloo hit, "El Watusi." Moving to a Latin record label, Fania, he became the musical director of the Fania All-Stars, then founded New World Spirit, his own group that focused more on mainstream jazz. He was an innovator not only in Latin jazz circles but in the mainstream jazz world as well.

Listen to a very cool NPR Jazz Profiles interview with Ray. Also, read these obituaries in JazzTimes, EJazzNews, or the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ridl Me This


Seeing as how I was aware of this guy from my college days in Philly, this blog is long overdue to mention pianist Jim Ridl (pronounced "riddle"). Originally from North Dakota, educated at University of Colorado, Denver, currently living in New Jersey, and a staple of the Philly/NJ/NYC scenes, Ridl has been providing his superior pianistics for players like guitarist Pat Martino and saxmen Dave Liebman, Denis DiBlasio, and Charles Pillow.

His expressive playing can be bright and percussive with the brilliance of a McCoy Tyner, but he can also summon up the wistful tension and nuance of a Bill Evans. Having majored in scoring and arranging in his college days, Ridl is a fabulous composer with a knack for catchy melodies and hip harmony -- a modern-day Horace Silver perhaps with a touch of James Williams or even Geoffrey Keezer. Also a masterful writer of ballads, he's responsible for "Sun on My Hands," a tune that, even after Ridl's decade-long tenure in Pat Martino's band, can still be found in Martino's songbook today. I was lucky enough to catch both of them performing it as a duet back in Philly a couple years ago. Ridl's latest release, Your Cheatin' Heart and Other Works, features Philly musicians Ron Kerber on sax with drummer Jim Miller (also the owner of his label Dreambox Media) and guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, bassist Steve Varner, and vocalist J.D. Walter.

Listen to Ridl's group stretch out on "'Smile,' Said the Drum (For Elvin)," and buy Your Cheatin' Heart!

Also, check out his album Door in a Field. Very keen writing from Ridl: a piano trio augmented by a violin, viola, and cello.

P.S. Also, grab yourself a copy of Martino's hard-to-find Nightwings. Ridl is in top form here alongside his longtime bandleader.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cerebral Metalhead

You'll find a new blog on the links to the right: Cerebral Metalhead. This guy is Etan Rosenbloom, former Cryptogramophone marketer/internet guy/multitasker, L.A. music club denizen, Prefix writer, and classmate of mine from Penn. His tastes get pretty eclectic, so watch out (Ornette, Stravinsky, Television, Jeff Buckley, Sigur Ros, Mars Volta, and others)!

So, check out the blog and his (opinionated) L.A. music calendar!

Large Ensembles and the Grammys


Here is a recent article from Scott Martelle of the L.A. Times regarding the big band ("Best Jazz Large Ensemble") category of the Grammys. I never enjoyed hearing/using phrases like "the big band era is over," but at first glance, sales figures seem to bear that out. On the other hand, creative writing and superlative performance seems to ensure the genre's longevity.

Dave Holland's Overtime deservedly sold the lion's share of the total big band sales for the category's five nominees: 12,000 copies of Overtime sold with the remaining four nominees selling 3,000 units between them. Tenor saxophonist and Accurate Records founder Russ Gershon is the leader/arranger of Either/Orchestra, a ten-piece band from Boston that has been giving us equally intriguing arrangements for over two decades. Maria Schneider was able to fund her $90,000 album Concert in the Garden through ArtistShare by soliciting participants' donations even before she went into the studio to record it. She went on to win a Grammy having sold the album through her website only.

Though the sale of 5.2 million copies of Mariah Carey's latest album dwarf jazz's figures, stories of endurance and success like these may signal a future for jazz and big bands. As long as composers continue to innovate for large ensembles (Holland, Schneider, E/O, Jason Lindner, Bob Mintzer, Mingus Big Band, etc.), there should always be thirsty ears.

P.S. I couldn't hold back from including the picture of Maria and me. I interviewed her and Ingrid Jensen when she came through L.A. last week and will be producing features on both of them for KJazz to air in March. Stay tuned... and sorry for acting like a star-struck scenester.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Larry Goldings


We tend to classify today’s organists in two schools: the Jimmy Smith/Don Patterson/Jack McDuff brand of the heavy, cookin’ blues and the Larry Young school, focusing on the instrument’s tonal colors and dynamics supplemented with a bit more “outside” playing. With the rise of Larry Goldings, however, we can explode the dichotomy and make room for highly nuanced styles that are just as distinctive.

Goldings has been carving his own place in the pantheon of B3ists since the ‘80s. Honing his chops during his regular gig at Augie’s (now Smoke) in NYC, he came to fame playing piano and organ in the bands of saxman Maceo Parker and guitarists Jim Hall and John Scofield. He’s also the accompanist/arranger-of-choice for numerous jazz vocalists (Madeleine Peyroux, Curtis Stigers) and singer/songwriters (James Taylor, Chiara Civello, Alexi Murdoch). Furthermore, the Larry Goldings Trio is an institution itself, playing together for eighteen years with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, honing their sleek style and sophisticated telepathy, which has paved the way for Larry’s contemporaries like Gary Versace and Sam Yahel. Goldings’s skills and tastes know no bounds, and his sly, oblique style make for an appealing and highly rewarding listen.

Fans of the trio may miss his unique organ stylings on the new album, Quartet, but he deserves to explore his other musical strengths (piano, harmonium, Wurlitzer, accordion, and glock)! Sidemen include trumpeter John Sneider, bassist Ben Allison, drummer Matt Wilson, and a guest appearance by Peyroux. Of course, he still serves up top-shelf tunes drawn from a variety of sources. In a press release, he comments: "I am excited by the idea of having a Björk song alongside Gabriel Fauré, next to Chico Buarque, next to an American folk song. Eclecticism is really 'in' now, and I love it, but only when it's not forced... only when it sounds honest." Honesty -- another merit of Goldings's performance and composition. No matter how complex he gets, his playing is earnest -- art without the needless artifice.


Listen to "Dario and Bario," and buy Quartet! (The song was inspired by a clown duo by the same name documented in Clowns, a film for Italian television in 1971 by Federico Fellini, who himself had a fascination with clowns and the circus as a child.)

From his last trio album, Sweet Science, check out “Asimov."

Also, dig the eerie, experimental Rhodesiness of “Foots” and a solo piano rendition of the Gaelic melody “Morning Has Broken,” available only on his website.

 
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