...Actually, it's the entire catalogue, thin though it may be. Having decided to upgrade my mp3 archiving quota, I'm now bringing back all the KJazz artist features that were previously available only temporarily. As of now, the complete list includes:
Trumpeter Dave Douglas is enjoying an incredible amount of autonomy in the "post-record label environment that we're in," as he put it in an interview with me back in April. Having launched his own label, Greenleaf Music, in 2005 and released Meaning and Mystery earlier this year, he's been enjoying another well-deserved wave of attention from the jazz world.
Of course, there was never really a time when Douglas didn't vast degree of autonomy over his music and career. He's never been the kind of talent one can rein in or subdue; his passion and integrity of musical vision have produced some intriguing and progressive groups such as the Balkan-influenced Tiny Bell Trio, the contemporary-classical-meets-improvisation string group Parallel Worlds as well as the lush, lyrical Charms of the Night Sky which employs violin, accordion and drums. With a sound that ranges from whispery to wild, his music is some of today's most creative.
In this feature, hear about his musical influences ("diverse" is an understatement), the composing process, the inspirations and ins and outs of albums like Freak In, Keystone, Soul on Soul and The Tiny Bell Trio and what his plans are for the future.
After the passing of Hilton Ruiz earlier this month, all eyes were on the New Orleans Police Department, which stated that Ruiz had sustained injuries to his face and head during an accidental fall which ultimately led to his death weeks later. Ruiz's family is skeptical of this account and is suing Club Utopia, where he was seen exiting the night he was found injured.
After he had been in the Utopia for several hours, the lawsuit alleges, Ruiz was attacked by several people. The club's security workers "failed to intervene in any meaningful fashion," or to call an ambulance for Ruiz, but instead threw or escorted him out and "abandoned" him even though he was clearly unable to make his way to safety, the suit alleges.
The Fresh Sound New Talent label has long been known to seek out emerging players that embody its namesake. While some artists on its roster tend towards the more opaque side of experimental jazz, the label's most successful finds (to these ears) are the ones that walk the line between the familiar and the modern. Saxophonist Gian Tornatore is one of Fresh Sound's more recent discoveries, having released his debut, Sink or Swim, in 2003.
A Northern California native, his professional career began after being invited to perform with Ann Wilson of the rock group Heart, and he's since shared the stage with the likes of saxoponists Don Menza and George Garzone and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He migrated to the East Coast to earn degrees from Berklee, NYU and Teachers College at Columbia and is currently based in New York. In addition to his university studies, Tornatore has also studied with familiar names like Joe Lovano, the aforementioned Garzone, Donny McCaslin, Billy Pierce, Ralph Lalama and Mike Holober.
While Sink or Swim is Tornatore’s debut on record, the quartet achieves a dynamic group sound that rarely appears on freshman albums: comfortable, responsive and like-minded. Artists with working bands often spend their earliest albums searching for a vibe, but this group actually seems borne out of Tornatore's music. Miles Davis's "Nardis" is one of the standout cuts with its shifting tempos and Jon Anderson's subtle Rhodes colorings behind the leader's pure tenor sound. Tornatore's solo is actually mostly tenor/drums dialogue; there's plenty of rhythmic interest, chords or no chords. The original "Upstate" is a dark, straight-eighth note groove with bassist Zach Wallmark and drummer David Christian as the anchors and a simple, memorable soprano sax line -- once again, that pure tone. The equally nocturnal "San Francisco Style" finds the quartet in odd-time territory (alternating bars of 5/8 and 6/8) but the feel is as comfortable as if they were playing in common time. The features here are the eerie textures (Rhodes with Christian's tasty drumming) and warm tenor lines, loping and lyrical, topped off with keen solos from Anderson and Tornatore.
Another virtue is Tornatore's compositional style, which has a maturity rarely found in emerging artists: he's not afraid to use space, to develop the tune and ensure that his ideas connect. He has a keen balance of inside-outside statements. Speaking of performance, his tone is always focused and his vibrato is subtle; he's clearly spent a lot of time honing his sound. Whereas other young players might use a large vocabulary of expressive devices as crutches (vibrato, growls, harmonics, etc.), his voice focuses on the most elemental parts of the music -- melody, harmony and timbre -- and it's all the more sincere because of it. Above all, these newcomers truly inhabit the tunes on Sink or Swim, which certainly makes for the most honest expression in the end.
Browsing the Steely Dan-oriented blog, Mizar5, I found an enchanting and very personal story on Donald Fagen from Entertainment Weekly, written by Rob Brunner. The bard from Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson has been back in the spotlight since releasing Morph the Cat back in March, his third and most recent solo album -- an eagerly anticipated date since his last one was over a dozen years ago.
His solo work and collaborations are similar enough in sound (he admits as much himself), so fans of Dan will hardly need to preview it before picking it up! But if you must, check out the slick, full-length “H Gang” streaming at his website. (Of course, reading the article might make you wistful for the more familiar sounds of “My Old School” or “Reelin' in the Years.”)
Read the entire EW story here. Flashbacks include: Dan’s origins and their jazz-rock M.O., Chevy Chase’s impressions of a college-age Fagen, lost love, memories of Jersey and Rikki (yes, that one… perhaps).
Check out the NPR Morning Edition interview with musical journalist Ashley Kahn whose new book, The House That Trane Built: the Story of Impulse Records, tells the story of the record label that was seen as an oasis for experimental, wild jazz sounds in the '60s and '70s. While this is true to a degree, Impulse was still part of a major label functioning in a musical climate that was more conformist and pop-focused (note the single that Kahn mentions as an example). He discusses Creed Taylor's entrepreneurial prowess and knack for "sneaking" jazz into the musical universe at the time; jazz, as always, was part of an artistic revolution when compared to mainstream music of that era. And while the anchor of the label was John Coltrane, who sought to push the boundaries of jazz (particularly in his later years with Eric Dolphy or Pharoah Sanders), it was also notable that so many different sounds were under the Impulse umbrella. Jazz was not only a "challenge" to the popular sounds of the day, but it was also expanding and being challenged from within. Considering the Impulse catalog, it seems the label was successful in negotiating both these musical microcosms.
In the interview, Kahn notes, "The signature sound of Impulse, I think, in many people's minds, is that it's angry, it's black and it's a tenor saxophone! And Archie Shepp is the perfect example." He qualifies this by pointing out how diverse and wide-ranging Impulse's sound actually was. While Coltrane was the label's centerpiece (under an exclusive contract), other sounds found a home there: Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson, Count Basie, Keith Jarrett, Horace Silver, Ahmad Jamal and Benny Carter all led fabulous sessions that bore the Impulse stamp.
I'll definitely be picking up Kahn's new book, having enjoyed Kind of Blue: the Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. Given the revolutionary overtones jazz discourse tends to adopt in times when conformity reigns, I think a lot of us get lost in the music's mystique of rebellion, myself included. It has a way of pushing our cerebral, political and emotional hot buttons, and even though longtime fans are peeved when the mainstream world seems to have forgotten even the most accessible of jazz sounds, the oversight seems more egregious than ever when the "outer reaches" of jazz become neglected. Speaking for myself, jazz scholarship helps me take a step back and recalibrate -- not because it's devoid of passion but because it tends to have the perspective that fans like me lack on occasion.
Pianist Hilton Ruiz passed away early yesterday morning around 3:50am at the age of 54. He was in New Orleans working on a Hurricane Katrina benefit recording but was found in front of a bar on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter on May 19th with injuries to his face and head supposedly sustained during a fall. Since then, he had been in a coma in the hospital where he died yesterday.
A New York native (though recently residing in New Jersey), Ruiz had come into music at an early age, performing at Carnegie Hall at eight years old. He gained experience playing in Latin bands (debuting on record at 14 years old with a group called Ray Jay and the East Siders) as well as straight-ahead players like Frank Foster, Joe Newman and Freddie Hubbard. Most notably, he spent some formative years in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band (1973-77, perhaps his most well-known "straight-ahead" association) and on the road with George Coleman (1978-79). Since then, his resume includes names as diverse as Dizzy Gillespie, George Adams, Tito Puente, Abbey Lincoln, David "Fathead" Newman and Dave Valentin. He was incredibly comfortable in all jazz styles, possessing a wide-reaching talent; he could cook up a percussive montuno, pull a listener's heartstrings with a wistful ballad or swing hard and heavy with solos in bebop and hardbop styles.
Donations can be made to help pay for his funeral or to help his family. Checks should be made payable to his agent, Joel Chriss & Co., and marked "Hilton Ruiz Memorial Fund." They can be sent here:
Joel Chriss 300 Mercer St. New York, NY 10003
Regarding funeral arrangements:
Visitation will be: Sun., June 11th and Mon., June 12th 2-5pm and 7-9pm at: John J. Barrett and Son 424 W. 51st St. at 9th Avenue (in Manhattan) 212.265.0335
A funeral mass will be said: Tues., June 13th, 10am at: Sacred Heart Church 457 W. 51st St. (in Manhattan) 212.265.5020
Last weekend, I heard Bennie Maupin at Cryptonight (hosted by Club Tropical in Culver City), celebrating the release of his newest album, Penumbra. As with any Maupin performance, you can never really know what to expect, but then again, why try to anticipate anything? Open minds and in-the-moment listening are always rewarded when listening to Maupin; his music comes from a truly spontaneous place, where the listener can hear him making choices in each second. He’s incredibly and attentive, never knee-jerk reflexive, and the sincerity of his music is its most refreshing quality.
Maupin is perhaps best known for his work with Miles Davis (on his later electric explorations like Bitches Brew, On the Corner and Big Fun) and Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi and Headhunters bands, but he also spent time with Horace Silver in the ‘60s and Lee Morgan near the end of Lee’s career in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. His mid- to late-‘60s performances with Andrew Hill are similarly dark and gorgeous. The first time I heard Maupin was on an LP of Hill’s One For One with a rhythm section and string quartet (though the album’s very hard to find, a few tracks are on Hill’s Mosaic Select set). All this to say Maupin’s career has been a long search for heartfelt, innovative sounds with bandleaders who have always nurtured individual talent, no matter how raw or adventurous their voice may be. Maupin is capable of these moods and much more.
The group’s performance was emotionally wide-ranging and using any and all techniques to birth his ideas. The first notes of the evening were actually the sound of Maupin breathing through the bass clarinet with drummer Michael Stephans and percussionist Munyungo Jackson rubbing their hands together. While many listeners may think this is a little “new-age”-y, these sounds were actually quite familiar sounding, very human sounds. More often than not, the group’s overall sound was fairly subdued (much like the muted, breathy mood of Penumbra) but rich with ideas and revelatory moments. Maupin’s bass clarinet is low and reedy, and his alto flute work is similarly full, throaty and pure.
On the other end of the spectrum, the group was visceral and fierce on a tribute to pianist Walter Bishop, Jr. (much more so, in fact, than on the album). His tenor sax tone ranged from husky and burnished to piercing, shuddery and powerful. Bassist Robert Hurst was solid while grooving (many of the tunes were vamp-based), but he also pulled off some blazing lines during a couple solos. Stephans and Jackson worked incredibly well in tandem. Jackson truly uses any and all of his instruments to flavor the sound of the group – a true tone colorist. That doesn’t mean Stephans is just a time-keeper; his drumming is some of the best I’ve seen for a group like this: very open, responsive and dynamic, his brush-work is especially crisp and creative, and he can make the group “swing” no matter what kind of groove they’re in.
Maupin joked that both he and Hurst hail from Detroit, “a city known for violence, sex, rock and roll, and once in a while they make a car.” Reflecting on the city’s working-class history, he mentioned that, as is the case with his family, the working class of any city “has some real heavy roots.” The hard-working ethic, as well as an appreciation for roots, was certainly passed down to Maupin. He focuses and fights for every note he plays. He possesses a wealth of musical ideas, but it isn’t just an arsenal that he digs into and uses like all-purpose tools. In fact, his musicianship is never mediated by made-to-play licks or even the musical language itself. His music can sometimes be simply sounds or space and sparseness. Maupin pointed out that, as any musician knows, “the real music lies in the spaces between notes.” Seeing him live, the listener truly realizes that each moment finds Maupin “creating something from nothing… the true Detroit spirit.”
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