Mon, 24 February 2014
Eric Dolphy recorded only one album for the famous Blue Note label, but what an album it was!
Fifty years ago on February 24th, Dolphy led a quintet into Rudy Van Gelder's studio and created music that I can only describe as "mainstream avant-garde," a collection of five songs that have the fire and open feel of Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane, and yet keep a grounded, syncopated sound that predates music that the likes of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and later John Zorn, would produce in years to come.
What a band Dolphy brought along! Vibes master Bobby Hutcherson and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard were already fixtures on the Blue Note scene. Bassist Richard Davis was a key member of Andrew Hill's band, as well as a contributor to classic releases by Booker Ervin and Joe Henderson. He was tapped by Van Morrison to be the bass player on his seminal rock album Astral Weeks four years later.
On drums was an 18 year old named Anthony Williams, but the jazz world would embrace him as Tony when he came to prominence with Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet, and go on to re-write the sound of jazz.
A few months after recording this album, Dolphy went on a European tour with his mentor Charles Mingus. Sadly. he died shortly thereafter of a diabetic shock.
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00am EDT
Thu, 20 February 2014
A few months back I had the pleasure of having a conversation with David Krakauer, the noted clarinetist and “Radical Jewish Music” pioneer and to post it as Podcast 377. During the course of our talk, he mentioned his then-future project The Big Picture, a multi-media presentation that would merge many of his most important cultural touchstones - music, the movies and Jewish culture.
I had the pleasure of catching one of these extravaganzas, and left with a delightful case of sensory overload. Krakauer leads a crack band, featuring guitarist Sheryl Bailey; violinist Sara Caswell, keyboard whiz Rob Schwimmer; bassist Mark Helias and percussionist John Hadfield though a set of film-sourced tunes that are deconstructed not only by their fiery play, but by the accompanying film clips designed by Light of Day. Whether they are tackling well-known pieces like “Wilkommen” from Cabaret or “People” from Funny Girl, or sections from scores written by Randy Newman (Avalon) and John Williams (Schindler’s List), the band – and Mr. Krakauer in particular – bring out new and wonderful aspects of the music in a most entertaining manner.
The CD release of The Big Picture captures the same set list as the performance (sans encore) and a slightly different band, but still manages to re-invent well known tunes and themes. While enjoyable, someone who has “seen it live” can be forgiven if the recording cannot reach the highs of the performance. For the rest of the world though, this is another terrific addition to Krakauer’s catalog, a further revisiting of American and Jewish culture at its most probing.
Category:general -- posted at: 11:08am EDT
Mon, 17 February 2014
A lot of CDs cross my desk, and an unusually large number of female vocalists. While some stand out, most are fairly generic treatments of the Great American Songbook. Enjoyable, but not really worth repeated listening.
And then I heard Cheryl Barnes.
For several decades, Cheryl’s versatility has encompassed many musical genres. Singing in four different languages, Cheryl has performed around the world (including shows with Wynton Marsalis, J.J. Johnson, Quincy Jones and a guest member spot with the Clara Ward Gospel Singers), and has recorded with the likes of Azar Lawrence, Billy Mitchell and Cathy Segal-Garcia. Her sixteen years of Operatic training have brought her to the stage as a featured soloist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, the Florida Orchestra and The Lawrence University Orchestra in Wisconsin, and she has toured extensively throughout South America, nurturing her love for Samba, Bossa Nova, Salsa and the riches of Latin and Afro-Cuban Music.
After all that singing, it might come as a surprise that Listen to This is her recording debut. Backed by a strong band featuring Brandon Fields on sax, John Hammond on piano, and Rickey Minor on bass, she has chosen songs that could serve as a series of musical souvenirs from the many places her career has taken her. . From original jazz tunes like “Afternoon in Harlem”; to reinterpretations of pop tunes by Joni Mitchell (“Come in From the Cold”); to gospel-influenced and classical material (“When I Am Laid in Earth”) there is no shortage of great material. Add in orchestration by John Beasley and this is a wonderful listen
Podcast 411 is my conversation with Cheryl about the making of the CD, her choice of songs, and how she sings such a wide variety of styles. Musical selections include her cpver of Joni Mitchell's "Come in from the Cold"; "Afternoon in Harlem" and "Listen to This".
Direct download: Podcast_411_-_A_Conversation_with_Cheryl_Barnes.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sat, 15 February 2014
Pat Metheny took another unexpected musical turn two years ago when he hooked up with saxophonist Chris Potter to create the Unity Group. Initially a quartet anchored by young Ben Williams on bass and long-time Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez, the second CD release from the band includes a new face, multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi. Kin is a powerful album, taking the sweeping, arching sound of the Pat Metheny Group of old and turbo-charging it into a 21st century dynamo. It’s recording like Kin that give one hope for the direction of Modern Jazz. This is a true working band, trading solos, moving between instruments and teaming up in service of the music rather than ego.
I had the chance to have a Q and A session with Pat by email, and am happy to share the give and take below. Special thanks to John Michaels for assistance with the questions. Click here to enjoy the track “We Go On’ while you are reading the interview.
From a writing standpoint how does having a saxophonist like Chris Potter enable you to take this band in different directions?
It is impossible for me to say how much I admire Chris and I am so happy that he has joined me for these projects. Yes, he is a great saxophone player, but I would put him in that small group of people who sort of transcend the instrument. There is a certain force or spirit at work there that he has access to - that is what I am really writing for and that is what has been really inspiring for me in this period.
I caught the last edition of the Unity Group in Detroit Labor Day 2012 and I must say you all seemed to be having a really great time on stage together. What is it about this group of musicians that gets you - pardon the expression - jazzed?
I have had a lot of great bands over the years, but this is one of the most well balanced groups of personalities - musically and otherwise - to date. We can have conversations that kind of continue onto the bandstand and switch over to a musical syntax and back. Plus, everyone just sounds good together. It has been a blast.
In your playing and writing how do you balance respect for the Jazz tradition, while at the same time keeping an ear toward the future?
I really try to represent in music the things I love in it as a listener. My goal is to be really honest and committed in trying to offer the things that I have found to be true and meaningful in life - in sound. There is a kind of authenticity that is important to me too - to really try to tell a story that is coming from a personal point of view.
Throughout your career you've always incorporated new technology into your projects. Are there currently any tech items that have been piquing your interest to date?
There has been a revolution in terms of what music technology can be - this has to be the best time in history to be a musician in terms of tools. That said, a good idea is a good idea. Whether it shows up in this guise or that guise, and whether it is super modern technology or a kazoo is pretty much beside the point - if you have a really great idea, it will work hi-tech and super lo-tech.
Given all the new technology at your finger tips, you have never hesitated to add interesting instruments to your groups for sound and texture like Gregoire Maret's harmonica and now Giulio Carmassi. What leads you to these decisions?
As much as I am involved in music as an improviser, writing music has become almost as much of thing for me. And being a bandleader fits into everything in a big way in just about everything I do. I am always on the lookout for people who seem to have something to say who might offer something unique.
Jim Hall was a big influence on you and of course on Jazz in general. What three things come to mind when you look back on your experiences with him as a colleague and friend.
Yes, Jim was huge for me, first as a hero, then as a friend and also as an important collaborator along the way - and I will really miss him. His touch on the instrument and the deep musicality he brought to everything he played had a big impact on me and all of us. But beyond that, he was just a great person. I think everyone loved Jim. He was one of the few musicians that just about everyone agreed on, regardless of which branch of the tree they were coming from.
You've been in the public eye since you were just a teenager. Can you recall a recording that you heard back then, or even earlier that made you say to yourself - yes, this is what I want to do with my life?
Miles Davis - Four and More.
What music might we be surprised to find on your iPod?
At this point, I have the feeling no one would be surprised!
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00am EDT
Thu, 13 February 2014
A few weeks back I did my consumer reporting duty and advised readers/listeners who were looking for a CD of romantic music to give as a Valentine’s Day present to find Cava Menzies and Nick Phillips’ Moment to Moment. While not a collection of love songs or even familiar standards (with an exception or two), the CD is a study in how ballads can be played, and is highlighted by Nick’s throwback sound on trumpet and the lush interplay of Cava’s keyboards. It’s a winner.
I’ve also given you my 2014 Valentine’s Day mix to download, and in that posting gave you links to three prior year mixes to access. If you’re following me online, you are in good shape music-wise.
However, a CD with a February 14 release also deserves your attention this season. Check out John Brown’s Quiet Time on Brown Boulevard Records. Brown, a solid bass player and bandleader, came to my attention over the Holiday Season, as he led a Big-Band to back Nnenna Freelon on her CD of Christmas tunes. Here he is at work with a quintet, and they produce music that lives up to the CD title – it is perfect for quiet times.
The arrangements are appropriately spare, and there is room for uncluttered soloing by a tight band. I’d love to hear more from the one-two punch of Ray Codrington (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Brian Miller (alto/tenor sax), who play with great sensitivity and style, but never fall into smooth jazz-cliché. Check out the solos on the band’s cover of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s “….and the Willow Weeps” to hear what I mean.
These musicians represent more of the fine talent coming out of the North Carolina area, as discussed by Ira Wiggins in our podcast last year. It’s a big country out there, and there is too much great music to think that New York or Los Angeles has a monopoly on quality.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:21am EDT
Tue, 11 February 2014
And now for your edification, a brief history of Valentine’s Day, courtesy of Infoplease.com:
The history of Valentine's Day is obscure, and further clouded by various fanciful legends. The holiday's roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day.
Which St. Valentine this early pope intended to honor remains a mystery: according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were at least three early Christian saints by that name. Most scholars believe that the St. Valentine of the holiday was a priest who attracted the disfavor of Roman emperor Claudius II around 270. At this stage, the factual ends and the mythic begins. According to one legend, Claudius II had prohibited marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and put to death. Another legend has it that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed "from your Valentine." Probably the most plausible story surrounding St. Valentine is one not focused on “Eros” (passionate love) but on “agape” (Christian love): he was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion.
In 1969, the Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar, removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable. St. Valentine was one of the casualties.
It was not until the 14th century that this Christian feast day became definitively associated with love. According to UCLA medieval scholar Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, it was Geoffrey Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine's Day with romance.
In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England's Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day. In "The Parliament of Fowls," the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine's Day are linked:
For this was on St. Valentine's Day,
Over the centuries, the holiday evolved, and by the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging hand-made cards on Valentine's Day had become common in England. Hand-made valentine cards made of lace, ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts eventually spread to the American colonies. The tradition of Valentine's cards did not become widespread in the United States, however, until the 1850s, when Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Mass., began mass-producing them. Today, of course, the holiday has become a booming commercial success. According to the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year are valentines.
The Valentine’s tradition here at Straight No Chaser is to create a mixtape of sorts for you to share with you special someone. You can find previous mixtapes from 2013, 2012, and 2011 on the website along with this year’s selection, Podcast 410. I tried to expand my listener’s knowledge a bit for this podcast, choosing artists with whom you might not be familiar, but who are producing some terrific music. Download today, give as a gift on Friday.
Rene Marie – “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)”
Ralph Bowen – “A Solar Romance”
Bob Dorough – “Love (Webster’s Dictionary)”
Mike Jones Trio – “I Thought About You”
Nikki Parrott - “As Time Goes By”
Cava Menzies and Nick Phillips - “You Don’t Know What Love Is”
Lisa Ferraro with Houston Person – “Teach Me Tonight”
Frank Wess – “Embraceable You”
Catherine Russell – “After the Lights Go Down Low”
Herb Silverstein – “My Valentine (Featuring Richard Drexler & LaRue Nickelson)”
Ron Carter – “My Funny Valentine”
Tue, 11 February 2014
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the next few days will feature some brand new releases with songs just right for your sweetheart.
We begin with George Winston’s second tribute album to the pianist nicknamed “Doctor Funk”, Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi Volume 2. Winston came to prominence for his sometimes somnambulant solo piano records for the Windom Hill label, primarily performing acoustic paeans to the changing seasons. He cites as major influences the music of Guaraldi, New Orleans legend Professor Longhair, and Ray Manzerek of the Doors. This listener is hard pressed to see the direct connection between these players and the uber-mellow Winston, but despite these unlikely sources, Love Will Come works very well.
Winston has a real feel for melody, and much of the material he selects is perfect for him. It helps that he eschews some of Guaraldi’s more up tempo numbers, and his latin influences to concentrate on a straight forward, no-nonsense approach.
Since Guaraldi is primarily known to non-jazz fans as the composer and performer of the soundtracks for the many “Peanuts” television shows, click here to listen to Winston play “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown”.
Sun, 9 February 2014
Did you know that 50 years ago tonight a group called The Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and sort of changed the history of the world?
Yeah, I thought you might have.
But leave it to me to give this event a jazz twist.
The whole worlde seemed to rush into the record studios to record Beatles songs in 1964, but leave it to Ella Fitzgerald to write and record "Ringo Beat", a name check of famous drummers that gives Richard Starkey his due. Arranged by Barney Kessell, it was recored by May 23, 1964 for Verve, about the same time that Ms. Fitzgerald was preparing to work on The Johnny Mercer Songbook .For those interest in such things, the flip side was "I'm Fallin' In Love."
Just a month earlier, on April 7, 1964, Ella was in London, and recorded her version of "Can't Buy Me Love" with the Johnnie Spence Orchestra, also for Verve.That track appeared on The First Lady of Song LP.
Ella would eventually record an entire album of Beatles' tunes on Glass Onion: Songs of the Beatles, which would include "Got to get You Into My Life" and "Savoy Truffle", among others. You can see and hear Ella sing "Hey Jude" at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969.
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am EDT
Wed, 5 February 2014
Today makers the 100th anniversary of William Seward Burroughs II, a unique figure in the annals of American Literary and Cultural History. Burroughs, who left a mark as a writer, painter, spoken word artist, actor, gadfly and drug abuser, is one of the major figures to come out of the Beat Movement of the 1950’s, and one of the true Post-Modern artists of the time.
The publication in 1959 of his novel Naked Lunch set off a firestorm in American publishing, with a series of states declaring the work obscene. In 1966, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared the work "not obscene" on the basis of criteria developed largely to defend the book. The case against Burroughs's novel still stands as the last obscenity trial against a work of literature prosecuted in the United States.
As for Burroughs and the Beat Movement’s connection with Jazz, I turn to Jed Birmingham:
Kerouac is usually thought as the bop writer with his theory of spontaneous composition and readings to jazz accompaniment. Many of Kerouac’s works show the influence of jazz, particularly his poetry, like Mexico City Blues which ends with several choruses dedicated to Charlie Parker. Kerouac’s novels also depict jazz sessions and talk about jazz music. Kerouac’s descriptions of clubs and musicians in On The Road and in various short stories are among the best in the history of modern literature.
The influence of jazz on Burroughs would appear to be first and foremost Burroughs’ adoption of the jazz lifestyle dominated by heroin and marijuana. Figures like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk blowing on 52nd Street played a part in Burroughs’ fascination with the drug underworld just as Herbert Huncke and Times Square scene did. But the influence of jazz goes deeper than that and permeates Burroughs’ mature works like Naked Lunch and the cut up novels.
Throughout his career, Burroughs rubbed elbows with the jazz world, most notably with Ornette Coleman. Both Coleman and Burroughs appeared in the 1966 freak-out Chappaqua directed by Conrad Rooks. Burroughs plays Opium Jones and Coleman appears as a Peyote Eater. Coleman was commissioned to provide the soundtrack but his Chappaqua Suite was ultimately not used.
Glen Hall became fascinated with Burroughs while in college. He wrote:
In 1973, while studying modern American literature, I was asked to produce "a response" to any novel I had been reading. I chose to do a tape collage about "The Market", a section of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. That same year, I finished my post-graduate work with my thesis on Burroughs' cut-up and fold-in techniques of composition.
As a talented jazz musician and composer, Hall melded his academic interest with his musical passion, and in 1999 released Hallucinations: Music and Words for William S. Burroughs to solid reviews. Hall has collaborated with Roswell Rudd and Gil Evans over the years, and is a leading figure in the Canadian jazz avant-garde.
Podcast 409 is my conversation about Burroughs with Mr. Hall, who speaks eloquently about the recording of Hallucinations, his continued inspiration by Burroughs’ life and legacy, and other projects and collaborations on which he has been working. Musical selections including "Muddy Waters (Little Walter / Lakeshore Theme / Willie D. / Otis / Whisper From Theresa´s / Walkin´ Up Halsted)" from his collaboration with Gil Evans, The Mother of the Book; and "Cut-Up" and "Virus Powers (The Book Of The Word)" from the Hallucinations CD.
Direct download: Podcast_409_-A_Conversation_with_Glenn_Hall_on_William_S.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:00am EDT
Mon, 3 February 2014
Even for an artist hailed by Ebony Magazine as one of "7 Young Players to Watch" who has studied with jazz heavyweights like Charlie Haden, Wadada Leo Smith, Dave Douglas, Joshua Redman, and Matthew Shipp, it takes considerable confidence and courage for a young musician to match wits with veteran improvisers like William Parker and Gerald Cleaver. But on his second release, Divine Travels, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis does just that, not only holding his own with that masterful rhythm section but leading them down fresh and unexpected pathways.
The album also contains two collaborations with poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, who Lewis has been working with since the two met at a residency in 2011. The Brooklyn-based poet recites works from two of his books, Skin, Inc., and The Maverick Room, which won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award in 2005.
James' modesty and quiet sense of faith shown through when we spoke last month, as we discussed the making of Divine Travels, his plans for taking the new material on the road, and where his muse may take him next. Podcast 408 is our conversation, featuring musical selections from the new CD including, "Tradition", "Divine", "Wading Child in the Motherless Waters" and "The Preacher's Baptist Beat.".
Direct download: Podcast_408_-_A_Conversation_with_James_Brandon_Lewis.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:00am EDT