Lying on my back, I raise my left arm parallel to the edge of the bed. The square of sunlight which comes in the late afternoon…
In October it is golden with an almost greenish tinge to it. Always, it is quickly retreating after only offering a stage for my shadow puppets for a mere twenty minutes before the elongated square then sinks back into the rest of the wall.
Dawn too may have offered a brief theater but I was rarely awake to observe if it was so.
I look best in bar-light and so tried to bathe myself in it as often as possible. This trick of light also encompassed the perception of time. Regardless of how long I held myself absent, none of the stool vultures noticed. Conversations and arguments could easily be picked up again as if they had just been started the previous night.
I spend a lot of time in my head giving my life currency via obeying Socrates’s old adage. Sandra noticed my lack of presence as I became wrapped up in a project. She insisted I go out with her, adding the prerequisite that it be some place free of other distractions or crowds in which I could camouflage myself.
A home cooked meal, the preparation for which painted my shirt that I changed right before her arrival. Offered up, a heavy pasta meal whose execution and richness induced a near sensual stupor. We talked, the music played and as I remained an active participant it all remained dreamily peaceful.
However, as good as the evening was she knew that there was every reason to believe that tomorrow would find me once again solitarily soaring through the air on notepad wings at the expense of all else not birthed from the barrel of my Waterman. She wanted to squeeze as much of my attention out of the night as possible.
We went for a walk. I choose an area which I did not usually find myself in as to avoid the transmutation of this evening into just another night. There was a diner, whether mere ritual or the heaviness of the meal, I desired a coffee even though most likely it would not be any good. Sandra was fine, so I go it to go.
A small park. We sit in the empty bandstand. I drink smoldering coffee from a cardboard cup while Sandra smoked one of her endless, last cigarettes.
The bandstand sits in meditation on the ghosts of Duke, Basie, Kenton and a then young modern America. As for myself, I think of Nathan. He had driven a taxi for thirty years, big band music providing the soundtrack. Not necessarily wisdom but the desire for a minor immortality is the catalyst of one generation telling the next their stories. A lot of Nathan’s anecdotes centered on the time of his youth. Whether this was because he thought I would relate better or because it was the more interesting time in his life, I never knew.
There was his pal who had lost an arm in the war but afterwards continued to drive his taxi that was affectionately known as “The one arm bandit”, countless get rich quick schemes involving silver mines and commercial tuna boats that had nearly paid off and a general excitement which kept his taxi circling the city well after hope of obtaining fares was gone as he was afraid that he would miss something where he to merely go home and go to bed.
The stories I never tired off. The music he tried to share did not do much for me; I was pure into the then new to me, bop and would not appreciate it for many years and by then he would be long gone.
I initially when I finally got into Duke, it was his later recordings on Columbia which were closer for my ears to the modern jazz I had been cutting my teeth on. From this I traveled backwards in his catalog and then outwards, exploring and embracing his peers.
I grew big ears, listening to music from every era and genre, the who and what depending upon my mood. I gained an affection and knowledge of big band.
From the early 1950’s on, while no longer the soundtrack for youth, the big band genre continued past its cultural reign. It was not merely nostalgia, a mere few remaining bands playing the favorites at festivals, the genre continued to evolve well past the inception of bop, albeit it outside of mainstream attention.
Overall, modern jazz, while supplanting big band from its previously held cultural position did make the incorporation of largely previously unutilized components such as Western classical and world music easier to incorporate.
People like Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Orchestra, Gil Evans, Charles Mingus (not big band per see but amazing large ensemble writing with some Duke in his DNA) and Bob Brookmeyer continued evolving the genre well past what had been its era utilizing palettes which were no longer limited in the way their artistic predecessors had been due to commercial or other consideration.
For big band and large ensemble music it would seem that now would be a golden age to be a musician/composer as there are not limitations to where one can draw influence from nor what can be incorporated into a work. However there is neither the widespread innovation nor evolution as one would expect from such freedom.
Once in a while there are little flashes of something, the power of it being real as it comes neither from gimmick or novelty.
Jon Armstrong’s new jazz orchestra album Farewell offers something new but clearly built off of what had come before him.
The ensemble is made up of woodwinds, trumpets low brass and percussionists. The first track “Ardnave”, begins with a foundation of percussion and trumpets playing in unison a theme which has an Iberian peninsula feel to it without it ever lapsing into ethno caricature.
After a solo trumpet statement there comes a percussion break. This section really puts forth the warmth of the album’s sonics. The album’s sound is very good with an ambient warmth which I will take any day over a cold digital, pristine perfection. Recorded in a school in North Hollywood (California) the artist and engineer clearly understood how to utilize the room. After the percussion break comes a section with clarinet. It has a mild klezmer feel to it. The contrast between clarinet and the swell of brass is enjoyable. The clarinet’s voice, a rich woody shade as found in the forest, the trees’ canopy broken here and there by the shafts of sunlight brass.
With a lot of larger contemporary ensembles, regardless of how good the players are and how forward thinking the charts, there is always that effect of garnering a suspicion that the band sounds better live. The overall warmth of this recording keeps that feeling at bay throughout the length of the entire album.
“Fool of Me” starts with a legato, split reed murmuring and is a perfect example of the intimacy of Farewell’s cadence. The lone horn is joined by other voices in a plaintive lament. The low brass roils in contrast to the bass and saxophone which remain delicately buoyant in a duet. Slowly a near vocalese trumpet speaks its piece as the rest of the ensemble add an underlying richness. I enjoy the density of this composition which is kept from feeling overly heavy by achieving its mass through the emerging and reduction of various instruments in smaller groups within the group.
“Dream Has No Friend” begins with horns in unison laying out slowly descending lines. After a low end march is introduced there are some subtle tempo shifts accompanied by varied orchestral colorations. Rising out of the aural miasma, the trombone lays out long lines upon which the piano and clarinet intermittently appear all voices unified by a slight waltz like rhythm.
The clarinet has chime like echoes accompanying it upon its initial introduction which makes for a unique and compelling sonic contrast. Towards the end of the piece the rest of the ensemble comes in, an impasto effect. The work ends with the deep brass reduced down and once again in a descending pattern.
Jon’s work does not strictly adhere to genre formula(s) and the entire album is all the more better for it. It stands up to repeated listenings. It has substance but is never so forward thinking as to turn off the more casual listener. The CD comes in gatefold packing with a liner note booklet.
For more information on Jon
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Another artists’ artist in a series of rare & special events.
Charles is a musician’s musician who should be better known. This great live performance serves as the perfect introduction.
Coming out of the shower a bunch of components, nothing exotic but combined in a ratio that would be impossible to intentionally replicate, created an ambient perfume. It called forth not specific memories but more an emotional abstract which was familiar. The futility of memories, smoke that briefly takes on the shape of something else, blowing back apart as one tries to hold it in their hands. This is yesterday’s tomorrows, now already spent up.
The city of light, she was everything to me and too soon I would once again be temporarily leaving her. Perhaps that was one of the reasons for my unending desire to always return; I never got to gorge myself to the extent that I thought that I was capable.
Once I was down to a day or two before leaving I could not sit still as my body was caught up in contrary motions, not wanting to leave but also with an encroaching time of departure looming, wishing I could just get it over with. I had been invited over to Margeaux’s for a last dinner. Under the best conditions I was a finicky eater with home cooked meals made by others and that was not taking into account my current nerves. I actually liked cooking as I found it meditative but I did not want to offer up that idea as I was trying to use up what was left in the refrigerator and a dinner guest would mean more food shopping. The logistics of the whole thing was beginning to feel an inconvenience to me, especially as when not taking my final turn as a flâneur, all I wanted to do was sit around in my bathrobe eating eggs and listening to some Jelly Roll Morton while devouring every inch of my arrondissement with my eyes as to have total recall of even the smallest brick when away from it all. I tried to beg off, offering up vague promises of a drink somewhere.
Knowing the way I operated she insisted that we meet for dinner as otherwise she could miss me until my eventual return or find me surrounded by too many other well-wishers at one of my favorite watering holes. What could I say?
She liked to wear the little hat that she had bought in Italy with the dark green veil as she felt this gave her the gift of prophecy. Too late to warn Icarus to change his flight she headed to Saint Michelle, bringing her smaller pocketbook since she need only carry her keys and some money for drinks.
I had grumbled to myself all day about our dinner date but on the way there, the lights spilling out into the streets, the plaques which I now knew so well, each denoting which artist had lived in a building, worked to remind me of how wonderful even the commonplace in this city is. Aside from the obvious of one last long walk all around the neighborhoods that go from mine down to the Seine I now wanted an act of communion and valentine with the city. The only solution was to order everything on the menu and hope that she saw the sensuality of it. We talked and ate, one act spurring the other on. I helped her on with her jacket, she turned around and held me in an embrace as we kissed goodbye. There was now an undertone of the gastronomic in her perfume. Of course we would write or at the very least mean to.
I take my walk. I pass a small bar, it is crowded but I feel compelled to go in. Once inside there is just enough room to blink. At the far end of the room is a kid standing on a spot of floor playing an alto saxophone. He is accompanied by an upright bassists who must dip his instrument like a tango partner anytime someone needing to use the restroom or the waitress goes by.
They are young but play with feeling and a clear understanding of the bop genre. All the people crowded into the place generate a heat yet there is none of that rude aggression as can be found in such situations elsewhere. The front of the bar has two sort of bay window alcoves that normally house small café tables which had earlier been moved to the side of the bar to serve as a staging area for the dirty glasses accumulating. These empty alcoves allowed more people to come in and stand in the tables spot. I stay for a few songs, Bud Powell and Bird. I could not have left even if I had wanted to as there was a score of people now behind be. All the heat and bodies, the windows begin to bulge outwards a ship catching the wind and about to set sail. More people come in; one girl by the door thinks she sees some friends ahead and to the left of me. As the people try to part to make way for her I swim towards the door before the small tributary closes.
The cool air revives me. Tendrils of music make their way out onto the street, lingering over the crowd smoking by the door waiting their chance to squeeze in. I begin one of my last walks back, taking the long way that brings me by one of the edges of the Luxembourg Gardens. I know I will not be around for it but I stop to look at the concert schedule for Le Petite Journal anyways. It is mostly Dixieland bordering on hot, jazz.
The small program taped to the door gets me to thinking. From what F. Scott Fitzgerald tapped his toes to, all the way into the late 70’s fusion which some wish had never happened, jazz in all its incarnations is alive and well in Paris. A few blocks away were the kids listening to bop who tomorrow may be here listening to some Bechet or over in Montmartre to dance music under the flashing neon in a club. Of course distinctions are made between the myriad of genres but the fans here seem to have more open ears, not limiting their listening habits to any one specific style.
The musical choices available and the dichotomy of people’s listening habits here get me to thinking. When writing about jazz, just as a point of reference labels must be attached to a work/musician. As practical as this practice is, there is a certain level of stagnation about it as once something is labeled, the verbiage creates a specific set of expectations and artistic limitations.
Musically there are some interesting things going on stateside which one could call underground, not necessarily because of musical obscurity but from lack of interest or promotion by major labels and more importantly, the availability (exposure) to the more casual listeners who do not often seek out what is not right in front of them.
The term mainstream now carries a pejorative connotation as it conjures up all things plebian, fare for the lowest common denominator not in the know. Founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, the label ECM has always had a roster of artists whose work not only straddles genre boundaries but often ignores them. ECM is mainstream not for lacking substance in what they offer but in that works on the label are readily available almost anywhere. The music and the distinguished cover art often receive awards worldwide. Talent aside, part of the labels success is in the diversity of work offered up which renders irrelevant the question and the importance of asking “is it jazz”. Much of what is on the label could comfortably be considered world or modern classical.
Extended Circle is the new offering from the Tord Gustavsen Quartet. Often if an album is not comprised of standards or covers, I like to listen to it the first time without having read the liner notes. A measure of artistic success is if one listens to a work and the emotions and inner visions experienced while listening match up to the artist’s intent. Extended Circle is a programmatic work which incorporates aspects of Scandinavian folk art, gospel and choral works. Immediately even when the source material of folk songs such as the traditional Norwegian song “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” is transmuted into Tord’s own vernacular the overall sense of emotional unity for the album comes clearly through.
“Right There” is a personal favorite. Stripped of any mysticism, déjà vu is said to be the recognition of an emotional response one has had before, usually triggered on subconscious level by stimulus of a similar nature to the original thought or reaction. There is something vaguely familiar about the chord progression and the lyrical way in which the music quietly undulates. This could be some of the components of source material which Tord drew from, many choral and spiritual pieces sharing at least some sonic commonalities. There is a sense of tension achieved in how the music builds organically and slowly akin to the sun starting a new day. There is a lyricism prevalent throughout the entire album and of which this song perhaps is the most indicative of.
The piece begins with the piano gently stating the theme but not so delicate as to make it ever lapse into muted abstractions. It is bolstered by the pulse of brushed drums which serve to underscore the melody. The introduction of the double bass which plays the theme but not the exact melody in sync with the piano is akin to a dialogue between the two. Not so much as duet but as two people talking about the same thing as they comment on different aspects of it. The song ends on an ethereal note with the fading out of the final ringing notes of the piano.
The album is all original songs predominantly written by Tord with the exceptions being “Entrance” and its variation which was a collective effort, “Bass Transition” by bassist Mats Eilersten and the previously mentioned “Eg Veit..” which is a traditional song , here arranged by Tords. As always with any ECM release, the sound is pristine.
“Silent Space” with its soft (solo) tinkling piano has a contemplative spirituality. With its circular pattern, it feels a reflection about what one may occasionally muse upon, the soul and that which feeds and inspires it, which are forever locked into a similar circular pattern of give and take. This piece really shows off the richness of the production. The fullness of sound achieved by the lone piano is timeless not in regards to the era it belongs to but in the space it occupies from a clock’s point of view.
“The Prodigal Song” has a similar cadence to the first piece, both nicely bookending the album to further an overall suite like feel to the songs. There is an encompassing spiritual aspect to this album whose power is non dogmatic, the importance being not on a specific place or recitation of words but one of contemplation. Spirituality, different for us all but arising from the commonalty within each of us, to let our thoughts wander to the infinite.
Musically, there is no longer any wars, one need not take sides, bop versus the moldy figs or the free jazz(ers). No longer do any musical adherents of a specific genre care if one strays in their listening habits. This combined with the far easier availability of diverse and obscure works via the internet should free everybody up to explore. Load up your MP3 player or tablet with unknown works and become sonic Magellan.
The morning of my departure, instead of the gentle singing of the bird in my window box which I had grown accustomed to and which along with the sound of the bakeries grates sliding up served to herald the start of a new day, there was a crow perched atop the utmost corner of a building screaming at the dawn. A pagan ritual for leaving to replace that of the daily start.
More information on Tord: http://www.tordg.no/trio/
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After sold out concerts in June in Germany and a solo piano tour on the West Coast; Jan Matthies Music Management presents the free live stream of the Alan Broadbent Trio with Harvie S (bass) and Billy Mintz (drums) from Jazz at the Lincoln Center – Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola:
Monday, June 23, 2014 starting 7:30 PM New York time and 1:30 AM on Tuesday in Europe.
Earl MacDonald is a music educator (Jazz Studies; University of Connecticut), composer/arranger and musician (piano). Mirror of The Mind is his fifth album as leader, in which he continues his exploration of combining a diversity of outside influences and inspiration while still feeding off of jazz’s rich history.
The ensemble is a quartet comprised of piano, multi reedist Kris Allen, Christopher Hoffman on cello and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. It is a little bit of a different line up for a quartet but not overly so. The sonorities achieved by the group as a whole always remain interesting but never at the risk of alienating the more casual listeners.
“A Thousand Memories” begins with Earl’s piano in a see-saw pattern and brushed drums whose stuttered beat is perhaps someone’s pulse caught up in a reverie of memory. Opting to go for a cello instead of the standard upright bass is a great idea. Here, it enters the song initially emulating the piano pattern in a rich singing tone. For his solo statement Earl’s piano offers up a cascading run of percussive, clear ringing notes whose pattern is then taken up by the tenor saxophone. The horn’s solo is a long flurry of notes bereft of any discordance and so logically connected to both the piece and the piano solo which had preceded it that it serves to organically move the piece forward. Throughout the piece are two motifs, the see-saw pattern and occurring under that by cello and horn one that is a sort of diagonally upward thrusting pulse point pattern. Towards the end of the song the cello reiterates both themes. The finish is an exhale of the horns breath, softly and the final plink of the piano; the dream over but not forgotten and only for now.
The album is comprised of mostly original compositions with the exception of two covers (“Blackbird” and “I Never told you”). “Blackbird” is refreshingly executed as a fairly straight ahead read. In modern jazz a cover tune or musical quote initially would have some sort of humorous, intellectual or political raison d’etre. As jazz expanded past being music just for the outsiders (artists, intellectuals et al) a cover or musical quote became the starting point for each artist to build their own thing off of. For the past decade or so covers are often deconstructed or reimagined, sometimes distractingly so. The listener metamorphosed into an audience member at a magic show, waiting for the source material to be revealed. The “I” of the artist more often than not taking precedence over the material, what it means to them and not what makes the piece in itself great. In lieu of vocals the soprano saxophone declaims the main melody. It is a relaxed affair without ever lapsing into sounding like a jam band. The ensemble shows great interplay which is harder to organically do on material that is not comprised primarily of virtuosic turns. There is a beautifully buoyant plucked cello solo midway through the piece. The sonics for the entire album are pristine and immediate, lacking that digital coldness which can threaten to remove the humanity from a work.
“Miles Apart” is my favorite piece on the album. It has a laconic, bluesy feel. It is a nicely layered piece. There is a great opening line which has the soprano taking the lead under which a bowed cello can be heard, it being bolstered in turn by the subtle poly rhythmic murmurings of the percussion. The cello has some compelling moments, conjuring up the feel of someone with a stately mien admitting to having the blues without losing their composure as they do so. The long lines of the soprano which end the piece underscoring the point. In some bar or club, the protagonist dressed to the nines, happy to be going home not on account of having had a bad time but because that is the natural order of things. As is to lament what we lost or do not yet possess.
Maxwell Chandler -Midtown-
More information on Earl: http://www.earlmacdonald.com/
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I decide to take a walk in the opposite direction from all that I have learned geographically of my newly adopted city. I walk under a freeway ramp whose concrete columns are cracked and for some reason make me think of an old time taxi dancer now bereft of music. There are some barbeque places and alike, several tiny dive bars dark which seem to be siblings. All being kept propped up by the regulars who in turn are held erect by the cheap vinyl of their stools, stiffened with age and the work week need to eventually get back to it. The side of one of the places had chain link fence whose bottom did not quite reach the ground or perhaps the earth had retreated from its touch. There are the skeletons of several cars with concrete block feet, a graveyard of stilled motion. Objects and their myths. I decide to go in and let myself briefly be anesthetized by whisky hopes and carnival dreams.
The juke box is no good, contrary silence which is what the regulars want as they have heard it all before and are intent upon studying the diminishing returns of their perpetual last rounds. It is all right, I truly am only here for one. I leave without having been offered a word by anyone but I trust they knew I was, as always simpatico.
Walking back I hum to myself, the music lulling me into contemplation. Lately I have been reading the Russians, not just the immortals but the newer greats too (Babel, Solzhenitsyn, Olesha). It has made me contemplate a stoicism which tries to see a little good even in a bad situation without lapsing into any sort of Panglossian blind optimism.
Music no longer has the steadfast genre classifications and while this in itself may not be viewed as a bad thing, there have been some definite negative side effects. Although proper usages for genre terms are more often than not now made vague and irrelevant, a common point of reference is needed for any kind of interaction. Speaking in the broadest sense, for there will always be exceptions to every rule; this has quelled the casual listener’s ability to see and hear things which fall under the mainstream’s radar. With the bottom line almost always winning out, to find anything different one must now make an effort to search, which means it stays largely unknown to people who like music but do not live for it.
As I now strive to see the positive, the good thing to come from this is that those artists following their muse outside of the mainstream are now freed up to draw upon diverse influences differing from what their work may end up as. The freedom caries over too into their ability to incorporate myriad stylistic turns within their own work.
Jason Miles is a Grammy winning producer/composer/musician. From the very start of his career his pedigree shows diversity in the spirit of which he continues to create with today. Within his large and varied palette can be found some pop elements. Pop, not in the pejorative term as used to describe the vapid state of the genre now but harkening back to producers and arrangers like Van Dyke Parks, Quincy Jones and George Martin. He has also introduced components of world music and electronica into the realm of pop and fusion.
A Prayer for the Planet is Global Noize’s second album. As with some of his other projects, here Jason brings in some guest stars: world vocalist Falu and turnbulists/efx maestro DJ Logic among others.
The sound throughout the entire album is pristine. “Tokyo Sunrise” starts with softly ascending electro-washes over which a soprano saxophone played not in the nasal mid-eastern cadence as is so often utilized but with more legato gentle breathy notes, slowly unfurls. There is the percussion of drums intermittently peppered with finger snaps. The piece has the ambience of when one is initially arriving back from the land of slumber. Those first golden ambassadors of the early morning sun waking one as projected fingertips gently caress still closed lids, the soft growing heat signaling an end to the night. There is a churning of bass and vintage sounding synthesizer washes which add richness to the piece from its halfway point. The piece finishes with the sax trailing off, the sun moving down the street to wake the rest of the city, heralding the start of the new day.
“Charisma Love” has world music vocalese by Falu. Although I do not know what she is singing I greatly enjoy the song, which emphasizes the universal aspect of all music and underscores the general philosophy of Jason’s project. There is a compelling mélange of world music meets funk, led by a transistor toned guitar which serves as contrast to the plucked string section swells and soprano saxophone runs. The whole song in general seems to exist within a series of pulses as could be created by seeing a beautiful woman or something as equally enjoyable and perhaps nocturnal.
“Viva La Femme” is my favorite track on the album. It starts off with voice coming as if from a long ways away via a radio. There are layers of percussion and electro flourishes as signal flares that something is about to happen. The melody created by a chant is mirrored by harmonica; some local in a café in Marseilles who plays for change and cannot but help have the ambient surroundings enter into his own music. Bolstered by a dark oscillating ambient churning a rhythmic panting can be heard before a more song-like and melodic vocalese enters. There are some Gitane like scales upon which the melody is built. I can taste Pastis in my mouth as my feet feel the cobblestones of the street. The song successfully creates a layered mélange of electro and acoustic elements. It is a joy derived from music with the music generating an organic near on eroticism. It is all beauty which sets the mind to wandering and toes to tapping.
“Walking On Air” has a great relaxed vibe combining a down-tempo feel with elements of jazz in the soft flute lead voice. Over the entire album, even with guests coming and going, there is cohesiveness to the playing. It never feels like anyone is merely playing a part which will be jig sawed into the rest of the song. Even though there are electronic elements to the songs it is never at the cost of emotion.
With his Global Noize project Jason has set out to create works with various collaborators which ignores any kind of stylistic restrictions in execution or from where they pull in their influences. Subtler and left unsaid is the shown example within this album of how music can be fun, groove and still be art.
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More Information on Jason