Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Pretty Good Jazz Records

I like the way Matthew Shipp, in the winter 2010 issue of Signal To Noise, talks about digging Monk and Bud Powell because (in so many words) they were crazy, and suggests that Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock "should just go somewhere and stop playing." The pianist, who made his name playing with free jazz throwback David S. Ware in the '90s, is also making the most interesting statements on his instrument of anyone except for maybe Vijay Iyer, and has a new solo album 4D to prove it. Shipp's a cerebral player, whether essaying long, flowing lines, crafting dense rhythmic mazes, or pounding out atonal clusters. When he applies this variegated attack to standard repertoire ("What Is This Thing Called Love," "Autumn Leaves," "Prelude To a Kiss") and folkloric material ("Frere Jacques," "What A Friend We Have In Jesus," "Greensleeves"), he summons the shade of Cecil Taylor at the Cafe Montmartre in '62; on his own knotty compositions, he's strictly his own guy.

Speaking of Vijay Iyer, his Historicity trio set from last year remains a worthwhile listen. He covers M.I.A.'s "Galang," demonstrating how natural it is for young jazzcats to flaunt hip-hop influences -- remember Jason Moran's take on "Planet Rock" from 2002's Modernistic? -- alongside Andrew Hill's "Smoke Stack" and Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." (which is heading for standard territory, what with Marty Ehrlich's recent cover), and plays "Somewhere" from West Side Story against a walking bass and nervous drums that serve to mute the song's overwhelming romanticism.

Probably less inclined than Shipp to dismiss ancestral elders, 23-year-old German Pablo Held just released his sophomore CD, Music, on the German Pirouet label. His style is as saturated with European romanticism as it is with echoes of Keith and Herbie (he covers material by 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen as well as Hancock), and he displays an admirable maturity, although his record still makes for less compelling listening than Shipp and Iyer's latest outings. An interesting new voice, nonetheless.

Adegoke Steve Colson's a boppish AACM pianist who's worked with David Murray's Octet and poet Amiri Baraka's Blue Ark; his new CD The Untarnished Dream bears liner notes from Blues People author Baraka, and while they're nowhere near as cosmic as the ones the poet penned for Coltrane's Ascension, they serve notice that Colson's an artist of some heft. The Untarnished Dream features his long lived trio with ex-Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille, who drummed on Cecil Taylor's crucial late '60s Blue Note sides, joined on four of the nine tracks by Colson's vocalist-wife Iqua, who's sung in the pianist's Martin Luther King opera " in a Cultural Reminiscence...." She's a forceful vocalist whose vibratoless delivery recalls Nina Simone's. The sprightly waltz "Triumph of the Outcasts" (which opens with a crisp Cyrille solo) first appeared on Colson's 1980 debut Triumph!, which had become quite a collectable before he recently reissued it. On "Parallel Universe," Workman and Cyrille play cat-and-mouse while Colson's exploratory solo unfolds. On "And It Was Set In Ivory," topical lyrics give way to ritualistic percussion a la the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Finland might not be the first country you associate with adventurous jazz, but TUM Records is a recently-reactivated, Helsinki-based label with a 2010 release schedule that includes U.S. heavyweights Billy Bang, Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, W.A.R.M. (a free jazz supergroup that includes Reggie Workman, Pheeroan Aklaff, Sam Rivers, and Roscoe Mitchell), and Archie Shepp as well as a stable of forward-looking Finns. On Some Kubricks of Blood, avant-guitarist Kalle Kalima leads a drumless ensemble (himself, bass, accordion, and sax) through a program of dark, moody pieces inspired by the late director's films (the group's name, "K-18," is the Finnish equivalent of an "X" rating). John Zorn would approve. Tenorman/flautist Juhani Aaltonen has a sound that's achingly romantic, but not cloyingly so. On Conclusions, he and a quartet including pianist/harpist Iro Haarla (wife and collaborator of the late Finnish avant-garde pioneer Edward Vesala) play a music that's as spacious as it is reflective -- almost like a '70s ECM session.

I'll admit to being less than an enthusiastic partisan of "Latin jazz," possibly because it's what the organizers of the local jazzfest here in Fort Worth like to book "to bring the crowds" instead of ponying up the money to pay, say, Ornette. But I'm quite taken with the Colombian-born percussionist and ex-Arturo Sandoval sideman Samuel Torres' Yaounde', which is more of a showcase for the leader's compositions -- which display tremendous sensitivity and depth -- than it is for the virtuosic fireworks (and blaring brass) we've come to expect from artists so labeled. A good example of what Torres is up to is "Bambuco (To Santa Fe de Bogota)," where Joel Frahm's soprano sax carries the lovely melody and bassist John Benitez takes a somber solo before ceding the stage to Torres' maracas. Suprising, subtly engaging stuff.


Blogger Herb Levy said...

I'm not going to try to convince you that there's something to Latin jazz that you should be paying attention to; your taste is your taste and, as with most genres, there's a LOT of dreck.

But this past year was the first year that Jazz on the Boulevard tried to sell tickets for general admission and there wasn't a latin band among the headliners (& there were very few among the local bands that were programmed). Instead the festival tied its financial success to George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars, Chris Botti and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Worthy musicians by most standards, but not much in the way of jazz.

That they went right to more popular kinds of "roots" music and fusion rather than trying to sell "real" jazz touring bands in their first time charging admission for the festival is a drag. North Texas is the largest metropolitan area in the US without a venue that regularly brings in touring jazz bands. Because local audiences and players don't have a chance to hear to hear a wide range of players from outside the area performing live, it weakens the scene.

The festival's unwillingness to book "real" jazz headliners after deciding to charge for tickets, makes me doubt that Jazz on the Boulevard will ever pay the kind of money that Ornette Coleman requests and deserves.

But money may not be the only issue stopping this festival from programming Coleman. Based on the Dewey Redman band they hired a few years ago (by far the dullest of the 4-5 bands I've heard Redman play with), I wouldn't be surprised if there were also aesthetic issues that will keep the festival from presenting Coleman. Unlike Redman, Coleman doesn't have a working band that primarily plays jazz standards. And that may be just as much of a deal breaker for Jazz on the Boulevard as any financial requirements.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Resonate with your views on Samuel Torres' "Yaounde". His music is really engaging and deep.

5:42 PM  

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