main: November 2009 Archives
My 10 top CDs of 2009 blow past conventions to enrich jazz, blues, new and unusual music. They're chosen from almost 1000 I received for review -- an abundance of fine releases since November 2008, the full year following Barack Obama's election to president.
Maybe it's coincidence that fresh thinking, spirited energy and practical creativity runs high at this moment in history -- or maybe it's that 2009's challenges require musicians like everyone else to find new answers to the tough questions: how to find joy amid gloom, work to harmonize and stand independently, keep the beat and take time out, too. The following CDs (most also available as MP3 downloads), are pleasures from the past 12 months I recommend for their surprises and soulfulness. Listed in no particular order --
Far out improv, high concept contemporary composition, new jazz scholarship and "cut loose" music from Guadeloupe flood Lowest Manhattan (all the way to Staten Island) this weekend. The folks who bring us the Vision Festival stage 28 hours of multidisciplinary improvisation starting tonight (Friday) at 6 p.m. at Clemente Soso Velez Cultural Center; Mode Records throws itself a benefit marathon concert featuring Philip Glass, John Zorn and Robert Ashley, among many others on Saturday at Abrons Art Center; jazz scholars convene for The Louis Armstrong Symposium at College of Staten Island also Saturday starting at 9 a.m., keynote by Dan Morgenstern) and the Destination Guadeloupe Festival climaxes with Gwo-ka drumming, "gwanda jazz" and zouk at S.O.B.'s on Sunday (bands from Guadeloupe are also there and at Zinc Bar tonight and tomorrow).The possibilities show again the breadth and depth of music made and presented in NYC.
Stepping down from presiding over Jazz.com two years after its launch, editor, author and pianist Ted Gioia isn't saying much about what's up with the site that has become a major web resource and destination. Naturally, this leads to wondering what has become of the promise and potential of jazz on the web.
A survey in my latest City Arts column of the music of trumpeter-composer Wynton Marsalis, in the jazz spotlight for 25 years. Founder and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, educator, activist, humanitarian, winner of a Pulitzer and multiple Grammies, Wynton stands tallest in my book when he just plays jazz.
Writer-guitarist Greg Tate was shy about conducting Burnt Sugar at the Blue Note last night, not stepping out front of his troupe to guide them (kinda like President O waiting for Congress to decide what to do), but the late Robert Palmer's spirit hovered quite tangibly over the tribute his daughter Augusta Palmer ran at Le Poisson a couple blocks away, celebrating the screening of her film The Hand of Fatima which tells the story of her disengaged dad and his musical fascinations. The struggle for respect of music journalists who believe black music is the heart-and-soul of America goes on. . .
Monday 11/16, NYC: writer-guitarist-conductor Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar plays the Blue Note, and the late journalist-reedsplayer Robert Palmer is celebrated by biographer-world musician John Kruth, historian-memoirist-social commentator-radio producer-singer-songwriter Ned Sublette, and the Master Musicians of Jajouka with at Le Poisson Rouge. Are the inmates running the asylum?
Winners of this blog's first Blues Lyric Contest are suitably troubled -- and all get Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson Play the Music of Ray Charles DVDS to ease their weary minds. All have expressed regrets they can't get to Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts of Wynton and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra celebrating for Mary Lou Williams' centennial or alto saxist Maceo Parker, so sadly those tix go wanting. But that's the blues for ya. . .
Prizes of Jazz at Lincoln Center tix for this weekend and dvds of Wynton Marsalis with Willie Nelson for the best blues lyrics or prose poem will be determined at 12:01 tonight (11/11/09). Several stunning (!?!) efforts have been received -- via the comments box below -- but I'm not publishing any of them until all the tries are in and the winners have been chosen. Is it hard to write a blues lyric? See my examples from yesterday, or search the web for classics, which are plentiful. Three to five choruses fitting a standard 12-bar blues form, or a bluesy prose poem of 100 to 150 words are what I want to see -- alto sax soulman Maceo Parker playing in the elegant Allen Room, and Wynton leading the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in music by Mary Lou Williams, with featured soloists Geri Allen and Geoff Keezer are first prizes; second and third are dvds of Wynton and Willie (with guest Norah Jones), autographed by Mr. Jazz at Lincoln Center himself.
Submit your blues now! Don't delay and cry like this --
For tickets to Jazz at Lincoln Center this weekend or a dvd of Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson performing live, try writing a blues. How hard can it be?
"Minutes seem like hours, hours seem like days,
Seems my baby would stop her lowdown ways" -- Muddy Waters, "Country Blues"
"Woke up this morning, looked 'round for my shoes
You know I had those mean old walkin' blues" -- Robert Johnson, "Walkin' Blues"
"Whoa, oh tell me baby
Where did ya stay last night? An' why don't ya hear me cryin'?
Whoo hoo, whoo whoo,
Whoo who. . . " -- Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightning"
Readers of this blog can win 2 tix for JALC's November 14 shows by Maceo Parker or the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra playing Mary Lou Williams, or autographed Wynton-Willie Nelson Play Ray Charles dvds. But in keeping with the inherent value of these prizes, I'm making the contest creative, not easy.
Jazz is global, but its most ambitious players still flock to the US to soak in its roots and prove they're part of the scene. Tonight a Parisian septet called Fractale wraps up an eight-gig tour of the States at the Drom in the East Village, after stops in New Orleans, Cleveland and Chicago. From December 3 to 6 Spanish pianist Chano Domínguez & his Flamenco Quintet bring its commissioned "The Flamenco Side of Kind of Blue" to the Jazz Standard to assert that the Barcelona Jazz Festival (in which they premiere the work on November 12) has something to do with the Big Apple. Next February the Portland Jazz Festival explores the theme "Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved To A New Address?)." But incontrovertible evidence suggests that however far the sound has spread, those who matter know where jazz calls home.
In my City Arts column: a new album and Roulette concert with commissioned work from a worldly-wise 65 yr-old NYC/East Village-based composer-bandleader who keeps looking at music -- Varese's and Wagner's, Scott Joplin's and Ornette Coleman's -- to find something new. I call Henry Threadgill a prophet in the wilderness, urgently trying to shake us from complacency. At De Roberti's classic Italian pastry shop for coffee yesterday, Threadgill claimed he's just helping American music born in the urban late 20th century to develop its full potential, and it's got a long ways to go.