“The Future Lies Ahead” (Mort Sahl)

Stan Kenton could be grandiose in his music. Otherwise, for the most part, he was downKenton.jpg to earth. In the 1950s following a concert, a reporter asked him, “Mr. Kenton, where is jazz going from here?”
“Well,” Kenton said, “tomorrow night we’ll be in Detroit.”
That is still the best response I’ve found to a question that will continue to be asked and can never be answered. Atlantic Records called Ornette Coleman’s first album for that label The Shape Of Jazz To Come. A more honest title, it turned out, was that of his final Contemporary album a few months earlier: Tomorrow Is The Question. Coleman has influenced certain aspects of jazz over the past half-century, but he has not shaped it. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had enormous effect on the course of the music, but in 1943 it would have been impossible to predict that their innovations would reach so far. It is orthodoxy for jazz historians and critics to declare that in 1928 Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” was the turning point into a new jazz maturity, but that is with the perspicacity of hindsight.
Tomorrow will always be the question, so when we listen to adventurous new music, it might be safest to judge it on its merits rather than proclaim it a vision of the future. Here are reviews of recent CDs by artists who are interesting but may not be messiahs. Who knows where they’re headed?
Detroit, perhaps.
Generations.jpgMiles Okazaki, Generations (Sunnyside). Okazaki is a composer who closely controls his concepts while allowing his soloists enough latitude that the music has spontaneity. His guitar solos are well executed, but in the nine sections of this continuous work, three alto saxophonists and a vocalist dominate the sound. Miguel Zenón, David Binney, and Christof Knoche comprise a saxophone choir in several segments. There is enough similarity in their approaches that unless you are familiar with their subtleties, it will be helpful to refer to the booklet credits to see who is soloing at any given moment. All of them are satisfying, but on “Generations,” Zenon reaches a high point, escalating power and passion, then subsiding into peacefulness.
Jen Shyu’s soprano voice rides on top of the ensemble, sometimes in counterpoint, sometimes in unison with one or more instruments–including drums. Bassist Jon Flaugher, drummer Dan Weiss and Okazaki are the rhythm section, swinging forthrightly in places, controlling the expansion and contraction of time in “Overture” and elsewhere. Okazaki’s web site includes the score for “Generations.” You needn’t be an accomplished sight reader to see the meticulousness with which he prepares his music. He achieves an expansiveness that can be restful even when there’s agitation below the surface of the music. And he’s one young jazz artist who knows the value of dynamic contrast.
Jacám Manricks, Labrynth (Manricks Music). An Australian who moved to New York nearly ten years ago, Manricks plays saxophones, flutes, clarinet and bass clarinet. Like Okazaki, his writing is as important to his music as his playing. He proves it here by employing not only aManricks.jpg quintet but also, on two tracks, a ten-piece chamber orchestra. In his album notes, Manricks acknowledges the influence of Debussy, Schoenberg, Gil Evans and Ravel, and although they are detectable, Manricks’ originality is more in evidence. His strings ensembles float the listener through “Micro-Gravity.” His harmonic voicings, uses of powerful rhythms and the electronically manipulated textures of Ben Monder’s guitar are among the elements that make “March And Combat” gripping listening. Conceptual writing also rules the combo tracks, each of which contains plenty of stimulating soloing by Manricks, Monder, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. This one came out of the blue. I’m glad that it did.
Josh Berman, Old Idea (Delmark). There is a good deal of whimsy in cornetist Berman’s quintet. Whimsy seems to go with avant garde territory in Chicago, the land of Ken Vandermark Josh Berman.jpgand Rob Mazurek, not to mention the AACM. There are moments when he’s not gliding through a melody that tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson sounds as if he could be slap-tonguing and making animal sounds with a New Orleans band of the 1920s. Berman is not averse to spitting, whinnying and snorting with his horn. But there are moments of touching lyricism, as in the reflective “Nori” and the three versions of “Next Year.” The band’s approach reminds me of Tommy Peltier’s Jazz Corps, which in 1966 made one memorable album that featured Roland Kirk. However far outside he may go in his improvised lines, Berman gets an old-timey sound like Peltier’s on cornet. The band’s spirit is often similar to the Jazz Corps, even unto the resemblance of the vibraphone playing of Berman’s Jason Adasiewicz to that of Peltier’s Lynn Blessing. Anton Hatwich is the bassist, Nori Tanaka the drummer. This is a fresh Old Idea.
Andrea Fultz, The German Projekt (Andrea Fultz). As we pointed out a couple of years ago, Louis Armstrong made “Mack The Knife” a jazz standard, but few jazz artists have explored Kurt Weill’s songs of satire, outrage and beauty from The Threepenny Opera, Happy End and Mahagonny. For a Rifftides discussion of exceptions, go here. Now, we can add Andrea Fultz’s new collection. Her Fultz.jpgsinging is knowing, sly, in tune, and gutsy. The daughter of a German mother and an American father, she sings these songs from the twenties and thirties in German, with only occasional side trips into English. She renders German so persuasively that by the end of my first hearing of the album I was nearly convinced that I understood the language. Whether or not she is one, she has the phrasing and inflections of a trained actress.
Seven of the songs are by Weill and his partner Bertholt Brecht, four by Friedrich Hollaender, another major figure in German musical theatre between the world wars. The repertoire includes “Alabama Song,” “Bilbao Song,” “Mackie Messer Moritat” (“Mack The Knife”),Hollaender’s “Falling In Love Again” and the devastating anti-fascist “Song of a German Mother” by Brecht and Hanns Eisler. Fultz’s accompaniment is by a hip young band of San Franciscans (piano, violin, accordian, bass and percussion). Much of this is heavy stuff, musically and emotionally, from a period when Germany was awash in forebodings of evil, and cynicism thrived. Thanks to the quintet’s sensitivity to the music and the canny arrangements by accordianist Rob Reich, they manage to meld a German cabaret sensibility with a twenty-first century grasp of jazz feeling. The songs are riveting. This is my first encounter with Ms. Fultz. I’m looking forward to the next and hoping that she will be a part of the future of jazz.
Towner Galaher, Courageous Hearts (Towner Galaher). Galaher has been in New York for a couple of Galaher.jpgdecades, a ubiquitous drummer reliable and adaptable enough to be in demand by artists in a range from Louis Armstrong’s former bassist Arvell Shaw to comparative youngsters like Jon Faddis, Wynton Marsalis and Arturo O’ Farrill. For his second CD as a leader, composer and arranger, Galaher recruited a formidable band of veterans; trumpeter Brian Lynch, trombonist Fred Wesley, tenor saxophonist Craig Handy, pianist George Colligan, bassist Charles Fambrough and on the four Latin pieces, percussionists Gabriel Machado and Ze Mauricio. His compositions are in the middle of the modern mainstream, but with unexpected harmonic and rhythmic twists. Galaher’s reworkings of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” are ingenious. So, too, are his drum fills behind soloists. He assembled the band just for this date; they had never played together as a group. That and adventurous soloing are the the only senses in which this music is experimental. They sound as if they had worked together for weeks. This may not be where jazz is headed, but if it were, I could live with it.

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  1. says

    Excellent intro to this latest compendium of releases–your remarks certainly worthy of their own extended and no doubt extensive reflections on Jazz and history and whatever lies ahead.
    And special thanks for word on the Fultz Projekt. I collect Brecht und Weill records–well over a hundred LPs and CDs, including quite a few that skirt Jazz styles since Weill’s music was often attempting some such sass if not Jass. I even wrote a play long ago about the Brecht-Weill collaboration circa ’28 to ’30 as the duo went from little-known artists, to the darlings of Europe’s theatrical avant garde, to targeted enemies of the Nazis–Kurt smart and stolid, Bert a weaselly guy and out-for-himself main-chancer, Lotte Lenya one part of the glue holding them together. The play never got anywhere, but all that brazen music has stayed with me.
    (Mr. Leimbacher is proprietor of the blog “I Witness.” To go there, click on his name in the upper left corner of this comment. — DR)

  2. says

    Doug, your picks and your choice of words never cease to amaze me for their breadth and the fact that you have such open ears. So many critics sour on new jazz after a certain age. You are a true champion of progressive interesting music. I’m not just saying that. I’ve heard several of these records or they are records that I intend to buy having read reviews elsewhere. Out of curiosity who sent you the Jacám Manricks CD?* Never heard of him or the label. Heard of all the others here. Galaher’s last CD, Panorama, also self-released, was also an excellent hard-charging post-bop romp with Onaje Alan Gumbs on piano, Fambrough on bass, Maurice Brown on trumpet, Mark Shim on tenor sax, and Frank Colon and Johnny Almendra on percussion. Towner is a practicing Buddhist, who is active in the local Buddhist community in Brooklyn. I know several musicians who have met him through NY Buddhist channels.
    (*His publicist. — DR)