Gerald Wilson, 1918-2014

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Word has come that Gerald Wilson died today in Los Angeles. A swing era trumpeter, he became the pioneering leader, composer and arranger of a modern big band that was a significant presence for more than sixty years. Wilson enriched the language of large ensembles by employing expanded harmonic structures. He was noted for, among other things, his colorful music inspired by Mexican bull fighting. For an obituary, see Don Heckman's article in today's Los Angeles Times. In a post to come, … [Read more...]

We’re Back

server problems

Web server problems resulting in massive slowness interfered with Rifftides today and, evidently, with all other blogs under the artsjournal.com umbrella. As a result, it was not possible to prepare and post new items. I would be happy to report that the crack Rifftides technical staff wrestled the problem to the ground and eliminated it, but there is no Rifftides technical staff. The difficulty seems to have fixed itself, and we're back up and running, witness the next exhibit. I believe the … [Read more...]

Thad, Mel And Co. In Belgium

T.JONES & M.LEWIS1

In response to the recent Rifftides recommendation of the new album by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Bill Kirchner sent a link to video featuring the VJO’s progenitor. About the clip of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band in Belgium, in 1973, Bill writes: So-so, though acceptable, sound, but great playing and interesting camera work. Note the repair tag hanging from Knepper's trombone. The program includes one of Brookmeyer’ greatest arrangements and three pieces composed and arranged by Jones. 1. … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Finger-Pickin’ Good Sousa

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Bobby Shew sent a link to a performance by a guitarist named Doug Smith. After listening to Smith’s introductory story about his dad, no former Marine could be expected to ignore the video. Anyone who can finger-pick Sousa’s famous piccolo part in “Stars and Stripes Forever” while also playing the harmony and melody must be taken seriously. This is an opportunity to see and hear a man who enjoys his work. I must confess to having known nothing about Doug Smith before Mr. Shew alerted me … [Read more...]

Recommendation: Brookmeyer For The Vanguard

Over Time, Vanguard

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Over Time: Music of Bob Brookmeyer (Planet Arts) This is the album Bob Brookmeyer was preparing for the Vanguard orchestra before he died at the end of 2011. As a composer and arranger, Brookmeyer was a creative force in the Vanguard’s predecessor, the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and its forerunner, the big band co-led by Lewis and Thad Jones. With Jones-Lewis, he was also a principal soloist, on valve trombone. Brookmeyer's rich history with all of the band’s … [Read more...]

Labor Day # 2: Workin’

Labor-Day-US

As pointed out in the previous exhibit, Americans and Canadians are taking a three-day holiday to observe Labor Day, which this year is Monday, September 1. On this occasion established nearly a century-and-a-half ago, they do their best to get sunburned, exhausted and happy—the latter with or without the aid of beer, which sells in oceanic quantities as summer winds down and people populate beaches, mountain meadows, national parks, RV camps and back yards. There are several versions … [Read more...]

Labor Day #1: Struttin’

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This is Labor Day weekend or, if you prefer the Canadian spelling, Labour Day weekend. Monday will see official observance of the day established in Canada in 1872 and the US in 1887 to honor the economic and social contributions of working people. It long ago expanded to a three-day holiday weekend that marks the unofficial end of summer, the return of children to school and huge sales at department stores, automobile dealerships and sellers of electronics. Millions of Americans celebrate … [Read more...]

Happy Bird Day To You

Charlie Parker smiling right

Here it is Charlie Parker's 94th birthday, and I'm just getting around to observing it. The photograph captures Bird in a moment of happiness. Such moments came fairly often in his troubled life, more frequently when he was at work than when he was pursuing, or pursued by, his problems.       So, let's listen to him at work. First, one of his magical transformations of George Gershwin's "Embraceable You." This is Take 2 of the tune from his Dial session of October … [Read more...]

Weekend Listening Tip: Holman At Port Townsend

Holman at Port Townsend

At 87, Bill Holman still hits the road occasionally. He did this summer and unveiled a major work. Sunday on his Jazz Northwest program, the veteran jazz broadcaster Jim Wilke will present his recording of the new piece and others by Holman conducting a big band loaded with stars. In the Jim Levitt photo below, you see Holman at work. Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan is visible on the left end of the reed section. Here is part of Mr. Wilke’s announcement, including information about how … [Read more...]

Jan Lundgren’s Newest…And (Maybe) A Nomination

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News has arrived that my notes for the new Jan Lundgren solo piano CD have been submitted to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for a possible Grammy nomination. I hasten to emphasize that a submission is not a nomination. The essay required some of the most exhaustive research I have ever done for an album annotation. It involved the pleasure of listening repeatedly to All By Myself and investigating the history of each of its 14 pieces, classics from what we have all come to … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Apples And “Scrapple”

Apples 2014 2

It’s time for the annual Rifftides apple crop outlook, with evidence snapped this week on a cycling expedition. Stacks of bins the size of apartment complexes sit waiting to be filled with what Executive Director Jon DeVaney of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association says will be a “good-sized crop of high quality.” He predicted to the Yakima Herald-Republic that Washington State’s apple farmers will harvest 140 million boxes of apples, an increase of eight-and-a-half percent over … [Read more...]

New Recommendation: Tom Harrell

Harrell Trip

Tom Harrell, Trip (HighNote) A dozen compositions by trumpeter Harrell provide a framework for variety and surprise in this recording by the pianoless quartet he calls Trip. The centerpiece, “The Adventures of a Quixotic Character,” is a six-part suite inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ 15th century novel Don Quixote. Harrell’s solo on “The Ingenious Gentleman” is a highlight among highlights. If some of the tracks summon thoughts of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, it may be more than a … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Copenhagen

Copenhagen Canal

In an attempt to get the Europe virus out of the bloodstream (fat chance), here is the final report on our Ystad-Copenhagen adventure. Following the Ystad Jazz Festival in southern Sweden, son Paul and I spent three days in Copenhagen. Denmark’s capital is an hour to the northwest of Ystad by way of a long, spectacular bridge and tunnel across and under an arm of the Baltic. Copenhagen is full of music, but we didn’t need more; our ears were ringing with five days of music. We wanted rest and a … [Read more...]

Ystad Jazz: The Wrapup

YjazzMuS

It has been two weeks since I returned from Europe, but the Ystad Jazz Festival is still on my mind. It was impossible to hear all of the young Swedish musicians who played at the festival and there was not enough space in my Wall Street Journal report to cover all those I did hear. Here are thoughts about some whose names you may want to remember; their talent and potential staying power could make them known well beyond Scandinavia. Norwegian electric bassist Anne Marte Eggen led the … [Read more...]

John Blake, Jr., RIP

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From Philadelphia comes news of the death of John Blake, Jr., a violinist who combined his classical training, love for the African-American musical tradition and sense of adventure to become prominent on the forward edge of jazz in the 1970s. Blake was 67. He made his mark recording with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and soon won the Violinist Deserving Wider Recognition category in the Down Beat Critics Poll. His fame widened when he toured with Grover Washington, Jr’s band and then with … [Read more...]

Bill Evans And George Russell

Following the Bill Evans birthday piece three days ago, a note from Alan Broadbent about Evans reminded me of a Rifftides post from five years ago. The piece placed Evans in the context of his work in the 1950s with George Russell. It appeared on the occasion of Russell's death, and it included video of some of Evans' most stimulating playing. This appeared on July 29, 2009. George Russell, 1923-2009 George Russell died Monday night. Here are some of the facts of his life, outlined by … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Mehmet Ali Sanlikol

Sanlikol, WhatsNext

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, What’sNext? (Dünya) Using orchestral techniques that stem in part from his early training as a classical pianist, Sanlikol blends aspects of music of his native Turkey and of Arabic countries into contemporary jazz. A graduate of the Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory, he studied arranging with Bob Brookmeyer, whose influence is one ingredient in Sanlikol’s eclecticism; the audacious “On the Edge of the Extreme Impossible” is a dramatic instance. … [Read more...]

Bill Evans At 85

Bill Evans 1

Mike Harris is one of several Rifftides readers who sent reminders that this is Bill Evans’ 85th birthday. Over a decade in the 1960s and ‘70s, Mr. Harris surreptitiously recorded the pianist at the Village Vanguard in New York. His recordings make up the eight-volume box set Bill Evans: The Secret Sessions. In a note, he suggested, “—perhaps worth a mention?” This anniversary of the most influential jazz pianist of the second half of the twentieth century is worth more than a mention. … [Read more...]

Weekend Listening Tips: Jensens And Kirchner

I & C Jensen

Jim Wilke’s Jazz Northwest broadcast on Sunday afternoon will feature the Jensen sisters, trumpeter Ingrid and saxophonist Christine. Their prestigious rhythm section has pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Jon Wikan. Wilke recorded the quintet at the Centrum Jazz Port Townsend festival in July. From Jim’s announcement: The sisters grew up in Nanaimo, BC and have gone on to successful musical careers. Christine Jensen now lives in Montreal where she composes … [Read more...]

Young Red Nichols And Friends

Red Nichols

The jet lag is pretty much gone now, and I’m settling back into a normal routine, or as normal as routines get around here. Before memories begin to fade, I will post a few illustrated impressions of the Ystad festival that did not make it into the Rifftides posts from Sweden or my Wall Street Journal report, and perhaps a few of our visit to Copenhagen, which was too short. For the next day or two, however, I’m on deadline for liner notes to accompany Houston Person’s next album. For the … [Read more...]

From The Archives: Plumming With Schubert

Plums

I'm back from Europe, too jet lagged for any good use but reluctant to go long without posting. In such situations, trolling the Rifftides archive usually hooks something worthy of another look. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________ August 24, 2005 A couple of weeks ago, the Italian plum tree in our little orchard broke off at the base of its trunk and fell over, loaded with hundreds of perfect purple plums. Before the … [Read more...]

Ystad Concerts: Korb And Lundgren

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The American bassist and singer Kristin Korb has lived in Denmark the past two years. In her Per Helsas Gård concert, she included songs from her next album, Finding Home, about the effects of the move and the peace she has found in her marriage and her adopted country. A protégé of the late Ray Brown, Ms. Korb’s bass playing is the foundation of her musicianship. She is an increasingly clever lyricist in the songs she writes, arranges and sings. “58 Boxes” was about “missing my stuff” … [Read more...]

Ystad Impressions

Redmond Quartet Ystad 2014

The Ystad Jazz Festival was packed with performances so tightly scheduled that time for blogging—and sleeping— was at a premium. Here are impressions of a few of the events. In the splendor of the 19th century Ystad Theater, back-to-back concerts by the quartets of tenor saxophonists Joshua Redman and Charles Lloyd offered contrasting approaches to modern mainstream jazz. Ebullient, Redman led his troops through three of his compositions and one by pianist Aaron Goldberg … [Read more...]

Scofield’s Über Jam

Scofield Uber, Ystad

“Remember,” guitarist John Scofield said backstage before his performance at the Ystad Jazz Festival, “this is my rock band.” Is it ever. Formally named The John Scofield Über Jam Band, the quartet operates with an array of electronic and digital enhancements that gives it volume and intensity that a big band—even a couple of big bands—might be hard-pressed to equal. “We should be tight,” Scofield said. “We’ve done 24 concerts in 27 days on the road in Europe.” Indeed, the … [Read more...]

Ellington In Ystad

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Packed to capacity, the 11th century Saint Mary’s Church in the center of Ystad hosted a magnificent performance of music from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts. A citizen who lives nearby told me, “There are more people in this church than there were on Christmas Eve.” Eva Ekdahl conducted her 34-voice Stockholm choir and eight instrumentalists in her husband Anders’ adaptation of Ellington’s work. From the first bars of “Ain’t But The One,” it was evident that the performers grasped not … [Read more...]

A Hot Time In Ystad

Ystad beach

If you have wondered why Rifftides chose to cover Sweden's Ystad Jazz Festival for the second time, here is one reason—seen from my hotel window overlooking the Baltic Sea. It's summer in Scandinavia, glorious summer, when Swedes flock to beaches to soak in the sun that Nordic weather denies them nine months of the year. It has been unusually hot here in recent days, with temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius (about 99 degrees Farenheit). Shorts, swimming trunks, flip-flops, … [Read more...]