LAST night I was lucky enough to catch jazz pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage in the kind of duet setting that captured not only what’s best about jazz, but about chamber music and “Americana” as well. For two chordal instruments to stay out of each others’ way is not easy, but this exceeded my high expectations, summoning memories of the legendary Bill Evans/Jim Hall collaborations such as Undercurrent. And while I expected low-key genius from Hersch, Lage knocked me out as well. (The two have a recent album, Free Flying.)
Hersch received some mainstream attention for beating back the ravages of AIDS a few years back — music critic David Hajdu wrote this wonderful piece on him in 2010 — and because of his mentorship of pianists Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus. Hajdu calls his work “fiercely independent” and “a manifesto of contemporary jazz,” and quoted Mehldau this way:
Some people think I sound like Fred. That’s because Fred was a major influence on me and on a lot of the players around today. Fred’s musical world is a world where a lot of the developments of jazz history and all of music history come together in a very contemporary way. His style has a lot to do with thinking as an individual, and it has a lot to do with beauty. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I hadn’t learned from Fred, and I think that’s true of quite a few other people.
Sunday night’s concert, put on by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, reminded me of the power of musical communication, as the two players weaved in and out of each others’ harmonies, as Hersch played muted chords and Lage, typically ringing single-note lines. One number, “Down Home,” was dedicated to Bill Frisell, whose merging of jazz complexity with country feeling was much in evidence through the evening, and another, “Stealthiness,” to the late, great Jim Hall. (Hersch praised him as “an understated, sneaky kind of player,” and Lage captured his spirit.)
Hersch manages to be both delicate and decisive, and Lage, an emerging player, was both respectful of his elder and quietly forceful on a thin Linda Manzer electric archtop (played through what looked like a Fender Reverb amp.) The highlight for me — partly because it showed these two very careful players loosening up a but and offering more edge and bizarre intervals — were the two Monk songs: The lively, uptempo “Monk’s Dream” came near the end of the set, and “Blue Monk” provided the encore. The latter is a standard jazz and folk-guitar number, a modified 12-bar blues in B flat, and even I can play a decent version. But Lage took this to strange new places, and Hersch captured its composer’s strange harmonic sense.
The show was in UCLA 500-seat Schoenberg Hall, pretty close to capacity, and it reminded me what a perfect size that is for small-group jazz, especially the kind played with this kind of intimacy and nuance.
It’s hard to describe what makes a musical collaboration work — there has to be just the right balance of tension and sympathy. Similarly, a lively improvisation is almost impossible to put into words as well. However you slice it, last night was music at a very high level.
ALSO: Despite the great jazz that continues to be made, writing about it has become more precarious than even. The Bay Area jazz critic Esther Berlanga Ryan has written a piece announcing she will not keep writing for free, and has left several outlets that expected her to. I can’t find a link, so here it is:
Esther Berlanga-Ryan leaves All About Jazz, Something Else! Reviews, Diario Jaén and UniRadio Jaén
“If one doesn’t give value to one’s work nobody else will”
San Jose, CA: There comes a time when paying dues reaches its final effort, and when it comes to music journalism (or any kind of journalism for that matter) there is a risk of falling into a pattern of free labor that too many radio stations and written and on line publications submit their unofficial staff to – the collaborators. EBR has paid such dues for too many years, and has come to the decision of leaving those companies that have not and will not come to the decision of honoring the good work and effort of their music journalists with a paycheck.
EBR is announcing that she is leaving All About Jazz, Something Else! Reviews (SER), Diario Jaén and UniRadio Jaén for the time being. If no offer of monetary remuneration is made, EBR will not return to those companies as a staff member in any capacity.
As an example, EBR’s most read article on All About Jazz, published on 11-14-2009 (Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight) has reached 35,301 hits to date. The least read of her interviews has 7,868 to date (Laine Cooke: Speaking to the heart). In between, Melody Gardot’s 28,955, Esperanza Spalding’s 26,923, Marcus Miller’s 23,652, Jeremy Pelt’s 23,300, John Patitucci’s 22,956 or Chick Corea’s 21,186. For a Jazz publication these are beautiful numbers. EBR’s profile on All About Jazz has reached over 10,000 hits to date, with only 20 articles written for this publication. Free is just not possible anymore.
EBR’s resume is a statement to work ethic and dedication: http://www.estherberlangaryan.
None of this affects the feeling of gratitude EBR feels she should always feel for the opportunity granted to her to write about Jazz and other music genres and host music shows on the radio waves, but of course such opportunities would have never existed had EBR not already come with over fifteen years of experience – paid experience for the most part – under her belt.
EBR will continue writing reviews for EBR and www.estherberlangaryan.com, and radio shows will periodically be recorded as well and posted on EBR’s website, as well as shared on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.
EBR also thanks the many artists who have remained supportive through the years. Special thanks to Marcus Miller (“Esther is the Barbara Walters of Jazz”) and Mort Weiss.
This is, of course, not limited to the field of jazz journalism. The British music critic has launched the Stop Working For Free movement. Alas, uncompensated creative/intellectual labor has become a standard part of the post-Internet business model. More on that subject in this space soon.