The 2010 Brubeck Festival opens today at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Occasional Rifftides contributor Paul Conley of Capitol Public Radio in Sacramento spoke with Dave and Iola Brubeck about the history of the institute. Among the stories is Brubeck’s recollection of the early connection between one of his brothers and an emerging young band leader and arranger named Gil Evans. To hear Paul’s report, go here and click on “Listen.”
Archives for April 2010
Kirk Knuffke, Amnesia Brown (Clean Feed). Knuffke’s trumpet tone is notable for softness, fullness and evenness. The audacity of risk in his improvisational concept would be the envy of the Flying Wallendas. The contrast between his sound and the content of his work is a source of fascination throughout this collection of miniatures. Even though his collaborators number only two, Knuffke has plenty of company in 16 little art songs without words, all his compositions. Drummer Kenny Wollesen is a three-decades veteran of adventures with musicians as various as John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Jessica Williams, Tom Waits, Sean Lennon and the Crash Test Dummies. Doug Wieselman’s track record includes work with Zorn, Jenny Scheinman, Wayne Horvitz and other prominent artists who typically populate the edge of New York’s downtown jazz community. From track to track, he alternates between clarinet (generally calm) and guitar (tending toward mania).
The three develop their solos and interactions from themes built on folk simplicity in “Leadbelly” and “Totem,” instrumental chanting in “Practical Sampling” and serene trumpet layered over guitar distortions and raucous drum and cymbal patterns in “Please Help, Please Give.” The album’s opening “How it Goes” begins with trumpet/clarinet counterpoint that could be Knuffke reflecting on Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre circa 1954, however unlikely that may seem. It ends with lyricism, Knuffke and Wieselman giving sotto voce unison farewell to the delicate melody of “Anne.” The unusual name of the album’s title tune? It memorializes one of Knuffke’s great-grandfathers, who claimed that he forgot he had a wife and family after he established a second set in another town and changed his name. The piece has a nostalgic, even old-timey, quality and a certain goofiness in the solos that is underlain with a Wollesen percussive effect like rapid water over loose stones.
In a development that may be an indication of growing maturity in free jazz, the longest track runs less than five minutes. Perhaps, after all, full expression doesn’t require extraordinary length. One thinks of Miles Davis’s celebrated advice to John Coltrane when Coltrane explained that he had trouble stopping his solos; “You might try taking the horn out of your mouth.” These guys do, and it works.
For the past six months or so, Knuffke has been a member of Matt Wilson’s quintet. For a Rifftides review of one that band’s performances shortly after he joined, go here.
Yesterday was Gerry Mulligan’s birthday (1927-1996). Today is Billie Holiday’s (1915-1959). If only there were video of them together.
There is, of course; one of the most famous pieces of film ever made of a jazz performance. It is from the kinescope recording of the 1957 CBS-TV program The Sound of Jazz. “Fine and Mellow” featured Holiday with a group of horn soloists for which the designation All-Stars seems barely adequate. Holiday’s choruses of her classic blues alternate with solos by Ben Webster, Lester Young in an inexpressibly moving reunion with Holiday, Vic Dickenson, Mulligan, Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge. The muted trumpet obbligato is by Doc Cheatham. Seeing this every so often is like revisiting a great painting. Its depth grows with each viewing.
Jazz this week lost John Bunch, a pianist whose imagination and adaptability kept him in demand for more than 60 years. Establishing his career in New York following his World War Two military service, Bunch slid smoothly from swing into bop and remained a reliable sideman and soloist who incorporated aspects of both eras in a personal approach of great flexibility. He was as comfortable and effective with Benny Goodman as he was with Wes Montgomery, or alone. This celebrated album is a superb Bunch solo recital. To read Nate Chinen’s obituary of Bunch in The New York Times, go here.
Bunch leads off a round of solos on “Sweet Georgia Brown” in this video of Scott Hamilton’s quartet. Chris Flory is on guitar, Phil Flanigan, bass and Chuck Riggs, drums.
That’s quite enough passings for a while, don’t you agree?
Last summer, I had the privilege of presenting the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Jazz Journalists Association to Mike Zwerin, my successor in the chain of winners of that honor. Mike was unable to make the trip from his home in France and accepted in absentia. That missed opportunity meant that I will never have the pleasure of a personal meeting with a cherished colleague. Mike died early this morning in a Paris hospital at the age of 79, following a long illness. Our correspondence over the years provided me insights and great satisfactions. His end of it was witty and acerbic, in keeping with his columns in the International Herald Tribune and, in later years, Bloomberg News.
Zwerin’s books Swing Under The Nazis: Jazz As A Metaphor For Freedom and The Parisian Chronicles are essential items in any serious collection of writing about jazz. His first fame was as a fine valve trombonist and bass trumpeter, a member of the original Birth of the Cool band led by Miles Davis in collaboration with Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis. In his journalism career, in addition to his award-winning work for the International Herald-Tribune, he wrote for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone and Down Beat, among other publications. Mike’s writing style inspired Bill Kirchner to describe him as “Mezz Mezzrow meets Jack Kerouac meets Hunter Thompson.” Zwerin provided a rare combination of wisdom and spice. His readers, this one most emphatically included, will miss him.