main: February 2009 Archives

Concerning the "Driving Be Bop" item below, Ted O'Reilly writes from Toronto: 

Here's a picture I took in St. Maarten in the Caribbean, in Oct. 2006. It's the nameplate of a car -- can't remember which Asian vehicle it was, but one less-familiar to us in N. America -- perhaps a Daihatsu? Anyway, must be a tenor fan who came up with it...
Getz Auto.jpg
February 28, 2009 10:15 AM | | Comments (6)

Over the years, Honda has called several vehicles, including a motorcycle, Jazz. Now Renault, the French auto maker, has unveiled a new model in its Kangoo line and named it the Be Bop.

Be Bop.jpg

Could Renault's move kick-start a trend? How about:

Mercedes Swing
Hyundai Stride
BMW Boogie-Woogie
Chrysler Blues
Mini Cooper Trad
Chevrolet Cool
GM Groove
Porsche Scat
Volvo Vouty
For Shorty Rogers fans, the Infiniti Promenade

The Renault web site indicates that the Be Bop is available in much of the world, but not in the United States, the land where its namesake originated.

February 28, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (6)

In the past few days, three videos have materialized of a 1956 television performance by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. They show the group after Brubeck was elevated to general fame by way of a TIME magazine cover story but before Joe Morello and Eugene Wright replaced Joe Dodge and Norman Bates on drums and bass. As I wrote in Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond,

Brubeck Time.jpg

It may be difficult for anyone who grew up after the pervasive hype of television and the omnipresence of the internet diluted the impact of print, to understand the power of a cover story in TIME. It brought massive attention to the subject and made him, or her, an instant celebrity. Brubeck's career had begun to show that it had the potential for steady, respectable growth. Now it took off. Sales of his records leaped, not only of the new Columbias with Desmond, Bates and Dodge, but the Fantasys as well. The Quartet's bookings increased and its fees grew exponentially.

Dodge resigned and Morello came aboard in the fall of '56, so the TV program was most likely in the spring or summer of that year. As too frustratingly often with You Tube, the person who posted the videos gives no information about the program - not the date, the name of the show, the name of the host, the call letters of the station or the name of the city. I am attempting to dig up those facts. Stay tuned.

Of course, the music is what matters. The importance of Bates and Dodge to the early quartet has been obscured by the attention given Wright and Morello in the "classic" Brubeck Quartet following the massive success of "Take Five" in the early sixties. This is a rare chance to see Bates and Dodge and hear what a well-integrated band this was. To eliminate the bother of following links to YouTube, the Rifftides public service department brings you all three segments, totaling nearly 25 minutes. Enjoy.

If anyone out there in the blogosphere knows the missing who, when and where of these clips, please use the Comments link below.

February 27, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

Tonight and tomorrow night, Town Hall in New York City is observing the fiftieth anniversary of Thelonious Monk's celebrated performance there with a ten-piece band. This evening's concert will present trumpeter Charles Tolliver's big band playing Monk's music. WNYC will broadcast it live at eight o'clock EST. To hear it in the New York area, tune in to 93.9 FM. To hear it on the internet, go here.

Tomorrow night, pianist Jason Moran will lead an eight-piece ensemble in what is being described as a concert and media-collage. Both concerts will use W. Eugene Smith's photographs of Monk and orchestrator Hall Overton as they created medium-size-band arrangements of Monk's compositions. WNYC will record Moran's concert and may broadcast it later.

Yesterday, Moran was in WNYC's studios for the Leonard Lopate Show, discussing and demonstrating the challenges of interpreting Monk. Lopate brought in cameras, resulting in radio with pictures. Moran's sidemen are alto saxophonist Logan Richardson, tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits.

Monk Town Hall.jpgThe recording of Monk's Town Hall concert of February 28, 1959, is a basic repertoire item for any serious listener.

February 26, 2009 1:56 PM | | Comments (0)

What you've all been waiting for --
Fireworks.jpg -- new Doug's Picks. Please see the center column.

February 26, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Howard Mandel suffered a transportation glitch, but gamely picked up the reporting on the Portland Jazz Festival that I left dangling. The proprietor of Jazz Beyond Jazz, Howard does a fine job of pulling together the loose Portland ends. He manages to incorporate three video clips, including one of Laurel and Hardy that I could watch all night. To see his omnibus piece, click here.

February 26, 2009 1:00 AM | | Comments (0)

freddywebster.jpgEvery few years, there is a Freddie Webster revival, of sorts. In recent weeks, through internet contact jazz musicians, researchers and writers have again been discussing Webster, the trumpeter generally thought to have been an influence on Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Webster died in 1947 at the age of 30. If you have been told or read about Webster but never heard him, David Brent Johnson offers the opportunity to listen to just about everything the trumpeter recorded. In 2005, Johnson devoted an hour to Webster on his Night Lights program. Between recordings, he provides considerable biographical information. To hear the archived program on Johnson's web site, click here. See if you detect the pre-bebop ideas that may have inspired Davis and Gillespie.

February 25, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Viewing Tip

The current offering on Bret Primack's web site is a video in which the Blue Note 7 all-stars play a complete performance of Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross." It is worth your time. To see it, click here.

For the Rifftides review of a Blue Note 7 concert as they got underway with their national tour, go here.

February 24, 2009 1:21 PM | | Comments (0)

When I was looking for something on You Tube the other night, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the Kessler Sisters. I hadn't seen them in forty years, and they still looked terrific. Paul Desmond introduced me to them in 1965 at the Hilton Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Desmond had just played a concert with the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Willamette University down the road in Salem. I couldn't go because I was working. When I got off the air, I met him for a drink. Here's the story from Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.

In the Hilton bar, he was high on the success of the concert he had just played and delighted to see the Kessler sisters again. The Scopitone was a film jukebox. The first ones were made in France, in part from used World War Two airplane reconnaissance camera equipment. The more finished version that made its way from Scopitone.jpgEurope to the United States in 1963 looked rather like a big old soda fountain Wurlitzer with a screen at the top. Scopitone films on sixteen milimeter stock with magnetic sound tracks ran on endless loops through a projector inside the jukebox. They were descendants of the Nickelodeons of the first decade of the twentieth century and the soundies of the thirties and forties, and ancestors of the music videos seen on MTV and VH-1. French businessmen persuaded U.S. investors, who in turn persuaded bar and lounge operators, that Scopitone was going to get Americans away from their television sets and back out to night life. The films ran two or three minutes, with production values on a scale from almost absent to spectacular, and featured artists with talent to match. At the low end of the scale were groups like The Casualeers singing on a fire escape while two mostly nude girls gyrated. At the upper end were Scopitones starring the Kessler sisters, a pair of blonde, leggy young women who sang and danced with exhilarating zeal through pieces like "Cuando, Cuando" and "Pollo e Champagne."
Desmond pumped quarters into the Hilton Scopitone, sending the Kessler Sisters cavorting again and again through an amusement park, singing as they leapt on and off a train, with a corps of dancers in the background executing routines that would have done Busby Berkeley proud. He was convinced that the Scopitone was going to be bigger than television and almost had me persuaded that we should invest large sums in the phenomenon. The more Dewars we had, the more sensible the investment plan became. Fortunately, the Oregon closing law kicked in before I committed to anything irrevocable. I don't know whether Paul signed up for a share of the company, but I am glad that I didn't. By the end of the decade, Scopitones were gathering dust in warehouses all over the world.
Ramsey, Desmond, Portland '65.jpg
February 24, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)

Ritz.jpgIn today's Los Angeles Times, David Ritz writes from a personal standpoint about the nearly simultaneous loss of three important musicians. Ritz is the author or co-author of several books about blues and soul artists including Ray Charles. The headline on his op-ed piece is "Ray Charles' Heavenly Trio." Here's the first paragraph:

In summer 1957, I was a teenager who had just moved to Texas from the East Coast. One Sunday afternoon, I happened to walk into a large social hall in South Dallas where a jam session was underway. On the bandstand were three saxophonists: Leroy "Hog" Cooper on baritone, David "Fathead" Newman on tenor and Hank Crawford on alto.

To read the whole thing, go here. For the Rifftides remembrance of Newman, and a performance video, go here.

February 22, 2009 9:06 PM | | Comments (3)

Earlier this week, Dick Hyman played a noontime recital at a church in Manhattan. Fellow artsjournal blogger Jan Herman was there with his camera and posted videos of Hyman playing Fats Waller's "My Fate Is In Your Hands" and "Bach Up To Me." To see Jan's piece and hear Hyman, go here.

When you come back, if you want more Waller -- and, of course, you will -- click on these links to hear Fats play:

"My Fate Is In Your Hands,

" Valentine Stomp" (take one)


"Valentine Stomp" (take two), all from 1929.

There. Now, don't you feel better?


February 21, 2009 11:35 AM | | Comments (3)

Final report on the opening days of the Portland Jazz Festival:

Byron.jpgIn elegant Schnitzer Hall, clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Don Byron had Edward Simon on piano and Eric Harland on drums in his Ivey-Divey Trio. It was the same instrumentation as the Gross-Frishberg-Doggett trio that played the night before in quite different circumstances (see Part 2). In makeup, feeling and interaction, both groups reflect the Lester Young-Nat Cole-Buddy Rich trio of the mid-1940s. Their lead voices, respectively Byron and John Gross, revel in taking harmony and phrasing over the edge of convention. Gross does it with no physical motion beyond what is necessary to operate his saxophone. Byron moves constantly, bobbing, weaving, dancing, conducting with body language. It would be interesting to hear and see these two adventurers together.

Byron opened with "Lefty Teachers at Home" from his 2004 Ivey-Divey CD. The piece has evolved harmonically, with even greater chance-taking than in the recording. Then came "Fosberry Flop." Introducing it, Byron suggested that just as Dick Fosberry's unorthodox style revolutionized high-jumping, the piece involved turning around aspects of Arnold Schoenberg. That qualifies as counter-revolutionary. The trio's use ofThumbnail image for Harland.jpg dynamics was most dramatic in "Fosberry," Harland ending a solo with a crescendo that
Byron and Simon followed so softly that their re-entry would have to be notated pppp. Then came a three-way conversation in which, as he made his points, Simon dominated and receded, swelled and diminished. The pianist was impressive throughout the set and evidently having a splendid time. He rarely stopped smiling.

"Somebody Loves Me" was laced with boom-chicky rhythms that Byron, Simon and Harland managed to make both evocative of earlier jazz and as hip as tomorrow. They 2 Simon.jpggenerated powerful swing, with solos from Byron on clarinet and tenor, Harland commenting and interjecting, and Simon's full-bodied playing a revelation. Has Simon slipped under the radar or have I been missing his growth from a good into a master jazz player? Byron's tenor work was fine. His clarinet playing was brilliant. He wound up his set with what he described as a "chain gang" piece in which he recruited the audience of more than 2,000 as a percussion section, clapping time.

When he was through, Byron referred to the next artist as "the greatest pianist in the world." That was McCoy Tyner, presented as co-leader of a quartet with Joe Lovano. It was the last of Lovano's four major appearances at the Portland Festival. Bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Eric Gravatt, stalwarts of post-Coltrane jazz, rounded out the rhythm section. Much of the music was from Tyner's 2007 CD with Lovano, and some of the pieces they played go back as far as his 1967 album The Real McCoy.

No saxophonist can work with Tyner and avoid comparison with John Coltrane, but as Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker had before him in their collaborations with Tyner, Lovano has long since worked through his Coltrane apprenticeship. Even on "Moment's Notice," the one Coltrane composition in the concert, there was no sense of Coltrane's spirit riding on Lovano's shoulder. He and Tyner have developed their own relationship. It involves more by-play and humor than existed in the classic Coltrane quartet.

As in most of his work for the past couple of decades,Tyner's hallmarks were strength and volume, but in "Moment's Notice" he shifted down for a solo of clarity with single note lines rather than unremitting successions of power chords. He reached the concert's apogee of muscular playing in "Angelica," which also had a commandingThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Tyner L.jpg Cannon bass solo. Then came Tyner's only unaccompanied piece and only standard song of the evening. In "For All We Know," he disclosed more about his early piano influences than we usually hear. Intensity drained away for a few minutes and his playing was utterly relaxed. It encompassed moments when Teddy Wilson might have been at the keyboard and others when Tyner took his listeners even further back in the history of jazz piano, to the stride era. It was a change of pace, good programming and a glimpse of a facet of Tyner's musical makeup that is usually under cover.

Tyner Lovano.jpgFor "Blues on the Corner," it was back to post-bop business, with chops flying everywhere, to borrow Louis Armstrong's immortal phrase; plenty of exchanges between Tyner and Lovano with each smiling at the other's phrases, another sturdy bass solo by Cannon, and drum explosions from Gravatt. The encore, following insistent applause, was one of Tyner's signature compositions, "Fly With the Wind"

The publicity surrounding and following Lionel Loueke's signing with Blue Note Records made it seem that the guitarist from Benin in West Africa had materialized unexpectedly. However, he is an overnight sensation with a deep background in music. It includes higher education in Europe, studies at Berklee College of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute, and experience with Terence Blanchard's sextet. He and his trio mates met in Paris and have been playing together for more than a decade.

All of that time in yoke accounts for the polish in their performance, and for their empathy. In the three pieces I heard them play in Portland, it was clear that, with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, Loueke has merged his African heritage and his jazz knowledge in a synthesis that gives his trio a sound and identitiy that qualifiy them for that abused adjective, unique.

Loueke Trio.jpg

Trying to determine whether they play jazz is as pointless as trying to define jazz itself. They play improvised music that allows freedom within structures, and both aspects of their work are compelling. Loueke's style encompasses rhythm guitar as well as a highly individual way of gliding through chord patterns. It is unlike the work of any other guitarist with whom I am familiar. His singing, sometimes integrated with simultaneous vocal clicks, is intriguing and, as far as I could tell on short exposure, not included as a novelty but as an integral part of his performance.

Biolcati and Nemeth are first-class players who listen closely to Loueke and each other. They all throw rhythmic suprises to and fro, to their apparent pleasure and satisfaction. It's a serious and entertaining band. The songs they played, "Karibu," "Benny's Tune" and "Seven Teens," are all from the Loueke trio's most recent CD. I liked what I heard in Portland and I'm going to spend a little time with their album to get to know them better.

The PDX festival continues this weekend. My fellow blogger Howard Mandel is there. Maybe he'll pick up the cudgel and let us know what happens.

February 20, 2009 6:01 PM | | Comments (2)

Further reflections on highlights of the festival's first weekend:

Rubalcaba.jpgGonzalo Rubalcaba opened the first major concert of the festival with a band of young sidemen who are in the thick of the latterday New York Latin jazz explosion that is producing some of the most important music of the new century. The virtuoso pianist's quintet is twice or three times removed from the Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie generation but it has a distinct bebop lineage, particularly in the ensembles. The rhythms are manifestations of the various Cuban traditions of which Rubalcaba is a master. The Rubalcaba band's melding of the two strains produces harmonic astringency and irresistible time feeling. Alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry, bassist Yunior Terry and drummer Ernesto Simpson are Rubalcaba's fellow Cubans. Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez is a New Yorker fully immersed in the Latin mainstream and, like Terry, a soloist who seems bound to become a major figure.

A typical piece in a Rubalcaba concert begins with the pianist unaccompanied in a meditation at the keyboard. Gradually, his playing takes on rhythmic character that intensifies as bass and drums undergird the time. Trumpet and alto saxophone express the melodic line harmonized or in unison, then solo at length. In some pieces there are drum or bass solos. Rubalcaba often chooses to go last in the solo sequence.

The other night, Yosvany Terry blew billows and clusters of notes with a vigor that oftenThumbnail image for Yosvany_8.jpg bordered on ferocity. Rodriguez was more considered in his note choices but played with nearly equal force and with excursions into the stratospheric range that seems to be standard equipment for young trumpeters. Simpson's roiling drum patterns urged them on. There may be no pianist at work today with more technique than Rubalcaba. He astonishes listeners with his command of the instrument. And yet, when he solos following the elation of a drum, bass, trumpet or saxophone solo by one of his sidemen, the level of passion drops. It may be that he means to create contrast. In any case, for all of the beauty of his playing, in his solos the emotional level of the music subsides. Judging by their reaction, the Portland audience didn't notice that, or it didn't matter to them. Rubalcaba and the band received thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

The second half of the opening night concert was trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard's post-hurricane lament for his home town, New Orleans. As in the CD of the work, "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)" presented Blanchard's quintet and a 40-piece orchestra. Written by Blanchard and members of his band, the musicThumbnail image for God's Will.jpg expresses the grief, anger and frustration that dominated the city in the wake of Katrina and the Bush administration's botched response to the disaster. Painfully, New Orleans is recovering from both. A thirteen-movement suite, "A Tale of God's Will" has uplifting moments as well as dirges, but Blanchard delivered the uplift on waves of anger expressed not only in his playing, but also in spoken sentiments onstage. Still, passages of quiet beauty remain in the mind, notably in Aaron Parks' "Ashé" and in "Dear Mom," Blanchard's portrayal of his mother's ordeal in the flooding of New Orleans.

Blanchard's orchestral writing, still evolving, sometimes bypasses the potential for harmonic depth and variety in the string section, but when he brings in the brass, he achieves moments of swelling grandeur. It is mystifying why Blanchard or the concert producer thought it was necessary to amplify the orchestra. In the good acoustics of Schnitzer Hall, the balance between soloists and orchestra would have been better au naturale. Blanchard's excessive use of slurs and scoops in his playing has always disturbed me. In "Levees," with its echoes of "St. James Infirmary," the slurs were effective. Nonetheless, as they accumulated through the concert, they amounted to a distraction.

Bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott have been with Blanchard for some time. Pianist Fabian Almazan and young tenor saxophonist Walter Smith are new to the band. All played beautifully in a work whose substance should give it a life beyond its timeliness as commentary on a tragedy.

Thumbnail image for Reeves.jpgIn her concert at the Schnitzer, Dianne Reeves did what she does best. She sang good songs simply. Accompanied by her trio and the Oregon Symphony orchestra conducted by Gregory Vajda, Reeves avoided the gospel and soul affectations that have sometimes marred her work and employed her glorious voice in the interpretation of standards appropriate to Valentine's Day. She included "I Remember Sarah," which she wrote with Billy Childs, and followed it with an engagingly self-deprecating anecdote about her first encounter with Sarah Vaughan, her idol, when Reeves was a teenager.

Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born" and Gerhswin's "Embraceable You" were high points. Both had affecting piano solos by Peter Martin. Martin, with her other longtime trio members bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Kendrick Scott, backed Reeves with what may have been extrasensory perception. It was, hands down, the best I have ever heard her sing. Reeves' performance was an emotional experience for her and her audience.

At the Portland Art Museum, guitarist John Scofield had bassist Matt Penman and Thumbnail image for Scofield.jpgdrummer Bill Stewart in his trio. With the tonal qualities of a hip hurdy-gurdy, his daring intervals and thrilling runs, Scofield delivered a concert packed with intensity and good-natured swing. Continuing his ubiquitousness, Joe Lovano sat in with his old friend and recording partner for a not-quite-impromptu meeting of their mutual admiration society. Lovano, who evidently either never forgets a tune or can absorb and perform one simultaneously, was in lockstep with Scofield on complex melody lines. They had a great time entertaining one another and the audience. Penman and Stewart were in equally fine fettle.

Meanwhile, at the Art Bar of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, the cooperative trio of tenor saxophonist John Gross, pianist Dave Frishberg and drummer Charlie Doggett were playing to a modest crowd until the Scofield concert ended. Then, the bar in the PCPA atrium filled up with thirsty musicians and others, some of whom paid attention to the music, which was a good idea, because it was remarkable. Gross, Thumbnail image for Gross.jpgwho made his mark in the most avant garde band Shelly Manne ever had, is a tenor saxophonist who calmly and with a rich tone plays iconoclastic ideas. Frishberg is a celebrated performer of his own songs whose policy is never to sing in Portland, his home town. He does, however, accept gigs there as a pianist. He is one of the best pianists in the mainstream. Doggett is a young drummer who accommodates himself to the extremes of Gross's and Frishberg's styles and helps fuse the trio into a cohesive and coherent group. I had to come and go during their three hours on the stand, but heard their performances of Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now;" Gary McFarland's "Blue Hodge;" Bob Brookmeyer's "Dirty Man;" and three Ellington pieces, "Dancers in Love," "Strange Feeling" and "Scronch." Some of those are on their only CD, which I have recommended before and recommend again. It was a pleasure to hear them in person.

That's enough for now. In the third and final installment of this Portland report, I'll give you a few words on McCoy Tyner, Don Byron and Lionel Loueke.

February 19, 2009 8:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Bellson, drums.jpgWhat to add to the hundreds of tributes to Louie Bellson in the wake of his death last weekend? The outpouring of accolades emphasizes what anyone who ever encountered him knows: he was full of warmth, generosity and the largest available portion of human spirit. Dozens of obituaries are quoting Duke Ellington's assessment of Bellson as not only the world's greatest drummer but the world's greatest musician. There are excellent obits by Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune, Nate Chinen in The New York Times and Don Heckman in The Los Angeles Times

I have two particularly vivid memories of Bellson. One is from the early 1950s when as a youth I witnessed him during a rare freezing night in Seattle, heating up the old Trianon Ballroom with his drum solos on the Ellington band. In 1969 in the East Room of the White House, Bellson was the drummer and primary arranger for the all-star band Willis Conover assembled for the 70th birthday party that President Richard M. Nixon gave for Ellington. His bandmates were Bill Berry and Clark Terry, trumpets; J.J Johnson and Urbie Green, trombones; Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan, saxophones; Hank Jones, piano; Milt Hinton, bass; and Jim Hall, guitar. There were guest appearances at the piano by Dave Brubeck, Billy Taylor and Earl Hines. Joe Williams and Mary Mayo sang. In the notes I wrote for the CD issue of the music from that night, among the highlights I mentioned: 

The grins on the faces of Hinton and Bellson when Earl Hines was in full flight.

This photo I took at the afternoon rehearsal captures only part of Bellson's face, but as he looks over at Hinton we can see in his eyes the pleasure he is getting from the experience. From left to right: Hinton's hand on the bass, Bellson, J.J. Johnson (mostly obscured), Mulligan, Desmond, Terry and Berry. I have seen the evening's music described as a jam session. It was not. Bellson's arrangements for the unusal 10-piece instrumentation were impeccably conceived to honor Ellington. They promoted feelings of happiness and nostalgia appropriate to the occasion. When the concert ended, Ellington praised Bellson. You should have seen Louie grin then. 

February 18, 2009 2:02 PM | | Comments (5)
The sagging economy has led the Portland Jazz Festival to cancel one of the major concerts of its final weekend. Artistic director Bill Royston announced that for the first time in his 32-year-career as a jazz impresario he was pulling the plug on a primary event. Advance sales to a Friday night concert by singer Cassandra Wilson and pianist Jason Moran amounted to about 400 seats in a 3000-seat hall in downtown Portland. Royston called the cancellation "an arduous decision." 

Despite difficult economic times, Royston (pictured) said, overall attendance at the two-week

Royston.jpgfestival so far has been down only twelve percent compared with the 2008 festival. Tickets for the Wilson-Moran concert lagged despite Ms. Wilson having won a Grammy award last week. Royston said that other weekend concerts will go on. Among the headliners are Bobby Hutcherson, Lou Donaldson, Aaron Parks, Pat Martino, Jane Bunnett and Kurt Elling.

Last weekend, it seemed that, except for a few empty rows in the backs of the halls, the concerts were well attended. Portland's weather, which can be rainy at this time of year, was cold and dry, making for exhilarating trips through downtown between concert halls, clubs and restaurants. Since I last attended the Portland festival in 2007, it has made a significant improvement in the way it presents music. The prime-time evening concerts now take place not in hotel ballrooms with boomy acoustics and frustrating sight lines, but in performance halls designed for satisfying aural and visual experiences.

"We've grown in that regard," Royston told me. "It was time." Most of the concerts were in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, home of the Oregon Symphony, or in the auditorium of the Portland Art Museum. One exception to the no-hotel policy was a concert in the Pavilion Ballroom of the Portland Hilton. In the gargantuan ballroom in the hotel's nether regions in previous years, performances were all but unlistenable. The Pavilion is a cozier hall with good acoustics and a lovely little stage. 

Before I give you brief impressions of what I heard, I must observe that the festival's eye-catching logo should do wonders for the hairdessing and soprano saxophone industries.

PDX Festival logo.jpg

In recognition of Blue Note Records' 70th anniversary, the festival was heavily populated by musicians signed to that label, with Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall and executive producer Michael Cuscuna avuncular presences through most of the weekend. Cuscuna was on several panels. Introducing one concert, he said, "My voice is going. They've had me talking since I got off the plane two days ago."

My first event was an hour chatting with Joe Lovano and an audience. Lovano might be described as the festival's house saxophonist. In an introduction, Royston called him ubiquitous. As articulate and interesting talking about music as he is playing it, Lovano participated in four concerts and two extended gabfests, in addition to unofficial and

Lovano.jpg entertaining after-hours discussions at the bar. At the art museum, he unveiled a new group called Joe Lovano Us 5, previewing Folk Art, the CD they will release in May.

With a wireless microphone on his horn, roaming the stage, bear dancing, conducting with body language, Lovano was riveting to hear and fascinating to watch. The band had James Weidman at the piano, Michael Formanek on bass, and two drummers, Francesco Mela and Gerry Hemingway. Lovano was the star, but inventive interaction among all hands was the rule. The drummers did not engage in battles, but traded the primary percussion role and had drum conversations in which listening was as crucial as reacting. With Hemingway and Mela, it was a cooperative venture in rhythm and mutual appreciation, the opposite of one-upmanship. The same principle applied in interchanges between Lovano and the drummers, between Formanek and Lovano, between Weidman and the drummers. The pieces, all Lovano compositions, were mostly new but also included the ballad "The Dawn of Time," recorded on his Symphonica and Universal Language CDs. Here, it took on new levels of abstraction. 

The interaction continued and intensified when Lovano's wife Judi Silvano sat in. A vocalist of

Silvano.jpg astonishing range, control and accuracy, she and her husband improvised melodic lines in unison, paralleling one another with timing tighter than split-second. Two nights later, in her own concert, Silvano sang with Lovano, Formanek and Hemingway as her sidemen. A dancer, Silvano uses gestures, eye movement, turns of the head and subtleties of shoulder motion as she does wordless singing that seems like speech, captivating audiences for whom music so experimental and daring might otherwise be mystifying. 

Preceding Lovano at the Friday night concert were pianist Jacky Terrasson and his trio. Terrasson played a succession of pieces in which the hard edge of his technique 

Thumbnail image for Terrasson.jpg

ruled. For all of his considerable harmonic knowledge, the piano under Terrasson's hands was primarily a percussion instrument. Even an original ballad with melodic touches suggesting "Skylark" developed into an exhibition of keyboard power. Toward the end of his set, he reverted to subtlety in the development of a calypso piece that had harmonic suggestions of Sonny Rollins's "St. Thomas." Building on astringent harmonies, Terrasson constructed a towering edifice of sound. As he shifted back down, it turned out that the piece had indeed been "St. Thomas" all along. He simply chose to withhold its identity until the end, a surprise the audience accepted with enthusiasm.

One evening following a concert, I walked twenty blocks or so to the Pearl District, where drummer John Bishop, guitarist John Stowell and bassist Jeff Johnson were playing at the Rogue Pub. I found them in a corner with their backs to plate glass windows on two sides, playing to a packed house of Portlanders in a mood to celebrate, drinking lots of Rogue ale. About six of the patrons were listening through the loud conversations of the other hundred or so. Stowell, who is capable of the greatest refinement in his playing, cranked up his amp, Johnson and Bishop adjusted their volumes accordingly, and the trio known as Scenes wailed. All of the tunes I heard them do, with the exception of "Solar," were original compositions by members of the band and all of them were intriguing. During a break, I asked Bishop how he liked working under those conditions. "Great," he said. "it's a gig." They are easier to hear on their CD, which also includes tenor saxophonist Rick Mandyck.ore on the Portland festival in the next post. 



For now, to quote Dave Frishberg, who had a sideman role at the festival, I gotta get me some Zs. It was a long weekend, and it's catching up with me.

February 18, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)
The Rifftides staff was surprised and pleased to find Rifftides praised in Beckey Bright's "Blog Watch" column in today's Wall Street Journal. Ms. Bright also singles out Ethan Iverson's Do The Math and Jeffrey Siegel's Straight No Chaser. Her other topic today is weddings. 

To read "Blog Watch" and find links to Iverson and Siegel, go here.
February 17, 2009 2:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Gap Mangione writes from Rochester, New York, about the deaths of saxophonist Gerry Niewood and guitarist Coleman Mellett in last Thursday's plane crash near Buffalo. The three were to have played a concert that night in Buffalo with Chuck Mangione: 

We gathered at the hotel Thursday night. Chuck flew in from Florida to conduct and play a concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Janet and I drove in so that we could have a Valentine's dinner that night and so that I could play and solo in the concert on Friday. Kevin Axt (bass player) and Dave Tull (drummer) flew in from LA via Philadelphia (with a dicey landing in Phila.) and lead trumpet Jeff Kievit, who handles Chuck's orchestra library, drove up from New Jersey so that he wouldn't have to deal with carrying all the cases of music books on a plane -- the one the others were on.
Kevin, Dave, Jeff, Janet and I met in the lobby and were excited, happily anticipating the fun of doing an orchestral concert with all its challenges and opportunities. 

But a very joyful evening turned horrifically tragic in a way of which nightmares are made...
Although Gerry Niewood usually played and recorded with Chuck, he played on my last three CDs and had great solos on all of them. He also has played concerts with my big band in Rochester and Buffalo. We've played together in a variety of settings and formats, mostly with Chuck, for more than four decades. 
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Gerry Niewood            Coleman Mellett

Coleman Mellett had a way of playing extremely difficult music of all genres and styles, with creativity and capability well beyond his 33 years. It was truly a joyful musical treat to be next to him on stage as we were for the 2007 Friends and Love concert at the Eastman Theater (with Gerry) and the November 2008 pair of concerts with the Syracuse Symphony. We would groove off of one another, reaching for things musically, and nodding and smiling when we got there. 

The world lost two most wonderful people and two magnificent musicians.
February 17, 2009 11:14 AM | | Comments (4)

Three days of music are echoing in my head. My notebook is full. As I drive through the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge on the way back to Rifftides World Headquarters, I'll be thinking about how to boil down hours and hours of listening into a cogent report or two. For now, suffice it to tell you that the Portland Jazz Festival, saved more or less at the last moment from extinction, rallied, is a success and has matured into one of the finest jazz festivals in the world. As I motor along, I may be a bit distracted by scenery like this.

Gorge.jpgIn the next day or two, I will also post thoughts about drummer, composer, band leader and mensch Louie Bellson, who died on Saturday.

February 16, 2009 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)

(Portland, Oregon) - At the Portland Jazz Festival between concerts and after hours, much of the talk among musicians is about the death of Gerry Niewood. The saxophonist was one of 50 people who died in a plane crash Thursday night near Buffalo, New York. He and guitarist Coleman Mellett were on their way to Buffalo to perform with Chuck Mangione's band. Mellett was also killed in the crash.

NIewood.jpgNiewood was a childhood friend of Mangione. He and the trumpeter played together in youth bands and became even closer musically at the Eastman School of Music in their native Rochester. Niewood was not on the celebrated Mangione Feels So Good album, but his association with Mangione's huge success brought him attention and admiration among fellow musicians. That never translated into wide popular acceptance after he became a leader of his own group. He developed a successful career as a free-lancer on several reed and woodwind instruments and through the years rejoined Mangione for tours and in concerts recreating what became known as their Friends and Love music, which has retained popularity through four decades.

Respected for his technique and solid tonal qualities on all of his instruments, Niewood said in a 2006 interview with Rochester's City Newspaper, "I don't start to play until I hear something that I want to play. I try to develop it and have that thread of continuity. I'm not big on the use of pyrotechnics. I'm a melodic player, a rhythmic player, a harmonic player. I'm not a flashy player."

In Portland, a group of musicians and friends who knew Niewood stood at the Arts Bar of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts listening to the John Gross Trio with Dave Frishberg and Charlie Doggett. Between tunes, much of the talk was about Niewood. Joe Lovano was particularly warm in his admiration for his fellow saxophonist's musicianship. Judy Cites, the tour manager for Mangione's band when Niewood was a member, recalled him as one of the most natural and unaffected people she has known.

From Rochester, a longtime friend of Niewood adds a memory from their early careers. The friend is Ned Corman, head of a national organization called The Commission Project, which is devoted to jazz education for children from grade school through college age. In his days as a saxophonist, Mr. Corman worked with Niewood and the Mangione brothers.

Some of the best music I was part of was a ten-piece band Chuck Mangione led in the late 60's.  Chuck and Sam Noto were the trumpet section.  I don't remember the trombone section. Gap Mangione, Frank Pullara and Vinnie Ruggerio were the rhythm section. Gerry, Joe Romano and I were the saxophone section.  Gerry was also part of the FRIENDS AND LOVE concert, perhaps the only time I was fortunate to make music with Marvin Stamm.  A  piece of information little known beyond Penfield High School music students: Gerry did his student teaching at PHS and Denonville Middle School. Students took lots of pride that Gerry was their teacher as well as a star with Chuck Mangione. 

Gerry Niewood was 65. For an obituary, go here.

Addendum, February 16: For an interesting insight into Niewood's and Mellett's lives as itinerant musicians, see Nate Schweber's piece in today's New York Times.   

February 15, 2009 12:36 PM | | Comments (5)
Early this morning, I'll be off to Portland, Oregon, one of my favorite former home towns. IPortland.jpg lived there for three years long ago when my television news career was getting into gear -- the second-gear phase, I suppose. The occasion is the first weekend of the Portland Jazz Festival, rescued from the budget shortfall that canceled it for a time. For details of the bailout go here. It has nothing to do with the Obama stimulus plan. For the festival lineup, go here

It is a joy to be in Portland under almost any circumstance, but in this case even more so because the festival is concentrating on Blue Note Records and its musicians during the label's 70th anniversary year. The Blue Note 7 all- stars are wending their way through the United States in a three-months series of one-nighters, so they won't be in Portland, but plenty of others who record for the label will be. My only official involvement --not a duty, but a pleasure-- is to engage in an hour of conversation with Joe Lovano this evening at 5:00 p.m. Otherwise, I'll be kicking around town for three days taking in as many concerts and other events as I can accomodate, and taking notes. I will blog when possible. 

As for Blue Note, several weeks ago the postman brought a DVD called Blue Note: A Story Of Modern Jazz. I wasn't in the mood for what I assumed would be just another record company promotion, so I put it in the stack of DVDs to be viewed some day. That turned out to be yesterday. I watched it as I worked out on the Nordic Track, where I could keep an eye 
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and ear on it as I skied to nowhere. Well, the film is a record company promo, but a cut above most in the genre.  A well-made documentary by the German film maker Julian Benedikt, it concentrates on the remarkable story of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, who fled Nazi Germany for the US and founded Blue Note in 1939 on less than a shoestring. 

Benedikt's production values in telling Lion's and Wolff's story are superb. Flaws in other aspects of the film keep it from being the major  documentary achievement it could have been. The interviews with musicians and other people close to Blue Note are generally valuable. But, however popular they may be in their fields, it was misguided to recruit Carlos Santana, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a hip-hop figure named DJ Smash to underline the importance of the label. Blue Note's track record (heh, heh) speaks for itself in the music. The time devoted to, not to say wasted on, them would better have gone to film and tape of musicians performing. Still, we get a splendid complete Freddie Hubbard solo and significant stretches of Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and a few other artists. 

The documentary emphasizes the importance of Francis Wolff's remarkable photographs. His cover shots are an important part of the label's cachet. There are sections in which Benedikt adopts the slam-bang, quick-cut technique that has made so much of television and Hollywood film unwatchable, but his approach to the historical segments is solid, informative and often fascinating. The opening sequence recreating Alfred Lion's initial exposure to and seduction by jazz when he was a teenager in Berlin is masterly. Benedikt uses flashbacks of those moments to great effect throughout the production.  

February 13, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Dave Frishberg writes with important information on a matter raised in the previous entry. 

I'm reading the Rifftides discussion about Blossom Dearie and Bill Evans, and who influenced who. I'd like to add my comment: During the late sixties I played a couple weeks solo opposite the Bill Evans Trio at the Village Gate on Bleecker St, and had some conversations with Bill. I asked him how he came upon his piled-fourths voicing of chords, and his immediate answer was that he heard Blossom Dearie play that way and it really knocked him out. Then he did a little rave review of Blossom, naming her as one of his models of piano playing. It was such a surprising response that I never forgot it.
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A decade or so later Blossom and I were doing a two-piano act, and I got to see what he was talking about. Blossom showed me some voicings she was using,  and then I sat down at the same piano and tried them out but it didn't sound like Blossom. I told her, "It sounds better when you do it."  She said, "Oh well, I know this piano, I'm used to it." The truth is she seemed to get her special sound out of any piano. Also, she could play softer than anyone I ever heard. The accompaniment she gave herself was all carefully composed, and she played it note for note every night.  Why not? It was perfect.
February 11, 2009 2:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Blossom.jpgWhen Blossom Dearie died at 82 over the weekend, we lost a brilliant musician whose subtle artistry and private nature conspired to limit her popularity. There was nothing about her "teacup voice," as Whitney Balliett described it, or her sophisticated harmonic sense at the piano that could have led to mass adoration. Nonetheless, for decades she was idolized by a substantial base of listeners charmed by her singing and of musicians who admired her integration of vocal performance with self-accompaniment. No singer has been better at playing for herself. 

Once in the 1970s Paul Desmond and I went to the lower Manhattan club Reno Sweeney to hear Dearie's trio alternating with the Bill Evans Trio. When I commented that there was a similarity in their piano playing, Desmond gave me a long look and said, "Of course." That point has come up the past day or two in online discussions. On the Jazz West Coast listserve, bassist Bill Crow, who often heard both pianists, said he thinks they arrived at the resemblance by separate routes. 

Blossom's piano playing was probably influenced a lot by Ellis Larkins. She voiced like he did, and had that same delicate touch. Bill Evans' early playing reflected a lot of Lennie Tristano... I'm sure he must have heard Blossom when she was around the Village, but I think he worked his ideas out pretty much by himself. 

I've seen no more heartfelt tribute to Ms. Dearie than that of my artsjournal colleague Terry Teachout. He ends his post with a rare video that discloses all of her musical facets, including the swing that that was integral to her art. She implied irresisitible rhythm at even the slowest tempos. To read Terry's piece and see the video, click here

There are two other videos on YouTube that I recommend you watch. I would put them here, but at the request of, I presume, the Dearie estate, embedding is blocked. On one she sings and plays "I Won't Dance," on the other, "Lucky To Be Me." 

Fortunately, several Blossom Dearie CDs are available. You'll find an assortment of them here. If you're thinking of starting a Blossom Dearie shelf, this CD has a generous cross-section of her Verve recordings with Ray Brown on bass and Jo Jones on drums.

February 10, 2009 1:02 AM | | Comments (4)

Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Niels-Henning Ørsted-Pedersen, Martin Drew

February 8, 2009 6:39 PM | | Comments (1)
In the act of playing music, it is impossible to separate the process from the product. Or, it was. In an important piece of journalism, Eric Felten turns a floodlight on the technological airbrushing of live performances in an effort to insure perfection. Felten's Wall Street Journal essay emphasizes that two recent massive public events in the United States masked actual performance. One was the Super Bowl, with Jennifer Hudson singing "The Star Spangled Banner." The other was President Obama's inauguration, where Yo-Yo-Ma, Itzhak Perlman and associates played "Simple Gifts." In both cases, the performers mimed over pre-recorded sound tracks. Here are two paragraphs from Felten's article, which is headlined, "That Synching Feeling." 

My, what a standard of perfection is now demanded. No longer is a good or even a great performance good enough. Now we must have performances free from the "slightest glitch." And since no one -- not even a singer of Ms. Hudson's manifest talent nor a violinist of Mr. Perlman's virtuosity -- can guarantee that a live performance will be 100% glitch-free, the solution has been to eliminate the live part. Once, synching to a recorded track was the refuge of the mediocre and inept; now it's a practice taken up by even the best artists.

Whatever the motivation, the fear of risking mistakes has led musicians to deny who they are as performers. The most disheartening thing about the Inauguration Day quartet's nonperformance was the lengths to which they went to make sure that nothing they did on the platform could be heard. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma put soap on the hair of his bow so that it would slip across the strings without creating even a wisp of sound. The inner workings of the piano were disassembled. There is something pitiful and pitiable about musicians hobbling their own voices.

In the course of his piece, Felten invokes the British critic John Ruskin's famous essay on the importance of human imperfection in art. To eliminate it, Ruskin said, is "to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality." 

In the photoshop age, digital manipulation is possible in every mass medium. That coincides with plummeting standards of objectivity and fairness in too many news organizations. Felten's piece is not only a warning to all who watch live performance: authenticity of what you see and hear is not guaranteed. By implication, it should also make us worry about manipulation of the visual and spoken information on which a free society bases its decisions. There is no area of public life in which we should be more vigilant. 

To read the article, go here.
February 8, 2009 12:06 AM | | Comments (5)
Response to the Rifftides post on hard bop has created a lively discussion. You can read the comments here. In addition to the Savoy CD called Hard Bop that was, more or less, the focus of the piece, the commenters mention or allude to other albums. If you're thinking of expanding the hard bop (if there is such a thing) section of your library, or starting one, here are a few worthy candidates. Other nominations will be accepted in the "Comments" section. The links will take you to pages that in most cases provide audio samples. 

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Art Blakey, A Night At Birdland, Vols. 1 & 2 (Blue Note), 1954 

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Max Roach & Clifford Brown, Study In Brown (EmArcy), 

1955 The Adderley Brothers, The Summer of '55 (Savoy)

Sonny Rollins Plus Four (Prestige), 1956 

Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin' (Blue Note), 1957

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Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Paris Olympia - 1958 (Mercury) 

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Hank Mobley, Roll Call (Blue Note), 1960

February 6, 2009 5:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Fats Waller.jpg
War worries have you gloomy?  Depressed over the recession? Investments tanking? Coming down with something and can't pay your health insurance premium? 

Take this advice (click here) from a great philosopher.

February 5, 2009 10:04 AM | | Comments (1)
You get that right-tickin' rhythm, man, and it's ON!
So easy, when you know how.
One never knows, do one?
February 5, 2009 10:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Rifftides reader and occasional correspondent Red Colm O'Sullivan writes from Ireland (where else, with a name like that?): 

And here's another frequently used term that has no meaning whatsoever: "Hard Bop". I have NO IDEA what that MEANS (as opposed to supposed to mean).

Hard Bop.jpg
That brought to mind something I wrote for a 2000 compilation CD on the Savoy label. The two-disc album was called The Birth of Hard Bop. It was made up of music recorded in 1956 by groups under the leadership of Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley. Among the players are Horace Silver, Kenny Clarke, Arthur Taylor, Barry Harris, Doug Watkins and three people who could by no stretch be considered hard boppers -- Hank Jones, Ronnie Ball and John LaPorta. The essay begins:

The urge to put ideas in boxes will not be denied. Accordingly, one day in the early 1950s someone, presumably a critic, dreamed up a box called "hard bop." The inventor no doubt intended the term to be a synonym for "soul" and "funk." He or she may also have meant it to distinguish jazz played primarily by black people on the East Coast from jazz played primarily by white people on the West Coast. It seemed important to critics in those days to make that distinction. To some, it still seems important. At any rate, "hard bop" came to signify jazz that had rhythmic drive, leaned on blues harmonies, drew inspiration from church gospel music and was hot, not cool. 

Unfortunately for box theory, try as you will to contain music, it flows around, into and out of boxes. Strict hard bop constructionists cannot force this album's lyrical "I Married An Angel" into the category with any greater justification than they can jawbone Clifford Brown's "Daahoud" (the Pacific Jazz version) into the shape of West Coast Jazz. Nearly half a century later, the music in this collection swings on in the category that matters most: the one labeled "Good."

The notes then discuss the musicians and the 21 tracks on the CDs. 

At the end, the reissue's producer, Orrin Keepnews, jumps in with a postscript that reads, in part:
...So it is quite possible that there never really was a musical style that could properly be described a "hard bop." However as Doug's not quite tongue-in-cheek essay reminds us, there was a powerful music developing in the mid-fifties. I lived and worked in the New York area during that time span, so I was thoroughly immersed in it throughout its early development. I know that I continue to think of this music as "hard bop" whenever I think back on it (which is often), and when I heard it still being played by many of today's best young jazz people, which is also quite frequently. 
...I join Doug Ramsey in not giving a damn about the legitimacy of the terminology, because what really matters is that the music itself was among the most legitimate and exciting jazz ever created. - O.K.
As always, your thoughts on this or any other topic are welcome. Use the "Comments" link below or the "Contact Me" link in the center column.

By the way, since Keepnews is involved in this post, if you think that jazz critics and writers are a dour, humorless bunch, here is irrefutable evidence otherwise.
DR, OK, DM '92.jpg
                          Ramsey                   Keepnews           Dan Morgenstern

This was several years ago, but we're still laughing. 

February 4, 2009 1:04 AM | | Comments (17)
In a posting a few months ago, I outlined the problem that all who write about music must face: keeping up. Nothing has changed, except that more CDs than ever are stacked throughout the office and music room. A colleague says he told a caller demanding to know when his album would be reviewed that his desktop looked like the Manhattan skyline, "and your CD is on the 44th floor." Following are recommendations for three CDs retrieved from the jewel box skyscrapers. 

Tamir Hendelman, Playground (SwingBros). Hendelman has been the pianist in the Jeff Hamilton Trio and the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra since the turn of the century, to general acclaim. A native Israeli in the US since 1984, he has lightness, firmness and wit. Currents of blues wisdom and a related Middle Eastern feeling for the uses of minor chords move through whatever he plays. He is likely to tackle standard tunes in non-standard keys, and his harmonic chops are fully developed. His originals are truly original. This is Hendelman's first album as leader. His bosses, drummer Jeff Hamilton and bassist John Clayton, are his sidemen. It is an impressive debut CD on all counts - content, balance and performance. 

Jaleel Shaw, Optimism (Changu). After I heard this young alto saxophonist in New York a couple of years ago, I wrote about my admiration for his originality in a situation that might tempt a player into imitation. This CD increased the admiration level. Intimations of other musicians and other eras sound as suggestive echoes in Shaw's work, but the dominant
Thumbnail image for Jaleel Shaw.jpg
voice is his own. In his improvisations there is a confident glide through the notes, whether in a waltz like "In 3" or the urgencies and time changes of "The Struggle;" no forced tempos or frantic grabs for handsful of notes, although Shaw is capable of blazing speed and as many notes as he can conceive. Among his own compositions he nestles two standards, "Love For Sale" and "If I'm Lucky," the latter done reflectively with only Lage Lund's guitar and Joe Martin's bass for accompaniment. Other companions on the CD, all of his generation, are trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Robert Glasper and drummer Johnathan Blake. Shaw will be 31 on February 11.

Garry Dial & Terry Roche, US An' Them (Dialroche). Dial, the jazz pianist, and Roche, the folk singer, collaborate on imaginative treatments of sixteen national anthems. With them are other musicians including Romero Lubambo, Anne Drummond, Dick Oatts, Joey Baron and Jay Anderson among the jazz players, and an array of instrumentalists and singers from around the world. In the accompanying DVD about the making of the CD, Dial makes the point that people everywhere know the US Anthem, but it is unlikely that the man on the street in Milwaukee knows the Tibetan anthem. He and Roche wanted to do something about that. They give each song a treatment that is unique to its sentiment and its origin. 

Eleven of the arrangements are by Dial, a masterly writer and pianist. The settings run from a voice-piano duo to a string orchestra. Jamaica's anthem becomes a calypso with gospel touches, Czechoslovakia's (apparently from before the Czeck-Slovak separation) a call for national awakening, Israel's a yearning for fulfillment of real freedom. Samir Chatterjee's arrangement of India's anthem is an Eastern ode to joy. The CD booklet has English translations of the songs sung in other languages. You may have known that there is an Esperanto anthem. I did not. By the time the collection ends with Roche's simple voice and guitar delivery of "The Star Spangled Banner," listeners, wherever they may be, are likely to feel a bit closer to the world at large. 

Next posting: A few more CDs from the stacks.
February 3, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Aaron Irwin Group, Blood and Thunder (Fresh Sound New Talent). In a tray card photograph, we see the 30-year-old alto saxophonist drinking a glass of milk and lookingAaron Irwin.jpg about eighteen. Irwin's compositions and arrangements have a concomitant freshness about them, and resourcefulness. His writing tends to make his quintet sound bigger. There is no piano; Ben Monder's guitar has the chording assignment. Chris Cheek's tenor sax adds a third melody voice. Both solo with economy and plenty of unexpected turns, as does Irwin. Matt Clohesy is the bassist, Ferenc Nemeth the drummer. 

These musicians are in the thick of New York's young experimental-cum-mainstream jazz population. Irwin, a product of the impressive DePaul University (Chicago) jazz program run by Bob Lark, has adapted to the yeasty Manhattan/Brooklyn scene. His title tune has an appropriately ominous caste amplified by the harmonies expressed and implied in the interaction of the saxophones and the guitar. The melody line and harmonies of the country-sounding "Back to You" might have been written by Hank Williams. Irwin doesn't unveil the melody of "From This Moment On" until the final chorus. The collective and individual improvisations in the first five minutes take full advantage of the basic, good-natured harmonies that helped make the song one of Cole Porter's biggest latterday successes. 

The saxophones and the guitar intertwine on "Little Hurts," reacting to one another's ideas in a sort of musical basket weaving until Monder takes over for a solo that manages to incorporate force, restraint and premonitions of uncertainty that are not entirely resolved before the track ends. "Sprung" is a pointillist melodic exercise on the harmonic pattern of "It Might As Well Be Spring." Its good humor spills over into the solos. The Bill Evans waltz "Very Early" glides along in character with its composer's intentions and features a chorus of improvisation by Clohesy that helps bring home why he's being much discussed among his contemporaries. Irwin adds Eliza Cho's violin for the last track, "Until We Say Our Last Goodbye," a composition so like a classic standard song that it all but demands a lyric. 
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The bloom of originality in Irwin's approach is fertilized by his reach into the traditions of several branches of American music. If that becomes a trend among a young jazz generation that sometimes defeats itself by defying tradition, it can only benefit them and the music.
February 2, 2009 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Hank Crawford, another of the cadre of Ray Charles saxophonists who went on to their own fame, died on January 29. David "Fathead" Newman and Leroy "Hog" Cooper, Crawford's colleagues in the Charles band, died earlier last month. Crawford's alto, Newman's tenor and Cooper's baritone saxophones were integral to Charles's big band in the 1950s and early '60s. 

Crawford's recording and touring bands were among the finest medium-sized groups of the era. Some of his earliest and best work is contained in this two-CD set. A gifted soloist, composer and arranger, Crawford continued to make superb ensemble recordings throughout his active career. This 1984 album is representative of his ability to merge sophistication in his writing with the deep blues feeling that almost always resulted in the word "soul" being applied in discussions of his music. When he came of age, Memphis, Tennessee, was producing a storied group of jazz musicians that also included Charles Lloyd, Harold Mabern, George Coleman, Booker Little and Phineas Newborn, Jr. 

Crawford was 74.
February 1, 2009 6:01 PM | | Comments (4)

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No genre is the new genre
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Paul Levy measures the Angles
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Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
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John Rockwell on the arts
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innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
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Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
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Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

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The Future of Classical Music?
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Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
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The Unanswered Question
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