Taking a break from its new orientation towards discovering the most fashionable eating spots, bars or boutiques, the Village Voice allowed Michael J. Agovino to report on the health of New York City’s small Jazz imprints. Less upbeat than the premise would indicate, Agovino’s report confirms that most profitable small labels are ones which also have a foot in Latin, Indie-Rock or so-called World Music as well as Jazz. Still he does point out that saxophonist Henry Threadgill's In for a Penny, In for a Pound, released on the smaller Pi label, which was unhyphenated Jazz, did win the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for music. Ironically the fact unexpectedly revealed as well is that almost all the label owners would rather produce CDs than currently fashionable vinyl. LPs are costly to produce and bad for the environment they say.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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Going into the details of the selected improviser’s compositional process and cooperative playing situations Jazz Right Now’s Cisco Bradley presents a profile of New York cellist Daniel Levin. Someone who was immersed in playing so-called classical string quartets from an early age, Levin found that in order to express his own musical ideas he had to develop a personal language, something he began while studying with legendary Boston-based pedagogue and saxophonist Joe Maneri. Delving into the evolution of his own writing, Levin also notes how its interpretation depends in some part from the freedom offered by his long-time sympathetic relationship in bands with such players as bassists Joe Morris and Torbjörn Zetterberg, trumpeters Dave Ballou and Nate Wooley and especially vibraphonist Matt Moran.
Fêted even by prestigious Paris newspaper Le Monde for her longevity, French double bassist Jöelle Léandre’s recounts the highlights and struggles of her 40-year career in improvised music to The Free Jazz Collective’s Stef. Linking her theatrical stage presence to an interest in Dadaism, Léandre also explains that other motivating factors in her life are trying to are reorder music’s hierarchy as well putting in hard work to express her ideas. Attributing her beginnings to exposure to the music of such American Jazz musicians as pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Anthony Braxton – with whom she would eventually record – she expresses a preference for small group interaction. She also insists that more women should become involved in creative music, singling out Canadian trumpeter Lina Allemano for particular praise.
One of Jazz’s most inventive drummers, over his long career Andrew Cyrille, 76, has dipped in-and-out of mainstream Jazz while helping to forge what is now known as Free Jazz. In this interview with Jazz Times’ Aidan Levy, the drummer reminisces about 10 records on which he was featured from 1961 to 2016, and the percussion strategies he used to make each memorable. Besides well-known dates he did with expected partners such pianist Cecil Taylor, conductor Butch Morris, saxophonist Oliver Lake and synthesize player Richard Teitelbaum among others, he cites an early LP by his own Maono quartet with then young saxophonist David S. Ware, a drum duet with as inventive, but less recognized percussionist Milford Graves and other little remembered sessions including one with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and another vibraphonist featuring Walt Dickerson.
Despite common belief, dissemination of Jazz has never been a cut-and-dried affair propelled through the decades by unapproachable giants. Instead musical currents are swept along by any number of almost unknown figures. One such avant-garde foot soldier was alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi (1956-2016) whose triumphs and struggle are chronicled by Point of Departure’s Pierre Crépon. Someone who moved back-and-forth from California to New York to Vienna and finally Mexico, Eneidi was an associate of players ranging from saxophonist Glenn Spearman, bassist William Parker and pianist Cecil Taylor to musicians of every style he allowed play during the sessions he ran for several hundred consecutive weeks in Vienna. He played in and led large and small bands, released material on his own Botticelli Records and kept the music going with little monetary reward and almost no extensive recognition, except perhaps for this article.
While Israeli jazzers of every category may be common sights internationally today, that certainly wasn’t the case when clarinetist Harold Rubin arrived in the Jewish State in 1963. An architect, who had made the switch to experimental music while playing with mixed bands in his native South Africa, Rubin, now 84, tells the Jerusalem Post that there was literally no one to play with for the first decade after he made aliya. Luckily that changed for the better in the years that followed, as the clarinetist hooked up with other musicians, even backing American saxophonist Dave Liebman, and by the 1990s was working in Tel Aviv with like-minded experimenters such as bassist J.C. Jones and bass clarinetist Yoni Silver. One night of 2016’s Jerusalem Jazz Festival was dedicated to Rubin, where he got to play with some of his musical offspring including saxophonists Assif Tsahar and Albert Beger, as well as with pianists Daniel Sarid and Maya Dunietz.
Dating from the time of Duke Ellington’s magnificent tuxedos, Miles Davis’ Italian-made suits and even Gerry Mulligan’s collegiate look, Jazz musicians have always been fashion forward. A recent feature by Gentleman’s Quarterly writer Nick Marino and photographer Christian Weber on 10 universally acknowledged Jazz Giants points out that these players may be 75 years old or older, but their fashion choices are up-to-the-minute. Saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Wayne Shorter, pianists McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Cecil Taylor and drummer Roy Haynes are among those photographed. A linked sidebar lists some of these giants’ most representative albums.
Jazz’s most inspired American-Saturian bandleader Su Ra, may have absented this earthly space almost 15 years ago, but his timeless compositions are still being played around the world by the Arkestra big band, led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. At 92, Allen, who has been associated with the Arkestra since the mid-1950s, tells Jazz Times’ Tad Hendrickson that he has no time for retirement. A self-described pack rat, who inherited the band leadership when tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, Ra’s designated right-hand man, left the planet a couple of years after the band leader, Allen appears to have an endless collection of Ra scores available, old, new and modified. Considering the group is now as likely to play a rock festival or a private party as a Jazz club or festival, Allen, like his mentor, insists on the group rehearsing three hours a day three days a week in its Philadelphia headquarters in order to perform a book that includes everything from Swing classics to the most atonal, outer space-oriented charts.
For years, percussionist Adam Rudolph has skirted labels for his bands' sounds which include aspects of improvised Jazz, Indo-African and other so-called World Music. As he tells New Music Box’s Frank J. Oteri, all music is characterized by three elements: the codification of elements resulting in formal Art music, people-oriented Folk music and Devotional music. Chicago-born Rudolph, who studied with master musicians in Africa as well as in the Western traditions, has taken elements from all three streams. His original compositions at various times were advanced by cooperation with musical figures as diverse as Moroccan Gnawa master Hassan Hakmoun, avant-garde Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, master Jazz-World music reedist Yusef Lateef, and peripatetic drummer Hamid Drake. Rudolph, who has led variants of his Go: Organic Orchestra since the turn of the century, has now expended his non-hierarchal concepts even further by adapting graphic notation and electronics to a larger ensemble, which allow musicians from any culture to play with him and the Organic orchestra
Having taken place before the recent American election, but generically related to it, composer Darcy James Argue discusses with Heavy Blog’s Nick Cusworth, the Big Brother-style concepts that informed the creation of his new Real Enemies CD. While the Pop-music oriented writer is obviously more comfortable discussing cross-over appeal and chart positions with Argue than how Jazz composers like Dave Douglas and Charles Mingus have influenced the Canadian-born composer’s work, he does give Argue space to ruminate. In his responses Argue articulates his view about the worsening political climate in the U.S. ... and the world at large.
After telling Bandcamp’s Brad Cohen that there’s no reason to have a record label with platforms like Bandcamp available, protean Punk-Jazz drummer Weasel Walter showcases representative performances from his now defunct ugEXPLODE imprint. Walter who made his name as an avant-garde gadfly in Chicago, the Bay area and now New York, cites a variety of tracks showing off his experience in Rock, Jazz and notated music. Among the associates with which he's recorded are Deerhoof’s Ed Rodriguez, trumpeter Peter Evans, singer Lydia Lunch and guitarist Mary Halvorson.
He may not have been named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, but at least the august New York Times recognizes the contributions drummer Andrew Cyrille, 76, has made to the music. Nat Chinen’s article may be a little too concerned with the fact that Cyrille is working with currently more fashionable players like guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Vijay Iyer, but he does mention the percussionist’s rhythmic inventiveness during his long tenure with pianist Cecil Taylor, and his long-standing trio with fellow Jazz elder statesman alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and bassist Reggie Workman. Complete with a selection of recommended Cyrille records, the story even describes how the dance rhythms of Cyrille’s Haitian heritage had an effect on his emerging style.
One of the acknowledged founders of British Free Music, soprano saxophonist Trevor Watts has been playing his sometimes thorny, often rhythmic, sounds since the mid-1960s. In these story snippets that appear in The Wire, he recalls some memorable experiences during his long career. Partnering from the beginning with the often-pugnacious drummer John Stevens in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Watts remembers European tours where the SME had to cope with raucous fans of former Rock singer Julie Driscoll Tippetts then singing with the group, and when Stevens faced off with an uninvited extra trumpeter. He also talks about his break with Stevens and his experience leading his own Moire Music and Original Drum Orchestra where these improvising groups used rhythm and melody but no arrangements. As important, he insists, is his long-running duo with pianist Veryan Weston, who was a participant in the London birth of Free Music, played in a 10-piece Moire Music group and now works with Watts playing completely improvised music open to (m)any other influences.
Although Music Aficionado’s Ken Micallef seems to confuse promo – for record companies, percussion manufacturers and audio equipment makers – with reportage, at least he introduces a mostly Rock audience to drummer Jack DeJohnette. A consummate professional, the septuagenarian percussionist does discuss the make-up of his kit, his drumming style and practice regime. Yet the interview also includes his praises for present-day associates such as Ravi Coltrane, memories of his tenures with Miles Davis and Bill Evans and even reveals what he learned from older, more avant-garde drummers such as Rahied Ali.
Promoted by composer Gunther Schuller and others from both sides of the Jazz (Jimmy Giuffre, John Lewis) and so-called classical (Milton Babbitt) divide, Third Stream music was supposed to have been left behind in the 1960, replaced by Fusion, Neo-Bop, Free Jazz and the like. But in this essay in The London Review of Books, Adam Shatz insists that this admixture of Jazz and so-called classical music forms that came under attack years ago, is still being used in compositions by reedist Henry Threadgill, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, drummer Tyshawn Sorey and other boundary stretchers – albeit sans the official designation – without causing any new fuss.
Commenting on pianist/composer Georg Graewe’s first performance in Vancouver, B.C. after a couple of decades away, Misterioso’s Laurence Svirchev offers a quick rundown of the German musician’s career and recent low-profile. It turns out that after extensive performances and releases in the 1980s and 1990s with his Grubenklang Orchestra and his trio with drummer Gerry Hemingway and cellist Ernst Reijseger, Graewe has avoided releasing CDs –although he has many unreleased session available – and stuck close to home in Germany’s Ruhr area. His reason: he has been composing modern operas as well as music for stage plays of ideas that have been presented to acclaim all over Europe.
Of all the styles trumpeter Miles Davis played in his long career, his so-called electric period is still the most controversial. Here the New York Review of Book’s Adam Shatz uses the release of Don Cheadle’s biopic and a monograph on the Bitches Brew record to press his case for a new appreciation for Davis’ work during that period. Dismissing as quaint Jazz purists who it seems were more interested in pianist Cecil Taylor’s and alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s imaginative musical breakthroughs than in applauding Davis. The trumpeter's studio skills, where he supposedly edited tapes so that influences from Sly Stone, James Brown, Karlheinz Stockhausen could be combined to create best-selling LPs are offered as Ur-post-modernism. However, Shatz at least admits that Davis' final recorded and concert work, centering on playing Pop hits over a synthetic Funk backing, was really inferior.
Now that those musicians who preserved the Old Country origins of Eastern European Klezmer music have almost completed died out, younger musicians are extending the tradition. But those who think adding other musical variants to the Yiddish-based Klezmer is something new will be surprised to know it was done before. In this article in New Music Box, Eve Sicular, leader of the Isle of Klezbos band, mentions such musicians s the well-known singing Barry Sisters, comedian-bandleader Mickey Katz, and the practically unknown composer-bandleader Eli Basse, whose song parodies mixed Borscht Belt Yiddish with other musical concepts such as Rumba, R&B and Jazz more than a half century ago.
Simultaneously an inside and outside piano stylist and composer, Connie Crothers (1941-2016) was, like her mentor theoretician-pianist Lennie Tristano, almost a school unto herself. In this personal appreciation of Crothers and her art published in New Music Box, fellow pianist Ursel Schlicht, who studied and played with Crothers, reveals some of the other keyboardist's background. Despite being a classical prodigy Crothers was bothered because she initially couldn’t improvise, a handicap she overcome studying with the legendary Tristano (1919-1978). Although she recorded successfully with Jazz masters like drummer Max Roach, alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and trumpeter Roy Campbell and performed at festivals like New York's Vision Festival, the majority of her time was spent teaching and running her own New Artists record label.
Despite having an established Jazz career, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin still muses about the various circumstances that affect any improvising musician. In this wide-ranging discussion with Point of Departure’s Troy Collins he talks about how with limitless available raw sound musical materials a player should be involved with “freedom to”, not "from", and aim to create something original. Fear of seeming not modern enough pr in contrast too outside shouldn’t be factors in creativity. The same sort of universal thinking for instance went into creating his more tradition-oriented band with organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver as an earlier free-form group with accordionist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black. Esklein also discusses the relative merits of recording live verses in the studio and as a label owner he knows that streaming music is anything but the panacea some imagined it would become.