Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


Russian Jazz’s Long History of Innovation and Repression

While a good part of the post-Putin Russia appears to have accepted Western capitalistic values, in the main improvised musicians are still marginalized. You wouldn’t know this from the mostly positive article by Vasily Shumov in Russia Beyond the Headlines. While also chronicling the history of trumpeter Eddie Rosner, the Soviet Union’s best-known Swing musician who was arrested in 1946 and didn’t escape the Gulag until 1954, Shumov then insists acceptance of Jazz has steadily grown over the years. Mentioning some of the major improvisers of the 1970s and 1980s, including pianist/guitarist Sergey Kuriokhin, drummer Vladimir Tarasov, pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin and saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin, who he thinks is a vocalist [!], he seems unfamiliar with the most recent improvisers however. Some illuminating videos are embedded though. READ

From New Haven to New York Spiritually: Pheeroan akLaff

One of advanced music’s most in-demand percussionists, Pheeroan akLaff has made his name in bands led by saxophonist Oliver Lake and pianist Cecil Taylor. But as the drummer tells Jake Nussbaum and Alex Lewis in this Destination Out interview, his real commitment to improvised music came after he left his native Detroit and spent time playing with musicians like trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Anthony Davis during a time in New Haven, Conn. At the same time akLaff, who changed his name to honor his so-called spiritual parents in New Haven, points out how his spirituality intensified as he began touring regularly in Japan, playing everywhere from night clubs to temples. READ

Vinyl Is Back: At Least According to the Business Media

Should your interest in the LP format encompass the preservation of unique sounds in a time-tested way, then you probably ignore the “vinyl is back” hype. However as the Village Voice’s Nick Greene points out, these tales have become an annual staple of the business media. What that means is that writers and editors who wouldn’t know Cecil Taylor from James Taylor or Evan Parker from Ray Parker Jr. get to string together a series of clichés about the rebirth of vinyl. The stories describe the phenomenon in almost exactly the same fashion and slyly suggest that it’s the attraction of their parents’ old records that draws tweens and teens to LPs. READ

Remembering Yusef Lateef the Right Way

Saxophonist/flutist/composer Yusef Lateef was much more than someone who introduced so-called exotic Middle Eastern and Asian motifs to Jazz. In this article in New Music Box, one of his closest collaborators, drummer/composer Adam Rudolph shares his memories of the man who died at 93 in 2013. By the 1950s Lateef, a respected bebopper, was working to alter Jazz’s harmonic structure and his ideas were later collected in his book, The Repository of Musical Scales and Patterns. Lateef, who had a doctorate in Education, ran his own record label, taught in Africa, wrote novels, plays, poetry, performed worldwide and was an erudite speaker on many subjects. Like innovative saxophonist John Coltrane, one of friends, Lateef was always trying something new. This was made most clear when he was made an NEA Jazz Master. Refusing to perform his older music with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, instead he played a duet with Rudolph utilizing bells, bamboo flute and other sound makers READ

The US Library of Congress Welcomes Max Roach — or at least his papers

Finally showing some interest in African-American musical history, The US Library of Congress has acquired 400 linear feet comprising the archives of drummer Max Roach. According to an article by Ben Ratliff  in the New York Times, the treasure trove includes items such as recording contracts, correspondence with everyone from Nelson Rockefeller to Nina Simone and even an hour-long tape by Philadelphia pianist Hassan Ibn Ali recorded at Roach’s apartment. More important for Jazz history may be a collection of letters from Roach to bassist Charles Mingus about their artist-owned Debut record label plus drafts of an unfinished autobiography Roach was writing with the help of poet Amiri Baraka. READ

Evaluating 1960s experimental music discs

The irony behind the abundance of releases suddenly appearing of 1960s’ experimental music is that so few of the creators ever imagined making a record. That's what guitarist/label owner David Grubbs notes in this perceptive essay from The Wire. Since now-celebrated improvisers like violinist Tony Conrad, accordionist Pauline Oliveros and violinist Henry Flynt in the United States, plus then-members of Britain’s AMM ensemble like cellist Cornelius Cardew and guitarist Keith Rowe were so preoccupied with live performance that recordings were deemed undesirable, only in the past 20 years has this music become generally available. How then do you evaluate often home-recorded 20th century sounds in a 21st century context? asks Grubbs. READ

Sober Scrutiny of John Butcher’s Solo Saxophone Sessions

Treating the recordings of London-based tenor and soprano saxophonist John Butcher with the gravitas they deserve, Tokafi’s editor-in-chief Tobias Fischer examines the reedist’s innovation in two inter-related articles. Going into exhaustive details about Butcher milestones such as Fixations, 13 Friendly Numbers, Resonant Spaces and Bell Trove Spools, Fischer discusses the associated playing and recording techniques as well as the impact these discs had on fellow improvisers such as guitarist Andy Moor and percussionist Gino Robair. He also puts to rest spurious comparisons between the work of Butcher and the other major British experimental saxophonist Evan Parker. READ

Howard Riley’s Short Stories now make up a Massive Volume

During a Jazz career of more than 50 years, British pianist Howard Riley has been one of the pioneers of European free music, while keeping a hand in more mainstream sounds. Duncan Heining’s profile in All About Jazz properly situates the pianist, best-known for his long tenure in bassist Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, among his experimental contemporaries and collaborators who have ranged from saxophonist Evan Parker to fellow pianists Keith Tippett and Jaki Byard. Riley, who often records in a solo setting, prefers playing briefer improvised pieces which he calls short stories, many sessions of which now exist. READ

More Than a Baker’s Dozen: Mats Gustafsson’s Favorite LPs

It may take plenty of perseverance to wade through 14 single screens, but that’s how The Quietus’ Stewart Smith reports on the preferred vinyl sessions of Swedish baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. Gustafsson, who is a member of bands featuring saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love among many others, chooses Jazz and Pop LPs. That means he appreciates rockers The Cramps as much as guitarist Derek Bailey and can speak knowledgably about singer Little Richard as well as saxophonists Albert Ayler and Bengt Nordström. READ

More Than an Obsession: Jazz Discographers

Any Jazz fan looking at a beautifully packaged, well-annotated CD collection of Early or Mid-Period Jazz often doesn’t realize the painstaking work that went into verifying all the data. But The Boston Globe’s Noah Guiney reports on a new book that examines in detail the men who did the research. According to author Bruce P. Epperson, the early discographers were almost without exception Europeans who were adding value to records others, most notably in it their American birthplace, deemed ephemeral pop music. Ironically the research from these mostly anti-establishment left wingers later helped large record companies make money from reissues of records these men had verified as important. READ

Another Forgotten One Remembered: Al Kiger

Despite their talent and affiliations, it’s often luck and circumstances that decide which musicians become well-known. Case in point: trumpet Al Kiger. As Ratzo Harris points out in New Music Box despite playing on three of composer George Russell’s LPs which set new standards for early 1960s jazz, the Indiana-native never achieved the fame of other more ephemeral Russell associates like multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, composer/pianist Carla Bley trumpeter Don Ellis and bassist Steve Swallow. Someone who didn’t like the road in the first place, Kiger then left New York for Indianapolis shortly after those record dates, since work for Russell’s racially mixed combo was scarce. Kiger spent his life as a respected local jingle and session player. READ

Rob Mazurek Evolves from Bop Solos to Wall of Sound

Having already moved on from his earliest identity as a post-bopper, Chicago-based cornetist Rob Mazurek has spent the past few years exploring all sorts of new sounds and aggregations. As The Chicago Reader’s Peter Margasak notes here, the trumpet has now advanced from showcasing small groups such as those in the Windy City with guitarist Jeff Parker and others; plus gigging with the São Paulo Underground, that includes Brazilian musicians such as percussionist Mauricio Takara and keyboardist Guilherme Granado; to creating large-scale compositions for expanded ensembles. His newest projects find room for soloists raging from Parker and flutist Nicole Mitchell to trombonist Steve Swell and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. READ

Jazz Loses Out to the Corporations

While many of the examples in the article may be a little too British-specific, The Wire’s Dan Spicer does write emotionally about how what is presented in the mainstream as “Jazz” is related more to commercial considerations than musical excellence. He notes how London’s Jazz FM radio station has gone from programming the likes of Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins to being almost exclusively a station devoted to pop-R&B–styled vocalists; and how a recent British festival named for and John Coltrane’s Free Jazz Masterpiece, A Love Supreme instead offered a program of Jools Holland’s boogie-woogie and bland pop from the Bryan Ferry Orchestra. Overall he sees instances of corporate logos and financial sponsorship of Jazz events as being inherently bad and champions out-of-the-way clubs as places to find the best improvised music. READ

Hardcore Rock Meets Hardcore Jazz: Chris Corsano

Moving between Noise-Rock and Free-Form Jazz, drummer Chris Corsano has managed to interest many in experiencing experimental music. As he tells Palm Beach New Times Matt Preira, he usually thinks of himself as a solo entity that happens to be playing with other musicians. Someone who moved from “the loud and crazier side of rock” to appreciating Jazzers such as Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane, he says there are clichés in any music. Still he tries to avoid them, whether he’s collaborating with Free Jazz saxophonist Paul Flaherty, jam bands like Six Organs of Admittance, or pop stars like Björk – though he does admits she edited a lot more of his playing than the others. READ

Jazz Omnivore Charlie Kohlhase

A challenge to the conservative view that limits Jazz to a particular formula and era, Boston-based baritone saxophonist and radio host Charlie Kohlhase appreciates all jazz from its beginnings to its most experimental and concentrates on playing the later. As The Boston Globe’s Jeremy Godwin points out Kohlhase, who leads his own band, and works and has worked with the likes of tenor and alto saxophonist Russ Gershon’s free-from Either Orchestra and the late Avant-Grade tenor saxophonist John Tchicai, actually moulds many strands of Jazz into something that could be called 21st Century music. READ

French Free Jazz Pioneer: François Tusques

Here’s a valuable introduction not only to pianist François Tusques, but to the sometimes forgotten pioneers of French Free Jazz. In this article, All About Jazz’s Clifford Allen runs through the highlights of the pianist’s career and situates him alongside his Gallic contemporaries such as reedist Barney Wilen and trumpeter Bernard Vitet, as well as his stylistic links to liberated Americans pianists such as Cecil Taylor and Mal Waldron. Although it mentions his more recent, long-time collaboration with drummer Noel McGhie, Tusques’ return to recording, and finally getting to gig in New York would be in the future. READ

Oliver Lake: Blues, B.A.G. and the Big Apple

Here’s a valuable introduction not only to pianist François Tusques, but to the sometimes forgotten pioneers of French Free Jazz. In this article, All About Jazz’s Clifford Allen runs through the highlights of the pianist’s career and situates him alongside his Gallic contemporaries such as reedist Barney Wilen and trumpeter Bernard Vitet, as well as his stylistic links to liberated Americans pianists such as Cecil Taylor and Mal Waldron. Although it mentions his more recent, long-time collaboration with drummer Noel McGhie, Tusques’ return to recording, and finally getting to gig in New York would be in the future. READ

The Vijay Iyer- MacArthur Foundation Controversy

Honoring pianist Vijay Iyer with a MacArthur Foundation so-called “genius grant” worth $625,000 has caused controversy in Jazz circles. The Ottawa Citizen’s Peter Hum takes a dispassionate look at the situation, quoting those such as guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and pianist Kenny Drew Jr. who reacted against the grant, and the hype which describes Iyer as the “greatest living jazz pianist”, and others such as drummer Marcus Gilmore who feel the award is well-deserved. Wondering about the fairness of any such award, Hum says at least it takes some ink away from pop stars. READ

A Life’s Work in Ten Freedom Summers

Praised for its breath of vision and originality as well as its musicality, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers project is finally being performed regularly after a composition process of many years. In this interview with the Washington City Paper’s Michael J. West, Smith outlines his thoughts on the work which was performed in its entirety over three days in Washington. Smith, whose Golden Quartet, competed by pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg, and drummer Anthony Brown is a vital part of the performance, also reveals that for a 2015 premiere he is composing another large-scale work, updating the concepts from W.E.B. Du Bois' 1903 sociological novel The Souls of Black Folk, and feature a larger ensemble. READ

Charles Mingus’ Nation

Using as his peg Mosaic Records’ newly released boxed set of bassist Charles Mingus’ The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964–65, the Nation’s Adam Shatz gives the readers of this progressive daily another overview of the composer/bandleader’s career. Gathering the usual colorful stories from secondary sources, Shatz still manages to situate Mingus music’s importance in the time between Bebop and the Avant Garde. Although some of his suppositions are plain wrong – Mingus’ comeback in the 1970s was hardly predicated on being written about in Playboy or gaining a Grammy nomination – and ascribing his influence on posters like Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell is scarcely as important as how Mingus music influenced Jazz composers like Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill – at least Shtaz includes a discography that can introduce those interested to the real music. READ