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.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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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.
Mixing Free Jazz stylings rooted in tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler’s frenzied cries with traditional sea shanties isn’t common Jazz fare. But it’s what got tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer and his Brooklyn Blowhards band noticed by the august New York Tine and other publications – including this one. Nate Chinen’s article manages to work in references to noise and punk bands, traditional sea shanty recordings and the oeuvre of novelist Herman Melville as well for added seriousness. But he does discuss the background of Lederer and his chief associate, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and how the two became interested in rearranging traditional music so that its connection to Energy Music became apparent.
Following a model similar to that which allowed Louis Armstrong’s home in Corona, Queens to be turned into a museum, a non-profit organization is raising funds so that the house in which John Coltrane wrote A Love Supreme could be similarly transformed. Writing in the Long Island Press, Spencer Rumsey reports how the home in Long Island’s Dix Hills neighborhood, which was owned by the Coltrane family from 1964 until 1972, is now under observation by the American National Trust for Historic Preservation, but needs extensive repairs. To help raise funds for the renovations, an annual John Coltrane Jazz Festival takes place, which this year featured the likes of trumpeter winner Randy Brecker; drummer Roy Haynes, who played with Coltrane; and The Firey String Sistas, including cellist Nioka Workman and pianist Mala Waldron, whose fathers, bassist Reggie Workman and pianist Mal Waldron also worked with Coltrane.
Chicago alto saxophonist/composer Greg Ward’s newest project, Touch My Beloved’s Thought, is not only a CD, but a dance piece choreographed by Onye Ozuzu and performed by 15 modern dancers at Links Hall, a local arts space. While the music was, at the request of Links Hall director Roell Smidt, inspired by Charles Mingus’ 1963 LP The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, the challenge Ward tells Burning Ambulance’s Phil Freeman was how to adopt motifs from the Mingus work without copying it and how to create a unique suite from these suggestions. The saxophonist explains how he was able to finance rehearsing and recording of the score for 10 musicians with the help of executive producer, drummer Mike Reed and Smidt, and why trumpeter Dave Douglas later decided to release a CD of the completed music on his own record label.
A return to the original focus of so-called Blindfold Tests, which for years have degenerated into mere chronicles of young musicians recognizing their contemporaries’ solos. Instead Jazz Times Ashley Kahn asks M-Base Collective alto saxophonist Greg Osby his opinions on discs that turn out to be from a half century of alto saxophone stylists who range from Buster Smith and Rudresh Mahanthappa to Tim Berne, Hank Crawford, Albert Ayler and Johnny Hodges. Along the way, Osby comments on his own Jazz history and the history of saxophone styles, the dangers of adhering too close to your idols’ sound. the differences between Bebop and Free playing, and how M-Base was really more of a conversation than a collective.
Free Music hero and organizer in his Chicago home town and in Europe, multi-reedist Ken Vandermark has recently become more interested in what’s happening on the New York scene. At least that's Jazz Times’ Tad Hendrickson supposition. A recent run of dates at The Stone, where Vandermark worked with bands consisting of expected outside avatars such as trombonist Steve Swell and guitarist Joe Morris plus in new configurations as with turntablist Marina Rosenfeld or in free-mainstreamer bassist Eric Revis’ combo -- as well as an on-going partnership with Brooklyn trumpeter Nate Wooley -- cemented the saxophonist/clarinetist's interest in the city. That doesn’t means that Vandermark, the epitome of modern musicians, who has 5,000 Facebook friends and who has been featured on at least 188 discs. will slow down his playing and gig-organizing work in Chicago, or cut down on the multitude of one-nighters in plays with different bands throughout Europe and North America any time soon.