Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


There’s No Kidding about Kidd Jordan’s Talent and History

Arguably the only committed experimental musician to spend his life in New Orleans, Kidd Jordan is properly introduced to The Boston Globe’s readers by Bill Beuttler here. Touching on Jordan’s influences – John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman – his three-decade career as an educator –he taught Branford Marsalis and Donald Harrison among many others – and his journeyman’s chops – he gigged with the likes of Ray Charles and Bobby “Blue” Bland to name two – Beuttler points out that the 81-year-old tenor saxophonist is one of few musicians who simultaneously understands Traditional Jazz, Bebop and Free Music.  Yet, in what Jordan calls “his later years”, he’s now exclusively involved with unbounded improvisation. READ

The Best Drummer You Never Heard (of): Joe Gallivan

Although he’s been involved with hard-core improvised music since the mid-1960s – and has been  playing professionally since he was 15 – Joe Gallivan is so under the radar he could be invisible. The Stranger’s Dave Segal tries to rectify this in a long interview. Part of Gallivan’s obscurity is that he has stuck pretty close to his Miami home base over the years, even though forays to London and New York had him working with everyone from Free Music saxophonist Evan Parker to Jazz-Funk organist Larry Young to Hard Bop pianist Duke Pearson – and even singer Wilson Pickett. He was also one of the first players to adapt Robert Moog's prototype drum synthesizer to advanced music. Apparently his music was so far out that then-president Richard Nixon had the power cut when Gallivan and Young played a concert in a park opposite the White House. Then there were the many rip-off artists and this-side-of-criminals he dealt with both on and off the bandstand.  Today though, Gallivan  is still committed enough to his own sound to play with such advanced musicians  as bassist Paul Rogers in France and pianist Angelica Sanchez in the United States. READ

Still Seeking Constant Challenges: Peter Brötzmann

Free Jazz, and its major figures like German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, still appear to need a lot of explanation, at least according to Cincinnati City Paper’s Steven Rosen. But he gamely tried to probe the genre's essence at a time when Brötzmann and American-born pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh are to play a concert in his city. Rosen gets his chronology a little muddled and insists on linking the saxophonist to experimental American musicians such as pianist Cecil Taylor, guitarist Sonny Sharrock and drummer Andrew Cyrille, all of whom were the German’s associates, but he neglects the reedist's equally important European collaborations. Still, Rosen does give Brötzmann  enough space to affirm how he gives his all in every performance; and how even at 75, he wants to be challenged musically. Hence the unique affiliation with Leigh and her unusual (for Jazz) instrument. READ

The Joy of Space: Sun Ra

Perhaps The Wire’s Derek Walmsley goes a bit overboard in his appreciation of “Saturn” by the 1956 version of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. More than an artifact of futuristic pop music, he hears one of the first recorded of Ra’s beyond-earth compositions as a “matrix of possibilities”. Interestingly enough though he has time to praise the band’s early Bop-oriented players such as drummer William Cochran and trumpeter Art Hoyle, but doesn’t comment on the work of saxophone avatars like Marshall Allen and John Gilmore who would remain with the band for many years and help take the sound even further out. READ

The Pulitzer Prizes finally acknowledge evolving improvised music

Composer/alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill’s winning of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music confirms that this venerable institution is finally in touch with more than Euro-centric sounds. In this Chicago Tribune article Howard Reich, who has served on the Pulitzer jury in the past, outlines the contentious history of the prize which has been given since 1943 to little-noted, so-called classical compositions, bypassing major musical figures such as Duke Ellington. Ellington was refused a special citation in 1965, which famously led to the resignation of  two board members. Recent rule liberalization has led to the prize going to Wynton Marsalis in 1997, as well as special posthumous citations to the likes of Thelonious Monk, Ellington and John Coltrane; with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, a finalist in 2013. Threadgill – and Smith’s – prominence at the Pulitzers also confirms the continuing influence of the Chicago-birthed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians of which both are long-time members. READ

How to run a small 21st Century record label (sort of)

The concepts advanced may come from the Indie-Folk and Indie-Rock world, but in this The Wire article, label owner Britt Brown advances some ideas which can lead to small label longevity. Brown, who has operated the Los Angeles-based micro LP and CD imprint Not Not Fun since 2004, suggests that the ideal situation involves artist loyalty, fluidity in musical definitions and having a concept of how recorded material may  be perceived in the future. Oh, and unless the label is run by visual artists, musicians, not the company, should decide on their own release's presentation. READ

At 80, she’s now a Jazz “master”: Carla Bley

With her compositions like “Ida Lupino” now Jazz standards and having lead various bands for more than 50 years, at 80 pianist/composer Carla Bley is being celebrated as a Jazz “master”. Still, as she tells The New York Times’ Nate Chinen, she didn’t just want to be one of the woman of stature in Jazz – she wanted to be the only one. Gender politics aside, the article runs down Bley’s contributions to the music’s literature and her struggle to be accepted, touching on her Free Jazz association with pianist Paul Bley; her large group experimentation with trumpeter Michael Mantler; as well as her collaboration with bassist Charlie Haden in the Liberation Music Orchestra. Happily Chinen also mentions her more cerebral but still quirky small group work with electric bassist Steve Swallow. READ

The Brotherhood of Breath In Its Time and 50 Years Later

Unfortunately Point of Departure’s Bill Shoemaker crams too much into this column tracking the birth and somewhat tepid acceptance of South African pianist Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath (BOB) band organized in 1970s London. The basic story of putting together a large Free Jazz-oriented ensemble with different aims and roots than the American model is described. Yet the piece tries to deal with too many subjects, including in-fighting among members of the original Blue Notes: alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, bassist Johnny Dyani and drummer Louis Moholo plus McGregor; the evolving state of British Free Music, which introduced saxophonists Mike Osborn and Evan Parker to BOB; the incursions into BOB of  Jazz pros like tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore and trombonist Malcolm Griffiths to gain mainstream legitimacy; detours into the problems of British government funding; plus the policies of British record labels hoping that a variant of avant-garde jazz could be the next big thing after Rock. If you can also put up with 21st Century reinterpretations of contemporary music writing and brief glimpses of almost forgotten Jazzers such as saxophonists Ronnie Beer and Kenneth Terroade, you will find some notable analysis of the BOB’s records among the essay's more than 7,600 words. READ

Fifty Years Later Shepp Remembers Trane

What would have been helpful is if Consequence of Sounds’ Ryan Bray had known – or looked up – the proper spelling of producer Bob Thiele’s name, who tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp speaks about here, or the correct title – Blue Haze – of the Miles Davis LP Shepp mentions; but Bray manages to transcribe some valuable thoughts the now-veteran Shepp has about his mentor, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.  Shepp, who later worked and recorded with Trane, recalls that he first heard him play in his native Philadelphia, but didn’t appreciate the older saxophonist’s skill until the latter’s justly famous New York club residency with pianist Thelonious Monk. Shepp also reveals the he could have used some guidance about chord changes from Trane  when recording Ascension, since the younger saxophonist had just had his musical concept turned around working with pianist Cecil Taylor, the master of unbridled musical freedom. READ

Nate Wooley: Happenstance and Commitment

Point of Departure’s Troy Collins tries to put a handle on the myriad activities of trumpeter Nate Wooley and finds that the Brooklyn-based stylist is involved in everything from straight-ahead jazz with the likes of Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day band, tape and electronic music, to solo playing and as association with noise bands alongside Mike Pride and others. Wooley, who lucked into meeting a group of like-minded experiments when he moved from Denver to New York 15 years ago, insists that a musician has to use any means necessary to connect with people. He’s also adamant that musicians who can communicate in prose as well as music shouldn’t be criticized as being too articulate and told to stick to playing. Wooley, who says he wants his trumpet to sound like a voice, is open to situations that can range from working with Fender Rhodes specialist Jozef Dumoulin to being part of composer Anthony Braxton’s groups. Plus he has a unique take on why he surprised everyone by recording a whole CD of Wynton Marsalis compositions. READ

Sound and Continuum: Muhal Richard Abrams

Enigmatic and forward thinking, composer and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams seems to confuse New Music Box’s Frank J. Oteri when he doesn’t ascribe the same importance to some of his compositions that the interviewer does. But the focus of Abrams’ autodidactic methods, that also lead to the formation of Chicago’s AACM, is that all music is sound and all sound is part of a continuum. Besides modestly downplaying his role as a leader and teacher, Abrams insists that notated music figures such as Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Chopin improvised as well as composed and how he’s as influenced by their ideas as those of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington or any so-called jazz figures. Of course, as someone who taught himself to both play piano and compose an important body of work, inspiration and circumstances play roles in Abrams evolution as well. And don't forget stylists like Sonny Stitt and George Coleman with whom Abrams played during his apprenticeship. READ

Defining the Role of the Improvising Cellist: Daniel Levin

Perfect technique and faultless reading don’t add up to the skills needed to be a top-flight improvising cellist, reveals Daniel Levin in this interview with Anne Yven for London Jazz News and France's Citizen Jazz. The ideal is not to be afraid to play something others find bad, dumb or obvious. At least that’s what Levin tells beginning improvisers. His commitment to improv came from an experience when he was 19, and since that time he has built up steady relationships with many other musicians, most notably in one group with alto saxophonist Rob Brown and in another band with violist Mat Maneri. Levin also relates how when he was studying formally with Joe Maneri, the teacher/reedist allowed him to play his tenor saxophone for a while so that Levin would become less inhibited in his own cello playing. READ

Joe Fonda: The Physicality of the Double Bass

Throughout his years as bass player of choice for a variety of advanced Jazz combos, Joe Fonda has been  known for the joyful body language he brings to his playing. The reason for this, he explains to Jazz’halo’s Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther, is his long association with powerful drummer such as Lou Grassi, Barry Altschul and Harvey Sorgen. Fonda goes on to tell how he evolved from being a teenage ProgRock fan to an improvising Jazz musician, the influence of Ornette Coleman on his music, and how he defines the musical essence of the groups within which he plays. READ

The Pianists in My Life: Gary Peacock

Short and to the point, in the interview, veteran double bassist Gary Peacock tells Westword’s Jon Solomon about how his style has changed over the years through the input of the pianists with whom he’s worked. In Denver for a gig with pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron, Peacock, 80, describes the appeal of piano stylists like Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Paul Bley, and what each one contributed to his musical evolution. He also reveals that he decided to become a professional musician in this early teens, but didn’t find his ideal instrument until he started playing double bass in 1955. READ

Vijay Iyer is given The New Yorker’s Imprimatur

From its lofty height as arbiter of high-class culture, The New Yorker occasionally reaches down to profile someone from the popular arts. That seems to be the focus of Alec Wilkinson’s article on pianist Vijay Iyer. Newsworthy because he’s Asian-American not White or Black, Iyer who is described as often mistaken “for an accountant”, has a PhD, teaches at Harvard and is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s artist-in-residence. Besides the establishment credentials advanced, at least there is some mention in the story of his association with the radical Asian Improv group in California, his admiration for Thelonious Monk’s playing, his mentoring by saxophonist Steve Coleman and electronic musician David Wessel, and his on-going musical relationship with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, whose eclecticism defies standardization. READ

Another One Bites The Dust: RIP Jazz Record Mart

A venerable institution that fed the habit of Jazz and Blues fans for an amazing 57 years, Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart (JRM), which closed earlier this year, was probably the one store in the world that tried to stock any and every Jazz disc – on 78, 16, 45, 33, tape and CD. In this Chicago Reader article, Peter Margasak, who worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s recalls his experiences and that of others. Owned by the irascible Bob Koester, along with the Delmark record label, the JRM was simultaneously antique and futuristic. Ignoring modern retailing trends, the JRM gave experience and employment to obsessives, who ended up starting their own stores or record labels, such as Nessa’s Chuck Nessa, Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer and Okka Disc’s Bruno Johnson. The JRM also provided employment and a place to practice for musicians ranging from harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, cornetist Josh Berman and vibist Jason Adasiewicz to AACM stalwart, reedist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. The JRM was also the place committed Jazz musicians hung out, ranging from locals to visitors, including modernist trumpeter Ted Curson and Swing pianist Jay McShann.


Was Bitches Brew Teo Macero’s Greatest Creation?

Yes, according to George Grella Jr. in this provocative article for New Music Box. Although there’s no dispute that the themes of what is one of Miles Davis’ most famous sessions were created by the trumpeter and his band – including reedists Bennie Maupin and Wayne Shorter; keyboardists Chick Corea, Larry Young and Joe Zawinul, bassist Dave Holland  and drummer Jack DeJohnette – the finished product was as much the work of producer Teo Macero as Davis. Macero (1925-2008), who also produced important sessions for Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk among others, was a composer and friend of Edgard Varèse. Apparently he used sophisticated musique concrete-like splicing and editing techniques to move and re-orient sections of the recorded sounds to shape them into the form(s) that become the disc's six released tracks. READ

At home with Ornette and Cherry: Neneh Cherry

Of all the tributes that appeared after the death of alto saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman last year, one of the most personal and insightful was published in The Guardian by singer Neneh Cherry. Cherry, who is the step-daughter of long-time Coleman associate, pocket trumpeter Don Cherry, first met Coleman when her family stayed at his place in New York. She was 2½ and remained in contact with him for the rest of his life. Cherry, who remembers the alto saxophonist never speaking down to anyone – even a child – recounts how her step-father first met the alto saxophonist; how creative musicians always struggle for acceptance;  Coleman’s deep connection with the blues; and how and when she finally worked up the courage to sing one of his songs. READ

Getting Attached to Strings: How Tomeka Reid become an improvising cellist

Starting off as a so-called classical cello nerd from Maryland, Tomeka Reid has become an in-demand string player based in Chicago. In this Q&A with Point of Departure’s Troy Collins, she outlines how moving to the Windy City in 2000 exposed her to players such as flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Mike Reed who helped her find her own voice via the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Today, besides working in the bands of veterans such as trombonist George Lewis and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, the cellist leads her own bands, including a trio with guitarist Matt Schneider and bassist Josh Abrams and is part of the intercontinental trio Hear in Now, with violinist Mazz Swift and Italian bassist Silvia Bolognesi. READ

The 50 Greatest Blue Note Albums (according to one source)

Humans love lists and humans love nostalgia. That’s probably why the editors of the Discover Music Web page decided to list their idea of the 50 greatest albums from what they term is “unquestionably the most iconic jazz label”. Besides a potted history of the imprint, the usual discs by Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey Jimmy Smith and Grant Green are listed along with some outliers such as ones by Tina Brooks and Sidney Bechet. But when it comes to pace-setting sounds, cracks appear in the façade. Few would quarrel with Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch as #4, or Cecil Taylor’s Conquistador at #6. But who put Don Cherry’s Complete Communion in last place, plus there's no mention of  LPs by Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill or Grachan Moncur III? READ