On the 10th anniversary of American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s death, Point of Departure’s Stuart Broomer surveys the saxophonist’s early work, pointedly noting that it was Lacy – and his associate, trombonist Roswell Rudd – who were most responsible for creating a niche for pianist Thelonious Monk’s so-called difficult compositions in the Jazz tradition. Although Lacy (1934-2004) continued to play Monk tunes and allude to the pianist’s canon in his own improvisations until his death, the band he, Rudd, drummer Denis Charles and bassist Henry Grimes organized in 1963 first gave the prominence to Monk’s music that the Jazz establishment, including even the respected Free German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, wouldn’t adopt for 40-odd years. Broomer also points out that Lacy’s expatriation to Europe in the late 1960s helped expand interest in Monk compositions among a generation of Continental pianists including Holland’s Misha Mengelberg, von Schlippenbach, Swiss Irène Schweizer and Berlin-based Japanese Aki Takase.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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New York’s Free Music scene, and the innovators who arrived in the Apple to expand it, is the usual focus of histories of 1970s Avant-Garde Jazz. But, as Mark Weber points out in his blog, LPs on tiny labels by experimental players who eventually became known elsewhere, were also being recorded in Los Angeles at the same time. Among the discs that reflected the burgeoning local scene there, were first efforts by veterans such as clarinetist John Carter, cornetist Bobby Bradford, flautist James Newton and pianist Horace Tapscott. Weber also speaks to multi-reedist Vinny Golia, whose Beverly Hills-based 9 Winds imprint also began in the 1970s to record younger experimenters with similar advanced ideas.
Although British filmmaker Stewart Morgan writing in The Wire admits that film techniques such as editing detract from the spontaneity of free music, he argues that a thorough understanding of both mediums can result in superior products. Morgan, who made a documentary about AMM percussionist Eddie Prévost, prefers stylistic videos such as Helen Petts' take on saxophonist Lol Coxhill to more orotund efforts such as Shirley Clarke’s Ornette: Made in America about saxophonist Ornette Coleman. More to the point, he declares that there’s much filmic territory left to explore. Considering that inventive filmmakers from Norman McLaren to Luke Fowler have been influenced by Jazz, he insists that with the right tools, more creative music films, both features and documentaries, can be made.
While Dave Segal of The Stranger blog spends a little too much time quizzing veteran trombonist Julian Priester about his now-popular 1970s Fusion LPs on ECM, the interview does provide a good overview of Priester’s career. Someone who also was also in groups led by Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Lionel Hampton and others, the trombonist reveals that his interest in electronic sounds didn’t arise from his crucial membership in Herbie Hancock’s pioneering Mwandishi Fusion band, but from his gigs with Sun Ra's ever-evolving band in his hometown of Chicago. Although he recently played on a Sunn O))) track, the trombonist remains a road-tested, committed Jazzman who didn’t make more ECM sessions 40 years ago because the producer demanded too much control.
Son of Texas’ most experimental Jazz trumpeter, but with a history of playing in Metal and Punk units, drummer Stefan González tells the Dallas Observer’s Jonathan Patrick how he isn’t content to limit himself to any one scene. A drummer since the age of four, with lessons from, among others, Alvin Fielder, very early on González began playing other music, along with being part of the Jazz trio, Yells at Eels with his older brother Aaron González on bass and his father Dennis González on trumpet. Not only is he also part of other bands including a Jazz-Rock trio, a Free Jazz quintet and a Latin-Fusion, Hip-Hop band, that also includes bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, but his solo voice-and-percussion project, Orgullo Primitivo places him firmly within the city’s burgeoning Noise Music constituency.
Cornetist Bobby Bradford, 80, has been playing superlative Jazz for more than 60 years, but there’s one “might have been” that haunts many music followers: he was asked but couldn’t participate in the recording of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s seminal Free Jazz LP in 1961. Bradford was writing his final teaching certificate exams then and couldn’t get away. He had known fellow Texan Coleman for years, worked in his group – Don Cherry took his place – and was later a part of another Coleman ensemble. Bradford doesn’t regret missing the date, he tells Wondering Sound’s Kevin Whitehead. Since then as well, his reputation has been confirmed with his trail-blazing work in a quartet with the late clarinetist John Carter, plus collaborations with many like-minded European musicians such as the late British drummer John Stevens and an almost 30-year partnership with Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad.
The questions from The Bomb’s Whitney Curry Wimbish are this side of naïve, but this Q-and-A-via-Skype interview with French bassist Joëlle Léandre gives the latter plenty of space in which to express her opinions about music, life and tradition. Léandre, who over her 40 year career has done everything from interpreting the works of John Cage to improvising alongside the likes of reedist Anthony Braxton and trombonist George Lewis, insists that her music isn’t elitist but for everyone. “With improvisation, there is no gender, no hierarchy, you can have every musician dialoguing together, she says. Conservatory-trained Léandre delineates the historical tradition of improvisation, maintaining that sophisticated composition and improvisation are closely linked.
Now that it’s been 40 years since Deutsche Grammophon decided to issue a three-LP box of Free Improvisation, The Wire’s Philip Clark looks back on what was then DG's commitment to new music – notated as well as improvised – regardless of bottom line rewards. That box, which featured the sounds of Iskra 1903: trombonist Paul Rutherford; guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Barry Guy as well as New Phonic Art 1973 with clarinetist Michel Portal and trombonist Vinko Globokar, was supposed to interest listeners in modern improvisation and link it to modern sounds by the likes of Stockhausen, Ligeti, Kagel or Nono. But there was no Free Music follow up. Furthermore, according to his thesis, ever since DG has become part of the giant Universal conglomerate its idea of contemporary sounds has become the likes of inoffensive music from composer Elena Kats-Chernin made famous in a bank commercial; and rocker Sting's noodlings; rather than the creations from those Clark would deem serious composers.
Although virtually invisible to the average Jazz fan – even those involved in the Free Jazz scene – Will Connell Jr., who died late last year at 75, was a consistent link among many strands of so-called Downtown music. In this obituary for All About Jazz, John Pietaro puts together the pieces. A saxophonist and music copyist with a radical bent, Connell was first a member and music librarian for Horace Tapscott’s Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension big band in Los Angeles. After he moved to New York in 1975, not only was he a part of large bands led by the likes of bassist William Parker, cornetist Butch Morris and reedist Henry Threadgill , amomg many others; but his music copyist skills were frequently in demand, most famously in disseminating the score for Ornette Coleman’s Skies of America. Over the years Connell's playing associates raged from rockers such as Talking Heads and James Chance to younger Free players such as saxophonist Ras Moshe and cellist Tomas Ulrich.
A former Torontonian, who now divides his time between Montréal and New York City, trumpeter Ellwood Epps explains that the attraction of Canada’s second city to improvising musicians isn’t just the cheap rents, but also the acceptance of distinctive art, which helps to contribute to a so-called distinct society. Epps tells écho!’s Nicholas McGrath that the number of free improvisers moving to Montréal has increased four-fold over the past decade. Epps, whose experience ranges from duo gigs with alto saxophonist Yves Charuest to membership in Niolas Caloia’s large Ratchet Orchestra, admits that while larger Toronto attracts musician from everywhere, most are from a single generation. Free players in Québec on the other hand, range from the very young to those players 50 and over such as drummer John Heward and alto saxophonist Jean Derome, who ply their craft with players of every age.
When trumpeter Kenny Wheeler died last year at 84, most commentators mentioned that the long-time London, England-based trumpeter was Canadian born. But The Ottawa Citizen’s Peter Hum points out that the Toronto-born, St. Catharines-raised Wheeler always maintained close ties to his native land. Famous for his sidemen stints with everyone from saxophonist Evan Parker's small groups and Johnny Dankworth's big band to American composer Anthony Braxton ground-breaking quartet, Wheeler influenced local musicians not only through performances at venues like the Ottawa Jazz Festival, but during the years he regularly taught at the Banff Centre’s jazz workshop in Alberta. Experiencing Wheeler’s music was both a “life-changing experience” and a “religious experience”, says respected Toronto multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson.
Jazz and improvised music went through many changes in 2014, with some new musicians coming to the fore and older masters maintaining their innovations. You can get some idea of that from National Public Radio’s annual survey of the best albums of the year. The 140 well-informed critics managed to cite varied sessions that ranged from younger stylists including alto saxophonist Steve Lehman (at #1), tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and pianist Jason Moran to elder statesman like trumpeter Wadda Leo Smith (at #2), tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins – and of course John Coltrane’s Offering as the top reissue. Follow further links to Francis Davis’ analysis of the year’s music as well as further breakdowns of individual ballots. The curmudgeon view from this perch however is the glaring exclusion of most non-American and experimental players from the results.
The idea may initially have been spur-of-the-moment, but for the past couple of years, Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson's 28-member Fire Orchestra has been organized enough to gig all over Europe. Despite players living in Stockholm, Oslo, Berlin, Nickelsdorf, Lund, Göteborg and Copenhagen, he tells London Jazz News’ Geoff Winston that the ensemble has reached a point where it successfully mixes together influences from Prog and Psych Rock, electronic and notated contemporary music plus the Jazz-improvisations of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Charles Mingus, John Kirby and Sun Ra.
Despite claims that internet streaming is a fine way to disseminate music, a debate in The New York Times presents many different points of view. Most germane are those from Jazz guitarist Marc Ribot, who points out that the greatly reduced returns musicians get from streaming verses physical sales, means making a living playing minority music becomes almost impossible. Reader comments are mixed, though professionals like baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton and guitarist Liberty Ellman confirm Ribot’s experience.
Following a business analysis of how Offering, the most recent reissued session by saxophonist John Coltrane, has become a best-seller and staple of the Jazz “charts”, Forbes contributor Nick Messitte comes up with some contrary research in the so-called age of digital. While repeating the old shibboleth that avant-garde Jazz has a small, inbred audience, he does point out that there's the allure of physical product with booklet notes and with no downloading allowed plus there's an advantage in investing in proper niche marketing. Of course, being able to market a lost session recorded by one of Jazz’s acknowledged greats can result in impressive sales as well.
Earlier this year the third annual Leo Feigin Festival took place in St. Petersburg celebrating the Russian-born, London-based record company founder. As The St. Petersburg Times’ Sergey Chernov points out, the festival is an outgrowth of Feigin’s efforts to not only release records by Western avant-gardists like pianist Cecil Taylor and bandleader Sun Ra, but also Feigin`s long-time effort to give recording opportunities to Russian experimenters like pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin and his trio, drummer Oleg Yudanov of the Jazz Group Arkhangelsk and younger players like multi-reedist Alexey Kruglov. As Feign keeps adding to his catalogue of 800-plus releases, his keen ears for talent means that some of the younger performers, featured at the festival may soon be recording on Leo.
While pianist Horace Silver (1928-2014), is best-known for his catchy compositions and funky playing which set the standard for Hard Bop in the 1950s and 1960s, he continued recording and touring for many years. In this reminiscence for New Music Box, trumpeter John McNeil, who has created some innovative but underrated CDs of his own, tells of touring as a sideman in Silver's quintet in the late 1970s. Silver, says McNeil, was stickler for rehearsals, being on time for a gig, keeping a musician’s own problems away from the job, and unconcerned with a person’s racial background.
A photographer as well as a saxophonist, Lisbon-based Rodrigo Amado tells Avant Music News’ Mike Borella about the gradual flowering of Portuguese Jazz that arrived with the country’s liberalizing society after 1974’s peaceful, ant-fascist revolution. As part of the scene, playing with other local sound explorers such as violinist Carlos Zíngaro, Amado was also fundamental in helping to create two different record labels to record more progressive music. Today besides playing locally, he has evolved recording and/or touring partnerships with musicians like Americans, trumpeters Peter Evans and Dennis González and multi-reedist Joe McPhee, as well as Europeans such as Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and British saxophonist Paul Dunmall.
Starting off with a background listening to Hard Rock, Blues and big band music and playing conventional Jazz, Berlin-based alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard finally heard records of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy plus tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle live and found herself drawn to Free Jazz. In this unsigned article in The Olden Retriever, she discusses her early years becoming a musician; her turn away from playing Bebop to less structured sounds; her views on the present scene of many Jazz festivals, but no mass media exposure for Jazz; and how her various groups, featuring among others, pianist Ake Takase and bassist Jan Roder, try to put their own stamp on classics by Dolphy and Coleman.
Although during the mid-1960s it may have seemed as if tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders materialized out of nowhere to add his frenzied playing to the ensembles of Sun Ra and John Coltrane, The Arkansas Times’ Will Stephenson points out that the saxophonist had already established himself in his home town of Little Rock. Collecting information from local musicians, Stephenson notes that before he traveled first to Oakland, Calif., and then New York, “Farrell”, as he was known, played R&B throughout the then-segregated city, studied Coltrane solos assiduously, and finally abandoned Little Rock around the time the racial situation become infamously ugly.