Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


Examining 1970s Soviet Jazz Trends

While Global Comment’s Denis Kovylin appears no more clueless than any mainstream writer would be trying to understand innovations in Jazz history, his recommendations for essential Soviet Jazz discs unearth some unknown-in-the West names. Limiting himself to discs released between 1972 and 1979  by the groups led by the likes of  Igor Bril, David Goloshekin, Oleg Lundstrem and Joseph Vainstein “popular among the Leningrad hipsters”, he doesn’t realize that sticking rock or bossa nova rhythms on top of swing era standards and aiming for pop/fusion was only far out in the context of the USSR. Still one disc he endorses has stood the test of time.  It was recorded in 1976 by Latvia’s Ganelin Trio of pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. Hesitant in describing the sounds, Kovylin seems not to understand that its importance was because of the trio’s Baltic-oriented originality. Unlike the others it wasn’t copying American models. READ

Be open and free, but listen: Amina Claudine Myers

Although perhaps a touch too inside for some, bassist Luke Stewart’s interview with keyboardist/vocalist Amina Claudine Myers in Three Fold quarterly outlines some of the influences and background of this long-time AACM member. Coming to musical maturity in Texas, Myers was first involved with singing gospel and spirituals in local Baptists churches, as well as following Blues singers like John Lee Hooker. As an organist in Chicago clubs Myers backed up Soul-Jazz players like saxophonists Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Eddie Harris, each of whom helped her develop an individual style to be inventive and unique each time she played standards and Blues. “I always know where I am when I’m playing,” she asserts, as “improvising gives you a chance to paint pictures.” Even before she joined the AACM, and was exposed to and taught more advanced sounds from the likes of pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, her turning point towards musical freedom came when she gigged as a pianist on a Europe tour with Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freedman and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. Without preconceptions Freeman just played every night and let Meyers do the same, and yet the improvisations always worked. READ

The Education of saxophonist Marty Ehrlich

Taking as its starting point the work saxophonist/clarinetist Marty Ehrlich did helping to collate a box set of previously unissued music by alto saxophonist/composer Julius Hemphill, Point of Departure’s Troy Collins traces Ehrlich’s career. Although white and with “deep family roots in Jewish liturgy”, living in St. Louis the young saxophonist was soon involved with players from that city’s Black Artist Group such as  Oliver Lake and Lester Bowie. Following graduation from the New England Conservatory, Ehrlich moved to New York and worked in big bands led by pianist George Russell, and multi-reedist Anthony Braxton. Associated with other innovative players like saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist Jerome Harris, he led or was part of many small groups for the next several years. Transitioning to teaching at Hampshire College for 15 years, Ehrlich is now professor emeritus. Before Covid-19 he had intensified his recording and performing schedule. Someone who played with Hemphill for years and after the latter’s death led a sextet playing his music, Ehrlich’s skill combinations made him the perfect person to work on the Hemphill set and write about the composer. Modest, he still says that when listening to some of the solos he recorded with Hemphill who often played with the likes of trumpeter Baikida Carroll, he thinks they still “sound pretty fine”. READ

Kidd Jordan Is Finally Rewarded For His Improvised Music

After more than 60 years of playing music his own way for small selected audiences, Kidd Jordan, New Orleans’ doyen of Free Jazz has finally been rewarded with a $50,000 grant. It's from the United States Artists, a Chicago-based foundation, reports The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Keith Spera. Of course the tenor saxophonist. who still practices and/or plays every day, is now 85. With a parallel career as a well-respected educator at Southern University at New Orleans and artistic director of the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, Jordan has also taught budding players such as saxophonists Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, pianist Jon Batiste and trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and his son Marlon Jordan, as well as Kent Jordan, another son who plays flute. At the same time he has long been part of his own free-form groups, including the Improvisational Arts Quintet, the first so-called avant garde band in a city wedded to Classic Jazz. Over the years he has also played with a raft of inventive musicians including saxophonists Fred Anderson, Cannonball Adderley and. Ornette Coleman. Honored to be receiving the grant, he jokes that he got it because “this old man has been scuffling all these years.” READ

Death of a Jazz Soldier: Mark Whitecage

He wasn’t a major figure who rewrote Jazz history, but alto saxophonist/clarinettist Mark Whitecage, who died earlier this month at 83, was one of the many musicians who contributed to Jazz’s evolution through membership in multiple bands. On The Free Jazz Collective’s blog, Martin Schray offers a personal view of the man’s talents. Someone whose interests spanned Swing era saxophonists, electronic music and Free Jazz, Whitecage arrived in New York at the tail end of the Loft Era in the early 1970s and was soon part of a group with long-time collaborator clarinettist Perry Robinson and others. Shortly afterwards he joined German vibist Gunter Hampel’s Galaxie Dream Band, which boosted his reputation in Europe. From that point on until the end of his life, Whitecage recorded sparingly as leader, but played often with many other sound innovators including bassists Dominic Duval and multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. His longest running affiliation, starting in this century, was with the co-operative Nu Band, which frequently toured North America and Europe and also included bassist Joe Fonda, trumpeter Roy Campbell and drummer Lou Grassi. READ

Sun Ra’s Philly HQ Finally Gets Some Earthly Repairs

Headquarters for the Sun Ra Arkestra since the composer/keyboardist and the big band relocated to Philadelphia a half century ago, the row house in the city’s Germantown neighbourhood is slowly collapsing. Alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, leader of the Arkestra since Ra left the planet in 1993, who  still lives in the structure, explains that the pump for the radiator heating system can’t heat the upper floors, termite infestation caused the floor joists to give way so that the basement floor collapsed into the sub-basement, there are gaping holes in the underground masonry, the plumbing leaks and the siding on the back of the house is peeling. Luckily a $7,000 grant from the Miami-based Robert D. Bielecki Foundation is paying for some renovations to be done by a local contractor, with Mark Christman, founder of the city’s Ars Nova Workshop serving as unpaid supervisor/coordinator. He and Bielecki say that the preservation work is necessary because the Ra structure is a Philly Jazz landmark like the house in which tenor saxophonist John Coltrane lived and the burial site of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley READ

The Ears of Texas are upon him: Rob Mazurek

Having moved from Chicago to the West Texas desert town of Marfa (population about 1,800), seven years ago, trumpeter Rob Mazurek tells Texas Monthly’s Andy Beta that his new environment has inspired him. Now he's able to investigate his connection with the “spirituality and physicality of space and time” even more than he could in the big city. He also literally has more physical space to do so, since his Marfa home includes a music room filled with a piano, church organ and modular synthesizer components plus a separate visual art studio where paints. Since his relocation, Mazurek says, the town’s vibrant arts community and closeness to nature has given him new inspirations for his many musical activities which include The Exploding Star Orchestra and various sized iterations of the Chicago Underground project. He still keeps in touch with fellow innovators elsewhere though, with his most recent recording featuring contributions from fellow Windy City associates including guitarist Jeff Parker and cellist Tomeka Reid. READ

How Toronto Musicians Revived Paul Desmond’s Love of Playing

Although world famous because of his decades-long membership in pianist Dave Brubeck’s quartet, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who also rarely recorded as a leader, avoided most opportunities to play in nightclubs and concerts heading a band. That changed radically in 1975, notes Thomas Cunniffe in his Jazz History Online blog, when Desmond accepted an engagement at Toronto’s Bourbon Street night club. As part of his extensive examination of the seven-disc se, The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings, Cunniffe explains that playing with locals guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Jerry Fuller produced the sort of moderate tempos, melodic solos and low volume, polytonal background the alto saxophonist preferred. He loved the sound so much in fact that Desmond later secured gigs for the four at the Edmonton Jazz Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival and a San Francisco night club. Meanwhile Thompson recorded all the quartet's music featured in the boxed set, including one night when trombonist Rob McConnell replaced Bickert, and it has finally been released as one package. Jazz History Online also includes a link to a video of the band performing live on the CBC television program Take 30. READ

Understanding William Parker’s Tone World

Trying to explain and itemize the currents that affect the music collected in William Parker’s most recent 10-album set, downbeat’s Dave Cantor describes the bassist as New York’s free-jazz caretaker. While the phrase could be more felicitous, it does highlight how Parker, from his earliest work with saxophonists David S. Ware and Frank Lowe in the 1970s up to today, has always operated within the so-called avant-garde sector. Since that time and because of his work as artistic director of the city’s now famous Vision Festival and leadership of ensembles including the In Order To Survive quartet and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, he has provided a forum for many advanced musicians including pianists Cooper-Moore and Matthew Shipp and singers such as Lisa Sokolov as well as dancers and visual artists. Concerned with communicating with as many people as possible through non-verbal universal tonality since he was a child in the Bronx, by performing his music in many different contexts and in many countries, Parker has extended his original musical concepts everywhere he has been. READ

An African take on Sun Ra’s life and music

While it may seems a little simplistic for those familiar with the details of the life and music of Saturn-out-of-Birmingham Arkestra bandleader Sun Ra (1914-1993), Léo Pajon’s interview with Paris-based journalist/musician Joseph Ghosn in The Africa Report is a fine introduction. The brief Q+A in this monthly that focuses on African politics and economics, also offers some unique insights into the ideas of the composer/arranger and keyboardist. Using as an entry point the most recent CD released by the Arkestra, now led by 96-year-old alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, Ghosn says it’s good, but lacks the spirit of innovation Sun Ra brought to the group. Among those concepts was early use of the Moog synthesizer and when Ra turned drummer Tommy Hunter’s mistaken electric feedback into a psychedelic reverb effect on Arkestra records from the 1960s onwards. Ghosn explains that Ra running his own record company and distribution plus changing his slave name to Ra was part of his long-time ideas of Black consciousness and economic independence. Plus Ra’s fascination with Ancient Egypt, a rich Nubian nation, as well as his stated desire to move Black people from the US to Saturn was linked to this new freedom within a program of Afro-Futurism. READ

Energy and Romanticism: Bobby Few

While long-time American-in-France pianist Bobby Few, who died last month at 85, was best-known for his playing on Free Jazz’s outer edges with tenor saxophonist Frank Wright among others, he wasn’t averse to playing and singing during gigs in small Paris bars, notes Pierre Crépon in this The Wire appreciation. A Cleveland native like tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, with whom he later recorded, Few played Hard Bop with the likes of tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin in New York before relocating to France in 1969 with alto saxophonist Noah Howard and drummer Muhammad Ali, and adding Wright and sometimes bassist Alan Silva formed the Center Of The World band. During the subsequent half century he remained in France, Few worked with other groups including those featuring such saxophonists as Avram Fefer, Jacques de Lignières and Steve Lacy. All along he insisted his music, which included Blues and gospel overtones, was an expression of “love, joy, and happiness”. READ

Transitional British Jazz of the 1960s and the 1970s

British Jazz became known internationally during the so-called Trad Boom of the 1950s and during this century as bands adapted rock and hip-hop currents to Pop-Jazz, as well as for many Improv innovators starting in the 1970s. But modern Jazz was being played in the UK, shortly after it was created in the US and reached one high point during the transitional 1960s and 1970s. Although Bandcamp Daily’s Jim Allen seems most interested in naming which transitional Jazz figures also played live or in the studios with emerging Rock and Jazz-Rock aggregations such as The Soft Machine, King Crimson or Colosseum, he name checks and provides audio example of the music of many innovators whose influence extended into pop and rock as well as contemporary Jazz and Free Music. Included are saxophonists Tubby Hayes, Elton Dean and Jamaican Joe Harriott; big band composer/leaders such as Graham Collier, Mike Westbrook and South African native Chris McGregor; plus idiosyncratic stylists like Canadian-born trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, alto saxophonist Mike Osborne and pianist Stan Tracey. READ

To be an improviser, you have to be vulnerable: Angelica Sanchez

This brief profile of New York-based pianist Angelica Sanchez by The Harvard Crimson’s Mira S. Alpers does manage to discuss her influences and multiple collaborations. Beginning with the discovery of improvisation and Jazz as a young piano student, Sanchez began composing while still in high school in Arizona, which eventually led to her playing and recordings with the likes of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Marilyn Crispell. The recent dual piano CD she and Crispell recorded works so well, she figures, as a result of a long friendship, the two have developed. They first met a few years ago at vibraphonist Karl Berger's Jazz camp, after expressing appreciation for each other's music “A friendship helps” when recording a disc like the duo she says. “We had a really nice friendship before, but it's really when we started making music with each other that it felt like home.” As well, and oddly enough, Sanchez tells Alpers that she brings a fascination with neuroscience and biology to her improvisations and compositions. READ

Matthew Shipp discusses the Black Mystery School of Pianists

A celebrated Jazz pianist himself, Matthew Shipp’s article for New Music Box attempts to define the distinctive category of what he calls the Black Mystery School of Pianists. Unlike most popular Jazz keyboardists who easily follow the mainstream paradigm of the proper way to play the instrument, these musicians are true piano iconoclasts. Outlining a series of famous players not in this school, Shipp settles on a short list of innovators who, while also highly skilled virtuosi, resist academic codification and carved out a unique niche within the Jazz universe. Citing Thelonious Monk as the father of this school – although his descendants tend not to play Monk tunes – Shipp writes that those who fit within this genre are Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, Randy Weston, Cecil TaylorAndrew Hill, Sun Ra, Horace Tapscott, the very obscure  Hasaan Ibn Ali, and surprisingly, Ran Blake, even though he’s a Caucasian. READ

The Many Roles of Gerry Hemingway as Teacher and Performer

A faculty member of Switzerland’s Hochshule Luzern since 2009 following a four year stint at New York’s the New School; percussionist Gerry Hemingway has developed his own ideas about music teaching. At the same time he’s still a working musician, he tells Point of Departure’s Troy Collins. During an extended Q+A, the American drummer points out that many of his decades-old co-op bands still exist such as BassDrumBone with trombonist Ray Anderson, and bassist Mark Helias; the GRH trio with pianist Georg Graewe and cellist Ernst Reijseger; and the more recent one, the WHO trio with pianist Michel Wintsch and bassist Bänz Oester. At the same time, Hemingway, who has been interested in electronic music since the 1970s, is regularly involved in live interaction performances with visual artist Beth Warshafsky using Max/MSP Jitter, as well as recording solos and electro-acoustic programs with the likes of fellow percussionist Vincent Glanzmann. As an instructor though, he feels his job is “to keep the boat of history from sinking into a sea of well-meaning teaching methodologies, which sadly utilize unreferenced details that aren’t crucial to build personal artistic expression.” In essence he wants to nurture students not only formally but also by ear training careful listening, a slow, but meaningful method to get to the essences of music creation. READ

Ben Goldberg’s Musical Plague Diary

While others are using their Covid-19-enforced lockdowns to bake bread, study a language or play video games, Bay Area-based clarinettist Ben Goldberg has, since mid-March, been posting newly recorded sounds on the Bandcamp streaming service daily. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Andrew Gilbert, Goldberg says these musical outpourings give him something meaningful to do during quarantine. The improvisations which last from 90 seconds to 15 minutes, often layer tracks recorded using his many clarinets to create wider, more expressive textures. Initially only titled with the date of recording, since mid-June Goldberg has dedicated many individual tracks to political avatars such as Rep. John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg as well as to musicians with whom he has performed in the past, like guitarists Nels Cline and Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, bassist Todd Sickafoose and pianist Myra Melford. Listen to one excerpt here. READ

Still Noisy after all these Years: Phil Minton at 80

Not as depressing as he thought his birthday would be, British soundsinger Phil Minton tells The Wire’s Phil England that Covid-19 and Brexit have affected his career more than turning 80. A vocal chameleon who has been experimenting with unusual sound timbres for 60 years, Minton works regularly with other voice extremists like Audrey Chen and  often organizes The Feral Choir  allowing groups of non-professional singers in many countries to gather under his leadership for “belching obscene incoherent rubbish”. Initially a trumpet player and dancer, Minton first developed his unique vocal  stylings as a member of pianist Mike Westbrook’s experimental big band, which also showcased guitarist Keith Rowe and saxophonist John Surman. When he rejoined Westbrook’s group in the 1970s he expanded his vocalese by also singing words, some  of which came from William Blake 's poetry. Words are also the focus of his ongoing project with pianist Veryan Weston that performs musical settings of anarchist and anti-imperialist poems from figures like Ho Chi Min. Still, the vocalist says that some of his best experiences and biggest influences have come from vocalizing alongside Free Jazz drummers Louis Moholo-Moholo, Tony Oxley and Roger Turner.   READ

Yellow Music is In-Between Black and White Sounds: Tatsu Aoki

Although he had established relationships with advanced musicians on both sides of Chicago’s racial divide since 1979, Tokyo-born bassist Tatsu Aoki still felt he didn’t fit  comfortably into either scene. That’s why 20 years ago he organized his unique Asian improv project MIYUMI, he tells Bandcamp Daily’s Marcus J. Moore. Inspired by the examples of Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)-affiliated musicians such as tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, in whose trio he played, and who inspired the bassist to hold onto his own concepts,  MIYUMI was organized by Aoki, saxophonist Mwata Bowden and drummer Afifi Phillard. Over the years, the bassist, whose Jazz mentors include Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist Malachi Favors, has incorporated other sounds into MIYUMI, such as a double-bass centred heavy pulse from progressive Rock and an emphasis on using traditional Japanese instruments such as the taiko drum. “But,” says Aoki, “the idea was bringing non-stereotype, naturalized taiko drumming into this avant-garde jazz setting.” READ

Craig Taborn on Covid, Jazz and BLM

Somewhat of a stilted profile of Craig Taborn, The Morning Star’s Chris Searle still manages to elicit some interesting statements from the Minneapolis-born pianist. Talking about his home city’s Jazz scene and early influences, before he joined tenor saxophonist James Carter’s band, Taborn says that British figures such as pianist Django Bates and saxophonist Steve Wiliamson were part of his listening experience. Later on he established collaborative relationships with more advanced UK players like saxophonist Evan Parker and bassist Dave Holland. Covid 19 has unleashed creativity in many musicians, he explains, at the same time as concerns over the death of George Floyd and other Black Lives Matter manifestations have provided more focus to the music. Still while Taborn’s group Junk Magic, featuring among others tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and violist Mat Maneri, has tried to mix protest themes with electronics, even its release was affected by real life events. Its mastering was delayed since the engineer in charge lives a few blocks away from the epicentre of many BLM protests. READ

Always in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time: Dewey Redman

Although he was at times part of many major Jazz groups, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman (1931-2006) was never well known, even in advanced Jazz circles. That's because, says The Sydney Morning Herald’s John Shand, Redman was more interested in sound than technique and decided to lead his own group at the most inopportune time. That happened in the early 1980s, when Redman, a Fort Worth native like alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and who had formerly been part of the Coleman quartet, was simultaneously a member of bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, pianist Keith Jarrett's quartet and Old and New Dreams with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell. But the self-described “country boy in the big city” split with them all, determined to be recognized for his own talents. It didn’t happen and in subsequent years he was overlooked in favor of other, flashier, tenor saxophonists, including his formerly estranged son, Joshua Redman.