Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


Interstellar Space’s Golden Anniversary is in Fashion

Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Coltrane’s wardrobe choices would probably make the editor of Gentleman’s Quarterly blanch, but at least writer Zack Graham is interested enough in the non-sartorial to devote a piece to the 50th anniversary of Interstellar Space, Coltrane’s breakthrough duo LP with drummer Rashied Ali. Although Graham does devote some space to analyzing the complex musical and improvisational underpinnings of the disc, since GQ is, after all, devoted to all that is contemporary in fashion, he posits Interstellar Space in terms of its influence on Pop artists such as Pan Sonic, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar, READ

Oliver Lake’s BAG now includes strings

While Bandcamp Daily’s Seth Colter Walls seems to think that a Jazz soloist playing especially composed music with a string group is a new concept, interviewee, alto saxophonist Oliver Lake soon sets him straight. Still, as well as discussing the saxophonist/flutist’s recent collaboration with the FLUX Quartet, a contemporary-classical string ensemble, Walls does delve into some of Lake’s history going back to the formation of St. Louis' Black Artists’ Group (BAG) in the 1970s. Lake, who explains that he started seriously writing for strings when he regularly performed in a duo in New York alongside violinist Leroy Jenkins, says his first string writing was with BAG. His CD with FLUX includes material going back to the late 1990s. Lake also notes that BAG’s genesis came about after he and fellow St. Louis  alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill were impressed when they noted how musicians like trumpeter Lester Bowie, a St. Louis expat, were becoming successful within the more formal organization of Chicago’s AACM. Lake also reveals that his and Hemphill’s most famous ensemble, the World Saxophone Quartet, was organized in 1978 after tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan individually invited the saxophonists who would make up the WSQ to play for the first time as a quartet in New Orleans. READ

Mark Dresser: Solo, Group and Telematic Improvising

Although Troy Collins’ Point of Departure interview with Mark Dresser mostly deals with the bassist/composer's solo and group work over the years, the technological aspects of telematic music are an important codicil. When in 2004, Dresser moved from New York to teach at University of California San Diego, he found himself constantly traveling east to hook up with sympathetic playing partners. While he has now developed associations with local players and fellow academics like trombonist Michael Dessen, flutist Nicole Mitchell and pianist Myra Melford, advanced telematic technology also now allows him and them to play in real time with colleagues on the east coast and in Europe. Dresser, who was first invited to play advanced Jazz on the West Coast with the likes of cornetist Bobby Bradford, flutist James Newton and tenor saxophonist David Murray , by  his mentor, bassist Bert Turetzky, has also maintained his bi-coastal connections that included a long stint in reedist Anthony Braxton's best-remembered quartet, plus collaborations with such potential telematic participants as hyper-pianist Denman Maroney and drummer Gerry Hemingway, who now lives in Switzerland. READ

Everything is a Group Endeavor: Joshua Abrams

Resolute in his insistence that his Natural Information Society (NIS) group has been well-received because of the sum of individual musicians’ contributions, with only his name upfront, double bass and guimbri player Joshua Abrams discusses his band configuration, ideas and influences with Bandcamp Daily’s Will Schube. Although known for his world-music and dance-trance affiliations, Abrams, who has also composed film scores, has deep roots playing Jazz, including long-time affiliations with the likes of guitarist Jeff Parker and the late tenor saxophonist/club owner Fred Anderson. So while associates like guitarist Emmett Kelly, harmonium player Lisa Alvarado and drummers Frank Rosaly and Mikel Avery are permanent members of NIS, he’s proud that tenor saxophonist Ari Brown was able to be featured on the one track of NIS' new record that honors Anderson. READ

Jazz Longevity: George Freeman at 90

Poised to release his newest album, idiosyncratic Chicago guitarist George Freeman is also constantly gigging around the US.  Nice work for a 90 year old. But, as Freeman tells the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich, he was taking it a bit easier a couple of years ago when local drummer/club owner Mike Reed suggested he put together a band with guitarist Mike Allemana, who had played with his brother, legendary tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, until the latter’s death at 89 in 2012. The match-up clicked, and now Freeman, who is the uncle of AACM-affiliated tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman, is busier than ever. With the stamina and ideas of a much younger player, Freeman also brings to his work the experience of more than 60 years in the Jazz trenches playing with everyone from alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons to organist Richard "Groove" Holmes. READ

Partnering to produce a Free Jazz resource

Although Berlin-based Free Music Productions (FMP) stopped producing new records early in the 21st Century, owner Jost Gebers still maintained the label’s archive. As Marc Masters reports on Bandcamp Daily, this situation presented a matchless opportunity for Jeff Golick and Jeff Jackson when in 2014 they decided to reconstitute their Destination: OUT blog  to digitally reissue important Free Jazz sessions. A random query to Gebers gave them access to all of FMP’s music, some of which existed only on LP. Then as the relationship developed, FMP began exclusively remastering LP titles for the Destination Out platform. This story link includes musical examples of some of the Free Music riches on the site, including a solo session by tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann; separate discs from Cecil Taylor’s Feel Trio and the Globe Unity Orchestra; plus a little-know FMP date by alto saxophonist Noah Howard. READ

Still Hearing Her Own Music: Carla Bley

At 80, composer/pianist Carla Bley is still doing what she has done since she was five years old: composing and performing music. Playing a rare fly-over state gig in Tennessee, Bley explains to The Daily Times’ Steve Wildsmith that her understanding of Jazz came about while working as a cigarette girl at New York’s first Birdland in the 1950s. Starting in the 1960s, her then-husband, pianist Paul Bley, encouraged her to compose the melodies she has heard in her head all her life, and that has been her lifework the past 50 or so years. Today, the projects may be big or small; the concerts taking place m in Europe or the US; and the ensembles used large or small. But the  constant is that the shows also feature the skills of her companion of many years, bassist Steve Swallow, a respected player and composer in his own right. READ

The Stone’s 2018 Move to The New School

Be sure to mark March 2018 on your experimental music calendar. For that’s when The Stone, John Zorn’s East Village hub for advanced music, relocates to The New School’s Glass Box Theater on New York's West 13th Street. In this roundtable with Zorn and Richard Kessler, dean of the university’s Mannes School of Music, the Village Voice’s Larry Blumenfeld finds the two amiably planning for the future. They pledge that the room will maintain its 74 seat capacity; musicians will curate the programs; and that all revenue from ticket sales will still go to the artists. It’s a logical move the two point out, since the New School has a long history of supporting non-mainstream, notated music and The Stone itself has, since 2012, been involved with presenting workshops at the school featuring musicians performing at The Stone including composer/keyboardist Terry Riley and composer/trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. READ

Labels are a Problem: Cooper-Moore

Demonstrating that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly Cooper-Moore appears a little testy when answering questions posed by the Jazz Trail Web site. The pianist and multi-instrumentalist is pithy when describing his affiliation and the changes over the years in New York’s Vision Fest, which honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award this year and where he played with drummer Gerald Cleaver's Black Host and bassist William Parker's In Order to Survive. Explaining that he rejects label such as avant-garde or free jazz, Cooper-Moore speaks of his music as the next step and is Blues-based, a continuation of the sounds of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk he heard in his mid-teens. Affirming that he knows exactly where he wants to go when he begins to play, the pianist affirms that life for any artist in the U.S. is tough. Surprisingly – or sardonically – he claims he doesn’t listen to music other than the music he’s creating unless it’s music he must learn; and that he’s his own favorite musician. READ

Now with a Rounder Sound: David Murray

After 20 years in Europe tenor saxophonist David Murray has returned to the U.S. to find a changed Jazz scene, he tells Do the Math’s Paul Devlin. Besides his own quartet of younger musicians, he’s working in all-star ensembles like a trio with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and pianist Gerri Allen as well as a revival of Clarinet Summit featuring Hamiet Bluiett, David Krakauer and Don Byron. But it’s difficult to make a living, with young musicians willing to play for hardly anything. This is a big change for Murray, who in Europe and Cuba organized big bands, regularly played large festivals, recorded prolifically and worked on educational projects. He also contrasts the situation today with the 1970s, when after growing up in California and absorbing sounds from slightly older musicians such as alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe and cornetists Butch Morris and Bobby Bradford, in New York he quickly moved from playing lofts to better-paying nightclub gigs. Murray who says a musician needs at least 10 years of experience to be proficient, and whose music is now more swing-oriented than before, also discuses how his sound has changed over the years; he’s using fewer notes, but with more authority.   READ

Mary Halvorson: Inspiration and Improvisation

Although now one of the most lauded guitarists in improvised music, Mary Halvorson tells the National Endowment for the Arts publication's Rebecca Sutton that her initial guitar interest was Rock and Jimi Hendrix. However as she continued studying the instrument, immersion in her father’s Jazz record collection gradually turned her towards more challenging music. Halvorson, who has worked with ensembles of many sizes from duos to large groups – and is now even writing lyrics for a band with a singer – cites guitarist Joe Morris and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton as musicians who changed her musical life. It was Morris, who insisted she figure out her own way of playing, and who was responsible for her switching from being a science to becoming a music major in university. Later, Beaxton’s teaching gave her the freedom to ignore so-called mistakes and to be unafraid to try to play anything, even if she felt she was figuratively falling on her face. READ

Remembering BAG and drummer Philip Wilson

Although not as well known as many members of the 1960s Free Jazz explosion, drummer Philip Wilson (1941-1992) was an important link among Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), St. Louis’ Black Artists Group (BAG) and even Los Angeles’ Rock music scene. Pop-funk saxophonist David Sanborn – of all people – tells Do the Math’s Ethan Iverson how his friendship with the gregarious Wilson led to him becoming a professional saxophonist. Growing up in St. Louis, tyro Sanborn, through Wilson, was introduced to, and later worked with, inventive Jazz visionaries like saxophonists Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill and trumpeter Lester Bowie, who later helped organize the World Saxophone Quartet and the Art Ensemble of Chicago  respectively. Besides playing early gigs with these avant-garde pioneers, it was Sanborn’s friendship with Wilson, who was working with the Paul, Butterfield Blues Band at the time, that got the saxophonist a job with that group and led to his first recording session in L.A.. READ

Rediscovering Palestine: The background of the American composer

European-based, Brooklyn-born composer/keyboardist Charlemagne Palestine seems genuinely surprised that he and his music have become popular in the 21st Century, leading to collaborations with the likes of electronic manipulator Ignaz Schick, percussionist Burkhard Beins and even fellow composer/trumpeter/guitarist Rhys Chatham. However as he tells Hanna Bächer of RBMA Radio, his best-known,  continuous compositions such as “Strumming”, actually have their genesis in the Jewish liturgical music he first performed as a child singer. Of course later being part of the 1960s-1970s musical gestalt centred on New York’s Bleecker Street and at  Los Angeles’ CalArts, where his collaborators were as likely to be singer Tiny Tim as electronic pioneers Terry Riley and Steve Reich, helped orient his sound creations towards uniqueness as well. READ

The London Improvisers Orchestra Presses On

Nearly 20 years after a group of London musicians decided to create their own large-scale improvising band following concerts helmed by American conduction pioneer  Lawrence “Butch” Morris, the London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO) continues to flourish. In this piece written by Gerard F Tierney for the LIO’s Web site a bit of the ensembles history and changes over time is outlined. Initially guided by the likes of keyboardist Steve Beresford and reedist Evan Parker, new ideas of how to operate later came from saxophonist Caroline Kraaabel and pianist Pat Thomas, with guest performers in the person of soundsinger Jaap Blonk and trumpeter Wadda Leo Smith and others adding to the LIO’s maturity and appeal. Although the recitation of London locations may be a little hard to follower for the non-Brit, Tierney provides insight into how the orchestra continues to function, while staying true to its original goals of playing improvisations with little advance planning. READ

One hundred percent honest and genuine: Ivo Perelman’s music

The Village Voice’s Michel J. Agovino uses the fact that Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has released seven [!] CDs simultaneously to examine the reedist’s career, as well as praising the audacity of Leo Fagin, for whose Leo Records Perelman records. Pointing out that Perelman’s brand of no-holds-barred, unsweetened sound exploration  only appeals to a minority of listeners – and is well documented, as six of the saxophonist’s CDs were released together a few months earlier – Agovino tries to situate the Brazilian within the Jazz continuum. A Bossa Nova musician playing Free Jazz is one definition he suggests. As part of the story, Agovino also mentions some of Perelman’s long-time collaborators, including pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker; and notes that in its long history Leo Records has released many other  important sessions by the likes of pianists Cecil Taylor and Marilyn Crispell. READ

Bley, Bley & Kimbrough: Solace in Creativity and Innovation

Trying to come to terms with Donald Trump’s vision of the world, The Paris Review’s Adam Shatz first investigates the recorded  cynicism of poet-singer Gil Scott-Heron and then turns to the expansive artistry of pianist Franklin Kimbrough, suggesting that his newest CD with bassist Jay Anderson and the drummer Jeff Hirshfield is alive with “quiet fire”. Shatz also lets his high-brow readers know that Kimbrough ideas didn’t arise in a vacuum, but through study of the work of fellow pianists Herbie Nchols and especially Paul Bley. Bley’s adaptation of Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary ideas mixed with the incisive composition of Carla Bley and expressed on a 1972 solo disc for ECM established a new way to hear Jazz piano, a concept subsequently refined by everyone from Keith Jarrett to Kimbrough. READ

Doing Everything Himself: Weasel Walter’s Big Band

 From his earliest days in Chicago, through his West Coast residency, to his relocation to New York in 2009, drummer Weasel Walter has become used to the D-I-Y lifestyle  – organizing gigs and recording sessions, then mixing, mastering,  packaging and releasing the product. He tells Jazz Right Now’s Cisco Bradley, his most recent focus is exposure for Igneity, his large-scale composition for 12 musicians, which in the past has featured soloists such as guitarist Henry Kaiser and guitarist/reedist Elliott Sharp. The most recent performance, with players like guitarist Brandon Seabrook, trombonist Steve Swell and trumpeter Jamie Branch, is an hour-long Free Jazz blow-out like the classics Machine Gun, Ascension and European Echoes. Yet Walter also says the composition is so flexible that it can be retooled to be played by five musicians in only 30 minutes.


Recorded Jazz’ 100th Birthday Still Shrouded in Racial Myths

Although it’s conceded that The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) cut the first so-called Jazz record early in 1917, 100 years haven’t diminished the band, and its cornetist Nick LaRocca’s, spurious claim to have invented Jazz. In a reasoned report on the subject, The New Orleans Advocate’s Katy Reckdahl speaks to noted historians at Tulane University as well as descendents of ODJB’s musicians, who repeat LaRocca’s shibboleths about how whites invented Jazz rather than African-Americans with more than skepticism. Eventually the mixing of so-called Black and White musics is agreed upon as the reason for Jazz’s birth, and this was reflected in subsequent post-ODJB recordings. READ

Still Fighting Sexism: Women in Jazz

Jazz-R&B pianist Robert Glasper’s assertion to pianist Ethan Iverson on his Do The Math blog that one of the reasons for his music's popularity is that it vibrates women’s “musical clitoris” garnered legitimate criticism for confirming Jazz’s latent sexist, reports the NPR’s Michelle Mercer. But while additionally pointing out that Iverson’s pro-liberal/feminist stance – a claim invalidated by pianist Vijay Iyer noting that none of Iverson’s previous Do The Math interviews were with female musicians, but with 42 men – is no excuse, it seems that others were skirting the problem. Not one other woman is quoted by name with an opinion as Mercer outlines the controversy. READ

Coltrane-Ali’s Interstellar Space Turns 50

Actually celebrating an anniversary that isn’t some Rock milestone, Rolling Stone’s Hank Shteamer  contributes an extended story on the creation of the classic Interstellar Space duo LP, record by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali in 1967, but was unreleased until 1974. Shteamer talks to Impulse Record’s Ed Michel for background on the delay, and John’s son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, for an analysis of the music, while tapping saxophonists as far apart in age as Ingrid Laubrock and Peter Brötzmann to pinpoint the session’s extended influence. Shteamer even has enough space to discuss some recorded salutes to Interstellar Space, including a recasting of the music by guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Greg Bendian; and another which extended the original concept still further, featuring tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis and Ali himself. READ