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.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
NEWS FROM ELSEWHERE
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.
Throughout his 50-odd years of music making, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has not only been concerned with developing his musical language as a player but also as a composer. This BOMB interview with John Corbett was conducted following an art gallery exhibition of Smith’s graphic scores. Smith has long been aware of the artistic as well as the sonic dimensions of his scores, since they were first performed in the late 1960s by members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians such as multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and himself. But no matter how the score looks, he explains, every drawing represents a particular unit, meant to be always played in a certain way. In the same way by accepting other players’ interpretations of his scores, Smith has been able to have them played by any number of ensembles large and small.
Now that he’s become the first advanced Jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, multi-reedist/composer Henry Threadgill is finally deemed high class enough to be asked his opinions on various subjects. Here the Music Aficionado Web page asks the Chicago-born, New York-based Threadgill to list his seven favorite records and explain why he likes them. Surprisingly, in what he calls a “random” selection, there are no discs by his AACM colleagues. Instead he names classics from Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis. But equally surprising is that LPs from Alban Berg, Howlin’ Wolf and Edgard Varèse are also cited.
Growing up studying the orthodoxies of so-called classical and Jazz piano, Myra Melford initially felt too regimented for self-expression. But, as she tells The Ottawa Citizen’s Peter Hum, a concert by avant-garde, improvising violinist Leroy Jenkins finally allowed her to understand she could play the way she heard things. Since that experience, Melford has spent almost 30 years performing her own music which reflects Jazz, pure improv, Persian and Uruguayan poetry and Zen Buddhism, in the company of drummer Matt Wilson, cornetist Ron Miles and clarinetist/saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, among many others. Not only has she been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, but today she’s also a music professor at University of California, Berkeley.
Although Times-Picayune writer Alex Rawls doesn’t seem to know about the city’s Free Jazz tradition that stretches back from saxophonist Kidd Jordan to the 1960s and drummer Ed Blackwell and saxophonist Noah Howard, he does provide a broad sketch of those playing freer sounds in New Orleans today. Chief among his abstract music proselytizers is trombonist and university professor Jeff Albert, who cites Sun Ra Arkestra trumpeter Michael Ray as an inside-outside influence. But some may quarrel with Rawls’ supposition that gentrification opens up a scene to Free Music.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.