Evan Parker / Steve Lacy / Max Roach / Muhal Richard Abrams / Cecil Taylor / Craig Taborn / Mary Halvorson / Peter Evans / John Zorn / Joëlle Léandre

November 3, 2013

Stuart Broomer, Brain Morton & Bill Shoemaker

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Book shelf: By Ken Waxman

Distinguished as much for its scholarship as the artful, mostly color photos and illustrations which make it an attractive souvenir, this 240-page volume is published by Lisbon’s annual Jazz em Agosto (JeA) Festival to mark its 30th anniversary of innovative programming. It says a lot about the individuals who program JeA that rather than commissioning a vainglorious run-down of the festival’s greatest hits, they turned to three respected jazz critics to profile 50 of the most important musicians, living or dead, who performed at the festival.

The three writers are Brian Morton from the United Kingdom, American Bill Shoemaker and Canadian Stuart Broomer, who also writes for The Whole Note. The profiles reflect how universal jazz – or more properly improvised music – has become in the three decades JeA has been in existence. Once exclusively thought of as the United States’ contribution to the music world, only slightly more than half of the profiles are of American improvisers. Additionally the majority of the Yanks are not only better known in Europe than North America, but earn the greater part of their income overseas at festival like JeA.

Well-written and insightful, the profiles include those of acknowledged trail-blazers such as saxophonists Evan Parker and Steve Lacy, drummer Max Roach and pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Cecil Taylor, plus those just establishing a reputation like pianist Craig Taborn, trumpeter Peter Evans and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Offering a wealth of information and craftily outlining the performers contributions to jazz history plus a list of essential recordings, the essays could be a primer for those interested in more exposure to excellent music and musicians not promoted by celebrity-obsessed mass media. Broomer’s essay on American saxophonist John Zorn and Shoemaker’s on French bassist Joëlle Léandre are particularly instructive since they pinpoint the many and varied non-jazz influences that helped create these musicians’ exceptional improvised sounds.

For Canadians however the biggest disappointment is that none of the musicians profiled come from this country, although even Japan and Australia are represented. But of course the omission reflects JeA’s booking policies rather than editorial decisions. Considering that Canadians in greater numbers, including expatriates like New York-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt and pianist Kris Davis as well as homebodies like Vancouver clarinetist François Houle and Montreal reedist François Carrier are making a profound impact on the sort of evolving music JeA supports, that situation could soon be reflected by JeA and perhaps a future volume.

— For Whole Note Vol. 19 #3