Michele Rosewoman Re-Imagines New-Yoruba (Again)


Standing on the tiny stage area of Manhattan’s Zinc Bar, Michele Rosewoman’s New-Yoruba ensemble was packed in tight. This is expansive music and yet it’s also intimate. The musicians  were celebrating a new release, “Hallowed” (Advance Dance Disques)” but really they were extending a personal history that spans more than 30 years.  With “Oru de Oro,” an extended work on the new release (sections of which were  played at the club), Rosewoman has scripted an exciting new chapter of this story. Continue reading “Michele Rosewoman Re-Imagines New-Yoruba (Again)”

The History and Mystery of Bill Frisell’s Disarming (Disfarmer) Tune

I’ve been fascinated with guitarist Bill Frisell’s music for nearly as long as I’ve been fascinated with music. Or fascinated, period.

There are many points of entry into Frisell’s big, rich, bold, strange and varied recorded catalog, both under his own name and as collaborator and sideman with a mind-boggling range of musicians. Meaning your life gets enriched and your ears expanded if you dive in anywhere in his discography and work in any direction.

Two of Frisell’s albums—History, Mystery and Disfarmer (from 2008 and 2009, respectively; both on Nonesuch)—keep calling me back. Not because they’re his best work (though they’re terrific) and not because they represent something in particular (although Disfarmer is meant to convey something about the work of photographer Mike Disfarmer).

But simply because I find them mesmerizing in a meditative way, and of one piece.

When I heard the “single” “God’s Wing’d Horse” (above) from Frisell’s wonderful new Blue Note release, Harmony, I knew I’d heard it before.

Indeed I had. Continue reading “The History and Mystery of Bill Frisell’s Disarming (Disfarmer) Tune”

Kidd Stays in the Picture

Though I could not make it down to New Orleans for the event, by all accounts  “Honoring the Kidd,” a  musical tribute to saxophonist Kidd Jordan  presented by the New Orleans Jazz Museum in partnership with the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation, was a great success.

I’m glad my words, as part of the printed program, made the scene.

They were drawn from a piece I did for Artinfo. The full text is below.

Kidd Stays in the Picture

Saxophonist Kidd Jordan Gets His Hero’s Due

By Larry Blumenfeld

“We’ve got a pretty good crowd,” tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan said from the stage of the jazz tent at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Friday. “Let’s see how many of you are left at the end.” He offered a bit of instruction. “For those of you who aren’t used to this music, I want to tell you: This is purely improvisational music.” Continue reading “Kidd Stays in the Picture”

Randy Weston’s Way

The spot where Grand Avenue hits Lafayette Avenue—where Brooklyn meets Africa, in many respects—is now “Randy Weston Way.”

And that’s the way it should be. Randy Weston had a way of playing the piano, bold yet relaxed, in the moment yet overflowing with timeless wisdom. He had that same way when he sat there with you at his home on Lafayette Avenue and talked about life in Brooklyn, in Africa, in music or in general.

Continue reading “Randy Weston’s Way”

What Does New Orleans Sound Like?

I’ve been thinking for a very long time about what New Orleans sounds like.

The city sounds like many things, sometimes all at once.

The city sounds like no other.

After it was mostly submerged in 2005, for a short time, the city sounded like nearly nothing.

In the Summer issue of Chamber Music Magazine, you can find one small slice of my research and my thinking about that topic.

Click on the link below, or scroll down for the text. Continue reading “What Does New Orleans Sound Like?”

Terence Blanchard’s Caravan Rolls On

When I heard that Terence Blanchard named his latest tour “Caravan,” I figured it had to do with the Juan Tizol-Duke Ellington tune that Blanchard must have played again and again as a young trumpeter in drummer Art Blakey’s band.

Nope. It was meant more to suggest “a group of like-minded people moving around the country with a message,” Blanchard told me.

As I worked on a long piece for The Daily Beast about Blanchard—on connections between his band’s current tour and the aftermath of senseless violence, and on his ambitions as both musician and concerned citizen—I kept having to update the story to reflect breaking news: Blanchard gets nominated for a Best-Score Oscar; another black man gets shot by another white cop; Trump tweeted what?; the Met Opera announces Blanchard’s opera as its first presentation composed by an African American…

Here’s what I came up with, thankfully not behind any pay wall, under the headline “Can A Trumpet Silence a Gun?” Continue reading “Terence Blanchard’s Caravan Rolls On”

Steve Dalachinsky’s Dance of Words

Steve Dalachinsky at The Stone, March 6, 2007/ photo by Peter Gannushkin/DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET

Just last week I was wrestling with writing a poem, and I sought out Steve Dalachinsky’s advice. Maybe I just wanted his blessing.

My poem was about September 11 and though it was sincere and maybe even a bit elegant, it was also rather obvious. I’m not a poet.

Steve was. He shot back some smart and encouraging comments by email. Then he sent a poem of his, a tribute to trumpeter Booker Little. It spoke of “a trumpet forged from bullets,” and had passages like this:

Continue reading “Steve Dalachinsky’s Dance of Words”

Time, Grooves & That Maine Thing

photo by Larry Blumenfeld

On Deer Isle, in Down East Maine, the rhythms of life are dictated mostly by tidal coves that fill and empty twice each day, within which the water traces particular grooves that deepen over time.

That’s one of many reasons why the idea of a jazz festival made sense to me 19 years ago, and still does. (For more on that history, go here.)

Continue reading “Time, Grooves & That Maine Thing”

Now Batting, Marcus Shelby…

Marcus Shelby at San Francisco Giants Spring training. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Twenty years ago, when bassist Marcus Shelby formed a 15-piece jazz orchestra, he began to think big and thematically.

“I have been on a mission for the past 20 years to compose and create music about African-American history,” he says. These pieces have included an oratorio on Harriet Tubman and a suite about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

Shelby, in a different sort of uniform, playing bass. Photo courtesy of the artist.

On “Transitions,” released on his own MSO Records, Shelby’s lush arrangements of classic tunes by Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter frame the album’s centerpiece: “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues,” his smart, slick and soulful four-part suite inspired by the history of Negro League Baseball.  Here, Shelby merges his mission with his two driving passions—jazz and baseball.

While working on my next column for Jazziz magazine, I spoke with Shelby about these passions. Continue reading “Now Batting, Marcus Shelby…”