Now Playing (new & forthcoming CDs)

photo by Joshua Blumenfeld

Matthew Shipp Trio Root of Things (Relative Pitch, March 18): Here’s what I wrote about pianist Matthew Shipp in a 2010 Wall Street Journal piece: “Shipp’s style knows no single pattern…. Even on his earliest recordings, some 20 years ago—specifically those in a quartet led by the powerhouse saxophonist David S. Ware—Shipp stirred up fervent rhythmic propulsion and wove fresh, web-like harmonic patterns. His playing sounded new then, and does still.” Update: Still does. Continue reading “Now Playing (new & forthcoming CDs)”

Sport of Jazz, Jazz of Sport

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) likened his role on the basketball court to bassist Christian McBride's (right) on the bandstand. Photos: Courtesy Courtesy Christian McBride Facebook

Bassist Christian McBride has been scoring big lately.
Last year, he released two acclaimed CDs—“People Music,” from his Inside Straight septet, and “Out Here,” which introduced a sharply refined trio with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. (both on Mack Avenue Jazz). In 2013, he also assumed a post as jazz advisor for The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), where he serves as artistic director for the annual TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival.
Still, McBride’s got to feel a bit like a loser.
His beloved 76ers, the basketball team from his hometown, Philadelphia, are a mess, posting the second-worst record in the NBA.
That’s got to hurt for McBride, who is a true sports guy—enough so to contribute to the popular sports website The Bleacher Report. (Here’s a piece he wrote about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.)
So it makes perfect sense that on Sunday, March 2, at NJPAC’s Victoria Theater, McBride will host “Jazz Meets Sports.” Continue reading “Sport of Jazz, Jazz of Sport”

Bruce Lundvall On Playing By Ear

Bruce Lundvall at Recording Academy hosted Special Merit Awards Ceremony in 2011

My January Wall Street Journal Cultural Conversation with Don Was, president of Blue Note Records, began with a sincere tip of the hat—via onstage hat-tips from pianist Jason Moran and Robert Glasper—to Bruce Lundvall, who ran that company for 25 years and who continues to provide guidance as chairman emeritus.
Lundvall’s story is a great one, about a singular man, maybe the last of his breed of music executive, whose work spanned a few important eras at a few major record labels, companies that also may be the last of their breeds.
In a July post, I interviewed writer Dan Ouellette, who was then working on “Playing by Ear,” a book documenting Lundvall’s half-century career.
Now that book is available. You can find it at Amazon, or by going to the ArtistShare page.
As he did with a previous biography of bassist Ron Carter, Ouellette pursued an interesting path, developing this book through the fan-funded Artistshare website. Besides forgoing a traditional publisher and offering readers various forms of participation in the process, Ouellette worked in a nontraditional biography form, he says, inserting “snapshot” chapters within the narrative of Lundvall’s life story. “A reader can choose to read the entire story on Bruce’s Elektra experience,” he says, “or choose to read the focused sections on Bobby McFerrin or Whitney Houston or Ruben Blades. This whole setup offers the reader options. Most people read a book cover to cover without skipping around. This format allows people to skip around at their leisure, kind of like someone listening to a CD and selecting different tracks to play versus the entire album.”
Here’s a brief excerpt, courtesy of the author: Continue reading “Bruce Lundvall On Playing By Ear”

Whole Gritty City

11-year-old Jaron “Bear” Williams, in the Roots of Music program/photo by Andre Lambertson

It’s not often that a documentary about how real culture transforms actual lives airs on Saturday-night network TV.
I’m not talking about a lucky aspirant getting plucked out of ordinary existence and voted into stardom by a celebrity panel (though I suppose that’s a form of transformation, too, and maybe even a vehicle for someone’s idea of culture).
What I mean is the way that rigorous and deep training by musicians steeped in both excellence and jazz culture offers boys and girls in New Orleans a path away from danger and despair and toward something admirable, promising and, yes, frequently swinging.
That’s the story told by “The Whole Gritty City,” a poignant, feature-length documentary that goes behind the scenes with three dedicated New Orleans marching band directors— Wilbert Rawlins Jr., Lonzie Jackson and Derrick Tabb—and that airs this Saturday, Feb. 15 (9pm EST, 8 Central).  No narration. No voiceover commentary. Just real life, real music and the connections and contrasts between the two. And sometimes the camera is held by one of those young musicians. (You can find a trailer here, and another website with useful links here.)
The film is billed as “48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City,” and the link to the true-crime newsmagazine program makes sense, not just because the school-based marching-band programs in New Orleans may be among the city’s most effective safeguards against violent crime, but due to the genesis of the film itself.
O. Perry Walker High School Band/courtesy of "The Whole Gritty City"

I first met Richard Barber, a “48 Hours” editor-producer (who created this film with cinematographer and photojournalist Andre Lambertson) in early 2007, in New Orleans. Barber was researching a “48 Hours” episode investigating two murders that sent shock waves through New Orleans. Continue reading “Whole Gritty City”

Fresh Spots for New Sounds: Ibeam Brooklyn

(l-r.) Sylvie Courvoisier, Max Johnson, Lou Grassi and Mikko Innanen performing at Ibeam Brooklyn. photo by Peter Gannushkin

There was an excellent panel discussion at the City of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center Monday night, titled “Jazz and New York: A Fragile Economy,” within a worthy series called “Cultural Capital: The Promise and Price of New York’s Creative Economy.” (The series continues Feb. 25 with a conversation between composer Steve Reich and critic Justin Davidson, followed by a performance by Reich and friends of the composer’s “Clapping Music” and “Mallet Quartet.”)
I’ll transcribe my notes and unpack some of the issues discussed Monday in another post soon, and they relate well to the stuff I’ve been writing of late about both New York and New Orleans..
For now, I’ll simply mention that when the subject of venues came up, pianist Jason Moran (one of the three panelists, with critic Gary Giddins as moderator) cited a few places run by musicians that he thought were especially dynamic in terms of exposing worthy talents, nurturing new audiences and creating modest and self-sustaining business models: in Manhattan, John Zorn’s club, The Stone; and in Brooklyn, Matt Garrison’s Shapeshifter Lab, which is among my current favorite music spots, and Ohad Talmor’s Seeds, where I heard one of the most memorable sets of 2013.
I’d add to that list Ibeam Brooklyn. On his website, trombonist Brian Drye describes his place this way:

…a performance, rehearsal and teaching space for professional musicians and students located in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, NY.  [directions here] Our goal is to foster a community of innovative musicians, educators and students in a clean, comfortable environment. Ibeam Brooklyn features a Schimmel Concert Grand piano, a vintage Gretsch drumset and a state of the art sound system.  Ibeam supports established and emerging artists by providing the rare opportunity to experiment with new works.

In February, Ibeam will host residencies by two pianists, Aruán Ortiz (Feb. 13-15) and Mara Rosenbloom (Feb. 27-March 1), each leading three different bands, some of which include the likes of saxophonist Darius Jones and singer Fay Victor. (Scroll down for full listings for these gigs.)
In an email exchange, here’s how Drye described the genesis of his venue: Continue reading “Fresh Spots for New Sounds: Ibeam Brooklyn”

When Nicholas (Payton) Met Philip (Seymour Hoffman)

Photo Credit (l-r) Nicholas Payton/Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images; Philip Seymour Hoffman/Rob Kim/Getty Images

That headline is intentionally misleading.
Yet not as misleading as this one, from New York’s Daily News: “Jazz saxophonist Robert Vineberg, arrested for heroin dealing in Philip Seymour Hoffman net, has A-list recording credits
And neither is as clever or cynical as this one, from trumpeter Nicholas Payton‘s website: “Another Shot in the Arm for Jazz,” which ran atop Payton’s riff in response to the Daily News piece.
Through his music, Payton has attracted a wide range of listeners and consistent acclaim: His most recent CD, Sketches of Spain(BMF Records), revisits the classic Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration of the same name, expanding his working group into a 19-piece ensemble conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.
Though his website, Payton has angered a great number of people during the last few years, mostly through a series of blog posts beginning with one on November 27, 2011 titled, “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore.” His prose style can veer toward anger, his posts sometimes sounding like rants. Yet he nearly always has good and necessary points to make, not least that to talk about the word “jazz” and about whatever music you associate with that word is also, at some point (if you’re honest and well-educated) to consider the issue of race. Payton’s 2011 post, which was structured almost like a poem, contained these lines: Continue reading “When Nicholas (Payton) Met Philip (Seymour Hoffman)”

What The Songwriting World Needs Now

Burt Bacharach‘s music has resonated through every generation and genre since he first started composing hit songs more than a half-century ago. His memorable and distinctive music, along with the words of his longtime collaborator, lyricist Hal David, gets a focused celebration six nights each week at the New York Theater Workshop, through “What’s It All About?—Bacharach Reimagined” (which has been extended through Feb. 15th.)
I’ve not yet seen the show, but Charles Isherwood, writing in The New York Times, assures that it isn’t “another jukebox musical manufactured to supply baby boomers with a sweet rush of synthetic nostalgia.” Instead, Isherwood writes, “the musical reinvigorates the staged-songbook genre by stripping familiar pop songs of their shiny veneer, and by digging into the melancholy and yearning that suffuses so many of the hits Mr. Bacharach wrote.”
Aside from his compositions and David’s lyrics, Bacharach’s own words commanded attention recently, lending a different sort of context to his catalog of hits on the Opinion page of The Wall Street Journal. In an essay titled “What The Songwriting World Needs Now,” he implored the U.S. Justice Department to revise the consent decrees that govern licenses (and therefore, pay, for composers, lyricists and musicians) in order to align with a digital world that, under the current scheme, amounts to a badly rigged game (with artists coming out the losers). Bacharach began by describing his humble beginnings: Continue reading “What The Songwriting World Needs Now”

Now Playing (New & Forthcoming CDs)…

So many things—the holidays, deadlines, a nasty flu that I beat back—have led to a terrifingly tall stack of music to catch up with, yet also alluring once I see what it contains. I’ve begun to dig in; more soon…
Rufus Reid Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (Motema Music, Feb. 11): Now 70, bassist Reid has a half-century of important music-making to his credit, alongside the likes of saxophonists Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, trombonist J.J. Johnson, drummer Jack DeJohnette and singer Nancy Wilson. For a quarter-century, he mentored countless musicians as director of the jazz studies and performance program at New Jersey’s William Patterson University. He’s spent the past decade or so developing as a composer, and creating music that’s mostly intended for large ensembles and orchestras. For this ambitious new work, Reid was inspired by the sculpture of Elizabeth Catlett, who died in 2012 at 96. Her iconic works, which often carry powerful African American themes, include the statue of Louis Armstrong near Congo Square in New Orleans and can also be found in collections at the White House and the Museum of Modern Art. Here, Reid’s music is realized by 20 musicians, most of them, such as drummer Herlin Riley, standard-bearing players. Yet it’s his own voice and composer—as distinctive as the one he projected as a bassist—that makes grand statements out of mostly subtle gestures. Continue reading “Now Playing (New & Forthcoming CDs)…”

Relaxin' With Karen Oberlin

Singer Karen Oberlin in duo with guitarist Sean Harkness at Manhattan's Jazz at the Kitano/ photo: Takako Harkness

Too many singers try too hard these days. At least, that’s how it seems.
Some labor to appear as though not trying or caring at all, approximating the ubiquitous small-voiced detachment of indie pop. Others make their grandiose efforts abundantly clear in case there is a celebrity panel nearby to judge them into stardom (as, often, there is).
All of which makes it that much more relaxing and rewarding to spend time with a singer who is fine with just being natural, who needs nothing more. If she’s working hard, well, that’s between her and, say, her guitarist.
Such was the case during Karen Oberlin’s late set on Saturday at Manhattan’s Jazz at the Kitano club, within the Kitano Hotel, where Oberlin and guitarist Sean Harkness celebrated the release of a duo CD, “A Wish” (Miranda Music). Continue reading “Relaxin' With Karen Oberlin”