Cassandra Wilson on Billie Holiday

I recently got word that Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, has signed singer Cassandra Wilson. Wilson’s first album for the label will be “Coming Forth By Day,” which a press release described as “a musical homage to legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday” and a “showcase for contemporary yet timeless standards associated with Lady Day.”
Wilson is hardly the first singer to pay such tribute. (My own favorite album along such lines is Dee Dee Bridgewater‘s 2010 CD, “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee” (DDB Records/Emarcy).
Yet Wilson, whose CD is slated for Spring 2015, in time for the centennial of Holiday’s birth, will, I’m certain, have her own distinctive take. (As readers of this blog know, she’s among my favorite musicians. I haven’t heard the music yet. But the news prompted me to dig out a somewhat long soliloquy Wilson gave me about Holiday, when I was writing a piece about Holiday years ago, that began with my asking, “When do you remember first hearing Billie Holiday?” It hints at where she’ll be coming from when she sings these songs: Continue reading “Cassandra Wilson on Billie Holiday”

Top Ten (So Far)

I don’t love making those year-end top 10 lists (for more on why, look here).
But I got my first of what will be several requests, and here’s what I came up with. (And note: the Coltrane CD, which was of course recorded decades ago as a bootleg but never before commercially released, is tenth only because it’s of an earlier time—yet it also demanded inclusion.)
I’m sure my thoughts on this will change, as they always do, by year’s end.
Brandon Ross/ Stomu Takeishi Revealing Essence (Sunnyside)
Guitarist Brandon Ross fascinates for many reasons, including the humility he exudes in both meditative and frenzied musical moments. He’s been a key player in bands led by Henry Threadgill and Cassandra Wilson and the singularly wonderful collaborative trio, Harriet Tubman. Ross introduced electric bassist Stomu Takeishi to Threadgill, in whose Make a Move band they worked together. Here, it’s mostly meditative and all about texture, warmth and sonic possibility, with rhythms that speak of Threadgill used more as a through-line than a frame. Other albums this year may exert greater influence or even better stand time’s test, but this is the one I’ve returned to the most.
Yosvany Terry New Throned King (5Passion)
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra The Offense of the Drum (Motéma)
Matthew Shipp Trio Root of Things (Relative Pitch)
Charles Lloyd Manhattan Stories (Resonance Records)
Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein & the Hot 9 Viper’s Drag (Impulse)
Ambrose Akinmusire The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note)
Fred Hersch Trio Floating (Palmetto)
Danilo Pérez Panama 500 (Mack Avenue)
John Coltrane Offering: Live at Temple University (Impulse/Resonance)

Manhattan: Subrosa's Soft Launch Hits Hard

Pedrito Martinez/ photo: Michael Weintrob

The bad news: If you’ve never caught the Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez leading his quartet at the midtown Manhattan restaurant Guantanamera, where he held court for nearly a decade, you never will.
“At first we played traditional Cuban songs, but then we decided 
to just play what we love and let people get used to it,” Martinez told me for this feature story I wrote about him in 2012.
People got used to it—enough so that the gig became a scene, drawing players from all walks of music, from Wynton Marsalis to Eric Clapton.
But that gig is done.
The good news: Martinez’s residency lives on—now transplanted to Subrosa, a new venue in Manhattan’s newly fashionable meatpacking district. Subrosa is owned and operated by the Blue Note Entertainment Group, a company anchored by its namesake Greenwich Village jazz club. The new club, which seats 120, feels intimate without seeming cramped, elegant yet not slicked-up: white-painted brick walls and cafe tables give way to a horseshoe-shaped bar in the rear.
By now, Martinez’s mesmerizing talents as singer and percussionist have made him as potent a force on New York’s music scene as there has been in many years, sparking new attention to and possibilities for Afro-Cuban tradition. If Thursday night’s first set was any indication, the high energy, deep musicality and spontaneity of his former Guantanamera residency continues apace.
Continue reading “Manhattan: Subrosa's Soft Launch Hits Hard”

Guitarist Marc Ribot: The Future, As Streamed, Look Grim

I’ve been talking to guitarist Marc Ribot lately about the ways in which cultural policy, or lack thereof, challenges the creative music community of which he is a shining light—about musicians and venues being essentially priced out of downtown Manhattan neighborhoods they helped put on the map through cultural achievements. (If you want some background on those issues, try this Youtube clip of a City Hall demonstrationfrom 2007.)
I’ve also been listeningto Ribot’s CD, “Live at the Village Vanguard” (Pi), which should make many Top 10 lists, and through its inclusion of bassist Henry Grimes and its allusions to the legacy of Albert Ayler, speaks of the legacy Ribot taps.
But Ribot’s music and his activism is wide-ranging in its considerations and its reach. As president of the Content Creators Coalition (c3), he is conducting a study of the economic impact of Spotify and other streaming services on their artist members.
Which led to  the following post by Ribot’s to The New York Times online opinion pages, titled: “If Streaming Represents the Future of Music, Then My Own Future is Looking Grim.” Continue reading “Guitarist Marc Ribot: The Future, As Streamed, Look Grim”