A Trio Bound By Intimate Connections, Unbound by Style: Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane & Matt Garrison

image001-6The last time I heard drummer Jack DeJohnette, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matt Garrison play, the trio did justice to the name of the Brooklyn venue hosting it (which is run by Garrison and his business partner, Fortuna Sung)—ShapeShifter Lab.
The music flowed morphed before us, changing hue and style and mood and form in often surprising ways. It sounded experimental in the best sense of the word—based on clear ideas and solid research but open to tinkering and unpredictable results.
The band returns to ShapeShifter for two shows on October 10.
This is a powerhouse band, led by one of the most kind-hearted and open-minded of jazz’s elder statesmen, DeJohnette, who at 73 is an NEA Jazz Master and a mentor to many. Continue reading “A Trio Bound By Intimate Connections, Unbound by Style: Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane & Matt Garrison”

Charlie Haden, Master of Duets, With A Beloved Musical Partner, Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba performing in duet at the Blue Note Tokyo, in 2005. Photo courtesy of Universal Music.
Bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba performing in duet at the Blue Note Tokyo, in 2005. Photo courtesy of Universal Music.

Bassist Charlie Haden, who died a little more than a year ago, was a towering American musician and a powerful force in jazz history.
His best qualities—compassion, nuance, a love of melody, an unfailing sense of rhythm, a searching mind and a caring heart—were most clearly evident in his work in duets.
There was the last release before his death, the glorious “Last Dance,” with Keith Jarrett, drawn from the same 2007 sessions as the previous “Jasmine,” likely Haden’s last studio session. There were other duet classics, among them: “Soapsuds, Soapsuds,” with Ornette Coleman; “Steal Away,” with Hank Jones; “Night & the City,” with Kenny Barron; and “As Long As There’s Music,” with Hampton Hawes, who was among the first jazz musicians Haden connected with upon relocating to Los Angeles in the 1950s.
Now comes “Tokyo Adagio” (Impulse!/Universal Music Classics), a stunning recording that captures the magic between Haden and Rubalcaba, as recorded over several evenings in the spring of 2005 at the Blue Note Tokyo. Continue reading “Charlie Haden, Master of Duets, With A Beloved Musical Partner, Gonzalo Rubalcaba”

Another Tidal Wave of John Zorn's Music Hits New York City

I like this photo of John Zorn, by Heung-Heung Chin, because it looks like he’s wearing rose-tinted glasses. At 62, the composer and alto saxophonist has become of the most positive presences on the New York music scene—doing good things, and relentlessly.

When John Zorn turned 60, in 2013, the musical celebrations honoring the composer and alto saxophonist spanned New York, with venues ranging from the Met Museum of Art and Lincoln Center Festival to the Stone, the East Village club Zorn founded in 2005.
Zorn’s music continues to saturate the city. Between now and Nov. 8, when Zorn concludes a six-night engagement leading five bands at the Village Vanguard jazz club, New Yorkers can choose from 30 different performances of his music. They include a “John Zorn Festival” within the inaugural programming at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust venue (Oct. 9 and 10; Oct. 30 and 31), and a solo recital by Mr. Zorn on the massive pipe organ at Manhattan’s St. Bartholomew’s Church (Oct. 30).
The first of these, four separate ensembles performing the premiere of new compositions for Zorn’s “Masada Book III, The Book Beriah” at Brooklyn’s Roulette, was the most stylistically varied, spiritually unified and lovingly presented night of music I’ve heard in quite some time. Continue reading “Another Tidal Wave of John Zorn's Music Hits New York City”

Cécile McLorin Salvant Makes Me Care Again


Photo by Mark Fitton

I don’t care much for jazz singing these days—precisely because I love jazz singing, and since too many vocalists seem as if beating dead horses or faking things with great competence.
Don’t get me wrong. Dee Dee Bridgewater, at 65, is her riveting and blues-drenched self, backed by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra on the new CD “Dee Dee’s Feathers” (OKeh). Cassandra Wilson, 59, honored Billie Holiday’s centennial with subtlety and invention on last year’s “Coming Forth By Day” (Legacy). And on “Speaking in Tongues” (Sunnyside, due Sept. 18), Luciana Souza, 49, works as an equal improvising partner alongside stellar instrumentalists, singing wordlessly for the most part.
Still, it’s been rare to hear a young female singer find her stride without sagging from the weight of inherited legacy or wandering aimlessly for lack of clear intent. Along came Cécile McLorin Salvant, Continue reading “Cécile McLorin Salvant Makes Me Care Again”

William Parker: Big Sound, Expansive Vision and Beautiful Sky

Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

I like this picture of William Parker, playing a reed instrument, because it captures some essence of his warmth and intensity.
Yet the insistent sound of Mr. Parker’s bass has long expressed the values of the Vision Festival, which he helped found 20 years ago, and of a community of musicians and artists that has its center of gravity in New York City and in improvised jazz but that is also truly international and unbound by genre.
With his fingers, Mr. Parker produces big, broad tones that, even unamplified, can fill a room. With his bow, he creates textures rich with intriguing overtones. Where most bassists rely on single notes to build lines, he often pushes, pulls and plucks his strings to build complex webs of sound. Mr. Parker’s discography—more than three-dozen albums as a leader, dozens more in leaderless collaborations, some 400 credits overall—attests to the breadth and depth of his work.
Yet what most distinguishes Mr. Parker are his ability to lead other musicians with a balance of compassionate looseness and firm direction, and his gifts for creating music that navigates the divide between composition and improvisation (or perhaps, reveals the unity of the two endeavors). In an interview, he recalled advice from one of his earliest employers, pianist Cecil Taylor: “When you improvise, it’s like, ‘wow.’ The inclination when you compose is to cross all the t’s and dot the i’s. But don’t erase that ‘wow.’”
Mr. Parker favors grand gestures. His 2013 release, “Wood Flute Songs,” spanned 8-CDs and six years of live recordings, documenting his leadership of groups ranging from four to twelve instruments. His new “For Those Who Are, Still” (both on Aum Fidelity) is his most ambitious work to date. Its three CDs present four long-form works, including his first composition for symphony orchestra, and a commissioned piece for the standing ensemble of The Kitchen, A Lower East Side Manhattan arts collective with its own deep avant-garde tradition.
My review of Parker’s new release in the Wall Street Journal is here.
I’ve got a long interview with Parker running soon in Jazziz magazine. But for now, I’ll leave you with something Parker told me when I asked him about the pressures of gentrification on his Lower Manhattan neighborhood, and the drying up of venues and opportunities for many musicians. I asked whether he felt as though he was being “confined to a reservation.” And he said:

Maybe three months ago, I was lying on the couch and I dozed off. When I woke up, everything made sense to me. This is how I saw it: Every musician is assigned a list of people they’re supposed to reach. Might be 40, might be 3,000 or three million. And that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s not supposed to be like Taylor Swift, though she has her assignment, too. My assignment is to reach those people who are reaching out to me. And that’s all there is to success and to feeling whole. It’s not about a bigger audience or even a bigger community. It’s about those who want to hear your music. Those who might come over to your music. That’s maybe narrower than we think, but it might be wider than we think.
When I’m riding on the subway and someone says, “Are you William Parker?” and then they say, “Man, I never thought I’d see you again. I just want to tell you that you played at my school 25 years ago. You played this solo. That thing changed my life.” Now, you can’t top that. Suppose I’d have never run into that guy.
I may be on the reservation, but the sky is so beautiful.