Now Playing (new & forthcoming CDs)

vintageradio3Snow flurries fight it out with waves of warm breeze. My in-box is brimming with new music. The latest:
Allison Miller and Boom Tic Boom Otis Was a Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family, April 8): Drummer and bandleader Allison Miller speaks her mind clearly and with no apologies. Such was the case in a Huffington Post essay a few years ago in which she wrote: “I am a woman. I am a dyke. I am a tomboy. I play jazz.” She’s just as confident and forthright behind her drum kit at the helm of her Boom Tic Boom ensemble, which boasts an impressive personnel of wide-ranging and distinguished players: Myra Melford (piano), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Todd Sickafoose (bass).
Miller began writing Otis Was a Polar Bear during the summer of 2014 while touring with singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant. The birth of Miller’s (and her partner, Rachel’s) first child Josie inspired the music on this latest CD. Miller began writing the music while on tour with singer Natalie Merchant and completed the project through a Chamber Music American grant. The 10 original compositions featured on Otis Was a Polar Bear chart an inspirited soundtrack to the beginnings of a new life chapter for Miller and her family.
We’ve reached a moment when it’s far from remarkable that a jazz band is led by a female drummer and is half-populated by stirring women instrumentalists (Melford should be on anyone’s list of essential pianist). When motherhood inspires good jazz. When drummers who compose stirring jazz, about far more than groove, abound. Miller’s Boom-Tic-Boom is proof of all that, and yet it sounds singular, smart, cool and with just the right amount of weirdness. Sort of like how you’d wish your child to turn out. Continue reading “Now Playing (new & forthcoming CDs)”

Einstein Was Right! The Universe Sings—and Swings in Rhythm. (But You Already Knew That.)

gravitational-waves-soundI was riding the 3 train to Harlem, heading to an interview with pianist Vijay Iyer about “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke,” his collaborative suite with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, when I read the following front-page headline in The New York Times:

“Gravitational Waves Detected, Confirming Einstein’s Theory.”

Dennis Overbye’s story—the most poetic piece of journalism I’ve come across in the Times in many years—gave the news about sonic evidence of, well, a cosmic rhythm: A “faint rising tone” that, physicists say, “is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago.”

When I last spent time with Wadada Leo Smith, he was leading a workshop for instrumentalists, during which he’d pulled out an image meant to represent a “black hole.” He wanted to investigate the idea of a black hole through tone and rhythm.

Turns out the scientists working on the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) were up to pretty much the same thing, only using different instruments.

Overbye described this historic discovery as “the last waltz of a pair of black holes.” Continue reading “Einstein Was Right! The Universe Sings—and Swings in Rhythm. (But You Already Knew That.)”

New Orleans Celebrates Danny Barker's Spirit and Influence With a Fest in His Name

Gregg Stafford performing in the Danny Barker Banjo and Guitar Festival/ photo by Eric Waters
Gregg Stafford performing in the Danny Barker Banjo and Guitar Festival/ photo by Eric Waters

Above is a picture of trumpeter Greg Stafford, taken in New Orleans by the wonderful photographer Eric Waters. Stafford was at the French Quarter’s Palm Court Café, playing a few tunes after a truly enlightening panel discussion in the second annual Danny Barker Banjo and Guitar Festival in January.
As I wrote in an earlier post:

Outside New Orleans, the name Danny Barker isn’t all that well known.
Yet talk to a New Orleans musician of any age, who plays in nearly any style, and Mr. Barker—as these players call him—inevitably comes up, in reverent and warm tones, much the way modern-jazz musicians talk about drummer Art Blakey.
Barker’s Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, which he founded in 1970, late in life, helped launch many careers. No Barker, no Dirty Dozen Brass Band, no Rebirth Brass Band. No Barker, and it’s hard to know what trumpeters including Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Leroy Jones and Kermit Ruffins would sound like, just how drummers like Herlin Riley and Shannon Powell might swing.
Yet Barker’s legacy is bigger than that, and just as much about the names we don’t know. His Fairview Baptist band was a training ground for young musicians. For anyone even remotely connected to the city’s indigenous culture, Barker—who played banjo and guitar, sang and wrote songs, and led bands—is the key figure of a brass-band revival at a moment when many felt that tradition slipping away.

At the Palm Court, here are some things Greg Stafford said: Continue reading “New Orleans Celebrates Danny Barker's Spirit and Influence With a Fest in His Name”

Entering Ankhrasmation: Wadada Leo Smith at The New Quorum in New Orleans

photos by Larry Blumenfeld, using Jonathan Freilich's excellent camera
Wadada Leo Smith leading a workshop performance at The New Quorum/ cellist: Helen Gillet/ photos by Larry Blumenfeld, using Jonathan Freilich’s excellent camera

In January, I got the chance to return to New Orleans for a focused period of writing and reflection, courtesy of The New Quorum, where I was writer-in-residence within an inaugural residency class. Having unpacked my clothes, I’m now unpacking my notes, interviews and conversations. Here’s the first of a series of posts drawn from that experience.
The New Quorum is an artist residency organization founded and directed by Gianna Chachere, and dedicated to bringing professional musicians and writers from across the globe to New Orleans for meaningful cultural exchange with local and regional artists.
If you’re a musician or writer interested in such an opportunity, now’s the time to go here: Applications for Spring residencies (May 16-June 13) are accepted through March 4.
If you’d lend financial or volunteer support go here now: This innovative program deserves such nurturing.
The night after I settled into my temporary and lovely home on Esplanade Avenue, the living room Christmas tree, which was still up, was dotted with sheet music. This was the first of four workshops for musicians led by composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, followed by an informal house concerts as part of his January residency.
Smith’s music, which is both singular and part of an influential movement connected to Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), demands improvisatory spirit. And, well, those Christmas tree branches worked just fine as music stands.
The music itself was anything but ornamental. Smith’s work employs “rhythm units” and is expressed on paper through “Ankhrasmation.” Smith uses this neologism—formed of “Ankh,” the Egyptian symbol for life, “Ras,” the Ethiopian word for leader, and “Ma”, a universal term for mother­­—to denote the systemic musical language he has developed over nearly 50 years for, he says, “scoring sound, rhythm and silence, or for scoring improvisation.” Continue reading “Entering Ankhrasmation: Wadada Leo Smith at The New Quorum in New Orleans”