Rumba with Román Díaz

Román Díaz (in black) in performance with Michele Rosewoman's New Yor-Uba band (photo: Tom Ehrlich)

If it’s midnight on a Thursday in Manhattan, Román Díaz is holding court at the Zinc Bar in Greenwich Village. He’s playing bata and conga drums, chanting and singing, sometimes rising to dance. He’s making music and enacting rituals with old friends and new partners, inviting in ancient spirits as he lends new edge to New York’s scene.
The rumba is on.
Read my full piece about the wide-ranging influence of Díaz and his upcoming gigs here. Continue reading “Rumba with Román Díaz”

Yusef Lateef, Multi-Instrumentalist with a Borderless Aesthetic, Dies at 93

At the celebratory concert for the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters in 2010, when multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef was inducted into this exclusive fraternity, one had to wonder what he thought of the title. Throughout his life, Lateef, who referred to his music as “autophysiopsychic music,” a term he devised to mean “from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self, and also from the heart.” He rejected the term “jazz” for its pejorative associations and limiting implications.
Indeed, after Lateef’s death on Tuesday, at 93, the brief obituary posted on his website acknowledged his 2010 honor as “the National Endowment for the Arts Award.” Continue reading “Yusef Lateef, Multi-Instrumentalist with a Borderless Aesthetic, Dies at 93”

Best Jazz of 2013

Some of the best jazz I heard this year was caught live—felt and heard and then gone, save for my notes or a published article. But as for recordings, here’s a Top 10 list, along with some related lists. Let me know who’s on yours.
Image: Black Country Museums/Flickr

Now Playing (New & Forthcoming CDs)…

File Under: Reasons To Be Cheerful
The packages flooding in lately from music labels and musicians really do seem like holiday presents (though none of them contain the leather coat I want): The music so far is just that good. Already, I’ve begun listening to a few CDs that will in all likelihood end up on my best-of list for a year that hasn’t even begun. And 2013 ends with a late-breaking release that deserves repeated listens.
Here’s what’s been on in my office: Continue reading “Now Playing (New & Forthcoming CDs)…”

Hanging and Talking with Jazz, Online

Pianist Danilo Perez (l.) is a panelist for the JJA's "Jazz Diplomacy Now" webinar (Dec.18); Horace Silver (r.) is the subject of Bret Primack's "The Hang" (Jan. 4)

Last week, during a Critics Roundtable (“The Year in Jazz,” sponsored by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem), I found myself saying things I expected to say—“the best jazz story in 2013 was the best story in 2012, and among the longest running in jazz: The deepening and broadening of Afro Latin influence”—and things I hadn’t planned: “The jazz wars are over because wars only rage when they are spoils to win.”
Mostly I found myself alternately challenged and validated by the astute thoughts of my colleagues—Kevin Whitehead, Greg Tate, Nate Chinen and Seth Colter Walls. Yes, we submitted Top 10 lists for the year, but we were gathered to place that music and more in context—to talk about the stories behind and questions raised by the music. That makes for good conversation.
How about you: Want to talk jazz? Want to hang out with musicians and jazz insiders? Have pressing questions about your music or your work? Simply a fan with an attentive ear?
Blogs can be useful and even insightful—my favorite is pianist Ethan Iverson’s Do The Math. But real-time, interactive conversations with multiple sources have a whole different dynamic. The virtual world has much to offer on that front.
The Jazz Journalists Association, a nonprofit organization perhaps best known for its annual and notable awards to musicians and journalists, now hosts a worthy “webinar” series, “Talking Jazz,” which continues tomorrow, Dec. 18th, at 8pm (also archived for later listening) with a discussion of: “Jazz ‘Diplomacy’ Now: Can Jazz Promote International Peace and Understanding?” The panelists include: Pianist Danilo Perez, who directs Berklee College of Music’s Global Jazz Institute, and who created a festival in his native Panama that emphasizes cultural exchange; Simon Rowe, director of the University of the Pacific’s Dave Brubeck Institute; and flutist Jamie Baum, who has performed on several U.S. State Department-sponsored tours.
Then there’s Bret Primack. You may know him as the Jazz Video Guy, responsible for some must-view material on the Internet, especially of tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins (Primack has posted some 1,200 video, he said, with 23 million views). Or maybe you recall him as Pariah, whose “Bird Lives” was among the earliest of jazz blogs, and whose impassioned diatribes ruffled many a feather. Now, Primack hosts a weekly YouTube show, The Hang.” Continue reading “Hanging and Talking with Jazz, Online”

The Year in Jazz: A Critics Roundtable—Thursday, Dec. 12th

It’s that time of year when you make a list and check it twice.
If you write about jazz, that means a Year-End Top 10 list of recordings. I’d much rather consider who was naughty and nice, and what to give them: I’m ambivalent at best about Top 10s when it comes to music. (Though I love them on ESPN.) And yet I do them when asked, usually by publishers—here‘s last year’s for this blog.
This year I gave one to Nate Chinen, who writes about jazz for The New York Times, and who invited me as a panelist for “The Year in Jazz: A Critics Roundtable,” on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7pm.
It’s hosted by The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, where I just completed hosting a four-week series on HBO “Treme,” and will be presented at MIST Harlem. Continue reading “The Year in Jazz: A Critics Roundtable—Thursday, Dec. 12th”

Iran Meets Syria Via China in New York

"Sound: The Encounter": (l-r) Basel Rajoub, Saeid Shanbehzadeh, and Naghib Shanbehzadeh

When saxophonist Basel Rajoub was a boy in Aleppo, Syria, he wasn’t much interested in the Middle Eastern classical music surrounding him, yet he found his ears drawn to the panoply of sounds within Aleppo’s rich cultural blend. The stuff that grabbed his ears most, though, were the American jazz recordings his aunt played him. Miles Davis became a hero, and he picked up a trumpet.
He found his most profound connection with an Iranian musician in, of all places, Shanghai, China. Before performing at a world music festival there, Rajoub was entranced by the music of another band, whose leader, Saeid Shanbehzadeh, played the ney-anbān, an Iranian bagpipe. Rajoub didn’t understand the lyrics, but the Iranian melodies sounded familiar.
Their subsequent collaboration has flowered into “Sound: The Encounter,” an ensemble that will make its New York debut December 7 at the Asia Society’s Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium in Manhattan. (Read my full story and interview here.)
Photo: Courtesy of Asia Society