I caught Lee Konitz Thursday night at the Jazz Standard, the early set, playing with three fine musicians—Danilo Perez on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Matt Wilson on drums—but they never settled into a cohesive quartet. Konitz has long been one of my favorite alto saxophone players. Last summer, after a concert at Zankel Hall, celebrating his 80th birthday, I wrote of his “signature airy tone, with its syncopated cadences and wry, insouciant swing,” and marveled at his sinuous way with a melodic line, “darting and weaving, choppy then breezy, sifting changes, shifting rhythms, and all so very cool.” But Konitz also has a tendency to doodle, and when he does, he needs a pianist (or guitarist) to lay down some block chords and reel him back in. Perez didn’t do that. He started noodling with him; the whole band laid back, the center did not hold, the train slid off the tracks, and a lazy chaos ensued. Konitz tried to impose some structure, segueing into “Embraceable You,” but Perez acted as if he didn’t know the song. Reid, the only band member who seemed to be listening, stopped playing a few times, for minutes on end, perhaps unsure of which wayward strand to latch onto. At one point, Konitz switched to “Thingin’,” his oft-played variation on “All the Things You Are,” which for some reason spurred Perez to lay down a Latin beat, which Wilson and Reid eagerly followed, but Konitz didn’t want to go there. This meandering went on for about 40 minutes before Konitz brought it to an awkward halt. For a finale, the band played “What’s New,” in the middle of which things finally came together, Perez launching into a lively solo, Reid plucking soulfully, Wilson recovering his sure footing, and Konitz blowing breezy uptempo.
Most jazz musicians who try to rock out come off lame. Most rock musicians who dig into jazz sound pathetic. Medeski Martin & Wood have long straddled both camps with authenticity. Or actually "fused" is the better word; in fact, they're among the very few rock-jazzers, another being Miles Davis at the top of that game, who turn "fusion" into a tasty term.
On their latest album, the trio are joined by guitarist John Scofield, not as a sideman (as MMW were on his A Go Go from 1998) but as a fully insinuated member of the band, which is thus called MSMW. The double-disc album's (appealingly insouciant) title is In Case the World Changes Its Mind (on the Indirecto label). It was recorded live at various spots on their 2006 tour. It's the best thing any of them have done, together or apart, in years.
I've never been a mono-phile. Yes, mono is better than electronically reprocessed stereo. And yes, for some of the early stereo recordings, where the engineer smacked one of the horns in the left speaker and the other in the right, it's better to hear everyone in the center. And, finally, there are cases, most notably on many of The Beatles' albums, where the musicians supervised the mono mix and ignored the stereo, making the mono, in a sense, the authoritative version. But in general, those albums that were recorded in stereo, I prefer to hear in stereo.
But the latest excavation from the Miles Davis archive, The Original Mono Recordings, nine CDs of the nine albums made for Columbia from 195563, is an exception, a set worthy of attentionthough not so much because the discs are in mono.
In his autobiography, Miles Davis wrote that all his live concerts through the 1960s were taped by someone and that Columbia Records, his label in those days, would no doubt release them after he died.
He was so right. Not that I'm complaining.
A few years ago, after the umpteenth of these high-concept releases, I thought that Columbia (now Sony) must have reached the end of the Miles treasure trove. But it seems the fun is just beginning. The latest multidisc set (three CDs and one DVD) is Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe, 1967, subtitled The Bootleg Series, Vol.1.
Take note of that Vol.1. There's morewho knows how much moreto come.
I have a story in the Arts & Leisure section of today’s New York Sunday Times about Charles Mingus and Art Pepper—specifically about the happy accident that these two famously self-absorbed jazz legends married women who became equally absorbed in preserving their legacies.
I haven’t watched all seven of Naxos’ Jazz Icons discs—a DVD box-set of televised European concerts by great jazz musicians in the 1960s—but one of them, Charles Mingus: Live in ’64, is a must-have: two hours of music, videotaped in Belgium, Norway, and Sweden in April 1964, featuring one of Mingus’ most electrifying sextets, including Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Coles, Dannie Richmond, and Jaki Byard.
Be careful, the old saw has it, what you wish for. For a long time now, many of us boomers have wished that the mainstream record companies would rediscover the glories of the vinyl LP. Now, a few of them are doing just that. Sony has released new 33-1/3 rpm slabs of vinyl from Columbia’s classic jazz catalogue—Charles Mingus’ Ah Um and a bonus LP as part of the deluxe box commemorating the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Blue Note has gone further still, reissuing a dozen of its old titles in vinyl, packing both a CD and an LP inside the 12” record jackets, presumably so you can hear a comparison.
I forgot to note Thelonious Monk’s 90th birthday on Oct. 10. Some advice for a lifetime: If you come across people who doubt his mastery as not only a composer but also a pianist, don’t trust their judgment on anything. Linked below, from the early-to-mid ‘60s, is an especially Monkish clip.
If you’re in New York City and don’t mind the snow (which resumed Friday), go to Birdland in midtown and see the Overtone Quartet, which features Jason Moran, Chris Potter, Larry Grenadier, and Eric Harland. They’re as good as you might expect, better even. They play through Sunday night.
I don’t know what Paul Motian’s doing, I don’t understand how he’s doing it, all I know is that it’s wonderful. I’ve just returned from seeing the Motian 3 at the Village Vanguard, a high-powered trio that consists of Motian, Jason Moran, and Chris Potter (and no bassist to hold the anchor). Moran, just shy of 33, is, as I’ve written many times, the most extraordinary jazz pianist around. Potter, 37, as I’ve noted a couple times, is a tenor saxophonist with a galvanic tone and fleet agility. But Motian, at 76 (older than both of his trio mates combined, playing topnotch jazz since his days with the Bill Evans trio a half-century ago, and more combustive now than ever), is the heart-racer.
The trio of Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell finishes a two-week gig at the Village Vanguard this Sunday, and if you’re in the New York area, you should drop in (though call ahead for tickets, as nearly every set, including the one I saw last night, has been packed). Here are three of the most creative jazz musicians around, each playing at the top of his game, a combination that doesn’t always make for the most coherent combos (think of the many “all-star bands” of yore that amounted to little more than blowing contests), but this trio is that rare thing, a truly equilateral triangle: no player consistently dominate, all parts are equal.
Nellie McKay’s Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day (Verve, CD and LP) is the unlikeliest delight of the year. Who’d have thought that the snarkmistress of Get Away from Me (her 2004 debut double-album, with its “Explicit Lyrics” label, downtown cool, and sharp-wit irony, to say nothing of the title’s savage slash at the then-raging darling, Norah Jones) could produce such gentle covers of hits once sung by the queen of wholesomeness?
Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra plays at Birdland in midtown Manhattan this week, an unusual season and setting (usually they play at the Jazz Standard around Thanksgiving). The occasion is the premiere of a new, commissioned composition, and at Wednesday’s early set, it sounded as lovely as anything she’s written: joyful, melancholic, adventurous, pensive, with a samba swing.