The “Monk at Town Hall” tribute-concerts on Thursday and Friday night (which I previewed in my last blog) were as riveting as I’d expected—in the case of Charles Tolliver’s re-creation of Monk’s 1959 concert, much more so. Tolliver transcribed the original concert off the Monk LP, assembled a top-notch 10-piece band to play the parts, and conducted the score with precision except to let the hornmen improvise their solos. It’s a risky enterprise to invite comparison to a classic (cf. Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot remake of Psycho), but Tolliver roared into the ring and more than held his own. It wasn’t quite the marvel of the original—nobody can do all the things Monk did on the piano, and Tolliver’s drummer held back too much (Monk’s drummer, Art Taylor, splashed around the trap set, heightening the tension and release)—but it came very close. Stanley Cowell shadowed Monk’s piano runs with startling fidelity. Rufus Reid plucked the bassline with authority and soul. Several of the soloists rocked the full house—especially Howard Johnson on bari sax, Aaron Johnson on tuba, and the young Marcus Strickland on tenor sax, who outdid Charlie Rouse for sheer verve. The whole band plowed through these absurdly difficult tunes with crackling aplomb, swinging like crazy, as Monk might have said.
Jazz Messenger, June 15, 2007
I launch this blog with two bits of news that should make all jazz fans quiver. A brief prelude: Three years ago, an archivist at the Library of Congress discovered, during a routine inventory, the long-lost tapes of a 1957 concert at Carnegie Hall by Thelonious Monk’s quartet featuring John Coltrane. The tapes were pristine. The music was glorious, Monk playing his most archly elegant piano, Coltrane his most relaxed yet searching tenor sax. Blue Note released the concert tapes on CD, to jaw-dropping acclaim.
Gracing the 5th floor lobby of Jazz At Lincoln Center for another few months is an exhibition of the great photographer Herman Leonard, whose images of jazz musicians at work deserve the overused term “iconic.”
Maria Schneider, photographed by Jimmy & Dena Katz
Thanksgiving week is upon us, which means that two of the best bands in jazz are showcased at two of New York’sand possibly the world’sbest clubs. From Tuesday through Sunday, Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra plays at the Jazz Standard (though not on Thanksgiving Day), while Jason Moran’s Bandwagon Trio plays at the Village Vanguard. These gigs have become annual traditions. They sell out fast. Get your tickets now.
I’ve just glommed on to TV on the Radio, and let me tell all those who are as out-of-it as I am, when it comes to contemporary rock, the band is really very good. I first heard them play on Steven Colbert’s show, then bought their latest CD Dear Science (which the Village Voice and others touted as the best album of 2008), and I’ve listened to it since at least a dozen times. As I wrote a little over a year ago about Radiohead, after I first heard In Rainbows, it’s as harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated as just about any work of modern jazz—which is not to say that it’s like jazz but rather that, on any musical level, the purest jazz purist has no grounds for looking down on it.
A few weeks ago, I finally got around to the Vijay Iyer trio's new CD, Accelerando (on the ACT label), and I've listened to at least a few tracks of it almost every day since. This is a stunningly good album: monastically intricate, but also a rousing head-shaker, it's even danceable, I give it a 96.
Wayne Shorter marked his 75th birthday with a concert at Carnegie Hall last night. The show began with the Imani Winds, a spirited quintet of woodwinds and French horn, briskly traversing Villa-Lobos’ “Quintette en Forme de Choros,” followed by the world premiere of Shorter’s own classicial composition, “Terra Incognito.” (Let’s just say Gunther Schuller has nothing to worry about.) Exit Imani Winds, enter the Wayne Shorter Quartet, sparking lusty applause but not much after. Shorter’s band was, as usual, great. Danilo Perez, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums—not many rhythm sections can whip up such a turbulent swing. But it’s incomplete by design, it screams out for some saxophone colossus to rise up against the storm with a mind-blowing solo or a lyrical cri de coeur, something that sharpens the tension or takes your breath or simply excites. Shorter was once a master at this art, the designated heir to Coltrane and a more agile composer to boot. Check out his sessions with the early-‘60s Jazz Messengers and mid-‘60s Miles Davis, or his own albums, especially See No Evil and Juju or his 2001 recording with this same quartet, Footprints Live! But in recent years he’s been prone to laziness, and last night fit the bill. Occasionally, he’d lock into a groove and start to slide into a melody, a coherent passage that lasted a few bars, but then he’d back away and retreat to riding scales and wailing random whole notes. For the last few numbers, the Imani Winds returned, and the two ensembles played together. The arrangements, by Shorter, weren’t bad; his playing had its moments, but fell well below his peak potential. Toward the end of the quartet segment, Shorter quoted his old boss Art Blakey as saying, “When you get to a certain age, you don’t got to prove nothin’!” Maybe so, but, as Blakey demonstrated till the very end, when he was only a few years younger than Shorter is now, you’ve still got to come out and play.
I have an article in the Arts & Leisure section of today’s New York Times about Andy Warhol’s album covers. Everyone’s seen the covers he designed for The Velvet Underground & Nico, with the banana that peels, and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, with the zipper that unzips. But who knew that the pioneer of Pop art designed over 50 covers over the entire span of his career, and not just for pop albums but also for jazz, classical, and opera? His work, often signed, appeared on Blue Note, RCA, Columbia—all the giants—and echoed, or often anticipated, the style that he would cultivate not just as a commercial designer but as a gallery-and-museum artist (though he rarely distinguished between the two). A new, lavishly illustrated, fastidiously documented book, Andy Warhol: The Record Covers, 1949-1987, lays them all out. Read about it here. Buy the book here.
Three great new offerings from Music Matters Jazz, the house that reissues Blue Note classics on gatefold-covered, double-disc vinyl 45rpm LPs: Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, Herbie Hancock's Empyrean Isles, and Grant Green's Street of Dreams. All were recorded in 1964: the first two are among the best titles in Blue Note's catalogs; the third is one of the more purely pleasurable.
Steely Dan’s Aja isn’t exactly jazz, but given (a) the presence of such jazz luminaries as Wayne Shorter and Victor Feldman, (b) the jazz sensibility of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, (c) my blogger’s prerogative to step outside genres once in a while, and (d) the fact that my host, Stereophile, is, after all, an audiophile magazine, I feel entitled to mention—and wholeheartedly recommend—Cisco Music's LP
The ad team at Dolce & Gabbana seems to think it can be. Would Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’” become a best-seller if more people knew it sounded so cool—or if the millions who watched this TV commercial knew that’s what they were hearing? Could it be that jazz just needs shrewder marketing? (The whole song can be heard on Mingus’ great 1959 album, Blues & Roots.)
It just goes to show, you never know what lurks in some men's souls. White House press spokesman Tony Snow playing a not-at-all-terrible blues flute. For the video (via YouTube and Matt Yglesias' blog), click here.
Lee Konitz, who turns 80 in October, ambled on stage last night at New York’s Zankel Hall, blew a note, asked his audience to hum it, then, as we all hummed it continuously like a dirge, he blew over it on his alto sax, an improvised solo, darting and weaving, choppy then breezy, sifting changes, shifting rhythms, and all so very cool. It lasted five minutes, it probably could have gone much longer. Then two old pals, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Paul Motian, joined him, and they played standards. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano came out to trade fours and eights. They all left, and on came a string quartet, which played ballads and Debussy, Konitz cruising over the sweet strings in his signature airy tone, with its syncopated cadences and wry, insouciant swing.