Jason Moran finished a week at the Jazz Standard in New York City last night and confirmed his standing, at age 32, as the jazz pianist of our times. A few years ago, I saw Moran playing in duet at Merkin Hall with Andrew Hill, one of his mentors, more than twice his age. Afterward, a friend of mine, a trumpeter just a little older than Moran, made a sharp observation about their respective generations: Hill, a leading avant-gardist from the ‘60s then undergoing a renaissance, played in one style, his style; Moran played in many styles, all styles. Though he didn’t put it in these terms, Hill (who recently died of cancer) was the jazz equivalent of an abstract expressionist painter (say, Franz Kline or Robert Motherwell), while Moran is the supreme post-modernist (say, Robert Rauschenberg) who appropriates everything around him, including ready-made objects, and somehow makes it all his own.
I was listening to Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows. It’s really as great as all the rock critics say. More than that (from this blog’s angle), it’s as harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated as just about any work of modern jazz. (I’m not saying it’s like jazz; rather, that on any musical level, the purest jazz purist has no grounds for looking down on it.) The album sent me to my music closet to take another listen to Brad Mehldau’s cover of Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” from his trio’s 2005 CD on the Nonesuch label, Day Is Done. I listened through all 10 tracks—which include, besides two Mehldau compositions, Lennon & McCartney’s “Martha My Dear” and “She’s Leaving Home,” Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie,” Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and the title tune by Nick Drake.
I’ve just found out about a new, and unlikely, place to go hear jazz in New York City: the Cacao Bar at the Chocolate Factory, a.k.a. MarieBelle. Most of the time, it’s a chi-chi caf—on the 2nd floor of 762 Madison Avenue, between E. 65th and 66th Streets—that serves hyper-rich chocolates, exotic drinks, and (so I’m told) killer short ribs. But on Wednesday nights, from 7:30 to 10, jazz musicians—a pianist and usually just one or two others (there’s no room for more)—come in and play.
The Jazz Journalists Association held its 2010 awards bash at City Winery, a warm, spacious eatery (with an excellent wine list) in the SoHo section of New York this evening. Below are most of the winners, followed by the musicians for whom I cast my ballot. The awards covered the period from April 15, 2009, to April 15, 2010.
All this week, the Jazz Standard in New York will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Jazz Composers Collective, the brainchild of five musicians who formed five distinct bands: the personnel would remain the same, but each player would lead his own band and compose all of its music. Both concepts were unusual at the time: the continuity of players and the insistence on original compositions. Back then, jazz musicians rotated in and out of bands, not the other way around; and the emphasis was on covering standards or blowing improvisations.
The Jazz Journalists’ Association held its annual awards bash this week, honoring musicians and their work for the period from March 2008 to March 2009. Here’s who won in each of the major categories, followed by who got my vote and why.
The Jazz Review was one of the most fascinating journals in the history of music-writing. Its editors were Nat Hentoff and Martin Williams, two of the most insightful critics of its day (the late 1950s and early ’60s). But its main distinction was that it consisted almost entirely of jazz musicians, writing articles and reviews about other jazz musicians.
The Jeff Gauthier Goatette’s House of Return, on the L.A.-based Cryptogramophone label, is one of the most sinuously pleasing albums I’ve heard in a while. I confess that I haven’t followed this quirky label or its roster of musicians as closely as I should have, but I intend to make up for lost time. The Goatette (don’t ask me why it’s called that—there are five musicians, so it’s not even a Dada play on “quartet”) consists of Gauthier, violin; Nels Cline, guitar; David Witham, piano; Joel Hamilton, bass; and Alex Cline, drums. The way each of them weaves in and out of different tempos, rhythms, and chart-parts (shifting effortlessly from melody-line to chords to between-bar filigree to sonorous atmospherics) is astonishing. The songs range from mysterious ballads to electric rock, with much in between, sometimes within the same song. There’s wit in the compositions and breeziness in the ensemble work, but there’s no fooling around; the air is loose, but the motion is surefooted and the hand-offs are tight, like a Mondrian painting but with more indigo color. Nels Cline is the player I’m most familiar with; he may be second to Marc Ribot as the most versatile jazz guitarist on the block, and it’s due mainly to him that, when the band rocks, it really does rock; it doesn’t sound like some tame fusion-y rock. But the softer tunes have a rich melancholy, an off-centered swing, and a hazy core of blues. The engineering is very good, capturing the tones and overtones of all the instruments and the bloom of the mix.
Jenny Scheinman is one of the liveliest, quirkiest jazz musicians out there, a violinist with folk roots, a kind of bluegrass cadence, and a deepening mastery of improvisational idiom. She’s playing at the Village Vanguard through this Sunday with Jason Moran (the best pianist on the scene), Greg Cohen (one of the two or three best bassists), and Rudy Royston (a drummer who’s new to me but he’s very good too). If you’re in the tri-State area, go see her.
I’ve been following Jenny Scheinman for a few years now: her frequent Tuesday night sets at Barbes, a small Brooklyn bar and sometimes-jazzclub not far from my house; her side gigs with the likes of Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, and Ben Allison at various clubs in Manhattan; her wry CDs, most notably 12 Songs.
Violinist Jenny Scheinman is back at Manhattan’s Village Vanguard this week with the quartet she calls Mischief & Mayhem, and judging from the two times I've seen them (the first a year ago, the second last night), I'd say this is one of the great raucous jazz-fusion bands of our time. Go see them. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
By "jazz-fusion," I mean not just jazz + rock (though there is plenty of that, thanks to the presence of Wilco's Nels Cline on electric guitar) but . . .
Hemispheres, the new two-CD album by guitarists Jim Hall and Bill Frisell, is the year’s first jazz masterpiece, a work of spontaneous lyricism as glittering and joyful as anything either has recorded (and, given their histories, that’s saying a lot). Hall, who’s 78, and Frisell, who’s 57 and something of a protg, both have a tendency toward doodling when they’re not anchored by a rhythm section. But Disc One—10 tracks of barebones duets (including Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” Hall’s anthemic “Bimini,” and several pure improvs)—are loose-limbered and air tight, the two trading harmony and melody, then merging the strands to the point where it’s unclear who’s playing what but it meshes and sings all the same. Disc Two—10 more tracks, mainly standards (“I’ll Remember April,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “My Funny Valentine,” “In a Sentimental Mood”), the guitarists joined by Scott Colley on bass and Joey Baron on drums—is no less free-spirited. Colley and Baron, who have played as sideman to both as well as many others, aren’t the sort to lay down rhythmic law; they splash color and weave textures along the leaders’ sinuous lines.
Joe Lovano’s Folk Art, his 22nd album on the Blue Note label, is an odd, sometimes jarring record—it took a few hearings before I found my bearings—but once the fragments snap into place, it’s a rousing pleaser, bursting with indigo moods, heart-skipped romance, and free-flow funk riffs. Lovano plays all kinds of reeds—tenor sax, straight alto sax, clarinet, and, on one song, the aulochrome, a Hungarian-built horn that’s a double soprano sax (attached to one reed), each side tuned to a different key, so that you blow melody and harmony simultaneously. He plays with a somewhat hardened tone, reminiscent of Sonny Rollins, but with a more soulful sensibility, stemming from his Midwestern roots (his father was a tenor blues saxophonist in Cleveland), though over the past couple decades, he’s played with, and gleaned ideas from, a wide variety of masters, including Hank Jones, Gunther Schuller, and Mel Lewis, to name a few.
The guitarist John Abercrombie's latest, Within a Song (on ECM) is something of a high-wire act: delicate music of an uninsistent intensity, a quiet swing, that hangs together or collapses on the ensemble's sustenance of balance. The musicians hereJoe Lovano on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, Joey Baron on drumsare masters at this sort of thing (and many other things too), and so it's a riveting album. Even when they coast, swish, and twirl along the slightest thread, you're carried along (or I was anyway).