The Kronos Quartet has won this year's Avery Fisher Prize for chamber music, and the significance is stunning. With one fell (though belated) swoop, the boundaries of the conventional canon are broadened, if not obliterated. The Fisher Prize, set up in 1975 and awarded every three years since, is a conservative enterprise. Somewhat like the American Academy in the field of literature, it was designed to enshrine those who have ascended to the peaks through the established, long-trod paths. Past winners have included . . .
I saw Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra at the Jazz Standard last night, for at least the 12th time in as many years, and they—both she and the band—get more and more dazzling with each visit. As I noted a couple months back, with the release of her latest CD, Sky Blue (available only from ArtistShare.com or MariaSchneider.com), Schneider’s compositions have grown both denser and airier—rich harmonies stacked on brisk, flowing melodies, swaying to rhythms at once buoyant, complex, and danceable. Her ballads are sweet and lovely without oozing into sentimentality. Her upbeat numbers are snappy without drifting into banality. In recent years, she’s been exploring Latin rhythms and styles—in Saturday night’s early set, she played compositions inspired by Brazil, Spain, and Peru, and it seemed absolutely authentic. Her band—17 members, many of whom have played with her for over 15 years—is drum-tight, and, perhaps because of this, the soloists soar more lyrically to more adventurous heights.
Maria Schneider’s early set last night at the Jazz Standard—part of her 17-piece Jazz Orchestra’s traditional Thanksgiving-week run—reaffirmed and advanced her position as the preeminent big-band composer of our era.
Readers of this space know of my near-boundless admiration for Maria Schneider, the most accomplished and imaginative big-band composer of our time and high up in the pantheon for all time. Her swaying lyricism, muscular rhythms, and kaleidoscopic harmonic voicingsaccented with both a Latin tinge and an airiness as spacious as her native Minnesotarival and, in some ways, exceed the heights of erstwhile mentors, Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans.
Now, with Winter Morning Walks, Schneider leaps to still loftier terrain, fusing her jazz sensibility with classical idioms, while staying true to both. . .
Sky Blue, Maria Schneider’s sixth album in 13 years, is at once her most ambitious and most fulfilled, a sweeping, gorgeous work about memory, dreams, love, life, death, the joys of birding…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Martial Solal starts a week of solo piano at the Village Vanguard tonight, and that’s a double eye-opener. It’s only the second time in its 72-year history that the club has featured a pianist playing solo. (The first, Fred Hersch, was in 2006.) More striking, it marks just the third time since 1963 that Martial Solal has played in New York City under any circumstances. The last time was four years ago at the Iridium, with his trio and saxophonist Lee Konitz, and it was a marvel, the fleetest and most lyrical I’d seen Konitz play in years. The time before that, just with his trio, was at the Vanguard—but the shows were in mid-September 2001, a couple weeks after the attacks of 9/11; few ventured into lower Manhattan for anything, much less to see an obscure French jazz pianist. Luckily, the sessions were recorded; Blue Note put out a CD of highlights called NY-1; finally, we could all hear the music behind the legend.
Martial Solal’s early set at the Village Vanguard tonight was as exuberant as expected. The ghost of Tatum was riding high, as the French pianist, celebrating his 80th birthday with only his third appearance in New York City in the past 44 years, mad-dashed through a dozen or so standards—including “Caravan,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” even “Body & Soul”—in ways that no one has ever heard them, carving up the scores like a Cubist (more Braque than Picasso, with shards of Duchamp tossed in for wit), stretching and squeezing bars, yet somehow sustaining the tempo and the melody with tenuous but seamless aplomb. His music might be a mere virtuosic lark, were it not for his harmonies—brooding, bristling, caramel-rich chords, clusters of them, alternately embellishing, paring down, or playing against the conventional changes.
Maude Maggart finishes out a six-week stay at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room near Times Square this Saturday. She’s an appealing throwback, including in her repertoire; her best album, I think, is a collection of old Irving Berlin tunes. Her voice is sultry yet sweet, laced with vibrato, pure in tone, mischievous in intonation. Her current show, called “Speaking of Dreams,” which I saw last night, is ripe with naturally passionate slow ballads. Her few shifts uptempo (Sondheim’s “On the Steps of the Castle” and a Jobim tune with acid-trip Marshall Barer lyrics called “Lost in Wonderland”) made me wish she’d do more, but I’m not complaining. Her swoon through “Isn’t It Romantic” was bewitching. Even the show’s one cabaret clich—a medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Look to the Rainbow,” and “The Rainbow Connection”—came off as anything but; it was even stirring. Ms. Maggart looks five or so years younger than her 32 years, and she’s been singing in public for more than half of them. Cabaret clubs are not usually my scene, but I’ll go see her again happily.
I have a Slatecolumn today, an appreciation of Max Roach, who died last week at age 83. (Sometimes my editors let me break away from war and peace, though I have one of those columns today, too.) The headline writer has me calling Roach the “greatest drummer” in jazz. I think Billy Higgins was probably better, but I didn’t make a fuss. In any case, all great jazz drummers who came up after the mid-1940s, Higgins included, leaned or built on Max Roach’s innovations. Listen to the sound-clips that I link to in the column, and be sure to watch the YouTube clip toward the end. If you didn’t know before, you’ll see and hear what we’re all now missing.
It’s one of those lineups that almost promises too much: McCoy Tyner, the pianist from Coltrane’s “classic” early-‘60s quartet, leading his own quartet with Ravi Coltrane, John’s son, sitting in on tenor sax. And yet, at tonight’s first set, they pulled it off, which is to say, they seemed natural, the music was simply very good--better than that--and not some cockeyed freak show like, say, Paul McCartney teaming up with Sean Lennon. The band was playing in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room—a wonder of concert-hall architecture, at once spacious and intimate, with a grand view overlooking Central Park—and Tyner, now 70 and recently ailing, was in ultra-fine form. He banged out the set’s first notes, and there they were—those clanging block chords, forceful, percussive, the sustain-pedal meshing their overtones into a shimmering sonic bouquet. It sent shivers. Then entered Coltrane the younger, now 43 (he wasn’t quite two when John died of liver complications at the age of 40), sounding increasingly like his father—that plangent tone, the sinuous, fluent lines of sixteenth-notes, broken up by abrupt hesitations and jagged rhythms—but not as insistent, adopting more the tone of a balladeer. (Check out his new album, Blending Times, on Savoy Jazz, for a tasty sampling of what might be called intense lyricism.) Midway through the set, he and Tyner took a big risk—it literally took my breath—when they dashed into “Moment’s Notice,” John Coltrane’s uptempo anthem from his 1957 LP Blue Train, but Ravi navigated the brisk rapids with aplomb. (It may have helped that Tyner never played that song with Coltrane pere—the album was recorded a few years before he joined the group—so they were both, in a sense, interlopers. If they’d started wailing the first movement of A Love Supreme, well, that might have been too eerie.)
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.
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.