Fred Hersch is playing six nights of piano duets at the Jazz Standard in New York City this week, pairing off with a different pianist each night, and Tuesday’s opening set was a marvel, further evidence that Hersch, not quite 52, is one of the two or three most harmonically imaginative jazz pianists on the scene and keeps carving new pathways—more intricate and probing, but no less swaying or lyrical.
I’ve listened several times these past few weeks to Erik Friedlander’s new CD, Block Ice & Propane (on the Skipstone Records label), a haunting, sprawling, majestic piece of Americana. The album is subtitled “Taking Trips to America: Compositions and Improvisations for Solo Cello,” and that sums it up. The cellist’s father is the master photographer, Lee Friedlander. When Erik was growing up, Lee would spend summers driving a 1966 Chevy pickup truck around the country, taking pictures, and he’d take the family along: he and his wife in the front, often blasting the radio, Erik and his sister in the thin shelled-box camper up above, watching the clouds and the road markers flash by. Block Ice & Propane—named after the old techniques for keeping food chilled and gas stoves lit—is a remembrance of those summers, an elegy for innocent adventure, a musical road trip in its own right.
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.
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.
I am hereby boycotting Keith Jarrett. It’s a shame. He’s one of the great jazz pianists, but he’s just become too big a jerk—and, at a time when America has an ugly image in the world, a dreadful ambassador. Here’s
footage of him cursing Italian jazz fans for taking his picture as he approached the stage, before he even started playing, at the Umbria Jazz Festival. These are people who paid over $100 for what he called the “privilege” of hearing him play. There are polite ways to ask people not to take pictures. You don’t have to treat them like scum.
It was no surprise that Charlie Haden and Kenny Barron struck such rich chords Tuesday night at the Blue Note, the first in a series of duet concerts that Haden, one of the great bass players in jazz, is headlining—six nights, four different pianists—at the club in Greenwich Village. Haden is best known as the bassist in Ornette Coleman’s original quartet, but it’s a mistake to tag him as a “free jazz” musician, in the usual sense. Above all, Haden is a romantic—he loves ballads and waltzes, he plucks a thick, juicy tone—and Barron is a lush balladeer. A few moments in the opening set didn’t quite click (maybe because Haden, now 70 but still youthful, recently had a hernia operation), but most of it did, Barron cruising triplets on the keyboard, Haden responding with undisguised but tightly harnessed emotion. The duet recording he and Barron made several years ago, Night and the City, seems a simple pleasantry if you play it in the background, but listen closely, there’s so much intricacy between the two—and yet, at every level, the music above all delights and charms.
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.
My first entry in this blog, six weeks ago to the day, was a news flash that Sonny Rollins, the greatest living improviser in jazz, will play at Carnegie Hall on Sept. 18 in a trio with the monumental drummer Roy Haynes and the agile bassist Christian McBride—a one-night stand that no jazz fan could stand missing.
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.)
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.
David Murray has a new jazz album out. A decade or two ago, this wouldn’t be worth a shrug (though it would be worth a trip to Tower); he came out with two or three jazz albums every month. Those of us lucky to live in New York could also go see him lead his big band at the Knitting Factory every Monday night and see him play in a half-dozen other bands, as leader or sideman, at clubs all over the city. Then, in the mid-‘90s, he fell in love with a French woman, moved to Paris, broadened his musical palette (playing with Guadaloupean drummers, for instance)—all to nourishing effect, but the few times each year when he returned to New York and hooked up with a jazz quartet or octet again, it was a nearly always a spine-tingling experience (yes, a clich, but it really was).
I don’t want to write too much about any one musician, but I just got back from seeing clarinetist Anat Cohen’s quartet at the Village Vanguard, and I can’t resist. Her CD, Poetica, is one of the year’s fresh surprises—breezy, heady, and warm (see my blog of June 17)—but it’s a mere shadow of what she does live. She plays with a perfect clean tone and an insouciant virtuosity combined with a hip-swaying, eyes-rolling, wide-smiling swing—or with a breath-stopping melancholy, depending on the song.
The Jazz Journalists Association, a group of mainly New York-based jazz critics and writers, handed out its 2007 awards Thursday afternoon. Here are the winners, followed in parentheses by the musician that I voted for in each category:
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.