John Zorn’s rep as the angry bad boy of the downtown avant-garde has always been a bit of a caricature. His music has long stressed wit and beauty as much as squeals and hollers. But in the last few years, he’s tapped into a buoyant, almost gentle lyricism while still sounding distinctively Zorn.
Soon after raving over Fred Hersch’s new piano-trio album, Whirl, I learned that it was also available on 180-gram vinyl. I’ve since obtained a pressing and can report that, good as the CD sounded, the LP sounds considerably better.
Fred Hersch, one of the top handful of jazz pianists on the scene, spent several months in a coma last year, owing to complications from HIV, with which he’s been living for well over a decade. When he emerged, he had to teach himself how to play piano all over again—not the technique, but the reflexes, the timing, the coordination—but you wouldn’t know it from Whirl (on the Palmetto label), his first album since the return.
Charlie Haden has been playing this week at Birdland in New York with his group Quartet West or, as he calls this incarnation, “Quartet West Goes East,” with Ravi Coltrane filling in for Ernie Watts on tenor sax and Rodney Green taking Larance Marable’s chair on drums.
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.
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.
Jason Moran’s Ten (Blue Note) commemorates the 10th anniversary of his trio called Bandwagon (with Tarus Mateen on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums), and it’s by far the group’s best recording, maybe Moran’s best all told, which, if so, would mean it surpasses his 2002 solo disc, Modernistic, which is saying a lot. Whether it does or not (I’m still mulling), this is a great album, that much is certain.
A week ago, I went to see Chris Potter lead a top-notch quintet at the Jazz Standard. It was a great set. Potter’s big tenor-sax sound keeps getting more swinging, more virtuosic, yet at the same time tonally subtler. Joining him were Steve Nelson on vibes, Paul Motian on drums, Craig Taborn on piano, and Scott Colley on bass. Potter was smiling a lot during their solos, as if he couldn’t quite believe that he’d assembled such a crew.
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.
A trend of sorts has taken hold the past few years: albums (in most cases, multi-disc boxed sets) capturing not just the highlights of a jazz concert but the whole concert—or a whole week’s worth of concerts, the entire run of a gig at a nightclub—every note of it.
Geri Allen’s new album, Flying Toward the Sound (Motema Music), is a stunner. She calls it “a solo piano excursion inspired by Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.” In jazz pianists’ lingo, this is like Babe Ruth pointing to a spot in right-center field. And she slugs the ball out of the park.
Let’s put the main point up front. The new duet album by Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, Jasmine (on ECM), is a gorgeous piece of work: all standards, mainly ballads, nothing fancy (not overtly anyway), but such poignance and quiet passion; it’s a glimpse into the intimacy of the act of making art.