The jazz book of the year is called, simply,Jazz. Written by Gary Giddins, the best living jazz critic, and Scott DeVeaux, one of the most astute jazz historians, it’s a vital reference for those well versed in the subject and an essential guide for those who get lost in its thickets and want to know how to listen to the music so that it at least makes sense.
In some of the standard histories, jazz went to hell in the 1970s—first losing its structure to the avant-garde, then losing its harmony and rhythm to rock-funk fusion—before recovering its senses and sensibility in the ‘80s, thanks mainly to Wynton Marsalis. As with most myths, there’s a little bit of truth to this chronicle; things did take a bumpy turn in the ‘70s (though some of the avant-garde and the fusion was a lot more interesting than the broad-brush detractors would have you believe). But the revival of melody, structure, beauty and wit was hardly the doings of Mr. Marsalis. A movement was well afoot—the critic Gary Giddins called it “neo-classicism”—a few years before the young trumpeter moved from New Orleans to New York. Many other, somewhat older musicians had already been making their ways to “the jazz tradition” through the path of the avant-garde. It was on that anti-traditional road that they found their voices; so when they shifted course, they had something distinctive to say. They breathed life into the music of old and so, ironically, embodied the creative impulses at the heart of jazz with far greater fidelity than those who solemnly recited the phrasebooks of Pops, Bird, and Miles.
The best new jazz album of 2010 so far: the Ryan Keberle Double Quartet’s Heavy Dreaming (on the Alternate Side Records label). I’ve played it a dozen or so times in the month since I received an advance copy. It’s infectiously joyous, except when it’s movingly melancholic, and it’s head-spinning, too.
Music Matters Jazz, a new audiophile label, starts up this month, reissuing classic Blue Note albums on 180-gram virgin-vinyl LPs pressed at 45 rpm. The test pressings I’ve heard sound extremely promising. The people involved in the company certainly know what they’re doing (Joe Harley of AudioQuest, Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray of AcousTech, Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records, who is more familiar with the Blue Note vaults than anybody).
It’s a bad idea to gin up expectations, but two concerts this week at Town Hall in New York City are worth the risk. Each commemorates Thelonious Monk’s big-band concert at the same Town Hall on Feb. 28, 1959—exactly 50 years ago—but in very different ways. This Thursday, Feb. 26, Charles Tolliver leads a 10-piece band on a straightforward (if that word can describe anything related to Monk) re-creation of the concert. The next night, Feb. 27, Jason Moran leads an octet on a bold re-conceptualization of the event, a sort of post-modern audio-video collage that aims to capture the spirit of Monk’s music while also tapping into its hidden roots and their links to Moran himself.
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.