Charlie Haden, the world’s most distinctive and enticing bass player, seems to have adopted a new tradition. It started as a special occasion, a dozen years ago, in celebration of his 60th birthday, when he played a week of duets at the Blue Note jazz club in New York, each night with a different pianist. He repeated the experiment on his 70th, and this week he’s doing it again, just short of his 72nd, not a round number, which leads me to suspect he’s doing it—and may do it again, semi-regularly—simply because it’s so thrilling, so fun.
Acoustic Sounds, Chad Kassem’s Oz of analog wonders, has expanded its line of 45rpm jazz reissues to the Impulse! catalogue. Like the Blue Notes, which Kassem and Mike Hobson’s Classic Records have already covered (at 45, 33-1/3, 180g, 200g, black vinyl, clear vinyl, just about any format you might imagine), the great Impulse! albums were engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and featured the masters of their day—Coltrane, Mingus, Rollins, and, one of the most innovative big-band arrangers in modern jazz, Gil Evans.
What’s the point of having a blog if I can’t occasionally indulge in self-promotion? So if you’ll forgive my blatancy for a moment, today marks the official pub date of my new book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed. Unlike my last book, which was entirely about foreign policy, this one actually might be of some interest to the readers of this space, because it covers not just politics but also culture, society, science, sex—as the title suggests, everything. More to the point, there are three chapters (out of 25) that deal explicitly with jazz. (Key jazz albums of 1959 included Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.) There’s also a chapter about the creation of Motown (another 1959 phenomenon), and a jazz-blues vibe infuses the whole book.
Trumpeter Dave Douglas’ new album, Spirit Moves, featuring his Brass Ecstasy quintet, is a rouser: hot, cool, raucous, pensive, sometimes all at once, and always a lot of fun. The band’s name is a play on the late Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, and they share a similar hard-blowing vibe—as well as two of the players (Luis Bonilla on trombone and Vincent Chancey on French horn)—but where Bowie used the band to riff on the pop tunes of the day (long before The Bad Plus), Douglas’ sources are mainly original tunes with a zesty swing and a dash of his trademark Mediterranean melancholy.
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.
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.
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.
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.)