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.
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.
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:
Lee Konitz, who turns 80 in October, ambled on stage last night at New York’s Zankel Hall, blew a note, asked his audience to hum it, then, as we all hummed it continuously like a dirge, he blew over it on his alto sax, an improvised solo, darting and weaving, choppy then breezy, sifting changes, shifting rhythms, and all so very cool. It lasted five minutes, it probably could have gone much longer. Then two old pals, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Paul Motian, joined him, and they played standards. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano came out to trade fours and eights. They all left, and on came a string quartet, which played ballads and Debussy, Konitz cruising over the sweet strings in his signature airy tone, with its syncopated cadences and wry, insouciant swing.
If Keith Jarrett weren’t such a magnificent pianist, it would be intolerable to watch him in concert. His screechy humming and moaning, his lizard leering and preening—in three decades of seeing him play, I’ve never managed, despite some effort, to find the charm in his theatrics. And yet, he usually has me from his first chord—so warm, rich, and intriguingly edgy—especially the past few years, as he’s tightened his rhapsodic tendencies while enriching his lyrical core.
The JVC Jazz Festival is in New York City (a bit of an absurdity: New York City is a jazz festival, all the time). A crazy schedule prevents me from seeing much this year (less and less of this festival is actually jazz, in any case), but I’m definitely catching the Keith Jarrett-Gary Peacock-Jack DeJohnette trio, Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, and Lee Konitz playing with a few bands, in honor of his 80th birthday (!), Monday night at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.
Anat Cohen’s Poetica, on her own Anzic Records label, is a fresh breeze of an album, and I mean that in a good way. Still in her 20s, Cohen plays clarinet with a polished edge and verve second only to Don Byron’s. Born in Tel Aviv, schooled at Berklee, honed in New York clubs, playing not just modern jazz but Brazilian Choro and Dixieland, she lets all her influences show but none of them dominate. Her tone bears something of klezmer’s lilt but none of its schmaltz. Her arrangements have the joyful-melancholic sway of Israeli or Latin folk music but none of its sentimentality. On the album, she also plays two knottily catchy original tunes, a Jacques Brel song, and a tinglingly lovely cover of Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament,” the last backed by a string quartet. The sound, mixed by Joe Ferla and mastered by Sony’s Mark Wilder, is excellent.
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.