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Welcome to the Boston Jazz Scene web site--the place to find out what happened, what is happening, and what is coming in jazz and other improvised music in Boston and surrounding communities. The most recent post is listed below this information. Words listed below the Topics heading to the right refer to information you can find here about jazz and other improvised music, the arts in general, food, and travel in and near Boston.

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If you click on the Images - Venues topic, you will see a selection of photos of current and former Boston area jazz venue locations.

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If you click on the Essays on Music topic, you will see essays about the development of jazz and other music since the late nineteenth century and particularly the evolving context in which the music has been and continues to be created.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Jazz Journal – 2012

December 2012 
Although the music was full of surprises, it was not surprising (given the personnel involved) that the performance 12/10 at the Outpost was a harmolodic party.  There were occasional references to composed melodies, but one could describe the event as wall-to-wall improvised harmolodics.  And relentless.  And really loud (Even the bassist paused to put in ear plugs during the first fifteen minutes of the hour-plus set of music).  A good part of the volume level was provided (in true Ornette fashion) by James Kamal Jones who quite obviously did not fall asleep after his tenure with the alto giant.  He was the machine behind the machine on this night, and either you signed up with him on this journey or you would be buried by his outrageous onslaught.  My ears were ringing on the way home, but that’s not really a complaint, not when a band is so exhilarating.  Among the other perpetrators was Jim Hobbs, who was tired.  At least that’s what he told me before the gig.  He had just arrived from a couple auto journeys that sounded more like a mid-19th century Conestoga venture than a hop and a skip.  More work with Taylor Ho Bynum.  No doubt with superb results.  But here he was, sauntering onstage, dragging just a bit.  But his effort implied no fatigue.  He listened thoughtfully, entered when it seemed good to do so, and scared the daylights out of the alto sax.  He went all over the place from pure Ornette, to ballads, to blues.  Out and back.  Typical, wonderful Jim Hobbs.  The earplugged bass player was Bruno Råberg, who had been back in the mix for a while.  But this outing was the first time I caught him in concert since his shoulder injury.  And the news for fans is very good.  His shoulder is not completely healed, and he’s still going through regular physical therapy.  But Bruno is playing and, except for occasion brief physical clues, one cannot tell that he’s been out of action.  A lot of band leaders must be quite happy for him (and for themselves).  It was Dave Bryant’s gig, Boston’s local harmolodic party meister.  He keeps coming up with challenging mixes of musicians for wonderful evening adventures and knows how to tear up a keyboard (acoustic or electric).  A major Boston asset with a band of major Boston assets.  Applause...

All jazz fans have favorite video documents of musicians or clubs that hold strong personal meaning for them.  However, the appearance of real jazz clubs in fictional films is perhaps a special and somewhat elusive category of jazz interest.  There are not many such occurrences, even though books have been written about jazz performances in primarily fictional films.  My personal favorite among real jazz club appearances in fictional films is the sequence early in The Odd Couple when Jack Lemmon goes to the Metropole Cafe to ease his pain with a drink at the bar.  At the time of the shooting of the film the Metropole had long since replaced its jazz policy with go-go bar entertainment.  But the bar looks just like it did when I was so young that I stood in the doorway peeking in at the music being created.  My parents would wait patiently outside the club until I had heard a couple numbers.  Then we would move on with the afternoon shopping.  Think about it: 1) jazz performed in a club in New York in the afternoon featuring famous musicians and 2) parents with no particular interest in jazz putting up with a jazz-loving elementary school student.  But one of the main reasons I love the sequence from The Odd Couple is that the somewhat unique bandstand setup is the same as I remember.  No, there were no go-go dancers on the bar to block my view.  But the band members lined up precariously, side by side behind the bar, is the same.  It’s not Charlie Shavers or Max Kaminsky, but I have no trouble bringing them to mind as I watch the film.  All of this nostalgia is an introduction to an experience I had recently when I replaced my VHS copy of John Woo’s Hardboiled with a DVD version.  The introduction to the main character, Chow Yun-Fat, takes place in The Jazz Club, the very center of jazz activity in Hong Kong for more than a decade.  To put that fact in perspective it is important to note that the good people of Hong Kong did not/do not take to Western Culture like ducks.  They never loved their British overlords.  And so the arts and culture side of the West never sunk in there.  No surprise.  But what may be a surprise is that John Woo is a jazz fan who bucked his producers by including elements of jazz in his movies.  For example, he’s the bartender at The Jazz Club in Hardboiled and actor Chow Yun-Fat “plays” jazz clarinet in that film and jazz saxophone in another.  The link here between New York and Hong Kong is relevant.  New York is known as capitalism central, a city that (cramped for space) has destroyed iconic buildings for the sake of economic progress.  Well, even on my first visit to Hong Kong it was apparent to me that Hong Kong was/is the most capitalistic city in the world (leaving New York in the dust).  Money was/is the currency of everything there.  Even then--in the mid-1970s--it seemed that virtually everyone had two or three jobs.  During my last visit there in 1993--and my only experience at The Jazz Club--money had become the ether of the air.  For example, the place had become overrun with serious shopping malls.  By that I mean the mall at Copley Place in downtown Boston would be one of the lower-middle end malls in Hong Kong in 1993.  We’re talking about over-the-top capitalism sickness.  And so, although the people of Hong Kong have for decades taken to Western capitalism in a big way, they (to a great extent because of their relationship with Great Britain) have rejected Western Culture, including jazz.  Those facts lead us to the current status of The Jazz Club in Hong Kong.  First (and not surprisingly) it does not exist.  You can go online and pursue it, but the basic idea is that most jazz musicians and fans with some significant connection to Hong Kong consider The Jazz Club to have been the last great hope for jazz in that city.  Although there have been several “jazz clubs” since the demise of The Jazz Club in approximately 2000, the scene without it is unlikely to recover in the near future.  So the now-deceased Jazz Club in Hong Kong is the brightest (and perhaps only) light in the history of jazz in that city.  But there is the build-and-perish side of the story.  We fans in Boston have lost Connolly’s and other historically important jazz spots because of “progress.”  And New York is even more notorious for such carnage.  But consider The Jazz Club in the Central district of Hong Kong.  From the best data that I can discern from my brief research, sometime around 2000 the building it was located in was “renovated” to become the successful California Entertainment Building.  But even that enterprise had somewhat limited success by Hong Kong standards.  The story continues.  In September 2010 the edifice known as the California Entertainment Building was destroyed to make way for more “progress.”  So, if you pick up a 2-DVD set of the film Hardboiled with Kea Wong giving you a really bad tour of location settings for the film, please note that the California Entertainment Building does not exist.  Not that it would matter for someone unfamiliar with Hong Kong.  For such a person, that DVD “extra” component has virtually no geographic meaning.  For example, during the “tour” she points to Kowloon as “the other side,” and the camera pans to other buildings in the Central district.  Kowloon truly is the “other side”--not Hong Kong island at all but the other side of the water on the mainland.  But you certainly cannot tell that from the video sequence.  So, when you see the Metropole in The Odd Couple, lift your glass to something special that was.  When you see the now iconic Jazz Club in the opening frames of Hardboiled, do the same.  For myself, I have fond memories of the now-silenced Noonday Gun, The Jazz Club, Roger Parry (for years a Coda correspondent who before the demise of The Jazz Club returned to England), and Tony Carpio and his band over the decades at the Dickens Bar (which, along with its parent Excelsior Hotel, now may be victims of progress).  These flickers in film bring back memories.  If you happen to be strolling in the Central district and want to see where the second-floor Jazz Club used to be, it may be a good idea to ignore information about current building names.  “Current” is a fleeting concept in Hong Kong.  But so far most street names remain unchanged.  So take out a map of the city (or search the internet) and find 34-36 D'Aguilar Street in the Lan Kwai Fong part of the Central district.  In the mean time I’ll catch you at one of the Boston area jazz haunts.  While I still can...


As it turned out there was only one set of music for Longy’s Modern American Music Series concert at Pickman Hall 12/2.  Usually there is a set of conventional composed music (Barber, Beach, or other less-than-inspiring music) followed by real music.  On 12/2 we got only the real music.  In this case it was the latest incarnation of Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club--Charlie Kohlhase, Matt Langley, Jerry Sabatini, Eric Hofbauer, Jef Charland, and Curt Newton.  And real it was.  I talked with Charlie, Eric, and other band members after the gig and discovered that my perception of the evening’s music was not unique.  In other words, this was the best Explorers Club gig I ever had witnessed.  The consensus was that something special happened, but what really happened is elusive.  I thought about the phenomenon, bounced an idea off a couple band members, and got a positive reaction.  The idea is that for a couple months prior to this gig Charlie had been doing Explorers Club gigs with sub-sets of the band, usually trios (but even a solo gig).  The thought hit me that these smaller, focussed sessions brought a more focussed, clarified perspective to the musicians 12/2.  I really believe there is something to that idea.  On the other hand, would I suggest that any band leader do the same thing--break a band into a series of sub-sets--to bring band performance to a higher level?  The answer is no.  I think it worked here.  But would the same sequence of events be productive next year?  Maybe not.  But I do know that I witnessed the Explorers Club at its best.  Lightning in a bottle?  Maybe...

As some people may know by now, piano legend Ray Santisi had surgery on his leg at Beth Israel Hospital 12/21.  A few days later he was released in good spirits to the care of Coolidge House in Brookline for rehab/therapy.  He is hoping to return to teaching when the new semester begins on January 22.  We wish him a rapid recovery and a healthy 2013...

The Stone in Manhattan is celebrating the music of our own Joe Morris in January.  What a lucky choice on their part.  It is difficult to find music any better than Joe Morris music.  He will be performing on guitar with a wide array of outstanding musicians.  How ironic it is that, although he justifiably is known primarily for his extraordinary guitar work, the best music of the series will be provided by the Steve Lantner Quartet--with Joe playing terrific acoustic bass...

Due to travel “circumstances” I was late arriving at Jeff Platz’ birthday celebration 12/14 at the Outpost.  As Jeff informed those in attendance, his true birthday is 12/16.  But that did not stop band mates and audience members from celebrating.  All of the best jazz musicians are by definition unique.  But somehow Jeff is a magnet for improvisors who tend to take the uniqueness to another level.  For example, on most gigs Andy Voelker brings his alto sax with him and on solos proceeds to redecorate the room.  This time--maybe it was with inspiration from the band leader celebrity--he brought a reed arsenal of flute, clarinet, tenor sax, and (as insurance?) alto sax.  All evening Andy made judicious selections from among the four and breathed fire.  The percussion work of John McLellan might be described as minimalist.  Superficially his actions at the drum kit appear simple in the extreme, almost robotic.  And yet the emotional impact of each “calculated” stroke hits at the invisible core of who we are and resounds.  It will not surprise anyone who knows him when I suggest that Scott Getchell is from another planet.  How else could he expose us Earthlings so articulately with such consistency in his various artistic endeavors?  As a result, his trumpet work brings to mind the space and lines of Miles and other sonic architects of the 1950s.  But the content--what he is playing about--sounds nothing like the 1950s or even today.  No doubt it is tomorrow.  Kit Demos presents a different kind of challenge--a different uniqueness--for me.  I find technicians really annoying.  You know, the trained pianists who can’t see beyond cadenzas as exclusively designed for them to show off.  Or the young alto saxophonist who cannot comprehend what Charlie Parker recorded and tries to out-Parker the master by producing as many notes per minute as he can.  If you are reading carefully you can tell that I am setting up Kit Demos as a technician.  And he is.  You don’t have to watch him perform for very long before you realize that he spends 25 hours per day discovering the sonic and performance possibilities of the acoustic bass.  But then you realize that’s impossible because he must spend 25 hours per day pursuing the infinite possibilities of his electronic equipment.  For example, he had rigged a connection for his bass and a microphone 12/14 so that the equipment would transform Kit’s voice into wonderful non-vocal sounds, but the mic worked only when Kit played the bass.  Of course, Kit was not satisfied with the setup.  It needed work, he said.  But here’s the kicker.  Here’s Kit’s uniqueness.  He’s a technician, an over-the-top technician, but...  But.  He’s such a wonderful musician (i.e., the music always comes first) that the technique loses its stigma for me.  The odd equipment and manipulations become merely natural means to powerful ends in the performances of Kit Demos.  And I’m thankful.  At the Outpost 12/14 I wasn’t alone being thankful to be in the presence of such a wonderful array of unique musicians.  Happy birthday, indeed.  Party on, Jeff...

It was meant to be a celebration of the life of John Tchicai who died on 10/7.  Surprisingly, the first words I encountered at the event at the Lily Pad 12/19 were that Garrison Fewell had gone through emergency surgery a few days earlier.  But there was good news.  Garrison was being released from the hospital on the same day as the celebration for John Tchicai and apparently was doing very well.  The single set of mostly Tchicai compositions or arrangements of other people’s work became a great “thank you” for an exemplary life lived and for the life of a wonderful guitarist that has yet to be completely fulfilled.  Fellow guitarist Eric Hofbauer leaned an extra guitar upright against a chair onstage in tribute to his absent colleague.  Everyone in the band--Eric Hofbauer, Jerry Sabatini, Todd Brunell, Charlie Kohlhase, Jacob William, and Curt Newton--performed superbly...

Michael Moran has stepped down as Executive Director of the Amazing Things Arts Center and has switched his focus primarily to booking performances there.  The result (among other things) is that there are more jazz ensembles booked by the Amazing Things Arts Center for January through April than since the facility first opened.  These bookings are not of minor significance.  The Amazing Things Arts Center is in Framingham, the very epitome of suburbia.  Anyone who follows non-fluff music knows that suburbia is not a hotbed of important sonic art of almost any type (particularly jazz and so-called classical music).  It is true that blues bands have made some inroads there, and suburbia seems to be the last bastion of trad jazz.  But that--with rare exceptions--is about it.  So for Michael to book during a four-month period more than a dozen bands claiming to perform jazz is extraordinary.  Yes, Cecil Taylor will not be among the performers.  But put things in context.  Suburbia will get a chance to witness the music of--among others--John Lockwood, Paul Broadnax, Laszlo Gardony, Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, Billy Novick, John Funkhouser, Rakalam Bob Moses, Teresa Ines, Stan Strickland, Ken Cervenka, Yoron Israel, and more.  Applause for the effort.  And, if you live in the Framingham area, you might want to show up to support these ambitious bookings...

There’s an old (i.e., going back at least to the 1920s) stab at Boston that goes something like this: The worst time of the year to book a music gig is between Thanksgiving and New Years or any time in Boston.  I’m sure some local musicians (particularly those who have not performed elsewhere) would concur.  However, developments 12/28 at the Lily Pad were considerably contrary.  I caught two sets of music with only a very few empty seats (if that’s what one calls those now-familiar wooden slabs) at either set.  Sometimes (but not always) when you have top-drawer musicians performing, the public shows up even between Christmas and New Years.  And that’s what we had--three of Boston’s best and one of the giant Chicagoans of his generation carrying out what has become a special annual event known as Construction Party.  And more.  As in the past, all band members provided charts--everything from melodies rooted in memories of past decades to the mathematics of Leonardo Fibonacci.  The more is that this year when Chicagoan (and former Bostonian) Dave Rempis got together with Forbes Graham, Pandelis Karayorgis, and Luther Gray what they had achieved on previous outings became a new kind of sonic beast--more connected, more inspired, more unleashed.  It is as if each band member made a conscious decision not to support his band mates exclusively in conventional terms but also to not let them down when it came time to solo.  Lucky as I am here in Boston, I see this happening more and more.  The “old” tradition is one of competition.  In other words, when it is my turn to solo, my job is to outplay, beat the competition.  For the past few decades that beat-down attitude has disappeared.  And now it has been replaced with an “art as support” attitude.  In other words, when it is my turn to solo, it is my responsibility to outdo myself; I owe my band mates that much.  And Construction Party presented as fine an example of that 12/28 as one could ask for.  One inspired and inspiring solo after another.  Time and time again.  Tune after tune.  Set after set.  So we can chuckle over ancient stabs at the Boston club scene and the challenges of the holidays.  But I surely know when a club is full and when a quartet has given me one special holiday kick in the head...


November 2012
 
On the break at the Outpost 11/27 Joe Morris mentioned that his book, Perpetual Frontier—The Properties of Free Music (2012, ISBN 978-0985981006) is selling much better than he had expected.  That’s terrific news, but it is just one part of the good news of the evening.  The Steve Lantner Quartet--with Allan Chase, Joe Morris, and Luther Gray--has been performing once per month during “the school year” for some time now.  Years.  In other words, the band is really time-tested.  The quality of the music is extraordinary.  But--perhaps even more impressive--the consistency of that quality gig after gig and set after set is quite remarkable.  I’m guessing that there are times when one of the musicians has an off night.  But it never shows.  Perhaps the other three are able to make up the difference.  Perhaps (and this makes more sense to me) someone shows up out of focus and finds himself in such an exhilarating musical context that his head gets snapped into focus.  Whatever it is, I’m hooked.  There was another positive development 11/27 at the Outpost.  The weather that night was a mess.  It wasn’t rain.  It wasn’t snow.  It wasn’t sleet.  I don’t know what it was, but I did not like it a lot.  Driving through that slosh to the gig I said to myself, “I guess I’ll be one of only two people in the audience.”  Wrong.  The place was more than half full of people who really wanted to be there.  Maybe the word is getting out about the Steve Lantner Quartet.  The people in the audience stayed for both sets.  And they stayed focussed...

On 11/11 Peter Brötzmann announced the end of his international tentet, commonly known as the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (because of the band’s birthplace in Chicago and the fact that the majority of band members initially were from that city).  The announcement was made at the conclusion of a nine-concert, eight-city European tour of what in recent years became known as the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet Plus 1 (because, for most of the past decade, the band has toured with eleven or more musicians).  Band members who performed at the final concert 11/11 in Strasbourg, France who in 1997 also were in the original Octet (which during that year became a tentet) include the leader and Michael Zerang, Ken Vandermark, Jeb Bishop, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Kent Kessler.  Since the beginning of the 21st century more than half the band members have not been from Chicago.  It became a more international ensemble, but the name Chicago Tentet stuck.  Other band members who performed at the last concert are Johannes Bauer, Joe McPhee, Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Per-Åke Holmlander.  After he was informed of Peter’s decision, Ken Vandermark said, “Despite this, I felt that the band played some great concerts on the tour and in this way it was at least good to ‘go out strong.’”  One cannot be anything but thankful that the ensemble prevailed for so long.  But the void created by the demise of the band is large...

Multiple-band gigs tend to be problematic.  And when there are time constraints, the problems become exaggerated.  That’s what happened 11/8 at Gallery 263.  First up was Ernst Karel hiding in the back of the gallery with his laptop.  I may have misunderstood him (why not, way back there?), but I got the impression that for the most part he was playing back stuff he composed in other cities during the past couple years.  Fine.  But, if that’s the case (or maybe even if it isn’t), why not show up and hand out some CDs of the music and leave?  In that way people such as myself could listen to the music using our own equipment in the comfort of our living rooms.  Don’t misunderstand.  I thought Ernst Karel’s music was quite fine, engaging.  But I can listen to that kind of thing at home all the time.  And do.  It is a waste of my time to listen--only--to that stuff when I show up to witness humans actually PERFORMING music.  To make matters worse--given the time constraints--the invisible laptop set was by far the longest one of the evening.  The result was that all subsequent music was curtailed.  No one explained what happened next, but the program listed what apparently would be two separate sets--Howard Martin & Jules Vasylenko as well as the Fausto Sierakowksi Duo.  As it turned out, the musicians performed as a quartet.  The relatively young (i.e., apparently under 30 years old) musicians showed influences from Bill Laswell, a variety of post-Ayler saxophonists, and so forth.  The fact that they have not yet abandoned those influences made much of the music of the second set predictable.  Nevertheless, the passion and focus of some of those musicians made me think that it would be exciting to discover where they might take their sounds five or ten years from now.  In the meantime, it could be instructive to follow their progress in the months to come.  The conclusion of the second set left a mere twenty minutes for the strongest music of the night, Kobold.  The group has had slight instrumental variations over the years.  The trio that performed 11/8 has been the group’s solid core for a couple decades.  And it showed.  For much of the short set Tom Plsek and Steve Norton wrestled while Laurence Cook “danced,” all as a remarkable unity of sound.  Too brief.  But too good to miss.  Laurence brought with him what one might call a “low-hat” cymbal set.  I never had seen exactly such a thing before (just another in an endless list of Cook surprises).  And, although it probably would not work in some contexts, it proved to be a quite satisfactory alternative to the conventional hi-hat in such an intimate, acoustically lively room...
Laurence Cook’s “Low Hat” setup used at Gallery 263 on November 8, 2012

The Sunday Boston Globe offered a depressing bit of news 11/25 for those with concern about culture in our city by presenting a front-page article, “Masterpieces on loan leave MFA walls lacking.”  Please do not misunderstand.  There is plenty of other depressing news in the paper, such as the fact that mass transit (surprise! surprise!) is offering less than terrific service in black Boston and an update about the local and international use of drones for surveillance and killing.  But jazz is one of several vital elements in a complete, functioning arts scene.  If you check the article by Sebastian Smee, you will discover that Malcolm Rogers has shipped out the quill, the best, the iconic, the you-name-it art of the anchor museum of Boston for the sake of raising money.  There is a list on page A10 of the Globe of just works recently shipped to two towns in Italy.  More than 25 “drool” works of art.  The article makes clear that, when you ship out the heart of your collection, there may be no reason--particularly given the entry fee--for locals or tourists to show up.  Don’t be surprised if Malcolm pulls an MTA.  By that I mean diminishing the services while increasing customer costs.  There is no question that Malcolm Rogers knows how to raise money.  He’s really good at it.  But maybe it is time for the MFA overseers to get creative.  How about starting with a two-headed museum including a Malcolm Rogers type to raise money and an artistic director who can see more than figurative art and shiny objects?  Let’s hope something at the top changes for the better... 
Update 3/17/13: 
On a recent few days in New York I spent much of my time museum-hopping.  One of the primary reasons for my visit was to catch Painted on 21st Street--Helen Frankenthaler from 1950 to 1959 at the Gagosian Gallery (the one on 21st Street).  Exhibits of Frankenthaler’s works exclusively are rare and my knowledge of her work is based primarily on what she produced during the last thirty-five years of her life.  So I was intrigued, and the exhibit is a terrific look at a variety of developments during her first important years as an artist.  Although Dawn after the Storm (1957) is not my favorite work from the exhibit, it attracted my attention more than the others.  The reason: the oil and alkyd work is on loan to the exhibit from the MFA.  In other words, I had to go to New York to see a painting that should be celebrated on a wall in our Huntington Avenue museum.  As I left the Gagosian and strolled along the High Line, I thought about the experience of the MFA painting in the exhibit and all those other paintings on loan.  I did not go to New York to see Dawn after the Storm.  I did not know it would be there.  But what if I did?  Traveling to New York to see a single painting that should be on a wall of the MFA is an expensive proposition.  And what if I wanted to see the entire hoard of “rented” MFA paintings scattered around the world?  How much would that cost?  Then I thought of the fact that the MFA overcharges (compared to better museums in New York, Chicago, and DC) people NOT to see major works in its collection that are on the road...

The Luther Gray Trio knocked me on my can 11/30 at the Lily Pad.  And based on reactions from musicians and fans in the audience, I was not alone.  I’m not sure where to begin discussing this trio.  But perhaps an exchange I had with Luther after the set will be meaningful.  I said to him joyously at one point, “These reed players are so different.”  His response was, “But they work so well together.”  Yes.  Right on both counts.  Part of the success of it all is the charts, what there is of them.  These spare missals/missiles offer just enough nutrition to give the front line improvisors inspiration to chew on and pursue without hemming them in with architectural structures.  They take on that challenge and revel in it.   It’s an ensemble that brings to mind a few other small sax-drum ensembles--Sound in Action (a trio of two percussionists and reeds), the duo of Peter Brötzmann and Walter Perkins, and a broad range of music between.  But it is none of those.  Mostly because of the strong personal stamp of Luther Gray, Allan Chase, and Jim Hobbs...

Quick Verse--Pandelis Karayorgis, Forbes Graham, Aaron Darrell, and Curt Newton--reminds me of the Mark Twain comment about New England weather.  In other words, if you don’t like where the music is going, wait a minute.  There is everything from slow-moving introspective “think pieces” to unbridled bebop to everywhere between and beyond.  But diversity of material is just one of the attractions offered by this group.  Each musician brings a different improvisational perspective to the music that seems to feed both ensemble support and subsequent improvisational directions.  Aaron is young and that means we observers are lucky enough to witness the maturation process in the moment.  Both Forbes and Curt are playing the best music of their lives.  The trumpeter took a huge qualitative leap less than two years ago, and the same thing happened to Curt about a half dozen years ago.  All of that occurred after both musicians had developed solid long-term reputations.  Today they keep building, pushing, surprising.  And Pandelis?  He’s pretty good, too.  Obviously that’s an understatement.  He remains one of the most important jazz pianists of his generation and one of the most important Boston-based jazz pianists of all time.  Pretty good.  He’s also a great Monk fan.  Because of that fact I became intrigued with the last piece of the night, an Aaron Darrell composition.  The work featured a vamp that sounds an awful lot like the repeated support line used in the Hall Overton-Thelonious Monk big band arrangement of “Friday the 13th” found on the original Town Hall concert recording.  I could not help but wonder whether or not Pandelis would refrain from jumping into the Monk melody during his solo.  Not even a trace of the tune.  Nice discipline.  Nice focus.  Nice gig...

While doing some research recently I had the opportunity to open John Chilton’s Jazz Nursery (1980, ISBN 0 950 1290 2 X) once again.  Chilton has proved to be one of the truly important jazz historians, and most jazz fans are at least familiar with his classic, Who’s Who of Jazz.  But even avid readers may not be aware of the unfortunately obscure Jazz Nursery.  The book is the result of his research into the Jenkins Orphanage of Charleston, South Carolina and the seminal school band, the Jenkins Orphanage Band.  The band was one of the most important school bands during the first half of the twentieth century (and even earlier).  The impact of the music training program there was particularly important for professional jazz bands from the 1920s through the 1950s.  The school is best known for the training of extraordinary trumpet players, such as giants Jabbo Smith and Gus Aitken, but all musicians received top-notch training.  Skimming the pages I came across four Jenkins Orphanage Band alumni with strong Boston links:


Drummer Tommy Benford was ubiquitous in Boston clubs beginning in the late 1940s and for about a decade, performing with Jimmy Archey, Dick Wellstood, Bob Wilbur, and others.  He lived in Dorchester during the 1950s.

Herbert Wright was one of the finest percussionists in New York during the first decades of the twentieth century.  He was a featured performer with James Reese Europe’s bands and in fact is best known today as the man who killed Europe in Boston.  After paying his debt to society, Wright settled in Boston where he became the first drum teacher of a neighborhood youngster named Roy Haynes.

If Wright was prone to hot-headedness, he had nothing on Jabbo Jenkins, one of the finest trumpet players in the history of jazz in Boston.  Jenkins was as well known for his off-the-wall (and some times dangerous) behavior as he was for his prodigious trumpet feats.  Hearing of Jenkins’ reputation on the trumpet, Duke Ellington showed up at a Boston speakeasy to catch him perform.  According to pianist Hi Diggs, Duke Ellington departed saying, "I don't want no part of that guy," after witnessing Jenkins get in an argument with the bass player and chase the bassist down the street with a knife.  This event preceded a supposedly similar event involving Charles Mingus more than a decade later.

Speaking of Duke Ellington, high note specialist William “Cat” Anderson was a Jenkins alumnus who got his music together in Boston, particularly with Sabby Lewis.  Later he developed a reputation with Lionel Hampton and eventually Ellington.


 
October 2012
There was a Boston-Chicago trio connection taking place 10/14 during a single set of music at the Outpost.  As some readers know, Curt Newton has Chicago roots and family members remain there.  Pandelis has many musician friends in Chicago and has visited there to perform with greater frequency in recent years.  And so there was a happy meeting when Chicago-based bassist Josh Abrams showed up to take on the third corner of the triangle.  Most of the composed works performed were written by Pandelis and Josh.  There also was a fine “Heaven” (Ellington).  Through it all Curt found just the right part of the kit and pattern to employ.  Always.  One of the aspects of Josh’s performance that I got a kick out of was his old-school upright bass setup.  I can’t think of any under-50 bass players in the Boston area who achieve that BIG woody sound of the mic over the f-hole with no pickup.  Very interesting twist.  And, of course, there was Pandelis.  I think it was Josh who suggested that they play some Monk.  I broke out laughing with joy and said to a nearby friend, “Pandelis has Monk for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  This is going to be fun.”  And it was.  Pandelis tore into the tune and practically tore apart the piano with torrents of notes, forearm tonal clusters, the kitchen sink.  You name it.  It’s the kind of breathtaking performance one wishes that someone had caught on video and then posted it.  Just so other people everywhere could have been knocked out of their chairs also...

During the past fifteen years in particular--due to a great extent to the efforts of such Bostonians as Charlie Kohlhase and Garrison Fewell--John Tchicai became a regular visitor to the Boston area.  And so there is a sense that John Tchicai was part of the Boston family of musicians as we think of him, an extraordinary man who also is among the giants of post-Ayler jazz.  He died 10/7 in Perpignan, France as a result of damage due to a brain hemorrhage he suffered in June.  If you are reading these words, you probably already know the importance of his contributions to the music.  If you need a reminder, Ben Ratliff’s obituary of John Tchicai
is as good as any place to start.  For myself, I am fortunate to have memories of some of his performances.  But even more impressive to me was his open-hearted nature, his generosity of spirit during any of our conversations.  For me he remains the very definition of civilized man...

The Melissa Kassel & Tom Zicarelli Group started almost on time (a significant improvement) 10/4 with hand-in-glove regulars Melissa, Tom, and Phil Grenadier bolstered by Brooke Sofferman (becoming comfortable in the role and offering deft, subtle inspiration for all) and Sean Farias.  I have been of the opinion that this ensemble is one of the most difficult bands in town to sit-in with for the first time.  If you’re not listening carefully, it could pass for a typical jazz vocalist-with-trio-support gig.  Yawn.  But, of course, it’s anything but that.  The level of communication and free-wheeling but subtle nature of the improvisation/support tends to mask just how in-your-face and difficult this music is.  So it was interesting to see how the young but well experienced bassist Sean Farias dealt with it all.  Wisely he tip-toed into the fray.  Soon he was well on his way into the group, eventually taking appropriately off-the-wall solos.  Harvey Diamond has been a first-call pianist since long before Sean was born.  He sat in and replaced Tom at the piano for the last few pieces of the second set, allowing Tom to devote more time to the tenor sax.  At one point in the closing minutes of the evening, Tom offered a brief reference to the classic Kind of Blue album with alert band mates diving in (and out) with him.  As fans of the quartet know, Bruno Råberg for years has been a major contributor to the group.  He is recovering from a shoulder injury, weathering some painful therapy.  We look forward to his recovery and continued significant contributions to the Boston jazz scene...

As a notice on the Acton Jazz Café web site stated, “On October 1, 2012 we packed up the whole operation and moved on up the road, just 1 mile west to 103 Nagog Park, in the shopping mall opposite the beautiful Nagog Pond. Yes, it's true!”  The whole thing for the past couple months has taken place as if it were some sort of state secret.  And finally club operator Gwenn Vivian let the secret out.  Initially at least, even on 10/1, the new location remained something of a secret with no Acton Jazz Café sign on the building to let you know which location in the strip mall off Rtes. 2A and 119 is the home to jazz and food.  The last time I checked, the web site has a photo of Nagog Pond but no photo of the Acton Jazz Café itself.  If you show up and can’t find the club, maybe at least the fishing is good...

When is a trio not a trio?  When two band members have a conflicting gig or otherwise bail out it becomes an uno.  And so it was 10/17 at the Outpost when Charlie Kohlhase brought his soprano sax, tenor sax, and baritone sax to the Outpost to stand alone and offer (by his reckoning) only his third solo performance ever.  Lucky us.  My reaction in no way is intended to impugn the validity of trios, septets, and other musical combinations.  But we would have missed all his wonderful solo music if the other people had been there to clutter things up.  Do I exaggerate?  No.  It is more than a play on words to suggest that--for both audience and performer--a solo horn gig is a unique jazz experience.  For example, how nice it was once again to hear saxophones in the still air, right down to the inside of the bell of each horn--played by someone who really knows how to make that sound mean something.  In general there is something remarkable about witnessing a person standing at the abyss with a single reed implement and carrying us to the footing of another shore.  And beautifully.  There were standards and originals, but the music and the commentary focussed on the meaning of the life of John Tchicai.  The shock of the loss of someone who took such good care of his body.  Charlie’s first encounters with John.  The man’s boundless generosity.  The joy of witnessing Michael Snow’s New York Eye and Ear Control.  And on and on in words and music.  How lucky we are to know how painful the loss is...

Having had constructive educational relations with Ran Blake for more than forty years, the New England Conservatory quite appropriately decided to bestow upon the renowned pianist/educator the school’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  On October 27.  Saturday.  At 10 a.m.  What?  Yes, on a weekend at ten o’clock in the morning.  Were they assuming that no one outside the walls of NEC (or Boston for that matter) might want to attend the event?  But it gets worse.  Two days later (before the hurricane arrived) Ran Blake was scheduled to co-curate another installment of his popular multimedia Noir evening, Brando Noir, at 8 p.m. in Jordan Hall.  Would it have been so unwieldy to kick off the 10/29 event with the award presentation, thus combining the presentation with on-the-spot evidence as to why he deserves such an award?  I guess I’m just too far removed from these things to understand what makes academic sense...

One of the great secrets about jazz is that a vast majority of musicians who pursue jazz or other improvised music are sonically boring, mostly because they simply are no good at it.  Today we have come to expect mainstream jazz, for example, to be boring.  Most swing musicians in Benny Goodman’s day were no good at it.  One of the main reasons trad and swing fans hated bebop is that the huge numbers of people trying to emulate Bird and Dizzy were so bad at it.  The same is true with today’s new music.  Most of the folks trying to push the envelope are lost in the shadows of Paul Lovens, David Stakenäs, Joe McPhee, and Ab Baars (i.e., musicians among those who can do it).  The slow-moving, low-volume, minimalist improvised music is by far the most problematic in that regard.  If 85% of musicians pursuing jazz or other improvised music are really bad at it, then that figure jumps to greater than 96% for people taking on low-volume, minimalist improvised music.  The extraordinary quantity of boredom is somewhat puzzling.  I’ve thought about it a bit over the years and have--tentatively--come to the conclusion that there are two primary causes for the problem.  One cause is the fact that so many of those musicians are recreationalists (Steve Lacy’s term) who perceive that form of music as a social activity.  In other words, the “hang” is as important as the music.  The other equally (more?) important reason is the perception of most practitioners as to what is taking place during a performance.  The attitude is an extreme extrapolation of the misconception many mainstream  musicians have about post-Ayler jazz in general: “Anybody can do it.  Just play whatever you feel like.”  The perspective of the typical minimalist improvisor is all she/he has to do is mostly keep quiet and occasionally play a quiet long tone, and everything will be fine.  Most people who attempt to perform the music of Morton Feldman suffer from a related but different problem.  And the problem within the improvisational community is self-generating as countless like-blinded people get together to jam.  What’s a music fan or would-be musician to do?  One answer showed up at Third Life Studio 10/13 for a good-sized, attentive audience.  We Bostonians are fortunate in that for more than a decade we have had somewhat regular access to the two best slow-moving, low-volume, minimalist (SMLM?) improvising ensembles in the northeast quadrant of the U.S., undr and the BSC.  Perhaps the fact that all the members of undr also are members of Bhob Rainey’s BSC has something to do with the consistent quality of both groups.  It was the BSC--Bhob Rainey, Mike Bullock, James Coleman, Chris Cooper, Greg Kelley, Vic Rawlings, and Liz Tonne--that showed up 10/13 to offer a superb demonstration of just how good the music can be.  Yes, each musician spent a good deal of time in silence, but the noise that each person created was equally as important as the silence.  It was as if the music was coming right up from the floor of the room.  At the time of the performance the ensemble had just completed its second rehearsal for a presentation of composed music of John Cage in Philadelphia.  When the subject of the Cage performance came up, a couple Cage-Cambridge links came to mind.  The first is a video document of John Cage performing 4’33” next to Out Of Town News in Harvard Square.  Recalling the video segment made me think of the fact that, if the BSC had presented their 10/13 performance at that Harvard Square location, almost all the sounds they created would have been buried by the pedestrian and motorized traffic.  We would have witnessed the BSC as pantomime.  In other words, recalling John Cage’s performance in Harvard Square underlines the important distinction between the ambient sound at the heart of 4’33” and the up-from-the-silence music of the BSC.  The second Cage-Cambridge link has to do with one of the most well-known stories about John Cage, his experience in one of Harvard’s anechoic chambers in 1952 (see Revill’s The Roaring Silence, ISBN 1-55970-166-8, among several sources).  Again, Cage’s epiphany in the anechoic chamber is not exactly what I would have in mind for the BSC.  But it seems that something rather remarkable might happen as one tried to listen to a BSC performance in which the sounds of the various musicians apparently materialized from the sound of the audience’s own heartbeat.  Of course, nothing quite like that happened 10/13 at Third Life Studio.  But it was close.  Remarkably close...

What a privilege it is to witness the music of the Beyond Biology Band, as I did 10/25 at Ryles.  If you can manage to get a seat in the first few rows of tables at Ryles and the Beyond Biology Band--Jacob William, Jim Hobbs, Steve Lantner, and Luther Gray--is performing, you are in for quite a ride.  These guys are among a handful of the best in town (or any town).  Yes, I’d be happy to put them on stage playing off any of the best combos in the world.  Wouldn’t that be a treat?  With all the amazing post-Ayler talent in this town, we could bring in three or four of the best groups from Europe and the rest of the U.S., mix them in with our local groups for a three or four day festival, and have one heck of a quality party.  Let’s sign up the Beyond Biology Band first.  OK, who’s got a few thousand bucks for a great cause?  I guess it would do no good to knock on Amanda Palmer’s door…

Consider the Bee Hive.  Try to remember the last ten times you were there.  On how many of those occasions were you able to watch the musicians perform?  Once?  I know it’s all about selling food and drink, but the place does present several problems for serious jazz fans.  No doubt the greatest obstacle to enjoying the music is that 90% (?) of the seats do not have decent line of sight to the stage.  And now we hear that the folks who own the Bee Hive plan to open a jazz venue on Brattle Street in Harvard Square.  That fact brings to mind the “good old days” when a fan could catch great jazz at Jonathan Swifts.  Let’s hope this new home to jazz in Harvard Square makes the stage the central (i.e., visible) attraction so that fans can at least see the band over the crowd noise...

Before the gig started 10/24 at the Outpost Forbes Graham was telling everyone in attendance that Silas Chase Graham--son of Lillian and Forbes--was ten days old.  Actually (Forbes corrected himself) Silas would not be ten days old until sometime around the beginning of the second set.  As it turned out, that moment occurred almost exactly at the first note of the second set.  The celebratory moment affected fans and musicians.  As one might expect, both sets of music were full of positive energy and ear-grabbing music.  One of the significant aspects of the evening is that (in a certain sense) Forbes was the “outsider” on the gig, and what took place was contextually noteworthy.  The New Language Collaborative--Eric Zinman, Glynis Lomon, and Syd Smart--have been working together for decades, processing and re-inventing the influences of  Cecil Taylor at Antioch College and Bill Dixon at Bennington College.  Even though Forbes is a long-time friend of people in the band, by now everything the trio members do on a gig is telepathic.  For example, even former Bennington musicians joining them on gigs has not always been sonically convincing.  But everyone 10/24 was open to possibilities and personalities.  Off the stand Syd discussed a wide range of musical topics--everything from helping Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart with his conga playing to being too young to go to gigs in his native Cleveland on which his brother and Albert Ayler would perform.  Syd was energized by the past and the moment, playing off the body language of the other musicians as much as the sounds around him.  The New Language Collaborative music door was wide open, and the four of them really played.  The music went to the heart and lifted all of us off our seats.  What was most eye-and-ear-catching is that Forbes was not an outsider.  He played as if he had been part of the New Language Collaborative Quartet all along.  It was an evening of wonderful birth and rebirth...

Given that mediocre and otherwise boring female singers get so much attention in the press, one might wonder whether or not Dominique Eade decided to use her 10/11 faculty performance at Jordan Hall to put the would-bes in their place.  I suspect that no such thought entered her mind.  However, considering the range of material and talent exhibited throughout the evening, female vocalists in that night’s audience probably were signing up for courses in microbiology, physics, or some other less daunting profession on the following morning.  Even before the concert, Dominique did things right, particularly in selecting the top drawer musicians--John Lockwood, Brad Shepik, Joe Berkovitz, Tim Ray, and Allan Chase--to work with her.  Anyone watching could see that the selection was based on not merely superb musicianship but also strong personal rapport.  You could tell that everyone onstage knew the only surprises that would occur would be the best improvisatory ones.  For example, as Dominique mentioned at one point, she has been performing with John Lockwood with some frequency since she arrived in Boston in the 1970s.  That’s a heck of a bass player and a lot of mutual chemistry.  I mentioned range.  She opened with a Hildegard von Bingen work and took the music to an even higher level with the vocalist’s own “Eta Carinae (Prelude).”  By the sound of things, the piece indeed was inspired by a luminous stellar system.  She then took her own combination of melody and lyrics, “Companion,” into a wordless vocal version of Conlon Nancarrow’s “Study for Player Piano No. 6.”  And all of that was merely the introduction to the evening.  Highlights of the first half of the performance included a verse-only “Tea for Two” segue into Monk’s “Skippy” with Brad Shepik and the night club classic, “The Tender Trap,” reprised but never stale in a simpatico duet with John Lockwood.  The second set of the evening featured Eade compositions presented with telepathic accompaniment by Joe Berkovitz and a trio pursuing chestnuts and Eade originals with fireworks from Tim Ray and solos and second voicings from husband Allan Chase.  Her work with Allan Chase made one long for another of those too-rare Eade-Chase duo evenings.  But the closing trio was just one event during an evening that appropriately concluded with a standing ovation.  No encore.  The lesson was complete...

September 2012
The seventeenth Brazilian Independence Day Festival in Massachusetts took place officially in the Boston area on 9/6-9 this year.  In 2012 (as in the case of the last couple years) Framingham kicked off the event.  As some readers know, Framingham has the largest Brazilian population in Massachusetts.  And so master percussionist Marcus Santos (who was on last year’s gig at the same location) brought his trio--with vocalist Barbara Freitas and guitarist Tom Rohde--to the Costin Room of the Framingham Public Library to expose non-Brazilians to the music and cause local folks with Brazilian roots to dance and parade.  It is the first time I’ve caught Freitas who has boundless talent.  Ironically, the material from Brazil best known internationally--the bossa nova book and earlier sambas--comprised her weakest, most mechanical moments.  In the material from the1980s onward she soared with confidence, relaxed.  She is a young talent--already with sufficient vocal ability and charismatic stage presence--who with time will absorb convincingly the works of Jobim, Ben, Lobo, and Bonfa.  Rohde, a long-time collaborator with Santos, knows the material cold.  He supports and solos with conviction and wonderful effect.  The bad news is that he’s leaving the Boston area.  But for that time in the Costin Room all we could do was celebrate...

The Boston Phoenix and Stuff magazine merged into a weekly slick-covered publication 9/21.  At some point they’ll work out who they are.  But, for now, it may be useful to point out a couple deficiencies.  I opened it and made a mistake.  I skimmed through it, trying to get a sense of what it is trying to do and how it is organized.  It may have a purpose and may in fact reveal some sort of organization.  But a variety of forms of obfuscation get in the way.  In effect, the magazine is a blur.  As you work your way through the pages, there is no way to know what you are reading.  Coverage of the Fall Preview for so-called classical music looks no different from a story (or ad) about “exciting” new drink concoctions.  But let’s move on to jazz.  Can one look at this latest incarnation of the Phoenix with the burden of Stuff fluff (e.g., can you see a political writer such as Harvey Silvergate wringing his hands over the latest developments in couture or the latest “wave” in upscale restaurants?) and not believe that this weekly is going down the same money-at-all-costs path taken by WGBH-FM?  I know this is an online piece of journalism, but I grew up in the realm of paper/hard copy journalism.  I studied journalism in high school, was a copyboy at the Providence Journal, and initially majored in journalism in college.  So I know what “below the fold” means.  For those of you who do not have a subscription to Columbia Journalism Review or AJR, I should explain that when you look at your copy of the New York Times or USA Today, you will notice that those newspapers are folded.  When you pick up the paper and unfold it, you will notice that the top stories are presented above the fold.  The less important stories (even though they are front-page material), appear below the fold.  And that carries throughout the rest of the paper.  So, for example, the stories above the fold on page 15 are deemed more significant by the editorial staff than the stories below the fold on that page.  And so on.  There are other relevant concepts, such as the fact that the odd-numbered pages (the right-hand pages) are more important (i.e., more eye-catching) than the even-numbered pages.  And so we come to the jazz coverage in the new Phoenix.  Unless you have been sleeping for the past five years, you have noticed that Jon Garelick’s writings about jazz have been pummeled by the Phoenix editors.  Rare are the occurrences of his Giant Steps columns.  And when is the last time you saw a review of a jazz recording in Off the record?  1957?  Yes, I exaggerate--slightly.  But consider the “fold.”  In the gala merger issue Jon Garelick took on the task of writing about the best upcoming jazz performances of the fall season.  A worthwhile pursuit.  Fall Jazz by Jon Garelick is published below the fold.  I mean really below the fold.  If you look carefully at page 60 (a left-hand page), you will notice barely a 1 ½-inch scroll across the very bottom of the page.  The scroll continues and concludes across the bottom of the next left-hand page.  That narrow strip of information is the magazine’s feature article on the highlights of autumn jazz in Boston.  While Jon Garelick’s words still have a pulse, I take this opportunity to thank him for a job well done.  Maybe I’m just an old crank, but I still admire the weight of the printed word.  I still cherish and read books (those things that have paper pages that you turn as you read).  When I walked away from my monthly column at Cadence magazine, I did not do so with enthusiasm.  And now we see the dark at the end of the tunnel for the last Boston-based jazz journalist to be published in a newspaper or magazine locally on a regular basis.  It is not a happy time for the birthplace of jazz journalism...
Update 3/16/13:
The 3/15 issue of the Boston Phoenix was the last one.  It happened without public warning and for many people it was a shock.  I can’t imagine anyone wanting a magazine to fold (except on political grounds).  But its passing is not as troubling to me as it would have been when the publication apparently was committed to substantive content.  My comments in September 2012 about the first “slick” issue of the magazine held up pretty much for the few months until its demise.  There was some layout improvement, but, if anything, the content deteriorated.  Most of the arts/culture articles appeared infrequently or in apparently truncated form.  For the most part, the magazine told its readers to go to the Phoenix web site for substantive writing.  In other words, avoid the tangible, real magazine if you want substance.  Yes, there was fairly solid coverage of pop music and it never really abandoned provocative political coverage.  But the bulk of the space was devoted to fashion, eating, gossip, assorted “hip” ephemera, and drinking.  It got so bad that I found some articles in the Improper Bostonian to be more thoughtful than those in the Phoenix.  And--no--the Improper Bostonian has not been improving.  Somewhat ironically, at pbs.org former Phoenix writer Dan Kennedy mourns the loss of the magazine and blames the demise--not on the spiritually and intellectually empty content--but on the staff’s inability to attract advertisers.  To put Mr. Kennedy’s writing in context, someone presumably without a smirk inserted an image of the cover of the final issue next to Kennedy’s opinion piece.  The cover story is a feature about trends in bars (and that’s not even the St. Paddy’s Day feature).  I’ll bet Jon Garelick could have used a whole page to make some thoughtful comments about jazz.  But in that issue there are no articles by him or by the magazine’s Pulitzer Prize winning western classical music critic either.  Instead, on page 14 there is a feature that makes fun of “smooth jazz” (a use of space somewhat comparable to an article on why eating raw sewage is not good for you).  I’m not making this stuff up.  On the other hand, there are reviews of local art, dance, and theater in the last issue, but most of that space consists not of words (i.e., commentary) but of photos.  I like photos, but why not keep the photos and allocate more space to words?  Not including the front and back covers, the magazine is 72 pages long.  The final issue devotes a dozen pages to food, drink, “style,” and partying.  I probably could survive if a couple of those pages had been turned over to the arts.  I find it difficult to believe that I’m the only reader in Boston who has an aversion to fluff.  If the Phoenix had pursued consistently a wide range of arts and cultural subjects in some depth, would the publication had survived?  I don’t know.  There are just too many ways in which any business can fail.  One cannot point to a single cause for success or failure.  But, if the editorial policy of the Phoenix were closer to what it was a couple decades ago, at least there would be substantial cause for mourning...                           

I caught the second of the two days of improvised music at Third Life Studio 9/22.  The evening opened with the good news that Lou Cohen is well on his way to recovery.  That was followed by one of the best OpenSound events during the past year.  Some of the highlights include a wonderful connection between moving human forms (Betty Wang and Joe Burgio) and improvising musicians, the best Unfinished Quartet performance I’ve ever witnessed, and James Coleman soaring above three partners.  Afterwards I tried to talk James into presenting a solo gig sometime.  Who knows?  We can hope.  At any rate, the evening was so fine, I list here all the folks who performed: The Unfinished Quartet (Jeff Platz, Junko Fujiwara, Kit Demos, and Luther Gray), Improvising Quartet (James Coleman, Morgan Evans-Weiler, Michael Rosenstein, and Howard Martin), bodydrama (Joe Burgio, Betty Wang, Matt Samolis, Walter Wright, Forbes Graham, and Steve Norton), and the GEJC Quartet (Garrison Fewell, Eric Hofbauer, John Voigt, and Curt Newton)...

At Bullfinchs in Sudbury 9/9 Paul Broadnax and Peter Kontrimas told us all about the core of jazz from the 1930s through the 1950s as only they can.  Re-reading that sentence I find myself thinking about what it means--beyond the obvious.  Yes, what they do is inimitable.  But it is even more jolting than that.  If they were doing what they do today in--for example--1960 (think time travel), what they would do in 1960 still would have their remarkable personal stamp in a world of thousands of musicians who knew “Day Dream” and “Pennies from Heaven” first hand.  Today, when thousands of jazz musicians pretend that they know “Day Dream” and “Pennies from Heaven” (but don’t) but perform them anyway, the idea of authentic and inimitable is almost overkill.  Just hearing such material performed by almost anyone without wincing is a major event these days.  Some of those terrible performances even are praised in the glossy-covered jazz magazines.  I’m tempted to suggest that such pianists, singers, or bassists show up to a Paul Broadnax-Peter Kontrimas gig to pay homage and shut up and listen and learn.  But such a suggestion would be futile.  A person can’t show up to a Paul Broadnax-Peter Kontrimas gig and expect to absorb the Depression, World War Two, Mort Sahl, Ernie Kovacs, the Pepsi-Cola jingle quote from Dizzy Gillespie, kids sitting in the auditorium to witness that launch of Alan Shepard sitting on top of a Roman candle, and on and on--and bring it all back to the next sing-time swing-time jazz gig.  So that fact means the pretending youngsters can stop pretending and follow in the footsteps of Johnny Hodges and Dizzy Gillespie (i.e., create NEW music), and then we can have the best of both generations--authentic mainstream (e.g., Paul Broadnax and Peter Kontrimas) and authentic new music (i.e., the non-pretending youngsters).  Win win...

I finally got myself a copy of Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises (Pendragon Press, ISBN 978-0-918728-20-3).  Part of the problem in my delayed purchase is that Barclay Brown did not have his English translation published until 1986.  By that time I had taken for granted that the book would not be translated in my lifetime.  Some readers may be scratching their heads, wondering why a book about the ideas and activities of Russolo, F.T. Marinetti, and other Futurists is relevant to a web site devoted to jazz and other improvised music.  The aesthetics, writings, and activities documented in the English language publication of The Art of Noises are not merely relevant to Dada, the circle of John Cage, Fluxus, and certain developments in the realm of composed music today.  I propose that Brown’s “Introduction” and the translated essays potentially are of great interest--and even informative relevance--to anyone who is a microtonal composer, improvisor, or researcher or an electronics-oriented composer or improvisor or any person focussed on the world of musique concrète or sound in general.  That’s a lot of musicians and fans.  The writing style of Brown’s “Introduction” is a bit clunky and--at least initially--is slow reading.  But it gets better (or maybe I made the appropriate processing adjustment).  In any event, I recommend that any reader start with the “Introduction.”  It provides useful context for the essays by Russolo.  I must warn you, however, that if you have a favorite innovation you associate with some post-Futurist composer, you may discover it was conceived or even executed by one of the Futurists years before the end of World War One...

When I arrived at Third Life Studio I thought about how fine Joe Burgio’s bodydrama ensemble had melded human motion and improvised music at the same location less than a week earlier.  And here I was at a dance event, the 9/28 episode of the Third Life Studio Choreographer series.  All six dance performances were accompanied by music/sounds of some kind, and the quality of dance in general was better than I have experienced on occasion at much more celebrated venues.  The first three of the six were particularly impressive.  The third of those performances featured dancers Joan Green and Bonita Weisman with improvised music icon Glynis Lomon offering sounds via cello, aquasonic (a term that sounds more like an adjective than a noun), and voice.  It was an interesting mix of performers.  Joan Green had performed somewhat recently with Glynis and years before regularly with Bonita Weisman (a long-time friend).  But Bonita Weisman and the cellist met for the first time during rehearsal.  The result was a fine mixture of comfortable connections, a reunion, and personal discovery.  Music fans will be happy to know that Glynis was in top form, selecting the right sound source for any given moment of motion.  In addition--for the first time in my experience as a Glynis Lomon fan--there was a sequence in which spontaneously the bowing on the cello became a participant in the dance.  Encore...

I’m not a fan of double bills (or triple or quadruple or infinituple), but I could not resist two bands of such pedigree on the same night. First up was a band of all-stars (in a world in which substance mattered more than sequins)--the Eric Hofbauer Quartet with Pandelis Karayorgis, Jacob William, and Luther Gray.  This outfit does not always succeed, but not because of the typical “jazz” reasons (i.e., immaturity, incompetence, ennui).  No, in those rare moments on 9/12 at Johnny D’s when the music did not work it was because the musicians took chances--not cliché-driven “hip” chances, but the real ear/soul stretching chances.  The music came from outside the band (e.g., Dolphy’s “245”) but mostly from Messrs. Hofbauer and Karayorgis.  Wherever the music came from and wherever it went, one could not ask for four more capable--and superbly idiosyncratic--musicians to take up the journey.  All of them are technicians at the highest level and compelling improvisors.  If that weren’t enough, they asked Jim Hobbs to join them for the last number.  Jim was in great form, soaring with the quartet and giving a preview of the second set with music provided by the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet.  Both groups are popular, and a nice house was present and paying attention.  The sextet provided an interesting challenge for Taylor because, although he could be comfortable with his regular Connecticut compatriots (Ken Filiano, Mary Halvorson, and Tomas Fujiwara) he added two respected Bostonians (Jim Hobbs and Bill Lowe) to the mix.  As connected as Taylor is to both gentlemen, he does not work and record with them as he does with his Middletown-centric pals.  Add to that challenge the rehearsal time (what there was of it).  And so Taylor played it safe, opening with an announcement that suggested the band would just play and have fun (jam?).   Of course, it was nothing of the kind.  Apparently he had fed everybody digestible if challenging snippets of charts (my assumption) to make the arrangement part of each piece work.  Eventually things moved to a closing blues.  Throughout it all everyone made the music work, whether it was charts or improvisations.  Fine.  But here’s the perhaps unexpected part: Taylor, Bill, and Jim kicked butt.  That’s not a slam at anyone else.  Everyone on the bandstand was impressive, but those three guys played as if it were their last gig.  You’d expect Taylor to be impressive.  He had a track record before he left Boston and he is the band leader.  So I guess it is the Lowe-Hobbs tandem that is the most frightening here.  Simply put, Bill played some of the best trombone I’ve heard from him--ever.  Jim Hobbs spent the evening showing us why jazz musicians everywhere are enamored of him.  Brilliant stuff.  The mortals didn’t have a chance...


August 2012
This month I spent a large portion of my days in places outside Boston.  As a result, I caught only two gigs in the Boston area and one series of gigs outside Massachusetts.  Nevertheless, there were several music/arts events other than jazz performances that are noteworthy.  You may find them of interest.  I look forward to catching my usual dose of sonics in September...

Daniel Carter began the set 8/24 at the Lily Pad with his trumpet.  He was one of two out-of-town guests with the Jeff Platz Free Music Now Collective.  Carter played well on that horn, but he spent most of the single-set performance on a variety of reeds, switching first to tenor sax, the horn I’ve always felt he is most comfortable with.  And so, in a music full of surprises, it was a pleasant surprise on this occasion to witness his alto sax work as even more convincing than that of his tenor sax.  The terms comfortable and convincing certainly apply to Jeff’s guitar output 8/24.  As organizer and leader of the Free Music Now Collective series at the Lily Pad, Jeff undoubtedly takes on many chores and juggles a variety of stresses.  I have noticed on some such gigs--invariably with a shifting set of personnel--Jeff using his guitar to prod developments, search for connections, and even throw sonic curve balls to generate musical journeys.  Difficult times some times.  Not so on this gig.  Everyone--Jeff, John Voigt, Kit Demos, Daniel Carter, Scott Getchell, and Billy Elgart--that Friday night was on the same page, and the book was on fire.  The context was so solid that Jeff did not seem to concern himself with on-the-spot housekeeping.  He came out dancing, whether it was comping, measured silences, or in-your-face messages from his fingers.  And who was younger or more over-the-top than the senior statesman, John Voigt?  John continues to grow and challenge himself and all of us with his timing, line selection, and technique--always to brilliant purpose.  And picking up on John’s work and cutting out his own adventures, Kit continues to help define the future of the acoustic bass (and electronics) with technique and substance.  Hearing them build off each other’s contributions makes one wish that John and Kit would put on an evening of duo conversations.  And then there is the--on most gigs--sonically laconic Scott Getchell on trumpet showing his ebullient side.  His lines flowed effortlessly, filling gaps, answering questions, stirring the pot.  Even his silences were compelling.  Through it all--silent or loquacious--he was rocking side to side to the sonic joy.  Unleashed.  The other out-of-town guest was former Bostonian Billy Elgart, an extraordinary percussionist whom--because of gremlin-driven circumstances--I had not witnessed in performance in more than a quarter century.  I had been blown away back then.  So I was anxious to catch him on this visit.  He did not disappoint.  If anything, he was the glue that held the wonderful sonic party together.  His peripatetic style of percussion deceives with surface impressions.  With lesser musicians style becomes a trap of limitation.  But style never limits a master.  The masters get the job done no matter where the music goes.  And so the holes were filled, the soloists were pushed, the ensemble was lifted off the floor, and the engine burned when needed.  How delightful to witness a truly unique Mr. Fixit in action.  I hope I don’t have to wait another quarter century... 

Maybe you’ve seen it already.  There certainly are plenty of articles floating around about the research.  And the blogs have been going crazy.  What a lot of people involved in the discussion overlook is that--since the beginning of the twentieth century at least--adults have been complaining about “noisy” popular music.  And throughout those many decades there was much validity to the complaints.  The “noise” manifest itself primarily in two ways and almost always simultaneously: dissonance and sound level.  Each new development in new music involved “less pretty” sounds and objectively or subjectively greater sound volume.  It was true when Louis and his buddies buried the waltz and then when the big bands stretched the harmonics and blew out the walls of the dance halls (and two-beat jazz along with those walls) followed by Parker and Gillespie powering their “Chinese music” (said by Mr. Armstrong) past swing music.  And today, of course, the typical jazz fan longs for the digestible music of the beboppers and cringes at any encounter with Messrs. Ayler, Brötzmann, or their peers and musical offspring.  Not surprisingly the evolution of pop music during the past six decades has taken a similar track with Bill Haley horrifying jazz fans (only to be out-noised by subsequent pop bands).  And here we are with scientific research telling us that the latest pop music isn’t as good as the rock music of twenty-five years ago.  For one bit of coverage of the research, check out "Modern music really does sound the same."The latest complaint about new pop music (expressed in this research) is a bit different from past complaints.  The agony over the sound levels is there, but the dissonance apparently has disappeared.  Subjects involved in the research found the melodies and harmonies to be bland.  That is different.  You can have a lot of fun with your friends discussing this one...

After sixteen years in its current location the Acton Jazz Café is being forced to relocate.  And quickly.  Club operator Gwenn Vivian is looking for a financial partner for a new club in a new location in the Acton area.  Also she is looking for creative ideas to help her make the new Jazz Café a reality.  If you have money or ideas (they often go hand in hand), contact Gwenn.  You can find out more at the Acton Jazz Café web site...

STUFF Magazine did it again, but this time the technical quality of some of the image reproductions was pretty awful (not artsy, just awful).  Of course, from the editor’s perspective, that may be the point.  In any event, once again the only substantive edition of the magazine all year was the 8/14 “One Night in Boston” issue.  Here was far more to celebrate and/or think about than could be found in all the other issues combined.  It does raise a question: Now that the Phoenix and the rag are being combined into a single weekly publication, will the annual “One Night in Boston” issue disappear?  Hope not...

Former Bostonian Ken Vandermark was featured as artist-in-residence at the 2012 Chicago Jazz Festival, the windy city once again celebrating one of its own.  As all major festivals do, the Chicago fest has its problems.  Nevertheless, any Boston-based jazz fan would read with envy Howard Reich’s complaint in the Chicago Tribune, “How to awaken a sleeping jazz festival.”  Along with Vandermark and friends, this year’s event presented Roy Haynes (remember him?), Dianne Reeves, and Allen Toussaint, among others.  Every set free of charge.  For four days.  Kinda makes you drool.  Among other things Howard Reich complains about the city’s meager financial commitment.  He’d have a heart attack if he moved to Boston.  But maybe the problem in Boston goes beyond City Hall.  Our jazz support groups seem all too ready to offer awards and parties for out-of-towners, educators, jazz journalists, disk jockeys, support group poobahs, and the like, instead of the people who make it all happen--the Boston area jazz musicians.  I realize that it’s an affliction not unique to Boston area jazz support groups.  There are a number of national support groups who participate in the same nonsense.  In the same way I can remember when jazz magazines had “hall of fame” type awards for jazz musicians exclusively.  Ancient history with a touch of nostalgia.  Not many months ago I received an invitation to an event in celebration of a fine New York-based jazz musician, a musician certainly worthy of celebration.  I was unable to attend the event.  In my response to the RSVP I suggested that the musician should be celebrated by a New York jazz support group.  We in Boston, I continued, should be focusing our celebrations on our own wonderful musicians.  I received no response to my comment.  It seems to have fallen on deaf eyes.  But think about it.  Boston celebrates Syd Smart Day.  Boston celebrates Laurence Cook Day.  Boston celebrates Ray Santisi Day.  Boston celebrates Harold Layne Day.  Boston celebrates _______________ Day.  (Just fill in another of our favorites)…

It could have been the sound of one hand clapping.  It certainly was some kind of silence.  I had heard no follow-up information about the renovation of the Oak Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza (see the December 2011 Jazz Journal).  I checked out the location 8/9 to discover what most musicians and fans feared had taken place.  The result of the renovation is that the Oak Room Restaurant has consumed entirely the magnificent Oak Bar, piano and all.  They seem to be doing a nice business in the renovated space, but it does raise the question of what the Fairmont chain is in business for.  After all, is the Fairmont chain (or any for profit enterprise) in business to make money and only money?  Anyone who is in business but is not concerned about making a profit will not be in business for long.  But is that all there is?  Somebody at the hotel seems to have understood that the Copley Plaza was bigger than merely profits.  For example, right to the very end the bar menu of the Oak Bar celebrated the great piano bar history at that spot.  Even now online and elsewhere potential guests can read about the great traditions of the hotel historically and in terms of elegant service.  The demise of the Oak Bar for the sake of greater profit makes one wonder whether or not those words about tradition and service have any substance to them or that their purpose merely is to convince guests and potential guests that what might be substance is not an illusion...


July 2012
A couple of the drum solos went on a bit long.  I feel somewhat strange saying that because I’m a big Luther Gray fan.  This night--as in the case of countless gigs in the past--Luther’s solos were terrific.  But there is always the moment at the end of a drum solo when the observer asks himself, “Where is the music going to go from here?”  The question comes up whether the soloist is Barrett Deems, Max Roach, Sunny Murray, or anyone else.  Where will the music go?  Among the options are a dead halt in which the music picks up in a different or similar direction, a sustained drive in which the band members continue in the direction the drummer has defined, or any of a number of other options.  Unfortunately, one of the options is the “hang-out-to-dry drummer” option.  And that happened a couple times on the gig.  Normally the drum solo ends and the other people jump in to
take the music to its next step.  And on this gig that pattern took place at the end of most solos.  But a couple times the musicians became members of the audience and watched/listened like the rest of us.  Anybody on the bandstand could have jumped in and signaled “the next step,” but no one did.  One of the tricky aspects of the problem is that Jacob William--a bass player--was the leader of the gig.  Because much of what Luther was creating turned out to be a bass-drum duo, the resolution became difficult.  How does a bass player remove a hand from the bass to indicate transition?  How effective is a nod of the head in a maelstrom?  How many non-conducting, intuitive signals are available in the spur of the moment?  And so on.  There are ways out of this jam, but none of them are obvious/appropriate in the context.  But the most important point is that I’ve taken up most of my commentary regarding the gig by talking about a couple over-long drum solos.  Really it is a matter of nit-picking.  Reaching.  The gig was so good that a couple drum solos became a speck of dust in the eye.  Oh, that most gigs would have only such a flaw.  And that is what this band--Jacob William, Phil Grenadier, Jim Hobbs, Steve Lantner, and Luther Gray--accomplished 7/12 at Ryles.  The evening consisted of completely joyous music performed with total spontaneity and full of surprises--whether it’s the pianist equally adept at torrents of sound and complete silence or the magnificent front line of trumpet and alto sax serving notice that there is someplace to go after Cherry and Coleman.  Giants do walk the earth, and sometimes they take the form of humans in a jazz club making transcendent sounds...

Maria Cole, wife of Nat “King” Cole and one-time popular singer in her own right died 7/10 at age 89.  She got her start in Boston with the legendary Sabby Lewis Band before she--like so many other Lewis band members--joined Duke Ellington’s big band.  In 1988 I asked Sabby about a variety of subjects including Marie Hawkins and her future husband.  Here is part of what we discussed:

SV: In the late 1930s Marie Hawkins, who became Nat Cole's wife, sang in your band.

SL: Her maiden name was Marie Hawkins.  She's from Boston.  I think her aunt had the Charlotte Hawkins School in North Carolina; it was a finishing school for girls.  That's where all the black people who wanted their daughters to get a little polish sent them.  Of course, not everyone could afford it.  She [Marie] was my first band vocalist.  Then she sang with Duke Ellington's band. 

SV: The Nat Cole Trio played at Kelly's Stables [in New York] on the same bill as your band before that trio became internationally famous?

SL: Yes.  That was in 1941 I think.  When Pearl Harbor was attacked, we were there.

It was a chart with a back story, “Pee Rocket.”  For details you’ll have to chat with UltraSeven Band leader/arranger Luther Gray.  But the important point is the chart and what band members did with it.  For example, there were moments during the piece when Luther seemed to be channeling Ed Blackwell.  But that statement is a little deceptive because the drummer always is distinctly Luther Gray.  Of course, there was a lot more to this gig that featured the work of Luther, Matt Langley, Charlie Kohlhase, Andy Voelker, Pandelis Karayorgis, Jacob William, and Junko Fujiwara.  The front line alone was worth the evening 7/19 at the Outpost.  One of the reasons Charlie and Matt have worked together successfully for so many years is how differently each attacks a solo (and yet remains on the same aesthetic plane as the other).  And who would be more different than Charlie and Matt?  Andy Voelker, of course, tossing up sequences of notes in angular shapes often in minimalist sizes.  For some reason--it may have something to do with the lack of leadership responsibilities--Pandelis seems peculiarly unleashed in his gigs with Luther.  I’m sure that much of the beautiful chaos of his solos comes about to some extent because of the mostly free context of the charts.  On the other hand, a musician is much more likely to produce especially creative damage with Jacob and Luther throwing information his way.  This is the last time I would have a chance to catch a performance of either Pandelis Karayorgis or Jacob William before their return from across the Atlantic.  I picked the right gig for the sendoff.  Encore when everyone comes home...

As I’ve said before, the slick jazz magazines tend to be conservative, and the latest Downbeat Jazz Critics Poll fell into line.  But, if you look hard, you can see both Non-US musicians and a few post-Ayler musicians sprinkled throughout the poll.  Years ago Downbeat used to list all the selections of each critic.  As a kid I found that quite valuable.  It both suggested to me critics who were deaf and musicians in the lists I never had heard of that I should pay attention to.  Too bad we don’t have that resource today.  Yes, I know that John Corbett is hipper than most.  But he alone could not have gotten Charlie Kohlhase, Ken Vandermark, and Mats Gustafsson among the top vote getters in the baritone sax category.  Maybe Downbeat will go retro in future polls (listing all the picks of each voter) so we can have a better idea what is going on in jazz.  Hey, I can dream...

Summer months call jazz musicians from home to festivals and other events around the country and internationally.  Soon Jacob William will travel to England for a gig before continuing to India.  Also soon Pandelis Karayorgis and Jorrit Dijkstra will perform as a duo in a festival in northern Holland.  At the Lily Pad 7/6 we got a warmup for the duo in Holland.  The tradition of the piano-sax duo has a special niche in jazz.  Some of the most memorable jazz recordings have been part of that tradition, among them Johnny Griffin & Martial Solal (1999), Houston Person & our own Ran Blake (1983), Lee Konitz & Sal Mosca (1971), and Archie Shepp & Horace Parlan (1980).  On this evening Pandelis and Jorrit’s fine work brought to my mind mostly an echo of the 1987 sessions of Steve Lacy and Gil Evans.  The echo was the feel of the set more than the pieces performed which included compositions by everyone from Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols to the performers themselves.  The energy level of the next set of music was higher than that of the first--even on ballads.  After all, that’s one of the reasons most jazz ensembles include bass and drums.  The possibilities--particularly the energetic potential--expand dramatically with the inclusion of those two instruments in a band.  And the breadth of possibilities explodes when the two musicians are Jacob William and Eric Rosenthal, among the most flexible and convincing musicians in town.  These four musicians--doing Dijkstra and Karayorgis charts--are so comfortable with each other and have so much fun that what happens onstage is engaging--even fun--for the audience (judging by the audience reactions).  That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment because the melodies and arrangements are anything but light weight.  In fact, as much as I know the good folks in Holland will love what the duo performs, I wish they could relish both sets of music as I did in Cambridge...


June 2012
Percussionist Michael Evans (who also performed briefly on theremin on 6/5) left the Boston area in the early 1980s and has since developed musical relationships with a wide variety of respected musicians, primarily in New York.  But he did not forget the musical companions he left behind.  He asked some of them to join him 6/5 at the Outpost.  It is of some significance that these “left behind” folks--Neil Leonard, Mimi Rabson, and Joe Morris--developed their musical identities at about the time Michael Evans left the Boston area.  They remained and pushed the boundaries with such forces as Lowell Davidson and the BIG collaborative and continued to grow.  All three of them are operating at their highest level today.  Nevertheless, they carved out their identities back then.  For example, pick up a copy of Joe’s first LP as a leader, Wraparound (Riti 1001, Feb/Mar 1983).  Is there any way a Joe Morris fan of today would not recognize the young genius on those tracks?  And so it is with the other locals who joined Michael Evans on the gig--including guest John Voigt who already during the early 1980s was a seasoned veteran of many types of music (and is more impressive today, perhaps even younger than the rest of the folks on the gig).  He’s cooler today than ever.  For example, on this evening a somewhat too enthusiastic photographer in the audience encroached on the music, even stepping onto the “bandstand” to take pictures.  Umbrage might have been the expected reaction.  Not so for John.  He simply walked over to an empty seat in the front row, sat down, and continued to play his bass from that seat until the photographer walked off the stage.  In sum, the evening was a celebration of history, of a time when all of these musicians achieved some important kind of aesthetic breakthrough.  But, more than that, the evening was a testament to relentlessness and the powerful results of that effort...

You can chase it down.  I’m not going to document it here.  But there is a fairly common recognition of the essential link between artist and audience.  Yes, there are artists who intentionally (out of necessity?) keep their art in isolation from “the public.”  But historically there is a strong artist-audience link.  We see it in everything from “primitive” cultures (how much more ADVANCED those “primitive” cultures are) in which the artist and audience are the same person (chalk one up for John Cage) to the countless sad tales of painters and other types of artists who get no sales/recognition.  And so we find ourselves in a jazz world--all kinds of jazz but most obviously post-Ayler jazz--in which audiences shrink while the number of extraordinary musicians grows.  What does one do in an environment (most obviously nationally) in which the last tree falls in an empty forest?  I know that some variation of this question exists in the minds of most musicians who continue to make important contributions to profound music.  Maybe there is hope on other continents.  For example, although Western Europe is going through economic turmoil and the transition from socialism to a more capitalistic economy apparently caused a wide range of art support earthquakes that made opportunities for new music performers increasingly tenuous, the number of new music jazz gig opportunities seems to be growing there.  And Eastern Europeans are by far the most passionate post-Ayler jazz fans anywhere.  While we wait for the U.S. to catch up, I experienced some good news 6/26 at the Outpost.  The band was the Steve Lantner Quartet--Lantner, Allan Chase, Joe Morris, and Luther Gray.  Yes, you already know the music was amazing (as it always is).  But the other key element was present as well.  Maybe it was a tip of the hat to the “primitive” cultures and John Cage, but the place was packed with passionate listeners (everything from elementary school children to music students to working adults to old fogies such as me).  And they sat in rapt attention and whooped and hollered at the end of musical offerings.  Chin up.  Maybe we’re witnessing the illuminated future...

I love the jazz grapevine.  The illustration below is a copy of two pages of notes that Steve Lacy took while he was in the band of Thelonious Monk.  The notes are documentation of words of wisdom from the fount.  The image of those pages was passed from Michael Moore (who had had the notes for several years) to Ab Baars who passed a copy to Mats Gustafsson who recently passed the image on to Ken Vandermark.  Knowing that Monk is my favorite musician, Ken emailed me the image on 6/4.  The date at the top of the first page of the notes is difficult to discern, but 1960 (one of the two years Lacy was with Monk) probably is a good guess.  I have trouble figuring out what a couple notes refer to, but generally the notes are clear and make perfect Monk sense.  We can see what good advice is on these two pages for anyone who would want to perform in Monk’s band.  In fact, the advice makes sense for anyone interested in playing mainstream jazz.  And some comments apply to virtually any form of jazz/improvisation.  I’m not surprised by the content of the notes at all.  The notes sound very much like Monk, as in the case of his emphasis on melody.  All the great improvisors are focussed on the melody rather than the changes.  And the closing message about racism is quite affecting...
The quartet that showed up 6/7 at the Outpost was led by Dave Bryant and featured the alto sax work of Jim Hobbs.  Given the extent to which those two musicians have immersed themselves in the music of Ornette Coleman, I expected an evening of one harmolodic hit after another.  I did show up a little bit late.  So I may have missed one or two such works.  However, except for one successful foray into Ornette-land, the evening featured those two musicians with bass and drum artistry supplied by Bruno Råberg and Curt Newton operating in the realm of free improvisation.  In other words, the music of the evening was a surprise but not unwieldy.  After all, each of these gentlemen has played free jazz many times in a wide variety of contexts.  The result was a sequence of brief, improvised segments investigating a range of time, timbre, dynamics, and melody.  Focussed and compelling.  And all of it went down particularly well when composition-driven harmolodics closed out the evening...

Years ago Paul Broadnax and Peter Kontrimas had a weekly gig at Bullfinchs in Sudbury.  The crowd that used to attend those gigs now tends to show up at the weekly Paul and Peter gigs in Acton or the monthly gig in Ipswich.  The problem with the current Bullfinchs schedule as far as the duo performances are concerned is that they do not perform there on a predictable cycle, such as every third Sunday or every Walpurgis Eve.  So fans have to remember to go to the Bullfinchs web site to discover performance dates.  Well, maybe that’s what’s going on.  I realize that my observations are unscientific, anecdotal data.  But 6/10--a gorgeous day when no one should be indoors even for a gig--Paul and Peter drew a really fine crowd at the Bullfinchs brunch.  But more important, it was the largest crowd of serious listeners I’ve seen so far at the brunches.  People near the bandstand shut up and listened, for the most part they held their applause until the end of each piece, and no one complained that Paul did not announce the names of tunes.  That’s pretty unusual for Paul.  But maybe he sensed that audience members were so hip--so experienced--that they already knew the tunes.  I realize that the one important thing I haven’t mentioned is the quality of the music.  True.  Well, let’s see.  It’s a Paul and Peter gig.  What do you think?  Correct...

The ubiquitous Dr. T brought his video projections and four musicians with him to the Outpost 6/9.  One musician later suggested that the video of the second set was better than in the first (“after Dr. T warmed up”), and I agree generally.  On the other hand, no musician was more interactive with the video than Glynis Lomon who bowed a range of resonating objects, but (as always) excelled particularly with cello and voice during that first set.  The cello is my favorite instrument.  When I go to Chicago, I always hope that Fred Lonberg-Holm is performing so I can witness his brilliance.  Living in the Boston area, I always hope I’m not out of town when Glynis performs.  Not surprisingly, Glynis 6/9 did not disappoint.  Time and again I’m impressed by the fact that she is intellectually brilliant, well-schooled musically and academically, and technically accomplished.  But primarily over the years I have been most impressed by the fact that she does not let any of that get in the way of her extraordinary improvisational instincts.  So I was in the Boston area.  She was playing.  And I lucked out again.  The second set featured Junko Fujiwara, Melanie Howell-Brooks, and Laurence Cook.  Laurence, of course, was superb.  He seems to not know how to be otherwise.  Junko Fujiwara and Melanie Howell-Brooks were game but apparently distracted.  And the distraction is understandable.  The evening was a celebration of the birthday of Laurence Cook (who turned 73 the day before the gig), and everyone was caught up in using the birthday as an excuse to celebrate a Boston jazz icon.  Junko brought small 1000-calorie cupcakes, and eventually we all departed before going into diabetic shock...

Guglielmo Marconi’s invention has fallen on hard times.  The AM dial is cluttered with right wing blowhard demagoguery.  NPR affiliates on the FM dial overwhelmingly choose left wing “personalities” brimming with annoyingly smug didacticism.  How could things get worse?  Well, how about more hours of NPR talk in Boston?  The 6/20 Boston Globe tells us that weekday jazz in the evening on WGBH-FM will be eliminated and replaced by talk on 7/2.  In a move that seems more insult than consolation (think of Peter McNichol’s character in Housesitter: “Why don’t you just kick him in the balls and tell him he has ugly children?”), WGBH will be offering jazz on week end evenings instead.  I can imagine some readers wondering (after all, this is a jazz web site) why I didn’t open with commentary about the death of weekday jazz on WGBH.  I guess my answer has something to do with my desire to be fair and balanced (oops!  There goes my blowhard side.).  The killing of jazz is just one part of a larger pattern of behavior.  For example, WGBH in moving its classical music to WCRB created a disaster, a mess worse than either station alone.  Gone are the days when I could track the evolution of a BSO performance.  I used to be able to go to the BSO on Thursday and then hear the Friday performance on the radio and an entirely different performance of the same works on the radio on Saturday night.  So the problem (although most germane here is the loss of jazz) is broader than the negative impact on jazz.  Classical music suffers.  Radio broadcasts become increasingly self-righteous in the medium’s petty politics.  No wonder Americans are returning to the three broadcast networks for national and international news.  Now, no matter where one turns the radio dial, the news is bad.  As far as jazz radio is concerned, at least we can offer a big Thank You to Steve Schwartz and his friends for holding off the cretins at the gates as long as they did...

Jacob William's June Unit--Jacob with Allan Chase, Tom Hall, and Luther Gray--is not intended to perform only during the month of June.  However, we will not have another chance to witness these folks perform as a band until at least September.  That seems too long to wait because I was lucky enough to catch them perform in June--6/29 at the Lily Pad.  And in that too-brief single set, these guys called upon reflections mostly of Ayler and Ornette.  To some extent it was the “busy-ness” generated by the William-Gray machine that propelled the horns in that direction.  We in the audience had to hang on for dear life.  Yes, that was the overall feel of things, but to leave it at that would be deceptive.  For example, some of the best music occurred when Jacob and Luther went silent like the rest of us to listen to the horns talk to each other.  It was a conversation that evoked memories of Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet.   Not bad for a duo.  And so it went.  At the end of the gig Allan Chase said to me, “This is the third time this week that I’ve been on a gig with Luther.  And every gig was completely different from the others.  It’s the difference in the combinations of people.”  True.   But the two of those three gigs I saw were not just completely different.  They both were extraordinary musically.  The chance of that happening skyrockets when Allan and Luther are on the gig... and you have people such as Tom and Jacob carrying the other half of the message...

There have been other incarnations of the ensemble 6/15 at the Lily Pad, but usually with slightly different personnel.  In this case--perhaps more than the others--there was the artistic stamp of Joe Maneri on the mostly microtonal proceedings.  Not all the musicians on the gig studied with Joe, but the influence was there.  On the break I asked Kevin Frenette whether he ever had studied with Joe.  He said that he never had studied formally with Joe.  His schooling, he said, “was at Joe Maneri’s performances.”  In some sense that is the best way to learn.  If you are a passionate improvisor and you witness live the music of Louis, Rollins, Cecil, or Joe Maneri--what more can you ask for?  So Kevin’s comment did not surprise me.  I don’t know the number of times since Joe’s passing I’ve thought how much Joe would have enjoyed performing with Kevin.  It is not merely the microtonal/minimalist connection.  Mostly it’s the unbridled--vulnerable--revelation of heart that connects the two of them.  But to dwell on only one member of the group--Kevin, Scott Getchell, Kit Demos, James Bergin, David Haas, and John McLellan--is to miss the point of the evening and the fact that duo connections dominated the performance.  Sometimes it was Dave and Scott talking and echoing.  Then perhaps Scott and Kevin finishing each other’s thoughts.  Or John polishing James’ suggestions.  Or the electronic Kit bouncing pointillist dots off the leisurely contemplations of Kevin.  And on and on.  Wonderful stuff.  But there was one solo--spotlight--moment of the evening.  Joe’s Sonja--Sonja Maneri--reprised the three works she offered so eloquently at the NEC memorial concert for Joe 9/15/11.  What was most remarkable about the performance was the extent to which it was a repetition without being a repetition.  She is so convincing as a vocalist and interpreter of Joe’s poetry that hearing them again was somehow new anyway.  But, of course, the evening did not end there.  And how wonderful it was to be at a gig where you could not tell who was most ecstatic, the audience or the musicians...

So I’m on a relatively brief vacation.  I’m walking along Newport’s Cliff Walk.  It’s a tourist trap, but I’ve loved the views here for decades both as a Rhode Islander and as a visitor.  Because I visited the area several times last year, I’m assuming the sign in the image above is new this year.  These signs clutter the walk.  There are too many of them.  Already some (presumably young) people have scraped away the head of the caution character from several of the signs.  And--before you get too confused--I’m very much aware of the fact that the sign reproduced here has nothing to do with jazz.  But, in addition to being a jazz fan, I also make the pretense that I am a human.  In other words, I wanted to share with you the fact that I found this image funny.  Does anyone falling from a cliff (or anywhere else) look like that?  I saw the sign and broke up laughing... 


Update 9/29/12:

I’m watching Anatomy of a Murder with the wonderful Duke Ellington score with plenty of Hodges and Carney, and the first thing I notice on the screen is the logo for the film.  Look familiar?  Then it hit me.  The warning signs along the Cliff Walk are not some kind of bad joke.  They are just a tribute to Duke Ellington and all the fine visits he made over the years to the Newport Jazz Festival...

Jim Hobbs is a celebrated musician.  Fans--most of them other musicians--show up to witness his superb musicianship and creative solos.  And then there are the times when Jim takes the music to another level, when the depth and poignancy of what he plays is searing.  Such was the case 6/14 at the Outpost.  His solos found places in my heart I didn’t know I had.  And that playing was just one reason to catch Luther Gray and his band that night.  Right off the bat, Jeff Galindo showed up just to play one tune before he had to leave for an obligation somewhere else.  Jeff was on fire, setting the bar for all other band members.  And the others came to play.  There was the engine room consisting of Luther, Keala Kaumeheiwa, and Steve Lantner.  The aesthetically diverse front line included Jim, violinist Kaethe Hostetter (a former Bostonian now living and teaching in Addis Ababa), and Andy Voelker (on tenor sax all night!).  Luther’s charts are among the most challenging in town.  It’s not simply that some involve unison “harmolodics” and most involve separate transcriptions for each voice.  No, that’s sort of business as usual around here.  What’s potentially (actually?) intimidating is the angular, shard-like brevity of the works.  No chords.  No conventional cues.  It’s just, “Here are these themes from outer space.  Have fun.”  And members of the band do.  Because the music for the most part has no hooks to grab and run with, each soloist finds (is forced to find) his/her own piece of melody to latch onto and exploit.  The results are remarkable.  The musicians on this gig all were strong players with sharply etched musical identities.  So you would expect each musician to have something different to say in solos.  But this music was beyond that.  Because of the complex/spare construction of the works--more than mere density--each solo was starkly unique.  By that I mean at no time during the evening was any solo even remotely like any other solo.  That’s pretty astonishing.  It is the kind of listening challenge that can make your head hurt.  But in the best kind of way.  Encore...


May 2012
There was fine music to be witnessed 5/26 at the Outpost.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, BOLT--Jorrit Dijkstra, Eric Hofbauer, Junko Fujiwara, and Eric Rosenthal--is an extraordinary ensemble because of its interesting/odd instrumentation and the quality of its instrumentalists.  Then there’s that potential monkey wrench during the past year: the interchangeable percussionists.  Sometimes Eric shows up and sometimes it’s Curt Newton.  OK, if you have a wedding band with a flexible roster of professionals, shuffling different drummers in and out might not be any problem at all.  But in the case of jazz--where bands often are built around the musical personalities of the group--band member substitution never is a minor matter and can be disastrous.  I remember one solid, respected musician putting off starting a new band he envisioned simply because he couldn’t find the right drummer.  This went on for months.  Trying to be helpful and having an inkling as to what his vision for the band might be, I made about three or four suggestions.  Finally, in good-natured frustration (Hey, he’s a nice guy!), the musician said, “Those are all terrific drummers, but none of them are the drummer I need in my band.”  Of course, what he said makes complete sense.  And, if the matter of musical personality is not enough of a challenge/asset, some bands (perhaps facing similar problems to those of the musician I mention) have a much more delicate balance of personnel than others.  Such is the case of BOLT.  The challenge of alto, electronics, cello, guitar, and trap set should be obvious.  Replace one component, and you have trouble.  Wrong.  All members of the band have distinct, strong musical personalities.  Eric Rosenthal and Curt Newton certainly are not exceptions to that pattern.  If you examine their impressive backgrounds (for example, the bands they’ve performed in during the past 30+ years), you will notice that there is some overlap in professional education and experience.  But not a lot of overlap.  And so, when Curt is at the kit with BOLT, the overall music has a different character than when Eric takes over the sticks and mallets.  But the important point--the amazing point--is that the music is exhilarating no matter which veteran is contributing.  Over the summer--or so I’ve been told--Curt and Eric will be trading seats in the band on different dates.  How lucky we are to witness a band so good that it gets even better no matter which percussionist is playing...

The slick-cover jazz magazines inevitably are conservative.  The necessary profit motive means that editors and writers must aim for the lowest common denominator.  You know, write as many features as you can get away with on Diana Krall.  When things get a bit too blonde-heavy, switch the emphasis to Esperanza Spalding.  Do I exaggerate?  Perhaps only slightly.  It is not only that sex sells (which it does).  And I hasten to mention that these comments are in no way intended to denigrate the very real musicianship of Ms. Krall and Ms. Spalding.  It’s just that exploiting sex is simply one of the more blatant--obvious--ways to sell jazz magazines (or anything else).  It is merely an in-your-face variation on the idea of the sugar pill--most consistently offered in the steady diet of articles about pop/mainstream jazz musicians as opposed to the frightening (substitute ugly if you wish) music devoid of chord changes born in the late 1950s and still evolving into the most challenging music of today.  And so it is with some--pleasant--surprise that I saw plastered on the shiny cover of the June edition of Downbeat (on magazine stands in late May) reference to four musicians known primarily for free improvisation.  Of importance locally of course is the multi-page spread on the iconic Boston-based free-bop trio known and loved as The Fringe.  As I read the article and looked at the photos (and the nice sidebar on bassist Rich Appleman), I felt a combination of nostalgia and exhilaration.  My memories of the superb trio are countless, as are the nights I’ve witnessed their music.  What I have learned from them and--more important--the sonic anchor they provided me (in different times) are of value to me beyond measure.  I am so happy that the magazine and the full-page advertisers finally got around to a celebratory thank you.  For myself, I can never thank them (all four of them) enough.  The other cover-boy improvisor as I write this is on a tour (nine cities in nine days) of Serbia, Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, Denmark, and Italy with the formidable reed trio, Sonore.  Mats Gustafsson has been a favorite among Boston’s new music fans for many years.  I met him in Chicago in the 1990s back in the days when European improvisors could travel freely in the U.S.  A few years later, on tour, he stayed at my home where the subject of The Fringe came up.  He had known about the trio and was enthusiastic.  I gave him a copy of the LP, The Raging Bulls (Ap-Gu-Ga 104), still one of their best recordings.  And Mats remains--to use Downbeat writer John Corbett’s words--a vinyl freak.  I find myself looking at a copy of Downbeat in which both The Fringe and Mats Gustafsson are celebrated.  The unusual phenomenon is noteworthy and potentially productive.  The June issue of the magazine focusses on “award winning” young musicians--billions of them.  Well, folks, when the zillions of friends and relatives buy their copies of the magazine, what will they make of these people they’ve never heard of?  Will they buy a Fringe album?  As I read Mats’ comments about various musicians in the magazine’s record quiz, I asked myself, “How many regular readers of Downbeat ever have heard of such remarkable musicians as Abdul Wadud or Magnus Broo?  Then it hit me.  “How many regular readers of the magazine ever have heard of Mats Gustafsson?”  Three?  But maybe it’s a beginning...

Artist/philosopher John Cage poses an interesting challenge for musicians (improvisors or otherwise).  Until a few years before he died (when he reconsidered his position) he had little tolerance for jazz or other forms of improvisation.  Some performances of his music in the Boston area in recent years make clear why he had misgivings about improvisors.  It is very easy to perceive certain of his works--particularly those using graphic scores--as being “improvisation pieces.”  After all, what else can you do with a series of graphic lines but improvise them?  That is not the case, but it is difficult for some musicians to grasp the difference between “improvising on graphic images” and “reading” the graphics.  That’s one of the basic problems that faced at least some of the musicians 5/13 at Mobius where Cage’s graphic Music for Amplified Toy Pianos (1960) was performed.  I’m happy to report that the musician who seemed to be most in tune with the philosophy and practices of John Cage is a jazz musician.  In fact, at the end of one section in which the timing of an audience member’s sneeze landed in exactly the right spot, it was Yuka Hamano Hunt alone who broke up laughing.  The question of improvised vs. read graphics was no problem for her.  As tricky as that can be, there are other elements Cage rejected in his works, two of them being more prevalent and more problematic during the 5/13 performance--strict metric cadence and cleverness.  Those two elements--in the form of straight-time percussion and “quotes” from some of the composer’s other piano works--were far more negatively intrusive than the improvising.  However, considering the fact that there were thirteen musicians (and a conductor) on the gig with likely limited rehearsal time, some confusion may have been inevitable.  In fact, what is surprising is that the event was one of the more successful Cage performances of this type in the Boston area during the past half dozen years.  Applause for the musicians and perhaps even more for the patient and cramped fans in the audience... 



USA Philatelic is a quarterly publication that focusses on and promotes postage stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service.  The edition for the second quarter of 2012 (published in May) features what may be described as “detente stamps.”  Joint stamp issues of two countries is relatively rare.  Considering the head-butting that took place between the U.S. and France over the invasion of Iraq, perhaps it is not surprising that the projected 6/12 joint issue for France and the U.S. of a sheet of stamps featuring images of Miles Davis and Edith Piaf is the first such venture for the two countries in more than two decades.  While it is true that cabaret and jazz are distinctly different forms of performance art, the hook is that these artists’ ability “to speak the same international language--to communicate intensity of feeling through music--makes them a perfect pair of stamps.”  OK, but the “perfect” part of it all is a bit of a stretch, even aside from artistic differences.  For example, the basic idea is that both countries are issuing identical sets of stamps, except for the cost designated on the stamps.  In the U.S. if you buy an Edith Piaf stamp you will pay the same 45¢ you would pay for a Miles Davis stamp.  If you hop onto the Concorde to Paris to pick up a Miles Davis stamp and an Edith Piaf stamp, you will discover that the Miles Davis stamp will cost you .60 euros but the Edith Piaf stamp will cost you .89 euros.  Also, you will be arrested at the airport because--although we failed in Iraq--the French failed in supersonic passenger travel, and attempting to land a decommissioned passenger plane at deGaulle will be frowned upon.  But the point about the stamps is that the French have determined that Edith Piaf is more valuable than Miles Davis.  The last time I checked, .89 euros is more than .60 euros.  So maybe this is our concession to the French--our detente-- that we acknowledge they were right all along about Iraq.  It took only a decade.  Now maybe I can stop ordering Liberty Fries at my local fat food restaurants...

I felt as if I had walked into the Famous Door at the “birth” of the Basie band in 1938.  It wasn’t so much that the band in question was as good as that Basie band.  It was more a matter that the room I walked into at Bella Costa Ristorante in Framingham had a big band squeezed into a space that could accommodate fifty people and the band.  As I walked to a seat, my ears got fried by the overwhelming impact of the sound.  But, with the gradual disappearance of mainstream big bands, we tend to forget the ear-busting that was caused in relatively small rooms by big bands led by Basie, Goodman, and their like.  It had been many years since I had encountered a wall of sound in such a confined area.  But as long-time big band fans know (and countless rockers), the ears adjust.  Soon the wall of sound becomes business as usual.  And that’s what happened 5/27 at Bella Costa.  I must confess that I went there on a lark.  Most mainstream big bands are terrible.  Most gigs for “young, promising musicians” (typically jam sessions) are painful beyond human endurance.  But that’s not what happened in that room on 5/27.  And you can catch them there again 6/24 at 7:30 p.m.   To my surprise, the mostly 1960s charts (Sammy Nestico, Quincy Jones, and the like) were executed very well and some of the solos were quite fine.  Yes, the ballads caused a bit of stumbling.  But immature jazz musicians generally have problems with ballads.  I did mention that there were youngsters in the band, didn’t I?  What to do with young  musicians?  We give them private lessons, theory classes, “jazz appreciation” classes, ensemble sessions with peers, and so on.  Some of that stuff probably is useful.  But what none of the youngsters today get is what Louis, Hawk, Miles, and the other giants took for granted.  The icons got the chance to stumble and fall--and grow--in the bands of their predecessors.  Good luck with that today!  But wait.  On 5/27 I saw kids playing tenor sax next to a professional playing a tenor sax.  If you are 16 and playing a trumpet next to a seasoned trumpet player and don’t learn something about handling a chart or a solo, you are a dim bulb indeed.  There is another factor here.  It is the key to both why the music works--i.e., is enjoyable to a listener--and why the students have the potential to learn so much.  I didn’t do any counting, but I would guess that 70% of the band is veterans.  That’s just one brilliant stroke by band leader Ed Harlow, but it is the essential one.  There are enough pros to carry the band when a student musician can’t quite nail the chart.  So the students grow, and the listeners seldom wince.  In fact, there is a very important “non-educational” aspect to that 70% professional component.  In the middle of the second set Allan Chase picked up his alto saxophone and told us what “Lover Man” is all about.  The poignancy of what he said on that horn probably was operating at a level most students were not ready to learn from, but maybe some of them knew that they were hearing music to reach for.  If Billie Holiday were in the audience, I can imagine her nodding with approval...

April
One of the amazing things about art is that you never know where it will come from.  That is true about artists.  The great artists in any form or genre come from all kinds of unimaginable places.  And so it is for jazz venues and support groups.  In a way it is difficult to imagine a restaurant supporting jazz gigs during the past thirty years or so.  One can understand a restauranteur who is a jazz fan starting up jazz gigs at a restaurant.  Historically for the most part during the past few decades such ventures are heartfelt, fiscally careless, and brief.  But now and then there is a restaurant owner with passion and extraordinary will power--and ability.  Such is the case with Junji Aoki of Sushi Island in Wakefield.  His restaurant has been successful for more than a dozen years, and he has been presenting jazz at the current location for eleven years.  Most of the tables are near the piano.  So a visitor can listen without strain.  There certainly was no strain involved 4/7 when I was in attendance to catch two sets of piano and vocals from Bob Baughman.  On a break Bob confided that he was battling a cold.  He had fooled me.  I could not hear the bug in his voice or in his piano work.  In fact, if there was a bug 4/7 it was that he did not play enough piano.  Nothing wrong with his voice.  It’s just that I really get taken on a journey when Bob stretches out at the acoustic keyboard...

Marya, wife of Emile “Dr. T” Tobenfeld, passed away 4/6 after years of battling cancer.  Emile opened his home and heart to family and friends.  Food, drink, and thoughtful conversation were shared.  I--and I’m sure--his many fans wish Emile nothing but the best as he copes with today and tomorrow.  There is some light in all of this.  “Dr. T” continues to schedule video/music sessions in which his images share the stage with some of the Boston area’s best improvisors...

I caught another sold-out Broadnax-Kontrimas brunch 4/15 at Bullfinchs in Sudbury.  The music of Paul Broadnax and Peter Kontrimas was as terrific as ever, with brunchers pausing in their meals to clap enthusiastically at the conclusion of each American chestnut.  On a break Paul and I discussed a number of topics, mostly regarding the fact that his schedule in recent months consistently has included anything from three to six gigs per week.  That’s remarkable, whether one considers it from the standpoint of his popularity as a performer or from the perspective of how much energy a man can have as he works his way through his ninth decade.  At one point I asked him to name the two or three Boston-based musicians who had the greatest impact on him during his early years as a musician.  People who know Paul also know that Nat Cole has been a great influence on him.  But, somewhat surprisingly, not one of the people Paul mentioned was a pianist primarily.  At the same time, it is not surprising that Paul would name three of the most important people in the history of jazz in Boston--Ray Perry, Alan Dawson, and Baggy Grant...

As regular readers of this Journal know, from time to time I take an opportunity to point out the damage--however unintentional--that the PROs and AFM have done and continue to do to music and musicians.  Once again, problems caused by the AFM have surfaced in a New York newspaper.  “U.S. Visa Rules Deprive Stages of Performers,” by Larry Rohter in the 4/11 New York Times does a fine job of discussing the problems foreign musicians have as they attempt to come here to perform.  Mr. Rohter even points out the deleterious effect of AFM “consulting fees” (and that’s in addition to the costs of obtaining a performance visa).  The “consulting fee” and consultation are an attempt to insure that the touring visitor will not be taking any gigs away from U.S. musicians.  The implication is that when they come to the U.S. Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann are stealing gigs from William Parker and Joe McPhee.  Nonsense.  Although the article is critical of U.S. visa policies and makes passing comments about the harm of AFM protectionism, Mr. Rohter never establishes the link between AFM lobbying and U.S. visa policies.  The most significant step in shutting the door on visiting musicians was the AFM-promoted Immigration Act of 1990, as I  discussed in the March 2010 Journal.  More recently (in the September 2011 Journal) I noted that Evan parker claimed his last performances in the U.S. were the ones in September at the Lily Pad.  Getting into the U.S. is simply too costly and time consuming to make the effort worth it.  The result is that we all lose...

On 4/16 (one day after I completed writing the above commentary) I received in the mail a copy of What Country is This? (Not Two MW885-2).  It is the most recent CD release of Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble.  The irony in the timing is that the recording includes Devin Hoff on bass instead of Mark Tokar (who could not get a visa to travel here, in spite of the efforts of a Polish arts institute and the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago).  One of the characteristics of the Not Two label is the company’s creative packaging.  On the last two pages of some discographical data and a photo of Foster Avenue in Chicago there is a page with a black and white photo of Mark Tokar.  When one unfolds the photo, underneath is a color photo of Devin Hoff.  The black and white photo shows Mark Tokar in the same location on Foster Avenue also (via computer manipulation) to emphasize the irony.  But it doesn’t end there.  The Resonance Ensemble is scheduled to perform at the 2012 Chicago Jazz Festival.  Will the powers connected to the festival be sufficient to affect in a positive way the powers that be?  In other words, what are the odds that Mark Tokar will get a visa to the U.S. this year?  In this case I’m not optimistic.  To put the situation in some kind of perspective, I’ve reproduced below the last two paragraphs of Ken’s liner notes for What Country is This?  I should point out that a portion of the poem by Czeslaw Miłosz Ken refers to is reproduced earlier in his liner notes and is of a very optimistic nature.








Until now it was the Clint Eastwood Quartet, the band with no name.  But, as Forbes Graham announced twice (in sotto voce so low that I’m glad that I was able to pick it up at all) the band now officially is known as Quick Verse.  Although the music of this foursome--Pandelis Karayorgis, Forbes Graham, Aaron Darrell, and Curt Newton--is filled with poetry--not merely verse--I can’t pretend to comprehend the moniker.  No matter.  What is important about this gig is that it was an evening of breakthroughs.  First, the music in general.  While it is true that musicians so good seldom disappoint, this band for me has been something of a question mark.  Who are these guys?  Is this really a band?  The music of this quartet historically never was less than terrific, but I had trouble finding a sense of band identity.  Perhaps I did not find such a definition 4/29 at the Outpost.  But the band really came together at that gig.  The playing as a band was so strong, so together, that I’m beginning to believe that its amorphousness is its identity.  On some tunes it’s a group of musicians still pushing its music from 1950s stints in New York at the Five Spot.  And then there is the deconstructed music of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century.  But somehow--through a new cohesion--it all works.  Much of the success has to do with the tenacity and (mostly) extraordinary quality of the musicianship of Pandelis (always living up to his exceptional press clippings), Curt (who during the last two or three years is a completely new drummer, a better drummer than the fine Curt Newton of the past ever was), a cocoon-free Aaron, and an unleashed Forbes.  Every time I catch Forbes’ playing, I find him to be more and more frightening.  He just throws all this amazing stuff at you.  And it’s punch after punch.  Unpredictable smash, jam, pop.  It’s the best kind of frightening.  I had to leave immediately after that single, superb set of music.  But I would have liked to have asked Aaron a couple questions.  At least one question would have had something to do with what he had for breakfast that morning.  For reasons (obviously unknown to me) Aaron Darrell decided 4/29 that he was going to explode into a confident, killer bass player.  And it worked.  Whatever he did to prepare for the gig, he should pass the procedure on to other young musicians on the cusp.  He was dealing as much as he was receiving, and the results were exciting.  Maybe profound.  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, this band has defined its terrain, and it’s a terrain filled with wonderful sonic rivers and streams...

Sometimes when the machine is not used frequently enough the rust builds up.  Even though the band opened with several Infrared Band “standards” 4/18 at Johnny D’s, the connections were tentative and the flow sluggish.  There were moments in which I felt as if the band and I were under water.  This is a terrific band--Eric Hofbauer, Kelly Roberge, Sean Farias, and Miki Matsuki--and has been for some time.  But there was rust in the wheels.  Not without significance, the last two numbers of the set were the most successful.  The band loosened up just in time to shut down.  Between the first numbers and the last were three pieces that also did not quite work--but to a great extent for a significantly different reason.  They were brand new works by Eric, works incorporating performance strategies that are new to band members.  Therefore, some tentativeness is to be expected.  The important point about the new works is that the flexible architecture of the material is both consistent with developments taking place internationally today in arrangements for jazz ensembles and inherently challenging for band members and the audience.  I look forward to seeing where this Infrared music is going.  The program of the evening was Eric’s doing.  For the second set he gave us another group with a guitarist leader but with a very different aesthetic.  The Michael Musillami Trio--with Joe Fonda and George Schuller--offers in-your-face rock band energy with equally aggressive but purely jazz improvisation.  Messrs. Fonda and Schuller play their butts off, but the trio is primarily a showcase for Michael Musillami.  And why not?  As in the case of Eric Clapton, when Michael Musillami starts playing, the listener is caught up, focussed on what line the guitarist will conjure next.  As he mouths the notes that the guitar unleashes, Michael Musillami commands audience attention.  The bassist and drummer know that.  But why should that bother them?  Is Al Foster taking a back seat when Sonny Rollins solos?  Of course.  But he’s so happy giving the master a push into the beyond that he plays on fire and smiles.  That’s what’s going on in the Michael Musillami Trio.  A fiery kind of oxidation...

BOLT has gone through several different permutations--trio or quartet and various subtractions and additions in personnel.  But, whatever the musical configuration, it just does not make sense.  Early on, when the first trios performed, I was intrigued, but I found the music a bit problematic.  And the “problems” persist.  The combination of instruments (to some extent) and the musical personalities (the extremely different musical planets they come from) just don’t work together well.  Or at least that was my belief going into the 4/22 gig at the Outpost--and for the first thirty seconds of the gig.  The “problems” still are there, but so is the intrigue.  These folks--Jorrit Dijkstra, Eric Hofbauer, Junko Fujiwara Simons, and Curt Newton--stayed with it over time and made it work.  Yes, it often sounds like four different radio stations tuned in simultaneously--but not really in a Cagean sense.  This quartet is throwing at me John Carter, Witold Lutosławski, Johnny Cash, and Phil Wachsmann at the same time.  And now it’s coming together   The intrigue is replaced with the joy of witnessing an unlikely birth.  Is it a boy or a girl?  Who cares?  It’s alive and it overturned my doubts.  How wonderful...

Laurence Cook didn’t make the gig.  So some glue and percussion magic were missing.  Nevertheless, Eric Zinman’s Citizens' Orchestra (at least this version of it) coped quite well 4/16 at the Outpost.  One of the attractions of the gig was the opportunity for fans to catch the work of musicians who perform here seldom or too rarely--guest Stanley Jason Zappa, guitarist Kevin Frenette (who claims he’s back from his hiatus), Christopher Kottke (who may be becoming Eric’s regular trumpet player), and Glynis Lomon (whose life is filled with enough time constraints for several musicians).  But scarcity of musical appearances was only one reason to show up.  The “everyday warriors”--leader Eric Zinman, trumpet phenom Forbes Graham, high-altitude alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, and glue-meister Jacob William--gave us art that we wish we could have every day.  Make no mistake; there was some chaos during the two sets of music.  After all, we are talking about a one-off version of a band that also was trying to operate without a master percussionist.  But most of the ensemble chatter was a highlight all evening.  And even when certain sound mixes didn’t quite work, there always seemed to be some kind of profound conversation in the middle of it all--string dances between guitar and bass, cello strings and voice arguing with the heavens, and on and on.  So did those of us in attendance miss Laurence Cook?  Certainly.  Was the journey worth the ticket anyway?  Certainly...

March 2012
This was his third gig in three days. The octogenarian pianist/vocalist just keeps marching along like a youngster. And that’s particularly impressive considering the fact that recently he successfully fought off an attack of pneumonia. I’m somewhat humbled by it all. But it’s not as impressive as the music Paul Broadnax and partner Peter Kontrimas brought to us lucky brunchers 3/4 at Bullfinchs in Sudbury. I was lucky/smart enough to get there early and had a great seat down front. I suspect that after a few decades of performing the “great American songbook” a musician either decides to mail it in or play like it’s the last gig he’ll ever play. The latter is what I hope for when I catch anyone--age 20 to whatever--performing live. That’s why I show up when I can to see and hear Paul and Peter. They never lick stamps. It’s always “My Ship” in-your-face beautiful and “Dancing on the Ceiling” romantically right at your table. Long may they continue to show the way...

There never is the sense that the Pandelis Karayorgis Trio--with Jef Charland and Luther Gray--is lacking in technical facility. Each member of the trio can hit an audience with exciting machine-gun bursts of wonderful notes. Although such events happen, the focus of the group transcends technique. But to witness the breadth of the art, one must show up early and pay close attention. In the middle of a set 3/11 at the Lily Pad the trio performed a dead slow challenge--perhaps inspired by Feldman--titled “Cocoon.” In a way it was a remarkable test of the audience, at one point causing time to stand still as each of Jef Charland’s bass tones hung in the air seemingly forever. As breathtaking as that performance was, I can understand the confusion a gentleman felt as he entered the gallery shortly after the beginning of the piece. Unfortunately he did not have enough context to figure out what was going on. He walked out before the conclusion of “Cocoon” and missed eventually what he would have discovered was an extraordinary evening of music...

Several months ago I asked Dave Bryant for a clarification about the lineup on Ornette Coleman’s Skies of America album. After all, who would know discographical details about the master musician’s recordings better than Dave? Some sources claim that Ornette is the only jazz musician on the recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, and others claim that he is joined by Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and/or Ed Blackwell. When I asked Dave the question, he said that he did not know the answer but that he would check on it and get back to me. Enough time had passed that I thought perhaps Dave had forgotten my question. But Dave did not forget. I found a phone message about the question from Dave on my voice mail and got back to him on 3/14. Dave told me that he had attended Ornette’s eighty-second birthday party (apparently an early party) and ran into session producer James Jordan at the event. Mr. Jordan remembers Ornette going over the charts with symphony orchestra musicians in New York to make sure that the writing would make sense to the musicians in England. According to Mr. Jordan, Ornette and he flew to London where the alto saxophonist rehearsed the orchestra. Apparently he did not touch his horn until the actual recording session. Mr. Jordan mentioned that orchestra members were quite shocked when they heard the sounds that Ornette made on the alto sax. The short answer to my question is that Ornette Coleman is the only jazz musician on the album. Worthy of note is the fact that Dave claims Ornette seems to be healthier and more energetic than he was on his eighty-first birthday. Perhaps, like his music, Ornette Coleman gets younger every year...

Although scheduled to include seven members, Charlie Kohlhase's Explorers Club, playing to a packed house 3/15, was a five-man group. Yes, the fine transparency was in evidence, but these guys--Charlie, Jerry Sabatini, Eric Hofbauer, Jef Charland, and Curt Newton--took the music far beyond compelling clarity. This was the loosest version of the Explorers Club in memory. The band was on fire, hitting all the marks, and just plain having fun. Near the end of the second set on a version of the familiar (to Explorers Club fans) “The Alarm Clock is My Kryptonite” the band was cooking and went into a duo sequence featuring Jerry and Eric that was--even in conventional terms--beautiful, as if it were a poignant tribute to Ennio Morricone. Then in whispers Charlie conspired with Jef and Curt, the result being a break-neck freight train of a da capo crashing into the “Morricone” duo. The “Morricone” brothers held their own while the train roared through the Outpost. At the right moment all five stopped playing simultaneously. It was the most exhilarating moment of the evening, a very special evening...

New music venues are good news for both fans and musicians. On 3/3 I received word that Gallery 263 in Central Square has initiated a policy of supporting a variety of visual and performance arts, everything from poetry to various forms of music. Although there does not yet seem to be a defined ongoing schedule of events, I’ve been told that jazz will be an important part of the programming. Here’s hoping for the best...

It got off to a sputtering start, each person taking a turn, trying to find solid footing. When that first effort ended, leader Steve Lantner looked over his shoulder at Joe Morris and Luther Gray. His eyes were more than focussed, piercing. He nodded an inaudible pulse. No more was necessary. Joe and Luther took off and never looked back. Nobody in the band looked back. And the first set was just the beginning. The second set took off with everyone paving new roads until finally Steve announced that there would be one “short” final piece. Allan Chase had been tearing it up all night, and he pushed things even farther now. As I sat there I found myself wanting to dance. The music brought me back to my youth (when I really could dance). As I listened I had visions of dancers. If one could not do the Lindy to this music, I thought, then one just could not do the Lindy--period. Oh, the sounds had nothing to do with “Jumping at the Woodside,” but twenty-first century “noise” would not impair any real dancer hearing this music at the Outpost 3/27. And then it was all over. Silence. Raucous applause. And finally silence. There was a pause, and then I said to no one in particular, “How wonderful. Country Swing isn’t dead.” Then someone behind me asked, “Was that a put-down?” “Oh, no,” I said, “definitely not.” Dancing in Your Head. Indeed...

It is not an event that affects the music in the Boston area, but any news about Duke Ellington is significant wherever it happens. A statue of Duke Ellington was unveiled 3/29 in Ellington Plaza in Northwest Washington, D.C. The location of the statue, the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, is significant because it is where Ellington spent his childhood and the first years of his career. Also the 20-foot statue is in close proximity to the famous Howard Theatre at Florida Avenue and T Street NW. After being closed for 20 years, the Howard Theatre is scheduled to reopen 4/12. In spite of the fact that the statue does not look like Duke Ellington, the intent and the seriousness of these developments are noteworthy...

Because of a variety of unfortunate circumstances I was able to witness only a half hour of music at the Lily Pad on the afternoon of 3/24. It showed promise, particularly considering how powerfully Laurence Cook was bashing away at the drum kit. Later that evening he was back at it at the Outpost with Jacob William’s Para Quintet. Again for about seventy-five percent of the first set, the legend was bashing with a degree of energy that I cannot ever remember him exhibiting. Two gigs in one day. The revered veteran was a tornado. Of course, he was not alone. In fact, that is the whole point. Everyone in the band was reaching for higher realms of expression. On the break I spoke briefly with Jim Hobbs, excitedly expressing my joy in hearing such original sounds from his horn. Neck-snapping stuff. He too was enthusiastic about the performance. But he was self-effacing, passing off all the praise to Laurence. “It’s all Laurence,” he said. “His playing is bringing that out of me.” It continued all night--Jim bringing up sounds somewhere from the soil and Forbes Graham responding with an enormous range of commentary, everything from a machine-gun barrage of notes to clarion calls to the clouds. Against the wall at the upright Steve Lantner was the astute architectural traffic cop, silently letting the traffic flow one minute and offering crystalline pyramids and cubes for band members to stand on or toss off to a velcro-handed band mate. Always the music. And you could tell it was working wonderfully, even if you had turned off your hearing aid--because there was leader Jacob William dancing with his violin-family partner, urging others into sustained (or different) directions. And much of the time smiling. How could he not? When the music stopped finally for the night I asked Laurence how he found so much extreme energy throughout two gigs on the same day. People who know Laurence know his dry wit and his joy in playing The Trickster. Therefore, often one cannot be sure if he is pulling the leg of the audience/listener or being serious. I cannot remember his being so unequivocally serious as he was in that moment when he said, “I found that I am too predictable. I’m trying to push myself beyond predictability.” This man who has consistently surprised me as much as any musician I’ve heard was standing in front of me with a facial expression of someone quite serious, perhaps grappling with a life or death decision. He had the demeanor and voice of a man on a mission. Given the extraordinary music he has created over the years--and continues to create--that mission gives one pause. And it fills one with thanks and anticipation...

February 2012
It was quite a night. Several of my favorite musicians from around the globe (of course including the two Bostonians who brought the thing together, Jorrit Dijkstra and Pandelis Karayorgis) showed up to a large, enthusiastic audience at Killian Hall 2/1 to present an interesting range of music, most of it written by Steve Lacy. I certainly do not take our local musicians for granted, but when a lot of time passes between opportunities to catch some favorite improvisors, it always is special. And so it was in the case of Han Bennink and Mary Oliver (last here with ICP in April) and Chicagoans Nate McBride and Jeb Bishop. As most folks around here know, Nate has strong Boston connections, and his presence was a bit like old home week with musicians in the audience taking the opportunity to catch up with him. It’s a good time in new music for trombonists with such wonderful musicians (just off the top of my head) as the Bauer brothers, Steve Swell, and Wolter Wierbos making great noise around the world. And right up there in my book is Jeb, and (even though I caught him with the Brötzmann Tentet in April) it seemed like forever since I’d heard his compelling sounds. Just wonderful. Good things happened. But the real news of the event was Han Bennink, who decided to carry the whole band on his back. He’s always energetic, full of whimsy, and anything but shy. However on 2/1 he decided that he was going to grab each musician by the collar and carry him/her separately or in ensemble around the performance stage and reveal improvised music as something taking place on a whole new, lifted (to steal from Mr. Lacy) dance floor. I’ve seen Blakey do it, and now I can say that I’ve seen Han Bennink do that kind of magic. Some kind of fun at MIT...

It was too long a break since the last time the band performed locally, and an enthusiastic audience greeted Charlie Kohlhase's Explorers Club 2/4 at Pickman Hall. The band--Charlie, Jerry Sabatini, Jeff Galindo, Matt Langley, Jef Charland, Eric Hofbauer, and Curt Newton--consisted of slightly different from usual personnel. But the results were just fine. It was only Curt Newton’s second gig with the band, but you’d never know they had only two “half rehearsals.” That’s what seasoned veterans can do for you, in this case at the trap set. But the fact that the rest of the band is so comfortable with each other made all the difference as well. And the solos all around--with particularly fine offerings by Jerry, Matt, and Eric--were especially outstanding on this night. The entire musical package makes you want these folks to play more frequently around here. And (lucky for us) it’s looking like they might...

I should make a couple things clear from the outset. First, I have nothing against the use of computers or virtually any other device that might be used in the creation of music. I have enjoyed a wide range of electronic contributions to music, everything from amplified microphones, electric sound recordings, and both composed and spontaneous manipulations of samples and sonic programs of all types. Some of my best friends are computers. Even the idea of an improvising computer has its attractions. Second, I believe George Lewis is one of the great living trombonists, a national treasure. And now to the evening of 2/10 at Houghton Chapel, Wellesley College. I must mention that celebrated composer Martin Brody introduced the event. After battling illness for several years, during the past couple years he has returned to the Wellesley campus and become more active there. This is good news because some of us miss the impact he had on the music department, most notably to outsiders--such as myself--in terms of “classical” music programming. The music that has been programmed at Wellesley without that guidance has been much more conservative/boring without his knowledgeable and passionate guidance. It is good to see him looking good. The performance itself began with what is presumably the latest update of George Lewis’ Voyager software, this time offering piano sounds via the Yamaha Mark III Pro grand piano (incorporating integrated digital electronics) to be played off/against Mr. Lewis’ trombone and Vijay Iyer’s piano work. George Lewis’ work with computer improvisations goes back to the early 1980s in Europe, and he has been using and modifying the Voyager software since 1987. I have not witnessed George Lewis’ use of Voyager software in performance since 1998. At that time it struck me that the program’s sonics were more reactive than conversational in terms of improvisation. Apparently Mr. Lewis has been working on that problem and has caused the computerized improvisation to be more pro-active, even aggressive. The first indication that the software would not be a passive participant is the fact that the first improvisational sounds we heard were not that of a trombone or of Vijay Iyer’s piano but rather that of the adventuresome computerized piano. The meandering, non-human music was the setup for Vijay Iyer to sit at his piano and have an improvised duo with Voyager. He did, and the results were more intellectually interesting than sonically profound. For reasons that I’m not clear about, Voyager decided that it was going to challenge the human pianist. Understandably--again assuming that Vijay Iyer is relatively new to the software--the human pianist somewhat gingerly tried to feel his way through the experience. Voyager would have none of that. It threw cascades of notes, clusters, everything that might be a checksum overload equivalent of the kitchen sink at the human pianist. For those of you who are science fiction fans, think of Colossus pursuing an interplanetary piano competition. Vijay Iyer didn’t have a chance. And that’s not a slap at the human pianist. He just wanted to play nice, as if he were sitting down to share a duet with Marian McPartland, and he found himself under attack. In other words, it seems that Mr. Lewis has solved the problem of the “reactive computerized musician” and replaced it with a monster. If nothing else, somewhere in the Voyager software there is the need for an ongoing “play nice” routine to monitor the proceedings. After that portion of the concert was completed, the Voyager piano continued to improvise. (A victory lap? A segue?) Then there was a Lewis-Voyager duet, more solo Voyager, and an Iyer-Lewis-Voyager trio into a conclusion. Some comments about the Lewis-Voyager duet may be useful. First, hearing George Lewis improvise on trombone is such an extraordinary experience that it makes assessment of what happened in that duet difficult. But I will try. The first thing that comes to mind is the question of what the purpose of the Voyager program is. If it is merely an intellectually/”compositionally” challenging project, fine. End of discussion. But maybe the meaning is something grander. More than a dozen years ago, regarding this subject George Lewis said, “When I interact with a computer, I’m looking for an experience that will let me explore my many worlds--the dream machine, the spirit catcher. Notes, timbre, melody, rhythm, and other musical constructs cannot function simply as ends in themselves. Embedded in these objects is a more complex, indirect, powerful signal that we must train ourselves to detect, and that will one day be the subject of an expanded notion of music theory.” Pretty heady stuff. That certainly does not sound like merely a challenging project. Although he may wish to modify/update that statement today, it may be a useful place to begin as one considers “something grander.” It seems that the most relevant question is whether the morphing Voyager software is intended to be human or alien. I think that’s an important question. If the software is intended to function as a human replacement, why? Are we pondering a dystopia in which humanity is so reduced in numbers that creative improvisors will have to seek out a Peter Brötzmann substitute as some form of musical challenge? The other most obvious purpose for a human Voyager is that it evolve into a computerized “play along recording”--you know, those educational records in which the student pianist turns off the pianist channel and plays along with a monster bass-drum duo. It’s all very nice in theory. But how many times can a student play with the EXACT SAME world-famous bassists and drummers before the spontaneous improvisation is gone. And so we face the problem of the human Voyager as teacher/partner. Certainly the “aggressive” Voyager can overwhelm a polite Vijay Iyer. But what about someone such as George Lewis who “knows” Voyager intimately? Yes, Voyager is programmed to adjust, to rethink, to challenge its duo or ensemble partner(s). But software has a personality, in some ways even more distinct and predictable than the people who create it. Therefore, one may ask, at what point does George Lewis get bored with his “play along partner?” Are the evolving “improvements” to Voyager merely attempts to defeat predictability? The success George Lewis had performing with Voyager (as compared with the Vijay Iyer performance) suggested the value of human-Voyager familiarity--perhaps eventually approaching boredom. The alternative--the alien Voyager--is the one that makes the most sense. Quite often on 2/10 I had the feeling that Vijay Iyer and George Lewis were performing with some kind of alien. The alienness is difficult to articulate, but much of the time the Voyager “responses” were unexpected, but not in the way that a human master improvisor might surprise a listener. Occasionally I found myself asking rhetorically, “What was that?”--but not in the way that one might ask the question upon first witnessing the music of Thelonious Monk or Cecil Taylor. At the same time my subjective reaction to Voyager’s sonic contributions was that the software did indeed listen to its human partners, but it simply didn’t care what they played. I don’t know where all of this might lead, but it does raise questions about human creativity, everything from the practical (What would the improvisatory expectations of someone outside our solar system be?) to the philosophical (What would Aristotle play?). For now, there is nothing quite like the quality of the music of a human master improvisor. George Lewis’ interaction with Voyager 2/10 is instructive in a number of ways. First, there is the question of why George Lewis’ interaction with Voyager was more convincing musically than the Iyer-Voyager interaction. There are several possibilities. One, of course, is that George Lewis is a veteran, a true master musician and therefore better equipped to tackle an alien presence. As has been alluded to, another possibility is the trombonist’s familiarity with the software. After all, he wrote it. A third factor--and it is significant if not completely responsible for George Lewis’ success--is that the developer of Voyager is a trombonist. While some sort of communication was attempted between Vijay Iyer and Voyager, it became difficult to discern at times which keyboard/actor was making which sounds. To some extent it was a problem of stepping on each other’s sonic toes. Anyone who has heard improvised piano duos--Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris, for example--understands that the two pianists either beforehand or during the “conversation” work out territories to avoid sonic clutter and other problems. Quite obviously, no such understanding between the pianist and the software was reached. On the other hand, George Lewis faced no such problem. Because of timbre and other trombone characteristics (such as wide dynamic range), George Lewis could take on the Colossus precursor and (if appropriate) successfully ignore the software’s comments. Although the Lewis-Voyager music had advantages over the sonic interactions of the two pianos, it was not without its problems. The problem that affected me most (as a George Lewis fan) is that the strictures of electronics limited the trombonist’s improvisatory possibilities. I could not be sure about the primary sources of the problem, but it had to do with microphones. As he improvised, George Lewis dealt with two microphones--a pickup on the bell of his horn and a stand mic on the floor. So I’m not clear whether the physically static nature of his playing was due to Voyager requirements or the room’s sound system. But George Lewis may as well have been planted in cement. Anyone who has had the opportunity to witness a solo performance by George Lewis knows that the man understands how to “work a room.” By that I mean that he understands and apparently loves to exploit the acoustics of a room (if it’s a good one). Houghton Chapel potentially is such a “good one.” Oh, what sacrifices we make for “progress.” As implied here already, I found that Voyager has at least one human characteristic. In a way that is similar to an inexperienced free improvisor or an improvising free veteran having a bad gig, Voyager does not know when to shut up. And perhaps the program has another kind of human weakness. There was a bit of irony at the end of the evening when the human musicians came forward to accept the applause of the audience. As he walked between his horn on a table and the stand mic, George Lewis got tangled in the audio cables and pulled the trombone off the table. I stopped breathing for a few seconds after the crash until eventually the trombonist seemed content with the physical condition of his horn. I remember wondering at the time whether the crash was merely an accident or an accident. Have we come to the stage in software development in which a piece of music software defeated in a “horn battle” of sorts now resorts to revenge? After the trombone-Voyager duet, trio and other adventures continued. The give and take went on until I found myself hoping (and somehow I don’t think I was alone in the hope) for an off switch so that all of us in the audience could hear what happens when improvising humans communicate sonically. But no such luck. The trio set ended, and audience members were asked to remain while the musicians and some friends sat on a panel to discuss what had just happened and its implications as well as field questions from the audience. Maybe I was hasty, but I decided that I was not up for dealing with a seminar on human-software improvisatory experiences. After all, I had just witnessed one...

Sometimes mishaps are great haps. At the last minute the Melissa Kassel-Tom Zicarelli Group was without a bass player. A replacement bass player was on call, but he could not arrive until after the scheduled start time 2/2 at the Lily Pad. Problem? Not really. The drummer in the band is Gary Fieldman, and he knows how to provide a functional cushion. The opening “Honeysuckle Rose” was so comfortable that Tom Zicarelli decided not to take advantage of the chordal possibilities of the piano (i.e., filling the “void” left by the absent bass), and picked up his tenor sax to solo and converse with the trumpet of Phil Grenadier, who was having a great time with all the space left over. Piece of cake. Then master bassist Bruce Gertz showed up. He seemed excited to have the opportunity to dive right in. And dive he did. This is no easy journey for a bass player who is not a band regular. Most of the tunes are originals, and somewhat tricky at that. And yet, a top-notch bass player should be able to read his way through the charts. It goes with the territory of being a pro. And that would have been fine. But Bruce is not merely a top-notch bass player. He’s a writer, an on-stage creator who just can’t help himself if the music is genuinely challenging (as the music of this band always is). He just had to support everyone else and put his solid stamp on the material as well. A perfect example by Bruce and everyone in the band of spontaneous problem-solving on a jazz gig. At the highest level...

I was told 2/18 that former Boston-based (now living in Munich) Hans Poppel will be seventy years old 3/7. The improvising pianist and childrens book illustrator last visited here in June, during which he performed with Bostonian friends at the Outpost. If you would like to wish him well on his landmark birth anniversary, he can be reached at: hanspoppel@t-online.de...

Most fans think of Charlie Kohlhase's Explorers Club as a seven- or eight-musician ensemble, and they are used to a configuration of that size. But Charlie has been juggling personnel during the past couple months (and apparently will continue to do so for the next couple). Fortunately these changes do not result in disappointment. In fact, the quintet that showed up 2/16 at the Outpost--Charlie, Jerry Sabatini, Jeff Galindo, Jef Charland, and Mike Connors--offered a nice, tight little package. It was a “lean, mean” outfit employing the familiar arrangements (with “holes” where the missing people might have contributed) and at least one significantly modified chart (Sun Ra’s “El is a Sound of Joy”) by Jerry Sabatini. The combination of compact ensemble and adjusted arrangements resulted in some wonderful music with an in-your-face transparency. After all there is a fine tradition of this activity with such masters as Ellington and in the European tradition (for example, the compact Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion transformed into the Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Orchestra by Bartók). Another benefit was the greater amount of solo space for each of the musicians. I had heard at least one complaint after the previous gig that Jeff Galindo did not get enough solo time. Maybe one cannot get enough Galindo improvisation (and I’m one of those ones), but that wasn’t much of a problem 2/16. There was plenty of stretching by the front line, and Jef and Mike put in a good day’s work--whether chugging along in support or exploding out front. And with all that the group seemed to work particularly well in the intimacy of the Outpost. It looks like the next installment will be there also...

There does seem to be a strong connection between the arts and the sciences. For example, I would expect to have a better chance of bumping into a Beethoven fan or Coltrane fan in the hallways of MIT than on Main Street, Anywhere USA. Regardless of how you feel about that concept, you might find the William Pentland article titled “Geekville, USA: America's 20 Geekiest Cities” somewhat interesting. The article discusses U.S. National Science Foundation findings in its annual Science and Engineering Indicators report. The report includes a rating of U.S. cities based on the number of people in those cities “with a bachelor’s level of knowledge and education in science or engineering-related fields or workers in occupations that require some degree of technical knowledge or training.” Based on that definition, one might expect Cambridge (home to Harvard, MIT, and other educational institutions) to be in the top twenty cities. Wrong. But what may be more surprising is that three other eastern Massachusetts places are in the top twenty. They are Framingham (3), Lowell (6), and Boston (15). Go figure....

Michael Moran explained 2/24 at the Amazing Things Arts Center that he had trouble booking jazz gigs because generally they don’t draw well. He said that he loves jazz and is glad that he was able to continue to book jazz because of a grant the arts center recently received. I don’t know how many people are needed to create a break-even audience at ATAC, but more than fifty people showed up there 2/24 to catch two sets of Yoron Israel’s High Standards. Not surprisingly, Yoron came to play--pushing his kit (seemingly) to its limits and bringing everyone else in the band along with him. They didn’t need much encouragement because they consisted of Laszlo Gardony, John Lockwood, and capable substitute saxophonist Marco Pignatoro (known to a great extent because of his work with the Berklee Global Jazz Institute). Yoron sees this band as his “everything” group, capable of performing a wide range of material. For example, on 2/24 the band featured the music of Stevie Wonder. As fine as those selections were, the highlights for me were the Coltrane and Coltrane-inspired offerings. Maybe my reaction was due to the joy of witnessing the drummer really bashing the hardware. Or maybe those performances were simply the best playing of the night. And it was a fine night...

During the first set 2/28 at the Outpost the band was on fire, and it struck me how far Joe Morris has come as an acoustic bassist. There is no question in my mind that Joe’s primary legacy will be as a jazz guitarist, the most important innovator of his generation. Nevertheless, it is apparent that his combination of extraordinary musicianship and hard work have resulted in producing a bass player to be contended with. Throughout the evening his strength and technical facility time and again impressed any observant witness. But more impressive is what he did with all that to help everyone’s music to soar. And everyone in the band is a unique voice that surprises other band members. Everyone is in turn surprised by an environment of purely melodic voices--as in the sense of harmolodic voices. One can witness the musical relationship even off the stage. On the break I went up to Joe to tell him how wonderful he sounded. I could hardly get any words out when Joe began an enthusiastic rave about Allan Chase’s contributions to the group. “He knows every sax player thoroughly,” Joe said, “but he doesn’t sound like any of them. He sounds like Allan Chase.” And Joe should know. His knowledge of post-Ayler jazz musicians is truly encyclopedic. And the raves could continue to Steve Lantner and Luther Gray. Each member of the Steve Lantner Quartet is assertive and unique, resulting in a quartet that--as I have suggested before--is one of the top half dozen post-Ayler quartets in the world. And that thought brings up another interesting and perhaps significant concept. The first two other post-Ayler quartets active during the past fifteen years that come immediately to mind are the Georg Gräwe Quartet and the Die Like a Dog Quartet. We’re talking about three amazing ensembles, and each is as different from the other as one can imagine. Yes, instrumentation differences are a factor, but a small factor. Each quartet makes an extraordinary, unique musical statement. I don’t know what the other two quartets have been up to during the past couple years. But I do know that somehow the Steve Lantner Quartet keeps getting better. It’s a little frightening...

The hour long PBS production, American Master: Cab Calloway, turned out to be a fine celebration 2/27 of the band leader’s contributions to American music. Yes, I have quibbles, particularly regarding the implication that Cab Calloway predicted hip-hop. I see a much closer link between him and Little Richard. But mostly it was just plain fun to sit back and enjoy the footage of the man in action...

What an amazing band. These guys have played in various similar configurations before, but Beyond Biology--Jacob William, Jim Hobbs, Jeff Galindo, Steve Lantner, and Luther Gray--2/21 was something special. First, the mix is really a MIX. Each musician has a strong, distinct voice. For example, even though these men are familiar to each other, if I mention Steve and ask who’s the first musician that he brings to mind, it is unlikely that anyone would name Jeff. If I mention Jeff, I don’t imagine that Jim would come to mind. And right down the lineup. It is not that they can’t play well together. It is that their voices and visions seem so far apart. In fact, at Ryles these guys fed off each other to do things I’d never heard those individuals do before. I spent the evening being constantly surprised, and I suspect the musicians were also. No doubt a lot of that has to do with Jacob. I’ve mentioned before his ability to bring combinations of musicians together to create consistently outstanding music. Undoubtedly that fact has something to do with organizational alchemy. But a major factor is musicianship. I suspect that in past Journal references to Jacob I have been so focussed on his organizational and leadership abilities that I may have put his bass playing in the back seat. Perhaps it goes without saying, but it should be noted that one of the main reasons his groups work so well is that the bass player is so good. In Boston we are blessed with a large number of world class jazz bassists. Jacob is right there in the head of the pack. For example, there was one period 2/21 when Jacob asked a musical question on the bass. He repeated the question over and over for several minutes, looking for answers. The answers he got were among the highlights of the evening. And so it went. It is early in the year, but already I’m confident that Beyond Biology at Ryles 2/21 will stick with me as one of the best gigs of 2012...


January 2012 

Early January of any year tends to be pretty slow for jazz and most other performance arts. But for me things were slower than usual. I confronted some medical challenges and some illness. Fortunately, none of that seems to be developing into any kind of life-threatening events. So I’m fine and quite happy/healthy. However, those developments mean that I was unable to attend as many jazz performances as I had hoped. As a result, this Journal for January is fairly slim. But what I did catch was well worth the effort...

It had been months since the group performed together, and the joy of re-discovery was evident in its performance 1/24 at the Outpost. Much of the joy appeared to come from the reunion of Joe Morris and Luther Gray, throwing time and patterns at each other, resulting in smiles and occasionally laughter at the results. But they also were doing service to the entire quartet. Steve Lantner and Allan Chase built structures and conversations on the bass-drums context and pushed Luther and Joe along evening harder. Of course, the solos were remarkable--as was the range of energy and terrain covered. And the audience responded in kind. If ever an audience could say, “Welcome back” through applause they did so at this gig. For example, at the conclusion of the first work of the first set the audience clapped enthusiastically, as one might expect. But after a period of suitable applause was concluded, the audience decided that amount was not enough. The applause went on, as if the witnesses were attempting to push the band into an encore. The night had just begun...

Jazz should be shared with all Americans, particularly very young children so they can become as hip as possible as early as possible. According to an official announcement earlier this month, the National Endowment for the Arts is trying to help. In these times of trillion dollar debts $135,000 does not sound like much money. But particularly considering that the NEA is putting up the money for jazz programs, that amount sounds kind of typical. But maybe it’s a great windfall. In the current fiscal world all the arts have to anticipate major government cuts. After all, who we really are as a species is not as important as survival at any cost. Whatever the amount of money implies, it is good to know that the NEA is giving a total of $135,000 to twelve different not-for-profit organizations on behalf of jazz. As Jeff Tamarkin in JazzTimes describes the grants, the money will be used “to bring outstanding jazz musicians, writers, producers, and scholars to communities across the nation...” Except for the writers, producers, and scholars, that sounds like a pretty good idea...

I had not witnessed Aaron Darrell’s playing before. As I mentioned in the Highlights listing, I suspected that because he was scheduled to perform 1/25 with Forbes Graham, Pandelis Karayorgis, and Curt Newton, “he must be good.” Not to worry. He acquitted himself nicely. It’s a good thing he did because these guys are a challenge to anyone who’s serious about playing. As I’ve mentioned before, Curt the respected veteran is playing at a peak--and somehow each time I catch him he keeps getting better. Pandelis is simply Pandelis, a giant at composing and using those compositions (or other people’s) for on-the-spot research at the highest level. And what is going on with Forbes? He’s been a major brass force on the scene for years. And yet, especially during the past couple years he has taken everything he does (regardless of form or context in general) to another level. Here he is 1/25 grappling with variations on the song form, and he calls up the advice of the giant predecessors, employing apparently Clifford-inspired lines of gorgeous, rare beauty. But it’s all Forbes. And, of course, they feed each other--and the audience--superbly...

It was a good-sized crowd. That fact probably had something to do with the 7:30 start time. People who get up early sometimes can’t handle the rock-club start times. Even more important, it was an enthusiastic crowd that seemed to have a pretty good idea of what to expect: Great music, full of surprises, and strong improvisational personalities. The Pandelis Karyorgis Trio with Jef Chartland and Luther Gray is really on a roll now. Unstoppable. The three of them play challenging music--both charts and what happens between the heads. And they make no compromises. So this is heady, potentially “difficult” stuff. In spite of those likely obstacles to connecting with an audience, the trio does connect. Enthusiastic applause and even an occasional “whoop” suggest an absence of road blocks. Three reasons for their success with audiences are most obvious. First (but by no means most important), all three musicians have developed significant technical facility. Sometimes one cannot help being mesmerized by the mechanics of the music. However, just as people have been floored by Charlie Parker’s technique, ultimately (as too many students fail to notice) the technique is no more than a means to something more important. The second of the trio’s seductions is the group’s passionate, joyous commitment to the music. Each band member believes in the compositions, regardless of whether the music is composed by one of them or some other jazz monster. More important, the focussed joy goes beyond composition. Whether Luther’s solo is accompanied or not, Pandelis and Jef are so caught up in the music that they are almost a part of the drum kit. And so it is, no matter who is out front. The audience knows that you can’t fake that, and it responds accordingly. Finally, there is the quality of the music. I know. That’s almost a contradiction in implications. If one examines almost any music form, one discovers that it is the mediocrity that draws the audiences. In addition, if the music is genuinely new, forget about it. You might as well be preaching to the empty choir. But something remarkable is going on with the Pandelis Karayorgis Trio. Apparently there are people who show up to really watch and listen. You know, there is a special moment when you look up at the sky and you see a marvelous sunset. And you just can’t turn your head away. I suspect something like that is what was going on 12/29 at the Lily Pad...