Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday night double bill

It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I was going to work somewhat late, then bounce to Jazz Standard for the late set of the Dave Douglas Sextet and follow it with an even later evening excursion to the Village Vanguard for the Adam Rogers Quintet. It didn't work out as planned but it was okay.

Walking into Jazz Standard to hear Douglas, I was reminded of the last time I heard him there. I went with an old pal, who has been in and around the biz for years. Douglas group played a fine set to my ears, but my friend was unconvinced. "Some of those solos," he said. "I feel like I heard them too often at Knitting Factory."
It's been years since Douglas was a regular at the Knitting Factory though I first became acquainted with his work when the performance space/club was on Houston St. So the remark carried some weight. Did Douglas spend so much time varying the groups that he plays in that his solo style had ossified.
The Sextet Douglas presented Thursday night was proof of his still restless mind. DJ Olive was on Turntables, Brad Jones played an acoustic bass that was amplified to give it a mean rip snorting sound that might be more at home in a funk or backwater country band, Marcus Strickland was on tenor saxophone, Gene Lake laid a ferocious backbeat, and Adam Benjamin supplied the necessary Fender Rhodes keyboards.
The Fender was necessary as the music often feels like an updating of those rare few but utterly vital early '70s electric jazz recordings. Olive works more as an additional source of percussive sounds rather than textural ones. With Benjamin, Strickland and Lake all clustering short staccato figures over Olive's beat and Jone's atmospheric grunts, the music had a techno feel that should delight any fan of LCD Soundsystem (James Murphy fans would also like Bad Touch the cooperative quartet featuring drummer Ted Poor, saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Nate Radley and keyboardist GaryVersace).
Did the solos sound similar to last time, initially yeah, they did. But as the set wore on the performance began to take on a personality all of its own. Douglas soloed but in shorter bursts than before. It was terse music that needed to generate excitement to work and with each of the six working within the surprising novel framework of the group, they did. I almost skipped the Vanguard just to let this music echo in my head.
But I'm not one to quit while I'm ahead (actually I'm not one to quit period).
A quick cab ride later, I was in the Vanguard for Rogers, a guitarist who has had several standout sideman gigs. My favorite in fact is a live at the Village Vanguard date with saxophonist Chris Potter called "Follow The Red Line." This week is his Vanguard debut as a leader and he brought along a stellar band, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Scott Coley, saxophonist Mark Turner, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.
Rogers music offers bright clear melodic lines at the outset of each tune, but they retreat gently into abstraction by mid song. His tunes come with titles like "Confluence" and "Continuance." These aren't pieces about deep laments and emotional highs; they are about abstract thoughts about emotive highs and lows. Most bands would have struggled with the complex music, but this quintet brought it off nicely. Watts was consistently a pleasure (made me wonder if he's exerted an influence on the exceptional young drummer Tyshawn Storey), there were great duet moments between Tain and all three members of the front line. Colley matched wits well with Rogers on two occasions. However, by midset there was a sense that this was one of those nights were the band was--cliche alert--a little less than the sum of its parts. I could see what frustrated Nate Chinen on the night he attended.
Rogers and his bandmates make powerful but proudly insular music and some of that insularity is prevented me from fulling appreciating the force.
It was an awkward nightcap but two sets of music like this is never a bad time.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

A fun discussion

The Root asked me to write the music piece for their 40th anniversary of the MLKing assassination package. I was flattered. It enabled me to talk about where I'm from a bit more than usual.

The list is out

A few days before Easter, I was asked by New York magazine to cull a list of the six to twelve most New York jazz recordings of the last 40 years for a segment they were doing called the New York Cannon. It's part of the magazine's 40th anniversary celebration.
The list with edited prose is on page 75. The full list is below.
I spent a lot of time wrestling with the assignment before coming to the conclusion that the list should be idiosyncratic and personal. Ask twelve critics each to do a list like this and you'll probably come up with 144 different albums. I kept having to remind myself that this isn't intended to be the 12 "best" albums of the last 40 years, just the 12 most indicative of the city. Of course New York City is the jazz capital of the world, so that makes it tougher. The 40 year cutoff made it very tough too since Coltrane's Vanguard sessions, Sonny Rollins on the Bridge, and other key NYC events took place in the years before 1968.
Also its idiosyncratic because what New York City means changes from New Yorker to New Yorker.
Nonetheless it was a fun assignment and I'm delighted that it ran so vividly.

Ornette Coleman – Of Human Feelings (Antilles, 1979)

The last track is called “Times Square,” but other tracks could have been called “Chelsea,” “Harlem,” and Soho. This 1979 masterpiece from the saxophone legend and his electric band Prime Time brims with urbane energy and New York rhythms, part funk, part African, part Latin and all jazz.

Arthur Blythe – Lenox Avenue Breakdown (Columbia, 1979)

In the ‘70s, Soho was full of musician-run performance spaces in lofts and it abetted a scene where great small group experiments took place. Given a budget by a major label, Blythe showed how diverse and exciting a loft-inspired large ensemble could sound.

Miles Davis – On The Corner (Columbia, 1972)

The cover looks like a caricature of 125th St. circa 1971, but the music sounds like a funkified urban jungle, broken down subways and all. Miles last great studio album is a polyrhythmic monster that screams get down or get out.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – Live in Swing City Swingin’ with the Duke (Sony, 1999)

Until Lincoln Center started a jazz constituent, most repertory bands were just weak shadows. This orchestra gets the rehearsal time and space to nail the elegant sophistication and debonair tone of jazz’s greatest composer.

World Saxophone Quartet – Live at BAM (Black Saint, 1985)

Born in the lofts of the ‘70s, WSQ was equal parts soulful pop energy and avant garde elusiveness; they prefigured the entire late ‘80s/early ‘90s Knitting Factory scene, Medeski, Martin and Wood, and Sex Mob.

Brad Mehldau – The Art of the Trio 3: Live at the Village Vanguard (Warner Bros, 1998)

When pianist Brad Mehldau started doing Live at the Village Vanguard albums, jazzheads wondered WTF? With his third volume, he proved worthy of the mantle of Evans, Rollins, Coltrane, and the many others who have used that title. Also with a repertoire that began claiming creative pop as grist for improvisational flights, he pointed jazz toward a post-millennial future.

Jerry Gonzales and the Fort Apache Band – Rumba Para Monk (Sunnyside, 1988)

During the ‘80s, you had to live in a pretty exclusive part of Manhattan to not hear great Latin music at least in passing, and this top flight band showed exactly how much Bronx and Barrio was in jazz’s most idiosyncratic composer.

Dave Holland Quintet – Prime Directive (ECM, 2000)

The precise arrangements of this stellar combo vividly recall the panoramic gleam of Wagner era midtown and the sun drenched Saturday mornings of contemporary Greenmarkets with equal ease.

Abbey Lincoln – Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve 2007)

On a record where jazz’s best living singer proves she’s also its best living songwriter, spare arrangements liberate vocal jazz from the ballroom and the cabaret and move them to a quiet corner of Central Park.

John Zorn’s Masada – Vol. 2: Beit (DIW, 1995)

In the early ‘90s, John Zorn created the ultimate downtown music: the Ramones at CBGB meet Ornette Coleman at The Five Spot and play with Eastern European ghetto harmonies and melodic structure. The only thing more bizarre than the recipe is how well it works.

Jason Lindner – Premonition: (Stretch, 2000)

Jazz isn’t learned on the bandstand anymore; it’s studied in conservatories. In the mid ‘90s, just as those institutions were flooding Gotham with its graduates, Mitch Borden started Small’s in Greenwich Village so the best could really get schooled. Jason Lindner’s big band was one of the first bands to establish themselves and create the new downtown sound.

Jenny Scheinman – Crossing the Field (Koch, 2008)

An album that grew from jam sessions in Red Hook squats and became the epicenter of the new Brooklyn jazz scene in Park Slope, Scheinman’s disc is full of weird combinations on the bandstand and irresistibly creative and eclectic music.