Sunday, December 25, 2011

A new NEA Jazz Master talks

I had a long conversation with trumpeter Jimmy Owens in preparation for a feature in the January issue of Hot House, which is just out. He had far more to talk about than there was space for in the profile. He’s getting the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy at the NEA Jazz Masters event January 10 at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall.
It is very well deserved. Owens’ involvement as an advocate regarding the rights of jazz artists led to the founding of the Jazz Musician's Emergency Fund, a Jazz Foundation of America program that helps individual musicians with medical, financial and housing assistance. He is also actively involved in issues related to pension benefits for jazz artists. Earlier, he co-founded The Collective Black Artists Inc., which kept 18 musicians working - touring up and down the East Coast and as far west as Chicago and Detroit. He also taught a business course on things that made a difference economically and control-wise for their lives.

Speaking off health issues, here’s what he also has to say about the current health of the jazz recording industry:

“There are no real jazz record companies and the majors call a few artists ‘jazz’ now and then,” Owens told me. “Artists are now saying, ‘I’m not going to wait any more. I’ll make my own.’ Now we have some really great self-produced recordings, and some pieces of shit. It is relatively inexpensive to make your own CD and press 500 or 1,000 copies. Sometimes they are really good, sometimes they are mediocre, and sometimes they are really bad. This is the state of the record industry and jazz. It’s not a very good state that we’re in today.”

Some would argue that the points he makes extend far beyond jazz.

Feliz Navidad

Joyous holiday wishes to each of you on this special day.

It feels a bit odd to be celebrating away from the usual white carpet of snow in upstate New York or New England... but I'm starting to like the concept of Christmas-lighted palms and certainly the 80-degree weather in this new environment.

May 2012 bring an abundance of swinging music and fulfillment of dreams for each of you, not necessarily in that order.


Friday, December 23, 2011

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Rene Marie, Black Lace Freudian Slip (Motéma)
Rene Marie is not a “chick singer” covering standards. Even the thought of that at this stage of her career likely would drive her batty. The singer-songwriter is a lady with attitude. This is a good thing; it enhances her music by making it personal. On track two, “This is for Joe,” she admits as much: “I can’t compete. I can’t be a good girl and sing standards all nice and sweet.” The heart-on-her-sleeve song is a dandy, except for the opening sentence. She has proven that she can compete.

The creative gem here is the clever title track, which delves into the challenges of being an artful singer. Marie even throws a jab towards the critics among us: “Ah, the media and the critics blah-blah-blah in my ear. Oh I’ve sat out there but have you ever stood up here?” …. You get the picture. Her oldest son, Michael A. Crone, joins her on vocals on his original, the blues “Deep in the Mountains.” Check out this fine recording. There is much to savor. Understand going in that you’ll find no standards, not tired tunes, no covers. Hallelujah.

The New World Jazz Composers Octet, Breaking News (Big and Phat Jazz Productions)
Saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith formed the octet in 2000 as a vehicle for recording and performing material by the Boston area’s many fine jazz composers. This is the group’s third recording, and it is robust both in the range of quality material and in the performances of those nine compositions. The band often sounds more like a full big band than an octet. Lovers of hard bop will dig the blistering and funky title track, which trumpeter Walter Platt wrote as a tip of the hat to Horace Silver and Shorty Rogers. Saxophonist Ted Pease provided a diverse trilogy paying homage to three of his favorite composers: “Thad’s Pad” for Thad Jones, “Strays” for Billy Strayhorn and “Willis” for Bill Holman. The depth and the nuance throughout Breaking News are a combined joy to behold.

Matt Wilson, Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (Palmetto)

Holiday jazz recordings are odd in several ways - mostly their weird shelf life. Some become timeless and surface on various samplers for decades. (Think Louis Armstrong’s “’Zat You, Santa Claus?” and Ella Fitzgerald’s clever “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney.”) Some are so fine that it is likely they will be dug out each December for years and years.

One strong candidate is Matt Wilson’s cleverly titled 2010 recording that featured the drummer (and cover photographer) with two longtime collaborators, saxophonist Jeff Lederer and bassist Paul Sikivie. They put a spirited spin on 14 Christmas tunes – all classic in their own way (ranging from standard fare to “The Chipmunk Song,” “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch,” “Mele Kalikimaki” and Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas special). The treatment of these is anything but traditional. The music is intense and the solos are wild at times, playful at others, as Wilson & Co. present this swinging musical Christmas gift.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Looking to the past reveals how the music has changed - and hasn’t has just published my review of Monday night’s concert by Bill Alllred’s Classic Jazz Band at the Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte, Fla. This was a Charlotte County Jazz Society event that primarily brought the audience on a musical trip back to the first four decades of jazz. As a new resident of Florida, I found equally fascinating the under-told story of the night – the way in which circumstances in Orlando enabled the members of this group to come together more than 20 years ago, as did other groups, involving geography, opportunities and changes within the music industry. You can read about it here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CDs of Note - Short Takes

The Bill King Trio, Five Aces (7 Arts/Slaight Music)
Pianist/producer/jazz photographer Bill King has taken a trip back to his musical roots with this trio project. It’s a celebration focusing on the blues’ intersection with classic R&B. There’s a bit of gospel, a bit of soul and a touch of jazz on this session with bassist Collin Barrett and drummer Mark Kelso. American-bred, Toronto-based King digs mightily into four soul classics – Odis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” the Marvin Gaye hit “How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You),” James Brown’s “There It Is!” and the Eddie Floyd/Steve Cropper classic “634-5789.” Shifting between piano and B-3, he also shares eight originals that pack the same flavor and power. Among the standouts, “Come Walk With Thee” is Southern gospel all the way and “Stax ‘em High,” a tribute to the Memphis soul sound, while “I’ll Chase that Rainbow” affords King a chance to dig into the bluesy side of a gospel-tinged ballad. The title track and “Inception Blues” are other proof points about our timeless love for this classic sound.

Emmet Cohen, In The Element (Bada Beep)
What a terrific debut for this pianist, a Miami native whose musical maturity far
eclipses his tender age. Emmet Cohen was 20 when In The Element was recorded in August 2010. Cohen is backed by bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Rodney Green, with trumpeter Greg Gisbert joining on three tunes: the poignant “Good Morning Heartache,” “3 O’Clock in the Morning” and Cohen’s “Just Deserts.” Four of the 10 tracks are Cohen originals. None of the standard fare included on the CD was drawn from the “tired tunes” category that can be maddening to more than a few listeners.

While Cohen finds new facets in each standard he explores (his version of Frank Foster’s classic “Simone” is a gem), he really cuts loose on his originals, including the high-flying “Resentment (Without Reason),” “The Swarm,” “Just Deserts” and the title track. The touch, the phrasing, the time, the harmonic choices on each tune and the simpatico with the other musicians all reveal what a significant player he is. Imagine the potential for Emmet Cohen (who finished third in this year’s Thelonious Monk Competition) with another 10 or 20 years experience. It will be great fun to see his continued development.

The Curtis Brothers, Completion of Proof (Truth Revolution Records)

If you love hard bop, a la Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, chances are you will very much dig this second recording co-led by bassist Luques and pianist Zaccai Curtis. The Connecticut natives developed musically in the Jackie McLean-led Artists Collective in Hartford. While studying at different music schools in Boston, they got their first significant exposure as sidemen to Donald Harrison and Ralph Peterson. This project features the Curtis brothers with trumpeter Brian Lynch and drummer Peterson on all tracks, with saxophonists Harrison, Jimmy Greene and Joe Ford, and percussionists Pedro Martinez, Rogerio Boccato and Reinaldo De Jesus joining on select tracks embued with an Afro-Latin vibe. Zaccai Curtis wrote all of the music here, much of it inspired by events and trends in the world. You can dig into that as further appreciation, or just dig the hard-driving musicality on this self-produced CD for its emotional excellence. And it swings like crazy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A two-year adventure

Swedish pop-folk singer Sofia Talvik has just started a two-year United States tour, in which she plans to bring her fine music - mostly originals - to various locales as she hopscotches the continent in a refurbished old RV. The tour began here in Florida.

One of the early stops was last night at Warm Mineral Springs' Evergreen Cafe here in North Port. The Drivin' & Dreaming tour includes a stop in mid-March at SXSW (the highly regarded South by Southwest Music Conference, an industry showcase held annually) in Austin, Texas. We wish Sofia and her husband, Jonas, well on this adventure.

Warm Mineral Springs, is a natural wellness destination with an underground spring that provides some 9 million gallons a day of pure water containing 51 minerals.The springs, which is on the Natural Register of Historic Places as explorer Ponce de Leon's long-sought "Fountain of Youth," is now owned by Sarasota County.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The best of 2011 - my take

'Tis the season for the outpouring of Top 10 lists, and their many variations, for jazz, world events, etc.

The jazz lists tend to have a lot of variation depending on the individual reviewer's personal tastes, as well as what he or she had a chance to hear during the year.* Bottom line, they are very subjective. Some do numerical rankings, some do alphabetical.

In recent years, I have gravitated toward the more-democratic alphabetical format, though some polls require numerical choices (including Jazztimes and (the latter a Francis Davis-produced poll that until this year was published by The Village Voice.)

As I begin preparing my review of significant events an trends in jazz in 2011 for posting on, I thought I'd share my "best of 2011" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2011, listed alphabetically:
· Lynne Arriale, Convergence (Motema)
· The Cookers, Cast the First Stone (Plus Loin Music)
· Fred Hersch, Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto)
· Julian Lage Group, Gladwell (EmArcy)
· Brian Lynch, Unsung Heroes (Hollistic MusicWorks)
· Roberto Magris Quintet, Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan,
Vol. 1
· Bill O’Connell, Rhapsody in Blue (Challenge)
· Gretchen Parlato, The Lost and Found (ObliqSound)
· Kenny Werner, Balloons (Half Note)
· Yellowjackets, Timeline (Mack Avenue)

The 10 best new songs of the year, listed alphabetically:
· Lynne Arriale, “Dance of the Rain” from Convergence (Motema)

· Pedro Giraudo, “Duende Del Mate” from Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra, Córdoba (Zoho)
· Tom Harrell, “Dream Text” from The Time of the Sun (HighNote)
· Donald Harrison Ron Carter and Billy Cobham, “Treme Swagger” from This is Jazz (Half Note)
· Lisa Hilton, “Blue Truth” from Underground (Ruby Slippers)
· Julian Lage, “233 Butler” from Gladwell (EmArcy)
· Mike Longo, “A Picture of Dorian Mode” from To My Surprise (CAP)
· Roberto Magris, “Lee-Too” from Roberto Magris Quintet, Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan, Vol. 1 (JMood)
· Vince Mendoza, “Beauty and Sadness” from Nights on Earth (Horizontal)
· Ralph Peterson, “Outer Reaches” from Outer Reaches (self-produced)

2011's best debut recording:
· Emmet Cohen, In The Element (Bada Beep)

The best historical/reissues of 2011:
- Miles Davis Quintet, Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy)

- Duke Ellington, The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra (Mosaic)
- Bill Evans, The Sesjun Radio Shows (Naxos/Beeld en Geluid)
- Jaco Pastorius. The 60th Anniversary Collection (Warner Music Japan)

The best jazz-related DVDs of 2011:
· Miles Davis, The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection, 1973-1991 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
· Stan Kenton, Artistry in Rhythm (Jazzed Media)
· Ray Charles, Live in France 1961 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)

The best jazz-related books of 2011:
- John Swenson, “New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans” (Oxford)
- Norman Granz, “The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice” (University of California Press)
- Clark Terry with Gwen Terry, “Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry” (University of California Press)