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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

JAZZ TODAY: Jazz Triumphs of 2011 That Only a Fool Could Miss

To be a critic is to risk being a boob. Those who dare to open their blabbermouths and spout an opinion are going to get called on the carpet. As they should.

And in the arts, with matters of judgment being highly subjective, getting it “wrong” is essentially guaranteed. Not everyone can agree with you.

Jazz singer Gretchen Parlato, unfairly overlooked by ME.
And often enough, a critic can’t even agree with himself. For me, as a jazz critic, the music is in constant motion, evolving. Just as a jazz musician plays a different solo every night on the same tune, my ear takes in the music in varying ways over time.

And so it is that, with the ‘ink barely dry’ on the PopMatters Best Jazz of 2011 list, I feel the need to come back with some amendments or additions—five recordings that I realize are so good that, well, how dare I have left them out?

Here they are; here’s why they’re so fine; and here’s why I may have missed them the first time around.

Tyshawn Sorey, Oblique—1 (Pi)

Miguel Zenón, Alma Adentro, The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music)

Gretchen Parlato, The Lost and Found (ObliqueSound)

Brad Shepik Quartet, Across the Way (Songlines)

Steven Bernstein and the Millennial Territory Orchestra, MTO Plays Sly (The Royal Potato Family)

Read by full review of each of these discs HERE: Jazz Triumphs of 2011 That Only a Fool Could Miss.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chick Corea / Eddie Gomez / Paul Motian: Further Explorations

Further Explorations, is a play on the 1961 LP from Evans, Scott LaFaro and Motian, Explorations. It’s a perfect title because the new record both comes from that early Evans conception and never feels trapped by it. As with the template, Corea/Gomez/Motian share the musical space equally, creating breathtaking jazz democracy. But there is very little sense that the group consciously restricts itself to some notion of a “Bill Evans style”. The early Evans trio is strictly a springboard, and then it’s off into the sky.

The trio’s take on “But Beautiful” is a prime example. This Jimmy Van Heusen song was introduced by Bing Crosby in Road to Rio (1947) and later recorded by Billie Holiday, Nat Cole, and Doris Day before Evans got to it—but for modern jazz players Evans essentially defines a delicate, impressionistic take on this tune.

The new version here begins with Gomez playing a classical-tinged bowed solo that begins freely away from the melody and then brings us in. In “Part II”, Corea takes the baton from the bassist as a solo pianist and brings the trio into a swinging, mid-tempo exploration. The piano references the melody in places but not much, with Motian playing his standard but fragmented version of swing and Gomez providing accompaniment that is better heard as commentary, with dramatic bursts of plucked melody rising through the conversation every few bars. When Gomez takes his proper solo, it’s Corea who is impossible to suppress, and finally the song moves into a final phase where the rhythmic play becomes more complex. It is decidedly not a fragile ballad performance that another Evans imitator might cook up. Thank goodness.

Read by full PopMatters review of the disc here: Chick Corea / Eddie Gomez / Paul Motian: Further Explorations

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rez Abbasis Invocation: Suno Suno

Here is one of best and unique recordings of 2011—a wildly fun and powerful outing from jazz guitarist Rez Abassi. Outwardly, this band (with Vijay Iyer on piano and Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto sax—essentially an all-star band) is creating a surging connection between jazz and Pakistani music. But to my simpler and less sophisticated ears this sounds like a super-smart fusion record.

Yup, as in jazz-rock. It has the power, precision, and frenzied drive that lived in the best of the early “fusion” records of the 1970s.

Other than Abbasi’s occasionally over-driven electric guitar, this would hardly seem like a real “fusion” band. But the leader’s compositions and arrangements make it so nevertheless, built as they are on lean and repeated licks that lock together across a rock-solid backbeat. “Onus on Us”, for example, starts simply enough with a syncopated two-chord groove, then it tacks on a basic and clear unison melody for alto and guitar. Quickly, however, the drums grow more complex, and the bass line interlocks with the melody, which in turns starts to jabber with more complexity. The whole arrangement comes together not just in trickiness but also in a programmed mutation into different rhythms and forms — so, for example, the guitar solo has a different, stuttering rhythmic feel than the statement of melody. So the music is “fusiony” in two ways: in that it relies on complex and precise arrangements that do not shy away from a certain virtuosity, and that drummer Dan Weiss plays with a rock-level of energy across the tunes.

Read my entire review of the disc here: Rez Abbasi's Invocation: Suno Suno

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Remembering Paul Motian: The Drummer Who Quietly Shook Things Up

Late last year, jazz lost one of the quiet guys, the subtle guys, the guys that only insiders are really in love with. But it hurts more because he wasn't a famous jazz musician. You mourn his loss more quietly—which in Paul Motian's case is exactly the right way. You know that for those cared about this music, the hole he leaves in the scene is huge. Particularly in New York, which is where he exclusively played in the last years of his life.

I saw Paul Motian for the last time in on the first Friday in September. He was, of course, playing a gig at the Village Vanguard, New York's temple of mainstream jazz, with his "New Trio", a band that jazz folks wanted to see. Paul's other band are legion—it seems like he became much more prolific in the last ten years, composing like mad, forming great bands, showing up on critical recordings by others.

I brought my daughter to this gig, which makes it stick in my memory that much more.

As was typical of Motian over the last three decades of his art, he played very little straight “time”. Rather, he was engaged in a continual conversation with the guitar and tenor, which is to say that he was playing a conversational and independent counterpoint to his own compositions and arrangements. He played not just time and accents but contrasting and complementary melodies and rhythms, often seeming more sculptor of sound and texture than merely a “drummer”.

This was Motian’s revolution.

I had no idea that Motian was ill, suffering from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone-marrow disorder, which killed him in November 2011. Motian had seemed old, or let’s say “distinguished”, for a long time—but never less than vital. In fact, he was the rare artist who seemed to be getting larger and more varied over time. In the last few years I had seen him or listened to him in musical conversations with young players like Greg Osby and older players like Lee Konitz. In the best sense, he was the most alive jazz musician on the scene.

Like Miles Davis, Paul Motian was said to use silence very effectively in his art. But 22 November brought too much.

Read the rest of my tribute to Paul here: Remembering Paul Motian: The Drummer Who Quietly Shook Things Up