Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News Update: Irabagon Wins Monk Competition

So that's the news! Jon Irabagon, the alto saxophonist of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, just won the Thelonious Monk Institute's annual competition. I'm in a state of shock- happy shock, but shock none-the-less- at this news. Walter Smith III was also a semi-finalist, and I pretty much assumed that he would win partly because of his brilliance as a horn player and seeming importance to the current crop of young musicians (I have at least one friend who calls Smith the "voice of his generation on tenor saxophone"), but mostly because of his connection to the institute as a graduate. Seriously, Ambrose Akinmusire won the Monk competition last year on trumpet, and Gretchen Parlato won the vocal competition. Granted, this fact probably reflects more on the decisions of those who run the Monk Institute than those who judge the competitions, but up until now it was two for two.

Congrats Jon Irabagon!

For those of you who don't know his playing, here's an example.

Next time I'll tear the new Downbeat apart. The time after that I'll have a review of "Petit Oiseau," the gorgeous new record from the William Parker Quartet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Passing It On To A New Band

Dave Holland's latest, "Pass it On," features his latest band, a sextet that is both the same and different from all of his other bands in much the way that they are both the same and different from eachother. Let me clarify; this new band has the same tendency as all of Holland's classic bands (his latest long-running Nelson-Eubanks-Potter Quintet, or, say, the Steve Coleman-Marvin Smitty Smith groups of the 80s) to work with noir-ish chord progressions (most of the compositions here were recorded by earlier Holland bands) and incredibly intricate time signatures. It is different in that the personalities involved here are very different from those of earlier bands.

The only real newcomers to Holland's band are pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Eric Harland, as all of the others have appeared with some version of Holland's group in the past; trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart were featured on Holland's two big band albums, and Robin Eubanks has been a collaborator with Holland for almost two decades. The tunes are great, and the band's interplay is tasteful if a bit safe. In fact, that's the only problem with this album; it seems a little bit too safe for Holland. There are none of the five minute rhythm section-less dual solos of his Quintet that made Chris Potter and Robin Eubanks household names in the jazz world ten or so years ago, and while Eric Harland is a brilliant drummer and has shown himself to be one of the great young musicians elsewhere, his playing here isn't as dynamic as Billy Kilson's or Marvin Smitty Smith's.

Of course, those gripes are almost meaningless when you take into consideration that this band has only been together for a short time and will hopefully grow into their sound as a unit in the future; it took years for Holland's classic quintet to come together in the form it was in for a decade, and years more to evolve into the jazz combo of the 00's. The sextet format gives Holland a chance to explore more colors in his noirish, rhythmically propulsive vein, even though this band lacks the chaotic feel of some of his earlier bands, and lacks the crispness of his big band. The soloists all sound great, and the highlight of the record is Sipiagin's blazing display of both technique and emotion on this groups version of "Processional." Definitely worth a listen for Holland fans, although his sextet's next album will probably showcase a quantum leap in terms of band interplay.

Next time I'll have my monthly edition of "Tearing the New Downbeat Apart Limb by Limb," and you can expect hours of entertainment judging by the fact that opening section features an inquiry about "which jazz musician would make the best president," (Donny McCaslin doesn't think it should be who you think he thinks it should be) and two (TWO! WTF) five star reviews, one of which was actually written by a teacher of mine. So check back in a couple days.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bobo Stenson Sings

It's a shame that Bobo Stenson isn't thought of as one of the great pianists of his generation. Granted, he has been less than prolific throughout a career that began in earnest with 1969's "One Long String," and he is a European in what is an absurdly Amero-centric field. But looking at his credits, which include stints with Charles Lloyd and Stan Getz, not to mention work with every major European jazz musician and co-leading "Witchi-Tai-To," a record I've called the best on ECM, EVER, you get a sense that he belongs to any list that includes Keith and Herbie and Chick. "Cantando," his new record, proves that he hasn't done anything but get better over the years, and as such holds up next to any of the best later work of those three.

Of course it helps that Stenson's trio is as killin' as it's ever been, featuring long-time bassist Anders Jormin and young turk drummer Jon Falt. While Jormin plays in his usual post-LaFaro mode and throws roots and such to the wind for the most part, Falt serves as an anchor for the band even when his work is meant to add colour, as on "Chiquilin de Bachin." Falt plays time on his cymbals, combining an ability to serve as grounding for the band with his own personal flourishes. Jormin's arco work here, especially at the beginning of the album's closer, "Liebesode," is exceptional and melodic.

Stenson, however, is the star here, and the modern sound he manages to showcase on his piano belies the fact that he has been playing on records for forty years. He is easily recognizable as the pianist on both "Witchi-Tai-To" and on classic Lloyd records like "Notes From Big Sur." The opening track, Silvio Rodriguez' "Olivia," is a tour de force for Stenson, and his work here showcases the same jagged, economical, and still modern-sounding lyricism that has been his style ever since he came out of nowhere to be Sweden's premier pianist.

Next time I'll have a review of Dave Holland's new Sextet record, "Pass it On."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charlie Haden Rambles, In a Good Way

Charlie Haden's new "Rambling Boy" will probably come as a surprise to those who know him purely from his famous work in the free jazz idiom or from his more recent (somewhat smooth) collaborative work with the likes of Pat Metheny or Gonzalo Rubacalba. Metheny shows up on "Rambling Boy-" the record is actually not credited to Charlie Haden but to Charlie Haden Family and Friends- as does everyone from Elvis Costello (A friend of Haden's) to Jack Black (Haden's son-in-law). Oh yeah, and it's an old-school country blue-grass album in the vein of The Carter Family or, on faster tracks, Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys.

In a career full of random shifts and curveballs (Haden's first and most famous recording features a free jazz orchestra playing Spanish folk music), "Rambling Boy" may well be the single most out-of-left-field recording in Haden's entire discography. It is not, however, a departure- quite the opposite. As a child, Haden sang with his family on their syndicated radio show, "Korn's-a-Krackin," and on here he sings the final tune, "Shenandoah," in the poignant, gravelly voice you would expect from an 81-year-old bass player raised on this music. His bass is brilliant, as always, even though he sits in the rhythm section, untrumpeted, for most of the recording.

Oddly, for an album with a cast so huge, each member of Haden's large band gets ample time to show off. The Haden Triplets (Petra, Tanya and Rachel) are featured in a few tracks, and daughter Petra gets a sings beautifully on the slow-building ballad "The Fields of Athenry." Guitarists Pat Metheny and Russ Barenberg duel throughout the record, and Roseanne Cash even pops by for a number ("Wildwood Flower"). The most rousing performance on the album, however, is by Haden's son, Josh, who sings his own "Spiritual." Unlike versions sung by Johnny Cash or played by Charlie and Metheny, either world-weary or melodramatic, this version builds to a rousing climax, with Josh Haden's voice finding just the right spot between gruff seriousness and wide-eyed curiosity.

Is "Rambling Boy" Jazz? No, although Metheny, pianist Buck White and banjo player Bela Fleck all play their fair shair of harmonically complex lines. The real question is: does it matter? Music is music, and Haden's new album showcases an exciting, different direction for him.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Complaining About the MacArthur Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows program has continued in its hallowed tradition of haphazardly awarding $500,000 to random jazzers with a lot of press (God knows they need the money now); occasionally this award helps people who have no money make music (Ken Vandermark, for example) or even helps genius underground tycoons keep clubs and record labels in existence (John Zorn's "The Stone" and Tzadik). There are other times when they encourage people who desperately don't need encouragement; the best example I can think of of this particular phenomenon is Stanley Crouch. Did he need a MacArthur Fellowship? He didn't need the money, what with his lucrative position as Wynton's Rove-esque right hand man at Lincoln Center, nor the encouragement as he's made a habit of trash-talking Bill Evans in public.

Occasionally their choice is simply perplexing. They could give it to anyone. Anyone. Possible (jazz) candidates for a MacArthur Fellowship include Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman, Marc Ribot, Anat Cohen, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Nels Cline, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Avishai Cohen (bass), Jason Lindner, Jason Moran, Greg Osby, Steve Coleman, DAVE DOUGLAS, Uri Caine, Chris Potter, Mathias Eick, Jenny Scheinman, Christian Howes, Esperanza Spalding, Tyshawn Sorey, Ron Miles, BILL FRISELL, Matana Roberts, Steven Bernstein, Larry Goldings, Matt Wilson, Aaron Parks, Walter Smith III, Lionel Loueke, Eric Harland, Ambrose Akinmusire, Jaleel Shaw, Eric Friedlander, Lage Lund, Mike Moreno... you get the point. And that's only musicians. When you add writers you wind up with everyone from me (I'm all about potential, baby) to Howard Mandel.

You can see for yourselves which contrived composition writing, look-at-what-I-can-do improvisation-creating jazz musician got $500,000 to keep on keeping on instead of Dave Douglas or Bill Frisell, or any of those other people. I know, I know, the MacArthur fellowship is all about potential, and I suppose the guy who won has the potential to, you know, write and play completely different music and find a way to incorporate his folk songs and polyrhythms into a jazz idiom in a way that grooves or makes a statement or both (Like, you know, Vijay, Rudresh, Steve, Lionel... okay okay enough).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Terri Lyne Carrington Interview

Sorry for the delay, folks; I recently interviewed Terri Lyne Carrington for the Berklee Groove. I've written an article about her that features a number of quotes from this, but doesn't have the whole thing. Consider yourself forewarned; it's pretty long. Here is the unedited Q&A:

Jazz Monster: How do you think the show went on Friday?
Terri Lyne Carrington: It was good; it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t have a working a band and the band I was with couldn’t rehearse until the day before, so we made our share of mistakes. People seemed to really enjoy it though.

JM: I know you teach at Berklee- do you think of playing in Boston as playing on home turf?
TLC: Well, I only play here a few times a year. Because of the fact that I teach here and the audience is made up of students for the most part [at the BPC], there’s a little bit more pressure than in other places- but that can be exhilarating. Last night we started a bit late and the sound wasn’t optimum, sometimes there are just some sound issues onstage.

JM: After your gig at the BPC, you flew out to Germany. Is there a difference between playing in Boston and playing in Luxembourg?
TLC: Yes, there is. We played in a town about a half hour out from Luxembourg, and so that alone made it very different from playing in Boston. It was a nice show; the only holdover from the gig we played in Boston was the horn player, Tineke Postma.

JM: How did your current group come together?
TLC: Generally it’s not exactly the same group. There are some people I’ll use for some things, but usually it just depends on who can make a show. I often use [pianist] Geri Allen, Arwan Akiv, [Bassist and Berklee graduate] John Lockwood, or [bassist and recent Berklee graduate] Hogyu Hwang. Sometimes I do projects with all women, and that line-up generally features myself, [bassist and Berklee faculty member] Esperanza Spalding, Tineke Postma and Geri Allen. When I want a guitar player I usually get a guy named Tim Miller, who is also on faculty here at Berklee. In Poland, where I’m playing in a week, I’ll be playing with Tim Miller, Hogyu Hwang and [Berklee student] Alex Han. Overall, I guess it just depends on the gig.

JM: Do you write most of the material in for your band?
TLC: I write most of it, yes. Sometimes band members contribute songs; the other night at the BPC we played a song by Tim Miller even though he wasn’t there, but I’d say that I write most of the songs we play.

JM: How do you go about writing tunes?
TLC: Generally I hear a melody in my head, and then I add harmony. Sometimes I write the harmony first, but not as often; whenever I finish with the melody and the harmony, I figure out the bass and drums.

JM: How did your album “Structure” come about?
TLC: That band [which featured saxophonist Greg Osby, guitarist Adam Rogers and bassist Jimmy Haslip] came about for a tour of Europe under a deal I had with my record company at the time. It was my deal, but it was a very cooperative group; after the tour we went and recorded the album.

JM: Any plans to reunite that group in the future?
TLC: Who knows? We’ve all got very different schedules; we all have our own careers. It would be nice though.

JM: Switching gears, how does your educational work affect your playing?
TLC: I think that teaching definitely makes me better as a player. There are certain things you have to explain; you have to come up with formulas and exercises. It’s brought more clarity to my playing, and it keeps me fresh as a player.

JM: How do you approach your work as a side-person versus your work as a leader?
TLC: I think the two are totally different. As a side-person, I’m trying to accommodate the leader and be honest to the music. As a leader I have my own vision that I’m trying to work toward. I suppose it just comes down to different roles: you’re either the vision-driver or the vision-supporter.

JM: What’s the difference between working in a strictly jazz setting versus working on The Arsenio Hall Show or [Sinbad’s show] Vibe?
TLC: It’s a very different sound, especially in the drums. In a band like the Arsenio band, you just want to play really strong groove-oriented stuff, whereas in a jazz setting you want to be more creative. I suppose there are different freedoms in both.

JM: What are your plans for the near future?
TLC: I’m recording with Mike Stern in January, and then soon after that I’ll be recording Tineke Postma’s new album. My own new album, which is more of a groove-jazz oriented kind of thing, is just about done with mixing and post-production, so it should be out in February or March. Also, I’m excited to take my band with Esperanza Spalding, Gary Thomas and Arwan Akiv out to play at the Blue