Monday, March 02, 2009

The New Middle Ages

For a time in the 1990s I conducted a number of interviews with jazz musicians who had, at one point in their careers, been much in the spotlight. These included people like Jackie McLean, Gary Bartz and Lester Bowie. A common thread that ran through these interviews was their belief that they had been ignored – both by the media and by the music-buying fans – during some of their most productive years. Some, like Bartz, were closer to that period than others, and one or two, like McLean – just a couple of years away from his death – were reconciled that those years were well in their past.

I was reflecting on this last night while enjoying a terrific new composition by Joe Lovano called "Jazz Free," which is currently in the book of the SFJAZZ Collective. It begins, as you might expect, with a collectively blown free section and then morphs into solo segments for the various band members over shifting-but-constantly-interesting rhythmic pulses.

One of the most interesting things that has caught my eye recently in the jazz world was the news out of Portland that Lovano's new band includes both Francesco Mela and Gerry Hemingway on drums. I can't wait to hear that combination. Lovano's recruitment of the veteran percussion innovator Hemingway to join one of the most exciting young drummers on the scene shows what an open mind he maintains.

All of which reminds me that it would be easy to think that Lovano's most interesting new work is behind him, and that he will now comfortably coast on his laurels. Obviously, this is not the case; he's still trying new things.

And – like the mid-career work of a lot of artists – we ignore it at our own cost.

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