Friday, January 01, 2010

Library Listening Project 2010

I blogged way less about Cecil Taylor than I had intended to in 2009, as I worked my way through a couple of dozen of his recordings from 1956 to 2006, but what is New Year's about if not re-birth and resolution? With that in mind, I'm embarking on the third annual Library Listening Project today, and focusing on Keith Jarrett's so-called American Quartet: Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.

Unlike most of the iconic bands/artists who have enough far-distant back catalogue to warrant one of these year-long sessions, Jarrett's quartet is actually a band I saw live—in the winter of 1975-76 at Ottawa's National Arts Centre—and followed contemporaneously. I think I probably heard them for the first time on one of the weeknightly jazz programs that CBC Radio used to broadcast. At 20, I was aware of Haden, of course, and knew Motian had been in Bill Evans' landmark trio, although Evans was not someone I had checked out beyond his time with Miles Davis. I had read about Redman's contributions to the early '70s Ornette Coleman group, and was anxious to hear him.

I had few jazz pals in Ottawa at the time, so I went to see the quartet alone (I couldn't even imagine knowing a girl who'd be interested in doing that as a date at the time!) and it was a revelation. Being immersed in the fusion era, Motian's tiny drum kit (to say nothing of what he did with it) seemed revolutionary, and Redman's sound was huge. Jarrett and Haden lived up to my expectations, which were high. Fort Yawuh became one of my go-to albums, with "De Drums" high on my list of favourite live tracks of all time.

It has been interesting to read Jarrett's recent comments about how dysfunctional that quartet was: with Haden still addicted to opiates; and Redman a heavy drinker, chronically late and unable to read music. I'm not sure that knowledge will put this music in a different light; probably not. What does cast a brighter, if not different, light is realizing how many other people this band touched—from Ethan Iverson, who conducted one of those recent interviews with Jarrett, to drummer George Schuller, who recently released a very good tribute to the American Quartet.

Watch for my reflections on the band throughout the coming year.


Michael J. West said...

I've always been amused by Ethan's explanation of how he got into the American quartet: So many whitebread, buttoned-down midwesterners had bought their albums, thinking they'd be pleasant background music a la The Koln Concert and eventually returning them in bewilderment and disgust, that Ethan was able to find every quartet album used and buy them for pennies.

I'm fascinated by those recordings and will be very eager to read your insights!

how to ollie said...

Excellent post and writing style. Bookmarked.

snowcap said...

I was at that show in Ottawa in '75. A classic.