Sunday, January 20, 2008

Now Spinning

As a Canadian writing about jazz for U.S.-based publications I often get asked what the "scene" is like here, and who is making interesting music (in fact, there is an entire column of reviews of new Canadian CDs by me in the current issue of DownBeat). It's difficult to describe the scene without talking about Canada's defining "two solitudes," and at that point I usually see my American friends' eyes glazing over. But how else can you explain why Jean Derome, and in particular his quintet Les Dangereux Zhoms, are not known throughout Canada as the best band in the land? Their new CD To Continue is their first new recording in a decade, and it reminds me what a terrific group this is. Aside from Derome's expressive writing and playing — primarily on alto here — the band has the great Tom Walsh on trombone and Pierre Tanguay, who I think is one of the most exciting drummers in the music anywhere.

Perhaps the best thing about Derome's music, though, is that it is part of the tradition, yet distinct from music that would have been made anywhere but in Quebec. It is hard to pinpoint the distinctive regional features — it is in Derome's humour, in his fascination with language, and in a certain outsider's perspective that shines through.

If there was one recording that I'd want American listeners to hear so they might reach a better understanding of the diversity of improvised music here, this might be it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Idolator and Another New Model

The second annual Idolator poll results are now up, if your tastes extend beyond jazz to other sounds.

Record labels aren't the only arts distribution systems looking for a new model to deal with the Digital Age. Yesterday's mail brought a review copy of a new book by Kabir Sehgal, a guy I met in the audience at the Columbia University jazz criticism conference last fall.

Sehgal's book explores the connections between jazz and democracy, which is interesting enough, but what caught my eye was the fact that the book is the first published by a company called Better World Books, which professes to be "making a positive social impact" by embedding a "social royalty" in each of its books. The company also promises authors better rights and royalty agreements, which are both long overdue.

I haven't cracked the book yet (too busy digging Joshua Ferris' novel Then We Came To The End), but this marketing concept is worth watching.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Changing The Model

Among the usual doom and gloom one finds at music conventions these days, one music industry guy who was anything but down at last week's IAJE conference in Toronto was Ricky Schultz, former jazz exec at Warner Bros. and MCA. He's about to launch a new "label" — a term he hesitates to use — called Resonance, which is attempting to help create a new model for music distribution.

For starters, Resonance is a non-profit, so right away you know we're not talking about the old cash-grab model of record companies. Secondly, they're looking at a mix of soft and hard copy distribution, which is a nice hedge given that not everybody is willing to deal only with the fidelity loss associated with even the best-quality downloads.

Only time will tell, of course, but with all the whining I've heard since I started attending IAJE events five years ago, it's nice to hear someone — anyone — spinning some optimism.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good Intentions & IAJE

It never fails: I start off an IAJE convention with the idea of keeping things in perspective, and as soon as I step onto the conference site — downtown Toronto this time — I get swept up into the swirl of panel discussions, hallway conversations and gigs. By the time I get back to my hotel, I'm bagged. The absence of wireless connections in the meeting rooms resulted in no blog entries. Ah, well, let's review...

Despite living in the same province, I seldom get to Toronto, so from my perspective I might as well be in New York or San Francisco; it takes me a minute to get my bearings. No better place to jump into the Toronto scene than at the venerable Rex, which is where I landed Wednesday night for a set by guitarist Joel Harrison's band, featuring Dave Binney. The band sounded a bit disconnected, and Harrison confirmed a couple of days later that it was far from their best gig. Still, a nice hang and a chance to catch up with a couple of folks like transplanted Canadian bassist Chris Tarry and his terrific guitarist Pete McCann.

Aside from my own panels on jazz in the digital age — moderated by Howard Mandel and including me, guitarist Tim Posgate and pianist Andy Milne — and the annual Jazz Journalists Association workshop for aspiring writers, one of the things on my agenda was a panel on blogging with Carl Wilson, Darcy James Argue, David Ryshpan and David Adler. Lots of interesting talk there, although it seemed like a room full of converts, with not much obvious attendance from those who should be there (those people were at other panels or in the bar, fretting over how to deal with the digital age — get over it!). Perhaps the best thing to come out of it was some promising movement towards publicizing jazz bloggers and driving some traffic thanks to the initiative of DL Media (big thanks, Matt).

One topic at the blog panel was the approach bloggers take in their writing — does one take less "care" in writing in this medium than in print. I don't think you should, but what do I know; sometimes I mess up in both media. On that note, my apologies go out to saxophonist Jane Bunnett, trumpeter Larry Cramer and the rest of the folks at the Art of Jazz Festival for writing in the pages of Coda that the big band that backed Carla Bley last summer was a "pick up" group. No offence meant, guys.

One of the focal points at this year's north-of-the-border IAJE conference was a salute to Oscar Peterson — developed before his death on December 23. In addition to the planned tribute, Toronto was buzzing with news of a free memorial tribute at Roy Thomson Hall, featuring Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Nancy Wilson, Canada's Governor-General and others. People lined up outside the venue for up to 12 hours — a nice tribute in itself. For my money, though, I wish someone had marshalled a few of the Canadian pianists at the conference — including Milne, Oliver Jones, John Stetch and Bill King — for a musical tribute that would have illustrated OP's legacy in this country, and how it has impacted the contemporary world of jazz. Milne, Ryshpan, Stetch and everyone else who studied with or was influenced by Peterson have taken his "lessons" into different areas.

Another focus throughout the conference — though obviously not an "official" one — was the reality that some parts of the IAJE conference model are not transferable outside New York City. Long before the conference, there was grumbling in the jazz community about the strong Canadian dollar, the hassle of international travel and the lack of critical jazz mass in Toronto, and that only intensified during conversations in the corridors and over dinners. The last time the conference was in Toronto, it was a curiosity; this time, attendance was markedly down (one trade show exhibitor I talked to estimated that about half the number who pass his booth at an NYC IAJE conference were around this time). What does that mean for next year's event in Seattle? Again, the curiosity factor will be there, but will that outweigh high airfares to the northwest and the fact that Seattle doesn't begin to approach New York, LA or Toronto in scope or scale?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Toronto — If You Didn't Know

Just in case anyone in the vicinity of Toronto does NOT know: January 9 marks the beginning of the annual International Association of Jazz Education conference, which moves back to Toronto this year after several years' absence.

Even if you are not in the business and willing to part with the (hefty) registration fee, IAJE brings a wealth of jazz events to town. Look for bigger-than-usual names from New York City and further afield guesting or sitting in at venues around town, and for venues that don't always present jazz to be jazzing full blast.

For those not near Toronto, I'll be trying to blog at semi-regular intervals — WiFi connections permitting.

And if you are at the conference, and spot me among the thousands of delegates, be sure to say hi.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Polls Toll

If you're not tired yet of year-end lists, jazz writer Francis Davis has parsed the votes of 57 of his peers in an insightful article called "The Year of the Woman" in this week's Village Voice.

You can also have a look at the individual ballots. Mine differs slightly from the one posted here since Davis asked voters to break out reissues/historical releases into a separate category. The Voice jazz poll also differs from many of the other year-end lists by asking voters to specify choices for vocal, Latin and debut recordings. Personally, I love that latter category, since it's a great opportunity to check out new talent. No surprise, drummer Tyshawn Sorey captured the category for 2007's audacious double-CD.