Monday, July 27, 2009

August... Out

No proper vacation this year; not even a staycation. Unexpected, major, non-music project kicking in, however, so posts will be light—if not non-existent—until the vicinity of Labour Day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Lost Quartet

Until July 27, BBC 3 is featuring a long, illuminative interview of Keith Jarrett by fellow pianist Ethan Iverson. As noted by my colleague Peter Hum, the interview is most revealing on the topic of Jarrett's so-called "American Quartet," which lasted roughly from 1973 to 1977 with Paul Motian, Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden. Jarrett is quite open about the challenges the band presented to him (Redman was perpetually late and a notoriously poor music reader, and Haden was still in the throes of his injection-drug abuse) and his frustration that the quartet was only belatedly recognized for its achievements.

One thing Iverson doesn't touch on is just how hard it is to find much of the music the group recorded on eight albums. I've written about this before, but it deserves repeating that this vital music should be re-released in the best form possible. As Iverson notes, at one time—when he was a teenager—those Impulse! recordings were easy to come by in second-hand stores because, he speculates, so many people bought them on the basis of Jarrett's popular solo recording, The Köln Concert. My vinyl copies remain among the most-prized LPs of those I grew up listening to. I'd love to see them properly re-mastered and annotated by insightful listeners like Iverson and drummer George Schuller.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Will Jack Be Back?

Some lead, some follow... at least that's the usual tradition in music. For every Miles Davis—who grabbed the reins of leadership after leaving Charlie Parker's employ and only stepped back into the sideman's role a small handful of times during the following 40 years—there's a Harold Mabern or Bennie Maupin, who rarely lead a band or have their name above the title on a recording. It's a question of both temperament and ambition.

With that truism in mind, and spurred by his appearance as a partner on two current releases and a couple of Facebook posts from him about his current tour with Keith Jarrett, I began to think last night about the glory days of drummer Jack DeJohnette as bandleader.

Everyone in jazz knows DeJohnette as one of the greatest drummers of his generation, a musician who is arguably on more indispensable, influential recordings than any of his peers. Yet, likely no one younger than 40 recalls the superb bands he led for a decade beginning in the mid-'70s. You could make a case that DeJohnette was a forerunner to multi-taskers like Dave Douglas, he had so much going on. Not content just to lead his open-ended band New Directions, with Lester Bowie, John Abercrombie and Eddie Gomez, he also started a powerful two-reed group called Special Edition, with David Murray (or Chico Freeman), John Purcell and Howard Johnson in the front line. Around that time, I also caught him in Montreal with a killer band featuring Julius Hemphill.

These units put out a string of memorable recordings on ECM: New Directions (1978); Special Edition (1979); Tin Can Alley (1980); and Album, Album (1984). Not only was his writing compelling, but DeJohnette seemed to engender a unified group feel whenever he was in the lead.

In addition to being in constant demand for special projects, as well as his ongoing partnership with Jarrett and Gary Peacock in the Standards Trio, he has put out another handful of recordings under his own name, but not since the breakup of those two bands has he maintained as strong a unit or produced an album as expansive and timeless as those ECM gems (although I have a soft spot for Music For The Fifth World from 1992 with Vernon Reid and John Scofield—sort of Power Tools Lite).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Music From "Out There"

A Facebook post by music writer Mikal Gilmore this morning has me thinking about music that sounds both totally foreign and strangely familiar when you encounter it as a young listener. Gilmore was writing about Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue," and he expertly defined it as a song that is "mystical," as if Holly "tapped into some timeless muse."

I certainly remember hearing that song (and "Not Fade Away" and "That'll Be The Day") when I was about six and wondering where this music came from. Holly's voice, the creative guitar solo, the production—all made me feel like I was listening to something otherworldly, and yet the humanity of the song struck me as completely natural, too. The fact that Holly, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and many of the other young rockers that my older brothers and cousin listened to as teenagers were from the American South made me think that there was something unusual down there, and started me on a long quest to explore blues and soul music.

All of this makes me wonder what contemporary music has this effect on children today. I know that it's not always obvious, because children can't easily put their finger on why something is odd-yet-attractive, and the mix of emotional responses can be disconcerting. My own children are too old now to canvass about what they're hearing now; I'll have to ask what they remember from the broad range of things they heard around our house.

I'd be interested in hearing if you have young ones who are obsessed with new artists who are making interesting noises.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grabbing My Ears

We're into the post-festival dog days — always prime listening time. Here's what's on my playlist right now:

The Henrys — Is This Tomorrow: Lovely double CD by one of my favourite Canadian bands. Anything with Mary Margaret O'Hara gets my vote.

Steve Earle — Townes: Goes exceptionally well with the above. Someone recently opined that they like this material much better than when Townes performed it, and there's no question that Earle does his friend proud here.

Andy Milne/Benoit Delbecq — Where is Pannonica?: This material was stunning when performed live in Ottawa a few weeks ago, and the recording sounds great, although the performances sound more austere than the recital.

Matt Wilson Quartet — That's Gonna Leave A Mark: Raucous, funny, deep. What more can you ask?

Jerry Granelli V16 — Vancouver '08: Wonderful, atmospheric improvisations here. Also includes a very well-shot live DVD.

Enrico Rava — New York Days: A definite front-runner for recording of the year. I keep going back to it.

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society — Infernal Machines: Another one that I can't leave alone.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More On The Revised JazzTimes

Here's the official news release about the welcome re-birth of JazzTimes:

Madavor Media Acquires JazzTimes

With the mainstream media swamped with stories of print magazines folding, the story of the re-launch of JazzTimes magazine under new ownership by Madavor Media is a positive tale of determination and vision. On July 10, 2009, Madavor Media, a market-leading enthusiast publishing and trade-show group based in Boston, acquired the JazzTimes brand and effective immediately will resume publishing the influential music magazine and its Web site

JazzTimes was founded in 1970 by Washington, D.C.-based record-store owner Ira Sabin, who started the publication as a newsletter for his store, eventually changing its name from Radio Free Jazz to JazzTimes. The list of contributors to the magazine during its nearly 40-year history reads like a Who's Who of modern jazz journalism-including Leonard Feather, Stanley Dance, Martin Williams, Ira Gitler, Dan Morgenstern, Stanley Crouch, Nat Hentoff, Gary Giddins, Amiri Baraka, Harvey Pekar, Nate Chinen and Ashley Kahn. The publication has won numerous awards for its content and design, and the All-Music Guide has called JazzTimes "arguably the number-one jazz magazine in the world."

"We are honored to have the opportunity to expand our portfolio with this remarkable and respected publication," says Jeffrey C. Wolk, chairman and CEO of Madavor Media. "Because of our experience and industry partnerships, we are well-positioned to serve jazz enthusiasts and to build on the impressive business started by Ira Sabin."

"As an established, quality-directed, enthusiast consumer media company, we feel that Madavor Media is the perfect choice as the new steward of the JazzTimes brand. Madavor Media is a successful, growing publisher with the resources and efficiencies that will enable our 39-year-old franchise to provide expanded services to our dedicated readers and advertising clients alike", says JazzTimes publisher and CEO Glenn Sabin.

"In each issue of JazzTimes, we will continue to deliver the news and information that readers and advertisers expect from the world's leading jazz publication," says Madavor Media's VP/Group Publisher Susan Fitzgerald. "With our experience in circulation, distribution, production, and promotion, Madavor plans to take the JazzTimes brand to new heights."

Current Editor-in-Chief Lee Mergner and Managing Editor Evan Haga will remain with the publication to maintain continuity and connection within the jazz community. "For Evan and I, this is a great opportunity to reinvent the magazine in the face of so many interesting challenges," says Mergner. "And we look forward to the synergy with the other titles in the Madavor stable of publications." Jeff Sabin and Eric Adams will continue as the magazine's advertising-account representatives.

The next issue will feature a cover story on saxophonist Joe Lovano, as well as a piece by investigative reporter Marc Hopkins on the effect of the current economic climate on jazz festivals. The first issue bearing the real imprint of Madavor will be the September issue, which spotlights jazz guitar including stories on John Scofield, Nels Cline and George Benson, plus lots more. JazzTimes also publishes an annual Jazz Education Guide, filled with valuable information and material for students, parents, and educators.

Madavor Media publishes other titles and manages trade shows that are number one in their respective fields in the sports and enthusiast markets. Through its print and digital magazines, trade shows, websites, e-mail newsletters, and other partnerships across the publishing industry, Madavor offers unique ways to communicate with passionate consumers who are eager to learn more about products and events that support their interests.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Magazine Bounces Back

As reported by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times, Jazz Times will soon be back in circulation, thanks to its purchase by a Boston-based publishing company.

Editor-in-Chief Lee Mergner says the deal includes provisions to pay contributors what they are owed for past editorial contributions.

Welcome back.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Canwest "Critics" Strike Again

A week after would-be music journalist Jeff Heinrich set off a viral storm with his hatchet-job on Maria Schneider, another Canwest writer has tried his hand at music criticism and come up sadly wanting.

In today's Ottawa Citizen, Bruce Ward decides to profile Ornette Coleman from the perspective that the saxophonist/composer hasn't really done anything since 1959.

The first sign that Ward is hopelessly lost on the subject is his assertion that Coleman's work in 1959 was overshadowed by Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue. In fact, Kind Of Blue barely caused a ripple in the jazz world at the time, while Coleman's New York City debut and the first recordings by his quartet dominated the music scene that year, with reviews—pro and con—by observers as diverse as Leonard Bernstein and Clark Terry.

To ignore Coleman's output of the past 50 years, which includes some of the most important artistic statements in any genre of music, and present him as some sort of musical anomaly is way, way below the standards a major daily should be setting.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

RIP Len Dobbin

Sad news this morning that one of Canada's leading jazz enthusiasts and a passionate oral historian of music in Montreal has died.

Len Dobbin was involved in the world of jazz from his teens in the early '50s, and helped document the vibrant Montreal scene through photos, radio programs and print articles over six decades.

Always ready with a warm hug and a wry story from the jazz world, Len was one of a kind.

He died in hospital early today after suffering a stroke Wednesday night at Montreal's Upstairs Jazz Club, which he represented as a publicist.

You will be missed, my friend.

Monday, July 06, 2009

First Time, Best Time

I don't know what triggered this memory this morning, but I suddenly started thinking about albums I distinctly remembered hearing for the first time, and knowing I was hearing something special:

The Rolling Stones, Now: My friend Steve's basement. At 11, he immediately knew that he wanted to be a rock star, and actually achieved a small measure of fame.

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited: First album I bought myself. Hooked from that amazing down beat.

Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?: Beginning of a long obsession.

The Allman Brothers Band: Ditto. Another basement experience. My friend Myles this time.

The Stooges, Fun House: My friend Gilles had a knack for finding the gems. This was our summer music in 1971.

Miles Davis, Live-Evil: I knew Miles by reputation, but it was the album cover that sold me.

Miles Davis, On The Corner: Absolutely the hottest opening riff ever.

The Cars: Previewed this on a Sunday afternoon at the radio station with my girlfriend. Every track sounded like a winner.

Carolyn Mas: Shoulda been a star. Same preview room with my late buddy Brian Eagle. He'd already booked an interview with her after his first hearing of it.

Bruce Springsteen, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle: At my pal Jim's house. We must've played it 10 times.

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness On The Edge Of Town: Back in the days when FM stations would preview entire albums. Hot summer night at my friend Tom's house. Dominated the summer of '78 for me.

All of which leads me to conclude that these types of indelible experiences may be limited to your first quarter-century, since I haven't had a single memorable moment like this since — not for lack of listening to new music. Maybe having children (and pets, and debts, etc.) in your life has something to do with it, too.

The Travelling Jazz Community

My view of the 2009 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival often seemed somewhat circumscribed by my duties in the media cube adjacent to the main stage, but, on reflection, a few observations seem universal.

Foremost, is the reinforcement of the idea that jazz musicians are open, curious and relatively non-hierarchical. Bassist John Geggie frequently distributes short reviews of his experiences leading the jam session the previous night, and a common theme is the spirit of community that exists. In addition to musical highlights like Trio M, Andy Milne and Benoit Delbecq, the Brian Blade Fellowship Band and the Charles Lloyd Quartet, the moments that stick in my mind are the conversations with musicians. There were remarkably few "star" attitudes exhibited offstage. Catching a few moments backstage with Pat Metheny, Gary Burton or Jimmy Cobb wasn't much different than hanging with local/regional musicians I've known for years. The odd logistical glitch or concern aside, everyone seemed happy to be on the road, making music, sharing their art with anyone who would listen.

Geggie had the same experience inside the Crowne Plaza bar, where players like Ethan Iverson and Javon Jackson were pleased to sit in with strangers after their own performances.

In this time of diminished sales, declining audiences, the death of clubs and jazz magazines, it's reassuring to know that the personalities behind the music are as strong and creative as ever.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

And Then The Sun Came Out

Just hours after I joked that The Bad Plus should change their name to The Bad Weather (the air was chilly and the sky dark during their soundcheck Saturday; the reverse of the last time they visited Ottawa, when it was so hot and humid that steam was rising from the grass) the clouds parted and gave way to a beautiful evening. A huge crowd gathered for TBP and Al DiMeola, and the memories of gray days and pelting rain vanished. Of the festivals I've attended around the world, few can offer a venue as compelling as Ottawa's Confederation Park on a clear night.

The sun is back today, Charles Lloyd's quartet is soundchecking, and the world seems pretty good right now.

Festivals are funny beasts; they really do take on a personality over the course of their run. Ottawa was a mix of great music and disappointing weather.

Of course, there was also plenty going on indoors, including some exceptional concerts like Trio M's show, which still has people buzzing. Some memorable jam sessions, too. Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson joined drummer Nick Fraser for a strong mini-set last night, and some students got a thrill by performing with Iverson on drums.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Oscar and Ron are Smiling

Nothing gets under my skin much more than people who diss music criticism without naming names. Oscar Peterson and Ron Carter are two high-profile musicians who have repeatedly objected to the practice of jazz journalism without citing any examples, but they are only the best known among legions of people who dismiss my field.

I have long suspected that the "jazz criticism" they hate is written by people who don't actually work in the field, such as this example that is burning up the Web today.

Full disclosure: I used to know the author when he lived in Ottawa. Even fuller disclosure: His brother is my financial advisor. All that inside dope informs me that Jeff Heinrich is no music journalist, but his strange, repugnant and ill-informed hatchet job on Maria Schneider and her audience will fuel the fire that jazz journalists attend concerts with an agenda, reflect their own failings as musicians, and don't know anything about the music being reviewed.

So, on behalf of professional jazz journalists everywhere: Thanks, Jeff. You just set back our cause beyond measure.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Rain Outdoors, Music Indoors

The rain continues to fall in Ottawa. The ongoing downpours throughout the week and the rising water table can be measured in the area adjacent to the row of porta-potties closest to my office. At first the grounds crew put a few wood chips down on the wet grass. Then larger wood chips. Then plywood planks. Now, a couple of the planks are completely awash. Not pretty, but not exactly Woodstock, either. One can only wonder, though, how big a crowd might've turned out to hear Wayne Shorter last night had the weather been more stable.

I stayed indoors to catch a magnificent set by Trio M, a somewhat one-dimensional Canadian début by the Finnish band Ilmiliekki, and the performance by the festival's composers collective. The latter had more than a few sonic train wrecks, but also some compelling improvisation on pieces by guitarist Michael Occhipinti, saxophonist Petr Cancura and pianist Andy Milne—three of the seven participating composers.

Later, at a somewhat lower-key jam session than Monday night's blowout, Andy and Petr combined for a rapturous Coltranesque excursion. Always good, too, to hear drummer Matt Wilson sitting in. His generosity and the sheer joy he takes from being a musician always shine through.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Torn Between Two Drummers

Ah, decisions, decisions... whether to catch Trio M with Matt Wilson, Myra Melford and Mark Dresser or the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Brian Blade on drums.

Yeah, life should be so tough every day.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Take Five

I finally took some time away from the media trailer to sit down and listen to an entire performance last night, and was rewarded with a beautiful concert by my friend Andy Milne and fellow pianist Benoit Delbecq. Playing a pair of prepared pianos in the sonically excellent Fourth Stage, they performed most of their new album, Where Is Pannonica?, in the original order.

Their interplay, and the communication between them, was at an exceptionally high level, with multiple rhythms and melodic strands flowing and bouncing. A lot of humour, soul and, most of all, imagination.