Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tune up

Just a quick note that I'm hosting a (mainly) Black History edition of Jazz Euphorium tonight at 8 pm EST on CKUT. You can listen live or download it from the archives if you miss it. Under normal circumstances it would be a full two hours of Great Black Music, but I'll also be highlighting the music of Andrew D'Angelo, Dennis Irwin and Scott Harding.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


When I first started really getting into jazz, it seemed like every record I was buying was either from Blue Note's Rudy Van Gelder series, or Columbia, with Teo's name on it. Not just all the Miles stuff, but as Phil Freeman mentions, the Monk albums as well. Live at the It Club is still my favourite document of Monk. And to think of the sonic collages made with Miles, production can be more heavy-handed now with Pro Tools machinery and zooming in on waveforms than Teo was with a razor blade, tape and most importantly, keen ears. More from James Hale, DJA and Kyle Gann.

Controversies aside, Macero and the Ertegun brothers were heroes of jazz at major labels, spokesmen for the music that we no longer have. They will all be missed dearly.

Friday, February 22, 2008

In sickness and in health

Nate Chinen mentioned it in his NYT article on the health of jazz musicians, and Ropeadope's Andy Hurwitz confirms it: producer and sound manipulator Scott Harding was involved in a brutal car accident last week, and is in a hospital, now paralyzed. Like Andrew D'Angelo and Dennis Irwin, Harding doesn't have health insurance. The extent of his paralysis is still unknown, or unmentioned. EDIT: More info on Scott's condition can be found here. Donations by cheque can be sent to:

Kim Danyluk
6066 54th Street
Maspeth, NY

Make them payable to "Scott Harding c/o Tom Camuso." My best wishes go out to Scott and his family.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kalmunity/Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, 02/13/2008

There is a love for tribal art in Montreal. The Sunday ritual of Tam-Tam drum circles in Parc Mont-Royal have thrived for two decades here; we have a small but powerful Afrobeat scene. We also host many émigrés from other parts of la Francophonie, including Cote D'Ivoire and Haiti. The historical motives for this passion are something I'm unaware of, but fascinate me, and were manifest in last Wednesday's double bill at La Sala Rossa.

The Kalmunity Vibe Collective is an assemblage of musicians, poets, MCs and singers that congregate every Tuesday at Sablo Café, a tiny hub in the middle of residential Little Italy. Helmed by drummer Jahsun, the band initiates grooves for the wordsmiths to freestyle on or read over. Over their five-year existence, they've had a shifting core of musicians and have diversified from the hallmark R&B and reggae to include jazzers like Andres Vial (keyboards), Martin Heslop (bass) and Jason Sharp (saxophones). It was this jazz side of the collective that was the musical foundation for the Sala Rossa hit, while vocalists Fredy V, Malika and Odessa "Queen" Thornhill wove soulful background melodies behind trumpeter/poet Jason "Blackbird" Selman, MC Preach Ankobia and Kalmunity stalwart Fabrice Koffy. As with anything improvised (and anything involving large numbers of people), nights can be hit and miss, but when they hit there's a magical sort of communion that happens in the room. Last week, it was pretty much all "hit," aside from some minor pitfalls surrounding the ability of everyone to hear the grand piano onstage. Fabrice's new work is rhythmic and incisive, and all the MCs/poets navigated the syncopated structures well. Andres, Martin and Jahsun have achieved a really tight hookup over the past year or so, and I haven't heard Jason Sharp in a long time. He's now specializing in baritone saxophone and fujara, an overtone flute which he achieves non-traditional, haunting sounds.

Kalmunity was the perfect complement to Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, a group that achieves the same sort of spiritual unity on a much smaller scale. Percussionist and bandleader El'Zabar moved between electrified kalimbas, his hand-built "earth drums" and drum kit over the course of the night, and vocalized bass lines as well as lyric mantras in a gruff baritone. Sometimes the vocalizations struck me as a more purposeful Keith Jarrett, and in his stronger moments sounded like a preacher in the throes of a sermon. The group is rounded out by saxophonist Ernest Khabeer Dawkins and trumpeter Corey Wilkes. Dawkins appeared as the elder, clad in a dashiki and surrounded by a table of small percussion that he and Wilkes shared. Wilkes is of the hip-hop generation, with a swagger and mannerisms not unlike Roy Hargrove, and he balances showmanship with musicality. They opened the set with a meditative version of "All Blues," with El'Zabar holding down the famous ostinato on kalimba and vocals while Wilkes and Dawkins soared overtop. Both Wilkes and Dawkins can switch from greasy, gritty blues to more outward bound invention on a dime, all the while retaining a grounded soul to their playing. Even the most showy portions of the set - both Dawkins and Wilkes playing two horns simultaneously in "Mama's House," Wilkes' circular breathing during "There is a Place" - never got in the way of the music. The closing "There is a Place" seemed to drag, being such a spare tune with spare instrumentation and repetitive lyrics, but the simpatico between the three musicians on stage, and the rapt attention of the audience, was a thing of beauty. A power stronger than itself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Also Spracht Grammophon

I suppose as a jazz pianist I should be elated that Herbie won album of the year. I'm left with a sort of ambivalence, as his victory for me raises more questions about the Grammys, the industry at large, and the way we think about music.

Part of it, for me, is the disparity between Herbie live and Herbie on record. Over the past few years, his live performances and touring bands have been far more interesting and musically rewarding to me than the albums. Compare Gershwin's World, which I really did like, with the BET Jazz DVD shortly following its release. The tunes are blown open, everyone has more room to explore and develop their musical personality. Since 1995's The New Standard, the albums seem to be more about novel ways about framing Herbie's artistry and less about Herbie's artistry itself.

I don't claim to have the answers to these questions. Perhaps the rest of the hivemind, jazzers and no, can weigh in. Pat has already tackled some of these.

- There's a somewhat cynical view of Album of the Year serving as a sort of Lifetime Achievement Award in disguise. Steely Dan's Two Against Nature win in 2001 and Santana's Supernatural sweep in 2000 were deemed to function this way. While what little I've heard of River is alright, it was far from the best album of the year in my estimation. Maybe Kanye West & Amy Winehouse supporters split the vote allowing Herbie to go up the middle. Herbie has been recognized in the past by NARAS; but is crowning Herbie, and having Eldar honour Oscar Peterson, pandering to the great lack of televised jazz over the years?
- Is it fair to compare an artist's current work with their past catalogue? Two Against Nature, as good as it was, was certainly no Aja (which, to my research, never won a Grammy); Supernatural, and Santana's ensuing duets albums, don't hold a candle to Abraxas. Should this factor into how we appreciate and award these records?
- Will Herbie's win lead to more people checking out Herbie's work (or Joni's)? I really want to say yes, but the "who the fuck is Herbie Hancock" comments suggest otherwise. Howard Mandel and his commenters have more here.
- Is there an objective way to determine "best" in these cases? I'm curious how many NARAS voters are musically trained, and how actively involved they are in music? I'm reminded of the famous 1989 Metal fiasco, with Jethro Tull beating Metallica. Patti Austin's Avant Gershwin record won Best Jazz Vocal album (and congrats to Michael Abene, who did the arrangements). Other nominees included Freddy Cole and Kurt Elling. What makes Patti Austin a better jazz vocalist, in the ears of NARAS?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Get well soon...

On the heels of bassist Dennis Irwin's illness comes this (via Bill McHenry's MySpace bulletin): multi-reedist Andrew D'Angelo is undergoing surgery for a brain tumour. He's blogged a little bit about it on his site. I wish him all the best - donations are being accepted via PayPal.