June 08, 2007
Bass (Mark Helias)/Drum (Gerry Hemingway)/ Bone (Ray Anderson) has been a working unit for thirty years now, holding up longer than many marriages, and their current tour is an ongoing celebration. Last night the FlynnSpace audience was particularly fortunate to be on hand to hear a generous set of their original new material, some of which is apparently still in development. This meant that there was nothing tired or overly familiar to be heard. This trio came on fresh as a daisy.
Bass/Drum/Bone is a jazz photographer's wet dream. So where were they all last night? You've heard of poetry in motion? That's Gerry Hemingway. Except for Max Roach, I can't think of another drummer/percussionist who knows every inch of his trap drums better than Hemingway, and his mastery of it is thrilling to watch.
Mark Helias also proves that jazz playing is one of the greatest of spectator sports. Every spare note of his solos counts for a lot, and he gives full due to melody. His stage presence is totally assured; a solid figure with shaved head, he's like Yul Brynner turned bassist. But more to the point, he knows his bandmates' technique almost better than his own.
Ray Anderson has become a favorite of DJF regulars over time, and there was a lot of talk in the audience about his previous appearances with the Pocket Brass Band, SlideRide, etc. It seemed too as if nearly every extroverted trombonist in Central Vermont turned out for the show. What was absent was Ray Anderson as the consummate vaudeville entertainer of yore. (Some time back he spoke of a need to stop singing, and it looks like he has.) Instead, he was everything a slide trombone master should be, playing with grace and feeling, demonstrating the full range of his demanding instrument.
This group can spend extended time with textural and timbral explorations, blowing tones and sketching sound patterns, then swing and sing like crazy. They like to fool us; we don't know where we're going but it's a good trip. It's impossible to get bored, and it's hard to avoid being caught up in the fun. So congratulations to the Festival Board for getting them here.
June 06, 2007
Canadian jazzbirds have on occasion been found to migrate south in the spring and summer. This gave the Discover Jazz Festival audience a choice opportunity last night to show up and actually discover something new.
The Christine Jensen Quartet instantly became a quintet with the participation of sister Ingrid Jensen, perhaps already known to some as a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Christine on alto and soprano saxophones, and Ingrid on trumpets turned out to be a striking pair, bold and energetic in performance and intricate in their interactions. Supported by an able rhythm section with--heresy--a Vermonter, Dave Restivo, on piano, they spun out a program of original compositions to what this listener found to be an inordinate length.
Despite colorful moments and spirited interplay, I felt the music at times failed to move forward. Instead of progressing toward new ground, much of it at times sounded too similar to some of what had preceded. But here I feel I'm missing something, and should back off before falling into the Pit of Subjectivity.
I can conclude though, without any reservation, that these sisters from British Columbia have solid chops. (And where the hell have I seen bassist Fraser Hollins before? Hours later, it's still driving me crazy.)
Quebec's wonderful Bourassa/Tanguay/Derome trio showed itself to be adept at breaking every mood they created in their riveting set. A lot of their music depended on quick changes and surprises, with wit and brio. ("That wasn't very good," said drummer Pierre Tanguay after the opening piece, "but it was exciting.") Derome at one point explained that he loves to compose his tunes on airplanes, and if that enables him to avoid boredom it certainly shows in his music. There were two covers in addition to several originals, one by Ornette Coleman, the other Billy Strayhorn's lovely "Isfahan" from Elllington's Far East Suite. This was a high point, a rare exploration of one of the most poignant songs in the Ellington songbook, and Derome and associates delivered in full its breathtaking poignancy.
Pianist Francois Bourassa proved to be as snug and cozy with Derome and Tanguay in trio formation as was bassist Normand Guilbeault. Derome is a monster on both alto sax and flute, and Pierre Tanguay on drums is a sort of French-Canadian Han Bennink. Please, Discover Jazz Festival, bring them back and also give us a chance to hear master guitarist Rene Lussier and clarinetist Francois Houle and whoever they choose to bring through customs.
June 04, 2007
A Good Start
Well, the first 2007 Discover Jazz weekend offered us solid jazz, not the soft something-or-other of some past openers. (That comes later in the week this time.) I too mightily enjoyed the All State Jazz Ensemble. L.J. has already cited the considerable contributions of Michael Hardin and Grace Gaylord, while the entire well-rehearsed group earned its applause. Let's hope they continue a full musical career; we don't need any more pastry chefs in Vermont.
As expected, Eddie Palmieri's concert was marked by precision and the by-now-familiar magic. No one bridges salsa and mainstream jazz quite as gracefully as Palmieri, and Monk's "In Walked Bud" demonstated this early in the set. And what a cohesive unit this is! I don't mind Conrad Herwig's showboating any more than I do Ray Anderson's, since the underlying musicianship of both is so solid. I will say, however, that the last time I saw Palmieri, about eight years ago at the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA, Craig Handy's saxophone replaced Herwig's trombone and the textural diifference that resulted was striking. Sometimes such a change can be invigorating, though this time the rock-solid long-standing band was utterly reliable.
Quick disconnect: Watching Sr. Rivero's mesmerizing performance on congas, I flashed back to Ray Barreto, another player who can never be replaced and who is up there with Eddie Palmieri in the Latin Bandleader Hall of Fame.
Maybe it was my imagination? Pharoah Sanders appeared to me to be more subdued than the last time I saw him seven years ago, while Kenny Garrett seemed to overcompensate a bit. Whatever, Sanders still has chops, heart, and soul intact and Garrett only gets better. The concert seemed basically to be in three movements. The first was the extended free blow that gripped everyone. Maybe John Coltrane was listening too. The second began with a lamentation of sorts, and I wish I knew the title. It was perfect preparation for the subsequent surprisingly low-key and moving version of "Naima", as noted in postings below. The last one was the crowd pleaser. DJF audiences always yearn for overt participation, and Kenny gave them a great opportunity.
It would be hard to find a more fitting rhythm section that Garrett's longtime associate Nat Reeves and Jamire Williams. High energy and hard drive on the supporting level all the way.
No encore? Go figure.
May 31, 2007
June can be a cruel time for certain festival goers, and I mean those who are hopelessly jazz addicted. And, sad to say, I mean myself. If you even suspect that you might be a candidate for this group, and I speak from experience, there are several symptoms to be on the lookout for.
First there's unrestrained nostalgia for past festivals. Surely nothing on this years schedule can begin to compare with the great programs of the past. I think back on David Murray's appearances, the trombone quartet Slide Ride, Max Roach, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali, and on and on. Remembering those who have passed on--Joe Henderson, Raphe Malik, others--brings me close to tears. This is all horribly sentimental, and in the end a waste of time.
Then there's the lure (threat) of new CDs. All these players may come bearing new and old recorded material impossible to resist. I look at every inch of my house, trying to guess how many CDs will fit into every uncrowded or empty space, and it gets harder every year. The number of discs I buy annually has dropped significantly, but I run a jazz label and the music keeps coming in. Maybe those Canadians will bring new product that's not to be easily found here. Of course Anderson/Helias/Hemingway will have a new CD and I can't leave empty handed, can I?
Finally, I catch myself looking forward to next year's DJF before this one has even begun. Maybe we'll finally get Cecil Taylor, and jazz fans who are overwhelmed (read intimidated) by his power can have a chance to discover how great his lyrical gifts are in the rich segments of repose that arrive in every performance. Or maybe Abdullah Ibrahim will be back, offering another long flowing set that becomes uncommonly absorbing as it progresses. Maybe he'll play Ellington again! Or let's bring Billy Harper, not known to all, but a vigorous Texas tenor with a great band that's evolved out of hard bop over time. So what then, we have to sit through all of this year's stuff before we can get to the goodies?
For anyone who wonders whether I'm a half-empty or half-full sort of geezer, there are hints above. As day one of DJF approaches, with no organized twelve-step JA group in sight, I'm getting nervous and wondering if Bob Blumenthal might be able to talk me through it.
May 21, 2007
I just got an e-mail from Phil Sentner, maniacal jazz fan and sleepless consumer, from the depths of Lyndonville, VT. Phil writes, "By the way, I heard the new Kenny Garrett disc last night and Pharoah sounds like the old Pharoah, not playing that New Age shit Laswell was producing." This is good news to me--though I have to admit to liking some of the New Age shit Bill Laswell was responsible for--since I'm assuming Phil has in mind the excitement Pharoah Sanders generated when playing with such greats as Coltrane and guitarist Sonny Sharrock (Check out Sander's Tauhid and/or Sharrock's Ask the Ages.)
Since I hate to form false preconceptions, I try to avoid listening to an artist's new CD before the performance. Sometimes the live music can be quite different than the studio product, or the artist may head out in a new direction on the moment. George Thomas's report that the fusion of the new Chick Corea and Bela Fleck CD sounds more like classical music (rather than rock) with jazz really surprises me (and makes me think I may have to see the damn thing). But one thing for sure is that you can never be sure what you'll hear, that there's always room for the unpredictable in jazz. Unless, that is, you're at Lincoln Center.
By the way, does anyone know who the sidemen will be for this gig?
May 15, 2007
I'm not planning to be at the Chick Corea/Bela Fleck concert primarily because I live too far from Burlington to take in the full ten days straight. Now, however, the ongoing discussion here (and probably elsewhere) of Fusion and its discontents seems to be making this the most talked about gig of the festival before it even begins. I'm really curious at this point as to how the event might size up against my barely formulated expectations.
Briefly, the old story: As the fusion movement became progressively diffuse over the two decades following its start, it gradually became bled of its emotional resonance. The worst result in time became the mealy schlock/pop market-driven cheese mix already lamented in these postings. Less offensive but even more ubiquitous was all the "nice" music aiming to please and not offend. A bottomless appetite for both continues and grows stronger.
From these guys I'd expect more, though both have played to please the masses and no doubt will on June 6. What performing artist, after all, would want to pack a church basement when he can fill a stadium? But Corea and Fleck have have the chops--still--to deliver virtuoso stuff. If the music lacks heart and spontaneity, and it might or might not, it should still project the energy that defined the movement way back in the '70s. I'd expect each to work the other mighty hard and to get the obligatory standing ovations.
(Hey, let's ask Bob Blumenthal what he thinks if we get a chance. His knowledge and erudition are as solid as his judgment, and his contributions to previous festivals are considerable.)
May 08, 2007
Fans who tend to suffer from post-celebratory tristesse at the close of the Discover Jazz Festial have something new to look forward to. New to Vermont, that is.
For ten years saxophonist and pianist Fred Haas has been directing his jazz camp, Interplay Jazz, in New Hampshire or Massachusetts. This year Interplay will be in Woodstock, Vermont from June 22 through June 29. Planned is a week of events including classes, workshops, jazz films, jam sessions, and concerts. In addition to a noteworthy faculty which includes among others Matt Wilson (drums), Bob Hallahan (piano), Eugene Friesen (cello and strings), and John Carlson (trumpet), distinguished vocalist Sheila Jordan will conduct vocal workshops and offer a concert on June 24. Pianist Kenny Werner will follow his two workshops with a performance on June 28, and the full Interplay Faculty All-Stars will hold forth in a big way on the 29th with a Down By the River Concert.
I used to be able to tell folks that I lived in a virtually smoke-free jazz-free state. Such events as Interplay and the annual Vermont Jazz Center's August camp and concerts make the claim, at least regarding jazz music, I'm happy to say, out-of-date.
Woodstock is about an hour and forty minutes at speed limit from Burlington. It's a very nice town ( I live here, as it happens) to visit between the peak tourist seasons. Good turnout and solid participation could make it a permanent home for Interplay.
May 06, 2007
On the Festival Trail
Jazz Mafia co-blogger L.J. Palardy is correct in thinking that I may be familiar with the annual FIMAV, which draws increasingly large crowds each May from all over the world (except Burlington). The small city of Victoriaville has incongruously become a magnet for proponents of the free jazz movement called musique actuelle, easier heard than explained. This year's program features well-known US artists Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Marilyn Crispell, Andrew Cyrille, and Eugene Chadbourne. as well as players from Japan, England, Germany, Holland, and of course all parts of Canada.
I first attended Victo in 1997, which opened with a performance by saxophonist, composer, and conductor Jean Derome with a 13 piece group of his ebullient tribute to Georges Perec titled Je Me Souviens. (This is available on the Ambiances Magnetiques label, centerpiece of the actuelle movement, of which Derome is a co-founder.) When Derome wandered into the restaurant at the Hotel Colibri, unofficial festival headquarters, for breakfast the next morning, the entire room greeted him with a standing ovation. I haven't seen this happen again since, though audience enthusiasm seldom wanes over the festival's five days.
I'm excited at the prospect of hearing Derome on June 5 at Flynnspace with his longtime associate Pierre Tanguay on drums and a relatively new collaborator, Francois Bourassa on piano. He's a multi-instrumentalist who bridges the gap between straight-ahead jazz and free improvisation. To find out how, check his CDs Musique de Thelonious Monk and Carnets de Voyage or any others with his band, Les Dangereux Zhoms. Derome is a player with heart who deserves wider recognition here, and meanwhile fans who are willing to roll up to Quebec can easily become better acquainted with his art.
(Warning: if you go to FIMAV and can get a room at the Colibri, be aware that the hotel is well known for its granite matresses and pillows. See if you can bring your own bedding through customs.)
Another essential June event is New York's Vision Festival, which runs from June 18 through 24 at the visually stunning Angel Orensanz Foundation just below Houston Street. This annual marathon is the creation on a grand scale of Patricia Nicholson Parker and her husband, bassist William Parker and is devoted to the broad field of improvised and, for want of a better word, avant-garde jazz. Next month's festival is conceived as a tribute to Bill Dixon. Go down for it.
May 04, 2007
Quickly, those who can't wait until June 2 or are otherwise engaged on that date might want to know that Kenny Garrett and Pharoah Sanders are playing in New York at Iridium now through Sunday May 6. Look at it as a rehearsal, and get down there.
April 29, 2007
Off to a Start!
What a great kickoff for the 2007 Discover Jazz Festival! Eddie Palmieri has been a personal favorite for some years--if someone had bootlegged his cradle sounds, I'd have to have a copy--and his return to the Flynn mainstage is long overdue.
With the excellent Brian Lynch (trumpet) and Conrad Herwig (trombone) up front for over a decade, Palmieri has brought his ensemble to the forefront of contemporary Latin jazz. Wildly colorful and rhythmically alive, his concert and recording (check Palmas and Arete from the mid-1990s) high points are usually his keyboard solos. Free ranging and complex, often exhausting and bewildering, they are breathtaking extended flights of invention, a thrill for free jazz as well as mainstream audiences.
The DJF is a celebration, and this will be an energetic start to ten days of (mostly) jazz. The only trouble is, once the party's over the offerings become rather sparse for the rest of the long year. Headliners predominate, while many established national and local artists find it hard going: Where are the gigs? Where are the venues? Where's the audience?
But more on that later. I'm not out to poop the party before it starts. I'll be there on June 1 eager for the music. See y'all.