Category Archives: jazz

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Ryan Truesdell “Centennial”

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Jazz repertory is full of options. Some interpreters take a classic piece and bend it, personalizing the texts with new designs. Others make a point of reveling in the original luster – marveling at the architectural essence. Ryan Truesdell is in the latter camp with his elaborate nod to Gil Evans, Ryan Truesdell Presents Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (Artist Share). Working as copyist for bandleader Maria Schneider, a devout Evans acolyte, Truesdell caught Evans fever and delved deeper into the revered composer/arranger’s work, ultimately unearthing a handful of unrecorded scores. That’s strong scholarship, but the joy of the resultant music brings is even more important.

Evans, of course, is known for the poetry he brought to the fore on a flurry of Miles Davis collaborations, including 1960’s Sketches of Spain (their association began with landmark Birth of the Cool sessions). His work is marked by a lightness of timbre that somehow leaves room for a wealth of gravitas. The 10 tracks Truesdell displays have enough of an emotional arc to account for Evans’ myriad approaches. The opening “Punjab” boasts a tabla, an air of mystery, and an open-ended feel. “How About You,” a chart that Evans used during his stint with Claude Thornhill’s Orchestra in the 40s, is springy and grooving. The spin on Kurt Weill’s “Barbara Song” is as seductive as music gets, with Joe Locke’s vibraphone adding to the music’s nuanced majesty. “Beg Your Pardon,” one of three vocal tracks that nicely divide this lengthy program, is the oldest piece on the disc. It’s a romantic ditty dressed in gorgeous swirls of brass and strings.

Truesdell’s adherence to Evans’ pen is resolute. There are improvised moments here, but the script is king. Zeal wafts through the music, like everyone’s committed to nailing the innumerable subtleties. That’s a winning tack, because unity is key to a big band’s success. As the buoyancy spins this 32-member ensemble towards eloquent heights, their bonding becomes the music’s background virtue. Gil would have respected that.

Yes, I Went To The Newport Jazz Festival

I haven’t been Lamenting in several months, I’ve been Tumbling. So, it’s fair that lots of people asked if I went to the Newport Jazz Festival last weekend. Indeed, I did.

10 Best Things About the NJF, Day One

10 Best Things About the NJF, Day Two

Check John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet + 1 

Tumblin’ Along

JOIN ME, WON’T YOU?

NRB2: Terry Adams’ New Brood Hits NYC

We got the sad news about the passing of Tommy Ardolino yesterday morning. The NRBQ drummer was a perpetual wonder, the hard-hitting bottom of a rhythmically sophisticated band that made complex maneuvers – combining swing’s glide with rock ‘n’ roll’s thwap – seem as easy as pie. Moon Pie, too be exact. My Facebook comment was something like “he was determined to bring pleasure to every gig.” There’s no question about that.

The beloved outfit has been adrift for a while. A health crisis hiatus turned into a dangerous fissure and then into an insurmountable crack from what I hear. Joey lives on the Cape and plays strong music with Johnny under the name the Spampinato Brothers. Al, who left long ago, lives in Nashville, writes hits for chart dudes and shows up for occasional reunion fests in Western Mass. Terry has won a fight with cancer and has recently morphed his well regarded Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet into NRBQ – a gutsy move, and quite a legend to live up to, of course; the Q is one of the most revered rock groups around, so no wonder lots of people have their eyebrows raised about the nomenclature thing. There was a big story on the transition in the Boston Globe, and Adams was cast as a guy defending a controversial decision. On the newish Keep This Love Goin’ (Clang!) the band drives through a bunch of songs that are cut from the classique Q template. They’re jumping and fun, odd and entertaining. They tip the hat to zydeco kingpin Boozoo Chavis and raid Tin Pan Alley for “Gone With The Wind.”

Opinions differ as to whether the music is in the same ballpark as the group’s best work. One thing’s for sure: Adams is a charismatic bandleader who turns the stage into a hotbed of grooves. Jazz here, rockabilly there, pop all over the place. He knows a mess of tunes, and is a sage filter when it comes to connecting the dots.  His new associates are an energetic lot.  New Yorkers can sample the stuff for themselves at Iridium on Tuesday, 17 and Wednesday, 18. The group comes complete with the Whole Wheat Horns, this time around master trombonist Art Baron and wily tenor saxophonist Klem Klimek blending together. Wouldjaifyoucould? That’s good.

De Drums Are Silenced: RIP The Owl of Cranston

So Long to a fellow Rhode Islander. Kelvin chatted with Paul Motian for this piece.  Steve Futterman recalls Motian’s impact here.

Thank God For Investigative Reporting

I’ve enjoyed the work of Armando Slice ever since I saw his first report. Glad he had an opportunity to connect with “great human being” Matt Wilson. I’m going to go spin “If I Were a Boy” now.

New Zion Trio: Ethereal And Engaging

Take the eerie atmospherics of Scratch Perry and apply them to the realm of acoustic piano. Add a flair for insightful improvisation tempered by years of experimental derring-do, and voila: In a flash, you have Fight Against Babylon, one of the year’s most bewitching small ensemble records. Pianist Jamie Saft, bolstered by the springy riddims of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Craig Santiago, comes up with a dub-influenced jazz program that reflects Jamaica’s studio sorcery while harking back to Alice Coltrane’s dreamy elaborations.

With several provocative titles on the Tzadik imprint, Saft works myriad arenas. But he’s no dabbler. The resonance of New Zion Trio stems from the music’s focus on getting the vibe right. As Santiago’s high-hat clicks and Grenadier’s bass lopes on “The Red Dies,” an airy atmosphere takes over. Saft’s right hand does lots of heavy lifting on this session. Trills are repeated, a mood is established, and as the groove insinuates itself in your head, a narcotic tone dominates. The threesome concocts something both engaging and ethereal.

On “Hear I Jah,” Saft switches to a Rhodes and launches into a prayer with fervid conviction. The band may be genuflecting to Scientist and Augustus Pablo, but it’s Lonnie Liston Smith who opens the Pearly Gates. Through warm clusters of keys, the pianist weaves a rich fabric of sound. “Lost Dub” allows things get sparse again, and the song’s insistence becomes addictive. Ultimately, the groove supplies the leader with all the liftoff his reveries need.

Boo Boo’s Dad’s Birthday

24 hours of the master on WKCR – from Monday at 12 am on. Guess I better start that Spotify list of fave Monk covers. It kicks off with Sphere’s “We See,” I know that much.

Monk Covers, As Promised

Marty Ehrlich & Greg Osby: In Traning

Fell asleep to “After The Rain” last night. Fun to seen so many Coltrane nods in the last few days. Yesterday, of course, was the great one’s birthday. Lately I’ve been unpacking ancient interviews, and came across chats with Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins about their thoughts on Trane’s approach. Here are two more from that era, the late 80s. Marty and Greg had spent lots of time considering the tenor saxophonist’s impact on jazz, that’s for sure. Think I’ll add Eugene Chadbourne’s thoughts to this tonight.

GREG OSBY

I once said that Trane had a harmonic density. I didn’t mean it in a “cluttered” sense, I just meant he had a whole lot of options. A lot of players exhaust their options quickly. Coltrane could hold your interest by just playing a vamp, or some modal stuff. He had more resources; he studied a lot more. He was more of a searcher, he never stagnated, he never stayed in one place for too long. To me, the main thing he represented was change. When his peers, or others of his generation, got hip to what he was doing, he was off into another thing. No idle time. Those are things I’m interested in.

There are a lot of people now who are trying to adhere to old principles, old ideas, and establish those as modern day traditionalism or whatever, and that’s cool if you want to preserve the things you think are jazz. But I don’t think there are any dictates or prescribe methods people should have in their playing. Trane knew that.

I heard him when I was still listening to funk. I guess it was around ’74 or so. I hadn’t been playing for more than two years, and we had a little funk band. I’d play my little funk licks on top of “Giant Steps.” I didn’t know any of his musical logic, but I could enjoy it. I knew it was bad, and I knew one day I wanted to get with that. That’s when I discovered Charlie Parker, too. I’d been listening to Ronnie Laws, David Sanborn, and Grover. But I was drawn to the magnetism and density of what Bird and Trane were doing. They were playing a whole lot of notes.

Jazz is about versatility. You’re supposed to derive stuff from all sorts of sources. I hear some players today who are so conservative they could be on Reagan’s staff. The music isn’t really progressing right now because people are afraid to cross a few lines.

MARTY EHRLICH

Coltrane seemed to be one of those artists who, besides his incredible popularity and meaning to those who listened to jazz and paid attention to black culture in general, was someone who  commanded the attention of many people who don’t listen to jazz. A couple of things made it happen. It’s interesting because he wasn’t a commercial artist in the sense of someone reaching across boundaries today; he was very serious and at times played very difficult music. A lot of that had to do with the times. His music certainly reflected the energy of the ’60s. I’ve found an interesting parallel between him and Bela Bartok: within their respective cultures they represented a few of the same things. People who didn’t listen to contemporary music often listened to Bartok. So here are these two artists who communicated beyond the style they played in. Both were very innovative, expanding the language of their idiom, but at the same time used traditional and folk materials in their music. Radical conservatives, really. They both had visceral emotions with involved processes, so they grabbed you intellectually and emotionally in a way that doesn’t often happen. A Love Supreme was a gold record. It’s very hard to think of a record of that intensity being a gold record in this day and age. People wanted a bit more seriousness at that time. To me he was an example of what a committed artist could be.

He was very consistent. I like all his stuff. At the end of his life, around the time of Expression, you can hear new areas of time, along with some very beautiful harmonic motion. Consistent definitely, maybe a bit obsessive. We hear his long solos, and we’re more used to shorter ones these days.

Everyone has to play out of their own psychology. I’ve never known Trane to play anything funny or tongue in cheek, like Sonny Rollins would. What we learned from him is how hard he worked to find what he had to do. Even though he was a part of the mainstream in a way that Ornette and Cecil never were, he still had to find his own way, which isn’t easy. Everything he played sounded like he had lived through it, like he had felt it first.