Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Recordings of 2008


I worked with and listened to A LOT of music this year - probably more than ever before in my life. I finally started making enough bread that I could begin buying music once again (which I have to say is a joy and an addiction). I feel very strongly about buying music and encourage others who work in the music industry to do so more often (not only to support the artists, but the labels and almost more importantly, the record stores that allow us a place to go and shop). There are too many hands out these days (especially among industry, "press" and "radio"). It seems like everyone who loves this music wants a free copy. For the actual amount of music being sold today, that's a travesty.

Lemme tell you, I don't do publicity for the money. I do it because I genuinely care about getting the word out on musicians and bands whose music I really believe in. People have so many options of what to buy today, and so much of the media is exclusively focused on mainstream pop, indie rock (on popular labels), electronic/dance music and hip-hop. Much of this music has a lot of merit and is immensely enjoyable, but I strongly believe that music that can loosely be defined by the word "jazz," has just as much merit and can bring just as much joy and thought to the listening public.

I've also decided that it's OK to have some clients in my Top 10 this year because many of them formed a significant portion of my personal soundtrack to 2008 (by far my top 2 were Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors and Aaron Parks' Invisible Cinema, two albums which show that this music is very much alive and going places beyond what we previously conceived as jazz). There has been a lot of talk about how 2008 was an unremarkable year for music, and I really have to strongly disagree. I think the number of albums being produced and publicized is ever-increasing and media consolidation, layoffs and shrinking column inches for the arts in general are quickly driving more and more music criticism out of the public eye, and onto the internet (which often makes it harder to find for those only casually looking). Much of music criticism is disappearing as qualified professional writers with years of experience rightly refuse to work for free. Others blog as a means of putting their names out there in the mix, hoping more work will come with that online visibility.

With regard to the topic of 10 albums, this year more than ever, I felt that just 10 was way too few for the amount of music I heard and the amount of music produced. One of my favorite critics, Peter Margasak of The Chicago Reader and Down Beat, who is easily one of the best music critics in the country, chose 40 top records for his list at his Chicago Reader blog, Post No Bills ( Pitchfork chose 50. Rolling Stone chose 50. JazzTimes chose 50. All these recordings I've chosen show a a strong vision for present and future of jazz - including the 25 Honorable Mentions.

I have created a separate non-jazz list because I made a concerted effort this year to listen to/buy a lot of music beyond "jazz" that was getting either immense critical acclaim or appealed to me melodically, harmonically or rhythmically. Also, Fleet Foxes and Juana Molina don't need another vote from me, someone who has dedicated his life to advancing improvised music.

1. Todd Sickafoose - Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone)
2. Aaron Parks - Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
3. Rudresh Mahanthappa feat. Kadri Gopalnath - Kinsmen (Pi)
4. Charles Lloyd - Rabo de Nube (ECM)
5. Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures - Dream Garden (Justin Time)
6. Uri Caine - The Othello Syndrome (Winter & Winter)
7. John Ellis - Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena)
8. Guillermo Klein - Filtros (Sunnyside)
9. Anthony Braxton/William Parker/Milford Graves - Beyond Quantum (Tzadik)
10. Esbjorn Svensson Trio - Leucocyte (Decca)

Honorable Mention "Jazz":
11. William Parker Quartet - Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity)
12. Will Vinson - Promises (Nineteen-Eight) - debut
13. Carla Bley Big Band - Appearing Nightly (ECM/WATT)
14. Donny McCaslin - Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music)
15. Adam Kolker - Flag Day (Sunnyside)
16. Kurt Rosenwinkel - The Remedy (self-released via ArtistShare)
17. Bennie Maupin - Early Reflections (Cryptogramophone)
18. Fieldwork - Door (Pi)
19. Mike Reed's Loose Assembly - The Speed of Change (482 Music)
20. Bad Touch - Like a Magical Kiss (self-released) - debut
21. Steven Bernstein's Millenial Territory Orchestra - We Are MTO (Mowo)
22. Bill Frisell - History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
23. Dafnis Prieto - Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
24. Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina - Live at the Village Vanguard (Calle 54)
25. Jeff Gauthier Goatette - House of Return (Cryptogramophone)

1. Fleet Foxes - s/t (Sub Pop)
2. Shearwater - Rook (Matador)
3. Dungen - 4 (Kemado)
4. Juana Molina - Un Dia (Domino)
5. Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog - Party Intellectuals (Pi)
6. Shugo Tokumaru - Exit (Sony)
7. Aterciopelados - Rio (Nacional)
8. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Todomundo)
9. Blitzen Trapper - Furr (Sub Pop)
10. Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That (Kill Rock Stars)

Happy Holidays and BUY SOME OF THIS MUSIC! If you're going to download, I highly recommend eMusic both for the higher quality files and DRM-free downloads (the only drawback is that several majors and certain indies are not on there). Otherwise, iTunes has pretty much everything.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

almost strictly links - Fall 2008 Vol. 1

Of interest, but not blogged during Fall 2008:

Howard Mandel on jazz festivals.

Vocalist and Shirley Jordan acolyte Theo Bleckmann on Fresh Air.

Damon Albarn's Honest Jons label and record shopping (a bad habit I share).

Nate Chinen on DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist in concert.

Alexander Gelfand writes in The Forward on the extremely talented clarinetist and neo-Klezmer musician Michael Winograd.

The new breed of New York music clubs.

Despite a poorly thought-out title and cover image, George Duke pumps out the jams on Dukey Treats.

Egon (of Stones Throw fame) compiles some excellent Ethiopian funk, Mexican funk and some incredibly fast flow.

This was one of my best music purchases of 2008. Thanks Joe T!

Steve Smith takes over the music editorship at Time Out New York with a bang.

An obsessive Louis Armstrong collector donates his massive collection of Satchmo memorabilia to Queens College.

Jazz goes mambo
by NPR cultural reporter Felix Contreras, a talented percussionist himself.

The best music book I bought this year.

Another William Parker album. Another Kevin Whitehead Fresh Air review.

NPR correspondent Reese Erlich on Cuban musicians who have remained.

A typically great Sunday NY Times playlist by Nate Chinen.

William Claxton, a jazz photography iconoclast, passes on.

I disagree with Pitchfork on this one. A much-debated album for sure.

Jon Pareles' overture to CMJ 2008. Nate Chinen on Deerhoof's much-anticipated CMJ show w/ Experimental Dental School.

My boss' old boss passes - an old school music PR legend and author.

Philly's phavorite underground female artist finally gets the City Paper cover treatment, seven years late.

These four NY players get my vote for best new jazz group of 2008 besides Aaron Parks, Bad Touch. Ben Ratliff raves over them days after I saw them in Philadelphia. (Another auspicious debut as a leader came from Swedish trumpeter Matthias Eick, who along with Parks, Marcus Strickland, Anat Cohen, Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, JazzTimes called a "new visionary"). Full disclosure: Aaron Parks is a client of mine - but he's just so bad ass. Seriously.

A remarkable week for Philadelphia live music. Still kicking myself for missing Dungen.

NY-based pianist Henry Hey creates quite the YouTube stir with his now famous Palin's Song(s).

Pittsburgh gets a rare visit from the excellent Dutch Willem Breuker Kollektief.

Keith Jarrett never misses a chance to make beautiful music and an ass of himself - all in a night's work.

R&B/funk god Leon Ware visits The Blue Note in NY promoting his new album on Stax.

This reminds me I really need to check out this new Bobby Previte record. I haven't seen NY critics go gaga like this over a gig by Previte in a long time.

New York-based music critic Steve Dollar has a newish blog with excellent articles called "House of Skronk." I've added it to the Compatriots section to the left.

An interesting piece on female MCs on Slate.

A great Sunday playlist by the Detroit Free Press classical and jazz critic Mark Stryker.

On Election Night, jazz journalist and ListenGood blogger Larry Blumenfeld goes out to see political music, rather than watching the television.

Ben Ratliff reviews critic and historian Ted Gioia's new book on delta blues. Gioia is the editor of

NPR's Weekend Edition explores the impact of new technology on the art and business of making music today.

Mama Africa passes.

The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ gets a facelift thanks, in part, to The Boss.

The new recording by the Matthew Herbert Big Band gets a few very different reviews.

This is just plain awesome. Thanks Wired Listening Post. Note the addition in Compatriots to the left.

RIP Tony Reedus.

More to come soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christian Scott at Newport

Concord Music Group is at it again - pushing its young lion trumpeter Christian Scott, the New Orleans-born nephew of altoist Donald Harrison who has been tooting his own horn from a very young age - and with a very fine tone to boot (lately reminiscent of another Crescent City native, Terence Blanchard). This is Scott's third release for the Beverly Hills-based mega-label and his first live release. It drops Nov. 4th and is a CD + DVD. The concert footage was recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival this past August, where I happened to be in attendance and saw part of this set (there was a rather large crowd gathered around the Waterfront Stage). (Full disclosure: the band features a current publicity client, pianist Aaron Parks, whom I've tried to keep out of my discourse on the blog for conflict-of-interest reasons).

Despite the label pumping him up as the next big thing, the trumpeter is really part of a much larger scene of Berklee and Manhattan School-educated players in New York who often playing lush anthemic melodies with sophisticated harmonies (sometimes hinting at jazzy neo-soul). The players on the record demonstrate this scene through their various associations with other key players - Parks (who has played with virtually everyone in these circles including drummer Kendrick Scott, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, guitarist Mike Moreno, drummer Eric Harland, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and guitar hero Kurt Rosenwinkel), Walter Smith III on tenor sax (who plays frequently with Scott, Parlato, Akinmusire and fellow saxophonist Mark Small), Joe Sanders on bass (who also plays with Akinmusire), Jamire Williams on drums (who has played and recorded with Kenny Garrett) and guitarist Matt Stevens (whose only tie to this scene that I know of, is through the trumpeter - but he has been with Scott since his debut for Concord, Rewind That and is a very integral part of the Scott's sound).

Enjoy a track from the new release entitled "Died in Love":

Friday, October 17, 2008

Uri Caine - The Othello Syndrome

BUY THIS ALBUM!!!!! It's just beyond words - for now. Uri Caine has once again completely outdone himself. I'll have a review later when I absorb more of this brilliant record. I wish MuxTape was still around. I'd totally fit the best songs from this into a mix and post it. I just got the new Down Beat and they gave it 5 STARS - a very rare occurrence (however, right next to it on the same page, there happened to be a 5 STAR review of a new Gunther Schuller record).

I think in 2007 there were only two 5 STAR records in Down Beat - Maria Schneider's Sky Blue and Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner's Ojos Negros.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

some inspiration for a new America


I don't think any politician has said it better and more succinctly than Bruce did here.

Something very basic I noticed while watching this video today (something that never really dawned on me today) is that the Democrats preach a platform of hope and compassion and integrity for the most basic tenets of the constitution (our civil liberties). But the Democrats also have clear, well thought-out plans for our country - domestically and abroad. On the other hand, when it really comes down to it, most of what I hear John McCain and the Republicans talking about in the debates are negatives - how our spending is out of control in Washington, how government is inherently flawed, how Democrats' values are flawed. The only truly inspiring speeches they give are about war - when we should never have been in Vietnam or Iraq in the first place. They talk about heroism and honor. How can you have heroism and honor when you deny your own citizens their own civil rights under the guise of liberty?

Do we want to elect a leader who is running on compassion for the American people or one who is running on economics with an inherent distaste for government and no sense of what life is like for the everyday American? I'll let you answer that for yourself.

Monday, September 08, 2008

the out-of-towner

Ever since I moved again in Philly to a much nicer and cheaper spot with my friend Gabe, I've been spending a lot of time out of town in New York and elsewhere on business and pleasure.

I spent Labor Day Weekend in Detroit for the Detroit International Jazz Festival, which is billing itself as the largest free jazz festival in North America (i.e. most acts and 'free' meaning free-of-charge as opposed to so-called avant garde 'free jazz'). It was remarkable how many acts they had and the variety of said acts.

Here's a Detroit-based website's overview:

Matt Wilson's kitschy, but totally killing Arts & Crafts band with Terell Stafford on trumpet, Gary Versace on organ and Martin Wind on bass (having recently replaced the late Dennis Irwin) blew my mind - I think it was my first time seeing that band live, though I've listened to the records many times.

Here's a taste (with the late Dennis Irwin):

Cyro Baptista's Beat the Donkey, a zany (Brazilian-based) percussion/keyboard/electric guitar/dance band that's part Captain Kangaroo, part Blue Man Group, part avant-jazz bonanza and filled with players of variegated ethnicity who aim to please with highly choreographed schema - a few times in their set they all came to a complete standstill mid-song and held the pose for what seemed like an eternity, but was really only about 20 seconds in complete silence. There are at least two excellent recordings by Beat the Donkey on John Zorn's Tzadik label, Beat the Donkey and Love The Donkey. Apparently Baptista has a new album which I've not yet checked out called Banquet of the Spirits.

Here's a taste of Beat the Donkey:

I also loved seeing the Dutch ICP Orchestra, a group that I brought to Pittsburgh and wrote about here back in Spring of 2006. I got to hang with Michael Moore (the talented woodwind player and longtime expatriate) pre-show and congratulate him on making some really excellent recordings for his own Ramboy label, which I have to thank Bruce Lee Gallanter at Downtown Music Gallery for turning me onto when I was in his store in late April.

Here's a taste of ICP:

There was a theme to the festival - The Detroit-Philly Connection: A Love Supreme which was a somewhat tenuous pairing in my opinion since there is no direct connection between the two cities except for the fact that many Detroit and Philly jazz and soul musicians played with each other over the years and that both cities were tour stops for all kinds of musicians who were on the road. So they had Christian McBride as the artist-in-residence and he put on a convincing opening night tribute to Marvin Gaye along with emcee, former Detroit Lions play and Football Hall-of-Famer Lem Barney and soul singers Lalah Hathaway, Rahsaan Patterson and new crooning phenom José James. On Saturday there was a Philly-Detroit Summit with Christian McBride, Detroit-born drummer and jazz drummer-turned hip-hop mogul Karriem Riggins, Detroit guitarist Perry Hughes, Philly saxophone veteran Bootsie Barnes, Geri Allen and Randy Brecker. For more complete reviews including very in-depth coverage by Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press, go here.

I was in New York on Sept. 8th for Soundcheck on WNYC with my client the pianist Aaron Parks (there I got to meet and chat with Starbucks' Hear Music superstar Sonya Kitchell and her charming mother - both of whom already knew Aaron through his younger sister). Later, I had a meetings with some interesting French dudes about a week of performances around NYC they are going to film in mid-November for a French music television channel, Mezzo. And I am going to publicize it. It's being billed as "Autumn In New York" which is somewhat ironic since they aim to catch the most cutting edge jazz on the scene and that moniker denotes a very retro classic jazz/pop ethos. Anyways, they aim to shoot acts such as math-jazz trio Fieldwork, electronic musician Val-Inc w/ either guitarist Marvin Sewell (a frequent Jason Moran and Cassandra Wilson cohort) or trumpeter Graham Haynes (who has made some very fine experimental electronic recordings of his own - notably 2006's Full Circle), Jaleel Shaw's band, the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's band (recent winner of the Thelonious Monk Competition) and a night of hip-hop meets jazz w/ trumpeter Raydar Ellis, drummer Chris Dave, pianist Robert Glasper, saxophonist/keytar player Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge and others presented by Revive da Live.

Here's a taste of Revive da Live:

I was back in the city from Sept. 11-13th. Could not believe it has been only seven years since the attacks of that September morning which I awoke to from a phone call in my college dorm room as a freshman at Carnegie Mellon (somehow it seems like more time has passed). It didn't feel particularly poignant being in New York City on Sept. 11 until I spotted the two luminous beams shining up into the night sky commemorating the towers and the lives lost. Speaking of which I was back in the city to see the 2nd night of Aaron Parks' CD release run at The Jazz Standard. On the way back downtown after a interview with Ted Panken on WKCR's Out to Lunch, Aaron told us that he was just a few blocks away from the towers on Sept. 11, 2001 and watched people jumping out of the Towers which scarred him for quite a while. So that was pretty heavy... But Thursday night's set was brilliant - really loved their rendition of "Riddle Me This" and "Nemesis," my two favorite tracks on the new record.

Here is Aaron Parks playing Nemesis at J&R Music's JazzFest in late August.

On Friday night I did a double header starting at Sweet Rhythm to see my client, the percussionist Steven Kroon and then I joined writer Siddhartha Mitter for the midnight set at The Blue Note by an immensely talented pianist from Baltimore named Lafayette Gilchrist whom I've written about previously here. Gilchrist has really matured as a writer and soloist. This was one of the tightest bands I've seen in some time (alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax, bass, drums) - and they were all Baltimore cats! Total unknowns. So kudos to The Blue Note Club for presenting this music. Lafayette's new release, his 4th record for Hyena is called Soul Progressin'.

Here's some video of Lafayette who's got a modern day Monk look goin' on:

Then Saturday I journeyed from Bedford Stuyvestant to Downtown Brooklyn, walked down Court Street and had lunch with my new buddy Stanley Crouch. We mostly discussed Obama, McCain and Palin and a little bit of music. Obama and this year's campaign are the subject of his next book. Were were inadvertently joined by Bill Frisell who has known Stanley for some time. Bill just happened to be in the same pizza place in Carroll Gardens, Francesco's, which I cannot really wholeheartedly recommend, though realize I can't eat tomato sauce anymore, so take my words with a grain of salt (or parmesan, as it were).

Here's Stanley in the context of hip-hop in the black community (skip to 2:15):

That night I went to the Vanguard to catch the Paul Motian Trio w/ Joe Lovano and Frisell, where I met up with another guitar player I know. This is a show I will never forget (unless, perhaps, I see them again). Two Monk tunes, "Misterioso" and "Crepuscule With Nellie" and two Motian tunes, plus a closing rendition of George and Ira Gershwin's warhorse of a standard, "Our Love is Here To Stay." No recent footage of this band is available since god knows Lorraine Gordon won't let cameras into the Village Vanguard - the only place this band plays nowadays since Paul does not travel outside New York. Thus, this band REALLY needs to record a live DVD.

Due to my poor planning that night, with no place to sleep in New York, I had to wait for a train at 3 AM which I borded and immediately fell fast asleep on, missed my stop in Philly and landed in Wilmington, DE, where I got a hotel room for the remainder of the weekend.


Back in NYC now (it's taken me at least 5 solid hours to write this post) and I'm here through this coming Wednesday for the CLEAN FEED FESTIVAL NY III AT THE LIVING THEATRE (21 CLINTON ST BTW HOUSTON & STANTON), which is a showcase for several bands on the Lisbon, Portugal-based label, Clean Feed Records that records some of New York's finest improvisers as well as people in such far-flung locales as California, Texas and....wait for it...Portugal!

Some highlights coming up include Tony Malaby's Tamarindo with William Parker & Nasheet Waits on Monday night at 9:30 and Wednesday night at 9:30 Michael Blake's Hellbent (this video is from Italy and is hilarious - why can't I live in a country like that?) with Marcus Rojas on tuba, Charlie Burnham on violin (from James 'Blood' Ulmer's Odyssey) and G. Calvin Weston on drums (formerly of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time). Come one, come all! Even though I'm being paid to tell you that, come anyways. It's good music. And it's all on Clean Feed!

Friday, August 15, 2008


Thank you blog!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

TONIGHT in Philly: Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar @ The Kimmel Center *GO SEE THIS SHOW!*

So if you have a computer and read outlets for cultural criticism as frequently as I do, you've probably heard the buzz about Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar over the past few weeks.

They are a Balkan revivalist group to put it very bluntly but it seems they mix it up with jazz, Latin rhythms and even Jewish music (which usually sounds pretty Balkan and vice versa). Montreal blogger and friend of The JazzClinic, David Ryshpan noted in his review of their Montreal show earlier this week that "once the Orkestar hit the stage, 12 strong (two drummers and ten brass), it was clear that it was party time, even on a Tuesday night."

Thus its very exciting news to me that this group is playing Philadelphia especially since so many people I know and respect have been raving about this group. On the heels of very successful shows at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York, the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago last weekend and again last night at DROM (again in NY), the Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar will perform what the Kimmel Center is calling a "Global Grooves World Music Dance Party."

Chicago's GapersBlock website wrote of their Pitchfork appearance "Led by father/son team Boban and Marko, the band burst into one quick ‘n dirty song after another, even inciting the crowd to dance to a rousing 'Hava Nagila'." And the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot blogged "The eight-piece brass section romps over a rhythm section with ebullient, strutting flair." YOW!

So GO! I am!

Here are details:

Global Grooves World Music Dance Party
Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar
Thursday, July 24, 2008 | 7:30pm
Perelman Theater
Price: $20

on deck

Even though it's summertime and things have slowed down a bit, thanks to my trusty RSS reader, NetNewsWire (which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone using a Mac) I've got lots more tasty globules of both useful and useless information on deck including some great words in a post-IAJE world from composer/philosopher Darcy James Argue and saxophonist/yoga guru/philosopher Pat Donaher + some music biz ramblings from Hypebot and Coolfer.

Look for a post either tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, July 14, 2008

things that have caught my attention of late

Ok. So blogging has really suffered in the last few months as work has completely occupied my life and when not working I opt to do NOTHING. Also I've been comtemplating life, death and the unknown quite a bit. but here is a list of completely beautiful and interesting things that I've come across in the last few weeks and months:

a stunning video of the great and truly underappreciated pianist Larry Willis by Bret Primack (aka jazzvideoguy).

a truly nerdy (though enthralling) blog post on ear training by Dave Douglas on the Greanleaf Music Blog. (photo credit: Jimmy Katz)

a live concert review of one of the world's greatest yet virtually unknown bassists, (a true pioneer of the solo upright bass). One of the records I'm working right now is by one of Rabbath's best pupils, Renaud Garcia-Fons. The CD/DVD Arcoluz will be out in the states on Sept. 23.

another classic Ben Ratliff review of the NY show by Japanese psych-rockers, Boris. I could have seen this band in DC or Philly last week and I missed both opportunities. Silly me.

a great and somewhat unexpected piece on composer Claude Thornhill by Tom Nolan in the Wall Street Journal.

a great Seattle-based folk rock band called Fleet Foxes have been making the rounds on the blogosphere lately and into my computer (I recently bought the self-titled full-length debut on iTunes) and this excellent concert review by Amanda Petrusich, the NY Times latest addition to their critical music writing staff.

the NY Times Popcast is one of my favorite weekly treats. It used to just be the critics reading all four weekly CD reviews in their own voices with musical interludes, but these days they pick two out of four (not sure how they decide) and they also add an artist of the week; usually an interview conducted by utility man Ben Sisario or pop editor Sia Michel).

several weeks ago, Howard Mandel made a post on his thoughtful ArtsJournal blog, JazzBeyondJazz which is an idea I've thought about for a long while, "Where's Tivo for live performance?"

a very controversial subject - how the black community treats jazz today. this is a blog post I forwarded around to a lot of people. Chances are if you're in the jazz world in some way and I know you, you probably already saw this. I feel pretty strongly about this topic as does the post's author, John Murph (a frequent critic for JazzTimes, DownBeat and other music magazines), since jazz (in my opinion) is truly a music borne of the African diaspora in North America and the Caribbean (though many would argue with me on this). The title is somewhat contentious but I think it makes a good point. In the end, he recommends some worthy young artists to check out.

two years after our office helped launch her career with her debut recording Junjo, bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding has made the rounds not only in newspapers and magazine covers, but on national late night television for her Heads Up release, Esperanza (a record I do not care much for since I know what she's capable of. The label is trying very consciously to cross her over into pop stardom, which in all honesty, she was bound for given her good looks and prodigious talents as a musician and storyteller). Here, NPR covers her. She deserves all the success she has had - she is a remarkable human being. And the SF Chronicle ran a nice feature by Lee Hildebrand.

the NY Times Magazine reported back in May on the prodigiously talented Arcade Fire contributor/one-man-band, Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy).

a gig review by blogger Kellen Yamanaka of an LA gig I wish I could have made - by my main man and client Jeff Gauthier (pronounced GOAT-ee-yay). His new disc on Cryptogramophone, the label he founded, is brilliant and is called House of Return. Buy it - it's got Nels Cline!

I wish I could have made this hit by drummer Al Foster at the Village Vanguard. Al has the biggest smile I've ever seen when playing. And the way he tilts his cymbals is completely unmistakable. If you saw the kit set up, you'd know it was Al's kit. He also seems to have taken to leading his own small groups showcasing young talent over the last 20 years (though very under the radar). Here he brought out the impressive Israeli saxophonist Eli Degibri, bassist Doug Weiss and ubiquitous NY pianist Gary Versace (pronounced ver-sayce, unlike the Italian designer).

a nice feature on Monk Competition winner, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (pronounced ah-kin-moo-sir-ee) by one of my favorite Bay Area writers, Rachel Swan. Ambrose grew up in Oakland, CA, the son of a single mother who worked for the Oakland Police Department!

a thoughtful feature on current jazz records by Marcus Crowder in the SF Bay Guardian.

a nice radio piece by WNYC cultural critic Siddhartha Mitter on the music of the Mississippi Delta.

NY Times obit for legendary organist Jimmy McGriff. And for Sauter-Finnegan co-leader Bill Finnegan. Rest in peace fellas.

Pitchfork's Joe Tangari reviewed the latest from my favorite current jazz pianist, Vijay Iyer (who has a newly redesigned website and a week of performances coming up July 31 - August 3 at Jazz Standard in NYC).

Ok that's enough for one night. There was more but it can wait.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Interview with Pianist/Composer Helen Sung

Pianist Helen Sung was kind enough to do an email interview with me several months ago. It has certainly taken me long enough to post this. Since conducting it, fellow blogger Willard Jenkins (a voice on jazz I respect very much) posted an interview with Ms. Sung on his blog, The Independent Ear. I was particularly struck with Helen's latest release as a leader, Sungbird (after Albéniz) was released last summer on Sunnyside Records. A more complete bio can be found here.

I've heard that you were well on your way to becoming a classical player when you began discovering and playing jazz. Having attended High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston you must have been exposed to jazz? How is it that it wasn't until college that you became serious about playing jazz? Do you feel that you had any advantages or disadvantages from starting to play jazz at the time you did?

Helen Sung: Believe it or not, I wasn't exposed to the terrific jazz program at [High School for the Performing and Visual Arts] when I was a student there. I was trained by a strict Russian classical pianist (i.e. classical music is the only music you should listen to) so I was pretty firmly entrenched. Also, I probably unconsciously avoided checking it out - I was intimidated by jazz music, by the fact that jazzers could improvise...something I had no idea about and couldn't do at all. Thinking back, probably the only jazz I heard growing up was on Sesame Street, Charlie Brown and Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood.

My junior year at University of Texas, a friend asked me to go to a Harry Connick, Jr. concert. I had no idea who he was. I enjoyed the big band, but in the middle of the concert he played a couple of solo piano pieces. I was floored - I didn't know a piano could be played like that - and sound like so much fun. Not that classical music wasn't fun, but it's totally different - the vibe, the feel, the way it made me feel. The next semester, a group of us classical pianists decided to take an intro to jazz class for fun. After I heard Tommy Flanagan's solo on "Confirmation," I was hooked!

Of course I wish I'd started playing jazz earlier. It was a huge paradigm shift in every way, not to mention trying to learn how to improvise, and I sometimes feel like I'm still playing "catch-up." But I guess the important thing is that I started!

Do you still live partially in both the jazz and classical worlds? Do you see a blurry line between the two or are they two completely discrete disciplines?

HS: I don't really do much classical music right now, although if given the opportunity, I'd be happy to do so. Classical and jazz music are definitely different, but after a certain point, it's all about sound and a personal voice...and that's where I'd like to live.

You are an original member of the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance's program at New England Conservatory, the 2007 winner of the Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition and have toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz. Have these distinctions opened doors that might have not been open to you otherwise? Does it take just as much work now as it does the next guy to get gigs? Do you feel you have experienced discrimination for being a woman playing jazz despite these impressive credits?

HS: In this business one needs every break one can get! If I hadn't had the experience at the Monk Institute, I'd be a very different player I'm very grateful for that opportunity. There is no substitute for contact with the old jazz masters, and I've been fortunate to even get to work with some of them. Even with those blessings, yes, it "takes just as much work as the next guy" to get work. It's an eternal hustle! In terms of being a woman in the jazz world, of course there are disadvantages - but as Jimmy Heath once told me, every disadvantage can be turned into an advantage! And that's what I try to stay focused on.

Obviously you are interested in the work of Isaac Albéniz (a little-known late 19th and early 20th century Spanish composer), but some may not know that you have a substantial influence in your playing and arranging from contemporary non-jazz forms. Any favorites besides Me'shell Ndegeocello, whom you covered in your recent shows in Philly and DC in support of Sungbird? Are there any artists or bands whose work you'd like to cover or scrutinize in greater depth in order to cover in a jazz setting?

HS: There's so much great music, not enough time! I love a lot of the great R&B groups, hiphop, soul, pop, etc. Folks like Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Parliament, Prince, Tribe, Common. I also love Brazilian music, Cuban, etc. etc.! Right now I don't have any plans to specifically cover any particular artist or band. I usually let the musical need(s) of whatever phase I'm in inspire my choices (for example, it wasn't that I was specifically interested in Albeniz's work - in fact, I'm not that familiar with the rest of his compositions - it just happened those pieces fit what I was looking for in a particular situation). I also hope to keep working on my composition skills, especially in writing for larger ensembles.

What do you like most about playing with musicians like Matt Parrish, Reuben Rogers, Kendrick Scott, Nasheet Waits, John Ellis and Marcus Strickland? What draws you to their styles as soloists and as members of your band? What do you think might have drawn Steve Wilson, Lonnie Plaxico or Clark Terry to your playing to include you in their respective bands?

HS: I like musicians who are grounded in the jazz tradition but also musically adventurous, not afraid to try new things, take risks, etc. I think that describes all the folks you mentioned. I think the fact that I'm willing to work hard on other people's music opened up doors with various musicians. Clark Terry is simply an incredibly generous human being who has given so many musicians that all-important chance to play! He has a huge legacy of musicians that he has taught, encouraged, and inspired.

Is there an instrument you'd really like to play or record on besides piano? If you could go back in time and play with or witness five artists live, whom might you choose (not just jazz...)

HS: I also play the violin, and would like to record on that one day, although I'll have to put in some serious practice time beforehand(!). I would've loved to seen Louis Armstrong, Bud Powell, and J.S.Bach, the concert where Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" was premiered, and Miles (all of Miles bands!)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

awakening from a long slumber

It's been almost two months since I last made confession (I mean, blogged). What did it?

It was hearing Marco Benevento's Invisible Baby if you must know. I had asked my music biz buddy, Kevin for this record some time ago when I noticed all the attention it was garnering from David Fricke's "Fricke's Picks" to NPR and PopMatters. And I had it sitting in my iPod unlistened-to until today when I set the device on Shuffle and went about cleaning up my apartment.

Benevento, a pianist whose name I was only vaguely familiar with through his Benevento/Russo collaboration on Ropeadope, has made a truly stunning album of grand melodic content and hooky forms steeped both in jazz harmony and rock songwriting with strong doses of electronic noise and reverb. This music reminds me both of the cheery pop of Ben Folds as well as the more contemplative piano playing of Bruce Hornsby and Elton John with hints of Coldplay and Radiohead, sans vocals.

But Invisible Baby completely takes on its own identity especially through extensive use of distortion and tempo-shifting. From the opening balls-to-the-wall blow-man-blow rocker "Bus Ride" to the boogie woogie-like shuffling anthem, "The Real Morning Party," to the hippy-trippy "If You Keep On Asking Me," this album is sure to have a track to make you stop and think.

"Ruby," "Record Book," and "You Must Be A Lion," reminded me of movie music. Take note creative directors!

If you're a fan of the above-mentioned dudes or The Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau (who coincidentally was one of Benevento's teachers) or just good instrumental songwriting, you have to pick this album up!

Readers of this blog should please stay tuned for:
1. a list of shows I've seen this calendar year ranked in order of memorability.
2. a long-promised interview with pianist Helen Sung.
3. a review of photographer Jimmy Katz's new collection of his photography, Jazz Katz. When you see this book, you will realize Jimmy is heir apparent to the legacies of Francis Wolff, William Claxton and William Gottlieb. Unbelievable stuff.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RIP Dennis Irwin

I have very sad news to report. Seems like no one in our small world of this jazz blogosphere has posted it yet, but I learned last night that Dennis Irwin passed on to the other side yesterday; ironically, the day of the enormously unprecedented benefit at Jazz at Lincoln Center on his behalf.

My recollections of Dennis are most vivid as a member of Joe Lovano's bands in the 90s. I was first introduced to him through the Lovano's nonet record 52nd Street Themes. I also have fond memories of seeing him with Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts.

Check out this loving video by Bret Primack (aka jazzvideoguy) done at Lovano's Streams of Expression sessions in 2005:

We're thinking of you Dennis. RIP.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Links - I forget which volume

Let me first say that ESP-Disk sent me some KILLER stuff in the last year and I've neglected to write about any of it...until now.

I have say that I really dug the Don Cherry: Live At Cafe Montmartre 1966 session with Gato Barbieri, Karl Berger (vibes), Bo Stief (bass) and Aldo Romano (drums). You don't really hear records like that (at least I didn't in my jazz listening) and it made me finally go out and buy some Don Cherry records I've been meaning to check out forever: Brown Rice, which both my boss and my buddy Mitchell Feldman rave about all the time.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Yannick Rieu Trio

I took this photo during the recent IAJE conference (which I've yet to blog about - mainly because it's a complete blur in my mind) at The Rex Jazz Club in Toronto. It was a Justin Time Records showcase. Yannick is an excellent Montréal-based tenor player whom I might end up working with a little bit down the line.

He sounds like a mixture of Tony Malaby or Chris Potter's muscularity with a hint of mid-60s Sonny Rollins lyricism and he's not afraid of playing standards.

Apparently he's in his early 40s which is remarkable since he's such a killing player who is completely unknown here in the States. Add him to the list...

I'd venture a guess that the number of editors and contibutors to the major jazz magazines here in the US who have ever heard this guy's name, number less than 10. That's sad.

Check him out here: