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Hosted by Fritz Byers, Jazz Spectrum is designed as an anthology, a loose and flowing tour through the history of the music, showcasing the wondrous diversity of jazz and the virtuosity of the musicians who play it.
Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, Volume 3, “Swing Shift”
Howard Rumesy’s Lighthouse All-Stars, In the Solo Spotlight!, “That’s Rich”
Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, Volume 6, “Long Ago and Far Away”
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Cuba; The Conversation Continued, “There’s a Statue of Jose Marti in Central Park”
Jane Ira Bloom, Mental Weather, “What to Wear”
Rosemary Clooney, Sings the Music of Cole Porter, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” Cedar Walton & Clifford Jordan, A Night at Boomers, Vol. 1, “Down in Brazil”
Eric Alexander, Solid!, “Little Melonae”
Helen Merrill, With Clifford Brown, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”
Ryan Keberle & Catharsis, Into the Zone, “Simple Sermon”
John Coltrane, The Stardust Session, “I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All”
Nnenna Freelon, Jazz After Dark, “The Meaning of the Blues”
Von Freeman, Great Divide, “Be My Love”
Gerry Hemingway Quartet, Devil’s Paradise, “Full Off”
Donnie McCaslin, Soar, “Soar”
Billie Holiday, Lady in Satin, “I’ll Be Around”
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Infernal Machines, “Zeno”
Johnny Hodges, Complete Verve Small Group Sessions, “M.H.R.”
Frank Sinatra, The Columbia Years, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Duke Pearson, Tender Feelin’s, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Billie Eckstine, Everything I Have is Yours, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Art Farmer, Complete Farmer & Golson Jazztet, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Peggy Lee, Mink Jazz, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Lee Morgan, Here’s Lee Morgan, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Tony Bennett, To My Wonderful One, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Brian Landrus, The Deep Below, “I’m a Fool to Want You”
Louis Smith, Once in a While, “There is No Greater Love”
Helen Forrest & The Harry James Orchestra, “I Heard You Cried Last Night”
Prince Lasha Quintet Featuring Sonny Simmons, The Cry!, “Red’s Mood”
Charles Mingus, At UCLA 1965, “Meditation on Inner Peace”
Nicole Mitchell, Aquarius, “Sunday Afternoon”
Eric Dolphy, Complete Last Recordings, “Springtime”
Ella Fitzgerald, Something to Live For, “Can Anyone Explain?”
Rich Perry, Rhapsody, “Come Rain or Come Shine”
Christian McBride Trio, Live at the Village Vanguard, “Sand Dune”
Emblematic of our plight, we seem unable to agree on whether we're in the first year of a new decade or the last year of an old one. So I'll avoid pronouncements about jazz in the 2010s. Suffice to say, as could be said of every decade of the music's evolution, those years have been replete with innovation, consolidation, exploration. incorporation, expansion. Kim Kleinman's essay, which you'll find below, finds an analog in theories of biological evolution. I know better than to gainsay Kim's extrapolations, which I've listened to and learned from for the six decades of our still evolving friendship. In any event, choose your analogy, metaphor or dialectic: the music is more alive than ever.
Speaking of our climate of pervasive discord, there seems to be strident debate about who first commended us to "Think globally. Act locally." I've tried to track that down, but gave up after reading passionate debates paired with scabrous insults. Regardless, in the year that just passed, jazz musicians showed ways to honor that maxim, which we would all do well to consider. The shopworm saying that "Jazz is America's classical music" works as conversation ignition, but not much else. And in any event, we've sailed that ship so far and wide that now the music belongs to everyone, everywhere, always. As it should.
The list below begins with a British-Bahraini trumpet player who has played with Radiohead and Arturo O''Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra; and it ends with a Puerto Rican saxophonist whom the MacArthur Foundation has declared a genius and who once put together his "all Puerto Rican band" for a lengthy tour of West Africa. In between...Chileans, Cubans, Israelis, Azerbaijanis, well you get the point.
Thanks to every person, anywhere , who made music this year. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, it may be the sound of the next good idea's being born.
Here are fifty (50) recordings from 2019 that caught my ear in engaging ways. * denotes a special favorite.
Yazz Ahmed - Polyhymnia
Melissa Aldana - Visions
Ralph Alessi - Imaginary Friends
Fabian Almazan - This Land Abounds with Life
Art Ensemble of Chicago - We Are on the Edge
Patricia Barber - Higher
* Paul Bley - When Will The Blues Leave
James Carter Organ Trio - Live for Newport Jazz
Etienne Charles - Carnival The Sounds of a People, Vol 1
Anat Cohen Tentet - Triple Helix
Avishai Cohen - Playing the Room
* Marc Copland - And I Love Her
Chick Corea - Trilogy 2
Theon Cross - Fyah
Kris Davis - Diatom Ribbons
* Dave Douglas - Devotion
Dave Douglas - Engage
* Amina Figarova - Road to the Sun
Larry Fuller - Overjoyed
Stan Getz - Getz at the Gate
Iro Haarla - Around Again
Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich - Tangle of Stars
Tom Harrell - Infinity
Miho Hazama - Dancer in Nowhere
Dave Holland - Good Hope
Vijay Iyer and Criag Taborn - The Transitory poems
Ethan Iverson with Tom Harrell - Common Practice
Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos - Cristal
Jeanne Lee & Ran Blake, the Newest Sound You Never Heard
Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn - The People I Love
Mark Lomax, 400: An Afrikan Epic
* Joe Lovano - Trio Tapestry
Branford Marsalis Quartet - The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
* Allison Miller Boom Tic Boom - Glitter Wolf
Andrew Munsey, High Tide
* Ted Nash & Steve Cardenas - Somewhere Else: West Side Story Songs
Rich Pellegrin - Down
Jeremy Pelt - Jeremy Pelt The Artist
Enrico Rava and Joe Lavano - Roma
Joshua Redman & Brooklyn Rider - Sun on Sand
* Tomeka Reid - Old New
Herlin Riley - Perpetual Optimism
Wallace Roney - Blue Dawn Blue Nights
* Joel Ross - Kingmaker
David Sanchez - Carib
Marta Sanchez - El Rayo de Luz
Christian Scott - Ancestral Recall
* Jenny Scheinan - Parlour Game
SEED Ensemble - Driftglass
Miguel Zenon - Sonero
By Kim Kleinman, Contributing Writer
Like you, our listeners, I rely on Jazz Spectrum to introduce me to current developments and to fill in gaps between 1982, say, and 2015 when, alas, jazz wasn’t my primary listening. It is again in no small measure due to this show that I am back in this wonderful game. I am developing enough current knowledge to be on the lookout for current players (let’s start with the members of Artemis who do fascinating work individually and collectively--more shortly) and trends, but I’m not auditioning dozens of recordings every week, putting together a four hour show, and doing all the work that makes the show such a resource.
So I don’t have a best of 2019 or best of the 2010s to offer. But I do have some thoughts. So bear with me, or don’t and go re/read Fritz’s more fine-grained observations.
In thinking about the impact of hip hop on this music, I offhandedly texted my old friend that jazz has always been fusion music. I didn’t happen to have a teenager bring home the latest incarnation of African American popular music, rhythm, and rebellion, so I’m learning about it indirectly when I see Terence Blanchard, Robert Glaspar, and Stefon Harris. Brilliant players, all of them, with sterling bands and a deep grounding in the wider tradition from which they can bring the new energy into the music. Today I prefer pianos to guitars and acoustic instruments to electric ones, with little affinity for vocoders, looping, and effects. The beats are infectious, and jazz drummers are amazing for their huge ears and abilities to move the beat around, using the timbres of the drums to comment on everything the rest of the band is doing. As an example I was just able to watch Nate Smith+Kinfolk via live streaming from our local club here in St. Louis. He was a dynamo with as much energy and power as the rest of the band--solid and smooth as they are--combined.
Hip hop has to be part of what propels this rhythmic invention. If my kid perversely stuck with our traditional English and Celtic folk music, then, my not getting hip hop from him is my problem, not jazz’s (or anyone else’s). I embraced my generation’s fusions--rock, funk--and went back to Latin, Afro Cuban, rhythm and blues, show tunes, Third Stream, gospel, blues, and ragtime, and I saw them come into jazz. So I’m prepared intellectually at least to welcome these latest developments. These fusions have made and remade jazz. So, yes, it’s always been fusion music.
But let me borrow an idea from my quarter century looking at evolutionary biologist Edgar Anderson, who worked at the Missouri Botanical Garden from 1922-1969. His signature idea was that repeated backcrossing is as important a source of genetic variation as mutations, and thus gives natural selection something to work on. To apply it to jazz, it was jazz before and after Dizzy Gillespie started playing with Chano Pozo, but now we have Cuban and Latin and African rhythms in everyone’s musical DNA. All sorts of tunes from all sorts of players now can just naturally take on a Latin feel. It’s part of jazz that then continues to listen with its big big ears.
These hybridizations have always excited me, and I am sure will continue to invigorate the music into the 2020s.
Kodri Gopalnath who died this October was not a jazz musician, but he brought the saxophone to Carnatic (Indian) classical music. Rudresh Mahanthappa studied with him and brought that tradition into his playing. It’s there now all the time, whether in his reimagining of Charlie Parker on his 2015 album “Bird Calls” or with Rez Abassi in the Indo-Pak Coalition or his own “just jazz” gigs. This quote from his Wikipedia article captures this idea of introgressive hybridization: “In a 2011 interview with Westword newspaper about the resulting album, Samdhi, Mahanthappa said, "my idea was to take whatever I learned—take that knowledge—and really put in a setting that has nothing to do with Indian classical music.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudresh_Mahanthappa
Since some of Miles Davis’s 1970s work incorporated sitars and tablas, and remembering John Coltrane’s “India,” this vein of music has been in the mix for decades. It prompted a “Miles from India” two-CD set from 2008. I try to keep an eye on Mahanthappa, Abassi (recording 1970s fusion tunes acoustically is damned clever), and especially Vijay Iyer to watch how jazz varies and is enriched. I saw Iyer with his trio in 2016 catching extended hypnotic improvisations - one phased into “Epistrophy” before churning on. He has recorded in lots of other settings, including duos with Wadada Leo Smith and Craig Taborn and with a sextet. It is important music.
That’s one hybridization that backcrosses into jazz. Another is with Middle Eastern, including Israeli, music.
Abdul Al-Malik recorded on oud as well as bass in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Anour Brahem played oud with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette on “Blue Maqams” in 2017. Those are first-generation crosses. It’s when someone like Omer Avital plays jazz informed by his Israeli upbringing that the introgression happens, when there are new scales, new rhythms to incorporate. Avital’s own albums and with the OAM trio (including a set with the intriguing tenor Mark Turner) are favorites. I also owe Jazz Spectrum an exposure to the Chicago trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and his Two Rivers Project, which explores his Iraqi roots in a jazz context.
Anat Cohen is an exuberant player, exuding joy at what she and her bands do. She has played with her brothers, Avishai and Yuval, with lots of Israeli in the mix, but she has Brazilian and Edith Piaf too. She is in the multinational band Artemis: two Canadians--leader Renee Rosnes and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, Chilean Melissa Aldana on tenor, bassist Noriko Ueda from Japan, and the lone American, the amazing drummer Allison Miller. Their debut album, probably with Cecile McLorin Salvant, will be a highlight of the coming year as their run here in St. Louis this October was.
I am particularly astounded by what drummers are doing these days. Of course, there are sources--Max Roach, Jack DeJohnette’s insistent but subtle cymbals--and Art Blakely and Elvin Jones were not simply powerful engines driving the band. But Miller is a fine example of, call it “melodic drumming,” where each drum/brush stroke is perfectly placed on the drum head, cymbal, even rim or side of the drum, to deliver not just a beat but a harmonic/melodic comment on the rest of the band. There are so many players, and they make just about every show I see special. Witnessing the magic in the making is why live performance is so much richer than recordings.
But to return to hybridizations, starting at least with Mid East ones, let me focus on London as a key world center for this music. As the still Metropolitan center of a thankfully fading empire (Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for), it is a hybrid zone. Yazz Ahmed is a Bahrani-Brit whose trumpet playing is enriched as she explores her Arab heritage. She does exciting stuff and has followed up “La Saboteuse” with “Polyhymnia” this year. Shabaka Hutchings has Barbadian heritage and brings that to his tenor and several key projects in the London scene. I’m drawn to the intensity of Sons of Kemet where he solos over Theon Cross’s tuba and two drummers, but Hutchings also works with The Comet Is Coming and The Ancestors. I’m a sucker for low brass, so I keep an eye on Cross too and he has his own FYAH released and is in the SEED Ensemble.
That London is a major jazz center is a development worth monitoring. I think it speaks to the vibrancy of this music and the role of these hybridizations in keeping it so exciting.
I am eager for the 2020s.