Floyd Camembert Reports

The Bad Plus plays Science Fiction! We are almost there. Rehearsals are going great. If you've never heard Reid Anderson sing, you are in for a real surprise. He could easily be a professional vocalist.

I can't sleep, I'm so excited. Unfortunately that means I just "made" an Ornette Coleman 2048 game.

Since I trained on Vollmer's diabolical Threes, 2048 is almost easy. I beat my own edition on the first time, of course. The main strategy is to put your biggest tile in a corner (I use upper left, or NW) and build "rivers" of ascending tiles to the corner (in my case the W is most important). Naturally, the biggest and final tile is Science Fiction.

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Grayson Currin wrote a long preview in IndyWeek

Cliff Bellamy chimed in at the Herald Sun

Thanks again to Aaron Greenwald for the commission and continued support of TBP.

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Tour dates, copied from website. The first two* (Durham and NYU) are the Sci Fi with Ron Miles, Tim Berne, and Sam Newsome. After that the band will be touring Inevitable Western.

*18 Durham, NC -- Duke University
*23 New York, NY -- NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
24 Ithaca, NY -- The Hangar Theater
25 Wilmington, DE -- World Cafe Live
26 Vienna, VA -- Barns at Wolf Trap
30 Tokyo, JAP -- Cotton Club

November 2014

01 Tokyo, JAP -- Cotton Club
02 Tokyo JAP -- Cotton Club
07 Hertogenbosch, NDL -- Verkadefabriek
08 Hertogenbosch, NDL -- Verkadefabriek
09 Mannheim, DEU -- Alte Feuerwache gGmbH
10 Zurich, CHE -- Moods
11 Middelburg, NDL -- Schuttershofcafe
12 Odense, DNK -- Jazzhus Dexter
13 Oslo, NOR -- Nasjonal Jazzscene, Victoria
14 Gothenburg, SWE -- Nefertiti
15 Hasselt, BEL -- cc Hsselt
16 Amsterdam, NDL -- Bimhuis
17 London, UK -- London Jazz Festival
18 Toulouse, FRA -- Salle Nougaro
20 Zagreb, HRV -- ZKM, Zagreb Youth Theatre
22 Gdasnk, POL -- Polska Filharmonia Baltycka Gdansk

10/16/2014

 

"Menard - as I recall - declared that
censure and praise are sentimental operations
that have nothing to do with literary criticism."

I became aware of Jorge Luis Borges in college. My new friend JM pressed a copy of Labyrinths into my hand and told me to read it. I was entranced, most particularly by the story "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." 

Thanks to Mostly Other People Do the Killing, I went back to "Menard" tonight. (For those wishing to understand the story without reading it, Nate Chinen gives a excellent summary in his column on Blue.) Good god, what an immortal masterpiece. Every sentence is either hilarious or profound. For straight-up funny, try this, a description of an arcane Menard work: 

...A technical article on the possibility of improving the game of chess, eliminating one of the rook’s pawns. Menard proposes, recommends, discusses and finally rejects this innovation. 

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Since my previous post, MOPDTK has come under heavy fire for Blue, especially on Facebook. Some consider it racist; others cautiously approve of paying tribute to the masters but don't like the packaging, which includes the Borges's story "Pierre Menard."

The question of racial appropriation certainly can be asked. For me, considering how much bad jazz and imitation black music I hear all the time from white culture everywhere (the garish "jazz" music on the most recent episode of Doctor Who, "Mummy on the Orient Express," is a current irritation), MOPDTK actually playing the notes of a jazz classic seems perfectly acceptable. But I'd read someone else's considered opinion on this topic. Anyone who knows DTM knows I'm down to listen to a smart discussion about race.

Just a few further thoughts for those eager to condemn:

Black jazz means swing. And no, MOPDTK doesn't swing on Blue. Not really, especially in the bass and drums. They are indictable for this, sure, but at the same time they are revealing something else about themselves in an arguably humble way. As Borges explains:

The archaic style of Menard - quite foreign, after all - suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner, who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time. 

or perhaps:

He decided to anticipate the vanity awaiting all man’s efforts; he set himself to an undertaking which was exceedingly complex and, from the very beginning, futile.

The question, "How can you swing like Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb?" gets no satisfactory answer on Blue. But at least we know something more about this question than we did before.

To those not appreciating the meta, Borgesian, or conceptual aspects of Blue, my response is:

The importance of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the rest of the cast of Kind of Blue is hardly confined to jazz. To declare that they not be allowed to be part of a deconstructed or conceptual undertaking might inadvertently suggest they are not "worthy" of arty mischief. Of course they are worthy! They are Gods, nothing is going to harm them.

Besides, Miles and Coltrane would have actually been around NYC when Cage made "4'33"" and Warhol printed "Campbell's Soup Cans." In a way they deserve to be looked at through the prism of Blue

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The text of "Pierre Menard" is here, although the paragraphing is occasionally incorrect. 

Not that it really matters, but I mentioned "Pierre Menard" in a jazz context on DTM a few years ago when discussing Bud Plays Bird. My comparison of that disc to the Borges story is in a way more appropriate than MOPDTK, as Menard stresses he is just trying to remember how Quixote goes, not copy it out. In the end Menard recreates only a few fragments, not the whole work.

10/15/2014

 

Classical Music

[UPDATE: Part 2.]

From the minute I heard that Mostly Other People Do the Killing was doing a note-for-note cover of Kind of Blue I was impressed. I kind of wished I'd thought of doing it myself.

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Jazz tends to mirror trends in the art world to a certain extent. But what jazz has been conceptual art? As in, the idea and context matters more than an objective look at the material? That it exists almost solely to provoke discussion?

To be clear, most satirical or humorous jazz like The Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Walking in the Moonlight" isn't conceptual art.  John Zorn playing free jazz alto on top of a Sonny Clark tune is certainly "conceptual," but I don't think Voodoo is really conceptual art, either. Archie Shepp honking "Girl From Ipanema" in response to Stan Getz? Yeah, almost...but it also just sounds like plenty of other Archie Shepp. If there's a concept, it's less important than the natural individuality of the tenor player.

Usually the word "jazz" ends up getting almost irrelevant to most conceptual jazz-related work. Anthony Braxton outside with 100 tubas: that's conceptual art for sure, but at least I don't think it has all that much to do with jazz. Braxton's extremely strange jazz standards on piano is closer, but I wouldn't be unduly surprised if Braxton just feels like playing piano in a quartet sometimes.

Probably there are other examples I don't know. But surely there is nothing so blatant as Blue by Mostly Other People Do the Killing.  This is conceptual art with the heart of jazz fully in the frame. 

I'm blogging about it mainly because I have heard so many musicians and fans react in horror. I'm afraid to tell all these folks this, but it's true: You have already had a sincere and strong reaction to the conceptual art, so therefore you have already validated the work. 

I've been trying to buy a non-digital copy of Blue but can't seem to get one yet, even for pre-order. (It comes out tomorrow.) A tune is streaming at SoundCloud. I don't really like it, of course. How could I? But it is definitely a strong statement. When I can, I'll grab it and happily file it my CD collection. It will probably go in the jazz section...

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Sam Newsome blogged recently on a relevant topic: "What's the Deal with Interview Music?"

Sam is joining us this week for TBP plays Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction. In his post, Sam mentions Branford Marsalis. It's unclear whether or not our Sci Fi ever will be recorded, but if it does, there's an obvious grad paper in there: B. Marsalis A Love Supreme, MOPDTK Kind of Blue, TBP Science Fiction. All very different!

10/13/2014

 

Worth a Thousand Words

Good friend Debi Cornwall made her New York Times debut last week with "Guantánamo’s Surreal Prison Landscape." It's an amazing collection: kudos and congrats.

Debi and Sarah came as my cheering section for the first night at Mezzrow. Debi even snuck a shot of me listening. It's not really my style to post photos of myself on DTM but Debi lets us see how much I love Ron Carter. 

Ei looking at rc

Thanks to Fred Kaplan for his glowing review of the second night.

Spencer Murphy interviewed me about the hit for the SmallsLIVE tumblr.

10/12/2014

 

Fractured Fairy Tales

This is early to celebrate the man's gigs this week at the Stone.

New DTM page: Birthday Greetings to Tim Berne (from many of his fellow musicians).

10/07/2014

 

All Our Life

Coming soon!

New DTM page: Science Fiction.

10/06/2014

 

Hall of Fame

Once again, I'm part of the nominating panel for the Ertegun Hall of Fame at JALC. Last year one of my choices made it - Elvin Jones - so I thought I'd keep doing it.

I'm supposed to pick three. I checked and it's OK to mention my noms on DTM.

Paul Chambers. He was so good so young, vastly influential, and filled up his short time on this planet making immortal recording after immortal recording. Just try to imagine the jazz discography if we took away the PC records. 

Lennie Tristano. Hey, I can be as anti-white as the next jazz fan. But c'mon. You got Beiderbecke and Bill Evans in there. Give it to Tristano for fucking sake. His stature just keeps growing.

McCoy Tyner. Well, he probably won't get in until he passes. But McCoy invented a singular language copped by everybody; also the 60's music of John Coltrane wouldn't exist without his contribution. As famous as he is, I often feel that McCoy is underrated.

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Speaking of Trane: I'm unimpressed with Geoff Dyer's suspicious critique of the newly-released The Offering. Dyer pokes around, looking for a practical and digestible still life, unable to comprehend that our saxophonist is burning the canvas to the ground moments before being reduced to ashes himself.

Among other moments of overconfidence, Dyer is somehow able to write the sentences, " ...I would question the assumption that there is something 'spiritual' about this last phase of Trane’s musical journey. If it’s there I can’t hear it." 

John Schott's commentary is much more sympathetic and accurate. 

10/05/2014

 

Romanticism

Last weekend I spent many enjoyable hours with those that live and breathe movies. I'm not one of that tribe, but I like sharing a conversation with those that do.

Thanks to Vince Keenan, I met Eddie Muller at last. With Etsuko Tamazawa, we all spent time at the Dashiell Hammett apartment on Post Street in San Francisco. 

IMG_4785

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It was a great hang. I went a little fanboy crazy when confronted with an actual copy of Duke's Celebrated Criminal Cases of America. (Every Hammettophile knows this book lurks beneath the alarm clock on Sam Spade's shelf.)

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When in the apartment, I grilled Eddie about every Hammett adaptation and screenplay. It was a such a pleasure listening to an expert in his element. There's a lot more there than I had realized; most of it I haven't seen. 

Regrettably I still haven't made my way though Etsuko's list of top film noir (found at the end of DTM's "Crimes of the Century"), but that's a project I certainly intend getting done sooner rather than later. 

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Earlier, in Seattle at the start of this tour, Vince and I wondered about the great recent crime films. Are there any? Well, yes. But it's not a golden age. Honestly I think thrillers are better these days than simpler crime movies. We are too sentimental and fancy to easily accept cops and bad guys as everyday people now. We need things to be done on a grander scale. 

Somehow I never saw Jackie Brown until last night, but Vince said I should check it out. (He also sent me a link to an interesting commentary by Gary Deane. Deane agrees with me that Out of Sight is not good - probably we are the only two who share that opinion.)

In Jackie Brown, I was struck by how much more comfortable Robert Forster seemed than his more famous fellow actors. Samuel Jackson and Robert DeNiro are somehow not quite right in this self-consciously simple tale. They are too big or too small. But Forster is a working man. He gets it. For me, he carries the movie. (Both women, Pam Grier and Bridget Fonda, are good too.)

Jackie Brown and the current A Walk Among the Tombstones seem obviously influenced by my favorite set of movies, those classic gritty crime films of the late 60's and early 70's. Just for fun, here are ten commandments:

Point Blank (1967) Arty yet believable. Lee Marvin as existential man. 

Bullitt (1968) Plot makes no sense yet the tension maintains. Steve McQueen is not just hard, he is vulnerable. Famous car chase.

The French Connection (1971) Another famous chase. Gene Hackman has only the most tenuous hold on morality.

Get Carter (1971) Astonishing Newcastle noir. Michael Caine is meaner and more charismatic than anybody.

Dirty Harry (1971) Don Siegel's reactionary masterpiece of working class entertainment is a successful closed system. Far too influential, but I admit I'll always enjoy it.  The terrible sequels should never have happened.

The Long Goodbye (1973) Meta and marvelous. Elliott Gould in a black suit on a bright California beach. Many scenes improvised in standard Robert Altman fashion. Probably my favorite film of all time.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) Robert Mitchum was a star, but he had no problem playing a minor criminal in superb underdone fashion. (Robert De Niro should have looked at this when preparing for Jackie Brown.) It seems like director Peter Yates learned from Bullitt, for Coyle solves a certain problem in the plot even more convincingly than in the book. 

All you need to know about why it is hard to made a good crime movie now can be learned by comparing the recent Killing Me Softly with The Friends of Eddie Coyle (both adaptations of George V. Higgins).

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Well, maybe this is a thriller, not a crime film. But what a movie! It's one of the most purely enjoyable flicks I know. A must for any serious New Yorker.

Chinatown (1974) Very famous, with an original Robert Towne script worthy of the very best crime novels. In terms of going for something retro, Chinatown remains in a class of one.

Night Moves (1975) Maybe this isn't quite as good as the rest of this list, but it is an appropriate end to the era. Gene Hackman can't figure out a damn thing, and the conclusion is as downbeat as they get. They really don't make them like this any more.

10/03/2014

 

Books and Movies

The DTM page on Donald E. Westlake, "A Storyteller Who Got the Details Right," has been slightly edited, enlarged, and updated to honor the publication of The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany.

It's really something to see all this diverse material - including a long and fabulous excerpt from a previously unpublished autobiography - collected under one roof. Sincere thanks to Levi Stahl for getting it done.

Levi will be in New York on Monday, hosting a major party at Mysterious Bookshop (6:30 PM) with guests of honor Abby Westlake and Lawrence Block.

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Speaking of Larry: I saw A Walk Among the Tombstones two nights ago. Liam Neeson is just excellent as Matt Scudder. Indeed, I suspect I will picture Neeson in my mind when reading the Scudder books in the future. It's so nice to have a crime movie that is about acting, not action, although at the end there is an inevitable dive into Taken territory. I have a few other reservations but obviously all crime buffs must see it.

At any rate, Larry gets a far more loving and understanding treatment in Tombstones than Don did with that mediocre adaptation of Flashfire called Parker. I'll never see Jason Statham in my mind when I look at a Richard Stark book.

Hopefully A Walk Among the Tombstones will encourge the masses to read some of the books about Scudder. My recommendations include When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, Eight Million Ways to Die, and the most recent and entirely superb A Drop of the Hard Stuff.

Related DTM: Lawrence Block blindfold test.

09/27/2014

 

Morris Dance

NPR's First Listen is hosting The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, a collection of brand-new music for string quartet.  From the article:

"To celebrate its 10th anniversary together, the group (violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen) commissioned a wide-ranging assemblage of musicians to write new works... The quartet charged the composers with an inspired framing device: Each work should take the output of another creative muse of the last 50 years as its inspiration."

I wrote the following commentary for "Morris Dance."

"When I was music director for the Mark Morris Dance Group, two of the dancers were Maile Okamura and Amber Merkins, otherwise known as the future wives of the Brooklyn Rider violin section. So 'Morris Dance' is a humorous tribute to all three: Mark, Maile, and Amber. A faux-portentious intro sets up a 4:3 polyrhythm, Mark’s favorite beat. Mostly some version of minimalism is the main argument, but along the way a chromatic cello cadenza seems lifted from one of Yo-Yo Ma’s appearances with MMDG, the violins serenade their women, and even Maile’s ukulele drops by. At the end, of course, everybody sings."

Almanac is an astonishing collection of music overall. I haven't listened to everything yet but it is all at least interesting. Vijay Iyer's hip piece is played so well by BR! It's impossible to imagine a classical string quartet dealing with these rhythms even 15 years ago. The musics are coming together. I'm proud to be part of this project.

09/23/2014

 

Four, Five, Six

DTM cannot keep up with the obituary pages. I just blogged several losses, now there's more to report. 

In person, Kenny Wheeler was a modest gentleman. But when he played, he became a fearsome and unpredictable gangster.

Wheeler was one of the crucial voices in recent jazz, but I admit I only know two of his records really well. On 1975's Gnu High with Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette, the extraordinary Wheeler compositions are played with devout irreverence by the star pianist. The combination creates a unicorn. Much later, on Holland's 1987 date The Razor's Edge, Wheeler's lone tune "Four, Five, Six" showcases melodic beauty and a magical trumpet solo. 

I have asked someone who knows Wheeler much better than me to contribute a longer overview for DTM. For now read

Interview by Martin Speake

Peter Hum

John Fordham

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Belatedly, RIP Gerald Wilson. Read Don Heckman and Doug Ramsey.

Even more belatedly, RIP Jean-Jacques Avenel. The soulful and and virtuosic bassist is heard to superb effect on several recordings of Benoît Delbecq. Perhaps especially recommended is the 2000 album Pursuit. Avenel is also on dozens of valuable recordings by Steve Lacy. (French Wikipedia: Jean-Jacques Avenel.)

09/22/2014

 

Other People's Gigs, Links, Transitions

As usual, NYC offers a truly bewildering amount great jazz. This week alone:

Larry Willis, Gary Bartz, Buster Williams, Al Foster at Smoke. Jazz like this still exists? Apparently they are playing McCoy Tyner tunes. Fine. Whatever gets them on the bandstand together.

Steve Coleman residency at the Stone. An avatar keeps pushing the envelope. One of these days I'm going to nail Steve down for a no-holds-barred DTM interview. (Update: five minutes after posting, I learned that Steve was just named a MacArthur Fellow. About time! Congrats Steve and well-deserved.)

Orrin Evans with Clifford Adams, Reid Anderson (!) and Steve Williams at Smalls. This is a serious Philadelphia operation - did you know that Reid spend some important years there? The ringer is D.C. legend Williams. 

Eric Reed with Ralph Moore, Gerald Cannon, and McClenty Hunter at the Vanguard. As far as I know, this is Moore's first real high-profile showing since returning from LA. I'll be there.

Richard Wyands with John Webber at Mezzrow. Wyands is one of the last of the authentic poets of bebop piano. He's on more records than you remember. Ted Panken's interview is fabulous.

Chucho Valdés, Pedrito Martínez and Wynton Marsalis at JALC. I'm a confirmed Pedrito fan. The best "date night" gig on my list here...

Mark Turner with Avishai Cohen, Joe Martin and Marcus Gilmore at Jazz Standard. The MTQ is now really a thing, with a great new ECM album Lathe of Heaven and a big tour

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Alex Ross has been very active, fighting the good fight against the dumbing down of culture, the encroachment of corporations, listening online, and other modern problems.

The Kennedy Center Honors Go Pop

The Naysayers

The Classical Cloud

Last I heard, Alex's next book was going to be about Wagner and related topics. However he also seems well on his way to a compelling volume challenging status quo. 

I did acquire the new Leon Fleisher album All the Things You Are (recommended in The Classical Cloud) was rather astonished. Terrific disc. I've never heard music for left hand rendered with such poetry.

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Jazz has lost many important musicians recently.

Joe Sample (by Anthony Dean-Harris)

Idris Muhammad (by Nate Chinen)

John Blake Jr. (by Patrick Jarenwattananon)

Kenny Drew Jr. (by George Colligan) (Speaking of left hand performances, that "Sophisticated Lady" is is insane.)

I'm still thinking about Frankie Dunlop and John Ore, and will have something for them on DTM soon.

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From Josh Jackson's mass email yesterday:

I want to let you know that this Friday, September 19th is my final day in the office at WBGO.  I resigned my position effective September 30th, and I'm burning some vacation days to give myself a moment to enjoy the view from my terrace (and to pack).  I'm moving to Roanoke, Virginia, where I will be Program Director and Content Manager of WVTF/Radio IQ, a regional NPR news/talk service of Virginia Tech.  The new gig starts October 6th.

Thanks, Josh, for all the good times at WBGO and the Checkout. Josh was an obvious supporter of TBP at a time when not everyone was. More importantly, Josh just loves the music and was a fun hang for all the cats. 

Also from the email:

Join me if you dare for a few hangs before I leave New York.  This Thursday night, DJ Brother Mister (aka Christian McBride) will be spinning at Spike Hill (186 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211). Showtime is round midnight.  Next Tuesday, I'll be at the Vanguard bar on Trane's birthday while Kirk Lightsey plays "Never Let Me Go" and more great music.  

JoshJackson1

09/17/2014

 

Floyd Camembert Reports

This Saturday, I'm in John McNeil's quartet with Jonathan Michel and Jochen Rückert for a 10:30 set a Cornelia St. Cafe, part of the estimable Festival of New Trumpet (aka FONT). Full schedule here. I like playing with John partly because he came up with the last generation who learned jazz as a complicated folk music. His original compositions are tuneful and memorable, kind of like some children's songs placed atop Wayne Shorterish harmony.

John's memorial for Horace Silver is amusing and edifying. 

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The word got out fast, even before Nate Chinen's piece on new club Mezzrow: I'm playing duo with Ron Carter October 9 through 11. 

Some have the impression that this is Ron's gig. No way. We've never even really met. Ron knows some of the stuff I've written about him (at the very least, I'm quoted in his biography) but I'd be shocked if he has heard much of my playing. When Spike Wilner asked me to play duo at Mezzrow I thought about it, smiled, and emailed Ron with the guarantee of a hefty fee if he showed up. When he agreed I was thrilled. 

There will be no paper, just a list of familar standards; I also plan to learn a few of Ron's tunes. It will be as if it is 1980 again, an era in which every jazz pianist played with Ron, frequently duo.

Mezzrow is small, reservations are recommended if you want to check this gig out.

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The next big project TBP takes on is a detailed look at Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction album with guest stars Tim Berne, Ron Miles, and Sam Newsome. We premiere the work at Duke University on October 18 and play it in New York on October 23.

A DTM essay about this project is in the works...for now we are just trying to learn the tunes. I was assigned "The Jungle is a Skyscraper." Good lord. Is this even close to correct? 

Jungle head

The Jungle Is a Skyscraper head


Of course this music didn't really exist on paper ever anyway, but with three hired guns we gotta start from somewhere.

Tim, Sam, and Ron are listening hard as well. Anyone else have any insight into how to write down "Jungle?" Hit me on Twitter...

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TBP starts an American tour on Monday. This is a really nice swing, including stops in many towns we rarely get to and a couple shows in Berkeley playing Stravinsky with the Mark Morris Dance Group.

(below copied from website)

22 Seattle, WA -- The Triple Door
23 Seattle, WA -- The Triple Door
24 Portland, OR -- PDX Jazz
26 Berkeley, CA -- UC Berkeley*
27 Berkeley, CA -- UC Berkeley*
28 New Orleans, LA -- One Eyed Jacks
30 San Antonio, TX -- Aztec Theater

October 

01 Baton Rouge, LA -- The Listening Room
02 Little Rock, AR -- South on Main
04 Fayetteville, AR -- Starr Theater
05 Atlanta, GA -- Variety Playhouse

09/16/2014

 

Without A Song 2: Errata and Transcription

Ever since hurriedly commenting on Joe Henderson’s “Without A Song,” I’ve been nagged with the feeling I got something wrong.

While working on a transcription, the penny dropped. I called the substitute changes “Coltrane changes.” However, that’s not correct.

Eb / A7b5 / Ab maj7 / Gb7
B / Eb over E (or E maj7) / Db maj 7/ Bb7

The mediant movement in the bass is not Coltrane-esqe. While descending thirds are like the melody of “Giant Steps,” I don’t think Coltrane ever used descending thirds in the bass. His famous “Coltrane changes” uses an upward third in the bass, followed by normal dominant/tonic stuff.

The second four bars of JoeHen’s “Without a Song” actually recalls the changes of Henderson’s own tune “Inner Urge.” And that big Eb over E thing is pure 60’s modernism. I’m fairly certain Coltrane never used that chord except in passing. That is JoeHen’s world, along with contemporaries like Woody Shaw, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter. That generation sat on that chord.

Still, the idea of using obtrusively hip alternative changes in order to give an old tune new meaning stems from Coltrane. I got that part of it right.

And just one more fun detail: JoeHen has chromatically alter the melody to make it fit the reharm, playing Gb instead of G in bar four in order to go with the new key. This reminds me of Coltrane playing a shocking Bb instead of B in bar seven of the melody of “Summertime.”

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“Summertime” is an interesting tune to consider when thinking about jazz politics. It’s the most famous tune from the white composer’s black opera.

Duke Ellington’s trio version is a takedown.

But I think Duke is the exception. Unless I’m missing something, most straight-ahead jazz versions of “Summertime” are free of an ironic frame. Miles Davis and Gil Evans have a wonderful sophisticated arrangement but they don’t attempt redo the basic emotion. The only other possible “meta” version that I know about from the classic years is Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake, but Blake’s gospel rhythms seem honest despite the unusual pitches.

Perhaps - and this only a suggestion - Coltrane’s wildly swinging, Afro-Cuban influenced version with that big “blat" of Bb is a subtle rejoinder to white privilege’s appropriation of blackness. Certainly nothing McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones play on that track could be appropriated the way Gershwin appropriated spirituals.

“Summertime” is on the same album as the premiere Coltrane performance of “My Favorite Things.” Is “My Favorite Things” a political statement? It could be. I wouldn’t put anything past John Coltrane, all of his choices had depth. At the same time, we know that Coltrane tried out “The Inchworm,” “Nature Boy,” and “Chim Chim Cheree” explicitly to find another hit for his band like “My Favorite Things.” Hard to see that as really political (beyond how his band made these tunes really Afro-American and profound); rather it is a way to gain more audience by playing current hits on the stage, radio, and silver screen.

This is all rather tangential, but after my first post, I got private correspondence from JM suggesting that JoeHen was reclaiming racist material and transcending the lyric as a purely instrumental work.

This is a familiar interpretation of certain events in hip-hop and other places where Black Studies plants a flag. But I just can’t see it as common-practice for classic jazz. Duke or Monk or Archie Shepp in certain cases, maybe. But not Joe Henderson.

Sonny Rollins has always said he plays standard repertoire because he loves the tunes. The Freedom Suite features not just one of the most famous political suites in all of jazz, but also cheerful renditions of "Someday I'll Find You,” "Will You Still Be Mine?,” "Till There Was You,” and "Shadow Waltz.” Those standards feature fearsome black rhythm and a certain amount of natural Rollinish irony but I can’t believe they are in any way an overtly political statement.

There’s no difference between the way Sonny plays the standards on “Freedom Suite” and the way he plays “Without a Song.” These are just good tunes for a improvisor to dig into.

Probably I should have mentioned Sonny Rollins in the previous “Without a Song” post. That song came up when I interviewed Bob Cranshaw: Sonny's bassist says, "I like this tune." Checking the discography, it seems like at one point Sonny played it a lot. It opens 1962’s classic studio date The Bridge. JoeHen certainly paid attention to Sonny Rollins, so maybe his selection of “Without A Song” was a tip of the hat to Sonny as well as Trane.

“Without a Song” is not in the category of "standards that everybody plays." The only other version in my record collection is a rather frantic rendition on Freddie Hubbard’s The Hub of Hubbard from 1969.

I myself have actually never looked it at for my own use, probably because while I admired the melody I thought it was a bit foursquare, especially with the conventional changes. JoeHen’s solution is interesting, I should practice that version.

Anyway, now that he knows that Eckstine changed the racist lyric on his hit record from 1946, John Halle’s renewed contention that “Without a Song” is politically incorrect for jazz musicians is baffling. I wrote the whole above post before reading his second sally, which includes this bit:

The difference with respect to the claims for Henderson’s arrangement of Without a Song is that there is nothing to debunk.  While Iverson will, of course, deny it, I’d be willing to bet that he, or the other jazzers reacting with such outrage, never had any idea of the original lyrics before they encountered them on Sunday.   His construction of the ex-post facto ironic narrative is pure invention-a bad faith attempt to shore up the ideological foundations of the music-a task which is both futile and, as I mention in the piece, entirely unnecessary.

Unless I'm misreading him, he’s essentially still scolding Joe Henderson for this repertoire choice. And, no, I didn't know the racist lyric, and I'm surprised he thinks any of the masters knew it, either. If the racist version was common parlance, I doubt they would have played it. But if Mr. B did it! And if Mr. B did it, you knew you were cool.

Certainly one can make a case for scolding JoeHen (or Sonny, or Freddie) for other bad decisions, usually in the 70’s or 80’s when there was a lot of money and/or a hands-on producer involved. In fact, I tend to have fewer problems with “jazz is dead” think pieces than many of my peers. This music has been in trouble since the death of John Coltrane. 

But the heaviest masters using “Without a Song” as a gateway to a greater aesthetic? There’s absolutely nothing there that I can see getting upset about. Halle’s idea is academia at its most disconnected. To double down on it with a bunch of references to Shostakovich and irony strikes me as pretty bizarre. I didn't use the word irony once in my first post. 

If there is anything in jazz even remotely comparable to the conversation concerning Shostakovich, it would probably be Louis Armstrong and minstrely or Uncle Tomism. (Which I don't know all that much about but spent one day on recently. Not that I know much about Shostakovich, either.) 

To be fair to Halle, after my friend JM texted me something similar, I did suspect that my post could be misinterpreted as this kind of "ironic" defense, which is why I spent so much time above trying to define further what I mean. Before reading Halle today, I was going to cut him more slack in this space, mainly because I do believe in the left. However, now I'm less sympathetic, and am more aligned with Mark Stryker's caustic tweet: "White pinhead playing racial 'gotcha' on point so irrelevant to black innovator's art/life/politics = institutional racism."

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My speculation about "Without A Song" being a tribute to the departed Coltrane gained a bit of unexpected weight from MG reminding me that Sonny Rollins has a recent record called Without A Song: The 9/11 Concert. Instrumentalists like titles; the title "Without a Song" is evocative. People are gone: we are without a song.

But my Henderson/Coltrane riff is just a theory. At any rate, it has been fun for me to check out this track in detail. Right or wrong, I'm learning.

I’ve never transcribed Joe Henderson before, and frankly this was a bit of a trial. At some point I lost patience with the double-time flurries. They are so fast and growly! What I ended up writing in the second chorus is occasionally just a pointer in the right direction.

JoeHen doesn’t play on the Eb over E chord much. Both he and Kenny Barron change it to E major when threading.

After trying to deal with this solo, I have even more respect for how funky Joe Henderson is, even at this fast tempo.

I do hear a little Sonny in there, certainly some Trane. But they only made one Joe Henderson.

Without a Song 1

Without a Song 2

Joe Without a Song.wmv

 

09/10/2014

 

Without A Song

In "Jazz After Politics," John Halle says he is a jazz fan. 

Shuja Haider responded in a most inspired fashion. Thanks! (Also thanks to Darcy James Argue for debating with Halle on Twitter a little bit and privately pointing me in the direction of Haider's piece.)

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The nice thing about these little internet dust-ups is how they give us occasion to re-listen. I've owned Joe Henderson's The Kicker forever, but I can honestly say "Without A Song" is not a JoeHen track I've really dealt with until tonight.

Halle says:

A nadir of obliviousness was reached by the legendary tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson through the inclusion of the standard “Without a Song” in a sequence of classic recordings paying tribute to the then-dominant Black Power movement. Some of the titles of the albums are “Power to the People,” “In Pursuit of Blackness,” “If You’re not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem,” and “Black is the Color.” So it is more than a little disturbing, in this context, to encounter the vile Jim Crow racism of the second phrase: “A darky’s born/ but he’s no good no how / without a song.”

Henderson is by no means unusual among jazz musicians in being oblivious to the silliness and, worse, to the casual racism and misogyny informing the sensibility of the golden age of American song from which jazz draws. 

H'mm. Okay. Well, Haider says it all, really, with his tart comment, 

I wish I could state this with more restraint, but how dare John fucking Halle purport to know what Joe Henderson was thinking?

...But I'd thought I'd check out this track for myself and see what I could discover. It was an enjoyable investigation.

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In 1967, the Blue Note label was fading fast, so JoeHen tried out Orrin Keepnews's new venture. It seemed to be a good fit: There were a dozen Milestone JoeHen albums produced during the next decade. 

For a long time, these albums were only available on CD as part of a box set Joe Henderson: The Milestone Years. So maybe that is why Halle claims that "Without a Song" is part of "a sequence of classic recordings paying tribute to the then-dominant Black Power movement." 

Even given the box set, this is sloppy reporting worthy of FOX News. In reality, the first two Milestone records, The Kicker and Tetragon, are utterly conventional jazz dates. Only with 1969's Power to the People was there a turn to the four albums with an overtly political theme. 

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For his Milestone debut, JoeHen had a sextet: Mike Lawrence, Grachan Moncur, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and Louis Hayes. It's a great collection of great musicians, especially in the rhythm section.

However, for those that love experimentation, this configuration is a bit of a disappointment. It is inarguably more conservative than the bands on JoeHen's previous classic Blue Note dates. The key figure is Louis Hayes. Mr. Hayes is one of the greatest bebop and hard-bop drummers, but no one thinks his major virtue is flexibility. Previously on Blue Note, JoeHen used Pete LaRoca, Elvin Jones, and Joe Chambers, all musicians who could bend to an avant-garde notion if needed. Mr. Hayes just isn't that kind of player.

Not that Louis Hayes isn't truly great. If his deep musicianship on The Kicker doesn't satisfy, see any of his records with Horace Silver or Cannonball Adderley. My point is that the inclusion of Hayes suggests that JoeHen (or his producer) thinks this new label needs groovy sextet music in the Art Blakey and Horace Silver mold.

Trumpeter Lawrence and trombonist Moncur only get limited solo space, mostly playing on the heads and supplying backgrounds. The major soloist besides JoeHen is Kenny Barron. Despite his very young age, Barron had already been with Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody, and his playing on this album is marvelous in every detail. But just like Hayes, Barron is essentially conservative.

As far as repertoire goes, "Mamacita," "The Kicker," "If," and "Mo'  Joe" are blues-based originals dispatched in fine style. More and more, I think this marriage of funk and velocity is the ultimate in jazz virtuosity. A couple of these themes were recorded before, it is interesting to compare different versions.

"Chelsea Bridge" is a revealing choice, suggesting that JoeHen's much later album of Billy Strayhorn has more depth than one might guess, and (more importantly) also that Strayhorn's suspended harmony really meant something to JoeHen.

"Nardis" is a rather weak attempt to make these hard-boppers play some Bill Evans-style modality. Ron Carter gets it (of course thanks to his Miles Davis training) but Louis Hayes is perhaps a bit lost. I wonder if this tune was an Orrin Keepnews suggestion, as Keepnews seemed hell-bent on getting Evans back on his new label. (Previously Evans was Keepnews's most-beloved project on Riverside.)

"O Amor Em Paz" is a nice bossa done by João Gilberto; as far as I know this was the first jazz instrumental version. JoeHen loved not just the bossa-nova influence in jazz but also loved Stan Getz, the tenor sax player most associated with bossa. Indeed, JoeHen's tribute to the genre, "Recorda-me," may be his most-covered tune.

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Anyway, before I get to "Without a Song": There's absolutely nothing about The Kicker that overtly suggests social ferment. Rather, it almost seems to suggest that the great records on Blue Note made a decade earlier are the correct model for happening jazz. 

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In his 1967 liner notes, Jack Springer says "Without a Song" is

...an old standard that Joe loves to stretch out on.

Fair enough. Jazz cats play old tunes. "Without a Song" is from 1929. 

I am not an expert in how old tunes become "standards," but when looking at the Lord discography, it seems like "Without a Song" was only taken up by jazz players after Billy Eckstine made a hit version in 1946. Being Afro-American, naturally Eckstine changed the word "darky" (or "darkie") cited by Halle to "man."

Every elder Afro-American jazz musician I've ever met reveres Billy Eckstine for being one of the most profound, sophisticated, and stylish Afro-American entertainers. 

I personally believe this is why John Coltrane repeatedly made Eckstine's "I Want to Talk About You" his outrageous ballad feature in the 1960's. After all, Trane could have selected one of a thousand other non-black composers for royal deconstruction midway through his intense sets. It's a political statement to repeatedly choose something by Eckstine.

I hasten to add, this is speculation! But if you are jazz fan who understands anything about black history, it becomes impossible not to read between the lines.

JoeHen must have known the Eckstine version of "Without a Song" as a kid. Intriguingly, that glamorous arrangement is full of chromatic chords. (I don't know the arranger, but it is clearly someone hip to bebop.) These changes are not "Coltrane changes," that difficult mediant movement given life by Coltrane in "Giant Steps" and other compositions and arrangements...but they aren't so far off from mediant movement, either.

In August 1967, JoeHen had a record date. He needed to fill out the rep with an old standard. John Coltrane had just died a couple of months ago. Hey, why not arrange an old tune with Coltrane changes, just like Trane did with "How High the Moon" and "Body and Soul?" And since Trane always played that Eckstine ballad "I Want to Talk About You," why not play one of Mr. B's classic hits, "Without A Song," but with Coltrane changes? Even the title suggests the loss we feel from Trane's sudden absence...

Again, I'm speculating!

But John Halle definitely shouldn't have seized on this track as "oblivious" politically. From where I'm sitting tonight, the 1967 JoeHen reharmonized "Without a Song" is absolutely a political statement about pretty tunes, hard bebop, Coltrane, race, velocity, and transition. If you love jazz, it's impossible not to admire it.

At any rate, no speculation is required when listening to Louis Hayes here. Hayes plays like a man possessed! For me it is Hayes's best performance on the album. The ferocious solos by JoeHen and Kenny Barron are great too.

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Of course I get why John Halle and others are so interested in putting jazz down these days. It's fairly moribund time, and jazz fans (like me) clearly respond to clickbait.

I also dig Halle's leftist perspective in general. By all means let us address his list of racial inequities!

At the end of the day, though, I just can't really accept anyone weighing in on jazz without proving that they actually love and care about the music first. In my view, musicians like Joe Henderson and Louis Hayes have never gotten the credit they deserve. Halle inadvertently reinforces the importance of JALC (an organization Halle seems to disapprove of) by fumbling around in this amateur fashion. Can you imagine the rage Wynton Marsalis has privately felt during a lifetime of trying to convince white establishment that this music deserves a proper platform and a proper elucidation? 

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Louis Hayes is still around: Perhaps Halle could talk to Hayes about jazz, race, and politics. Now that would be an interesting read.

09/07/2014