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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine! View and download here in Acrobat: April 2015
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
Two keyboard players who range far beyond the conventional straight 4/4 rhythms and 32-bar pop and 12-bar blues forms of jazz have new albums covered in this Winning Spins. Both have experimented with avant-garde as well as borrowing from non-jazz styles like hip-hop, classical minimalism, Afro-Cuban, South Asian Indian and techno.
On these albums, both pianists are returning to earlier styles, formats and even influences. Vijay Iyer, after writing for large ensembles in collaboration with a novelist and with a filmmaker, gets back to his most basic jazz format: an acoustic piano trio with bass and drums. Omar Sosa, meanwhile, whose work has toyed with the borders of free jazz, looks back to the world musics that have inspired him, especially from his native Cuba and the Hispanic world.
Break Stuff, Vijay Iyer Trio (ECM), marking the 10th anniversary for pianist Iyer’s trio as well as for their first recording for producer Manfred Eicher’s label, delivers the trio’s most clear and resonant sound yet. A MacArthur (genius) Fund Fellow, former Yale math professor and current Harvard Arts professor, Iyer (a native of upstate New York, not India) is a true jazz intellectual who gives that label a good name. While his copious intelligence clearly informs his pristine touch and superb technique, they are never an end in themselves, always serving a more basic yet profound musical purpose. As if to emphasize this, Iyer not only includes nine of his own distinct, often complex, originals, he adds three jazz standards. Thelonious Monk’s “Work,” not only showcases the trio’s only foray into straight-ahead bop-swing time, but Iyer’s thorough understanding of how to create a personal jazz experience while using Monk’s precepts. Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count” is a ravishing, lyrical solo piano feature; and John Coltrane’s “Countdown” fast forwards toward a later Trane period, freer of rhythmic and harmonic constraints, while still honoring the tune.
Iyer’s own pieces include four trio distillations of music from his 19-piece ensemble collaboration with novelist Teju Cole, Open City: three of them inspired by birds found in NYC, and one based on a multi-rhythmic idea by Indian composer Rajna Swaminathan, “Mystery Woman,” developing from abstract lines through rumbling two-handed piano figures and a thunderous trio climax and back to a softer abstraction.
Another track, “Hood,” is dedicated to Detroit techno-producer DJ Robert Hood, unfolding as a mashup of hip-hop and Indian rhythms and minimalist melodic/harmonic kernels. Throughout, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore play as if empathetically joined at the hip with Iyer, responding with lightening reflexes as they create seamless ensemble passages that change and react like quicksilver.
Seeming math patterns and basic scales introduce some tunes, providing a deceptively simple base for what often blossoms into complex creative tangents. Hearing this album―or this trio live as I was fortunate to do earlier this year―is an indelible experience.
The Vijay Iyer Trio appears at Jazz Standard, April 22-26
Coming next Ilé, Omar Sosa Quarteto AfroCubano &… (Otá Records).
Sheila Jordan: Bird is the Word By Yvonne Ervin
As a child growing up dirt poor in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town, young Sheila was unhappy; the only thing that alleviated her sadness was singing. She learned the hit songs of the day and studied piano but she didn’t know what she really wanted to sing until she moved to Detroit as a teen. One day she put a nickel in a jukebox at a burger joint to check out Parker and his Re-Boppers playing “Now’s the Time.” “I heard the first four notes and that was it. My skin was crawling and I thought, ‘That’s the music I’m going to dedicate my life to.’”
Along with two black teens, she formed a vocal trio that sang original lyrics to Parker tunes and solos well before Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. “We went to see Charlie at a concert at a Detroit ballroom and sang ‘Confirmation’ for him at intermission and he remembered that,” she says. “The first time I saw him at Birdland after I moved to New York, he said, ‘You’re the kid with the million dollar ears.’ And then we became very good friends. He spent a lot of time in my loft; Bird became like a big brother to me.”
Jordan says she was hoping to escape the rampant prejudice of Detroit when she moved to NYC in the early 1950s. But as she was walking with two black artists near her apartment in the Village, they were jumped by four white men. Three held her friends, the fourth started beating her and another man approached with a gun. “I thought, ‘Oh my god I’m going to die over this but that’s okay; I know I’m right and I know it’s all going to change one day. I just feel it and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to keep this music alive.’ The guy turned out to be a plainclothes policeman. I don’t know how he was there but I think Bird put him there to save my life. I always say when something looks bad and then it turns out alright, I say ‘Thank you, Bird.’ He’s my guardian angel.”
She married Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan, and they had a bi-racial child, a rarity in the 1950s. But they divorced after a decade of marriage and she had to get a day job to support herself and her daughter. She worked for 27 years as a typist at an advertising agency and sang a few nights a week―for $4 and then $6 a night—at Page Three in the Village. She also sang on four of the agency’s commercials. The ad company merged with another when Jordan was 58 so she took a year’s severance pay, turned to singing fulltime, and never looked back.
Her dedication to the music and to educating young singers paid off with a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award in 2012. She was shocked when she got the call from the NEA, literally falling off her chair. “I kept thinking they made a mistake, why would they take me?” she says. “It was fantastic. I was having a lot of dental implants done and the award paid for my teeth so I could continue singing. But it wasn’t the money at all―it was this great honor.
“I just want to keep the music alive and give it back to the beautiful people who support the music. And teach it to the young people who are coming up. I started a jazz vocal workshop at City College in the 70s and I had to leave because I was getting so much work. When I hit my 70s and 80s, whoa! I’m working more now than I ever did in my life. I’m in my 87th year and I’m booked into 2016. And, I have a new book out! Ellen Johnson, a wonderful friend and singer in California, wrote my biography and it came out a few months ago. I can’t believe all these wonderful things, it’s like I’m reborn again.”
She credits jazz for her longevity. “It’s the music―that’s what does it for me. I’ll die doing this music. That’s the way I want to go out, I want to still be singing when my time is up.”
Sheila Jordan will sing with pianist Steve Kuhn’s trio with Steve LaSpina on bass and Billy Drummond on drums at Birdland March 31 through April 4.
Next, the “wonderful” Joe Temperley
Another Reason to Celebrate BY ELZY KOLB
From the heart
Singer/composer/arranger Antoinette Montague doesn’t do things halfway. This month she’s releasing a full-length CD, World Peace in the Key of Jazz, as well as an EP aimed at “children of all ages,” Jazz Woman to the Rescue. She’s also launching a foundation with the same name.
On her new CD, Montague delves into music associated with the Civil Rights Movement, to remind people of the major role singers and entertainers played in bringing about social change, and to introduce beloved songs to a new generation. “I noticed in recent protests, there were no artists who can help to bring about change. I want to be part of the consciousness, to remind our generation that we have responsibility.”
Montague’s CD includes songs such as “If I Had a Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome” and “How I Got Over,” which Mahalia Jackson sang at the historic march on Washington DC; as well as a jazz samba version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“As an artist, you don’t go into the studio if you don’t have something to say. I sing from my heart. I wanted to make a record that would make me feel satisfied even if I never made another recording,” Montague says. “It would be a high privilege to be the one little grain of sand to cause the irritation to make the pearl. I’d be satisfied as a human being to have made this world a better place.”
Jazz Woman to the Rescue is named for a golden-caped “shero” Montague invented three years ago. This singing alter ego brings music into schools, nursing homes and communities, introducing preschoolers and nonagenarians to icons like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as to the musicians on the bandstand. “I’m on fire to celebrate living artists who are in the trenches. If you want young people to learn about this music, you have to meet them where they live and be willing to have fun.”
The Jazz Woman to the Rescue foundation is in its infancy, with Montague focusing on a Play It Forward initiative aiming to get seldom-used musical instruments out of dusty attics and closets and into the hands of kids who need them. The vocalist decries the lack of arts education in many schools. “My goal is to make sure the refinement of our children does not continue to erode,” she declares.
Montague celebrates the release of World Peace in the Key of Jazz at Jazz at Kitano April 10; she pays tribute to the 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday’s birth at Bill’s Place in Harlem April 11, and at Pauline’s Place in New Rochelle April 19; you can also catch her at Great Conversations, at the Madison Hotel in Morristown NJ on April 30.
Strength behind the scenes
Pianist Harold Mabern is an in-command bandleader and an assertive soloist with nearly two dozen recordings as a leader. But he insists that instead of being the star of the show, he’d rather play the sideman role and accompany singers. “When you play with singers, they can teach you to be a great musician, a complete pianist. You learn different things from different people; you mash that together and that’s who you are. The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.”
Mabern has played with some of the most renowned singers in jazz including Betty Carter, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Hartman, Dakota Staton, Arthur Prysock, Ernestine Anderson and many others. He’s also worked with instrumentalists like George Coleman, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Wes Montgomery.
He explains the art of comping: “It’s a special passion. You’ve got to be patient; you’ve got to be in a supportive role. Your piano is your orchestra and you have to orchestrate as you comp. You got to listen with total concentration—your mind has got to be on that bandstand. And you have to use your imagination. Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’ and he was right.”
Mabern’s new CD, Afro Blue (Smoke Sessions), features contributions from five singers: Alexis Cole, Kurt Elling, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit and Gregory Porter. “It’s definitely the most challenging thing I’ve done in 63 years of playing music,” Mabern says. Except for a single gig with Cole at William Paterson University, the pianist never worked or even jammed with any of the vocalists before. He didn’t have a specific repertoire in mind and there was no rehearsal time budgeted.
The selection of the 14 songs on the CD came about almost organically. Mabern had Porter in mind for the title composition and an original; and the pianist suggested Monheit sing “My One and Only Love,” a request that delighted her, since it was her wedding song. Jones picked a couple of things she wanted to sing; Mabern taught Cole a tune over the phone and Elling did an impromptu vocal on a piece that was supposed to be an instrumental.
“I’m proud of this record; I didn’t think we could pull it off,” the pianist says. “Everything was done in the studio, on the spot, in one take, almost like a live album. When we recorded Inside Betty Carter, we had six days of rehearsal for that date!”
The pianist, who turned 79 on March 20, has no interest in slowing down. “I never get tired until I stop,” he says with a laugh. “I just got a call for a date in April 2016.” A firm believer in lifelong learning, he teaches at William Paterson University, but considers himself to be “an advanced student. It’s the best of both worlds: I get paid to learn from my students.”
Mabern and his trio will celebrate the release of Afro Blue at Smoke, April 10-12, with guests Eric Alexander and Alexis Cole. And who knows, maybe a few other singers will drop by to join in the fun.
Hot Flashes by seton hawkins
Arriving in New York nearly 40 years, ago, Judi Silvano has established an exceptional track record as a highly regarded vocalist, a respected composer capable of crafting nuanced and wonderfully textured works, and a beloved educator. Recently, however, she has also introduced the public to another creative role of hers: visual artist. A talented painter, Silvano has increased her output in the field and is displaying her works throughout the Hudson Valley.
For Silvano, a broad and inclusive view of the arts has been an integral part of her life and aesthetics from the very beginning. Raised in an arts-loving household in Philadelphia, from an early age Silvano drew, painted, danced, sang, acted, and studied flute. Though initially focused on dance, enrolling with the Pennsylvania Ballet Company, Silvano ultimately attended Temple University and pursued a dual degree in voice and dance.
While she always admired and loved jazz, Silvano did not come to view herself as an improviser until she moved to New York in 1976 and joined a remarkable creative community of composers and improvisers, notably Joe Lovano and Kenny Werner. Within this group, Silvano discovered a collaborative energy that drew her powerfully to jazz. “There were so many people with whom we’d present new compositions,” Silvano remembers. “It was an open forum for experimentation and creativity and I started dancing as an improviser and singing as an improviser.”
As her career progressed, Silvano blazed a trail as a remarkable and original voice in the music. Indeed, the highly diverse upbringing she enjoyed as a child instilled in her a lifelong desire to appreciate all forms of art and to continuously stretch boundaries and creative limits. “I’ve always been very open and excited by the creative spirit,” Silvano explains. “I guess it says something about me that one of my mother’s favorite songs was ‘Don’t Fence Me In’!”
In this vein, Silvano recently found herself drawn back to painting. While she had engaged in visual art throughout her life, three years ago she undertook formal study, diving into it fully as a creative outlet. While the visual arts might seem a world away from jazz, Silvano found that improvising in music had prepared her as a painter. “Nature never sits still: I could paint what’s outside my window right now and if I did the same thing again even two hours from now, the light would change and it would look entirely different,” Silvano explains. “It’s the same with jazz and improvising, in which the music is constantly changing and you have to be prepared to listen and react. In both cases you have to develop your powers of observation.”
Discovering a community among fellow visual artists, as well as a powerful meditative spirit inherent in the painting process, Silvano found that creating art has helped her achieve new levels of insight into her music. “It takes a lot of focus to learn to relax your judgments and allow art to go to where it needs to be,” Silvano notes. “It’s the same in music. We get judged by people all the time, but my approach is to feel an inclusive and communal energy, no matter what material I’m singing. I’m realizing that I am the work in process and I’m excited by that. To me, it’s all about an expression of gratitude for this life and of my appreciation for so many things in this world.”
Silvano celebrates the release of her latest album, My Dance, featuring all original compositions, with a performance at The Falcon on April 11. She will also perform with her Zephyr Two Guitar Quintet at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center on April 14. To find out more, or to view Silvano’s paintings, visit www.judisilvano.com.
Scott Colley, bassist of choice for such jazz legends as Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Andrew Hill and Michael Brecker, has recorded seven CDs of his own compositions, most recently Empire (CAM), and has appeared on more than 200 albums. During the last few years he has toured extensively with his quartet and trio in the U.S., Europe and South America. His newest recording with the Koppel/Colley/Blade Collective Project—Benjamin Koppel on sax and Brian Blade, drums—is available at Artistshare.com. On April 11, Colley is the guest artist for Connection WORKS’s Brooklyn Jazz Wide Open series at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. More information is available at www.scottcolley.com.
What you’ve been listening to lately, live or recorded?
Recently I’ve been listening to the Spanish composer Federico Mompou, Musica Callada (Silent music), a series of 28 short pieces for piano. Also, I’ve been revisiting The Life of a Trio (Saturday and Sunday) with Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley and Steve Swallow.
Anything in your life that rivals your love, dedication to music?
I’ve been making music for most of my life. Many of the other aspects of my life outside of music―family relationships, friends, personnal interests―are fused into the fabric of my experience day to day. Things that inspire me in my life inform the music. Conversely, things that I experience through music teach me things about life. All the things I do, including music, are just different ways of experiencing the process of life. So the short answer: there are lots of things, music is just one of them.
Favorite place in the world to play, public or private?
There are many favorite places around the world that I look forward to playing, but here in New York, I would have to say that I always look forward to playing the Village Vanguard, for the sound and for the feeling of being part of the great lineage of artists.
Do you think playing, appreciating jazz requires intelligence?
Obviously appreciating any art that has a message in any form requires a level of intelligence. But this is especially true in improvisation, because this form is a language, with or without words. More important than intelligence, though, it requires empathy.
Do more musical ideas come to you from dreams or the news of the day?
All expression and compositional content comes from true experience, some from my internal world and some from the external. With that in mind, it’s hard to distinguish. I suppose that I draw equally from both, with emphasis on one or the other depending on the musical moment or the composition I’m creating.
If you were starting out now would you change anything?
I think if I was able to go back and change anything, I would try to have more patience, to try to see things more long-term and see that the development of my music as a lifelong process.
How have your recorded music listening habits changed over the years?
My listening time these days is limited, so I think the biggest thing that’s changed for me in the last years is that I really only spend my time listening to music that resonates directly, or challenges me in some way and if it doesn’t, I move on to something that does right away. And I think I am able to listen with a more intense focus on detail.
A life in music: more perspiration or inspiration?
I think that as much as possible I need to keep those two aspects as equal as possible; balance is the key. If one becomes more prominent than the other, then I know that I am out of balance. Sometimes I need to push through even when I’m not feeling inspired. But constant work without inspiration is meaningless.