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Wining Spins By George Kanzler
One trombonist honoring the legacy of an illustrious forebear and another exploring new options in contemporary compositions comprise this month’s Winning Spins. Steve Davis, a mainstay of the Big Apple’s contingent of neo-bop/hard bop mainstream, assembles a heavy-hitting sextet for his tribute to the “father of the modern trombone,” J.J. Johnson. David Gibson leads a quintet fronted by trombone and trumpet in a program weighted heavily toward his knotty originals.
BOOM!, David Gibson (Posi-Tone), features a quintet the leader dubs The DG 5tet. Its lineup features the growing-in-popularity double brass frontline with Gibson’s trombone joined by Josh Evans’ trumpet. Theo Hill plays acoustic and electric pianos, Alex Claffy, bass and Kush Abadey, drums. Aside from the opening, “The High Road,” in a fairly familiar hard bop vein with nifty turnarounds, the other seven originals reveal a postmodern, beyond bop and swing sensibility. Gibson’s tone and approach, unlike Davis’ more classic neo-bop style, employ slippery runs as well as tonal gruffness and burlap vibrato.
“Rare Truth,” the second track, is indicative of Gibson’s gnarlier, labyrinthine inclination. Beginning with slow, stately long notes, it quickly shifts to a skittery uptempo strain, then the two tempos and approaches alternate throughout the track. Off-center rhythms and a long meter feel with accelerating time, plus echoey electric piano, fuel “Grassfed,” with a high register trumpet solo matched by fleet trombone slurried runs.
Back on acoustic piano, Hill evokes McCoy Tyner on “Eyes of Argus” and the rhythms from Abadey are highly charged and sprung, like a tiger trying to break out of a bag, meshing best with Evans’ crackling trumpet solo and Hill’s powerful interplay within his own solo. Slower originals range from a melodically waltzing “Persephone” and lush “The Dance” to the strange, haunting “Empathy,” with its semi-rubato horn lines and slow drag tempo.
Electric piano returns on the CD title tune, another snappy theme with sprung rhythms and frisky horn solos. Rounding out the program are Tom McIntosh’s almost standard, “The Cup Bearers,” and a cover of Eric Clapton’s 1996 Grammy multi-winner: “Change the World,” as an affectionate ballad.
David Gibson’s DG 5tet, with the same musicians on BOOM!, appears at Jazz in the Garden, Newark Museum, July 9, and at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola July 21.
Coming next Steve Davis’ Say When
Ravi Coltrane: The Promise of a Love Supreme By Eugene Holley, Jr.
When he came to New York from California in 1991, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane could have traded on his father and mother’s brilliant legacies. Instead, with humility, patience and an uncompromising commitment to excellence, he is known today as a serious and celebrated musician on his own terms. The fact that he’s only released six CDs―Moving Pictures, From the Round Box, Mad 6, In Flux, Blending Times and Spirit Fiction―from 1998 to 2012, proves that, for him, it’s about quality, not quantity.
“To make a record because you can, for me, is not enough of a reason to make a record,” he says with a laugh. “I need some ideas and motivation and a little inspiration.”
The 49-year-old, Long Island-born Coltrane has plenty of inspiration to draw from, as evidenced by the wide-ranging and eclectic assemblage of musicians he’s worked with―from Steve Coleman, Elvin Jones, Geri Allen, Jack DeJohnnette and McCoy Tyner, to Terence Blanchard, Joe Lovano, Joanne Brackeen and Dave Liebman―along with the vivid and varied ensembles he leads.
His latest group is his Guitar Quartet, formed two years ago and composed of guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Nate Smith, “These guys are players that I’ve known for decades,” he says. “Scott Colley and I went to the same music school, Cal Arts. And I’ve been playing with Nate Smith in many different configurations. Adam Rogers is one of my favorite musicians of all times and he’s one of my favorite guitarists. I wanted a band of guys that I not only admire as musicians, but who I would also enjoy hanging out with. There’s definitely something to be said for that type of camaraderie. It really gets into the music.”
For Coltrane, the guitar gives him another unique sonic palette for his moving and melodious soprano/tenor sax lines to swoon and soar over. “You get two for one,” he says. “It feels like you’re playing with another melodic line player, like another horn player. And you also get the richness and harmony available as if you had a piano there.”
The rich harmonies radiating from this foursome manifest themselves in a number of original compositions by the leader and by his bandmates, along with selections from a dearly departed jazz immortal.
“From this day on, you’ll most likely hear a lot of Ornette Coleman’s music,” Coltrane says. This interview took place hours after Coleman’s death was reported. And Coltrane, who recorded two Coleman compositions, “Check Out Time” and “The Blessing,” speaks beautifully and emphatically on Coleman’s galactic influence. “It’s funny to speak of him in the past tense, so I won’t,” he says, with a mixture of reverence and regret. “Ornette is a complete original: a total original. And he’s fearless. What he did in New York in the late ’50s was miraculous. To come up with a brand new conception, with those incredible like-minded individuals―Billy Higgins, and Charlie [Haden] and Don Cherry―they were complete originals. There is no one like him.”
Coltrane’s passion for Coleman is matched by his life-long exploration of his father’s music, along with other saxophone colossuses including Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson. He studied them when he was growing up near Los Angeles, where he lived after his father died in New York in 1967. The youngest of three children (his brother, John Jr., died in a car crash in 1982), Coltrane credits his mother as the driving force that made him the human being and musician he is today.
“I learned a lot from her,” he says, “how she interacted with people and what she was able to do as a musician. I was very fortunate to receive the things that I did from her. And making that album Translinear Light was something I dreamed about for years. My mother had retired from music before I began my musical journey. I’d say, ‘Mom, please, we gotta do a record!’ She said ‘No, I already did that. It’s time for young people to take the ball and go forward.’ And after a lot of begging and cajoling, I finally convinced her. That remains the highlight of my career: helping my mother get that record made.”
The greatest lesson Alice Coltrane imparted to her son was for him to be himself. “This music is about having the courage to accept who you are, embracing your strengths and being aware of your weaknesses,” he says. “I get the fact that I’m the son of John and Alice Coltrane. But at the same time, we all have our roles to play. I can’t be John Coltrane or Alice Coltrane. I can only be Ravi Coltrane.”
The Ravi Coltrane Guitar Quartet performs at Birdland June 30-July 4.
Stay put to learn about Hod O’Brien’s “dubious distinctions”…
Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy kolb
The art of now
The jazz world has had more than one 11-year-old piano whiz. Pianist/composer/educator Joanne Brackeen was gigging at that age and, over six decades later, continues to play―and live―with an enviable level of intensity, freshness and enthusiasm.
Besides writing hundreds of compositions and releasing dozens of albums as a leader, Brackeen has played, collaborated and recorded with a litany of jazz giants including Charlie Haden, Charles Lloyd, Pharoah Sanders, Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Konitz, Joe Henderson, George Benson and Dave Holland. She was the first female member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and played with Stan Getz from 1975 to 1977; Getz ranked her among “the most original and creative composers” in his bands.
During Brackeen’s tenure with Getz, they performed at Keystone Korner in San Francisco with bossa nova inventor Joao Gilberto, drummer Billy Hart and bassist Clint Houston. “Todd Barkan recorded the whole thing every night,” she recalls. Brackeen is thrilled that two CDs of those recordings will be released on the Resonance label in 2016: “Stan was a very innovative player, but I never heard any albums that are near what he did with our band. These recordings are breathtaking; it was an unbelievable experience.”
Her achievements have been recognized with numerous grants and awards, including the 2014 BNY Mellon Jazz Living Legacy Award bestowed at the Kennedy Center; she’s scheduled to play there in October, honoring this year’s winner Gary Bartz. Brackeen is also excited that she’s been asked to talk about her experiences for a Yale University oral history project.
However, she’d rather look ahead. “I think about today and what I’m doing. That’s the only way the music we play in the jazz world really exists—in the here and now.”
Brackeen’s to-do list includes working on a solo piano album, taking weekly Chinese language lessons; a fall sabbatical from teaching at Berklee, during which she intends to “write a lot more music;” and a Labor Day weekend gig at the Detroit Jazz Festival with her quartet consisting of Rudresh Mahanthappa, Ugonna Okegwo and Matt Wilson. “They love playing my music,” Brackeen says. “That’s what I need: people who want to do something they don’t normally do.”
The pianist will celebrate her 77th birthday this month and when the subject of retirement comes up, she quotes Tony Bennett: “I’ve never worked a day in my life.” Brackeen continues, “I’ve always been very involved, like any very hard worker, but it’s all play, every minute of it.” She’ll headline the Cambridge Jazz Festival on her actual birth date, July 26, and will set off some musical fireworks with a piano/bass duo at Mezzrow Jazz Club on July 3-4. The bassist was unknown at press time, but listeners can count on hearing one of the greats.
Brackeen has a well-documented affinity with bass players such as Cecil McBee, Kim Clarke, John Patitucci and Eddie Gomez. “A great bass player is a necessity. You can go ahead and play what you want and they can have a great time too,” she explains. “Eddie Gomez is at the top of the list of bass players. He’s just like me—we don’t know what tune we’re going to play ’til we get out there. Then we hear exactly what the other one’s doing and make it happen.” Count on hearing standards and a few originals at Mezzrow; birthdays are special days, but Brackeen makes it her business to play as if every day is special.
Fresh Takes by Nathan Kamal
Last year, 14-year-old trumpeter Geoffrey Gallante was the subject of a news piece on “Voice of America.” The broadcast offered a portrait of the young artist through montage―home videos of early lessons with awestruck teachers, footage of the youngster with a head of cropped blond hair serenading the aisles of a church, and tapes of orchestral and jazz performances. His early childhood culminated in an appearance on “The Tonight Show” at age five. Barely out of kindergarten, Gallante had the abbreviated career of a veteran behind him.
The pressures of a precocious career have had little impact on his relaxed showmanship. Gallante dances onstage between solos. Sometimes his hair is slicked to the side, other times covered by a fedora. “To entertain your audience is a must,” Gallante says. “You always want to create a level of comfort and relaxation; it can only improve the audience’s experience, which directly improves yours.”
Gallante looks forward to his July show at Saint Peter’s Church, his second at the venue. “Beautiful sanctuary, great musicians, appreciative audience, and it’s in the heart of New York City. What more could you ask for? Come on out, we would love to play music for you!”
Geoffrey Gallante is headlining Midday Jazz at Saint Peter’s Church on July 8.
Bridge Crossings by cary tone
Composer/trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most boldly original figures in creative contemporary music and one of the great trumpet players of our time. A 2013 Pulitzer finalist, Smith was named One of the 80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today by Downbeat. His landmark 2012 civil rights opus Ten Freedom Summers is “a staggering achievement and merits comparison to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in sobriety and reach,” writes Francis Davis in the Rhapsody Jazz Critics Poll. The Great Lakes Suites earned high praise including second place in NPR Music’s 2014 Jazz Critics Poll.
Q: Anything you’d rather be doing other than playing music?
A: As long as I live it’s Music.
Q: Are there recordings of yours you’d like to say a few words about?
A: Ten Freedom Summers, Occupy the World and The Great Lakes Suites were all conceived as projects with an intent to pull together my complete musical world view. I never try to change what’s outside of my horizontal field but, in the best way I can, to complete a creative vision of what’s in my heart and head.
Q: What’s the difference in your approach to recording Ten Freedom Summers versus Golden Quartet?
A: GQ, as an ensemble, is the biggest dream of my musical life. So far, TFS is the largest completed compositional project and it contains my total music language. What I am working on now is larger and deeper than TFS. It’s the only dream I can have after creating TFS, Occupy and The Great Lakes Suites.
Q: Favorite place in the world to play, public or private?
A: In my bedroom…alone.
Q: What sort of intelligence does playing jazz require?
A: None. Creative music requires being creative not “intelligent.”
Q: What do you know today that you didn’t know ten years ago?
A: Ten years of new awareness, new dreams and knowing of myself.
Q: Is jazz music a political statement?
A: Any music or art can be anything the “creator” says it is.
Q: What’s a word or two that jumps into your mind when you think about the current place of jazz music in our culture?
Q: How have your recorded music listening habits changed over the past few years?
A: It has not changed. I still listen to learn something about the work or artist I am listening to.
Q: What do you struggle with in your creative life?
A: To be creative is to struggle.
Q: If there’s an afterlife, is there one piece of music you heard here that you’ll remember there?
A: No. After Life could not possibly be the same as life in this world.
Q: What’s the last truly great piece of music you listen to live or recorded?
A: I don’t think like that. I only listen when I need to.
Q: Expound for a second on the statement “I only listen when I need to.” When do you need to?
A: I don’t listen for joy or pleasure; those emotions are connected to love. In art making one’s musical love can hinder our growth. Unless we are in control, we can become afraid of changing directions―we love the way our music is. I believe when I listen or make art to learn through, I can grow and I keep on moving ahead to realize my complete musical vision.
Q: Your favorite musician of all time?
A: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Bessie Smith.
Q: What are a few pieces of music that made you the person or musician you are today?
Q: You’re having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who are they?
A: Scott Joplin, Bessie Smith and Miles Davis.
Q: Can you say a few words about Ornette and his music?
A: He was a true artist and his music will live forever. For us (the people who love him) to comprehend his musical vision on just a few of its levels will take us a lifetime, even the musicians who have clear sight.
Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz perform at Judson Church on July 11 during the Vision Festival.