Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2015 award ceremony.
July 2016 Hot House Jazz Guide Now Available!
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
Like piano, guitar is largely immune from easy jazz categorization. Guitarists work more in a jazz guitar tradition than in any specific genre—like swing or bebop or fusion—and most of them are much more influenced by other players than by stylistic giants of jazz.
These two Winning Spins are thoroughly steeped in guitar traditions and both feature leaders in the stripped-down trio format of guitar-bass-drums. However, this pair, while sharing many traits of other electric jazz guitarists, has disparate approaches to that tradition and the instrument. Roni Ben-Hur is more of a jazz classicist, a player with a distinct tone and touch, while Julian Lage encompasses a much wider stylistic range, and varies his tone, and electronic approach, to suit the style of his individual tracks.
Arclight, Julian Lage (Mack Avenue), the third album from the guitarist, is the first to employ the smaller trio ensemble format. He’s joined by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. A former child prodigy who was playing in Gary Burton’s band as a teenager, Lage is now close to 30. But judging from this outing, he is still absorbing and processing musical and guitar influences from country and rock to pop, swing, bop and early American blues and jazz.
The four standards here all date from the first half of the 20th Century, and they are joined by seven impressively catchy originals in a wide variety of styles. He also employs a panoply of tones and timbres, aided by the ability of the electric guitar to add reverb echo and distortion. And the whole program is presented in a succinct 38 minutes.
Julian opens with the gently rocking “Fortune Teller,” applying a touch of reverb to his jazzy solo and lead lines. On the following “Persian Rug,” an early Gus Kahn chestnut, he conjures up shades of Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, later adding a bit of twang to that mix on W.C. Handy’s “Harlem Blues.” Two ballads push toward swing as they progress, rounding out the covers: Spike Hughes’s “Nocturne” and the sentimental gem (it was Liberace’s TV theme) “I’ll Be Seeing You”.
Julian’s composing offers its own delights, including a wicked sense of humor that manifests itself in the jaunty strut, evoking the namesake, on “Presley” and the stuttering, though virtuosic, tempo and rhythmic disjointedness of “Stop Go Start.” “Supera” and “Ryland” bring to mind the pop smarts and the effortlessness of Les Paul.
Rock technique prevails on a couple, too: “Prospero” suggests an arena hard pop ballad with its tom tom heavy beats and steely (Dan?) reverb, while “Activate” brings on big downbeats and clangy interjections as well as strummed chords recalling The Who. In fact, the trio format here affords Julian a palette from early swing to power trio jazz-rock.
Julian Lage is at Jazz Standard, July 28-29.
Barry Harris: The Last Bebopper by Eugene Holley, Jr.
In the jazz world, the term “living legend” is often a cliché. However, it is apropos when it applies to the 86-year-old pianist, educator and NEA Jazz Master, Barry Harris.
The Detroit-born, New Jersey-based musician lives in the sprawling Weehawken estate of the jazz patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who also let Barry’s friend Thelonious Monk spend the last years of his life there. And he’s still doing what he’s been doing for six decades: teaching and playing some of the purest bebop on the planet, as evidenced by his week-long engagement at the Village Vanguard with drummer Leroy Williams and bassist Ray Drummond.
“I’ve played with Leroy Williams for 50 years,” Barry says. “We’ve been together all of that time. Ray Drummond is kind of like a later addition. He’s been with me for five or six years.”
Barry’s longevity is due to his unapologetic, straight-ahead bebop style pianism. He grew up playing piano in church starting at age 4. But, as a teenager, he came under the spell of Charlie Parker, which set his musical course for life. “My contemporaries had one love. We fell in love with Charlie Parker,” he says. “And it’s been a continuous love all these years. It was the most important thing to me.”
Another musician who was equally important to the young Barry was the amazing Bud Powell. “Art Tatum was considered the greatest pianist ever,” he says. “But Wynton Kelly, Ray Bryant, Junior Mance, Bill Evans—every one of us—loved Bud Powell. They released a CD a few years ago, Bud Powell: Live at Birdland from 1957 with Powell, Art Taylor, Phil Woods, Donald Byrd and Paul Chambers. Brother, I listened to that record and I said, ‘Lord have mercy!’ And if you want to hear Bud Powell as a teenager, listen to Cootie Williams’ version of “Round Midnight,’ and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson singing ‘Is You Is, Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?’ and ‘Cherry Head Blues.’ I couldn’t believe it: Bud Powell as a young man playing those minor arpeggios; no wonder I fell for him!”
Buoyed by Parker’s swing-at-the-speed-of bop and Powell’s pianistic prances, Barry made a name for himself in his hometown as the house pianist at the Blue Bird and Rouge Lounge. He played with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt and Thad Jones. His first major gig as a sideman came in 1956. “I played with Max Roach, Donald Byrd and Sonny Rollins, right after Richie Powell and Clifford Brown got killed in that terrible accident. But there’s no recording of us,” he laments.
Barry moved to New York in 1960, worked in Cannonball Adderley’s group and gigged with Yusef Lateef, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins and Hank Mobley. He became a full-fledged leader during this period and released a series of mostly trio recordings from 1960 to 2009 including, Barry Harris at the Jazz Workshop, Preminado, Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron, Live in New York, and Live in Rennes.
It was also in the 1960s that he emerged as a first-class educator and developed a unique and singular jazz education curriculum with devoted students of all ages. Much of his educational activities occurred in The Jazz Cultural Theater, a space he co-created with Larry Ridley, Jim Harrison and Frank Fuentes, on Eighth Avenue between 28th and 29th streets in Manhattan. He taught master classes for singers and instrumentalists and featured tap dancers Lon Chaney and Jimmy Slyde before it closed its doors in 1987.
“I intimidate [college] teachers,” he says. “I teach how to improvise. Jazz is a continuation of classical music. Jazz is Bach; Chopin is jazz; Beethoven is jazz. They were taught to improvise. We are a continuation of that.”
Barry befriended Thelonious Monk in the 1960s and 1970s. “He was not a bebopper,” Barry proclaims. “He was by himself—alone. He wrote the most beautiful melodies: “Round Midnight,’ ‘Pannonica,’ ‘Crepuscule with Nellie’…We played one song, ‘My Ideal,’ over and over again.”
These days Barry is still teaching the bebop evolution to international students by travel and with dozens of You Tube postings. And, as his engagement at the Vanguard will show, his swing and vitality will contradict the well-worn saying: “those who can’t, teach.”
“I play what I teach.”
The Barry Harris Trio performs at the Village Vanguard July 26 to 31.
Photo by Ans van Heck Photography www.ansvanheckphotography.com
Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins
Contemporary Jazz Cruise Artist Spotlight: Joshua Redman
The line-up for the 2017 Contemporary Jazz Cruise offers a host of superb artists; so much so that it tempted saxophone master Joshua Redman into trying out the format after more than 20 years since his last jazz cruise. “I love to play for people in any situation, and I know the audience on a jazz cruise will be there for the music,” he notes. “But once I saw the line-up, that’s when I knew that this would be a lot of fun.”
With Joshua joining the artist roster, the cruise adds four exceptional virtuosos, as he brings with him his quartet featuring Aaron Goldberg, Reuben Rogers and Gregory Hutchinson, each an artist who, alone, would be a selling point. Together, they have formed one of the art form’s most outstanding ensembles, marked by highly versatile playing, incredible ensemble cohesion and a sense of adventurous fun that is infectious.
“Aaron, Reuben, and Greg are three of my favorite musicians on the planet,” Joshua says. “We’ve had a long history as a quartet playing together, and even longer history playing with one another in different combinations over the years. Every band has its strengths and its modes, and for this one, finding that place where we’re locked in rhythmically is the key. Having that rhythmic connectivity and vitality with this band allows us to build great things from there. It allows the music to feel locked in while also being fluid.”
That fluidity, and almost telepathic communication that the group exudes, is increasingly rare in music today, and highlights the tremendous advantage that a strong working band can enjoy as it builds that rapport. “There’s a familiarity, camaraderie and empathy that just comes from knowing one another so well on and off the bandstand,” Joshua explains. “They’re all virtuosos and extremely versatile musicians, but for me, the most important thing is that it’s fun to play with these artists. We really enjoy playing together so much, and it feels like we’re coming from the same place and looking for the same things within the music.”
That sense of shared vision and common goal has served as a guiding concept not only for Joshua’s solo projects, but also for his collaborative efforts, notably the relatively recent but highly successful pairing with The Bad Plus, who also appear on the cruise line-up. Releasing the critically acclaimed The Bad Plus Joshua Redman in 2015, the mixed group managed to highlight the very best of both parties, while offering the artists a chance to step out of their commonly held roles and create remarkably fresh and exciting music.
Josh recalls their initial convening at a weeklong residency at The Blue Note as a serendipitous moment, as the four artists developing a kinship and simpatico that surprised even them. “I expected to have fun, but I didn’t expect the level of connection and chemistry that we found,” he recalls. “After the week was over, we all felt that, wow, this was something we wanted to do more of. That connection continued over the years, we toured, and then we committed to recording together. It’s been amazing.”
Indeed, discovering the shared connections within bands is crucial to Josh, and it goes a long way to explaining the incredible musical success his many ensembles have enjoyed. “For me, it’s about trying to find something in common and turning it into something beautiful,” he explains. “You want to express something collectively, and in order to do that you must listen to one another, empathize with one another, and converse. And, hopefully, you’ll come up with something that feels genuine.” Throughout the cruise, Joshua and his quartet will undoubtedly deliver on this goal.
Joshua Redman plays at The Blue Note through July 3. To learn more, visit www.joshuaredman.com. To find out more about The Contemporary Jazz Cruise or to make a reservation, visit www.thecontemporaryjazzcruise.com.
Photo Credit: Jay Blakesberg
Fresh Takes by Nathan Kamal
Jasper Dutz is known in New York circles for his colorful artistry and demeanor. Freshly graduated from The New School, the Los Angeles native splits his efforts as an in-demand woodwind doubler and as the leader of his quartet, For Trees and Birds.
In his quest toward woodwind mastery, Jasper found especially powerful outlets on bass clarinet and alto saxophone. Jasper says, “in a video game, there is a role or character that you choose as the primary character. I think of it that way.”
Jasper embarked on a slow and deliberate search for the perfect band in his sophomore year. He found something of a musical family with guitarist Lee Meadvin, bassist Chris Gaskell, and drummer Connor Parks. The band composes music in “seasons,” like a TV series, and mixes the seasons together during performances. Their repertoire is developed by ear from loose sketches or improvisations. “We bring skeletons of songs into rehearsal and write together based off of those.”
Jasper’s pieces have deliberately episodic and plot-like structures. “I am passionate about communities and something communities really identify with are stories,” Jasper says. “You see communities form around film franchises and games and nerdy things that I like. Music does that too.”
Hear Jasper Dutz’s band For Trees and Birds at Cornelia Street Café on July 18.
The Latin Side of Hot House by Emilie Pons
Memo Acevedo: Seeking New Horizons
“Five horns and a flute on top” is what drummer Memo Acevedo revels in. “There are so many combinations you can do between the flute and the horns,” he explains. “Of course, course you need a baritone sax, the trombone and the rhythm section as well, since they sound so down-to-earth.”
With his new band, Memo Acevedo and the Building Bridges, Memo is “trying to pick up a lot of different elements and bring in some different cultures and mix them with jazz harmonies to see what's going to come out.” “Building Bridges” refers to Memo’s composition of the same name, a tribute to his friend and mentor Puente, whose last name means “bridge,” and with whom he recorded his 1993 album Building Bridges. The ten-piece band, which is about two months old, is a rainbow of nationalities, from Brazilian to Dominican, Cuban to Canadian and Greek to Jamaican.
He is still “searching for new horizons,” Memo says. He’s working on fostering “a new generation of music” by incorporating new works from other composers into the band and by “working with the mature and the up-and-coming players.”
But while experimenting, Memo also wants to communicate with his audience. “We want to make people a part of what we do by sharing with them,” he says, “telling them and educating them as well.…I am also about making sure you’ll have fun!”
Memo left his native Colombia because he wanted to become a jazz musician. “Even though there are Latin rhythm elements in our music, we're not a Latin Band per se,” he explains. “As an educator, composer and artist, I’m always wanting to explore new territories and how to bridge them. That’s what I called the Global Jazz Project.”
For the drummer, “global jazz” means “building bridges between cultures and even between historical areas, bringing them into our American jazz experience,” he says. “I also define it as ‘Jazz without Frontiers.’” Memo has been “studying other cultures’ rhythms and applying them to the life and explorations that jazz allows.”
The Zinc Bar Residency follows the same approach. It is just another opportunity for the artist to continue building bridges and developing the concept of global jazz. “The Zinc Bar is known for presenting high-quality music and being a platform to develop the talent of the local New York City musicians,” he says. “When people go to the Zinc Bar, they know they're going to hear something new.”
In his daily two- to three-hour practice, Memo works on “developing his chops,” on “reading,” and on “creativity,” he explains. “I am an avid learner and I am a student for life.” And when he teaches, Memo knows that “the most important and challenging thing for the student is to get the ‘right feel’…The rest is just work on coordination and muscle memory.”
Memo’s grandmother was “the first woman that we know of in Latin America to be playing and writing ragtime,” he says. And the musical heritage continues since Jacquelene, Memo’s daughter, now performs with him. “Sharing music and the stage with her is an absolute joy!” Memo says.
The Memo Acevedo Building Bridges Band performs at the Zinc Bar on July 1 with Wesley Reynoso, piano; Eduardo Belo, bass; Domenica Fossati, flute; Don Harris and Brad Mason, trumpets; Alejandro Aviles and Jason Marshall, saxophones; Ron Wilkins, trombone; Jacquelene Acevedo, congas and percussion; and Memo on drums.
Bridge Crossings by Cary Tone
Jessica Pavone has been an active string instrumentalist in New York City since 2000. As a composer, The Wire magazine praised her “ability to transform a naked tonal gesture into something special,” and The New York Times described her music as "distinct and beguiling...its core is steely, and its execution clear." Her music is available on Taiga Records, Tzadik, Relative Pitch, Thirsty Ear, Porter, Skirl and Peacock Recordings.
Q- You play so many different types of music. Is there a kind of music that comes to you most naturally? What do you gravitate towards in music making?
It is true that I play many different types of music and I think that comes from a general interest in music as a whole. I sometimes enjoy being put in situations with musical practices that are less familiar to me so that I can learn a new area of music. There definitely are genres that I rarely, if ever, cross paths with as an instrumentalist and ones that I find myself involved with more.
As a musician, I have three main disciplines: playing the viola, playing bass guitar and writing music as a composer. I feel myself oscillating between those three roles regularly and at an unpredictable rhythm. Most recently, I have composed one large piece every two years because that is when those opportunities presented themselves to me. Some months I find myself only on the viola, some only on bass. It always just depends on what shows I have coming up.
The viola feels most to me like an extension of my body. I feel fluid in its language and can hop onto many playing situations with it comfortably. Bass guitar is a second language; although competent on the instrument, I am not as fluent. I am, however, able to play music that I identify with closely on bass more so than on the viola.
Both instruments play very different roles for me, each of which are equally important. I would never want to narrow down my practice to one of these three. The different disciplines inform one another.
Q- What are you referring to when you speak about the physicality of performing?
Playing an instrument is a physical activity and requires your body to move in repetitive motions that it most likely wouldn’t during regular daily activities. It also takes a lot of concentrated relaxation to not let the body injure itself. I’ve spent many years trying to undo damage I’ve done to my neck and shoulders from a time in my life where I was practicing 20-plus hours a week. I became involved in practices like yoga and Alexander Technique.
My awareness of my body and how I approach process changed for the better. It has always been interesting to me the ways in which we can transform the body with diet and exercise for the better and the worse. To a certain extent, we have control over our container and I feel like my approach to that is just as intertwined to my work as an instrumentalist and creative person.
Q- What's personal or unique about your compositional process?
I thrive on procrastination during the creative process. I wrote an article called, “Process, Creativity and Planetary Returns” in 2012 that was published in Arcana VI - Musicians on Music.
Q- Your favorite recording of yours, or a few?
Songs of Synastry and Solitude and my two solo viola albums, Knuckle Under and Silent Spills.
Q- What did you give to and take away from playing with Anthony Braxton?
In many ways, I grew up as a musician under Anthony Braxton. I met him as well as a community of interesting musicians, living in Connecticut at the time, when I was 21 and just finishing conservatory. Anthony was a huge part of an amazing creative musical turn-around for me, after a pretty stifling experience at music school. Not just his influence as a creative artist, but the community that has developed around him as a result of his energy and his encouragement to self-produce, has been really influential. People I met around then were just doing: organizing, creating, exploring. Not everything was coming out intelligible, but for me, it was a safe place to try ideas, learn what did and didn’t work and figure things out better for the next time.
Q- Did you meet Mary Halvorson through working with Braxton? Say a few words about the music you make with Mary.
I did not meet Mary playing with Anthony. We both played in some of his bands together for several years, though, starting in about 2005. We met in Brooklyn in 2002 through mutual friends, intertwined with swapping of rooms in an apartment, which led us to be neighbors in Fort Greene for about three years. We became friends immediately, and my brain shares more memories with her than anyone outside of the people in my family. As neighbors, we hung out multiple times a week cooking food, playing music and navigating our way through our 20s. Our music is a direct extension of that time and place in our lives.
Q- If you were starting out now would you change anything?
I feel like I’ve learned from both my successes and failures. Many of the things I failed at probably informed how I chose to proceed. The learning process is slow and development takes time. If anything, I wish I had learned to believe in myself and trust my abilities earlier on. I was probably getting in my own way most of the time.
Q- What do you struggle with in your creative life?
This obvious thing for anyone pursuing an uncompromising creative path and lifestyle
are the many things we do without, mostly of the material variety. I’m not really losing too much sleep about that, though. I’ve chosen a simple lifestyle and I am happy with that. Time is more important to me than money. More than material possessions, I am fueled by learning and experience. I chose my lifestyle and am very happy with it. I think much harder than a life of frugality, were the few times in my life where I wasn’t collaborating with or playing music regularly with people. As I mentioned before, there is an unpredictability and inconsistency in the ways I am involved with music almost monthly.
In recent years, I have been busy, but I can remember a few times when I had long stretches with no work. This is not hard for me for financial reasons; it is hard for me because I have a physical, mental and emotional need to be playing music with people. It is one of my favorite things to do and there is something about vibrationally and creatively connecting with other people that is essential to me.
Q- If you weren't playing music, what would you be doing with your life?
It is hard to imagine my life without music, but I do have two major hobbies that may have taken more precedence if music wasn’t my main focus. They are astrology and exercise. I love going to the gym and I love doing yoga. I don’t need to force myself to go; I do it because I enjoy it. I maybe would have become a personal trainer (which isn’t much different from my current day job of teaching private instrument lessons) or an aerobics instructor.
Astrology is something I’ve been studying for about 15 years and more seriously in the last three. It is a language which for me draws many parallels to music theory. The more I learn, the more I discover there is to learn. I enjoy having this unsatiating practice, although I do not feel like I would want to pursue it professionally. Having this archetypal understanding of the people and events in my life has really helped me navigate my way.