Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday's pill: Brazilliance

Lazy clichés say of Brazilliance that it was bossa nova, chapter 0. As it happens, bossa nova it ain't. There's Brazilian as well as jazz in it, true, but not so much to do with what Jobim and Gilberto would create in the late 1950s, in Brazil.

For those who don't know these records, Brazilliance, volumes I & II, are two CDs with music recorded in 1953 and 1958 respectively for Californian label Pacific Jazz, originally under Brazilian emigré Laurindo Almeida's leadership, with Bud Shank on alto, and either Harry Babasin (I) or Gary Peacock (II) on bass, and Roy Harte (I) or Chuck Flores (II) on drums.

I suppose that the "bossa nova" tag is attached to this music because a) it sounds like a neat guess, and b) it could be a good hook for quite a number of people. Problem is that a) it's not really bossa, and b) you will always have people discouraged by the bossa tag who could have enjoyed the music, as well as the disappointed bossa lovers.

This is more a mixture of baião and other Brazilian rhythms with straight 4/4 jazz, part of the mild experimentation that took place in 1950s Californian jazz, but you will not find any of the "stuttering rhythms" that came out of João Gilberto's guitar and vocals, even though some of this music seems to be asking for it, like the first part of "Inquietação" (listen on YouTube). Rhythmically it's much simpler, and harmonically it keeps firmly within the jazz frame of the moment. In any case, what really matters is that it sounds fresh, it's music for warm summer sunsets, with light, swinging rhythms, and the unamplified sound of Almeida's guitar tempering its whole atmosphere.

This CDs (covers pictured) were issued as World Pacific/Capitol-EMI CDP 7 96339 2 and CDP 7 96102 2, respectively. They can also be heard on Spotify, and Vol. I, in MySpace.

PS: You can also try most, if not all, of this music on YouTube

Monday, April 18, 2011

Quotes from Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains is a collection of articles by David Hajdu, best known in the jazz world for his biography of Billy Strayhorn. However, the scope of his writing is much wider than that, with room for people as diverse as Philip Glass, John Zorn, Beyoncé, and The White Stripes, or comic book authors like Will Eisner or Joe Sacco. I got a copy of this 2009 book only yesterday, and just some random browsing is proving promising. So far I'd say his main strength is the way he develops his articles: The endings of the chapter on Richard Rodgers and of the second act of "A Hundred Years of Blues" are as relevant as they are shocking and as real as your own life.

He also has the ability to choose meaty quotes like these:

"A lot of white fans remind me of the idiot who goes to the opera house to listen to the orchestra" (Delmark Records' Bob Koester on the guitar fetichism of white blues fans.)

"Talent is like the battery in the car. It'll get you started, but if the generator is bad, you don't go very far" (Ellis Marsalis);

or to talk at length about this picture

© Life

and describe so vividly the drama behind the innocent fun everyone in it is having, due to its role in the demise of Billy Eckstine's career, that he makes the reader run to the computer to find the image and check for ourselves the power of racial prejudice in America, in 1950.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday's pill: Lewis Porter's blog

©Ed Berger, 2006
Last Monday I recommended some serious reading about jazz. Today I bring you some more. Dr. Lewis Porter (pictured) is one of the most consistent authors about jazz in the last few years. A pianist (here, with Dave Liebman) and one of the prime ideologists on how jazz research should be carried out, as well as founder and director of the Masters in Jazz History and Research Rutgers University (New Jersey) and acclaimed biographer of John Coltrane. Perfect Sound Forever interviewed him thoroughly, mainly about those two subjects, jazz research and Coltrane. Dr. Porter is a staunch empiricist, a giant in jazz knowledge, not so much as an erudite - that's what encyclopedias are for - but for the independence and originality of his work. He's one of the few authors on jazz who can be recommended unreservedly. With the help of MA student Alex "Lubricity" Rodriguez and under the auspices of WBGO, he started a blog a couple of weeks ago. Right after his introduction, where he states that

Experience has shown me that jazz musicians, fans, authors and teachers are reluctant to give up their old stories. This series will challenge you to change how you talk about jazz. Guess what? You can do it! Read, comment and share so that we can all work to spread accurate information about our beloved music, free of distracting myths and rumors.

he introduces, to that end, a proto-blues recorded in Congo in 1906! Nice way to start a blog! Dr. Porter explains

African MELODIES [not only rhythms] have survived in African American music--especially the blues--and this recording proves it! [...] Not only can you hear the flutist(s) playing very familiar blues licks over and over, he constantly goes back and forth between the major third and the “blue” third!

Besides explaining that small technicality, in this entry you can listen to the whole recording on line, here. Next entry is scheduled for today, Thursday 14th. Don't miss it!

PS: Today's entry is about the origins of the word "jazz", and it's here. Not to be missed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In brief: documentary on current Chilean jazz

Note (June 29, 2012): links have been updated for the actual programmes, when available on line.

From today, Monday 11, at the times stated below, Tempo, a documentary series devoted to the current and very rich jazz scene in Chile. Readers of this blog are aware of the quality of current jazz to the West of the Andes. Tempo is a series up to the standard of the music it presents, combining a very simple formula, a mix of music performances and interviews, with a very sober and cared for production. It's worth watching for the music itself and because it's proof of the possibilities that video offers to expose jazz musicians in an approachable and yet non-compromised way.

Tempo can be watched live online here:

What to read...

The arrival of blogs and the actual possibility of anyone publishing anything to be read anywhere in the world has changed the game of publishing in general, and, in its small turf, jazz criticism. If we step aside the Northern hemisphere axis that goes from the US to Japan through Western Europe, the internet must have meant quite something for the unlikely but very real fans in places like Iran, China, or the southernmost tip of South America, who had very poor access to quality information are now much more likely to read about and even listen - legally or ilegally - to their heroes.

I emphasized the anywhere and its positive effect, but there's a significant problem with the anything being published. Good editors and their quality control and content-filtering are missed in the deluge of blogs and websites passing for serious publications, and it's more difficult to know what's worth our precious time. Anything does mean that anything is published, and the number of visits and other statistics will never reflect the quality of the publication.

Luckily there some very good stuff around (what's in my blogroll, on the right of this window, for instance), but if you're really interested in this music and are ready to put some effort and time, I'd strongly recommend the following three sites:

  • JOURNAL OF JAZZ STUDIES: Formerly known as the Annual Review of Jazz Studies, and even before that, as Journal of Jazz Studies, which was first published in 1973 by the Institute of Jazz Studies. As a (irregular) collector of ARJS, I can tell you that each issue looks more like a small book than a journal, and they are as consistently serious and engaging as they are expensive, even second hand. The good news for the readers, is that from now on the JJS will be published twice a year, on line, and it'll be free to read for everyone. It's a peer-reviewed publication, so expect no nonsense. The managing editor is Evan Spring, and the first issue can be found here.

  • CURRENT RESEARCH IN JAZZ: This on-line, also peer-reviewed, journal has been around for over a couple of years. The brains behind it are those of master discographer, and co-author of Gigi Gryce's biography, Mike Fitzgerald. He's an extremely active promoter of serious jazz research and the use of the internet to improve its quality. He explains the philosophy and goals of CRJ here. The first issue can be read here, the second and most recent is here.

  • JAZZ STUDIES ONLINE: This is a different website from the other two. Edited by saxophonist and politics scholar Tad Shull, and sponsored by Columbia University's Center of Jazz Studies, it compiles different resources for the serious student of jazz. There are audio interviews, performance and a selection of articles, like Scott DeVeaux's seminal "Constructing the Jazz Tradition".

    The crown jewel here, however, especially for all of us interested in vintage magazines and 1950s jazz, it's the whole run of the legendary Jazz Review. This short-lived publication (23 issues, between 1958 and 1961), edited by Martin Williams and Nat Hentoff, marked a turning point for jazz criticism and commentary, and it carried some historical articles. It opened its first issue with Gunther Schuller's study of Sonny Rollins's "Blue 7", "Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation", the article that apparently shocked Rollins so much that he said he wouldn't read anything else about him any more. And there's much more, like interviews with James P. Johnson and Walter Page, criticism done by musicians (Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, George Russell, Bill Crow...), the first jazz writings of Harvey Pekar, and much, much more. All that in .pdf format (text-searchable in some issues).

Enjoy the reading.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday's pill: Darcy James Argue

Darcy James Argue and the Secret Society play "Transit" (score) at Kennedy Center, on January 5th, 2011.

More videos: here.

The Kennedy Center gig, complete: here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The strange case of Freddie Green

Freddie Green (© Burt Goldblatt/CTS Images)
Freddie Green would have been 100 years old on March 31st. As familiar as his name is for Swing fans, his was a strange career, his contribution being easier to spot by its absence rather than its presence. From 1937 onwards he was what kept Basie's rhythm sections together, his metronomic touch and extremely light harmonic contribution probably being the factor that allowed them to relax and swing harder. At a time when the electric guitar was introduced and became the main way to do jazz on a guitar, he kept playing an archtop acoustic. He and electric pioneer Charlie Christian were friends - they recorded together in small groups, live and in the studio -, but when Christian gave Green an amplifier as a present, fellow Basie-ites sabotaged any prospective solo work by Green enough times for him to give up the idea.