Saturday, July 27, 2013

Jazzaldia 2013....

Apologies to my readers in English. Daily chronicles of the concerts at Jazzaldia are proving hard enough for me to contemplate translating them into English on a daily basis too.

Bear with me for a few days and I'll file a detailed report on the event. You're always welcome to read the reports in Spanish.

As ever, thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jazzaldia 2013: day 1

© Fernando Ortiz de Urbina

The succession of free gigs around the Kursaal auditorium make the first day of Jazzaldia a whole different business from the rest of it. For some, it's joyful and a communal experience. For others, it's the mob.

We're all old enough too keep banging on about stylistic considerations and ask ourselves what do we really want from music. At best, it should make us dance and jump, reflect and scream, laugh and cry... while it tears our hearts out like Indiana Jones' and replaces them tenderly, as many times as it wishes.

Jazz, music, art in general, at their best, seem to stem from this dialogue:
—What if we do...?
—Why not?!
© Fernando Ortiz de Urbina

What if we put together a band with two drum kits, a vibraphone, assorted percussion, electric bass, two electric guitars with their respective effects, a horn section (trumpet, alto, tenor and bari saxes), a theremin, voices... and, actually, whatever else we may think of. We could also add some dancers. And a painter working during the gig. And a big video screen in the background. How about a giant jellyfish-shaped balloon? Make it fly over the stage. And over the audience too.

What if this orchestra plays music with plenty of vamps. Like the Mission Impossible theme. Music for dancing. Lots of it. And binary rhythms, like Sabre Dance. And in three. And in four, that's perentory. And in five, like Dave Brubeck could never imagine. And some of that jazz that goes from Mingus through Bill Barron's ensembles to Mostly Other People Do The Killing. And rock guitars. And some nice chord sequences. And monster unisons. And polkas. And some ska...

All of the above exists and has a name: SHIBUSASHIRAZU ORCHESTRA, which unlucky Cinderellas missed on the 24th. That, and the chance to see the whole of Zurriola beach jumping and dancing at 2 a.m. On a Thursday.

Shibusashirazu Orchestra
© Fernando Ortiz de Urbina

Earlier that evening...

ROBERT GLASPER: quartet. Funk is like a good dessert. It can save anything. Take a good bassist (Derrick Hodge) and a good drummer (Mark Colenburg), and you'll be able to play anything on them. Vocoder is not such a versatile resource as some seem to think. One of the best moments happened with Casey Benjamin on alto sax and without Glasper. Ponder that.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rock interlude: Alchemy

Alchemy is a live album by Dire Straits, possibly the band that made the most money in the crazy Eighties, when British pop/rock seemed to embrace thatcherism and conquered a sizeable chunk of worldwide record sales. Actually, the Straits' next tour would be a gruelling one year away from home, so designed, apparently, for tax purposes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Going to a summer jazz fest

Everybody's been doing it for over 60 years: The discreet charm of combining the summer resort with a feast of live jazz and other musics (Chuck Berry played Newport '58, so you might say that it's always been like that). Genteel, maybe. Exclusive, not at all.

In the coming days I'll be reporting the news from San Sebastian's Heineken Jazzaldia, where I got started as a newspaper reporter ages ago. Good memories, old friends, and some extraordinary food await. Check the programme here, and see if you can come along.

That is now. The following is back when: Newport 1962. A few good quality clips from Franz Hoffman, plus a longer one, in not so good quality (but we get to see some Roland Kirk and Pee Wee Russell, so no complaints).

See you!

Count Basie and His Orchestra

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Blues: black, white... and red? (and III)

With today's text we reach the end of the excerpt first published on line by UTNE Reader from The Guitar and the New World, the new book by Joe Gioia. Once again, our thanks go to the author and the publisher, SUNY Press. If the earlier parts (the first and the second) sound interesting enough, the rest of the chapter “Hey-Hey” digs wider and deeper into some of the points made so far.

As it has happened with some of the books mentioned by Gioia in the second part (especially Hamilton's), his may be difficult to accept for its ground-breaking view of the origins of the blues, a unique genre about which people have been capable of keeping a straight face while talking of deals with the devil. On the other hand, Gioia's book may well go through the same heavy revisions as Charters's and Oliver's books in the future. Even in that case, the oversight Native Americans have suffered in this whole story of the music of North America is so enormous, that what's really important in Gioia's discourse is not so much whether his answers are correct, but the questions he asks; not what he's found, but the fact that he's pointing his torch in a different and hardly explored direction.

At "worst", the book can also be used as the author's guide to North-American music from the first half of the 20th century. Although some tracks may seem out of place without the book at hand, almost all the songs he mentions are included, in order of appearance, in this Spotify playlist (the links in the text lead to YouTube).

Back to the text: Having argued that there is sufficient reason to consider seriously the role of Native Americans in the origins of the blues and other musics from the US, the author keeps following that trail, and he begins to find some clues...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Blues: black, white... and red? (II)

Second part of the excerpt from the chapter entitled "Hey, Hey", taken from Joe Gioia's The Guitar and the New World. In the previous part the author pointed out the two early 20th century seminal accounts from which all blues historiography emanates, Charles Peabody's and W. C. Handy's, and how from there its origins have been linked to slavery or even to Africa without any solid evidence to prove it.

Thanks to Joe Gioia and his publisher for granting permission for me to translate this text and publish it here. The complete excerpt is readily available on line at the UTNE Reader website.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Blues: black, white... and red? (I)

One of the most fascinating aspects in the history of American popular music is the origin of blues music. Having been put at the centre of most of 20th century popular music, the seed of a mass phenomenon such as rock, the contrast with its humble origins in the Mississippi Delta give an epic air to a genre which is already elating and gut-wrenching in itself. If it's also considered as the musical undercurrent of the kidnapping, the trans-Atlantic trip, and slavery of Africans and their descendants in America, myth-making is hard to avoid.

Moreover, on top of this myth a sediment has formed which hardly lets any room for legitimate discussion regarding the origins of this musical genre, a sort of thick dogma compressed by considerations on authenticity. These are always useless, because if we consider history to be a film, authenticity is, at best, just a frame, a random image chosen according to a number of prejudices, selected to be an absolute and non-negotiable model against which the rest of the film is humbly compared. I say at best because normally authenticity isn't even a frame in the film, it's just an idealized utopian past.

Charley Patton - "I Shall Not Be Moved"

In some unproven way, blues is supposed to have been the musical baggage of slaves brought from Africa to America and their descendants. In the beginning, it was just purely a black thing, then it went losing its purity because of white influence of European origin. If we extrapolate that imagined trajectory, the origins of blues would lay in Africa. For a number of reasons, among them the choking and very real presence of racism in the US, the study and debate on what we know as the blues are constrained by some solid barriers. For instance: when it is insisted so much on the black/white racial dichotomy in American music, aren't we forgetting someone?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Party at the Barnes's!!! (part II)

George Barnes
I hope you enjoyed yesterday's video of "Liza", from George Barnes's Guitars Galore album, released in 1961. The beautiful montage was produced by Alexandra Barnes Leh, daughter of George's, who's also producing the George Barnes Legacy collection. This website is not to be missed, especially if you're in the least interested in the history of the guitar in America. Barnes was a true, multi-faceted pioneer, one of those larger-than-life characters, who was gone too soon, in 1977.

At the end of this text you can see some screenshots taken from the video. From the smiling faces, it’s pretty clear that everybody had a ball. Musicians from this era are remembered for their witticisms, their pranks, their humour… their ability to have fun in any given situation. Thanks to Alexandra and her mother, and wife of George's, Evelyn Barnes, we have some details from this actual party. Our deepest gratitude goes to both of them.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Party at the Barnes's!!! (part I)

This may sound over the top, but I think we will not have a clear idea of how much American popular music of a certain age was soaked in jazz until we have a proper discography (with the names of all musicians involved) of the Columbia and RCA labels, and their subsidiaries. Being those two the biggest labels in the 1950s, it's sort of a wet dream for some of us in all our splendid nerdiness.

Of course music is music, and being able to listen to it should suffice to appreciate all the flavours in it. Still, impressions are affected when you know who's actually playing in whatever record, and it does seem that jazz musicians, or at least musicians with a heavy jazz slant, or big band veterans whose early days were spent playing music with a high jazz-octanage, were everywhere in American popular music from the 50s and 60s. And it's not just Sinatra's albums featuring members of the Stan Kenton ot the Count Basie orchestras. There's much more.