Sunday, June 29, 2014

Following Eric Dolphy

For all the lack of audience and shaky economic prospects, your average jazz musician is someone who works very hard to master their instrument and knows music theory inside out. Even if it doesn't permeate all of it, there is, within jazz, an honourable tradition of art for art's sake, of the fight against oneself and the infinite choices offered by music and sound. In more detail, the profile of a jazz musician as a young person today would be someone who got started early in music, has gone through “classical” studies of some sort, is a versatile virtuoso with their instrument, and will have to go through New York City at some point of their lives as some sort of validation.

Just like Eric Dolphy.

Eric Dolphy by Naiel Ibarrola

Dolphy, together with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane (he worked with both), was the most influential “reedman” to come up in the early 1960s. Be it on flute or, especially, on alto sax and bass clarinet, he established a way of playing that still sounds contemporary. By what can be heard today, I suspect that Dolphy has at least a comparable following among musicians, even though Coleman and Coltrane are more visible figures in the canon. But posterity is fickle.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The joy of Horace

Horace Silver pictured in 1989 by Dimitri Savitski (Wikipedia)

Since back in 2007 when bassist Christian McBride made a passing comment on Horace Silver's Alzheimer, his passing yesterday was not unexpected news (so much so, that a rumour became news and spread like fire earlier in the year).

There are very fine obits around (like this one) about Silver's wonderful life, so we'll skip that.

His legacy, what remains after the man's gone, is phenomenal. As a piano player, his style was very rhythmic (watch out for that left hand, which can also be heard in contemporaries such as John Williams and Eddie Costa) and somewhat sketchy, as if he was dotting down ideas for new compositions as he was playing them. A prolific composer and a tasking leader, his music was lively, bluesy, gutsy, churchy, with feeling.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The drums of bossa nova

Marketing has gone truly global. At least for those of us living in the Western world and glued to a screen with access to the internet, there are trends that everybody seem to subscribe to, at least for a minute.

Right this minute, there are two trends leading to Brazil, one the biggest in the world, the other just a musical footnote. The latter is about the 50th anniversary of the release of Getz/Gilberto (never mind all the empty blurbs — it is a masterpiece), which may give the impression that bossa-nova is all Brazil ever had to offer musically (it isn't) or even that it didn't really blossom till the Americans got involved in it.

Again, publicity-wise that may be true, but musically nothing surpasses João Gilberto's first three albums recorded between 1959 and 1961 back in Brazil. And even for the Americans, things didn't really take off until, after a few trials on their own, they got the Brazilians involved, which made the difference between great (like Stan Getz's album with Charlie Byrd) and a masterpiece.

Listening to Jazz/Samba and Getz/Gilberto, there's one huge difference between the two albums. Whereas for the former it seemed necessary to have two drummers to reproduce Brazilian rhythms (and the percussion gets quite heavy), there's only one drummer on the latter, and what he does is a wonder of subtlety and dynamics. It's Washington D.C. v. Rio de Janeiro; Deppenschmidt & Reichenbach v. Banana.

Milton Banana (c. 1979)

When I first read the name Milton Banana as the drummer in Getz/Gilberto, I thought it was a joke. It was actually the alias of Antônio de Souza (1935-1998), who not only played on Getz/Gilberto, but also on João Gilberto's first LP, which established what we know as bossa. He was the original bossa-nova drummer.