Amazement at Classical Music Offerings of Late

Saw an amazing concert at Tullyscope festival- Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. Something remarkable about all the creativity in classical music festivals these past months. Ecstatic, Tune In, Thalia….There is Nowhere near the same dimensionality in Jazz festivals going on. Why? I welcome your view. We can list funding as a reason- but…that alone cannot be the reason. . Most of my life I saw classical music as the hidebound, conservative sector…now, I think there may be more happening there creatively than in jazz, although comparisons are perilous and possibly pointless. It’s quite exciting, a bit surprising. Somehow there is a youth movement that has caught on… How, why? A bunch of these younger devotees are championing Xenakis, Varese, Feldman…It’s quite amazing! Who would have predicted this? Meanwhile, I see a lot of young jazz players who are super talented, but I don’t know if they are advocates for NEW music as opposed to…JAZZ. Yes, there are amazing solos being played, but you probably won’t hear anything with the gravity of Rothko Chapel being presented. Or for that matter, music for 72 percussionists, or a 45 minute work for 18 musicians that is so freaking beautiful it lights up your week. My angle on this is that the walls between so called jazz and classical need further deconstruction, so that Feldman’s piece for bass clarinet and 2 percussionists can be paired with set of, say, Marty Ehrlich, Andrew Cyrille, and William Winant. But! (!!!!) how massively challenging it would be to even come close to the rapture of Feldman’s piece. Improviser beware!

On Reading George Lewis' AACM Book

A Power Stronger than Itself- the AACM and American Experimental Music

First things first- this is one of the finest books ever written about music, any kind of music, not just improvised music. It is part history, part biography, social and philosophical treatise, musical guide, and in all ways a gift to any serious musician. One can read it to learn about some of the finest musicians of our time, to see quite clearly how they think. But one can also read it to learn about how a social movement is created, how race played and still plays an enormous role in the music world. One can read it to learn how collectives are formed, how they can perish, or read it to understand the musical landscape of Chicago in the 1960’s, the intersection of civil rights and Black self-determination with music, New York’s so-called “loft scene” in the 70’s, and corallaries to other movements of the time, rock, fusion, European classical and improvised music, and experimental culture in other art forms. Lewis allows seminal figures such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie and countless others to speak for themselves as to their process; however, he goes further by placing these people in a broader historical context. Lewis tells an involved, important story that, for me, has been hiding in plain sight. His work succeeds for a number of reasons: he is a terrific writer, and composes from inside the story, somehow managing to combine a journalistic objectivity with a participant’s subjectivity. How rare is it that a Black man tells a Black peoples’ story, that a musician tells the musicians’ stories? Lewis pulls back the curtain on what almost seems a secret society. What his book does is show just how important and influential the AACM has been to all improvisers- whether they know it or not. In a climate in which scores of books are written about the same few heroic figures, in which we are inundated with every last note that Miles, Trane, Bird and Duke ever recorded, in which we hear about what Charlie Parker ate for breakfast on June 3, 1943, in which their primacy is not only considered an a priori truth, but an institutional mandate, how thoroughly refreshing, no ENORMOUSLY refreshing it is to know the history of this parallel universe. (more…)

Responding to Jason Marsalis

This is in response to a you tube video circulating where another Marsalis (Jason) pretends to have answers for all.

Responding to Jason Marsalis

It is astounding to me that this conflict still rages between old and new trends in jazz. Anybody who cares a wit about culture knows that the only way forward in life is with change. Some change may be lasting and some not, but the dust bin of history is littered with individuals like Jason who fulminate against modernism, only to find that they won the battle but lost the war. Remember Louis Armstrong putting down Dizzy Gillespie? Does Marsalis accept that as fact, 70 years later? (more…)

George Russell and the Conundrum of Large Group Jazz

Small Groups vs. Larger Groups in Jazz: Issues for me, and for others

I have been listening to George Russell’s music of late. A symposium on his life that Jerome Harris led last month piqued my curiosity, and when I began to dig deeper I discovered a treasure trove, cd after cd of fascinating music. The fact that I’d missed so much of his work was dumbfounding. If I, who profess to be a serious jazz composer, haven’t heard much of Russell’s work, who has? (more…)

Responding to Alex Ross Regarding State of Classical Music in NYC

Dear Alex,

I wanted to comment on your thoughts on the state of classical music, especially as regards Poisson Rouge and new venues.

The reason that LPR is important, and is receiving seemingly endless press, is that it fills a critical need. I feel I have a unique perspective on this since I cross over between jazz, classical, and all manner of American popular music. Classical music is to my mind uniquely stuck in the past, in ways that have almost no parallel in the worlds of art, theater, movies, books. LPR is perhaps an antidote to that tendency. (more…)

Jazz Composition Trends – from CMA Magazine article

This article appeared in the nov./dec. issue of Chamber Music America Magazine

It’s a bit rambling, but I think it touches on some interesting points A.B. Spellman asked the question. Reviewing Ben Ratliff’s The Jazz Ear in the July/August issue of this magazine, he wrote: “Never before has this music had this many practitioners with so much technique, theory, and history, yet this is the longest that jazz has been without a defining genius or a radical new movement. I have been wondering if this is a composer’s era.” (more…)

NY Times review Jan 10 gig

Orange Mountain Music, Philip Glass’s record label, was founded in 2001 as an outlet for Mr. Glass’s archival and out-of-print recordings. But the label quickly began releasing Mr. Glass’s new works as well, and before long it was releasing discs by musicians in Mr. Glass’s ensemble and young composers who had caught his ear.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Artists From Philip Glass’s Orange Mountain Music Label From left, Tony Trischka on banjo, Foday Musa Suso on kora and the guitarist Joel Harrison, members of Fojoto String Band, at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday.

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The label presented a few of its recent finds at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday evening. Though Mr. Glass was present, he neither spoke nor performed, nor was any of his music played: the cellist Wendy Sutter was scheduled to play his “Songs and Poems” but withdrew because of illness.

The opening set was devoted to a suite from Trevor Gureckis’s soundtrack for “Les Adieux,” a score for piano, violin, cello and flute. Mr. Gureckis works as Mr. Glass’s musical assistant, but his boss’s influence is scarce: the three movements he offered here are built on mildly angular, light-textured piano themes, with the flute and string lines weaving intricate counterpoint around them. This is music with a Gallic urbanity, even in passages where the piano figures have an almost Webernian quality.

The guitarist and composer Joel Harrison was to have presented chamber works he is recording for the label, but those would also have required Ms. Sutter. So instead Mr. Harrison convened the Fojoto String Band, an improvisatory collaboration with Tony Trischka, the banjo player, and Foday Musa Suso, a virtuoso on the kora, an African string instrument that looks like a lute and sounds like a harp.

Mr. Harrison described the group’s music as African, Appalachian jazz, and that seemed about right. When Mr. Suso and Mr. Trischka provided the starting points for the ensemble’s extended explorations, they each drew on traditional styles and specific configurations associated with their instruments, yet when they played together, they created a texture so unified that it was often hard to separate them.

Mr. Harrison’s contributions, on acoustic and electric guitars, stood apart more clearly and often provided the impulse for the ensemble to shift directions and balances.

The trio was joined by the composer, pianist and percussionist Mick Rossi, who played a dumbek (a Middle Eastern drum) in most of the improvisations, and by the saxophonist Andy Laster and the percussionist Charles Descarfino for the wonderfully idiosyncratic arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Chasin’ the Trane” that closed the set.

Mr. Rossi was ostensibly on hand to promote his new recording, “Songs From the Broken Land.” But he played only one piece from that collection of solo piano works, the energetic, Bartokian “Lockdown.” He devoted the rest of his set to his appealingly supple jazz compositions, for an ensemble in which he was joined by Mr. Laster, Mr. Descarfino, Russ Johnson on trumpet and Kermit Driscoll on double bass.

Nate Chinen Comment

Reading an interesting discussion on Nate Chinen’s blog, I added this comment:

I want to briefly weigh in with a quote from a recent article on Jazz composition I wrote for Chamber Music America Magazine: “We are arguably in the midst of radical changes, driven not by one defining genius but by many forward-thinking individuals all working at once. What I find interesting these days is not so much how people are soloing- it’s the new materials they’re being fed.” The materials that the most interesting composers are using today…the force that motivates the improv…it’s changing, growing at pretty great speeds. To me the single overriding factor in discussions about the identity of jazz is this: jazz is a set of practices that can be used in any context with any motivating set of notes and rhythms to work from. Many people today are finding extravagantly diverse building blocks for jazz music. It could be no other way. Those who invented jazz endowed it with qualities that embrace all serious comers, no matter whether they want to color their sound with Indian music or Rock n’ Roll. There are those who believe that jazz is a set of TRADITIONS- well yes, but it’s more and many of the least interesting musicians of the year seem bound by tradition. As always the most interesting music turns tradition on its head without at all abandoning it. Joel Harrison