The Jazz Universe Inside My Head

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Bad Plus at the MFA

The Bad Plus
Sunday February 25, 2007
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

It was very difficult to explain The Bad Plus to my mother before taking her to see them at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). I said things like, “Ma, they’re a jazz trio but they’re looked down upon in the traditional jazz world because they cover Queen. They’re amazing!” Then I thought to myself about how weird that sounded, what she must have thought…and my dislike for Queen.

It’s those kinds of ridiculous situations you get yourself into when describing The Bad Plus sound but that’s, aside from the musicianship and songwriting, what makes seeing the band so much a momentous occasion. The sold-out MFA show was powerful!

The band jumped right into pianist Ethan Iverson’s “Mint” and it was apparent, particularly because his drums were wiping out the piano and bass, that drummer Dave King was going be his usual Animal improviser. I looked over to my dear Ma during a smash fill, reading her smiling lips say, “This is intense.” That’s when the band had made a new fan. She loves good music, my ma!

Bassist Reid Anderson’s “You Are” followed. It’s such a lovely tune, one of his most delicate. A song like this shows that band is fearless to their traditionalist disapprovers. This is the present and The Bad Plus are moving forward in so many ways at the same time, like jazz always has directed. King continued to crash down…

“Big Eater,” written by Anderson with the bands heavy appetite in mind, is a fierce piece. It’s impossible not to mention King’s destructive beauty at the peak of a driving climax. His approach is addictively heavy.

They’ve covered such ranging artists including Blondie, Black Sabbath, Björk and Burt Bacharach. That’s just some the B bands. At the MFA they threw in a random T group when they eased into Tears for Fears' “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I imagined the look on Wynton Marsalis’ sunken face. Listening to that 80s number jazzed out is bizarre because they make it sound as if that’s the way it was intended.

King’s “Thrift Store Jewelry” was solid as always. The lit-up toy buzzer scored the lead role of the drum solo. “Anthem for the Earnest,” another Kinger, is always a heart-pumping race with quick turns to make it exciting! If a beautiful ballad about self-maneuvering bonsai trees from Buenos Aires was what you wanted, Ethan just happened to write one called “Casa Particular,” probably having experienced the scenario most elegantly.

The band ran through a new Anderson piece called “Veril” and I’d have to hear it again to explain, seriously. “Old Money,” a creative-piece-against-this-current-US-government, moved into the Canadian rockers Rush anthem, “Tom Sawyer.” All these new covers are, I don’t know, unexpected…funny…making me kinda like “Tom Sawyer”…by The Bad Plus that is.

Then as a classy set closer, “Prehensile Dream,” reminded everyone of how chillingly haunting the trio can build, become free while keeping melody with crashes, and then calm back to sublime eeriness. Throw in a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” encore and you’ve got possibly of one of the most diverse sets ever played.

Look out for the new album coming out in May entitled PROG. Many of the tunes they did at the MFA will be appearing on the next record. Also I’m not too close too close to any of these spots (bumma!), but here’s the upcoming show list for the band, according their official website:

MARCH 2007
11 ITHACA, NY -- Cornell University (TBP only)
14 ITHACA, NY -- Cornell University (w/ Mark Morris Dance Group)
15 ITHACA, NY -- Cornell University (w/ Mark Morris Dance Group)
16 PITTSBURGH, PA -- Manchester Craftsman Guild (w/ Joe Lovano Quartet)
17 PITTSBURGH, PA -- Manchester Craftsman Guild (w/ Joe Lovano Quartet)
18 SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- South Orange Performing Arts Center
19 RICHMOND, VA -- University of Richmond, Camp Concert Hall
20 RICHMOND, VA -- University of Richmond, Camp Concert Hall
21 ALEXANDRIA, VA -- Private Event
22 ALEXANDRIA, VA -- Private Event
23 MIAMI BEACH, FL -- Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club
24 MIAMI BEACH, FL -- Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club
MAY 2007
06 COLLEGE PARK, MD -- Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
07 COLLEGE PARK, MD -- Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
08 SAN DIEGO, CA -- Saville Theater
10 OAKLAND, CA -- Yoshi's
11 OAKLAND, CA -- Yoshi's
12 OAKLAND, CA -- Yoshi's
13 OAKLAND, CA -- Yoshi's
14 SANTA CRUZ, CA -- Kuumbwa Jazz Center
15 LOS ANGELES, CA -- The Mint
16 LOS ANGELES, CA -- The Mint
17 SEATTLE, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley
18 SEATTLE, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley
19 SEATTLE, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley
20 SEATTLE, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley

What I’ve Been Hearing:

Eric Dolphy Last Date
Billy Bang 6.16.06 Vision Festival, NYC
Charles Lloyd The Flowering
Clifford Brown & Max Roach At Basin Street
Grant Green Live At Club Mozambique

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Classic Review

Charles Lloyd
Forest Flower: Live in Monterey
Year: 1966
Label: Rhino

My friend Matthew, who always hooks it up, gave me this Charles Lloyd live record, Forest Flower: Live in Monterey, and told me with true passion in both his eyes and vocal delivery that it was out of this world. After the first spin, I walked over and started it over again in a gleeful trance. Its feeling is dizzyingly beautiful…playfully elegant. I don’t know. It feels real nice listen after fresh listen.

First off, the band on that day at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966, a young one at that, is bouncing off one another in joyful moods. Sometimes it’s intense and the music makes you awake high, while other instances could relax you to sleep. Keith Jarrett, who had just turned 21, Jack DeJohnette, at just 24, and Cecil McBee couldn’t have rounded off a better quartet for Lloyd’s bright excursions.

The album opens with “Forest Flower: Sunrise,” which really sets up the pent up explosion of “Forest Flower: Sunset.” The first few minutes of Lloyd’s sax on “Sunset” is elevated melodic bliss to put it simply, so beautiful it must be heard! Jarrett takes command after Lloyd’s peak and lays down an amazing range of rolling sprinkle keys. The band fades out slowly into the sunset in sweet affection…

Jarrett’s “Sorcery,” is a commanding track that really builds into a whizzing fling of Lloyd’s flute that flys and high-low dissonance from the young pianist. After the album’s opening intensity, McBee’s “Song of Her” slows the mood down perfectly. Jarrett especially shines in the sincere ballad! Pick that pace right back up with the swinging freshness of “East of the Sun.” DeJohnette provides nearly nonstop tapping with great time changes and McBee lays down a sweet solo.

The album ends off with “Forest Flower ’69,” which serves as an intense bookend to the album’s opening suite. DeJohnette blows up near the beginning and Jarrett jumps into the rubble to lash out like you know he does. Jarrett’s amazing! Lloyd enters to lead; then DeJohnette shows his sick chops. It’s all fine playin’. A good-old steady groove heats up and then settles down to loud applause. This is just one of the most intelligently fun, yet significantly sophisticated live jazz albums of all time!

Some Tunes I've Been Soaking In:

Chico Hamilton The Dealer
Ornette Coleman Something Else!!!!
The Bad Plus Blunt Object: Live in Tokyo
Paco De Lucia Entre Dos Aquas
Booker Little Out Front

Monday, February 05, 2007

Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane

On January 13, 2006, a strikingly warm winter Sunday in Massachusetts, I woke to the chilling news that Alice Coltrane had passed away the day before of respiratory failure. At that moment many thoughts shot through my head. I’d lost someone who spiritually led me forward in life.

I first heard A Trane back when I was working at a small tavern. They had a bunch of shit CDs, mostly smooth jazz and some snobby Sinatra. The management told me they were trying to manufacture that comfortable dining atmosphere. I wasn’t comfortable.

Before I discovered that I could bring my own arsenal to the stereo, a jazz sampler was my savoir. It had a Miles’ tune and some other nice stuff that I can’t remember. My favorite track, though, was this Alice Coltrane number dubbed “Blue Nile.” It was certainly the first time I heard a harp in jazz, not to mention it was the tracks lead instrument. It swirled and I followed each gentle stroke.

I was hooked. I went out and bought Ptah the El Daoud, which had “Blue Nile” on it. What a beautiful album of Coltrane’s warm piano/harp and the always right on playing of Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Ben Riley. That album was my impression of A.C. for awhile. Listen to the serenity of “Turiya And Ramakrishna.”

That’s until I got Universal Consciousness a short time after, an album that was heavy on my immature jazz ear. But I listened on like a slaving student seeking musical freedom.

I began to hear Alice’s music as one of a kind, comparable to nothing in jazz that I’d heard. Was it jazz? The Eastern meditative blending of strokes, keys, swirls, drum and tamboura touches made me stop and appreciate the moment.

Universal Consciousness showcases amazing interplay from drummers Jack DeJohnette, Rashied Ali and Clifford Jarvis, bassist Jimmy Garrison and tamboura player Tulsi, along with string arrangements written by Ornette Coleman. But the album does not have the normal competitive feel jazz musicians so often reach for. Coltrane was peaceful, not boastful.

Of course I scattered around and got the rest of her discography and much to my amazement, at around the time I was embracing Alice as a major inspiration in my life, she released Translinear Light, her first album in over 25 years. I remember a friend telling me that John Medeski couldn’t stop listening to it. Then I heard it and I felt the same way.

From the opening notes of the rebirth of “Sita Ram” I was hooked. There aren’t many musicians who put out work past the age of 60 that sounds fresh, but A Trane never lost the loveliness of the music that came through her. It was always there; she just put it into other facets of her bighearted life during her musical hiatus.

“Triloka,” like so much of Alice’s work, is a realization of how graceful the world is even in times of strain, trickling on with beauty. I believe that’s what she wanted us to feel when we turn her on the stereo or the headphones.

I was lucky enough to catch her in performance in Newark, New Jersey just months before she passed away. Although she seemed frail and almost too quiet from afar, the music and crowd response was enormous. I’ll never forget the way she made me feel in my heart. This Trane is bound for glory. Bye Alice.

I've Been Listening and Studying:

Alice Coltrane Journey In Satchidananda
Keith Jarrett Bop Be
Gabor Szabo The Sorcerer
Pharoah Sanders Black Unity
Charles Lloyd Dream Weaver