Thursday, December 31, 2009

Latest Missive from the RJA

Dear Friends,

We hope the new year holds good prospects for you. We know that it
promises good music, starting with Myra Melford and Be Bread on
Friday, January 29th. (Look for more info on that show soon.)

Before the old year ran out, though, we decided to look back (at Bob
Doran's request) at some of our favorite recorded jazz of 2009, and we
wanted to share that backwards glance with you. Our Top 10 list is
just one among dozens, but for what it's worth, you can peruse it,
along with links to many others, at

Finally, we hope you'll remember your favorite local jazz society in
your year-end giving. Donations to the Redwood Jazz Alliance are tax-
deductible (we're classified as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit charity)--and
when you come to our shows, you'll hear the results of your investment
throughout the year. Details at

Our best wishes for a safe, happy, and prosperous--and

2009 Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll

I don't know why I find this kind of thing compelling, but I do. Those of us trained in traditional literary criticism, as I was long years ago, usually get "topicality" or "popular fashion" pounded out of our brainpans, but here I am in advanced middle age throwing off another ball and chain o' my youth.

I love this poll. It "rawks" my world, as the kids say. I always learn about everything I missed in the last year, which is usually "just about everything."

Actually, this year, in the spirit of self-grading modeled by your president, I got about a B- in keeping up. Which is better than usual. I even bought the complete Bill Evans Tony Bennett reissue, so I'm that little bit more hip this year for having enjoyed a reissue on the list.

I did buy and did not like Gretchen Parlato's new CD, and I missed Nellie McKay's tribute to Doris Day. I've just discovered Kitty Margolis, who does not appear on the list, but she's now on my list....

Where things get really interesting, IMHO, is the lists and lists and lists of the individual voters.

James Hale tunes me into Michael Musallami Trio, +3. Man, where have I been with this guy. Ralph Alessi is in the band! So is Joe Fonda. I love Joe Fonda!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another Top Ten List

RJA friend and East Lansing jazz DJ Mike Stratton sends us his top ten for the year. We have some overlap, but mostly this shows what an incredible year this has been for new music, as I've not experienced more than half of his entries.

My list:

Alex Cline - CONTINUATION; CrytoGramophone
A quintet that features Peggy Lee on cello and Myra Melford on piano is a mighty beast, indeed. Violin, bass and percussion round out the band, with the band leader taking a back seat as a player, first chair as composer. #1 (Nourishing Our Roots) is a bitter sweet Asian melody that would sound at home in the soundtrack of a Kurosawa film. #5 (SubMerge) visits an interior soundscape that invites reflection. Another beautiful melody is introduced but the band turns introspective. #6 (On The Bones of the Homegoing Thunder) goes from stringed dis-harmony to avant-piano-trio rolling and tumbling, then allows for a harrowing cello exploration of the depths. Violin is accompainied then, by an anchoring piano figure, giving the listener a chance to take a breath. This is music that goes someplace, quite unexpected, and invites many repeat visits.

Jeff “Tain” Watts - WATTS; (Dark Key Music)
With a front line of Branford Marsalis and Terrence Blanchard and Christian McBride locking it up with the leader, this is a players date that is killer diller. Much jaw dropping fun to be had.

Vijay Iyer - HISTORICITY; ACT Music
Vijay’s vision of jazz is unique; complex, dense, cerebral. This disc features some new compositions as well as some interesting covers (West Side Story? M.I.A.?). Not the same type of Philip Glass influence as on earlier recordings (I miss that, actually). Use #2 (Somewhere) #3 (Galang) or the #8 (Mystic Brew). I think this guy is the real deal and is a major stepping stone in the developmental of jazz piano.

Etienne Charles - FOLKLORE; Etienne Charles
This is a little masterpiece. Trinidad born trumpeter Charles leads a band through a set of original compositions that call on influences from calypso to Miles. Charles’ rapport with saxist Jacques Scharz-Bart seems telepathic. A beautiful disc. Use tracks #1 (Folklore) or #3 (Dance with la Diablesse).

Joe Morris - WILDLIFE; AUM Fidelity
I played the longest track first on my show (#2, Thicket); Sax, drums and bass. Saxist Cancura is influenced by Albert Ayler. First track (Geometric) shows this effectively.

Christian McBride & Inside Straight - KIND OF BROWN; Mack Avenue
This is a great record of straight ahead stuff. McBride put the band together to headline at the Village Vanguard, then recorded it on Mack Avenue last fall. The addition of vibes (Warren Wolf) is a masterful stroke. McBride composes the majority of the tunes. Use #1 (Brother Mister), or #2 (Theme For Kareem).

Joe Lovano Us Five - FOLK ART; Blue Note
Lovano continues his string of strong Blue Note recordings by leading this band of (mostly) youngsters by bridging the gaps of Ornette flavored free forms and more inside progressions. Use #5 (Song For Judi) as a ballad. #6 (Drum Song) in a free context or #7 (Dbango).

Bob Sneider & Joe Locke - NOCTURNE FOR AVA; Origin Records
The Film Noir project, as the artists call it, is a sampling of theme music, from Last Tango In Paris to Blow Up. Evocative music, smooth (in a good way), smokey and sensual.

Steve Lehman Octet - TRAVIL, TRANSFORMATION, AND FLOW; Pi Recordings
A very late addition to my list. Great timbres and motion. Steve Reich minimalism is as much a source as is Mingus.

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble - ETERNAL INTERLUDE; Sunnyside
Another release by one of my new favorite band leaders. Hollenbeck is not just a formidable drummer, his abilities as a band leader and a composer are very striking. I hope he has a long, rich career.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RJA Members pick Top Ten CDs of 2009

This year we undertook a somewhat complex formula to determine our collective choices. Full explanation here.

1. Dave Douglas, Spirit Moves (Greenleaf Music). A sublime homage to the all-embracing, pop-inspired spirit of Lester Bowie. This is brass band jazz that inherits and ennobles several different traditions at once.

2. Darcy James Argue, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam). With his “steampunk” big band Secret Society, Darcy James Argue seamlessly blends post-rock guitar, electronica-inspired textures and post-minimalist rhythms with the modern big band tradition that stretches from Thad Jones to Maria Schneider. He has a great blog, too.

3. Vijay Iyer, Historicity (ACT). Pianist Iyer is the man of the moment in the jazz blogosphere. He’s at the top of his game as a player, composer, and arranger (and explicator of his own work), and though he's been turning out fantastic stuff for over a decade, this trio record is his breakout disc. One of many high points: a totally rocking cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang.” That’s all the reason you need to check it out.

4. Ben Allison, Think Free (Palmetto). Allison continues his experiments with a sound that incorporates the rock, pop, and film music of his formative years--but with a new band, featuring holdover Steve Cardenas on guitar, trumpeter Shane Endsley replacing Ron Horton, Rudy Royston in the drummer's chair, and Humboldt homegirl Jenny Scheinman on violin.

5. Ron Horton, It's a Gadget World (ABeat). Horton is the most lyrical of the newer New York trumpeters. Even with an enormous, dark tone he creates finely shaped figures which contrast nicely against the complex rhythmic backgrounds provided by Antonio Zambrini’s elegant piano, Ben Allison’s fun-loving bass and Tony Moreno’s busy drumming.

6. John Hollenbeck, Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside). For his Large Ensemble, Hollenbeck writes lengthy, well-thought-out, richly detailed compositions with such a large palette of colors, rhythms and textures that the label "jazz" is no more adequate a description of it than any other that's yet been created.

7. Dafnis Prieto, Si ó Si Quartet Live at the Jazz Standard (Dafnison Music). Today’s most innovative young drummer polishes some compositional gems that he unwrapped in Arcata last spring. Nobody else makes polyrhythms sound so easy.

8. Joe Martin, Not By Chance (Anzic). There were a few higher-profile jazz “supergroup” albums this year, but this sleeper gets our vote for Most Noteworthy. Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Brad Mehldau, and first-call drummer Marcus Gilmore (see Vijay Iyer Trio, above) put their oversized talents to work in the service of nine beautiful, swinging tunes by in-demand bassist Martin, who steps out of his usual sideman role to lead the session.

9. Miguel Zenón, Esta Plena (Marsalis Music). The intense young altoist returns with his freshest exploration yet of the crossroads of jazz and the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. They don't give MacArthur "genius" grants to just anybody.

10. Tom Harrell, Prana Dance (Half Note). The veteran trumpeter/flugelhornist’s second album with a quintet of energetic young apprentices (Danny Grissett, Wayne Escoffery, Ugonna Okegwo, Johnathan Blake) serves up catchy but complex compositions and water-tight playing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jenny Scheinman at Center Arts

Brother Dan and I and Ronite saw Jenny Scheinman play at the Van Duzer Theater last night. We did some tabling for next month's Myra Melford show in the lobby.

The show was sweet. First half was Myra accompanying Jenny, on harmonium and at the piano. The crowd loved them both. Myra makes everything, and I mean everything, all that more interesting with an inevitable hint of dissonance. She's amazing. During the second half, at the end of the show, when she came out to play two songs with the country Jenny, I thought she sounded like Monk playing barrel house.

Jenny's singing is a lot like her playing. Quirky, romantic, funny, packed-with-feeling. On several of the jazz duets the interaction between the two players got very hot and intense, evoking applauding interruptions from the audience. Quite a few citizens of Petrolia in the house, so there were frequent Humboldt war hoops too.

I got a moment to talk to Jenny and her Mom before the show. I told her we would love to have her come play for the RJA and she said "Yes!"