Month: May 2013

All the things you’ve always wanted to know about modern jazz, but were afraid to ask

Photo by Ruth Cameron

Photo by Ruth Cameron

From left to right and top to bottom: Dave King, Joshua Redman, Jeff Ballard, Larry Grenadier, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson

Talk about inspiration. What a lineup! I just lifted this photo from Ethan Iverson’s indispensable DTM blog. To think that this was taken backstage last Saturday at a concert featuring the double bill of The Bad Plus + Joshua Redman and The Brad Mehldau Trio, with Charlie Haden in attendance, can only make me want to do two things once the goose bumps on my skin have subsided and the frustration of missing the gig wears off:  play any record by these musicians over and over again, or pluck away at my bass strings until Haden’s voice agrees to rub off on me.

Sometimes words cannot match the evocative power of a simple picture. This coming-together of peers with Haden as elder statesman is a case in point of the jazz continuum. This art form has always been about cross-pollination, mentorship and a relentless quest for creativity. On the surface, The Bad Plus pairing with Joshua Redman feels like a revival band of Keith Jarrett’s so-called “American quartet” from the 70s, a modern jazz group consisting of Jarrett, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden and Dewer Redman (Joshua’s father). In fact, the band has proudly acknowledged their musical debt to these trailblazers and it’s striking to hear traces of that music reshaped into, well, Bad Plus music. I have yet to warm up to Joshua Redman’s albums but he sure picked up the Plus’ infectiously gnarly songs fast!  That’s enough for me to give him a good listen and recognize his awesomeness. As to Mehldau, Grenadier and Ballard, they fit right in there as well, having shared the bandstand with Haden, Redman and Motian in various settings and embodying a like-minded generation of seasoned improvisers. With that kind of apprenticeship on your resume, you’ve got some serious chops to look ahead and forget the meaning of unemployment. The late Paul Motian is sorely missing from this picture, though. So is Ornette Coleman. That might have been a little over the top.  Once again, Haden comes off as the unifying veteran of this continuum, a ubiquitous icon whose influence beyond sheer bass playing has yet to be adequately appreciated. The LA Times review will give you a snapshot sense of what he heard from his seat.  But what did he actually think? We’ll probably never know.

Selected song recommendations:

The Bad Plus, 2.P.M. (Never Stop), one of Iverson’s signature angular songs, where the American Quartet/Ornette Coleman influence shines through.

Ornette Coleman, Street Woman (Science Fiction). Ornette’s “Lonely Woman”, a tad disoriented.  Also tastefully covered by The Bad Plus on Give.

The Bad Plus, Snowball (Never Stop). Kill the lights, get your warmest sweater and listen to Reid Anderson’s Hadenesque ode to slowness at 2:30. Time stands still and everything is slow, slow, slow.

Laying low

The virtual world is an unfathomable place (to me). Before you know it, your audience builds without you contributing anything to the blogosphere.  I was going to shut down this blog but then I hit the phenomenal number of 22 followers worldwide and I thought I should at least acknowledge those loyal readers out there. Thank you so much for reading, folks. But be prepared for more sporadic posting and  a possible shutdown eventually. Inspiration is failing me and more urgent endeavors call me away.  So how about a few random recommendations of things that have kept my brain going in the last few months. Enjoy.


– Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance.

– Don De Lillo, Mao II

– Rilke: a comforting presence on the bookshelf. Just read this guy.


– Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity

– Julius Hemphill and Peter Kowald, Live at Kassiopeia

– John Coltrane,Transition. Some sick McCoy Tyner on this.

– Paul Motian, Live at the Village Vanguard Vol 2; On Broadway Vol. 4. Paul Motian sure had an elastic sense of swing!

– Steve Reich, Double Sextet 2 X 5

Dance show:

Ohad Naharin, Batsheva Dance Company, Sadeh 21. Amazing. Modern dance at its most inspired.

On a last note, if you happen to be visiting Paris before June 9th, be sure to drop by the Musée d’Orsay and check out the current exhibit on dark romanticism, from Goya to Max Ernst. A wide-ranging collection of pieces that document the genre extensively and relevantly. You’ll come away thinking what a great idea to display so much darkness in Orsay’s radiant glass structure.  Grab a vélib on your way out and ride away.