Larry Grenadier

What one heard in 2019

In 2019, one heard a lot of music across multiple genres. Aside from intently focused or plain distracted home listening, one spent a considerable amount of time listening to music on headphones while commuting to and from work. Even though one definitely discovered new and engaging music in 2019, one was unable to come up with a top ten list of favorite albums actually released in 2019. Maybe one is not too big on year-end lists anyways. Be that as it may, one hopes you readers out there find your groove in this random selection and take a listen to some of the music.

January confirmed one’s relatively new interest in electronic music and its interactions with jazz, namely Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music and Brad Mehldau’s Gabriel. One was reminded that one had liked (for the most part) and been pleasantly surprised by their collaboration on Mehliana a few years back, an album of kindred spirits.  

February was bass month as double bassist Larry Grenadier released his first bass solo album The Gleaners on ECM, a musical event – one being a bass practitioner – one just couldn’t miss that one and had to dig deep into it once it was available. Though a longtime devotee, one was impressed with the scope of Grenadier’s bold project and how well he delivered on that promise. Bass is not just beautiful. In those hands, it approaches the transcendent.

In March, one went on a John Coltrane transcribing binge but mostly indulged oneself in idle listening to favorite masterpieces, including A Love Supreme, Sun Ship and Transition. One was reminded – if one needed to be reminded – of the lasting and timeless qualities of this divine music. French quartet Flash Pig also put out a great record in 2019, with the appropriately titled Year of the Pig. In March, one also dipped into the Carpenters for a week and wondered why the innocuous schmaltz of saccharine pop still somehow appeals to one’s ears. One assumes it’s about the harmony and Karen’s angelic voice.

April saw a deliberate urge to acknowledge women artists and feminize one’s male-centric Spotify downloads. As in most art, there are just as many great women in music as there are men but it takes twice as much effort to track them down online. One particularly enjoyed listening to guitarist Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, pianist Kris Davis’ discography as leader and sidewoman, Angelica Sanchez on drummer Chad Taylor’s Circle Down album, and Angelika Niescier’s New York trio. On the more swinging front, one appreciated (and still does) the work of bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux. One has probably forgotten a few more.

In May, one was turned on to singer Gabriel Kahane, about whom one knew nothing. Kahane has written some poignant songs, as epitomized by his Book of Travelers album, where he accompanies his short stories on piano. In May, one also set out to fill a gap in one’s knowledge of Stravinsky’s ballets russes. Accordingly, one listened and daydreamed to various renditions of Appolon Musagète, Firebird, and The Rite of Spring. One also checked out Tim Hecker’s follow-up to Konoyo, namely Anoyo, and enjoyed the ride.

What the hell did one listen to in June? Not knowing where to look, one assumes one played one’s musical obsessions on a loop. Somehow one only remembers listening to Armand Hammer’s Paraffin on a crowded subway ride, wondering how to search for good hip hop when one has lost touch with the state of rap these days.

One highlight of July has to be a drive through Pennsylvania’s pastoral countryside with very dear friends, and that moment when Bill Callahan’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest came on. Just perfect. One thinks one revisited Eric Revis’ City of Asylum and Crowded Solitudes at some point that month.

One is positive one listened to music on a daily basis in August. But one is equally positive one didn’t discover anything new or catch up on any new release. One probably kept the same music on rotation. With Bach’s cello suites and keyboard inventions a comforting touchstone.

September flew by but one really enjoyed the Stranahan, Rosato Zaleski trio’s Live at the Jazz Standard. What a great chemistry these three have. In a different style, one latched on to the trio of Reid Anderson (of The Bad Plus fame), Dave King (same) and Craig Taborn and their outfit Golden Valley is Now. Wow, one sure didn’t see that one comin’!  And so one had to review it here.

In October, the highly awaited Activate Infinity by the Bad Plus came out. The second one since Orrin Evans replaced Ethan Iverson on piano. Up there with everything they’ve done so far. October also brings the Fall season and – out of nowhere – Ivo Pogorelich playing a selection of Sonatas by Beethoven and Rachmaninoff came on the radio. One immediately checked out the full album. A timely and inspired offering.

In November, one reveled in the power of the bass, as one would. One stumbled on the duo of Scott Colley and Benjamin Koppel. Their album How to get there is as good as this kind of dialogue can get. Also, one got to listen to Chris Speed, Chris Tordini and Dave King’s Respect For Your Toughness (reviewed here) a lot. One saw this trio live and vividly remembers it. One will definitely look out for the next adventure.

In December, one chanced upon Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry, as performed by the Vox Clamantis ensemble (ECM) and was sucked into its choral beauty. While one listened to other music that month, this one probably tops anything else in peacefulness and lyricism.

Of course, one took some detours through some old-time favorites and heard a lot more than is featured here. But off the top of one’s head, this is it.

Who knows what one will be listening to in 2020?  How weird can the pronoun “one” get?

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.