Tag Archives: ecm

Reconciliation at the NEA Jazz Masters 2014 Ceremony

The ceremony honoring 2014’s NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship recipients was held Monday evening at Lincoln Center and was streamed live. I generally don’t make a habit of watching or listening to the actual ceremony, but I was home and had the time. And while I don’t want to go into a lengthy exposé, I do have a few thoughts on the event.

(The NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship is the US’s highest federal honor for jazz musicians. That’s great, though it’s curious that such prestige for “America’s classical music” amounts to a $25,000 grant for cultural titans in our homegrown art. Anyway…)

It’s of course interesting to see who receives such awards, and I had an increased personal interest in the class of 2011 which included Dave Liebman. (2011 also curiously included the entire Marsalis family. Cute. It prompted this response from Phil Woods.) This year’s class also piqued my interest beyond general curiosity. The recipients are:
Jamey Aebersold – Renowned jazz pedagogue (I bet a number of you reading this have used his play-along sets as I have)
Anthony Braxton – Saxophonist, composer
Richard Davis – Bassist, educator
Keith Jarret – Pianist

He hasn’t received as much attention on this blog as some other figures/topics, but Keith Jarrett looms large in my life. (As I alluded to in a recent interview.) He’s one of my favorite musicians, and I’m fortunate to be alive at the same time as he. I can’t claim to have all of this albums, but I can at least say that I have a strong majority of his ECM output, and he’s a significant part of my collection. As far as “traditional” jazz is concerned, he’s often a bit of an outsider, despite his stature as being one of the most listened to pianists in the world. So his being recognized as a “Master” was of strong personal interest. That, and I was curious to see him give a speech – something that almost never happens – and wanted to see how he handled the performance portion of the evening. (Aside form classical works, he plays extended solo concerts or with his trio. That’s it.)

Jarrett was warm and sincere, all things considered. Humorous, even. (His speech was rough around the edges, but people don’t flock to his concerts – myself included – because of his charm and pleasant demeanor.) And it was nice to see Manfred there with him. For his “performance,” fellow ECM artists Jason Moran and Bill Frisell performed his “Memories of Tomorrow,” which he seemed to genuinely enjoy.

For me, the highlight of the night was Anthony Braxton‘s portion. It was quite compelling and one of the reasons I tuned in to begin with. If Jarrett is somewhat removed from the historical neo-Bop “heads” of the jazz elite, then Braxton is from another universe entirely, something Braxton acknowledged in his speech. Among other things, he, along with Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker, pioneered the solo saxophone aesthetic in improvised music. He’s since become renown as a composer, writer, and educator, as well as a strong technician of the instrument. While I’ve not really written about Braxton on this blog, I have discussed his Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) colleague Roscoe Mitchell. When I tuned in, I wanted to see both what he would say/do and what the reaction of his peers and audience would be.

I’ll admit, Braxton rambled and his speech was all over the place (and long), but he spoke a great truth: that musicians must reconcile their aesthetic differences and celebrate creativity and progression. He was heartfelt, joyous, and soft-spoken. Also, he acknowledged that his being considered a Jazz Master is a solid leap in that direction of reconciliation. Three key quotes, the first coming from his opening:

“For the last 50 years, my worked has been viewed as not jazz, not black, not contemporary classical music. My work doesn’t swing. After a while I got used to that. I got used to those perspectives and accepted it. In the end, I just wanted to do my music. And suddenly, with the beautiful passage of time, there would be a change.”

“Before Charlie Parker played his music, it didn’t exist.”

“We need to have a reconcilement in our music… We need to reconcile the polarities.”

He cited influences including Dave Brubeck, Cecil Taylor, Arnold Schönberg, Iannis Xenakis, John Philip Sousa, and the MSU and UofM marching bands. He also discussed music and aesthetics in the prism of cultural nationalism, politics, and theory. Yes, he droned on and on, but it was obvious that he was just as surprised to be receiving the award as others were to watch him receive it. Although the other three recipients were humbled and gracious, they’re still easily considered jazz musicians and they know it. Braxton, on the other hand, has spent his life and career in the wilderness doing his own thing and creating his own art. And the fact that he was acknowledged alongside Jamey Aebersold for anything is news in and of itself.

Braxton didn’t himself perform, but rather an excerpt of one of his operas, Trillium J, was performed by some of his associates and students. Yes, a contemporary/avant-garde opera excerpt was performed at the NEA Jazz Masters ceremony. And not only that, but it was performed well.

Unsurprisingly, Braxton’s speech and performance received a supportive but unenergetic applause. At least it got that, I suppose.

I could drone on and on about my thoughts on various other details, but a few things stick out:
• It’s curious that the two most technically advanced musicians of the recipients – Jarrett and Braxton – were the two recipients who did not perform live. Aebersold, a giant of jazz education who hasn’t made a career out of performing, did. (Which was nice to see, by the way, since it’s a rarity.) And Richard Davis started playing an interesting solo bass piece that quickly devolved into an arco trainwreck. (The bow, like the Ring of Power, is tempting and does more harm than good.)
• Despite the above point, the performances of Braxton’s and Jarrett’s music were the strongest of the recipients, and arguably the strongest of the night if judging purely on technical merits (and not subjective matters of taste).
• Wynton Marsalis and Soledad O’Brien needn’t co-host again.
• The forced collaborations for performances had an awkward, Grammy-like quality to it. Furthermore, why did some of the collaborations by jazz musicians seem so uncomfortable?
• The neo-Bop army was a little too smug when they gave a rousing applause to Richard Davis’s insistence that one can’t play “free” without the requisite fundamentals. (I agree wholeheartedly, but the audience reaction seemed like more of a slam against Braxton, who preceded Davis, than a support of instrumental technique.) This happened a couple other times.
• Many of the next-day write-ups have downplayed if not outright ignored Jamey Aebersold’s presence at the ceremony. Not only is he 25% of the program, but he’s arguably responsible for everyone under 40 on that bandstand. Considering how much those in the arts like to “celebrate” education, I take that as a slap on the face that one of the giants of jazz pedagogy was written out of so many articles. Simply look at this title. [Note: This entry is largely about Braxton and some Jarrett, and not an overall report. So I can get away with it.]

That about sums it up, at least for this post. Will I be tuning into the live stream in 2015? Let’s wait and see the recipients list first.


Game On

Regular readers and/or subscribers may notice that I didn’t post anything last week. I was on a much-needed vacation with my wife in San Francisco and Sonoma, CA. I had considered prepping something before we left to be published while away, but then I would have had to have logged in regardless to pimp the new post via social media. I decided it would be better to just stay offline and away from a computer as much as possible. And it was well worth it…

A couple of things worth mentioning here happened last Tuesday (the usual day for MTH-V posts), which made me laugh. The first actually had to do with my recent MTH-V post on the Grateful Dead. We were hanging out in the Haight-Ashbury district and found the famed Grateful Dead House. Of course, my picture looks far different from the classic photo…

Shortly before taking this picture, I wandered and drooled through Amoeba Music. There are few things I love more than browsing through and shopping at a great independent record store. I walked out with SkalaThe Seven Words, Nyman: Concertos, and Harmonious Breath. Lovely. (Of course two of the four are ECM titles…) The Nyman disc has been on my “must buy” list for years, and this was the first instance in which I’ve seen a new hard copy for sale in a store. I could’ve purchased it via Amazon years ago, but I much prefer “the hunt.”

It was refreshing to get away from the horns, computers, and all work/responsibilities for a week. But now, game on…

MTH-V: Trio Mediæval’s “Gjendine’s Lullaby”

Regular readers should be at least passively familiar with Trio Mediæval. I’ve mentioned them in a few posts, as well as writing a “New Listen” on their most recent album, A Worcester Ladymass. Their informed, artful renditions of Medieval, traditional, and contemporary works – both sacred and secular – are irresistible. Couple that with their partnership with ECM, far and away my favorite record label (as also frequently mentioned here), and you have a consistent recipe for success.

This week’s video is of a performance “Gjendine’s Lullaby” from 2007’s Folk Songs, the first album of theirs I purchased. I was hooked upon first listen – enough to acquire all of their albums over the next year. Subtitled “Ballads, Hymns and Lullabies,” the album description is: “Traditional songs from Norway arranged for voices and percussion.” This particular song is an arrangement of a traditional lullaby that was, as mentioned in the liner notes, “written down by Edvard Grieg after Kaia Gjendine Slaalien, Jotunheimen.”

Trio Mediæval:
Anna Maria Friman
Linn Andrea Fuglseth
Torunn Østrem Ossum
w. Birger Mistereggen, percussion

Text (translation by Andrew Smith):
The child is laid in its cradle, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling.
The child is laid in its cradle, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling
Sleep, now sleep in Jesus’ name; Jesus, watch over this child.
Sleep, now sleep in Jesus’ name; Jesus, watch over this child
Mother lifts me to her lap, dances with me to and fro.
Mother lifts me to her lap, dances with me to and fro
Dance then, dance with your children, dance, and your child will dance.
Dance then, dance with your children, dance, and your child will dance.

New Listen: Manu Katché’s ‘Third Round’

MK 'Third Round'

Artist: Manu Katché
Album: Third Round (2010)

This disc, for me, is relatively new – about a month old.  However with this being the first post, I figure I’m allowed to fudge it a bit, especially considering how I haven’t been able to put this album down (even through more recent purchases/listens).  I blindly purchased this album on a whim, having never heard of Manu Katché.  What did catch my eye was the record label, ECM. ECM is arguably my favorite record label. Though it features a variety of artists from a wide array of both classical and jazz genres, there’s a consistency in attitude and ambience that has yet to let me down.  I’m sure I’ll discuss this company more in the future.  For now, Katché…

In brief, Katché has one foot planted firmly in jazz and another in pop, something I definitely relate to.  While I didn’t know that going in, I did notice on the CD’s  sleeve (ECM often features the cardboard sleeve) that the personnel include electric bassist Pino Palladino.  The usage of a regular rock/pop figure was intriguing for me. The full personnel lineup is as follows:
Tore Brunborg: saxophones
Manu Katché: drums
Kami Lyle: vocal (1 track), trumpet (2 tracks)
Pino Palladino: bass
Jason Rebello: piano
Jacob Young: guitars (3 tracks)

Following suit, this album walks a fine line between jazz and “pop” (in the broad definition of the term).  Most tunes are under five minutes and feature a great mix of catchy melodies, organically-abbreviated solos, and solid grooves.  As with most ECM releases, the mood is overall subdued, introspective, and relaxing.  However, a number of very infectious grooves also inspire dancing. 🙂  There’s no ego to be found on this record.  What you hear is the ensemble, with no one stepping on another’s toes.  In fact, you’d never know it was led by the drummer just from listening – not one drum solo is present.  Furthermore, a couple tracks feature no solos (or, rather, no full solos) – they serve more as transition pieces.  There’s a lot of nice work between Brunborg and Rebello, as a number of the melodies feature unison lines between sax and keys.  And Brunborg seamlessly transitions between tenor, alto, and soprano, offering nice changes in color throughout.  As indicated above, there are vocals on one piece, a song written by Katché and Lyle.  It’s a precious little pop ballad, and Lyle’s high, playful voice fits in just nicely.  Perhaps my favorite aspect of this album is the continuity.  While I do like each piece individually, the album as a whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  I largely only listen to this album in its entirety, at times consecutively.  It is seamless.

I’ve often considered this album a hybrid of the aesthetics of ECM and Marcus Miller.  While this album is nowhere near as in-your-face or “smooth” as Miller’s work, it does offer a rather “pop” take on the ECM vibe.  In doing so, this album could also serve as a great introduction to jazz – or simply instrumental – music for those who don’t know where to start.  (As for the latter, there is one tune with words to help cleanse the palette!)  For jazz fans, this offers something “pop-ish” without the brashness or cheese.  For fans of music in general, this is a great find, and I look forward to digging deeper into Manu Katché’s catalogue.

Album links:
All About Jazz