JAZZ FOUND NOT GUILTY
by Norman Warwick, reading evidence from Geoffrey Himes
According to the curmudgeon (and sublime writer) that is Geoffrey Himes of the Paste on-line magazine, ´If you ask pop-music fans—or even pop musicians—about jazz, most of them will say, “Yeah, I like jazz—Miles Davis, John Coltrane, they’re the best.” If they’re especially conservative, they’ll mention Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson; if they’re a bit adventuresome, they’ll mention Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra´. But when they mention these names, Geoffrey suggests they’re implying that jazz peaked as an art form in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. They’re suggesting that once The Beatles came to America, the cultural zeitgeist shifted from jazz to rock, never to return. They’re assuming that everything that’s happened in the half-century since is a mere rehashing of the glory days. So, come follow your art and we will take the same sidetracks and detours to see where Geoffrey thinks those people went wrong.
Geoffrey Himes has written about pop music on a weekly basis in the Washington Post since 1977, and has been a contributing editor to No Depression magazine since 1998. He has also written about pop music for Rolling Stone, the Oxford American, Musician Magazine, National Public Radio, Crawdaddy, Fi Magazine, Request Magazine, Downbeat Magazine, Country Music Magazine, Jazz Times, Bluegrass Unlimited, New Country Magazine, Sing Out, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, Harley Davidson Magazine, the Unicorn Times, the Patuxent Newspapers and other outlets. He has been honored for Music Feature Writing by the Deems Taylor/ASCAP Awards and by the Music Journalism Awards.
Himes wrote two chapters for the book The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Country Music, and contributed entries to the The Encyclopedia of Country Music, The Music Hound Folk Album Guide and The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide. He has written liner notes for albums by the Isley Brothers, the Beach Boys, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Carey Bell, Tony Rice, Chris Hillman, Beau Jocque, Earl King and others. He is currently working on a book about Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell and Ricky Skaggs for the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Himes has lived in Baltimore since 1974. His lyrics have been recorded by Billy Kemp & the Paradise Rockers, the Kinsey Report, Mojo Filter, Edge City and Pete Kennedy & Bound for Glory.
´They’re wrong´, Himes (left) answers politely but bluntly whenever he might be asked what he thinks of people who reckon jazz died when pop was born.
´Like in any other musical form´, he says, ´creativity and innovation waxes and wanes in the genre, moves from the margins to the centre and back again. But there’s never been a year without terrific new jazz albums being released, even if those records were released on tiny labels without much fanfare. Part of the problem is that jazz critics, publications and radio shows have become so segregated from their pop/rock equivalents that it’s hard for fans on one side of the divide to find out anything about the other. As a result, many music lovers are unaware that we’re in the midst of another golden era of jazz´.
The evidence Himes provides to support his claim is that of three recent albums that are as good as any recordings we’re likely to get in any genre this year: Charles Lloyd & The Marvels’ Tone Poem, the Vijay Iyer Trio’s Uneasy, and Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas’ Soundprints’ Other Worlds.
´This jazz renaissance has blossomed´, he believes, ´because most of the genre’s most gifted artists have rejected both the neo-liberal hyper-traditionalists and Bolshevik hyper-experimentalists. This has freed them to embrace both melody and dissonance, both history and innovation, both great chops and tremendous feeling. Call them the jazz progressives, seeking to build coalitions rather than divides, more eager to improve the average citizen’s standard of listening than to maintain musicological purity.
Gone is the snobbishness toward other genres, an attitude that has done much to isolate jazz from the popular music on which it once fed. Nor has that arrogance been replaced by pandering. This movement is not playing the instrumental R&B of Kamasi Washington, nor the instrumental pop of Chris Botti. These jazz progressives are taking the raw materials of the best popular music and transforming it through syncopation, reharmonization and improvisation into something as challenging as it is pleasurable.
The movement’s leading figure is Charles Lloyd (right). This 83-year-old tenor saxophonist has a long history that includes playing with Howlin’ Wolf in his native Memphis, hiring the little-known Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette for his most famous quartet, releasing one of the best-selling jazz albums of the ‘60s, collaborating with The Beach Boys and Lucinda Williams, and resurrecting his career after a long absence via collaborations with Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau and more.
But that history has never become a weight on his shoulders. As a new documentary film about his pandemic retreat into the California mountains demonstrates, Lloyd cultivates what he calls “beginner’s mind.” Knowledge is valuable, he acknowledges, but it should never prevent one from approaching each composition, each performance with the curiosity and wonder of a child.
That movie, Love, Longing and Loss, directed by his wife Dorothy Darr, documents how he puts that philosophy into practice as he tries to develop new compositions on saxophone, flute, piano and tarogato (a Hungarian woodwind). We watch him tramping through the steep slopes of Santa Barbara above the Pacific and padding across the stone floors of his home, singing and playing melodies with a joyful seeking of surprise´.
The film, commissioned by Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal, was being streamed right up until June 11th, but Himes still has much to say.
´Lloyd’s emphasis on the sensuality and emotion of melody as the basis for improvisation and development has served him well during his long career. It enables the triumph of his latest studio recording. Tone Poem is his third album with The Marvels, the same band that supported his 2018 collaboration with Lucinda Williams, Vanished Garden´.
Lucinda Gayle Williams (left, born January 26, 1953) is a familiar figure to those of us who wander the sidetracks & detours of Americana music, miles away from the jazz fields. She is an American rock, folk and country music singer, songwriter and musician. She recorded her first albums in 1978 and 1980 in a traditional country and blues style and received very little attention from radio, the media, or the public. In 1988, she released her self-titled album Lucinda Williams. This release featured “Passionate Kisses”, a song later recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter, which garnered Williams her first Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994. Known for working slowly, Williams recorded and released only one other album in the next several years, Sweet Old World, in 1992. Her commercial breakthrough came in 1998 with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an album presenting a broader scope of songs that fused rock, blues, country and Americana into a distinctive style that remained consistent and commercial in sound. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which includes the Grammy nominated track “Can’t Let Go”, became Williams’ greatest commercial success to date. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA and earned Williams a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, while being universally acclaimed by critics. Williams released the critically acclaimed Essence three years later, and the album also became a commercial success. One of the album’s tracks, “Get Right with God”, earned Williams the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 2002. Williams has released a string of albums since that have earned her more critical acclaim and commercial success. She has won three Grammy Awards, from 15 nominations, and received two Americana Awards, from 12 nominations.
I love her for all the above reasons but she is the only artist ever to cause me to walk out of a concert. At the old Apollo in Manchester one night, after waiting some ninety minutes beyond the designated start time, my friends Rob and Pam Mckee and I (music-lovers all) listened to the first couple of unrecognisable renditions delivered in a slurred and very out-of-it manner, took one look at each other and decided to call it a what had already been a very long night.
Since then, Williams has ranked No. 97 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women in Rock & Roll in 1998, and was named “America’s best songwriter” by Time magazine in 2002, and was chosen by Rolling Stone as the 79th greatest songwriter of all time.
Sorry, though, I´m distracting you from Mr. Himes impassioned evidence on behalf of jazz.
´Joining Charles Lloyd on Tone Poem´, he would remind us, ´are drummer Eric Harland, bassist Reuben Rogers, guitarist Bill Frisell and steel guitarist Greg Leisz. All four are superb musicians, but Frisell and Leisz have often played outside the jazz sphere with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon and Dave Alvin. Even though Tone Poem is an all-instrumental recording, that experience with singers helps Lloyd achieve the singing tone and storytelling motion he’s after.
The album contains songs from Canada’s Leonard Cohen and Cuba’s Belo de Nieve, and even though the words are implied rather than voiced, the listener still gets the sensation of hearing a confessor divulging hopes and secrets. It’s the same chemistry that occurs when you hear a vocalist singing in a language you don’t understand: You don’t get the particulars, but you do get a strong sense of the character and feeling behind the vocals. On Tone Poem, the same thing happens with all five instrumental “voices.”
In vocal song, the storytelling is advanced by adding new dialogue and incident to each verse, even as the music stays the same. In instrumental “song,” the narrative moves forward by adding new melodic and harmonic variations to each repetition of the central theme. On Cohen’s “Anthem,” Frisell’s guitar intro quotes Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” with a kind, older-but-wiser stoicism that bleeds into Cohen’s live-and-let-live philosophy. Lloyd’s tenor sax enters 70 seconds into the song and lifts the confession to a higher, more poignant pitch.
On Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’,” it’s Harland’s snare drum that captures the narrator’s restlessness and Leisz’s pedal steel that releases that cooped-up feeling with a train-whistle blast and a greased ride down the railroad tracks. Soon Lloyd’s sax is babbling with joy as the landscape rushes past the window.
On his own composition, “Dismal Swamp,” Lloyd switches to alto flute, quotes Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” and dances like a sprite among the gloomy cypress trees and Spanish moss of Rogers’ ominous bass lines. On the title track, Lloyd’s sax darts this way and that, as if exploring every possibility of the journey while Harland’s shuffle beat keeps urging the leader forward.
The album’s highlight is a 10-minute version of “Monk’s Mood” by Thelonious Monk, the genius who could turn the quirkiest musical phrase into a hook. Lloyd begins this ballad by crooning through his sax with seductive romanticism. Frisell’s guitar takes on the role of the wooed lover, now flirtatious, now withholding, now swooning. Each reaction encourages Lloyd to up his game with newer, more persuasive overtures.´
Mr. Himes calls evidence from not one but three albums to confirm the relevance and robust health of jazz.
´There are no horns or guitars on Vijay Iyer’s Uneasy.´, he says of his second piece of submitted evidence, ´just the elemental triangle of the jazz piano trio. Iyer, a South Asian-American keyboardist, is joined by Linda May Han Oh, a Chinese-Australian bassist, and Tyshawn Sorey, an African-American drummer. These demographics demonstrate how this African-American music has spread across the globe into every community, drawing from influences far beyond New Orleans and Chicago to reinvigorate itself.
Iyer (left) wrote or co-wrote eight of the 10 pieces, but Oh and Sorey, both composers and bandleaders themselves, are among the most melodic musicians on their instruments and allow this session to become a true collaboration of equals. The bass and drums are boosted in the mix, allowing us to hear how the higher-pitched bass strings, the toms and cymbals restate the theme and chord changes. They not only respond to Iyer’s ideas, but also force him to respond to theirs.
The result is a genuine give-and-take, a three-way conversation that’s exciting to eavesdrop on. The album’s title is a clue to the music’s unsettling tensions: harmonic progressions that never resolve as expected, minor keys that bump up against major keys, grooves that get tied into new knots before we can relax into them. The music isn’t angry or grating, but nor is it comfortable or reassuring. It’s “uneasy,” as the title suggests, and that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat, anxious to hear what’s going to happen next. That kind of suspense makes for the best storytelling.
You can hear this most clearly on the nine-minute title track. Iyer’s opening theme seems to promise a satisfying tune, but it moves in intervals that continually undershoot or overshoot the expected note, knocking us off balance. We think we know where the melody is going now, but again we’re surprised by the note choices. Soon Oh and Sorey are playing the same game, leading us on and tripping us up´.
Item three on the evidence pack Geoffrey Himes supplies to jurors is from other worlds.
´Oh is also the bassist on Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas’s Soundprints’ Other Worlds´, he tells the jury. ´This is a quintet session that includes pianist Lawrence Fields and drummer Joey Baron. Lovano and Baron have often recorded with Frisell and have a similar song-centric approach to jazz improvisation. The album’s title and cover illustration (of a giant, turquoise robot stomping his way across Mars) suggest a sci-fi concept for the record. The band, however, eschews synths and other space-age sound effects and tries to suggest interplanetary travel with traditional acoustic instruments.
That they succeed is due to the rhythm section’s ability to deliver momentum that is more aerial than terrestrial. The music keeps moving forward with force, but there always seems to be air underneath—as if the music were able to glide until it needed another shot of propulsion. This is the influence of Lovano’s longtime collaborator, the late drummer Paul Motian, the grandmaster of rhythmic implication.
This openness in the sound evokes the empty expanses of space, where the solitude can prompt internal exploration as well as external. The arrangements often break the quintet into an unaccompanied duo or trio for more intimate dialogues. When the full roster reconvenes, the ideas from those private conversations are fleshed out into a collective consensus.
I don´t share the same level of awareness of the jazz scene as Mr Himes, but I suspect that my three more-learned-than-I colleagues in Joined Up Jazz Journalists (JUJJ) will already be nodding their heads wisely and trying to convince their fellow jurors that the case for the defence was well argued and that is certainly NOT GUILTY of being stuck in the past.
Of course, the artists Geoffrey has called to speak for the defence are all people and innovators who have dramatically moved jazz forward, but it should be said, too, that there are many jazz artists today who continue to shape jazz into the contemporary. Regular readers of Sidetracks And Detours will already be aware that we are currently following the recording process of a new album by British jazz singer and writer Jenny Bray (right). Our most recent article about her was published on Monday 3rd April, entitled Bray-king News From Jenny and that will now remain in our easy to negotiate archives of around 900 articles. Jenny´s passion for jazz is apparent in everything she says, and in her music and we have noted how meticulous she is in choosing producers and players and material that reflects her ethos that far from being moribund music jazz is still actually making great strides forward and is relevant not only in today´s musical world but will be as relevant tomorrow. We look forward to bringer you further news of how a working musician and teacher like Jenny areas vital to the growth of jazz as are those seminal artists Geoffrey Himes called for his defence of jazz.
Our readers will also be aware that almost non-stop sidetrack in the Sidetracks And Detours office is Moon To Gold (left), by Karla Harris and the Joe Alterman Trio. The album, released last year, teases Time playfully, borrowing from the past and playing its sounds so caringly and lovingly that it might be a new-born baby and then giving it interpretations of today that will endure way beyond tomorrow.that. Their´s, vocally and musically, is a sound that is undeniably jazz as we knew it way back then and undoubtedly jazz as we will come to know it in the future.
It is a skill to retain the identity of a genre even when breaking new ground, and all the categorisations and genres these days can restrict artists rather than release them to create music. it is those like Karla Harris and Joe Alterman in the States and Jenny Bray over in the UK too, and the innovative North Sea Quartet on The Canary Islands who will preserve the importance of jazz to our music scene. There are so many great artists constantly referred to by excellent listing agencies of Jazz In Reading and Music That´s Going Places that we can be sure that jazz is alive and still kicking arse !
Here in the Sidetracks And Detours Editing Suite (my kitchen) when we are not playing Moon To Gold in a continuous loop we are also, as most readers will know, big fans of Steve Bewick´s Hot Biscuits jazz programme, flying down from the mix-cloud and we are sure none of his listeners would think of jazz as being stuck in the past. His playlist for this week´s show is typical of the eclectic mix he offers of traditional and modern and all points in between and looming ahead.
Steve, (right) who is a good friend of and occasional contributor to these pages and Gary Heywood Everett will bring you the sounds of spring time with their very own Easter Parade. Their personal selection of bonnets, eggs and general foolery will include music from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, The Easy Rollers and Stan Getz to name but a few. Share the word with friends and tune in 24/07 at MIXCLOUD-COM
Meanwhile, classical music can never be accused of being stuck in the past, surely, because so much of the music written centuries ago endures today, seemingly timeless, with a huge and knowledgeable fan base.
We are therefore grateful to Graham Marshall, who works so hard with Rochdale Music Society to keep current and prospective members, and even those, like ourselves, now in exile, aware of what is happening . RMS provides a series of classical concerts each year with a programme perhaps more adventurous than we might expect. Their concert to be delivered this month is a case in point and Rochdale Music Society has yet more concerts to present before the 2022 /3 season reaches its conclusion.
Acclaimed for the originality of his concert programmes and the depth of his interpretations, Patrick Hemmerlé is a French pianist living in England. His vast repertoire encompasses a large body of works, including the 24 Chopin Etudes and the 48 Bach Prelude and Fugues, which he often plays in concert. He is also a strong advocate of the music by lesser-known composers, whom he is keen to introduces to a larger audience, by way of concerts, CDs, or his youtube channel.
Recent engagements have taken him to New York, Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and Prague, and China, as well as many festivals and music societies in England.
Patrick has published 5 CDs, which have been well received by the international press.
His latest recording project, to be issued in 2023 is a pairing of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and Fischer’s Ariadne Musica.
His musicological knowledge, and his capacity to clarify complex musical concepts means he is in demand as a lecturer. Since 2021, he is the artistic director of Intimate Engagements, a series of concert taking place in Clare Hall, Cambridge University.
Patrick is laureate of international competitions of Valencia, Toledo, Epinal, Grosseto, and CFRPM in Paris.
He was trained in Paris at the Conservatoire (CNR), under the tuition of Billy Eidi. He has also had lessons with Graham Scott, Ventsislav Yankoff, Eric Heidsieck and Joaquin Soriano.
FORTHCOMING CONCERTS TO BE PRESENTED BY ROCHDALE MUSIC SOCIETY
Saturday, 13 May – Clare Hammond – Piano
Etudes Hèlène de Montgeroult
Scherzo No. 2 in C minor Clara Schumann
Sonata Pathétique Beethoven
‘Deep River’ Samuel Coleridge Taylor
‘Cadiz’, ‘Evocacion’ and ‘Triana’ from Iberia Albeniz
Listen to Clare playing at
I remember hearing Clare Hammond play before I left Rochdale to retire here on lanzarote seven years and more ago. I reviewed her in the all across the arts page in The Rochdale Observer. (see a forthcoming article called all across the arts to new horizons to be published on 21st for sad but exciting news for aata editor Steve Cooke)
Saturday, 24 June – Prince Bishop’s Brass
Fanfare le Peri Dukas
Dance of Terpsichore Praetorius
Prelude and Fugue Bach
Canzona a 4 Gabrieli
Overture to The Marriage of Figaro Mozart
Music Hall Suite Horowitz
4 Episodes from West Side Story Bernstein
Listen to Prince Bishop’s Brass playing at
Sidetracks And Detours are grateful to Graham Marshall who keeps us reliably informed of news about Thr Rochdale Music Society. He also allows us to shre his always informed and informative reviews of concerts promoted by RMS. He most recently shared tis below.
ROCHDALE MUSIC SOCIETY CONCERT 11.03.2023
THE PLEYEL ENSEMBLE
A Review by Graham Marshall
For the first of its series of four Spring Concerts the Rochdale Music Society members of the Pleyel Ensemble brought two of the world’s most cherished chamber music works to Heywood Civic Centre on 11 March. This Ensemble, formed in 2011, is a group of seasoned musicians based in Manchester who get together in various combinations to provide a very wide range of musical experience to share with those privileged to hear them play. On this occasion the musicians who came to make music were the violinists Elsie Ewins and David Greed, the violist David Aspin, the cellist Heather Bills and clarinettist Jane Hilton. Their offerings were the Clarinet Quintets of Mozart and Brahms and the Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola by Martinu, an unusual, but telling juxtaposition. The two Quintets have much in common, both being inspired by their composer’s encounter with a clarinettist – in Mozart’s case Anton Stadler and in Brahms’s Richard Mühlfeld – whose playing stirred their imagination into producing music of the highest order which they probably didn’t expect any more than their future performers and listeners were going to do! Mozart died very young and his last years were troublesome. But in the course of them he found space to construct two works of exquisite design and expression for clarinet:- the Clarinet Concerto and this Quintet, both in the key of A major (most suitable for instruments ‘in A’, as players will confirm). Filled with delicious melodies and delightful instrumental interplay, the Quintet will always appeal to audiences. When the performance is as artistically and technically accomplished as this one was, its appeal will be even greater. The clarinet playing of Jane Hilton was finely tuned and shaped to every note and phrase of the music and the other players all demonstrated their skills as chamber musicians of the highest stature. It was an enchanting experience.What do you play after the Mozart Quintet if you are going on to play the Brahms Quintet in the second half of your programme? A Good Question, answered on this occasion by a Very Good Answer: Martinu’s Madrigals for Violin and Viola which were inspired by some Mozart Duos performed by two of the composer’s friends, to whom they are dedicated. Elsie Ewins and David Aspin provided an exemplary demonstration of how this exciting and passionate music, which demands some extreme concentration and exceptional musicianship, should be played. Brahms’s Quintet came about as a result of the composer hearing in 1871 the playing of clarinettist Richard Mŭhlfeld, who persuaded Brahms to come out of voluntary retirement and compose some more. Brahms went on to produce not only this remarkable work but also two Clarinet Sonatas and a series of piano pieces all of which are among his most masterly creations. To review the performance of this music by the Pleyel Ensemble on 11 March 2023 is a privilege. It is with the greatest possible thanks to these five musicians, who have clearly got to the heart of its celebration of the sadness of things in a world where nothing lasts for ever yet in the meantime inexpressible delights are sometimes to be encountered, that I do so. They may well have explored this music together many times of the years and become so familiar with it that it no longer poses insuperable challenges to their technical prowess, but the fact that they are able to get together and produce a performance of such commanding finesse and powerful impact throughout as this was, is testimony to their depth of appreciation of music’s capacity to overwhelm and satisfy and their ability to share this with their audience. Long may such music making continue!
Music Society’s next concert will be on 22 April when pianist Patrick Hemmerlé will bring a programme of Classical and Romantic masterpieces to Heywood Civic Centre.
The prime sources for this article were a piece written by Geoffrey Himes for Paste magazine and by Graham Marshall for Rochdale Music Society
for further information on our acknowledgements and aspirations, see our article AIMS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS posted on Friday 7th April,