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Welcome to the Boston Jazz Scene web site--the place to find out what happened, what is happening, and what is coming in jazz and other improvised music in Boston and surrounding communities. The most recent post is listed below this information. Words listed below the Topics heading to the right refer to information you can find here about jazz and other improvised music, the arts in general, food, and travel in and near Boston.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Jazz Journal - 2017

April 2017

Joe Morris returned to music in Cambridge 4/25 after completing his stint as guest faculty member in Calgary.  It must have been quite an ordeal, “Ten below zero at noon,” among an array of logistical and other challenges.  He was very enthusiastic about the progress of his Canadian students.  But Joe definitely still was adjusting to his return to the East Coast.  Maybe that fact had something to do with the unusually sluggish start of the music by the Steve Lantner Quartet--Steve, Joe, Allan Chase, and Luther Gray--at the Outpost.  But before the end of the first set the band was operating smoothly on all cylinders.  The ballad side of the ensemble, usually highlighting the saxophone voices (alto and soprano on 4/25) of Allan, offers a band personality perfect for the rainy weather we have been coping with.  Beautiful of heart and bristling with constructive intellect.  The ballad side of the quartet is distinctive from the band’s medium and up-tempo music, which tends to build in roiling waves instigated by the leader and the percussionist with cheerleading from the bass.  And the sax work soars.  All combo formats and personnel in Steve Lantner ensembles work beautifully, and this quartet is a truly classic version of the Steve Lantner Quartet.  May it keep returning

It was a sunny, seasonably warm early April Sunday afternoon--a fine change from the snow, rain, and clouds that dominated the previous week.  And yet, instead of walking or running in a park somewhere, folks showed up to catch the music at Newton South Auditorium, almost filling the hall.  Conversations with several fans in the audience suggested that the turnout was almost an act of desperation.  Time and again the people mentioned the lack of availability of swing/bebop-rooted jazz performances and the fact that youngsters on the few available gigs were too out of touch with the 1930s and 1940s to create convincing representations of classics from that period.  Nonagenarian Paul Broadnax understandably was the primary draw 4/2 in Newton.  He brought chronologically relevant guests with him.  Vocalist Eula Lawrence is in that microtonal stage of her career, but after a half century of experience on stage she really knows how to put over a song.  A fine story teller.  Speaking of microtones (intentional in his case), the other guest was Ted Casher on clarinet and tenor sax.  He was filling in for Fred Haas who is recovering from back surgery (soon we hope).  Eighty years old this year (if press clippings are to be believed), Ted has his roots in the ghost bands of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and others as well as on stage appearances with Dizzy and pre-president Bill Clinton.  And, of both historical and aesthetic significance, Ted was a regular in the Duke Belaire Band at those weekly gigs in Bovi's Tavern in East Providence.  But the influences I hear most clearly in his playing are the great Chicago-bred saxophonists, most notably Von Freeman.  On the other hand his formative Connecticut and Maine homes suggest something else.  I suspect it is the microtonal musical roots of his Jewish heritage.  Whatever the roots, the mature Casher is in full bloom.  Nevertheless, the largest audience contingent quite obviously consisted of long-time Paul Broadnax groupies.  And it did not hurt the music that Paul’s primary drummer since the 1990s, Les Harris, Jr., was at the drum kit and that an even more enduring partner, Peter Kontrimas, held things together on bass.  The presence of that rock solid twosome was lucky for us.  The leader, vocalist, and reed section go back many decades and therefore didn’t need a rehearsal (well, maybe).  So there was a bit of programming confusion a couple times.  But not to worry.  Paul exploiting some mild comedy took the bumps in stride.  Even more significantly, the professionalism and savvy of Peter and Les made the rough edges nearly invisible.  But such things just add to the variety and richness of the fan’s experience--a “technical” bonus--during an afternoon of seasoned veterans bringing forth jazz classics as only the masters can…

People who read this Journal regularly probably are aware that I believe the Musicians Union has been and remains an obstacle to musicians and the best interests of musicians, particularly creative musicians.  I was looking for some information in Leo Walker’s The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands recently and came across a cartoon in the book that made me think of Sabby Lewis.  The cartoon makes a reference to James C. Petrillo who was the powerful but misguided president of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM).  One of his “brilliant” maneuvers was the recording ban during the early 1940s.  No one reading this will be surprised that record sales in the 1930s and 1940s was a key promotional device that was used to help bands get gigs.  Petrillo took that marketing tool away from the bands.  Further, big band historian George T. Simon in his The Big Bands goes so far as to claim (quite convincingly) that the recording ban was a primary force in the ascension of big band singers as solo artists--Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and countless others--at the expense of the big bands.  In other words, according to Simon, pop singers replaced great band leaders, arrangers, and instrumental soloists to a great extent because of the recording band.  But that is not the only way in which Petrillo and the AFM smothered creativity.  Sabby Lewis led one of the two most important big bands in the history of Boston jazz (Herb Pomeroy being the other).  As far as I know, Sabby is the first band leader (1938) to use small band voicings in arrangements to create a big band sound.  Years later the practice became common particularly in Boston and California.  We now know it as the “cool school” sound.  Unfortunately, because of Petrillo and the AFM we never will know what Sabby’s small ensemble with the big band sound sounded like.  There are no recordings of his first Boston band.  During a recorded interview with Sabby in 1988 he told me that he got a long-term gig at the Savoy Café and was faced with a logistical problem.  At that time jazz in Boston was performed exclusively for one of two situations, dancing (think of the great dance halls and ballrooms) or as support for variety shows (think of Ellington at the Cotton Club).  But the Savoy Café did not have enough room for customer dancing or on-stage space for variety acts.  In fact, the “stage” was so small that his first band there consisted of seven pieces and a vocalist.  His solution to the space problem was to come up with arrangements that were exciting and engaging enough that people would show up to listen to the music and would stay even though they could not dance.  The second problem was making exciting arrangmenets with big band impact when there are only seven musicians.  Sabby and his primary arranger at the time, Jerry Heffron, did something very creative and initiated two significant developments.  Creating a big band sound with a small group opened the door to Herman, Thornhill, and Birth of the Cool.  Sabby told me, “We started off with seven men.  Wait a minute.  I'm ahead of myself.  We started off with five men…  We opened up the harmonies to get that bottom sound with the baritone and the top sound with the trumpet and opened it up in the middle.  We picked the important notes in the harmonic structure of each chord and voiced it that way so that you got the illusion of a big band sound.  You started counting heads and you'd say that it sounds like twice as many guys up there.”  The second significant development, through the successful long-term booking in a venue in which there was no dancing or variety acts, established the first “sit-down” jazz club in Boston (and perhaps anywhere).  Sabby referred to the sit-down jazz club as “location jazz.”  He told me, “I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I know that in New England there was no location jazz until we did it.  Most clubs had a dance policy and a floor show policy.  Sometimes the musicians would steal a little jazz in there, but it wasn't a policy per se until we did it.  When we played in the Savoy, there was no place to dance.  They didn't even have a dance floor.  You sat there and listened.  It was like a concert every time you came in.  And I like to take credit for that.”  Today the “cool school” sound is an important part of jazz history, and the most common places for people to witness jazz performances are at sit-down venues such as the Outpost and Scullers.  These developments came out of the same kind of creativity we see in jazz musicians today who constantly are faced with challenging problem solving.  Sabby’s band was quite successful here and in New York, often beating full-size big bands in a variety of battles of the bands.  Eventually the AFM “caught up with” Sabby’s creativity and killed his instrumental innovation.  As he told historian Dan Kochakian in 1985, “I began using a full orchestra later when we started playing theaters because the union required that so many men be hired.  Many times we felt that we didn't need the extra men, but we had to make room for them in our arrangements and add more charts.  And, if the men were on standby, you had to pay them anyway, even if you didn't use them.”  And so he continued with the larger ensemble in touring gigs to avoid future problems.  But we have no recorded documentation of the original small ensemble at least partially because of Petrillo and the AFM.  Sabby’s band was too new to record in the late 1930s, and one of Petrillo’s first acts after he became president of the AFM (1940) was to establish the recording ban.  Soon after that he established minimum ensemble sizes for different music gigs.  As a result (except for some late 1940s combo sides) all extant Sabby Lewis Band recordings are of his full-size outfit.  And so here is the cartoon reproduced on page 300 of the Leo Walker book.
 
Because additional information about the Bandel Linn cartoon was not available to Walker, we do not know the publication it appeared in originally or the date in which it was published…
Update:5/6/17: As some Boston jazz historians know, pianist/vocalist Paul Broadnax has had a rich career in Boston including important Sabby Lewis connections as an arranger and occasional piano sub for the leader (usually with Jimmy Tyler taking over the band leadership role on those occasions).  At a social gathering 5/6 I was talking with Paul about his first conversation with Sabby.  It happened in the late 1940s on a band break at the Savoy Café after Paul completed his military service.  Sabby had heard about Paul and told him that he needed someone to work on charts for the band.  It turned out that among the work that Paul carried out for Sabby was taking the arrangements for the eight-piece band and filling them out for a larger version of the band.  The charts for a larger band that Paul was writing were for an Apollo Theatre performance by the band.  In other words, Paul was among the first (if not the first) to transform the Savoy Café arrangements to charts acceptable to the Musicians Union for certain venues, such as New York’s Apollo Theatre. One of the most amazing things about the conversation I had with Paul is that--more impressive than my discovery that Paul wrote those large ensemble arrangements--my questions revealed Paul did not know the reason for the “expanded” charts.  In fact, Paul never had heard of the union requirement for different band minimum sizes for different gig venues.  The Petrillo dictum was news to him.  He was quite young at the time.  Paul did confirm that, when the ensemble returned to the Savoy Café, the band used the original small-band charts.  The Savoy Café was still the same cramped environment.  Because Paul loved the band and had witnessed performances at the Savoy many times before and after he wrote those charts for Sabby, he was familiar with the small ensemble’s “big band” sound.  I had to ask about that sound, whether it predicted “Birth of the Cool” or something else.  Not surprisingly, the results were not a “cool school” sound.  It was more like a big band sound of the 1940s created by a small ensemble.  All of that description made sense, but I wanted to know what his personal reaction to the “big sound” from the combo at the Savoy Café was.  He said, “It was amazing.  I loved it.”  The breadth of sonics implied the “missing” horns so successfully that the “impact was wonderful.”  In other words, the voicings were so effective that the impression was not merely a matter of illusion.  There was definitely a different big band sound that the band and charts created.  Paul’s comments make the absence of recorded documentation of the eight-piece band that much more frustrating…

The most recent performance of the Eric Hofbauer Quintet 4/8 at the Concord Free Library emphasized just how fine this ensemble is and underlined a couple facts not specific to the quality of the music but important nevertheless.  The first point is that this is one of the first jazz ensembles to focus on ear-stretching 20th century classical music as a basis for arrangement and improvisation.  Jazz and pop music ensembles have performed music of the classical repertoire throughout the 20th century.  Bix Beiderbecke’s “In a Mist” is an open tribute to Debussy.  But almost all use of classical music for “hip” arrangements came out of the Romantic period, and for obvious reasons.  Most pop music in the U.S. through mid-century was a danceable transformation of music of the Romantic period.  If you understand that pop music today remains mostly dance music, then it is not surprising that social dancing as we know it made its breakthrough with that “light classic” music, the waltz.  In fact, there was an overlap of early “jazz” dances and the waltz at the turn of the century.  So it is understandable that dance bands--particularly during the 1930s and 1940s--rearranged melodies from Romantic classical music for dancers.  At the peak of popularity of the big dance bands--both sweet and swing--many of the best-selling recordings were danceable versions of Romantic period classical works, including “Humoresque,” “Tonight We Love,” “Barcarole,” “Anvil Chorus,” and many more.  Even after mid-century when Ellington and Strayhorn decided to transform classical works for the great improvisors of their orchestra, they chose compositions by Romantics Grieg and Tchaikovsky.  In passing, it is not a minor matter that, while the results are engaging, those transformations are not as compelling as the music of Suite Thursday from the same period, a work completely original from the two master composers/arrangers.  What we have now--finally in the 21st century--is a handful of bands performing works by major 20th century composers arranged for jazz ensembles.  Obviously doing so with artistic success is not a simple matter.  So far the performances of such works that I’ve heard by ensembles other than the Eric Hofbauer Quintet come across as intellectual exercises rather than convincing sonic art.  In other words, Eric and the band’s pursuit of transforming challenging 20th century classical music for jazz ensemble is almost unique and--more important--convincing.  The second peripheral but significant fact about the band is its repertoire.  As far as I know, the Eric Hofbauer Quintet is the only ensemble that performs through-composed 20th century works re-arranged specifically for jazz ensemble exclusively.  For example, on 4/8 the band performed Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England, Duke Ellington’s Reminiscing in Tempo, and a Stravinsky encore.  So I’ve just spent space and time discussing two facts that are peripheral to artistic merit.  I’m tempted to apologize for that, but I won’t.  Sometimes peripheral is consequential.  So artistically how was the band--Eric, Todd Brunel, Junko Fujiwara, Curt Newton, and Jerry Sabatini--on 4/8?  Some of the problems I’ve mentioned previously remain, but they are of less significance.  The “free” section of the Ives still is somewhat unfocussed.  But the group is figuring out how to cope with the open chatter.  The coping is quite engaging.  The Ellington still runs several minutes longer than the original recording, not inherently a problem but nevertheless emphasizing the “repetitious” nature of the recurrent cycle.  As in the case of the Ives, the musicians are figuring out how to manipulate improvisatory opportunities for the sake of substantive variety.  In the case of both works the process is fascinating in itself, and, more important, the process is working.  These are truly successful performances of the transformation of Three Places in New England and Reminiscing in Tempo.  Another way of putting it is that I have the feeling that on 4/8 for the first time I witnessed the vision of Eric and the ensemble fully realized.  If there had been need for any additional evidence supporting that impression it was what happened at the end of the evening that was the clincher.  The enthusiastic audience response to the arrangement of the Ellington piece resulted in an encore.  But the real evidence was in the performance of the encore, an excerpt from Eric’s arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  It is the oldest chart in the Eric Hofbauer Quintet book.  But there was neither fatigue nor confusion in the band’s performance.  With total confidence and conviction the quintet played the work as if they had written the source and the rearrangement themselves.  It was joy itself.  On the break at the end of the performance of the Ives, I chatted with Jerry.  Joking, I asked him whether the arrangement was written for him.  We both laughed, but the idea was rooted in sonic reality.  Every time Jerry made sounds with his trumpet, it did seem like the piece was put together to feature his remarkable musicality.  But my comment easily was extrapolated to everyone else in the band.  How wonderful each person sounded.  And together.  For example, the resonance of the wood of Junko’s cello and Todd’s clarinets.  It makes one ponder the brilliance of Eric deciding in the earliest stages of ensemble development that these specific five members of the instrument families would be the best sounding and most flexible no matter which piece of music were to be transformed.  Or maybe he found four other musicians with the insight and capabilities to make things work and just did whatever it took to make the instruments they play sound as if they are perfect for the task.  It’s possible.  It certainly is the sort of thing Stravinsky would do…

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra performance spanned a lot of territory 4/29 at Kresge Auditorium.  The evening’s program, Democratic Vistas--Ellington Extrapolations & Music of “Social Significance,” covered everything from recent milestones in Boston jazz history to the music and cultural mission of Duke Ellington to the first hundred days of the Trump administration.  The milestones were the passing of Steve Schwartz and Nat Hentoff and the entrepreneurial move of Fred Taylor from Boston to Beverly because of being dumped by Scullers.  Boston Jazz Week was being promoted as “Thank You, Fred Taylor” Week, and the Aardvark performance was designated one of the “Thank you Fred Taylor events.”  The three works written in honor of the three iconic figures were engaging and included some fine solos.  But the band could have used a couple more rehearsals.  The problems for Mark Harvey and band members in putting together such a full evening of music including works celebrating the milestones that occurred since the beginning of the year are daunting (particularly considering the fact that they had nothing else to do.  Day jobs, anyone?).  But there were no such problems the rest of the evening, even in the case of arrangements that are far more exacting than those of the three opening works.  For those of us troubled by these times in the U.S., it is hopeful to look upon previous times where thinking, caring people also were troubled about what seemed to be the crumbling dream of our forefathers.  Such was the case for poet Walt Whitman who articulated so clearly the decay in government of his time.  Mark Harvey read excerpts from Whitman’s Democratic Vistas, and those words sounded as if they were written for the very now of our times.  But it was written in 1871.  Thank you for the ongoing history, Mark. Or, as Andy Warhol put it, “Life is a series of images that change as they repeat themselves.”  One of the Mark Harvey musical hallmarks is his unsubtle liberal politics (and the same must be true for band members, or they would have departed screaming years ago).  The political works performed 4/29 included the finale of the half-hour long “No Walls,” a reprise of the Reagan era “Scamology,” and the dance suite “Swamp-a-Rama.”  The ten movements of the suite covered everything from Trump whiling away the first 100 days on the golf course (something unthinkable even to the golf-loving Eisenhower) to the “fake news” uproar to the “Trumputin Tango” (a commentary on the evolving relationship between the corrupt Russian leader and our incompetent President).  But there was a bit of celebration in the suite including the ongoing battles waged by Senator Warren and the closing “Democracy Street Dance.”  It was a nice way to conclude the suite, but such cheerleading in the band’s political performances is the exception.  In a way it is ironic that Mark Harvey sees Ellington as a role model politically.  Ellington’s musical tactics politically tended toward celebration of achievements of the disenfranchised in the U.S. rather than outright attack on racist governmental and cultural policies.  While the band leader is correct in pointing out the politically explicit meaning of “I’ve Got a Passport from Georgia (and I’m Going to the U.S.A.),” a song from Jump for Joy, such works by Ellington are rare.  No doubt it happened in one of his understandably “headstrong” moments.  It is somewhat significant that Ellington did not write the lyrics of the work and that the song was pulled from the show in a vain attempt to save the production from backlash.  When it came to racism in America Ellington’s approach to fixing the problem was closer to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mark Harvey’s modus operandi (perhaps with more of an ironic wink) is closer to that of Malcolm X.  The passion of Malcolm X to fix the problem and that of Martin Luther King, Jr. no doubt were equal, regardless of how they approached the problem.  The same might be said of Mark Harvey and Duke Ellington.  The most convincing music of the evening was Mark Harvey’s tweaked and rearranged works of Ellington and Strayhorn.  Ellington is a spiritual fount for the band leader musically and philosophically.  And by now the band members probably can play these charts from memory.  Also, the music was written for great soloists.  Individuals in the band rose to the occasion.  Among highlights all evening were improvisations by Arni Cheatham, Phil Scarff, and Bill Lowe.  Two vocalists showed up to help.  Jerry Edwards’ fine performance of “I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good” brought to mind the cavernous voice of Al Hibbler.  His scat attempt on “David Danced” was less successful (and surprising because there are fine versions of the work with lyrics in recordings of Ellington’s first Concert of Sacred Music).  Two other works from the 1940s that showed up in the first Concert of Sacred Music, “Come Sunday” and “Tell Me It’s the Truth,” featured the vocal work of Grace Hughes.  She did her homework.  She knows these compositions well and undoubtedly has heard other people sing them with Ellington.  In spite of the inherent difficulties for anyone attempting to execute these works and the daunting predecessors, Grace Hughes stayed within herself, offering completely convincing performances.   Quite stunning.  It’s the kind  of performance that resonates after the evening is long over.  And it’s just another reason to thank Mark Harvey and the band for their constructive passion and fine work…   

Gary Burton has announced publicly that after 60 years of performances he is walking away from music.  Three heart operations and related complications have convinced him to slow down a bit.  So his last public performance occurred in March, and now he pursues a life as a writer.  But he claims that his writing will have nothing to do with music.  He has had an impressive career as a musician and educator, influencing the lives of countless young musicians.  We thank him and wish him the best as he takes on a new life…

The performance was a single event, music on a Saturday night.  But it also was several things at the same time.  It was a quartet rather than (as advertised) a quintet.  Hilary Noble, long-time Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble band member, could not make the gig.  As a result, a solid voice in the band on reeds and percussion was absent.  But other “things” were positive.  Tor Snyder, at one time a major contributor to the new music scene in Boston, returned from his Apple haunts and played the dickens out of his guitar on 4/22 at the Lily Pad.  His contributions all evening were fire and light.  And I was among the lucky to be there.  Another terrific “thing” about the gig is that it was a fine example of the power of the intersection of the arts.  FMRJE leader (and percussionist extraordinaire) Dennis Warren brought with him Todd Brunel, Michael Shea, and Tor Snyder--superb exponents of “the Resistance via Improvisation” all.  But in his maturing wisdom, Dennis brought visual artist Jeffrey Lipsky with him to talk to and with the music using his art stick canvas work--fencing with the evolving images, turning the canvas 90˚ and eventually all the way to 360˚ as he worked.  It was dark in the Lily Pad, and I never had as clear a view of what the visual artist was doing as I wanted.  But the process was quite engaging for those of us who could get a glimpse of the visual artist at work.  Early in the evening I saw echoes of Joseph Stella (think “Brooklyn Bridge”).  Then later Jeffrey Lipsky took me to the Matisse-influenced master work of Diebbenkorn.  At the end of the evening I saw no potential influences, just what the artist had  given us on this night.  Appropriately fine work for such a tectonic evening of sounds of resistance but also of joy in which Michael Shea found ways to ground the experience and bolster what was happening around him.  For those of you who know the “academic” Todd Brunel (and have misjudged his improvisatory range), this evening was a wake-up call.  He pulled out all the sonics, but never for “effect.”  It was simply Todd using two different clarinets, and at his best.  Just fundamentally engaging music.   And at the heart of it all was Dennis Warren, who brought all this music (and visual art) together with the thunder and lightning of Thor as only Dennis-the-Relentless can do.  So the bad news is that this was the LAST live FMRJE gig for too many months.  The good news is that he plans to do this live gig next year at about the same time.  I’m setting my watch…

A couple days ago I was walking in Harvard Square, and I passed a guy leaning against a building and partially covered by a large cardboard sign that articulated his homelessness and hunger.  His head and shoulders were hunched over, I assumed too burdened by the weight of his troubles to be lifted.  Then I noticed that his posture was due to his concentration as he checked out the screen of his smartphone.  My first reaction as I walked by is that I’m not worried about my next meal or where I will sleep tonight.  Nevertheless there is no room in my budget for a smartphone.  After that thought, I recalled “Digital Minds” in the 4/1 issue of Science News (pp.18-22).  The article offers a survey of research that is being done on the effects of smartphones and similar devices (both good and bad) on teenagers and adults.  One study of 18 to 33-year-olds revealed that they spend an average of five hours per day on the phone, and, as the article states, “When asked how many times they thought they used their phones, participants underestimated by half.”  The feature includes bar graphs, brain scan images, and sidebar comments.  Two of those comments are particularly disturbing: 1) 90 percent of people surveyed “reported using a technology device in the hour before bedtime” and 2) 49 percent of U.S. college students surveyed “reported checking their phones at least once overnight.”  I guess I’m just an old fogey, but I can think of several wonderful things to do in bed at night--and looking at a smartphone screen certainly isn’t one of them.  If you need further evidence that these gadgets commonly are a type of social disease, you might want to take a look at I used to Be a Human Being by Andrew Sullivan.  But don’t bother to go there if you refuse to read an idea that is more than two paragraphs (exclusively words) long…

It was announced that the Explorers at the Outpost 4/20 would be drummerless.  As mentioned here before, the group without percussion is quite fine in itself.   But the challenge for the band rose another notch 4/20 when bassist Aaron Darrell could not make the gig.  In addition, there was a change in the front line with a guest replacement in the reed section.  The latter change posed no problem because of fine musicianship and the fact that Jason Robinson and the band leader go back together musically many years.  Everything else--Charlie, Daniel Rosenthal, Eric Hofbauer, and Josiah Reibstein--was “business” as usual (i.e., terrific).  There was the predictable mix of charts by giants (e.g., John Tchicai and Elmo Hope) and band members.  But the good news--the reason I show up to these gigs--is that the resultant music is not predictable.  Even the audience was unpredictable.  In this case, relatives of Dan showed up--a mother, daughter, and two young sons.  When the music of the first set began, the very young daughter yelled, “Loud” in disapproval, giving the impression that the word might be the only one she knows yet.  The older sons were more than attentive, declining to leave after the first couple tunes.  I’m tempted to say that the boys were mesmerized.  The older child kept switching seats to obtain a better view of the marvelous work of Josiah and Eric, the intricate underlying support of the band.  Sometimes I get the impression that adults attending ear-stretching gigs have difficulty following what is going on in the front line.  Experiences like the one at the Outpost 4/20 suggest that before young people are taught sonic prejudices they can hear the music quite clearly.  It’s just another example of why we should expose young people to quality music--particularly new quality music--before cultural prejudices dull their aesthetic acumen.  Very young people are born hearing

The Outpost was full.  Some people were sitting on the rug in front of the first row 4/23 because there were no seats available.  I wasn’t surprised.  I had gotten to the gig early so that I could be sitting in the first row.  The attraction was local musicians of note--Jeb Bishop, Damon Smith, and Rakalam Bob Moses--and rare visitor and internationally acclaimed improvisor, Joe McPhee.  Because Joe and Jeb had such an extensive history with the Peter Brötzmann Tentet and elsewhere, they opened the evening with a captivating brass duo.  The rest of the set and evening consisted of quartet music of the best type improvisationally.  Rakalam Bob Moses can be a take-over-the-show percussionist or he can choose to play within himself and be one of the great ensemble musicians on the planet.  He chose to play within himself and offer an example to percussionists in the audience of what it means to support when needed and when to lift people out of their seats at solo time.  An exemplary performance.  Jeb is one of my favorite new music trombonists.  I have had the pleasure of catching his performances within everything from solo and duo gigs to big bands.  Among my favorite memories are his sonic conversations with the late trombone giant, Hannes Bauer.  On this night at the Outpost Jeb exchanged improvisatory trombone comments with Joe McPhee playing valve trombone and tenor sax.  The pairing was different, but the impact of the music from these long-time partners was no less compelling.  Joe was happy to discover the percussion work of Rakalam Bob Moses in person and to be re-united with Damon Smith and friend of decades Jeb Bishop.  You have to work a bit to hear Joe.  He does not perform for the bleachers.  He respects the audience, assuming that they know how to hear and that they are with him.  And they were.  On a break I mentioned to a friend that it was great to see such a large audience that also was hip--nobody clapped after solos.  The friend understood.  An aware audience appreciates a superb solo but is too focussed on the continuing sonics to clap.  After the gig Joe and I talked about “cabbages and kings” (a reference to Joe’s walrus recitation on the gig) and many other wonders.  When he arrived at my home I was listening to a 2004 recording of music by that late Boston treasure, Raqib Hassan.  Joe knew of the work of John Voigt and Luther Gray.  But he did not know--never heard of--Raqib or Forbes Graham (two musicians who play instruments in the families that Joe tackles regularly [reeds and brass]).  True, Joe plays everything from pocket trumpet to tenor sax to valve trombone and beyond, but he understands the challenges of focusing on the trumpet.  To cut to the chase, Joe was blown away by what he heard from Forbes and Raqib.  I hesitated but nevertheless told Joe that Forbes is a significantly better musician today than what Joe heard on the recording.  Joe could not say enough about Raqib.  “There are times,” Joe said, “when his sax sounds like a violin.”  I loved Raqib and his music and cherish all of our conversations--mostly on the phone.  And with all that I must emphasize here that one of the greatest problems with Boston is that we do not recognize our giants.  I know Boston is not unique in that regard, and certainly the people of New York and Chicago probably are unique in their chauvinism about their jazz scenes.  We could use a little bit of that chauvinism here.  I hope the enthusiasm for some local musicians shown by Joe McPhee, an internationally recognized giant, might wake us up to how lucky we are in Boston.  Raqib has passed on, and he should be celebrated.  But our current giants should be celebrated while they are here, still presenting their gifts…

Every now and then something happens that makes one wonder just how close the end time is.  For some it is the election of a game show host to the Oval Office, an event that certainly gives any politically or historically alert person pause.  But there are other troubling things going on, most of the potential tipping points having something do with software wizardry.  If you have been following the poker-playing exploits of DeepStack and Libratus you probably have a good idea where this commentary is going.  Most computer programs designed to beat humans at games such a checkers and chess have been successful primarily by the application of pure number-crunching power.  That kind of computer power is truly daunting.  But what DeepStack and Libratus do is frightening.  Articles in various publications this month have celebrated the fact that these computers have defeated professional poker champs at heads-up, no-limit Texas Hold’em.  That specific type of poker is “more complex than chess,” according to Murray Campbell, one of the developers of Deep Blue (the famous chess playing system).  But Libratus is even better than that.  Essentially it is unbeatable using its programming strategy, whether it is playing poker or working to replace you at whatever your occupation is, be it financial planner or Secretary of Defense of the United States.  As Science News (4/1, p. 12) describes it, “Libratus computes a strategy for the game ahead of time and updates itself as it plays to patch flaws in its tactics that its human opponents have revealed.  Near the end of a game, Libratus switches to real-time calculation, during which it further refines its methods.”  In other words, it does not matter how good you are at what you do, as long as you continue to challenge Libratus eventually you will lose.  It sounds like the ground work for Colossus, but this is not fiction…

Newburyport is a quaint tourist town with eye-catching “ancient” homes, relatively expensive boutiqui shops selling everything from $5 cookies to multi-hundred dollar scarves and purses.  I was able to get away with a $9 ham and cheese sandwich at one of the many celebrated restaurants, only to discover after the purchase that the reason (I’m speculating) the sandwich was only $9 is that it contained no cheese.  The ham was excellent.  But I jest.  It is a fine tourist trap, and I had a good time there.  And there was a terrific bonus, Record Store Day being celebrated at Dyno Records.  Proprietor Richard Osborne every year celebrates that day by bringing small (out of necessity and usually with terrific results) eclectic groups to the shop to perform.  This year (and typically each year) he featured two jazz duos out of four groups.  The first group on the ticket was the pair of Junko Fujiwara and Forbes Graham, musicians who have worked out duo strategies over a span of years.  There was some engaging ping-pong (splitting solos back and forth) and mostly “simultaneous” conversation in which the best moments demonstrated a type of effortless telepathy.  A bonus was the presence of Forbes’ wife Lillian and son Silas, who behaved beautifully and briefly added “critical” commentary.  This is a good time to mention that Forbes’ previous statement (see the March Journal entry for the 3/2 gig) that Lillian and he would be having a daughter in July is inaccurate.  Anyone who knows something about pregnancy and birth will not be surprised that Lilly is the source of the correct info telling us that Silas will be having a brother in July.  The third set of the day presented the duo of Charlie Kohlhase and Matt Langley, a partnership that goes back to the signing of the Magna Carta or something like that.  You will not be shocked to read that music of this “comfortable shoes” duo was sufficient reason to drive more than 1 ½ hours to catch the gig.  I have boundless respect for fine composed music--jazz or “classical”--but when it comes to jazz performance I look for the music the performers create out of what they start with more than the specific source of the sounds.  This creative duo performance was a two-fold gem.  First was the banter.  Anyone who is familiar with Charlie Kohlhase gigs knows that his comments about historical context and his dry wit are essential components of such an event.  This duo set was as much a presentation of delightful verbal wit as it was a terrific music performance.  Both musicians relish dry humor, and they offer it in a well-timed balance of the tongue-in-cheek raconteur and the man with the glib retort (sometimes a one-liner but more often simply a single word or phrase).  And the music was “pretty good” also.  Most of the charts they used as vehicles for improvisation came from the same wonderful sources that Charlie has exploited to great effect over the decades, the groundbreaking masters and the performing musicians themselves.  What struck me about the duo material they chose to perform--and that choice no doubt was positively affected by the specific personnel involved--is how technically difficult the charts are to perform.  And the ease with which these exemplary veterans nailed the charts.  If that is not enough, as fans and readers of this Journal know, the forte of Charlie and Matt is improvisation.  In other words, you had to be there…

It was supposed to have been the Para Quintet, but Laurence Cook was battling a bug.  In spite of hopeful communications during the day of the gig from Laurence to band leader Jacob William, the percussionist had to miss the performance.  Band members and people in the audience missed him, too.  But the remaining quartet--Jacob, Jim Hobbs, Forbes Graham, and Steve Lantner--is a group of truly extraordinary musicians, and they communicate with one another as superbly as anyone could wish for.  There were times when they wailed together and times for isolated solos.  But most of the brilliance occurred in twos and threes.  And the silences--the non-participating band members--were as telling as the sonic activity.  In other words, the music of any moment was being “created” by all four musicians, no matter what the number of “blowing” musicians might be.  When any musician was not playing, just listening to the ongoing music, typically he would be motionless in one of several different poses that Rodin might have chosen for “The Thinker.”  The focussed concentration implied complete involvement in the music in silence.  One observes and imagines the silent thoughts--joy and wonder while determining the timing of the moment to join the process actively and the content to bring to that exhilarating process.  It was marvelous to witness each musician fall into that Rodin option before entering the sonic experience.  The results both visually and artistically were as beautiful as any performance I’ve witnessed in quite some time.  Even though Laurence was unable to perform, one could not help wish that he were there to see and hear what they were doing--perhaps in tribute to him.  In some way he was present…

March 2017

Last month in this Journal I made some comments about differences between “working band” free improvisation and pickup band free improvisation.  I thought about those differences 3/2 at the Outpost because it hit me that Luther Gray was the drummer on the perfect example of the former when he performed on the 2/28 Steve Lantner gig.  And here just a couple days later he was in the drum seat for a perfect example of the latter.  The Hi-Speed Coeds is an Andrew Neuman quartet (at least it was presented that way at the gig) consisting of Andrew, Luther, Forbes Graham, and Junko Fujiwara.  A free improvising pickup band.  It was not that the musicians were unfamiliar with each other’s work.  Andrew is a Boston improvising veteran of many years, and the rest of the crew has worked together in a variety of contexts over several years.  But, as far as I know, the 3/2 gig was the first time all of these musicians had been on stage together performing free improvisation.  And the music developed like an ideal version--one quite functional version--of how a free pickup band might work.  In this case it was apparent that the three “youngsters” had intuitively decided to feed and build off the electronics of the leader.  It was a terrific decision that made a lot of sense.  He’s the veteran and the leader.  But the key thing is that there was no “pre-game” discussion among the trio as to what to do.  That would be absurd in a situation of free improvisation.  Further, I’m tempted to say that the approach they took was not even a conscious one.  Yes, there was something that might be called “caution” in the approach of the trio performing with Andrew.  But there was no intimidation.  These are seasoned young lights.  It was for them a matter of finding out what would work best with Andrew’s electronics.  And so the pattern of behavior in the first set was mostly a matter of two of the three younger musicians working their way into the music of the electronics while the third member “observed” by listening.  I’m making more of this procedure than is warranted.  It was not mechanically a matter of musicians “finding their way.”  There was music through it all.  Fine music.  It was simultaneous.  And, as the music moved forward, the “discovery process” became a lesser part of the evening.  It was just four terrific musicians communicating beautifully with a justifiably entranced audience.  And, as a bonus, Luther got to show us how fine an extended drum solo could be.  If that’s not enough to celebrate, Forbes told us that his son Silas is scheduled to have a sister in July…

Misha Mengelberg died 3/3 at age 81.  He was a music giant internationally, best known (in detail) for recording with Eric Dolphy and (grand scale) for founding in 1967 (with Han Bennink and Willem Breuker) the ICP Orchestra and sustaining the ensemble and its musical children.  He and the orchestra visited Boston every five or ten years until 2011 when they performed at Paine Hall 4/4 of that year.  In this Journal in May 2011 I wrote about the concert and that Misha Mengelberg was ill and after the gig returned to Holland while the rest of the band continued the tour without him.  He had been ill before the tour, but I believe the Paine Hall gig may have signaled the beginning of the decline for the musical force that he was.  Apparently Alzheimer’s disease was the main problem.  In any event, we have lost someone who had an enormous impact on the creative music that we love.  As some readers and most friends know, I do not have much respect for the work of people who write about jazz.  Fortunately there are a few (very few) whom I do respect and enjoy reading.  With that in mind I point to John Fordham’s obituary of Misha Mengelberg in the 3/8 online posting of The Guardian (that’s an English newspaper) for an intelligent, insightful statement about what Misha Mengelberg was and what he meant.  It’s really heartening to read something that good…

The 3/25 Opensound gig featured two performances rooted in Western classical music and one jazz set.  A few words about the non-jazz performances perhaps are warranted.  The tribute performance of Pauline Oliveros’ “Teach Yourself to Fly” was a sincere effort by seventeen local musicians and movement artists.  It was fine except for a glaring blue light that attacked my retinas (and those of others in the audience), a terrible light that would have been fine dangling four feet from the ceiling rather than at eye level, four feet off the floor.  And that’s too bad because the body movement art by Andrea West and Christiana Hubley (prepared by Joe Burgio) was a highlight of the set.  I had to block my eyes from the blue glare while peeking to see what they were doing.  Mostly I just shut my eyes (to save them).  The other classical-based music was provided by violinist Pauline Kim Harris and composer/”electrician” Spencer Topel.  Ok, so I wasn’t knocked out by every piece Ms. Harris played in her string of compositions.  But she was impressive as a musician.  The opening salvo floored me, and, even through the boring parts, her technique and conviction were stunning.  The program’s most compelling “ancient” work, the “Chaconne” from one of Bach’s Partitas (no doubt BWV 1004), was totally convincing.  It was one of the most impressive new classical music solo violin performances I’ve ever witnessed.  And I’ve been fortunate enough to witness solo performances by great violinists, including Malcolm Goldstein and Rolf Schulte several times.  The only negative is that the set ran too long.  I do not blame the out-of-town performers.  The producers should have explained to the two musicians beforehand that there would be three sets of music on the gig and that each set usually runs not much longer than the Chaconne.  The whole shebang opened with the Kevin Frenette Quartet—Kevin, David Haas, Ryan McGuire, and Joe Musacchia.  It’s kind of strange, but each of the three sets of music had its own peculiar experiential flaw.  Other sets were hampered by light distractions and unanticipated duration.  The opening jazz set problem was weird acoustics.  I say “weird” because never before have I run into acoustics problems with a band of similar instrumentation at Third Life Studio.  It probably was a strange combination of where I was sitting and the fact that the group was set up in the southeast corner of the room (rather than against a flat wall).  But I’m not an acoustics engineer.  So I don’t know with certainty what caused the quartet to have two no-doubt related acoustic problems.  The most obvious problem was the overpowering drums.  Close to fifty percent of the time the drums drowned out most of the music of the other three instruments.  With all that, the sound of the whole quartet was consistently muddy.  At the same time, I would not be surprised if someone sitting ten feet from me heard no such acoustic problems.  Nevertheless, straining to hear through the sonic distractions was well worth the effort.  Apparently band members, experienced musicians all, had no trouble hearing each other.  When David removed his hands from the keyboard it was his functional decision that trio activity should run free for a while.  Loud as the drums were some of the time, the support and improvisations never were anything less than creatively constructive.  Ryan always has been a solid and creative bassist, and it was good to witness his music again after my schedule interfered too long with my chances to catch his work.  Speaking of missing people, the constraints in non-musical parts of Kevin’s life keep him from bringing his music to those of us who miss his ensembles and extraordinary guitar work.  So we lucky people were reveling 3/25 in that marvelous rarity known as a Kevin Frenette performance.  Encore…

The rumors during the past few months were all over the place.  Until less than a month ago the word was that John Zorn was being pushed out of Alphabet City because of gentrification-driven greed and that the last gigs at the Stone would take place last month.  The other part of the “solid” rumor was that before summer the replacement for the Stone would be up and running.  But the new place would be temporary until John Zorn could find a permanent performance space.  Wrong.  All wrong.  At least that’s what the 3/6 online Village Voice article by Larry Blumenfeld, “John Zorn Is Rolling The Stone From Avenue C To The New School,” tells us.  Including interview excerpts from John Zorn and Richard Kessler, executive dean for performing arts at the New School, the article tells us that there will be performances at both the Stone and the New School’s Glass Box Theater on West 13th Street.  In other words, the music stays downtown, but the cachet is much different over at the College of Performing Arts of the New School.  I hope you are following this.  Because there is more.  There will be a quiz later.  After a year of concert ping pong between the two venues (i.e., March of 2018), the Stone will be shuttered and the Glass Box Theater will become the one and only home of the Stone.  The seating capacity and the musician payment policy will remain the same.  John Zorn will continue to be an unpaid venue operator.  One nice touch is that there will be the usual entry fee for audience members, but (in case there are unfilled seats) New School students can witness the music for free.   There is much more, and Larry Blumenfeld has done a nice job covering the recent evolution of the Stone.  So is this the perfect resolution to the ongoing reality of the Stone (which was not pushed out by greedy realtors, according to John Zorn)?  Ask me a year from now.  Optimistically I’m guessing my answer will be, “Ask me in five (or ten?) years from now.”  After all, the durability of this new and exciting relationship is the important quiz question…

Editor and journalist H.L. Mencken considered the American middle class too ill-informed and unintelligent to fulfill the promise of the nation’s political system.  Recently a friend sent me a quote of the curmudgeon, claiming that although Mencken died in 1956 and never knew about Donald Trump he saw our current President coming:

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

Allan Chase, Steve Fell, and Luther Gray showed up to play music 3/28 at the Outpost, and they did.  Plenty of it.  Also there was a break during which the three musicians discussed aliens (not the kind Donald Trump is afraid of) and other strange phenomena along with the metaphoric and literal fallout from government research into nuclear potential and hazardous waste disposal.  It was only after the gig that I remembered that my uncle and co-workers all died of bone cancer as a result of doing nuclear research for Con-Ed in New York (there were no suits involved, but my aunt lived very comfortably into her nineties from the benefits) and that I’m one of a bunch of people who over the years have encountered “The Presence” in the White Mountains (in my case in Edmands Col on a solo backpacking trip).  The music consisted of the trio performing very open charts, some of them almost skeletal, composed by band members.  The tone was set by a totally free opener.  From there it was a matter of selecting a chart and giving a great deal of free rein to everyone involved.  In some ways often it was like a rehearsal with the composer discussing the chart briefly and answering questions from other band members.  Then the trio would play the work, pushing against the boundaries, throwing sonic ideas at each other.  Outside the Outpost it was all rain and puddles, and it was more of the same on the way home.  But in the middle of it all was a sonic oasis of fine people and fine music.  Can’t beat that…

Steve Schwartz died 3/25 at age 74 after a lengthy battle with cancer and other ailments.  He was a knowledgeable, informative, likeable, self-effacing, and thoroughly classy person, a rarity among jazz radio hosts and jazz journalists.  He is best known as the station jazz programming producer and radio host back in ancient history when WGBH-FM was more than a talk radio outlet with weekend crumbs for jazz.  I remember during that time he sent me some information and included his business card.  He was a great Mingus fan and, typically lacking in self-promotion, he had a head shot of the bass player on the card instead of his own face.  I thanked him for the information

and (as a joke) told him that I never had noticed just how much he looked like Mingus.  He did not respond to my remark, no doubt refusing to let my silliness distract us from more important matters.  The last time I saw Steve was at the artist reception for the Peter Bodge exhibit December 10 at the Fire House Center in Newburyport.  He was Steve, predictably warm and generous-hearted.  Pointing to his cane, I asked how he was doing.  He rather convincingly told me that he was feeling better during the past couple weeks.  Now in hindsight I’m sure he was trying to convince one of us that he actually was feeling better--and I’m not sure which one.  In a world in which sometimes we seem to bump up against so many bad ones, it is tough to lose such a good one.  For those who are interested, jazz journalist Tom Reney, who knew Steve much better than I, has written a fine piece on Steve in his NEPR blog

Trump-driven Republican attempts to replace a defective Obama health care system with one that is far worse (particularly for lower and middle income people) are not good for the physical well being of everyone except the wealthiest Americans.  And it seems that concurrent attempts to gut federal support for arts, national parks, and humanities programs are exacerbating the problem.  In fact, one argument for supporting such programs is that they are good for the health of U.S. citizens.  According to the March AARP Bulletin (p. 26), U.C. Berkeley research suggests that powerful natural and artistic experiences are good for health.  Dr. Dacher Keltner, co-author of the study, says, “The things we do to experience these emotions--a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art--has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”  So the next time I put my money in the jar, I’ll think of it as my medical co-pay…

Last year Curt Newton and Eric Rosenthal presented a wonderful drum duo at the Lily Pad.  They decided to return to that format 3/8 at the same location, but also they decided to thicken the broth by inviting Andrew Neuman to join them.  Technically it was a trio, but functionally it was something else.  Some of us were treated to catching Andrew twice in the span of a week in two very different contexts, creating very different sonics.  I doubt that there was any discussion among the three musicians 3/8 before the gig about concept or roles.  Nevertheless I believe that Andrew decided that he would be participating in a gig that essentially would be a percussion duo.  And so it was.  The decision was a remarkable revelation of the self-confidence and musicianship of the electronics master.  In other words, people listening at the Lily Pad witnessed a terrific drum duo with “something else” going on.  The electronics provided--through undercurrents of support, silences, and occasional roars of thunder--a wonderfully beautiful context.  The percussionists reacted in kind, providing what initially I mistook as epic narrative.  You know, The Iliad as told by drums and toys.  It was eventually something quite different, tectonic.  Eric and Curt told us--through percussion only--the story of the great meteoric collision at what used to be known as the K-T Boundary and more recently (and offering further evidence of my obsolescence) the K-Pg (for Paleogene) Boundary and its aftermath.  Andrew picked up the idea quickly, providing what might be sounds of reptilian and early mammalian life forms.  Later I’m sure I heard birds.  Wonderful stuff.  Applause all around.  As fine as the first Curt and Eric drum duo was, this “duo” was a remarkable step up from last year.  Apparently it lasted about forty-five minutes.  It felt like ten.  The two percussive gentlemen plan to make the event an annual one.  Progress.  The second set of Eric’s Point 01 Percent session was the return of Stereoscope--Pandelis Karayorgis, Seth Meicht, Jeb Bishop, Jef Charland, and Curt Newton.  It should be no surprise that every time this relatively new ensemble of top musicians performs it gets better.  The 3/8 gig demonstrated that this band is on a roll.  Except for a fine performance (sonic jokes included) of a Misha Mengelberg piece in memory of the new music titan, all of the works performed were composed/arranged by band members.  At this point in the ensemble’s development everyone in the band can play Jeb’s “Razor Lip” in his sleep.  But no one is sleeping, in the band or in the audience.  The ensemble work and the contextual improvisations are operating at peak level.  On the other hand, it is good to see that Stereoscope continues to bring newer pieces into the book.  Even the best bands wear out older charts.  A kind of aesthetic fatigue sets in, and the “durable” charts begin to sound tired.  The band is too new for that to happen now.  But bringing in new charts will help keep the band’s edge operating indefinitely.  And indefinitely sounds like a fine lifespan for the ensemble.  There was a percussion bonus offered 3/8 by this band.  Curt was a superb percussionist in both sets.  Each set called for completely different percussion work.  So we got to witness a terrific Curt Newton sampler…



February 2017


The political mess is so ludicrous I thought I would brighten this month’s Journal by opening with something light. Even if you have no interest in football, if you live in New England you know something about the personality of Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. This month the Boston Globe published a celebration of the team’s success with a forty page tabloid titled Lords of the Rings. It includes articles and a lot of photos. Among the photos are shots of fans enjoying the success. One photo taken by Jessica Rinaldi I found particularly delightful. I hope you enjoy it.


It was one of those Eric Rosenthal Point 01 Percent gigs in which it seems almost anything can happen during two sets of music presented by two completely different ensembles. And, although I’ve never asked him about his intentions on these once-per-month events, I’m pretty sure that’s the way he wants it, exhilarating adventure or capsized boat or a bit of both. Bassist Damon Smith led the band on the first set. He landed in Boston a few months ago with a solid reputation. But adding a post-Ayler acoustic bassist to the Boston scene brings to mind references to New Castle. There may be more genuinely extraordinary post-Ayler acoustic bassists per capita in the Boston area than in any city in the world. And each of them has a strong, unique personality devoid of gimmicks. Going to a gig with the knowledge that I’m going to hear superb bass work by a special musical personality is one of the reasons I would not want to live anywhere else. To get to the point, Damon Smith fits in beautifully within the local “bass context.” He knows what he’s doing, avoids technique to impress, and has his own constructively prodding personality. So now we have another member of the local bass tribe to celebrate. But wait. This was a “01” gig. What could possibly go wrong? It was supposed to be a quartet featuring a legend on drums, the one living percussionist I’d want to see perform on my last night of existence--Laurence Cook. That’s not a slight to all the living percussionists I love. I miss so many of them from different parts of the country and around the world, and I am so happy to witness the giant percussionists in the Boston area on a regular basis. I hope you know who you are. But Laurence talks to me in a musicianship so thorough and so profound that I must refer to very different drummers of the past--Baby Dodds and Ed Blackwell among them--to come up with percussive references that make sense in trying to evoke what Laurence does--time and time again. Needless to say--due to flu or some other bug--Laurence did not make the gig. Good luck, Damon. In that circumstance what would Kit Demos, Jane Wang, Jef Charland, and other top local bassists do? Exactly what Damon did 2/8 at the Lily Pad. He convinced himself that performing with two musicians playing melodic percussion instruments would be an ideal gig. And he projected his fine musical personality through musicianship and exemplary sonic communication. When it comes to top-shelf bass players, maybe “too much is not enough.” His trio partners were up to the task. No doubt long-time band mate of Laurence, Eric Zinman, was looking forward to playing with the drummer once again. But he did not let that fact get in the way of the music. Offering supportive rhythmic attacks of his own and challenging, engaging piano runs, he made his voice known and enhanced the work of his partners to a level as fine as I’ve ever heard from him. A few years ago Andria Nicodemou arrived in Boston with a good deal of fanfare among local musicians. Sure enough, she knew her way around the vibraphone. She supported others cleanly and made useful solo comments. Promising. But warranting the celebration? No. I came to the conclusion that the fine musicians’ chatter was visionary, predictive. Andria “disappeared” from the local scene for some time, picking up gigs in New York and Europe. She continued to perform here with some regularity. I got a chance to catch up with her progress at the Lily Pad. If her performance 2/8 is a true indicator of a typical 2017 Andria Nicodemou gig, the cheerleaders around here truly were visionary. My guess is that somewhere in her travels Andria had a profound wakeup call. On 2/8 it was not simply a matter that she has discovered how to attack the instrument to produce stage-lifting sonics when needed. For the entire set she exhibited a masterly confidence I’d never witnessed in her before. More important (and this change is difficult to articulate graphically), Andria seems to have abandoned the trappings of an “aspiring artist.” She now has the kind of demeanor you see in the durable innovators: music is at the core of their being, and everything else is a distraction to be dealt with expeditiously. Busy or silent, her contributions all set long were terrific. It was one night. Here’s hoping it is a single step on the path to proving the visionaries right. All in all it was three musicians creating fine music. I had a ball. I bet Laurence would have also. The second set featured Alternative Facts, a pickup band. One heck of a pickup band--Pandelis Karayorgis, Taylor Ho Bynum, Junko Fujiwara, Bruno Råberg, and Eric Rosenthal performing at the top of their game. I call it a pickup band because I don’t believe all of the musicians have been onstage at the same time previously. Taylor and Eric have a musical relationship that goes back decades. Other band member links have materialized significantly during the past year. But the chemistry of the five musicians on this night was extraordinary. There was an effortless joy to the connections that is unusual even for the most seasoned veterans. I heard Taylor pursue sonic places I’d never heard from him before. And Pandelis played the fewest notes on a gig that I’d ever heard from him. And it was not because he was lacking in ideas. I got the feeling that he was enjoying soaking up the sounds of the rest of the group. When he did play, his contributions were near perfection. Junko and Bruno picked up their wonderful interplay where they left off on their last gig together. Junko continues to step up to improvisatory challenges with a higher level of confidence and reasons to be so confident. Her improvised support work inspires people around her, and her solos keep growing in originality and attractiveness. At one point Junko did some percussive work with her bow on the strings of the bass, initially surprising Bruno who later said he’d have to choreograph something for Junko’s physically less accessible cello. Bruno is one of those bass treasures of Boston. He has all the tools and “tricks” at his disposal but uses them sparingly, only when the music needs them. He was the anchor on a set in which different sonics were materializing constantly around him. Eric was having as good a time as I can remember, reveling in and percussively conducting the silences and extraordinary improvisations around him. And all without even the slightest facial or body language gesture. Yes, we do have trap set treasures also…

Ann Braithwaite and Scott Menhinick sent out the word that Mili Bermejo died 2/21 at age 65 after a nine-month battle with cancer. It is a great loss to the Boston music community. We in the jazz world know her best for her vocal performances, often with husband bassist Dan Greenspan, which celebrated all the music south of the border and influenced countless lucky students. She taught at Berklee for 32 years and passed on before her soon-to-be-released book, Jazz Vocal Improvisation: An Instrumental Approach (Berklee Press, 2017), could be made available. Donations in her memory may be given to the Elizabeth Evarts de Rham Hospice Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts…

A storm was coming, but it didn’t arrive until hours after the performance was over. In any case the weather threat was not enough to keep wise jazz fans from showing up 2/10 at Longy’s Pickman Hall to catch a terrific David Bryant Trio. The music included works by Dave and Eric Hofbauer as well as by the giants being celebrated with the concert--Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman. The wide range of music was central to the engaging nature of the performance, and the three musicians--including Dave, Eric, and the too-often overseas Jacob William on bass--were perfect interpreters of such a span of jazz. In spite of the historical focus of the evening, the musicians made sure that the history has meaning primarily as a living continuum. By that I mean what each of these musicians did was pretty scary stuff. Scary in terms of the ear-stretching circuitous route through and around the original compositions/charts. And scary in terms of just how good all three musicians are technically. Fortunately each man realizes that technique is a means to a much more important end. But working on technique is of genuine value. I raved to Jacob after the concert just how wonderful it was to witness his wizardry on the bass after such a long wait to see him. There were times when I had to use both hands to pick up my jaw from the floor. He confessed that his international travels had kept him away from both performances and practice. He admitted that his technical facility has suffered (but not that I noticed) and that the music in his head that does not fade carried him through the gig. I looked at his hands and saw no blood from lack of calluses. It made no sense. He explained when I pointed out the apparent contradiction. As some fans know, a good part of Jacob’s international travel is in support of his talented (both violin and tennis) daughter. In his travels with his daughter he spent time stringing tennis rackets for her, a practice that provides sufficient stress on his fingers that they retain their toughness. It makes one ponder the extent to which child-rearing can enhance/sustain performance excellence. Eric’s “Prof Hof” guitar technique book is available. I don’t want to give a sales pitch for that performance tool, but I suspect that Eric’s performance 2/10 was one of the best sales pitches one could imagine for that document. Throughout the evening I saw him bring forth guitar sonics that I had not witnessed before, using technical manipulations that were new to me. But the thing that really caught my attention was the content of the fingerings. I hate gimmicks. I hate clever. If I had seen a silent video of what he was doing, I would have dismissed it as “clever.” But no. The thing that hit me was the content. It was all about the music. Scary. Wonderful. I have followed David Bryant’s career from the mid-1980s (May 17, 1986 to be exact). It has been and remains a fascinating ride--from those first wonderful Shock Exchange gigs to the amazing Bobby Ward group experiences at the Willow to Pittsburgh before, during, and after a fine Prime Time gig to the 2/10 trio gig at Longy. Throughout it all I have been most enamored of his acoustic piano work. I think part of that preference has to do with the musical personality limitations of electric/electronic keyboards, a sort of “is is real or is it Memo-Dave” phenomenon. There are so many “disguising” resources available with electronic keys that some people get at least partially lost in the off-the-shelf sonics. I have that problem with David. He is so brilliant (with a Steinway to help us hear him) on acoustic piano that the alternative is akin to having a beer in a bag on Cambridge Common in winter versus Woodford Reserve on the lawn of the Chanler in Newport in August. Like his 2/10 band mates, Dave’s technique (and it can be appreciated completely only on an acoustic piano) is astonishing. It’s the kind of playing that would make a student react by moving to another course of study or (much better) commit with more purpose to practice--and maybe even the music that is the goal of technique. It is early in 2017, but the concert 2/10 at Pickman Hall probably will remain with me as one of the best of the year. Perhaps inspired by the success of the gig at Pickman Hall, Dave brought Eric and Jacob to the Outpost 2/21 to pursue the muse. The musicians, sources of the music, and instrumentation (including acoustic piano) were essentially the same as on the Longy performance. But there were two significant differences at the Outpost--the aesthetics and the environment. By aesthetics I refer to the creative perspectives the musicians brought to the 2/21 gig. They were tackling the same material, but it was apparent from the contributions of each musician that the 2/21 gig was not going to be a re-do. So they were speaking the same language, but they were telling a very different story. A wonderful story. The environment was different also. The Pickman Hall gig was a concert. The Outpost gig was a “club” performance. You know the difference a context can make. Think of Charlie Parker playing in Carnegie Hall in December of 1949 and then at Birdland during the next February. And so it was for these guys. Which combination of aesthetics and environment was the more compelling, that on 2/10 or that on 2/21? A good question, but a definitive answer eludes me. The happy answer for me is that I caught both…

The cover of the March JazzTimes (published in February) celebrated among other things a feature summary of Maria Schneider’s lecture on the status of jazz, “Protecting the Power of Music,” which is for the most part a plea for greater support for the Musicians Union and the PROs so they can better do their jobs on behalf of musicians and composers. The article quotes her as listing “10 plagues we (i.e., jazz musicians) face” today. Schneider obviously is confused by the misleading claims of the Musicians Union and the PROs. As I have pointed out many times in these Journals, the Musicians Union and the PROs have noble goals but not only fail to carry out those goals but also cause harm to musicians of all sorts, particularly creative artists such as composers and performers. The Musicians Union and the PROs do not need our support as they carry out their destructive work. Perhaps the best way to state the case is to say that we should shake up the Musicians Union and the PROs so that they will end their destructive practices while pursuing the stated goals that are noble and potentially productive. It is time for the Musicians Union that passed a resolution condemning ragtime music at its convention in Denver in 1901 (i.e., committing to not performing ragtime), a silly idea, to stop shutting down jazz clubs of all kinds for the sake of the musicians who no longer can play in those non-existent clubs. It is time for PROs to stop shutting down hand-to-mouth not-for-profit venues, killing performance opportunities for this nation’s most creative musicians and young composers. As a side point but not without relevance Ms. Schneider may not understand that none of the most creative young composers, arrangers, improvisors, and other musicians are performing Ms. Schneider’s charts or downloading bootlegs of her recordings. If they are breaking genuinely new ground, they are not using Ms. Schneider’s abandoned shovel to do it. Speaking of genuinely creative people attempting to survive the ravages of the Musicians Union and the PROs, last month I mentioned that Matt Samolis’ good deeds did not go unpunished. He was one of the Boston area’s most important not-for-profit entrepreneurs, but ASCAP threatened him because of his selfless good deeds, causing him to shut down his art space. He managed to scrape together the ASCAP fees to get the PRO agent off his back and prayed that his payments would be enough to stop the harassment. Well, in a letter dated 2/28 ASCAP told Matt that his license agreement was cancelled. That’s “good news” in that ASCAP is off Matt’s back. But Matt’s days of presenting creative live music are over. Fortunately he is finding ways to help other creative presenters. My guess is that Matt’s constructive nature is such a force for good that sometime in the not-too-distant future Matt will be presenting creative artists. Yes, the wonderful music events we have come to know so well are gone. He does not want to deal with a PRO agent again. But maybe we’ll get to witness some fine new theater piece or poetry or improvised music. All of it unpublished of course. There is at least a double irony in the ASCAP letter to Matt. The last two sentences of the letter are, “In the event you resume the use of copyrighted musical works that require permission, we respectfully request you advise us so that we may make the necessary arrangements for a new license. Many thanks and best wishes.” It’s just business. Ugly business. But wait. There’s a second irony. I did not know ASCAP has a slogan. I would guess, if I had to, that it would be something like, “Destroying live music and still getting away with it.” But no. It’s beautiful in its ironic simplicity: “We create music” I’m not making that up…

Trump times are strange times for people who have some regard for the more positive aspects of civilization, such as the arts. Given the Trump administration’s disdain for any form of cultural pursuits and his recent statements about increasing our military budget by 10% while eliminating non-macho government activities, it is no wonder that arts organizations of all types are concerned. On 2/24 I received a statement via email from the directors of the major museums in Boston--MIT’s List Center, the Gardner Museum, the ICA, the Harvard Museums, and the MFA--sounding an alarm about the negative impact on museums and other cultural institutions if the federal plug is pulled. Each museum director mentions ways in which NEA and NEH funding and administration have had direct effects on programming and in stabilizing cultural organization communities. In that statement the directors mention a 2/22 op-ed piece in the New York Times by Thomas P. Campbell, director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They refer to his “The Folly of Abolishing the N.E.A.” as “eloquently outlining how every museum relies not only on financial support but also on the advocacy of the NEA… ” Nevertheless these are strange times indeed. The ink had hardly dried on the op-ed page when Robin Pogrebin writing for the same newspaper told us of various complaints about the incompetence of the Met’s Director and his resignation in “Metropolitan Museum’s Director Resigns Under Pressure.” And he’s not even a member of the Trump team…

Quite commonly free improvisation performances consist of musicians who normally do not perform together. Kit Demos and Eric Rosenthal are among the band leaders in the Boston area who create such experimental encounters. On the other hand, there are free improvisation ensembles consisting of essentially the same personnel over a span of months or even years. In either case, band leaders tend to define the character or personality of the band. For example, some band leaders believe in rehearsals to improve free communications. Others see rehearsals as some sort of sacrilege. One tends to think of free improvisation somewhat generically. In other words, whether it is a pickup band or a “working” band, free ensembles are pretty much defined by the peculiarities of the musicians in the band. And certainly there is some truth to that perception. For example, something as simple as the instrumentation of the band affects greatly what an audience member will hear. And if Peter Brötzmann is in the group, his musical personality will be inescapable. But there is a functional difference between a pickup and a “working” free improvisation ensemble. I confess that I have not given much thought to the difference. But the difference is real, and that difference affects the musical experience. For example, the decades-long project AMM has had most famously three strong personalities in John Tilbury, Eddie Prévost, and (until recently) Keith Rowe. But they are not a pickup band. The communication among the three of them (and now the two of them) has evolved with its own language elements and architectural principles, an evolution that cannot occur in a one-off pickup band. The result is that pickup bands work through a set of improvisatory tactics that are different from those of an evolving “working” band. It may not seem like much of a difference, but it can be functionally significant. And so that difference revealed itself remarkably 2/28 at the Outpost. For almost two decades Steve Lantner has had a variety of free improvisation ensembles from duos to sextets employing the musicianship of a reliable group of about eight “regulars.” The regulars quite obviously like the Lantner aesthetic or they would not show up at the gigs. The fact that he attracts some of the top post-Ayler musicians in town helps a lot also. But what has happened over the years is that Steve and the regulars have developed their own unique set of music architecture and language elements. The fount of all this is Steve, but every one of the regulars buys into it and contributes to the evolution of the music. It is important to understand that there is nothing in the music that is esoteric or difficult for the typical fan of post-Ayler sonic art. Such a fan, for example, may not be able to articulate all of the musical factors--historical or conceptual--in a Laurence Cook solo, but that fan would enjoy--be blown away by--the music that Laurence makes. In the same way, the music of any Steve Lantner ensemble is quite accessible to the typical post-Ayler jazz fan. The fan may not be able to parse what is going on, but he knows that it’s terrific. But the musicians on the bandstand do not have such a simple relationship to the music. They have to parse the sonics or the crystal will shatter. That’s a rather lengthy way to get us to the music 2/28 at the Outpost provided by two Steve Lantner regulars--Steve Lantner and Luther Gray--with a “guest” band member, Andria Nicodemou. About three years ago Andria Nicodemou was part of a larger improvising ensemble that was a pickup band of fine musicians. There were no “working” band connection problems for her. At the time Andria was a different, less clearly defined musician. And relatively speaking the experience was something of a nice field trip for her. Her fine performance 2/8 at the Lily Pad was qualitatively far better than that in 2014. But again, the 2/8 gig was with a pickup band. The 2/28 gig was very different. It would be somewhat simplistic to say that because it was a trio there was no place for her to hide. The 2/8 gig was a trio performance. And Andria is not a hiding person, at least not onstage these days. No. I guess what the 2/28 performance demonstrated is that, if you want to sit in with a free improvisation working band, you had better have a clear picture of that band’s language and architecture before you drop in for a sonic visit. I’m sure the significance of that understanding varies considerably from group to group. For example, I imagine that listening to a bunch of AMM CDs might help an improvising musician prepare for the chance to sit in with Messrs. Tilbury and Prévost. Nevertheless, I would recommend witnessing the duo in person a couple times. In the same way, my recommendation to Andria Nicodemou would have been to show up in the audience to witness the music a few times before sitting in. Get a sense of the language, the architecture, and the interpersonal interactions before you jump in. The lack of such preparation was obvious in a number of ways. For example, there is a Steve Lantner ensemble convention that when Luther Gray is the drummer (and he usually is) he gets typically two extended percussion solos. These are not indulgences. Luther, at a time that is appropriate within the set, takes a solo. It is not a rata-tata “I’m a great drummer” solo. It is a profound sound sculpture of a percussion solo, something that sits by itself as a David Smith piece might but then moves back into the rest of the sonic space. Wonderful. But you just can’t walk into a Steve Lantner gig and know that is going to happen. And so it didn’t. There were such solos begun, but invariably they became drums/vibes duos. It is the first time I’ve witnessed a Steve Lantner gig with Luther on drums in which there was no extended Luther Gray solo. The end of the world? No. But it is symptomatic of the problems of even an accomplished musician walking into a free improvisation working band gig cold. The other symptoms were more specifically contextual. The first improvisation of the first set was quite noisy with the vibes louder than the other two instruments and Andria apparently not hearing the other musicians very well. Subsequent improvisations were slightly better. She listened to and reacted to the language of Steve Lantner better as the set progressed. The pattern most evident became a drums and vibes conversation interacting with the piano. I suspect that, before the beginning of the second set, Andria Nicodemou (at least subconsciously) processed what happened in the first set. She heard and reacted to Steve’s piano work more effectively during the first improvisation of the second set. The second improvisation opened with engaging pointillist chatter between piano and vibes which developed into the trio becoming a Sergio Leone steam engine slowly chugging into the station with fine work by Luther and Andria, including steam hissing from Luther’s brushed cymbals. This cymbal work moved into a Luther Gray solo that soon became a drums/vibes duo before fading into silence. The final improvisation of the evening was a flag-waver, a truly fine one followed by an effective fade out. Andria Nicodemou walked into a difficult situation 2/28, but she probed the musical context and made some effective adjustments. And when it was all over the audience responded enthusiastically…

In my youth, like many young people, I had a variety of brief fascinations. One of those fascinations was graphology. I had some books and studied it as an amateur for a couple years. I became good enough at it that I (apparently successfully) uncovered personality traits and “secrets” of both friends and strangers. At the time I was aware of basically two subsets of graphological research--handwriting and signatures. The two pursuits involved similar courses of study, but the source of the research, the “sample,” was different in each case and was interpreted differently. My focus was handwriting. I never investigated the peculiarities of interpreting signatures. I have no information about the status of graphology today, whether or not it is a popular area of research or whether or not it still is a resource in court. In any case, recently because of the proliferation of Presidential decrees of one type or another, frequently we see the signature of President Trump displayed on TV and elsewhere. The characteristics of that signature really hit home when I saw it (see below) displayed across the cover of the February 7 issue of The Village Voice. The signature primarily consists of a series of daggers, bringing to mind aggression and sarcasm. Again, signatures were not my thing, but that signature is pretty scary. If anyone reading this Journal studies graphology or knows anyone with such skills, I would love to read (and with permission pass along to readers) the findings of a practicing graphologist. Of course, we already know that the former game show host is substantially frightening. But the signature does not suggest hope.


The Explorers--leader Charlie Kohlhase, Seth Meicht, Daniel Rosenthal, Eric Hofbauer, Josiah Reibstein, Aaron Darrell, and Curt Newton--seem to be a fully committed group of musicians. No subs. Right at home with the material and each other. And the performances--as fine as they’ve been in recent months--keep reaching higher peaks with each outing. The 2/16 gig emphasized ensemble growth most obviously through the arrangements performed and what the musicians did with those arrangements. The band confidently tackled durable favorites written by the leader and John Tchicai--and never suggesting overconfidence or ennui. But Charlie opened his bag of tunes and gave us a bunch of wonderful new and seldom heard charts from a wide range of active musicians and legends. We got fine charts from Eric and Darrell and a couple from Josiah, including an engaging set of voicings in 3/4 that brought to mind the fine period of “odd time” pieces performed by bands led by Blakey and Roach. Speaking of legends, we were treated to terrific works by Elmo Hope and Makanda Ken McIntyre. McIntyre’s wonderful “Suspense” came to the group via a transcription of the big band arrangement by John Kordalewski especially for the Explorers. The work is far more challenging and engaging than most headline mainstream music performed in clubs today. John’s arrangement of “Suspense” is more than equal to the task of feeding the Explorers, and the ensemble almost literally lifted the bandstand with superb chart execution and fiery solos. The opening solo on “Suspense” by Charlie would have impressed even the composer. A fine evening of music all around that concluded with the now-traditional blues, this time titled once again, “Inauguration Blues.”…

Apparently the Berklee World Strings is a group of wonderfully hard working and talented students and faculty musicians. At least that’s what Bruno Råberg’s recent CD, Triloka, and the 2/25 performance of his Triloka Ensemble at the Piano Factory in Boston suggest, both demonstrating the skills of more than a dozen such people in different compositional contexts. Along the way Bruno had a variety of important support from Mimi Rabson. The 2/25 Piano Factory performance featured the music released on the CD performed by Bruno and string musicians Layth Sidiq, Bengisu Gokce, David Wallace, and Naseem Alatrash. The music, composed and arranged by Bruno, is rooted in many different world cultures, incorporating the varieties of time and tonality that one might expect. One advantage to the makeup of the ensemble is that the five musicians who performed 2/25 were born in five different countries--including Texas (Mr. Wallace). So they brought these wonderful sonic sensibilities to the music. On the other hand, none of the musicians were immersed in the culture and music of all the countries represented by the charts. The musicians acquitted themselves superbly in performing the charts, and their work was impressive during the improvised parts of the performance. The only time the improvisations faltered was during a portion of the evening that incorporated completely free playing as an interaction with a video sequence. The video sequence, produced by Bruno’s Chicago-based daughter, involved a fixed camera recording people in what apparently was an airport (Philadelphia?). I should point out that free improvisation is not an easily-acquired sonic art form. Within that form of music the performance of free improvisation during (typically) silent films or foreign films with sub-titles is a special challenge. Often the idea is that the individual or ensemble performs while watching a film that he/she never had seen before. The results often are stunning when performed by master musicians. For example, several years ago the DKV Trio performed completely improvised music while watching Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. Only one of the trio members had seen the film before. I did not witness the event, but the word got out and reached me. Near the end of the film the villagers are back to “normal.” They are planting new rice shoots. Then there is a moment when Hamid Drake, who never had seen the film before, takes off on a tom-tom pattern. As he does, a character in the rice paddies begins striking a frame drum. Simultaneously with Hamid’s drum work. A one in a million coincidence? Brilliant reading of film context? I don’t know, but I’m guessing some of the former and a lot of the latter. So we in the Piano Factory are watching people tooling back and forth in an apparent airport. Suddenly a couple notices near a back wall a life-size diorama of some founders of our country. The female in the young couple discovers that she can become part of the diorama. The male friend spots the photographic opportunity and shoots the image of the young female “participating” in building the groundwork of our nation. She is joyous. He is compelled to take a selfie with female and founders. One can speculate on the meaning of it all. For me it was both a celebration of participation in creating and nurturing our government and a depressing comment on the too-busy passersby who failed to see the opportunity. Of course, my interpretation of the video scenario is colored by the realization that Americans have allowed both of the major parties to give us incompetent candidates in the most recent election, and we are beginning to see the horrific results. In any event, the video sequence certainly provided a fine opportunity for improvised sonic collaboration. As far as I know, Bruno is the only member of this Triloka quintet with extensive experience in free improvisation. Whether that is true or not, the ensemble obviously was not comfortable in that improvisational setting. As I mentioned, free improvisation is a difficult form or music to master. And improvising in reaction to unknown projected moving images is an even more specialized activity. No doubt it was a useful learning experience for the Triloka musicians. I suspect at least some of the musicians are intrigued by the free music experience and may want to pursue such opportunities. Given how well Bruno’s band mates nailed the charts and the improvised portions of the arrangements, in the future I would not be surprised to see any of those same people tackle virtually any kind of music with conviction and success. In the mean time, the 2/25 performance offered an evening of fine music demonstrating the joyous possibilities of talent combined with hard work…


January 2017

I was in Manhattan for a week at the end of the month, checking out MoMA (Picabia), the Met (Beckmann), the Gagosian on Madison Ave (Picasso), and a variety of other sights and sounds.  One special aspect of the New York experience has been with me for a while, and I decided to investigate it further.  A variety of tall buildings and those with unusual visual perspectives are celebrated for their excellent views of particularly two iconic New York buildings, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, among both tourists and locals probably the two best-known buildings in New York.  Several years ago while walking in the Murray Hill section of town I noticed that it is possible to obtain excellent views at ground level of both buildings from a single street intersection.  A combination of simple geometry and familiarity with the city’s street grid led me to the “other best” ground view of the two buildings.  I think the Murray Hill view is the better one, but they are both pretty nice.  In case you enjoy walking in Manhattan as much as I do, you might like to check out both “best” ground views of the two buildings.  The fine Murray Hill view can be had from the southwest corner of the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 33rd Street.  The other fine view is available from the southeast corner of the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.  People visiting New York City who prefer to take the subway (as I do) may have to settle for taking cabs for a while. Unless you have the MTA subway map memorized, taking subway transportation could be tricky.  Because of the planned publication of new maps to include information about the highly publicized 2nd Avenue line, officials stopped printing the old maps and ran out of them.  Although the first section of the 2nd Avenue line is up and running, the new maps are not yet available.  MTA employees I talked to claimed that the maps supposedly will be available any minute, but there is no specified delivery date.  Maps are displayed in stations and on trains and are somewhat inconvenient but functional (at least the ones without graffiti are).  We Bostonians cannot be smug about incompetent New York MTA planning.  After all, it was our own MBTA geniuses who built “improved” T stops at Riverside and Woodland that moved the boarding platforms from close proximity to the parking lot to an average distance of more than a football field length from almost all parking spaces.  And any T rider reading this Journal can add other examples of MBTA planning incompetence.  Maybe the problem is occupationally systemic.  One morning on my Manhattan visit I shared a coffee break with Steve Swell and Ken Vandermark.  Ken was in town for a couple days to spend some catch-up time with Steve and to check out the Beckmann and Picabia.  Steve, of course, lives in lower Manhattan.  A terrific musician, he remains in demand around town and continues to teach to very lucky students.  The subject of Boston came up, and Steve mentioned that he has not been to Boston since Garrison Fewell passed on.  He’d love to play up here, and I’d love to put him up in my place if that would facilitate things.  All we need is a Boston-based musician who can bring him up here for some superb music…

Speaking of New York, by the time you read this that city probably has seen the last jazz performances at the Stone in the Alphabet City part of Manhattan.  Many Boston area improvisors already know about the venue’s demise.  It is difficult to believe that Alphabet City could ever be gentrified, but it is happening fast enough that the corner space for new music is worth too much to support sonic art.  One suspects that John Zorn is too intelligent, hard working, resourceful, and passionate to let this be his last performance space.  It may be known by another name, but I expect there is a Son of Stone on the horizon.  Let’s hope so…

The double bill 1/11 began with a quintet of superb musicianship--Pandelis Karayorgis, Seth Meicht, Jeb Bishop, Jef Charland, and Curt Newton--known as Stereoscope.  These guys are so good that, in spite of having only one rehearsal of the charts for the gig, everyone performed, supported, and improvised as if it were a seasoned house band.  Of course these musicians know each others music well.  So offering nothing but charts by band members--except for a joyous romp through Sun Ra’s “Saturn”--makes a lot of sense.  For these men even new pieces feel comfortable.  One could hardly ask for a more convincing way to kick off the new year.  Challenging scores pursued by all musicians with esprit.  Writing that inspires solos which in turn inspire higher levels of support and subsequent solos.  If this is the way Stereoscope begins the year, that fact bodes well for fans who search for artistic evolution and resultant excellence throughout the rest of the year.  As a creative alternative to fine charts and improvisations, Eric Rosenthal in the second set brought with him three other noteworthy musicians--Bruno Råberg, Jorrit Dijkstra, and Junko Fujiwara--to perform completely improvised music.  None of the musicians on the second set 1/11 are strangers to totally improvised music.  The only question was how well the specific components of this quartet would work together.  One might say that there were four (or perhaps five) improvisations on that set.  The first and third, exhibiting alto sax work by Jorrit, were the most successful in terms of improvisations and particularly soli and group interactions.  The alto sax is Jorrit’s instrumental strength, and the group balance was solid throughout those two improvisations.  The balance problems opened the second improvisation, but fortunately it eventually improved enough so that we could hear the conversation between Bruno’s arco bass/electronics and Junko’s pizzicato cello.  It was one of the highlights of the set.  The fourth (or fifth) improvisation of the set mostly did not work except for the time (the fourth improvisation?) when Jorrit put his Lyricon down and worked the rest of the electronics.  In those moments the sounds on stage were in balance and you had the feeling that all four musicians could hear each other.  Nice.  In addition to making such adventures happen, Eric time and again demonstrates why he’s one of my favorite drummers.  Even though he has a strong reputation as a drummer who excels in a variety of composed musics, he’s exceptional in completely improvised contexts.  He hears so wonderfully.  So on this evening at the Lily Pad one of the great highlights for me was watching and hearing Eric salvage disasters and bring the highest human expression even higher…

It was more than a month after the passing of Mose Allison (11/15) that I read of the firing of Fred Taylor from his post at Scullers.  I remember several decades ago when Fred was doing some invaluable consulting work for the Boston Jazz Society.  During one meeting in that capacity in passing he mentioned almost in surprise that other jazz production people never seemed to understand how much Bostonians loved Mose Allison.  And so he continued to book Allison to sell-out crowds.  It was just another example of the fact that Fred Taylor did not merely book gigs at the second incarnation of the Jazz Workshop located at 733 Boylston Street along with Paul’s Mall.  He learned from those experiences.  Of course, what he learned was not merely which jazz musicians were safe money and which were perhaps worth taking a chance on.  Even from the earliest days of the Jazz Workshop Fred made sure that his offerings would include some exciting non-jazz performers.  It’s a practice he carried with him to Scullers.  This booking policy offered two general advantages.  First, it offered audiences eclectic options while maintaining the club’s jazz image and audience.  Second, that policy gave Fred a built-in wider range of income options; if he needed a popular folk musician to bolster the kitty, the bread-and-butter jazz fan--even the purist--did not react in horror.  It is the type of experience and policy that Fred brought with him when he began booking Scullers in 1989.  Because of Fred’s booking savvy, he was able to sustain a primarily jazz policy.  At the same time, the Regattabar (its only ongoing competition during the Fenton Hollander years which ended in 2004) continues to offer--with approximately semi-annual exceptions--mostly boring, young musicians unlikely to draw any serious jazz fans.  It might be argued that with the departure of Fred Taylor Boston loses its last jazz club of big names--the jazz musicians that even the casual jazz fan is likely to know.  Don’t expect the Regattabar to pick up the names that Fred used to book.  The club had the opportunity to compete with Scullers for quality bands and chose not to.  It has no reason to change its booking policy now.  Each reader of this Journal may come up with his or her own perspective on the meaning of the departure of Fred from Scullers.  But, given the limited amount of information available online and in print about that departure, the specifics of the firing remain unclear.  We have Fred telling us that somewhat unceremoniously he was told, “We need a change” (i.e., good bye).  One imagines that the management of the hotel wants to drop the jazz policy in favor of acts that will bring in more money.  Given Fred’s long experience booking eclectic music, one wonders why the hotel failed to give him a chance to book more lucrative acts.  But it seems that hotel management merely wanted to get rid of Fred and General Manager Annmarie Blyth.  Apparently Jan Mullen from the Side Door jazz club in Old Lyme, CT will take over the booking of Scullers.  In other words, we probably will be stuck with the Regattabar’s booking policy and an echo across the Charles River.  Let’s hope Mose Allison is resting well.  And, thank you Fred.  You fought the good fight…

There was the big 70-minute digital clock sitting in the back of the Outpost for the 1/21 gig.  So you knew it was a performance by one of the Leap of Faith (LOF) spin-off groups.  In this case it was String Theory, consisting of cello, two acoustic basses, voice(s), reeds, Aquasonics, and various percussion instruments.  Most (if not all) of the fine musicians have been working together for months (and some for decades) in the LOF context.  The work is paying off.  The strings are heavily weighted at the bottom end of the family.  One cannot help but be suspicious of a band that features two acoustic basses and three other instruments at any given time.  But Tony Leva and Silvain Castellano are so comfortable with the improvisational concept and with each other that the two bassists function as a core attraction rather than an instrumental puzzle.  They communicate with each other as if they are one--so much so that their work does not suggest anyone consciously thinking of having one person bowing while the other takes on pizzicato.  It’s more like Stitt and Lockjaw or Gene Ammons talking to each other at the same time or trading bars.  Of course, what the two bassists were doing had nothing to do with bebop, but the interplay involved ideas that go back well before the bebop era.  The other “string” was Glynis Lomon, one of the post-Ayler cello giants who enhances her string work with in-your-face Aquasonic vibrations and the most human sorts of vocalizations.  She remains--and pushes her music all time--a monster of the genre who is one of Boston’s great sonic treasures.  Although Dei Xhrist is a vocal performing artist, most often I have witnessed her work as a theater performance in which her vocal efforts are central to an intentionally ambiguous dramatic presentation.  Although Glynis’ vocalizations are central to the LOF identity, it is Dei who carries the primary vocal load.  I found it interesting to watch/hear her apparently hold back her theatrical instincts presumably to help the group sonics along.  Ironically--and to my surprise--I found those moments in which Dei was most theatrical to be the most successful in terms of her interaction with and support of the rest of the group.  One of the reasons her dramatics work so effectively is that her narrative vocalizations are commentary rather than storytelling.  In effect, unlike the programmatic narrative of the Wood Dove in Gurrelieder for example, Dei’s contributions are about the now, the on-stage activity of the String Theory ensemble.  Dave Peck/PEK brought (for him) a relatively small array of reed and percussion instruments.  But the sonic diversity of his contributions was no less impressive than at other times.  The only disappointment for me was the brevity of his solos on each instrument.  I realize that Dave brings such a large number of instruments with him on a gig so he can distribute a constructive range of sounds throughout a set of music.  But there are times when it seems that he cuts himself off in the middles of a clarinet statement, for example, when continuing with what he was offering on that instrument probably would have been more supportive of the ensemble sonics.  But such a complaint is as much praise as it is complaint.  And Dave and his band mates are doing fine things together on stage.  The 1/21 Outpost performance was the most challenging and engaging LOF outing that I’ve witnessed in recent memory--not an achievement easy to realize given that LOF’s history is so impressive.  And people in the band hardly looked at the digital clock as the numbers rolled toward 70 on this occasion…

Nat Hentoff was born in Boston on June 10, 1925 and died in New York on January 7.  Love him or hate him, Nathan Irving “Nat” Hentoff was one of our own.  He even titled his memoir Boston Boy.  He attended Boston Latin School, Northeastern, and Harvard and was a jazz DJ on WMEX radio while in college.  If Bostonians have a reputation for being cantankerous and contradictory then Nat Hentoff was as Bostonian as one gets.  He championed the music of such innovators as Ornette and Cecil, hanging out with the pianist when Taylor was a student at NEC.  Later Hentoff became somewhat cranky about new music, his tastes apparently reverting to more straight-ahead material.  As his work moved into civil rights territory almost exclusively during the last decades of his life, the apparent contradictions continued.  He was a libertarian champion of the First Amendment in particular.  As a spokesman for civil liberties he argued eloquently against government abuses of the Bill of Rights since 9/11 in the name of national security.  He claimed that much earlier he was fired from Downbeat because he argued too enthusiastically for the magazine to hire black writers.  On the other hand, he was a pro-life libertarian who supported the Presidential ambitions of Rand Paul and was a fellow at the right-wing bastion, the CATO institute.  Nevertheless, among those who praised his The War on the Bill of Rights (Seven Stories Press, 2003) was then ACLU president Nadine Strossen.  And he was a proud atheist.  If you are among those who would like to turn to an example of his writing on behalf of musicians in the early days of post-Ayler jazz, you might check out his original liner notes for Cecil Taylor’s Looking Ahead (Contemporary S7562).  Although he became somewhat frustrated because of his reputation as a jazz critic rather than as a political philosopher, he never stopped loving the music.  Aesthetically he went out in style.  According to the Washington Post, Nat Hentoff died while listening to a recording of Billie Holiday…

Based on information I received, there was some question as to whether the Explorers would show up at the Outpost 1/19 as a sextet or septet.  It was seven up--Charlie, Seth Meicht, Daniel Rosenthal, Eric Hofbauer, Josiah Reibstein, Aaron Darrell, and Curt Newton--all night with wonderful sounds in spite of comments sprinkled throughout the evening about being at the doorstep of gloom and doom.  For example, Charlie’s brand new (I believe) arrangement of a fine blues as yet untitled was given the temporary moniker of “Election Blues.”  Everyone immediately was comfortable with the chart and spread fine solos and support all around.  I hope Charlie brings it back on the next Explorers outing.  Soon after that a contribution by Eric sparked terrific solos, including an engaging Seth improvisation that made me think that he had been reading some Terry Riley charts over lunch and decided to transform those ideas into a steamroller of a solo.  One of the highlights of the evening was Dan’s solo on Charlie’s “Winter of Our Disco Tent,” as pretty (and creative) as any ballad trumpet solo you are likely to hear all winter.  Throughout the evening the million dollar rhythm section of Eric, Josiah, Aaron, and Curt was worth showing up for all by itself.  And I’d push that idea harder if it were not for the fact that these guys time and again offered solos that were superbly compelling.  It was a night of engaging sounds with no letdown at any time.  And there was a surprise at the end of the night.  No “Blues for Alice.”  There was more than a suggestion that the Parker favorite may have run its course as a Kohlhase closer.  He plugged in another blues as a closer and tentatively titled the work “Election Blues,” an echo back to the political blues that opened the evening.  The old and potentially new cycle of closers brings to mind the durability of such a large outfit.  It is rare for even a quartet to maintain the same personnel for six months.  Charlie has had five of these band members show up each month for more than two years.  There are many reasons for that durability.  Most of those reasons have to do with Charlie’s leadership and the character of the people in the band…