Monthly Archives: June 2012

Jazz in New York’s Hudson Valley

When people think of jazz in New York State, everyone assumes it’s only widely available in New York City. Actually, there is often great jazz being made all over New York State, especially in the summer, when Manhattanites tend to do their best to leave the city as much as possible. This past weekend I enjoyed a couple of wonderful intimate jazz performances in New York’s Hudson Valley, and there’s much more to come.

On Friday, I had the chance to hear the Jesse Lynch Trio up in Saratoga Springs, New York at the historic Gideon Putnam hotel. Pianist Jesse Lynch mainly used a Fender Rhodes-esque electric piano sound, which along with the electric bass of Steve Beskerone and Matt Smallcomb’s drumming evoked Chick Corea’s Elektric Band. The allusion to Chick Corea is based not only on timbre, but also on their extensive use of Latin/samba grooves. Their unique presentation of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” with a Latin beat was particularly notable. Smallcomb brought a light touch on the drums, which was impressively melodic and tasteful. His background in classical percussion was apparent. Beskerone – who has performed with such legends as Ray Charles, Horace Silver, and Philly Joe Jones – traversed the neck of his bass with effortless fluidity. Together they allowed Lynch the freedom to develop compelling rhythmic and melodic ideas in his solos.

This show Friday was a precursor to an excellent jazz festival right around the corner from the Gideon Putnam at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center this coming weekend, June 30th and July 1st. Friehofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will feature such world-class artists like Esperanza Spalding, Christian McBride, Michel Camilo, and Diana Krall, to name just a few. The full list is available here: http://www.spac.org/jazzfest/.

Following Friday’s great performance, I enjoyed a set by the Tristen Napoli Quartet in Peekskill, NY at the Peekskill Coffeehouse on Sunday. A recent graduate of SUNY Purchase’s jazz program, trumpeter Napoli is a rising star to keep an eye on in the jazz scene. In the two-hour set, he stood out with his inventive, logical improvisations. You can find out more about Napoli (and hear his own compositions and arrangements) at http://www.tristennapoli.com/. Napoli brings a group to Peekskill Coffeehouse monthly. Additionally, July 21st marks Peekskill’s 6th annual Jazz and Blues Festival. The headliners there include Nation Beat, Mark Cary Focus Trio, Lakecia Benjamin, and Bobby Sanabria. The details for this festival can be found at http://downtownpeekskill.com/JB/2012JBHome.html.

New York is a big state, and there’s a lot going on in all of it. Take some time to get out of the city, and enjoy some festivals!

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Marie Therese Metoyer: Coin Coin [Part 1]

Marie Therese Metoyer: the woman behind works by two of contemporary jazz’s masters – Part 1

In 2010 the Imani Winds released Terra Incognita, which features “Cane,” a four-movement piece composed by pianist Jason Moran, who drew his inspiration from his family history and heritage near the Cane river in Natchitoches, Louisiana, specifically one ancestor, Marie Therese Metoyer, a.k.a. Coincoin. Similarly, though she is not a blood relative of Coincoin[1], saxophonist Matana Roberts is currently working on what is to become a twelve-chapter work on Coincoin, the first chapter of which – COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres [trans: Free People of Color] – was released in 2011. The second chapter has been performed live and can be streamed from NPR’s excellent jazz blog, A Blog Supreme.

Though Moran normally plays jazz, incorporating avant-garde and bebop elements into his music, “Cane” sounds more like Stravinsky than Monk. However, “Cane” does still stay true to its subject matter, particularly in regards to rhythm. The first movement is called “Togo to Natchitoches,” which implies the Middle Passage, and by mentioning the West African nation of Togo, gives the source of the rhythmic syncopation that Moran will employ throughout the piece. The first two movements (“Togo to Natchitoches” and “Coin Coin’s Narrative”) are structured around short, almost sputtering phrases, creating a sense of nervous energy and uncertainty, which is heightened with Moran’s masterful manipulation of accented weak beats. The third movement, named “Gens de Couleur Libres,” presents a more languid melody over beautifully dissonant chords. And the final movement takes the narrative up the Mississippi and east to New York (“Natchitoches to New York”), changing the pace by adding some jazzy and bluesy melodic and rhythmic elements.

Outside of subject matter, Roberts’ work has very little in common in Moran’s “Cane.” While Moran took some jazz influence and composed in the chamber music idiom, Roberts created soulful jazz, unifying modern free jazz techniques with the music being made in New Orleans over a hundred years ago; it is a long cry from the concert halls that Imani Winds occupy. While both pieces are powerful Roberts is guttural (both her singing and playing) where Moran is melodious. Roberts represents unbridled emotion, while Moran expresses a meticulously composed message. Roberts and her fifteen-piece band, which includes prepared guitar, musical saw, and doudouk as well as strings and traditional jazz instruments and voices, feature unaccompanied free jazz solos, moments of collective improvisation, some fully composed sections of harmonic music with traditional jazz elements, and spoken word/poetry performances (telling Coincoin’s story through poetry composed by Roberts), often mercurially switching between these types of music. The result is an album with a strong nonlinear narrative, which Roberts has described using the metaphor of a patchwork quilt, made up of separate squares coming together.

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The Shape of Jazz to Come: Jazz in the Second Decade of the 21st Century and Beyond

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There is a common myth among the public that jazz is dead. People will argue that there has been no new movement in jazz since Miles Davis and his acolytes spawned fusion in the 1970s. Even Miles himself insisted that Columbia stop marketing him as a jazzman back with the release of his 1970 Bitches Brew. Jazz purists may even argue that music incorporating rock elements is not jazz at all. However, there is a contemporary movement in jazz, and David Hajdu in his January 31, 2010 New York Times profile of pianist Fred Hersch, “Giant Steps: The Survival of a Great Jazz Pianist,” defines it perfectly. He calls this new movement

a wave of highly expressive music more concerned with emotion than with craft or virtuosity; a genre-blind music that casually mingles strains of pop, classical and folk music from many cultures; an informal, elastic music unyielding to rigid conceptions of what jazz is supposed to be.

He continues on, aptly describing this music as “post-Marsalis,” referring to both Wynton and Branford. Since the 1990s, Wynton has been heralded as the King of Jazz, both for his own playing and for the tireless work he puts in to jazz education. I was a product of Wynton’s style of canon-oriented jazz education through my participation in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington high school competition. Learning the classics taught me a greater understanding of what jazz is and where it came from than an education focusing on contemporary jazz ever could have, and I’m very thankful to have had that education. I truly think the Marsalis family has done outstanding work for jazz and makes the music accessible to countless people who otherwise would’ve had no exposure to it. I can’t say enough good things about them. But, there is also value to paying attention to the exciting new school of jazz musicians, particularly the list Hajdu mentions, of Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau, Fred Hersch, Ethan Iverson, and Jason Moran. I would extend this to include such players as Marco Benevento and John Medeski as well. While Hajdu’s piece focuses solely on Hersch after introducing this idea, I feel that this school of keyboardists and this jazz movement deserve a little more discussion.

Just as Miles was enthusiastic to accept the influence of rock and electronic music, the new movement in jazz gladly accepts the influence of other musics. Vijay Iyer sees jazz as a limitless world. “Jazz is a field. It’s a community of people who care about it. It’s also a history of ideas and a body of knowledge. But it’s always been extremely open and accommodating and welcoming to information and people from elsewhere,” he told Josh Jackson in an NPR interview published online on April 1, 2011. His music reflects this view as well. One of the most obvious examples is the 2011 Tirtha album he recorded with tabla player Nitin Mitta and guitarist Prasanna, both born in India. (Iyer himself was born in America, but is of Indian descent.) This album seamlessly melds Iyer’s jazz and Western classical piano experience with Indian Carnatic music, which Iyer defines as a repertory tradition of century old songs, “basically classical music,” to NPR in the same interview. The album features improvisation in the jazz style as well as improvisation around Carnatic themes. The three players work together to craft a sound that is all their own. In a completely different vein, Iyer also produced the track “Free Jazzmatazz” off of Brooklyn hip hop group Das Racist’s 2010 mixtape Sit Down, Man. Employing minimalist drums and bass parts, Iyer leaves room for himself to craft a lush sonic landscape with polyphonic synthesizer parts. With his work on this track, Iyer and Das Racist create one of the truest unions of the hip hop and jazz worlds in recent memory.

Story continues after the jump:

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