Sunday, April 27, 2014
Players: Jacques Schwarz-Bart
Molecular Structure Transformed
The perception of voodoo in American society has been more largely formed by Hollywood than by New Orleans. It is the go-to religion when movies need unknowable rituals, indecipherable chanting and poorly lit rooms.
Tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart is doing what he can to change those stereotypes with his sixth release as a leader, Jazz Racine Haiti (Motema). He performs a set of traditional Haitian voodoo chants with his ensemble, driven by his fluttering horn but powered by a persistent Caribbean groove.
Schwarz-Bart grew up hearing recordings of voodoo music, often accompanied by his mother's singing. He previously had been hesitant to publicly address misconceptions about voodoo. "Initially, I never felt the legitimacy to actually tackle it since I am not of direct Haitian descent," he said. "Although I received this music from birth through my mother, I thought a Haitian should carry such a project."
Schwarz-Bart, born to novelists Andre and Simone Schwarz-Bart in the Caribbean nation of Guadeloupe, pursued a career in politics and was working for an elected official in Paris when he decided to make a change. "It turns out that nothing in the world ever gave me the type of mystical thrill that music did," he said. "There was no real choice for me. The only dilemma came from the fact that I encountered my main instrument very late in life, at age 24."
Three years after discovering the tenor saxophone, he left Paris for the Berklee College of Music. There he studied with pianist Danilo Perez and drummer Bob Moses. "If you give yourself the option to look back, you've already lost," he said. "Once I decided to leave it all behind, I burned every bridge I could so that I would force myself to embrace my identity as a musician."
Since graduating from Berklee, he has been based in New York, working alongside musicians like trumpeter Roy Hargrove and r&b singer D'Angelo.
In 2006, Schwarz-Bart traveled to a gig in Morocco, where he had a life-changing experience. A Gnawa priest invited him to attend a ceremony, and he went along out of curiosity. "I was transfixed for twelve hours, unable to move a finger," he recalled. "I felt like I traveled to the end of the cosmos and back. When I was able to get back on my feet, I felt like my molecular structure had been transformed. That's when I realized the connection that I had always had with voodoo. Whether or not I was born Haitian became absolutely insignificant. I realized the connection was primarily to Africa."
The title Jazz Racine Haiti simply means "jazz roots Haiti." The album features two Haitian priests on vocals, and the jazz players on board include bassist Ben Williams, drummer Obed Calvaire and trumpeter Etienne Charles. Familiarity with voodoo chants is not a prerequisite for enjoying the music, and the leader's respect for the source material is evident. The propulsive grooves and his confident tenor lines gracefully meld the two worlds.
"It was a concern of mine that some [members of the voodoo community] would question my position, but it turns out that my presentation is totally in line with what they see of themselves," Schwarz-Bart said. "There is no way to see me as anything but an ally."
Jacques Schwarz-Bart @ DownBeat
Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal
Everybody has heard of “heavy metal” but is there such a thing as “light metal?” Do the guys in Slipknot ever regret their choice of mask? Who gets blamed for the Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration? Hard-hitting questions like those can be answered when authors John Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman gather to discuss their new book Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal. The hefty tome took more than twenty-five years to compile and is nearly 750 pages long, boasting conversations with members of Slayer, Judas Priest and everybody’s favorite leather-clad satirists - Spinal Tap. For extra street cred, the two authors will be joined by perennial heavy metal talking head Scott Ian of Anthrax. Expect a lot of tattered tour t-shirts in the audience. Sleeves optional.
Like a Record Store Day for people who enjoy silence, World Book Night is part of a campaign to encourage more people to pick up a book and maybe even read it. On April 23rd, volunteers will make that task even easier by distributing tens of thousands of specially selected books to friends and neighbors. The international bid for a wider reading audience began in 2011 and this year will include more than 20 author events in the US the day before the big giveaway. Five of those events will be scattered around Los Angeles from Leimert Park’s Eso Won books (Terry McMillan) to Malibu’s Diesel bookstore (Jesse Andrews). The Grove’s Barnes & Noble will be hosting prolific crime novelist Michael Connelly. The former Los Angeles Times reporter has been running his reoccurring character Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch up and down Los Angeles in thrillers like Angels Flight and Echo Park for more than twenty years but if reading isn’t your thing, you can always just watch the film adaptations of his books The Lincoln Lawyer and Blood Work.
When saxophonist Tim Hegarty headed for the studio in late August 2013, he probably knew he was going to come away with a pretty solid keepsake. With the piano bench reserved for Kenny Barron, upright bass duties handled by Rufus Reid and the drums finessed by Carl Allen, it would have been astounding had things not turned out swinging.
These first-call players - not to mention educators to a large percentage of the tri-state area's jazz undergraduates - are certainly the big draw on this set, and vibraphonist and co-producer Mark Sherman is no slouch either. So how does the saxophonist with the extremely long ponytail fare with this group? Just fine.
Hegarty has respectfully compiled this set in honor of his mentors, which includes a lot of saxophonists. Over ten tunes, he tackles the works of George Coleman, Joe Henderson, Frank Foster and, most prominently, Jimmy Heath.
Reid opens the proceedings by laying down a foundation for Heath's "A New Blue," returning later in the tune for a subdued solo. Foster's bluesy waltz "Simone" is treated to a soul-satisfying rumble with Hegarty breathlessly taunting his horn from top to bottom.
On Hegarty's original tune "Low Profile," Barron and the saxophonist engage in an all-too-brief duet on the melody, while Henderson's "Inner Urge" gets a brisk reading to close out the album with Allen's assured cymbal work propelling the ensemble. Hegarty agreeably proves himself with a rich and swinging mood throughout the set, seizing the opportunity to shine over his stellar accompaniment.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Yes, the column was titled "Saxual Healing." I'm taking a little distance from that.
Tom Tallitsch, Ride *** ½
Aside from a brief, cruise-ship rendition of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” and a more enthusiastic version of Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone,” tenor saxophonist Tallitsch penned every tune on this album. His writing style hides nowhere between those two aforementioned British pillars of tight jeans. Instead, he goes another decade further back to a straight-ahead sound reminiscent of Blue Note tenormen like Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson. Under Tallitsch’s direction, the band plays loose and springy with democratic soloing opportunities. When trombonist Michael Dease makes the occasional appearance, he does so with conviction. He lends his froggy yelps to the brisk “El Luchador” and “Kunckle Dragger,” the latter also serving as a springboard for an invigorating solo from drummer Rudy Royston. Tallitsch’s impassioned strikes peak on “The Myth,” showcasing a robust display of conviction. Pianist Art Hirahara follows with an equally assured, McCoy Tyner-influenced solo that never lightens the high-wire intensity.
The Ambush Party, Circus ***1/2
Recorded live at the Moers Festival in Germany, Circus is an uninterrupted set by this avant-garde Dutch quartet that is awash in ambient hums and taut suspense. While the big top is the theme, the mood feels more like a zoo after closing. Saxophonist Natalio Sued playfully leaps about on the slow-burn opener, “The Invisible Acrobats,” but threads raunchy bursts amid pianist Oscar Jan Hoogland’s chaotic pounding on “The Tiger Is Loose.” Finale “Trapez Gesang” is a fountain of nervous energy, pushed over the edge by a creeping, uncredited female opera singer. The band’s biggest talent is its bottomless well of percussion. Saxophone keys clop, cello strings slap and incidental creaks emerge from the piano while drummer Marcos Baggiani builds upon it further with his traditional arsenal of clattering drums and cymbals.
Lena Bloch, Feathery ****
There is a chamber-like quality to tenor saxophonist Bloch’s debut album. She evokes altoist Lee Konitz often, going so far as to name her first track “Hi-Lee,” but the strongest vibe seems to originate in the simmering Chico Hamilton Quintet of the 1950s, which featured saxophonist Buddy Collette. Like those recordings, Bloch and her band’s sound here is spacious. The four members contribute tunes to the affair, but they all coalesce into a single vision. Guitarist Dave Miller plays with minimalism and clarity, offering nimble support when needed but he is otherwise reserved. When Miller works in harmony with Bloch, they effortlessly grasp an intuitive understanding. Bassist Cameron Brown bows and plucks with symphonic precision. Drummer Billy Mintz is sparse, peppering steady swing with the occasional splash of color. All of this is in service to Bloch’s breathy horn. She is deliberate in the extreme, waiting for the right moments to drop flowing line, and rewards the patient listener when those opportunities arise.
Russ Nolan, Relelentless ***
“Relentless” is a word that is rarely used to describe something positively. Saxophonist Russ Nolan and pianist Manuel Valera seem particularly interested in fulfilling the title, offering a “buy one, get one free” discount on notes. The two, technically devastating and creative in their phrases, gun through nearly the entire proceedings at top speed, from the breathless first notes of the title track to the very last staccato note of the pulsating “Abakua.” Nolan composed all but one of the tunes and shines brightest on soprano.
BJ Jansen, Ronin ** ½
Baritone saxophonist Jansen leads a traditional rhythm section through nine self-penned tunes. Throughout most of the recording the band hovers in a tasteful, straightahead swing. Pianist Mamiko Watanabe supplies some Prestige-era lines, while Jansen works a range of masterfully rounded tones. Midway through “The Cost,” Jansen bellows a high, enthusiastic brown note for more than five seconds, long enough to upset most house pets and extinguish nearby candles. It’s a refreshing jolt of danger in an otherwise low-risk set.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Vocalist Philip Bailey hit the high notes on the Earth, Wind & Fire hit "Fantasy" more than 35 years ago. He joined the seminal funk/R&B/soul/jazz band directly out of college and acquired seven Grammy Awards plus membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame as a result. He even struck radio gold without the band, pairing up with a fellow chart-topping Philip, British drummer-singer-actor Phil Collins, for the soft-rock staple "Easy Lover." Bailey recently penned his autobiography, Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire, detailing the finer points of becoming an international superstar over five decades. He'll be discussing the book with Billboard magazine's rhythm & blues encyclopedia, Gail Mitchell.
Philip Bailey @ LA Weekly
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Blue Note Turns 75
As part of the yearlong celebration of Blue Note Records’ 75th anniversary, on March 25 the venerable jazz record label unveiled the exhibit “Blue Note Records: The Finest In Jazz” in the Mike Curb Gallery at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The opening night of the exhibit brought together the label’s president, Don Was, and trumpeter Terence Blanchard for a discussion, followed by a performance by Blanchard’s quintet.
The exhibit is small but lovingly assembled, occupying a corner near the well-lit belongings of Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and opera star Placido Domingo’s stage costumes. The majority of the exhibit hinges on seven video screens showing interviews with Was, producer Michael Cuscuna and pianist Jason Moran, along with unidentified live concert footage and various documentary vignettes.
The limitations of the exhibit create strange juxtapositions in summing up 75 years of business operations.
Rare artifacts like Kenny Dorham’s trumpet and Thelonious Monk’s hat are encased alongside newer items like José James’ leather jacket, which could still be part of his stage wardrobe today. In center display cases, numerous album covers and contact sheets were mounted on the walls.
The informal conversation was moderated by the museum’s executive director, Bob Santelli, who lobbed friendly questions to his guests. Blanchard addressed his motivations for teaching, embracing the need to pass on the knowledge imparted by his former employer Art Blakey. The participants discussed the mystery of Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio as well as the allure of the “cigarettes and saxophones” that graced so many of the label’s classic album covers.
“You can only put out .25 percent of the records you want,” explained Was, late in the conversation. As the label has drifted toward r&b under his tenure, he was eager to point out that he is working to keep Blue Note relevant while honoring its fiercely defended history.
One of his highest profile initiatives is a jazz collector’s fantasy project: Beginning last week, the label has begun a vinyl-only reissue campaign to release 100 of its most significant albums. But deciding on which albums to release was not an easy task.
“The first 50, there was no argument,” said Was. “The second 50—was all arguments.” Joe Henderon’sMode For Joe provided Was with his introduction to the label back when he was a teenager, while Blanchard was taken in by Blakey’s Free For All.
The Blakey LP is among the first batch of vinyl reissues, along with John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil and Larry Young’s Unity. The campaign is slated to continue with new titles popping up monthly through October 2015.
Was pointed out that the project is not aimed at the covetous collector striving for audiophile packaging and a big price tag. Instead, he said the goal was to release “low cost, high quality” vinyl to help spread the label across as many record collections as possible—much like the no-frills CD releases of the ’90s and ’00s.
Was fielded a question from the audience about how to make money as a musician in a Spotify world. “Nobody knows,” he answered bluntly. “We’re not asking for enough money to drive a Maserati, just enough to make a record.”
Blanchard provided sage advice to an aspiring film composer: “Don’t be the headache,” he stated simply. He advised musicians to do their job, stay out of the way and make things as smooth for the filmmaker as possible.
It also helps when you make great music. In a candy-colored outfit complete with wallet chain, Blanchard led his youthful quintet for nearly 40 minutes following the conversation. He was an enthusiastic frontman, craning forward and backward, exhaling enough wind to extinguish a brushfire. The result from his blasting lungs was jagged and impassioned, driven by drummer Jason Faulkner’s bubbling kit. Despite the brevity of the performance, Blanchard settled in quickly with his band and was able to conjure a wide range of moods.