Sunday, August 31, 2014

ACT Music Profile - DownBeat

Siegfried “Siggi” Loch has been a part of the recording industry for nearly 55 years - starting as an EMI sales representative in 1960 and he served as a business executive for Liberty Records and Warner Brothers International. But for the last 22 years, Loch has run his own label, ACT Music, arguably one of the biggest jazz record labels in Europe.

“I would be really reluctant to advise anybody to start a record label,” Loch says frankly by phone from Munich, Germany. “I was very fortunate to live through the golden age of the record industry. The way the business developed and all the love and the success that I was able to experience will never happen again.”

The 73 year old jack of all trades knows better than most that nobody can deter a dream. And more importantly, his artists know that that love and success is ready and waiting for them. Loch fell in love with jazz after hearing Sidney Bechet in 1955. Five years later, he had his foot in the door of the industry peddling the EMI catalogue. Two years after that he was producing sessions for rockers, jazz musicians and blues artists. “I had the idea of running my own label after I had my first experience as a producer in the 1960s. I made records with Jean-Luc Ponty, Sonny Williamson, Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker.”

With a few production credits under his belt, he was ready to set off on his own when an offer to help run Liberty Records, which then owned Blue Note Records, sidelined his plans.  After four years there, he was again ready to start his label when a call from Nesuhi Ertegun put his dream on the backburner.  It would be another twenty years before Loch finally held his label’s first release in his hands.

That release couldn’t have been better received. Jazzpana was a global collaboration between Vince Mendoza and Arif Mardin. It was nominated for two Grammy awards and set the path for a diverse catalogue of over 350 records.

Between the 22 albums under his own name, plus the guest appearances and production credits scattered over twenty years of collaborating with Loch, Swedish trombonist Nils Landgren appears on nearly ten percent of the label’s output.

“Siggi knows what he wants and he has the business skills to get what he wants,” says Landgren. “Many labels stop when they have a finished project but ACT spends so much time and effort to make all the projects visible.”

Swede Esbjorn Svensson, who recorded under the name e.s.t., was one of those musicians who benefited from Loch’s well-oiled machine. The two met through Landgren and Loch was immediately taken with the young pianist’s use of disparate genres to create a moody palette entirely his own. “I would only work with his music if he would sign with me directly,” recalls Loch. “As a result, he became one of the most important European jazz artists.”

Loch’s reputation for promoting the music of Sweden was enough to earn him a “Northern Star” knighthood from the Swedish king in 2010 but it was a bittersweet honor. Svensson lost his life in a scuba diving accident only two years prior.

After that traumatic experience, Loch initially considered shutting down the label entirely but as he worked through his grief, he found the determination to honor Svensson’s legacy by expanding the reach of the label to include pianist Vijay Iyer, drummer Manu Katche and pianist Michael Wollny.

“ACT was e.s.t’s label and there is no musician I know that hadn’t been somehow struck by this band around that time,” says Wollny about when he first considered signing with the label. “Over the last decade on the scene, I can honestly say that Siggi remains the most trustworthy and honest friend I can imagine.”

To further solidify the label’s sterling reputation, ACT has been awarded the “Jazz Label of the Year” honor at the German ECHO awards four years in a row and continues to promote new artists as well as their label cornerstones like guitarist Nguyen Le and Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah, currently one of the biggest selling artists in France.

Through the label’s dramatic expansion, Loch still retains that sense of togetherness that catapulted the label twenty-two years ago. “There is a closeness to the company,” says Landgren fondly. “The artists have the feeling that we belong to the ACT family. We can speak directly to the boss. It feels like a family business. It makes it rewarding to put in a lot of work because something good always comes out the other side.”

Daniel Rosenboom Quintet : Fire Keeper - DownBeat

Daniel Rosenboom Quintet
Fire Keeper

There are few jazz records that seem suitable for a pyrotechnics show but trumpeter-composer-producer Daniel Rosenboom has accomplished such a feat with the debut of his new album on his new label, Orenda.  The work is a wholly modern and frequently intimidating assault brimming with ferocity and enough guitar showboating to keep the lighters in the air.  The first minute of the album is a little misleading. "Leaving Moscow" opens with Rosenboom's muted trumpet offering a languid modal dance but an unbridled boil soon follows and never lets up.  Guitarist Alexander Noice rips into a headbanger's frenzy not long into the tune and returns throughout the album to the altar of shred.  Saxophonist Gavin Templeton supplies a boisterous solo alongside Rosenboom's muted frenzy on the brushed-steel soul of "With Fire Eyes," while drummer Dan Schnelle, a young and swinging fixture in Los Angeles, seems equipped with steel sticks and a set of bottomless toms.  The quintet has a grinding meticulousness that is admirable but could benefit from the occasional release. Spontaneity is replaced by an exacting approach to every drum roll and trumpet splat and the band is extremely tight in their execution of Rosenboom's ideas.  This is not background music.  It's a panoramic assault, soaked in aggression and fuzz, flinging jagged machismo in every direction.  The listener has two options: put down what they're doing and soak it up, or run screaming for the hills.

Daniel Rosenboom @ DownBeat

Kathleen Grace: No Place to Fall - DownBeat

Kathleen Grace
No Place to Fall
*** 1/2

Historically, the overlap between jazz and country has most often met at the neck of a guitar, whether it's the lap steel of Western swing or Willie Nelson's battered arpeggiating through "Stardust."  But the intersection between the two genres goes at least as far back as Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Rodgers strolling through "Blue Yodel No. 9" in 1930.  Kathleen Grace learned an appreciation for music among the tumbleweeds of Tucson, Ariz., and something of that ethereal desert town cots each tune on this album with a layer of dust.  Echoes of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris' Tucson-indebted Western Wall reverberate on this recording, especially with the same ease and smattering of cover songs but the pace of this album never strays too far from a destination-less walk.  A cover of the Meat Puppets' "Plateau" has a hard time climbing out of the shadow of Nirvana's definitive MTV Unplugged rendition while Grace's original "I'm On Fire" is a sighing sway of patient guitars (a cover of the Springsteen song by the same name could've led to some interesting terrain.) Ellington's "Mood Indigo" benefits from the appearance of pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz, whose languid curls dance around Grace's sly reading.  On "The Briar and The Rose," Grace offers a gorgeous three-part harmony with help from guest vocalists Jamie Drake and Leslie Stevens.  The trio blends seamlessly, evoking visions of matching bolo ties that elevate the original material to somewhere unexpected.  Hopefully on the next record, Grace can do a little more exploring in that corner of her world.

Kathleen Grace @ DownBeat

Monday, August 18, 2014

Los Angeles's Wrigley Field - KPCC's Off-Ramp

This piece aired as a part of KPCC's Saturday afternoon show, Off-Ramp.  To hear the audio, click on the link below.

When most people hear the name “Wrigley Field,” they picture brick walls, deep dish pizza and the longest World Series drought in Major League Baseball. But two years before the Chicago stadium became known as Wrigley Field, there was already another ballpark with the same name 2,000 miles to the west.
Built in 1925, the first Wrigley Field was a perfectly symmetrical ballpark with more than 20,000 seats on the corner of 42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard in South Central Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Angels called the stadium home for thirty-three seasons until the migration of two major league New York teams in 1958 brought on the end of the Pacific Coast League in Los Angeles.
The New York Giants defected to San Francisco, the Brooklyn Dodgers settled into Los Angeles and with them came appearances by every National League star and for the Dodgers in particular, three World Series titles in less than ten years.
The Angels folded that same year, and for a time, Wrigley Field was without regular home games. Like so many other dormant structures in Los Angeles, it became a popular filming location. The movie version of Damn Yankees had ball players singing and dancing across the infield. TV shows like The Twilight Zone and The Munsters used the bleachers as a backdrop. But it was a baseball-themed sports show that left the most curious claim to fame:

Twenty-six episodes of Home Run Derby were filmed in the off-season of 1959. Some of the biggest names in baseball spent an afternoon hitting long balls onto the front lawns of neighboring houses, their second story windows clearly visible as the cameramen tried to track the hits.
Unlike most celebrity game shows these days, the sluggers in Home Run Derby were competing for serious cash. Over the course of six appearances, Hank Aaron took home over $12,000, the equivalent of more than a third of his year’s salary.
The show only lasted one season. Host and creator Mark Scott died suddenly of a heart attack a week after the last episode ran and the derby didn’t resurface until 1985 when Major League Baseball adopted the contest as an official part of All-Star Weekend.
In 1961, Gene Autry bought the Los Angeles Angels and brought the team back to life. They played their first year at the stadium where 248 home runs were hit in just over 80 home games, including two of Roger Maris’ record 61. That dubious ballpark record lasted more than 30 years, but the Angels only lasted at Wrigley for a season.
The following year, Dodger Stadium was completed, offering more than two and half times the seating of Wrigley Field.
Four years later, the Angels moved into an equally large home in Anaheim. Wrigley Field held on until 1969, hosting occasional concerts and rallies, including one by Dr. Martin Luther King, but it couldn’t sustain itself. The field was demolished and turned into a city park, burying most of its history along with it.
But at least we’ve still got the home run derby.

Jason Palmer: Places - DownBeat

Jason Palmer

Musicians are no strangers to the road.  Each traveler takes away something different after a stay in a new city, whether it's a year or a night.  Trumpeter Jason Palmer came away with a set's worth of material inspired by the various places he put his luggage down.  But he isn't trying to emulate the music of each location.  There is no oompah to "Berlin" or yodeling on "Bern."  These are internalized trips hashed out in the hours and days between gigs.  Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and alto saxophonist Godwin Louis fill out the front line of Palmer's sextet here and their tight attack is vital to the soul of this recording.  They are put to good use on nearly every melody, forming a dense, swooping blend.  Palmer is quick with a confident assault, and Turner is powerful throughout.  On "Rising Sign (For Paris)," the horn men weave in and out of each other's message, deftly dancing between a bubbling riff and darting solo lines initially without help from the rhythm section.  Once the band is fleshed out, the horns engage in some rapid-fire lines before stepping aside from drummer Kendrick Scott to demonstrate his high-energy approach.  Guitarist Mike Moreno and bassist Edward Perez are tasked with keeping a spacious, harmonic foundation in lace and they do so admirably.  Moreno is most engaging when he keeps the shifting gears of "Berlin" steady before getting an opportunity to add a little grease to the band's arsenal.

Jason Palmer @ DownBeat

Friday, August 08, 2014

Sonny Rollins Fans Go Ballistic About New Yorker Article - Village Voice

YouTube screencap of Rollins' webcast
Sonny Rollins Monday night
The New Yorker's "Shouts & Murmurs" column, which is satirical and runs every week in the magazine, is usually pretty funny. The online version? Not so much.
Last week saw an entry called "Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words." But it was not written by Rollins, it was written by Onion scribe Django Gold. It was satire, but nobody got it, and there was a shitstorm.
That's because: A) It wasn't funny and B) Jazz fans are generally kind of humorless.
Rollins, of course, is one of the biggest names in the genre. His career stretches back to the late 1940s and includes stage time with virtually every major jazz musician.
He wrote the music to the film Alfie and made a cameo on the Rolling Stones' "Waiting on a Friend." Now 83, Rollins still tops jazz polls and record charts. He's known for an extreme dedication to his art and a sly sense of humor.
The New Yorker piece, on the other hand, was not nuanced. Framed as a list of 11 regrets, it's patently absurd.
"Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with," "Rollins" writes. "I really don't know why I keep doing this."
He continues: "Inertia, I guess. Once you get stuck in a rut, it's difficult to pull yourself out, even if you hate every minute of it. Maybe I'm just a coward."
The jokes fell flat. A lot of people believed it was actually written by Rollins (perhaps because the New Yorker used to have a good reputation for jazz coverage), and hyperventilating Twitterers used terms like "scandalous" and "libelous" between threats to cancel their subscriptions.
Meanwhile, jazz bloggers spent their weekend writing incensed posts. Marc Myers, a Wall Street Journal contributor, wondered, "Why would the New Yorker...wade in the jackass morass?"
Trumpeter and blogger Nicholas Payton made it more personal: "Black life in a world of White oppression and supremacy is satirical enough. We don't need your help adding it to it."
Perhaps because of all this, it quickly became one of the most popular posts on the magazine's blog. But at some point, the New Yorker made the unusual decision to add a note at the top:
"Editor's note: This article, which is part of our Shouts & Murmurs humor blog, is a work of satire."

Then the piece inspired a response from Rollins himself!
Monday night, the saxophone colossus put on a pair of headphones and appeared on a webcast from his home in Woodstock.
He touched on a number of topics (turns out he's still a MAD magazine subscriber) but ultimately got to his disappointment in the story:
"The people that wrote this article are trying to kill jazz, but you can't kill a spirit.... Do I have a sense of humor? Do jazz people have a sense of humor? Yes, of course.... We're just trying to protect our little space where people are trying to stop the music....
"Are we protective of it? Yes, of course we are. This is something real and important in this world. It doesn't hurt anybody. It helps people. It makes people feel better. It gives people something to strive for."
The problem with the New Yorker riff isn't so much that jazz is off-limits. In fact, seeing how stacked its ranks are is with sanctimonious denizens, it's more ripe for satire than just about any other genre.
The problem is that the piece isn't funny. In the end, humor conquers all. Even for jazz fans.
Now that's something the New Yorker can strive for.

Friday, August 01, 2014

GOLA: International Surf Festival - LA Weekly

In its 53 years of existence, has the International Surf Festival ever been held in a “state of emergency”? We’re not sure, but after a swimmer was attacked by a great white shark on Fourth of July weekend (those sharks have such a Hollywood sense of timing), the city of Manhattan Beach ignited a debate about water safety by declaring such a state, which persists to this day. Ultimately, the idea is to regulate fishing on the pier — the powers that be are convinced that the problem is less that Jaws is out there picking off victims and more that, by baiting sharks into the shallow waters, fishermen are endangering swimmers. But no matter what happens at City Hall, we’re certain local anglers will be on their best behavior during this highly regarded summer tradition. As part of the weekend festival, hundreds of surfers (and body surfers) will compete Saturday, riding everything from short boards to paddle boards along the picturesque South Bay shores. Watch contestants catch a few waves — or come back Sunday at 7:30 a.m. for a sand castle design contest. 

International Surf Festival @ LA Weekly

Celebrating Bird - NYC Jazz Record

Celebrating Bird seems like it was probably one of the easier books Gary Giddins has churned out. At 145 pages, it is a brisk read, especially considering that terrific photos - telegrams to candid family snaps to mid-flight poses of the subject - dot numerous pages. But this book is not so much concerned with the gritty details of hard livings as with depicting what it calls the "triumph of Charlie Parker."

Giddins points out in the acknowledgements that the book was the result of a multimedia collaboration that included a film and a bigger photo spread. It was originally published in 1987 but now exists with a shiny new cover, a few revisions and a new introduction. He states that it was interviews with Parker's first wife Rebecca that captivated him and he sheds a nice amount of light on the early days of the Parker myth. He digs into the birth of Parker's development as a saxophonist as well as the countless weaknesses that took him down at the age of 34.

Giddins paints a vivid cultural portrait of the era, illuminating Parker's role beyond simply jazz history but the limited word count leaves the author no choice but to breeze through numerous incidents with almost a shrug. He sums up Parker's final months with a single, lengthy sentence that includes failed gigs, a suicide attempt, two hospitalizations, alcohol abuse and the crumbling of his last marriage - incidents all worthy of deep analysis. More often that not the book has a look-it-up feel, which is fine if the reader is not already familiar with the story. Of course this book was re-released concurrent with Stanley Crouch's long-gestating first half of a Parker biography that barely climbs out of the subject's teen years despite being twice the length. (Crouch is graciously credited for dumping out a bag of his research for Giddins nearly 30 years ago).

The last quarter of Giddins' book goes heavy on the discography and features an index nearly a tenth the length of the actual text but if the re-release of this book leads to introducing anyone to the jazz legend, it will have succeeded efficiently.

Celebrating Bird @ NYC Jazz Record