Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review of Ambrose Akinmusire “When the Heart Emerges Glistening”


At the tender age of twenty-nine, trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire, has garnered a plethora of accolades and acknowledgements this year for his recent work. He captured both trumpet of the year and best "up and coming new artist" of the year at the Jazz Journalist Association 2011 awards and has been lauded in articles in Downbeat and the New York Times to mention just a few. His latest release is titled 
“ When the Heart Emerges Glistening” , his first for the venerable Blue Note label. You would be hard pressed to find a record that was so aptly titled, for Mr. Akinmusire’s musical heart has surely emerged radiant and glistening on this one. This is a daring, challenging and musically provocative collection of songs, all compositions but one were written by Mr. Akinmusire.  The single exception is the 1939 Johnny Burke and Bob Haggert song “What’s New”, which Mr. Akinmusire plays as a duet with his pianist Mr. Clayton. A tribute of sorts to an idol, the late trumpet player Clifford Brown. Even here, Clayton and Akinmusire seem to include the standard as a testament to their thorough knowledge of the tradition. In doing so they inject new life into the well worn composition. It's like they're saying " we can play this but here is what we think about how it should be played today."  

Part of Mr. Akinmusire’s success stems from his notion of the primacy of the band over the individual performer as the ultimate entity capable of producing his musical message.To that end he has assembled an complimentary group of talented musicians, most part of his working band, for this album. The pianist Gerald Clayton, the bassist Harish Raghavan and the drummer Justin Brown add immeasurably to the total package. Perhaps the most symbiotic relationship is with the talented saxophonist Walter Smith III with whom he shares the front line. To paraphrase Mr. Akinmsuire, the two men often finish each other’s phrases and intuitively know precisely where each other is heading.This special interplay is apparent and on full display on tunes like 
“Confessions to My Unborn Daughter” or “ Jaya” where they intertwine beautifully, conversing in high register squeals and slurs, always melding their sounds seamlessly when they return to playing in unison.

IIIHarish Raghavan’s facile bass is featured on the short intro to the hypnotic “Henya”. This composition is destined to become a jazz classic as it has already hauntingly appeared on Walter Smith” III’s “III” 

 and Gretchen Parlatto’s 
 The Lost and Found

both fine outings, each artist offering their own special interpretation. On his own version, Mr. Akinmusire plays the celesta with its chime like “heavenly” sound. He overdubs himself on trumpet, creating emotionally charged phrasing interspersed with some of the most unusual and creative use of slurs that I have heard on the instrument in some time. Mr. Akinmusire has a unique vision of what he wants his music to sound like and is certainly stretching the boundaries of his instrument to achieve that vision.

On “With Love” Mr. Brown’s drums are used to create the weaving percussive patterns that move the song along so beautifully. Mr. Smith’s tenor solo is particularly lyrical as is Mr. Cleaver’s probing piano musings.

On “Regret (No More)” , a high point of the album, Mr. Clayton plays a heart wrenching duet with Mr. Akinmusire, whose delicately played solo jumps with an impressive intervallic slur that is perfectly controlled and has the emotional impact of a desperate human cry.

“Ayneh (Cora)” is one of two interludes, the other being the finale 
"Ayneh ( Campbell) " that are dedicated to Mr. Akinmusire’s mother. They are musical plays on the song “Henya” with the name cleverly spelled backwards to indicate their musical affinity.

“My Name Is Oscar” is a spoken poem of sorts, with Akinmusire’s voice recorded over the rhythmic drumming of Brown. The song commemorates the life of Oscar Grant a young man who was shot to death in Oakland by a transit official. Not a protest, more of an affirmation of the man’s existence and a realization that this could have happened to any of us.

“The Walls of Lechuguilla” is the result of Akinmusire’s watching a show on television about the New Mexcian caves of Lechuguilla and their hidden beauty. It is a free piece with the trumpeter playing what sounds like what one might hear as echoes in the caves, eventually leading into a free form jaunt by the band.
The Caves of Lechuguilla
On “Tear Stained Suicide Manifesto” we find the pianist and fellow Manhattan School of Music alumni Jason Moran, playing piano. His solo is brooding and reverential with flourishes of classical undertones. Moran is credited as co-producer of this album with Akinmusire. Despite Moran’s influence, this album is clearly Akinmusire’s vision.

As Akinmusire relates, at the age of nineteen he was challenged by the saxophonist Steve Coleman as to how he wanted his music to be perceived.  For the last ten years Mr. Akinmusire has made a concerted effort to extricate himself from all influences and conventions that might compromise his musical vision. If his efforts on " When the Heart Emerges Glistening"   is any indication he is well on his way to acheiving that quest.

Ambrose Akinmusire , trumpet and compositions; Walter Smith III, saxophones; Gerald Clayton, piano; Harish Raghavan, bass; Justin Brown, drums; Jason Moran, producer and piano on “Tear Stained Suicide Manifeto”.

Tracks: Confessions to My Unborn Daughter; Jaya;  Henya Bass Intro; Henya; Far But Few Between; With Love; Regret ( No More); Ayneh ( Cora);
My Name is Oscar; The Walls of Lechugilla; What’s New; Tear Stained Suicide Manifesto; Ayneh (Campbell).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Notes on Jazz Second Annual 4th of July Living Legends of Jazz Celebration

Last July 4th I decided to assemble a list of some notable musicians, arrangers, impresarios and singers in the world of jazz  who had passed their seventieth birthday. Many are thankfully still with us, enabling us to formally acknowledge and take a moment to revel in their past accomplishments.

A  number  were still actively engaged, robustly performing in their own current endeavors. Music is a rejuvenating tonic, so it is not surprising to see several of these stalwarts going strong well into their nineties, still capable of producing some special moments of magic. As a follow-up to last year’s list, My hope is to make this an annual celebration. An informal honor roll posted on my blog, acknowledging these artists and their contributions to the music; a listing of their names and ages, categorized under their respective instruments or specialty.
This past year,  I was personally fortunate enough to have witnessed some fine performances by some greats of this music. Ninety-Year old pianist Dave Brubeck playing at the Tarrytown Music Hall, just months after undergoing heart surgery, showed he could still produce some memorable moments. Octogenarians Bucky Pizzarelli and Jim Hall mesmerized the audience at the Guitar Heroes exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, as part of a series that honored the great Italian American guitar luthiers of the past.  The 2011 Jazz Journalist Association Awards in New York City, featured eighty-five year young piano legend Randy Weston entertaining the astute crowd of fellow musicians and writers with his own special approach to the instrument. The irascible conguero Candido Camero, who turned ninety years old this year, created a stir  at  JJA gathering as he played his congas with his infectious smile and the enthusiasm of someone half his age. The JJA, at its annual awards, has consistently bestowed honors to the veteran players who have stood the test of time, sometimes to the chagrin of some younger deserving players. But just as new shoots take root in the fertile soil left by the earlier generation, the younger players are standing on the shoulders of those who came before them, and will soon enough have their turn. We are all well served to acknowledge those who paved the way, and it is my hope that we honor these dedicated artists while they are still with us and able to bask in the deserved glory.
Sonny Rollins photo by John Abbott ©2011
This year tenor titan Sonny Rollins, who is eighty, was named tenor saxophonist and musician of the year at the JJA awards ceremony. Another venerable tenor saxophonist, Jimmy Heath, eighty-four, garnered the JJA’s lifetime achievement award for his body of fine work. 

Jimmy Heath by  Fran Kaufman Photo ©2011
The accomplished arranger Bill Holman, another vibrant octogenarian, received the honors for best arranger of the year.

Despite our joy for those still with us, we continue to lose some of the great heroes and pioneers of this music. A partial list of those we lost last year includes; the rock/fusion keyboardist T. Lavitz who passed at the young age of 54. The Poet/Singer Gil Scott Heron was recently lost at the age of 62. The violinist Billy Bang, who posthumously took the best violinist in jazz award at this year’s JJA ceremony, was only 64. Jazz/Funk guitarist Cornell Dupree was 68. Pianist Ray Bryant  and Soul/jazz organist/singer Trudy Pitts were both 79.  Jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln died at the age of 80. The great “Take Five” drummer from the Dave Brubeck band, Joe Morello was lost at the age of 82. The trumpeter/composer Bill Dixon was 84 and the expressive saxophone voice of James Moody who passed at  85 will be sorely missed. The well known pianist and educator Dr. Billy Taylor sadly left us at the age of 89. We also lost the seminal English pianist Sir George Shearing and the trombone sound of Buddy Morrow both were 91. Finally trumpet player Eugene “Snooky” Young left us at the ripe old age of 92. I am sure there were more that I missed.

Lee Konitz photo by John Abbott ©2011

Despite these tragic losses, jazz has proven time and again that it is a durable art form, a resilient performance art that is beyond categorization.  As I have stated previously Jazz is an art form that has become the most internationally cooperative means of communication in the world today.   I truly believe this. On this fourth of July let our passion continue this yearly celebration of these communicators, those who have been and continue to be so instrumental in bringing us this music we love so much.
Many of the jazz legends continue to actively perform, teach and sustain the art through their tireless pursuit of making music and carrying on the tradition. Jazz is a living organism that is constantly evolving. It is arguably the only true indigenous American art form and as such it needs to be nurtured and supported by our active participation, especially in these austere economic times when public funding for the arts is being perilously withdrawn.The best way we can honor them is to continue to support the music by experiencing their “live” performances.  Some currently touring or performing artists include Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Randy Weston, Ramsey Lewis, Gerald Wilson, Phil Woods, McCoy Tyner, Gary Bartz, Lew Tabakin, Bunk Green, Charles Lloyd, Gato Barbieri, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock , Archie Shepp and Richard Davis to name just a few.  

Gary Peacock photo by John Abbott ©2011

Here is my expanded list of veteran players, all at least seventy years of age, who in some way helped shape the music. I am sure I am missing some important players and my apologies for any inadvertent omissions.  I welcome comments from readers who may know of deserving musicians who I should add to this list so that it can be more complete next year. A great big thank you to each and every one of this years celebrants.


Saxophonists/ Reed Instruments :

Phil Woods photo by John Abbott ©2011

Pharaoh Sanders, Gary Bartz, Peter Brotzmann, Roscoe Mitchell  and Bennie Maupin (70), Arthur Bythe, Hamiet Bluiett, Wilton Felder, Joe McPhee, Charles McPherson, Carlos Ward,
Paul Winter and 
Lew Tabakin (71), 
Odean Pope,
Zibigniew Namyslowski, Charles Gayle, Sonny Fortune and George Braith (72) 
 James Spaulding, Charles Lloyd, Carlos Garnett, Joseph Jarman (73),Archie Shepp,
Nathan Davis,  Frank Strozier, Jim Galloway and Nick Brignola (74) Klaus Doldinger,
John Tchicai, Gary N. Foster, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and Don Menza (75)
Giuseppi Logan, Jimmy Woods, Houston Person, George Coleman and Bunky Green (76)
Lanny Morgan, Gato Barbieri and  Wayne Shorter (77) Lol Coxhill,
Sadao Watanabe, Charlie Davis and John Handy III (78) Phil Woods, Bill Perkins and
Plas Johnson Jr. (79) Sonny Rollins (80), Ornette Coleman and Gabe Baltazar (81)
Joe Temperley, Harold Ousley, Herb Geller, Frank Foster and Benny Golson (82)
Lee Konitz (83),  Big Jay McNeeley, Med Flory, Dick Hafer, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Heath and Red Holloway (84), Marshall Allen ,Sam Rivers, Hal McKusick and  Earle“Von”Freeman (87), Frank Wess (89), Yusef Lateef (90), Harold Joseph “Hal”“Cornbread” Singer (91) .

Wayne Shorter photo by John Abbott ©2011

Frank Wess  by Fran Kaufman Photo ©2011

Connie Crothers, Stanley Cowell, Armando“Chick”Corea, Mike Nock and David Burrell (70), Herbie Hancock Bob James, Charles Brackeen and Roger Kellaway (71),  McCoy Tyner, 
Mike Longo,  Joe Sample, Gap Mangione, Jon Mayer and Joanne Brackeen and Warren Bernhardt (72) Denny Zeitlin, Steve Kuhn and John Coates Jr. (73), Eddie Palieri and 
Kirk Lightsey (74), Les McCann, Carla Bley and Harold Mabern (75), Ramsey Lewis, Pat Moran (McCoy) and Pat Rebillot, Ran Blake, Don Friedman,

McCoy Tyner photo by John Abbott ©2011
Martial Solal photo by John Abbott ©2011

Oliver Jones, Ellis Marsalis Jr. and Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) (76), Dave Grusin and Misha Mengelberg (76) Cedar Walton, Paul Bley, Bengt Hallberg and Larry Novak (78)
Jack Reilly, Walter Norris, George Gruntz and Michel LeGrand (79), Horace Parlan, 
Muhal Richard Abrams, Derek Smith and Amhad Jamal (80)
Frank Strazzeri, Cecil Taylor, Richard Wyands, Claude Bolling, Barry Harris and 
Toshiko Akiyoshi (81), Horace Silver and  Junior Mance (82) Freddie Redd, Martial Solal and Mose Allison (83), Dick Hyman and Claude Williamson (84), Randy Weston (85), Barbara Carroll (86), Paul T. Smith and Johnny Otis (Veliotes) (89), Dave Brubeck, Al Vega and Marty Napoleon (90), Bebo Valdes (92),  Marian McPartland (93).
Dave Brubeck photo by John Abbott ©2011

Randy Weston by Fran Kaufman Photo ©2011

Richard Davis photo by John Abbott ©2011
Steve Swallow (70), Ed “Butch” Warren, Don Thompson and Eberhard Weber (71), Mario Pavone (72), Larry Ridley, Reggie Workman and  Charlie Haden (73),
Ron Carter and Chuck Israels (74), Buell Nedlinger and Henry Grimes (75),Gary Peacock and Cecil McBee (76), Bob Cranshaw and Jack Six (78) Ron Crotty and Richard Davis (81), Jymie Merritt (85) 
Eugene "The Senator”Wright (88),Howard Rumsey (94), Coleridge Goode (96). 

  Trumpet/Cornet/ Flugelhorn:
Gerald Wilson and Donald Byrd photo by John Abbott ©2011
Eddie Henderson, Palle Mikkelborg and Chuck Mangione (70), Enrico Rava (71), 
Marvin Stamm and Hugh Masekela (72), Guido Basso (73), Ed Polcer and Ernie Carson (74), Chuck Flores and Ted Curson (76), Bobby Bradford (76) Donald Byrd (78), Jack Sheldon and Dusko Gojkovic (79), Alphonso “Dizzy” Reese, Louis Smith and Ira Sullivan (80), Sam Noto and Kenny Wheeler (81), Carl “Doc” Severinson (83), Joe Wilder and Uan Rasey (89),
Clark Terry (90) Thomas Jefferson (91),Gerald Wilson (92 ).Lionel Ferbos (99) he will be 100 years old on July 17th

Jim Hall photo by John Abbott ©2011
Guitarists:  Jerry Hahn (70), Ralph Towner (71), 
Gene Bertoncini and Joe D’Iorio (74), Sonny Greenwich (75), Ed Bickert (78) Kenny Burrell (79), Jim Hall,
Joao Gilberto and John Pisano (80), Martin “Marty” Grosz (81) Eddie Duran and, Bucky Pizzarelli (85) 
Mundell Lowe and Johnny Smith (89).

James “Dick” Griffin and Wayne Henderson (71)  Billy Watrous (72), Grachan Moncur III, Philip Elder Wilson and  “Big” Bill Bissonnette (74), Roswell Rudd (75),
Curtis Fuller photo by John Abbott ©2011
Julian Priester (76) Curtis Fuller (76) Locksley "Slide" Hampton (79), Bob Brookmeyer (81), Santo "Sonny' Russo (82). George “Buster” Copper, Harold Betters and Conrad Janis (83),  George Masso and Urbie Green (84) and Eddie Bert (89), Herbie Harper (91). 

Billy Hart (70), Andrew Cyrille, Ginger Baker and Pierre Courbois (71) and Idris Muhammad (71), Bernard Purdie, Issac “Redd” Holt, Nesbert “Stix” Hooper and 
Tony Oxley (72), Pete LaRoca (Sims), Horace Arnold, Paul Ferrara,  Daniel Humair and Edwin Marshall (73), Louis Hayes, James “Sunny” Murray, Charly Antolini, Colin Bailey and Roy McCurdy  (74),  Albert “Tootie” Heath and Chuck Flores (76), Donald “Duck” Bailey (77), 
Ben Riley and Ray Mosca (78), Mickey Roker Frank Capp and Grady Tate  (79) Paul Motian and Ronnie Bedford (80),) John Armatage (81), Hal Blaine, Jimmy Cobb, Charlie Persip (82), Joe Harris (84), Roy Haynes and Samuel “Dave” Bailey (85), Armando Peroza (87),Percy Brice and Al Harewood (88), Foreststorn “Chico”  Hamilton (89), Candido Camero (90) 
and Edward “Butch” Ballard (92).
Roy Haynes  by Fran Kaufman Photo ©2011
Paul Motian photo by John Abbott ©2011


 Mac “Dr John” Rebbenack (70)“ Papa” John De Francesco), Brian Auger (71), Rhoda Scott (73), Reuben Wilson (76), and Sir Charles Thompson (93).   

Miss Nancy Wilson  by Fran Kaufman Photo ©2011

Jazz Vocalists:

Janet Lawson (70), Astrud Gilberto and Al Jarreau (71), Mary Stallings (71),
Etta James, Ruth Price and Ellyn Ruker (73), Nancy Wilson, Carol Sloane, Karin Krog and Sathima Bea Benjamin (74)  Marlene Ver Planck and David Frishberg piano/vocals (78), Freddy Cole and Mark Murphy (79), Helen Merrill( 81),Gloria Lynne (79), Annie Ross (80), Sheila Jordan and Ernestine Anderson (82), Cleo Laine,
Jackie Cain and Ernie Andrews (83),Tony Bennett (84) Bill Henderson and
Jimmy Scott (85) Bob Dorough (87) Jon Hendricks (90), Herb Jeffries (97). 

Tony Bennett  photo by  John Abbott ©2011

Artists on Other Instruments:

Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Ayers, vibraphonists (70) Lonnie Liston Smith, keyboardist and Hubert Laws, flautist (71) , Perry Morris Robinson, clarinetist (72) Gunter Hampel, multi-instrumentalist, Charlie Shoemake, vibraphonist , Dave Pike, vibraphonist/marimba and Mike Maineri, vibraphonist (73) Hermeto Pascoal, accordion & keyboards (74) Reuben Wilson, organist (76) Joe Licari, clarinetist, Sonny Simmons sax and English Horn, Warren Chiasson vibraphonist (77),Michael White, violin and Emil Richards, vibes and percussion (78) David Baker composer/cellist (79), Frank Marocca, accordion and Sam Most, flautist (80),
Jean "Toots" Thielmans photo by John Abbott ©2011
Pierre “Pete” Fountain and Rolf Kuhn, clarinetists and Paul Horn, flautist (81),
Bernard “ Acker” Bilk, clarinetist, Peter Appleyard, vibraphonist and Andre Previn conductor/pianist (82), Teddy Charles (Cohen), vibraphonist and Bob Wilber, clarinetist (83), Terry Gibbs, vibraphonist and George Wein, Pianist/ Concert Promoter (86), 
Rudy Van Gelder, recording engineer (86), Buddy DeFranco, clarinetist (88) 
Jean “Toots” Thielmans, harmonica/guitar/whistler (89), Svend Asmussen, violinist and Pete Rugolo, piano/ French Horn/ arranger/(95).


Don Sebesky, arranger/trombone and Milcho Leviev (73),Quincy Delight Jones, composer/arranger/ trumpet (78), Claus Ogerman conductor/arranger,
Clinton “Clint” Eastwood, composer/director/pianist (81), Creed Taylor, record producer and Clare Fischer Composer/arranger/pianist/organist (82), Lennie Niehaus, composer/arranger/saxophonist (82), Bill Holman, arranger/composer/saxophone (84),  Johnny Mandell, composer/arranger and Gunther Schuller composer/conductor/French horn  (85), Orrin Keepnews, producer (88), 
George Avakian, producer (92)

My best wishes for a happy and healthy 4th of July to all of you and thank you for your tireless contributions to the music we all love.

PS:  A great big thanks to the wonderful photographers and fellow JJA members Fran Kaufman John Abbott for graciously allowing me to use their amazing images for this years list.

This article is also posted on the Huffington Post at