Friday, July 30, 2010

Some Cogent Comments by Multi-Instrumentalist Scott Robinson on "Accessibility" and Music

Scott Robinson is an abundantly talented, much in demand multi-instrumentalist whose specialty is woodwinds, but who considers his main instrument the tenor saxophone. Scott has been featured recently in a Wall Street Journal article (click here to link to the article by Will Friedwald ) for his collection of unusual and rare instruments, some seemingly so large they seem to have been made for Giants-all of which he can amazingly play. He was also featured on a post at Doug Ramsey's fine blog Rifftides.

I first heard Scott with the Ron Horton and Tim Horner's Little Big Band where he was a member of a formidable horn section. The band was playing the adventurous  music of pianist Andrew Hill  in an inauspicious Community center in Teaneck , New Jersey,  where Scott resides.  His tenor playing blew me away that afternoon (see my review on All About Jazz of that performance by clicking here) and I was subsequently further impressed when I picked up a copy of his obscure album titled Magic Eye, a real gem

He is a fixture in the outstanding Maria Schneider Orchestra where he played Baritone saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet on her 2007 Grammy Nominated album Sky Blue. He is a working as a member of both the Mingus Big Band and the Mingus Orchestra as well as many other varied projects.He has started his own production company aptly titled ScienSonic and he has been nominated several times in the category " player of  instruments are in jazz" in the yearly Jazz Journalist Association Awards.

So when I recently wrote a review of Dave Anderson's latest album "Clarity" describing it as an example of "...well played, accessible modern jazz." , I was both pleased and  surprised to receive a comment from Scott which politely took me to task for being imprecise in my characterization. Scott has his own, very specific ideas of precisely what is and is not accessible jazz. His contention is that by using the word "accessible" to describe this music-music having the potential for a broader mass audience appeal- it creates the illusion that somehow more "adventurous or experimental music" -music to which Scott has a great affinity- is somehow less accessible or even worse "inaccessible", a notion with which he takes umbrage. With Scott's permission I have posted our back and forth correspondence on this with the thought that it might stimulate some further discussion. Suffice it to say he makes a cogent argument, one that I thought would be of interest to all.

Scott's Comment to me:  July 26. 2010
"Nicely done...
Gotta say, though, I've come to hate that term "accessible". It's really a way of putting down other music, deemed "inaccessible", as if it is somehow just impossibly removed from anyone's reach. The idea that adventurous music is somehow "inaccessible" is a myth in my view.
Here's what I say in my Statement of Purpose for my ScienSonic label:

ScienSonic Laboratories was founded on the idea that creative and challenging music is not for an elite few with some special knowledge, training or insight, but for anyone. No prior experience, Ph.D., or decoder ring are required for the adventurous and open-minded listener to experience and enjoy this music. It need not be “understood” or “figured out”, but rather is designed to be experienced, and for this reason we have created the term “experiential music” to describe our efforts.
We further contend that science has a place in music and vice versa, and that the two disciplines often share similar aims and methods. We are interested in the application of scientific methodologies to creative music-making, as well as the examination of scientific materials from an aesthetic perspective. Many of our projects at ScienSonic Laboratories will explore these aesthetic interrelationships between science and sound – hence our name.
We reject the oft-repeated notion that music must come from either “head” or “heart”, as if these could somehow be separated, and that a great chasm yawns between the “intellectual” and the “emotional” in art. We contend that, throughout history, the great scientists, thinkers, and mathematicians have been deeply passionate, even mystical, people. There is no dry intellectualism in the work of Pythagoras, Tycho or Euler, any more than in the work of poets, artists or musicians. Many great scientists have, in fact, been musicians or artists themselves. Einstein (himself an amateur violinist) stated that “imagination is more important than knowledge”. We agree! Indeed, imagination and creativity are key to achieving great things in the sciences, just as they are in the arts... and imagination will always be the guiding force here at ScienSonic Laboratories.
The great composer Gustav Mahler once famously remarked that “a symphony must contain a world”, and it is in that spirit that we offer these “Worlds of Tomorrow through Sound”... worlds that we hope will be welcoming, as well as challenging, to the creative listener.
Just my opinion.
Be well,
S "

My Comment to Scott: July 26, 2010
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I guess I have to choose my words more carefully but I do believe what I was trying to say was true. I also believe in what your Statement of purpose lays out (very well said I might add). but here is the rub: I was looking at a DVD of Bill Evans last concerts in Oslo where he was interviewed at the end of the DVD ( I am not sure if you have ever seen it but if you haven't his last group with Johnson and LaBarbera did an amazing take on Nardis that just blew me away!) After the concert he was interviewed and asked about the young jazz audiences in Oslo. He said something that I feel is very true. He said that the jazz audiences everywhere will be maybe at most 15% of the listening audience. He felt that most people would like to be banged over the head with the music ( most popular music seems to fill that bill). In his mind only a very few percent would actually want to be ( and here is the key word in my mind)  engaged in the music as a vital participant where they would have to put some amount of effort in to it to get out what was really happening.That doesn't mean it is outside of their reach, as you say, but it does require some active participation for the communication to be fully realized. Some experimental music requires a greater degree of engagement. Most music is best portrayed live than on recording because the audience gets to see the artist create and better appreciates the depth of their achievement.

I was certainly not making a negative judgment about experimental or adventurous music but clearly these forms do require more of a commitment on the listeners part don't they?

Dave's music is certainly not too adventurous but I believe he will appeal to a wider audience than say Cecil Taylor or Pharaoh Sanders. That was my only point.

Can I post your comment and my response on the comments section of my blog?

Thanks for the input.


Scott's  Reply Comment July 29. 2010
Hi Ralph,

I totally agree that far fewer listeners will continue to be drawn to jazz or other creative musics, which do tend to reward listener involvement and creativity, than to more passive types of musical experiences, and I long ago came to be comfortable with the minority status of what I produce. That is why, in the Statement of Purpose, I said that "creative and challenging music is not for an elite few with some special knowledge, training or insight, but for anyone"... rather than everyone. This music is not for everyone, and that's fine. But it does welcome anyone, anyone who chooses to take a creative stance as a listener and see if they can get with it. So, the door is wide open. Some will come in and some won't... but to deem such music inaccesible is, in my view, unfairly blaming the music which is something that I always hate to see happen.
What you are really talking about seems to be popularity... how many people will come into that room (your "wider audience"). Adventurous music may be one of the less-travelled rooms of the house, but if the door is open and unlocked then it's no more inaccessible than the more-frequented rooms.
Just my opinion. Thanks for letting me kick it around with you! Feel free to post if you'd like.

Well said. Thank you  Scott for your "Clarity" on this.

If you want to catch Scott live he  will be  playing with Composer John Zorn at the Stone  Avenue C and 2nd Street in NYC Tonight. o Out and Support "Live" Jazz.

Here is a CNN video of Scott with his amazing giant Contra Bass Saxophone.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review of The Dave Anderson Quartet's "Clarity" : Making Modern Jazz Accessible

Artist: Dave Anderson

ClarityCD: “Clarity” (Pony Boy PB 50163-2)

Seattle based saxophonist Dave Anderson’s debut album “Clarity” offers an example of well-played, accessible modern jazz. It is infused with a sense of joy and confidence that allows for musical richness and melodic complexity without  abrasiveness or extended, self-indulgent musical detours. Anderson’s arrangement of Joe Henderson’s “Y Ya La Quiero”, the opening track, is a case in point. Anderson’s lyrical soprano and the band’s deft rhythmic comping, sustains interest by maintaining a friendly groove, offering succinct yet  interesting solos played with a generally light feeling, while still retaining the music’s integrity.

Anderson brings his tight ensemble into the studio after honing their skills playing local Seattle venues and the familiarity shows. Anderson’s self-penned jazz waltz “Wabi-Sabi” has some sensitive flugelhorn work by Tom Marriott and his own lilting soprano work. John Hansen’s piano solo unobtrusively leads you in unexpected directions without straying too far from the theme.

“Stablemate” has a fleeting melody line that negotiates a quick chicane of twists and turns spelled out by Anderson’s clean, economical alto lines. Chuck Kistler’s bass is allowed some room to solo behind Adam Kessler’s trap work and John Hansen’s delicately placed piano chords. Hansen again shows a penchant for presenting musical ideas in a logical but unpredictable way that holds your interest. He is a player to be watched.

On Anderson’s “Troubled Angel” the slow ruminative intro is accentuated by Kistler’s bowed bass before it breaks into a quick paced jaunt featuring Hansen’s fine two fisted piano solo work. When it is Anderson’s turn to solo, his alto is smooth, facile and free flowing, a style with roots in Konitz and Desmond. Raspy, bitingly sharp-tongued sounds are not in this man’s vocabulary.

“The Aviator”, an impressionistic song Anderson wrote as a dedication to his father’s pilot days, finds the leader’s soprano taking to the air in graceful flight, free of any turbulence. This beautiful duet, between Anderson’s gently soaring soprano and Hansen’s classically tinged piano, transports you high above into the world into the clouds as is one of the highlights of this cd.

Anderson’s alto on “Osby-an” has a clear decisive tone as he articulates his message with a straightforward Clarity that is both harmonically interesting and refreshingly spare in his approach. Anderson refuses to overplay even when it sometimes feels like he could go on for a few more bars. Kessler’s drum solo offers interesting rhythmic variety in a tightly conceived package that true to the group's ethos doesn’t overextend.

The blues based “Free” is loose, swinging number that features Anderson’s dancing soprano work, the horn he seems to favor, in this extended format. “Beautiful Love” is a sensitive but predictable and unadventurous ballad, where Anderson’s sensuous soprano sound nonetheless works effectively.

“Juror Number 2” is the most angular song on the album and finds Anderson playing alto again. Anderson composed the song after he served on jury duty in New York City. It is representation of a particular character he met on that jury. Juror #2 must have been a bit vociferous, for Anderson is at his most talkative on this song. He plays a series of fluid ideas with his horn pouring out more notes here than on any other song on the album, interacting  conversationally with Kessler on drums.

The ending composition “Moving On” is barely over a minute and a half long but a tight little gem. Starting with a brief musical statement, Anderson’s joyous alto swings into a carefree solo before he and the band returns back to the introductory line that quickly resolves to a brief ending that leaves you hanging.

"Clarity" is a  refreshingly accessible well played effort with few surprises. It will be interesting to see where Dave Anderson goes from here.

Recorded at Robert Land Studios June 16, 2009 and Studio X July 2, 2009
Seattle, Washington

Musicians: Dave Anderson (alto and soprano saxophones), John Hansen ( piano), Chuck Kistler (bass, Adam Kessler (drums) Thomas Marriott ( flugelhorn on Wabi-Sabi only)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review of Dave Frank at The Iridium Jazz Club July 11, 2010

Master Class on the work of Dave McKenna by Master pianist Dave Frank
Live at the Iridium Jazz Club, New York City Sunday July 11, 2010

Joy of Improv, Book 1 (Piano)Since 2004 the pianist Dave Frank started The Dave Frank School of Jazz in midtown Manhattan where he has taught the art of jazz piano and the Joy of Improvisation. Starting in February of this year Dave started a unique series of master classes on streaming video where anyone can watch as he delves into the music of some eclectic but brilliant musicians and dissects what they play, why they play it and how it is done. To date he has done master classes on Charlie Parker, Frank Zappa, Bruce Hornsby, Eric Dolphy and Keith Jarrett.

On Sunday, at the midtown jazz club The Iridium, Mr. Frank deconstructed the work of one of his major influences, the pianist Dave McKenna. Mr. McKenna’s work is known for it’s unerring sense of swing and his skillful use of the walking bass line. Mr. Frank has dedicated himself to extending the art of the walking bass line, bringing it to a whole new level of sophistication on his own solo piano work. In front of a nearly full house of friends, students and admirers Mr. Frank started by playing a recording of Mr. McKenna performing the song “Exactly Like You” from the “Live at Mayback Recital Hall” album. The ebullient Mr. Frank showed his passion and enthusiasm for this music as he described the multiple techniques that Mr. McKenna employed. He then took a second recording “ Dream Dancing” and demonstrated section-by-section the myriad of styles that Mr. McKenna used to make the tune his own.  The professorial Mr. Frank explained terms like left hand 4 to bar chording, windshield wipers, smudging, obvious and implied rhythm, inner chording, tenths and echoing techniques, taking some of the mystery out of what McKenna was doing and demonstrating it on his piano for the audience to follow.

Live at Maybeck 2

Turning It LooseWhen the class work was finished the audience was treated to some of Mr. Frank’s own superlative playing. After demonstrating some “burn” with an impossibly complex walking bass line, he played the contemplative “Indian Summer “ from his album “Power of the Piano”, showing the more sensitive side to his playing. He introduced a new song “Midtown 9 am” from his upcoming album “Portraits of New York”, an impressionistic aural representation of the hustle bustle sounds of morning in New York City.  He played another moving ballad “Prayer at St. Patricks’s” which is from his “Turning it Loose” cd from 2008. He ended the set with his “Broadway Boogie Woogie” another smoker that included many of the techniques he described in the McKenna master class, showing that he practices what he preaches.

For those who admire solo piano jazz, Dave Frank is certainly an artist of immense skill and deep passion. His artistry is a combination of blazing speed, sly humor and unerring consistency, especially in his walking bass lines. His technical virtuosity is unquestionable, but it may well be the ever-developing sensitivity that he shows on his ballad work that will eventually put him on another level. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Quest for Identity : Review of Sam Newsome's "Blue Soliloquy"

Artist : Sam Newsome (Solo Soprano Saxophone)

Blue SoliloquyCD: Blue Soliloquy

Sam Newsome & Global UnityFew artists have created a piece of solo music that could be used as a virtual study guide of the possibilities on the instrument, as Sam Newsome has with the soprano saxophone on his “Blue Soliloquy”. This is more than an exercise in accomplished technique; it is a search for individuality of expression with the culmination of that search being discovered identity. After touring the world with the Terrence Blanchard Quintet in the early nineties, Newsome took the daring step of abandoning his then dominant instrument the tenor saxophone. Newsome felt unrealized, burdened by the history of the many great players that came before him on the tenor. His solution was to take up the difficult and less celebrated soprano saxophone. In 1996, with renewed vigor and an eye on carving out his own place on this instrument, he made the switch to soprano. For several years he explored the nuances of non-Western music with influences absorbed from the Middle East, North Africa and Japan, predominantly while working with his aptly named band “Global Unity”.

On this adventurous solo effort “Blue Soliloquy”  Mr.Newsome uses the blues idiom to demonstrate the expansive musical palette he has mastered on the soprano saxophone. Using atonality, multi-phonics, circular breathing and sophisticated “pitched slap tonguing” techniques Mr. Newsome has created a virtual sonic tour of the possibilities that can be had on this exotic sounding instrument.

This is a daring album that exposes the artist to careful scrutiny of his technique all without the aid of accompaniment. It is a rousing success. Mr. Newsome gives a studied explanation of each of his sonic explorations in the liner notes, which helps the uninitiated understand what he is trying to achieve. The breadth of his accomplishments is impressive. Made up of fifteen songs, only one of which is a cover (the last song “Blue Monk”), Mr. Newsome incorporates his non-western musical influences on such songs as “Blue Bejing”, “Bansuri Blues” or “Blue Bamboo” to magical ends. His work with Tuvan throat singers of Siberia was the inspiration for the multi-pitched work on “Throat-singing Blues”. The traditional call and response of Gospel is the influence behind “Blue Pulpit”. The drone sound of sustained eastern religious chanting seems the basis for his “Blue Hum of the Holy Breath”. He mimics the sounds of the African thumb piano (the mbira) by his use of pitched slap-tonguing” on “Blue Mbira”. Throughout the recording he explores nuances within and outside of the twelve bar blues form.

While clearly not a recording that is designed to purely entertain, “Blue Soliloquy” is an important statement of resolve by an artist who has embraced his instrument and made it an inseparable part of his being. Newsome has single handedly expanded the horizons of soprano saxophone placing him in the pantheon of important players on this instrument. It will be interesting to see how he incorporates his hard worked virtuosity and global influences into more traditional musical offerings that can reach a wider, less esoteric audience

Sunday, July 4, 2010

My Fourth of July List Celebrating Living Jazz Legends

Revised to include additions based on readers comments:

With the recent passing of Herb Ellis, Hank Jones, Fred Anderson and Benny Powell it becomes painfully apparent that we continue  to lose some of the great heroes and pioneers of this music that we call jazz. Despite  losses like these, jazz has proven time and again that it is a durable art form. It is a resilient performance art that is constantly recreating itself beyond categorization. This durability and creativity springs from the jazz tradition. Through the longevity and generosity of  the living jazz masters this tradition continues. They pass it along  through their moving performances, their valuable recollections and their tireless dedication to educating the next generation. The jazz audience has been characterized as aging and relatively small, but none can deny it is made up of passionate enthusiasts. On this fourth of July let our passion start a yearly celebration of our living jazz legends, those who have been and continue to be so instrumental in bringing us this music we love so much. The musicians who have created what could arguably be called America’s only true indigenous art form. An art form that has become the most internationally cooperative means of communication in the world today.

Here is my list of veteran players who are still with us, many vibrant and still actively playing or teaching, people who should be honored for their past and continuing contributions to this music we call jazz. I have only included those artists who have reached their seventieth birthday and beyond and I am sure I am missing some important players ( my apologies for any inadvertent omissions), but here is my fourth of July 2010 list of living jazz legends, with a great big thank you to each and every one.


Saxophonists: Pharaoh Sanders, Arthur Bythe  and Lew Tabakin (70), Zibigniew Namyslowski (71) Charle Lloyd (72),Archie Shepp (73), Don Menza (74) George Coleman (75), Gato Barbieri and Lanny Morgan (76), Wayne Shorter and John Handy (77), Phil Woods and Sonny Rollins (79), Ornette Coleman (80), Herb Geller and Benny Golson (81)  Lee Konitz and Med Flory (82), Lou Donaldson (83), Jimmy Heath (84), James Moody (85), Marshall Allen and Sam Rivers(86), Von Freeman (87), Frank Wess (88), Yusef Lateef (90).

Pianists: Herbie Hancock(70), McCoy Tyner and Roger Kellaway (71), Steve Kuhn (72), Les McCann, Carla Bley and Harold Mabern (74), Ramsey Lewis, Pat Moran and Pat Rebillot (75) Paul Bley and Larry Novak (77), Jack Reilly and Michel LeGrand (78), Horace Parlan, Muhal Richard Abrams and Derek Smith (79), Amhad Jamal and Barry Harris(80), Horace Silver, Junior Mance and Toshiko Akiyoshi (81), Martial Solal, Joanne Brackeen and Mose Allison (82), Dick Hyman (83), Randy Weston (84), Billy Taylor (88), Dave Brubeck (89), George Shearing (90) and Marian McPartland (92).

Bassists: Eberhard Weber (70), Charlie Haden (72), Ron Carter and Chuck Israels (73), Henry Grimes (74), Gary Peacock and Cecil McBee (75), Bob Cranshaw and Jack Six (77) and Richard Davis (80), Jymie Merritt (84),Eugene Wright (87).

Trumpeters: Ted Curson (75), Donald Byrd (77), Jack Sheldon (78), Kenny Wheeler (80), Doc Severinson (83), Clark Terry and Uan Rasey (88) and Snooky Young and Gerald Wilson (91).Lionel Ferbos (98) 

Guitarists: Ralph Towner (70), Gene Bertoncini (73), Kenny Burrell (78), Jim Hall and John Pisano (79), Bucky Pizzarelli (84) and Johnny Smith (88).

Trombonists: Billy Watrous and Dick Griffin (71), Grachan Moncur III and Philip Wilson (73), Julian Priester and Roswell Rudd (75), Curtis Fuller (76) Locksley "Slide" Hampton (78), Bob Brookmeyer (81), Urbie Green (83) is eighty-three and Eddie Bert (88).

Drummers: Andrew Cyrille and Idris Muhamed (70), Bernard Purdie (71), Pete LaRoca Sims, Tony Oxley, Edwin Marshall and Nesbert “Stix” Hooper (72), Grady Tate (73), Albert “Tootie” Heath and Chuck Flores (75), Ben Riley (77), Mickey Roker (78) Paul Motian and Ronnie Bedford (79), Jimmy Cobb, Joe Morello and Charlie Persip (81), Roy Haynes (85), Al Harewood (87),  Chico Hamilton (88), Candido Camero (89) and Butch Ballard (91).

Organists: “ Papa” John De Francesco and Mac “Dr John” Rebbenack (70), Brian Auger (71), Trudy Pitts and Johnny “Hammond” Smith (77) and Sir Charles Thompson (92).  

Jazz Vocalists: Astrud Gilberto and Al Jarreau (70), Mary Stallings (71), Etta James (72), Nancy Wilson and Carol Sloane (73),Freddy Cole and Mark Murphy (78), Abbey Lincoln, Helen Merrill, Gloria Lynne and Jon Hendricks (79), Annie Ross (80), Sheila Jordan and Ernestine Anderson (81), Cleo Laine and Ernie Andrews (82), Tony Bennett (83) and Jimmy Scott (84).

Miscellaneous Artists: Roy Ayers, vibraphonist (70),  Hermeto Pascal, accordian (74), Michael White, violin (77), Terry Gibbs, vibraphonist (86), Buddy DeFranco, clarinetist (87)

Don Sebesky (72), Quincy Jones, composer/arranger/ trumpet (77), Lennie Niehaus, composer/arranger/saxophonist (81), Bill Holman, arranger/composer/saxophone (83),  Johnny Mandell, composer/arranger (84)

A happy fourth of July to all of you and thank you for your tireless contributions to the music we all love.