Wayne Shorter Rides Again, Via His Sprawling “Emanon”

Few veteran (read: older) jazzers find their way into the pop culture conversation as effortlessly and effectively as Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist/composer probably best known for his work with Miles’ Second Great Quintet and electric-jazz giants Weather Report.

The former group, with the two joined by the rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and the late Tony Williams, remains a standard bearer, in terms of what jazz is about, and what jazz can do. And the latter, with Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius and others, still stands as one of my two favorite fusion bands.

And so it goes with “Emanon” (Blue Note), Shorter’s just-released sprawling set featuring three discs of music and a related graphic novel. Call it Shorter as superhero, as his brilliant quartet, with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, alone on some tracks and elsewhere joined by the 34-piece Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

It’s an ambitious collection of music, drawn in part from Shorter compositions that first appeared on the group’s “Without a Net” album, released in 2013. Bottom line: Inspired compositions and arrangements, high-level group interplay, surprising improvisations. Jazz for now, jazz for the future.

In the music’s sweep and grandeur, there’s something cinematic about these pieces. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising — Shorter is a major film buff, as I learned during a wide-ranging interview with him long ago for the Tampa Tribune, advancing his quartet’s appearance at Tampa Theatre. Our talk constituted one of my most memorable interviews with a musician, during my days on staff with daily newspapers.

“Emanon” (read as “no name” backwards) has all the right publications paying attention — even Rolling Stone, which seldom pays attention to jazz these days, and the New York Times, which notably has cut way back on its jazz coverage. My full review of the CD will appear in a forthcoming issue of Relix magazine.

Some “Emanon” reviews and features:

With ‘Emanon,’ Jazz Elder Wayne Shorter Grandly Sweeps the Stars — NPR.org (Nate Chinen)

Wayne Shorter Unveils a Sprawling Multimedia Opus on ‘Emanon’Rolling Stone (Hank Shteamer)

Wayne Shorter, Jazz’s Abstruse Elder, Isn’t Done Innovating Yet New York Times (Giovanni Russonnello)

With ‘Emanon,’ Legendary Saxophonist Wayne Shorter Finds a Way to Marry Comic Books and JazzLos Angeles Times (Sean J. O’Connell)

At 85, Wayne Shorter is Still Pursuing the UnknownBoston Globe

‘Emanon’ by Wayne Shorter: Grand Ambitions on Full DisplayWall Street Journal

 

 

 

 

Farewell, Ira Sabin, a Major Force in the Jazz World

ira sabinFarewell to Ira Sabin, a jazz drummer who turned his attention to jazz journalism. In 1970, Sabin founded the publication that became JazzTimes. For nearly a half-century, the magazine* has been a major force in jazz, documenting the music and along the way influencing the art form.

Sabin, who also made a mark as a record-store owner and promoter, died of cancer at age 90 on Sept. 12, in Rockville, Md.

“He performed in some of Washington’s first integrated jazz groups and sometimes entertained at private parties at the Georgetown home of Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) before he became president,” Matt Schudel writes, in a piece published in the Washington Post.

“By the late 1950s, Mr. Sabin was producing concerts and other performances, featuring such acclaimed musicians as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson. In 1962, he bought out a brother-in-law who had a record store, renaming it Sabin’s Discount Records. The store, at Ninth and U streets NW, was in the heart of Washington’s thriving jazz district, within walking distance of two theaters and six jazz clubs. The shop carried one of the country’s largest collections of jazz recordings, and musicians often stopped by to shop and chat.”

JazzTimes began as a four-page newsletter for Sabin’s record-store customers, and included contributions by some of the country’s best jazz critics, Schudel writes. In 1970, he called the publication Radio Free Jazz, and it eventually grew to 28 pages. Dizzy Gillespie was the publication’s first paid subscriber. It was renamed JazzTimes in 1980, and become a glossy monthly in 1990.

Read the entire Post story here.

Also:

“Ira Sabin, JazzTimes Founder, Dies at 90” (JazzTimes — by Michael J. West)

Ira Sabin, Founder of JazzTimes Magazine, is Dead at 90 (New York Times — by Richard Sandomir)

“Ira Sabin: Cool Daddy-O!” (JazzTimes — by Dan Morgenstern, published in 2000)

*I’m a longtime contributor to JazzTimes.

 

 

Montreal Jazz Fest: Scintillating if Sweaty — Herbie, Kamasi, Medeski, more.

montreal fest poster 2018

By now, you’ve probably heard about the heat wave that landed in Quebec, just in time for the 39th annual Montreal International Jazz Festival, which in some years has attracted an attendance estimated at two million. It was a scorcher of historic proportions, with temps rising into the high 90s during the day and not dropping below the mid-80s on some evenings.

The cool vibes of the fest, which ran for 10 days in mid-summer and featured performances by 3,000 musicians from 300 countries at 500 indoor and outdoor shows, nevertheless made a soothing balm for that extended bout of steam heat.

For  my fifth visit (if I’m counting correctly), I enjoyed what felt like a year’s worth of great shows in a short period — four days’ and nights’ worth of memorable concerts, from Friday, June 29  through Monday, July 2.

Montreal Fest overview

Montreal’s jazz fest, unlike some others, which, say, focus on smooth jazz or have turned into predictable affairs dominated by nostalgic hitmaking acts, successfully programs several varieties of jazz, and also incorporates other genres — notably blues, world music, Americana, and new and classic pop, rock, and hip-hop.

Most importantly, for jazz fans, the fest continues to bring in high-caliber artists playing acoustic/straightahead jazz, fusion, Latin jazz, avant/outside, and other varieties variously influenced by funk, soul, and rock.

The fest’s multiple series of “Invitation” shows, held in the cool, comfortable Gesu, an intimate theater beneath an historic stone church, are always a treat. I have fond memories of Cuban piano monster Gonzalo Rubalcaba‘s series at the fest, way back in 2002 (During Rubalcaba’s stint, I interviewed him for downbeat).

This year was no exception: John Medeski, the gifted pianist, organist and keyboardist in the long-running trio Medeski Martin and Wood, over three nights offered close-up views of his eclectic musical passions.

Medeski’s most accessible performance was with Mad Skillet, a group generally inspired by New Orleans rhythms and textures. The quartet included guitarist Will Bernard; NOLA tuba wizard and Dirty Dozen Brass Band co-founder Kirk Joseph, who spiced his tuba ministrations with special effects; and drummer Julian Addison. NOLA funk was the operating groove, and a color-shifting take on Sun Ra’s “Golden Lady” was one of several gems the band played on June 30.

Mad Skillet sounded more confident and more open to taking chances with their arrangements and their repertoire than when I heard them in January 2017 at the GroundUp Music Festival in Miami, with Terence Higgins on drums (I reviewed the fest for JazzTimes).

Medeski and Marc

For a June 29 trio set with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer J.T. Lewis (above), Medeski held forth on B3 organ, and gave lots of space to Ribot’s bluesy, bent six-string excursions. The three mostly dug into into jazz-funk for the likes of Horace Silver’s “Strollin’ ” and an imaginative version of Steppenwolf’s “Sookie Sookie.”

Night 3 (July 1) was all about nearly nonstop electroacoustic improvisations, with Medeski joined by a pair of drummers — MMW bandmate Chris Wood, and Mark Guiliana — and the three collectively generating multicolor sounds and funk, rock, hip-hop, and EDM rhythms via a large arsenal of keyboards and percussion instruments. (The Medeski series was followed by two others — by Guiliana, overlapping with his show with Medeski, and Dr. Lonnie Smith).

There was much more to hear and see, of course, as hundreds of thousands of concertgoers flooded onto the streets around the Place des Arts performing arts complex. My review of the fest’s first few days for JazzTimes, which the mag combined with Sharonne Cohen‘s overview of the second half, is available here.

A quick look at some of the other jazz-oriented shows I caught in Montreal:

Herbie

  • Herbie Hancock, above, at the beautifully appointed Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theater, led a quartet with guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist James Genus, and drummer Trevor Lawrence Jr. They offered 100 minutes of high-energy fusion and funk. Pulling out his keytar at one point, the jazz legend aired out some new tunes, along with the likes of “Come Running to Me,” “Cantaloupe Island,” “Actual Proof,” “Watermelon Man,” and the closing “Chameleon.” Six-string bass guitar virtuoso Thundercat applied his falsetto vocals and speedy solos to a blast of soulful next-gen fusion. Kamasi
  • Kamasi Washington, above, the widely celebrated L.A. tenor saxophonist and unofficial leader of a newfangled, school of soul-rooted, R&B-influenced jazz, was garbed in a yellow-and-purple robe for his ecstatically received, SRO set at the huge Mtelus nightclub. Joined by his father, Rickey Washington, on soprano sax, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Miles Mosley, singer Patrice Quinn, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, and drummers Robert Miller and Tony Austin, he turned in soaring, spiritually minded anthems, deep funk grooves, and occasional detours into hard bop, partly imbued with a cosmic black-power vibe. Those musical and visual references to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Sun Ra? Yes, they were organic, but also intentional. The set, drawn from this year’s “Heaven and Earth” album, last year’s “Harmony of Difference” EP and 2015’s breakthrough “The Epic” album: “Street Fighter Mas,” “The Rhythm Changes,” Giant Feelings,” drums feature “Bobby and Tony’s Day Off,” “Space Travelers Lullaby,” and “Fists of Fury.”
  • Cory Henry, the former Snarky Puppy keyboardist, cranked up his synthesizer and amped up the jazz-funk at the MTelus on “Love Will Find a Way,” a raucous cover of “Proud Mary,” and “Send Me a Sign,” among other crowd favorites.
  • Jose James, opening for Henry, offered smartly arranged, perfectly calibrated versions of Bill Withers‘ old-school R&B classics: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Who is He (and What is He to You),” “Use Me,” and “Lean on Me,” the last one complete with a call-and-response section with the crowd and a statement of faith: “This is my religion .. diversity and unity,” he said. Backed by a group including the top-shelf rhythm section of bassist Ben Williams and drummer Nate Smith, James also brought out “Kissing My Love,” “Just the Two of Us,” and “A Lovely Day.” Most or all of those tunes will be heard on James’ forthcoming Withers tribute album, “Lean on Me.”

(My review of Americana hero Ry Cooder‘s set will be published in a forthcoming issue of Relix magazine.)

Branford Marsalis at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg (review)

branford(This review was initially intended to run in print in Relix, but wound up going online in sister publication jambands.com)

“It’s not always easy attracting large audiences hungry for jazz of the undiluted, acoustic-based, hard-edged and tradition-rooted but forward-looking variety. Unlike others who remain true to that artistry-forward approach, saxophonist Branford Marsalis has a famous jazz-family name and well-earned critical kudos.

And he has accumulated several circles of fans via his stint on The Tonight Show, his Sting residency, a Grateful Dead sit-in released as part of a box set, and appearances in Spike Lee and Danny DeVito movies. Some have followed his career since the early ‘80s, when he played with brother Wynton’s quintet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

So what should one expect from a Branford show?”

Read the rest here.

Note to readers: Thanks, and follow me!

Thanks to all who follow my blog, as well as to those who visit only occasionally.

Jazzlands is purely a labor of love, a way to kind of document my comings and goings in the music and jazz world, and to share my magazine work with a larger audience.

If you like what you read, please follow my blog, and I’d also invite you to follow me on Twitter at @pboothmusic.

You may know that in addition to writing about jazz and other music, I actively play with several bands around Florida, including: Acme Jazz Garage (also on Facebook; and @acmejazzgarage on Twitter ), Swan City Jazz Project (on Facebook), Trio Vibe, and Zensemble. I occasionally play with blues band the Juke Joint Kings, and the Blue Guava Orchestra (on Facebook), and once or twice a year I sub with the Tomkats Jazz Orchestra.

Also, I have a Facebook page offering info on my all of my various music-playing activities — Philip Booth Music.

So … stop by one of the above online locations if and when you can, and please follow me.

If you’re in Tampa on a Thursday or Friday night, you can catch me with Acme Jazz Garage at Timpano, 1610 W. Swann Ave. in Hyde Park Village. We start at 7 pm both nights (until 10 on Thursdays; until 11 on Fridays).

Lately, I’ve been doing more gigs with Swan City Jazz Project, with my Lakeland pals Jody Marsh (fellow LHS classmate) on piano, and Rick Runion on sax; sometimes we’re joined by a drummer to make it a quartet.

Ahead for Swan City:

I’d love to bring one of my bands to your festival, special event or nightclub. We’re actively looking for paying gigs. And I’m always looking for a way to a label home for my next CD project. The Acme Jazz Garage CD, released in 2016, was played on 35 or so radio stations across the country, and was reviewed in Relix and other national and local publications.

So if you have any ideas on gigs or on helping me fund a recording of original music, hit me up at jphilipboothAThotmailDOTcom

Meanwhile, back to your usual programming.

 

Grammys to Jazz: No Prime Time for You!

Despite my best intentions, I tuned in tonight to the Grammys, the music industry’s annual orgy of self-love, er, popularity contest.

Jazz and blues artists and awards were all but banned from the broadcast portion of this year’s awards.

Unless it happened when I momentarily left the room, there were no on-air mentions of Grammys in those categories. And the only musicians onstage representing those genres were pianist and New Orleans native Jon Batiste (of “The Late Show”) and Austin guitar slinger Gary Clark Jr., who, accompanied by a drummer, joined forces for a quick salute to two recent fallen icons — Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.

So … let’s honor them here:

  • Best Improvised Jazz Solo: “Miles Beyond” — John McLaughlin, soloist
  • Best Jazz Vocal Album: “Dreams and Daggers” — Cécile McLorin Salvant
  • Best Jazz Instrumental Album: “Rebirth” — Billy Childs
  • Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album: “Bringin’ It” — Christian McBride Big Band
  • Best Latin Jazz Album: “Jazz Tango” — Pablo Ziegler Trio
  • Best Instrumental Composition: “Three Revolutions” — Arturo O’Farrill, composer (Arturo O’Farrill and Chucho Valdés)
  • Best Contemporary Instrumental Album: “Prototype” — Jeff Lorber Fusion

And jazz people won in a couple other categories:

  • Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90” — Various Artists; Dae Bennett, producer
  • Best Surround Sound Album: “Early Americans” — Jane Bunnett                                   

Loved hearing Chris Stapleton and Emmylou Harris pay tribute to the late Tom Petty with an acoustic performance of his “Wildflowers.”

Glad, too, to see Grammys go to:

  • Best American Roots Song: “If We Were Vampires” — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  • Best Americana Album: “The Nashville Sound” — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  • Best Contemporary Blues Album: “TajMo” — Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’

“Most of the (jazz and blues) awards were distributed during the Grammy Premiere Ceremony, which streamed live at grammy.com., ” as Nate Chinen points out in his column for WBGO.org. “One clear highlight of that ceremony was a performance by Jazzmeia Horn, who was in the running for Best Jazz Vocal Album for her self-assured debut, A Social Call.”

So, gee, thanks, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, for all but entirely squeezing jazz and blues musicians out of your broadcast, in favor of a variety of assorted musical nonsense. How’d ‘ya like U2’s lip-syncing?

**********

In other news, Tampa’s own Chuck Owen, a pianist, composer, and longtime USF jazz prof, and his Jazz Surge received FOUR Grammy nominations for the band’s critically acclaimed “Whispers on the Wind” album: Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Best Instrumental Composition (“Warped Cowboy”), Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella (“All Hat, No Saddle”) and Best Improvised Jazz Solo, for violinist Sara Caswell.

Unfortunately, Owen lost to (good) artists with higher profiles and much greater name recognition (remember that part about “popularity contest”?)

Still, how many artists — of any genre? — received 4 Grammy noms this year? Owen achieved quite a feat.

 

Mark Whitfield, “Live and Uncut” (CD review)

Guitarist Mark Whitfield remains a gifted improviser and bandleader, as demonstrated by “Live and Uncut” (Chesky), a set with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Billy Drummond, recorded live last year at Rockwood Music Hall  in Manhattan.

“Trio magic, more or less, ensues as the three, captured on a single binaural mic enabling heightened intimacy, turn in four tried-and-true standards and two Drummond originals,” I wrote, in my review for JazzTimes.

Check out the full review here.