RIP, Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela was a rarity — A global jazz star who didn’t hail from the US.

Born in South Africa, the trumpeter and flugelhorn player studied in the UK & US, where he befriended Coltrane, Miles and Mingus, and gained international acclaim via 1968 hit song “Grazing in the Grass” and other recordings.

Later, Masekela came to attention among even more listeners thanks to his work with Paul Simon on the 1986 “Graceland” recording and tours, and on Simon’s “The Rhythm of the Saints” album, released in 1982.

Masekela, also an anti-apartheid activist, died Tuesday at age 78.

Check out these print, video, and audio pieces:

New York Times — https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/obituaries/hugh-masekela-dies.html

Billboard — https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/obituary/8095489/hugh-masekela-south-african-jazz-legend-dies-78

JazzTimes — https://jazztimes.com/news/trumpeter-hugh-masekela-78-dies/

DownBeat — http://downbeat.com/news/detail/masekela-succumbs-to-cancer-at-78

The Guardian — https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jan/23/hugh-masekela-south-african-jazz-trumpeter-dies-aged-78

CNN — https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/23/africa/hugh-masekela-dies-intl/index.html

NPR — https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/01/23/579885226/hugh-masekela-father-of-south-african-jazz-dies-at-78

 

 

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Vincent Herring, Hard Times (CD review)

Vincent Herring“Is this disc’s title an apropos description of the current era, with its semi-permanent malaise, and anger seemingly just below the surface of all public discourse? Maybe,” I wrote, in my review for JazzTimes.Vincent Herring’s response: Gather like-minded musicians and make a joyful noise with a set of muscular blues-tinted jazz.”

Read the complete review here.

Fun fact: Back in 2000, I played the Nat Adderley memorial concert at Florida Southern College’s Branscomb Auditorium, in Lakeland, my hometown. Nat lived there for many decades after relocating from New Jersey; at FSC, he was artist-in-residence, and, with FSC music prof Larry Burke, he launched the (now-defunct) Child of the Sun Jazz Festival.

How’d I wind up playing that show, alongside former Adderley musical associates and friends, including drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianists Larry Willis and Rob Bargad, saxophonists Vincent Herring and Antonio Hart, and trumpeter Longineau Parsons, among others?

Here’s how it happened: Burke had asked me to lend my upright bass to Walter Booker for the performance, which I was happy to do. I’d previously let another NYC bassist, Santi Debriano, borrow my bass when he played one of the editions of the Child of the Sun fest. About three hours before the show was slated to start, Burke called me, told me that Bookie was ailing (an asthma attack) and unable to play, and asked if I’d fill in.

I couldn’t ever have actually properly filled in for Booker, who died in 2006, but I had a (slightly nervous) blast playing the gig — won’t ever forget that performance.

I’d had a chance to get to know Nat a little bit some years early, when I interviewed him for an extended feature in one of the first issues of Jazziz magazine; I was a part of that mag from the start, beginning with exploratory meetings at the condo of Michael Fagien, who was then a med student (or a resident?) at UF. I recall discussing what the mag should be named — I wasn’t in favor of “Jazziz.” What did  I know? 🙂

And that’s … almost the rest of the story 🙂

BTW — had a chance on Saturday to talk with Debriano after one of his sets at Smalls in NYC. He was leading a great quartet with Craig Handy on tenor, Bill O’Connell on piano, and Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun.

Debriano said he hopes to soon record with that group.

Most important jazz concert in history?

History’s most important jazz concert? It was Benny Goodman’s appearance Carnegie Hall on Jan. 16, 1938, according to Phil Schaap, curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“The Goodman concert at Carnegie Hall is the cornerstone to jazz having performance space in the concert hall,” Schaap recently told NPR. “But most importantly, aesthetically, it establishes that jazz has value for listening purposes only.”

The concert also made history for breaking cultural barriers: Goodman’s band, with drummer Gene Krupa, included six black musicians — pianists Count Basie and Teddy Wilson, saxophonist Lester Young and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton — during a time when music venues didn’t allow that kind of racial mixing.

The recording of the show, finally released in 1950, was one of the first million-selling LPs.

Check out the full story (and audio) here.

Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band is Back! Trio Dazzles in St. Petersburg Concert

chick trio new

“This is a rehearsal,” Chick Corea said Saturday night, before launching into the second of two performances in what he called a “homespun” affair.

Meaning: His relaunch of the Akoustic Band, 20 years or so after he, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl last played together unplugged, was unusually low key. No NYC Blue Note run this time. Minimal publicity.

Instead, the trio simply offered a pair of dazzling sets at the unassuming St. Petersburg College Music Center, something of a left-field choice for a major Tampa Bay area concert.

The intimate, 310-seat theater was near enough to the home of the celebrated 76-year-old pianist, composer and bandleader that he could sleep in his own bed that night. And there was solid family-and-friends support, as Corea’s wife, singer Gayle Moran, daughter Liana (also a pianist), and longtime recording-engineer associate Bernie Kirsh, were in the house.

chick trio

It was all preceded by just one day — 7 or 8 hours, Patitucci told me Saturday morning — of rehearsals, on Friday at Chick’s studio.

“If we screw up, we’re gonna stop and play it again,” Corea added. Why? Because the shows were recorded for potential release on a live album, meant to be available in time for the band’s summer tours of Europe and Australia.

Indeed, they did stop and re-do a few endings. But that didn’t disappoint the overtly supportive audience packed with musicians; the trio got a standing ovation before playing even a single note.

The three, maintaining constant eye contact with one another and seemingly having a blast despite dealing with multiple quite tricky passages, offered a mix of old and new Corea compositions along with fresh arrangements of standards.

Opener “On Green Dolphin Street” began with an unaccompanied piano solo, while the band effectively amped up the quirky accents and stops on a gently swinging “Monk’s Mood.” An inventive take on “You and the Night and the Music” that had Patitucci bowing some lines on the sort-of coda.

“It’s basically a piano piece (rearranged for trio),” Corea said about his seldom-played “Continuance,” featuring long classical lines sometimes completed or doubled by Patitucci and, later, some herky-jerky swing.

Also from the leader’s bottomless well of original compositions: “Eternal Child,” recorded by Corea’s Elektric Band, which also includes Patitucci and Weckl, and the bouncy, leapfrogging “Humpty Dumpty,” first released 40 years ago — believe it or not — on Corea’s “The Mad Hatter.” For the latter, called “kind of a jam tune” by Corea, he at one point created a sound effect by reaching into the piano case and scraping the strings, and the wizardly Weckle provided another explosive, creative solo.

Throughout, Patitucci again demonstrated the beauty and genius of his whole-bass approach to playing, delighting listeners with solos built on virtuoso runs as well as melodic bits, including, on “Eternal Child,” a quick quote of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise.”

Chick and Gayle

For the encore, Moran joined the group on the samba-driven “You’re Everything,” from Return to Forever’s revered 1973 “Light as a Feather” album. At one point, the unusually challenging melody line — originally sung by Flora Purim — had Moran briefly stopping and shouting, “These are impossible lines to sing!” She nevertheless hit most of the marks, and impressed with clear, powerful vocals. Call it a near-perfect finale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vijay Iyer tops JazzTimes Critics Poll

Just as in the recent NPR Jazz Critics Poll, Vijay Iyer tops the recently published JazzTimes poll, with “Far From Over” (ECM), from the pianist-composer’s sextet, topping the magazine’s list of the year’s 40 best new releases.

Vijay Iyer

(I voted in both polls).

“Corrosive in its defiance and lyrical in its call for unity, (Iyer’s album) is a grueling, uplifting listening experience,” Thomas Conrad writes about Iyer’s album.

The rest of the Top 10 includes releases by:

  • Three saxophonists — 2)Charles Lloyd New Quartet, “Passin’ Thru” (Blue Note); 3) Steve Coleman‘s Natal Eclipse, “Morphogenesis” (Pi); and (4) Rudresh Mahanthappa‘s Indo-Pak Coalition, “Agrima” (Rudeshm.com)
  • (5) Singer Cecile McLorin Salvant‘s “Dreams and Daggers” (Mack Avenue)
  • (6) Drummer Matt Wilson‘s “Honey and Salt: Music Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg” (Palmetto)
  • (7) Hudson (Jack DeJohnette/Larry Grenadier/John Medeski/John Scofield), with a self-titled debut album (Motema)
  • (8) Bassist Linda May Han Oh‘s “Walk Against Wind” (Biophilia)
  • (9) Pianist/keyboardist Craig Taborn‘s “Daylight Ghosts” (ECM)
  • 10) Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire‘s “A Rift in Decorum — Live at the Village Vanguard” (Blue Note)

The JazzTimes critics also honored historical jazz releases. The top 3: Thelonious Monk’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960” (SAM/SAGA); Bill Evans’ “Another Time: The Hilversum Concert” (Resonance”); and Jaco Pastorius’s “Truth, Liberty & Soul” (Resonance).

“Jaco’s brilliant work as a composer and large-ensemble arranger is impressively showcased on this archival radio recording by his Word of Mouth big band,” I wrote about the double-disc release.

For the complete poll results, pick up the February issue of JazzTimes.

 

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.

Branford Does the Mahaffey

Quick take:

Branford Marsalis, alternating between tenor and soprano sax, and leading his long-running quartet (with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner), turned in a brilliant set tonight at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

The quartet mixed heady post-bop originals with the likes of a rambunctious version of Monk’s “Teo” and a ramped-up retro take on “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”

Brainy, brawny, (too) brief. Have more to say, but I’m saving it for a forthcoming magazine review.