Tuesday, September 11, 2012

For All We Know

As I delve into the world of freelance writing, I'll be taking an indefinite break from this blog. I owe a lot to Cold Jazz -- we've been through so much together. But as you've probably noticed, I haven't really written anything of substance here since, I'd say, last November, when I mused about Christmas songs and the Jews who wrote them.

I have another homepage now, where I'll be posting links to my writing -- which may or may not have to do with jazz (though a lot of it will, I imagine). If you'd like to get in touch, my email is matthewkassel88@gmail.com.

I'll leave you with Dinah Washington singing "For All We Know," a rendition I hadn't heard of until I read a lovely tribute to the late art critic Robert Hughes by Leon Wieseltier.

I hope we meet again.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Joe Alterman

My review of a new album by the pianist Joe Alterman was just published in The Forward.

Here's the first bit:

The pianist Joe Alterman is only 23 years old, but on his new album, “Give Me The Simple Life,” he’s managed to round up an impressive array of jazz veterans to play by his side. Houston Person, the soulful tenor saxophonist, joins in on four tracks while bassist James Cammack and drummer Herlin Riley — who both play in Ahmad Jamal’s stellar trio — accompany Alterman throughout.

It’s a lovely record, full of romantic ballads and medium swing numbers — the kinds of standards that are the sine qua non of a traditional piano trio outing like this one.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oliver Jones

Last week, I went to Montreal to write about the magnificent pianist Oliver Jones for NPR. He performed at the jazz festival there, and I got the chance to speak with him a couple of days before his show. You can read the story I wrote here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bruce Barth

My review of Bruce Barth's new album, "Three Things of Beauty," was just published in The New York City Jazz Record.

Here's the first half:

The pianist Bruce Barth wrote six of the ten songs featured on his new album, including the title track, a dream-like waltz more noteworthy for its long, lyrical, cascading solos than its melody. Most of the tracks on this album are like that, shaped by the drama of a soloist’s decisions. In this case, Barth and the vibraphonist Steve Nelson make some really good ones.

They’re backed by bassist Ben Street and drummer Dana Hall, who put down sure, swinging rhythms. The music is relatively straightahead, but it doesn’t feel perfunctory nor do the musicians submit to the vice of jazz jam egalitarianism. This means that Nelson and Barth act as arbiters, in the forefront. (Street takes two short solos by this reviewer’s count while Hall is featured once toward the end of the second track, “Final Push”, a Barth original.)

Read the rest here (page 18).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dr. Lonnie Smith

I wrote a listing! It’s appearing in the July issue of Hot House Jazz magazine, alerting readers to the organist Dr. Lonnie Smith’s upcoming run at the Jazz Standard.

You can read half of it here, if you’d like:

The organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, a living testament to the durability of the soul jazz tradition, turns 70 this month. Dr. Smith comes from Buffalo, a jazz organ town, and he has never abandoned his roots. He is a commanding improviser and a master of dynamics on his hulking B-3, digging deep into simmering ballads with feline grace or coming at you with a gritty, gutbucket phrase on a scorching funk number.

Dr. Smith is performing at the Jazz Standard on July 3 and 5-8.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Béla Fleck and Marcus Roberts

Béla Fleck, on banjo, with Marcus Roberts
The New York City Jazz Record just published my review of a new album by the Marcus Roberts Trio, with Béla Fleck, called "Across the Imaginary Divide."

Here's the first two paragraphs.

As much as jazz is about self-indulgence - consider all the soloing - it’s also very much about wise restraint. The banjoist Béla Fleck embodies those two poles: he’s a virtuoso but he seems to know when to step back, to let some space into the music. This is an important attribute for a banjoist who immerses himself in jazz settings. In "Across the Imaginary Divide" Fleck joins the Marcus Roberts Trio and he adapts well, which is to say the patterns he picks out on his instrument do not make the music too busy.

The excellent pianist Roberts - who got his start playing with Wynton Marsalis in the mid ‘80s - is another sort of virtuoso: of awkwardly refined expression. (You can trace his style back to Ahmad Jamal and Thelonious Monk and the stride pianist James P. Johnson.) How Roberts and Fleck navigate their own differences is what makes this album interesting.

Read the whole thing here, on page 16.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood

John Scofield
A review I did of an album by Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood was just published in The New York City Jazz Record. It's a live recording, called "In Case The World Changes Its Mind."

Here's some of the review:

In 1998, guitarist John Scofield released the album "A Go Go," which he recorded with Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW). It grooved hard, skirting jazz and blues and rock and funk. It wasn’t until eight years later that the musicians put out another album, "Out Louder," under the name of Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood. It didn’t groove as hard as the first but when the band took the songs from both albums on the road in 2006, the differences between the two didn’t really matter.

MMW, which could be called a ‘jazz trio’, usually acts more like a jam band live and it shows on "In Case The World Changes Its Mind," a collection of recordings from that 2006 tour. The tracks go as long as about 13 minutes, there’s a lot of extended noodling, ideas take shape slowly. Neither bad nor good, you might do better with studio takes if you haven’t heard them yet.

Read the rest here (page 18).

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wes Montgomery

My review of "Echoes of Indiana Avenue," an album of recently unearthed Wes Montgomery recordings, was just published in The New York City Jazz Record.

The first two paragraphs:

These nine tracks, the earliest known recordings of Wes Montgomery as a leader, don’t tell you much that you didn’t already know about the guitarist. It’s not surprising that Montgomery, who died in 1968, was about as well-formed as a soloist, accompanist and interpreter of melody as he was on recording dates that took place several years after these.

We’re told in the liner notes to "Echoes of Indiana Avenue" that the tracks are from 1957 and 1958, though that can’t be verified; it’s not known who made the recordings. Producer Michael Cuscuna acquired them in 2008 from guitarist Jim Greeninger, who had them digitized in 1990 and that’s as far back as the lineage goes. But educated guesses reveal that most of the recordings took place in clubs in Indianapolis, Montgomery’s home turf. We’ve never heard him in this environment before.

Read the whole thing here.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Value of Chaos

Aaron Novik's "Secrets of Secrets"
The Jewish Daily Forward just published my review of clarinetist Aaron Novik's new album, "Secrets of Secrets."

Here's the opening chunk: 

“Secrets of Secrets,” a new album by clarinetist Aaron Novik, has an air of doom about it.

The album takes its name and inspiration from a five-book series written by the Jewish mystic Rabbi Eleazar Rokeach, who lived in Worms and in 1196 witnessed crusaders slaughter his wife and children.

This isn’t the first time Novik has incorporated written sources into his music. “Floating World Vol. 1,” released last year, paid tribute to the poetry of fringe artists of the Mission District area in San Francisco, where Novik is based.

But “Secrets of Secrets,” composed of five tracks all longer than 11 minutes, is more abstruse than that. The music can be hard to listen to: tense and muddy and violent and powerful.

You can read the rest here if you'd like.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Edward Simon

Edward Simon
The New York City Jazz Record just published my review of "Danny Boy," pianist Edward Simon's latest album.

Here's the opening half:

Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon writes on the inside flap of Danny Boy that he had never played Irish music before this recording. He explains that the “simplicity and beauty” of the music “resonated deep within” him. With that in mind, it is a shame that only the first and last pieces - the title track and “She Moved Through The Fair” - are Irish songs, because they are some of the loveliest on the album. 

Simon opens the title track playing, slowly and pensively, with bassist Philip Donkin. Until drummer Stephen Keogh enters eight or so bars in and this becomes a straight-up piano trio album, the song brings to mind Hank Jones and Charlie Haden’s wonderful duo recording of hymns and folk songs, Steal Away. Based on that opening snippet, you get the sense that this could have been a different album - a more focused one.

Read the whole thing here.

The next review I'm writing for the paper will be of "Echoes of Indiana Avenue," a recently unearthed Wes Montgomery record. Haven't received it in the mail yet, but I look forward to listening.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jazz Photography

Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947
Over at Business Insider, you'll find a little slide show I put together which showcases the jazz photographs of the great William P. Gottlieb. All 1,600 of his photos are now being featured on Flickr, courtesy of The Library of Congress.

If you haven't done so already, you should check them out. Most of the images that you have in your head of jazz in the late '30s through to the late '40s were probably taken by Gottlieb. As I say in the introduction to the slide show, jazz, and jazz photography, would not be the same without him.

The night before I wrote that introduction, I happened to have started Geoff Dyer's great book, "But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz." In an introductory section to the book, called "A Note on Photographs," Dyer writes, toward the end: "The best jazz photographs are those saturated in the sound of their subject." I loved that quote, even if it's not true.

So much so that I put it into my introduction.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hendrik Meurkens

Hendrik Meurkens
The New York City Jazz Record just published my review of Hendrik Meurkens's new CD, "Live at Bird's Eye." Go to nycjazzrecord.com and download the paper to read it. If you live in New York, you can pick up the paper at basically any jazz club in the city.

Here's the opening paragraph:

Hendrik Meurkens, the German-born harmonica and vibraphone player, has an affinity for Brazilian music, samba and bossa nova particularly. He spent some years in Rio de Janeiro in the early ‘80s playing gigs around the city and honing his craft. His latest album is an assemblage of tracks played by his Samba Jazz Quartet - Misha Tsiganov (piano), Gustavo Amarante (bass) and Adriano Santos (drums) - and recorded, from two different nights (oddly about two years apart), at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland.

The next CD I'm reviewing is "Danny Boy," by the Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon. It just came in the mail today. I listened to the opening track before I wrote this post and found it quite lovely.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chucho Valdés

Now that I live in New York, seeing live music is much less of an ordeal than it used to be.  I went to Winter Jazzfest a couple of weeks ago, staying out until three a.m. one night.  I took the subway straight home from the West Village.  No NJ Transit, no car ride.  It felt too easy.  Tomorrow night, I'm going to Carnegie Hall to see Chucho Valdés perform with his septet, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.

Before I moved here from New Jersey, I was writing arts and entertainment previews for a local monthly paper called the Princeton Echo.  For one preview, I was lucky enough to interview Mr. Valdés in anticipation of a concert he is giving tonight, at McCarter Theatre, in Princeton. I figured I'd rehash it here as it also pertains, in some ways, to tomorrow night's show. It was my first interview with a translator involved.

Piano Legend Offers a Little Taste of Cuba

The Cuban jazz musician Chucho Valdés is, by many accounts, one of the world’s greatest pianists.

Born in Havana in 1941, Valdés grew up amid the pulsating vibrancy of the Cuban popular music scene. His father, Bebo Valdés, a formidable pianist in his own right who helped develop the mambo, was the musical advisor to the Tropicana, Havana’s storied nightclub, throughout most of the 1950s.

Valdés, who turned 70 last October, cites the influence of many American jazz musicians and their styles: Duke Ellington attracted him first. After that came Art Tatum. Then Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor. The list goes on—including the staples of many developing jazz musicians.

For the first ten years after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Valdés explains, it was hard to get information about the music scene in the United States.

“We used to hear jazz on shortwave radio, the Voice of America ‘Jazz Hour,’ hosted by Willis Conover,” Valdés said in Spanish, through a translator, from Málaga, Spain, where he has lived for about a year. He moved from Havana to be closer to his father, now 93, who spends most of his time in Sweden but winters in the warm, Mediterranean city.

Listening to jazz on the radio, Valdés heard for the first time the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner.

“I would write out transcriptions of the music on paper for myself, so I could figure out what they were doing,” he said. He did this, by ear, for more than 10 years, from the early 1960s to the early 1970s.

Valdés first came to the United States in 1978 for a performance at Carnegie Hall with the jazz-pop band Irakere. And in 2010, he toured the United States, for the first time since 2003, in the wake of looser travel restrictions and an important visit by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to Havana.

“I felt like I was floating in the air because of the first concert in New York after the years that I couldn’t come,” Valdés said of his most recent trip, adding: “The United States is the most important place to play jazz.”

This year, Valdés is returning to the American stage for another tour, which he will inaugurate with a performance by his septet, the Afro-Cuban Messengers, at McCarter Theatre on Jan. 20 at 8 p.m.

Valdés said he will be playing selections from his latest record, “Chucho’s Steps,” which won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album, along with new songs from a repertoire he is putting together for his next album.

The Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez will open the show, playing with his trio. Valdés knows the young musician from when he was a boy in Cuba, calling him “a great talent with a huge future.”

With the Afro-Cuban Messengers, Valdés combines elements of the music of his homeland—including intricate webs of percussion and rhythmic chanting—with some of the most accessible aspects of American jazz: the easy-swinging lilt of New Orleans polyphony, the funky trumpet-saxophone voicings of hard-bop.

And through his music, the Cuban pianist expresses himself with the seemingly indefatigable force and precision of a true virtuoso.

The article originally appeared here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A New Jazz Club in New York

A William P. Gottlieb photo of Nat King Cole
So I'm working as a lifestyle writer for a website called Business Insider right now. And jazz has to do with life, right? So I wrote this short article about a new jazz club that the owner of the Blue Note, Steve Bensusan, is proposing for the Meatpacking District. It sounds like a good cause.

Check it out here.