Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jeff Coffin rescues jazz from egghead doom ...

… at least for me
Jeff Coffin

As always on a Saturday, a lot of music was going on in Springfield, but it was an especially good evening for jazz.

Jeff Coffin joined Missouri State University jazz bands for a free concert after a daylong festival of high school and middle school bands. Coffin adapted his tune, "Dewey," dedicated to Dewey Redman, for big band. It was one of the most uplifting pieces of music I have ever heard, while steering clear of treacle — and also one of the more challenging to listen to.

In a recent post, I lamented the advance of egghead jazz that leaves me cold, and, in another post, I looked forward to Coffin's appearance. His arrival was perfectly timed to relieve my funk.

After the concert with Coffin, we moved on the Creekside Bistro, where Brandon Mezzelo and his Triptet played "All Blues" in a manner that managed to encompass nearly all of Miles Davis's career. We left near the end and heard a hard-swinging tune bursting through the walls into the cold night as we walked to the car.  Over the years, I have enjoyed leaving a club a bit before the very end to experience the music still ringing out — it hadn't ended, it was still going on. And so, it happened again.

At right, Mezzelo from
a performance last fall.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Jeff Coffin: Serious fun

Following my recent post about losing interest in new jazz, I found a remedy: Jeff Coffin and the Mu'tet. I downloaded his recent album, "Into the Air," to prepare for an interview with him for a story about his appearance in Springfield on Feb. 23.

Throughout his career, Coffin has played in groove-based bands that celebrate monstrous solos and occasional odd meters. The album covers a wide spectrum — mostly funk, some blues, a pinch of hard-swinging mainstream — and the band is really flexible with all of this material. Best of all, there's a lot of strong playing over the grooves.

Plus a couple of slow, oozing tunes — and one with Lionel Loueke.
This approach reminds me a little of what Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago called "serious fun." Back in the early 90's, his Brass Fantasy was playing covers of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Sade that were really intricate but also entertaining.

So, there's hope.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

J.M. Buttermilk's Hot Buttered Soul and R&B Revue

Ran Cummings (left); Jonathan Keene
A stripped-down J.M Buttermilk unit played at the High Life on Friday, Feb. 8. Front man Ran Cummings said he’s often asked how he keeps up his manic intensity on stage.

“I can’t think of anything else that I would do,” he said. “It’s what I would be doing anyway if I were in front of the stage, enjoying the show.”

Richie Rebuth (left), Cummings (front), Keeney and Jacob "Toad" Wyrick (background)
From left: Jeffrey Faucett, Casey Hudlow, Cummings
Cummings with [sorry, I need help with this name]
C.H. McCoy

Friday, February 8, 2013

I'm modern, but I'm also a moldy fig

All jazz is modern, Wynton Marsalis says. That's true in the sense that everyone paying jazz now is working in this moment, which must be modern.

In contrast, it's also true that jazz that was once modern is now old — unless it's resuscitated by musicians playing it now, in the moment, which must be modern.

But how should we respond to stuff that would have been tired even when it was modern, but is now being played now? For example, this recent performance by the Nasheet Waits group with Vijay Iyer.

Sad to say, there's nothing happening here (even though Waits is a great drummer). Well, at least there's a pulse for a while after 2:30, and some intermittent runs and clusters from Iyer around 4:00-5:00. I listened to part 1 of this piece, which I found a little more engaging, but still dull. Four decades ago, the free jazz I heard had lots of muscle and sonic extremes. As a high school kid with a new driver's license, I drove with my friends to downtown Chicago and heard Ornette Coleman with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. I also had albums by Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Lots of screeching and blatting and general commotion, plus periods of abstraction kind of like these videos — but never boring. Fun while it lasted, but I moved out of that phase, like many others.

The Art Ensemble from the 1970s sounds more modern than this stuff that was performed a few weeks ago.

All of this adds up to the grim fact that after nearly half a century of listening to jazz and being open to new sounds, I have become a moldy fig. I never thought it was possible. But, having encountered such dreary music that owns a place in the vanguard, I must accept my lot.

However, many musicians are making challenging music WITH A LIVELY PULSE.

Such as Tom Harrell, who has produced nearly one great album every year for the past half-decade. His current work, "Number Five," has him paying in duos and solo formats, really taking risks. There's hope for modernity after all.