Monday, April 29, 2013

I found something else that I like

Last night I downloaded "Banned in London" by the Aruan Ortiz & Michael Janisch Quintet featuring Greg Osby. The music is scrabbly and sinewy. It may verge toward egghead jazz, but it has muscle. And I haven't heard Osby sound this good in 15 years. More on this later.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Now I like Wayne Shorter's new stuff

After expressing mixed feelings about Wayne Shorter's new album, Without a Net, I've decided that I not only like it, I also like everything he's done since teaming up with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade.

In this spirit, I have made plans to hear the quartet this summer in Chicago. No time like the present, and they'll never get any closer to Springfield.

I like the way Shorter integrates bits of lyricism, bombast and actual swing. He's one of the few players I'm hearing today who's trying to do something different that appeals to me. It's weird and unsettling that a dedicated jazz listener has to turn to a near-octogenarian for innovation.

I've always expected something new from jazz, even as I listened mostly to mainstream music. But I need to enjoy the innovations.

Different but dull: At this blog we've explored the disappointing "egghead" style of contemporary innovation. 

Same but exciting: Many great players are thriving in the mainstream. Tom Harrell has produced five albums with the same quintet with only small variations in concept; all are brilliant and more is better. Sonny Rollins, who's 82, seems to want to improve on his own mainstream work every time out. But I also want something different.

Different and exciting: I can't find much of that. I admire Rudresh Mahanthappa, but his continuous blowtorch approach is hard to take. I miss George Adams. He had a vocabulary on tenor that combined screeching Ayler-like leaps with Gospel and warm swing. At the very moment when his caterwauling became unpleasant, he pulled back into a groove.

I think Shorter is doing the same thing in a more expressionist way. Much of his playing is not about chops; it's about extremes of emotion ("Myrrh" on the new album is a succinct example of this). For me, this is a different and exciting approach. I like players with chops (see "same but exciting"), but I'm willing to give up chops in return for something new and appealing.

In contrast to Rollins, Shorter, 79, seems to feel that he has no obligation to verify his chops. If he wants to unleash an ear-splitting dissonant trill, he's going to do it, even though it does not require six-hour daily practice sessions to pull off. And just when your eardrums are about to rupture, he'll pull up and play a line from Mendelssohn.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Jazz Roll Call

Jazz Roll Call was part of my April 26 column at I am archiving it here for easy access. 

The project is a gesture for celebrating the music locally during Jazz Appreciation Month. Invitations to join a list of musicians have been published in the News-Leader and circulated through social media. Anyone who is self-identified as a jazz musician, at any level, could respond to the invitation with name and affiliations such as current and recent bands and gigs, as well as schools, or, if none of these apply, simply “independent.”

The list is not a directory or an events listing. Although the list has more than 80 names, it is definitely incomplete.

• Sam Adkins, FourFront Jazz Quartet, Members Only

• Kyle Aho, MOJO, duo and trio at Haruno, Hvild Trio

• Timothy Bender, Little Hoover’s Big Band

• Harry Beckett, MONTAGE and duo with Carol Reinert

• Bogie Bohinc, independent

• Ryan Boone, Quantum Groove, Lilly Bee and the Pollinators

• Tim Broadbent, MASK, Sequel Dose, independent jazz composer/arranger

• Roger Bown, Jazz Educator’s Big Band, Queen City Dance Band, MOJO

• Kelly Brown, Brandon Mezello Triptet, Kristy Merideth, John Strickler, Greene County Social Club, Rags to Rich’s, Ozark Mountain Daredevils

• Mark Brueggemann, MOJO, Linda Sala Jazz Project, New Creole Jazz Band

• Grady Butler, Quantum Groove

• Liz Carney, Bella Donna

• Michael Casey, MOJO

• Sam Clanton, Jam McClanton, Stellar Weirdos

• Lou Colbe, MONTAGE

• Cathy Coonis, Jazz Educator’s Big Band, Queen City Dance Band, Wings of Swing, assistant band director at Seymour High School

• Jay DaVersa, independent

• Cindy Dittrich, private piano teacher, Wings of Swing Big Band

• Craig Edwards, assistant band director at Republic High School

• Ian Erickson, Friday and Saturday night jazz at Springfield Brewing Co., Richard Bruton Band, Kyle Aho Trio, Missouri State University

• Austin Farnam, SPiNRaD

• Pete Generous, MONTAGE

• Aaron Grose Little Hoover’s Big Band and Kickapoo High School Jazz Band

• Kaylee Grose Little Hoover’s Big Band and Cherokee Middle School 8th Grade Jazz Band

• Mike Grose Little Hoover’s Big Band

• Dennis Groves, MSU, Quantum Groove

• Matt Guinn, Bella Donna

• Cole Gurley, Quantum Groove, Lilly Bee and the Pollinators

• Randy Hamm, director of jazz studies at Missouri State University, Hamm/Aho Duo, Thrascher Saxophone Quartet, Steve Wiest Big Band, EMP Recording Artist

• Matt Harp, The Jazz Machine, Kristi Meredith, MASK, FourFront Jazz Quartet

• Scott Harris, MOJO, freelance

• Bill Hartman, MOJO

• Ralph Hasty, Little Hoover’s Big Band, Caduceus the Doctors Band, Navy Musicians Association

• Carter Havens, Willard High School

• Jacob Hiser, Hiser Brothers, 180, MSU

• Greg James, Little Hoover’s Big Band

• Richard Kittleman, Distant Relative, gigs with Jerry Hoover, Charlie Loeber and Barney Kessel

• Donnie Kraft, Johnny Strickler Trio, session work

• Jacin Lopez, MASK, now touring with a casino and resort band

• B.J. Lowrance, Bella Donna

• C.H. McCoy, MSU Jazz Studies, Big McCoy Trio

• Sheilah McDowell, Jazz Educator’s Big Band

• C. Grant Maledy, Grant Maledy Trio, Smith-Cotton High School

• Kristi Merideth, Tower Club, Springfield Brewing Co.

• Jeremy Miller, Quantum Groove, Harvey Stone

• Shaun Morganfield, Missouri State University Jazz Studies I

• Jeff Nall, MOJO

• Jake Norman, Deep Fried Squirrel, independent

• Sid Norris, Richard Bruton Band, Drury University

• O’neil, independent

• Don Overend, Caduceus, the Doctors Band

• J.D. Pate, The Jazz Machine, FourFront Jazz Quartet

• David Pease, independent

• Tommy Perry, MSU Jazz Studies I and Jazz Band

• Larry Pittman, Linda Sala Jazz Project

• Josh Prince, MSU Jazz Studies I and Jazz Symposium

• Susanna Reichling, Springfield Symphony

• Jim Rea, independent, Springfield Real Book, composer, arranger

• Carol Reinert, MONTAGE, duo with Harry Beckett

• Bryant Robinson, MOJO, M-Dock Band

• Paul Rose, Quantum Groove

• Bridget Ruark, MSU Jazz Studies I and Jazz Band

• Joe Sala, Linda Sala Jazz Project

• Linda Sala, Linda Sala Jazz Project

• Bob Salvador, Little Hoover’s Big Band

• Rick Salvador, Linda Sala Jazz Project

• Steve Samuelson, Sounds Pretty Good Combo, Queen City Dance Band, Brandon Street Stompers

• Lew Scott, Little Hoover’s Big Band

• Rick Seals, retired military musician, manager of the Wings of Swing Big Band and Wings of Praise Christian Big Band

• Steven Sellers, Little Hoover’s Big Band, Republic Community Band, Shriner’s Band, Ridgecrest Baptist Church Orchestra, Jazz Educator’s Big Band

• Bob Smither, Jazz Educator’s Big Band

• Tom Speaker, Lake Jazz Band

• Adam Stokes, MSU Jazz Studies I, Jazz Educator’s Big Band

• John Strickler, John Strickler Trio, solo gigs including Nonna’s

• David Styer, SPiNRaD

• Bob Swanson, Drury University, MOJO, New Creole Jazz Band

• Ryan Talbot, Ryan Talbot Experience, Richard Bruton Band

• Kyth Trantham, 180°, The Jazz Machine

• Dick Turner, New Creole Dixieland Band

• Chris Vanderpool, University of Northern Iowa, Quantum Groove, Lilly Bee and the Pollinators, 20 Acres from Pavement

• Brent Vaughan, MOJO, Ryan Talbot Experience, freelance, Fullerton College, Fullerton, Calif.

• Cyndi Waggoner, Lake Jazz Band

• Lane Waggoner, Carnival Cruise Lines, Lake Jazz Band

• Larry Waggoner, Sr., Lake Jazz Band

• Archie Wheeler, MOJO, Stan Kenton Orchestra (1963)

• Mike Williamson, Bella Donna

• Austin Wilson, Richard Bruton Band, Brandon Mezzelo Triptet, MOJO

• Carl Yendes, Jazz Educator’s Big Band; Caduceus the Doctors Band

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cold spell coming. Nothing to worry about, right?

I pruned in the first week of April, and within a day or two, buds started to swell. They leafed out the day after the last week's crappy cold spell passed. Now we're looking at another dip toward freezing on Thursday and Friday nights. I always thought 28 degrees was the danger point for St. Vincent, but I can't find that number anywhere.

If anybody is worried, please let me know.

I did find some encouraging words at

Pruned vines have earlier bud burst than unpruned vines, so delayed pruning is an effective strategy for delaying bud burst and reducing risk of frost injury.

As a procrastinator about pruning, I might have done my vines a favor.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Can Vijay bop?

Until cutting-edge pianist Vijay Iyer shows mastery of the tradition, guest blogger Brandon Mezzelo remains a skeptic about him and contemporary “egghead” jazz.

Brandon Mezzelo
About Brandon Mezzelo: After graduating from Parkview High School in Springfield, Mo., Mezzelo served in a U.S. Army band in Germany and Hungary for eight years in the 1990’s. He returned to Springfield, then set off for Hungary about three years ago, where he immersed himself in the Budapest scene, and came back last year. His group, the Triptet, plays an energetic version of mainstream jazz that he calls “soulbop.” The band consists of some of the more accomplished musicians in the region.

Guest post: I have asked Brandon to contribute a piece to this blog in hope of broadening its perspective. Because I am a listener, not a player, I enjoy partaking broadly from the jazz buffet, and I enjoy most of what I consume. Players, having invested a lifetime pursuing a personal vision of the music, often have a much more passionate and defined point of view. [I have addressed Vijay Iyer and this video in a previous post.]

Brandon’s post follows —

Vijay Iyer is arguably the most successful and well-respected jazz musician currently on the scene. Downbeat loves him — he won five awards in the magazine’s 2012 critic’s poll, and he’s on nearly every cover that Esperanza Spalding isn’t.

But as I listened to this recent clip (above) of the next great innovator, I was left feeling quite mystified and unfulfilled. I am not an expert, I wouldn’t claim to have the same level of chops, and I may not have paid my full share of musical dues (which in the modern era refers to numbers of degrees in music and performance you accumulate, not actually paying your dues in a life of playing).

However, the trend of this generation is confusing to me to say the least. In my humble mind, this is not even remotely a solid representation of jazz/swing/bop or any of the things that for me made New York City the great mothership of jazz and soul. I respect this new music for what it is, but I don't see any real genius in it at all. I hear more genius in guys playing much less esoteric music but with far more passion and devotion.

I remember a story from when I was at the Army School of Music. I had to take my final audition to graduate from the program. I was really nervous and not sure what piece to perform. My instructor suggested I go to the library and find a piece that is not often played. This made sense to me. If the judges didn’t know the piece that well, how could they judge it too harshly? They would listen for tone and basic technique, but really it would be over so fast they wouldn't be able to nit-pick me to death over the mistakes.

So I played the piece and took all the liberties that I could come up with, lots of tempo changes (to help me through the hard parts) and lots of physical emotion and gyrating to help sell the performance.

In the end what did I get? A mediocre score for a job half well done.

It’s not that the piece was bad or that my playing was terrible, but with all that messing around, I didn’t show that I had mastered the essentials of the program.

In the same way, I think these “advanced” players would be wise and more interesting if they played some music that we all know and pass their tests in that realm before jumping off the cliff to immortal self-indulged stardom. Can Vijay bop? Can he play a ballad? Isn't that also pretty important in our business of making the jazz?

This cerebral egghead music is cool, for the sake that it is cool. Nobody is up there rehashing “All Blues” or “Blue Bossa” (both excellent tunes by the way). But I will have a lot more respect for these guys when they come out and pay tribute to this great art form in genuine dues-paying style.

Burn it up, play some damn changes that make some sense. Get out “Giant Steps” and “Body and Soul” and show me and the world that you really deserve to be on every damn cover of Downbeat. Until then I remain skeptical that your legacy is really relevant.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Appreciating Wayne Shorter's intentionally confounding music

Wayne Shorter publicity photo from his website. Credit: Robert Ascroft
For more than a decade, saxophonist Wayne Shorter has led a quartet of Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). This unit has always promised a lot of fiery interplay along with Shorter's singular virtuosity. The band has delivered on the interplay, but Shorter has been criticized for cryptic, hesitant playing in which he cuts off promising passages just as they seem to be gathering momentum.

Lots of barking has broken out among critics about the band's third album, "Without a Net," recently released after an eight-year recording gap. More than ever, detractors have attacked Shorter for his strange noodles and shouts. Others say he's now playing boldly and coherently — less wandering, more purpose.

Many tunes on the new album are simply blasé, but there are several I really like:

  • "Pegasus," a chamber piece with the Imani Winds, somehow explains the blasé aesthetic and makes it much more enjoyable.
  • "Orbits" captures the energy of the earlier years of the quartet.
  • "Myrrh" begins quietly and ends with sustained screams from Shorter's soprano. The emotional intensity of this piece exceeds anything that current creative leaders in jazz — authors of deliberately ponderous and dreary sounds — would ever allow themselves to play.
I saw that Howard Mandel criticized Shorter for not taking control of his quartet with stronger playing. Such objections are useless. Maybe these mysterious detours and blind alleys are exercises derived from Buddhism, which Shorter practices. We aren't supposed to enjoy the music as conventional propulsive jazz with a 4-4 triplet pulse. The music is supposed to be occasionally or mostly confounding, with a breakthrough of enjoyment now and then. 

By the way, April is Jazz Appreciation Month, as declared by the Smithsonian Institution since 2002. This post and as many others as I can find time for this month are dedicated to appreciating jazz.