Friday, November 30, 2007

Hoyt's Hat

I'm a hat factory. This one is for my friend Steve Hoyt's birthday. Yak and merino, lightweight and warm. The pattern said to put a pom-pom on top but I'm sticking with the loop.

Pan-Metropolitan Trio

11/24/07, The Dakota: I previewed this Dakota late-night show for MinnPost and showed up to share in the fun of the CD release party. Stefan Kac played tuba and Japhlet Bire Attias the Chapman stick. Nick Zielinski sat in for regular PM3 drummer Owen Weaver, who's in Texas going to school. Like most musicians, Zielinski plays in a variety of bands and ensembles, one with the enticing name ARP of the Covenant. Another is the Restoration Jazz Band with trombonist Dave Graf.

PM3 played tracks from their new (first) CD: "All Over Town," "The Brazen Ms. Montgomery," "Uncrossed Deserts," "Isolation" (the title track), "Question and Answer," "Canzone per Nino Rota." They sounded great, and the house was full; we were up in the mezzanine again. Japhlet introduced one tune by saying "Here's a song you younger ones might not know, by a group called the Beatles." Then they played "Fool on the Hill." I felt about a zillion years old.

An earlier post on PM3, with links.

Photo: L to R: Japhlet, Nick, Stefan.

Dr. John

11/21/07, The Dakota: He's not doing solo shows anywhere else in the country, but he'll do one for us; he's been here before and he likes this place. Club owner Lowell Pickett calls him "precious." Debbie Duncan sings "Happy Birthday" to him (it is his birthday). Then Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, reaches out and pulls us close with his big, dense blues and boogie piano, gravelly voice, and one-of-a-kind, good-times takes on old familiar songs; in his words, "I always like to mess it up."

From "Shoo Fly" he moves to "Fever" ("You put your arms, around me, I'm gonna hit you with a rockin' chair...You give me pneumonia"), "Shake It for Me," "Big Chief," "Tipitina," "Sing Sing Sing," "How Come My Dog Don't Bark (When You Come Around)," "Dorothy" (written for his mother), "Ramble," "Mardi Gras Days," and more; it's a generous set. He takes requests and obliges. In between, he regales us with stories, which can sometimes be hard to understand because he speaks his own language and forgets to enunciate.

The curtain is open, the house is full, but it's all very intimate and personal, one of those moments that happen in live music (and only in live music) when you feel as if an artist is performing just for you.

During his encore, he invites "all you low-down politicians" to "chew my drawers." Speaking of drawers, you can go to Dr. John's Web site and order some officially authorized boxer shorts.

Photo by John Whiting.

Jazz 101: Hard Bop

Of all the styles of jazz, Kelly Rossum tells us in our weekly class at MacPhail, hard bop is the least popular with the public and the most popular among musicians. It exists for the pleasure of musicians and hardcore aficionados. I don't consider myself hardcore (enthusiastic, curious, even avid, yes; hardcore, no), but I do love hard bop, though I didn't know until recently that much of the jazz I enjoy falls into that category. So does much of the standard jazz repertoire. What does "hard bop" mean? To Kelly and many other jazz musicians, it simply means "jazz."

Clifford Brown's "I'll Remember April," with the great Max Roach on drums. A sparse collection of notes flowers into something intricate, complex, amazing. ("This further demonstrates the unsurmountable problem of teaching jazz," Kelly says, "which, in hard bop, further distances itself from other forms of music.") The role of the drummer evolves from timekeeper to active participant; today the drummer is on equal footing with the other members of a jazz group, and everyone is responsible for keeping time. Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" (I must have listened to that as often as Kind of Blue), with its Latin beat. Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder." Art Blakey, Ahmad Jamal, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Terence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove, Randy Weston, Joe Lovano, Christian McBride, and on and on...hard boppers.

In hard bop, the form is law, but that will change when free jazz comes along.

Photo: Clifford Brown.


11/16/07, Walker Art Center: Svajanam is Sanskrit for kinsmen, in this case an intersection of jazz and Carnatic (Indian classical) music. It's a fascinating concept: put Indian-American jazz saxophonist and Guggenheim fellow Rudresh Mahanthappa (who last came to the Walker in October 2006 with the Vijay Iyer Quartet) on the same stage as Dr. Kadri Gopalnath, India's Emperor of Saxophone (Saxophone Chakravarthy), then add four more strong musicians: Indian woman violinist A. Kanyakumari; Pakistan-born jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi; acoustic bassist Carlo De Rosa; Poovalur Sriji, master of the mridingam, India's classical drum; and world music drummer and educator royal hartigan (the lowercase spelling is his).

Less than a week after drowsing through Frode Haltli, we return to the Walker for the final event in its New World Jazz series, which began in September with Dhafer Youssef. The first thing I noticed was the bling on Gopalnath's saxophone. I've never seen an alto sax done up like a Bollywood prop. Coins hung from the neck and jeweled drops dangled from the bell, which also seemed to be dusted with glitter. His neck strap was a strand of crystals. Add the fact that he played his instrument while sitting cross-legged on the floor (actually a dais spread with Persian carpets and pillows) and we knew we weren't in Kansas anymore.

The music was beautiful and unusual. I have no clue what they played. Toward the end, Mahanthappa told us the group had not yet recorded together but planned to soon. He suggested that in the meantime, if we wanted to hear them again, we could buy one of his CDs and one of Gopalnath's and play them at the same time.

See Kinsmen on youtube and hear Mahanthappa talk about the project.

Photos: Rudresh Mahanthappa, Kadri Gopalnath.

Valves Meet Slide

11/14/07, The Artists' Quarter: We're celebrating Jazz Police chief Don Berryman's birthday. After hearing Dean Granros at Cafe Maude (sort of; loud crowd) over dinner, we head to the AQ for Valves Meet Slide, a quintet with not one but two trombones. Valve trombonist Brad Bellows and trombonist Dave Graf front Peter Schimke on piano, Gordy Johnson on bass, and Mac Santiago on drums.

It's cold outside, warm inside the homey AQ, one of my favorite places on the planet, where the size of the audience (small tonight) never seems to have a negative effect on the performance. Music as fine as you're likely to hear anywhere is a regular thing at the AQ.

See Valves Meet Slide on youtube.

Photo: L to R: Dexter Gordon (the famous AQ poster), Peter, Dave, Brad.

Rondi Charleston

11/12/07, The Dakota: After her teaser show on Sunday the 11th, Rondi Charleston returned to the Dakota with her full band, and what a band it is: Bruce Barth on piano, Joel Frahm on tenor sax, Dave Stryker on guitar, Rufus Reid on bass, Hadar Noiberg on flute, and Alvester Garnett on drums. I'd never seen Frahm live before but have often listened to his CD with pianist Brad Mehldau, Don't Explain. He can come back anytime.

The affectionate rapport between Rondi and her band was fun to see as they performed old standards and new songs: "Someone to Light Up My Life," Frank Loesser's "I Hear Music," the lovely "Estate" (Summer) sung previously by Shirley Horne, "Telescope" (words by Rondi, music by Bruce), the Beatles' "In My Life," Carole King's "Beautiful," Bill Evans's "Waltz for Debby" (love the melody, hate the lyrics..."In her own sweet world/populated by dolls and clowns/and a prince and a big purple bear"...I'm going to bring a pea shooter to jazz shows and use it every time I hear about that bear).

We also heard "Fragile as a Song" by King Crimson bassist Tony Levin, which describes his experience of playing music with bonobo apes and Peter Gabriel. Frankly, I don't think that one will enter the canon anytime soon. Small world: Levin plays the Chapman Stick, which I recently wrote about for MinnPost. Levin's latest album is big on the stick.

While things onstage were warm and fuzzy, a drama played out at a table between us and the band. She: low-cut, big hair, too many champagne cocktails. He: Walter Mitty, buttoned-down, phone blinking on belt. She gets louder; he says something; she can't believe he would dare, pulls her hand away, marches off to the ladies (for the third time), returns, gulps her drink, slams her glass down, shatters the base (it's a stem), and suddenly she's holding a sharp spear of glass pointed in his direction. Will she plunge it into his heart? We hold our breath--and so, we hear later, does the band, who are all trying to ignore what's happening under their noses.

Photo by John Whiting. L to R: Bruce, Rufus, Hadar, Alvester (hidden), Rondi, Dave. Rondi wore a red dress that was an engineering marvel. She snagged it on a bracelet; I hope it can be fixed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Exploring the outer limits of jazz: George Cartwright and GloryLand PonyCat

Originally published on on Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Say the words "free jazz" and many people tune out. Play free jazz and they head for the exits during intermission, if they wait that long. When Cecil Taylor brought his trio to the Ted Mann in February 2000 as part of the Northrop Jazz Season, people packed the aisles as if someone had yelled "FIRE!"

Taylor was my first journey to the outer limits of jazz. He played the piano with his fists and elbows, and his bass player laid his instrument down on the stage and kicked it.

All jazz has an element of improvisation. Free jazz, a.k.a. avant-garde jazz, goes further. It can be all improvisation. You won't hear a melody you can hum along with or a beat you can tap your feet to. Much of the music may be invented on the spot and not composed ahead of time or even rehearsed. Each player may seem to be doing his or her own thing, resulting in a lot of noise with no clear structure or purpose.

So why go to hear free jazz? Because it's the musical equivalent of Disney's Space Mountain, the roller coaster you ride in the dark.

Rare performance
Revered free jazz saxophonist and McKnight Composer's Fellow George Cartwright brings his trio GloryLand PonyCat to the Cedar on Thursday, Nov. 29. Cartwright lives in the Twin Cities after several years in New York, where he played with Ornette Coleman and other cutting-edge musicians and held court at the Knitting Factory with his group Curlew, but we don't often get a chance to see him perform. GloryLand PonyCat sightings are even rarer. (Go here to listen to an audio clip.)

Other members of the trio are bassist Adam Linz and drummer Alden Ikeda. Linz's main band is Fat Kid Wednesdays (with J.T. Bates and Mike Lewis; Lewis is one-third of Happy Apple). Ikeda has performed with Don Cherry, Julius Hemphill, Billy Bang, and the Jesus and Mary Chain, among many others. The Cedar show will also feature Andrew Broder, former hip-hop DJ turned avant-rocker with the Twin Cities band Fog. Broder might play guitar, but there are no guarantees.

Because free jazz is maligned and misunderstood, I asked Linz and Cartwright to give MinnPost some hints on what to expect and how to approach the Cedar show.

Linz suggests you just be yourself. "A lot of people who attend [free jazz] shows come with baggage. Especially in Minnesota. They are worried about the show before they even walk through the door. If they could just come with a clear mind and an open heart I think they will be able to receive what we are giving them. It's a concert. It's OK if it doesn't change your life. That's what Pink Floyd shows are for!"

"It gives you an experience you can't get anywhere else," Cartwright says. There is a plan for the show, with "ideas about how to structure the general flow of the sets. Who, what, when, where. Melodies, rhythms, harmonies. The usual stuff. It will be mostly original compositions but we may do a cover or two. Not sure yet." What can people listen for? "All of it at once," Cartwright says, and "something they never imagined." He suggests "waiting in a still manner for the quiet moments" and "waiting in a still manner for the loud moments." And "notice when it's over."

Jazz aficionado and Jazz Police publisher Don Berryman will be there. "George is an amazing player," he says, "and GloryLand PonyCat is an exciting band." Don's listening tips: "Keep your ears open and don't resist it. This music will take you to strange and wonderful places if you let it."

What: George Cartwright's GloryLand PonyCat with Andrew Broder, Adam Linz and Alden Ikeda
Where: The Cedar, 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29 [2007]
How much: $12 advance; $15 day of show

Upcoming picks

Pat Mallinger: In Chicago, the place to hear jazz every Saturday night is the Green Mill, where the group Sabertooth hosts an after-hours jazz party. Co-leader Pat Mallinger plays alto and tenor sax. Born and reared in St. Paul, he's home for Thanksgiving. He'll be joined on the Artists' Quarter stage in St. Paul by pianist Peter Schimke, bassist Tom Lewis, and drummer Kenny Horst. The Artists' Quarter, Friday, Nov. 23 and Saturday, Nov. 24, 9 p.m. ($12).

Pan-Metropolitan Trio CD Release Party: The Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, Saturday, Nov. 24, 11:30 p.m. ($5). (I wrote about this unusual group last week: "Who knew what a tuba could do?")

Roy Hargrove Quintet: Born in Waco, Texas, discovered by Wynton Marsalis while still in high school, Hargrove is one of the great young trumpet and flugelhorn players. He has recorded several CDs in a variety of genres (mainstream jazz, Latin jazz, M-base, bebop, hard bop, hip-hop/jazz) and won two Grammys. His current quintet includes Ronnie Matthews on piano, Justin Robinson on alto sax, D'Wayne Bruno on bass, and the wonderful Willie Jones III on drums. The Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, Monday, Nov. 26 and Tuesday, Nov. 27, 7 p.m. ($40) and 9:30 p.m. ($25).

Photo courtesy of George Cartwright.


If you spend a lot of time at your computer (or stream music from your computer), you should know about Pandora. This Web site lets you create your own "radio stations" to match your musical tastes. For example, if you create a station called "Miles Davis Radio," you'll hear music by Davis, Max Roach, Coleman Hawkins, Lee Morgan, and other cool/hard bop stuff. Create "Britney Spears Radio" (which I just did, out of morbid curiosity) and you'll get Britney, TLC, Nelly Furtado...wait, this might actually be kind of fun at dinner parties. You can skip songs you don't want to hear, buy those you like from iTunes or Amazon through direct links to those sites, and further customize your stations with thumbs up/thumbs down "guide us" buttons.

All good, and today it got better with the addition of classical music (an egregious omission from the start).

Pandora is free. For a time, they were seeking subscribers, but they don't seem to do this anymore. Their advertisers include Budweiser, Virgin Megastores, and American Express, so maybe they don't need to.

Interview outtakes: George Cartwright and GloryLand PonyCat

This week's MinnPost piece is on free jazz saxophonist George Cartwright and his trio GloryLand PonyCat. Cartwright, bassist Adam Linz, and Jazz Police publisher Don Berryman all responded to emails I sent while writing the piece. Here are some interesting bits that didn't make it into the article.

Question for Adam: "What is it like for you to play with George Cartwright?"

Adam: “I have wanted to play with George since I was 16. I heard of him through my ear training teacher Kevin Norton. I was looking for someone to study composition with while I was in New York. Unfortunately George had moved to Memphis. After I moved back to the Twin Cities I heard that George moved here. I got his number and called him and asked him if I could study composition from him. After he heard that I was a bass player he said, 'Just bring your axe and let's just play' We haven't stopped since then. So I get my lessons for free as we play. Playing with George is like playing with one of those jazz greats that you build up in your mind as a kid. You think that maybe one day you'll be good enough to play with them. George is such a nice guy also. Sometimes you meet your heroes and they turn out to be the exact opposite as you hoped for. George is like that funny uncle that says the wrong thing at the right time and makes all the kids laugh."

Question for George: "Imagine you're talking with people who haven't heard much free jazz (or any). They have agreed to come to the Cedar show, maybe on a dare. What can you tell them to help prepare? What can they do to really enjoy it?"

George: "Everybody has a different reaction to all music. Since we are all individuals we process what we hear on our own personal level(s) and that is what I would stress, that it gives you an experience that you can't get anywhere else and and it is your own to process past the 'how'd you like it?,' 'pretty good' kind of conversation. We've all spent much time and effort to manifest our own single selves through music (hopefully in a positive way) and being able to do that even better in a group (strength of the individual/power of the group kind of thing) and we hope to give that to the listeners also in some form or other. (( ...trying not to get 'mystical' here))."

Don summed up the experience of hearing Cartwright by quoting another jazz pioneer: "The late Steve Lacy said: 'The difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds.' Well, this is a band that nails it in that 15 seconds."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jazz 101: Cool Jazz

Cool jazz. The complexity shifts to composition. Jazz isn't just revamped show tunes anymore; composers are writing new music especially for jazz. It's serious stuff now, and when John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet perform, they wear tuxedoes.

In our weekly class at MacPhail, Kelly Rossum plays selections from Birth of the Cool, which has to be one of the all-time great titles for a jazz recording. We wonder if the title came from the artists or from the label. The CD includes the entire recorded output of the Miles Davis Nonet, a short-lived supergroup that included Davis on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Lee Konitz on alto saxophone, Gerry Mulligan on bari saxophone, John Lewis on piano, and Max Roach on drums. It's more relaxed than bebop, more spare, Kelly says that cool was a reaction to big band, and cool composition a reaction to swing. We talk briefly about third stream, a term coined in the late 1950s by Gunther Schuller to describe a synthesis of classical music and jazz. Kelly isn't convinced that third stream has ever really worked, but I like where it has led: the Modern Jazz Quartet's Blues on Bach; John Lewis's jazz interpretations of the Goldberg Variations (The Chess Game) and the Preludes and Fugues; Jacques Loussier's many jazz interpretations not only of Bach but also of Chopin, Ravel, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Vivaldi, and Satie.

The class is just an hour long, so we move quickly to the West Coast, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan (mellower and mellower); we hear Mulligan on "Line for Lyons," written for Jimmy Lyons, at the time a San Francisco DJ but soon after the founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Kelly likes to end each class by bringing us up to date with an example of how a particular style of jazz has survived and remains current. This time he plays "Laughing Barrel" by the Ron Miles Quartet, which includes the Twin Cities' own Anthony Cox on bass. The tune is one of Kelly's Top 10 favorites; the tone quality of all the instruments is very cool. Why does he like it? Because, he says, it's not in the book we're reading for class.

Hat One, Hat Two, Hat Three

Our friends Jeff Johnson and Signe Thompson are having a baby boy very soon, so I made three little hats: same pattern, different yarns, different sizes. Baby blue Hat One is 100% cotton; deep blue Hat Two is wool for winter; green Hat Three is cotton blend. If Jeff and Signe like them, I might make more. Any excuse not to knit a sweater.

Party at the Dakota

11/11/07, The Dakota: On a Sunday night at the Dakota soon after daylight savings time kicked in (the bad end of DS time, when it gets darker earlier), Lowell Pickett and the staff at the Dakota threw a party for A-Train members. They treated us to light appetizers and music and it was lovely. Sets by Sam Miltich and other members of the Clearwater Hot Club bookended a teaser set by Rondi Charleston and two members of her band, who would appear at the Dakota on Monday and Tuesday.

I forget how much I enjoy hot club music until I'm sitting in a room where it's being played well. It all looks so easy and relaxed, and it sets such a convivial mood. Miltich, the wunderkind who first learned to play the guitar at age 13 and almost immediately started channeling Django Reinhardt, was joined by his dad Matthew Miltich on bass, Mark Kreitzer and Rob Henry on rhythm guitars, and Dave Karr on saxophone. Both Sam and Dave wore red socks. Sam introduced his father as Leo Tolstoy; you can see why from the photograph. During their second set, violinist Mark O'Connor walked in and said hi. He had played Orchestra Hall that afternoon with Sharon Isbin. We were all hoping he'd brought his violin but he hadn't.

With Bruce Barth on piano and Rufus Reid on bass, Rondi gave us a nice selection of standards: "No More Blues," "I Believe in You" (from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "Shall We Dance." It was another light appetizer, a taste of what to expect when we returned the next day.

Photos: Sam Miltich and Matthew Miltich; Rondi Charleston and Rufus Reid.

Back when Sam Miltich was 18, NPR did a story about him.

Tim Ries: The Rolling Stones Project

11/10/07, The Dakota: Frode Haltli's set at the Walker was a short one—just over an hour. That gave us time to arrive at the Dakota for the second set of Tim Ries's Rolling Stones Project.

Ries has toured with the Stones since 1999 as part of their horn section. He is also a jazz musician, and jazz is where he goes when he's not on the road with the Glimmer Twins. On his second jazz CD, Alternate Side, he recorded a jazz arrangement of the Stones's "Midnight Mile." Mick and Keith gave their blessing for more. In the spring of 2005, Concord released The Rolling Stones Project. Richards, Ron Wood, and Charlie Watts (also a jazz musician) all appear on the CD; so do Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow. Other jazz artist guests include Bill Frisell, John Scofield, John Patittucci, and Brian Blade.

For his two-night stay at the Dakota, Ries brought along two other Stones tour veterans, trombonist Michael Davis and Bernard Fowler, Mick's backup singer. The rest of the band was cream-of-the-crop local musicians: Tom Reichert on guitar, Jeff Bailey on bass, Kevin Washington on drums. They began the set with a funky original tune, then gave us what we came to hear: "Ruby Tuesday," "Paint It Black" (in 7/4 time, so each measure sounded as if a syllable had been dropped), "Satisfaction," "Baby Break It Down," a lesser-known Keith Richards tune. Lisa Washington, Kevin's wife, did a spoken-word performance of her poem "Possibilities," backed by the band, and on her way off the stage she stopped to kiss her husband.

It was sometimes hard to separate my memory of a Stones tune from what I was hearing and seeing in the moment. But the set was fun and musical and I liked it. And after the snoozy music at the Walker, it was invigorating. Hey hey hey, that's what I say.

Photos: Tim Ries by John Whiting; Bernard, Michael, and Tim Reichert; Lisa Washington and Tim.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Frode Haltli Quartet

11/10/07, Walker Art Center: In curating the Walker's New World Jazz mini-series, Philip Bither defined jazz with a broad brush. Earlier this fall, Dhafer Youssef brought trancey, rhythmic Sufi-inspired music and cutting-edge musicians to the McGuire Theater. The final two events were scheduled for November within a week of each other, and they could not have been more different.

Being half-Norwegian and a former accordion player, I was predisposed to like acclaimed young Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli. He was charming and personable when he spoke—he told us about coming to Minneapolis as a pre-teen with his church group—but his music made me impatient and drowsy.

Haltli records for the great label ECM, home to artists including Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, and Charles Lloyd. The acronym stands for Editions of Contemporary Music, but I'm beginning to wonder if it means Extremely Coma-inducing Meanderings when Scandinavian artists go into the studio; pianist Tord Gustavsen also records for ECM, and he put us and our friends to sleep when he played the Cedar in April 2005.

Haltli was joined by three musicians who would have been more interesting if two hadn't been underused. American clarinetist Darryl Harper has performed and recorded with Dave Holland and Tim Warfield and he tours with Regina Carter; Norway's Nils Okland plays violin and Hardanger fiddle. Both took back seats to Haltli and Maja Ratkje, a Norwegian composer and vocalist.

Haltli explained that his music blends traditional themes with new sounds. One tune, "The Letter," was about a young boy writing to his parents about emigrating to America; that could have been about my grandfather. Another was about trees and the spaces between them. When Haltli played more than one note, the music was often very beautiful. He also used interesting effects: bending notes, making the instrument breathe (long whuhhhhhhhhh sounds from the bellows). In his introduction, Bither described Haltli's music as soundscapes. Partway through the evening, I started seeing landscapes in my head: surrealist Yves Tanguy-type landscapes with long stretches of nothing punctuated by the occasional puzzling object.

Much of the music seemed bleak and too slow. Often it featured Ratkje's vocalizations, which took the form of wails and aye aye nee nee sounds. At least one piece (the title track on his latest CD) was written by Ratkje; Haltli told us it was titled "Passing Images" and said, "It is up to each and every one of you to decide what it is about." It opened with a long silence followed by low notes, more silence, low notes, one in the audience dared to move. (At Orchestra Hall or the Ordway, those silences would have been invitations to cough.) Everyone turned pages of the music on the stands in front of them, but I had no idea why, because little was happening. Then Ratjke leaned into her mic for some Norwegian scatting.

A few days later, I spoke with someone else who had seen Haltli and his quartet. His favorite part of the evening was Ratkje's singing. A mutual friend who was also there thought "Passing Images" was the high point.

Curious about the accordion? Sure you are!

Photographs: Frode Haltli, Darryl Harper.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Who knew what a tuba could do?

Originally published on on Friday, November 16, 2007

I had never heard anyone play jazz tuba (or thought about it much, to be honest) until I saw Stefan Kac and the Pan-Metropolitan Trio perform a Late Night at the Dakota set in February 2006. The place was packed, the stage was poorly lit, and we were stuck at a hi-top on the mezzanine near the elevator, but the music was intriguing and full of fresh sounds.

While Kac (pronounced "cats") played the tuba and Owen Weaver the drums, the third young musician (they're all in their 20s), Japhlet Bire Attias, played something called a Chapman Stick. Invented in the late 1960s by Emmett Chapman, the stick is an electronic stringed instrument with a minimalist design: all neck, no body. It's played by tapping the strings, and both hands are equal partners; you can play a bass line and a melody, chords and rhythm simultaneously. Basically, it's guitar-meets-bass-meets-piano-meets-drums, with pickups to amplify and modify the sound. In the right hands, it's a one-man band.

Two unexpected instruments and an enthusiastic crowd made me file away Pan-Metropolitan for future reference. The trio returns to the Dakota's late-night series on Saturday, Nov. 24, to celebrate the release of their first CD, "Isolation." Combining original compositions by Kac with covers of tunes by Pat Metheny, Italian pianist Giacomo Aula and British prog rockers Gentle Giant, "Isolation" is melodic, diverse, eminently accessible and no relation to oom-pah-pah.

Dark and velvety tone
The tuba is a mass of brass, bulky and heavy; Kac rests his in his lap while seated to play. He's agile on his instrument and he lands a lot of notes, especially in tunes like "The Brazen Ms. Montgomery," which he wrote and dedicated to a friend. His tone is dark and velvety. Attias's stick and Weaver's drums hold their own and each has ample chances to shine in performance and on the new CD.

How does one end up playing tuba and jazz, which might seem like a double death wish?

Kac took up the euphonium, the tuba's smaller cousin, in sixth grade to avoid having to join choir. He switched to tuba in ninth grade and didn't much care for it until he auditioned for and was accepted into the Minnesota All-State Band. Lessons at MacPhail, a degree in tuba performance from the University of Minnesota School of Music, and a series of successes followed. Kac was a finalist in the 2005 WAMSO Young Artist Competition, won the solo competition at the first Tubonium workshop at Gustavus Adolphus College and was selected to attend the prestigious Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead music residency program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Today he teaches at the West Bank School of Music, composes and has gigs around town. Since January 2007, he has been on the Minnesota Orchestra's substitute list. He also plays and composes classical music.

Attias comes to the PMT via New York, Florida and Mexico. He's a photographer, visual artist, certified diver and Obama supporter. Weaver recently graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Music with a degree in percussion performance. He taught at the Minnesota Valley Music Academy before moving to Austin, Texas, to attend graduate school at the University of Texas, where he's studying for his master's of music in percussion.

Kac, Attias and Weaver have been playing together for about a year and a half, so I must have first heard them very soon after they got together. That was a good show. It's safe to predict the Nov. 24 show will be better. Kac promises to play everything on the CD, "although probably not in the same order. We'll also throw in a couple of other tunes we play that are not on there, including possibly a complete improvised selection." Besides, what else can you do on a Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis for $5?

What: Pan-Metropolitan Trio CD Release Party
Where: The Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant
When: 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24 [2007]
How much: $5; also $5 food and drink specials

Upcoming picks

Kinsmen/Svajanam: The last event in the Walker's New World Jazz mini-series brings alto sax masters Kadri Gopalnath and Rudresh Mahanthappa to the McGuire Theater stage. Gopalnath is a living legend of South Indian carnatic (classical) music; Mahanthappa is an Indian-American jazz musician. They'll be joined by the Dakshina Ensemble. Music events at the Walker can range from sublime (Dhafer Youssef) to disastrous (Bobby Previte), but they're rarely dull. I saw Mahanthappa last year with pianist Vijay Iyar and this looks like a sure thing. Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater, 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 ($25; $21 Walker members).

Patty Peterson Birthday with Jeanne Arland Peterson: For a time, it seemed as though Patty Peterson wouldn't have another birthday. On Feb. 12, while she was driving home on 35W, her aorta burst. Nearly seven hours of emergency surgery and months of recovery later, she's as good as new, radiant and thankful. She'll sing, and her mom, Twin Cities music matriarch Jeanne Arland Peterson, will play piano. This will be the weekend's jazzy love fest. The Artists' Quarter, Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17, 9 p.m. ($10).

Dr. John Solo: Having booked a long and rowdy parade of New Orleans musicians since Hurricane Katrina, the Dakota is well on its way to becoming NOLA North. The two-time Grammy winner is the biggest name this week, but you can also catch C.J. Chenier on Saturday night. Chenier is here for a Sunday benefit for Katrina survivors, also at the Dakota, presented by Under the Radar Foundation. The Dakota, Monday-Wednesday, Nov. 19-21, 7 p.m. ($50) and 9:30 p.m. ($35).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

MinnPost: Pan-Metropolitan Trio Preview

This week's MinnPost piece is on the Pan-Metropolitan Trio, three young musicians who play tuba, Chapman Stick, and drums and will release their first CD, Isolation, on November 24.

I enjoyed writing last week's piece—a primer/overview of jazz in the Twin Cities (in which I egregiously omitted traditional jazz, and thanks to Dick Parker for pointing that out). But now is when the fun begins.

See the Chapman Stick and how it works.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott

11/9/07, The Schubert Club, Ordway Center: For its 125th birthday, the Schubert Club invited Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott to play. We bought cheap seats and were astonished to find ourselves in the best possible place for the occasion, overlooking the stage and the piano keyboard. (Gallery Boxes Left, Box A, seats 1 and 3—the left leading edge of the topmost balcony.) Thanks to my new Nikon Trailblazer binoculars, which I brought because I was sure we'd be sitting somewhere in Wisconsin, I could see everything: the unruly cowlick at the back of Ma's head, the sparkles on Stott's shoes, and the back-and-forth between them as they played a beautiful program: Schubert's Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, Shostakovich's Sonata in D minor, Piazzola's Le Grand Tango, a collaboration by Eberto Gismonti and Geraldo Carneiro ("Bodas de prata & Quatro cantos"), and Franck's Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano. At one point during the Schubert Adagio, Ma was reading over Stott's bare shoulder; she turned her head, they looked at each other, and it was a moment of breathtaking intimacy. We watched her graceful hands on the keys, and his on the long fretless road of the fingerboard. At times, Stott's hands seemed lighter than air, as if she was forcing them down to land delicately and skip over the keys and rise again.

Which cello was Ma playing? The 1733 Montagnana from Venice named Petunia, worth $2.5 million, which he once left in a New York City taxi? Or the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius, formerly owned by Jacqueline du Pre? (The Duport Stradivarius, built a year earlier, was owned by Mstislav Rostropovich. The scratch on its side supposedly came from a spur on Napoleon's boot.) Ma calls the Montagnana "my voice," so I'll guess that's the one he had at the Ordway.

When you sit close and/or have a decent pair of binoculars, you can see that making music takes sweat and breath and physical effort. Both Ma and Stott worked hard at the Ordway, playing for a sold-out crowd (oversold; we had to borrow a program from someone seated near us), cheerfully returning for four encores, raising oversized wine and martini glasses in a mock toast, and reappearing in the foyer, where the audience had been invited for champagne and birthday cake. The music there was provided by pianist Laura Caviani, tenor sax player Pete Whitman, and bassist Gary Raynor. A friend later told me that the always gracious Ma told the crowd he'd been the opening act for Laura and her trio.

Stealth photo by an anonymous photographer.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lee Konitz

In Jazz in American Culture, Burton W. Peretti writes: "Recordings of [Lennie] Tristano's 1949 sextet, featuring the tenor saxophonist Lee Konitz, presented improvisations with no established chord changes and little sense of swing—only the gradual, fuguelike introduction of voices in a dispassionate and dissonant kind of polyphony." Sounds like some contemporary classical music; as Alex Ross said the other night at the Fitzgerald, sometimes there's not a lot of difference between music that has been assigned to different categories. But it was the year of the sextet that struck me: 1949. We saw Lee Konitz at the Artists' Quarter earlier this year (when this photo was taken), and he did not blow or behave like someone who's been doing this for so many years. In fact, when a woman stood up and started taking flash photos, there was a moment when many of us thought he would tear her from limb to limb and throw the pieces up the stairs and out the door onto the 7th Place Pedestrian Mall. Fabulous young saxophonist Grace Kelly is studying with Konitz and she's a lucky girl.

Local writer, editor, and jazz fan John Toren wrote about Konitz (and Hiromi) for his online publication Macaroni, and I like what he had to say.

Curtis Stigers' "Real Emotional": CD review

In which Jazz Police/JazzINK writer Andrea Canter and I talk about a new CD by a mutual favorite. Originally posted on both JazzINK and Jazz Police.

Released in 2007, Real Emotional is Stigers's 8th CD, his 5th for Concord, and his 3rd collaboration with keyboardist/arranger Larry Goldings as producer/co-producer.

Personnel: Curtis Stigers, vocals, saxophone; Larry Goldings, keyboards, accordion, glockenspiel, all arrangements; Matthew Fries, piano; John Pizzarelli, guitar; John Sneider, trumpet; Phil Palombi, bass; Keith Hall, drums.

PLE: I like their arrangement of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (Bob Dylan). It’s so convincing you think this is how the song should have been arranged in the first place—as a jazz song. Goldings’s accordion may not belong in there. But I like the way Curtis belts out the words.

ASC: This is one of the jazziest arrangements on this CD, and I rather like the accordion here.

PLE: The accordion is certainly becoming more popular in jazz—you can hardly escape it. Gary Versace seems to be the first-call squeezebox player these days.

ASC: Gary’s accordion is on lots of recordings lately. Matt Wilson used him on his last CD, Scenic Route, and I really enjoyed the way Gary injected that sound into the mix. Plus it is really fun to see an accordion player on stage with the usual bass, drums and brass.

PLE: Gary was up there with Regina Carter at Birdland in June…. James Carter used accordion onChasin’ the Gypsy [Atlantic, 2000], and more recently so did Maria Schneider on Sky Blue [Artists Share, 2007]. What’s next; the World Accordion Quartet?

ASC: Curtis’s next “I Only Want to Be With You” was written by Curtis and Jake Stigers, his younger brother. This feels more like a pop ballad, as do a few other tracks.

PLE: A return to pop, which he left behind after he clashed with Clive Davis in the 1990s.

ASC: But maybe he belongs here. He does appeal to what I always liked about the folk rock of the 70s—good storytelling, a bit of rasp in the voice, just a bit of folky haze.

PLE: But he swings, too, which folk rockers generally don’t do.

ASC: His sax here has that smooth jazz sound—that’s not true of the whole album.

PLE: It’s a bit too close to smooth jazz for my taste. I want to make it clear here that I really like Curtis Stigers, I always go to see him when he comes to town, I like him as a person, and I like his earlier albums a lot, but this one is not doing it for me—as a whole. At least, not this song.

ASC: On Real Emotional, as on his other recordings, his phrasing has the unpredictability of the best jazz singers. Diana Krall is a master of that unpredictable phrasing, even if her material sometimes seems pedestrian.

PLE: It feels like Curtis’s new CD does not hang together, and maybe that’s a byproduct of an era when people are downloading individual tracks and not listening to whole albums.

ASC: It would be a tragedy if that happens to jazz—a one-track mind, so to speak, rather than some of the engaging concepts that have been put together in live as well as recorded performance.

PLE: Now let’s talk about “I Don’t Want to Talk About It Now,” Curtis’s cover of Emmylou Harris’s song. This is a dark song, with dark lyrics. On Real Emotional, it has a weirdly funky little bounce. It’s over-arranged. There’s too much going on given the bleakness of the original.

ASC: The Hammond B-3 [Goldings] gives it the bounce and country blues pulse. If it was strictly an instrumental, you wouldn’t be distracted by the collision with the lyrics. Curtis’s previous CD, I Think It’s Going To Rain Today [2005] seemed to work better generally in terms of the arrangements, although there is that overblown instrumental appendage to “Crazy” that maybe hinted at things to come on Real Emotional. Yet I also have to admit that “I Don’t Want to Talk About It Now” grows on me each time I hear it. Maybe in my brain I am rearranging the layers of sound?

PLE: I went back and listened more carefully to I Think It’s Going to Rain Today and came away feeling as if it, too, is over-arranged. Curtis brings a hipster feel to much of what he sings, and for me, that doesn’t fit with this particular song.

ASC: Willie Nelson can pull off hip and country.

PLE: What about Curtis’s “San Diego Serenade?” I am always happy when someone else sings a Tom Waits song because you can actually understand the lyrics.

ASC: Phil Palombi’s bowed base provides a nice intro. I love this—and it’s in that folk/ pop mode. Maybe Real Emotional is really a folk/pop album sung by a jazz singer.

PLE: This starts out as a beautiful song, and then it takes a disastrous turn with Keith Hall’s snare drum; it sounds like a march. I’m not blaming Keith. It’s the arrangement!

ASC: Sometimes they seem to throw in jazz elements that are not congruous with the rest of the arrangement, and vice versa—like Curtis is trying out his various personas, and sometimes they collide.

PLE: “A Woman Just Like You” [Stigers and Goldings] is a loose, lazy Margaritaville song. You can imagine Curtis stepping back and snapping his fingers.

ASC: Mostly I like this one, but I could do without the la-la-las.

PLE: It sounds like Keith is using flat hands on the drums, a sound I like. And I also like the la-la-las, even if you don’t. This is the first track on this CD I really enjoy.

ASC: The trumpet solo [John Snider] is sweet, too.

PLE: To me, “An American Tune” [Paul Simon] is the emotional high point of the CD.

ASC: He preserves the Paul Simon feel very well. Curtis has a Willie Nelson sound but a Paul Simon artistry. I like Larry’s piano here.

PLE: I love how he is interpreting this, it’s a moving song and Curtis really gets into it. But he is not varying much from Paul Simon’s original, thank goodness. The simplicity of the arrangement is in Curtis’s favor here. It’s a good match for his voice, and he can be a very expressive singer. You feel his pain. Nice.

ASC: And it’s one of the few tracks with a duet arrangement. I’d like to see a recording of just duets from these two. Let the focus be on the lyric and the emotion—Real Emotional.

PLE: Dan Zanes’s “Night Owl” is hipster Curtis again. This could be a Madeleine Peyroux song. It would be great to hear Curtis and Madeleine together someday.

ASC: This has a Frank Sinatra hipness to it. A fun tune with great lyrics.

PLE: It’s sassy and sly and Curtis does sassy really well. But get the B-3 out of there! We don’t need it. Goldings has put a layer of airy, reedy chords under many things on this album and it’s superfluous.

ASC: I like the sax intro to Mose Allison’s “Your Mind Is On Vacation.” It complements Curtis’s voice well—that bit of grit, but I just heard Mose sing it himself [in St. Paul at the Artists’ Quarter]. Mose is 80 and it’s his song. He gives it a unique quality; no one can match him.

PLE: Mose is so deliciously dry and ironic. Of course Mose doesn’t sing the actual notes—he kind of talks around them—and that’s another reason why it works.

ASC: Instrumentally, they do some bluesy dark things here; it swings. And really, if I had not heard Mose do it, I would like this better. Curtis is more convincing as a balladeer than as a bluesman.

PLE: “I Need You” [Stigers and Goldings] breaks my heart. This one fits the title of the CD.

ASC: Again, it’s just the two of them and a simple arrangement—it is the formula that works so well. And I prefer Larry Goldings on piano rather than B-3.

PLE: This song is very convincing. I would find this powerfully moving performed live.

ASC: I really like Larry’s bass lines. I forgot it was just piano and was thinking Phil Palombi was on this track. Curtis and Larry make a good team!

PLE: If you eliminated some of the layers on the other tracks, this would be a stronger album.

ASC: I first listened to this CD in the car, and the road noise eliminated some of the layers. On some tracks, I prefer it in the car stereo! When Curtis is singing on “Stardust,” Goldings drops the B-3 out in favor of Matt Fries’ piano, which I think was a wise choice.

PLE: I do love the B-3—Lonnie Smith, Joey D, Jimmy Smith. But with voice, it’s like a competition. There’s too much going on. Bottom line, I like Curtis best with his classic trio [Fries, Palombi, and Hall], which is how we see him live. Our reaction to this CD is probably colored by his live performances with the trio.

ASC: This is a bold recording, if not perfect. The arrangements often challenge you to find the musical thread. Sometimes that thread eludes me. And sometimes I find it if I keep listening. Maybe that is really the mark of a successful, if imperfect, recording? I had the opportunity to interview Curtis a few weeks ago. He said, “As I get older as a ‘jazz singer’ in quotes, I worry less about proving something to the jazz world and much more about telling a story.” Real Emotional is filled with stories. But I can’t wait to see/hear him tell these stories live, with his trio.

Jazz finds steady rhythm and soul in the Twin Cities

Originally published on on Friday, November 9, 2007

Maybe it's just artsy civic pride, but I've heard local jazz enthusiasts boast that there are more live jazz venues per capita in the Twin Cities than anywhere else in the United States.

I haven't done the math but it is true that if you're so inclined, you can attend a live-jazz performance here any night of the week, including Sunday, with the occasional exception of a holiday. If you want to attend more than one show a night, you can do that, too.

We have three nationally known jazz clubs (the Dakota, the Artists' Quarter and Rossi's), the annual Northrop Jazz Season, and the JazzMN Big Band, a professional orchestra now in its ninth full season. You can hear jazz at Orchestra Hall, the Walker Art Center, the Cedar Cultural Center, the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Mears Park in St. Paul's Lowertown and the Lake Harriet band shell.

The University of Minnesota's jazz ensembles give free public performances. MacPhail Center for Music sponsors Jazz Thursdays. The Twin Cities Jazz Society has an annual "Jazz from J to Z" concert series. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Central Library hosted a six-part program on jazz with live music. At some of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Friday evening concerts, you can spend the second half in the Ordway lobby listening to jazz instead of returning to the seat you paid for, something I don't quite understand but there it is.

When you make a restaurant reservation, you may get a side of jazz — at the Times, Babalu, the Birchwood and more recently Crave and Café Maude, to name a few. On Saturdays at D'Amico Cucina in Butler Square, there's jazz in the bar; on Mondays, you can enjoy jazz with your pepperoni at Fireside Pizza in Richfield beneath the spreading boughs of its faux indoor tree. And we haven't even gotten to the small cafés and coffee shops (like the Acadia, St. Paul's Amore, and the Beat in Uptown) that give jazz musicians a place to play.

Each year brings a series of jazz festivals: the Twin Cities Jazz Festival (previously the Hot Summer Jazz Festival) in June and a Winter Jazz Festival in February. The Minnesota Sur Seine, conceived as a jazz festival for regional and international musicians, has expanded to include other forms of music. But the festival (formerly held in October, now moved to May) is still a lively showcase for the experimental and avant-garde. And Burnsville has its own jazz festival each August.

In the 1920s, jazz was branded the devil's music, but today in Minneapolis you can hear it in church. The Soul Café series at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church serves poetry with jazz. Mercy Seat Church in northeast Minneapolis offers a jazz liturgy.

Why is Minneapolis-St. Paul such a thriving jazz community? We know it's not the climate or the late bar hours. Michele Jansen, station manager at KBEM and host of "Jazz and the Spirit," notes that "the music community in general thrives here." She credits the jazz programs in our schools and says that "jazz touches people's souls."

Kelly Rossum is a jazz artist, composer, and educator at MacPhail, where he coordinates the jazz program. He not only hears a lot of jazz, but he also performs a lot of jazz in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, seeing a bigger picture than most of us do; he'll spend much of this December in New York City. He believes "the support for the arts here is arguably at the highest level of any metropolitan area in the country." Minnesotans, "specifically here in the Twin Cities," have a deep commitment to culture and the arts. Many fine musicians live here, and our music scene is strong enough to support different kinds of music, even different kinds of jazz.

One thing we don't have is a major music label. "The national spotlight still follows the outdated model of the '90s," Rossum says, "which is to follow the releases and careers of signed artists." With more artists starting their own labels or breaking away from the big ones, that might not matter for long.

Pamela's picks

Tim Ries's Rolling Stones Project: Ries plays saxophone and keyboards with the Stones when they go on tour. With the blessing of the Glimmer Twins, he has created jazz arrangements for several Stones tunes including "Satisfaction" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want." It's not only rock 'n' roll and people like it. The Dakota: Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m. ($18) and 9:30 p.m. ($12).

Frode Halti
Photo by C.F. Wesenberg

Frode Haltli Quartet: The Norwegian accordion player (above) is part of the Walker's New World Jazz mini-series, programmed by Philip Bither, which is turning out to be an umbrella for all sorts of surprises. Haltli could play anything from waltzes to Albert Ayler-inspired free jazz, and he's bringing a singer with him, and a trumpet player, and a violist. Please, no accordion or viola jokes, and don't call him Frodo. Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater, 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. ($25; $21 Walker members).

Rondi Charleston: She's a classically trained Juilliard grad who sang chamber music and opera until she "broke free" (as one bio put it) and made the switch to jazz. Along the way, she was an investigative reporter for "Prime Time Live." She's playing top venues, getting good reviews, and touring for her third CD, "In My Life." She's with a stellar band including Bruce Barth on piano and Joel Frahm on saxophone. The Dakota, Monday, Nov. 12 and Tuesday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ($22) and 9:30 p.m. ($15).

MinnPost: Jazz Primer

MinnPost, a new Twin Cities-based, Minnesota-focused nonprofit news and commentary Web site, launched yesterday. Thanks in large part to my friend Susan Perry, who will be writing for MinnPost on women's health issues and who kept insisting I get in touch with the editor, I'll be writing weekly about jazz. My first piece, a Twin Cities jazz primer, appears today, and future posts will appear on Fridays. All of us posters have caricatures by artist Hugh Bennewitz. Look for mine in the Current Posters column at the right on the home page each Friday.

Read my first post here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Turtle Island Quartet at the Fitzgerald

11/7/07, The Fitzgerald Theater: Turtle Island Quartet (formerly Turtle Island String Quartet) did not have top billing for this event. That was Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker and author of a bestselling cultural history of 20th-century music, The Rest Is Noise, which is also the name of his blog. But I came hoping to hear Turtle Island play "Resolution" from their latest CD, A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane, and an hour and a half into the program, they did.

Presented by Minnesota Public Radio, hosted and moderated by Fred Child of American Public Media's "Performance Today" classical music radio show, the evening was an interesting concept: Child and Ross would talk about Ross's book, and Turtle Island would interrupt with music now and then. Or was it the other way around? Ross had good anecdotes and insights, I bought his book, and I'll read it, but he looked kind of bored on stage when he wasn't talking. Or maybe he's shy. He had his MacBook Pro and used it to play bits of music by Stravinsky, Milton Babbit, Bjork, and Osvaldo Golijov, which boomed out through the Fitz's big speakers. (When we first entered the theater, the take-your-seat music was something repetitive and noodly by Steve Reich, and John hated it.) Meanwhile, Turtle entered and exited, playing Paquito d'Rivera's "Wapango," "Green Dolphin Street," Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," something by Leonard Bernstein, and finally Coltrane's "Resolution," bookended by "Psalm." Having heard John Abercrombie's stringy quartet just two nights before, I was primed for more strings, and Turtle Island—David Balakrishnan and Evan Price on violins, Mads Tolling on viola, Mark Summer on cello—made me happy.

I've given short shrift to Ross. I do look forward to reading his book, which has gotten terrific reviews and is selling really well for a book on classical music. It's stacked on top of four other books about music I also plan to read: Best Music Writing 2007, Oliver Sacks's Musicophilia, Daniel Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music, and two big books on jazz edited by Robert G. O'Meally, which may be more than I can chew. There's also the winter 2006 issue of Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature which my friend Andrea brought me back from New York. I want to read faster, and listen to more CDs.

Photo from Turtle Island's Web site. How come I never run into string quartets in bars? And where did Balakrishnan and Price put their violins?

John Abercrombie Quartet

11/5/07, The Dakota: When I visited John Abercrombie's Web site, I thought at first that unlike most artists' sites, his was up to date; I had to scroll and scroll to reach the end of his considerable discography. Then I saw that it ended with The Hudson Project, which came out in 2000. There have been several CDs since, up to and including The Third Quartet, the 2007 ECM release that's the reason for his current tour. This is not actually Abercrombie's third quartet, but (he explained) the third recording by this particular quartet, except the one we saw had Scott Colley on bass, not Marc Johnson, who's the bass player on the CDs. The two previous quartet recordings are Class Trip (2004) and Cat 'n' Mouse (2002).

I love every minute of the generous set we saw, their second on the first day of two at the Dakota. With Abercrombie on guitar, Colley (often Herbie Hancock's bass player, most recently on tour with Jim Hall and Geoff Keezer), Mark Feldman on violin, and Joey Baron drums, it was a string trio with skins. No keyboards, no horns. I wish there were more jazz violinists, because every time I see one I'm fascinated. (We need more jazz cellists, too. Hank Roberts knocked me out when he came here with Tim Berne, Ethan Iverson, and Dave King earlier this year, in September.)

The music was chamber and folk, free and structured, serious jazz and twisted country, solo, ensemble, call-and-response. It was sad and hilarious. It stretched and snapped. It soared into the stratosphere. Sometimes ("Banshee") it started out slow and whispery and built to a wail. It was about cats, jackalopes, and Abercrombie's parents. At one point, Baron drummed faster and faster and everyone else kept up until there were eight blurry hands. The encore, Bill Evans's "Epilogue," was incredibly tender, a sweet parting gift.

I left wanting more. So glad there's iTunes, the 24-hour music store. I'm listening now to Feldman's No Exit, his first release on ECM. It's also a quartet recording, with three other artists I don't know: bassist Anders Jormin, pianist John Taylor, and drummer Tom Rainey. Now I'm thinking how great it would be if Feldman and Hank Roberts played together someday.

Photos: John Abercrombie; L to R: Feldman, Colley, Baron, Abercrombie. Photos by John Whiting.