Each week, my job (such as it is) here in the weekly picks and on KBEM is to know about every live jazz event happening in the Twin Cities (or as many as possible), then recommend performances worth going out to see.
I try to keep an open mind, because jazz comes in many forms and most are available here somewhere during the week, in a club or concert hall, a coffee shop or someone's back yard. I try not to be led too much by my own preferences because people like different things, and they get to. One person's bebop is another person's poison. I have a good friend, a brilliant and accomplished artist in his own field, who insists he loves jazz but can't understand why the musicians take so many solos. If it weren't for the solos, he says, jazz would be better.
At the Monterey Jazz Festival a few years back, I sat in a cold metal chair in the open-air arena, nearly perishing with excitement as I waited for Sonny Rollins. Meanwhile, behind me, people stood up to leave. "Let's get out of here," one woman said. "You know I can't stand that honking."
So my picks are generally pretty broad, with one exception: I don't like smooth jazz, and I can't recommend it. I just can't.
I'm especially drawn to free, avant-garde, improvised jazz. The more improvised, the less planned or rehearsed or thought-out beforehand, the better. I seek out and show up at events where I know I'll be surprised and challenged, and if I'm sometimes baffled or bewildered, I don't mind. I have many recordings of improvised music, but it's a dish best experienced warm—live, in person, up close, where you can watch for interactions between the artists (which don't always happen).
Earlier this year, I gave up the perfect, fabulous seats I'd had for many seasons to a classical music series because I was turning in too many tickets. I'd look at my calendar and see two conflicting events: a famous mezzo singing lieder in a concert hall vs. a group of musicians improvising on their instruments and kicking cans around the floor in a former St. Paul brewery. (Hello, Ann Millikan.) Whoever now has seats 3 and 4 in Mezzanine B at the Ordway (keyboard view) for the Schubert International Artist Series can thank me with tickets to Andre Watts in November. I'd really like to see Andre Watts.
There's an event coming up this week (Thursday, August 11) that sounds intriguing: Coloring Time Presents a Night of Improvised Music and Art, happening at the Cedar on Thursday. Coloring Time is, from what I've read, an ever-changing lineup of musicians; currently, most are from a group called No Bird Sing, about which I know nada. They're bringing in several guests, some I've heard (JT Bates, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Dosh, Michelle Kinney) and many I haven't, plus two visual artists. "All the night's music and art will be conceived of and executed on the spot," says the Cedar. It could be amazing, it could be a mess. But it probably won't be boring.
The night before (Wednesday, August 10), also in Cedar-Riverside, the recently resuscitated Nomad Jazz Series features Davu Seru on drums, Casey O'Brien on electric bass, and Nathan Hanson on saxophones. Seru and Hanson are very fine and exciting musicians, always worth going out for; I don't think I've ever seen O'Brien. Earlier this summer, this trio billed itself as the Art Ensemble of St. Paul and played the Red Stag.
And a few days later (Sunday, August 14), master of self-determination Milo Fine hosts one of his occasional "L'Editions Laignaippe" (Cajun for "unexpected, but fully prized, extra") performances at Homewood Studios in north Minneapolis. This time, it's a trio: Fine on his m-drums (electronics), B flat clarinet (electronics), and E flat/alto clarinets, with Erkki Huovinen on contra-alto clarinet, chromatic harmonica, electric guitar, and keyboards, and Bryce Beverlin II on percussion and voice. I've seen Fine more times than I can count. Huovinen is new to me; Beverlin is a frequent performer in the Tuesday Series for Experimental and Improvised Music, formerly at Art of This Gallery, now at Madame of the Arts.
If you're interested in improvised music, here's a list of venues and series you might find useful. Although it was updated fairly recently, things are always changing. The Black Dog is bringing in more improvised music (thank you, Sara), and the Nomad series is up and running (see above). If you know something I don't, please share.