The Jazz Digest, February 2012

Choice snips from Jazz Journal, February 2011

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JJ February 2011 OFCFrom the editor
This month's question, prompted partly by the opinion embodied in our Critics' Poll, is what is swing? Is it an outlook, an attitude, which functions as what André Hodeir (see page 18) called a creative "disruptor" – a parallel, presumably, to Balliett's "sound of surprise"? Or is it the music produced by a rather specific 12/8 ride rhythm and four-to-the-bar bass line? Or a term describing a period of jazz history or signifying a certain group of musicians? Or is it, as this month's cover subject Tord Gustavsen and other contemporary practitioners might intimate, something between the two?

The question isn't entirely rhetorical, as we'd be pleased to have more responses to our now extended readers' poll, detailed on the inside back cover. If you haven't, do let us know what you think, and perhaps win a prize. Talking of opinion, voting is now open for this year’s Parliamentary Jazz Awards, where you can vote online for the best jazz this and that of 2011, including best jazz publication. Closing date is 20 February 2012.


Tord Gustavsen on working with saxophonist Tore Brunborg
"Tore is really a strong melodic thinker. He never plays too much. He is extremely into the lyrical side of the themes. And his phrasing is really singing. The way I interact with Tore is very much the same combination of supporting and challenging as you use with singers. But in the relationship between saxophone and piano it is natural to enter even more flexibly in and out of the foreground and background roles, whereas the singer's role almost by definition is in the foreground."


Strictly
tour singer Jeff Hooper on staying flexible to keep working

"Even though we call ourselves jazz singers, or big band singers or swing singers, we have to be able to do it all in show business to sustain a living. I've been doing this for 30 years. I'm always ready to work hard because it can be a tough life. I feel very comfortable with a certain genre of the music and that happens to be jazz. But I feel equally comfortable in other areas."


Andrew McCormack & Jason Yarde on the joy of duo
"I'm always trying to work on nuance," says McCormack, "and that’s one of the things I love about the duo, it enables me to work on that, to develop it." Yarde's tonal variations come from two aspects" "The music will suggest one thing, the room suggests another," he says. "Spanish Princess is a good example. I'm trying to be more of a presence in the music even if I'm not soloing, a bit like classical chamber music."


Letters: Garry Booth reports a classic Braffism

Seeing Ruby Braff featured in JJ December 2011 reminded me of a conversation I had with Jed Williams at Brecon as we watched Ruby get into his car to leave. En route to Brecon from the airport Ruby got increasingly concerned about where they were taking him. "There are mountains," he said looking to the horizon. "No-one told me there'd be mountains."


Mike Tucker tests former Sun Ra man Abdul Zahir Batin's cynicism about jazz creativity in New York

Was Abdul Zahir Batin way off-beam when he spoke of the all-too-clean scene in today’s New York? Maybe, but in some ways, maybe not. Musicians speak of the energy they sense in the air. Walking through New York today feels a lot safer than it did at the end of the 1970s – something of which New Yorkers are justly proud. Then again, it feels a lot more like walking around the historically sanitised prospects of a Woody Allen film set than it ever did.


In the Critics' Poll, JJ writers reflect a broad range of opinion on jazz 2011

Mark Gilbert:
Full marks to Tommy Smith for a brave and spectacular engagement with a style long ago dismissed by the snootier critic. Elling scores highly too for being richly expressive if occasionally – inevitably perhaps, with such individualism – mannered. My new issue long list also included Bobby Wellins, Gary Husband and the Danish enigmatist Søren Kjaergaard.

Fred Grand:
In a year of great piano trios, discs by Julia Hülsmann, Colin Vallon and Stefano Battaglia could just as easily have figured in my final cut. Yet as his set at this year’s London International Jazz Festival once again illustrated, Wasilewski is a very special artist indeed.

George Hulme:
The reissue section was as hard as ever even though I automatically ignored the pretentious modern rubbish from the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

Nigel Jarrett:
The inclusion of three British acts in a meritorious list of 10 releases old and new needs no justification. They've impressed themselves on the listener beyond the claims of patriotism and nostalgia.

Richard Palmer:
It was a struggle to find five new issues I truly rated, and I remain convinced that all the great jazz was recorded some time ago. Jazz is a museum piece – a precious archive of the 20th century's greatest contribution to culture. What is played now will never compete or even signify.

Michael Tucker:
Fred Grand's fine review sent me to the excellent Charles Tolliver set on Mosaic: material from a decade – the 1970s – which is too often maligned. Let's not forget that Weather Report was then at its imperious best and ECM was developing its still surpassing standards for poetically inflected improvisation.

Barry Witherden:
During 2011 I've derived considerable enjoyment from recordings by such relatively new musicians and bands as Curios, Trichotomy, Led Bib, Kairos 4Tet and Panacea, and the output of independent labels like Edition and Babel, but when I had to pare my shortlist it was generally the well-established figures who I nominated.


Bruce Crowther on Ellington drummer and Democrat politician Butch Ballard
Although high-profile, Ballard's spell with Ellington was not ideal. He came in to serve as back-up to an increasingly unreliable Sonny Greer. This was artistically unsatisfying and although a great admirer of Ellington, Ballard chose not to remain.


Michael Tucker on composer and critic André Hodeir
The following lines from Hodeir's The Worlds Of Jazz remain as suggestive today as they were when first published in 1972: "A new kind of swing means, in one sense, a new kind of freedom and a new kind of order [...] if this is really the 'age of disruptors', will the equation 'jazz = American music' hold true for ever? Why shouldn't a disruptor come from the ends of the earth?"


Brian Morton on former Ornette Coleman pianist Walter Norris
He was one of the few piano players ever to be employed by Ornette Coleman, and he narrowly missed a punch-up with Charles Mingus when he addressed his then-employer as "Charlie" backstage. Apart from that, Walter Norris led a relatively quiet life.


Bruce Crowther on Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown singer Lucy Ann Polk
Graceful in her singing style, yet subtly hip, Lucy Ann Polk deserved far more attention from writers on jazz singing, myself shamefully included.


Peter Gamble on jazz photographer Peter Symes
As a raconteur and chin-wagger he had few peers. His stories, delivered in an attractive West Country burr and often over a seriously long period of time, always held the listener spellbound and were invariably amusing in the extreme. He will be sorely missed by all those who had the fortune to rub shoulders with him.


Alan Luff remembers 1948, the last time the Olympics came to London
Despite its detractors, bop was well under way by now. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie caused real havoc! Olympics track records were probably broken by jazz fans running away . . . I had a couple of Charlie Parkers, but daren't play them – they were hated.


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