Monthly Archives: June 2010

June 26th Listings

Saturday – The much-anticipated Bang On A Can Marathon takes place today, at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan. The 12-hour new-music festival will be kicked off by drummer, composer John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, featuring the dream-team tenor lineup of Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin and a talented newcomer, and a former classmate of mine at The New School, Jeremy Viner.

Sunday – Saxophonist Ellery Eskelin brings a trio featuring keyboardist Gary Versace and drummer Ted Poor to the 55 Bar on Christopher Street in the West Village.

Monday – The 15th Annual Vision Festival begins its second week with an all star lineup of iconoclastic improvisors, including Joelle Leandre, Marilyn Crispell, Mat Maneri and Wadada Leo Smith among many others, at Abrons Art Center on the lower, Lower East Side.

Tuesday – The saxophonist Michael Blake has spent the last 20-plus years forging a sound that successfully blends the hefty soulfulness of Hawkins, Webster and Lucky Thompson with a free-minded, post-bop sensibility. The results are uncommonly compelling. Catch Michael’s new quartet featuring pianist Landon Knoblock, bassist Michael Bates and drummer Greg Ritchie, at Miles Cafe, a new club on East 52nd Street in Manhattan.

Wednesday – I-Beam, the no-frills performance/rehearsal loft in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, hosts two sets by first-rate improvisors. At 9, pianist Craig Taborn will perform solo and at  10:30 saxophonist Tim Berne will join pianist Matt Mitchell for a duo performance.

Thursday – Drummer Tomas Fujiwara and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum face off for a duo set at The Stone on Avenue C in the East Village.

You’ve Gotta Love South Slope

Last Tuesday, my fiance Loretta and I had a wonderful dinner at Lot 2, which might just be my favorite restaurant in NYC, regardless of location. You owe it to yourself to go there if you’re in the neighborhood, and it is definitely worth a trip on its own. The fare is relatively straightforward American cuisine with an emphasis on local ingredients — not at all unique in Brooklyn, as I’m sure you know — but done exceptionally well and served in a comfortable room by a friendly and totally unpretentious staff. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, as a number of visits have confirmed, but highlights include any of their rotating fish selections, their simple but divine roast chicken for two, and the heavenly Lot 2 cheeseburger. I’ve lived in the Park Slope vicinity for five years now, and have seen countless burger joints come and go, and can say without hyperbole that Lot 2 has the best burger I have ever eaten. At $13, it is a steal, and comes with thick, salty fried potato wedges, house-made pickled cucumbers and onions, and a trio of ketchup, whole-grain dijon mustard and garlic-infused mayo. In the three years we have been together, I don’t think I have seen Loretta eat more than a bite of red meat, and she finished the whole burger, which is the ultimate endorsement in my opinion.

Lot 2 is located on a sleepy stretch of 6th Ave. between 19th and 20th street which means we have never had to wait to be seated — although it does seem more crowded each time we visit, as word seems to be getting out. Definitely order a salad to start — there are a number of options that rotate based on availability and season, and we haven’t been let down by any — which we usually share, as they are quite large. Equally enticing are the deserts, which are simple, but fabulous. The last two times we were there, Loretta and I enjoyed delicious variations on Mousse — peanut butter and classic chocolate.

All told, our bill for dinner before tip was $59.

After dinner, we strolled down 21st Street to Korzo on 5th Avenue just in time to grab seats before the room filled for saxophonist Tim Berne’s Los Totopos.  I caught this band, with Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Ches Smith on drums and Matt Mitchell on piano, at The Jazz Gallery in the spring, and they were just as burning tonight. Berne largely took a back seat throughout the set, leaving ample room for Noriega’s blistering clarinet statements, with some notable exceptions. Following an inspired statement from Mitchell, Berne unleashed a tour de force,entirely solo at first, then joined by his suddenly vociferous bandmates.

Korzo is an Eastern European inspired bar and restaurant with a great euro-centric beer selection, and tasty-looking food (we definitely wished we had left a little more room to try some). The Tuesday night live jazz series is curated by the pianst, composer James Carney, and has a real neighborhood feel to it. The audience was dotted with great musicians, and the 50 or so people there for our set were there to listen. There is no cover, just a tip jar for the band.

So there you have it. A three-course gourmet meal, two rounds of drinks and a world-class jazz show within a one-block radius for well under $100. South Slope has come into its own.

This post was initially going to be a review of saxophonist Tim Berne’s burning performance at Korzo last Tuesday, but I decided to turn it into one of those “Awesome Date Night for Under $100″ sort of thing. In the two years that I have lived in South Park Slope section of Brooklyn, the neighborhood has continued its slow transformation from a sleepy but gritty residential area, to a less sleepy and slightly less gritty neighborhood with a network of bars, coffee shops, stores and restaurants that compliment rather than overshadow the quirky establishments that have been there for years and make the place unique. If you’ve never been, you should check it out.

June 18th Listings

Friday & Saturday – Anthony Braxton celebrates his 65th birthday with two shows highlighting his multigenerational collaborators. On Friday at Le Poisson Rouge, he’ll join Marilyn Crispell, Steve Coleman, Richard Teitelbaum, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, and his ensemble 12 (+1) tet. On Saturday, he’ll join up-and-comers Taylor Ho Bynum, Tyshawn Sorey, and Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn.

Saturday – As part of the George Wein-produced CareFusion Jazz Festival, the Jazz Gallery will host bassist Eric Revis’ quartet, featuring the fiery saxophonist Ken Vandermark, pianist Jason Moran, and powerhouse drummer Nasheet Waits.

Sunday – Multi-instrumentalist Cooper Moore and the irrepressibly kinetic trumpeter Peter Evans each bring a trio to Zebulon tonight, as part of the CareFusion Jazz Festival.

Monday – Take to the streets today for some of New York’s finest musicians. Joe’s Pub is sponsoring bands in Astor Place starting at 10 am as part of Make Music In NY, a day of outdoor musical events throughout the city. One of my favorite groups, The Bill Murray Experience, bring their pre-war, blues-drenched style to the Cube sculpture in Astor Place at 2:30pm.

The second day of the 15th Annual Vision Festival features a free concert at Campos Plaza playground on 13th Street between Ave B & C, starting at 5 with William Parker’s Little Huey Sextet and followed at 6 by trumpeter Roy Campbell’s trio, featuring Parker on bass and drummer Michael Wimberly.

Also, the Vision Festival is at The Local 269 tonight with a stellar linup. Make sure you’re there for the saxophonist Darius Jones’ trio at 8:30 and at 9:30 for The Lowest Common Denominator, a fantastic quartet featuring saxist Tim Berne, trumpeter Herb Robertson, Matt Mitchell on electronics and the phenomenal drummer Dan Weiss.

Tuesday – Marty Ehrlich, along with Andy Laster, Michael Attias, and Ned Rothenberg comprise the band Four Alto’s, and will play at The Stone at 8pm. Stick around for cellist Tomas Ulrich’s Cargo Cult at 10.

Wednesday – Legendary pianist McCoy Tyner brings a band of relative youngsters to Summerstage in Central Park. Hearing McCoy is always a treat, but the inclusion of saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, bassist Esperanza Spaulding and drummer Francisco Mela makes this free concert a must-see.

Thursday – This year’s Vision Festival celebrates the life and music of pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, and his music will be featured during tonight’s incredible lineup at Abrons Arts Center. Muhal will open the concert with a solo performance, before his colleagues Joseph Jarmon and Fred Anderson take the stage.

Also, pianist Uri Caine will perform at the Stone with his trio featuring drummer Ben Perowsky and bassist John Hebert.

2010 JJA Awards

Had a nice time at the JJA Awards yesterday. I brought my camera, but forgot the flash, so the only pictures I got were outside of City Winery. Luckily, I ran into some incredible musicians out there.

Sabir Mateen with Roswell Rudd


William Parker and Muhal Richard Abrams

Thanks to Howard Mandel and everyone at in the JJA for keeping up this great annual event.

Review – Jeff Davis’ “We Sleep Outside”

Just finished this article, which will appear in the July 2010 print version of All About Jazz-NY.

Fans of progressive jazz know Jeff Davis, if not by name, then as the propulsive force behind bassist Michael Bates, multireedist Oscar Noriega, and a host New York mainstays. The Colorado native’s articulate, often-fiery brand of percussion has precedence in the styles of Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette, but transcends them through a process of de and reconstruction, and an episodic style that carries over into his compositions. Recorded in 2007, Davis’ debut as a leader, “We Sleep Outside,” is a remarkably assured document that finds the astute drummer in the company of a quartet of first-rate improvisers.

“Bruce And Brunost Suite” opens the album and features the quintet at its most open. Following a declaratory unison, Tony Barba’s emotive tenor emerges before being swallowed up by the ensemble. It’s a device that Davis employs throughout the album, blurring the lines between solo and ensemble passages and lending a fluidity to the thirteen minute track that makes for a hypnotically satisfying listen. Equally engrossing is Davis’ knack for layering textures and rhythms. Despite extended legato sections, Davis and bassist Eivind Opsvik sustain a sort of tidal pulse beneath Barba, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, guitarist Jon Goldberger and Kris Davis’ Fender Rhodes that drives the piece and is accentuated by moments of pointillistic counterpoint.

Davis’ considerable composition skills also feature prominently in “Black Beard.” Following an extended drum solo, the ensemble erupts in chaotic response before collectively hurtling into a swift, thru-composed passage in 7/8 time. In addition to being a compositional showcase, “Black Beard” is an example of Davis’ skills as an arranger, and his ability to fully utilize his ensemble. Throughout “We Sleep Outside,” Davis, the composer/arranger shows that he has as much control over his ensemble as he does on his instrument, whether he is pushing the horns to the stratospheric heights of their ranges, or composing a line that transitions seamlessly into a solo.

The album concludes with the title track — an ominously inflected electro-acoustic soundscape that finds the quintet whittled down to just the rhythms section. It’s a departure from the six proceeding tracks, but its focus on tension, texture as well as a meditative aura make it a fitting foil and satisfying conclusion.

June 11th Listings

Friday & Saturday – Pianist Barry Harris brings his unfailingly swinging trio — featuring Ray Drummond on bass and Leroy Williams on drums — to the Kitano.

Saturday – Seeing percussionist composer Gerry Hemingway became more difficult last year when he relocated to Switzerland. Luckily the veteran improvisor continues to make semi-regualar trips to the city, as he does this weekend for two sets at The Stone. At 8, he joins husband and wife team Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvosier, along with bassist Thomas Morgan, and at 10, he joins pedal steel player Susan Alcorn and cellist Hank Roberts for the debut of their band, “A Long Way.”

Also on Saturday & Sunday – The Undead festival — a companion to the popular Jazz Winterfest — brings a cadre of progressively oriented band leaders to clubs on and around Bleeker Street.

Also Sunday – Gerry Hemingway takes part in Inpiraling: Telematic Jazz Explorations at Roulette. It’s probably best to let Gerry explain it:

“An unprecedented concert of new jazz works with renowned composers and performers for the telematic music medium. Telematic music is real-time performance via the internet by musicians in different geographic locations. Performers will be located in New York and San Diego, playing together as one trans-continental ensemble in real-time and “real-space”. There will be local audiences as well as a world-wide webcast. The music explores elements of jazz fused with artistic properties of telematic technology including multiplicity, heterophony, swing, polyphony, synchronicity, and nodality. The transparent densities and intensities are manifested to create this new music reality of telematic jazz.”

Interested yet?

Monday – If you feel like making the trip to Washington Heights, check out my sister, trumpeter Kate Miller, in saxophonist Roxy Coss‘ quintet at 181 Cabrini. They play every Monday at 9.

Tuesday – Pianist Fred Hersh brings his trio to the Vanguard for a three-night run. Featuring bassist John Hebert and drummer Billy Hart, the trio will explore tracks from their upcoming release, “Whirl.”

David Souter @ Harvard Commencement

Brian Lehrer did a fascinating segment today on former Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s commencement speech at Harvard last week. From the four minutes he played, it sounds like one for the history books: a vigorous repudiation of strict constructionism through the lens of Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Ed. I’m definitely going to check out the entire speech tonight.

Here’s the link:

Text only: here

Here’s hoping Souter’s brand of judicial thought wins out in the long run!

June 4th Listings

Friday – Saxophonist Tony Malaby brings his irrepressible trio Tamarindo to the Jazz Gallery on Hudson Street. Featuring powerhouse bassist William Parker and the fiercely kinetic Nasheet Waits, the band is always an easy pick, but the inclusion of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith makes this a must-see. Sets are at 9 and 10:30, and the band will be recorded live.

Saturday – I’ve seen each member of Trio 3 in person, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen them together in this all-star group. If you’re in the same boat — and even if you’ve seen them dozens of times — head to Sista’s Place at 456 Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. Longtime collaborator, and visionary pianist Geri Allen will join saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille.

If your staying in Manhattan, Frank Kimbrough — the lyrically gifted and harmonically daring pianist — will join multireedist Scott Robinson for two sets at the Kitano on Park Avenue.

Sunday – My good friend and committed activist Glenn Robinson brings his non-profit Bags For The People to the Renegade Craft Fair in McCarren Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. BFTP will also be at the fair on Saturday.

Also, ABC No Rio holds its annual COMA Benefit Concert, featuring a lengthy lineup of “free jazz and free form” musicians from across the city.

Monday – Located on East Houston Street, Local 269 sounds like a union hall, but is actually a bar/performance space that caters to freer musical tastes. Tonight, Andrea Wolper’s Objects in Mirror, a quintet of Hill Greene, Kris Davis, Joachim Badenhorst, Michael Wimberly, Paul Harding, Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuo, and a duo performance by Jeremy Carlstedt and Brian Settles.

Also, John Waters speaks to Paul Holdengräber in the latest edition of “Live from the NYPL” at the branch at 455 5th Ave. in Manhattan.

Tuesday – Self-described “fermentation fetishist” Sandor Katz makes a rare NYC appearance at an event put on by Just Food. I’m not sure how Just Food’s mission “to unite local farms and city residents of all economic backgrounds” is furthered by charging $30 a pop to see a fermentation demonstration, but the instructor is Sandor Katz, so it is worth it. 6:30 to 9:00 pm @ Judson Memorial Church Assembly Hall 239 Thompson Street. Officially this is sold out, but you can email to be put on the wait list. I will probably just show up to see if I can talk my way in.

Also, bassist, composer Mario Pavone begins a two-night run at Cornelia Street Cafe with his Orange Double Tenor Quintet, featuring saxophonists Jimmy Greene and Tony Malaby.

Wednesday – The slyly propulsive drummer Ben Perowsky brings a quartet featuring multireedist Chris Speed, accordionist Ted Reichman and bassist Trevor Dunn to The Stone.

Thursday – Two accomplished bassists lead quartets in the village tonight. Michael Bates’ adventurous band Outside Sources hits at 8:30 at Cornelia Street Cafe and Michael Formanek with a band featuring saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver play at 10 at the Stone.

Robin D.G. Kelley on Monk

“You know, anybody can play a composition like [“Body and Soul”] and use far-out chords and make it sound wrong. It’s making it sound right that’s not easy.”

This quote from Thelonious Monk, from a 1961 interview is, fittingly, the last word in Robing D.G. Kelley’s masterful  biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press). It not only sums up Monk’s philosophy on music, but becomes a prevailing theme throughout Kelley’s meticulously researched tome. Over the course of 500 pages, two appendices, and 99 pages of detailed notes, Kelley works tirelessly and achieves the herculean goal of “righting” Monk’s legacy, by challenging the still-persistent notion that Monk was a reclusive savant who barely interacted with the world and could only communicate through his music. “The myth is as attractive as it is absurd,” Kelley admits in the introduction, before taking a hammer to it: “The truth is, Thelonious Monk possessed an impressive knowledge of, and appreciation for, Western classical music, not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of hymns and gospel music, American popular songs, and a variety of obscure art songs that defy easy categorization. For him, it was all music.”

The fact that Kelley’s thesis is a new take on Monk, speaks to a fascinating and troubling issue that he plumbs relentlessly throughout the book. The mystification of Monk, nearly universal in his lifetime and still very present today, has complex origins ranging from simple ignorance to downright racism. Kelley examines both in a way that eschews an ideological reading and paints an often-dark portrait of 20th-Century America through the eyes of one of its under-appreciated geniuses.

Kelley’s skills as a researcher shine throughout The Life and Times of an American Original. Unprecedented access to the Monk family, including Thelonious’ wife Nellie who passed away in 2002, and the family’s extensive archive of photographs and home recordings add immeasurably to the narrative, as do contemporaneous press reports and personal accounts that Kelley tirelessly tracked down over more than a decade of research. Equally impressive is Kelley’s ability to weave such copious findings into a tight and riveting narrative. The result is a loving portrait and stark rebuttal of criticism that Monk received during his lifetime and up to the present.

From the odious, “The entire body of resources of Western man relating to the playing of the piano, which dates back to the sixteenth century, remains unknown to Thelonious Sphere Monk for the simple reason that Monk is not Western man. He is Black man,” written by  pianist, critic John Menegan in 1963, to pianist Bill Evans’ loving, but ill-informed statement that Monk lacks “exposure to the Western classical music tradition or, for that matter, comprehensive exposure to any music other than jazz and American popular music,” Kelley illustrates the widely divergent currents that Monk had to navigate throughout his career. By directly comparing statements like these in the text, Kelley reveals the arguably radical — and to my mind, correct — idea that both venomous and merely ignorant statements were equally destructive to Monk. Even the great Quincy Jones partakes in the mystification in a 1965 interview with Valerie Wilmer, “He is not familiar with many classical works, or with much life outside himself, and I think because of this he did not create on a contrived or inhibited basis.”

Kelley’s refusal to accept the Monk myth, along with his insatiable curiosity and towering intellect led him on a 14-year journey to produce what is one of the finest jazz biographies ever written.

Beginning with a detailed and painful illumination of the enslavement that Monk’s ancestors endured in the 19th Century — Kelley opens the first chapter by juxtaposing Thelonious with Julius Withers Monk, who too was achieving fame in the late fifties in NYC, and whose great-grandfather had enslaved Thelonious’ great-grandfather a century earlier — Kelley traces the remarkable ascent of the Monk family, facilitated in large part by Thelonious’ mother Barbara. Leaving her husband (Thelonious’ father) behind in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Barbara brought her three young children to NYC in the early 1920’s to give them a better life.

While life on the west side of Manhattan in the ’20s was certainly better than in the Jim Crow south, Monk’s new neighborhood, San Juan Hill, was anything but genteel. Racial tensions ran high, and occasionally erupted into riots, and while Thelonious avoided trouble when he could, he was quick to defend family and friends. Despite the instability, San Juan Hill was a bastion of creativity during Monk’s childhood. With the support of his mother, Monk studied classical piano, and was playing at a professional level by the time he dropped out of high school.

Kelley meticulously examines Monk’s forty-year career, from his early gig playing for a an itinerant preacher during an extended tour of the United States — a period in Monk’s life that is still shrouded in mystery, to which Kelley goes to great lengths to shed light on — to his final days in seclusion at his life-long friend Nica De Koenigswarter’s Weehawkin home. Kelley recounts Monk’s famously odd behavior, his use of drugs, and his run ins with the law, but in a way that rightly opposes the press accounts from Monk’s time. Monk was the victim of — Kelley asserts — racist  police officers, discriminatory laws like the “cabaret card” requirement and mainstream press accounts that largely served to bolster the prejudices of white audiences. Even the famous cover story that ran in Time Magazine on February 28th, 1964, was largely a retelling of the Monk myth —  the strange hats and mysterious behavior.

Contrary to nearly everything in the press during most of his career and sadly even today, Monk was a worldly, witty, family focused man, Kelley asserts. The Life and Times is rife with masterfully delivered one-liners from Monk, and accounts from family, friends and fellow musicians who attest to Monk’s curiosity about the world around him and deep concern for his family. Kelley also includes transcriptions of Monk painstakingly working out arrangements of his compositions while Nellie sings along or whispers encouragement. Unlike French critic Andre Hodeir’s ignorant assertion that Monk — and, by extension, the “true jazzman” — develops “his language (as) the result of intuition and intuition alone,” Monk developed his original style through painstaking effort, building on a foundation steeped in Western musical tradition.

The most painful chapters in Monk’s life receive equally thorough treatment throughout The Life and Times, and Kelley unflinchingly documents the often-tragic results of Monk’s decades-long struggle with Bipolar disorder and depression. Misdiagnosed for years, Monk eventually finds some relief through therapy and medication, but not before violent run-ins with the law (exacerbated by racism), involuntary commitment, shock therapy and bodily damage from dangerous prescription drugs. It is in these trying chapters, that the Monk family truly shines, and it is a theme that Kelley successfully brings to the fore. It took a family to create and support the life and incredible music of Thelonious Monk. It’s been stated before, but never with the insistence and authority that Kelley does here.

The only criticism I’ve seen leveled at Kelley is that he is too close to his subject, dismissing criticisms of Monk’s erratic behavior and general unreliability when they might have a basis in true, but in the end they fall flat. The Life and Times of an American Original is that rare biography that is as generous as it is scholarly. Imagine an unflinching, yet loving tribute painstakingly crafted by a close friend, and you’ll understand the warmth and humanity that permeate this masterwork. It was a lifetime coming, and worth the wait.