Wayne Shorter (sax) with John Patitucci at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam, Holland, in 2012. © R.J. DeLuke
By R.J. DeLuke ** Thoughts on Jazz and its Makers; Trends, Events, Observations on the national scene and in the Capital District Region of New York State. This magical music, played in the moment, improvised from the heart, is what separates us from the animal kingdom ... that, and the missionary position.
Wayne Shorter (sax) with John Patitucci at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam, Holland, in 2012. © R.J. DeLuke
Despite the origin of the CD roughly three decades ago and the more recent digital revolution, the old fashioned "record album," spinning at a rate of 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, never went out off style. Some companies have produced them all along. Others have simply maintained and revered the vinyl of old. With the right equipment -- high-end turntable and proper receiver an speakers -- people say it still produces the best sound. As technology soars, that may not always be the case.
But there has always been something to be said for the old records. Not the least of which was the cover art, and important way of attracting buyers, or simply conveying something deep about the music and the people making it.
This year is the 75th Anniversary of Blue Note Records, an iconic jazz label. The label is planning many things to mark the anniversary this year. But one of them is a slow rollout of classic Blue Note recordings by legendary jazz musicians. The label is also known for its fantastic cover art, featuring the photography of Francis Wolff, also a Blue Note producer, and the design of artist Reid Miles. It begins March 25, with the release of five classics: Art Blakey's Free For All, John Coltrane's Blue Train, Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch, Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, and Larry Young's Unity. The vinyl releases are set to continue monthly and will also include modern classics from Blue Note’s recent catalog. In all, there will be 100 vinyl releases. The label says five albums a month--for many months. Blue Note Records was founded on January 6, 1939, by Alfred Lion, a German immigrant. In 2012, Don Was, known from the rock band he co-founded called Was (Not Was) became president. It may seem like an unlikely marriage, but a recent conversation with Was for a article at the All About Jazz website, Was shows himself to be a good man for the job.
"We're trying all kinds of stuff. Even with vinyl," Was told me in January. "We've organized a network of independent record stores who are going to be authorized Blue Note dealers. We're launching a series of low-cost, but really high quality, re-mastered vinyl"
Was is a musician, but a long-time producer who's credits include Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson and many more rock greats. He grew up loving Blue Note jazz. He has great respect for music and musicians. So he had a good time in the vinyl selection process.
"That was a very interesting experience, going back and re-mastering our catalog," he said. "It's been re-mastered over and over and over again and there are a number of philosophical approaches you can take. They're radically different ... We went through and listened to everything. From the initial vinyl pressings, right through to the latest CD master ... In terms of the feel of the music, the original vinyl felt best.
"There's something about the original intention of the artist. What did everyone get when they left the studio and said, 'Yeah. This is great.' What did that sound like? What were they hearing? That's really what people should hear. Not the reinterpretation of what they were hearing. It's not for me to editorialize over Kenny Burrell. What was Kenny excited about? What did he want it to sound like? We've done some painstaking work trying to recapture the feel of the initial pressings. But still take advantage of the fact that in the hi-def digital downloads, which you can get on HD tracks, for example, you have a little more transparency now.
"For example, when you go to vinyl, the back of the mix moves in closer. The imaginary room that the musicians are in--that room gets apparently smaller with vinyl. With 96k and 192, you're able to keep the back wall, get the transparency. The important thing is to do that without losing the feel of the music that was on the vinyl. It's a delicate thing."
Was said it was done right and it's a source of pride. As a musician (primarily a bass player), producer and now label head, his stance on the sanctity of the music hasn't changed. That's why he'll do a fine job for Blue Note.
Here are some of his thoughts he shared with me on music:
"I believe that the area of the brain that processes music, neurologists have identified it and feel it's there initially in infants for per-language communication. When you talk to a baby, they don’t understand words but they understand tones. A mother coos to her child, 'Ahhh look at the baby.' Those notes. People use those notes in all cultures. Disparate cultures from around the world make the same sound. And intervals have emotional meaning for people. You find those intervals appearing in timeless songs, like 'Amazing Grace.' You coo to a baby with 'Amazing Grace' and it communicates to them.
"By the time your 12 years old, you shut down 19 out of 20 synapses because we can't operate at that level. The ones you keep open are the ones that you use all the time. Even tough we develop language skills, we keep the area of the brain that processes music open. Those synapses stay open. My feelings it's because conversational language has limitations that fail to convey the full depth off our emotional lives. Art, in particular music, puts us in touch with our feelings and helps us make sense of our lives. That should be the goal of music ... Artists, they may not all be like Albert Schweitzer, you know? [chuckles] It may not be a humanitarian effort. Artists are trying to express themselves to make sense out of their lives. But people listen to music and people participate in art because it helps them feel the same way. That's the goal. That's what you're trying to do if you're producing a record, whether it's a Bonnie Raitt record, a Rolling Stones Record or a Wayne Shorter record. Put people in touch with their feeling. Make them feel something.
"You do this by being for real and honest, yourself. That's at the core of record making. What modes or scales you use are kind of irrelevant. That's different to everybody. And there are plenty of people who know all the modes and scales and don't make you feel anything except, 'Wow, look how many notes that cat can play.' I don't think that's noble incentive for making art. [chuckles]. To show off your technique. In the end, there's not that much difference. You either feel something or you don't. The categories I use to differentiate it are: It's either generous music or it's selfish music. 'Look how many notes I can play' is selfish music. 'Here's what I feel. Maybe you feel the same way.' That's a very generous stance."
And long live Blue Note.
Always a tricky thing is the selection of "best" of lists for the year. I don't get to hear everything that comes out, so a lot of fine music is missed. Also,, the selection itself is subject to whims. An album may hit you right from the get-go. Another might take time to grow on you, and maybe it never gets that time.
Then there are the many good albums that fall by the wayside in the selection process. Are they not as good?
So here are some of the top albums where I thought thew work was fine. In some cases the approach intrigued me and I thought it was pulled off in a great way. Other music just pleased me greatly. (despite some tendencies that being complex is the only aesthetic, I think making beautiful music is difficult. And necessary).
So, here it is. In no special order. Read it an weep .. or jump for joy.
Wayne Shorter, Without a Net (Blue Note). A great example of the superb quartet and how they converse. Always exploring.
Terri Lyn Carrington, Provocative in Blue (Concord). An interpretation of a Duke Ellington outing with Max roach and Charles Mingus, which was very different for Duke. Carrington's presentation is solid and carried out with great style.
Wallace Roney, Understanding (High Note). Everything Roney puts out is quality. His playing, his approach, are high-level art. And his young group is fantastic. More people need to give him much-deserved credit.
Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1969; the Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (Sony). Exciting music from an exemplary collection of musicians who were willing to explore.
Ryan Keberle, Catharsis, (Alternate Side Records). Great interplay by this group. And Keberle, on trombone, and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez are wonderful soloists.
Alex Sipiagin, From Reality and Back (5Passion). A great trumpeter who always plays with creativity and passion. His recorded output is consistently fine.
David Weiss, Endangered Species (Motema Music). Another fine trumpeter whho puts together outstanding groups. This one is for the interpretation of Wayne Shorter music, which they do in fine fashion.
Terrence Blanchard, Magnetic (Blue Note). This guy can play. But it's the group that makes his recoding so fine. Drummer Kendrick Scott continues his wizardry. Everyone is tight, and Blanchard uses compositions from the talented people in his group, as well as his own fine writing.
Joshua Redman, Walking Shadows (Nonesuch). Love hearing Redman play ballads. He doesn't always do it live, but he kills it with his tone and phrasing.
John Escreet, Sabatoge and Celebration (Whirl Wind Recordings). Always interesting pianist puts together a very cool suite with strings. Nice work.
Michael Pedicin, Why Stop Now? Ubuntu (Ground Blue Records). This gentleman knows the tenor sax. Great sound. Fluid. Creative. This recording covers some different styles and does it well.
Jorge Sylvester, Spirit Driven (Four). Ambitious mix of music and voice. Free sections and tradition. Twists and turns. It works on two discs. Intense and cool.
Shamie Royston, Portraits (Self Produced). Brings this pianist to the forefront for the first time. Fine player showing different moods, driven by the superb Rudy Royston on drums.
Enrico Granafei, Alone and Together (Cap Records). Outstanding, clear, robust harmonica sound on exquisite tunes. Joined by outstanding guests. This is beautiful music.
These were all new to me--except Porter--and delightful finds. Each has a nice style and wayy of phrasing that is captivating. Salvant has tremendous pipes and soul. The others achieve sweet satisfaction with their own approach and treatment of their material. All impressive. Porter continues to be a soulful force, sweet and swinging.. And he can write!
Nancy Harris, Dreams In Apartments (Gazelle Records)
Cécile McLorin Salvant, WomanChild, (Mack Avenue)
Heather Masse/Dick Hyman, Lock My Heart (Red House Records)
Suzanna Smith, Halfway Between Heaven & Love (Ink Pen Records)
Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit (Blue Note)
A quick blog--
IN Alton, Ill., where Miles was actually born, though raised in east St. Louis, they are unveieling a Miles statue this Saturday. Here's an artist's rendition of the statue and its resting place: Just letting folks know!
Anat Cohen has taken the jazz world by storm since her arrival from Israel to the United States in 1999. She's an extraordinary musician who has the technique, yes, but always plays with plenty of heart. Always joyous. She's been winning awards in magazines and from the Jazz Journalists Association and they keep piling up.
Anat travels to the Netherlands in July for the North Sea Jazz festival, a fantastic three-day event at a venue called AHOY on Europe's largest seaport, July 12-14. She is the winner of this year's Paul Acket Award given by the festival and to artists deserving wider recognition for their extraordinary musicianship. Past winners include pianists Craig Taborn and Stefano Bolani, trumpeter Christian Scott, and guitarist Adam Rogers.
Cohen will play with her quartet and also sit down for an interview with jazz journalist Dan Oulette before a live audience.
[Anat Cohen at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2012., © R.J. DeLuke]
She plays all the saxophone, except baritone, but is known for her ferocious clarinet playing, having won the Jazz Journalists Association's Clarinetist of the Year award seven times in a row. Personally, I love the way she wails on the tenor sax. She was fabulous last year at the Newport Jazz Festival, playing with her two brothers, trumpeter Avishai and saxophonist Yuval in the band aptly named the Three Cohens.
The North Sea Fest is a fabulous event featuring great bands in all kinds of genres: jazz, blues, rock, pop, soul. It goes on at 13 stages simultaneously from about 5 in the afternoon until 1 in the morning, or a bit later. It will be a pleasure to see Anat overseas, part of a wonderful lineup that includes Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Santana, Diana Krall, Steve Swallow, Robert Glasper, Ron Carter, Eliane Elias and many, many more.
It's not an easy venture from the U.S., but hardly impossible (many from the U.S. attend each year) for people who want to immerse themselves in a weekend of great music. The food and atmosphere are equally fine. The city of Rotterdam is a very hip place; friendly and fun.
Think about it ... even if it's next year.
And congrats once again to Anat Cohen!
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY, has hosted a world-class jazz festival since 1978. Invented by George Wein--an icon who invented the music festival, most famously the Newport Jazz Festival (though that only scratches the surface for his accomplishments)--it has had appearances by nearly every jazz legend. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dexter Gordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Count Basie, Jack DeJohnette, Ray Charles, Wayne Shorter and more.
No one played the festival more often than Dave Brubeck, who first appeared at the second edition in 1979 and last appeared in 2009--a total of 13 years. He was a close friend of Wein and close to the hearts of legions of music lovers around the globe. Brubeck died last December, one day shy of his 92nd birthday.
[Dave Brubeck Quartet plays the jazz festival in Saratoga in the 1980s. Chris Brubeck is on bass. © R.J. DeLuke]
A few years back, the people at SPAC started a Walk of Fame. Similar to the famous one in Hollywood, it immortalizes some of the important people in the facility's history with a star, emblazoned with the honoree's name, placed on one of the walkways at the performance venue. SPAC hosts all kinds of musical performances. It's first jazz honoree was Wein in 2011. And on Sunday, June 30, at Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, Brubeck will join that group.
The ceremony is scheduled for 4:40 p.m.
It will be held on a day when a couple other old-timers will be doin' it on the main SPAC stage--86-year-old crooner Tony Bennett and 76-year-old blues legend Buddy Guy. Brubeck was 89 when he last performed at the Saratoga festival.
Brubeck's career is truly legendary and he has been honored in numerous fashions over the years, thankfully. He actually last played in Saratoga in 2011, as a guest with the band Triple Play, led by his son, Chris Brubeck. He left to a roaring ovation. Wonderful, because it was to be his last public performance.
Brubeck logged so many miles, did so many gigs, won over people in so many countries, played so many notes. And he was special to SPAC and the audiences that faithfully flock to the event every year.
That star with that name will be special.
[Rumor has it Rudresh Mahanthappa, the wonderful musician who was named Jazz Journalists Association's Alto Saxophonist of the Year, will received his award from the association on Saturday, June 29, the day he will play two sets].