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Contemporary jazz: back to the future

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

Branford Marsalis, who leads his quartet to a concert at the Wheeler Opera House on Saturday, named the quartets 2000 album Contemporary Jazz. On the surface, it didnt fit most common perceptions of that phrase no electronics, no funk beats, no heavy production. It was nothing like the two CDs put out by Buckshot Lefonque, the Marsalis-led 90s group that mixed jazz with hip-hop and r&b to help create the acid-jazz genre. Contemporary Jazz was just four super-talented guys playing their acoustic instruments in ways that brought traditional jazz into the modern day. It is a superb album.But as musicians have routinely demonstrated, there are many ways to make contemporary jazz. Following are reviews of several recent CDs that update the jazz style.Nicholas Payton, Sonic Tranceproduced by Payton (Warner Bros.)Ive watched as one trumpeter after another (Roy Hargrove, Dave Douglas, Wallace Roney) has gone the Miles Davis route, plugging in and getting funked. I didnt imagine that bug would get Nicholas Payton, a young New Orleans trumpeter whose heroes have seemed to be jazz ancients like Louis Armstrong and Doc Cheatham. But when a CD with the title Sonic Trance showed up, it was apparent Payton was taking the plunge.One neat thing is that, for the most part, he doesnt bring in a new crew; joining him here are saxophonist Tim Warfield and drummer Adonis Rose, both members of Paytons acoustic quintet. Completing the five are Kevin Hayes on electric keyboards, and Karriem Riggins on sampler and synthesizer. Its fairly predictable: If you know what Miles sounded like circa 1972, you have a good idea of what Sonic Trance is about. But Payton also updates the sound; this is made with a knowledge of hip-hop. Payton manages to make the spacey, linear funk his own, toying with the melody of The Entertainer before his own Cannabis Leaf Rag 1 (love that title) takes on its own snaking groove. As far as electric Miles knockoffs go and there are many this ones a keeper.But what Im really waiting for is when Wynton Marsalis goes electric.The Detroit Experimentproduced by Carl Craig and Aaron Luis Levinson (Ropeadope)The Detroit Experiment is a good idea done well. The idea was to set up in a downtown Detroit studio and put out the call to a bunch of Motor City musicians, gather them in their hometown, and see what kind of effect the homecoming would have. (The project was a follow-up to The Philadelphia Experiment from a few years back.) Among the notables answering the call were drummer Karriem Riggins, violinist Regina Carter, saxophonist Bennie Maupin and trumpeter Marcus Belgrave.Start with the fact that Detroit has long been a musical melting pot. Add in the fact that the players come not necessarily from the straight jazz world: Maupin was part of the legendary jazz-funk band the Headhunters; Riggins has produced tracks for Common and Erykah Badu, as well as playing with Betty Carter and Ray Brown; Carter has dabbled in classical music and hip-hop. What comes out is an ultra-funky album without limits, that stretches from the cosmic Enterluud to the hip-hop/funk workout Vernors to the heavenly violin/piano duet There Is a God.Skeriks Syncopated Taint Septetproduced by Skerik (Ropeadope)Seattle saxophonist Skerik has long been on the avant-garde, playing groove in Garage Trois, and getting way out with his Critters Buggin. For his latest project, Skerik has assembled a four-horn, two-keyboards and drum septet that plays inventive music that lingers between free jazz and something somewhat more coordinated. On this live album, recorded last September in Seattle, Skerik & Company play Let Me Be Your Voodoo Doll, a take on New Orleans street music that is only slightly twisted. Philadelphia is further out, the horns winding in and out of one another over a straight funk beat. Too Many Toys is a catchy march, of all things. Billy Martin, Grant Calvin Weston & DJ Logic, For no one in particular(Amulet)One of the most powerful ways to break into the future is by experimenting with the instrumentation. Billy Martin, drummer of the always experimental trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, hooks up with another drummer, Grant Calvin Weston who also plays some trumpet and turntablist DJ Logic to make stimulating, rhythm-and-noise oriented trio music. For no one in particular was recorded live at New Yorks Tonic in May.David S. Ware String Ensemble, Threadsand Tim Bernes Science Friction Live Band, The Sublime Andproduced by Peter Berli (Thirsty Ear) David S. Ware resembles Coltrane in saxophone tone, free-jazz approach, and desire for something new. On Threads, Ware draws a crowd of similar-minded avant-gardists, including bassist William Parker and Matthew Shipp, here on digital synthesizer. The heart of the outing, however, is Wares searching saxophone playing against the string section of violist Mat Maneri and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain. The music moves from free-flowing to majestic to thumping, and all of it has an otherworldly quality, reminding you that youve never heard anything exactly like it.But saxophonist Tim Berne and his Science Friction Live Band arent too far away from Ware. Its easy to see that The Sublime And, a two-CD set recorded in April in Switzerland, comes from the same forward-looking label as Threads. The instrumentation is different here, electric guitar, keyboards and drums to go with Bernes sax but the freestyle approach is most similar. I dont recommend listening to all of this in one sitting, as I did.The Sorcerer Sessions: The Blue Series Continuum featuring the music of Matthew Shipp(Thirsty Ear)Here is something different from the Thirsty Ear label. An unusual combo including synthesizers, piano, violin, clarinet uses the compositions of pianist Matthew Shipp to launch into free-jazz territory. Complicating the matter is that Shipp has definite classical leanings in his writing. It could have made for jarring juxtapositions, but such turns as a classical piano motif turning into electronic noise and back, on the wonderful, gentle Lightforms, is handled in a way that it makes good sense.Sex Mob, Dime Grind Palaceproduced by Scotty Hard (Ropeadope)Led by slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, the horn-heavy Sex Mob plays a loopy, extroverted, postmodern take on old-school swing. Sex Mob, a fixture of the downtown New York music scene, thankfully retains swings emphasis on fun; this is instrumental music that can actually make you laugh. Dime Grind Palace includes out-of-the-mainstream guests trombonist Roswell Rudd and Peter Apfelbaum, and out-of-the-norm instruments, the slide saxophone and Hawaiian trumpet.Children on the Corner, Rebirthproduced by Children on the Corner (Live Discs)Miles Davis, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions(Columbia/Legacy)Another take on electric Miles, or what the cutting edge sounded like three decades ago. This time, its a group of players guitarist Barry Finnerty, tabla player Badal Roy, saxophonist/flutist Sonny Fortune, drummer Ndugu Chancler and bassist Michael Henderson who all played with Davis in the 70s. They are joined by keyboardist Michael Wolff. This live recording, from Yoshis, in Oakland, in July 2002, is decent. But it is so true to the spirit and sound of the original, that it offers little reason to opt for this over, say, Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way.And we still havent heard the last from Davis himself. The Complete Jack Johnson is five CDs of tracks from Davis 1971 album A Tribute to Jack Johnson, his electric nod to early-20th-century boxer Jack Johnson. Featuring Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Wayne Shorter and Dave Holland but focusing on Davis new guitarist, John McLaughlin Jack Johnson is Davis full dive into fusion. But why anyone needs five takes of Go Ahead John, I cant say. Like most Legacy packages, the product is outstanding, with superb sound and a 120-page booklet of text, photos and notes.@ATD kutline hvy:The Surprise squares off against the better armed and manned French frigate Acheron in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World. 20th Century Fox.


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