Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


Matthew Shipp discusses the Black Mystery School of Pianists

A celebrated Jazz pianist himself, Matthew Shipp’s article for New Music Box attempts to define the distinctive category of what he calls the Black Mystery School of Pianists. Unlike most popular Jazz keyboardists who easily follow the mainstream paradigm of the proper way to play the instrument, these musicians are true piano iconoclasts. Outlining a series of famous players not in this school, Shipp settles on a short list of innovators who, while also highly skilled virtuosi, resist academic codification and carved out a unique niche within the Jazz universe. Citing Thelonious Monk as the father of this school – although his descendants tend not to play Monk tunes – Shipp writes that those who fit within this genre are Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, Randy Weston, Cecil TaylorAndrew Hill, Sun Ra, Horace Tapscott, the very obscure  Hasaan Ibn Ali, and surprisingly, Ran Blake, even though he’s a Caucasian. READ

The Many Roles of Gerry Hemingway as Teacher and Performer

A faculty member of Switzerland’s Hochshule Luzern since 2009 following a four year stint at New York’s the New School; percussionist Gerry Hemingway has developed his own ideas about music teaching. At the same time he’s still a working musician, he tells Point of Departure’s Troy Collins. During an extended Q+A, the American drummer points out that many of his decades-old co-op bands still exist such as BassDrumBone with trombonist Ray Anderson, and bassist Mark Helias; the GRH trio with pianist Georg Graewe and cellist Ernst Reijseger; and the more recent one, the WHO trio with pianist Michel Wintsch and bassist Bänz Oester. At the same time, Hemingway, who has been interested in electronic music since the 1970s, is regularly involved in live interaction performances with visual artist Beth Warshafsky using Max/MSP Jitter, as well as recording solos and electro-acoustic programs with the likes of fellow percussionist Vincent Glanzmann. As an instructor though, he feels his job is “to keep the boat of history from sinking into a sea of well-meaning teaching methodologies, which sadly utilize unreferenced details that aren’t crucial to build personal artistic expression.” In essence he wants to nurture students not only formally but also by ear training careful listening, a slow, but meaningful method to get to the essences of music creation. READ

Ben Goldberg’s Musical Plague Diary

While others are using their Covid-19-enforced lockdowns to bake bread, study a language or play video games, Bay Area-based clarinettist Ben Goldberg has, since mid-March, been posting newly recorded sounds on the Bandcamp streaming service daily. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Andrew Gilbert, Goldberg says these musical outpourings give him something meaningful to do during quarantine. The improvisations which last from 90 seconds to 15 minutes, often layer tracks recorded using his many clarinets to create wider, more expressive textures. Initially only titled with the date of recording, since mid-June Goldberg has dedicated many individual tracks to political avatars such as Rep. John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg as well as to musicians with whom he has performed in the past, like guitarists Nels Cline and Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, bassist Todd Sickafoose and pianist Myra Melford. Listen to one excerpt here. READ

Still Noisy after all these Years: Phil Minton at 80

Not as depressing as he thought his birthday would be, British soundsinger Phil Minton tells The Wire’s Phil England that Covid-19 and Brexit have affected his career more than turning 80. A vocal chameleon who has been experimenting with unusual sound timbres for 60 years, Minton works regularly with other voice extremists like Audrey Chen and  often organizes The Feral Choir  allowing groups of non-professional singers in many countries to gather under his leadership for “belching obscene incoherent rubbish”. Initially a trumpet player and dancer, Minton first developed his unique vocal  stylings as a member of pianist Mike Westbrook’s experimental big band, which also showcased guitarist Keith Rowe and saxophonist John Surman. When he rejoined Westbrook’s group in the 1970s he expanded his vocalese by also singing words, some  of which came from William Blake 's poetry. Words are also the focus of his ongoing project with pianist Veryan Weston that performs musical settings of anarchist and anti-imperialist poems from figures like Ho Chi Min. Still, the vocalist says that some of his best experiences and biggest influences have come from vocalizing alongside Free Jazz drummers Louis Moholo-Moholo, Tony Oxley and Roger Turner.   READ

Yellow Music is In-Between Black and White Sounds: Tatsu Aoki

Although he had established relationships with advanced musicians on both sides of Chicago’s racial divide since 1979, Tokyo-born bassist Tatsu Aoki still felt he didn’t fit  comfortably into either scene. That’s why 20 years ago he organized his unique Asian improv project MIYUMI, he tells Bandcamp Daily’s Marcus J. Moore. Inspired by the examples of Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)-affiliated musicians such as tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, in whose trio he played, and who inspired the bassist to hold onto his own concepts,  MIYUMI was organized by Aoki, saxophonist Mwata Bowden and drummer Afifi Phillard. Over the years, the bassist, whose Jazz mentors include Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist Malachi Favors, has incorporated other sounds into MIYUMI, such as a double-bass centred heavy pulse from progressive Rock and an emphasis on using traditional Japanese instruments such as the taiko drum. “But,” says Aoki, “the idea was bringing non-stereotype, naturalized taiko drumming into this avant-garde jazz setting.” READ

Craig Taborn on Covid, Jazz and BLM

Somewhat of a stilted profile of Craig Taborn, The Morning Star’s Chris Searle still manages to elicit some interesting statements from the Minneapolis-born pianist. Talking about his home city’s Jazz scene and early influences, before he joined tenor saxophonist James Carter’s band, Taborn says that British figures such as pianist Django Bates and saxophonist Steve Wiliamson were part of his listening experience. Later on he established collaborative relationships with more advanced UK players like saxophonist Evan Parker and bassist Dave Holland. Covid 19 has unleashed creativity in many musicians, he explains, at the same time as concerns over the death of George Floyd and other Black Lives Matter manifestations have provided more focus to the music. Still while Taborn’s group Junk Magic, featuring among others tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and violist Mat Maneri, has tried to mix protest themes with electronics, even its release was affected by real life events. Its mastering was delayed since the engineer in charge lives a few blocks away from the epicentre of many BLM protests. READ

Always in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time: Dewey Redman

Although he was at times part of many major Jazz groups, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman (1931-2006) was never well known, even in advanced Jazz circles. That's because, says The Sydney Morning Herald’s John Shand, Redman was more interested in sound than technique and decided to lead his own group at the most inopportune time. That happened in the early 1980s, when Redman, a Fort Worth native like alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and who had formerly been part of the Coleman quartet, was simultaneously a member of bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, pianist Keith Jarrett's quartet and Old and New Dreams with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell. But the self-described “country boy in the big city” split with them all, determined to be recognized for his own talents. It didn’t happen and in subsequent years he was overlooked in favor of other, flashier, tenor saxophonists, including his formerly estranged son, Joshua Redman.


A Canuck in Deutschland: Lina Allemano

True to the Northern country’s history of celebrating Canadians who succeed overseas, Toronto-based trumpeter Lina Allemano is now making a name for herself internationally, since she spends part of each year living in Berlin. Not only is she  invigorated by the German capital’s open Jazz scene reports London Jazz News’ Sebastian Scotney, but the locals also appreciate her talent as well. She and her otherwise all-German trio, Rats & Mice, with bassist Dan Peter Sundland and drummer Michael Griener are featured at this year’s JazzFest Berlin for instance. Allemano, who prides herself on having detailed knowledge of both standard trumpet styles, having studied with Laurie Fink in New York, as well as extended brass techniques, which she pursued with Axel Dörner in Berlin, still insists that she won’t leave Canada to become an expatriate. Although she has been visiting Berlin since 2013 she doesn’t want to abandon the musical progress she has made and the original music she has created with her Toronto quartet, which has been in existence since 2005. READ

Why saxophonist Yahya Abdul-Majid’s playing was important for Jazz Evolution

Evolution of improvised music isn’t just the purview of well-known innovators. Every musician with new ideas contributes to the sounds, and Capital Bop’s Luke Stewart profiles one such player who died recently. Tenor saxophonist Yahya Abdul-Majid impressed many listeners the few times he gigged in New York during the 1980s with drummer Jackson Krall ’s Secret Music Society, bassist William Parker’s groups and when he formed a close working relationship with drummer Denis Charles. But most of the time from the 1970s until he died Abdul-Majid stuck close to his Washington D.C. home base where his powerful yet mystical style was showcased in small clubs along with the sounds of the city’s few other advanced players. Most of his other out-of-town jobs which led to his highest profile, were with the Sun Ra Arkestra. Abdul-Majid  had briefly been an Arkestra  members when the keyboardist/composer was still alive; he then rejoined the band and stayed with it on-and-off from 1997 to 2018 as it subsequently evolved under the leadership of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. Although he rarely recorded or led his own groups,f his associates insist that Abdul-Majid's inspired playing will long be fondly remembered. READ

The Joys of Solo Sax: An Improvisational Threesome

Taking as the starting point for his essay recent solo saxophone albums by one American and two Italians musicians, Perfect Sound Forever’s Daniel Barbiero sketches out the recent history of solo reed innovations. Beginning with Anthony Braxton’s groundbreaking 1969 two-LP set For Alto, he points out that while it was not the first notable solo sax outing, the set was influential not only because of its length, but for its radicalism in insisting that various conceptual and technical decisions could be suggested and solved during the course of improvisations. While soon afterwards other Jazz musicians such as Roscoe Mitchell, Evan Parker and Steve Lacy were each refining the solo sax challenge in individual fashions, Barbiero also points to composer Luciano Berio creating Sequenza IXb for alto saxophone as similarly influential in the noted music area. Reflecting both  compositional and improvisational creativity in their interpretations Barbiero points to three particular stylists. Most worthy of extensive analysis he says are the works of Pavia-based soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo’s expressive but formal solo musings; Rome-based multi-reedist Marco Colonna, engagement with the expanded range of instrumental techniques; and New York-based, patrick brennan – who spells his name with lower case letters – polyrhythmic work made up of overlapping melodies as a composer without an ensemble.


Ran Blake’s Less-than-Standard Answers to 20 Questions

Retired doyen of Third Stream Music at Boston’s New England Conservatory (NEC), pianist Ran Blake, 85, comes up with succinct but provocative answers to a Zoom-conducted session from the 20 Questions blog. On it Blake discusses his favourite musical performers and influences, which unsurprisingly include composer and former NEC head, the late Gunther Schuller, composer/theorist George Russell; innovative pianists Jaki Byard and Thelonious Monk and singers Chris Connor and Jeanne Lee, the latter with whom he famously often worked. Besides insisting that older artists should be given more consideration, Blake mentions his interest in serious cinema, especially the productions of Alfred Hitchcock and film noir; his appreciation of the culture of European countries such as Greece and France; and his dislike of provincial and intolerant small towns in Massachusetts – except for Lennox which for a four-year period in the twilight of the Eisenhower presidency hosted a school for improvisation. READ

Translating Free Jazz into Japanese: Itaru Oki

Trumpeter Itaru Oki, who recently died at 78, was one of the first Japanese players to create a unique local take on Western Free Jazz. Just as importantly, as this remembrance in The Wire points out, following his move to France in 1974, he collaborated internationally with American and European sound innovators such as bassist Alan Silva, alto saxophonist Noah Howard, pianist François Tusques and trumpeter Axel Dörner. Taking up trumpet as a child, after moving to Tokyo in 1965, Oki soon advanced from playing Dixieland to interpreting Modern Jazz to becoming a member of many pioneering Free Jazz units with the likes of percussionist Masahiko Togashi and bassist Keiki Midorikawa. Subsequently moving back and forth over the years from Europe to Japan, he was also part of the French Marteau Rouge band with guitarist Jean-François Pauvros and synthesizer player Jean-Marc Foussat; performed on a wide array of horns and woodwind instruments; and was an accomplished trumpet builder who created instruments at odd angles, often with two brass bells. READ

South Africa’s Blue Notes’ Influence on European Free Music

Leaving Apartheid-era South Africa in 1964 to relocate in Europe brought more than personal liberation to a group of musical expatriates. For as Bandcamp Daily’s Piotr Orlov points out, the power and freedom in the playing of South Africa's Blue Notes band soon invigorated the European Free Jazz scene. While the band’s mixture of Hard Bop and Xhosa melodies was unique enough, the members were also fluent in what the group's alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana called “the fowl run”, local freeform playing equivalent to what saxophonist Abert Ayler was doing in the US. Although the group broke up shortly afterwards, members became involved in currents of European Free Music in Scandinavia and London from the 1970s onwards. Pianist Chris McGregor formed his large Brotherhood of Breath band which featured South Africans like bassist Harry Miller alongside such British players as saxophonist Mike Osborne. Trumpeter Mongezi Feza played in progressive groups like Keith Tippett's and Robert Fripp’s Centipede. Pukwana played with everyone from drummer Han Bennink to Toots & the Maytals; and bassist Johnny Mbizo Dyani worked regularly with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and in different bands with Norwegian alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. Drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, the Blue Notes only living  member, who returned to post-Apartheid South Africa – the others died in Europe – has worked with stylists as different as tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and guitarist Derek Bailey. READ

Reggie Workman: do the best on every occasion

Named a NEA Jazz Master this year, bassist Reggie Workman, 83, a linchpin of legendary groups featuring everyone from tenor saxophonist John Coltrane to drummer Andrew Cyrille, discusses his career and ideas with SF Jazz’s Richard Scheinin. Brought up in Philadelphia’s Germantown with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp as a neighbor, the bassist’s more than 60-year career began playing R&B gigs and jam sessions in Philly with other local players who would go on to stellar Jazz careers. At one point he and pianist McCoy Tyner were two-thirds of the house band for the city’s House of Jazz club backing visiting soloists. In New York, besides more traditional gigs with the likes of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drummer Art Blakey, Workman was a member of Coltrane's first important quartet. “When John Coltrane came along, he explained to me that I was to be myself,” he recalls. “And that was a revelation to me. My philosophy became that you do the best in every occasion, and it’s all about creating a musical dialogue. You try to find a common thread, because every area that you want to deal with, you should be able to do your best.” That philosophy has guided him ever since, through numerous affiliations, most prominently with the cooperative Trio3 band with Cyrille and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and in his teaching at Manhattan’s New School and other educational institutions. READ

The Fragmented History of Québec’s Political Free Jazz of the 1970s

Using as his starting point historian Eric Fillion recent book on the socio-political and musical current of 1970s Québec, Point of Departure’s Pierre Crépon traces the ramshackle history of Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec (QJLQ). Organized in 1967 as a local response to the revolutionary music played by radical Americans like tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, the (QJLQ), made up of tenor saxophonist Jean “Doc” Préfontaine, trumpeter Yves Charbonneau, bassist Maurice Richard and drummer Guy Thouin, soon began to splinter like the many fringe Marxist parties of the day. First adapting its uncompromising Free Jazz to affiliation with then counterculture pop performers such as singers Robert Charlebois and Louise Forestier and the massive psychedelic-rock-New music-improv ensemble L’Infonie, political currents soon became paramount. Encompassing several personal changes which at one point brought American cellist Tristan Honsinger into the group, the QJLQ became preoccupied with setting up a series of Montreal arts spaces and Québec countryside communes that would be working class, socialist and promote Québec separatism. Frequent police raids, especially when band members began affiliating with violent separatists like those in The Front de libération du Québec, soon made the political commune idea impossible. And with the counterculture becoming more hedonistic than political, plus Préfontaine's and Charbonneau's diverging political views, the band was finished by 1975. READ

Free Jazz verses Far Right Extremism

Those who condemn Free Jazz or Energy Music as mere noise might be surprised to hear that this “noise” can serve a useful purpose – played very loudly it can drown out offensive right-wing speeches. That’s what Vice’s Sebastian Skov Andersen found out recently. For the past few months a collective of Danish Jazz musicians have followed far-right politician Rasmus Paludan around the country playing very loudly and badly at his events. Called Free Jazz against Paludan (FJAP), the group targets the founder of a political party that holds rallies in neighborhoods with large immigrant population, burning and stomping on Qurans, as well as suggesting that Muslim immigrants and other minorities should be deported or imprisoned in special camps. “You have to protest in a way that is not destructive and violent” says saxophonist John Rasmussen, a FJAP member. “We just provoke Paludan as much as he provokes others, to make it very visible how destructive he is. The louder we play the more attention we can draw.” So far Denmark’s “potentially biggest band” has attracted many improvisers to its counter demonstrations, playing everything from double basses to egg shakers and pots and pans. READ

Once you stop being a student, you’re dead: Saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell

While many lament the isolation and other problems caused by the Covid pandemic, saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell sees it as an opportunity. Away from his teaching job at California’s Mills College, Mitchell, who was recently named a 2020 NEA Jazz Master, tells SFJAZZ staff writer Richard Scheinin that with more ideas than ever, he now has the time to try out new concepts.I can play the same note for a week if I want to. I have the time to do it,” he explains. One of the founders of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) and an early member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Mitchell has been a lifelong learner and passes that idea onto his students. Taking up the saxophone in high school he improved his reed skills in an American army band under the twin influences of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and returning to his home town of Chicago then perfected his composing and improvising talents studying with AACM founder, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. This learning continued during the founding of the AEC, with trumpeter Lester Bowie and saxophonist Joseph Jarman, and later through his association with innovators in New York and Paris, such as saxophonist) Frank Wright and drummer Muhammad Ali. That's one reason Mitchell has been able to maintain his creativity when performing his solo saxophone piece “Nonaah", first created in the 1970s. “When people hear that tune," he notes. "It can almost sound like more than one instrument is playing.”   READ

Drummer/composer John Hollenbeck is in control despite the pandemic

Limited in activities because of Covid-19’s social distancing, drummer/composer John Hollenbeck is still involved in many musical projects. As he tells Night After Night’s Steve Smith, besides practising more, he’s preparing for remote teaching in his position at Montréal’s McGill University, where he has worked since 2015, and has just completed a vocal-oriented CD with singers Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann, a big band and keyboardist Gary Versace. While Hollenbeck usually composes original music for projects such as those with vocalist/performer Meredith Monk, large and small ensembles and his own bands, especially the Claudia Quintet, he says arranging pop and rock songs for the new CD wasn’t that dissimilar since “I take something that I call a cell, and manipulate it in so many ways, so it sounds different ... the difference [here] is that the cell does not come from me.” The session is on his own brand-new Flexatonic label which he organized as a non-profit to reissue his earlier recordings on other imprints and to release albums when he wants to. The one major pandemic drawback, he admits, is that the Claudia Quintet can’t tour since with members like saxophonist/clarinettist Chris Speed in Los Angeles and bassist Drew Gress in upstate New York, they can’t physically connect. READ

Remembering the Achievements of Simon H. Fell

When British double bassist/composer Simon H. Fell died of cancer in late June a series of remembrances were published celebrating his contribution to the world of Improvised Music. Although this article by The Wire’s Julian Cowley may err towards the personal and is somewhat sentimental, it does point out Fell’s great versatility. Someone who was equally at home playing theme-based Jazz with drummer Paul Hession and tenor saxophonist Mick Beck and noise-improv with guitarist Stefan Jaworzyn and reed player Charles Wharf, Fell was also dedicated to creating delicate acoustic improvisations with the band IST featuring harpist Rhodri Davies and cellist Mark Wastell. While these performing opportunities were taking place, Fell was also working on his PhD thesis, which he completed in 2017; overseeing his own record label, Bruce’s Fingers; and most importantly, writing and recording expansive orchestral works like Composition No 62. The concept behind it and others like it was, as the bassist once said, if musical ideas from composer Richard Strauss, Jazz pianist Stan Tracey, saxophonist/theorist Anthony Braxton and improvising guitarist Derek Bailey could be combined in one composition, with arrangements suggested by Henry Mancini’s soundtrack orchestrations.   READ

Pianist Kris Davis’ Skyrocketing Profile

With her most recent Festival concert at the Toronto Jazz cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, New York state-based Canadian pianist Kris Davis still gets to express her ideas to The Toronto Star’s Mike Doherty in this profile. Now widely praised by American outlets like the New York Times, Down Beat and National Public Radio, Calgary-raised Davis started her jazz apprenticeship in the Jazz program at the University of Toronto. While she found some of the teaching too traditional, she picked up the basics, and while attending university had a regular gig in a hotel lounge; was part of a local funk band; and, along with many other neophyte musicians, played sessions at the Rex hotel. She has widened her scope since moving south in 2001, because  as she says, musically she wants to simultaneously occupy “all these different spaces.” She’s certainly doing that. Besides teaching music at the college level, she works regularly with musicians such as soprano and tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, famed drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and guitarist Mary Halvorson and in 2016 even started Pyroclastic, her own record label, to release her music and discs by other players she admires. READ