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Kris Davis: The Pianist as Chameleon

By Kevin Whitehead, Contributor

Nowadays, many jazz musicians either lead or play in several bands over the course of a single year, but it wasn't always so. Can you picture Coltrane in 1963 leading other groups on the side? His quartet kept him busy enough (and allowed for occasional guests or subs). The reason for this is partly economic. In the '60s, a nightclub stand could go on for weeks. Now, engagements are much shorter; if you want to… more »

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Roswell Rudd, the Honker of Kerhonkson

By Kevin Whitehead, Contributor

Trombonist Roswell Rudd wasn't always as ubiquitous as he is now. After making a big splash in the 1960s and '70s, he dropped out of jazz for a decade. Family obligations kept him close to home in the Catskills, where he worked in a show band at a resort in too-perfectly-named Kerhonkson. "Did the people who hired you at the resort you know who you were?" he was once asked. "I'd just about forgotten myself."… more »

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Ahmad Jamal, Now and Then

By Kevin Whitehead, Contributor

It's strange, the ways the arc of jazz history can bend. Twenty years ago, for some conservatives, Anthony Braxton epitomized everything that was wrong with jazz. In 2013, he was named an NEA Jazz Master (and rightly so). Few jazz masters have seen their reputations yo-yo like Ahmad Jamal, now ascendant again, to judge by Saturday Morning, a French studio session recorded early in 2013 at age 82-and-a-half. There was a time when Jamal was considered… more »

New + Noteworthy

New Arrivals: Bethlehem Records

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The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring

2014 | Label: Masterworks

On For All I Care, the Bad Plus famously covered the likes of Nirvana and Pink Floyd. Just as important, though, were the jazz trio’s forays into classical-music adaptation — as heard on miniature gems by Igor Stravinsky, Milton Babbitt and Gyorgy Ligeti.

The obvious next-level project would be for the band to learn and play a version of a big-canvas classical item. And so, after years of touring and workshopping, the Bad Plus now brings us a 40-minute performance of Stravinsky’s notorious, riot-starting ballet. The piece is so quick-changing —… more »

Polar Bear, In Each and Every One

2014 | Label: The Leaf Label / state51

Even by current stylistically promiscuous standards, Polar Bear is barely on nodding terms with genre definitions. Led by the huge-haired drummer Seb Rochford, whose CV runs the collaborative gamut from Brian Eno to Yoko Ono, they’re a “jazz quintet” only in the broadest possible sense — grounded in the post bop/cool jazz tradition, but informed by individual backgrounds in hardcore, improv, leftfield electronics and avant soul.

In Each And Every One, their fourth album, is their most intriguing to date, due partly to the fact that rather than playing together in… more »

Vijay Iyer, Mutations

2014 | Label: ECM

Over the last decade, when he wasn’t busy becoming one of the world’s most talked-about jazz pianists, Vijay Iyer was also writing chamber music. Little of it has been widely heard, though that will change, now that Iyer has a home at ECM, a label that specializes in both fields. The big item on the Iyer’s imprint debut — framed by some piano miniatures — is the composer’s 10-movement string quartet-plus-piano suite, Mutations.

The piece covers a lot of ground. The opening movement, “Air,” opens with spectral string harmonies and gentle… more »

Marilyn Crispell and Gerry Hemingway, Affinities

-0001 | Label: Intakt Records

When pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Gerry Hemingway recorded the live album Affinities in 2009, they already been playing together as a duo for nearly 15 years, mostly as the rhythm section (with the bassist Mark Dresser) for saxophonist Anthony Braxton. But playing alone together was something new to them, and the subtle communication they share is immediately apparent. Experienced in going long, the players here opt for seven midrange-length pieces, collaborations that range from dynamic explosions of color to more extensively developed investigations.

Crispell and Hemingway are protean players, able… more »

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Bop ’til you stop: Bebop, Hard Bop and Post Bop

By Britt Robson, Contributor

Bebop is the fundamental vehicle by which the carbohydrates of modern jazz—harmony, melody and rhythm (starch, sugar and fiber) — are churned and burned into the fuel of life. Since it first emerged nearly 70 years ago, bop has become pervasive, spouting various hybrids that include West Coast jazz, hard bop, and soul jazz. All of this is wrapped up in Bop 'til you stop, our celebration of bebop in all its permutations and splendor. We'll keep… more »

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