So what’s in store for 2013? Well, everything goes quiet for a bit in terms of record releases now and over Christmas but already there are pre-release copies of some big releases available and some tracks from them online.
The record companies, at least the ones that are really sussed, allow considerable promo of their albums ages before release these days. It takes time for people to find music despite the universality of the web, time to think about buying tracks, and pre-buy listens are essential in the build, and it’s not just about the hard sell or even a subliminally insidious push.
In the digital age and in a recession it’s as if you have to really believe in the artist to then invest with hard cash and people can get engaged whether they’re media or especially not.
It’s democratising and there’s more open access to listen early than in the old white label days when white labels were scarce. Of course some artists don’t like this new method, and there are records that simply are kept under strict wraps until release, although protective marketing can mess things up. The trailing of tracks generally works and crucially allows time for fans to really get to grip with what their artists are doing new and then they can choose to go out to the clubs and concert halls to hear them. Take a look at say the Babel site for great upfront access to the latest releases and new bands: http://babel-label.bandcamp.com
Last year UK indie Naim Jazz began circulating copies of The Face of Mount Molehill four to five months before its release, something that really helped push sales way past the 6,000 mark, and Harlem indie Motéma garnered even more UK sales for Gregory Porter’s Be Good by providing easily available good quality videos and streams before release although word of mouth from the live shows was the best promotion ultimately, as t’will ever be.
Blue Note are doing the advance trail in different ways for two big releases for 2013: Wayne Shorter’s Without a Net, more of which in a later blog, and José James’ No Beginning No End, which is released on 21-22 January. The work on this began with the help of iTunes and ‘Trouble’ was named track of the week, but also an appearance by James at the associated iTunes fest was a significant factor, supporting Robert Glasper who since then has appeared in promo video form interviewing the New York-based singer for extra matching.
James’ career has fluctuated a great deal since he first emerged on Gilles Peterson’s radar with the hipster DJ signing the at-that-point complete unknown to his label, Brownswood. James’ Coltrane-rooted gigs with Jef Neve were very fine live (see links below) yet their duo album for Impulse disappointed a bit, and I’m not that keen on the hip hop-tinged Black Magic even with Flying Lotus’ imput.
Signing to Blue Note has done wonders for James’ creativity. The new album has an authentic retro jazzed soul sound, not Gregory Porter’s way, say, although both singers profess much love for the music of Nat King Cole. They have very different voices, and James is more alert to the club scene, ‘club’ as in the old acid jazz rare groove sense, and with James it’s one ear to Bill Withers, one ear to Flying Lotus and all ears to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman but Gil Scott-Heron comes in to the picture as well.
The new album of originals opens in bedroom fashion with JJ’s lyrics on ‘It’s All Over Your Body’ with a band featuring bassist Pino Palladino, some retro horns, Robert Glasper and Chris Daddy Dave. World-jazz singer Hindi Zahra guests memorably on the next track ‘Sword and Gun’, yet it’s ‘Trouble’ blessed with a monster groove that really impresses. Ex-Guy Barker and current Van Morrison band member Alistair White on trombone makes his presence felt on this JJ-penned song, written with Scott Jacoby.
‘Vanguard’ following is also excellent, Glasper helming it on Rhodes with Daddy Dave and Pino Palladino, the latter who played very well live with Glasper at the Roundhouse in October and is an album co-producer. Emily King adds lovely feminine touches on the seductive ‘Come to my Door’, the fifth track, and she’s even better on the second of her two album tracks ‘Heaven on the Ground’, which is track six.
‘Do You Feel’ and ‘Make it Right’ passed me by a bit, but ‘Bird of Space’ didn’t, possibly the connoisseurs’ choice and if rumours are right James’ favourite cut from the whole superlative affair, while final tracks ‘No Beginning No End’ and ‘Tomorrow’, the latter with Monk prizewinning pianist Kris Bowers an interesting presence. A record this good hardly ever comes along. Thank goodness it has. Set your clocks for release time in late-January.
Some José James links
They’re new in that they have debuted with an album or haven’t even done that. They’ve often picked up good reviews, impressed live, or have that extra distinctive touch that makes them stand out from the crowd. There’s no science involved in picking them, it’s just a gut feeling. They may change their line-ups, break up acrimoniously in the years to come, last as long as the Rolling Stones, or simply vanish without a trace by breakfast. They’re the lifeblood of the scene, though, and they’re bands, not groups, and nope not ensembles either.
Sons of Kemet
Unbeatable energy from Shabaka and the two-tubs tuba turbanauts
Are you going to go my way? Maths jazz par excellence from mystery man George Fogel and co
Laura Jurd Quartet
Trumpeter’s sensational debut
World Service Project
They matched, it fused
The new melodic straight out of Hamburg
Flexible resourceful improvising: Steve Williamson in his element with Pat Thomas and Orphy Robinson with Cleveland Watkiss on some gigs
Opalińska & Whates
Distant echoes of Komeda and Roman Dylag
Dice Factory, top and Tingvall Trio above
It has been the worst year in living memory for reading good books about jazz, despite (because of?) the rise and rise of the eBook. Good writers generally can’t get published for money, it’s as simple as that.
Thankfully, there are a few just published or on the horizon to make up for this a bit, and some that have caught my eye include The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire by Ted Gioia, Soul Unsung by Kevin Le Gendre, and You’ll Know When You Get There by Bob Gluck, about Herbie’s Mwandishi period.
One I did enjoy was Keystone Korner: a Portrait of a Jazz Club. It made me think…
Next time you’re standing in a jazz club or sitting around perusing the club programme, looking at the menu or sipping a beverage ahead of the band coming on, spare a thought for the photographer. Ever thought what it would be like photographing the band you’ve come to see?
‘In My Years at Keystone’, a chapter in Keystone Korner: a Portrait of a Jazz Club photographer Kathy Sloane offers a glimpse of her time photographing Todd Barkan’s famed San Francisco club Keystone Korner in the 1970s. “I opened the door to Keystone Korner and walked into what felt like Manhattan. The jazz club was small and dark,” she writes, “and the sounds coming from the bandstand – the honks, the cries. The sirens of the streets, the confinement and freedom of New York, rushed at me with such force that I stood in the doorway as though rooted to the floor.” Sloane, a New Yorker, tells of the challenges of limited light in the club, the distraction of the psychedelic mural merging with the musicians, but what about that mirror to the right of the stage? She recalls: “I loved shooting musicians in the mirror.”
Sloane’s recollections are just one voice, and her photographs another point of entry, besides the dozens of recollections of the club by Barkan himself, waitresses, customers, musicians including Dave Liebman, Eddie Henderson, Eddie Marshall, Steve Turre, and poets, with California poet laureate Al Young writing the preface.
Barkan, now in New York programming Dizzy’s in Jazz at Lincoln Center, says of the club: “Keystone Korner was definitely a bright moment in song. It was very much a co-operative effort, a very rare oasis where everybody seemed to be focused, with the same feelings about the music, and that’s part of what made it a special experience.”
The club eventually ran out of money and closed in the early-1980s but its place in jazz history is secure with many important albums including McCoy Tyner’s Atlantis recorded on the North Beach premises at 750 Vallejo next to a police station. Some of the best reminiscences of all are from the waitresses and the club’s cook Ora Harris provides some great anecdotes. An essential read for anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a jazz club.
Keystone Korner: a Portrait of a Jazz Club, Indiana University Press, £25
While the cause of death is still to be established the passing of pianist Austin Peralta yesterday, at the age of just 22, is a huge shock to appreciators of his artistry and burgeoning talent. A prodigy, while still in high school he recorded a pair of albums with Peralta finding himself quickly in the fast lane alongside the likes of the great bassist Ron Carter, and former Dave Holland quintet drummer Billy Kilson. After high school Peralta, in New York, studied at the New School and then returned to the West Coast collaborating there with Stanley Clarke, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, among others, joining Fly-Lo’s Brainfeeder label. Peralta’s albums include Endless Planets released last year.
Do jazz fans still rail against the “plus-strings" concept, or later “third stream", as they did in Charlie Parker’s day, or wail inconsolably when Gunther Schuller and John Lewis took the synthesis a step further?
Possibly not, apart from a few diehards. But this year has seen less of the lonely string quartet parked on stage, hardly written into the action, than in the past. In fact they are more common than ever, and fully integrated, surely a sign that the antagonism to the concept is dying out.
Notable sightings have included the Mount Molehill Strings joining the Neil Cowley Trio, supplemented by even more strings at their recent Barbican concert; the Urban Soul Orchestra strings touring with Jazz Jamaica and Brinsley Forde is another recent collaboration that worked, with Jason Yarde’s arrangements a strong factor; and on Laura Jurd’s Landing Ground a connection to both Molehill and Urban Soul as both bands and Jurd’s impressive debut featured violinist Mandhira de Saram, on Jurd’s record as part of the Ligeti Quartet.
Others dipping their toes in these difficult waters have included Nick Tyson’s Chambr, and continuing his interest in the area, Dave Stapleton, who with Flight draws together jazz quartet and the impressive Brodowski String Quartet.
Where the wider trend started is hard to say, and to some extent, although this is changing, classically trained players who turn to jazz have little difficulty working in chamber situations. Brad Mehldau working with the Britten Sinfonia for instance two years ago, and more recently touring a classical work of his with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, has placed his newly commissioned work, ‘Variations for Piano and Orchestra on a Melancholy Theme’, with classical repertoire from Prokofiev and Mozart in concert programmes. For the full jazz symphony experience it was Wynton Marsalis who made an impact back in the summer premiering his Swing Symphony with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra joining forces with the London Symphony Orchestra.
2013 will see a major new chamber work from Wayne Shorter, the tone poem ‘Pegasus’ for his great quartet and the Imani Winds on his album Without a Net due in February. It’s a protean game changer, and example, for the new generation working in this area, and could inspire yet more jazz and classical collaboration to feed the creativity of jazz once more.
Wayne Shorter above who shows the way forward in 2013 with the 23-minute chamber piece ‘Pegasus’ on Without a Net due for release in February. Photo: Robert Ascroft
Tomorrow sees the opening of new exhibition ECM — A Cultural Archaeology, with the first public view on Friday, running until 10 February at the Haus der Kunst museum in the record label’s home city of Munich. ECM (the letters standing for Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in 1969 by classical bassist Manfred Eicher pictured above left seated and is now the pre-eminent jazz independent record label in Europe, if not the world, with a strong classical side launched as the New Series in 1984 as well. Its roster of artists over the years is astonishing, with Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek pillars of the label, and many new signings releasing records regularly. Curated by Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller, the exhibition the organisers say “presents visual, archival, and recorded material, bringing together a range of formats, such as sound, music, photography, film, and edition work."
Installations and works by contemporary artists whose inspiration parallels that of the label’s is also featured, along with concerts by label artists. An exhibition catalogue will be published later this month.