Charles Lloyd, Arrows into Infinity, ECM, DVD/Blu-ray **** RECOMMENDED
A documentary portrait of the great saxophonist produced and directed by Charles Lloyd’s wife Dorothy Darr and by Jeffery Morse, it’s more than affectionate hommage. Packed full of insights, moving moments include when the Japanese Swing Journal magazine editor asks Lloyd about his influences and Lloyd smiles, and says Lester Young, and then we hear Prez playing the most beautiful, tender, version of ‘These Foolish Things’. Sounds simple but visually and aurally it’s dynamite. The section featuring Michel Petrucciani who made the pilgrimage to Big Sur is also very touching. There’s so much here: Robbie Robertson of The Band commenting on how Ornette Coleman and Charles are different offering a fascinating comment that Ornette was a rule breaker whereas Charles didn’t believe there were any rules!
There’s excellent footage of the great group with Jack DeJohnette, Cecil McBee, and Keith Jarrett, Jarrett sounding so inspired. Interviewees besides Robertson include Michael Cuscuna, Herbie Hancock, Jason Moran, and Don Was. We see Charles playing pool with Ornette, live with his current quartet, and playing outdoors years back in the countryside with Jack DeJohnette and in so many other situations including in the former Soviet Union where the man from Memphis became a hero.
Lloyd talks movingly about Billy Higgins and their separate sense of spirituality, his rooted in India, Higgins’ in Islam (“the only thing he asked me was which way is east?” Lloyd quips). The footage with tabla master Zakir Hussain and current Lloyd quartet drummer Eric Harland also connects, Harland getting quite emotional when he talks about the sheer creativity involved in playing with the pair. The river continues to run free.
Released on 28 July in UK/Ireland
Charles Lloyd top, and, above, shooting pool with Ornette Coleman in 2011. Photo: Dorothy Darr
opinion: jazz today is still a journey to the urge within. make that trip of discovery
Jazz is more niche than ever and this is despite a whole lot of headlines about a sort of mini-boom on the UK scene. We have been there before with these blips. Most recently in 2003 during the brief “Parky Jazz era” when Jamie Cullum sold a million records with Twentysomething and that feat has not been repeated since by a UK jazz artist; and more relevantly in 1986 when Courtney Pine entered the Top 40 pop charts and black Britons made their jazz experience count like at no time since Joe Harriott developed his free-form ideas largely underknown in the 1960s. Pine, given that he is still an active presence and an “elder statesman” of all of 55 paved the way and the new south London and Birmingham generation of groundbreaking jazz musicians owe him a great deal as they do his Harrow neighbours and his former bass player Gary Crosby of the youth jazz development agency Tomorrow’s Warriors who have encouraged current stars such as Binker Golding and Shabaka Hutchings.
Why the upsurge in interest?
This time around the interest is different even if the idea of a boom is old. Here we go again. Marlbank pins it partly to the success of UK exports rather than suddenly the UK public waking up to what we have here and suddenly flocking to venues and buying loads of records. Quite the contrary: buying physical records has become a thing of the past. Scarily fuddy duddy when streaming is believing. However there is nothing wrong with physical formats! CDs are now approaching the acme of cool. They never ever were.
Bands such as Sons of Kemet and GoGo Penguin are making waves in the States and it is not unusual for more still relatively new artists like Yazz Ahmed for instance to appear in clubs and festivals in Europe something that has only spottily happened before over recent years.
You may say that the burst of excitement this year is because of the seeds sown in recent years for instance by the likes of the Made in the UK strand at the Rochester Jazz Festival in New York state, at WinterJazz in the Big Apple, or by improved promotion at trade fairs such as Jazz Ahead in Bremen. That is only part of the explanation. Other big developments have shown what an appetite there is out there when it is catered for in festivals such as Love Supreme, often dubbed the Glastonbury of jazz: and for good reason. One good thing about streaming services is that there is a democracy more than ever before in terms of access to all kinds of music. The Internet is a far better way of distributing music direct to your ears than even the best record shop in the world ever was. That may be an inconvenient truth to some.
Let us not get carried away. Newspaper coverage this year has been poorer than ever and is getting worse. However, on a more positive side new podcasts have come along to bolster what radio has to offer. And yet there is so much more that can be done.
Jazz on TV is invisible. Only when a big star visiting on tour like Gregory Porter comes along does it merit a slot on a big talk show or there is some sort of gimmicky showbiz angle. TV does not broadcast live jazz concerts at all in the UK. Think about that one. To TV folk to do so would be ratings suicide so it ain’t going to happen any time soon lest we become too hopeful. Online the new media specialist coverage delivering to and by the usual suspects is busier than ever. However, it is more a patchwork for fans who know where to look rather than the big splash that “old” media like TV can achieve.
Marlbank believes that we need more people who have never been to a jazz concert before becoming fans: People who never buy a jazz record suddenly get the habit and stick around. It is a mistake to see a general upsurge in generational terms setting up ageist media channels to cater for such uninspired and divisive thinking. Van Morrison for instance who is in his seventies topped the US jazz charts last year. People under 30 can get into his music if they want. By the same token folk in their seventies and eighties can enjoy brand new bands they never heard of. Van does not fit any marketing or jazz model. By contrast GoGo Penguin again who are not typical got a big turn out last year in the Albert Hall, a place few homegrown jazz acts can dream of headlining. In terms of another inconvenient truth: How come too that some of the biggest headlines last year were generated by two albums that were recorded in 1963, one by John Coltrane, the other by Thelonious Monk — and for good reason? More female stars are coming through which is hugely welcome. Again more can be done but long gone are the days when assumptions were made that female jazz musicians were either singers or pianists. Efforts to gender equalise in terms of numbers appearing in headline slots are to be applauded as a positive effort to show more balance.
Year-round regular activity needs more support at a local level: promotion again, however, needs developing and a complete overhaul. Outside the big cities there are few clubs or even weekly nights. Many struggle. The festival model is not the complete answer to this famine. After all a festival only takes place once a year. What happens during the rest of the year? Outreach and one-off concerts are not enough. Marlbank advocates for increased seed support for local hotel and publican entrepreneurs to put on jazz rather than let them do what they usually do which is lazily book cover bands, daddio DJs or put on a singer-songwriter to warble backed by some heated up beats wi-fied up from the net.
Arts funding bodies and big name hospitality brands when they are thinking of investment or sponsorship we think could partner with local non-partisan promoters more than they are at the moment and rather than aim to put on jazz to the usual suspects in arts centres actually go to the heart of the matter by supporting regular restaurant, bar and hotel venues month-in month-out to make jazz more of a routine.
National arts council backed tours when bands often play to a few hundred people if they are lucky during small windows of time do not really achieve that much beyond the short burst of profile they may drum up and yet use up all the available precious budget, a lot of it soaked up in PR, admin, agent fees, and marketing. A whole strand of middle managers, often not so much altruistic supporters and advocates as career professionals on the first rung of their own career ladders in the arts, needs chopping out of the equation where possible if they do not deliver positive outcomes and decent fees (to match their own packages at the very least) for artists. In the big cities the restaurant trade is down, places are going bust in bigger numbers, and we are lucky that jazz supporting chain Pizza Express (the only big chain to support jazz) is weathering the storm so far. Certainly the chain has invested in live music more by fitting out a fine new venue in its Holborn branch to build on the flagship Soho club. Neighbourhood clubs are blossoming. Last year marlbank visited two new scenes, one in north London at the Hampstead jazz club, one in south London at the Agile Rabbit, which are brand new, and dotted around our biggest cities these sometimes unknown spheres of activity are very important. The places, usually restaurants or bars are putting on jazz for their local communities. How revolutionary is that? We do not need to be as media obsessed as we used to be as a community but we do need people to go out and hear jazz and for the media to enter and be part of that community rather than parachuting in once in a while often when their usual cycle dips. One antidote to the insidious effects that tech has inflicted on the livelihood of musicians in terms of giving quality art away for nothing is to unplug your device and go to gigs as much as possible week in week out. Buy the music you want when you are there too. Your being there matters and joins the dots like never before.