Posts Tagged “jazz”


Congratulations to composer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill, who has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in music. One of the original AACM members, Threadgill’s recent work has been distinguished by an intervallic approach to improvisation, in which each member of the band has a limited catalogue of intervals that they can perform, with the sum total creating intriguing harmonic and contrapuntal materials.

In for a Penny, in for a Pound, the prizewinning work, features Zooid, the band with which Threadgill has worked for fourteen years, using just such an approach to making music. In addition to two short movements, Threadgill has composed long movements that each successively feature a different member of Zooid.

Threadgill’s latest recording, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs, features Ensemble Double Up, the first new band with which he has recorded in fifteen years. It includes pianists Jason Moran and David Virelles, alto saxophonists Roman Filiu and Curtis MacDonald, cellist Christopher Hoffman, tuba player Jose Davila, and drummer Craig Weinrib. Cast in four movements, it is dedicated to the late Butch Morris, channeling some of his “conduction” style of improvisation.

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Saddening news. Gunther Schuller has died at the age of 89. A musical polymath, Schuller was active as a composer, conductor, arranger, historian, educator, arts administrator and, earlier in his career, French horn player. He pioneered the concept of “Third Stream” music: works that combine influences and materials from jazz and classical music.

In Schuller’s honor, today I’m listening to a Boston Modern Orchestra Project recording of his pieces for jazz quartet and orchestra. Given all of the attempts over the years to synthesize jazz and classical, it is amazing how fresh these pieces remain, how effortlessly Schuller (and BMOP) move from one style to another, and how seamlessly they blend the two.

I was looking forward to this summer’s tribute to Schuller at the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood. Now this concert, with Magical Trumpets, a new work by Schuller, as well as his formidable Concerto da Camera, will serve as an elegy in memory of an extraordinary man of extraordinary talents.

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Composer/vocalist Sabrina Lastman, whose duo SoCorpo is also a great fixture of the performing arts, is involved in another wonderful project. The Sabrina Lastman Quartet (and they also perform as the Sabrina Lastman Trio sans the drummer) are offering up the tantalizing combination of jazz and world music. Their CD The Candombe Jazz Sessions has been issued this month and was accompanied by a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in NY. They will be also appearing on March 10th at Pregones Theater in the Bronx. Sabrina had a few minutes to spare for a small chat. Read the rest of this entry »

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One of the great perks of living in Ann Arbor, Michigan is the University Musical Society (UMS), a community group that, for 132 years, has brought diverse programs of dance, music and theater to this Midwestern cultural center. This year’s schedule has allowed me many new experiences as an audience member – most notably my first dance concerts with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Sankai Juku – and has given all of us in the area access to many of the world’s most praised musicians, such as Renee Fleming and Wynton Marsalis.

This last Saturday saw the most recent chapter in my interactions with this UMS season when I attended an outstanding jazz concert featuring the Grammy Nominated Vijay Iyer Trio and Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green’s Apex. As a composer, jazz has always played an interesting role on the fringe of my musical development. I played jazz in high school at a decent level, studied it somewhat more in depth at regional summer programs, but never latched on to the genre in the same way as I did concert music, both historical and contemporary. I saw Saturday night’s concert as an important reconnaissance mission, so to speak: it allowed me a small window into the state of contemporary jazz and, more interestingly, gave me an opportunity to compare what I know of concert music with the evening’s performance.

The performances were really incredible, and quite different in a surprising way. The Vijay Iyer Trio opened and freely explored material on their acclaimed album Historicity, earlier music and even covered the Michael Jackson song “Human Nature”. What I found the most remarkable part of the Trio’s performance was the seamless coexistence of free-form improvisation and strict coordination. As many of you know, jazz compositions loosely mixture of pre-determined and extemporaneous material and Vijay Iyer’s music is an incredibly elegant emulsion of these sources. Most stunning were arrival points that emerged suddenly from long periods of cumulative improvisation. As impressively virtuosic as Vijay Iyer (piano), Stephan Crump (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) were on their individual instruments, the sensitivity of their collective listening and concentration – which enabled elaborate musical structures to exist amongst improvised anarchy – was the most profound element of their act.

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