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Earshot Aural Snapshots: 2006 Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle, October 27-30

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"Let's hope 'they' don't make having this much fun illegal." —Bill Barton
2006 Earshot Jazz Festival
Seattle, WA
October 27-30

Toshiko Akiyoshi
Seattle Asian Art Museum
Friday, October 27

It's a shame that economics and logistics decreed the demise of The Toshiko Akiyoski-Lew Tabackin Big Band a few years back, but Toshiko's fans around the world can take solace in her higher profile as a solo artist. This solo piano concert began with her composition "The Village," based on a Japanese folk song. The elements of her ethnic heritage blended with jazz traditions as impressively in this solo interpretation as in the large ensemble arrangement of the piece, the rolling rhythm and memorable melody front and center.

Speaking to the audience, she shared personal reminiscences, including a story about landing in Boston at 1:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning in the early 1950s and immediately going to Storyville to hear Bud Powell play. Dedicating the next two performances to him, her own "Remembering Bud" opened and closed rubato—a bittersweet recollection, redolent with echoes of both his musical genius and his troubled life. Next, Powell's "Tempus Fugit" was taken at a torrid pace that never lagged, full of supersonic right hand runs à la Bud and a cagey quote from "A Night in Tunisia."

An emotionally affecting rendition of "Deep River" fused branches of post-bop piano language with elemental spiritual roots, Akiyoshi's powerful left hand much more prevalent—as one might expect—in a solo format than in her ensemble playing, including some delightful Monk-ish dissonance sprinkled in with the generous Powell servings.

Toshiko then spoke of the challenges of her big band's 1981 European tour, traveling mostly by bus, and being unable to get anything decent to eat because "...in Europe it's just breakfast, lunch and dinner and nothing in between." This disclosure set up her composition dedicated to finally getting some good food, "Feast in Milano." It's one of her most striking melodies, set to a suitably joyful loping rhythm. Her improvisation stretched and abstracted the rhythm to the limit midway through the song.

Another bop classic, "Con Alma" from Dizzy Gillespie's book, received a multi-faceted treatment, beginning and ending somewhat pensively, then moving to an extended segment of surging intensity as the centerpiece.

"Just One of Those Things," taken at a whirlwind tempo, emphatically confirmed the observation made in the New York Times that Akiyoshi is "one of the finest living bebop pianists." After hearing this performance and the balance of the concert, I'd venture the opinion they could have dispensed with the first two words in that phrase and left off the "s" at the end.

A justly deserved standing ovation brought Toshiko back to the stage to introduce her composition "Hiroshima." Inspired by a Buddhist monk, this "tune of hope" was premiered in 2001 at The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima and later that year played in remembrance of 9/11 in New York City. A deeply moving piece, probably more than one audience member shed a tear or two before it was over. I was reminded of Anthony Braxton's statement: "The challenge of creative music has never been more important than in periods of profound unrest and realignment."

Cecil Taylor: All the Notes
Film by Christopher Felver
Northwest Film Forum
Saturday, October 28

I arrived early for this screening to insure getting a good seat. My visions of a line snaking around the block like a Star Wars or Harry Potter premiere turned out to be wishful thinking, however: not even a score of folks attended the Saturday 9:00 p.m. showing. Ah well, perhaps in a just and ideal world...

Felver's film is an interesting portrait of the iconoclastic Taylor that generally avoids the talking heads syndrome that mars so many music documentaries. Granted, there are rather dry pontifications from Amiri Baraka, who comes across as curiously bloodless, nothing like his incendiary poetry. Elvin Jones contributes some of the more insightful observations in his interview segments.

The real meat of All the Notes is the music—allowed to speak for itself in most cases—and the lengthy segments of Taylor talking about music, bridges, art and life. A quintessential New Yorker, he's captured at work and at play in his Brooklyn home, in a succession of taxicabs, as an audience member and backstage at a Mal Waldron club gig, and teaching in his unique way. There are a couple of extremely effective uses of split-screen, the most striking juxtaposing two Taylor monologues that contrast then dovetail, perhaps analogous to his information- packed, multi-layered piano playing. This is a "must see" for Taylor fans.

Dempster Diving

Town Hall

Sunday, October 29


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