The first month of the New Year certainly got off with a bang, as New York jazz fans brought in 2004 running from one jazz event to the next. There was as close a reunion of Herbie Hancock’s ‘70s sextet Mwandishi as has been in some time in NYC, though unfortunately they all weren’t at the same place at the same time.
The final set of music I heard last year was also the first show of the first day of my 2004: (Mwandishi) Herbie Hancock’s smoking quartet at Blue Note featured drummer Terri Lyne Carrington who almost stole the spotlight on both occasions. The group’s collective and individual strengths - in modal playing and improvising through every possible time signature - expertly dissected familiar melodies such as Cole Porter’s “I Love You” and Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance” beyond recognition within the first few bars. Occasional reminding traces appeared through their 20 to sometimes 30-plus minute deconstructions. After one set, drummer (Jabali) Billy Hart was joking about how he could get behind the drum kit before Carrington for the following set.
Trombonist (Pepo) Julian Priester is scheduled to play after press time at Jazz Gallery on the final two nights of January, and two of the three remaining Mwandishi members - multi-instrumentalist (Mwile) Bennie Maupin and bassist (Mchezaji) Buster Williams - were found at Sweet Rhythm, the former playing, the latter listening. In what is an early candidate for “Best Shows of the Year”, Maupin (whose show was only his second in NYC as a leader since 1972!) brought in a piano-less quartet of drums (Michael Stephans), percussion (Mungo Jackson), and bass (Robert Hurst). From his strong bop chops on tenor (Monk’s “I Mean You”) - on which he utilized a unique two-handed approach, his right and left hands playing the top of the horn - to his exquisite unaccompanied bass clarinet (“Neophilia”) - Maupin being one of the greatest and most individual of the post-Dolphy players on the instrument, to his blues work on an actual gift from Coltrane - a curved soprano (“C.C. Rider”), Maupin even played piano to catch his breath. To round things out and not neglect a single instrument he brought cross-country, he even played a gorgeous alto flute (“Penumbra”). Unfortunately no sign of trumpeter (Mganga) Eddie Henderson this month though he is at at Jazz Gallery early this month.
The month also included several successful record label showcases. Palmetto’s at Jazz Standard featured tenor saxophonist Ted Nash’s Still Evolved Group, a Fred Hersch piano solo set, and the label’s first signed jazz singer, the new sensation Kate McGarry. At Sweet Rhythm, MAXJAZZ reserved several nights to showcase their vocal and instrumental talent (amongst them pianists Peter Martin, Bruce Barth and Mulgrew Miller; piano-playing vocalists Dena DeRose and Patti Wicks; and trumpeters Terell Stafford and, the talent to keep close tabs on, Jeremy Pelt.)
The 2-week long promotional Umbria Jazz in New York event brought Enrico Rava’s quintet (featuring pianist Stefano Bollani and the sensational young trombonist Gianluca Petrella) for a week-long residency at Blue Note. Their theme-like opener “Algir Dalbughi” set the stage for a night worth remembering. Rava’s respect for Miles was obvious in his rendition of “Nature Boy”, reminiscent of the elder trumpeter’s work on the fairly obscure French film, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud. His slurs and punctuating escalated runs were a real treat. We hope not to have to wait until 2014 to hear Rava again!
And then there was the 31st Annual IAJE (International Association for Jazz Educators) conference which was, quite simply, overwhelming. From nearly the break of dawn to the wee morning hours of the following day, there were clinics, panel meetings, concert performances, research presentations and booth exhibits by record labels, publishing companies. All could only be digested to a certain extent before total exhaustion set in. One person’s IAJE experience was certainly like no other’s - with so much simultaneously planned, you simply had to accept that you couldn’t make it to everything. Though this is a common fact for any New Yorker’s nightly jazz existence anyways, what we’re usually accustomed to in the evenings and late nights also occurred during the daytime without reprieve, and for four straight days!
The NEA Jazz Master Awards ceremony was certainly the jewel of this year’s IAJE. This year’s awardees were guitarist Jim Hall, drummer Chico Hamilton, pianist Herbie Hancock, the late Luther Henderson, writer Nat Hentoff, and singer Nancy Wilson in a ceremony on the penultimate night presented in front of many of the surviving NEA Jazz Masters who were in attendance - all living legends and treasures.