AAJ's Top 20 Interviews of 2008
2008 represented another great year for interviews and profiles at AAJ, covering artists across the stylistic spectrum. As ever, AAJ provided coverage of well-known artists like Dave Holland, Pat Martino, Greg Osby and Randy Brecker, as well as relative up-and-comers including Brad Shepik, Manuel Mengis, Darcy James Argue and Asaf Sirkis.
While every interview published provided valuable insight into the artist, here are twenty of the year's best (in alphabetical order):
Combining Music and Film
Interviewed by: John Sharpe
Bassist, composer and film-maker Tom Abbs has enlivened not only the ensembles in which he has played, but also the New York City free jazz scene with his brand of musical activism, through the Jump Arts Foundation. An accomplished instrumentalist on tuba as well as bass, he has collaborated with downtown stalwarts Daniel Carter, Steve Swell, Cooper-Moore, Jemeel Moondoc, Assif Tsahar, Andrew Lamb and Warren Smith among many others.
Another Time, Another Place
Interviewed by: Clifford Allen
Born in the Bronx on January 6, 1943, drummer Barry Altschul was quickly ensconced in the hard bop scene of the late 1950s, but it was a gig with pianist Paul Bley's trio that put him among the ranks in New York's burgeoning free-jazz scene of the next decade, one which resulted in tours of Europe and a slew of recordings with Bley. Altschul also worked regularly with staunchly avant-garde reedmen Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers throughout the 1970s, though his familiarity with "the tradition" landed him work with Lee Konitz, Art Pepper and Tony Scott as well as leading his own free-bop units. Following a Paris sojourn in the eighties and nineties, Altschul is back in New York and as busy as ever. Thankfully, his schedule allowed for a conversation with Clifford Allen in January 2008.
Darcy James Argue
His Secret Society
Interviewed by: R.J. DeLuke
Ahhhh, to be young and in New York and have an 18-piece band of superb musicians at your disposal. OK. Now open your eyes and come to your senses. To operate a big band these days is a fiscal and organizational nightmare. But thankfully, there are people out there running fabulous organizations, like Sue Mingus who continues to present her husband's legacy bands, Carla Bley and the brilliant Maria Schneider, whose wondrous music is food for the senses and soul. On the other coast, there's John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton doing what they can. The Basie and Ellington organizations are around. And there are other catsJason Linder, John Hollenbeck, Mike Kaplanand others (sorry not to mention them all), who have been bringing out larger groups when they can.
Spring Is Here (A Long Time Coming But Worth The Wait)
Interviewed by: Chris May
July, 2008: It's been 13 years since British composer and keyboards/peck horn player Django Bates released the third album in his "four seasons" series, Winter Truce (And Homes Blaze) (Winter & Winter, 1995). That album followed close behind Autumn Fire (And Green Shoots) (Winter & Winter, 1994) and Summer Fruits (And Unrest) (Winter & Winter, 1993).
Power Trios and Crimson Heads
Interviewed by: Justin M. Smith
Since 1977, Adrian Belew has been a guitar and songwriting innovator in the cutting edge rock field. Spending time in bands with Frank Zappa, David Bowie and Talking Heads, he's also clocked serious studio time with other artists including Paul Simon, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Tom Club, Tori Amos and Herbie Hancock. He's fronted the various incarnations of perennial art rockers King Crimson since 1981, as well as putting together several of his own solo projects.
Architect of the Guitar
Interviewed by: Dr. Judith Schlesinger
Whenever people write about Gene Bertoncini's music, the same words tend to appear: elegant, graceful, versatile. Lyrical. Master. Virtuoso. Writer Gene Lees called him "the Segovia of jazz," the perfect term for one who creates such poetry with the acoustic, nylon-stringed guitar. Still a busy performer, teacher, and clinician, Bertoncini has played in many styles and settings in his five-decade career, and swings in all of them. Following the 2004 release of Quiet Now (Ambient), he has become increasingly admired for the crystalline beauty of his solo work. Bertoncini is an unusually modest musician, known for his gentle nature and open heart; this could explain the remarkable purity of his playing.
That refers to her age, although you could almost believe it refers to the number of albums she's released in 2008 alone. Fujii appears on four records this year: a trio session called Trace A River (Libra, 2008); a quartet session with her band ma-do called Heat Wave (Not Two, 2008); a session with a completely different trio called Cloudy Then Sunny (Libra, 2008); and an album with the band Gato Libre (led by her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura) called Kuro (Libra, 2008).
Fiddling with the Future
Interviewed by: Rex Butters
With over three decades playing in some of L.A.'s most innovative and interesting musical projects, violinist/composer Jeff Gauthier threatens to succumb to the irony of being better known as the founder/CEO of Cryptogramophone Records. Now in their tenth year, Cryptogramophone has outgrown underground status, even meriting a feature in trendy Details magazine. Boasting a roster including Nels Cline, Vinny Golia, Peter Erskine, Don Preston, Steuart Liebig, Alex Cline, and Gauthier's Goatette, Cryptogramophone also provided a safe haven for the long awaited creative rebirth of Bennie Maupin. Gauthier produced sessions regularly win glowing notices, and the label's artistic cred far outweighs its founding inspiration: Gauthier's desire to keep alive the profound compositions of his late friend, Eric Von Essen.
Connecting the World to Music
Interviewed by: Katrina Kasey-Wheeler
What is in a song? Why is it that we connect to music? These are questions that the founder of Incognito, Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick has asked himself for the past several years. The UK-based band has returned with the release of Tales from the Beach (Heads Up, 2008). There are many layers to Incognito's music, representing a celebration of music and life, both in and out of the studio. Make no mistake: this pursuit of happiness through music is more than an occupational mantra; for the members of Incognito, it is a lifestyle.
Interviewed by: Chip Boaz
Percussionist Steve Kroon has spent many years walking through a variety of musical worlds. He spent his childhood years surrounded by all sorts of musical figures, with connections to jazz, Cuban music, rhythm and blues, Brazilian music, and more. His deep involvement led to local performance and recording jobs, and eventually a high profile gig with singer Luther Vandross that lasted twenty years. At the same time, Kroon began an association another musical icon, jazz bassist Ron Carter; their musical connection continues to the current day. Despite a full load of musical work with these two musicians, Kroon found time to record and perform with Spyro Gyra, Diana Krall, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Jimmy Heath, and many more. Kroon walks through each of these worlds with ease, adding musicality and insight to every situation.
The Magic of Finger Painting
Interviewed by: Alan Bryson
Chuck Leavell is one of the world's premier blues rock pianistsa veteran musician who has recorded and toured with many of the best-known names in the business. He is perhaps best known for his work with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Black Crowes, and most of all, his legendary years with the Allman Brothers Band in the '70s.
David Liebman / Jim Ridl
The Creative Process in Jazz
Interviewed by: Victor L. Schermer
The idea for this interview came to me when I became aware of two aspects of jazz as a creative, artistic process. First, unlike most other art forms, jazz creativity emerges directly in performance through improvisation. Every jazz performance is unique and comes together in real time while it is being played. Each moment is an original contribution, and not merely an interpretation. Second, it is clear that some musicians push the envelope more than others. They take necessary risks to explore new territory. Sometimes, they redefine the nature of jazz itself. While they appreciate their lineage, they are not satisfied with merely pursuing what came before them. I began to wonder what such musicians themselves think of their creative process. What leads them to push the envelope and expand their repertoire and approach?
Interviewed by: Doug Collette
Erudite, self-effacing and good-humored, Dennis McNally occupies an unusual and deceptively significant place in contemporary culture. Modest to a fault, he would no doubt deny the description of his role as a catalyst in contexts including The Grateful Dead's business partnership with Rhino Records or the remaining band members' support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Freedom First, History Later
Interviewed by: Frederick Bernas
Jazz is insurmountable. Hundreds of CDs are reviewed by All About Jazz every year, but how many names are recognized? It is endlessly fascinating, yet frustratingwhile reveling in the evidence that such a high quantity of music exists, the realization dawns that there aren't enough hours in the day to hear it all. Each name represents an artistic vision, a creative statement, a person or group with something to say, communicating with and through jazz. It's impossible for anyone to do justice to the inspiration, thought and effort that has gone into each record, but together we ought to try.
One man who epitomizes the above is Manuel Mengis. A likely unknown to many readers, the Swiss trumpeter is happy to talk in detail about his modus operandi.
New Mission, New Label, New Responsibility
Interviewed by: Franz A. Matzner
For over two decades Greg Osby has been at the forefront of modern jazz. As a composer and player he breaks new ground, challenging audiences and the establishment with his complex, propulsive, and ever-evolving music.
Interviewed by: Jason Crane
Pianist and composer Aaron Parks is 24 years oldand he started college 11 years ago. A child prodigy who entered the University of Washington at age 13 as a triple major in math, computer science and music, Parks quickly found that music was his true calling. Now, after a five-year stint with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Parks is set to release his Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema. The album, which hits stores on August 19, 2008, is a tour de force of composition, imagination and performance.
Lifetime's Aglow, A (non) Antisocial Interaction
Interviewed by: Phil DiPietro
Any discussion of Alan Pasqua must start with at the scintillating beginning of his official discography. His first recorded performance featured the then 23-year-old wunderkind of Fender Rhodes on The New Tony Williams Lifetime's Believe It (Columbia, 1975). His first sounds committed to wax were texturized Rhodes thickening "Snake Oil," then shadowing its serpentine melody as stated by Allan Holdsworth, a guitarist seemingly stolen from the future by the unit's provocative leader, the now-legendary Williams. At that time, the drummer had rededicated himself to somehow reenergizing his already incendiary Lifetime phase by completely revamping it with new talent.
Return to Forever
Back, Bold and Badass
Interviewed by: R.J. DeLuke
The word has long been out and the 2008 reunion tour of Return to Forever, one of the standard bearers of the jazz-rock fusion movement of the 1970s, is well on its way. Intricate, emotive andyesloud music that hasn't really been heard from the band in some 32 years, is being played and enjoyed live once again. With great vigor, to say the least. The tour started on the U.S. West Coast, careened through Canada, and will take off to several countries in Europe before returning to the U.S., ending in New York City in August.
Sounding A Global Warming Warning
Interviewed by: Franz A. Matzner
As can only happen in New York, I stumbled upon guitarist Brad Shepik's portentous suite Human Activity entirely serendipitously. Visiting New York for the day on extra-musical business, the evening began as a step around the corner to the 55 Bar to sample whatever music was on tap and quickly transformed into a night of singularly arresting music in the form of Shepik's debut of a suite constructed around the theme of global climate change.
The Endless Realm
Interviewed by: Ian Patterson
Since arriving in London from Israel at the end of the end of the '90s, Asaf Sirkis has earned a reputation as one of the world's premier drummers. His scintillating stick work has sparked saxophonist Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble since its inception, as well as coloring the projects of saxophonist Tim Garland in recent years.