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  • Ralph Brooker wrote on November 24, 2011 report

    I bought TRIBE at the same time as I bought the old 1954 'Roy & Diz' studio sessions. My reasons might be of interest to some readers.

    1. I simply don't have enough Gillespie (very little in fact)
    2. Rava interests me from the compositional perspective. He's strong with a great ear for youth (like Konitz in that respect).

    In my opinion, ECM is going through a period of profiling and recording some (many even) really insipid piano trios. I shalln't mention names here. Rather I think the label has become increasingly dependent, for its integrity, on the longevity of well-established artists, legends even (e.g. John Taylor, Surman, Rava, Sclavis).

    I should qualify this by discluding ECM New Series material, which I think has become the label's raison d'être.

    By taste I'm an unrepentant Tristano-ite (my piano playing seems incapable of breaking free from the orbit of Sal Mosca, Konitz, Marsh and Lennie). If this confession makes my purchase of Rava's work a little baffling, here are a couple of links which I hope de-baffle the curious.

    One got write a thesis about the parallels between Rava and Konitz, and I think most informed jazz listeners can fill in the dots. But Rava also recorded ('New York Days') with Mark Turner, himself an unrepentant student of Warne Marsh (although I don't think Turner took lessons with WM; rather he has studied completely Marsh's technique).

    Of course the Tristano 'school' can be partly characterised by its, and this is dramatic understatement, rather exiguous demands on the rhythm section. Even to Tristano's most devoted followers (and especially since the developments wrought by the Bill Evans trio with Motian and LaFaro), the limitations inherent in Lennie's otherwise powerful music tend to date him.

    As an amateur pianist, I needed to listen to other rhythmic styles in order to find my own voice and keep abreast of contemporary developments, such as they are, in modern improvised music. Konitz, of course, found the doctrinal aspects of Lennie's music somewhat constraining. (It's worth noting that Motian really 'dug' Lennie.)

    I mentioned in parenthesis some of the musicians in the ECM stable. I buy their work 'on spec', without hearing it first. The names are veritable kitemarks.

    So I ended up with Rava's TRIBE, much as one ends up with, say, sugar as one works through the supermarket aisles. Earlier I mentioned 'insipid piano trios' in the luxurious ECM catalogue. Actually, I think the point iterates to larger jazz formats on ECM. Again, no names, no pack drill.

    Like all Rava's output the organic tightness of the group is partly a function of the strong compositions. The above review touches on this so I shall nod in agreement and move on.

    The point is important. My own view - which echoes that of the late Sal Mosca - is that the art of song writing died along time ago (circa. 1940s?).
    Of course, many musicians still work the changes. Konitz is a unique paradigm of this (I hope that doesn't sound like a contradictio in adjecto: Konitz is simply peerless, but he works the changes, he plays songs).

    TRIBE is, for obvious reasons, closer to 'The Words and the Days' than to 'New York Days', the latter featuring the only genuine postbop composition ('thank you, come again').

    Whilst Rava's music has never set my soul on fire, in the way Lennie, Mosca, Marsh, Konitz did/do, there is a vitality to his work. I understand his long journey in much the same way as I understand Konitz's.

    This latest CD should keep future generations of improvisers and jazz composers 'honest'. The ensemble sound as if they've been playing for years. It also vouchsafes ECM nominal reputation for producing high quality editions of contemporary music.

    Much has been made of Miles' influence on Rava (as is the case with Stanko). But Rava has surely outgrown the comparison. The above review mentioned tone poetry (I think). I've never fully understood what this means. Rava's idiom has become eclectic, difficult to predict his next (e.g.) harmonic step. I think he is more satisfying than Miles' modal-to-funk stuff. Rava's career has been thankfully long enough to escape the superficial allure of rock beats and capricious atonality.

    A fine album which I think will grow on me. Actually, the first thing I did after the first hearing was to dig out 'The Words and the Days'.

    Until Surman, Sclavis, Taylor, Wheeler (etc.) release their next ECM project - assuming they do - TRIBE should serve as an ECM benchmark.

  • John Kelman wrote on November 24, 2011 report

    Hi Ralph,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write in such detail. Clearly we agree on some points, and disagree on others.

    I can't agree with your assessment about insipid piano trios, as I think recent releases by Stefano Battaglia, Marcin Wasilewski and Colin Vallon speak otherwise. Perhaps, based on your writing, you're trying to draw too many comparisons to historic American jazz icons (and Tristano sure is a great one to pick; your clear love and respect for him is something I certainly share). Many of the younger pianists on the label are not coming from the American tradition; while they've been exposed to it, it's just not part of their DNA.

    I'm with you in your praise of Rava, and in your assessment as an artist who has never really lived in Miles' shadow. Comparisons are sometimes necessary for context, but Rava is too much his own man to be overtly influenced by anyone any more. I've no doubt he studied Miles when he was coming up, but that doesn't exactly set him apart.

    I also think you'll find Tribe grows on you; it certainly did on me as I was listening to it many, many times in prep for the review.

    As for new recordings from Surman, Sclavis,Taylor, Wheeler etc? You'll not be finding Wheeler or Taylor (at least as leaders) any time soonm since they both left the label 10+ years ago in order to release albums more regularly on the Italian Cam Jazz label. Sclavis and Surman, otoh, are both due, so hopefully we'll see something in 2012.

    In the meantime, I'd respectfully suggest trying to listen to some of the label's up-and-coming pianists in a way that doesn't focus on what they aren't but, rather, celebrates what they are. That's my general MO, and it's worked pretty well for me.

    Your tastes are your tastes, of course, and we can only be moved by what moves us, by what our ears tell us. But trying to leave behind comparisons can sometimes open your ears to something that's not coming from our standard frames of reference.

    Either way, thanks for writing in, and best wishes,
    John

  • Ralph Brooker wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    John, thanks for the comments. And I guess you're right that I'm too deeply rooted in the American tradition. I heard Lennie's Capitol recordings when I was 5!

    I stand by remarks about ECM and have bought the examples you mention. Further, I live in France and the superabundance of French jazz talent - deriving their musicality from without the great American song book - floors me. Stéphan Oliva, François Raulin, François Couturier (well-known to the ECM faithful), the Texiers, Martial Solal (of course), Baptiste Trotignon... I could go on.

    In my buyer's review I tired to stress the subjectivity of my view. You mention Bollani. Point taken, though I didn't have him in mind (any more than I had Jarrett). I love Bollani's duo date with Rava. And this leads us back to square one. The point I made about Tristano 'school' rhythm sections eventuated in many of his associates resorting to the duo format.

    The examples are not only pretty obvious (Konitz/Mosca - 'Spirits', Marsh/Red Mitchell - 'Big Two'), they've become classics. Incidently, the recent ECM Trovesi/Coscia 'Frère Jacques' is a modern classic.

    Maybe I'm stuck on trios. But then John Taylor's sensational 'Rosslyn' (ECM). As an amateur pianist I thrive in the duo format, irrespective of the other instrument. That was a Lennie thing: don't get hung up over format.

    As for the news that Taylor and Wheeler left ECM for Cam-jazz, Ikond of knew that. But I read somewhere (possible in Paul Griffiths' rather pretentious ECM catalogue) that there no contruactual obligations at ECM. So one doesn't so much as leave Munich, as not turn up there anymore. Wordplay, smallprint? I'm not connected so I'm speculating.

    John, thanks again for replying. Nice to agree and disagree about jazz (and everything I guess).

    PS.

    I'm currently writing a piece on Lennie which considers the role of (broadly speaking) 'psychology' in Lennie's teaching. Shim's book doesn't really cover it, and Peter Ind's was disappointing presumptuous and naïve on the issue of what I would call mysticism. I think Lennie's purely musical ideas remain intact and considerably influential without thé psychobabble.

    Good luck, and good listening

    RB

  • Ralph Brooker wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    Sorry John, I overlooked a key point in your reply. You wrote to the effect that a listener shouldn't judge a work according to their culturally derived expectations. E.g. If you're brought up on 'changes' and then listen to, say, Julia Hülsmann, it isn't a valid criticism to rant about the lack of familiar chord progressions. It's a point well made and also well received.

    I guess that there are three principal ways of not playing 'changes'

    1. Atonality (Tristano in the 1940s)
    2. Non-occidental modes (Coltrane/Miles)
    3. Tone poetry (Sibelius?)

    It's ironic really that it was Tristano who opened my ears to sound colours that evade an unduly fake-book mentality, if I can put it that way.

    So I consider myself to be sufficiently 'open-eared' not to fall into the trap of judging artists by what they're not. Nevertheless, I repeat, your point is well made. It takes quite a chunk out of one's life to learn the lesson that you teach.

    This is particularly true of ardent Tristano disciples and a classic case of flouting your maxim can be found in an interview with Sal Mosca (I think the interviewer was Andy Hamilton, who may have been researching his Konitz book). Mosca was unduly harsh on some of Konitz's post 1970s work. I was disappointed and think Sal was just plain wrong. Now, I'd rather listen to Sal Mosca dragging the piano stool a little closer than to many of the latter day pretenders (didn't Rava say of Bollani that he was the best pianist since Tatum?!!).

    But the late Sal was, I think, a hostage to Tristano's 'quasi-psychological' beliefs.

    Anyhow, once again...0

  • Ralph Brooker wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    That didn't end right!! Sorry.

    Just wanted to conclude with a 'thank you' and apologise for the damn typos!

  • John Kelman wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    Hi Robert,
    Paul Griffiths' "pretentious ECM catalog"? I hope you don't mean his book with Steve Lake, Horizons Touched... but no, ECM does not do contracts, so anything is possible, but with John and Kenny, it's not likely, not because there was any acrimony, but because they left for a specific reason: to record/release more frequently than ECM could offer. They're both happy with CAM, so I see little reason why this will change.

    As for all those French pianists, they are, indeed great. I just happen to think some of the new ECM crop are strong as well. But to each their own, right?

    My review of Frere Jacques is coming, and agree it's a wonderful disc. But it's a format with little precedent, so it's easy to avoid comparison. Your discussions about the pianists are, perhaps, heavily affected by the fact that there are a lot of piano trios, yes?

    Thanks for all the chat...like you said: agree, disagree, it's all good..and fun!
    Best!
    John
    PS: And nothing to apologize for! :) And thank you! :)

  • Ralph Brooker wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    No, not the Griffiths/Lake book. As an avid ECM mail-order buyer, I recieve the rather luxurious yearly catalogues. I was referring to the 2009/10 edition. In fact I have about 30 of the same edition, since the good people at Munich don't cross-reference purchases. A handy acquisition but something of a waste!

    Over and out

    ;-)

  • John Kelman wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    Ah, that's a relief, Ralph - especially since I'm one of the commissioned writers in Horizons Touched :)

    I've some of the catalogs but, living in Canada, only get them if I happen to be in Europe at the right time. I do have the last couple years, as I was at the ECM @ 40 celebration in Germany, which might interest you: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=34557

    Cheers!
    John

  • Ralph Brooker wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    I'm looking forward to your review of 'Frère Jacques'. Not convinced about your claim that it's an isolated idiom but that can wait until the review (i'll try and comment since its such an evocative work).

    Just wanted to briefly clarify my stance on ECM. Eicher deserves every crédit that's come his way. A magnificent servant to jazz and contemporary music. Hardly needs the likes of me to confirm this truism.

    But I feel that over the years the Label has become a little self-obsessed, opiniated liner-notes that preach as often as they inform, a few below-par recordings when other labels are producing modern masterpieces.

    Perhaps this is unjust. It's a personal opinion and difficult to quantify.

    In any case, ECM has produced works of such a high standard and so consistently that my idionsyncratic gripes pale.

    But now I shall by the 'Horizons' book simply because you did me the courtesy of responding (and in spite of calling me 'Robert' ;-)

    Until soon I hope.

    Best wishes

    RB.

  • John Kelman wrote on November 25, 2011 report

    By isolated i mean it's a relatively rare combo (accordion and clarinet in this musical context).

    As for the label, it's also hard to maintain the groundbreaking it did in the '70s, plus if you look at the changed landscape of music sales, it affects it also.

    What I can say about the label and Manfred is that the prime motivators have not changed.

    And sorry, Ralph, realized too late. As for the book, I'm in a whopping 6 of its 400+ pages (as it should be!), so I can say that it's a tremendous book, exactly what you'd want from a book on the subject, because that's a truth in spite of my paltry contribution :)

    Cheers, Ralph :)
    John

  • Ralph Brooker wrote on December 01, 2011 report

    Hi John,

    Nobody else has joined in and I don't know if you're still checking for new reviews. In any event I thought I'd share this little autobiographical snippet with you.

    When at secondary school I had an English Litt teacher, Mrs Plumstead, who was quite old but took herself to be quite 'far out' (in the currency of 1970s culture). Every Thursday afternoon during double-Litt, she'd bring her gramophone player in and the pupils could bring a record in. Now, this is round about the time that Konitz was experimenting with the varitone device which he recorded with Rava.

    Anyhow, after the predictable round of Led Zep, Genesis, Deep Purple, &c., I produced a Capitol 33 of Lennie Tristano. The record also featured works by Buddy DeFranco and Bill Harris. Mrs P operated the gramophone and so I had to decide which track! I opted for caution and chose 'Marionette', being conceptually unable to envisage anybody not digging Lennie' remarkable solo.

    I was laughed out of class and Mrs. P lifted the needle-arm halfway through Lennie's turn. Actually, at the time that really hurt.

    Sal Mosca rewarded me in his own way, and quite unwittingly, by reprising that same solo (re-harmonised) as a feature of his extended solo when the Marsh/Mosca Quartet played the Viillage Vanguard during the 1980s.

    When I heard Mosca's astonishing 'Marionette' solo, I shed tears. Whether of pure joy or of built up anger I don't know.

    Thus the healing power of art.

    If asked to participate in the silly, but often irresistable game of hyperbole, I'd say that 'that' Mosca solo is the finest piano improvisation in the history of jazz. But I don't play that game, so I won't!

    Hope that is of some interest.

    All the best

    RB

  • John Kelman wrote on December 01, 2011 report

    Hi Ralph,
    yes, still reading, but have been traveling, so just back online. Great story! Thanks for sharing....
    Cheers!
    John

  • Ralph Brooker wrote on December 02, 2011 report

    Thank goodness I didn't pick 'Intuition'!!

    ;-)

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