Iverson/Motian/Grenadier It's Easy To Remember, II: a deeper appreciation

Since first posting on the topic, I've now played (in my halting way) the solo piano ad lib introduction to the live Ethan Iverson/ Paul Motian/ Larry Grenadier performance of It's Easy to Remember in Guillaume Hazebrouck's transcription, and listened to it several more times.  I'm even more taken by this masterful performance, especially the introduction.  The harmonies in the introduction are often quite dissonant but beautifully limpid, probably due to the very open voicings (wide intervals), and choice of intervals.  The dissonances reminiscent of 20th century classical music combined with untypical but compelling voiceleading remind me a bit of Bill Evans, but the choice of intervals and limpid sonority doesn't so much.  The (incomplete) blow-by-blow that follows is mostly for my own reference, so you might skip down to the next paragraph if harmonic analysis doesn't interest you.  It's far from crucial for appreciating the music, but I really want to know how these sounds are made.  The first part is mostly over an E flat pedal (the piece is in E flat), with couple of excursions to Ab. The first chord is fabulous, with successive intervals of a minor ninth, minor 7th, minor 6th (Eb, E, D, Bb).  Then the two inner voices move inward by a half step for another open, somewhat dissonant chord.  It's perhaps not so important to analyze these harmonically, but the first comes off pretty clearly as an Eb major voicing, with no 3rd which no doubt contributes to the spare, clear sound, and with a major 7th, and as for the E natural (b9 you could say), well it just sounds great, and moves up to a natural 9 on the next chord, while the 7th moves down to the minor 7th of Eb, suggesting perhaps a change in quality to dominant or minor, though not this is not so clear as there's still no 3rd present.  Later in the introduction, the same voicing will indeed function as a dominant leading to an Ab major triad at the end of the first system of the transcription.  But first we get a repeat of the first two chords at a faster pace, except with A natural in place of Bb in the top voice (which is basically paraphrasing the melody).  The tenor voice is going up chromatically, cadencing toward a G as part of the double-whole-note Eb major 7th, the first time we get a 3rd with an Eb chord.  The repose is disturbed with a little tweak up to a B natural in the treble, just to add a little more pretty dissonance to the picture. (Nothing wrong with a touch of the "girlfriend chord" once in a while.)  Then we again get those first two chords, Bb in the treble again, moving in quarters, initiating the same four-quarter-note chromatic ascension in the tenor to G, but the bass moving up to Ab on the last two quarters, over which the harmony sounds first like Ab7, then Ab m7, while the top Bb leads down into a bluesy figure.  The next system finishes out with more chromatic movement in the bass, more intricate melody in the top voice accompanied by good inner voice action especially in the tenor, and a final cadence on Eb major again, with the 3rd but in the same open voicing that marked the first appearance of the G before, except that now the D forms a minor 2nd cluster with that seemingly outrageous, but beautiful, E natural, kind of fusing the initial two dissonant Eb voicings but with the added 3rd for an earthier, more harmonically grounded sound, perfectly capping off the introductory chorus.

Besides the open voicings and relatively spare use of 3rds (so that they are all the more effective when they are used), movement by half-steps is a major feature of the voice-leading in this introduction, but it doesn't come across with any feeling of slick hepness or angst-ridden compulsion, perhaps because it's not being used heavily as b9 or #11 over dominant chords, or in related diminished or augmented substitutions for dominants.  Maybe there is a relative absence of tritones in the voicings, though I didn't check carefully.  Anyway, the half-step motion is prominent enough to be considered a major musical ingredient, but doesn't really interfere with what sounds to me like a relatively diatonic, if sometimes beautifuly dissonant, feel.  I guess the chromatic motion is not, for the most part, setting up dissonances that cry out for an obvious resolution, nor effecting such resolution.  It reminds me a bit of Stravinksy in that the dissonance is often created by the interaction of natural melodic motions in the voices, and (along with the melodic motion) the actual intervals in the chord seem almost more important than any compulsive "functional" movement in the harmony even though there is some of the latter on occasion.

The other remarkable thing about Iverson's playing on this piece is the strong influence of Monk, assimilated well into Iverson's own style, in the trio portion of the piece.  Monkian upward arpeggios appear as early as measure 16 (the 3rd measure of the first trio chorus), often combined with scalar material that still sounds quite Monkish (as in measure 16), or leading into more original melodic figures (as in measures 25-26).  A classic downward-dropping Monk left-hand figure is used in measure 30, a very bluesy Monkian chorus-ending figure at 44-46, upward arpeggios in 47-48 lead again to more personal Iversonian material in 49-50, and the list could go on.  Often Iverson seems to be extending or filling in Monkish lines with his own material more reminiscent of more standard bop-influenced lines, but never quite the standard bop clichés.  There's lot's of great action in the inner voices too, sometimes Monkian, sometimes not particularly so.  I think Monk's vocabulary and approach, even while it contributed crucially to the lingua franca of bebop and beyond, has probably been underexploited by pianists who are perhaps rightly afraid that it's hard to make something personal this way, something that doesn't sound like copying Monk's licks, but Iverson makes it work to great effect.  (I guess you could argue that a few other pianists have been strongly influenced by Monk's approach while keeping the harmonic and melodic content of their playing further from Monk than Iverson does here.)

In fact, the display of constructive influence by Monk, and the use of Monkian influences in a clear personal style, makes me wonder if the introduction might be more influenced by Monk than I realized.  I haven't listened to Monk's solo piano for a while, and it is probably time to listen to more.

Speaking of more, here's hoping we get to hear more from this set, or others in the same week at the Vanguard.  All About Jazz's review of what was probably the first set on that same Friday (March 11, 2011) is tantalizing, too.  This is some of the most interesting piano playing I've heard in many years---jazz of the highest order.

Ethan Iverson, Paul Motian, Larry Grenadier: It's Easy To Remember, live at the Vanguard

Excellent piece from 2011 by Ethan Iverson on the late Paul Motian.  Discusses a lot of music I need to check out, and unexpectedly includes a superb live version of Rodgers and Hart's It's Easy to Remember featuring some of the best jazz piano I've heard from Iverson, which means some of the best jazz piano I've heard in recent years. Plus there's a downloadable transcription of his playing, provided by Guillaume Hazebrouck. The harmonies in the piano introduction sound unusual to me, but totally natural.  I really love the intro.  There's a fair bit of Monkishness, especially later in the solo, but well integrated with Iverson's own conception.  Some nice interaction of multiple voices in the piano at times, not in a showy way, adds a lot.  I found this post linked  from Ethan's recent post on Motian's compositions, which Motian's niece and heir Cynthia McGuirl is considering publishing.

Fingering a fragment of Silver

The great jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver died yesterday.  Ethan Iverson has posted, at his blog Do the Math, an excellent transcription of Silver's piano playing in a trio with Percy Heath and Art Blakey, on Silver's composition "Opus de Funk".  I've been working on playing it, and thought I would post the fingerings (see below or click here for pdf) I've worked out for the eight-measure introductory line Horace plays to start the performance, and repeats at the end, and (added on June 24) the first sixteen bars of the main strain. I'll continue to update this as I do more of the piece, but it may be awhile.

Where the fingerings stop in the middle of a continuous line, the implication is to continue with an ascending or descending sequence, or where that doesn't make sense, "do the obvious thing" (usually use whatever finger was most recently used for a given note). I have put some possible alternate fingerings in parentheses, usually above the staff.

As a pianist, I'm self-taught and none too fluent so far, and one main point of posting these fingerings is to get feedback, so if experienced pianists want to give some, that's welcome.  The other point is to provide a little bit of encouragement for people to dive into playing Ethan's transcription of this piece, and otherwise to explore Silver's music.

Lost and found Lester Young at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, transcribed by Ethan Iverson

Ethan Iverson's Do the Math (DTM) is the one mainly-music blog that I read every word of.  His work as composer and pianist with The Bad Plus, with Billy Hart in the Billy Hart Quartet, and elsewhere, should not be missed. At DTM, he's given us a  transcription (in concert key) of a fabulous Lester Young solo on Tea for Two, from the Savory Collection, a set of over 1000 recordings, privately made by Bill Savory on 78 rpm discs, of radio performances by great jazz musicians during the years 1935-1940.  The collection was acquired in 2010 by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. The museum is looking into possibilities for publicly releasing the recordings...for now, note that you can listen to them if you visit the museum.

I've transposed to B flat (and slightly edited, based on the sound file linked below) Iverson's transcription, for the benefit of those tenor players who, like myself, don't yet routinely read stuff like this in concert key; you can get the transposed version here, and it's also displayed at the end of this post.

Iverson calls the solo "utterly brilliant"; and I concur.  For those not heavily into jazz, I'll just say that to me the aesthetic and cultural significance of this is comparable to finding the manuscript of a previously unknown Mozart piano concerto...of the caliber of K488 in A, K491 in Cm, or K503 in C.  

You can hear the second chorus of the two-chorus solo, and other excerpts from the collection, at the New York Times website.  The performance is from November 1938, and the group featured "members of the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw bands", along with trumpeter Roy Eldridge. 

About the performance the Times writers say "Top honors go to Young’s long, free-flowing solo, which is capped by a second chorus that Mr. Schoenberg calls “a wild, spontaneous moment of abandon.” "  (Mr. Schoenberg is Lauren Schoenberg, director of the Museum.)  To me, at least, it seems that the "wild, spontaneous moment of abandon" gives a primary emotional impression of relaxed, unselfconscious joy, a feeling perhaps somewhat rare in later jazz, though characteristic, if perhaps to a less intense degree, of much of Young's greatest work, especially of this period (the late 30s).  Intense striving or yearning, intense sensuality especially of a kind remniscent of eroticism, while they are valuable aspects of many great jazz performances, are mostly absent here;  this is not wild abandon in the sense of holy rollin', freejazz freakout or R&B barwalking, but rather in the sense of a spontaneous breaking out into a dance of joy.  This in part reflects Lester's style of the time, which emphasized grace and poise, relaxation and a degree of restraint even in episodes of blues honking.  (It's not an accident that I chose Mozart in the classical comparison above.)  But I think it also reflects the emotional tenor of Tea for Two itself, which despite being a popular hit at the height of the so-called Jazz Age seems almost nineteenth century in its description of a parlor romance over tea and its joyfully anticipated consummation in marriage and children. Louis Armstrong might be the closest parallel for this kind of uncomplicated joy in early jazz, although Armstrong's joy was often tinged with a bit more explicit triumphalism, his blues with just a tad more raunchiness. But there are definite reminders of Armstrong, or perhaps other trumpet influences (Lester, like Armstrong, loved the playing of Bix Beiderbecke), especially in the ripping measure 41-42 reference to the main Tea for Two theme, the measure 35-36 eighth notes jumping up and down a fourth, before peeling off into a classic Lesterian extended line dropping via turns into descending arpeggios that bounce right back up again, and in the measure 49-51 quarter notes, which come off as an inspiration of the moment (this must be part of what Schoenberg meant by "wild abandon"), and which are a striking contrast to the running-eighth note lines abundant in Young's playing.

Speaking of dancing, the rhythm section, in which guitar rather than piano is the primary audible chorded instrument, lays down a rather implacable but solidly swinging chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk of a 4/4 beat, and Lester dances fleetly in and around it, sometimes, especially when referencing the melody of Tea for Two or emphasizing the somewhat heavy-handed half-measure harmonic rhythm of the main strain, almost implying a feeling of 2/4 but always remaining lightfooted. Besides working on playing this solo, I've been analyzing its harmonic implications a bit, but won't discuss that until I've investigated the harmony being played behind Lester beyond merely comparing it with some charts found around the web.

Here's my B flat transposition of Iverson's transcription, done with Iverson's permission but not with his supervision or imprimatur.  I have also edited the second chorus a bit based on what I hear in the sound file from Savory linked at the New York Times site above. Iverson noted that his transcription contains "a couple of tiny wrong notes"; I found almost none in going over the second chorus. The main differences I've noted with Iverson's version are the shake in measure 38, and the fact that I've written out the gliss or rip in measure 41...although the exact notes I've written there should be taken with a grain of salt. (I thought that the parallel with the similar upward jump on the first beat of measure 42, but with a slightly different rhythmic feel compared to the triplet of measure 42 was worth making explicit.) The few places I've put in slurs are more to indicate that those passages are executed almost like a rip or glissando, not that nothing else is slurred.


Stream the Chris Potter quartet Live at the Village Vanguard

Haven't finished listening but Chris' Potter's jazz suite Sirens is starting out strong, with a modal vampy thing going, Trane and bop influences and some blues cries in Potter's soloing, but not too derivative.  Now at around 4'40, holy molé it's starting to smoke!

You can stream it at NPR.


If you're in NY, last set tonight in 20 min (I'd guess sold out), last night is tomorrow Feb. 10.

Now at 9 min, Iverson is doing a beautiful chordal thing, now putting a line over it in the treble, kind of McCoy influenced but with a bit more impressionist color and a mellower vibe.  This is the stuff, folks.

Thanks, NPR, for making it it little less painful for a jazz fan not to live in NYC.

Ethan Iverson plays Hall Overton's Polarities #1

Via Ethan Iverson's blog Do the Math, a panel discussion at The Jazz Loft Project, of jazz and classical composer, arranger and pianist Hall Overton. Iverson kicks it off with a superb performance of Overton's classical piece "Polarities #1" (begins around 2'00 in the video).  A performance that should not be missed. Some more of my thoughts follow the video.

The Jazz Loft Project presents "Hall Overton: Out of the Shadows" from Center for Documentary Studies on Vimeo.

This is a wonderful piece of music and a superb performance of it. To my ear there are hints of jazz, especially at the beginning. The first two measures definitely sound like they could be the opening of a jazz ballad with relatively "advanced" harmonies, and the descending figure in the bass in the third measure sounds very Monkish.  [Update: this figure reminded me of a specific phrase in a Monk composition, which I suspected was "Nutty".  Sure enough, it's the first part of the falloff that Monk sometimes adds to the end of one of the first phrases in "Nutty".  Not only that, but the opening of Polarities seems related to the phrase to which Monk adds this falling line.  Though very different harmonically, there's some similarity in melodic profile and rhythm.]  A few other spots have that "advanced jazz ballad" feel.  While Overton was on the faculty at Juillard and apparently also taught at Yale and the New School, most of us jazz fans know Overton primarily as the arranger for the Town Hall big band concert featuring Monk, so a Monk reference is hardly a farfetched supposition.  The piece is roughly atonal or at least in very unstable tonality, but not twelve-tone, and very expressively balances atonal features with what seem to me passages with stronger harmonic implications.  The musical language often seems to me poised between Debussy and Schoenberg.  The sequence of chords around 3'19 to 3'33 in the video remind me of Debussy in his more declamatory frame of mind, while some of the passages preceding and following it remind me of his lyrical side.  I was quite surprised to be strongly reminded, around 3'39-4'00,  especially in the chord alternation at 3'44, 3'50 and 3'56 and melodic line connecting these bits, of Cecil Taylor's fantastic 1973 solo piano performance "Indent".  To my mind, Indent is some of the most important and enjoyable music to come out of the twentieth century, and if you don't know Taylor or have listened to other pieces and not "gotten" him, I'd say Indent or the early-60's band-as-jazz-orchestra side "Into the Hot" (the other side of the Impulse LP is Gil Evans' "Out of the Cool"), are the places to start.  Accessible but building in intensity and complexity.  I recall reading that Taylor intensely studied twentieth-century classical scores early in his career, so I guess it's not impossible that there was some direct influence of Overton's classical work on Taylor's composition or vice versa, especially since Overton was active in jazz circles in New York at just this time (mid to late 50s), but accidental convergence is just as likely.  (Though Indent is from 1973, the "vice versa" possibility is because Taylor might have developed some of these ideas very early even though they may not have been appearing in his performances at the time, which in the late 50s were still often based on jazz standards.)  Iverson recently linked the transcipt of a 1964 panel discussion between Overton, Taylor, and others that grows somewhat contentious, making this perceived momentary connection between their musics even more startling to me.

Iverson also points out that this piece appears, played by Robert Help, on a collection from the 1960s, "New Music for the Piano", available from New World Records, and he suspects this is the only appearance of Overton's classical music on CD.  Based on this performance of Polarities, that is a real shame and I hope it is rectified soon.  Also based on this performance, Iverson would be a fantastic pianist to do it.  He's not just playing the notes here, he has gotten inside the music and it's gotten inside him: each phrase is expressed as if he composed the music himself.  He gets a fantastic, bright and ringing but not harsh tone out of this piano, and can give it nuances to bring out or contrast different lines. The clarity and control are astonishing too.  Really beautiful music-making from both Overton and Iverson.  I hope we can hear more of this combination sometime.

CD Review: "Made Possible" by The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus

Made Possible (eOne records, 2012)

Reid Anderson  bass/synths/electronics
Ethan Iverson piano
David King drums


The Bad Plus' newly released CD, "Made Possible" (see the end of this review or this link for a video preview of it) is hard to categorize, but the important thing is that it's innovative, interesting to listen to, often beautiful and inspired music.  They're typically characterized as a jazz trio, and that's what you'll find in the metadata on an mp3 and where you'll find their stuff filed in CD store bins.  The instrumentation is the classic trio of piano, acoustic bass, and drums.  Not only is this kind of piano trio a standard jazz configuration, but it is usually present as the rhythm section in larger jazz groups.  So that is one reason to think of the music in jazz terms.  Here, a bit of electronics and electronic keyboard is mixed in on occasion.  But the overall musical language is wide-ranging, touching not only on a wide range of jazz styles but also on aspects of classical music and rock, and even stuff that might be considered New Age or generic mellow.  To my ear there are definite echoes of the Windham Hill Records sound, and although I've never been an avid follower of that sound, I emphatically do not mean that as a criticism.

Classical: you may hear something of Glassy minimalism in Anderson's "Seven Minute Mind" or King's "Wolf Out", impressionistic or even Bartokian harmony in Iverson's lovely "Sing for a Silver Dollar", which melds it with some classic jazz gestures, as well as avant-gardisms that almost form a continuum with the further-out reaches of jazz, as in the out-of-tempo interlude beginning around 2'25 in "Silver Dollar", or some of the piano in "Wolf Out": the block chords following 3'28, morphing into medusa-like writhing lines worthy of (but more organic than) a Conlon Nancarrow player piano piece, at 4'14 and again, in a nice touch, to end the piece.

Rock: Dave King's drumming on this CD also draws not only on jazz but on influences that are fairly nonstandard for jazz of either the straight-ahead or avant-garde persuasion, though probably more apparent in jazz fusion.  Quite a few of the beats he sets up have a definite rock flavor, like the one he keeps going under the lyrical theme (this one of the places on the CD where there are shades of Windham Hill, and also, one of the places of great beauty) of Anderson's "Pound for Pound", which kicks off the record.  Something similar, both with the drumbeat and the shades of Windham Hill in the piano is going on in the opening of King's "For my eyes only", which also has hints of some kind of prairie church-choirish Americana thing, a bit of bluesiness, and even Satie.

There is not all that much ride-cymbal ching-cha-ching going on on this CD, and plenty of backbeat and thwacky snare reminiscent of Stax/Volt soul or Led Zeppelin, even if it's sometimes done at a much slower tempo and in support of music in a very different mood.  But King mixes this kind of thing up with episodes of very interactive and inventive dialogue with the piano and bass.  "Silver Dollar" is a good example, in which the opening beat, which returns periodically through the piece, is a slowed-down version of a classic rock beat in which the kickdrum and snare take alternate---if you jammed with a drummer in somebody's garage in high school, you've probably heard a close relative of this beat---and then the second subject features free commentary using all elements of the drumset.  King's playing is an important part of the musical mix throughout, far from simple timekeeping.  Take time to focus on it occasionally during your listening.

The pianism is also surprisingly far from your more conventional jazz outing, which might spin out a lot of long lines, hopefully, but not always, at a high level of inspiration, or pile on a lot of highly colored chords voiced in a variety of ways, again to variable effect. Compared to a typical jazz record of whatever subgenre, a much larger fraction of the music on this CD sounds relatively thoroughly composed, even if not explicitly written out; or if not composed in full detail, relatively carefully planned, with detail filled in spontaneously in performance.  I don't know if that's how it was actually done; the point is that it comes out as carefully and effectively constructed, and relatively low on extended solo effusions.  There is perhaps slightly too much ostinato on this CD for my taste, but I have to admit that it's very effectively used. And in the parts that seem repetitive, just listen to the details of what's going on over the ostinato... they are usually not static, they evolve, and add quite a bit of musical interest.

I've touched on some of the particular bits I've enjoyed, but let me just mention a few other highlights.  After the relatively reiterative and not so jazzy (these are not criticisms!) opening pair of pieces by Anderson, Iverson's "Re-elect that" puts us squarely in contemporary somewhat-avant-garde jazzish territory with limpid jets of piano notes from Iverson over agile brushwork from King.  Then over a more propulsive but still quite flexible beat from Anderson and King, Iverson solos playfully, toying with stock pentatonicisms and turning them on their sides, throwing in a bit of uncategorizable avant-classical stuff, then shading things toward more beboppish or chromatic lines, hints of Bach, a contrapuntal episode, and tying things up gracefully by alternating a couple of closely voiced, high chords.  This may be the only thing on the CD you could really begin to categorize as a classic jazz piano solo, and it's a gem.  There are plenty of other places where Iverson's inspired pianism is in evidence, but in a less traditionally linear manner.  For example, the opening chords of "Silver Dollar" ... kind of dark-sounding voicings, in an unusual but compelling progression (or maybe it's the voice-leading that gives an unusual sound).  Around 0'36, the darkish harmonic elements continue as what would otherwise be more conventional-sounding (in a jazz context) melodic gestures are unfurled, subtly transfigured by the harmony.  Inspired indeed, but not in an in-your-face virtuosic or emotive way.  The record's most extended piano passage starts around 5 minutes into the lengthy "In Stitches" ... a long ruminatively lyrical stretch, slowly building momentum (propelled by incredible, restrained high-hat and rimshot work from King that you may not even notice at first, but which is crucial) which I suspect contains much improvisation from Iverson, then fixating on an ascending line that is almost a bebop cliché, which Iverson worries, transposes, develops, extends, fragments, but in a way that is not like a typical jazz solo but more cyclical, more textural, though still building constantly in complexity and intensity, largely by adding voices and harmonic depth and rhythmic complexity as well as by the old device of modulating or moving gradually upward on the keyboard.  It's your call whether the final buildup of this ends up being too grandstandy or not... I think it's fantastic.  This whole passage is major music-making.  And then listen to the discreet groove the rhythm section sets up to move on from this peak to finish the piece, the quiet as that groove dies down for a lyrical slow piano statement again, and then --- unexpectedly, and totally effectively --- the almost samba beat it sets up under that lyricism as the piano slowly subsides and the bass takes it out, and you're hearing just one example of why this is a great ensemble, much more than just three excellent players.

Despite what I've described as eclecticism, the record doesn't sound like a patchwork; these guys weave the elements they draw on into a language of their own that has its unity; there is plenty of variety within and between the pieces, but it's not scattershot, it's musically compelling.

I strongly recommend this CD; the musical approach is quite fresh, the musical content varied and often fascinating.  The overall mood is relatively reflective and calm, with little or nothing in the way of heavy minor-key emotivism or in-your-face spirituality, but plenty of lyrical beauty, fascinating detail, and sincere but relatively calm feeling, along with some more intense passages.  Despite the eclecticism, the pieces are well-structured, not rambling.  I might have liked to hear a few more episodes of extended improvisation...but I suspect that if you want that too, you might get it at one of their gigs, so check out their schedule (they are in Europe for the next two weeks as of this post, and there will be plenty of opportunity to hear them in the US in December and on into next year).  A very successful bout of music-making and a very enjoyable listen.  Although it's hard to predict what a piece of music will end up meaning to one over the long run, I suspect that I will keep coming back to this CD over the years.

Howard Barnum


Raw listening notes follow, but first, the official video preview of Made Possible; it kicks off with an excerpt from Seven Minute Mind, then a bit of Pound for Pound, and so on.  You can already find many tracks from this on Youtube, but I'm not linking them without checking with the band first.  The official preview might be considered kind of corny, but that doesn't bother me.  Plus I love the neologism/solecism "on a guttural level".


I recommend that you now just buy the CD and listen to the whole thing
to find your own high points, but for those who want a guide to some
other things they might find particularly interesting, I'm pasting in
as an appendix to this review some pretty raw listening notes, written
during a listen-through on a cross-country plane flight and re-edited
on another listen-through at home.

1- Pound for Pound  (Anderson)

drums as often on the record have something of a rock beat

Almost Windham Hill kind of lyrical sound.  Nice.  Fairly repetitive.
Some variation of voicing, decoration etc...
almost unnoticeable synths but they're there (noticed on 3rd or 4th

Record overall has a lot of theme, not that much improv

2- Seven Minute Mind (Anderson) Minimalism, scales and ostinato, excellent,
maybe goes on a bit long.

3- Re-elect That (Iverson) After the two ostinato-ey, mellow pieces,
it's easy to imagine that this one is self-consciously reestablishing
some contemporary avant-ish jazz cred.  (Of course the main point of
everything on the record is musical, not anything to do with
establishing cred; this is just an incidental impression.)  Iverson's
solo is a gem.  It starts by referencing modal/pentatonic cliches,
then turning them inside out.  Then it brings in bop, chromatic
post-bop, developing playfully but logically.  Then we get a nice bass
solo, then a drum solo (brushes).  I.e., the standard jazz routine.
But the overall impression is anything but standard jazz.  And then...
the last section is kind of a electronic/synthy version of some kind
of tweaked view of say 19th century band music amalgamated with an
off-kilter chorale. Given the title one imagines it might be aurally
alluding to some kind of 19th century electioneering event with
music...  Musically I dig what came before this much more, but have to
admit that this coda does work with the rest of the piece, in an
Ivesian kind of way...

I interpret the title of this piece in the light of Iverson's blog
post urging jazz musicians to vote for Obama...

4 Wolf Out...

Ostinato again, over a funkier bass line at first, static for a little
while but then starts modulating... and still later moves to more
chromatic stuff... Iverson with chromatic lines and chromatic
block-chords bits, enjoyable but not as deep or distinctive as some of
the stuff on the previous cut...  Nice theme... interesting chord
movement over the ostinato...  important to listen for detail...  B
section (?) ... descending piano line, kind of ominous in itself and
with each descent capped by somewhat ominous-sounding chords... then
the A theme starts getting mixed in ... continued development with
3'10 nice figure in the piano, q ... written or improv?  3'30 here is
the chromatic line in (clustery?) block chords I mentioned.  quiets (C
section tho related?)  ... & one hears electronics in background.
Nice.  Then gets busier again.  4'17 or so main theme again but with
writhing high register piano lines over it, excellent.  More of an
overall sound than line that can be followed.  "Medusa-like".  Then
more straight ostinato, straight repetition, drums eventually join in
with a major beat.... a short bit of Medusa piano is added to the mix
and that's it.  Nice one.

5-- Sing for a Silver Dollar (Iverson).... spare post-bop (?) jazz
balladry meets Debussy kinda...  nice.  Superb, in fact.  Right from
the top, a very distinctive, I've-heard-this-someplace-before drumbeat
is from, nice relentless trashy (? but w/ a fair bit of sustain)
cymbal beat... Jack de Johnette-ish?  Really a superb track.  Kind of
a couple of jazz ballad gestures, but done almost in classical style.
Segue into an electronic section.  Nice kind of atonal thing in this
section; prepared and straight piano kinds of sounds, and bass,
blending with the electronics.  Not sure about the jackhammer
drum-machine bit, though the bell-like accompaniment to it is fine.
Back to theme w/ "the beat" again.  Nice last note from the bass...

6 For My Eyes Only (King) .... again a kind of autumnal midwestern
kind of sound, very nice, between classical and Windham Hill
again... Yeah!  nice blues touch ... which echoed lower somehow gives
it a tinge of oh I don't know, cowboy soul maybe...  Excellent
composition.  Windham Hill meets Satie?  So far quite arranged.  New
section... piano arpeggios mostly triadic .... with bass tremolo and
windchimes.... nice interlude.  3'40 ... related to main theme but
still a different episode.  Or just in a different key, I think that's
it.  (Yup, the bluesy bits again just as before but transposed
(?)....)  Maybe goes on just a bit long...  4'48 ish nice bass work
under it all! good stuff.

7 I Want to Feel Good pt 2 (King) ... I like this one too.  A bit
singsongybackground, slightly off-kilter melodies.

8 In Stitches (Anderson) ... quite a long piece (14--15' or so?!)
starts a bit slow and avant-garde sparse noodly... quite moody
... nice.... around two minutes starts moving a bit more, still quite
pensive... 2'30 more crystalline... almost classical
figures.... digging the drumming...  6' picking it up on mellow
rippling chords from Iverson, nice...possibly a bit slow to
develop....  but really gets into its groove just over 1/2 way through
(about 7'26) with a beboppy figure that's varied and becomes the basis
for fantastic elaboration by Iverson, steadily increasing in
intensity.  Still quite a bit of repetition with textural development
rather than linear improvisation.  11'18 texture thins out.  Theme
again, at some point.  Then at 13' almost a samba beat, but still the
theme .... then the piano drifs on into silence, as bass and drums
soldier on.  Standout piece.

9 Victoria (Paul Motian) Starts as almost a bit of baroque
voice-leading. Continuing fairly classical in mood.  Nice.  Again not
a lot of improv.

Free concert in NYC: The Bad Plus play the Rite of Spring

For readers, if any, in New York City today, definitely check out jazz trio The Bad Plus playing their arrangement, "On Sacred Ground", of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  It's free and outdoors at Lincoln Center at 8:30 PM.  The Brandt Brandauer Frick ensemble, with which I am not familar, opens at 7:30.

If you're wondering to expect, at WBGO's The Checkout you can stream a recording of the whole thing, as well as their radio show on the piece.  TBP pianist Ethan Iverson discusses piano arrangements, transcriptions, and reworkings of the Rite here.

More on upcoming doings by TBP and some of its members here.

I am in New Mexico, so unfortunately won't be able to attend.  I will be going to Rossini's Maometto II at the Santa Fe Opera. Report to follow.


Billy Hart quartet Live at the Village Vanguard in 2009

Jazz fans should not miss the opportunity to download an mp3 of a 70 minute set by the Billy Hart quartet playing live at the Village Vanguard in New York on Sept. 23, 2009.  I really enjoyed a couple of sets from this run at the Vanguard, possibly including this one.  If I find my listening notes I may post some impressions of the live gig.  Billy Hart, drums, Ethan Iverson, piano, Ben Street, bass, Mark Turner, tenor sax.  Lots of thanks to the group for making this available, and not just as a stream but as a free download.  Reward them by buying one or more of their CDs...I'll post a review when mine arrives.

All four of these guys are fantastic players, with very individual approaches.  They listen to each other and interact a lot, too.  A bit of silly trivia is that I thought Ben Street looked like a dead ringer for House (of the TV show), though he's a bit less so in photos.

Incidentally, Iverson's blog, Do the Math, is essential for jazz fans, especially jazz piano fans.  He is willing to stick his neck out about what he likes and doesn't, the perspective of a player is fascinating and invaluable, and the interviews with musicians (like Keith Jarrett, Jason Moran, Wynton Marsalis...) and others are fantastic and create irreplaceable first-hand anecdotal documentation of parts of jazz's history.