Archive for the 'music' category

Friday Fun: Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

Apr 28 2017 Published by under around the web, friday fun, music, music mondays

Like with La La Land a few months back, here we have a jazz-themed documentary that I haven't seen yet but have read an awful lot about.

Unlike La La Land, I actually intend to see Chasing Trane and actually have tickets to see an upcoming showing at a Toronto theatre.

The reviews seem fantastic, with more or less unanimous opinion that the film does justice to Coltrane both as a person and as a musician.

Some of what I've been reading...

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Around the Web: Why music ownership matters, Beyond jazz's boys club and other tales of the music industry

Feb 18 2017 Published by under music

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Music Mondays: Best Jazz Albums 2016: A list of lists

Dec 18 2016 Published by under friday fun, music, music mondays, Uncategorized

Another annual obsession to add to the list, along with the listings of best science books? Look like it, if last year and this year are anything to judge by.

This particular post collects lists of "best of the year" jazz albums I've found across various websites. For the purposes of this project, I'm not giving each list its own post and showcasing the albums that are part of the list. That's an awful lot of work, which I'm reserving for the science books project which is more core to the mission of this blog.

Note: I've included a few not-exclusively-jazz lists if they've happened to include either jazz sections or lots of jazz-ish items. If this project has any happy outcome, it would have to be my readers broadening their musical horizons by discovering great new music through these lists, the wider and more varied the better.

Enjoy! And happy listening!
 

 

There are certainly many more lists to come, probably many of them only popping up well into the first week of January. I'll probably update this post a few more times up until that point. In particular, there are not too many Canadian lists yet so I'm looking forward to catching up with some of them.

If I'm missing any lists, please let me know in the comments.

Related, from last year here's a huge list of lists of lists covering jazz, even very marginally. I'm looking forward to this year's compilation. Avant Music News is collecting lists for jazz and experimental music. Eric Alper is doing the same thing for "best of" lists across a wider range of genres.

For a much more comprehensive 2016 "list of lists" for jazz and other kinds of music, try this one from Dean Minderman on St. Louis Jazz Notes.

As for my own "Best of the Year" list, given how much I love reading and aggregating such lists, I'm surprisingly not so much into making one for myself. That being said, here are a few albums from the jazz & blues world that I found particularly wonderful in 2016.

  • Take Me to the Alley by Gregory Porter
  • Let Me Get By by The Tedeschi Trucks Band
  • Blackstar by David Bowie
  • A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke by Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith -
  • Ride the One by Paul Reddick
  • Perfection by The Murray, Allen & Carrington Power Trio
  • Emily's D+Evolution by Esperanza Spalding
  • Heal My Soul by Jeff Healey
  • Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny by Cuong Vu Trio with Pat Metheny

(Yeah, I know, it's not quite Monday as I'm posting this, but close enough...)

 

Update 2016.12.22. Added a bunch of new ones since the 18th as well as filling in some missed ones.
Update 2017.01.06. A bunch of new ones, of course, and a few ones I missed before. I'm unlikely to update again unless there's a gap needing filling such as discovering a bunch of non-English language posts that I've missed. If you know of any such posts that I've missed, please let me know either to dupuisj at gmail dot com or in the comments.

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Reading Diary: The jazz of physics: The secret link between music and the structure of the universe by Stephon Alexander

Oct 11 2016 Published by under book review, music, physics, science books

The jazz of physics, the physics of jazz, the chemistry of jazz, the jazz of chemistry, the jazz of computer science, the computer science of jazz, the math of jazz, the jazz of math, the jazz of biology, the biology of jazz, the jazz of engineering, the engineering of jazz.

And why not the jazz of history and the history of jazz? The sociology of jazz and the jazz of sociology? The jazz of political science, the political science of jazz. The jazz of philosophy, the philosophy of jazz, the literature of jazz, the jazz of literature.

And why not the jazz of religion, the religion of jazz, the theology of jazz and the jazz of theology.

All of which would make fantastic books, each and every one of them. Art and science are interrelated, inevitably interrelated really, when you think about. Humans exist in a world that can (contingently) be described by science, humans themselves being subject to that description. Art is something that humans do, so studying how humans do art is part of science. Science is the subject of art, and not just peripherally -- witness the genres of science fiction or lablit for example.

Which brings us to the absolutely wonderful book by Stephon Alexander, The jazz of physics: The secret link betweetn music and the structure of the universe. A rare beast, a scientific and artistic autobiography. A memoir of discovery, both of jazz and theoretical physics.

The most wonderful thing about the book is how perfectly it fits in the "how I learned and grew and experienced the thing I became really good at mostly thanks to mentoring and educational opportunities." Common in both science and art, with recent examples being Bruce Springsteen and Hope Jahren. I've read the Jahren and it's also beyond wonderful (review coming, I promise) while the Springsteen is so new I haven't had a chance yet. It's an Xmas holiday read it there ever was one.

In fact, if I had to pick my two science books of the year, they would be Jahren's Lab Girl and The Jazz of Physics.

So what kind of books are all these? Well, on the science side they are the stories of how someone became interested in their scientific field and the trials and tribulations of studying the subject, becoming situated in the culture of the field and, ultimately finding one's place in that field, usually in academia but also in other walks of life as well. And of course, finding the kind of success in the field that will lead someone to want to write a book about that process. That description certainly fits The jazz of physics. Alexander recounts in fascinating detail how he overcame all the obstacles set before him and overcame his limitations and became a professional physicist.

But the book is also like a good music biography in that we also learn about Alexander's immersion into the jazz field, how he learned to play an instrument, how he learned to improvise, the joys and challenges of the jazz bandstand. But uniquely to this book, Alexander can ultimately show us that these two processes are really the same. Learning to be an artist and learning to be a scientist are really the same thing, with similar obstacles and similar rewards, at least intellectually.

And most importantly, if there's one message that I think Alexander wants us to take from his book and his life experiences, is that the creativity and mind-set that drive scientific and artistic accomplishment are really the same. That the dedication and drive, the improvisational and creative mindset that make a jazz musician successful is ultimately the exact same as will make a physicist successful. Musical or mathematical or physical or rhythmic, it's really the same. Vibration, resonance, symmetry, the biggest and the smallest. It's all there in both domains.

I recommend this book without hesitation to any academic, public or high school library.

Alexander, Stephon. The jazz of physics: The secret link betweetn music and the structure of the universe. New York: Basic Books, 2016. 272pp. ISBN-13: 978-0465034994

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Around the Web: The 100 greatest music books of all time, Does the music business need musicianship and more tales of the music business

Oct 01 2016 Published by under around the web, music

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Around the Web: A future where records won’t matter and other tales of the music business

May 24 2016 Published by under acad lib future, around the web, music

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Music Monday: Year's Best Jazz Album Lists!

Dec 22 2015 Published by under music, music mondays

(OK, Music Monday one day late...)

Science books are an abiding, long term passion, one which has been reflected here on the blog by my compulsive listing of the Best Science Books of the year, 2015 included. This year I'm expanding the obsessive listing franchise to include another abiding passion, jazz music.

But I won't be listing individual jazz albums, just other people's year end lists. As for my own year-end list of best jazz album, I'm afraid I don't really buy enough new ones every year to make a list practical.

Here goes. These lists are as at mid-day December 22, 2015. I'm mostly only mentioning lists that are jazz-focused rather than general lists that might include a jazz album or two. I may update the list after the new year. As well, if I've missed any or if you want to contribute jazz album suggestions of your own, please feel free in the comments. In particular, if anyone out there knows of lists from non-English or -French jazz cultures, I would really love to see those. As you can see, I added a couple of pre-end-of-year lists from France to give a bit more of an international flavour.

 

Oh, what the heck.

Here are five jazz albums I really enjoyed this year, in no particular order.

  • For One to Love by Cecile McLorin Salvant

  • Break Stuff by The Vijay Iyer Trio

  • Wild Man Dance by Charles Lloyd

  • Made in Chicago by Jack Dejohnette

  • Dans la foret de ma mémoire by Orchestre national de jazz de Montreal, featuring Marianne Trudel (composer), Christine Jensen (director), Ingrid Jensen (guest soloist), Anne Schaefer (vocals)

Album of the Year aggregates a lot of lists & rankings though not that much jazz or blues.

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Around the Web: BB King, Christopher Lee, Ornette Coleman, Joël Champetier

Jun 16 2015 Published by under around the web, friday fun, music

I'm just back from an extended sabbatical work/vacation trip to Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin -- yes, I did meet with some science publishers while I was in Europe! -- and while in Europe a couple of the true icons of my childhood died: BB King and Christopher Lee. As well, jazz icon Ornette Coleman also died while I was in Europe and while he wasn't an icon from my childhood years I do respect and understand the impact he had on the world of jazz. Quebec science fiction writer also passed away Joël Champetier.

I thought I'd use this post to remember a thing or two about each of these greats as well as collect a small selection of the various online remembrances of their impact.

 

BB King

It's hard to overstate the importance of BB King to my musical development. I learned to love the blues from BB King. He's the artist I've seen in concert the most times, at 5 or 6, the most recent being a double bill with George Benson at the Montreal Jazz Festival about 15 or so years ago. Every time he was awesome, the consummate blues singer and guitarist. And it all started way back in the 1970s. As it happens, my father was a huge Johnny Carson fan and would watch the Tonight Show most knights. As a youngster I often stayed up to watch it with him on Friday nights or during the summer. Of course, Carson was well known as a jazz fan so he would often have musical guests of a jazzy or bluesy nature. Probably most often, Mr. BB King. Who's music captivated me from the very first time I saw him.

 

Christopher Lee

If BB King taught me to love the blues, Christopher Lee taught me to love horror movies. Fortunately as a youngster my parents didn't seem to care what I watched on TV, so I tended to watch the weirdest and most extreme stuff available at the time. We're talking the early 1970s here. And at the time, we're talking the old Hammer horror flicks. Hard to believe they were such mainstays on the tube in that era, but to say the least, I loved them. And I especially loved the many Dracula films staring Lee in the title role. He was so intense and evil, yet somehow majestic and proud. I was hooked. And I followed he career over the decades, watching him in countless cheapo films and some very good ones as well, like The Wicker Man or The Man with the Golden Gun. Of course, the pinnacle of his career was staring in the twin roles that made him immortal for all generations, not just old horror movie fans. Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, of course. And Count Dooku in the last two Star Wars movies, where he was by far the best thing about the films. He's be missed. I read his memoirs Tall Dark and Gruesome and they give a wonderful picture of the man and the actor.

 

Ornette Coleman

Not too long ago I was listening to Ornette Coleman's calling card album Free Jazz and I thought to myself, "This is the music they should have used for the cantina scene in Star Wars." Bracing, bizarre, atonal, wild and free, yet strangely tuneful all the same, this landmark album from 1961 sounds as fresh today as it did in 1961. Not only that, it still sounds like it comes from the future, like it's music we're not quite ready for, that's just over the horizon. Hence my thought: how cool would it have been if the cantina band in Star Wars had been Ornette Coleman and his group playing some Free Jazz?

JazzTimes has a nice compilation of articles on Coleman here.

 

Joël Champetier

And finally, on a more personal note, the Quebec French-language science fiction writer Joël Champetier also died while we were away, on May 30th. I knew Joël a little bit -- and my wife translated one or two of his stories into English -- the Canadian SF world being a rather small place. I was always happy to run into him at an SF convention, usually a Canadian WorldCon or some such larger convention. It's been a while since I've been to any conventions and a while since I last say Joël. He was a good person and a great writer. He'll be missed.

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Music Mondays: Gaga, Bennett, Bowie & Blue: The jazz conversation continues

Nov 10 2014 Published by under around the web, music

The fallout of the Great Sonny Rollins Jazz Satire Blowup of 2014 is still reverberating through the jazz community, prompting new uproars and bouncing off a surprising number of new jazz eruptions in the wider culture. Definitely interesting times to be a jazz fan, if not always for the right reasons.

Some cool stuff going on, see links below.

  • Tony Bennett teams up with Lady Gaga, of all people, to put out a duets album
  • David Bowie teams up with Maria Schneider on a song for his new greatest hits package
  • Annie Lennox doesn't team up with any famous jazz people for her new jazz standards album
  • The band Mostly Other People Do the Killing recorded a note-for-note recreation of Kind of Blue, to much consternation and comment.
  • Flying Lotus getting some attention for playing jazzy electronic music
  • Whiplash, a new movie about a young jazz drummer and his abusive teacher, is released to much comment
  • New John Coltrane & Bill Frisell releases that not everyone loved
  • Steve Coleman was name a McArthur Fellow!
  • Jazz is the Worst, twitter and blog.
  • And various other assorted bits and bobs

Who says jazz is dead? Seems like the conversation is still alive, the music is still popping up in the public consciousness, if not always in good ways, but it's there, making an impact, surprising, delighting and provoking people in new and unexpected ways.

And here's the continuing story of jazz, culture and jazz culture in 2014. Not comprehensive in its treatment as many of the recordings mentioned aboe have been extensively reviewed, but I tried to get a representative sample. There's lots to dig into.
 

 

As usual, if I've missed or forgotten anything, please let me know.

Of all of this recent stuff, in my opinion the David Bowie's Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) is by far the best pop/jazz collision, beating Gaga/Bennett and Annie Lennox quite handily. And of recent jazz recordings that I've encountered, the one that has impressed me the most is Canadian Molly Johnson's Because of Billy, her take on a bunch of Billie Holiday songs.

The next jazz-related project I'm thinking of is to perhaps pull together a bunch of the jazz is dead/jazz is not dead writings from the past decade or so and gather them together.

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Friday Fun: Comments and chronology on The Great Sonny Rollins Jazz Satire Blowup of 2014

Sep 19 2014 Published by under friday fun, music, personal, Uncategorized

Is jazz satire possible? Can it possibly be funny or even relevant?

This question is more immediate and pressing that you would normally imagine in the wake of serial controversies in the jazz world.

It all began at the end of July when The New Yorker posted a article in their humour column by Django Gold purporting to be the thoughts of jazz legend Sonny Rollins where he basically says jazz is a waste of time and they his whole life has been in vein. The jazz world exploded as it was not immediately obvious that it was satire. If it had been in The Onion people might have realized it immediately and probably moved on. But enough people misunderstood the purpose that the online outrage was able to build and reach a kind of critical mass. The New Yorker put a disclaimer soon after posting.

Like I said, the jazz world exploded on Twitter and it blogs. Largely because the satire itself wasn't very funny and that it disrespected one of the towering legends of the art form still alive. And at 83, it seemed cruel to pick on someone so revered at that stage of his career. Not to mention someone so dedicated and sincere in his passion. Rollins himself chimed in via a video interview, expressing a kind of sad resignation about not so much what was said about him but about the attack on jazz in general. To top it off, apparently Gold didn't write the piece with Rollins in mind and only added his name at the end to give it more punch.

But it didn't end there. Before too long the Washington Post published an article by Justin Moyer inspired by the Rollins satire basically saying that jazz is useless, bad and a waste of time. The jazz world blew up again on Twitter and in blogs. Not that jazz is or should be immune to criticism, but Moyer seemed more driven by a desire to provoke than any actual knowledge or appreciation for jazz.

To top it off, John Halle published a piece recently on the decline in the political consciousness of the jazz world that hasn't garnered as much reaction as perhaps it deserved (or Halle expected, hey, the jazz world is just tired now buddy).

So it's been a weird time in the jazz world.

Personally I love satire. I especially love satire about the things that are near and dear to my heart. The closer the better, I enjoy the uncomfortable laughter because it makes you think about what you love and why. The very existence of this long line of Friday Fun posts surely demonstrates that.

But I don't think the Rollins satire worked. First of all, it was poorly conceived and executed. It just isn't funny. The way it uses Rollins is kind of shameful really. Someone so dedicated and sincere, it feels like mean humour that punches down on the undeserving rather than punching up and lampooning the powerful. (My initial thoughts on Twitter, BTW)

Not that the the spirit of the piece is wrong. Just the target and execution. I can easily see something in the same spirit working very well if aimed at a younger, cockier, more controversial figure, especially someone known for their conservative, almost reactionary, view of jazz. Yes, I mean Wynton Marsalis. This kind of "I was wrong I wasted my life what is jazz even good for" could have worked well with someone like Marsalis, in the prime of life, influential, at the peak of his powers.

I don't think people are saying that jazz can't have a sense of humour about itself or that it isn't possible to poke fun at some stereotypes or foibles or whatever. Or to question and provoke about serious issues in jazz's past, present or future.

But if you're going to jump into the deep end, expect to face the music and account for your ideas and opinions.

Oh yeah, similarly inspired by a deranged bit of provocation, rock music is also having a rock is dead extended freakout.

 

Some General Information About Sonny Rollins

 

Here's the story. I've bolded the key pieces in the various controversies. As usual, I welcome corrections and additions. Peter Hum, Davy Mooney and Nicholas Payton have reactions worth reading.

The Chronology of the Interconnected Controversies

 

I like this Sonny Rollins quote from the Men's Journal profile:

This made Sonny laugh. When Sonny laughs, you know it. He bends his neck back nearly 45 degrees, casts his eyes skyward, and his mouth becomes a widening circle. Ha-ha-ha, he goes, loudly, like howling at the moon, albeit with perfect breath control.

"Don't you see, that's exactly the point," Sonny chortled as he clamped his skullcap onto to his head. "Those notes you mention, those notes have already been blown."

Sonny leveled his gaze, suddenly deadly serious. "People say, 'Sonny, take it easy, lean back. Your place is secure. You're the great Sonny Rollins; you've got it made.' I hear that and I think, 'Well, screw Sonny Rollins. Where I want to go is beyond Sonny Rollins. Way beyond.'"

Fuck yeah, Sonny Rollins!

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