Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Happy New Year Full of Jazz/Rock is Here -- Time to Party Like It's 1969!

(In case that headline is puzzling you... 1969 is the year Columbia released Miles Davis' In A Silent Way, and the year after the release of Filles de Kilimanjaro, when the Dark Prince got the party started and electricity started running through his veins.)  

Three weeks ago I received an email from Hungarian guitarist László Halper, asking if he could send me a copy of the CD he had made with his group, Band of Gypsys Reincarnation, called Electric Angelland. I get many of these requests and often need to decline them, but my instincts told me to accept his offer. I am certainly happy that I did.

After listening to it one time through, I can, at the very least, say it is some of the freshest and most innovative jazz/rock I've heard in a long while, all beginning and ending with László Halper's advanced techniques at making a guitar do nearly anything that Hendrix ever did, in a constantly unfolding series of compositional contexts. Halper says on his website that he founded the Band of Gypsys Reincarnation in 2007 with several leading jazz musicians in Hungary because, "through the sound of the band's music I wanted to create a bridge between the musical world of Jimi Hendrix, the jazz played by Hungarian Gypsies and traditional Gypsy music."  

I will be writing and publishing a complete review here and for All About Jazz (AllAboutJazz.com) as soon as I've had a chance to listen some more to this and his earlier CD, 40 Years After (2010), but I wanted to make a New Year's note that there is a discernible resurgence of interest in jazz/rock fusion coming, and László Halper's music is part of the reason why

In his liner notes for Electric Angelland, Halper writes that "It is widely known that Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis wanted to make a joint LP. The music they dreamed about together can never come about, obviously, but I still was intrigued by figuring out how that fusion of Hendrix's music with jazz would sound." Indeed, the meeting of those two great musical minds would have followed in logical progression from the music Miles had been making with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Tony Williams, Lenny White, etc, and the bigger, wider improvisational approach Jimi was beginning to take with his bands. 

It is sad indeed that Miles and Jimi weren't able to pull it off. But Miles' Bitches Brew-era personnel were the nexus of an era of magnificent changes that happened in jazz, and it is a vital and energizing tradition that has continued to this day.

Just recently here on Jazz (Jazzers Jazzing) I wrote about the tour of the jazz/rock supergroup Third Rail (George Whitty, keyboards; Janek Gwizdala, bass; Tom Brechtlein, drums) through Austria, Germany and Czech Republic, a European tour that was hugely successful and created quite a stir.

It is no accident that two other jazz monsters, drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Eddie Gomez, joined forces with Halper on Electric Angelland, and in 2010 for 40 Years After, it was the inestimable talents of trumpet master Randy Brecker.

Speaking of whom, the announcement of Grammy winners on January 26th is going to set off fireworks when the 761-yr.-old (1,850-yr.-old, if you accept the Ptolemy citation theory) city of Kalisz, Poland, celebrates its ancient birthday and the Jazz/Rock Fusion Renaissance of 2014 officially begins, as the magnificent recording Night In Calisia, performed by Randy Brecker, the Wlodek Pawlik Trio, and the Kalisz Philharmonic receives its well-deserved Grammy.

For the curious, Brecker and company's Night In Calisia competitors for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album this year are:

Babylon - Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
Night In Calisia - Randy Brecker, Wlodek Pawlik Trio & Kalisz Philharmonic
Wild Beauty - Brussels Jazz Orchestra Featuring Joe Lovano
March Sublime - Alan Ferber
Intrada - Dave Slonaker Big Band

But till then, Happy New Year! May 2014 bring you abundance in all things, love, joy, freedom, peace and prosperity.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

'Zat You, Santa Claus?

We Americans and our religious holidays are hard to figure, that's for sure. 

First, you hear us demanding tolerance and equal time for people who choose to affiliate with an anti-religious philosophy, or no religious practice at all. The next minute, we are decrying the absurd religious descrimination being exercised by a commercial enterprise like A&E Network with their top-rated television program, Duck Dynasty. Then you hear us defending our gay brothers and sisters. Then you see 360 choir members and 110 orchestra players gathering at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a Christmas celebration with people like the venerated newscaster, Tom Brokaw.

And then you see our celebrations of Christmas cheer with commercial television programming and advertising aimed straight at the affluent American consumer, accompanied by a flat-out affirmation of capitalism and its rewards, as we vocally sing our re-written, anglicized Christmas carols.

What gives? WTF? 

Here you go: it is the 237-yr.-old American commitment to the little guy, the underdog. As of 1776, all bets were off. Whether it had been the current British King George and his Anglican Church's haughty supremacy over the Empire, or the eventual President of the United States of America and his distinctly Protestant mindset, none had the power or dominion over another man's mind. A person's religious beliefs, no matter how absurd or disconnected from mainstream thinking, were his own and a sovereign choice. 

So when you hear Louis Armstrong singing "'Zat You, Santa Claus?," keep in mind that he did so of his own free will ... and that he could not have done it anywhere else in the world.

As for Christianity and its prominence in a Christmas celebration--do all religious adherents practice the principles of their faith without hypocrisy?... of course not. But the concept of love and tolerance and even forgiveness of your brother are its central tenets... and the central tenets of every civilization since the dawn of time. Only crazy people have a problem with that.

And as for the celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day and the darkest night of the year, as a religious prophet's birthday and a time for a lights-out party? How are you going to argue with that?

'Zat you, Santa Claus?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Jazz/Rock Is Alive and Well--Third Rail in Zülpich Tonight, Cologne on December 7th, Prague, December 8th


Music fans in Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, etc., who are willing to do a bit of traveling, have the opportunity to hear the Jazz/Rock supergroup Third Rail tonight at the Live Proberaum in Zülpich, Germany, at the Altes Pfandhaus in Cologne, Germany tomorrow, December 7th, and at the Agharta Jazzclub in Prague, Czech Republic on December 8th.

Five-time Grammy winner and multi-keyboardist George Whitty (Herbie Hancock, Brecker Brothers, Carlos Santana, David Sanborn) is joined by drummer Tom Brechtlein (Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Jean-Luc Ponty, Al DiMeola) and bassist Janek Gwizdala (Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, Randy Brecker) to do some serious Jazz/Rock fusing and shredding. 

These three guys can play, as you can see and hear from this video, filmed live at the Jazzclub in Minden, Germany. All three are veterans who have earned high marks in many musical fields, but what makes this grouping special is their willingness to not only touch, but embrace the proverbial third rail of jazz...

The bringing together of jazz and rock 'n' roll (and many other musics, ultimately) has been through some changes since Miles Davis first laid down Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968) and In A Silent Way (1969). When Miles recorded the revolutionary Bitches Brew (1970), he knew from the instant reaction of the music world that he had touched a nerve. He also knew from the harsh criticism he immediately elicited from many music critics of the day, that the old traditionalists thought he had ventured too far beyond the pale--or in other words, he had touched the "third rail." 

On an electric railway, of course, the third rail is one that runs parallel to the two that the railroad cars' wheels travel on. It supplies the very high-voltage electrical power that moves the train and its passengers and cargo at a very high speed. Just as was the case with the music of Miles Davis and the music that his personnel went on to create in the form of Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin), Return to Forever (Chick Corea, Lenny White), Lifetime (Tony Williams, Larry Young) and Weather Report (Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter), the electrical power was real and physical, as well as spiritual and musical. This was music played in the tradition of jazz, with the power of rock 'n' roll.

In the case of a human being who comes into direct contact with the third rail on a railroad line, that human dies a sudden and violent death by electrocution. For those of you interested in the colorful history of the jazz idiom--beginning with that fiery cauldron Miles stirred up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the music brought such loud controversy, such harsh and bitter rhetoric from some jazz critics, that it felt much like one of those human electrocutions. At least, that's what the bilious condemnation intended for it to be.

But the joke is on the critics. It always is, isn't it? Jazz/Rock is still here. And the critics ... if they're not spinning in their graves, are awfully soft-spoken these days. The direction jazz took in 1968 is still a bit of a third rail for some people. But if James P. Johnson and Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong were around today, they would be innovating still. They would be trying everything they could to keep the music alive and vital and relevant. They would be all over the third rail.

They would be electric.

Jazz is the one musical form that embraces all other forms. Jazz can (and does) incorporate everything from klezmer and European classical to hip hop and blues and bluegrass. The imaginary third rail, the one that says you can't go exploring too far and can't try something, anything, because it is too radical a departure from what is currently considered acceptable, is a falsehood. It certainly has nothing to do with jazz, which can include anything. It's just like Duke Ellington said:

"Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country."

George Whitty's band Third Rail is putting jazz and rock 'n' roll together at full roar and can take you for a good, long ride. George and Tom and Janek are keep the electricity flowing and the trains running on time.