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. 


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