Doug Ramsey, the esteemed jazz critic, author and master blogger, has a fabulous post up at Rifftides on Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. It includes a dynamite video clip of the tandem tenors in action playing the Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune, What the World Needs Now Is Love. After you read it, be sure to scroll down to "Medium But Well Done, Part 2," Doug's second-in-a-series post on medium-size jazz ensembles of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Here, Doug looks at influential groups led by Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Shorty Rogers and Gerry Mulligan. As always, Doug's posts are silky smooth and hugely insightful.
Kenya, Revisited. Last Tuesday night I went up to the Manhattan School of Music on 122d St. and Broadway to hear a big band tribute to Kenya, the 1957 Machito album that changed the direction of Latin-jazz and revived and solidified the Afro-Cuban bandleader's reputation. JazzIz asked me to cover the event, and my review will appear in the magazine's June issue. To learn why Kenya is so important, go here and here. [Concert photos by Brian Hatton]
The performance for me was far and away the highlight thus far of the spring jazz concert season. Percussionist and drummer Bobby Sanabria [pictured] led the school's all-student Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in a two-hour performance (no intermission) covering all 12 of the album’s original compositions, plus an encore. The youthful band's ability to perfectly execute such intricate scores demonstrated how well-rehearsed and profoundly talented they are.
Not satisfied to simply re-play the album's original charts, Bobby brought in three arrangers—Joe Fiedler, Andrew Neesley and Danny Rivera—each of whom with Bobby's direction transformed the 1957 mambos and cha-cha-chas into extended pieces that showcased the band’s many up-and-coming, college-age stars.
Legendary percussionist Candido Camero [pictured] joined the orchestra on three songs, and Bobby sat in on timbales and drums on two of them. The 86-year-old Candido’s appearance was particularly striking given that he played on the original album. Two other Kenya vets were in the audience—tenor saxophonist Ray Santos and trombonist Eddie Bert. When I spoke to them afterward, both were astonished at the level of musicianship and said the performance rivaled their own. And they weren't just being polite.
Watching Bobby in action, you realize that in addition to being an enormously talented, high-octane bandleader and performer, he also excels as an educator. Before the start of each selection, he explained the song's history and significance. And if all of this weren't enough, Bobby, 50, also is a masterful, old school entertainer. Using street-smart banter and Palladium-sized charisma, he fired off improvisational one-liners that reduced the size of the large auditorium to an intimate five-table café. The audience was in the palm of his hand.
"Look around,” Bobby said mid-way through the evening. “Afro-Cuban jazz is the only music where old people and young people still get together and have a great time. It crosses the generations!" Bobby also announced that the concert was being recorded and would be released as a CD. During the concert, six PBS cameras were on stage filming for an upcoming documentary on Afro-Cuban jazz.
If you’re in New York and didn't get a chance to see the Kenya, Revisited concert last week, you're getting another shot. Bobby is conducting the band again—this time at Dizzy's Coca-Cola on April 14, at 7:30 and 9:30 pm.
Jimmy Cobb. Dig the extensive and robust three-part interview that writer Ralph A. Miriello conducted with drummer Jimmy Cobb at Jazz.com. Ralph managed to get Jimmy to chat in depth and at length about the many phases of his storied career. While you’re at Jazz.com, take in Tim Wilkins’ comprehensive review of Kenya, Revisited. As you'll see, blog editor-in-chief, jazz writer and book author Ted Gioia is hard at work building an expansive and extensive jazz archive and educational environment. Explore while you're there. Lots of great stuff at every turn.
Adam Rudolph. Monday night I was down at Roulette in New York's SoHo to see Adam Rudolph conduct his Go: Organic Orchestra in a performance of four extended pieces. There were 27 musicians set up in the small loft space to work through Adam's texturally vibrant and brashly unorthodox compositions.
For a sense of what I heard, imagine Gil Evans and Charles Mingus meet the African savannah and Arab souk. It's not for everyone, but Adam's music certainly awakens in you a range of emotions if you're sensitive enough to feel them. Watching Adam in action was like watching a film of Jackson Pollock create one of his splatter paintings. Adam moves from section to section of the orchestra, locking eyes with musicians, teasing out textures and tones, and creating riff-driven crescendos. At one point, Adam had an electric bass and acoustic bass repeat a phrase. Then he brought in four flutes, three clarinets, a bassoon and a cello. They dropped out and were replaced by two violins, three trumpets and three trombones. And an electronic instrument that responded to the nearness of the musician's hand. In short, it was wild.
Adam has an unusual way in which he writes out the scores and a special method by which he trains the musicians. The result is a blend of World Music, polyrhythms and orchestral vibrancy. For me, what makes the Go: Organic Orchestra so interesting is its risk-taking and textural harmonics. Don’t expect melody. It’s more about how different combinations of instruments and artists sound when urged to jump in and take chances within Adam's home-grown framework. Which is why hearing this music in an intimate setting is so essential and exciting.
To get a finer sense of what was going on, let Adam explain:
JazzWax: Where were all of these musicians from? How do they know what to play?
Adam Rudolph: The musicians have classical, jazz and World music backgrounds. They are part of a pool of roughly 70 musicians that have come to my house for two to three hours to learn my intervallic concept, my hand signals, my conducting directions and my rhythm "cyclic Verticalism" concept. When they have absorbed all of this, they can come and participate in any performance of the orchestra they wish. At any given concert, I never know the orchestration mix or how many musicians will show up until performance time. For example, tonight we had 27 musicians, with two bass players. There could have been 50 players and five bass players.
JW: Are any scores completely written out?
AR: There are through-composed solos, duos, trio and quartets that I add orchestration around in a spontaneous way. [Pictured: one of Adam's scores from the concert]
JW: How do the musicians know what you want them to play and in which keys?
AR: There are 10 cues—each indicated by my fingers. I can cue any of the 10, and they can then improvise freely within them using their imaginations and abilities to listen. In addition, I can use hand signals to give specific directions within each cue that includes held notes, staccatos, range and dynamics, and extended instrumental techniques. There are also 10 different ostinatos [continuously repeated phrases] and 4 orchestration themes.
JW: How do you work out these unusual scores?
AR: I think about using rhythmic and intervallic elements and music themes, such as ragas and transpositions that can be conducted in a spontaneous way that will work together when combined. While conducting, in the moment, I use them to create a range of color and textures and motion in what I call the "audio syncretic musical fabric." The goal is to inspire the musicians to express their inner spirit through the voice of the instrument and create a magic atmosphere.
JW: How do you decide which musical textures you're going to use during a performance?
AR: I listen and use my imagination. As in life itself, I do not know what will happen next. When I step up to begin the concert, I do not know what direction the music will take until I start. Then it just flows. I am conducting in an improvisational way that is closely related to how I might improvise as an instrumentalist. I'm thinking of color, motion, dynamics, tension and release, and dialogue. As a result, these pieces never sound the same way twice.
If you’re in New York, Adam Rudolph's Go: Organic Orchestra will likely be performing in the early summer. I’ll keep you posted. You really need to see these guys in action. Totally gone.
The Go: Organic Orchestra's albums are available as downloads at iTunes and as CDs here at Meta Records. To see the orchestra live with Yusef Lateef, there's video clip here. To learn more about the Go: Organic Orchestra, go here.
Miles Davis. Speaking of totally gone, dig these two clips here and here featuring Miles—the first for Honda Scooter and the second for something called Jazz City TV. "I'll play first and I'll tell you about it later." A good rule to live by.