Monday, January 19 2015
Grammy nominations in jazz are rarely adventurous and usually confusing. Yet this year's slate is intriguing.
Wednesday, December 10 2014
Trumpeter Igmar Thomas and his haunting tune, "The Hunted", sums up the most difficult lesson of 2014.
Thursday, November 20 2014
There's an unending flow of vocal jazz these days, which is a blessing and a curse. Beyond the glut of rehashed standards from 50 years ago, some original work shines.
Thursday, October 23 2014
What if today’s jazz is a little bit Bill Frisell and a little bit Ornette Coleman?
Friday, September 26 2014
Somi is a not-exactly jazz singer with roots in Africa and the American midwest, and she has made the year's most amazing record, evoking the spirit of Lagos, Nigeria.
Monday, August 18 2014
Why do jazz folks always sound so defensive about the music they love? Why can’t they take a pie in the face from Django Gold?
Tuesday, July 15 2014
Smoke Sessions Records is doing it old-school: recording the best musicians in New York playing mainstream jazz that cooks.
Wednesday, June 18 2014
South African jazz singer Nicky Schrire has made three tremendous records, but she isn't well known. That ought to change.
Wednesday, May 7 2014
Saxophonist Craig Handy has a killer new band that combines the jazz-funk of Jimmy Smith with a New Orleans second line groove.
Wednesday, March 19 2014
One of the great treasures of jazz's past, the Blue Note record label, seems to be enjoying a new golden age. Here are two reasons why.
Friday, January 31 2014
Some will tar a record with being “commercial” due to preset notions of what one might think an artist should be doing, rather than listening for what he actually is doing.
Tuesday, December 10 2013
This was another banner year for Latin Jazz, a genre that is so rich and established that it hardly a subset of jazz as much as a glorious thing unto itself.
Monday, November 18 2013
The year 2013 has featured some of the most exceptional and inventive orchestral jazz in years.
Tuesday, October 22 2013
Chuck Haddix's new biography of the great alto saxophonist unearths fresh details of his early life—and helps us to see more clearly his genius and his tragedy.
Wednesday, September 11 2013
The great jazz pianist and NPR host of "Piano Jazz", Marian McPartland, left us a few weeks ago. She will be missed.
Wednesday, August 14 2013
Bassist Stephan Crump makes pop with his wife Jen Chapin, experimental improvisation with guitarist Mary Halvorson, and he's a great mainstream player, too. What can't he do well?
Tuesday, July 16 2013
Two young musicians, singer Kristin Slipp and pianist Dov Manski, have made an excellent classic recording of startlingly updated jazz standards. Here's how they did it.
Sunday, June 16 2013
Terence Blanchard is more than a brilliant jazz trumpeter. His long-standing quintet is one of the most flexible groups in jazz, and his work as a composer of film soundtracks is distinctive.
Tuesday, May 14 2013
David Sanborn may be the most imitated man in instrumental music. His ripe rasp on alto saxophone has been aped a thousand times over. Yet he's gotten little respect in true jazz circles.
Tuesday, April 16 2013
Why did you leave jazz, O Clarinet? Did you ask too much of us, or did we ask to much of you? Either way, you've returned with a sleek, expressive vengeance!
Wednesday, March 27 2013
Is anything ever as wonderful as it seemed when you first fell in love with it? Some things are. Some things become even sweeter over time.
Wednesday, February 20 2013
New Orleans to swing, swing to bop, bop to cool, cool to hard bop, hard bop to free jazz—"jazz style periods" are so often presented like this. But jazz's transformation often shifted independently of cultural happenings, and those shifts were far from linear.
Tuesday, January 29 2013
Suddenly saxophonist Jon Irabagon is everywhere: releasing his own music, starring as a sideman on wildly varying projects, constantly showing us that jazz can be whatever we want it to be.
Tuesday, December 11 2012
John Pizzarelli is a blazing swing guitarist whose music is among the most consistent pleasures and most reliably smart expressions of the “The Great American Songbook” of the last 25 years.
Monday, November 19 2012
Dave Douglas is a big tent figure: someone with room on his label and in his bands for all kinds of players and all kinds of sounds; his many bands, his side players, his record label -- each blossoms with beautiful strength and diversity.
Tuesday, October 23 2012
Bill McHenry and Michael Blake are both tenor saxophonists in their 40s who play with imagination beyond convention—and ought to be known more widely. October brings brilliant recordings from both.
Tuesday, September 25 2012
Should jazz require a higher degree of innovation than its erstwhile colleagues in musical invention? It is, after all, an art premised on improvisation; musical invention in the moment.
Sunday, August 19 2012
The singular Brazilian-American singer, Luciana Souza, has two new albums out in August, utterly different and utterly her.
Sunday, July 15 2012
Like future friends who keep inviting you to parties even though you’ve never even RSVP'd, these artists have a benevolent persistence. Really, it’s about time I checked them out, and I'm glad I did.
Tuesday, May 15 2012
The two most recent albums by these jazz artists, Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society and Norah Jones' Little Broken Hearts, go in different (and good) directions.
Sunday, April 8 2012
Pianist, singer and songwriter Dave Frishberg, something of a cracked lovechild of Stephen Sondheim and Woody Allen's, is a too-little known miracle. The writer of hip ditties like "Peel Me a Grape" is also much more.
Wednesday, March 14 2012
The finest jazz album of 2012—or of the whole millenium—has been delivered by the music's greatest band, The Vijay Iyer Trio.
Wednesday, February 15 2012
Here's some advice from good old Jazz to its cousin Rock about what happens when people stop listening to you.
Monday, January 30 2012
Critics can be fools, particularly in their own eyes. Here are five jazz discs from 2011 that should have been on my top ten list but slipped from view, then. It's not too late to dig them.
Monday, January 9 2012
It may seem odd to call a drummer “quiet”, but Paul Motian was Mr. Subtle. From the start of his career until the last months of his life, he was shaking things up. Quietly. Brilliantly.
Monday, November 21 2011
There's a renaissance for the vibraphone in jazz, even though many folks don't even know this instrument exists.
Sunday, September 18 2011
Jazz is unpopular, pretentious, sexist, a window-dressing for those seeking "class", and more. Why shouldn't I give up loving it?
Sunday, August 21 2011
Is he just a "smooth jazz" hack? Or is Michael Franks a real jazz singer whose best work from the '70s remains a viable way to sing today?
Sunday, July 10 2011
Watching Treme, one might get the impression that modern jazz is the soundtrack for the soulless, and therefore has no place in New Orleans, pre- or post Hurricane Katrina.
Thursday, June 9 2011
Don’t you think that a 14-year-old singing “My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean” is kind of screwy?
Monday, May 16 2011
It's embarrassing that jazz is so sexist. Jane Ira Bloom, however, breaks the mold, playing with feminine style but not a hint of schmaltz.
Wednesday, April 13 2011
What happens when you take two friends who know little about jazz to a club for a night of totally spontaneous "eek-onk" music? The results can be surprising.
Sunday, March 6 2011
Bieber Fever raged when Esperanza Spalding bumped the boy aside to claim the 2011 Grammys Best New Artist award, but do jazz fans really give a damn about the Grammys?
Tuesday, February 15 2011
The promise of great jazz for the next year, or ten, was struck in 2010 by guitarist Mary Halvorson and Clean Feed Records.
Sunday, January 2 2011
The Pakistani-American jazz guitarist reflects on playing beyond cliché, playing acoustic, finding unity, and making a living.
Tuesday, November 30 2010
When the band broke into the repetitive horn line of “Hurricane”, the Tipitina’s crowd went utterly and gloriously berserk, joining the band in screaming “Heeeay!” after certain particularly ripping runs.
Monday, October 25 2010
The journey into the history of jazz can be a serious thrill ride. Still young, sometimes still foolish, the old stuff happens to remain seriously exciting if you just find the right time and place to listen.
Thursday, September 30 2010
If Steve Coleman didn't turn out to be the lovechild of James Brown and Charlie Parker that I first thought he was, then he ultimately turned into someone more interesting, if less fun.
Sunday, August 8 2010
With his new recording Ten, pianist Jason Moran marks a decade of playing by his great Bandwagon trio. Listeners should count themselves lucky.
Monday, June 28 2010
If Charlie Parker rose from the dead I have no doubt that he'd cheer on the hip hop orchestras and Bugge Wesseltoft's piano thumping electronica. He would definitely be a fan of Esperanza Spalding.
Tuesday, June 1 2010
The 16-year-old Canadian singer Nikki Yanofsky is taking the jazz world by storm. She wants to be more than just a phenom or a jazz singer. Has she got what it takes?
Wednesday, April 21 2010
Bassist and composer Dave Holland has been making adventurous, melodic jazz for 40 years with the likes of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton, Stan Getz, Pat Metheny and many others.
Tuesday, March 16 2010
John Pizzarelli is cool enough to be modern but hot enough to be 'old' -- and he knows what he's doing with that voice, even if he's no Sinatra.
Wednesday, February 17 2010
How do you paint a picture of a melody? How do you tell a story about a D-major-7 chord or a C-minor-melodic scale? How do you make a film about harmonic innovation or the division of a measure into overlapping polyrhythms?
Monday, January 11 2010
The year 2009 was a such a good one for jazz that even some music that had been neglected stands out as stellar. Layman catches up with music he never should have missed.
Tuesday, December 15 2009
The best jazz of 2009 did not come, even a little bit, from the storied "major labels" of jazz. What happened to Blue Note and Verve this year?
Monday, November 23 2009
John Hollenbeck recombines the familiar in compositions that are startlingly new. His new Eternal Interlude is among the best jazz of 2009. Here, he explains his quirky, fresh methods.
Wednesday, October 21 2009
Two recent releases by leading saxophonists Chris Potter and James Carter raise the question of the utility—or the misuses—of virtuosity in jazz.
Tuesday, September 15 2009
Peggy Lee—the cellist, not the late singer—is nevertheless all about singing of a sort. She talks to PopMatters about creativity and collaboration in the beautiful city of Vancouver.
Wednesday, August 19 2009
Discovering the first collection of duets between popular singer Tony Bennett and jazz pianist Bill Evans popped my top and buttered my bread.
Wednesday, July 22 2009
Jennifer Lee is not the typical, seductive jazz singer in a little black dress, holding a martini and giving you a late night wink. But she is a heck of a singer and musician, and she's ready to be heard.
Wednesday, June 10 2009
Our jazz critic talks to Gary Burton about his reunion with Pat Metheny, about starting a "gentle" jazz-rock group, and that no one seems to know what a "vibraphone" really is.
Thursday, May 14 2009
With spring comes a rush of jazz vocalists and some of them can actually sing. Others ... not so much.
Thursday, April 9 2009
Blossom's music exuded a sparkling kind of elegance and quick wit. Hers was the kind of jazz you could imagine in the really good Woody Allen movies. She was the Dorothy Parker of jazz.
Wednesday, March 18 2009
Songlines has its finger on the pulse of the most important improvised music being made in North America these days.
Wednesday, February 18 2009
Tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane manages to look backward without seeming stale, and manages to deflect his sound off of his father's without either outright rejection or pale imitation.
Thursday, January 22 2009
"The position of not taking a side has endured." Joshua Redman talks about the hoary division between tradition and innovation, the spatial approach to doubled rhythm sections, and jazz's academic antidote.
Wednesday, December 17 2008
Two new albums by piano-less quartets offer big doses of fun -- urgent rhythms, slabs of blues feeling, melody and invention with hardly any limit -- but also provide thrill-rides of surprise.
Wednesday, November 5 2008
Smooth Jazz truly is the music of the gesture. It is music of the pose. It is music -- maybe particularly when it is made by a skillful musician -- that hints at real music without being real music.
Wednesday, October 8 2008
From the lips of Melody Gardot -- heard in her swinging Cole Porter for an automobile -- there's another tentacle of jazz pushing forward, finding its way into our ears.
Wednesday, August 20 2008
Dave Brubeck has been incredibly popular, neither simplistic nor crass, yet critics have never much liked his music. What if you listen to him -- to his long career -- with fresh ears?
Wednesday, July 16 2008
What does it say about our time and place that our two boldest -- maybe best -- jazz singers, Patricia Barber and Cassandra Wilson, are returning to singing standards again?
Thursday, June 26 2008
Even today there are distinctive characteristics to American and European jazz styles. Which strain of music is most forward-looking? Which suggests the most promising vanguard for a music that seems to lose listeners even as its creativity expands?
Wednesday, May 28 2008
"Blue Note" means there's a certain sound to a record, a style that is tight and sharp and funky but also adventurous. If jazz is music to shout about, Blue Note records may be the most shout-worthy of all time.
Wednesday, April 16 2008
With two of the US' major "smooth jazz" radio stations defunct to the fickleness of format change, the time to mourn the cheesy sub-genre is now. But what made Smooth Jazz not really jazz at all?
Monday, March 10 2008
Saxophonist Charles Lloyd enjoyed periods of critical acclaim, popular celebration, eccentric withdrawal, and general trivialization. He was easy to ignore if you came of jazz fan age after 1970, and that's a shame.
Wednesday, January 30 2008
It's never too late to get hip to a good thing. I've finally opened my ears to '20s-era Bix Biederbecke.
Wednesday, January 2 2008
Paul Bley seems to be that rare jazz musician who has made a romance with the avant-garde seem easy on the ears.
Wednesday, November 14 2007
Jazz and its fans have grown all too serious. The genre could use a clown prince or two.
Tuesday, October 16 2007
Recently, two most idiosyncratic jazz bass players, Miroslav Vitous and Eberhard Weber, released riveting, odd, ambitious recordings, suggesting the importance of the bass tradition to the larger history of the music.
Wednesday, September 19 2007
Current musicians like Brad Mehldau or Greg Osby are the equivalents of Albert Pujols or Mariano Rivera: future legends that walk among us today. Now you're on notice: James Carney may just be a master in the making.
Thursday, August 9 2007
The most rewarding work as a critic is not in evaluating the flow of big menu items from established artists, but in sampling the little dishes that come along -- like this quartet of obscure, interesting stuff from 2007's first half.
Monday, May 21 2007
Layman shares Thai food with the band, and discusses the wonderfully uncategorizable music of The Jen Chapin Trio.
Thursday, April 12 2007
"I want every album I produce to take the listener on a journey, perhaps to places they've never been before." Cryptogramophone Records founder Gauthier talks L.A. jazz, musical community, and embracing change.
Thursday, March 8 2007
Spurred on by a couple of anniversaries, a new podcast "Traneumentary", and plenty of memory, Layman reflects on the music and meaning of John Coltrane.
Wednesday, December 20 2006
How can it be, in fact, that Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas is perhaps the only universally adored record in jazz history -- the Sgt. Pepper's of improvised music?
Wednesday, November 1 2006
The prolific trumpeter talks shirking musical definitions, finding challenging middle ground between 'fake jazz' and 'real musicianship', touring with They Might Be Giants, and turning down Jay-Z.