Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 30: Stefon Harris, Jason Moran, Gerg Osby, Mark Shim "New Directions", Joe Lovano "52nd Street Themes", Andre Previn "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Well, I kind of stepped in it now with my more 'pure' notion of the grab bag technique. I pulled out a weathered and worn CD that turned out to be a three CD modern opera and a CD sleeve that was cleverly disquising two CDs without any marking whatsoever.

It's not the first operatic style CD I've had to do, but I think it is my first three CD set that has had all three discs in them. And all but one track transfered. Well, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Interestingly enough, I think this is the first time an artist has repeated, and it's managed to do it in an interesting way. Not too long ago (like two days ago) I did a Greg Osby and Joe Lovano collaboration. Well, tucked in the very damaged little unmarked sleeve were separate albums from both artists. I'm not sure if this is pure coincidence, of if I received these all together and throughout all the upheavel they managed to stay somewhat united, but it's kind of cool. Add in Stefon Harris who was part of day 14. Though it won't give me much to say since I exhausted my stories about both artists two days ago, but I'm doing six hours of music today, so maybe if I'm not typing the entire time it's a good thing.

Stefon Harris, Jason Moran, Greg Osby, Mark Shim
The Blue Note New Directions Band
So, first, that's not the normal scanned image since the plain sleeve that the CD was in had to be destroyed in order to extract the CD.

So apparently this was an attempt by Blue Note to get all of their young turk players together in the same way that there used to be that cross fertilization. This also has Osby playing in that slightly wild way that I'm more used to rather than that slightly tamed way he laid down with Lovano earlier.

This is the result of what happens when the new hot jazz get together.

In the seventies there was a flood of the first of the 'film school' filmmakers. Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, and Lukas were the first real wave of people who had studied film and filmmaking academically. In the late 80s and more in the 90s the same thing happened with jazz. More so than with filmmaking there was not only a sense that jazz couldn't be taught, but rather that it shouldn't be taught. There was a real feeling that the old Louis Armstrong adage was law,  "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." You couldn't teach jazz in a classroom, the conventional wisdom went, it had to be learned in the clubs at the feet of the masters. It had to be in your soul and if it wasn't, tough luck.

I've briefly discussed the change in this in the 80s with the recording from Jimmy Heath, "The Professor." I was a product of this as well, I learned jazz academically. I also spent a fair amount of time following around local jazz acts and watching them in clubs and tugging their ears, but I learned a lot in a class room.

What this resulted in was a wave of extraordinarily technical players. I don't say this pejoratively, this technical skill did not substitute expressiveness or feeling. Sure, there were some amazingly technical players that emerged briefly who didn't have that hard to define 'feel.' But the ones with that hard to define element were also amazingly technical players.

So a gathering like this it is almost like the honor students putting on the science fair. There's no fake volcanoes here, if they're going to do something on volcanoes, expect actual lava.

The pieces are selected out of the Blue Note library, but this is no list of common standards. The most common piece on here is Song for My Father. The other tracks are ones like Theme to Blow UpNo Room for Squares, Big Bertha, and Commentary on Electrical Switches. This is deep catalog. Hard bop, progressive selections that come from a well studied, extremely well trained musicians who want to flex the muscles they toned. This is not beginners jazz. You want Satin Doll, go to a hotel lobby.

Joe Lovano
52nd Street Themes

Again I don't have the real cover, but at least this album is available for download at Amazon, so it gets the big player unless you're running AdBlock, in which case you get nothing.

This is almost the opposite of the previous album, which is not to say it isn't technical. It's in fact fairly heavily arranged, bringing four saxes, a trumpet and a trombone in as the horn section. The title is a tribute to the famed section of 52nd St. that was home to a large amount of jazz clubs through the middle of the twentieth century. These are all fresh arrangements of charts you might hear walking down 52nd street on a Saturday night. The arrangements are done by a Willie Smith, but not "The Lion" Smith from an earlier entry.

This kind of feels academic in a way. When you put a bunch of jazz students together, the first thing that usually happens is you put them in big bands, but big bands are pretty limiting. Unless you're the first trumpet, alto, tenor, or piano player you're not looking at many solos and the solos people do get are not very long. So now you sort your students into combos, but you usually only have a handful of rhythm section players (they were sorted out when the big band was selected) and an abundance of horn players, so in school you get a lot more 'nonets' and octets and the like. And because that's really too many horns to have just do unison lines, they also do arrangements. I performed in a few groups like this, usually doing Hard Bop tunes.

There isn't a lot of these 'in the wild' so to speak. Economically, it's hard to get a gig that pays nine members. Or for a label to foot the bill on a relatively low selling jazz CD with that many musicians on the invoice. But it certainly is more common on CD than live.

Influence-wise, I did this a little backward. This is largely bop from 52nd Street's heyday and New Directions was largely post-bop.

I feel like I should talk more about this, but really I got nothing. It's good.

There's a pretty cool solo sax piece towards the end called Abstractions on 52nd Street. I dig solo saxophone, you usually have to head to a street corner for that.

Andre Previn
A Streetcar Named Desire

So, I still have that problem with operas in English. And I got three hours of it ahead of me. I like Tennessee Williams, though. I don't really know too much about this particular play except for the iconic line, which I'm hoping will be spectacular.

So, I have this for two reasons. The first is that I was an advocate modern composition, and new operas fell into that category, despite my difficulty in hearing them in English. I know it's unfair, but it just sounds like Opera parody. Blame Adam Sandler.

The second reason is it is the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. So it was a new opera performed by the local orchestra. I had to take the promo. Besides, it wasn't like anyone was going to fight me for it. I think i pulled it out once and tried to listen to it. That's apparently going to be the last time, however. I came back from the bathroom and found out that 'snap' when I got up was me splitting the second CD in half. Well, at least I got it onto the hard drive...

Oh yeah, there's the "STELLA!" Done by an opera singer. Happens a lot earlier in the opera than I thought it would. But then I don't know this play that well.

I think I may have discovered that the only thing harder for me to accept than English operas is opera sung with an affected southern accent. Also, wearing headphones for five hours makes your ears sweaty, something I wasn't aware was possible. When I do audio work I tend to at least move them to my forehead between takes.

I'm in the home stretch and I haven't really said much.  I keep getting this feeling like the reader is sitting in front of me waiting for me to comment, but that's not at all the case. Obviously.

Rape scenes in general are rough to watch or listen to, but in opera form they are a special kind of disturbing.

Ha, I got distracted and hadn't noticed that the music had gotten a lot more up beat and brassy, iTunes had moved on to the Canadian Brass Super Hits...

Well, opera is a rough spot for me.

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