Jazz Now: Adam Schatz & James Donahue, Search And Restore
by Adam Schatz & James Donahue
I make no secret of my admiration for Search and Restore. Adam Schatz and James Donahue book some of the hippest jazz shows you'll find in New York City; they also run a useful online hub (including a show calendar) for live jazz in the area. (See the ABS interview: part one and part two.) For Jazz Now, I granted them 10 album picks -- five for each co-founder. Adam has written the majority opinion with an enthusiasm that is irresistibly infectious, and James stepped in to voice the last three picks. --Ed.
I came to New York City in 2006 with absolutely zero knowledge of its current jazz creators. Within the first week, Dave Binney's Welcome To Life band changed the world as I knew it.
Their live show opened the door to a community of musicians who could exert an emotional pull on listeners -- and do so in a completely fresh way every night. The album that band recorded, and nine others, have been compiled into the following list of must-hears by me and James Donahue, my partner in show presentation and audience expansion. Here are records that we believe are perfect introductions to the creative attitude running through jazz's veins today.
There seems to be a constant back-and-forth as to what can be deemed "jazz" or not. To me, it is a music that conjures melody, harmony and improvisation in any way, shape or form. Keeping the definition of jazz inclusive helps to draw in new listeners; it's hard to see anything unattractive in that.
Despite jazz's long, fruitful history, I don't think it's necessary for a new listener to be knowledgeable, or even appreciative, of what's come before now. Historical awareness will surely help them hear and feel today's jazz in a new light. However, I am completely confident that these albums stand on their own terms: as progressive, exciting new music.
1. James Carney, Green-Wood (Songlines)
James Carney is a pianist who prizes meaningful, strong compositions -- but also wholeheartedly embraces the weird. With Green-Wood, he takes a fantastic risk by beginning the album's first track with some of the weird: a deep synth rumble, saxophonic murmurs and drum spasms only hint of what's to come. Three minutes in, the melody hits like a rock, and all is again safe. Green-Wood is full of interplay between the improvised and the composed, abandoning conventional song forms. That gives Carney full control as a composer, bandleader and space-maker. A sonic masterpiece which maximizes the versatility of every instrument, this is a great album to get lost in. --AS
"Power," from James Carney, Green-Wood (Songlines). James Carney, piano; Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Peter Epstein, soprano sax; Josh Roseman, trombone; Chris Lightcap, bass; Mark Ferber, drums. Released 2007.
2. Andrew D'Angelo, Skadra Degis (Skirl)
Here's a very, very badass trio record. Skadra Degis is three equals and three friends creating highly listenable, mind-blowing renditions of Andrew D'Angelo's compositions. D'Angelo can make his alto saxophone sound beautiful; he can also make it appear to break apart at the seams. (Which is still pretty beautiful.) Jim Black navigates the drums in ways I had never heard before. Trevor Dunn leaps around the bass with intensity; his is an unbelievably strong voice. The connection between the musicians and their music is palpable, and a joy to experience. It's represented best in the track "Fam Hana," which moves seamlessly from gorgeous melodic statements to gut-crushing monster sounds, and back again toward beauty. --AS
"Fam Hana," from Andrew D'Angelo, Skadra Degis (Skirl). Andrew D'Angelo, alto saxophone; Trevor Dunn, bass; Jim Black, drums. Released 2008.
3. The Claudia Quintet, Semi-Formal (Cuneiform)
The creative instrumentation of the Claudia Quintet drew me in: vibes, clarinet (and tenor saxophone), accordion, bass and drums. Together, it's a strange but invigorating assault on the ear canals; each instrument is used a little differently than you've heard before. But when they're combined to realize leader John Hollenbeck's compositions, they all reach new heights. This music has a lot of space: none of the instruments are able to wash over the band in the way that a piano or guitar can. That breathing room allows for a comfortable place for the listener to sit in and have his or her brain rocked. Semi-Formal can move from orchestral to breakbeat to rock 'n' roll -- and it all comes out as futuristic and unique. --AS
"They Point...Glance...Whisper...Then Snicker," from The Claudia Quintet, Semi-Formal (Cuneiform). John Hollenbeck, drums; Chris Speed, reeds; Ted Reichman, accordion; Drew Gress, bass; Matt Moran, vibraphone. Released 2005.
4. Todd Sickafoose, Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone)
Tiny Resistors is a really special record: it can leap genre walls effortlessly, and that's even without the knowledge that Andrew Bird plays violin (and whistles) on it. Sickafoose's songs are recorded and developed as an experimental pop record. Who knows if he would even dub the music "jazz," but I like to think it continues in jazz's tradition of creative song forms, improvised energy and finding new ways to combine sounds. Sickafoose's melodies are eminently memorable, and his arrangements are expert. If every current jazz band put this much time into the production and development of an album, we'd have a lot more masterpieces on our hands. For now, I could listen to this over and over and over again. --AS
"Bye Bye Bees," from Todd Sickafoose, Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone). Shane Endsley, trumpet; Ben Wendel, tenor saxophone; Alan Ferber, trombone; Adam Levy, guitar (left channel); Mike Gamble, guitar (right channel); Allison Miller, drums; Andrew Bird, violin/whistling; Ani DiFranco, filtered voice; Todd Sickafoose, bass/piano/mallet percussion. Released 2008.
5. Rudder, Matorning (Nineteen-Eight)
Funk scares me. It can be a far-too-true recreation of past funkiness, or a general missing of the point, of the funk spirit. Rudder is a rare specimen: a band of good-humored and remarkably talented individuals who also create incredibly odd funk music. Keith Carlock's drumming powers the band like a runaway train, and the meltdown effects of Chris Cheek's saxophone electronics and Henry Hey's keyboards create a trippy (and often hilarious) foray into the freaky. This is music that pimps in the 2070s will strut to, though it's also a lot of fun to listen to right now. --AS
"3H Club," from Rudder, Matorning (Nineteen Eight). Chris Cheek, saxophones; Henry Hey, keyboards; Tim Lefebvre, bass; Keith Carlock, drums. Released 2009.
6. Craig Taborn, Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear)
Craig Taborn is one of the most sought-after keyboard players today; he performs in an wide array of improvising environments, traditional to futuristic. This album definitely belongs in the future category, but it has a weight to it that speaks of Taborn's experience in many musical fields. Drummer Dave King (of The Bad Plus and Happy Apple fame) makes acidic beats that flip as often as they stay put -- they're a steady mix between the electronic and the acoustic. And thanks to Taborn's composition and production, the saxophone and viola often don't sound like saxophone and viola. Then again, sometimes they do. That versatility makes this one of the coolest albums that I would call "jazz." It's impossible to tell precisely how this album was made, and that's pretty exciting. --AS
"Prismatica," from Craig Taborn, Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear). Craig Taborn, keyboards/programming; Aaron Stewart, tenor sax; Mat Maneri, viola, Dave King, drums. Released 2004.
7. Don Byron, Ivey-Divey (Blue Note)
On Ivey-Divey, clarinetist Don Byron shows incredible respect to the music's past -- it's partially inspired by a 1946 Lester Young trio recording -- but also seems perfectly happy operating in the present. Drum legend Jack DeJohnette pounds the skins, and the equally-talented (albeit younger) creators Jason Moran and Lonnie Plaxico hold down the keys and bass, respectively. Byron's clarinet tone is warm: he has a friendly way of allowing you into his playing, then breaking loose toward energetic peaks. A mix of original compositions and interpretations of classics, the music is undeniably jazz, but it's far from a museum piece. Each musician brings a truly modern awareness to the group, and the collective impact is joyful. --AS
"Lefty Teachers At Home," from Don Byron, Ivey-Divey. Don Byron, clarinet; Jason Moran, piano; Jack DeJohnette, drums; Lonnie Plaxico, bass. Released 2004.
8. Kneebody, Low Electrical Worker (Colortone Media)
Going to a live show by the genre-melting Los Angeles/Brooklyn quintet Kneebody is always a terribly fun experience. The musicians are young and energetic. They move so seamlessly and convincingly between convulsive groove, burning improvisation and sweet serenade that you can quickly go into sensory overload (the good kind). Low Electrical Worker, the band's second release, actually manages to capture that energy on disc. On paper, Kneebody's instrumentation isn't so different than that of a 1950s hard-bop quintet: trumpet, tenor sax, keys, bass and drums. But listening to the music, this seems impossible. On "Blue, Yellow, White," the band rocks out so hard that one wonders if there's a man behind the curtain wailing on a distorted electric guitar. Dirty, funny, thoughtful and unbelievably pretty, you may ask if this is even "jazz." The answer is, "sometimes." It doesn't matter anyway; it's great music. --JD
"Blue, Yellow, White," by Kneebody, Low Electrical Worker (Colortone Media). Shane Endsley, trumpet/effects; Ben Wendel, saxophones/effects, Adam Benjamin, keyboards; Kaveh Rastegar, bass; Nate Wood, drums. Released 2007.
9. David Binney, Welcome To Life (Mythology)
Alto saxophonist Dave Binney is something of a local legend in New York City. He maintains regular gigs at the tiny 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, where he constantly welcomes new talent to the stage. But in stumbling across one of his Tuesday night shows, one may not suspect that this humble saxophone slayer, sporting jeans, sneakers, and a Yankees cap, also happens to be a compositional genius commanding international recognition. His 2004 record Welcome To Life combines the forces of contemporary jazz all-stars Chris Potter, Brian Blade, Scott Colley, Craig Taborn and Adam Rogers. The resulting supergroup breathes life into Binney's complex, compelling and remarkably beautiful songs. Listen for the contrast between through-composition on one hand, and free improvisation on the other. This is an extremely important album to me. It's challenging, and it's also highly enjoyable. --JD
"Frez," from David Binney, Welcome To Life (Mythology). David Binney, alto saxophone; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Craig Taborn, piano; Adam Rogers, guitar; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blade, drums. Released 2004.
10. Dave Douglas, Strange Liberation (Bluebird)
Where do I start? Strange Liberation changed my life. I've listened to it straight through a hundred times or more. Honest, risky improvisation. Dave Douglas' technically flawless and conceptually boundless trumpet playing. Chris Potter's saxophone virtuosity. Uri Caine's versatile and pointed piano colorings. And Bill Frisell! Douglas, Potter, Caine, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn already form an unstoppable quintet, but the addition of Frisell's voice makes this record truly shine.
Strange Liberation is part of a series of Douglas' recordings that expands upon Miles Davis' electrified work in the late '60s and early '70s. And what sweet, strange liberation it is! I liken this music to painterly splashes of sound over the already brilliant canvas of Uri Caine's electric piano voicings and Frisell's guitar wizardry. But I've said too much. I just finished listening to the album in its entirety again. I strongly suggest that you do the same. --JD
"Seventeen," from Dave Douglas, Strange Liberation (Bluebird). Dave Douglas, trumpet; Chris Potter, tenor sax; Uri Caine, keyboards; Bill Frisell, guitar; James Genus, bass; Clarence Penn, drums. Released 2004.
Which five albums would you pick to introduce an open-minded listener to the jazz of today? Let us know: leave us a comment, or write about it on your own blog -- and let us know where to find it. For more information on this series, read the introduction.
1:44 PM ET | 09-23-2009 | permalink