Thursday, August 26, 2010

Interesting Links (with comments)

Branford Marsalis turns 50 (!) and is profiled by both Nate Chinen and Phil Freeman.
Chinen excerpt: "Thing is, a certain subset of critics fixed their opinion of him at this time, and he had barely gotten started. A year or two ago, I stumbled across a message board on which one such critic showed his hand. Presented with the idea that a younger tenor and soprano player today could emulate Marsalis, he snarked: what’s there to emulate? As if Branford himself didn’t have a recognizable voice on both instruments, and more than 20 years of recorded evidence to show for it."
I've always liked Branford's music, especially his tenor saxophone playing, and I was heavily influenced by his hosting of the NPR program Jazz Set (now hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater.) Although I think highly of most of his albums, but my favorite is the collection that Columbia Records put out shortly after his departure to start his own label. I know it's a bit of a cop out to pick a "best of," but the collection flows really well and cherry picks some of his finest performances recorded for the label. It also includes a burning live version of Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" that is worth the price of admission. Marsalis is among my favorite mainstream tenor saxophone players, I think his tone and articulation are reminiscent of the classic jazzmen of the past, notably John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter but he has built his own conception over the years. Ironically, his soprano saxophone really doesn't do it for me. It sounds very limpid and romantic and to my ears lacks the driving energy of his tenor playing. He may not be an innovator, and I think that is the criticism that is most often leveled against him, but honestly, how often does a true innovator come along? I think the he's done a lot to make jazz much more accessible to the mainstream public while maintaining his own integrity as a musician.

NPR's A Blog Supreme has a profile of one of my favorite record labels, Hot Cup, that focuses on the irreverent cover art they often use.
"Mostly Other People Do The Killing has issued four albums on Hot Cup. Three of the four also feature cover art that play on covers of classic jazz albums from Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Ornette Coleman."
Hot Cup is one of the labels that really make me wish that vinyl was still an economically viable format for jazz. The album art and graphic design that they use is a pastiche of great jazz albums of the past, but it is not satire, the musicians genuinely love the music that has come before them, and while they have fun with it, that fun is leveled with a healthy respect. The winking cover art is deceptive too, as the musicians and groups that record for this label are making some wonderfully progressive jazz. The collective Mostly Other People Do the Killing has released an excellent series of albums that crackle with excitement and ingenuity showing that jazz can be both seriously inventive and seriously fun simultaneously. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon's new album cover is gaining most of the attention for it's nod to Sonny Rollins' classic Way Out West and it will be interesting to see how people react to the music. It's a trio album recorded live, and a continuous performance that runs the full length of a compact disc. It's an audacious and exhausting performance, but it typifies the edgy music that Hot Cup releases.

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