The Bumble Bee's View of the Garden:
Opinions on Jazz and other topics
The Bumble Bee returns from a trip to the far-off shores of lake Erie and finds the Jazz garden, both there and at home, to be healthy and varied, if not as abundant as he would like.
I was in Cleveland recently doing research for a book that I hope to have finished in a year or two. The book is about Tadd Dameron (1917-65), a gifted and important Jazz composer and arranger who is largely unknown to the general public. Tadd was born in Cleveland, and even after he had moved to New York, he returned there so often for extended periods that it was always his second home. My research involved reading old newspapers and interviewing some of the few remaining friends and acquaintances of Mr. Dameron in order to have a better idea of his world. As part of my plan of action I sought out local musicians who might have known him or could refer me to those who did.
People in Cleveland say that the Jazz scene there is better than it has been for a long while, and it certainly looked pretty good to me. A look in the Free Times reveals a Jazz section in the entertainment listings that lists 42 venues that present some kind of Jazz at least once a week. In the three nights that I went out I went to four of them, participating in two jam sessions and listening to a really good big band and a sweet quartet playing swing style dance music for some very appreciative patrons at a restaurant. The musical styles ranged from the swing quartet to Grover Washington style R&B/Jazz fusion.
Once again we find that there are a lot of people playing Jazz and somebody has got to be listening to it. Maybe it is just that the record industry cannot figure out how to manipulate a style with so many variations. I guess it would be too much to ask of them just to present the music in some proportion to the interest people show for it.
Speaking of variety, two local CDs have come my way recently that I would like to introduce to you. The first is by Evan Goodrow. Regular readers of this column will remember my mention of Evan's jam sessions over at the Worthen, and will, I hope, have gone over there to check them out. Recently Evan released Red, which features his blues/R&B based party band. This band works at many of the local bars that cater to young dancers and they definitely do create a party mood on this CD.
Of the eight tunes on Red seven are originals. There is a definite "progressive blues" approach to half of these tunes, calling up, to my ear, favorable comparisons with Steely Dan, Bobby Caldwell and The Kinsey Report. The other four are more "traditional." Evan's guitar work is definitely the "star" of the record. Whether playing lead or rhythm, he is always "in the pocket," rhythmically sure-footed and melodically tasteful, with a beautiful command of the tone colors available from electric guitars.
Naturally, the whole band is very "tight," as musicians say, and every track makes you want to get up and dance. This is due in no small part to the masterful drumming of my buddy Stanley C. Swann III, who has a lot of experience in laying down a solid groove. Keybordist Denis Brunelle, and bassist Dino Monoxelos round out the band very effectively. There is also the work of the Boston Horns (Garet Savluk, trumpet and Henley Douglas, tenor sax), and the background vocals of Linda Roberts, which give Evan a lot to work with as an arranger. I maintain that you have to be able to play the Blues to be able to really play Jazz, and on Red Evan demonstrates the foundation that makes him such a good Jazz guitarist as well.
From another part of the Jazz spectrum comes Voicemeal by the Portsmouth based trio Color, with Matt Langley, soprano and tenor saxes, Chris Delcato, keyboards, and his brother Jamie Delcato, drums. Color's music can best be described as "post-bop." They work with a variety of musical materials, from the more formal "Voicemeal" to the game-like "Jamie's Jump." All three players are in full command not only of their instruments, but of the musical elements as well, which is absolutely necessary in music like this. There is very little in the way of cliché or tradition to hang on to in this stuff. At the same time it is all very musical and listenable. My one big problem with the "avant-garde" (sometimes it seems a little absurd to call it that after 35 or so years) is the amount of excess in many of the performances, whether in the length of solos or the dynamic intensity. Here we have three mature musicians making good music by non- traditional means.
And yet, there is a knowledge and respect for the Jazz tradition in their playing that makes this music unmistakable Jazz. The grooves always swing, there is that all-important, to me at least, patina of the Blues, and there are even quotations of Jazz tunes, as when Matt Langley quotes Monk's "Introspection" in his solo on "Another Deadline." Langley, although clearly a post-bop player, shows his knowledge of the roots of Jazz saxophone playing. One can easily hear that he has listened carefully and lovingly to great masters like Johnny Griffin and Sonny Rollins. Similarly the Delcato brothers show that they know what has gone before in this music, even when they are being their most adventurous.
If you are a jazz listener who is interested in getting a handle on the "new Jazz," or if you already have developed a taste for adventurous music, I recommend this album to you highly. Not only is it good music, but you will be supporting some fine local artists as well.
Both of these recordings are self-produced. Red can be purchased from Evan Goodrow at any of his gigs (and he manages to gig a lot), and likely at the local record stores. You can also contact him: EGB, Box 100, 301 Newbury St., Danvers, MA 01923; e-mail email@example.com. I found Voicemeal at the Stoudwater Book Store on Lafayette Rd. (Rt 1) in Portsmouth, NH. You can also e-mail Matt Langley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207-439-3516 for more information on Color.
Technological advances have made it much easier for musicians of all styles to produce their own recordings. For the price of a very modest dinner you can take a chance on someone you have never heard before or support the efforts of musicians you already know. There is also a wealth of interesting sounds on the Internet. Recently, a friend of mine alerted me to MP3.com as a means of presenting Jazz. Although MP3 recently has been the subject of controversy for a service that makes questionable use of the "fair use" provisions of the copyright laws, most of its services are respectful of the right musicians and composers to make something back for all their hard work. I will probably be reporting to you on my adventures with this in the future. At the present my site is not yet functional, but I hope to be able to release music there that is more experimental. Projects that I cannot afford to press in large numbers, but that I think will be of interest to at least a few people. I seems like a place to try out works in progress as well. If you surf the Web, go check out the Jazz section of MP3. I think you will find it very interesting.
One last word on local Jazz. The Merrimack Valley Jazz Society Jam Session at Borders in Nashua a few weeks ago was so much fun that Borders has invited the Society back. The next one will probably take place in October. Keep your eyes and ears open for news of it.
Paul Combs, Vyü Magazine, vol. 6