Stan Strickland, Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, Top 10 CDs
January 1, 1970Three quick jazz hits for the Globe this past week: a "Jazz Notes" profile of Stan Strickland, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra's annual Christmas concert as the week's Calendar pick, and the promised top 10 CD list from last Sunday's paper. As it happened, I lost count and wound up listing 11, sneaking around the limit by calling the last two a tie. I was thinking of listing a bunch of other solid contenders in the newsletter this week, but have writing and teaching deadlines stacked up on me over the next couple of days. So if it happens, it will have to be next week.
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Strickland adds lyrical approach to his singing
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 16, 2005
Stan Strickland will be wrapping up an unusually eventful year at the Acton Jazz Cafe tonight, even by his wide-ranging standards.
It was in 2005 that Strickland released "Love and Beauty," the first CD on which he sings lyrics in a three-decade-long career built mostly on John Coltrane-inspired horn work on tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, and flute.
He also ramped up his acting career this year, staging the one-man play based on his life, "Coming Up for Air: An Autojazzography."
These projects were in addition to steady sideman work, his teaching at Berklee, Tufts, and the Longy School of Music, and his work as codirector of Express Yourself, a program for special-needs children.
Strickland will focus on tunes from "Love and Beauty" tonight, with David Zoffer on piano, Wesley Wirth on bass, and Eric Doob on drums. That means he'll be singing recognizable songs, still a big enough novelty for the cafe's website to be billing tonight's show as "Stan Strickland Sings!"
"I've always sung," he says. "In the past, my vocalizing has been more non-lyrics, using sounds and exploring vocal textures and scat-like things. That's something I'm going to do more, too.
"But using words is so much different because of the nuance of different vowels and text, and so I wanted to explore just singing songs that I liked."
The result was a CD made up nearly entirely of jazz standards. Strickland uses overdubbing to accompany his singing on "God Bless the Child" with just his own bass clarinet, and he brings soul and funk elements to bear on "The More I See You." His "But Beautiful" is more straight-ahead jazz, with Tiger Okoshi's trumpet setting the mood along with Brad Hatfield on piano and drummer Jun Saito's brushwork.
The lone original on the CD is the soprano sax-infused title cut, which Strickland came up with while rehearsing "Coming Up for Air," the play inspired by his near drowning during a 1989 trip to Hawaii.
"It's basically about having gone through this experience and still finding myself not dead," Strickland says of the play. "Like, what do I do musically trying to recapture a sort of mystical experience that I had, and trying to find a way to manifest this internal experience into some kind of sound. The whole play sort of talks about that, and explores songs and music from childhood, associated with different family members. And there's a lot about Coltrane and his influence."
The details of the near drowning are certainly dramatic. Strickland says he was swimming off the Big Island in Hawaii in January, peak season for especially large waves, and "wasn't experienced enough to know that you never turn your back on the wave."
"The next thing I knew," he says, "I felt like I was dropped from a second story window on my face. So I broke my nose and fractured my sinus, almost bit my tongue off, cracked my teeth — and then another wave came, and I thought, well, that was it.
"But in the middle of all this, I had this weird thought about how embarrassing it would be to die without a hit CD. That's kind of the hook of the play."
Strickland wanted to do a one-man show with a story line that let him play various instruments and sing, and he enlisted playwright Jon Lipsky to write it. Strickland had recently played the role of Dr. Sax in Lipsky's play about Jack Kerouac, "Maggie's Riff," when they began brainstorming a piece based on Strickland's near-death experience. Lipsky interviewed Strickland on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard over the course of three or four years before committing the play to paper. Strickland then found himself in the odd position of committing Lipsky's words about his own life to memory.
"I was telling my mother that I was doing a one-man autobiographical show," he recalls, "and she said, 'Who's it about?' And I said, 'Me.' And she said, 'Well, that ought to be easy, Stanley.'" He laughs. "Easy for her to say."
The play debuted last March, with two-night runs at the Vineyard Playhouse and the Boston Playwrights' Theatre. Strickland is now working on getting it an extended run at the Boston Center for the Arts in fall 2006. In the meantime, he'll keep concentrating on his music — both instrumental and vocal.
"It has a lot to do with texture," Strickland says of his late-blossoming urge to sing lyrics. "Because if you are vocalizing without lyrics, you don't get the same texture that you do working with a word, because of all the diphthongs and the consonants. I like the texture of words."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Aardvark Jazz Orchestra
Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury St., Boston. 617-536-3355. 7:30 p.m. $15.
The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra is playing its 33rd annual Christmas concert Sunday at Emmanuel Church, but the more significant number for this year's show is 40. The church is celebrating 40 years of presenting jazz performances by notables including Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Sam Rivers, George Russell. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Ellington's First Sacred Concert, and the orchestra - joined by vocalists Jerry Edwards, Grace Hughes and Pamela Wood - will be doing "Come Sunday" and other selections from that concert this weekend to mark the occasion. Other Ellingtonia planned for Sunday includes pieces from his Second Sacred Concert ("Almighty God" and "It's Freedom"), "A Song for Christmas," and the first movement of "Three Black Kings." Also featured will be the Aardvark premiere of Grace Hughes's composition "Pennies on the Ground." Proceeds from the concert will be donated to the American Friends Service Committee, and Aardvark director Mark Harvey, whose day job is teaching music at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will give a preview lecture on the Ellington Sacred Concerts at Emmanuel Church at 7:30 tonight.
Sat 12-17 David Bond, Pierre Hurel, and Wes Brown Saxophonist Bond, pianist Hurel, and bassist Brown celebrate the season with a soothing program of standard and original ballads titled "Elegant Melodies and Wine." The wine will be complimentary. Zeitgeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-6060. 7 p.m. $15.
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TOP CDS OF 2005
1. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, "At Carnegie Hall" Blue Note. The archival find of the year documents one night toward the end of Coltrane's short, legendary tenure with Monk. And the sound quality from this 1957 concert is surprisingly good.
2. Sonny Rollins, "Without a Song: The 9/ 11 Concert" Milestone. Rollins was in top form for this emotional concert, which took place here in Boston four days after the attack on the World Trade Center towers.
3. Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Golson, Hank Jones, James Moody, et al, "One More: Music of Thad Jones" IPO. Thad Jones was one of jazz's greatest composer-arrangers, and half of the octet reprising his music here — including his brother Hank on piano — are certified NEA Jazz Masters.
4. Bill Charlap, "Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul" Blue Note. Charlap has established himself as a foremost interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Here his stellar trio takes on Gershwin, augmented by four horn heavyweights.
5. Herlin Riley, “Cream of the Crescent” Criss Cross. Wynton Marsalis’s longtime drummer strikes off on his own with a tribute to his hometown, New Orleans, recorded well ahead of Hurricane Katrina. Sidemen include Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra stars.
6. Joe Lovano, "Joyous Encounter" Blue Note. Last year's "I'm All for You" by this same quartet — Lovano, Hank Jones, George Mraz, Paul Motian — was one of the best discs of 2004. Now they're back with another batch of standards.
7. Wynton Marsalis, "Live at the House of Tribes" Blue Note. When he's not being self-consciously serious, jazz's leading proselytizer can make music that's downright earthy and fun. Here's proof.
8. Jason Moran, "Same Mother" Blue Note. Moran adds a guitarist to his longtime trio and plays off the notion of jazz and the blues coming from the same source, while maintaining his distinctive approach to the piano.
9. Charles Lloyd, "Jumping the Creek" ECM. Lloyd and a quartet featuring pianist Geri Allen offer up melodic spirituality with an occasional World Music accent.
Tie 10. Brad Mehldau, "Day Is Done" Nonesuch. Mehldau introduces Jeff Ballard as his trio’s new drummer and continues mining recent pop material in search of new standards. The Beatles, Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, Radiohead, and Nick Drake are all covered here.
Tie 10. Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, "Not in Our Name" Verve. More finely honed orchestral protest music from Haden and Carla Bley, this time aimed at the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company