Kenny Werner, Kenny Garrett, Robert Glasper, Brooke Sofferman
January 1, 1970A pair of concert reviews makes this week's newsletter a bit lengthier than usual. They're of Kenny Garrett's quartet at the Regattabar last Saturday and last week's column subject, Robert Glasper, at Scullers Thursday night. Another Kenny — Kenny Werner — is the subject of this week's column, in which he passes along some of the same thinking that went into his mostly tongue-in-cheek recent column on the absurd struggles of the jazz recording industry. The Calendar pick is on Brooke Sofferman and his group The Sofferman Perspective, which, like Werner, will be performing tonight — Sofferman at New England Conservatory and Werner at the Regattabar. I'm going to make a stab at catching both of them. Maybe I'll see you there.
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Glasper crafts a sound all his own
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspodent | January 21, 2006
Robert Glasper, the much-touted 28-year-old piano discovery signed to Blue Note Records, proved himself the real deal at Scullers Thursday. He hasn't merely got chops to burn. He's also got a unique voice that sets him apart from the crowd.
That voice has some recognizable components to be sure: an engaging yet sophisticated lyricism that calls to mind both Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, a harmonic sense that owes something to Herbie Hancock. But what Glasper does with them sounds like no one else.
He started off Thursday with the tune "Rise and Shine," which opens his CD "Canvas," introducing the piece by himself on piano. And though he was obviously displaying his considerable skill, he never let instrumental athleticism overwhelm his love of improvised melody. Drummer Damion Reid took a kind of solo over the tune's theme after the rest of the trio joined in, and Glasper quoted a familiar line by McCoy Tyner, altered ever so slightly, before concluding the piece.
"Am I In Your Way?" contained a quote, too: a tweaked version of Hancock's "Riot," the only cover tune on "Canvas." Again, Glasper led off the piece on his own, flashing through a few quick runs that made soft landings on slightly dissonant chords and otherwise showing off an amazingly precise right hand.
Reid, in whose honor, Glasper announced, the piece had been composed (the pianist has a penchant for inside-joke titles), came in on brushes as the theme started off simply and prettily. Bassist Alan Hampton, subbing for trio regular Vicente Archer, took a worthy unaccompanied solo. And then Glasper launched an uptempo riot, Reid's left hand lightly tapping breakneck time on his cymbal.
Another new original, "FTB," came next — ballad-like and even vaguely smooth-jazzy until Glasper took his solo and put it into gear. Hampton took another crowd-pleasing solo, fat-toned and agile, and then Glasper stepped back in and the tune grooved its way to a close.
A stretched-out improvisation closed the set. Glasper eased his way into "Enoch's Meditation," one of the prettiest pieces on a CD full of them. Glasper's solo piano passage hit a Jarrett-like groove at one point, slow and softly melodic, and the pianist went on to briefly quote some more thinly disguised Hancock — a few lines of "Maiden Voyage," which Glasper recorded for a previous CD. The song and set concluded with Glasper returning to the mesmerizing theme of "Enoch's Meditation."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Werner breathes new life into debate on the death of jazz
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 20, 2006
The death of jazz is an idea that gets floated every decade or two. But it's rarely an accomplished jazz musician who brings it up. And were a top jazzman to do so, you wouldn't expect him to be playing it for laughs.
But such was the case with "Deathjazz," Kenny Werner's largely tongue-in-cheek column in the current issue of Jazz Improv. The much-admired pianist — who'll lead saxophonist George Garzone, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Antonio Sanchez at the Regattabar tomorrow — leads off by asking: "Did you ever wonder why a record company even has a jazz division?" before launching a comic riff on the things that keep jazz CDs from selling.
"Listen, I think that the 'Deathjazz' article was just a comical overview of the oxymoron of the 'jazz recording business,'" Werner says by phone from New York, where last week he performed at the annual International Association for Jazz Education convention.
The piece raises interesting points. And Werner is willing to back them up in conversation. He argues that the ease with which musicians can produce their own CDs is, potentially, more a curse than a blessing.
"All these people at various stages of development, they only make a CD because they can, and in 99 percent of the cases they really didn't need to — nor did anybody need to hear it," Werner explains. "That's the problem, that a CD which they may put out on the open market was really just their own attempt to validate the fact that they're in this business. 'Now I have a CD. Now I exist.' And I don't know that the market can really take that."
He talks of how jazz musicians and record labels, in hopes of luring media interest, are drawn to misguided, imitative projects — be they faddish forays into other genres or tributes to brand-name predecessors.
"I used to make the joke that you could not get your union card unless you did a tribute to Thelonious Monk," says Werner.
The article's main insight arrived when a neighbor visited Werner and started naming jazz musicians he liked — all of whom play smooth jazz. Werner sent the neighbor home with some authentic jazz CDs, including one of his own, and the neighbor reported that he liked some of it — Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue," in particular — but that Werner's had been problematic. He'd been trying to build a fireplace in his living room while listening to Werner's CD, and found the music a distraction.
"His main complaint about it was that it was so interesting that he had to stop and listen to it. And that's where jazz musicians are all misguided: They're making CDs under the assumption that someone's going to listen to them. These people are buying something [so] they can put it on and then spackle."
There are a couple of good reasons why Werner, 54, is able to maintain a sense of humor about all this. One is his already having survived a period when jazz was so moribund it looks thriving today by comparison.
"I come out of the '70s, where the last reference we had was musicians just learn to play great and then the phone rings," he says. "And it took us 10 years of denial before we realized the phone doesn't ring anymore."
When it does, the focus should be on playing live, not recording.
"Jazz's greatest value is as a live medium," he says. "Jazz musicians and improvisers — I would even just say 'improvisers' — they're doing an important thing going out and waking up anywhere from 10 to 1,000 people every time they play, at least for an hour or two.
"I still can't really relate to jazz in the commercial world," he says. "But I started to realize that, yeah, art certainly has no currency in this country, but, man, there are a bunch of people that have been entirely through the whole material experiment, and they are not happy. So there must be something else, even beyond art, that people are really hungry for. If I focus on that, and that becomes the focus of my music . . . I could reach past the commercial monolith and go to where the hunger really is in myself and find an audience. And I have. I haven't found everything I've wanted, but I certainly have an audience."
Kenny Werner performs at 7:30 and 10 p.m. tomorrow at the Regattabar. Tickets $20. Call 617-395-7757 or visit www.regattabarjazz.com.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
The Sofferman Perspective
Williams Hall, New England Conservatory, 30 Gainsborough St., Boston. 617-585-1260. 8 p.m. Free.
Brooke Sofferman doesn't fit the drummer stereotype. That he leads his own group is only mildly unusual - Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, and Elvin Jones, among others, did the same. He also keeps time very skillfully, thank you. But Sofferman also composes most of his group's wide-ranging repertoire, which on the most recent of his three CDs, 2004's "One Stone, Two Birds," includes everything from the Latin-laced polyrhythms of "Mimi's Mambo" to the ballad "Ky by Sky" to the free-leaning "Purple Friggin' Dinosaur." That third title will bring a smile to Barney-besieged parents everywhere, and hints at Sofferman's sense of humor. So do the two cover arrangements from that same disc: an odd-metered revamp of Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," titled "Griegarious Skang," and a fresh spin on the theme from the '80s TV show "Magnum P.I." Joining him on the CD, and at Sofferman's alma mater, New England Conservatory, on Saturday, is the stellar, all-Boston-based lineup of saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, trumpeter Phil Grenadier, and guitarist Norm Zocher. Another top local, Bruno Råberg, will join them on bass at the free Williams Hall concert, which will be taped for possible release as a DVD.
Thurs 1-19 Robert Glasper Glasper is an occasional sideman to hip-hoppers such as Mos Def and Q-Tip. But the pianist's own thing is leading one of the best and freshest young jazz trios in the business, as evidenced on his recent Blue Note Records debut, "Canvas." Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 10 p.m. $16, $56 with dinner.
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Garrett's quartet proves influential
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 18, 2006
CAMBRIDGE — The Kenny Garrett Quartet wasted no time getting started at the Regattabar Saturday night, accelerating full-speed into Garrett's tune "Chief Blackwater." If it didn't much match what followed, it set the stage for a thoroughly enjoyable night of music.
Composed with piano great McCoy Tyner in mind, the opening piece showed off the band at its most spiritual and John Coltrane Quartet-like. Garrett blew a long, ferocious solo on his alto saxophone before yielding to pianist Carlos McKinney, whose chord-heavy solo had Tyner-style thunder to it. Bassist Kris Dunn had a go on his upright next, before Garrett stepped back in and began trading bars with drummer Ronald Bruner during Bruner's impressive turn.
Bruner had been soloing throughout, his audacious, high-energy timekeeping making him as much a focal point as Garrett. There was an unmistakable cockiness to how he looked around the room grinning while playing, but his effortless precision called to mind Dizzy Dean's famous observation, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up."
Bruner shone, too, on the set's second tune, "Painted With the Same Brush," which Garrett announced afterward was based on Coltrane's "Countdown."
Next came something completely different: the contemporary-styled "Happy People." This one had traces of Miles Davis's later electric bands to it, but less edginess. Garrett blew alto over a simple groove, adding some effects toward the end. McKinney played electric piano and synthesizer. Bruner reined himself in and kept a basic pulse. Dunn goosed the loose, fluid sound of an electric bass from his upright, and that more than anything made the tune work.
Garrett and McKinney played the leader's "Asian Medley," with Garrett switching to soprano sax. McKinney's playing was sparse and pretty here, and toward the end he stopped and watched Garrett play alone. By this point, Garrett's soprano had taken on a sinuous tone that seemed more Middle Eastern than Far Eastern, though the three folk tunes he'd based the medley on were all Japanese or Korean.
An abbreviated version of another funk piece, "Wayne's Thang," concluded the set, and as with "Happy People," Garrett coaxed the audience into clapping along.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company