Emanon: Wayne Shorter’s Triple Dare

Jazz shouldn’t have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that’s required to sound like jazz. For me, the word ‘jazz’ means, ‘I dare you.’

Wayne Shorter, the last saxophonist standing from jazz’s golden age, its great lateral thinker both as player and composer, tossed off that quote in 2013 when he turned 80.  For his 85th birthday, Shorter has tripled down: his latest project Emanon breaches multiple boundaries, stretching out not just beyond jazz, but beyond music itself.

Emanon (“no name” spelled backwards, referencing both a Dizzy Gillespie tune and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man) is a marvelously ambitious sprawl, Shorter’s stab at a work of total art.  Containing a 2013 suite of his music re-imagined for jazz quartet and chamber orchestra, a double album of his quartet’s 2016 live date in London, and a graphic novel in collaboration with screenwriter Monica Sly and comic/children’s book artist Randy DuBurke, it’s meant to be heard and seen as a whole.  Also touched — it’s not available digitally, only in CD (Standard) or CD/LP (Deluxe) box sets.  Or as Shorter puts it, “The packaging is intentionally designed to reveal its dormant possibilities as it travels between alternative realities of the multiverse.”  Sounds kinda progressive to me …

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Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth

“There are dark parts to life.  We all want to tuck our heads down and cry somewhere.  But there’s a lot that’s really beautiful.  It’s amazing, a blessing, that we have all these influences.  That’s what this album is saying: you don’t have to be overwhelmed.” — Kamasi Washington, quoted in July 2018’s MOJO magazine.

If you take mainstream American media seriously (just once, for fun), Kamasi Washington is the latest Savior Of Jazz.  Leading a vanguard of hot young musicians from South Central Los Angeles, Washington has been everywhere at once since he emerged in 2004, working in the bands Young Jazz Giants and Throttle Elevator Music, playing with R&B/hip-hop stars like Snoop Dogg and Flying Lotus, even writing string charts for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

In 2015, Washington unleashed his first solo statement, The Epic, and the jazz world was understandably blown away.  The 3 hour, 3-CD concept album, performed by The West Coast Get Down (Washington’s 13-piece, double-rhythm section band) with strings and choir, channels the “spiritual jazz” of 1960s heroes like John Coltrane and Sun Ra into a fluid, expansive historical survey of black consciousness.  One example of the man’s range and ambition: Disc Three, subtitled The Historic Repetition, whipsaws from Charlie Parker’s “Cherokee” through Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” to Terence Blanchard’s “Theme for Malcolm,” moving from a whisper to a scream, contentment to anguish, simplicity to maximum overdrive with seemingly effortless mastery and power.

Crossing over to a wider public, Kamasi Washington had it all, and everyone wanted him on their side (critic Greg Tate, riffing on Washington’s work with Kendrick Lamar, tagged him as “the jazz voice of Black Lives Matter”).  After The Epic, the floodgates opened: Washington composed a suite for New York’s Whitney Biennial, guested across the modern musical spectrum, and toured worldwide — including a stop in Ann Arbor, where I heard his 8-piece band The Next Step live in 2016. 

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So when you’re on top of the heap, or in the center of the storm, where do you go next?  With Heaven and Earth (only a double album — but hold that thought!) Washington makes a classic move, diving deep into a personal take on African-American spirituality, with new music informed by the gospel tradition and the blues.  As he said to the British magazine Dazed:

The inspiration for that is this idea I had that the world is the way we imagine it to be, but it’s also informed by the way we experience it … The journey, you realise, is one and the same: how you imagine the world affects how you experience it. The world your mind lives in, lives in your mind.

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soundstreamsunday #108: “Many Mansions” by Sonny Sharrock

sharrock1Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages (1991), with its depth-defying groove and meet-up of ambition and gravitas, is the portrait of a maturing artist hitting his stride.  Sharrock was 51 and riding a creative wave — one foot in the free jazz he brought his guitar to in the 1960s, one in the “collision music” envisioned by musical partner and producer Bill Laswell — when he made this record with a sympathetic band of jazz leaders:  drummer Elvin Jones, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and bassist Charnett Moffett.  A pleasurably melodic challenge, Sharrock’s last record before his passing in 1994 manages to be both a ripping rock guitar album and an American jazz classic, steeped in themes of race, religion, and identity.

The participation of Jones and Sanders is key to creating this mood, their link to John Coltrane making for that ghost’s heavy presence, but Sharrock’s post-Hendrix tone and attack works a territory not dissimilar to Pete Cosey’s and Reggie Lucas’s contributions to Miles Davis’s live records in the 1970s, or Eddie Hazel’s Funkadelicisms.  There is a lot of satisfying growl here.

The penultimate tune in the set, “Many Mansions” takes John 14:2 across a droning chord sequence, a woozy blues backgrounding Sanders’ shrieking solos and Sharrock’s responses.  The deft touch of Jones and Moffett keeps us wading in the water, moving towards an undertow of deep meditation.  Original album version here as well as an incendiary performance from Frankfurt in 1992.

Powerful, spirited, spiritual.

Note: the image of Pharoah Sanders and Sonny Sharrock is in all likelihood from a Sanders-led tour in the late 1960s, when the two initially collaborated.  It’s just too good an image not to use in description of the music.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report

by Rick Krueger

As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set.  From the merch stand (where Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter was kind enough to make change for me as I bought CDs), their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more.  Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt!  (Props to Progtoberfest’s Facebook group admin Kris McCoy for the picture below.)

Kinetic Element

The second high point of the festival for me followed, as fellow Detroiters Discipline held the Rock Club spellbound with their baleful, epic-length psychodramas. Matthew Parmenter reeled in the crowd with his declamatory vocals and emotional range; from there, the quartet’s mesmerizing instrumental interplay kept them riveted. The well-earned standing ovation at the end felt oddly cathartic, as if the audience was waking from a clinging nightmare, blinking at the newly-rediscovered daylight — even while rain clouds and colder temperatures rolled in outside.

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Progtoberfest: Day 2 Report

by Rick Krueger

The sun shone warmly again on the south side of Chicago as Progtoberfest III kicked off its second day.  Taking in the view as I exited the ‘L’, it was amusing and welcoming to see a familiar screaming face painted on the exterior of Reggie’s:

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Hoping to get Alphonso Johnson’s and Chester Thompson’s autographs in the VIP Lounge the night before, I’d struck up a delightful conversation with members of the North Carolina Genesis tribute band ABACAB.  In 2016, festival organizer Kevin Pollack had given them “homework” for this year: to play all of Genesis’ live album Seconds Out on the 40th anniversary of its release.  You could tell the band was nervous (they focus on 1980s Genesis to get bookings, so they had to learn half the album in the past year) but also absolutely thrilled to bring it to the Rock Club stage.  And on Saturday afternoon, they nailed it, to the joy of an enthusiastic, supportive crowd and rave reviews from other acts.  They’re already planning to return to Reggie’s in April as a headliner, and for Progtoberfest IV next October.  Check out why below:

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