Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hip Hop in Jazz

Jazz is a type of music that constantly evolves. Whatever new sounds come up, jazz is quick to hear those trends and incorporate them into the music. 

Hip Hop in Jazz
Melding Genres and Breaking Barriers

Recently I've really been into the jazz, hip hop sounds in Robert Glasper's album "Black Radio". 

Glasper grew up as a jazz pianist, but he is also fully immersed into the hip hop world. Glasper is a jazz musician signed with Blue Note records, and he works with many of the top R&B and hip hop artists. His album "Black Radio" won best R&B Album at the 2013 Grammys. 

And the thing is, when I listen to this album I don't think of it as a certain genre- I just think of it as music. It's easy to separate music into 'this is jazz and this is pop and this is hip hop', but I think it's better when I can just listen to something and enjoy it without thinking about what it is so much. 

  • Check out the full album:  (I especially like "Afro Blue", "Always Shine", and "Ah Yeah" off of the album) 

  • Glasper also came out with a "Black Radio 2" that builds off the concepts in the first album, with even more soulfulness. Here's "Calls" off of the album: 

In an NPR interview Glasper talks about rap and hip hop:

One interesting thing Glasper said in this interview was: 
"I feel like certain people think that certain styles of music will 'taint' their jazz style. Some people have a perception of how jazz is supposed to sound — 'it's supposed to sound this way, so I can't bring this flavor to it, because then it's not going to be jazz any more, or the jazz police are going to come after me.'"

And I think that's true. Jazz does have a certain sound, but jazz evolves. And the evolution doesn't discredit former forms of jazz- you can argue that you wouldn't have Robert Glasper's "Black Radio" without Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue". Jazz is largely based on individuality, and Glasper's melding of his life influences shows his individuality. 

Maybe some people think "Black Radio" isn't jazz. And maybe it isn't. But whatever it is, I enjoy listening to it! 

Leave a comment below saying some new jazz artists or albums that you like listening to! 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Favorite Free and Avant Garde Jazz Albums

Free Jazz. The Avant Garde. 

I have listened to quite a few free jazz albums, and I can't really define what it is- but maybe that's the point. Yet, when you hear it, it hits you in the face.

In some ways, free jazz came about because jazz musicians in the fifties and sixties were dissatisfied with the limitations of conventional forms of jazz. Many forms of free jazz do not have set chord changes, a set form, and some do not have definite time. In this way, without conventional rhythm and harmony, players have to listen and respond quickly to what others play- that's what I like about free jazz.

Free jazz, for me, is rebellion. Yet, it is also a lot about democracy, communication, and listening. The molding of the individual within a group- clashes, discords and all. And accepting this kind of sound can take a while.

Here are some of my favorite free and avant garde jazz albums:

My Favorite Free and Avant Garde Jazz Albums

1. Ornette Coleman "Free Jazz" 
This is the first free jazz album I ever listened to. I had heard about this album, so one day in high school I had it on my iPod and put it on play. Now, I know most people do not like this album at first- it is quite jarring. It can sound like only random sounds. Yet, the first thing I did while listening to this album was laugh! I wasn't making fun of the sound, but I was amazed by the freedom. It sent me into jubilation! I didn't know people could play like this or were even allowed to.

2. Albert Ayler "Spiritual Unity" 
Now parts of this are really my jam. I love the way Ayler starts it off, with a catchy theme, that just makes you want to dance. His rhythmic sense is impeccable. Then it gets complicated as it progresses and seems to delve deeper and deeper. I enjoy his tone- he captures a sort of big, gruff tone. Ayler said this about the album: "We weren't playing, we were listening to each other"- and I think that kind of almost selflessness to your improvisation is admirable.

3. Eric Dolphy "Out to Lunch!" 
I absolutely love Eric Dolphy! I love how he can play so many woodwind instruments, and improvise on them all in such a unique way. On this album he plays alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute. His style is angular, but also rooted in a lot of conventional bebop and classical language. There is something about Eric Dolphy's playing that just makes me so happy- he is so individual and genuine in everything he plays. 

4. John Coltrane "Ascension" 
John Coltrane's work spanned many periods of jazz- and his later years led to a large influence on free and avant garde forms of jazz. The concept of this album was supposed to sound like a big band- with players receiving a lot of freedom. This album is similar to Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" in the way that they are both continuous performances with ensemble parts and individual solo sections. What I like about this album is the soulfulness- John Coltrane was a very spiritual person that constantly strived for personal expression- and I can hear that in the album. 

5. Cecil Taylor "Unit Structures" 
Cecil Taylor is a very interesting person. His approach to piano is more percussive than melodic or harmonic. His piano playing has been likened to "eighty-eight tuned drums" (for the number or keys on the piano. The way he hits the keys is so full of energy and frenzy. I like this particular album for its high energy and its intensity. The album feels very blocky, like the cover art, but molds together in an abstracted way. The improvisations seem to be based on a general mood set forth, and seen, in the title. 

Final Thoughts: 
I like free and avant garde jazz for its rawness and commitment to group listening. I think it's amazing how people can be so free in their playing. I have taken quite a few lessons from just listening to these musicians- such as embracing discord as equally as embracing harmony. I have learned that sometimes it's not even what you play, but how you play it.

And the kind of ferocity these musicians play jazz with is inspiring for me. 

Leave a comment below saying your favorite free or avant garde jazz musicians and albums! 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Concert Experience- Kenny Garrett

Every year, saxophonist Kenny Garrett comes to play at the Regatta bar in Cambridge. So, for the fourth time in my life, I saw Kenny play on Saturday, February 1st.  It was an amazing, unforgettable show! It was a CD release concert for his new CD: "Pushing the World Away". 

Here's a link to his website to learn more about his new album:

A Concert Experience- Kenny Garret

Here's an interview where Kenny talks about his new album: 

The show was set to take place at 7:30. The concert was basically sold out- people were everywhere! It took until 7:50 to start because people kept on coming in and had to be seated.

You could tell everyone was excited to see Kenny, because there seemed to be a buzz around the audience. When Kenny came out with his band, people automatically started cheering and smiles gleamed from ear to ear. I know as soon as I saw Kenny I became happier- he seems to radiate a kind of happiness.

The bass player carefully tuned while the rest of the band seemed to get in the zone. Without any explanation, the concert began with a melodic tune that got the crowds' heads bopping up and down. From Kenny's first note, you can hear years of experience- he seems so wise and skilled. His solo was out of this world- the combination of his tone, with his rhythmic sense, and his level of communication with his band created such rich solos throughout the set.

He went through basically an hour and twenty minutes worth of music with hardly any stops- he would acknowledge the other members of his band, exclaiming into a microphone, while the rhythm section roared out. Everyone took amazing solos. One of my favorite parts of the concert was when Kenny and the drummer had a sort of duo- and Kenny turned towards the drummer and they seemed to be improvising off of each other. Also, at one point the music got a bit freer, and it went down to percussion and Kenny blowing through his saxophone. It seemed a bit spacey and experimental, but I thought it was cool to see such different sides of their playing.

Here's a song from "Pushing the World Away": 

Kenny changed from alto to soprano saxophone throughout the show- and it was nice to see his capabilities on both instruments. He has great tone on both, and his improvisation was never limited.

The last song received huge accolades, a standing ovation, and a encore. Kenny didn't even really walk off and pretend to wait for an encore- he was fired up and ready to play more. The encore song was so happy sounding and singable- it had more of a hip hop drum beat. In fact Kenny urged the audience to sing along with the repeating melody, which I happily joined in to. I can still hear it in my head- which shows you how catchy it was!

My only problem with the concert was that Kenny never stated the names of any of the songs, and there seemed to be some microphone problems sometimes- like the piano didn't seemed to be miked enough considering the space. Yet, even without song names, I connected with the music and had a great time listening to his band.

After seeing Kenny, I left with a huge smile, and a sense of calmness, yet excitement. I got to talk to Kenny and his band after the show. Kenny was very nice, and encouraging to me. I appreciate his great words and music.

Talking to Kenny after the show: 

Final thoughts: 
On Kenny's website he has a quote that I find interesting, "Don't look for me to sound like my last record. I'm shifting- following what my spirit feels". 

And I think that kind of spirit- carving your own independent path- is what I enjoyed most about Kenny's playing. He is so individual. No one sounds like him. For one, his tone is so different- he has this lovely, full, yet almost hollow sound. And his ideas are fresh and flowing like a stream of water. There seems to be an organic essence to his playing- everything seems pure.

And what can be more inspirational than that? 

Leave a comment below sharing a jazz concert experience that inspired you.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Relaxing Jazz Songs

I think around this time of year everyone is stressed out- there's so much to do and so little time to do it! And when you're stressed or overwhelmed it seems like nothing can calm you down. But in my life I have found that listening to music can get you to a more relaxed state. 

So here's some jazz songs that help me when I'm feeling stressed out:

Relaxing Jazz Songs
(Links to Youtube attached) 

1. Horace Silver "Summer in Central Park"
I can't think of a more relaxing song- this song reminds me of summertime. Every time I listen to it I can picture carefree people flying their kites on a clear, lucid, windy day in New York. Families are having picnics, and people are walking their dogs... It sounds so mellow and pretty. I like the sound of the vibraphone. And everyone takes such melodic solos. What more can you ask for? 

2. Ahmad Jamal "Poinciana" 
Ahmad Jamal on piano is one beautiful player- it always amazes me whenever I listen to him. I love the rhythm section groove on this song- and Jamal's choice of chords and everything is so fresh and low key. I like how the song builds from high range sparser chords, to a rhythmic theme and a strong groove in the melody. 

3. Chet Baker "Look for the Silver Lining"
Just like the title implies, this song is very positive- the lyrics say to "look for the silver lining, and try to find the sunny side of life". Chet Baker is an amazing singer and trumpeter- his trumpet and his voice are very similar in style. Russ Freeman on piano plays his solo like he is talking to you- with strong and clear musical ideas that evolve over time. 

4. Cannonball Adderley "Stars Fell on Alabama" 
Cannonball plays this song with so much heart and calmness. Cannonball presents his larger than life tone, and inventive, blues-infused melodic ideas. Every time I hear him I always imagine him laughing and having a great time- by the way he plays he just seems like he would have been the happiest man, and a definite jokester! Wynton Kelly's solo takes the cake. You can hear him singing while improvising- showing how he truly hears everything he is playing before he plays it- a true skill. 

5. Dexter Gordon "Like Someone in Love" 
Well technically, this is Gordon's album, but Bud Powell on piano is featured. Powell chooses such deep chords, and harmonizes the melody in such a beautiful way. He plays the actual melody in such a loving, almost cutting, way- and it sings out. His solo takes a lot from the melody- to a point where it can be hard to differentiate the two! 

Final Thoughts: 
So I hope even if you have a lot going on, you can find some time to relax and listen to music. It always helps me when I feel overwhelmed. 

Leave a comment down below saying what jazz song(s) you find relaxing.