‘Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny’ — Frank Zappa
By Alison Rooney
Outside of various precincts of New York City and a few other places, said James Keepnews, presenter of the new series Change of the Century – New Jazz for the 21st, it’s getting harder and harder to hear nontraditional “free jazz.” Free jazz is defined by Merriam Webster as “marked especially by an abandonment of preset chord progression and a lack of melodic pattern.”
Keepnews lamented: “This music used to have a cultural cachet, I mean Ornette Coleman was a guest on Saturday Night Live once. It’s less so now; it’s been marginalized by an American Idol culture. The music has much less credence to the world at large; now you have to seek it out, and it’s becoming lost to this generation. Nothing would make me more miserable than if people stopped listening to it. It’s powerful and needs to be heard.”
Keepnews intends to remedy this locally with a once-a-month series presenting contemporary jazz players at Beacon’s Howland Cultural Center. “These artists are going to be a living rebuke to the notion that jazz is a dying art form. They demonstrate the vitality of the music.” The series gets its title from a 1959 album by Coleman.
Four concerts, the first taking place on March 22 and continuing on through July at a minimum, will showcase a wide range of styles composed and improvisational, with a goal, said Keepnews, of “debunking any notion of jazz being an ‘old’ much less ‘dead’ music. Part of what I’m trying to convey is not just that this is worthy of your attention, but that’s it’s fun; bring young children — they ‘get it.’ At a minimum, any audience can recognize the standards and practices at work.”
Keepnews has been presenting this music “for the better part of 30 years.” A musician, writer and multimedia developer, he is on the board at Cold Spring’s Chapel Restoration, where, for the past few years he has endeavored, along with jazz violinist Gwen Laster, to bring contemporary jazz musicians (amongst other genres) to that venue, expanding the range of music heard there beyond more traditional forms. Keepnews called all of the Howland season’s musicians “paragons in an approach to playing without compromise.”
His detailed descriptions and assessments of the artists appearing in the first concert follow, along with information he provided for the latter concerts:
March 22: Trio X + Rosi Hertlein — “Acclaimed collective trio featuring multi-instrumentalist and Poughkeepsie native Joe McPhee, bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen, joined for this concert by special guest violinist and vocalist Rosi Hertlein.
“Since his emergence on the creative jazz and new music scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Joe McPhee has been a deeply emotional composer, improviser and multi-instrumentalist, as well as a thoughtful conceptualist and theoretician. With more than 60 recordings, McPhee has shown that emotional content and theoretical underpinnings are thoroughly compatible — and in fact, a critically important pairing — in the world of creative improvised music.
“As the 1990s drew to a close, McPhee discovered two like-minded improvisers in bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen. The trio premiered at the Vision Jazz Festival, but the concert went unnoticed by the press; McPhee, Duval and Rosen therefore decided that an apt title for the group would be Trio X. A number of Trio X recordings have since been released on the CIMP and Cadence Jazz Records labels.
“Dominic Duval is one of the finest bassists on the contemporary scene, having played and recorded with some of the greatest names in jazz and new music. Duval’s continuing tenure with pianist Cecil Taylor’s trio has cemented his reputation as one of contemporary music’s more important figures. Duval is comfortable in any number of genres, including modern classical, jazz and music, which defies classification. Duval leads and co-leads a number of ensembles himself, including the critically acclaimed C.T. String Quartet and the Dominic Duval String Ensemble.
“Jay Rosen has recorded with Mark Whitecage; Paul Smoker; Herb Robertson; James Carter; Anthony Braxton; Jaco Pastorius and many more. ‘Rosen is one of the most accomplished drummers around and his musical acumen is second to none’ — All About Jazz(1/06)
“Rosi Hertlein’s musical background is divided equally between the worlds of improvisation and contemporary classical. Her work in recent years includes ensemble works with Daniel Carter and performing as one-fifth of composer Pauline Oliveros’ New Circle Five. She premiered Cecil Taylor’s With Blazing Eyes and Open’d Mouth with the Sound Vision Orchestra and Taylor on piano. She performs with Reggie Workman’s African-American Legacy Project. She’s a remarkable improviser, in vocals as well as being virtuosic on violin; and she has a marvelous spirit. This will be a great launch for the series.”
April 26: Ingrid Laubrock/Tom Rainey — “Wife-and-husband duo of saxophonist and drummer sculpt real-time, fearlessly adventurous and stunningly executed sonic structures. I saw them in the city about a year ago, in a wholly improvised program, and I was blown away. You would think being a duo would give them a limited range, but what they did schooled me 12 ways. I’ve been talking to them ever since about performing in the Hudson Valley.”
May 31: Bad Touch — “An outstanding New York City collective quartet featuring alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Nate Radley, organist Gary Versace and drummer Ted Poor performs original works of remarkable textural variety and daring. They’re really invigorating in performance. Each contributes compositions — long form, which leaves room for a lot of incredible improvisations; the fifth member of the band is their compositions.”
June 29: Ras Moshe/Music Now Extended Unit: “A superb flautist and saxophonist with a political edge — he has often played at Brechtforum on the west side of Manhattan. He approaches music as a radical political process. John Pietaro now lives in New York City, but formerly lived in Beacon. He’s a brilliant percussionist and runs Dissident Arts. Pianist Chris Forbes comes from Chicago. He’s an under-recorded keyboardist — very glad he will have the opportunity to play the Howland Center’s Steinway. He’s ferociously talented — a virtuosic soloist whose is down to earth. Andrew Drury’s ability on kit is remarkable. He has an extended approach to the kit, using gongs, always rubbing some metals together — you never know what sounds are going to come out of him.” [Keepnews, a guitarist, will also be performing in that evening’s group.]
Each performance begins at 8 p.m. Admission for each concert in the series is $15, and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets will be available at the door each concert evening only. The Howland Center is located at 447 Main St. in Beacon and can be reached at 845-831-4988, or visit the series’ Facebook page.
Photos courtesy James Keepnews