Review: John Hebert Trio, ‘Floodstage’

14 03 2014

From the April 2014 issue of DownBeat:

Beacons of the scene: Preservation Hall launches Pres Hall Brass

14 03 2014

From the March 2014 issue of Offbeat:

buku-music-arts-project-photo-offbeat-magazine-march-2014The latest development in Preservation Hall’s kinetic drive to update itself comes in the form of Pres Hall Brass, a relatively new ensemble created with the city’s thriving brass band culture in mind. Featuring the staple talents of bass drummer Tanio Hingle, snare drummer Kerry “Fat Man” Hunter and trumpeter Will Smith, plus a rotating roster of players, Pres Hall Brass aims to serve as the Hall collective’s go-to brass band arm, like the Olympia Brass Band once did.

Of course, times have changed around the Hall since the original Olympia played there every Sunday. For one thing, the collaborative projects helmed by Preservation Hall Creative Director Ben Jaffe in recent years have become a key part of the Hall’s focus. For another, the number of brass bands in the city is on the rise, a renaissance that’s being buttressed by outside interest in the culture. For Pres Hall Brass, says Preservation Hall Managing Director Ron Rona, the sum of those parts equals “more collaboration.”

The band’s first major collaborative effort takes place at the VIP stage at this month’s BUKU Music + Art Project, where they’ll team up with Los Angeles EDM producer the Gaslamp Killer (William Benussen) and New Orleans saxophonist Khris Royal.

“New Orleans music is dance music. I think we sometimes glaze over that. It will be cool to surprise kids who aren’t necessarily familiar with Preservation Hall or even New Orleans jazz,” Rona says when asked how Pres Hall Brass might fit into Gaslamp Killer’s world psychedelia-meets-dubstep aesthetic.

If spreading the gospel of New Orleans music is part of the goal, the BUKU set is likely to help achieve it. The growing festival’s 2013 edition drew a whopping 79 percent of its 14,000-plus concertgoers from outside the city, according to a report issued by the festival.

Still, local culture maintains an important place on the bill, according to BUKU co-producer Dante DiPasquale of Winter Circle Productions.

“The Pres Hall guys are such beacons of the scene in New Orleans,” he says. “Last year, [Pres Hall horns] sat in with Alt J and it became one of the talking points of the whole festival, so we wanted to do it again.”

When Bensussen debuted a world beat-heavy live project complete with a horn section in Los Angeles last fall, DiPasquale saw a fit for Pres Hall, which happily got on board. Khris Royal, who leads the funk-saturated late night jazz ensemble Dark Matter, rounds out the group, along with various special guests.

In addition to handling collaborative opportunities and regular performances, Rona says the Pres Hall Brass will be taking on the bulk of the Hall’s education outreach in the coming months.

Nas to perform ‘Illmatic’ in its entirety at BUKU Music + Art Project

14 03 2014

From the March 2014 issue of Offbeat … and because, well, I think Nas is a genius:

nas-press-photo-offbeat-magazine-march-2014On April 15, 1994, Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones, a 20-year-old lyricist from New York’s Queensbridge projects, released his debut album, Illmatic. It quickly proved to be a hip-hop game-changer, helping to resurrect a floundering New York rap scene and inspiring decades of complex rhymes about street life. This spring, Nas marks the 20th anniversary of his celebrated album with a Sony Legacy reissue Illmatic XX, a documentary film about Nas and his jazz musician dad Olu Dara, Time is Illmatic, and a tour, which pulls into New Orleans for the BUKU Music + Art Project, March 21 and 22.

Slated to perform Illmatic in its entirety with backing from DJ Premiere, Nas is poised to revisit classics that span his early career, from his breakout “Live at the Barbeque” performance (sampled on “Genesis”) to the script-flipping wordplay of “New York State of Mind,” which turned Billy Joel’s ’70s-era Big Apple nostalgia on its head (“I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind”). Since the original album was just 40 minutes long and the reissue comes packed with two discs’ worth of remixes, demos and other previously unreleased material, there’s a chance the set will get a few extras tacked on as well.

“With Illmatic, I didn’t think about it. I just did it. I believe everybody has good instincts. Now I’m a man from that past and I’m supremely grateful,” Nas recently said in a statement on his website. “There’s a Nigerian proverb ‘What is past is prologue. I’m here today because of Illmatic.”

In fact, the wider spectrum of contemporary hip-hop owes a lot to precedents set by Illmatic. Poetic devices such as his intricately wrought internal rhyme gave Nas a trademark flow that inspired contemporaries like Jay Z, as well as next-generation lyricists like Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco andJay Electronica.

The autobiographical narrative content of Nas’ seminal album set a new bar, too. These were gangster rap-styled stories about urban poverty, gang violence, drugs and street life. But Nas’ perspective came from a conscious rep mentality, as he ruminated on his position as “a kid trapped in the ghetto,” and his plans to write his way out.

When Jay Z released his debut Dead Presidents two years after Illmatic, critics took note of its similar literary approach to a memoir-like depiction of the streets. Jay even sampled Nas on the album’s title track, which borrowed bars from jazz pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, making it sound even more similar to Nas’ “The World is Yours,” which features a nod to Ahmad Jamal.

Illmatic also impacted musical elements of the hip-hop world less explicitly. The now iconic album cover concept of the rapper as a child showed up on subsequent releases from The Notorious B.I.G. (although Ready To Die subbed in a kid who merely resembled Biggie), Lil Wayne and Kendrick Lamar.

A slew of mixtape tributes to Illmatic have also proliferated in the wake of the original, giving even more weight to his “Stillmatic” line from the track “Ether:” “I am the truest / name one rapper / that I ain’t influenced.”


Revenant and Jack White’s Third Man Records involved in New Orleans copyright dispute

31 01 2014

download (3)From the February 2014 issue of Offbeat

The Paramount Wonder Cabinet, a massive collection of seminal jazz and blues recordings from the Paramount catalogue reissued jointly by Revenant Records and Jack White’s Third Man Records, has become the subject of a copyright-infringement dispute in New Orleans.

According to Lars Edegran, the George H. Buck, Jr. (GHB) Jazz Foundation owns rights to nearly 800 tracks on the set’s $400 first edition, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records 1917–1932, as Buck purchased the 1920s-era recordings of artists including Louis Armstrong and Ma Rainey in 1970. Edegran maintains that Third Man and Revenant never obtained a license from the foundation to sell the recordings.

GHB Jazz Foundation, a non-profit organization that specializes in keeping jazz and other American musical forms available to the public by issuing LPs, CDs, books and videos, claims ownership of the rights to the Paramount (and its associated labels) sound recordings. GHB purchased the Paramount catalogue from John Steiner of Chicago in 1970,” Edegran declared in a statement.

“Steiner himself acquired Paramount from the Wisconsin Chair Company (the original owner) in the late 1940s. There are documents for both of these transactions. Sound recordings published before 1972 are not under federal copyright but are covered under common law or state anti-piracy statues.Third Man/Revenant Records claim that Paramount recordings are in the public domain.”

Legally, sound recordings are generally not in the public domain, although musical compositions can be. The Copyright Act of 1976 created federal copyright protection for recordings made after 1972. It also included an extension mandating that until 2067, state law protect recordings made before 1972.

Perhaps more important to the GHB Foundation’s case, however, is proof of ownership, which Dean Blackwood, the co-founder of Revenant Records, says has not been provided.

“We informed the foundation that we would gladly come to an agreement with them if they could prove ownership of the recordings,” Blackwood wrote in an email. “To date, they haven’t produced anything that proves ownership. And although there is a more than 50-year history of labels large and small reissuing this material without their involvement, we remain open to discussions with them if they can prove ownership of the recordings.”

To build a strong case, GHB Foundation likely needs to both prove ownership and debunk the claim that other labels have released these recordings without their okay.

“Pre-1972 sound recordings are a large issue of litigation right now. It’s kind of a hot topic,” explains Jason Koransky, a Chicago-based lawyer specializing in copyright and trademark disputes who previously edited DownBeat magazine.

“They should be able to produce a written [ownership] agreement that shows it applies to the actual recordings,” he says. “If there truly has been a 50-year history of labels releasing this material and not paying for it or trying to acquire the rights to do so from whoever owned it at the time, then certain legal claims can be made. You can’t suddenly assert rights over something that you have not asserted rights over in 50 years.”

Responding to Blackwood’s contention about 50 years’ worth of unlicensed Paramount reissues, Edegran points out that unlike this box set, previous releases have been released under the terms of license agreements.

“Paramount recordings have been issued under license agreements for a very long time going back to the first owners, the Wisconsin Chair Company who licensed material to Columbia and Decca and others,” he says. “The next owner of Paramount, John Steiner, licensed Paramount recordings to Biograph, Milestone, Riverside and others. GHB Jazz Foundation has license agreements with Sony, Rhino, Rykodisc, Shout, Universal, Fantasy, Fox Music, HBO to name a few. All these companies recognize our ownership of Paramount Records. It is true that a number of small labels have used Paramount material without our permission but there has been no infringement on the scale of the box set issued by Third Man/ Revenant Records—close to 800 tracks of Paramount recordings.”

Edegran is currently in the midst of legal proceedings with the labels on behalf of the foundation.

The second edition of the Paramount Wonder Cabinet is due out in November of 2014.

Backtalk: Jon Batiste

31 01 2014

jon-batiste-press-photo-offbeat-magazine-february-2014That music can be experienced in a social, humanistic manner is something all music lovers should give some thought to. Jon Batiste can show you how.

From the February 2014 issue of Offbeat:

At 27, Jon Batiste is already something of a visionary. Since leaving New Orleans 10 years ago to study at Juilliard, the pianist has cultivated a holistic approach to his creative output, which currently includes a tour in support of Social Music, his Stay Human band’s latest release, and the development of new education-focused programs for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, where he serves as Artistic Director at Large.

In both capacities, Batiste guides listeners toward a hands-on, communal appreciation of music. His impromptu, occasionally mobile performances in unorthodox spaces often blur the lines between audience and artist. Programs like “Jazz Is: Now!,” his TED Talk-esque museum series, rely on interactive techniques to break down barriers between master musicians and jazz newbies. Whatever the context, Batiste seems determined that music should, as he puts it, “bring people to a profound understanding of themselves and each other.”

What’s your main focus at the museum these days?

I’m basically directing the future of where the museum is going, artistically, and cultivating the vision with [Artistic Director] Loren [Schoenberg]. I’ve been developing all these different programs that include “Jazz Is: Now!” but also more stuff that we’ll start to do this year in anticipation of that new space [across from the Apollo Theater in Harlem] opening at the end of this year.

What does your vision for the museum look like?

I want to specifically focus on the tradition of jazz music and how to really make it become more relevant in the eyes of younger people who don’t have much exposure to it, and I want to bring that cultural presence of jazz into Harlem. It’s also going to bring the community together.

Why are the social, active components of music appreciation so important to you?

I think when you talk about jazz, there’s an element to it that’s very intellectual and because of that, it can leave a lot of people feeling excluded because they don’t know “how to listen to jazz” or they don’t really understand what it’s all about. But when you experience something, you’re not thinking about it, you feel it. And when you feel something, I think that’s the first step into opening your understanding. You don’t have to know anything to feel.

How much planning goes into the impromptu or unconventional performances the Stay Human band has become known for?

It’s really mapped out, even though when we approach a venue, I want it to feel as if it were spontaneous and happening for the first time. So I’ll go to a venue, sometimes weeks before, and see a few shows there. Or the day that we’re performing, I’ll go and maybe stay there for an entire day if my schedule permits, and try to figure out how we can transform the energy and space.

I guess that’s my whole concept with anything: What we do is create a love riot and that’s like bringing our energy anywhere we go. So it’s not dependent upon the space; it’s dependent upon the way that we can transform the space.

Have there been any particularly special performances lately that achieved that?

There are so many … When we played at Carnegie Hall, from the first 15 minutes, we kind of broke the rules of the hall. We weren’t supposed to leave the stage but we started the show in the audience. And then we had people standing on the seats while we were playing—and then we started to stand on the seats and then we went in the aisles and it was like we created a love riot in Carnegie Hall.

The show actually sold out less than 48 hours after the tickets went on sale, so for months, there was so much anticipation. And that first 15 minutes of that show when we stepped into the hall and we played and created the kinetic energy that we create in a [subway] train, it was a serious moment. It was surreal …

Have musicians in the audience ever ended up sitting in spontaneously?

Oh my goodness, we’ve had people from bluegrass musicians to Mark O’Connor the fiddle player to ?uestlove even join in. But the thing about it is when we’re playing, you think about who you’re playing with, but it’s not really about that. It’s more about bringing the music to the people where they are.

When we play in the community, my whole concept is these people may not get the chance to go and hear the type of music that we’re playing or have access to hear live music. … We want to bring it to them because we think they’re jazz fans and they just don’t know it yet.

Where were you when ?uestlove joined in?

We’ve been known to throw these secret shows and we have a family of people in New York. Those shows are really when the notable people who are part of our community will come out because it’s under the radar. ?uest has come to a lot of those.

They’ll be curated performances where we’ll take over a space and maybe have three stages in a loft or take over someone’s house and we’ll have different rooms that we’re playing in. It’s really cool. And sometimes it’ll spread out to the street. So one time we had this drum circle and ?uestlove was hangin’ out with us and then it just turned into this thing where it went all night down in Chelsea, you know?

That sounds very New York-centric. How else has the city affected you as an artist?

Well, New York is my home and New Orleans is my home. I’ve been in New York now for 10 years and New York is basically the gateway to the rest of the world. It’s a global mash-up. It’s 160 different cultures in one place, co-existing.

New Orleans is a lot more insular. It’s a mash-up, but it’s a specific cultural mash-up. Of course, the sounds and rhythms of New Orleans influenced me when I grew up there. And that kind of sensibility, [along with] moving to New York and getting to see how it all really comes together in one place— that’s kinda the whole concept of social music. And that’s really where it all comes from: my experience in New York.

New tunes like “Let God Lead” and even your version of the “Star Spangled Banner” feel like they were written to elevate listeners’ spirits. Is that vibe intentional?

I think my intent moves in seasons and that depends upon the season that I’m in as an individual. Like Charles Mingus said, “An artist is always changing all the time.” And that’s because people always change. You grow and you evolve even though you’re always the same person. So I’m sure an element in that album that’s in all of my albums is the same.

But my intent now is to transform listeners and to uplift people through the art of live performance and that genuine human exchange. So that’s what Stay Human is about. But I think that in a year’s time, artistically I could have a different intent because as a person I could be in a completely different place. But I guess the common thread with any changes or evolutions that I would make is always gonna be that I feel the intent of music is to make people come together and to bring people to a profound understanding of themselves and each other.

With so much else on your plate right now, do you have time to work on new music?

I’m the king of having sketches. On New Year’s Eve, I was going through my sketch books—there are about 10 of them. And then I literally have hundreds of recordings of songs that I’ve written or songs that are halfway written or melodic or rhythmic ideas that I’m always writing. And I have things that I’m trying to achieve. So if I’m trying to achieve a certain vibe I’ll just go into my archive and pull something out and finish it. And we’ll work on it on tour, on the road, and we’ll play on some shows so it will come together that way. It’s not really a conventional process. I don’t have time to sit and write at the piano as I used to. But more now I’m putting together things that have been in the ether for me for a while, or trying to achieve certain musical objectives in a moment.

Can you share a musical objective you’ve been working on?

Yeah, there’s this one that I’ve been doing called “Stadium Swing” … That’s not the title of it, but they all have working titles. “Stadium Swing” is this concept of being able to swing out in the jazz terminology of swing and putting that in the acoustic environment of a stadium. Just trying to figure out how to make that transition and write music that accommodates that.

One thing that it’s based off is burnout—that kind of vibration that you get when you hear Jeff “Tain” Watts swing or Elvin Jones swing. You can kinda get that idea or go in that direction but you have to tweak some things. The harmonies have to be more open so they can ring out in the stadium. When the harmonies are dense, it doesn’t translate in that space, it gets swallowed up. You have a guitar in the stadium and they play these open chords, these power chords that ring out in a certain way that works in that environment. Also the intensity of it—the tempo has to be in a certain place because the intensity of the swing may not translate if it’s at a slower tempo.

I think the idea is always to come up with something—even if it’s the most wild thing in your imagination—because even if you don’t achieve it, it’s great because you almost always end up creating something new and interesting. And it might even sound good.

Getting Deep and Breaking Rules: New Migrations and Ideas in New Orleans Style Brass Band Music

27 01 2014

brassft-punkAt this point, the contemporizing of New Orleans brass band traditions is pretty much part of the music’s DNA. Traditionalists in the brass band world here are understandably vocal about the need to preserve the culture in which the New Orleans jazz funeral was born — sonically, visually and even in terms of context and behavior. (Dr. Michael White is always a great resource on this angle.) But once brass band music began mixing with popular music forms ranging from jazz to hip-hop to funk and soul, a seemingly inexorable drive to experiment with the ideas embedded in the music took off.

DownBeat offered me the chance to investigate some of the directions those concepts are taking in 2014 — along with some history and a look at factors that have sparked New Orleans style brass band music in particular to start spreading far beyond the city.

One of the most compelling common denominators was the inspiration players and audiences take from the music’s communal, participatory elements. Plus, a gorgeous day out at the Sudan club’s second line with the TBC followed by a Brassft Punk show in the park (and yes, that’s a brass band playing Daft Punk) = my kinda reporting.

Head over to DownBeat to read the feature, or check out the PDF here (p. 48)  DB1402.

Review: Gillet Singleton Duo’s ‘Ferdinand’

24 01 2014


(DownBeat, January 2014. Buy the album by clicking here.)


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