Is Jazz Dead (on Apple Music at Least)?

I like jazz, but I’ve never been someone to really get into the genre, to know all the musicians, to keep up with the new releases. There are a dozen or so artists I like, and now that I use a streaming service – Apple Music – I often check out the new releases to see what’s happening.

I think it’s fair to say that jazz as a genre is fairly stagnant, with little real innovation, and a lot of repetition. Nevertheless, even within the norms of the genre, there is a fair amount of good music released.

I went to Apple Music this morning to find some new jazz to listen to. Previously, the top carrousel of the jazz section was filled with new albums. Today, there’s nothing but playlists. Below the carrousel, more playlists. To find new releases, you need to scroll down, and what is there is quite limited.

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At just over 1% market share in album consumption, jazz is little more than a footnote in the music industry. But with about the same market share as classical music, it still has its listeners, and lots of performers. I’m sure that in big cities there’s a vibrant club scene for jazz musicians. However, not much in jazz has changed, and for the non-aficionados it can seem like a stagnant genre.

It’s telling that the top album on Apple Music is Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, a landmark of jazz, but also the jazz album that people who don’t like jazz listen to. It’s followed by Kenny G (smooth jazz has its own special circle of hell), and the top 20 includes records from 50 or more years ago by Stan Getz, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong. (And more smooth jazz; sigh.) In fact, if you look at all the classics in the top 200 on Apple Music, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the standard jazz canon is. (Monk, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Nina Simon, lots of Miles Davis, Mingus, etc.)

Maybe Apple has given up on promoting jazz albums as they used to, realizing that most jazz listening on their service is done by casual, non fans, who are more than happy with playlists of anonymous (to them) musicians playing a genre that is rooted in a nostalgic past.

ECM Records Now Available on Apple Music

ECM Records is now available on Apple Music. You can stream their excellent roster of jazz, classical, and world music (which they call “transcultural) on this and other streaming services.

Most of ECM’s presence is in the Jazz genre, where Apple is highlighting featured playlists, other playlists, and “new releases” – new to Apple Music, not recently released albums. (As you can see, the first is the landmark Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett.)

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ECM is one of those rare labels that has their own sound; something you don’t find much any more. Check out music by Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheney, Jan Garbarek, Bill Frisell, and so many more. This 10-hour playlist will give you a taste of the ECM sound.

While ECM isn’t as visible in the classical section, they have an excellent line-up of classical recordings, including works by Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt, and the wonderful recordings of pianist Andràs Schiff. On of my all-time favorite classical recordings on ECM is the Hilliard Ensemble’s 1989 recording of music by Pérotin, a haunting recording of early polyphonic music.

This link will take you to the ECM “curator” page, where you can browse their catalog.

So, stream away that great jazz and classical music that has made ECM one of the great record labels.

Concert Review: Brad Mehldau Trio, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK

Last night, May 17, 2017, I got to see Brad Mehldau live for the first time. I’ve been a fan of his music ever since someone recommended his music to me and I started buying his albums on the iTunes Store back in the early days. For years, I would buy his albums as they were released on the iTunes Store, and then eventually on CD. I’m not a big jazz fan, but Mehldau is one of the jazz artists I like a great deal, and of whom I have many of their recordings; other are Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

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I managed to score front-row tickets for the show, right in front of the piano; the best place to be. The venue is a smallish theater, about 600 seats, and it was full.

It was a wonderful concert, though it was marred by poor sound for the first few songs. After the second song, when Brad picked up the microphone to tell the audience what the songs were, a couple of people pointed out that they couldn’t hear the piano. As I was sitting just a few feet away, I could hear it, but it was pretty low in the mix; the drums overwhelmed the piano. But in the middle of the third song, the sound technician fixed the mix. Since the only speakers were on the front of the stage, it seemed to me that they were simply not on at the beginning. Oops. Nevertheless, aside from a bit of “feedback” sound in part of the piano, as Mehldau said, the rest of the concert sounded fine.

Brad Mehldau is an extraordinarily creative pianist, and the other members of the trio are also excellent musicians. Larry Grenadier on bass kept the music grounded, and Jeff Ballard on drums was one of the best drummers I’ve seen live. His drumming goes far beyond rhythm and is very musical. Jus listen to any of the trio’s live recordings to hear how good these musicians are, and how tight an ensemble they are.

The program for the show, which lasted about 1:45, was as follows:

Untitled original blues
Untitled original
Untitled original waltz
And I Love You
The Green Deva
Si tu vois ma mère

Encores:
River Man
It’s All Right with Me

The first three originals were pretty new; Mehldau and the other musicians had charts for them. After that, the arrangement of And I Love You (the Beatles song) was lyrical and moving. The Green Deva, another original, was intricate, and Si tu vois ma mère, a Sidney Bechet song that the trio has been playing live for several years, was slow and mellow.

The two encores were perfect, and showed the range of Mehldau’s music. His arrangement of Nick Drake’s River Man is one of my favorite of the songs he performs, and the Cole Porter song It’s All Right with Me brings in a quirky which was well suited to the final song.

It’s worth noting that all of these songs were quite long; at least ten minutes, if not more. I checked my watch after the first three songs, and 45 minutes had passed. As often in Mehldau’s live shows, the songs stretch out with improvisations and solos, and the band showed off its skills on each number.

I’m very happy to have been able to hear this concert, especially from the front row, and I’ll try to see Brad Mehldau every time he comes to the UK in the future. He’s playing in Bath in two days, and I wish I had bought tickets for that show as well.

Rudy Van Gelder, ‘A Love Supreme’ Engineer, Dead at 91 – Rolling Stone

Rudy Van Gelder, legendary jazz engineer and operator of the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey studio where classic LPs by John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Wayne Shorter were recorded, died Thursday at his home. Van Gelder’s assistant confirmed his death to the New York Times. He was 91.

A legend.

Source: Rudy Van Gelder, ‘A Love Supreme’ Engineer, Dead at 91 – Rolling Stone

Larry Coryell – Toronto Under the Sign of Capricorn

I finally tracked this down. I had the album this track was on – European Impressions – back in the 70s, and I loved what Coryell could do with an acoustic guitar. I managed to figure out bits of this piece, but not much. It’s a long suite with parts ranging from atonal solos to jazzy strumming. This is a video of him performing the piece live, sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I saw him perform this solo acoustic stuff once, of all places at the Rasthaus in the Queens College student union (I think). It was an amazing concert. I’d love to get this album; it’s out of print, and I don’t have turntable, so if anyone has it, get in touch.

In any case, enjoy this 9+ minute example of true guitar artistry.



The Tranquility of Miles Davis’s Electric Period – The Atlantic

Electric Miles grabs us in three ways: musically, symbolically, and politically. Musically, because Miles was channeling Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and the tearing noise at the edge of a James Brown scream, while sounding nothing like any of them. Symbolically, because the music represented creativity at full tilt, at a pitch of invention almost indistinguishable from the destruction (aesthetic and, as it also turned out, personal) necessary to establish its conditions. And politically, because Miles was a militantly autonomous black artist, a whitey-scorning, Uncle Tom–excoriating, no-shit-taking man of his time—and this music, above all, was his statement.

An interesting overview of the time when Miles Davis discovered electricity. It’s not his most accessible music, and it took me a long time to appreciate, but I could some of the recordings from that period – In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and others – as some of his best work.

Source: The Tranquility of Miles Davis’s Electric Period – The Atlantic