Tag Archives: Steven Bernstein

A SUNNY BLUES IN F: THE FINALE TO “FOREVER WEIRD” (The Kitchen, December 9, 2017) featuring THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET, THE JAZZ PASSENGERS, and THE KAMIKAZE GROUND CREW

For the story behind this riotous explosion of joys, please visit part one and part two of JAZZ LIVES’ exclusive multi-media coverage, where I posted all of The Microscopic Septet’s set.  Very little could follow Dave Sewelson’s passionate singing of I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, but saxophonist-visionary Phillip Johnston did not want us to go out into the snowy night feeling lachrymose.

He’d asked members of the other two bands, the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, to hang around for the finale if they felt like it (and no one wanted to miss anything the Microscopic Septet was playing) so at the end, he assembled a giant “JATP-style” jam session on a blues in F he’d written, DON’T MIND IF I DO, for the three bands.

It was clear that if everyone took even twenty-four bars apiece, we would be at the Kitchen well past closing time, so the musicians quickly arranged to play solos in tandem, trade choruses or parts of choruses — a heartwarming reminder that improvisation is more than simply playing one’s instrument, and a delightful reminder of the great players of the Thirties and Forties who could create a whole short story in eight bars.

Here’s the result, first a few minutes of jovial rustling-around, which I think is priceless, then ten minutes of rocking cheerful collective improvisation:

and a lovely postscript, an appreciative review by “TG” in THE NEW YORK JAZZ RECORD:

What a gift to everyone at The Kitchen, which (with the permission of the three bands) I am now able to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

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DON’T MISS THIS: MATT MUNISTERI PLAYS WILLARD ROBISON at JOE’S PUB (July 10, 2012)

I know that I am not the only person who has been waiting for the first CD to document Matt Munisteri’s heartfelt study of composer Willard Robison’s music.  The disc is finally here — STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS: THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON, VOLUME ONE.  To listen to tracks from this disc, please click here.  But we now have an occasion where all the pieces come into delightful alignment: a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in New York City on July 10, 2012, beginning at 7:30 PM.  Matt will be joined by Matt Ray, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Danton Boller, bass; Mark McLean, drums.

I’ll have more to say about the CD itself — one of the most rewarding efforts I have on my shelves — but here’s Matt on Robison:

During the mid 1920′s Willard Robison was working as a pianist and arranger with many of the stars of the new jazz vanguard when he went into the studio and recorded a string of startling recordings which almost certainly made him the prototype for the American 20th century’s most abundant and everlasting artistic archetype: The singer/songwriter.  Before the deluge – before there was Hoagy, or Johnny Mercer, or Randy Newman, or Mose Allison, or Brian Wilson, or Van Dyke Parks – Willard Robison wrote, orchestrated, conducted, and sang his own utterly unclassifiable music and lyrics in a series of pioneering and timeless recordings between 1924 and 1930.  His songs told of odd rural loners, wild open landscapes, revival camp meetings, preachers, and the devil (always the devil) and employed a complex and surprising harmonic and melodic language which, while referencing the new jazz – along with classical, ragtime, blues, and even old time country music – emerged at once as a fully realized and completely original American voice.

Yet, in the years since 1930, and in the 42 years since Robison’s death, not one of these ground-breaking recordings has ever been re-issued after its initial release as a 78 record.  Robison is virtually alone among seminal and much-recorded American musical innovators: the LP era passed him by; the CD era passed him by; the digital download era has thus-far passed him by. As Robison slipped deeper into alcoholism and an increasingly itinerant life the big companies who owned his music subsequently shelved these strange “unmarketable” works to the vaults, where they remain to this day.  But this could soon change, and Matt Munisteri’s new CD “Still Runnin’ ‘Round in The Wilderness” may prove a catalyst for a long overdue interest in this timeless body of work.

Lauded for his fiery guitar chops, literate humor, and “pre-war heart” (The New Yorker), the likewise unclassifiable ace guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Matt Munisteri has spent over a decade hunting down, transcribing, and performing these lost masterworks, refracting them through his own individual prism of 20th century American music.  In the process he has not only finally brought these tunes to light, but has imbued them with an organic and riveting beauty in which jazz improvisation, folk traditions, and popular song co-mingle.

Matt Munisteri has worked with many notables across the jazz and roots-music spectrum, including Mark O’Connor, Steven Bernstein, Loudon Wainwright, Jenny Scheinman, “Little” Jimmy Scott, Catherine Russell, and Geoff Muldaur. His 2003 release “Love Story” won the number two slot in Amazon’s Best Jazz CDs of The Year.  Recognizing a rare kindred spirit, Munisteri became obsessed with Robison’s music around 2000, and the hunt for old 78s, worn tapes, acetates, and sheet music over the past decade has produced as many remarkable stories as the songs themselves tell.  With a crew of top NYC musicians he has re-imagined Robison’s songs, culled from their original recordings, as a body of work rightfully freed from the trappings of era or idiom.

The music was recorded live over two days, with all the musicians in a 15X18 foot room, with no isolation by John Kilgore – this is truly “Live” live, with nowhere to hide, and the resultant interplay among these master improvisers is the listener’s gain.  The musicians include: Matt Munisteri – guitar, vocals, banjo; Ben Perowsky – drums; Danton Boller – bass; Matt Ray – piano; Scott Robinson – C melody sax, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet; Will Holshouser – accordion; Rachelle Garniez – guest vocals.

What Matt has done with and for Robison’s music is startlingly rewarding.  It would have been one thing for him to consider his role as musical archivist only: find the obscure sheet music and 78s, and present them, either as cleaned-up copies of the original discs OR as reverent recreations in 2012 by musicians interpreting Robison as if he were Dvorak.

That in itself would have been a splendid project, because listeners like myself would have been able to hear Robison songs they didn’t know (in addition to the “famous” ones: A COTTAGE FOR SALE; T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, T’AIN’T SO; LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN).  But Matt knows that archival reverence has its limitations, so both the CD and his live performances have successfully gotten at the heart of Robison’s music creatively.  Another artist’s deference to “the material” might have made it seem distant — museum pieces behind glass.  Munisteri’s Robison, imbued with the force of two strong personalities, comes into the room and demands our attention.  Now.

I know that “re-imagining” makes some listeners nervous: will the original music that they know be stretched out of shape by artists eager to impose their own personalities on it?  Will SUNSET CAFE STOMP reappear to a samba beat with sampling?

Matt’s imagination is deep but nothing of the sort has happened here.  What he has done is to present Robison’s music through his own lens — wry, soulful, amused, sad — presenting it by singing and playing, alone and with congenial musicians.  The result is a new window into a series of intriguing worlds, where ethical truths are offered with sly wit, where deep feelings have sharp edges.  The CD is masterful and repeated playings have only shown me its expanding vistas.  And I’ve learned so much about Robison from Matt’s incisive writing in the notes.

I propose that anyone who can go to the show and buy the CD: both will be rewarding experiences.  And if we send out the right sympathetic vibrations, perhaps Volume Two will follow soon.

May your happiness increase.

MATT MUNISTERI SPEAKS!

The wizard guitarist (plectrist, rather) Matt Munisteri has a ferocious beat, is a cornucopia of new melodies, and is a demonic wit — in addition.  Here’s his latest gig-posting, worth reading even if you are going to be miles away on the dates he indicates here.  And if you can come to one or all of these gigs, so much the better . . . .

Munisteri

Peoples. There are musical rewards aplenty for folks who hang in town this coming Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday May 21st 10pm Barbes

For my first “Third Thursday” gig in two months, I’ll joined by Jon Dryden on piano and Tim Luntzel on bass. One very small part of Jon’s load of genius involves his rather incendiary (to me, to me at least) Floyd Cramer touch on 3-chord chestnuts, so I’m busy scheming.

Friday May 22nd 9pm Jalopy $12

SMECK! A Celebration of String Wizardry

Roy Smeck, “The Wizard of The Strings”, was a 1920’s and 30’s multi-string virtuoso and a vaudeville star, and I’ve recruited two of the most powerful string wizards I know, Doug Wamble and Charlie Burnham, to join me in conjuring the spirits of wizards past and future. All three have us have played with Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, but I believe this will mark the first time we’ve ever trio-ed. The evening will begin with Alan Edelstein’s great ’86 Academy Award nominated film “Wizard of the Strings” – with an in person introduction by the auteur – followed by a selection of ultra-rare short films of various by-gone string virtuosi, curated by the mad archivist Russell Scholl. Then we’ll all take a deep breath (of something) and see just how much voodoo Doug, Charlie, and myself can summon with a heap of guitars, banjos and mandolins. And the blood of one dead chicken.

Sunday May 24th 8-11 The Ear Inn – Spring St, off Washington

The EarRegulars

Our leader and savior Jon Kellso will be absent this Sunday, but we’ll be blessed with a visitation of two of the baddest sorcerers-of-the-reeds, Evan Christopher, of New Orleans LA, and Scott Robinson, of Teaneck NJ. Also on hand will be Danton Boller, of Malcolm X Blvd., on bass. Be afraid. And get there early, to plant your booty firmly in a seat – there exists the distinct likelihood that such a lineup will, ahem, “turn this mother out”.

Later that same night, at 1am, (!), Evan, Danton, and I will be playing for a grand celebration in honor of what, up until April 27th 2009, would have been Frankie Manning’s 95th birthday. Actually, earlier that same day we’re playing a private event for the Sidney Bechet Society, but don’t worry; we’ll Man Up. Monday, I rest.

And, of course there’s always a “Law and Order” re-run on somewhere if you’d rather stay home. Yes, I’ve seen to that too. I seek only to keep you entertained.

WHAT BEN RATLIFF WON’T SAY

The posting below found its way into the JAZZ LIVES mailbox, thanks to John Herr:

ben-ratliff

January 12, 2009
Talk to the Newsroom:
Ben Ratliff, Jazz and Pop Critic
Ben Ratliff, music critic, is answering questions from readers Jan. 12-16, 2009. Questions may be e-mailed to askthetimes@nytimes.com.
Mr. Ratliff has been a jazz and pop critic at the New York Times since 1996.
Born in New York City in 1968, he grew up in London and Rockland County, N.Y., and studied Classics at Columbia University. He is the author of “Jazz: A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings” (2002), “Coltrane: The Story of a Sound” (2007) and “The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music” (2008).
Among hundreds of reviews, reported stories and obituaries in these pages, he has written about Duke Ellington, Slick Rick, Shirley Caesar, Dorival Caymmi, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Johnny Paycheck, Cat Power, Slayer, Donald Lambert, the Stooges, Tito Puente, Miley Cyrus, Prince, Gal Costa, Bo Diddley, Bebo Valdes, the Texas A&M University Marching Storm, community singing in East Lansing, Mich., the praise-rock house bands at the High Desert Church in Victorville, Calif., and much else.

Why Isn’t Jazz Audience Bigger?

Q. Why isn’t there more of an audience for “straight-ahead” jazz? Or put in a different way, how come established jazz artists who have been active since the ’50s or early ’60s are given only niche status (or no visibility at all) by the media? Do you feel the media plays a role/responsibiltiy regarding the public awareness of such artists as Freddie Hubbard, Barry Harris, Cedar Walton, for example? Why is it that the general (U.S.) public have no awareness or appreciation of this genre?
— Paul Loubriel

A. Paul: This is a big question. I’ll try to hit some parts of it but I probably won’t answer it to your satisfaction.
In the last 60 years, people almost completely stopped dancing to jazz, and far fewer people grew up with pianos in the house. I think that has a lot to do with why jazz is no longer the popular vernacular art it used to be. When you dance to music (in all ways — partner dancing, stepping, headbanging — just reacting to music with your body) or when you play it, then you own it. A lot of people born since 1960 don’t feel that they own jazz.
Absolutely, the media plays a role in why the average person doesn’t know who Cedar Walton is. But I think the mainstream media — obviously we’re not talking about jazz magazines like Downbeat, which has Benny Golson on the cover this month (a good example of the kind of artist you’re talking about) — doesn’t, by definition, deal with the kind of art that post-bop mainstream jazz has become, which is an art of tradition and very slow refinements.
Mainstream publications, generally, want to run music stories about what’s new or radically different, or about trends. (This could get into a larger issue about the shallowness of the general perception of “news.”) With classical music, they put a lot of stock in premieres or big, notable new compositions. In jazz there are few premieres and few big, notable new compositions. One has to sniff out what’s interesting, however it presents itself: it could be a one-night gig attended by 15 people or a sold-out run.
As for the general public, they’re not buying albums as much anymore, and as much as jazz is a recordings medium at all, it’s still an album art.
I believe that jazz needs more jazz clubs (with small cover charges), because it’s still a social music. The way to know about Cedar Walton in 2009 is to go see him at the Village Vanguard.
By the way, I see that The Times has mentioned Cedar Walton 247 times, in reviews and articles and listings, since 1980. Not too bad.
*****************************************************************************************
Here’s the email I sent to Mr. Ratliff:

I’m happy that the Times has mentioned Cedar Walton 247 times.  But there’s a wide range of creative improvisation going on not too far from the Times’s offices that never gets mentioned: consider Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri at the Ear Inn on Sunday nights (8-11), where the regulars and visitors include Michael Blake, Scott Robinson, Steven Bernstein, and others.  If “the media” define Jazz as no longer newsworthy, then people who love Jazz come to reject “mainstream” media and turn to smaller magazines and weblogs. 
Sincerely,
Michael Steinman

P.S.  Come down to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night and I’ll buy you a drink.

 (I didn’t mean this facetiously: I would stand Mr. Ratliff a second drink or even a Cobb salad if he showed proper appreciation of the music . . . and wrote about it.)

I don’t mean to demonize the media or Mr. Ratliff, but his apparently candid answer has some large omissions in it. 

The standard argument has a good deal to do with the aging of the jazz audience.  Newspapers and magazines rely on advertisting to support themselves, and their research has shown, on whatever evidence, that the 18-35 group spends the most money.  That group has little or no knowledge of jazz, so it stands to reason.

But that argument isn’t entirely true.  Jazz clubs in New York are often full of people who have years to go before they apply for Social Security. 

When anyone goes to the opera, there are many white-haired people in the audience, the house is full, and the Times provides full coverage of, say, a Renee Fleming performance. 

The answer, for better or worse, is money.

Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center take out substantial advertising in the paper (with full-color glossy advertising supplements) and run weekly ads in the Arts section — so there’s a substantial amount of money changing hands.  In addition, when Ms. Fleming has a new CD, Decca or EMI or London takes out a full-page ad in the Sunday Arts section.  

The Ear Inn or Smalls doesn’t have that kind of advertising budget, so I am not surprised that Times critics don’t make their way down to those clubs to hear Kellso or Ehud Asherie. When I was trying to get more publicity for the Cajun jazz club, now demolished, I wrote directly to Nate Chinen, asking him to come down and hear the music — Kellso, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Eddy Davis among others — and he never responded. 

I said above that I am not surprised.  But I am disappointed in the lack of candor displayed by Mr. Ratliff and others.  When I read a “jazz magazine” and see an ad for Victoria Vocalist on page 8 and a glowing review of Victoria’s new CD on page 9, my innate skepticism springs to life.  Whether the ad came first or the review is not entirely the question, but their proximity removes the possibility of objectivity.  (Only those jazz magazines that either have no advertising or, like Cadence, keep the two entities separate, can aspire to honest objectivity.)

So all I would like someone from the Times to do — it doesn’t have to be Mr. Ratliff — is to say, candidly, “Look.  We don’t review jazz of the type you admire because we haven’t found a way to make sufficient income from it.  We used to be able to make money from it — in the Seventies, when the Newport Jazz Festival concerts took place in New York, they took out ads in the paper, and they were reviewed.  Now we can’t.  Rather than say that we need to review ONLY those artistic performances that pay for themselves, we’ll just say that the audience has changed, people no longer have pianos in their house, and so on.  It sounds so much nicer.”

In the Fifties, when record company executives used to pay disc jockeys to spin their new records on the radio, it was called “payola” and it created a scandal.  The word fell out of use some time ago, but the concept, I fear, is still thriving.  A pretense of journalistic objectivity is not the same thing as objectivity.