Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shola Emmanuel - Paris Recording Session

I awoke in the middle of the night to a rooster call from my fancy new hand phone, a call from an excited Shola Emmanuel announcing that he had just returned from a recording session in Paris. In the fog of sleep I couldn't catch too much detail, but in the morning I found a link to a professionally-produced YouTube video in my email. Here it is, kind of a chamber-jazz thing with a French rhythm section. I am promised that there is more to come; a new album is being mixed.

The musicians in the video are:

Shola Emmanuel : Alto Saxophone
Matteo Pastorino : Clarinet
Jean-Baptiste Pinet : Drums
Rafael Paseiro : Double Bass

Recorded at Bopcity Jazz-Studio, Paris, June 2014.
Other tunes were recorded at the same session with additional musicians and instruments:

Bertrand Beruard - Double Bass
Femi Paul - Alto Sax
Michèle-Anna Artiste - Vocals
Michael Williams - Drums
Johan Blanc - Trombone
Ruairidh - Bagpipe
Shola also played tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, trumpet, and piano.

In this day and age where every music school student has more recordings under his belt than some of the historic saxophone legends, I truly hope that Shola's European adventure gets  him some international exposure and leads to some gigs outside of Nigeria. He is one of the only contemporary Nigerian saxophonists playing original improvised music as well as music in the tradition of the Parker-Coltrane axis, swimming against the tide of crappy hip-hop and African MTV big-sunglass videos. I've known Shola for more than six years now and he was already introduced to me as "the best saxophonist in Abuja" on day one. I will update with more video and sound files as I get them.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Tempus Fugit

“We know you've got talent, but do you have the natural ability?”
Soloing on Tenor with
Dalat's Concert Band

Jackie garnered three major all-school awards at Dalat International School’s end-of-year awards ceremony this morning – two in the performing arts plus an academic one – along with two course awards. Later in the evening she was awarded a scholarship for the performing arts, completing ten awards today overall. Talk about proud dad (and no doubt engendering some green glances...).

Jackie was honored with the Band Director’s Award as Dalat’s outstanding instrumentalist for her saxophone performances in both concert band and jazz band; she started on alto five years ago and progressed to learn both tenor and baritone, tenor being her instrument of choice these days. She then won the school’s Fine Arts Award for her triple – no quadruple – threat in singing, dancing, and acting on top of playing mean horn. She recently played and sang the lead in Dalat’s musical theatre production Boardwalk Melody, not only acting but also contributing to the original script and music. I actually think she is more talented as a vocalist. To cap off the day she was named the recipient of the school's Doug Brokaw Memorial Scholarship for further study in the performing arts, presented by one of her musical mentors, Valeri Brokaw. One of the course awards was in digital media which means she understands how to use technology as well as create quality content. Wow.

Out on a Gig on Alto
I started taking Jackie out on gigs when she was 14 and she just started to improvise on stage in performance situations. She never did have stage fright and has become a comfortable if self-critical performer. I've never had to force her to practice, she just likes to play. She already understands that the journey is its own reward.

Some heavy duty rites of passage happening at the moment as she graduates high school and moves on to university, probably in the UK. But I really believe it is onward and upward for this girl who has always been good at everything she does but humble and in-touch as a person.

It’s nice for her to be recognized so highly but I truly believe you ain't seen nothing yet, and I'm looking forward to watching her flourish in a wider, higher level environment with even more creative performance possibilities in both theatre and music. 

Bud Powell’s crazy tempo 1949 piano composition nails it: time flies. Just yesterday she was first picking up the instrument. I'm looking forward to jamming with her later today. Go girl!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Jazz in Transit - Zurich

May 12, 2014, 8:00am Central European Time. Getting most of my jazz in transit these days. On my way from Africa to Europe, transiting through Zurich this time. Like a different world in cleanliness, orderliness, efficiency and population density from the day-to-day world I inhabit. “Africa Rising” has a long way to go.

Stuck in an early morning change of planes, the only place to get a coffee was the “Montreux Jazz Café” in Terminal D. Only airport I have ever been to that has a 3-meter-high photo of Miles on the wall (granted, a near-death Miles in a track suit and big sunglasses caught eating a sandwich). I sat down and had a $25 latte and baguette. Am I really out of it or has money lost its value – particularly the dollar?

There was a wall-sized TV playing video from the 2012 Montreux Jazz Festival. Most of the acts were far from my idea of “jazz”, but I did manage to catch one clip of Dave Liebman playing a Trane tribute with Swiss pianist George Gruntz. Liebman looked like Bad Grandpa on soprano but sure sounded sweet. Almost everything else I saw consisted of middle aged white men wearing black, lots of vocals, stuff I would call pop/lounge with little improvisation (other than the memorized kind of course), swing, or dissonance/blue notes.

Well what do I know? Picked up the program for the upcoming 48th Montreux Jazz Festival in July and Stevie Wonder is one of the headliners. A couple of decent acts – Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette with John Coltrane’s and Jimmy Garrison’s “kids” in his band (both now older than their fathers when they tore up the sky), Dr. John – great but not jazz. But about 50 other rock, pop, and lounge acts. Ugh.

Aha – a jump-suited Herbie Hancock now on the video playing Chameleon on some kind of toy-looking shoulder-slung electronic keyboard. I guess he knows what side his bread is buttered on because what I am watching is far from groundbreaking. Bar band music for a big paycheck. Borderline embarrassing. Herbie – Nooooo!

I am carrying my horn today for the first time in a while so somehow feel compelled to stand up for the music for its own sake. A ticket for Montreux this year? An All Music Pass “valid for standing room access during the entire festival”  is a mere CHF 2,000 – more than $2,200! Festival sponsors include SOCAR – the state oil company of Azerbaijan, a friendly family dictatorship (where is Rain Sultanov, then, Azerbaijan’s premier horn man?), and UBS, the bank famous for assisting money launderers worldwide that has paid huge sums to the US Government to settle tax evasion charges.

Has jazz just become another way the self-appointed elites of the world express their exclusiveness and erudition? Another form of classical music? So far from its roots in exactly the opposite – the cry of freedom. Where is the cry of freedom in jazz today? How do we purge the music of its conservatory-trained enfants terrible, doobie-doo vocalists and middle aged men cashing their checks? How can auditorium-loads of human beings sit through this pap – especially at ticket prices higher than the annual GDP per capita of most of the countries I work in? How did these acts get on the bill in the first place? And I just read that last year’s Montreux Jazz Festival attracted 250,000 visitors. George Clinton might ask, where is the funk?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Brief Encounter with Guitarist Nels Cline at Istanbul Airport

Standing in the passport queue at Istanbul Airport - modelled after a Disneyland switchback and just as crowded - I noticed a group of four or five arty-looking Americans in the row in front of me, two of them carrying guitar gig bags on their backs. It is easy to spot Americans when travelling internationally these days, not because of their loud mouths as in days of yore, but because we are few and far between in airports bursting at the seams with first time travellers from the so-called 'emerging world'. Anyway these Americans truly looked like artistes among the crowd of laptop, hand-phone and iPad twiddling tourists and businessmen.

The queue stalled endlessly and the tallest of the lot, a thin 50-something guitar-carrying traveller, stopped in front of me with the name tag on his gig bag dangling in my face: "Nels Cline. New York, NY". Nels Cline - Nels Cline Singers - guitar not my musical bag but he is known for creativity and my Google search a day later showed him playing alongside Ellery Eskelin and William Parker, Julius Hemphill and Tim Berne. Apparently he has hooked up with a rock band called Wilco (whom I have neither heard of nor heard), apparently a big deal which has exposed him to a much larger audience than his avant-garde jazz playing ever did. I've listened to his music without paying enough attention.

Ron: I see being a famous guitarist doesn't help you get through the passport line any faster.
Nels: No.
Ron: Its not easy travelling carrying your instruments and stuff.
Nels: Its not too bad.
Ron: Well anyway, congratulations on making it to this point in life playing music for a living.
Nels: Its the only thing I've ever wanted to do. Thank you.

Security opened the gate and let the line pass; he was gone.

Well, maybe I have to give his music a serious listen now. Humility and talent seldom go together. As Jackie said when I told her about the incident, "reasons to like musicians 101".

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Shola Eml – Jazz Africa Fusion

I phoned my sax playing buddy Shola Emmanuel in Abuja a few days ago to wish him Happy New Year and he asked me if I got the link. Link to what? A mystery until this morning when his email arrived.

The link inside led to an excellent three-minute video of Shola and his music shot by French filmmaker Libero Films. I don’t know too much about the clip’s genesis – possibly waiting for TV – but wanted to get it out as soon as possible. Apparently there is a second part in the works. If you are not familiar with altoist Shola from previous posts, we first met in Nigeria six years ago and have been on the same musical wavelength ever since. He is gifted with one of the quickest ears I've ever come across.

View Shola Eml – Jazz Africa Fusion below, or watch it in your browser by clicking the link here.


Shola’s web site Rhythm and Sax has a contact form if you'd like to get in touch with him directly.

You can read about Marseille-based Libero films here (French language site).

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Au Revoir, Yusef Lateef

I’m seriously getting tired of this. Seems like every horn man I admire has passed on. Maybe it is a function of the fact that I do not especially like neo-con jazz and do my best to avoid those young conservatory players who approach the music in the same way a classical violinist does, following the rules, loaded with technique but void of creativity and innovation. This week Yusef Lateef left the earth. At least Yusef made it to the advanced age of 93 – unlike most musicians of his generation, he must have had some health care.

Jackie mentioned to me last week that her high school concert band was chock-a-block with saxophonists and as one of the seniors she was asked to diversify and play either oboe or bari. At one time I played oboe in school and told her that my inspiration to do so was Yusef Lateef, maybe the only jazz player in history to do anything worthwhile on that cool-sounding but testy and inflexible double reed. I asked her to seek out some of Yusef’s music on YouTube. A premonition?

Yusef came up in 1940s bebop and blues when cities like Detroit had a thriving scene of their own; he was a tenor player at the core, but by the 1950s he began to introduce other instruments to his repertoire, pioneering what came to be labeled as “world music”. Unlike many pioneers, however, he was not shot dead in his tracks and survived to play music that nobody else had in their head. Like contemporary Rahsaan Roland Kirk, many admired him but nobody copied him. And he stood out from Trane’s mighty shadow.

In reading obits in the Detroit Free Press and New York Times, I find it ironic that Yusef gained academic music degrees only after he had already been one of jazz’ leading hornmen for decades. Who could possibly have been good enough to teach him? And subsequently, what became of his own students? Apparently he turned to academia to eat well, teaching at U. Mass. Amherst in the 1970s, a period when luminaries like Archie Shepp and Max Roach were on the faculty.

Although Yusef’s music took off for outer space, he was rooted in the blues, no better shown than in the 1960 recording 'Teef under Louis Hayes’ name on VeeJay, a straightahead workout which is a favorite of mine. I also particularly like Live at Pep's Vols. 1 and 2 on Impulse from the mid-60s. Yusef continued recording until earlier this year, his last, Light by the Universal Quartet, done in Denmark just this past spring at age 92.

One less legend around to inspire us. Jackie ended up choosing baritone.