A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Creative music: white post-modernism in New York


British bassist Dave Holland was both a melodic virtuoso of the double bass, a sound innovator who ushered in the transition of jazz music from acoustic bass to electric bass, and a composer of chamber jazz with a neoclassical sensitivity, a spiritual edge, a natural gift for naive melodies and a flair for the "conference" of timbres. After playing on the Spontaneous Music Ensemble's Karyobin (february 1968), Holland moved to New York and joined Miles Davis (1968-70), for whose records most of his vocabulary was originally constructed. Despite (or precisely because of) coming from a completely different background, Holland found himself in great demand in the following years, being hired by Circle (1970), a quartet with pianist Chick Corea, saxophonist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul, Paul Bley (1972), Stan Getz (1972), Anthony Braxton (1972), and Sam Rivers (1976-81).
After Music from Two Basses (february 1971), mostly improvised with the other British bassist, Barre Phillips, and Improvisations for Cello And Guitar (january 1971) with guitarist Derek Bailey, Holland formed a quartet with two saxophonists, the ebullient Sam Rivers and the mathematical Anthony Braxton, and drummer Barry Altschul that recorded the epochal Conference of the Birds (november 1972). Holland found an identity between two words that were widely regarded as antithetical, "avantgarde" and "melody", not to mention "swing". Instead, Holland's compositions, propelled by one of the most swinging rhythm sections of the time, penned by a melodic talent worthy of Debussy, and never shy of venturing into dissonant, jarring and abrasive territories. Some abstract pieces (Four Winds) had virtually no identity, others sounded like a surreal and lyrical form of hard-bop (Q & A, Interception) and others even echoed folk music (the two shortest pieces, Conference of the Birds and Now Here, both with flute). The "sound" of this album (that became the sound of the German label ECM) was going to be more influential than anything done since Davis' conversion to electrical instruments.
In 1975 Holland, guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette formed the all-white Gateway trio. Gateway (march 1975), with Holland's May Dance and DeJohnette's psychedelic Sorcery I (and the short drum-less ballad Jamala), and 2 (july 1977), with the 16-minute group improvisation Opening. This music was a close relative of progressive-rock.
Holland's aesthetic crystallized with the two solo albums Emerald Tears (august 1977) for solo bass and Life Cycle (november 1982) for solo cello, both fragmented into short pieces. The latter, perhaps his zenith as a composer, adopted the intimate, humble, restrained stance of zen Buddhism (the five-movement suite Life Cycle) while reminiscent of medieval folk music (Rune, Troubadour Tale, Chanson Pour la Nuit).
In 1982 Holland also formed his Quintet, featuring British trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, trombonist Julian Priester, altoist Steve Coleman and drummer Steve Ellington. Holland's compositions on Jumpin' In (october 1983) were longer and livelier (Jumpin' In, New-One, You I Love) but actually simpler. Holland was even less relevant on Seeds of Time (november 1984), that featured only three of his compositions, although he regained some of his relevance on The Razor's Edge (february 1987), thanks to his Razor's Edge and Blues for C.M. (contrasted with Coleman's Vortex).
The trio with Jack DeJohnette and Steve Coleman, Triplicate (march 1988), fared better, thanks to Rivers Run and Triple Dance (and to Coleman's effervescent form). On the other hand, the quartet with Steve Coleman, trombonist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Marvin Smitty Smith Extensions (september 1989) was even more accessible than the Quintet and penned Holland's The Oracle, Coleman's Black Hole, and Eubanks' Nemesis and Color of Mind. Holland' second solo, Ones All (may 1993), was also a retreat from the "avantgarde", sounding very traditional in comparison with the first one.
A new quartet with vibraphonist Steve Nelson, altoist Eric Person and drummer Gene Jackson recorded Dream of the Elders (march 1995) that contained several lengthy Holland originals (The Winding Way, Claressence, that would remain one of his most popular themes, Lazy Snake, Ebb & Flo, Dream of the Elders). This music was now elegance for the sake of elegance.
Eubanks, saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Billy Kilson joined Nelson and Holland for Points of View (september 1997), a collection that showed Holland the composer and arranger in a state of supreme confidence, eclectic and baroque, and best in the melancholy mood (The Balance, Mister B., Bedouin Trail, Ario, Herbaceous, Eubanks' Metamorphos). Prime Directive (december 1998), with Chris Potter replacing Wilson, was beginning to sound like the meditation of an aging man on his own form of art, resulting in the sophisticated routine of Wonders Never Cease, Looking Up, Jugglers Parade (as well as Eubanks' A Seeking Spirit). While a bit less imaginative and spontaneous than the albums of the 1980s, these last quintet works were no less austere and profound. Having invented the new "mainstream" sound, Holland now relished in being the reactionary within his own revolution. Holland seemed to be getting tired of his own game on Not for Nothin' (december 2000), that featured Eubanks' Global Citizen but few Holland originals (mainly Lost and Found and What Goes Around).
A first big band album, What Goes Around (january 2001), simply revisited several of Holland's originals, but the second one, Overtime (november 2002), was highlighted by Holland's most ambitious composition, the Monterey Suite in four movements (Bring It On, Free For All, A Time Remembered, Happy Jammy). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White drummer Barry Altschul, one of the most intense drummers in the history of jazz music, enlivened the music of Paul Bley (1965-72), Chick Corea (1969), Anthony Braxton (1972-75), Dave Holland (1972), Sam Rivers (1976). Altschul was famous mainly for his maelstrom of percussion sounds, but could also be subtle in chamber-music settings. In fact, his first two albums, influenced by Dave Holland's Conference Of The Birds (november 1972), focused on the "conference" of the timbres, assembled the instruments in several different combinations. The centerpiece of You Can't Name Your Own Tune (february 1977) was You Can't Name Your Own Tune that featured saxophonist Sam Rivers, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, trombonist George Lewis, Holland and Altschul. Another Time Another Place (april 1978) presented Altschul with altoist Arthur Blythe, trombonist Ray Anderson, guitarist Bill DeArango, pianist Anthony Davis and bassist Brian Smith in Suite for Monk, with pianist Davis and cellist Abdul Wadud in Chael, with Davis, Smith and trombonist Ray Anderson in Another Time Another Place. Altschul, Anderson and bassist Mark Helias released two trio albums, Somewhere Else (june 1979) and Brahma (january 1980), with Irina. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White drummer Gerry Hemingway joined the "creative" crowd via Anthony Davis (1973-2001) and Anthony Braxton (1983-94). But his technique was also well served by the humbler all-white BassDrumBone trio with bassist Mark Helias and trombonist Ray Anderson (1978-97). Hemingway summarized his early experiments on Kwambe (february 1978): the four-movement suite Kwambe, with Anthony Davis on piano, Wes Brown on flute, Jay Hoggard on vibraphone and Mark Helias on bass (roughly Anthony Davis' group of the time), the three-movement suite First Landscape for a trio with George Lewis on trombone and Anthony Davis on piano, the solo-drums piece Walking Alone the Tall Trees Sang. They exuded a subtle intelligence, more influenced by the electroacoustic avantgarde than by Anthony Davis, with an approach that was more on the side of (richly textured) abstraction rather than narrative development. The four compositions of Solo Works (september 1981), ostensibly a showcase for Hemingway's extended vocabulary of the drums, was even more abstract and non-jazz, including Black Wind for "cymbal and drum resonances" and The Dawntreader, musique concrete for tape. More of his solo-percussion compositions were also collected on Tubworks: the 18-minute Four Studies for Single Instruments (1985), the polymetrical Trance Tracks (using rhythmic phrases of different lengths as the building blocks for the composition), Like So Many Sails (1985) for wood blocks and junk metal, and Dance of the Sphygmoids (december 1983).
Jazz music resurfaced in the quintet sessions of Outerbridge Crossing (september 1985), with Anderson, Helias, baritone saxophonist David Mott, Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger. notably Outerbridge Crossing (that premiered his "tiered-tempo approach"), Endorphin and Threnody For Charles Mingu, and Special Detail (december 1990), with Don Byron on baritone sax and clarinet, bassist Ed Schuller on bass, Dutch trombonist Wolter Wierbos and Reijseger still on cello, notably the 19-minute Special Detail and the 14-minute Taffia. No matter how torrid and searing, it was still a form of jazz music that, while technically "swinging", was mostly absorbed in a manipulative analysis of form. Down To The Wire (december 1990), for the quartet of saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore, Wierbos and bassist Mark Dresser, was different in that Hemingway focused on microscopic texture (Space 2 but also the atmospheric If you Like) rather than macroscopic interplay. The quintet's art was one of brains and guts, the quartet's art was one of colors and whispers.
Besides BassDrumBone, Hemingway was also active with a trio that became a quartet for Tambastics (march 1991): flutist Robert Dick, bassist Mark Dresser and pianist Denman Maroney. Since 1990 Hemingway was also involved in a trio with pianist Georg Graewe and cellist Ernst Reijseger that debuted on Sonic Fiction (march 1989).
Hemingway was also still active as an avantgarde composer, for example with his concerto for percussionist and orchestra, Terrains (1993). He continued to experiment with live electronic music, computer interactive music, and multimedia installations (Waterways for multiple slide projectors, tape and percussion). A duo with vocalist Andrea Goodman, Divine Doorways (april 1997), toyed with aleatory music based on tarot cards. A duo with Thomas Lehn an analogue synthesist, Tom & Gerry, yielded Tom & Gerry (june 1997) and Fire Works (march 2000). Chamber Works (1999) assembled: the 23-minute Contigualis for string quartet, The Visiting Tank for string quartet plus live electronics, Aurora for sextet, Circus for quintet.
Back to the jazz world, Hemingway played in several trios: the one led by clarinetist, bass clarinetist and alto saxophonist Frank Gratkowski, that debuted with Gestalten (september 1995); one with pianist Marilyn Crispell and bassist Barry Guy, documented by Cascades (june 1993); and one with Michel Wintsch and cellist cellist Martin Shuetz recorded Wintsch/ Schuetz/ Hemingway (january 1994).
Demon Chaser (may 1993) finally presented the "transatlantic quintet" in all its glory: Hemingway, Reijseger, Dresser, Wierbos and Moore. Slamadam and Demon Chaser were the highlights. The quintet penned its masterpiece with the five-movement suite Marmalade King (february 1994), conceived as a fairy tale. Perfect World (march 1995) contained another "fairy tale" suite, Little Suite, the lengthy and complex narrative architecture of Perfect World, and N.T. The quintet disbanded after the live Waltzes Two-Steps and Other Matters of the Heart (november 1996), that contained more accessible extended pieces (Toombow, Gospel Waltz, Gitar).
In the meantime, Hemingway had already concocted an "American" quartet with Robin Eubanks on trombone, Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone and Mark Dresser on bass that debuted with the live Johnny's Corner Song (november 1997). This time there were echoes of blues, swing and bebop as well as African folk music although they still featured passages of elaborate abstract improvisation (the 13-minute Johnny's Corner Song, the eleven-minute On It and a 21-minute version of Toombow). The next release of the American quartet (and the first studio release of either quartet or quintet), Devil's Paradise (february 1999), featured tenorist Ellery Eskelin (who stole the show), Anderson and Dresser in a program of old Hemingway originals, while The Whimbler (march 2004), an all-new program (notably The Current Underneath, The Whimbler, Curlycue) had trumpeter Herb Robertson, Eskelin and Dresser.
The passion for the trio did not abate. Hemingway formed Thirteen Ways with pianist Fred Hersch and saxophonist Micheal Moore, that debuted with Thirteen Ways (july 1995), while the WHO Trio with Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch and Swiss contrabassist/cellist Baenz Oester released Identity (march 1998), Open Songs (april 2000), Sharing the Thirst (may 2001), and The Current Underneath (june 2003).
Songs (december 2001) was another groundbreaking work, although in a totally different dimension: songwriting. Performers included Lisa Sokolov on vocals, Wierbos, Hemingway, Eskelin, Lehn, Robertson, James Emery on guitars, John Butcher on tenor sax, Kermit Driscoll on bass.
Double Blues Crossing (october 2002), hardly related to the European quintet, was an ambitious suite performed by Gratkowski, Wierbos, cellist Amit Sen and bassist Kermitt Driscoll. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


A long-time associate of drummer Edward Blackwell, Ray Anderson and Gerry Hemingway, white bassist Mark Helias was also a subtle composer of chamber jazz. Helias debuted as a leader with the bold, avantgarde Split Image (august 1984), for a quartet With tenorist Dewey Redman, altoist Tim Berne, trumpeter Herb Robertson and Hemingway, that contained Helias' extended compositions Lands End, Le Tango and Z-5. The Current Set (march 1987) was a more structured affair, delivered by a sextet with Berne, Robertson, soprano saxophonist Greg Osby, trombonist Robin Eubanks and drummer Victor Lewis, whose best pieces (The Current Set, Ellipsis, Lism) relished the tension between traditional form and free-form interplay. Desert Blue (april 1989) was even more lightweight, despite the addition of keyboardist Anthony Davis (also on synthesizer) and Marty Ehlrich on sax and clarinet to Roberson's trumpet (Jerome Harris on guitar, Pheeeman Aklaff on drums). Helias returned to form as a composer with Attack The Future (march 1990), that featured Robertson, Michael Moore on alto and clarinet, David Lopato on piano and Tom Rainey on drums unleashed in the 12-minute Gnomeswalk and the 26-minute suite Knitting or Quitting. Influenced by Charles Mingus as a bassist and by Dave Holland as a composer, Helias could occasionally secrete the best of the two. The composer found perhaps his best balance of avantgarde and tradition, as well as of black and ethnic music, on Loopin' The Cool (december 1994), highlighted by the sophisticated interplay between violinist Regina Carter and tenorist Ellery Eskelin and propelled by Rainey and Guinean percussionist Abdoulaye Epizo Bangoura (the convoluted Seventh Sign but also the Afro-funky Thumbs Up). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom carried out one of the most breathtaking excursions at the border between structure and improvisation. She started out in a very independent fashion with We Are (march 1978), a duet with bassist Kent McLagan, and Second Wind (june 1980), in a quintet with pianist Larry Karush and vibraphonist David Friedman, bridging Anthony Braxton and Coleman Hawkins. This attitude triumphed on Mighty Lights (november 1982), thanks to a quartet that featured pianist Fred Hersch and Ornette Coleman's rhythm section of two decades earlier, namely bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell, and thanks to compositions such as 2-5-1 that embodied postmodernism at in its most subtle manifestation. After the transitional duets with Hersh of As One (september 1984), notably the nine-minute Waiting For Daylight, Hersh was promoted to electronic keyboards to create the brainy tapestry of Modern Drama (february 1987), that harked back to Paul Bley's experiments with live electronic music. The quartet with Hersh took a detour into the ballad format with Slalom (june 1988) before Bloom's compositional art peaked on Art & Aviation (july 1992). Featuring Bloom herself on live electronics, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, bassist Michael Formanek and electro-acoustic percussionist Jerry Granelli (again, a line-up that resembled Ornette Coleman's piano-less quartet of thirty years earlier), the album merged her passion for abstract painting and her flair for melody in sophisticated visions such as Oshumare, Art & Aviation and especially Most Distant Galaxy. After another light-weight divertissment, Nearness (july 1995), featuring Wheeler, Hersh, trombonist Julian Priester, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Bobby Previte, the quartet session with Hersch, bassist Mark Dresser and Previte that yielded The Red Quartets (january 1999) were a showcase for her surgical blend of design and performance, from the torrential Emergency to the sparse Tell Me Your Diamonds.
Replacing Hersh with Vincent Bourgeyx, Bloom's quartet made another aboutface towards melody on Sometimes the Magic (july 2000). In a unique way of asserting her role as a transmission chain, for every step she made towards free jazz, concept art and experimental counterpoint, Bloom also made a step backwards towards the roots of jazz and pop music.
Chasing Paint (may 2002), recorded by the classic quartet with Hersch, Dresser and Previte, was her tribute to one of her influences, Jackson Pollock's abstract painting, her motion-activated synthesizer haunting the cryptic meditations of Unexpected Light and Alchemy. Replacing Hersh with Jamie Saft, Like Silver Like Song (july 2004) was more than the usual retreat into melody: it balanced her split personality, not only alternating catchy tunes and free-form pieces but also fusing the two into the nine-minute Vanishing Hat. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White pianist Marilyn Crispell, who was playing with Anthony Braxton (1978-86), inherited the tradition of experimental jazz pianists who were also bold composers (Thelonious Monk, Paul Bley, Cecil Taylor), and took it to a new level of sensibility and curiosity in the wild trio improvisations of Spirit Music (march 1981), with violinist Billy Bang and drummer John Betsch, in the passionate solo improvisations of Rhythms Hung in Undrawn Sky (may 1983), of Labyrinths (october 1987) and of Images (august 1991), in the cerebral duets with German pianist Irene Schweizer of Overlapping Hands (june 1990), in the dramatic quartet counterpoint of Santuerio (may 1993), with violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Gerry Hemingway, in the stark duo studies with Italian saxophonist and clarinetist Stefano Maltese of Red (september 1999) and Blue (september 1999). Her focus gradually shifted from sheer extroverted expression of vital energy towards a more balanced and even introverted exploration of sound. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.