Sunday, March 11, 2007

the new originals

A key feature of the "neo mainstream" movement and even certain projects from people outside that movement is to revisit jazz compositions and styles from past times. Honestly, I usually find these revisions or excavations a waste of time (or much worse), as the results rarely have the vitality and urgency of the originals.

Even the Art Ensemble of Chicago, for example, loses me on those Dreaming of the Masters recordings from the 1990s. The cover of Purple Haze, for example, is painful, in my opinion. (Zombie is pretty good as is Creole Love Call).

But there are and have been exceptions. When Sun Ra's band started playing Fletcher Henderson charts in the '80s I was blown away. I love what Steve Lacy and friends did with Monk tunes. The Duke/Strayhorn duets between Lacy and Mal Waldron are absolutely stunning. Duke's own tendency to reach back in his catalogue often had vital results, such as Ellington '55. David Murray, Henry Threadgill, Dave Burrell and some (some!) of Paul Motian's retrospective approaches really grab me. When I'm in the mood, Charlie Haden and Hank Jones' Steal Away works just fine. Dave Holland's bands echo various post-1960 (or so) compositional and improv approaches and his stuff is interesting. Tim Berne's post-modern cut and paste jumpcuts are often intriguing and seem more sincere and less gimmicky than Zorn's earlier work.

The tendency of a lot of the younger neo mainstream players to echo '60s Blue Note approaches (so-called "hard bop") is truly unfortunate, as the original recordings are always far more varied, energetic and natural-sounding. Why would I spin Donald Harrison etc. if I can just check out Turrentine, Blue Mitchell or Lee Morgan?

Here's a (very) short list of revival or back catalogue work I'd be interested to hear:

The Herbie Nichols songbook arranged for a quintet or larger ensemble. I think Rudd's groups used to include some Nichols tunes but I don't have any of those recordings. Perhaps an extensive excavation of Andrew Hill compositions with new approaches/arrangements as well.

A new and improved Skies of America; a better recording with a more enlightened and sympathetic orchestra and conductor.

Re-arrangements and performances of Cecil Taylor compositions for various ensembles.

Art Ensemble of Chicago compositions could be an interesting legacy in the right hands.

A revisiting of James Blood Ulmer and Ronald Shannon Jackson compositions for various formats. Jackson and Ulmer's groundbreaking work went by pretty quickly.

Somebody I admire having a go at a new arrangement of Dogon AD.

Just some thoughts. The Vandermark 5's "Free Jazz Classics" really didn't do it for me, to put it mildly, but that doesn't mean there isn't potential for relevant and vital contemporary stuff to be done using a more judicious and less "corporate bopper" approach.


Dan said...

FYI, the AACM's Great Black Music Ensemble, featuring as many AACM members that are available (sometime including as many as 4 drummers), are going to be doing a tribute to Fletcher Henderson this summer in Millennium Park in Chicago. They did one earlier this year in the park district and it was fantastic. Hopefully we'll get a good recording of it.

Brent said...

i agree about the "free jazz classics," in spite of having an interest in much of vandermark's own work.

i don't know if you've heard/about nels cline's new disc of andrew hill pieces, *new monastery*. it might not be revelatory (w/ the exception of his version of "compulsion"), but his ensemble avoids literalist kinds of reconstruction, using hill's compositions as springboards rather than scripts. bobby bradford is on the record throughout, too.

thehotelsterno said...

I agree about the DREAMING OF THE MASTERS album by the AEC, it didn't add up; however, the song "Dreaming of the Master" from NICE GUYS is a different kettle of fish. It adds to the musics of the past by reflecting that music through the prism of the AEC's personality.

So too "Charlie M" from MAGG ZELMA. That song soungs about a thousand years old & still 20 years out. I guess they were so happy with these results that a concept soon followed, & it just didn't take.

Brent said...

p.s. are you any relation to paul breslin of northwestern university?

peter breslin said...

hi- No relation to Paul Breslin at Northwestern, unless my dad's keeping secrets.

Great comments all. Especially psyched to hear that the AACM's GBM Ensemble is working up Henderson charts.

The Nels Cline sounds interesting indeed.

Charlie M and the piece called Dreaming of the Masters are both wonderful pieces of music.

keep the comments particular, what sort of excavation would you like to be a part of or would you like to hear (and by whom?)


Killick said...


Hello. My name is Killick. I'm a musician from Athens, Georgia. I've enjoyed your musings on Bagatellen and elsewhere for some time. I must admit I'm not familiar with your music, though your words suggest great things. I was hoping you could offer some advice about playing in New Mexico. I'm going on a family trip in October to Albuquerque for the big balloon festival, and was hoping to squeeze in some solo and/or collaborative sets. I'm available to play Albuquerque on Saturday, October 6th, and I'd also like to play some other cities on Thursday through Saturday, the 11th, 12th, and 13th. I'll have a rental car and I don't need accomodations. Any help is greatly appreciated! You can email me at Thanks so much,



Ryshpan said...

Hi Peter,

I'll be posting something about Free Jazz Classics soon, but suffice it to say I think Vandermark succeeds most when he follows the spirit, not the letter, of Rollins and Kirk ("John S." and the end of "Volunteered Slavery," for example).

Nels Cline's New Monastery is highly recommended. I'm surprised you haven't heard it yet. And have you heard Ben Allison/Frank Kimbrough's Herbie Nichols Project records from the late '90s/early '00s?

I definitely agree that Skies of America deserves a revisit.

peter breslin said...

heya- I have a huge gap in recorded so-called "jazz" music from as far back as about 1987 to roughly right now. The problem being at least twofold: financial/material/practical realities combined with sheer ignorance. There's other aspects to it as well, including being repeatedly disappointed by almost everything I've heard. Just unlucky I guess. I only have a mere handful of more recent efforts, such as the Frisell/Holland/Jones trio recording on Nonesuch and Dixon/CT/Oxley. I don't even have Sound Grammar yet. Another factor contributing to the lacuna is the amazing back catalogue stuff on CD these days. I get distracted by (for example) Jimmy Smith or Lee Morgan or Booker Ervin (or Little!) or..... (I also spent a lot of time in the '90s listening to bands like Helmet, Primus, (early) Korn, etc.)

I heard some ear-catching Fred Hirsch stuff on the radio the other day.

I deeply appreciate the recommendations and will undoubtedly be updating my head over the next while.


Dan said...

Along these lines, a friend just gave me a CD by Giergio Gaslini called Ayler's Wings, all piano renditions of Albert Ayler tunes...sort of a reverse engineering of the kind of covers and interpretations that we were talking about.