WBGO Blog
  • Wilco Guitarist Nels Cline Reclaims Mood Music In The City Of Brotherly Love

    September 13, 2018

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    Nels Cline (Image Credit: NPR)

    Nels Cline has earned his place as a guitar hero for our times, with a track record stretching back four decades and a marquee gig with Wilco. But if you mainly associate him with squalls of feedback, you're missing a big part of the picture. "The Avant Romantic" is how Rolling Stone pegged him about a decade ago, in its list of Top 20 New Guitar Gods. And lately, Cline has been focusing his efforts, without pause or irony, on the romantic part of that equation.

    Lovers, released on Blue Note in 2016, was Cline's fond reclamation of "mood music" albums from midcentury, with his guitar in an earnest melodic role. It's a suave collaboration with trumpeter Michael Leonhart, who wrote the orchestrations for a handful of versatile players like cellist Erik Friedlander and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. As Cline put it at the time in a conversation with NPR's Fresh Air, Lovers was a project he'd been dreaming about for more than 25 years.

    Lovers (for Philadelphia) didn't require such a long gestation. Commissioned by the nonprofit Ars Nova Workshop, it was a sequel of sorts to Lovers intended to reflect a clear sense of place — the City of Brotherly Love, which of course has a great musical legacy not only as a jazz town but also an epicenter of soul. Cline made several trips to Philly for intensive research, visiting local institutions like the Curtis Institute of Music and the Germantown headquarters of the Sun Ra Arkestra. (He even helped create a Lovers saison at Tired Hands Brewing Company.)

    The first and only performance of Lovers (for Philadelphia) took place at Union Transfer on June 2, and Jazz Night in America was there. See the video above for an up-close-and-personal view of the concert, and listen to our radio show for more insights on just how Cline and Leonhart made new tapestries of sound out of classic tunes like Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," McCoy Tyner's "Aisha," and The Delfonics' "La-La (Means I Love You)."

    "I wanted it to be sweet but I didn't want it to be sugary," Cline says of the Lovers project at large. He strikes that balance on this love letter to a musical city — which has now enfolded Cline in a reciprocal embrace.

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Nashville: Not Just A Country Scene But A Place To Go For Jazz

    August 23, 2018. Posted by Alex Ariff.

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    Christian McBride performs with The Time Jumpers. (Image Credit: Colin Marshall/NPR)

    "It used to be: 'Nashville — that's where you come to play country music.'"

    Joe Spivey is voicing a prevailing view of his adopted hometown, one that has endured for the better part of a century. But Spivey — a fiddler in The Time Jumpers, the swingingest band in Music City — knows better. He definitely plays his share of country music, but he's also one of a burgeoning number of musicians who make up the robust and soulful Nashville jazz scene.

    Jazz Night in America had been hearing great things about that scene, which largely flies under the national radar. A couple of years ago I did some recon at ground level, meeting with players like Spivey, guitarist Andy Reiss and saxophonists Jeff Coffin and Evan Cobb. Everybody told me the same thing: that Nashville has always nurtured a small but serious jazz culture, and that its constituency, like so much else in this booming city, is growing at a prodigious rate.

    Our host, bassist-composer-bandleader Christian McBride, who's performed in Nashville several times, had also flagged it as a place for further exploration. So the Jazz Night team hit the road to scope out the scene and meet up with some of its enterprising artists.

    In this episode of our radio show, we'll spend time with the musicians mentioned above, as well as trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick; bassist John Estes and saxophonist Doug Mosher; and the twin brothers Rahsaan and Roland Barber, who respectively play tenor saxophone and trombone. We'll hear music from Rudy's Jazz Room, the happening new club in town, featuring bands on Coffin's label, Ear Up Records. We'll get a crash course in Nashville's hidden jazz history, at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    Oh, and we'll hear what happens with McBride sat in with The Time Jumpers on their legendary Monday-night gig at 3rd & Lindsley. Nashville — that's where you come to play jazz. It may not be the case for everyone, but it was true for Jazz Night, and it's getting truer all the time. — Nate Chinen

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • More Than Keeping Time: A Melodic Drumming Demo

    August 17, 2018

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    Drummer, Allison Miller (Image Credit: Colin Marshall/NPR)

    What would you say if I told you that drums can sing? The best jazz drummers have always understood this as fact. Allison Miller has even made it a core part of her artistic mission — as drummer, a composer and a bandleader, notably with her ensemble Boom Tic Boom.

    Jazz Night in America recently caught up with Miller, who skillfully demonstrates the concept of "melodic drumming" — using her drums and cymbals, a Duke Ellington tune, and a new piece of technology — in our video short. We also dropped in at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola for portions of an engaging set by Boom Tic Boom, featuring Miller alongside violinist Jenny Scheinman, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Jeff Lederer, pianist Carmen Staaf and bassist Tony Scherr.

    In our radio show, we'll also hear from Miller about how playing in high-profile folk-rock settings (with Natalie Merchant, among others) informs her playing. We'll learn how female empowerment is thriving in the jazz community plus Miller's firsthand experiences with sexism and gender inequality in our institutions and on the scene.

    And we'll consider how it all connects: melody and harmony, the individual and the whole. "There's something about the platform of jazz," Miller says, "that it lays this palette of having such deep communication with your other bandmates. And for me that's why I play this music."

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Crosscurrents: Converging Jazz And Indian Classical Music

    June 22, 2018

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    Bassist Dave Holland and tabla player Zakir Hussain perform as part of Crosscurrents at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. (Image Credit: Lawrence Sumulong/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    Virtuosity — of a dazzling, ebullient, yet altogether generous sort — might be the most obvious bridge between David Holland and Zakir Hussain. But there's also a deep cultural foundation behind their musical dialogue, which forms the beating heart of a project called Crosscurrents.

    Hussain, a peerless master of the Indian tabla, and Holland, an English-born bassist of sterling jazz renown, were both shaped in some way by the 1960s, a decade of awakening and convergence. In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll explore the influence of Indian music on the jazz and rock scenes of that era — as well as the less familiar story of jazz's influence on the subcontinent, embodied by musicians like pianist and composer Louiz Banks.

    We'll hear music from a recent Jazz at Lincoln Center concert led by Hussain and Holland. Crosscurrents also features Banks, his son, drummer Gino Banks, along with acclaimed American saxophonist and flutist Chris Potter, Bollywood vocal star Shankar Mahadevan and Mumbai-based jazz guitarist Sanjay Divecha. We'll also get some valuable outside perspective from percussionist Sameer Gupta and other musicians in Brooklyn Raga Massive, which pursues a similar form of thrumming exchange.

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • The Bad Plus: The Band That Never Stops

    May 10, 2018

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    The Bad Plus (Image Credit: Colin Marshall/NPR)

    It isn't typically news when a jazz group makes a change in personnel. But The Bad Plus isn't a typical jazz group, and its announcement, this time last year, landed like a bombshell. In short: Ethan Iverson, the band's pianist, would be leaving to pursue his own projects. Orrin Evans, an esteemed peer, would be stepping in. For a group that has always stood for musical collectivism — and never accepted any substitutions — this was a shakeup of existential proportions.

    Jazz Night in America kept up with The Bad Plus as it made this momentous transition: at Orrin Evans' home in Philadelphia, where he raced to get up to speed; in a Brooklyn studio, during sessions for its album Never Stop II; and at Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis, Mo., where Evans made his public debut with the band.

    In this show we'll hear music from that explosive set, and reflections from Evans as well as the remaining founders of The Bad Plus, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King.

    All three members of the band, as it now stands, open up about the challenges of preserving a group identity while reinventing the dimensions of the group. "I'm not adjusting to a new Bad Plus; I'm just adjusting," is how King puts it. "This is The Bad Plus now." Join us in making their acquaintance.

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.