WBGO Blog
  • Cyrille Aimée And Daymé Arocena Make Jazz Their Own

    September 27, 2017

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    (Image Credit: Robert Birnbach/2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest)

    Jazz singing has always been a tree with firm roots, but a wild entanglement of branches. Its sound and shape are mutable, prone to outside influence and local inflection. Take the two artists featured in this week's episode of Jazz Night in America, recorded at the 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest — each a cultural ambassador as well as a cosmopolitan, with the elusive ability to bring any audience along for the ride.

    For many jazz fans, Cyrille Aimée is the more familiar of the two. Born in France to French-Dominican parentage, she made her name as a specialist in "gypsy swing," the style epitomized in the '30s by guitarist Django Reinhardt. Her band features two virtuoso guitarists, Michael Valeanu and Adrien Moignard, and she favors the lissome bounce prized by the hot-jazz revivalist crowd. But Aimée looks well beyond Django for her repertoire: In the episode, you'll hear her delighting the San Jose audience with a medley of Michael Jackson's hits.

    You'll also hear Daymé Arocena, a powerhouse vocalist from Cuba, and one of the standout new voices of the last several years in any genre. (If you've seen Arocena's gripping Tiny Desk Concert from last year, you won't need much more convincing.) Drawing mainly from her fine recent album Cubafonía, she brought Afro-Cuban fire to the San Jose stage — performing not only traditionalist fare like "Eleggua" but also playful hybrids like "Mambo Na' Mà," which blends Cuban clave with New Orleans parade rhythm.

    There are plenty of clear differences between Arocena and Aimée, whose vocal styles can, respectively, make you think of molten earth or a summer breeze. But each artist is exploring jazz from a personal vantage, at an extremely high level of achievement. Both went over well in San Jose, and the smart money says they'll do the same in this episode of Jazz Night.

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Wadada Leo Smith's Defiant And Fearless Elegy For Emmett Till (In 360˚ VR)

    August 28, 2017. Posted by Josie Holtzman.

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    (Image Credit: NPR)

    62 years ago today, Emmett Till was killed in a lynching that became a spark in the civil rights movement. In April of this year, Jazz Night in America recorded Wadada Leo Smith performing a portion of his original composition "Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless" while canoeing down the Little Tallahatchie River in Glendora, Miss. You can see that 360˚ VR video above.

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  • Aww Yeah, Summertime — With The Robert Glasper Experiment

    August 11, 2017

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    (Image Credit: Dennis Manuel/Courtesy of the artist)

    For those who haven't had the good fortune to attend a jazz festival this summer, Jazz Night has a ticket just for you — section A, row 1 for The Robert Glasper Experiment.

    Glasper is a multi-Grammy winning pianist, composer and producer who has worked with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Kendrick Lamar. He plays across the worlds of jazz and R&B, innovating new boundaries across and between both. And his star-stacked ensemble, performing since 2012, is always evolving their neo-soul, hip-hop infused sound.

    Glasper played a couple of summer shows in New York City, for Brooklyn Information and Culture — one of the largest free cultural programming centers in the city — at the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival in August 2016 and another in June, at the iconic SummerStage Mainstage in Central Park. This set features Glasper's usual genre-blending virtuosity and culminates with vocalist Bilal on the last tune, All Matter, which deviates into a mind-blowing REM, Mobb Deep jam.

    SET LIST:

    • Let It Ride
    • No Church In The Wild
    • Cherish The Day
    • Find You
    • No One Like You
    • All Matter (Smells Like Teen Spirit/Shook Ones)
    Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
  • John Scofield Performs 'Quiet And Loud Jazz'

    July 28, 2017

    Almost exactly 30 years ago, guitarist John Scofield recorded an album he evocatively titled Loud Jazz. Not quite a decade later, he made one called Quiet. Both albums were statements of intent, widely embraced and justly acclaimed. And despite the obvious differences between the two, both were genuine expressions of Scofield's musical personality, which has always been more flexible than those extreme dynamic markings would seem to suggest.

    Scofield, of course, is one of the most prolific and admired jazz musicians of his generation, an ace with boppish phraseology as well as bluesy inflection. He's 65 now, and by some measures you could even say he's at the height of his career.

    He won two Grammy awards this year for his most recent solo album, Country For Old Men. He also won one in 2016, for his previous release, Past Present. He's currently on the road with Hudson, an all-star collective whose other members — drummer Jack DeJohnette, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier — share his willingness to split the difference between lyrical grace and circuitous groove. (The group just released a self-titled debut, so don't be shocked if there's yet another nomination in the works.)

    Jazz Night In America caught up with Scofield this past spring, just before he played a concert called "Quiet And Loud Jazz" in Jazz at Lincoln Center's Appel Room. One portion of the night featured a reunion of the Loud Jazz crew, with partners like bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Dennis Chambers. Another portion recreated the chamber arrangements from Quiet, with Scofield's longtime foil Joe Lovano standing in for Wayne Shorter on saxophones.

    The idea was to both acknowledge and bridge the distance between the two disparate albums, which might have been more difficult were it not for Scofield's sly consistency. "It's not like other famous jazz musicians, where their style changes, you know, decade to decade," says Jim Beard, the veteran keyboardist on hand for the Loud Jazz half of the concert. "He sounds very similar to what he sounded like, you know, 30 years ago. I don't think he sounds that different. And it's just such a strong personal style that that's amazing."

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Fascinating Algorithm: Dan Tepfer's Player Piano Is His Composing Partner

    July 24, 2017

    Jazz musicians, almost by definition, seek an active dialogue between the impulsive and the rational. For some, the terms of that negotiation become a central feature of their art. Dan Tepfer is one of those: a pianist and composer who sees improvisation as the ideal expression of freedom within a framework.

    He's fond of interrogating this process, finding new pathways by way of self-imposed restrictions. Tepfer's new album, Eleven Cages, consists of terse, sometimes tricky compositions that his trio, with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Nate Wood, negotiates with slippery grace. "Constraints surround freedom and give it a frame," Tepfer writes in the album's liner notes, "be they physical cages or a formal structure we choose to create within. They challenge us to ask: how free can I be inside this particular cage?"

    It's clear that this conviction extends further, for him, than any one particular album. The premise also underlies Tepfer's work in the field of improvisational algorithms, which he recently unpacked for Jazz Night In America.

    You could say that Tepfer, 35, was programmed to operate this way. His mother was an opera singer, and he grew up an artistic environment in Paris. From his father, a biologist, he inherited a love of science and the natural world. Tepfer studied astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh before moving to the States for a master's degree in jazz piano, eventually finding his way to Brooklyn and an estimable solo career.

    Last summer I spent a few weeks at the MacDowell Colony, an artists' retreat in rural New Hampshire. Tepfer happened to be there at the same time; when he wasn't presiding over the ping-pong table or scoping out the night sky with his telescope, he labored over a piece for string quartet and piano commissioned by a European festival. And one evening, by popular demand, he performed an hourlong excerpt of a project of his that explores improvisational protocols in a classical mode: Goldberg Variations/Variations.

    The piece, for which Tepfer has received substantial acclaim, approaches J.S. Bach's famous "Goldberg Variations" as both a touchstone and a springboard. When he performs it, he plays each of Bach's variations as written, but also interpolates his own spontaneous responses: a quick-fire illustration of improvisation on a theme. The performance that night at MacDowell was engrossing and elegant — but what I most remember about it was seeing how the schema helped demystify the act of jazz improvisation, even for a roomful of accomplished artists. Each Bach piece was still fresh in mind as Tepfer offered his own variation, made in real time.

    This methodical yet whimsical approach, I came to learn, was true to form. Every colonist at MacDowell works in a free-standing studio, and Tepfer turned his into a sort of musical laboratory — where, in addition to composing his chamber piece, he tinkered obsessively with algorithms at a Yamaha Disklavier. He was still ironing out the kinks, but had already devised some of the rules that guide this project: hair-trigger reactions to the notes he plays.

    What's striking about Tepfer's algorithmic experiment isn't just the whiz-bang factor, or the notion that computer coding could lead to such hyper-dynamic results. (The computer-music pioneer George Lewis also works with improvisational algorithms, often using a sampler, rather than a piano keyboard, to generate his input. Pat Metheny, the guitarist and composer, has devoted enormous resources to the translation of digital signal into mechanical music-making.) The project reflects his larger preoccupation with restrictions and freedoms, the analytical and the willfully unruly. As he says in our video: "I'm not writing a piece, I'm writing the way the piece works."

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