Moving the pile….

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That’s the best way to describe how I’ve been feeling lately.  If it’s isn’t one thing, it’s something else.  Delays, redrafts, setbacks and the kitchen sink.  I’m in the midst of revamping my business, and this blog.  New projects are abound (and I’ll announce them officially soon) and I’m very excited about what I have in store, but I feel like it’s not moving; like my legs are stuck in quicksand.

But I know it will be worth it.  And I can’t wait for all of you to be a part of it.

Keep me in your thoughts.

Stay tuned.

Change is coming.

Slowly, the pile is moving.

Sincerely,

MM

P.S.  Let’s take a second to remember the late Donald Byrd and very recently deceased Chris Kelly.  Both artists made long-lasting contributions in the music industry.

Categorically Undefined: Gary Bartz

“The word ‘jazz’ was created as a slang word as a gesture for sex in whore houses located in New Orleans.” – Saxophonist, Gary Bartz

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Last year, trumpeter and New Orleans native Nicholas Payton started a heated and confrontational debate about the word “jazz” and its place in the cultural and historical lexicon of music.  He argued vehemently that his music was not “jazz” but “Black American Music”.  This debate pitted artists on two proverbial sides of the coin; one side was in favor of Payton’s thoughts, which denounced the earliest origins of the word, while the other side celebrated the popularity of its base meaning, which by many accounts does little to diminish the value of the art form.  Saxophonist and composer, Gary Bartz has seen the evolution of jazz.  He is part of the very history that the accepted definition seems to devalue.  In a short interview, Gary Bartz said, “Most of the great musicians I’ve been around believe it also.  The term “jazz” is really a negative term to most musicians I know, but it happens to be a popular word in the public’s eye.”  Bartz is far more interested in playing music and celebrating its merits as a composition.  As this topic continues to swirl and resonate, Gary Bartz makes his message clear: No matter how the critics would like to slice it, musicians play music.

Early into his stewardship, Gary Bartz left his native Baltimore, to study jazz at the prestigious Julliard Conservatory School of music.  When Bartz arrived there, he found himself feeling musically isolated.  By his account, many of his instructors were invariably “trapped in the box” of classical music. Oftentimes, they could not relate to the syntax, variations or “feel” of jazz music.  Julliard’s European curriculum was a lesson in music theory, forcing him to hone his craft with an open mind.  He was simply a musician who played music.  He rejected the notion that he was confined to a single musical category.  As a visiting professor at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, Gary Bartz speaks openly about fighting the urge to singularly conform.  He once stated that, “If I’m locked into a category, that means I can’t grow.  I’m in a corral; I’m in a room with walls around me….But to me, music is the universe.  And so that’s what I want to do.  I want to play music.”

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At the age of 6, Gary Bartz was drawn to the saxophone.  He would visit his grandmother’s house where she would allow him to listen to his uncle’s record collection featuring Charlie Parker.  He describes the experience as one “that continues to fascinate him today.”  At the age of 16, Bartz began to perform professionally. At about age 23, he joined Max Roach and the Abbey Lincoln band.  He quickly developed a reputation for stylistic playing.   In 1965, he would join Art Blakey and Jazz Messengers with Lee Morgan, filling in for a saxophonist who left the group at his father’s night club.   He was hired after the gig and would make his recording debut on Blakey’s Soulfinger album.  He would also work closely with McCoy Tyner; a relationship that he credits for deepening his appreciation for John Coltrane.  His career would take him beyond jazz; eventually working with the likes of the late Donald Byrd, Phyllis Hyman and Chaka Khan.  He has won two Grammys and recorded over 40 solo albums. 

Since his earliest recordings, Gary Bartz has worked with some of the best musicians in the world.  He credits artists like Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington for showing him how great musicians addressed social problems through their music.    To him, the “world didn’t need just another musician. What the world needed was a music activist.” He has vowed to “create music the world could relate to and not segregate his way of delivering music.”  He is truly dedicated to creating music for everyone to hear.   Humble and motivated, Gary Bartz continues to inspire and be inspired by his craft.  

But he doesn’t play jazz.  Gary Bartz plays music.

Sing the Truth! – LIVE! at the CSO featuring Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright

Happy New Year!  Check out my first concert review of 2013!

“Stay ready so you don’t have to be ready.” – Dianne Reeves

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What happens when you bring together three of the strongest, most powerful voices of song, combined with a scintillating band whose prowess is equally as impressive?  Sing the Truth! features the unbelievable vocal talents of Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright in a musical performance that celebrates the strength and spirit of women in unique traditions.     It was an aural combination of sound, spirituality and song.   It is rare that one gets to witness such an abundance of talent on one stage.

The night began with the three ladies bringing passion and energy to the stage with Ike Turner’s, “Bold Soul Sister”.  Heavy and soulful harmonies radiated from the stage.  It immediately ignited the crowd, sending them into a swoon, dripping with anticipation.  Despite having such contrasting styles and dispositions, this group melded effortlessly, making for a highly entertaining performance.  They sang together interchangeably, which made for dynamic and pleasing artistic expressions.  At times they were theatrical, while at others they were deeply spiritual.

Dianne Reeves was the vocal anchor of the group, displaying her incredible range, clarity and diversity.  Her voice moves with precision; shifting styles and deliveries.  While singing her impressive rendition of “Thirty-two Flavors”, her improvisation and scatting was engaging, giving the audience a healthy dose of jazz, funk and soul.  Dianne Reeves is a “must-see” talent who embodies the tradition of jazz vocalism.

Angelique Kidjo provided the spark and comedic relief of the group.  She says that her music is inspired by music legend Miriam Makeba.  Unabashedly energetic, the native West African (she is from Benin) brought an ethnic flavor to the mix.  Clearly, she remains deeply rooted in her culture and heritage as demonstrated by her tribal garb and spectacular chants.  While she spoke openly to the audience about cultural differences, equality and acceptance, it fell short leaving audience members feeling slightly awkward and uncomfortable.  Unafraid to wade into the audience, she walked about the seats, singing with audience members during her final solo.

Lizz Wright

 

With a truly uplifting and memorable performance, I think most people would agree that the night truly belonged to Lizz Wright.  Like an apparition moving fluidly on stage, Wright bathed the audience with her connective, soulful and soaring vocals.  Her voice has an unbelievable clarity in the tradition of an Ella Fitzgerald.  Her intonation is almost perfect; sweeping the room like a warm summer breeze.  With an gripping rendition of Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser’s “Heart and Soul”, she enraptured the audience, grabbing their full attention with its beauty.     Lizz Wright continues to bend genres and exceed greater expectations.  Her vocal abilities seemingly have no boundaries.

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington performs on stage at the XVI Jazz Festival in Valencia

 

None of this would have been as effective without the venerable talents of music director and drummer. Terri Lyne Carrington.   She was the center of the rhythm section, staying “in the pocket” while accentuating the softer lines of the performance.  Carrington is a master percussionist whose talents allow her to lead without overpowering her contemporaries on stage.   This formidable group of talents included bassist James Genus, pianist Geri Allen, auxiliary percussionist Munyungo Jackson, and guitarist Romero Lubambo.   The spirit and message of womanhood will push onward thanks to these outstanding artists.   With such an alluring performance, it is safe to assume that good things do come in threes.

Reflections 2012

To my faithful readers,

As 2012 comes to an end, let us take the time to reflect on what we have learned, all that we have lost, and everything we have gained.  Life is a journey and not a destination.  I would like to take this moment to thank all of you for reading Rhythm Section this year.  It has been most enjoyable writing and posting great stories and interviews for all of you to sample.  Look for new and exciting changes coming next year!  God willing, this blog will be expanding, adding more content and more insightful stories.  So please, don’t be a stranger!  I will do my best to keep you occupied!  Let’s make it happen! Stay tuned! All the best to you and yours in the new year.

Thank you for the support!

Sincerely,

MM

Violets in Bloom – LIVE from the United Center – Prince’s “Welcome 2 Chicago” Tour

I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving! Gosh, Christmas is just around the corner, which means the year is coming to an end.  I have a few more posts remaining for the year that I will share with you.  Right now, check out my review of Prince’s latest gallivant into Chicago a few weeks back. Enjoy!!!

 

 

“I may be little, but I take up a lot of space.” – Prince, Welcome 2 Chicago Tour 2012

 

After such a long and illustrious career, it is only fitting that Prince would remind his audience of his “bigness”.  Though many patrons wouldn’t think otherwise, it was clear that he still understands what it means to play live, to move the crowd, and to give the people what they want. “I’ve got so many hits, we can stay here all night!” he shouted as the crowed roared with approval. Last night marked the third and final show of Prince’s “Welcome 2 Chicago” tour at the United Center.

In a time when the music industry has lost the likes of James Brown, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, Prince reminds us of the good times.  Last night was a journey back to a moment when music really mattered.  You didn’t just listen to music, you lived it.  Last night’s performance was unique because it featured several rare tunes like, “Joy in Repetition”, “Dance Electric” and “Extra Lovable”. And of course, there were the hits, and there have been many.  Prince had the crowd bouncing with tracks like, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Controversy”, “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”.  He’s still a mover and a shaker as evidenced by his dancing on stage in his trademark heels.  After two nights of shows and late night jam sessions, his voice seemed a little stretched.  With the clever use of crowd participation, he was able to save his voice for other more difficult songs.  On this night, his main “weapon of choice” was his guitar, which he wielded with clarity and his usual brilliance.

The irreverent and energetic Janelle Monáe opened the show with her funk-soul-rock style.  She dazzled the crowd with her fancy footwork, and her big voice.  If you weren’t a fan of hers before, this outstanding opening performance was sure to make you a believer afterwards.  She would later partner with Prince on a spirited rendition of “Take Me With U”, where she sang lead for most of the song. The show also included a cameo appearance by legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker. Without a doubt, he still had “the funk”, which he made famous working with the late James Brown.   Newcomer Andy Allo (who is a doppelganger for Esperanza Spalding) played as a member of the New Power Generation.  She has released a new funk/soul album on Prince’s NPG Records.  And R&B sensation Ledisi consumed the crowd with her soaring vocalism.  She showed us why she is one of the best young singers in the industry today.

The show wasn’t without its problems.  At times the sound system seemed to underwhelm.  The bass guitar was drowned out by the keyboards and other instruments, leaving the songs feeling imbalanced.  In an unusual set-up, Prince had the New Power Generation (which is an 11 piece horn section) positioned several feet off the stage.  Admittedly, this diminished the continuity of the performance.  It would have been nicer to have them on stage, or at least several feet closer to the rest of the band.

Always unpredictable, Prince seemed to close the night with “Purple Rain”, leaving the crowd swooning.  The less-knowing headed for the exits thinking the night was over, only to have him return on stage for a few piano solos—most notably “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore”.  By far, this was the most intimate moment of the night.  It was vintage Prince—sexual, racy and primal.  This is what many had waited for.  And for the most part, nobody seemed disappointed.

 

Stretching Madonna’s MDNA – LIVE at the United Center

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a living legend do her thing on the United Center stage.  Sexy, wiry and still game, Madonna continues to deliver energetic performances, fused with visually stunning sets.  Here is the review I wrote about her show last month.  Enjoy!

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As I gazed across the pulsating crowd at the United Center, I began to wonder how many people there were actually old enough to know the vast musical canon of Madonna.  It is hard to believe that she has been doing music for over 30 years, with hits that have sold over 300 million copies worldwide. Unlike any other star of her generation, Madonna continues to find new ways to reinvent reinvention and stretch boundaries like an infinitesimal rubber band.

The MDNA 2012 World Tour stopped into Chicago, bringing her incredible star power, theatrics and controversy.  Guest DJ and producer Paul Oakenfold, opened the show with his brand of electronica, trance and progressive house music.  His one hour set included beaming light displays and heavy bass lines.  There are many people that don’t identify Madonna with this popular genre of music.  Subsequently, that is no longer the case.  Like a chameleon, Madonna has once again changed her sound, which became more apparent as the night wore on.

Her opening song called “Girls Gone Wild”, off her new album MDNA, was an upbeat, electronica-infused track that really set the crowd afire. She was dynamic and energetic; all the while maintaining a balance between space and sound.  Her voice is still strong, but at times she chose to lip-sync during more physically demanding sets.  She was wiry, slinky and alluring.  Madonna was (and still is) sexually explicit with her artistic expression.  Clearly, years of physical discipline has allowed her to remain as limber and fluid as her younger counterparts on stage.  She was sure to deliver hits like “Respect Yourself”, “Like a Prayer” and “Vogue” with the same intensity they are known for.  Although many might say she is merely a caricature of pop culture, Madonna is still very much an artist and musician.  The best example of this came via “Papa Don’t Preach”, which featured a three-piece percussion group.  At first it is almost unrecognizable.  It was a very unusual style that provided an innovative flavor for such an emotionally conflicting song.  I guess you could call it a “techno-folk” sound.

Despite minor missteps, the night went off without too many issues.  There were times, however, when her new songs seemed to lose the audience momentarily as they struggled to identify with her less recognizable music.  Since her career spans three generations, it’s not hard to understand why that would be.  Her popularity is as diverse as it as has ever been.  However, songs like “Revolver”, which featured rapper Lil’ Wayne and “I Don’t Give A”, which featured Nicky Minaj did little to appease the crowd, creating a slight disinterest.  A variation of an old edict comes to mind: Just because you can work with young and popular acts, doesn’t mean you should. And it certainly doesn’t mean the work will be successful.  These tracks fell a little bit flat.  In addition, her rather brazen attempt to fool people into thinking she is a competent guitar player made for a few puzzling looks in the crowd.

Madonna continues to lace her music with controversial imagery.  Several songs included large scale video vignettes that highlighted societal ills and other “hot button” topics. She continues to be a staunch supporter of gay/same sex rights; a message that was interspersed prominently throughout the show.  “Gang Bang” is a dark, driving, clubby song, with a vast array of sound effects (e.g. police sirens, gunshots).  During the performance, Madonna attacks several of her dancers on stage with a fake gun, in a roaming “Paradise Hotel”.  It is vintage Madonna; thumbing her nose at convention while daring you to look away.

It is safe to say that no artist has managed to change with the times while remaining culturally and socially relevant more than Madonna.  She continues to perform with a presence and determination unlike any other. Consequently, it begs to ask the questions: Will she ever pack it in? Will the large-scale tours ever stop? The throngs of her screaming fans have clearly indicated that they aren’t interested in the answer.

Rarified Ayers: Politics, Activism and Sunshine – Part II

Hello all! I hope this finds you well!  Again, I’ve been really busy writing and interviewing some of the best artists in the business!  Please take a look at Part II of the Rarified Ayers story!  If you want to read some more of my most recent stories or inteviews, please check out www.irockjazz.com.  Thanks for reading!

 

Many of the guys that influenced me have faded away.  Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane; these are some of the great musicians that have been on this planet…. They never said a lot verbally, but they said a lot musically. – Roy Ayers

Without question, Roy Ayers continues to be an influence on several aspects in the industry.  His innovative sound has made him an endearing part of the musical spectrum.  His contributions will go down in history as some of the most influential and significant ever made.  In Part II of this interview, Roy Ayers talks about his sense of activism as an artist and his feelings about how New York City has influenced his career.  He has a few projects on the go, and continues to work heavily.   To learn more about the Roy Ayers project, please check out royayersproject.com. He will also be in WashingtonDC at the Blues Alley on August 21st-23rd.

iRJ: You are considered to be an innovator in many regards.  Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

RA: No.  I’ve been made an activist. Over the years, I went from a creator of really fine music, and the music is still fine and really wonderful and I enjoy playing it.  But I guess my reactions are like an activist because there is something to being an activist, thanks to all things that are being eliminated from our system; the system we live in. So therefore I have to complain and express myself. And I guess I am an activist.  But I am a musician first. And I have become an activist.  But I guess if you listen to my music there are a lot things I say in the messages that I deliver in my music. One of my strongest messages is “everybody loves the sunshine”.  I talk about life and liberty and enjoying the natural things in life, like the sunshine.  That’s probably my biggest hit. And it’s probably been sampled by all the hip-hop artists including Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.  There so many wonderful things that has happened with my music that has been inspirational to people.  And that’s all good, I really appreciate that fact that they sampled my songs, but I guess I never claimed myself to be an activist. But I guess if what I am talking about is true and it is, then I’m an activist.  They are reacting to a lack of air play, to the lack of a proper label and the labels have cut back.  Everybody is selling CD’s now. It’s all about the money.  Everybody is trying to make money.  It’s a shame, because money has become the priority. I understand it.  I’m trying to make money.  I have to make money to live, to pay my rent and to pay my bills, just like everyone else. But the individuals that own and run the record companies, they have to be held accountable for all these things they are creating and have allowed to disrupt the industry. And I’m talking about all the major labels. All of them, including some of the not-so-popular ones.  They all do the same thing.  And on top of everything, there are inaccuracies with reference to their statements.

iRJ: You’re originally from LA. How has New York influenced your career as an artist?

RA: That’s a good question.  I am influenced by the world.  I live in New York because it’s a wonderful place to work out of. I can go up to Boston, up to Canada. I can go down to the south. I can go across the water to Europe and other foreign countries.  And I can go out to the west coast as I do on one or two occasions.  But the west coast is kind of far and there aren’t that many jobs except for Los Angeles and San Francisco and occasionally San Diego.  Nothing is happening in Arizona. And maybe every two years a gig in Las   Vegas; so there is nothing happening out there.  And there’s a gig in Seattle or Portland; but that’s every once in a while.  But all the gigs from Chicago to New York, all the way down to New Orleans to all southern states, including Florida and Alabama, different places I’ve played; New York is a good base to work out of.   When I was with Herbie Mann for four years, it was really wonderful working with him. I worked almost every day for the whole four years I was with him.  The only days we were generally off were Mondays and Tuesdays and the rest of the week we would work. He was a workaholic and he passed away about 3 years ago.  But he was a wonderful guy to work with and share the stage with.  And had a lot of fun and met a lot of people like Chick Correa and Herbie Hancock; just wonderful guys.  So New York is a wonderful base to work out of!  And so many great musicians still live here.  A lot of them have passed on.  But there are still some great ones that are still here.  I guess nobody really thinks about the musicians.  Musicians are like the old soldier…General MacArthur.  They just slowly fade away.  Many of the guys that influenced me have faded away.  Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane; these are some of the great musicians that have been on this planet.  They have all passed away.  It has been a wonderful thing to have had them in my life, because they have been inspirational. They never said a lot verbally, but they said a lot musically. I guess I am an exception to the rule. I can see and feel the change.  And it doesn’t make sense. A lot of people are doing a lot of things because of money, but I do understand that.  But it’s a shame.  They are not doing it because of art.

iRJ: Ahmir QuestLove Thompson called you the “Godfather of Progressive Hip Hop”.  In your mind, what is the relationship between jazz and hip hop?

RA: I guess it’s all creation.  I believe jazz and hip hop are both innovations from generally black people.  And I’m not racist, but I’m just saying I believe black people are the ones that created it.  They created the style.  They created the form.  They have been very innovative in the creation of these two art forms. It is a black thing. And I believe there are people out here who resent it, that don’t like it, that hate it!  They hate it to the point that they are trying to eliminate it or cancel it out! And that is exactly what they are doing now, if you really check it out.  There are a lot of things that are hidden now. It’s unfortunate.  There are a lot things that are hidden now, that people hide. But racism today is hidden. It’s a shame because it’s a disease and people have it.  It’s a damn shame when you really look at it.  So a lot of things are hidden or covered up.  But eventually it all comes out. 

iRJ: The Roy Ayers Project is a very ambitious project documenting a lot about your career.  What do you hope that project achieves?

RA: Well I’m not doing it.  It is being done by a group of young artists in Oakland, California.  These guys are doing a tribute to Roy Ayers.  And they flew out to New York and they interviewed me for a couple of days.  And they interviewed several other artists about my music because they are Roy Ayers fans.  I am very thankful for these guys. It’s a wonderful thing because they are doing interviews of other artists that have played and performed with me. They are doing a special tribute to me.  It’s a documentary.  They are setting it up. It won’t be ready until the beginning of next year.  They’ve got excerpts on a website.  They are working on it long term.  There are a lot of people that they haven’t been able to interview that they want to interview that I have been with over the years.  It is an interesting project and I like what they are doing. I’m just involved with it enough to say “Hey, how are you doing?”