Top 50 JAzz Blog

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fillin' the Void. 3. Tromboneliness.

This weeks feature on under recognized younger artists goes out to Alex at Lubricity, an earnest and good natured trombonist, activist and scholar. The old sackbut has been pegged by Frank Zappa as a naturally funny instrument. He loved its comedy potential and likened it to a fat guy running uphill. But it is also a majestic member of the brass family with a very impressive roster of practitioners going back to the earliest days of Kid Ory. Alex Asher is working the connections to world musicians such as Nigeria's Fred Fisher. Trombonist, Composer and Educator Alex Asher lives in Brooklyn, NY. He plays regularly throughout the East Coast in as many types of groups and in as many musical styles as he can. Alex is a member of the Superpowers (formerly the Boston Afrobeat Society), winners of Best World Act in both the Boston Phoenix's 2007 'Best Music Poll' as well as the 2006 Boston Music Awards. Look out for the Superpowers’ second album "Trance for Nation" dropping Fall 2008! He has performed throughout the United States and also in London and Oxford, UK; at the North Sea Jazz Festival, The Hague, The Netherlands; at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland; and at informal traditional Irish jam sessions all over Ireland. An avid writer, Alex has penned press releases for ECM Records and news briefs for JazzTimes Magazine. Alex has been privileged enough to study with Robin Eubanks, Bob Brookmeyer, Charlie Banacos, Frank Carlberg, James DeSano and Norman Bolter. He holds a B.M. and a B.A. from Oberlin College and a M.M. from New England Conservatory. I actually got to meet Jen Baker at a concert series I worked in a Tai Chi school in Brookline Massachusetts. She is like a researcher into sonic potentials and voices Gregorian Chants through the horn bore while handling the embouchure issues. She also has a compelling stunner duet with Reuben Radding . Trombonist Jen Baker has performed internationally in ensembles spanning from orchestra to free jazz. Baker has been performing Lyrical Vibrations around the country since 2006. Lyrical Vibrations is a collection of multiphonic improvisations that take on the character of chant, and can be heard on her album, Blue Dreams. Committed to expanding the contemporary trombone repertoire, Baker has commissioned and performed many new solos over the past 10 years. She recently toured performing Pat Muchmore’s THS, for trombone and electronics, on the East and West coasts. She has recorded music ranging from video game trailers to Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. She has recorded with the Mountain Goats, the Michael Cooke Quintet, and also can be heard on Music + One, an improvisation compendium on Rastascan Records, and Untitled 1959, on Jerusalem-based label Kadima. “Braying slurs from Baker are the initial defining factor of the title track…Double and triple tonguing to a multiphonic display, the trombonist eventually lets loosen with elongated and accumulated trills and tones…” (JazzWord) Baker’s festival performances include the International Trombone Workshop, the Eastern Trombone Workshop, No’west Improvised Music Festival, and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. She has performed and worked with Stuart Dempster, Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, Joelle Leandre, Chris Brown, William Winant, Cecil Taylor, Alvin Curran, and the Rova Saxophone Quartet. “Awesome Performance!” (Gold Branch Music, Inc.) Baker currently resides in Oakland, CA where she freelances and teaches privately on all brass instruments, piano, and the didgeridoo. She can also be found teaching young minds at Archway School how to compose and perform their own compositions, sing, and play on a variety of homemade and classroom instruments. She received degrees in music from Oberlin Conservatory and Mills College. Matt Plummer is in an interesting middle ground between the two above trombonists. He works in some folkloric music situations and cutting edge sonic explorations. He has a very puckish sense of humor as can be found in his work with the wind quartet, Hooper Piccolaro. He is an ace at self deprecation and coud'nt bring himself to crank out a bio on his My Space page or even register as a band. So his descriptive traces come from the various 'who I am' parts of a my space page. They do convey a sense of him though. Trombone player, Reading, riding the T, canoeing, civic affairs, cooking, web design, vanlet enthusiast, amateur bad accordion. (Music Preferences) Not particularly ordered: The Pixies, Neutral Milk Hotel, Nirvana, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, Batter Recharger, Sufjan Stevens, Calexico, The Roots, Cee-lo, Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Ray Anderson, Billie Holiday, Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman, Fela Kuti, Ron Miles, Art Lande, Steve Reich, Frederic Rzewski, Mahler, Bjork, Prince, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, everything is a little glorious. (Movie Preferences).Koyaanisqatsi, Mad Hot Ballroom, have I even seen any? I can't remember. Generally: depressing or happy indie films. (Book Preferences). Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Louise Erdrich, Ursula LeGuin, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Kelly Link.


Chip Boaz said...

Hey Chris -

Thanks for the trombone listening suggestions, I'm definately going to have to check these guys out. I think that trombone is such a beautiful and misunderstood instrument. When played well, there's nothing like it. I love a great Latin trombone player, there's just such a potential to be percussive, really something that other wind instruments don't possess. In free playing too, I think that the trombone just opens to so many tonal options - it certainly hasn't been explored enough

A couple of guys that I really like that you might be hip to - Roswell Rudd & Luis Bonilla. Rudd has done some very interesting experimental music with world music. Love the Latin based album that he did with Yomo Toro & Bobby Sanabria - El Espiritu Jibaro. Amazing music, really worth checking. Luis Bonilla has done a lot of Latin Jazz & Salsa
but also played with Lester Bowie. He has a couple of great albums that walk the line between Latin & Free - Terminal Clarity & the newest - I Talking Now. Great stuff, love to know if you've heard them & what you think.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Unknown said...

I know Roswells work fairly well. He has deep roots in New England. He went to Yale and first worked in Dixieland bands where he met Steve Lacy.

He was at Bowdoin College for years and invited Marion Brown up there in the 70's.

I have a piece in mind about Grachan Moncur III and the Jazz Composers Orchestra label which also commissioned a Rudd project released as Numatik Swing.

As for Mr Bonilla, No clue. I was thinking about this today and will probably expand on it in a piece.

Much of what I know of Latin Music dates back to the 80's. Boston is a xenophobic and fairly bigoted town and finding Merengue records or Salsa was a bitch.

Regular stores of the day wouldn't have anything so I'd look in'Tropical Markets', grocery stores and there might be a cardboard box in some corner with cryptic lps. Blas Duran,cryptic merengue bands, Sonora Poncena, Orchesta Aragon, Typica 73, maybe Celia Cruz or Ray Baretto.

And, unlike jazz, the records had flashy covers like RnB or Disco records of the time and every minimal detail was in Spanish, which a dumb wasp like me didn't read very well. Buying them was an act of faith that usually panned out surprisingly well.

The scene was utterly segregated out of the music biz mainstream and very few people outside of the community had much of a clue about it.

The main major label action was Irakere, astonishingly good and more overt jazz crossover people like Mongo. Then there were the lyrichord field recordings on rural merengue in the Dominican Republic.

Out west, there were bands like Caldera and Jose Areas in addition to Carlos Santana. I'm describing the mid 70s to the mid 80s.

Alex said...

Thanks for the shout-out! I think I played at a Chinese funeral with Jen when I first moved to Oakland in 2007...

I'd like to nominate another trombonist to your list, my friend from Portland, OR, Nick Sweet. He's based in Portland now after graduating from Berklee last year, and is a truly original musician. He's got CDs available through CD Baby, one called "Trombone Encounters" with fellow Portland trombonist Ben Medler and another with Drew Shoals called "The Greatest Haven't Been Born Yet."

Unknown said...

No problem, As for your friends, I'll send you the generic oral history profile question set I made up via e mail and you can fill it out or anyone else who wants to and it goes right in.

One under filled niche I want to work is the collection of oral history life slices that will be useful to scholars like Lewis down the road.

It is also an antidote to mainstream jazz press hero worship where they either fulfill their own prophecies by writing about the same handful or in the case of AAJ, they cover newer people but the quality is widely variable.

I'm a Taoist about this. In the best work the people did it themselves so actual musicians talking about their own lives trumps everything else and stays in the system.

My goofy jabs and blasts, by contrast, get deleted when they flatline on analytics.

ChrisKelsey said...

Chris, been reading your blog recently. As a writer (and as a musician, actually) I occasionally go through a period when I try to curb my tendency to snarl at the state of jazz. Your writing inspires me to ignore that impulse. Thanks for that! :-)

Chris Kelsey

Unknown said...


Well the willful shrinkage into the tiniest possible set of circled wagons along with the tech befogged qualities of the Jazz Punditry does make it a glorious target for several flavors of critique with endless comedy options.

The biggest mystery to me is how they manage to boil a somewhat vast idiom down to 20 or 30 anointed heroes when there is so much out there.

Don't they get that an eternal loop of articles on Maria, Diana, Joe, and all will eventually piss people off or bore the snot out of em?

And the sort of reader who hangs on every new repetition of a Diana, Maria etc puff piece is not the sort of reader who will make for a vivid rate card mix.

I'm guessing it is a facet of utter 'aditorial' penetration in yet another corner of old media.

They are hurting for money, don't know how to monetize very well and everyone is aiming for banner ad purchases from what's left of the Major Labels.

But here's the inside joke known in web marketing circles. Banner ads don't work. Their structure and placement has become code for 'ignore me' and real ad power is focused in the 'side tower' along the right hand side of a web page and context effective but demure ads along the bottom edge of a post.

Basically, a higher performing model for a niche thing like jazz wants the greatest manageable diversity and these wrecks go for concentration to a point of mindless overkill, in effect accelerating irrelevance.

They are squeezing the life out of their own invented heroes in some muddled downward spiral of ever diminishing return.

It is about a large scale system getting pounded by changes it is seemingly oblivious to.

I'm working on a missive covering all this soon.

ChrisKelsey said...

20 or 30? Really, that many? I guess it just *seems* like five or six ...

Unknown said...

Well, I am trying to be charitable.

It all resembles some harried defensive crouch by a fear ridden creature.

dave said...

hi Chris!! Thanks so much for post. I'm certainly in good company. Anyway, I wanted to give you a link to my website..., which DOES include a bio, albeit a bit out of date.

Howard said...

other trombonists underrated, overlooked, ignored or simply deserving more attention: Chris Washburne (NYC) and Michael Vlatkovich (LA) (serious composers, both of these); Steve Swell (NYC), Fred Wesley (really! -- great player! Denver), Clifton Anderson (in Sonny Rollins' shadow), John Mosca (Vanguard Jazz Orchestra). Of course Robin Eubanks, George E. Lewis, Craig Harris and Frank Kuumba Lacy are very well known, right?

Unknown said...

Hi Howard,

Yes I'm aware of all those folks and Fred Fisher too but this is an odd experiment.

I bought the Maceo 'Us' lp back in 73 or so along with the JB's Doin' it to Death' and I presented George Lewis with the Globe Unity Orchestra in Cambridge in 1983.

Did you know Maceo has a brother, Kellis Parker, who was a prominent entertainment attorney?

I use this series concept to just find young people who ended up on my vast My Space page, a sort of musicians clearing house.

Imagine you were in KC or LA when young Bird or Dolphy were first showing up?

It has to do with gathering stories of participants at the earliest possible point. Ideally they answer oral history pattern questions but many are inhibited about writing about themselves.

So I decided to just use what I find on their myspace pages.

It is a luxury I can afford doing this for free with no one to answer to but the community it intends to serve.

Much of this is basically an advocacy project, an extension of what I once did in the 80's getting money for Ornette and Butch with Lew Porter and numerous others on my own.

And I focus on the under served and misunderstood. If the free jazz core community finally gets a reliable place at the daily table and its people aren't living hand to mouth so much, then I'm done.

If no one cared about Lovano, I'd worry about him. It works on two levels. I fill the void in coverage with that community and I gather in a different readership from different backgrounds, age cohorts and nationalities.

Matt Lavelle's weekly pieces do better numbers than my own usually and I couldn't be more thrilled as he is a first rate voice in writing comin at you from the core.

Alex said...

I couldn't agree more with your statement about oral histories. I just dubbed a five-hour long interview with Jack Teagarden from 1947 that I'll be listening to during my drive to Toronto tomorrow. If you like that sort of thing, you should come down to the IJS in Newark sometime and see the STACKS of amazing oral history recordings and transcriptions that they have!

Unknown said...

Hell I'd go there just to visit Lewis.

IJS actually has, somewhere, all the original grant document paperwork including letters from the state Senate President for the Ornette Coleman DNA meets E=MC2 and Butch Morris' Trail of Tears.

What Lewis did, with me as helper, was to set some valuable funding precedents up here.

Ornette played for a few thousand peeps and Becker and Fagin from Steely Dan flew in from Hawaii to see the show.

It combined Prime Time with the original quartet..ooh the stories.

And to this day, like some abbot and costello 'who's on first' routine, Lew gives me the credit and I toss it back to him.

He was up here in the spring and I hadn't seen him in like 20 years. I like his pianistics. He is a very deep guy.