Nat Hentoff seemed like a constant in US jazz commentary, ever-present, tough-minded yet passionate, always the music's true champion. In a long life, he wrote books, some 35 of them, including novels and memoirs, hosted a radio show, worked for Down Beat magazine, co-founded The Jazz Review, spotted Monk early and befriended Mingus, oversaw significant sessions for the Candid label, created a torrent of articles and sleeve-note essays and quite simply never let up.
His death on 7 January in Manhattan at the age of 91 has stilled not only one of the great voices in jazz writing but removed a force for libertarian activism and free speech, this embodied in his 50-year association with the Village Voice, New York's counterculture weekly. Calling himself a 'troublemaker', Hentoff was asked what prompted him to concentrate on sometimes unpopular causes. "Rage," he replied.
From his earliest days in Boston, Hentoff strove to get close to the musicians who made the music, citing drummer Jo Jones' assertion that this was essential for truth and understanding, collecting their stories in 'Hear Me Talkin' To Ya' the seminal oral history he compiled with Nat Shapiro in 1955 and keeping them uppermost in his books and articles.
When Marc Myers asked how he might like his writing to be remembered, Hentoff suggested something like, "You could hear the voices of the musicians in just about everything he wrote." The first non-musician to be made an NEA Jazz Master, Hentoff who was of Russian Jewish origin and three times married, is survived by his third wife Margot and four children.
– Peter Vacher
Enlightened adventurers of note and tone LUME have recently announced the launch of their very own creative lab, a forum enabling participating artists to provide a unique insight into their creative capers through entries on a bespoke blog.
The series, which begin on 8 February with a performance from riotous riff-rousers Word Of Moth (featuring LUME founders Dee Byrne and Cath Roberts), affords a forum for musicians to develop new work and hone their improvisational chops while offering audiences a portal through which to consider sonic systems and wisdoms. So, don your safety specs, pick up your test tubes and pop down to London's IKLECTIK for some serious scientific sermonising from the following leading authorities: saxophonist Julie Kjær (16 March), audio reconstructualist/Shatner's Bassoon operative Craig Scott (19 April) and guitarist/composer Anton Hunter (24 May).
– Spencer Grady
For more details and ticket information visit www.lumemusic.co.uk
Listening to Wadada Leo Smith and Vijay Iyer in conversation at Wigmore Hall was as inspiring as watching them play. Their pre-concert talk, hosted by Kevin LeGendre, was insightful and frequently profound, touching on physics, mysticism and magic. There were stories – Smith's account of the time two undercover police officers infiltrated and performed with the AACM – thoughts about toying with expectation as a means of creating tension, on the performance space as ritualised and meditative, and on performance itself: "When we step on the stage we destroy the memory that we exist. You forget that you are alive. You have no fear of death," stated Smith.
Iyer discussed the line drawings of Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi, to whom a cosmic rhythm with each stroke (a typically poetic phrase taken from one of Mohamedi's diaries) is dedicated. He mused on their use of repetition ("not obsessive, but very directed") and on the patterns and the rhythm that emerges from it. They have a "meditative quality" and yet they also offer us "a glimpse of the infinite".
Smith also gave advice to a first year jazz student in the audience:
1. Forget about defining yourself as jazz. Jazz doesn't exist. It never existed.
2. Forget what other people think about the way you sound.
3. Imagine everything is possible for you.
And together they elaborated on the approach they take as a duo – using the piano as a sounding board for the trumpet and listening to the resonant properties of every room they play in, allowing it to influence the direction of the performance.
I enjoyed a cosmic rhythm (ECM, 2016) on disc, but I don't feel as though I fully understood what the duo were trying to say. Live, and in light of the talk, it all made sense. The connection with Mohamedi and the distinctiveness of the project were both obvious.
They played continuously for just over an hour, finishing with two shorter pieces. Smith dressed all in white, leaning back and bending double, breaking notes against the floorboards before leaping into his upper register, as if catching a thermal. Iyer on piano, Fender Rhodes and electronics taking care of the meditative repetition and using his set-up both as a sounding board and an amplifier for Smith's trumpet – letting notes sing in the piano strings; triggering looping electronic glissandi that mirrored the trumpeter's flights; and allowing stabs to explode across the keyboard, scattering like handfuls of broken glass.
There were passages of bracing dissonance. Smith's muted opening salvo, sustained for upwards of 10 minutes, was so keening and discordant it felt as though he were driving the point of a knife between the bones in your ear. The resolution was blissful when it arrived, the purity of his sound and the tenderness of his attack almost shocking.
Another highlight came when Iyer took the lead, with an inexorable, writhing piano figure. Then Smith's exclamations sounded weary, as if he were pleading with the pianist to stop – to slow down. He broke off for a moment before redoubling his efforts and soaring to the top of his range. Offering us a glimpse of the infinite.
– Thomas Rees
– Photo by Roger Thomas
Details have reached us of an enticingly eclectic new jazz fest, curated by writer Sammy Stein. The London Jazz Platform takes place at The Brewhouse on Sunday 18 June and will showcase a broad swathe of styles within its arched environs.
Among those appearing at the event are silky-smooth chanteuse Kitty LaRoar (accompanied by pianist Nick Shankland), freewheeling saxophonist Colin Webster, legendary improvising guitarist John Russell (pictured above), boundary-busting bassist John Edwards and a quartet of captivating keys contortionists in Simon Lasky, Lars Fiil, Marco Marconi and David Dower.
– Spencer Grady
Tickets are available at www.eventbrite.co.uk
Bassist, composer and vocalist Avishai Cohen appears at the Barbican on Thursday 9 February 2017 for his only UK date this year. He'll be accompanied by pianist Omri Mor and percussionist Itamar Doari, while the BBC Concert Orchestra are on hand to embolden and embellish under the stewardship of conductor Bastien Still.
The concert will be dedicated to Cohen's close friend and producer-of-choice, the late John Ellson, who sadly died in October 2016. Ellson was the man responsible for introducing Cohen to a wider British audience and a key figure in the Israeli's ongoing artistic development. Commenting on his long friendship with Ellson, Cohen said: "‘I met Mr John Ellson (Elsi) around 1999. I can't think of anyone else I’ve met in this business that was so generous, real and purely good like John. I will miss him dearly, especially his wonderful sense of humour."
– Spencer Grady
– Photo by Tim Dickeson
For more details visit www.barbican.org.uk