WBGO Blog
  • Vijay Iyer Trio At Metropolitan Museum Of Art

    May 6, 2015

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    Vijay Iyer Trio plays the Temple of Dendur. (Image Credit: NPR)

    The pianist and composer Vijay Iyer frames his new trio recording, Break Stuff, around the idea of musical breaks: "a break in music is still music: a span of time in which to act," he writes. Formally, he's referring to breakbeats and other musical breakdowns, but more generally, Iyer's trio exploits opportunities to rupture convention. The configuration featuring Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums, together now for over 11 years, has made an art of collective rhythmic risk-taking, whether on Iyer's compositions or while nodding to disruptive musical heroes like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Detroit techno DJ Robert Hood.

    Jazz Night In America visits the Temple of Dendur, the Egyptian temple which resides within a massive room in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, to take in a set from the Vijay Iyer Trio.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • A New Jazz Suite For Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes

    May 3, 2015

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    Steve Coleman's new album is called Synovial Joints. (Image Credit: Jeff Fusco/ John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

    Is there a modern-day equivalent to Duke Ellington? Or Ornette Coleman?

    Who are the people today who think differently about jazz — who have created new forms, and expanded the musical vocabulary?

    For 30 years, saxophonist Steve Coleman has been pushing the music forward, traveling the world to collect new sounds, rhythms and ideas. Along the way he's mentored many of the most exciting younger artists in jazz — musicians like Ambrose Akinmusire, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer.

    Steve Coleman's new album features a compelling four-part suite for large ensemble. Each movement is named after parts of the body. The suite, and the album, are called Synovial Joints — after the flexible, often complex joints found in places like shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, fingers and wrists.

    "I found the most inspiration over my life in nature," Coleman says. "It just kind of hit me in an inspirational way because I saw a lot of musical motion in the way melodies connect and in the way rhythms connect. What I was imagining when I was doing improvisation was what kind of motion the different joints allow, in terms of they connect."

    In an interview with NPR's Arun Rath, heard at the above audio link, Coleman talks about the three different groups of musicians that came together for this project, his "camouflage orchestration" and a recent conversation with Sonny Rollins.

    "We were talking about being in this kind of meditative state, almost like yoga or something like this, where we play from," Coleman says. "You want to get to the point where you actually don't feel like you're thinking or doing anything — that energy is just working through you. That's the ideal point you want to get to — we don't always get there. What I did with this record was that I played, 20-25 improvisations, and I picked the ones that did the best job of getting to that place. And you can hear it afterward — you know when you've hit it."

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Venezuela's National Jazz Orchestra Returns

    April 30, 2015

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    Simón Bolívar Big Band Jazz. (Image Credit: Frank Stewart/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    This year Venezuela celebrates the 40th anniversary of its national youth music education program, known as El Sistema. Part of the celebration is to send one of its newest bands, a national jazz ensemble, on its second tour of the U.S. — where jazz was born. In 2007, drummer Andrés Briceño helped to seed Simón Bolívar Big Band Jazz, and has directed its growth beyond the canonical American repertoire to incorporate the work of Venezuelan and other Latin American composers.

    Jazz Night In America visits Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola within Jazz at Lincoln Center to meet the accomplished student musicians of the big band, and the conductor who is central to jazz in Venezuela.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • How Bessie Smith Ushered In The Jazz Age

    April 28, 2015

    Jazz and blues are often treated as one and the same — but how did one end up taking over and surpassing the other, ushering in the jazz age?

    That's a subject of an upcoming HBO biopic, called Bessie, about singer and songwriter Bessie Smith and her mentor Ma Rainey. Jazz bassist and composer Christian McBride, host of NPR's Jazz Night In America and a regular guest on All Things Considered, spoke with host Audie Cornish about Bessie Smith's legacy.

    An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

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  • First Listen: Kamasi Washington, 'The Epic'

    April 26, 2015

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    Kamashi Washington's new album, The Epic, comes out May 5. (Image Credit: Mike Park/Courtesy of the artist)

    The word "epic" sits cheerily amid the most overused hyperbole of our age. Teenage bros proclaim their recent "pretty epic" mild successes; sports commentators call anything which ends dramatically an "epic game"; the Internet-literate are quick to point out an "epic FAIL." But what else do you call a three-CD, nearly three-hour album anchored by a 10-piece jazz band, featuring a 32-piece orchestra and 20-member choir, and driven by the daydream of an imaginary martial arts grandmaster?

    The Epic is the title of the new recording from 34-year-old saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington, a musician you may have heard but not heard of. That's his horn all over the newest releases by fellow Southern Californians Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. (The Epic is being issued by Brainfeeder, the record label Lotus co-founded.) Washington has toured with Snoop Dogg, Raphael Saadiq and Chaka Khan; his jazz credentials include work with elders like Gerald Wilson, Stanley Clarke and Kenny Burrell. The singing electric bassist Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., are lifelong friends; in fact, Washington has known most of his bandmates since high school in in South Central Los Angeles.

    The confluence of those experiences — of participating in a huge and diverse LA jazz scene, of making music people actually dance to, of working with like-minded peers for years — emerges here as scope and grandeur. The Epic swims in rhythmic crosscurrents, with two bassists, two keyboard players, two drummers. It's made tall and wide by the presence of strings and voices, made forceful and direct by horn solos and singer Patrice Quinn. It seems intentionally to overwhelm, in an immersive way; it's music to be swept up by and revisited after the wave subsides.

    In working with so many future-forward musicians, you might expect Washington's music to be equally slippery and resistant to categorization. Surely it is to some extent, as his band pulls from a huge bag of tricks. It also likes a driving modal swing groove or a knotty post-bop horn melody; it plays the blues and the standard "Cherokee." They execute these ideas with such bigness, and such a wide color palette, and a mission to remake the word "jazz" in the image of their own generation. That's the feat here. You wouldn't be wrong to call that ambition epic.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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