• Instruments Of Change: Music Of The Freedom Riders, 50 Years Later

    May 4, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sees off a group of Freedom Riders as they board a bus for Jackson, Miss., on May 24, 1961. (Image Credit: Paul Schutzer/Life)

    Exactly 50 years ago today, 13 "Freedom Riders" — seven black and six white — rode public buses into the Deep South. Their mission: to test a brand-new federal law prohibiting segregation in public bus terminals.

    When the riders reached Alabama, the center for racial havoc and injustice during the modern civil rights era, all hell broke loose. One bus was destroyed by a mob and bomb, almost killing the passengers. The riders in the second bus were beaten by another mob in Birmingham.

    Drummer Art Blakey and many other jazz musicians were acutely aware of what was happening, and their dream of social justice resulted in one of the most creative periods in jazz history. Here, we honor a few of the musicians who wielded their instruments in the pursuit of social harmony and change.

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  • 'Treme,' Ep. 12: It's Gonh Be Funky

    May 2, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) and his WWOZ boss (Darien Sills-Evans) argue, while DJ Jeffy Jeff (Spud McConnell) hosts programming. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    In November 2006, new problems were emerging in the rebuilding of New Orleans. To compound the lingering issues with police work immediately after Hurricane Katrina, crime is up again. Government agencies are spending freely with contractors via patronage networks, while working-class laborers are seeing relatively little of that money. There are proposals afoot to rezone the city and wipe out neighborhoods, and new politicians who are debating those ideas. Public schools are underfunded, and parents are taking notice. And, when it can afford it the least, a leading food authority lines up a broadside against the entire city's cuisine — and its culture at large.

    Treme's trick is that these issues are all reflected in intersecting human dramas. In episode two of season two, these plotlines begin to take shape. With me again to help break it all down is New Orleans native Josh Jackson of WBGO. We start, as we always do, with a discussion of the episode's live music performances.

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  • First Rites: Jazz Goes Stravinsky

    April 29, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    The Bad Plus plays its take on The Rite of Spring at Duke Performances, backed by a multimedia backdrop created by architect Cristina Guadalupe and filmmaker Noah Hutton. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Darryl Pitt)

    In late March, The Bad Plus descended upon Duke University to unveil its take on Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. You can now hear a recording of "On Sacred Ground: Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring" at The Checkout.

    One of my favorite parts of the "Rite" is the "Spring Khorovod," from the first of two sections. A khorovod is a round dance, a simple folkloric form. Think "Ring Around the Rosy," then add a dark Russian vibe. Listen to a bit of Stravinsky conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra from 1962:

    I love that insistent rhythmic undertow. It's slightly menacing. Then the full orchestra enters on a tympani crash 19 seconds in, and this totally begins to rock. (I mean, who doesn't like the tympani?) When you hear three members of The Bad Plus perform this section, they really get it too.

    But another piano/bass/drums trio has also recorded that section, and not many people know where to find it.

    E.S.T. (Esbjorn Svensson Trio) included "Spring Khorovod" on its U.S. debut, Somewhere Else Before. It's a hidden track at the end of the disc. These three guys make a wall of sound. Dan Berglund, the bassist, ran his upright into a Line 6 POD that made him sound like Richie Blackmore from Deep Purple.

    In 2003, I made a documentary about the band, before anyone in the U.S. really knew much about them. I'll let them tell you about it. The first voice is the late Esbjorn Svensson. Happy listening.

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