WBGO Blog
  • The audacity of Jazz

    February 25, 2008. Posted by .

    While we celebrate Jazz every day here for its energy and complexity, and relish in the swing of it, and nod our heads in approval at a monster solo, it can be easy to forget that Jazz has been at the forefront of social change movements and African-American history and culture for more than a century, supporting freedom movements abroad, civil rights struggles at home and fighting against war and racial injustice both here and abroad.

    To celebrate that, we've launched a new podcast series called "We Insist!: Jazz Speaks Out." Over the four half-hour episodes, host Angelika Beener talks to some of the brightest lights in Jazz about how the music influenced them and how they influenced the music. Guests include USC Professor Dr. Robin D. G. Kelly,  pianist Randy Weston; trumpeter Terence Blanchard; saxophonist Marcus Strickland and others.

    Some of the featured music includes: Max Roach's "We Insist;" Miles Davis' "Jack Johnson;" Randy Weston's "Uhuru Afrika;" John Coltrane's "Alabama;" Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite;" and many more. The series launched Friday and we'll add epsodes weekly.

    Listen (and subscribe) to the first episode here.  - David Cruz

  • Studio Session - Kendrick Scott Oracle

    February 21, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Kendrick Scott
    Drummer Kendrick Scott, a recipient of the 2008 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award, performs music from his debut release, The Source.
    Hear the WBGO studio session on NPR Music.

    Oracle. What an intriguing name for a jazz ensemble, one that conjures prophesy, divination, mythological seers and soothsayers. It's also reminiscent of Kendrick's inspiration, another drummer-led group. "Before you even heard the music, the name itself caught you. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. You're going to receive a message. It's almost like going to church."

    Kendrick Scott brought his group, Oracle, to the WBGO studio to play music from his self-released debut, The Source. The quintet plays three Scott originals, including "Memory's Wavering Echo," words borrowed directly from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.

    Every language has a poet. Consider the language of jazz, which happens to have many. New composers in jazz function like emerging wordsmiths. They inject the narrative of humanity with a fresh shot of adrenaline, and they reinvent the basic vocabulary of a cultural tradition. Kendrick Scott is a new voice in jazz. He is a drummer, a composer, and a 2008 recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award.

    Kendrick Scott's music does not lay so easily in the beat, as one might expect from a drummer. "Whenever I'm composing, I'm actually singing melodies. I'll call my voicemail and sing a melody into the voicemail. Then when I get home, I sit down at the Fender Rhodes or at the piano and I'll try to harmonize it. And then I'll come up with some rhythms. Melody is first, harmony is second, and rhythm is actually third."

    The results are often sprawling, cinematic compositions like the twofer, "Retrospect/View From Above." It's worth the wait, seven minutes into the medley, to hear guitarist Mike Moreno and pianist Fabian Almazan in cascading harmony. This kind of heightened interaction and listening is the result of directing live action in the moment.

    Scott learned some valuable lessons when he recorded his debut release, The Source, on his own label, World Culture Music. He labored over every minute detail, until his mentor, Terence Blanchard, offered some advice about making records. "It's just a snapshot of who you are at this moment. This record doesn't define your whole life. And hopefully after this moment, you'll have more and more records to document that."

    Our session with Oracle ends with "The Source," featuring an introduction from bassist Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott's bandmate in the Terence Blanchard Sextet.

    Mysticism aside, it takes more than a drummer and composer to give Oracle its power. Scott says, "The band itself is the oracle, not just me. They send out the messages, and it's free for whoever is listening to interpret however they feel the music should be. You go to the oracle not to get the answer, but to find out what the question is. So you can get to the answer.

    Check it out.
    -Josh

  • "DIGGIN' THE CLASSICS": YUSEF LATEEF EDITION

    February 20, 2008. Posted by Stevan Smith.

    What's going on all! Welcome to my blog series "DIGGIN' THE CLASSICS"! When new releases in the music world get slow, we all tend to dig into our collections for some vintage pleasure. Join me for my weekly (or whenever I feel like it) quest for soundtrack satisfaction. This is a blog for music lovers! "Walk With Me".

    This edition celebrates: Yusef Lateef- The Gentle Giant (1972)

    Tracklisting:
    1. Nubian Lady
    2. Lowland Lullabye
    3. Hey Jude
    4. Jungle Plum
    5. The Poor Fishermen
    6. African Song
    7. Queen of the Night
    8. Below Yellow Bell

    Now I will admit, I am really picky when it comes to instrumental recordings. There has to be something powerful about a rhythm that speaks without words. Yusef Lateef is most definitely gifted in this area. Lateef defines his brand of music as "-insert here-", but don't call it jazz. "The Gentle Giant" is evidence of his unique talents. With Lateef playing various instruments (flute, tenor, and oboe) and a 9-minute cover of "Hey Jude" (?), there is enough variety on this album to prevent it from boring the "A.D.D." listener. One stand out track is, "Nubian Lady". The title say's it all. With it's melodic rhythms and ultra cool vibes, songs like these leave no room for words. That would just mess things up.
    "I'm smiling, but don't call it jazz fool!"

    Another track that stands out is "Queen of the Night" (must be something about the ladies). A funky track that has a bass line tailor made for hip-hop. It is this variety that makes this album one of his most interesting works. This Lp speaks to generations, and most likely opened the door for world music. Some refer to this album as being erratic compared to his prior works. I feel this is just a classic display of any artists' journey to evolve. This album is a honest contribution to the foundation of jaz......I mean "-insert here-". It dares to be different. ...And it is the "different" that makes it an instant classic.
    "What do you mean by different?"