Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Today's New York Times: A correction, and an oversight, and a note about the jazz/bluegrass connection

The New York Times is always a great source for well-written news and reviews on arts, entertainment and popular culture.

But the Times ain't perfect.

Two cases in point:

1)Ben Ratliff's review of the Winter Jazzfest at the Knitting Factory made reference to the "International Association of Jazz Educators." That's a fact error. The organization better known as IAJE is officially called the International Association for Jazz Education, and adopted that name -- a more accurate reflection of its membership -- several years ago. Yes, it was previously known by the former name, and maybe it's a minor mistake. But, still, it's the New York Times, once known as the newspaper of record. Seems like it behooves the Times to get it right.

2)Stephen Holden's review of a Michael Franks concert at the Allen Room (Lincoln Center) made reference to "a Brazilian percussionist not identified in the program ..." Call me crazy, but isn't that lazy reporting? Couldn't the reviewer simply have asked the promoter, or Franks, for the name of the percussionist? Don't the musician, and the review, deserve more respect? Again, it's the New York Times. And it's not like the reviewer and/or a fact checker didn't have time -- the show was FOUR DAYS AGO (timely review, huh?)

Back to Ratliff's review, with something nice to say. I love how he refers to violinist Jenny Scheinman's music as "folk-influenced, with a little humor and a strong flavor of Bill Frisell's through-the-looking-glass Americana." I can't tell you if that's accurate or not, but it sure sounds great.

Jazz/improvised music has made fruitful connections with folk/country/bluegrass quite often in recent years, in the work of Bela Fleck , David Grisman and many others. I really like what I've seen and heard mandolist Mike Marshall (from my hometown, Lakeland, Fla.) do in tandem with other gifted mandolin players, including Chris Thile (Nickel Creek), young Tampa Bay area talent Josh Pinkham and Brazilian musician Hamilton de Holanda.

The latest high-profile jazzer to explore bluegrass is saxophonist Bill Evans (no relation to the late, great pianist of the same name). Evans' Soulgrass group, for this week's engagement at the Blue Note, includes fiddler Christian Howes and a powerhouse jazz-rooted rhythm section - bassist Richard Bona and drummer Dave Weckl. Mandolin player Sam Bush and banjo man Tony Trischka are the bluegrass stars on board with the band.

Craig Havighurst's story on Soulgrass, in today's Wall Street Journal, offers this apt description of the similarities between two genres: "...bluegrass and jazz, particularly bebop, are musical contemporaries and cousins - progressive departures from the dominant sounds of their day, forged during World War II. Both drew a line between the traditional and the modern in their respective forms. Even musically there were similarities, beginning with common roots in the blues. Both were inclined toward blazing tempos, rhytmic intricacies and intense, even competitive improvisation, suggestion that these schools, despite coming from cultures as distant and disparate as 1940s New York and 1940s Nashville, might one day meet and mingle to good effect."

Nicely stated.

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