23 December 2012

RIJF 2013 - Anticipating Another Bland and Pale Line-Up

To the best of my knowledge organizers of the 2013 Rochester International Jazz Festival (RIJF) have not yet revealed the line up. In the past I have been quite critical of the RIJF for being dominated by white performers and for being (to be polite) musically unadventurous. No need to repeat my comments here. I will save my complaints for when the new line up confirms my low expectations. In anticipation of this year's event I want to offer the following "best of" 2012 from, not some esoteric Jazz mag, but The Denver Post.* Now, one could quibble with some of the choices here, or wonder why some recordings did not make the list - like the record Quiver by trumpeter and Denver resident Ron Miles. That is not my point. Instead, I am giving odds that the intersection of the leaders on this list of recordings and the headliners of the RIJF will approximate zero. Caveat: if it turns out that the intersection can be represented by a positive integer, the digit will be very small and the exception will not be African American. I also am willing to give odds that among the jazz headliners (meaning not acts that are clearly pop, R&B, blues, world music or whatever genre) at the RIJF this year, the ratio of African Americans to "others" will not come close to 50% (as it does on this list). Any takers? I didn't think so.

* "Here's my top 10 for this year, followed by some choice reissues and historical digs:

1. Wadada Leo Smith — Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform): The trumpeters' four-hour-plus meditation on the U.S. civil rights movement, alternating between meetings with his intuitive group and slabs of abstract chamber music turned out to be the most affecting sonic force of 2012. Let it wash over you and be rewarded with honesty and beauty.

2. Neneh Cherry & The Thing - The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound): Putting a trio of rock-leaning jazz musicians in the studio with a jazz-influenced pop singer (who suddenly reappeared after what was essentially a 15- year absence) turned out to be an audacious experiment that worked. The most surprising vocal album of the year: Even the remix project that followed this up is full of humor-tinged energy.

3. Vijay Iyer Trio - Accelerando (ACT): The best-reviewed disc of 2012 deserved the distinction. Pianist Iyer redefines the concept of the piano trio by taking in all of the music that surrounds him, regardless of genre, and filtering it through a great tradition.

4. William Parker Orchestra - Essence Of Ellington (Centering): The avant-garde bassist rediscovers the life in Duke Ellington's compositions and brings some of his own to a large group setting as well.

5. Mary Halvorson Quintet - Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12): The most consistently inventive of the newer guitarists in jazz, Halvorson introduces nine twisting new pieces to her repertoire.

6. Tim Berne - Snakeoil (ECM): Those who gathered to hear saxophonist Berne in Denver this fall for a skronkfest with guitarist David Torn may not be familiar with this aspect of his work, which leans toward the meditative and formally structured, but it's just as cerebral, and more accessible.

7. Steve Lehman Trio - Dialect Fluorescent (Pi): An inspired demonstration of alto saxophone pyrotechnics and almost hook-laden compositions add up to a tour de force.

8. Ahmad Jamal - Blue Moon (Jazz Village): One of jazz history's innovators is still thriving, and this piano genius still has much to teach.

9. Ravi Coltrane - Spirit Fiction (Blue Note): Son of John plays the sax (of course) and does more than pay homage to his dad's ecstatic spirit. Kudos to Blue Note for taking up the jazz mantle again.

10. Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul - Reunion: Live In New York (Pi): In which a '70s titan gets the guys back together for one final, transcendent gig."

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