Kyle Gann, Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays After a Sonata. A major work gets a major analysis: a masterpiece gets a masterpiece. Gann has lived with the Concord his whole life, and now all that love and experience has produced lucid exegesis. I doubt Gann himself would argue that his text is exhaustive, but it’s hard to imagine that there is much more to be done.
Gann is kind to performers (he enjoys every Concord recording), he is opinionated but not dictatorial about textural variation, he is constantly looking for ways to connect Ives’s pitches to the ethos of American Transcendentalism. As a bonus, there are substantial notes on the Piano Sonata No. 1 and an essay on the complete songs. The book is vast but each and every paragraph is valuable.
Drew Massey, John Kirkpatrick, American Music, and the Printed Page. The Concord‘s first champion was John Kirkpatrick, who went on to be a major figure in the confusing posthumous dialogue about Ives. Kirkpatrick also worked with other composers, most notably Carl Ruggles, but also worthy talents like Hunter Johnson, Ross Lee Finney, and Robert Palmer. Massey’s excellent book offers a close look at the power dynamics in a rather hothouse environment, and will be crucial source for anyone interested in this vibrant era of American fully-notated music.
Amy C. Beal, Carla Bley. It is rare to have a worthy book produced about a living jazz artist. Indeed, Beal’s book may be unprecedented, a technically accurate explanation of a jazz composer informed by interviews with the subject and their circle. Bley’s career has been fecund and eclectic. Carla Bley is not a long book, Beal doesn’t attempt to go deeply into everything, but what is there seems inarguably correct. I am about to produce an essay on Bley myself and this volume has been a spectacular resource.
Sam Stephenson, Gene Smith’s Sink: A Wide-Angle View. Smith was a famous photographer, but there’s notable jazz in this poetic overview. There’s very little in print about Hall Overton, Thelonious Monk’s arranger and a particular interest of mine, and Stephenson’s book offers many new Overtonian insights. There’s also substantial reporting on Sonny Clark and harrowing first-person narration from drummer Ronnie Free and pianist Dorrie Woodson. However, the focus is naturally on Eugene Smith, who’s life story is a breathtaking tale of triumph and tragedy.