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Books:

A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano by Katie Hafner. An absorbing experience! In addition to much about pianos and piano technicians, Hafner documents the career and personal life of a truly eccentric artist. Recommended.

The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child. I read piles of commercial thrillers and the Jack Reacher series is one of my favorites. I did notice something being “off” in the last book, Blue Moon, so it was not a surprise that his brother has taken over the franchise. Like many fans I was skeptical but…actually, it is just fine. I’ll look for the next installment. (The best “pure” Reachers include Without Fail, The Affair, and The Midnight Line.)

Eddie’s Boy by Thomas Perry. Amazingly, the Butcher’s Boy returns! God bless Thomas Perry. I need to read this again, but it’s certainly top shelf, although I admit I wonder if the master shouldn’t have left it at The Informant. (DTM: “The Professional.”)

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. As a long-time Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, it was time for me to check in with the source. There’s no explicit sex in the book but the whole thing is wildly erotic, with the act of sucking blood offering a coherent metaphor. A central triad of vampires, two men and a girl, is unlike anything else.

“But tell me one thing, one thing from that lofty height. What was it like . . . making love?”

I was walking away from her before I meant to, I was searching like a dim-wilted mortal man for cape and gloves. “You don’t remember?” she asked with perfect calm, as I put my hand on the brass door handle.

I stopped, feeling her eyes on my back, ashamed, and then I turned around and made as if to think, Where am I going, what shall I do, why do I stand here?

“It was something hurried,” I said, trying now to meet her eyes. How perfectly, coldly blue they were. How earnest. “And . . . it was seldom savored . . . something acute that was quickly lost. I think that it was the pale shadow of killing.”

“Ahhh . . .” she said. `Like hurting you as I do now . . . that is also the pale shadow of killing.”

“Yes, madam,” I said to her. “I am inclined to believe that is correct.” And bowing swiftly, I bade her good-night.

After reading the book I watched the movie, which I liked as well. Great music in the movie! When the vampires are playing Mozart-style fortepiano in the old days it is very effective.

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. A famous YA thriller. I saw the forgettable slasher flick, the source original is subtle and far more chilling. Indeed, this slender volume is in perfect balance. Bravo.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I’ve read this three times, each time it is better, more amusing, more uncomfortably prescient. One of a kind.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Third time for this classic as well. Now that I am a little older, the arc of this perfect novel is even more resonant. The blend of humor and melancholy is truly exceptional.


Movies/TV:

Inception, Interstellar, Tenet. I like puzzles and I like action movies, so naturally I have a relationship to the Christopher Nolan collection. Jessica Kiang’s superb review of Tenet in the New York Times explained it perfectly: “…Nolan is, by several exploding football fields, the foremost auteur of the ‘intellectacle,’ which combines popcorn-dropping visual ingenuity with all the sedate satisfactions of a medium-grade Sudoku.”

None of these movies are “good” exactly but they do the job. Tenet is James Bond meets time travel; I saw the reversals coming a mile away, but it was still reasonably satisfying. The two leads, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, are great.

Some of Nolan’s best moments are comic. I remember laughing out loud in the theater during Memento. The sardonic robot TARS in Interstellar is great; Michael Caine’s snobbish teasing in Tenet works perfectly. Upon rewatch, Inception disappointed by lacking any lightness of tone, despite the overall concept being patently absurd. If Nolan wants to take notes from a jazz blog, I’d advise him to lighten up a few degrees…

Deep Cover. I saw this in the theatre when it came out in 1992. I liked it at the time, but upon revisiting it stands out as one of the best crime flicks of the era.

Stranger Things. Sarah and I enjoyed the first season but that was enough; we didn’t need to press on. Too much yelling by the cast. The monster was amazing, one of the best monster reveals I’ve ever seen.

Dark. At first utterly compelling — incredible music by Ben Frost — but then it all becomes hopelessly convoluted. Recalls Killing Eve, another show that could have been a masterpiece if they had tied it all off in a single season.

Uncut Gems. Speaking of incredible electronic music, Daniel Lopatin does a wonderful job in this edgy Adam Sandler flick. Overall, the movie is excellent, but it’s also not quite the innovative masterpiece some of the critics claim it to be.

Mad Max. What the hell? I was not prepared for the unrepentant artiness of this low-budget action film. The more conventional sequels are all good too, but now I know the original has a truly modernist aesthetic.

Christine. Ok, this was great. I had no idea. Essentially perfect; as of now my favorite Stephen King on film and my favorite John Carpenter movie.

Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes. I’m not a true Holmesian; as a serious crime fiction fan I naturally know the Conan Doyle stories pretty well but haven’t paid attention to most of the adaptations. At the beginning of quarantine I tried out the Benedict Cumberbatch series again, and re-confirmed how the series squanders its remarkable flair by devolving into a soap opera/comic book aesthetic, where we spend all our time investigating the leads rather than crimes. It’s a terrible waste, for the best parts of the first two episodes offer some of my favorite recent television.

A friend has been praising the older Jeremy Brett series for a while, when I finally I tuned in last month, I was shocked at the depth of Brett’s performance and bowled over by the production values overall.

Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Wow, I’d never seen Showgirls before. “So bad it’s good” taken to extremes but the last act is violent and depressing. Basic Instinct, no masterpiece, satisfies with stellar Jerry Goldsmith score and intriguing puzzle plot. Both Paul Verhoeven movies are redeemed for being absolutely of their time and place. (Earlier Verhoeven RoboCop and Total Recall are in my pantheon of absurdist masterpieces.)

I had a little Joe Don Baker moment, watching Charley Varrick, The Outfit, and Edge of Darkness in sequence. Varrick is not quite as strong as I remembered, while The Outfit picked up a star or two in my rating. Both have amazing 1973-era American cars; I love early 70s movies just for the Detroit iron alone.

More significant is Edge of Darkness, the legendary 1985 BBC serial with Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker. Troy Kennedy-Martin created the story and script. Michael Kamen’s evocative score features Eric Clapton. (FWIW, this is my favorite thing Clapton’s ever done.) Directed by Martin Campbell (who also somehow did horrible Mel Gibson remake.)

Edge of Darkness is well in the tradition of a dozen ’70s paranoid thrillers, but with nuclear power as the worrisome threat. The subtleties of the characterizations recall British espionage televideo classics like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Sandbaggers. One of my favorite novelists, Ross Thomas, must have been an influence on Kennedy-Martin, especially on Joe Don Baker’s character, a CIA agent. It’s also very much of its time: Margaret Thatcher appears on TV.

Bud Powell in the 21st Century

New album out today on Sunnyside Records! (Bandcamp.) This is concert performance of a suite commissioned by the Umbria Jazz Festival. The Umbria Jazz Orchestra is augmented by Ingrid Jensen, Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Lewis Nash, and myself.

Review by Brian Priestley in Jazzwise.

Review by Filipe Freitas in JazzTrail. “….A record that, sealed with Iverson’s unique creativity, opens up a glorious new phase in his career.”

Interview about the album conducted by Tryan Grillo.

TG: How would you describe your relationship to Powell’s music? 

EI: I like knowing the text. When The Bad Plus played The Rite of Spring, I played it just like Stravinsky wrote it. If I play Tadd Dameron with [drummer Albert] “Tootie” Heath, I learn Dameron’s original voicings. At one point I transcribed Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” for The Bad Plus. My brain gets really excited by the details. I like to sit there and ask myself what really happened here. I can dive in, think about those details, transcribe and appreciate the subtleties. 

There’s also this other side of creativity. I’m confident everything I do has a personal sound, that it sounds like me and part of that sound is wild and woolly. The fantastical or surreal comes in pretty naturally with Bud. At the end of the day, Bud Powell was an avant garde musician. Had the project been dedicated to the music of Dizzy Gillespie or Benny Golson, it might have been harder to find a way in to do something personal. But there’s a surreal glint in Bud Powell’s eye, so that’s a fit for me as well. 

Grand Pa

“Performance in the age of social-distancing” is a hot topic, and it’s time for me to unveil my own contribution, Grand Pa.

Choreographer John Heginbotham made up a dance for Gus Solomons Jr to an orchestral recording of the famous “Grand Pas de Deux” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. I listened to the track (to ensure the timing was right) while improvising my own creative interpretation. Zoom and camera phones were the bare-bones technology; Maile Okamura put the pieces together in post-production.

Note from Heginbotham:

Grand Pas de Deux, Adagio: Gus Solomons jr no comma no period, is a phenomenal dance hero (other words which often and appropriately live near Gus’s name include “legend”, “icon”, “royalty”). I’ve known Gus officially since he and I began our perennial collaboration on another beautiful part of my life, Works & Process at the Guggenheim’s Peter and the Wolf, directed by, designed by, and starring Isaac Mizrahi. Gus plays the Grand Pa in Peter. Genius composer, pianist, friend, and adored DH collaborator Ethan Iverson provides the beautiful music. GRAND PA (de Deux).

Thank you to Nathan Cottam and Manakin Dance for providing the impetus for this work.

If you dig it, please encourage the algorithm by liking, commenting, and sharing. I’m quite proud of this project; indeed, I think it is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

RIP Frank Kimbrough

Word has come that jazz pianist Frank Kimbrough has died of a sudden heart attack.

A few memories:

One of the very first concerts I saw in NYC in the fall of 1991 was a trio of Frank, Ben Allison, and Jeff Williams at some obscure venue in the East Village. It was really great, in part because Frank was clearly influenced by Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, and Paul Bley. I was interested in these sort of approaches as well…it was sort of validating to arrive from the cornfields of Wisconsin and hear such a good trio playing just the kind of repertoire I wanted to hear.

A few years later I had an informal lesson with Frank; he didn’t actually call it a lesson, but he showed me a few things when he dropped by my apartment one day. We played a duo version of Sonny Rollins’s “Pent Up House” and I was appalled by how much better he played the changes than me. That was the real lesson.

In 1998, Frank couldn’t make a rehearsal with Maria Schneider and sent me in his place. I showed up thinking it would be not very hard — big band piano is usually not too taxing — but then Schneider’s score turned out to be a complex dance suite in mixed meter with a fast and exposed piano part. I’m a good sight-reader but I doubt Schneider formed a positive impression of me that day. That was another lesson.

Frank was part of the Jazz Composers Collective, a group with Ben Allison, Ted Nash, Ron Horton, and others. They programmed original music at a series held at the Greenwich House Music School. One of the best sets of the many I heard there in the ’90s was a trio with Frank, Ben Allison, and Jeff Ballard. The opening piece was unforgettable, where Frank offered some bluesy triadic piano riffs before the bass and drums came in with controlled chaos. When I told Frank how much I liked that piece, he suggested I check out Andrew Hill’s Strange Serenade with Alan Silva and Freddie Waits. In time I’d record “Strange Serenade” duo with Nasheet Waits; my first piano gestures are certainly less purely Hill than an interpretation of what I heard from Frank at that Greenwich House Music School gig.

After Paul Bley died, I organized a memorial concert on the Greenwich House Music School stage. Frank was the Paul Bley expert, and he showed up with a stack of Annette Peacock music. In a way I wish I had made the concert more about playing those Peacock and Carla Bley melodies; some of the best stuff that night was simply Frank reading through “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway” and “Butterflies” at the soundcheck.

Frank said the most virtuosic Paul Bley piano performance was “Blood” on Live in Haarlem. Frank said the best Barry Altschul on record with Bley was “Mazatlan” on Touching.

As a leader, Frank’s recorded legacy includes a nice trio album with Masa Kamaguchi and Paul Motian and a complete (!) survey of Thelonious Monk with Scott Robinson, Rufus Reid, and Billy Drummond.

His unaccompanied performance of Motian’s “It Should’ve Happened A Long Time Ago” is an appropriate memorial listen.

Handful of Keys

New DTM page, “Two-Fisted on 33 1/3 RPM,” a listen to many piano LPs.

Earl Hines Tea For Two
Earl Hines Quintessential Recording Session
Jaki Byard Family Man
Earl Hines/Jaki Byard Duet!
Erroll Garner Afternoon of an Elf
Erroll Garner Gemini

Donald Lambert Meet the Lamb
Hank Jones This is Ragtime Now!
Hank Jones Solo Piano
Ram Ramirez Rampant Ram!
Dick Wellstood One Man Jazz Machine…
Ralph Sutton Off the Cuff
Herman Chittison Piano Genius
Claude Hopkins Crazy Fingers
Jim Turner Old Fashioned Love: A Tribute to James P. Johnson
Hank Duncan Hot Piano: A Tribute to James P. Johnson and Fats Waller
Eubie Blake The Marches I Played on the Old Ragtime Piano
Eubie Blake The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake
Eubie Blake Volume 1 (featuring Harold Browning)
Luckey Roberts Ragtime King
Johnny Guarnieri at the Stereo Piano: Piano Dimensions
Charles Thompson The Neglected Professor
Sir Charles Thompson Portrait of a Piano
Doc Cheatham and Sammy Price Black BeautyJoe Sullivan New Solos by an Old Master
Burt Bales New Orleans Ragtime
Paul Lingle Dance of the Witch Hazels
Paul Lingle The Legend of Lingle
Ellis Larkins A Smooth One
Hazel Scott After Hours
Sir Roland Hanna Sir Elf
Sir Roland Hanna A Gift From the Magi
Hampton Hawes The Challenge
Tommy Flanagan Alone Too Long
Keith Jarrett Facing You
Geri Allen Homegrown