C. D. and Book Reviews
FROM ELLINGTON AND ARMSTRONG TO MATISSE AND JOYCE
BY ALFRED APPEL JR.
Alfred A. Knopf - New York 2002
Robin H. S. Munro
for PLANET JAZZ Magazine
by the success of his earlier literary works, "The Annotated Lolita",
"Signs Of Life", "Nabokov's Dark Cinema (1970)" and "The
Art Of Celebration - Twentieth Century Painting, Literature, Sculpture, Photography
and Jazz (1993)", Alfred Appel Jr. has turned his considerable talents
of observation, thoughtfulness and communication to a new understanding of the
interaction of the populist Art-forms of his self-defined Modernism period -
the years 1920 through 1950. In a work originally conceived as "Vernacular
Modernism", Appel - a professor emeritus of linguistics at Northwestern
University in The United States - has plunged headlong into an appraisal of
what is obviously one of the obsessions in his life - Classic Jazz - and its
relationship to the Modernism Movement in the Literary and Visual Arts.
A beautifully produced volume replete with full-colour plates of Modernist Art, black and white photographs, rare record labels, cartoons, period advertisements and posters, is intended to support the many conclusions that Appel arrives at in presenting his desire for the wilful interaction and influence of visual artists - Matisse, Mondrian, Brancussi, Picasso and more - on musicians Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Jo Jones and Charlie Parker, among a few others.
.....Curiously, the Literary Arts are under-served in this book, which is ludicrous when one considers the weight of evidence which Appel ascribes to James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, and scantily, T. S. Elliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to support his ideas. And with a book filled with one hundred and twenty-seven illustrations carefully annotated and identified, it is surprising to find no bibliography and no notes to support the infrequent, marginalized excerpts seemingly pulled at random from the aforementioned authors' books.
.....Appel's rules of engagement to us in what suffices for a Preface-Introduction-Chapter One include the admission-condition that "My musical emphasis is on singing and the lyrics of songs, because words lend themselves to discourse more readily than musical notes: ...". He continues by quoting Armstrong; "Singing was more into my blood than trumpet," as justification for relegating the majority of Jazz music produced through the three decades in question to the rag-picker's cart - a recurring symbolic image of his based on Eugene Atget's photograph of a Parisian rag-picker taken in 1900 which Appel iconizes using Picasso's exuberant outburst upon completion of his sculpture, "Woman In A Garden", to whit: "I'm king of the ragpickers!".
.....With that in mind, we are off on an investigation into the what, where and when of Waller and Armstrong for a good half of the book and how they - through their choice of songs, comic antics and singing!!! - applied the very same principles, ethics and influences of vernacular creation to their discipline as did Picasso and Matisse, et al. Duke Ellington, while dealt with substantially, does not garner the same degree of appraisal, and references to geniuses such as Charlie Parker and Philly Joe Jones are anecdotal, imaginary and peripheral.
.....Henri Matisse gets the lion's share of graphic design and theoretical attention due to a misunderstanding Appel has regarding the collection of works Matisse created depicting life in the circus world and titled "Jazz"(1947) by his enterprising publisher. Presumably, if the collection had been titled "Circus" it would have been less likely to be considered by Appel as evidence of Modernist inter-Arts collaboration.
.....Appel's arguments could be persuasive - especially when presented with his disarming humour, his personal anecdotes and his unlimited supply of poorly-conceived puns - if they were not so weak. "Jazz Modernism" is a superficial analysis of a complex artistic movement and illuminates little but the author's myopic view and ignorance of his beloved Jazz.
.....If one is looking for illumination on the impact of a global depression, horror-filled First and Second World Wars, the emerging technologies of radio, film and transportation, ethnic migration and new-found freedoms on Jazz Modernism - which are influences on all the Arts, and thus are far greater evidence of the commonality of artistic expression and endeavour - you are out of luck. The crucible of Modernism for the Fine Arts and Literature was not their emergence in the Twentieth Century, but the heritage they both shared that began as early as 1850 - and was influenced by previous centuries of growth and development. The birth of a new music discipline in the early part of the 1900s may actually eliminate it from any serious consideration as a participant in the Modernism Movement. Indeed, Classic Jazz has all the qualities of the later Constructive Post-Modernism Movement.
.....So who is served by this book? Not Musicians, Visual Artists and Authors. Not the audiences for Jazz music. Not Appel's hapless college students. Maybe, only Alfred Appel Jr.
.....One can only come to the conclusion that "Jazz Modernism" is a docu-drama masking as scholarship and, as such, is a rollicking good story brimming with colourful characters, adventure, drama, humour, pathos and joy. In his enthusiasm for Classic Jazz and its role in the Modernism Movement, it is very possible that Appel has conjured up a literary hybrid that is humanistic, creative, and emancipated. If so, his creation might rightly belong to the Constructive Post-Modernism Movement ........ or the "rag-picker's cart".
CARLOS DEL JUNCO
A LIFE AMONG THE REEDS
By Robin H. S. Munro
.....It's the coldest pre-holiday
morn in December, and who should be warming up all the southern and central
Ontarions as they prepare for the day ahead than the inimitable harmonicist,
Carlos del Junco. Wafting out over the frigid airwaves of CBC Radio One's flagship
Ontario Morning show is the latin flavoured "Let's Mambo" from del
Junco's latest album, "Blues Mongrel".
.....This is nothing new for the hot-blooded musician, who has been warming the hearts and minds of audiences throughout North America and Europe for many years now. Del Junco's infectious music has been used extensively on the nation's public broadcaster for years due largely to the accessible sophistication of his material - both original creations and works by other composers. And what global audiences are discovering about Carlos, music lovers in Barrie-Huronia have been exhilarating in for over nine years. It was June of 1997 when the Carlos del Junco Quartet first performed in The Barrie Jazz And Blues Festival, and awakened audiences to his incredible talent and musicality, the excitement of his concerts and his fun-loving, gentle and thoughtful nature.
.....Havana, Cuba - early Spring of 1958 - and an Armenian-Cuban woman gives birth to the last of five children that she and her Cuban architect husband will bring into the world before leaving the increasingly inhospitable political climate of their pre-Castro country. In less than a year later, the infant Carlos and the del Juncos make their way to what is, for much of the year, an equally inhospitable climate and make Canada their home. A close-knit immigrant family, the del Junco children flourish in their new environment in Toronto, Ontario and are encouraged by their parents to develop as individuals, to build on their talents and follow their ambitions.
.....Always a creative personality, Carlos - whose surname, del Junco, means "of the bullrushes" or "reeds" - acknowledges that his initial fascination with music appeared at 14 years of age when a high-school classmate of his inspired him to learn to play the harmonica. Four years at the Ontario College of Art earning a degree in Fine Arts - majoring in sculpture - left del Junco with a dilemma. Much like The Beatles' John Lennon in his Art School heydays, Carlos had joined with a progressive guitarist to form a music group, "Eye Level", to explore the pair's many interests in popular music. "I've always had eclectic tastes", says del Junco and the two performed Latin, Blues, Reggae music and anything else that caught their attention. It was this early association with a unique guitar player that was the harbinger of his musical future as Carlos was maturing into a creative force.
.....Confronted now with a choice between following a career as a sculptor, or acting on an ever-increasing compulsion to pursue a life as a musician, Carlos "chose to take up the challenge" in becoming a professional musician. When asked why he would forego four years of study in one artistic discipline to engage in, what had been up to that time, more of a hobby, del Junco talked about his "connection to the sound" of the harmonica and how the instrument's musical register, in being "the closest to the human voice", was so resonant with his own musical yearnings and intuitions. Pursuing music lessons with the legendary Blues guitar-vocal-harmonica icon, Michael Pickett, and the equally renowned harmonicist, Rollie Platt, helped to gird del Junco for the competitive, rough and tumble life in Canada's world of music.
.....In the late 1980's, Carlos was playing as a sideman with various Artists and worked with a notorious Blues guitar-vocalist, "Buzz" Upshaw; working with innovative guitarists continuing a pattern that would subsequently emerge as a trademark feature on all of his recorded works and concert performances. None of this precluded his own leadership ambitions, or his developing interest in his own singing abilities, and one of his own groups "The Delcomos" gave him an opportunity to exercise both inclinations. Through this period, Carlos kept the wolf from the door as a part-time - and later, full-time - employee matting and framing posters in a local poster shop. In this period, the idea of the regularity of a career as an Art teacher competed with his desire to continue carving out his identity as a musician. And opportunities to compose and perform in projects as diverse as Governor-General Award-winning, Aboriginal playwright Thomson Highway's "Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing" didn't make these decisions any easier. Extended productions of Highway's play took Carlos to Winnipeg, Manitoba and to Ottawa (The National Arts Centre), and then on to Toronto (The Royal Alex Theatre), gaining for both him and Highway greater recognition and praise.
.....As a musician, Carlos had developed many of the skills required to be an accomplished Artist on the harmonica, and joined the myriad of wonderful performers in Canada and the United States. But it took some Master Classes with American harmonica virtuoso, Howard Levy - of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones notoriety -, to finally find the musical level and liberation which he had been seeking and, from that point on, he has "never looked back". Never looked back, indeed, for in 1996, del Junco plucked up his courage and his little musical instrument and, like the biblical David, took on the World at The Hohner Harmonica World Championships in Germany and won the gold medals for the Blues category and the Jazz category. Numerous acknowledgements of his accomplishments in Canadian music - including Juno Award nominations, Maple Blues Awards, Jazz Report awards, consideration for a Grammy Award nomination for his latest recording, "Blues Mongrel" - have garnered for him the unqualified admiration of his peers, his audiences, his critics and have catapulted him into the ranks of musical virtuosi.
.....Carlos del Junco's gifts as an instrumentalist are only part of his inventory of skills. His accomplishments as a composer and arranger, and his talent as a vocal interpreter are imaginative and unique. And much of the credit for his recording and concert successes must be given to del Junco's abilities as a band-leader in seeking out and working with stellar Canadian musicians, many of whom he is often most demanding. He is the first to acknowledge the contributions of his musical compatriots to his projects and the respect with which he holds them personally. As already discovered, del Junco has always been associated with intriguing guitarists in his musical endeavours, and latterly in his career has worked with the cream of Canadian guitar-slingers - notably Mike Branton, Rick Fines, Shawn Kellerman, Jake Langley, Mark Sepic and Kevin Vienneau - all of them successful band-leaders and recording Artists in their own right. Standing above them all - all six-foot five inches of him - is the incomparable multi-stringed instrument Artist, Kevin Breit.
.....The Carlos and Kevin team goes back to del Junco's mid-90s years leading a band under his own name - which culminated in his first recording, "Just Your Fool", captured live at Grossman's Tavern in Toronto. Subsequent to that period, Breit has enriched the recording and concert efforts of many international music stars with his formidable talent, in addition to producing his own imaginative recordings with various eclectic ensembles of his own creation. His work on del Junco's recordings can be summed up in this appraisal of his contributions by Carlos, "My C.D.'s are as much Kevin Breit's as they are mine." Breit has a wonderful "quirky" and playful, dynamic inventiveness as an instrumentalist and this resonates completely with del Junco's musical exhibitionism. It could be argued that there are few musical partnerships in Canada that can match the innovative, creative collaborations of del Junco and Breit.
In assessing his own efforts as an Artist, del Junco considers himself "the Anne Murray of the harmonica". Successful more because of his ability to interpret and improvise over the original creations of others, rather than concerning himself with composition and song-writing. That's the way Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie and hundreds of other of inspired instrumentalists have approached musical creation.
.....In his private life, del Junco is a volunteer with Big Brothers-Big Sisters. He spends time in meditation - Zen-Buddhist leanings -, in annual contemplative retreats, and in trying to focus on life through "quieting the mind". Primarily vegetarian in his diet, del Junco enjoys movies and philosophy and has embraced the ideas found in the written works of American philosopher, Ken Wilbur, whom he considers a "map-maker of human consciousness". Extrapolating from himself, he feels that "if more people worked on themselves", greater human harmony could be achieved. Continuing, he believes that his music, at some level, reaches the spiritual and philosophical state that he is pursuing, and he is hopeful that this leaves an enlightening impression on his audiences.
.....In Biblical times, the infant Moses was kept hidden among the reeds of a river .. and the rest is history. The adult Carlos "of the reeds" has spent his life among the reeds of his little instrument, and has become a musical Goliath .. and the rest is making history.
BLUES - Bill Kinnear & Carlos del Junco; Big Reed Records, 1993
BIG ROAD BLUES - Carlos del Junco; Big Reed Records, 1995
JUST YOUR FOOL - The Carlos del Junco Band; Big Reed Records, 1995
BIG BOY - The Carlos del Junco Band; Big Reed Records, 1998
UP AND AT 'EM - The Carlos del Junco Band; Big Reed Records, 2001
BLUES MONGREL - The Carlos del Junco Band; Northern Blues, 2005
"JUST YOUR FOOL"
"... 12 bars from
"BREAKFAST AT MIDNIGHT"
"THE RONNIE DOUGLAS
Seminal Roy Patterson compositions along with his unique guitar impressionism are harbingers of this Canadian's accomplishments seven years later when he won the prestigious "Prix de Jazz" Award at the 1996 Montréal International Jazz Festival. Patterson has continued his fascinating exploration of guitar-based Jazz to this day, garnering increasing respect and acclaim.
A favourite musical son in Barrie and Canada's guitar-slingin' wonder, Tony Springer has lost none of his musical bravura since recording the "Givin' Blood" album in 1993. All original compositions and a powerhouse trio make this vintage Wild "T" a treasure of contemporary Canadian Blues.
Even Kevin Breit, the brilliant Canadian stringed-instrument genius, can't elevate Norah Jones' dismal attempts to be Ricki Lee Jones above the mediocre. Boring melodies, simple-minded lyrical content and mind-numbing arrangements do a disservice to the remarkable musicians this clone surrounds herself with.
Bing Crosby, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary
Clooney and Ethel Waters are just some of the vocal luminaries in the
Ellington constellation on this superb collection of performances. Duke's
appreciation of the vocalist's art allows him to re-arrange his remarkable
compositions in exciting ways, and thus provides his great band with
wonderful new musical challenges.
Gary Kendall, the highly regarded bassist
for Downchild Blues Band, has surrounded himself with some of the
bedrock musicians of the Canadian Blues music world in producing his
new recording "Dusty & Pearl". A fine collection of
songs, many of which are composed or co-written by Kendall, breaks
with some of the tradition inherent in this music in that his songs
are often about the happy and positive possibilities in human relationships.
But no matter what the subject matter, this album grooves and is great
party material. The Gary Kendall Band is holding a C.D. release party
at Sticky Fingers Bar & Grill on Friday, February 4 during The
February Blues VIII music festival.
Michael Pickett has carved out an enviable
reputation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as an innovative composer
and performer of original Blues music. Accompanying himself on dobro
guitar and harmonica on his latest recording, "Solo", Pickett's
intriguing vocalizations transport the listener to the heydays of
Jimmy Reed, Robert Johnson, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Enjoy the
earthy Blues of the inimitable Michael Pickett at Tara Indian Cuisine
on Saturday, February 5 during The February Blues VIII music festival.
Robin H. S. Munro
for PLANET JAZZ Magazine
From the opening chorus of "I Would Do Anything
For You", through 15 more pieces culminating in "Blues In Thirds",
Jeff Healey's recording - "JEFF HEALEY Among Friends" - is pure, uncompromising
FUN! The master of so much that he surveys has - with humility, respect and
playfulness - presented a collection of songs from the early days of recorded
Jazz that have always held a special place in his heart.
The material has a consistency of presentation - a predictability - which is the hallmark of this period. But all of the soloists have a jaunty swagger that keeps each selection seeming fresh and full of merriment. Jeff has added British imports Jim Shepherd, on trombone, and John R.T. Davies, on alto sax, along with American import Dick Sudhalter, on trumpet, to a very capable contingent of Canadians in the creation of this work.
And Healey does triple-duty in this ensemble - combining his consummate skill on the six-string with some of the hottest trumpet playing this side of Basin Street, and gracing many of the songs with his warm, enticing voice that, when required, delivers a delicious grittiness. Jeff's arrangement - which preserves the original concept of the piece - and vocals, on his favourite song "Stardust", is a stellar example of the richness of his gifts.
There is a dry, lack of adornment in the overall production which gives the album a coziness and familiarity, even if all of the pieces are new to the listener.
When you love and revere music the way Jeff Healey does, it shines through in all that he undertakes. Thanks for a musically joyful look in the rear-view mirror.
for PLANET JAZZ Magazine
Robin H. S. Munro
Any Jazz enthusiasts yearning for a new voice in the Art need listen no further. Lori Cullen's debut album "So Much" introduces an original, distinctive singer à la Diane Schuur and Billie Holiday. Accompanied by pianist-partner Ron Davis, bassist Drew Birston and drummer Mark Mariash, Cullen explores a wide selection of songs ranging from Jazz Standards to Lennon-McCartney, Janice Ian and Stevie Wonder classics. And she does so with affection - without affectation -, warmth, sincerity and with a musicality that is loving and to be cherished. Subtleties of pitch inconsistencies are all the more endearing when accompanied by her almost child-like timbre, playful phrasing and evocative sensuality.
The Ron Davis Trio's genuine excitement in accompanying this emerging Canadian treasure occasionally gets the better of them and is one more reminder that "musicians should play exciting, not excited". Mariash's brushwork on "Cherokee", among many other works, is superb and provokes pianist-extraordinaire Davis to assert his unease for his wife's convincing enchantment with her "brave young warrior" sweetheart. In reminding her of just who she's married to, Davis unleashes his consummate command of the instrument which, following his exhilarating solos - and without returning to the requisite control implicit in his usually sympathetic accompaniments - gradually becomes a distraction. Virtuosity can be ineffective when applied indiscriminately. Birston's gentle bass accompaniment with "Little Things" is a loving three-way musical conversation with Cullen and Davis. "Gentle Rain" reveals the ability of the ensemble to perform with a tender sense of beauty and gives Birston an opportunity to solo with dramatic lyricism. The mysterious "So Much Larger Than Life" redeems any earlier inconsistencies with its delicious piano introduction and interludes, and final evolution into an Ellingtonian swing. And swing is what Lori Cullen "can do" - with a casual swagger befitting the Duke - in "The Best Is Yet To Come" and "Everyday I Have The Blues".
Uneven arrangements, questionable repertoire choices and an over-abundance of Executive Producers mar the early efforts of a lady who is certain to become Canada's gift to Billie Holiday lovers throughout the world - Lady CanaDay. And any short-comings will seem of little significance in the not too distant future, for with Lori Cullen and her retinue of brave young warriors, "The Best Is........."!