New York Now, Pt. 1: Jazz

Our NYC trip last week included two shows from the 2018 Winter Jazz Festival and a related delight at the Jazz Gallery.

The Fest shows were on Friday the 11th and started with Michael Formanek’s Very Practical Trio with Tim Berne and Mary Halvorson at “LPR” (which literate people may remember as “La Poisson Rouge”). I will say it was easy to get a wrist-band pass to all events of the evening, but we were honked off that it turned out a line of pass-holders had to wait for a line of pass-buyers at the bottom of the stairs. No matter, there was ample room if you got there early and a saintly floor monitor got us a couple chairs so we could sit at the back wall. Now, the Very Practical Trio has not recorded anything for label ECM, but these three active and explorative hearts and minds always pull you in once they get in sync on stage. Seemed a bit acerbic at times. Off to a large EU tour. I await debut later this year with eager ears.

We had a leisurely-but-alert schedule to get to the next show (the lumpy BBQ joint we visited will not be part of the food entry here): Makaya McCraven at the Bowery Ballroom. The Chicago drummer/writer/sorcerer group’s release Universal Beings made my NPR Jazz Critics Poll and they were flat even more enveloping live. Multi-part pieces you can follow even as they surprise you, reflective passage and fierce, even a  bit angry solos that belong together. Seems the next step of the AACM tradition to me. Special nod to guitarist Jeff Parker — a ferocious, poised soul deep in the Chicago tradition.

On to the main event that drew us to the big city this weekend — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society in a kind retro-neuvo show at the Jazz Gallery. I’ve been a member of the Secret Society ever since I came to know him online and be the only professional critic to hear his graduate-performance at NECM (one of the few way up there in the Pantheon of music moments — watching Fela Kuti give D a little kiss is another).

As always, a fun-complex-thoughtful romp all the way where the selected parts talked to each other (we left before the extended final number, which we had heard earlier at Newport) and there were chills and thrills that jazz these days struggles to grasp (Charles Mingus would know what to do with this political situation).

But I want to underscore the charm of the audience at Jazz Gallery: alert, knowledgeable, attentive, emotionally plugged in. The epitome of why I despise venues that let people eat meals while the performers amount to background soundtrack. (Good idea to sell beer and wine, though, Jazz Gallery.)

This is a special show. Sort of in a clubhouse. The password is easy: “committed fan”.

The Maze of Memory

Since I regularly dig through the depths of stored music in the basement for exercise soundtracks, this morning I ran across a serious surprise: Sunset Ride by Zephyr.

I had not listened to the record for so long that it was fresh to me again, but its impact was as much memories of the album in and out of my life as the music itself. I first heard it when I was working at Rishashay in the Butterfly Building in Missoula MT in 1975. It was a big favorite of my dear buddy Bruce Lee (no relation), who played it almost daily and claimed the world was divided into the fascinating people who were captivated by the album and the schlubs who didn’t get it. I’m not that absolute, but I say Sunset Ride can really grip you, especially if you get engulfed by singer Candy Givens — her emotions guide you through every moment. And her reading of “High Flying Bird” is one of my favorites.

The band was from Boulder, Colorado and had the precise zonked tone of cowland hippies like our crowd (“eatin’ hash and talkin’ trash”). I thought if our crew ever formed into a band, it would be like Zephyr (and, of course, Blind Boy Bug). So always in my mind as I listen to Sunset Ride, I’m behind the capitalist-counterculture counter in that mid-’70s dream.

It wasn’t until I picked up the 2007 CD reissue of the record that I learned the horrifying fact that Candy Givens drowned tragically in 1984 . And by that time, Bruce Lee was gone, too.



Final Vintage Mixdisc Summer 2018

I think this one works pretty well for 12 years old … (Obviously the year I first checked out Dead Moon.)



  1. Black Angels, “Young Men Dead”
  2. Outrageous Cherry, “Shadow of My Universe”
  3. Dead Moon, “Dead Moon Night”
  4. Int’l Shades, “Shine On”
  5. The 88, “Hide Another Mistake”
  6. Dead Meadow, “Heaven”
  7. All Tomorrows Parties, “The Night Porter”
  8. DMBQ, “She Walks”
  9. The Kills, “I Hate the Way You Love” (Pts. I & II)
  10. Amusement Park on Fire, “Venosa”
  11. Dead Moon, “Johnny’s Got a Gun”
  12. The High Dials, “Save the Machine”
  13. Verbena, “Baby Got Shot”
  14. Sloan, “Flying High Again/Who Taught You To Live Like That?”
  15. Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, “Pinhead Cranberry Dance”

The Ghost of Tommy Ladnier

Here’s a music anecdote some might find amusing. I can take or leave Yard Sales, which usually feature items people are trying to get paid to throw away and mostly offer More Things To Dust. Now, Estate Sales are different. These feature big-ticket items and you get to wander through manses you and all your relatives combined could never afford (this one was listed at $2.6 mil).

We’ll skip the five-foot wooden sculptures of Quan Yin and Buddha (my sketchy understanding is that from the late-19th Century to about the 1920s, examples of Japanese and Chinese artworks were considered signs of wealth and worldliness in this area) and go right to the evidence that the early-day owners were serious New Orleans Trad Jazz fanatics.

I was told that the Music Crazies had been waiting at 8 AM when the doors opened to roar in and scoop out any collectibles and that’s fine with me — I could not compete with the Snarf ‘n’ Sell crowd from day one and now have all but zero interest in aggresively adding to to the Infinite Oldies Playlist already owned. Fascinated that this had been a trad jazz hothouse for ages and ages — had a couple dozen of those pre-LP binders that could hold 50 or so 78s. (RCA made them, a reminder of what a dominant company it had been back in the day.)

And save my NOLA soul, an absolute passel of Louis Armstrong vinyl, lots of which I’d never seen, but I’ve got all the Pops I want (mostly before he became an acceptible Negro face in America). And I noticed, to my usual annoyance with Boston racial attitudes, that the collection included 70% white NOLA Trad outfits and 30% black.

Then I ran across this curious CD: Tommy Ladnier 1923-1939 (Giants of Jazz 1997).  I did not recognize this trumpeter/occasional songwriter name but he played with Sidney Bechet (YEAH!), “Mezz” Mezzrow (meh) and vocalists Ida Cox and Rosetta Crawford (absolutely interested). When it was a happening operation, the label was known for excellent analog-digital transfer (sold in lots of audiophile shops) through CEDAR and for programming cuts for variety and pleasure not chronology or some such snore.

Turns out it’s a lovely CD and the bargain of the year for $1. Don’t care that I’d heard at least half the cuts before, because when you focus on a different player, the material sounds fresh and unexplored. Particularly Ladnier originals like “Heebie Jeebies” and “Mojo Blues” (quality stuff, huh?).

Then you find out he had a strange, convoluted life and recording career. Professional histories leave out that his parents separated when he was tiny, that his mother was murdered in a bar fight when he was 15 and that he tried to operate a tailor’s shop with Bechet, which led to him dropping out of recording for five years.

So. An Estate Sale where I apprehended a ghost I had been hearing for decades without quite knowing it.