Sitting at his feet telling tales is a delight. He's the grandfather you always wanted. He considers his bandmates, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake, his grandchildren. Yet from humble beginnings being called to play with George Benson, Dr. Lonnie Smith has been a beckoning call, through his being and through his Hammond B3. Transfixing. It's hard getting past that word when it comes to describing him. Watching him shuffle about, hearing him speak, the mystifying way his embracing the organ with the core of his being produces a sound that quells the soul. Everything about him seems to be on a certain vibration, the way he uses the organ or his trio (or his octet like on his latest double album In the Beginning, Vols. 1 & 2) is an amplification of that vibration, the vessels through which he projects his transfixing vibration throughout the world. That vibration reached San Antonio's Carver Community Cultural Center this past Friday, January 31.
I had a discussion with some folks at KRTU about the importance of year-end lists as moments of assessment, of looking at this moment in time in a century-year-old genre of music and say this is where the music was at this point of the narrative. At a time where we're analyzing the culture at large at a rate as fast as the lives we're living in it, it's sometimes necessary to sit down and make a list, as internet-y as that may be. So here I am, one voice of many in this art form we call jazz, looking at what I considered the high points of this year and how they all fit in the history we make everyday.
"...Keep in rotation." It's a term I happen to use a lot. Usually it means there's some album I just can't help but remove from my phone's memory when its space is wearing thin through week after week of constantly acquiring new music. This means a lot to me in jazz; it's my job, of course. But when I happen to say this in reference to a non-jazz work, those outside interests of mine that I love just as much but just don't have the time or the publication to sing its equivalent praises, that's when I know something is special. What follows are many of the albums that I may have loved as much as I may have sung the praises of Wayne Shorter's Without a Net or Now Vs Now's Earth Analog. They're just as addictive, adventurous, fascinating, and fun as any other jazz album I've heard this year.
There are some folks out there who think that genres are limiting, that they hold back what art can be. I fervently do not believe this is the case. Sometimes we have to be able to explain a work to another person. Sometimes we're just not in the mood for all things at all times just because "music is music". Sometimes a work shoots for a certain kind of mark and it totally makes it. Sometimes those marks are in different places than we're used to. Sometimes that mark is really a multitude of marks and it makes them all the same. Whatever a work is or what it tries to be or what one tries to call it, that doesn't make it any less marvelous. What follows are a group of albums that I found particularly marvelous and what I've enjoyed listening to more than anything else in the year of our Lord, 2013.
One of my favorite indulgences of the year is most definitely Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest. I have time and again referred to it as the most efficient thing I have ever witnessed. It's generally more efficient than a Swiss watch. More efficient than Google's grasp on our feeble lives. More efficient than the nitrogen cycle. It's an extremely well run festival at Auditorium Shores at Lady Bird Lake that features indie rock, punk, metal, hip hop, electronic music, and comedy on the cusp of the zeitgeist. It's where one can see acts new and old that aren't completely saturating pop culture and filled with fans who wouldn't have it any other way. It's a celebration of niches and weirdness, something this black jazz journalist conceptually knows all too well. Thus my attending and covering this festival each year is something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the pages of Nextbop (and now The Art of Cool Project, add it to your bookmarks and RSS readers). However, now that I have a bit of a role in the upcoming Art of Cool Festival (the doozy of a lineup drops on the 15th, festival hits Downtown Durham April 25 & 26), it'd be nice to think about what works so well in this celebration of counter culture and maybe, for once, look at a few things that don't.
It was worth taking the drive from Denton. Of course, this should have been clear to me from the start. Seeing pianist Tigran at Frank in Austin this past Friday, November 1, was the predication for my own purchasing of Megabus tickets from San Antonio to Austin, about an hour and twenty minute ride if the traffic is alright (the traffic was not alright). This is Tigran's first U.S. tour, a few dates in the fall in the midst of a world tour through Europe all the way through February. He was only stopping in Texas twice, Friday's show in Austin and a show on Sunday in Houston. It's a show worthy of a sojourn, and folks from all across Texas certainly did. A couple cars full of music students from the University of North Texas' College of Music made the four hour drive to Austin to catch this show. For it to be as fun as it was, especially for an artist like Tigran who is extremely talented and whose star is steadily rising, a road trip was certainly in order.