The most important element that one would find of Tigran's signature style would be his unique sense of time. Compositionally, this is of course clear. The young 2006 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition winner has been wowing listeners the world over for years with his five albums -- the latest of which, Shadow Theater, just released yesterday on Sunnyside-- making well known how the Armenian rhythms he's always known have melded with so many other sounds around the world in such a purely jazz kind of way. It's this sense of time that seemingly comes to a tantalizing head in Shadow Theater and shifts even further to the fore last night on the album release show at Austin, Texas' The Belmont kicking off Tigran's US tour.
I spent months planning--organizing and promoting the Nextbop/Art of Cool day party, my own schedule of what I'd see, connecting with friends with whom I'd stay & my travel companion, and gathering supplies. I actually saved money, something about which I'm particularly horrible. I vacillated frequently between excited and worried. Nevertheless, last week in Austin, Texas, I tackled the South by SouthWest Music Festival. I saw quite a few bands, jazz and non-jazz alike. Yet more importantly, I had an adventure. As I do every year, I look at this experience not as some corporately funded free-for-all for attention. SXSW is a week in a city I love to visit and traverse and embed myself into its weirdness. It's a festival that encourages my ability to walk forever. It's an experience that makes stories even in its doldrums. Last week had a bevy of tales from so many others-- of spiritual uplifting, of unadulterated joy, of tribulation, of tedium, of consternation, of tragedy. No one ever has the same SXSW experience, that's the charm hidden in its constant, unwieldy expansion.
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.