The best new jazz of summer 2022

European festivals equalize gender

With temperatures in Spain soaring north of 40 degrees Celsius in July, forest fires devastating very dry Iberian landscapes and trains canceled because the tracks were melting, it was extremely cool visit San Sebastian. Located near the northern border with France and refreshed by the Bay of Biscay from the Atlantic, this town is home to La Concha, Hemingway’s memorable beach. The sun also rises. It is also home to a jazz festival at the end of July.

As I was walking around San Sebastian, crossing a bridge leading to the old town, I saw a beautiful outdoor stage being set up. Posters all over the area staged six gloriously diverse days, featuring musicians from around the world. Headliners/audience delights were in abundance (Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall and Gregory Porter – but also Iggy Pop), up-and-coming saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin was on the program, and little swing pianists Benny Green and Bruce Barth (with Terell Stafford on trumpet) had good slots, as did New Jazz notables Craig Taborn and Steve Coleman with his band Five Elements.

The thrill of this scene is how it has room for so many different styles, ignoring the need to market the festival as being for a kind of a music fan. It may be peculiar to New York, but festivals in this jazz hub rarely have this kind of range. Hiroshi was in San Sebastian, delivering a smooth fusion that might not appeal to Taborn aficionados, but perhaps both sets of listeners need to think more broadly. International musicians I don’t know came through the program, suggesting even more diversity of sounds and styles.


The American festival everyone is talking about (the return of Joni Mitchell)

Between the time my plane took off from Madrid and the time it landed in Washington DC, everyone I was connected to electronically seemed to be posting on one topic: Joni Mitchell’s surprise return to perform at the Newport Folk Festival. , in a set hosted by Brandi Carlile on Sunday, July 24. Mitchell is a good example of how music eschews categories and how “American Classical Music” that has been mostly called “jazz” finds its way into so many collaborations. Mitchell’s reappearance over the past year at certain tribute events has been exciting. His recent illnesses have made most of us fear the worst. Now, all of a sudden, not only are we enjoying this brilliant composer and performer in her lifetime, but we’re also hearing her voice.

Carlile’s Newport “Joni Jam” videos are moving but complicated. At her best, Mitchell could be masterful and even intimidating to other performers. Watch her teach her song “Coyote” to Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn in Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Review documentary is proof of that. Videos from Newport 2022 show Mitchell many years away from the stage, mostly supported by the other musicians, and they can be uncomfortable. The grateful crowd cheers every time Mitchell breaks out a line of a song unaided, the cheers (to my ears) sounding like what you hear at the third-grade concert at your local elementary school.

Photo: Sachyn Mittal

I know that wasn’t the intention, but it’s unfair to Mitchell that everyone is so in awe of her in those moments. Sometimes the lines are beautifully sung, but just as often they are hesitant and uncertain.

But. Everything changes when Mitchell sings “Summertime” by George Gershwin. Showing his lower (ed) range but using unique phrasing, Mitchell carries the melody with ease, so much so that Carlile’s interjections, wordless vocal harmony and solo pianist, are mostly in his way. I know Joni-heads will prefer the slightly rambling versions of “Carey” and “Case of You”, but it’s on this Jazz standard that 78-year-old Joni Mitchell can clearly articulate. As the crowd applauded earnestly and the other musicians on stage gave him a standing ovation, Mitchell smiled and laughed like a girl.

The Canadian singer-songwriter is perhaps best known for her folk songs “Circle Game” and “Both Sides Now,” but in her adult stature she collaborated with Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius. And on this glorious late date, she seems more comfortable channeling Shirley Horn or Abbey Lincoln than Joan Baez. That’s not to say his writing isn’t the greatest achievement of his career. Nor is it to denigrate Carlile’s curation of the event, though her theatrical amazement as she listens to Mitchell gets a little too much. Rather, it’s a joy that such a powerful and important artist as Mitchell is also part of the bloodline that includes Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.


Praise of local scenes: John Covelli and the Hard Bop Messagers of Saint-Louis

The San Sebastian festival featured Herbie Hancock, yes, but also many other local musicians whose creativity and industry can be easily overlooked when your eye is trained in Los Angeles, New York, London or other music hubs . In the United States, any major city is filled with great musicians, and not all of them play tired standards in bars while people drink. I recently dug into a hip and unusual recording by trombonist John Covelli, who lives in St. Louis, where he studied music at Webster University. (St. Louis’ jazz heritage needs no polish: Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Julius Hemphill.) Hard Bop Messengers live at the last hotel is a kind of concept album you don’t hear much anymore – a quintet (trombone, saxophone/flute, piano, bass, drums) with a vocalist, making a set of hip tracks that tell the story of a band playing in a mythical hotel (and, yes, before the pandemic, the HBM had such a regular concert).

Hard Bop Messengers live at the last hotel

The music sits in that pocket once occupied by Horace Silver and his funky ’60s-’80s bands, and Covelli wrote the lyrics for most of the tracks, just as Silver once included vocalist Andy Bey in his sound. The idea is a bit cheesy, perhaps with lines like “Making the beds, fluffing the pillows / Wiping, clearing the dust / All the mess, getting the room ready for the guests”. But skip that quibble – ‘Make the Beds’ is a bouncy song that brings you joy as it slices through life in the world of a hotel, with pianist Luke Sailor taking a slamming solo to kick it off and a tenor solo Sailing Ben Shafer revels. When singer Matt Krieg continues with “I didn’t use the iron but the ironing board is on / Do I even want to know the truth?” you understand the simple spirit that Covelli has slipped into every corner of the project.

Krieg is a deliberately modest singer, much closer to Mose Allison than to Kurt Elling. But that’s okay because it has personality and gives off the relaxed vibe of this project. supreme love it’s not. But listen to the skanky funk of “Standin’ Up Against the Wall,” with its hard-hitting brass hits that are part Jazz Crusaders and part Fred Wesley/Maceo Parker. “Hello Robin” has a light and original melody that sings and swings. And the instrumental track “Valet Rally” is a really strong, more modern track that channels a bit of Wayne Shorter or Andrew Hill while creating a little pool of lyrical light. Covelli’s solo on this one is expressive and demure – leaving plenty of space and sticking out just enough of the harmonies to challenge your ears.

I do not know that Live at the last hotel is must-listen stuff, and the recording quality sometimes gets in the way of its best ideas, drowning out the natural brightness of the horns. But it’s a wonderful, whimsical treat. It’s not about following a trend or rehashing something you already know through repetition. Listening beyond our usual borders, geographically or by association, brings these kinds of nuggets.


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