The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts is seeking an executive director, a paid position

The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in 2020. All photos by Elizabeth Vogt.

The Mark Davis Trio (L-R, Davis, Dave Bayles, Jeff Hamann) at the JGCA Pianofest.

As an arts journalist, I have no formal affiliation with The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. Nevertheless I’m very interested in seeing it not only succeed, but grow and evolve. My motives go back to it’s nominal inspiration, the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery at the same location.

The vibrancy of that community-oriented music venue was a key factor in my early journalistic career when, in 1979, I started covering it and other jazz (and other music and arts) in a surprisingly blossoming local scene for the pre-merger Milwaukee Journal 1

Today’s JGCA is a more formal non-profit arts organization, heretofore mainly run by dedicated volunteers. It has steered through many lean financial years with dogged determination, vision, applied talent and important involvement from Milwaukee’s Riverwest community.

Drummer Paul Westphal, violinist Linda Binder and bass clarinetist Rick Ollman at the JGCA Seeds Sounds concert series.

The JGCA emerges from the pandemic with growing optimism and even a successful visual arts business year, according to organization president Mark Lawson. The venue’s excellent recent group art exhibit, ReBegin, reflecting on the pandemic experience — which I reviewed for The Shepherd Express and this blog — is an example of its current artistic viability, even if they haven’t had live music since the pandemic shutdown. Lawson says he anticipates live performances returning to the center “sometime in July.”

So, the JGCA is ready to hire its first executive director, a paid, part-time position that could evolve into a full-time job. They are advertising for the position on their website, linked here, with details on the job: JGCA executive director job post

Applications are being received through June 25.

If you are a creative, take-charge person dedicated to the performing and visual arts, and have the right stuff to lead a small but serious arts organization, you might be the person for this job. I imagine, especially among the millennial and Gen-X generations (or perhaps even some baby boomers), there are a number of people in this region who could do this job, especially considering the many under-employed but talented, experienced and aspiring professional people with liberal arts orientations. The center’s music side is geared to jazz, free-improv, experimental music, and hip-hop, etc., but the new ED could help shape that direction as well.

The center owns a fine Yamaha baby grand piano and raised funds for significant recent building renovations and upgrades, including a new digital recording-quality sound system.

Bader Philanthropies, The Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and other funding sources, including many individual donations, have greatly aided the center’s viability.

If you read about the position here and apply, let them know (and let me know) you read about it here.

Good luck to all candidates and the JGCA, and more power to the best person who gets the job.

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1 This writer’s work from that period, and that of other journalists, is documented in Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984, an anthology of press coverage and other memorabilia, from founder-owner Chuck LaPaglia’s remarkable grassroots arts venue. The venue gained a strong reputation among many touring jazz musicians. The anthology is available at the JGCA, Boswell Books, Woodland Pattern, and through Amazon.

 

Diana Jones’ masterwork of border-crisis empathy belatedly gets stateside release

 

Cover of Diana Jones album “Song to a Refugee.” Courtesy Proper Records

The exquisite singer-songwriter Diana Jones reached a career peak with the 2020 release of her album Song to a Refugee, which I reviewed when it was released. However, at the time, her British label, Proper Records, only released it in the British Isles and Europe, even though the Greenwich Village-based artist’s inspiration and focus was the U.S. border crisis during the Trump administration’s travesty of policy cruelty.

The issue remains painful as righting the horrible wrongs of that administration will take time. Proper has now released the album stateside, prompting a fine interview feature from The New York Times. (Due to a peculiar Times change in link sharing, Culture Currents, as a Times subscriber, can only share the Diana Jones article link on my (Kevin Lynch) Facebook page post of this blog post).

Diana Jones, photographed for The New York Times

And here is my November review of the album, reposted:

Diana Jones sings a “Song to the Refugee,” as if she’s lived that life

Music is alive (thank the good gods), and now LIVE again, in person, waiting for y’all

Breese Stevens Field in Madison. Courtesy breesestevens.com

Thanks to the swift development, distribution and receiving of Covid vaccines by a majority of adults in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, the dangerous coast is clearing for live music. You remember that — real musicians, breathing and blowing, singing and burning, with inspiration, melody, rhythm and beauty. Audiences responding.

Yes, Summerfest will be back, but not until September. Far before that, one of the most notable big outdoor concert events will be the Madison Jazz Festival, running June 11 to 20, at various locations.

The following link to a festival announcement article provides the details, from Isthmus, the Madison weekly newspaper that hosted and sponsored the event for many years, as the Isthmus Jazz Festival :https://isthmus.com/events/nate-smith-greg-ward/

Madison, however, has a well-organized jazz scene that bucks the tides of pure commercialism to survive and “thrive,” at least by jazz and creative-music terms. The longtime Madison Music Collective remains integral to making this a citywide event, as does a younger organization, the innovative Art + Lit Lab, also hosting and presenting, notably an ongoing Dig Jazz series that, as the pandemic wanes, will go live again. Outdoor concerts will take place in various neighborhoods around Madison.

So your very block, or around the corner, temporarily may become a ‘hood in the best sense — hip, rhythmically alive, and attuned the the lifeblood of urban American musics.

The Madison Jazz Festival’s headline event will feature Grammy-nominated drummer-composer-bandleader Nate Smith + Kin Folk, along with saxophonist Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade, performing at Breese Stevens Field, 917 E. Mifflin Street, on East Washington Avenue, at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 13. Admission to this concert is $30.

Drummer-composer -bandleader Nate Smith + Kin Folk will headline the Madison Jazz Festival on June 13. Courtesy Peter van Breukelen/Redferns via Getty Images

Saxophonist Greg Ward leads his Rogue Parade at Breese Stevens Field on June 13. Courtesy comarcalcv.com

Smith owns an impressive resume, having worked with the Dave Holland Quintet, Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, José James, John Patitucci, Ravi Coltrane, and Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), among many others. As a bandleader, his style is surprisingly lyrical and sometimes contemplative — for a drummer — with alluring vocals by Amma Whatt. It’s a natural bill match for alto saxist Ward, whose outfit is a bit more bracing, with a double-guitar front line, but also quite melodic.

Ward’s album Stomping Off from Greenwood was among this critic’s choices for top ten jazz albums in the 2019 NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Smith’s already twice-Grammy-nominated debut album, KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere, should be a poll contender this year.

Other festival performers include the brilliant Chicago trumpeter-composer Marquis Hill, (with The Donna Woodall Group) June 19 at the Wisconsin Union Terrace; vocalist Sarah M. Greer, June 18 in a live-streamed concert at the Stoughton Opera House;  jazz and world-music saxophonist Arun Luthra, June 15 at Robinia Courtyard; and the powerful young Chicago saxophonist-composer Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few, June 12 at Cafe Coda; which will also host the legendary multi-instrumentalist-composer and co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (and former Madison resident), Roscoe Mitchell, on June 20. Also on that bill is the Douglas Ewart Ensemble, like Mitchell a seminal member of Chicago’s internationally-influential AACM. Mitchell is one of the most visionary and innovative musicians of post-1960s creative music.

Isaiah Collier and The Chosen Few will play June 12 at Cafe Coda as part of the Madison Jazz Festival

Local favorites will include the Acoplados Latin ProjectMama Digdown’s Brass Band, vocalists Donna Woodall and Gerri DiMaggio, and many more. In addition to concerts, the Festival will feature a public virtual master class by renowned bassist and UW-Madison Jazz Studies Professor Peter Dominguez, a livestreamed presentation by Ricardo Gonzalez and Nick Moran on the Camaguey Jazz project, and more. For more details on the various events, visit this site: https://artlitlab.org/programs/greater-madison-jazz/madison-jazz-festival

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If you don’t get to Madison for the start of the festival (as I won’t, alas) you can still get a fresh dose of live music this Saturday, June 12 in Milwaukee: the fast-rising jazz-hip-hop-soul band KASE, will perform at 7 p.m. live at Saint Kate Arts Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourne, in downtown Milwaukee. The band — which often features acclaimed Milwaukee singer-songwriter-keyboardist-saxophonist Kellen “Klassik” Abston — has a penchant for building intoxicatingly sinuous grooves (what they call “improvised sonic explorations”) with Klassik riding atop, on any manner of vocals or rap, sometimes evoking classic soul singers like Marvin Gaye, thus his name. Both Klassik and Breiwick are skilled musical conceptualizers, so this daring stylistic synthesis can expand to precipitous boundaries while maintaining atmospheric buoyance, afloat even over the edge.

(However, Klassik is not “officially” scheduled to perform with KASE Saturday.)

Jazz-hip-hop ensemble KASE, was formed by trumpeter Jamie Breiwick (L-R, above) with Madison bassist John Christensen, and DJ/turntablist knowsthetime. The band frequently features singer-rapper Klassik (below). KASE will perform live Saturday at Saint Kate Arts Hotel. Courtesy OnMilwaukee.com Above photo by Brian Mir

Klassik. Courtesy J-S Online

Another Milwaukee option for Saturday (June 12) is The Anthony Deutsch Trio at 8 p.m. at Bar Centro, 804 E. Center St. in Riverwest. 

Deutsch who plays piano and sings, joined by Minneapolis bassist Billy Peterson and the superb percussionist Devin Drobka. Deutsch is a quirkily ingenious pianist with lyrical undertones of Fred Hersch, and a warmly cavernous singing voice on jazz standards and mystical-nature folk-jazz originals.

Both KASE and The Deutsch Trio have also performed at the Madison inDIGenous series, now called DIG JAZZ. 

The Anthony Deutsch Trio. Courtesy badgerherald.com

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Remembering America urban growth and decay, from then until now, Ashcan style

Ashcan Scene: “Sunset West Twenty-Third Street,” By John Sloan. Oil on canvas, 24+ inches by 36+ inches, 1905-1906. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha Nebraska

Searching for something timelessly American and democratic, I found industrialized urban life – architecture and quotidian labors – graced by nature’s fulsome, inevitable beauty. The darker clouds float slowly by, like bloated scavengers, while below, on the roof of a tall tenement building, a woman arrives to take down her hanging laundry, no doubt slightly begrimed by the city’s pollution. This is modern life burdened, but the single soul persistent, the circumstance artistically rendered akin to the blues sensibility.

The Ashcan School of American art has always been one of my favorite art movements. John Sloan is arguably the paramount artist in that group, which toiled around the turn of the 20th century, though Edward Hopper is more famous and it included founder Robert Henri and George Bellows among the artists who formed the movement’s core.

John Sloan “Self-Portrait in Gray Shirt” 1912 artsy.net

They were the first generation of artists to crucially value, capture and critique the urban American experience in all its grimy truth, as bleak as it was a-tree-grows-in-Brooklyn beautiful. Few artists have mustered better the shadow-shrouded atmosphere that would become later known as noir. The quality was probably first identified with the German Expressionists in the period after World War I, but imported to the U.S., where it would flourish in greater freedom than in its native land, from 1940s in film and television, onward to the present. 

The Ashcan School was a concept notably derived from Sloan’s nocturnal grittiness. And inside the modest nominal symbol sat an indelicate joke, a humble yet rugged functionality, capable of both containing and emitting olfactory auras that conveyed the profound decay of the American Dream, amid the vast exploitation of land and people that The Industrial Revolution evolved into.

The painting I chose to represent the movement, Sloan’s “Sunset West Twenty-Third Street,” is the only the second image I have used simultaneously for both my blog theme image and my Facebook page “cover photo.” That says something about how much I value the best and truest qualities of The Ashcan School, including Sloan’s environmental awareness here, and elsewhere. It’s not necessarily the best example, but it struck me as I rediscovered it in the Google search alluded to above. 1

One caveat. I haven’t seem the painting in person. But I would much more trust the more muted reproduction of the painting (above) from the website of the institution that owns it, The Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, than in the Google image I originally posted (see below), especially regarding the painting’s palette colors. I suspect the person who edited the Google image chose to dress it up with much brighter colors than the original. And the difference between those two palette approximations measures the difference between conventional notions of aesthetics and the Ashcan artists’ determined ability to probe and dig beneath the surfaces of urban presence.

Either way, there are other strong aspects countering all the darkness and implicit heaviness – qualities that give Sloan more vibrancy and hope than Hopper, the great poet of solitude. Even with a sole human, Sloan infuses a layered lyricism, in the rhythmic suppleness of the lighter clouds, and the sky’s richness, whether it is bright or muted. And the woman’s figure is burdened, yet maintains a strong, resilient backbone, and the hanging clothes retain a certain playfulness. More, the deep space before her is an interplay of angles and glittering vehicle lights, into a near-imperceptible horizon that still reveals sculptural mutations. Her superbly rendered and located figure suggests her eyeing this alluring beyond with a sense of longing for escape.

Formally speaking, Sloan risks betraying a primary compositional rule here, that is: avoid placing a large object in the center of your composition. He just barely avoids that by locating the stolid building silhouette just left of center. Still, it visually dominates the scene. But the hulking mass (a cast-off from Carl Sandburg’s famous “city of broad shoulders”?) stands there to signify more than lend pure formal beauty. In fact, pushing hard against beauty is virtually its raison d’etre here.

And yet, the long ledge of the foreground roof, with it’s strong leftward hitch, helps pull the compositional tension off center.

So it is work that is more radical than it might seem, given that it’s clearly part of the long tradition of landscape art, as it morphed into cityscape.

It is the humanity that gives the scene its life, through the eye of the artist and, by extension, the woman. That truth is underscored by the reality that this scene is actually Sloan’s own apartment building, and the depicted woman is his own wife.

“These wonderful roofs of New York City bring me all humanity,” Sloan was quoted as saying in 1919. “It is all the world.” 2

“Roofs, Summer Night,”  is a further example of Sloan’s fascination with humanity, in the era of “big shouldered” cities, and is almost voyeuristic but clearly empathetic. I first saw this etching at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison years ago, and it was done the same year as “Sunset.” Today it evokes the situation of immigrants, wherever their harsh limbo may be, floating above reality in their dreams, but only there.

John Sloan, “Roofs, Summer Night,” 1906 https://deepartnature.blogspot.com/

Is there something more in the greatest of Ashcan Art which, humble as it might seem, is clearly an early modern American art of cinematic scope, before color film.

Now, take in an even more famous Sloan cityscape, from 1922, City from Greenwich Village:

John Sloan, “City from Greenwich Village,” National Gallery of Art. Pinterest

In another deeply storytelling perspective, the train helps tie the city’s society and commerce together, but spews its fumes into the most famous urban neighborhood of Manhattan.

I might toss the Ashcan cultural connection forward, a bit like Stanley Kubrick’s ape tosses his jawbone up into time where it descends as a space capsule. No grand scope quite so obvious here, but still these, and other Ashcan cityscapes, do explore human and environmental dualities that Andrew Delbanco recently attributed to Kubrick in his masterpiece film 2001: A Space Odyssey: “a tribute to the collective genius of humanity for having turned this merciless world into a place fit for human habitation. It was also a merciless assault on the delusion that the world is susceptible to human will.” 3

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1 Consider the catalog book John Sloan’s New York, by Heather Campbell Coyle and Joyce K. Schiller, for a Sloan exhibit that originated at the Delaware Art Museum in 2007. Though Sloan’s “The City from Greenwich Village” (above) is the  frontispiece, “Sunset” is the sixth color plate in their text, on page 37. The authors see it as Sloan transferring his “awe” to his wife.

2. The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State organized a major exhibition on John Sloan, “From the Rooftops: John Sloan and the Art of a New Urban Space” in 2019, which also traveled to the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York. https://news.psu.edu/story/553028/2019/01/07/arts-and-entertainment/palmer-museum-art-announces-major-show-ashcan-schoolhttp://

Google reproduction of the Sloan painting:

John French Sloan https://www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

3. Andrew Delbanco,

Kubrick’s Human Comedy

Jazz Gallery show finds creative ways to begin again, emerging from pandemic

Art exhibit review

“Places I’ve been and may never see again,/ I won’t say haunted but I get visited/ and it follows me around wherever I go./ Begin to begin, begin to begin.” — “Begin to Begin”  Field Report

If we’re not haunted by the last dreaded year, it surely still follows us around, at the very least with masks, whether pocketed or making us  strangers to friends. Worst of all is a plague of recollected fright, sickness and loss.

So slowly, we begin to begin, again, the new “old” life.

One of Milwaukee’s lesser-known art galleries reflects back on the pandemic with vivid and resonant forms and imagery. The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E. Center St., is best known as a live music venue, which obscures its distinguished history of well-curated and extremely diverse art exhibits, overseen by the venue’s manager Mark Lawson, who also curates galleries at The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. 1

ReBegin: New Works for New Beginnings, a group show of 18 artists running through May 29,  suggests creative-rebirth from pandemic, but also how we may never see the places we’ve been to, in the same way.

Howard Leu’s noirish, black-and-white photo-archival print, “You Don’t Call No More,” conveys social loss, with art loft-like window panes separating the viewer from fog-enshrouded telephone poles.

Howard Leu, “You Don’t Call No More,” photo archival print. All photos of artwork by Amy Schmutte

Roxane Mayer’s gritty, cold-wax encaustic-entombed facades include the year’s other massive human pilgrimage to healing, defiant social activism, with a window-pane poster reading “Hate Has No Home Here.”

Jim Farrell’s two pieces, rich with evocative, story-telling textures, address the mind and psyche — “Ancestral Orbit” in profound quests, and “Logic Perimeter” in a human head’s mathematical cogitations, a fight-or-flight reflex toward cleansing the virus’s impact, a longed-for rebeginning.

Jim Farrell, “Logic Perimeter,” mixed media

Similarly, Karen Williams-Brusubradis’ large acrylic painting “Metamorphosis,” reveals the microscopic workings of an apparent human nervous system in transformation from forces playing, or preying, upon it.

Karen Williams-Brusubradis, “Metamorphosis,” acrylic painting

Among the most optimistic or affirmative pieces is Benny Higgins’ lyrical “Frog Hunter III,” depicting an at-risk boy playing at a riverside, somewhat autobiographical in that Higgins, a former police officer and untrained artist, now counsels “men to be better men” at a women’s shelter, Lawson explains.

Benny Higgins, “Frog Hunter III,” oil 

Amy Schmutte’s virtuosic and innovative color photography seems to depict spring’s inevitable emergence from an atmosphere-immersed haze. In her Lewis Carroll-esque titled “Sproutoutlyng,” a lusciously sinuous flower fights through a sublime shadow of infected memory. Schmutte, who co-curated the show, prints her photos on brushed metal plates “because the way that light plays with that surface adds another layer of beauty” in photography, which she thinks of as “writing with light.”

Well said.

Amy Schmutte, “Sproutoutlyng” photography on brushed metal

Yet for me, the most eloquent and powerful piece in the show is its only sculpture, “Chrysallis,” by Jessica Schubkegel. This is a life-sized figure of a small woman, prone, and apparently afflicted. The piece comprises a model constructed of wire mesh, covered by a skin montage of torn fragments from a medical text. Buoyed in grace with elegant gestures, the form follows one leg raised at the knee, sinuous hip contraposto, and an arm bent to reach gently for the throat. It balances a sense of repose and illness that dwells deep in uncertainty. For all that hard-earned beauty, the closer you look, the more you discover implications of insight in the medical bits of meaning, an immersive, acute sense of possible doom. Still, the title perseveres. This mummy-like presence mirrors nature’s rebirth, and a sense of emergence and deliverance.

Jessica Schubkegel, “Chrysallis,” textbook paper and wire

The show also includes work by Lawson, Gwen Graznow, Tayla Hart, John Kowalczyk, Bruce Knackert, Sharon Mergener, Bob Neuman,  Jeff Redmon, Sarah Risley, Dee Dee Schaefer, and Vesile Yilmaz.

A side gallery includes anime-style cartoons by McKinley Blackwell.

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1 The JGCA art exhibits are often curated by committee, including the organization’s board members or other artists Lawson invites to curate. Despite no live music this last year, the venue has survived the pandemic significantly thanks to a notable increase in sales of artwork, both in the gallery and especially online, Lawson says. Here’s the link to the JGCA’s visual art online: https://jazzgallerycenterforarts.org/art 

 

This review was first published in slightly altered form in Shepherd Express, here.

Mike Neumeyer builds a vibrating stairway to heaven, for “dad” and cancer research

Mike Neumeyer from his split-screen video, “How I Wish You Were Here.” Mikeneumeyermusic.com 

Mike Neumeyer has built a vibrating stairway to heaven. He continues to show why he’s one of Milwaukee’s most distinctive, ingenious and resourceful musicians. Where else are you gonna hear an enchanting, entrancing split-screen video of orchestrated marimba, vibraphone and percussion? Maybe somewhere, over the rainbow, but good look searching.

If you can feel the layers of counterpoint and melody that rise into radiant bursts and blossoms, you can dig this. It’s minimalist and meditative, yet richly layered. Your mind and spirit may dance, and you’ll emerge in a good mood, for donating to childhood cancer research (Mike’s cause here), or for whatever your day brings you.

Here’s how Mike describes the genesis of this virtuoso video:

” ‘How I Wish You Were Here’ was the first huge split-screen video I made. After Sharing Music with Linalab and Patricia Islas, when we all used some delay, I started playing marimba with the delay on it. An exact excerpt from “Marimba Maverick,”  the first portion of the groove easily came out of me.  1

“I kept adding layers as I looped the work, first some vibraphone, then djembe and it turned into this minimalist buildup to a meditative and relaxing track! I saw this as the beginning of a new era of composition and music making for me and I will show you the products of this adventure throughout year!”

If you’d like to make a cancer research donation, inspired by this music, here’s Mike’s Facebook link for the piece: “How I Wish You Were Here” donation link

For those not on Facebook, here’s a version of the piece which includes some vocals by Mike.

The sub-titled vocals reveal the more personal level of “How I Wish You Were Here,” for his father who is “playing radio in the sky.” I wish my father was down here to hear, too:

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1 “Maverick Marimba” is the title tune of Neumeyer’s  album of all-original marimba music, from 2020.

For more information on the album and Neumeyer, visit:

Home

I reviewed his previous album, Cloud Nine, here Shepherd Express review and here:

Mike Neumeyer’s vibes may transport you

Christopher Porterfield of Field Report travels inner highways and outer byways

Christopher Porterfield on the road. milwaukeerecord.com

Perhaps his parents detected the glint of a wanderer in their infant’s eyes, then they named him. Christopher Porter is like a flawed version of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, especially in his marvelous song “Home (Leave the Lights On).” Or in “Summons” or “Enchantment,” or the Kerouac-esque “If I Knew.” In his humble way, Porterfield conveys an acute sense of place, even as locales shift. So he honors “the sacred,” as he did in his recent live YouTube performance, from Café Carpe, the quietly legendary roots music venue in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, which prompted this essay. He paraphrased the great poet-naturalist Wendell Barry: “There are no places that are not sacred, only some that are desecrated.” This recalls the adage “The Holy Land is everywhere,” spoken by Native American wise man Black Elk, as the white man began his desecrating.

And much of Porterfield’s traveling runs parallel to wayward inner psycho-scapes, like the one depicted on the cover of the second Field Report album, Marigolden. There, two people stand separated by crevasses, lonely, yet heart-wrenchingly close, a stone’s throw away. Beside one person is a car — with head lights projecting towards the other person but too far overhead to illuminate the other person — seems an almost plaintive failure of technology.

Cover to Field Report’s “Marigolden” album. Courtesy youtube. com

You get the feeling of risk in his wanderer’s sensibility. He conveys a distinctly American dilemma of isolation or alienation, from a desolate yet hungry heart. Yet the persona also belies the mythical Western loner cowboy narrative.

Porterfield’s slightly nerdy-hip horn-rim specs help make that abundantly clear. The UW-Eau Claire journalism major crafted his band’s name as a clever anagram of his last name, and the name Field Report posits himself as striving to be an honest yet poetic correspondent on what he finds “out there,” in still-untamed or sacred or desecrated, America, and in the craggy depths of his own heart and life.

Bob Dylan still does something comparable but less confessionally, as he did brilliantly probing modern American history in his epic Kennedy assassination song “Murder Most Foul,” last year. Porterfield’s missives, rich in autobiographical experience, seem closer to The New Journalism as Song, with the reporter playing a central role.

To back up a bit, I recently made the critical assertion that James McMurtry is probably America’s finest living singer-songwriter “south of Bob Dylan.” Of course, there are a goodly handful of others who would be that in that “best” conversation, including Steve Earle, whom I also reviewed in that blog. 1

But recently, Porterfield reminded me of his powers in his superb, often exquisite virtual concert. The front man and singer-songwriter for Field Report is a Milwaukeean (by way of Minnesota), part of the rich motherlode of creative songwriting born of the Upper Midwest, including (among many others) Dylan, John Prine, Greg Brown, Prince, Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey, Hayward Williams, Bill Camplin, Josh Harty, Heidi Spencer, and Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), with whom Porterfield previously played with in the band DeYarmond Edison.

I first met Porterfield some years ago, when we were both employed by Marquette University. He was leading his previous band, Conrad Plymouth, at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, a Milwaukee music venue that has long nurtured and celebrated singer-songwriters. “Fergus Falls,” destined as the opener for the first Field Report album, was already a highlight in his repertoire.

I’ve seen him open solo for Richard Thompson at The Pabst in Milwaukee, which immediately put him on substantial ground with that great artist. By then, Field Report was touring and making its mark. The band has since opened for Counting Crows, Emmylou Harris, Aimee Mann, and others. They signed to Verve/Forecast in time for their third album Summertime Songs. That label’s catalogue includes Ritchie Havens, Tim Hardin and Laura Nyro.

So I’ll put him in the bigger-name conversation. Porterfield isn’t as outward-looking or social commenting as a McMurtry or an Earle. But on the premise that “all politics is personal,” you might accordingly contextualize this far more introspective artist. He lacks some of the musical range and variety of those artists (He’s not really a rocker, as those two often are, even if the last two albums albums delve into pop-rock textures and elevated production.).

Porterfield is essentially a lyrical brooder who can raise his emotional temperature as high as a rocker’s, as a lonesome howling wolf, though not in a bluegrass sense. So, even if McMurtry often expresses regret and doleful sentiment in a funky rock groove, it’s often couched in ironic attitude — he can walk that fine line superbly. But until Porterfield proves otherwise, him in a hard-rocking backdrop seems problematic.

Chris Porterfield, lead singer-songwriter of Field Report. Courtesy npr.org

Though Earle certainly has strong and tender singing moments, Porterfield is actually a more gifted vocalist than either he or McMurtry. His songwriting catalog can’t compare to those prolific veterans, but his voice is how Porterfield often catches you, as sharply and powerfully as an ace fly fisherman. But instead of comparing him too closely to others, for now, I’ll mainly strive to take him on his own terms — looking at the world from inside-out, and poetically, while often mining the quotidian, and being easy to connect with. His extraordinary singing emanates with stunningly affecting power, and unassuming poignancy. His points of emphasis often teeter along a gravelly vibrato that virtually bleeds vulnerability, and other times as startling upper-register bursts of emotion. These two stylistic aspects combine in the listener’s memory like a vivid, very human sonic silhouette.

Porterfield is a bruised, contemporary romantic, who directly admits he’s struggled with alcohol, who often sounds like a man dredging limpid thoughts from the depths of his innards, often with a starkness that feels naked, yet perfectly expressed, in the tender grain and surge of that voice. The emotion’s exposed moment often compels the outcries, but tempered by a man’s eloquent sense of self, uncertain as he may be of his situation.

Among his most affecting works is the aforementioned “Home (Leave the Lights On),” from Marigolden, which captures the longing of being “homeward-bound” as well has the famous Paul Simon song named for that phrase.

Among Porterfield’s most vivid, apparently recollected landscapes is “Fergus Falls,” the song resurrected from a 2010 Conrad Plymouth EP, for the self-titled debut Field Report album. Fergus Falls is a small town in Otter Tail County in Western Minnesota, his native state. Of the song’s inspiration, Porterfield told me: “My family used to have a cabin in northern Minnesota. We would drive through Fergus to get there. It sprung from my subconscious when that song appeared, mostly for the alliteration.”

The first Field Report album opens thusly: “This is the one in which I miraculously pulled out of a freefall dive over Fergus Falls, Minnesota.” It is the first of many struggles for equilibrium and grace in his lyric storytelling and brings to mind another gifted Minnesota writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, also a drinker who died at 44, and who, as Elizabeth Hardwick wrote, “had in the midst of chaos the rather cross-eyed power of gazing upon his deterioration as if he were not living it but somehow observing his soul and body as one would watch a drop of water slowly drying up in the sun.” 2

Porterfield emerged from his early vertigo less fatefully, but comparably, with both a sharp-eyed self-insight and sense of inhabited landscape. Recollected landscapes, real and metaphorical, are a key to his sensibility. As The All-Music Guide has noted, “Some albums are about mood more than anything else, and on Marigolden Porterfield shows he’s a master of creating an ambience that’s cinematic in its strength and emotional impact.”  In fact, I can easily envision a Porterfield song adorning one of the new breed of Western movies being made by women directors (eg. Chloe Zhao’s Oscar-winning Nomadland), which court America’s sprawling, rugged spaces but understand the vulnerable smallness of the wandering or wayward soul, alienated from community. 3 “Enchantment” from Marigolden opens on “Easter morning in New Mexico: the Son is risen on another day.” The spiritual wordplay replaces macho Old West gun play.

Porterfield’s is a gift he shares with the Texan McMurtry, as well as not many others. It has to do with how he imbues such perfectly wrought details resonating with  psychological utterance, so they breathe ultimately as song lyrics even though they’re impressive even on paper.

Like the aforementioned songs, “If I Knew,” the best-known title from the third album Summertime Songs, is also a road song, but more like a DUI-fueled misadventure, that probably left old St. Chris forgotten, way back in the dust: “You were bouncing off the guardrails shouting at the wind/ we were off our meds, drinking again.”

Album cover for Field Report’s “Brake Lights Red Tide.” Courtesy bandcamp.com

On the latest Field Report album, 2020’s Brake Lights Red Tide, Porterfield is still on the road and still searching for equilibrium but with an enhanced sonic vision, that seems to suspend him from deterioration or harm, and allows listeners to share such uneasy atmospheric heights.

The album cover photo (above) seems shot from the window of a car stuck in traffic on a large bridge over a large body of water in Asia. And musically the group employs synthesizer, played by Thomas Wincek, much more than previously.

For me, this first seemed like a calculated detour and throughout Porterfield’s singing is more restrained than previously. But the effect ultimately beguiles in its open waywardness. The sonics elevate the thrust of the album on a woozy arc, until finally the penultimate track, “Whulge,” which is essentially a synthesizer instrumental, rippling in sonic waves, buoyant yet immersive. “Red tide” refers to a dense kind of sea algae. So, between the atmospheric synth and that metaphoric “tide,” Porterfield still faces mysteries he dares to dive into, especially with such watery themes as “a river’s love” and “Puget Sound.” Finally, the closing track, “Begin to Begin,” suggests a certain sense of being, a psychological condition he describes which seems like falling back into a pre-natal state, a refrain in sighing descent: “Begin to begin to begin to begin…” Only a session with his therapist, he sings, can pull him out.

But the whole notion of receding from a troubled lifetime back into pre-birth, the swallowing or drowning of full experience, is a profound abandonment, a healing re-immersion into imagined innocence. Perhaps it is the impulse toward literary critic Ihab Hassan’s famous concept of American “radical innocence”: “The disparity between the innocence of the hero and the destructive character of his experience defines his concrete, or existential, situation.” 4

Somehow, after life’s vagaries, cruelties and suffering, perhaps it’s a longing we all subconsciously share, to reset our course for unrealized happiness and beauty, a place we may never reach unto, perhaps, only death’s passage.

Earlier on Red Tide rebirthing hovers, as this sad saint sings, “My heart begs to be light but my mind gets dark. Can’t push us into love.”

Can’t push us into life, and its inevitable losses? Thus are the risks taken, by an artist as honest as he dares to be.

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  1. Or should I say, “younger than Willie Nelson”? The great critic Mikal Gilmore reminds us that, at 87, the godfather of “outlaw” Texas singer-songwriters, remains vital and in the game. https://legacyrecordings.medium.com/willie-nelson-first-rose-of-spring-1ae9f6eed41f Nelson’s long legacy (His 2018 album was aptly titled Last Man Standing), reinforces the research and statistics that show that marijuana is a far safer drug of pain or psychological management, or even indulgence, than booze (Among gifted singer-songwriters, see: Hank Williams, dead at 29; Steve Earle’s son, Justin Townes Earle, dead last December at 38; and his namesake Townes Van Zandt, dead at 50; Tim Hardin dead at 39; Phil Ochs dead at 35, Gram Parsons and Jim Morrison, both dead at 27, primarily with alcohol abuse or hard drugs central to their demise. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s gun-shot suicide, at 27, was preceded by substantial drug abuse. The brilliant Brit singer-songwriter Nick Drake overdosed, at 26, on a prescription anti-depressant drug, amitriptyline.)
  2. Elizabeth Hardwick, American Fictions, Modern Library, 139
  3. See Jordan Kisner’s essay, “The Western Rides Again,” The Atlantic, May 2021, 86 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/05/zhao-nomadland-women-western/618403/
  4. Ihab Hassan, Radical Innocence: The Contemporary American Novel, Princeton University Press 1961, 7

Ron Cuzner: Behind the cool, eccentric facade, a people person

Cuzner hangin’ with a celebrated Milwaukee guitarist, Manty Ellis.

The sublime strains of Duke Ellington’s nocturnal reverie, “Solitude” faded away. A voice arose in your radio, now, a few minutes after midnight:

“Good morning! And welcome to Friday…Ron Cuzner is my name. And this is The Dark Side, The Dark Side of Friday…the fourth of February, nineteen seventy-seven. This is jazz.”

Today, on March twenty-seventh, two thousand and three, Ron Cuzner made his last earthly exit. I wanted to honor his memory with reflections and documents never before published, photographs of Cuzner and his milieu by jazz photographer and quiltmaker Charles Queen, which clearly blend artistry and Milwaukee cultural history. 1

Cuzner often declared on the air that Billy Higgins was his favorite drummer, and part of me suspects that Higgins was his favorite musician period, because, not unlike Higgins, Cuzner was a master of rhythmic phrasing, of textured dynamics…of nuanced articulation…of the pregnant pause…of the held-breath ellipsis.

If Cuzner’s breath and voice weren’t akin to a drummer’s, consider an artist’s paintbrush and oils. But his medium was modern, electronic. He was an original in the medium of Marconi…the radio. On a stage, as the city’s first-call jazz concert emcee, he was almost equally at home. He commanded the stage with an offhanded grace, even when you had to snicker when he stood before a crowd, say, at Jazz in the Park — in his sports-car driver cap, funky shirts, shorts, sneakers and white socks. He often said that if he had not discovered jazz and radio, he would’ve gone into theater.

Ron Cuzner warms up the crowd as (l-r) Berkeley Fudge, Manty Ellis, and Victor Soward prepare to perform at Jazz in the Park.

Fudge and Ellis jamming in the Park

A bassist performs in front of the iconic St. John’s Cathedral at Jazz in the Park

Yes, “Ronald Graham Cuzner” had an ego, but he enfolded himself into the music like a man embracing the vibration, the sumptuous arrangement, the paradiddle parade, the butterfly melody. These were his vibrations, he felt, and they were his audience’s. In other words, I’m probing for a clue to the man behind the stylish vocal curtain.

The curtain was significant, it was clearly presentational and, perhaps some thought “Here was a Wizard of Oz,” or just a wizard of odd. Like the art form he loved, he wasn’t the right thing for everyone. In a way, Ron kept himself inside his own world, the world of Monk’s ” ‘Round Midnight,” the ultimate 100-proof jazz ballad (or is that Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”?). At the same time, he loved sharing, saying, in effect, isn’t this hip, or magnificent, or sheer brilliance?

I hope this photo essay reveals something anew, because Cuzner was invisible in his element, on the airwaves, seeping his intoxication into your subconscious. He was constantly reaching out. And, I would posit, there was a people person — there, behind the stylized hipster.

Jazz record store owner Ron Cuzner (center) displaying his Milwaukee Gemeitlekiet with a record store employee (left) and jazz pianist Frank DeMiles.

Though he didn’t ask for callers like a talk show, he welcomed them, because he was human, and how many people aren’t lonely sometimes in the wee, small hours of the morning? His classic time slot was midnight to 6 a.m. And any time I ever spoke with him, he was cool, and easy, but warm, like one last martini at closing time.

His playful friendliness was typified by a favorite line of his: “I sincerely hope you are warm tonight, and that you are together tonight, and that your cookie jar is filled to the very brim … with the cookies of your choice, of course.”

Cuzner (right) and his employee Sam Linde, welcome towering trumpeter Kaye Berigan, to the shop.

After you called him during his show for a request or a chat, he would often play a tune for you, but with a sly-but-personal manner. Many musicians especially may recall this post-chat Cuzner rap (fill in your name…): “It’s the suggestion of Kevin Lynch that you drive with caution this evening. You see, his life . . . may depend on it. A message of safety from Kevin Lynch and WFMR, Milwaukee.”

How cool is that? Huh? On one occasion I remember especially, we had a sweet little phone chat and then, immediately he played a tune from Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds album. I was so impressed by his tacit musical dedication because he nailed me and my taste, because he knew me. Of course, my work as a Milwaukee jazz journalist helped him know my tastes, too. He would later have the remarkable graciousness to recommend me to replace him as a jazz radio host, when he left WLUM, an urban radio station.

These photos notably include his last public “gig,” as a record shop owner, at Ron Cuzner’s Mainstream Jazz Cellar. The place is where Ron literally met his audiences, musicians and lovers of the music, and of the moon’s moody atmosphere.

It became a slice of local jazz history as he hosted chamber jazz events, like one jam featuring then-budding jazz musicians (left to right, below), now-internationally known pianist David Hazeltine (standing, left), and two of his Wisconsin Conservatory students Mark Davis and John Foshager.

For me, and many others, Cuzner oversaw a quietly great era for The Music, as the city’s nocturnal jazz spirit. At 6 a.m., he’d sign off the air with the sun-rising music of Don Shirley. If you weren’t in blissful slumber, all felt right with the world.

If you don’t believe me, or put “trust” in Cuzner because he had trust in you, to have the best of good nights, as in this stylish evening bon mot:

Perhaps Milwaukee’s most renowned contemporary jazz musician, multiple Grammy-winner Brian Lynch (above), frequented Cuzner’s Jazz Cellar back in the day.

Cuzner also drew a hip and sporty crowd, like former MU basketball great, Bo Ellis,(below).

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1 Mark Davis is now a distinguished Milwaukee jazz pianist and director of the Milwaukee Jazz Institute.

All photographs by and courtesy of Charles Queen. 

Maria Schneider strives to slay data dragons and earns two Grammies

Composer-arranger-bandleader Maria Schneider won two Grammy Awards for her album “Data Lords.” Courtesy the artsdesk.com

All praise Maria Schneider and her larger-than-life, intrepid orchestra! She just won two Grammy Awards for best instrumental composition (“Sputnik”) and best large ensemble recording, for Data Lords. Like a goddess sprouting heavy new wings, Schneider brilliantly ventured far beyond her comfort zone of nature-inspired jazz impressionism, in the Gil Evans tradition: Schneider Grammy announcement

Despite her clear and proud roots, Data Lords affirms her genius as a true original and her prominent place in jazz history. I never actually reviewed this album partly because I’ve given her so much blog and newspaper play over the years and I reviewed in-depth a live concert she performed while unveiling some of Data Lords material, before the album’s release.

Data Lords album cover

I chose Data Lords as my No. 2 album of the year in the NPR jazz critics poll largely because, to me, my top choice, Gregg August’s Dialogues on Race, was too urgently relevant in light of last year’s world-wide racial-justice protests. August’s large ensemble album also carried massive musical weight on its own.

But Schneider’s every statement now virtually demands critical attention, not unlike John Coltrane and Miles Davis, avatars of the post-bop era. Data Lords revealed the fire, indignation and backbone of the music’s leading composer-arranger, fully wielding her past mastery of scoring for jazz orchestra, like a woman warrior leading troops. And, yes, Delacroix’s famous romantic painting “Liberty Leading the People,” comes to mind. And no album had more great music in 2020 than hers. As an artist who records on a self-created label (ArtistShare) and distributes independently, 1 she’s not only a self-made artist but extremely attuned to the role of “data lords,” the gigantic online media companies (Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) that play a grossly outsize role in how we pursue and receive information on the Internet, and spend our money on cultural products or activity. In other words, Schneider asserts that they virtually lord over our lives because so many of us are now dominated by our involvement in online media.

The Grammy-winning composition “Sputnik” is part of the “protest” side of this two-CD recording, yet it retains the depth of textured and spiritual beauty that trademark her best work, while evoking a profound sense of angst and desolation. By nominally invoking a famous space travel vehicle, it suggests that we may need to travel to new realms far from “home” to regain truth, self-determination, sanity, freedom and societal-coherence – not overseen by the data lords. Here too, an allusion to the Underground Railroad and slavery hovers in the stratosphere. I suggest this not to equate the two, but to honor the cultural pervasiveness of that darkest chapter in this nation’s history.

Such elevated praise might indicate that this is The Maria Schneider Show with musician munchkins. But she chooses her world-class players with Ellingtonian acumen (here, among others, Donny McCaslin, Rich Perry, Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson, Ryan Keberle, Gary Versace, Ben Monder, and the late Frank Kimbrough) and gives them many extended spotlights, which helps expand this to two discs, and there’s hardly a moment of seeming filler.

And Schneider rewards listeners for the facing the sometimes-dissonant challenges of the first CD, “The Digital World,” by reminding us of what she is fighting for, in “Our Natural World,” the gloriously beautiful second disc. Another implication, in these juxtaposed titles, is that data lords’ dominance affects our overall priorities and collective consciousness, perhaps to the detriment of addressing climate change, and the perils to the natural world.

Great art like Schneider’s does its extraordinary work on its own terms, while reaching out to us, to some degree. The cultural covenant is completed when we respond as we will, which that art itself is not responsible for, and yet which reflects its sometimes-uncanny powers of evocation, provocation, and communication.

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  1. Thanks to Ann Braithwaite and her staff, of Braithwaite & Katz Communications for their superb, dedicated promotion of Schneider, and many other independent artists and labels over many years.

 

A participating writer catches up with the 2020 NPR Jazz Critics Poll

Maria Schneider conducts her jazz orchestra live at the Jazz Standard in New York. Photo by Dina Regine. Courtesy steptempest.org

My posting of National Public Radio’s Jazz Critics Poll for 2020 is belated partly because my Facebook page was in techno limbo for so long, and the various vagaries of life in a pandemic, and being 65-plus with asthma. Good news, I got my first vaccine this week, and my daily rhythms seem closer to normal. Maybe that’s good or not — disruption that leads to new inlets of creativity, productivity and health should also be considered. I’m still working out that tricky balance.

Anyway, I contributed to the NPR Critics Poll again, and the consensus choice for album of the year, Maria Schneider’s Data Lords, was my Number 2 choice. I heard her play some of that arrestingly layered and signifying music live a couple years ago at the Elmhurst Jazz Festival, and she’s clearly a major artist who’s still evolving with the times, and her own complex muse. The high concept album addresses the ways that huge electronic media companies have transformed our lives and ways of thinking and communicating, for better and worse.

Beyond that, none of the top ten consensus choices were among mine. Some of my choices made the consensus top 50. My choices depended partly on what I’ve heard versus other critics.

Here’s Francis Davis’s lead story on the 2020 Jazz Poll and the consensus top 50 albums: 2020 NPR Jazz Critics Poll

And here’s my Top 10 list, at NPR’s website, along with the other critics’ lists: Kevin Lynch’s NPR Poll

(The Shepherd Express, No DepressionCulture Currents)

And here’s my list below:

The album cover for “Dialogues on Race: Vol. 1”

NEW RELEASES

  1. Gregg August, Dialogues on Race: Volume One (Iacuessa)
  2. Maria Schneider Orchestra, Data Lords (ArtistShare)
  3. SFJazz Collective, Live: SFJazz Center 2019: 50th Anniversary: Miles Davis In a Silent Way and Sly & the Family Stone Stand! (SFJazz)
  4. Adam Kolker, Lost (Sunnyside)
  5. Artemis, Artemis (Blue Note)
  6. Greg Reitan, West 60th (Sunnyside)
  7. Lynne Arriale Trio, Chimes of Freedom (Challenge)
  8. Weird Turn Pro, Maul and Mezcal (Weird Turn Pro)
  9. Dayna Stephens, Right Now! Live at the Village Vanguard (Contagious Music)
  10. Dave Douglas, Marching Music (Greenleaf Music)

REISSUES/HISTORICAL

  1. Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto (1968, Impulse)
  2. Edward Simon, 25 Years (1995-2018, Ridgeway)
  3. Pharoah Sanders, Live in Paris 1975: Lost ORTF Recordings (Transversales Disque)

VOCAL

  • Kurt Elling, Secrets Are the Best Stories (Edition)

DEBUT

  • Emi Makabe, Anniversary (Greenleaf Music)

LATIN

  • Poncho Sanchez, Trane’s Delight (Concord Picante -19)

I believe my top choice, bassist-composer Gregg August’s astonishingly powerful and provocative Dialogues on Race, Vol. 1, should’ve rated much higher than 33 on the critics’ list. However, Dialogues has been nominated for a Grammy Award, a worthy honor. My rather outlier top-ten picks overall suggest to me that distribution of albums, especially indie-produced ones like this one, can be spotty, and that there appears to be too few of the 148 participating jazz journalists in the heartland area (Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa), though Chicago, of course, is well-represented. One’s locale, if not itinerant, determines sensibility to some degree, I believe. I’m Milwaukee-based with a strong Madison history, as well.

So I’m really glad that Madison friend and Strictly Jazz Sounds DJ Steve Braunginn included August’s Dialogues in his February 25th Black History Month radio program on Madison’s WORT, 89.9 FM, Here’s a link to the show’s announcement, and to the audio archives you can use to get to Steve’s Feb. 25th show:

Black History Month Pt. 2 on Strictly Jazz Sounds

That station’s Monday-through-Thursday afternoon jazz programming is the most consistent source of exposure of recorded jazz in Wisconsin (Braunginn alternates weeks of the Thursday 2 to 5 p.m. shift of Strictly Jazz Sounds with Jane Reynolds).

That’s not to minimize Dr. Sushi’s Free Jazz Barbecue from 9 a.m. to 12 noon Tuesdays on WMSE, 91.7 FM in Milwaukee. I’ve done a fair share of jazz radio programing in the past, so I’m sensitive to its role, especially in this era of online access to recorded music. I’m deeply grateful to these dedicated radio folks, including WORT’s Alexander Wilding-White (Mondays), and John Kraniak (Saturday morning). Research shows that radio remains a very popular medium, despite the the explosion of online media.

Nevertheless, Milwaukee misses longtime jazz DJ stalwarts Ron Cuzner, Howard Austin, Gene Johnson and others, and Madison misses Michael Hanson and Gary Alderman.

I did review a few of my Top Ten albums this year, Here’s my take on Gregg August’s Dialogue on Race:

Gregg August’s “Dialogues on Race” is jazz facing up to racial history and present

And Adam Kolker’s Lost:

Saxophonist Adam Kolker travels in the long shadows of Wayne Shorter

And Lynne Arriale’s Chimes of Freedom:

Jazz pianist Lynne Arriale’s “Chimes of Freedom” testifies to forsaken humanity

Perhaps I should be using this post to expand on my other poll choices. But you readers make your decisions on purchasing recordings most of all by hearing music, which my music writing strives to get you to do. And this poll is facilitated by the nation’s public radio network, which does fair justice to jazz elsewhere, in some of its interview features and jazz album reviews, though not much actual jazz music programming.

So I recommend listening to NPR, the aforementioned local jazz radio programs, as well as accessing recommended music samples online. If you’re interested in the programming and live beyond either WORT or WMSE’s relatively small Wisconsin broadcast range, the shows are streamable.

If anyone is curious beyond the three reviews above about the whys of my poll choices, I’d be happy to expand on them in a Facebook message or, preferably, an e-mail. I’m at kelynchmi@gmail.com. (Unfortunately, I need to fix this blog’s out-of-commission “comments” section below — apologies.)

A blog reflects a writer’s mood and mine today contemplates the connection between sonic media and The Music.

To that end, I will end by at least giving you a sample or two here:

From Gregg August’s Dialogues on Race, Vol 1: “A Wreath for Emmett Till” 

From Lynne Arriale’s  Chimes of Freedom: “Chimes of Freedom”

The Lynne Arriale Trio (drummer E.J. Strickland, left, and bassist/co-producer Jasper Somsen, right) recording “Chimes of Freedom.” 

I’m a bit biased towards jazz with a social conscious. I think much of authentic instrumental jazz does have that, at least implicitly, as I explore in my forthcoming book (I promise!) Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy. But these two pieces, with texts by Marilyn Nelson (“Wreath”), and the astonishing lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes” make that case more obviously. Dylan’s lines refract with a poetic density of images, but with clear pay-off kicker lines. It’s a lyric that, I believe, traverses the political spectrum. I mean, it’s the chimes of freedom, for a vast array of characters. Listen, think and feel.

It’s worth searching out the full lyrics of one of Dylan’s greatest opuses. Arriale’s version, sung by K.J. Denhert and beautiful as it is, only presents three of the six verses.

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