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  Cutting Edge Jazz  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

         December 2004:

      I’ve recently been listening to a 1961 Japanese bootleg recording of drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers that features trumpeter Lee Morgan screaming at the top of his horn and Wayne Shorter burning on tenor saxophone.  No one else had ever played the music jazz legend Blakey’s band played that one night.  When pianist Thelonious Monk and tenor saxophonist Trane were performing at The Five Spot Cafe, and when alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman was gigging at the Café Bohemia in New York City in the 1950s and early 1960s, the music they were playing was entirely new.  Bassist Charlie Haden looked up during a solo of his, and in the club watching the Coleman band's performance were star bassists Charles Mingus, Wilbur Ware, and Paul Chambers, and all three jazz legends were in fact watching Ornette's trio doing something completely groundbreaking.  Check out tenor saxophonist Gato Babieri’s multiphonics on trumpet Don Cherry’s classic 1960s Blue Note album Complete Communion…no one had ever combined that blasting noise with swinging riffs prior to that recording. 

       Today, what the Bad Plus and Medeski Martin & Wood (as well as John Zorn's Masada) are doing is unprecedented.  For new sounds, one must go no further than Organic Grooves' remix of free jazz bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake duo on Black Cherry.  Paris-based saxophonist David Murray’s bands with Panamanian bassist Santi Debriano and the Coltrane Octet provide fresh new arrangements of compositions that people once thought would never make it out of the 20th century. 

       50 years ago, in Toronto, the jazz quintet of Bird, Diz, Powell, Mingus, and Roach played a night of perfect music.  When at the LaGuardia Airport in New York City before departing for this famous concert, Bird and Diz had a long talk about the new music, one I wish were recorded.  Check out the ‘Bird Lives!’ photo (with Monk, Mingus, and Roach) for inspiration.  Back to today, tenor saxophonist James Carter embraces the classic jazz sounds of Chu Berry while making new sounds on his albums and avant-garde tenor man  David S. Ware plays like both Ben Webster and Albert Ayler on pianist Cecil Taylor’s completely original Dark To Themselves, recorded live in Europe during the 1970s.  Listen to the younger avant-garde pianist Matthew Shipp’s album Flow of Y from the 1990s if you want to hear cutting edge jazz (when in college at the University of Delaware, Shipp had to take incompletes in classes because he was too busy working on this musical style night and day).  Matthew Shipp (whose Mom was a friend of trumpeter Clifford Brown) and fellow free jazz bassist William Parker also embrace the past in their rendition of Gershwin’s Summertime (on their duo album titled Zo), yet they look to the future in their conception of creative music.

       The first night drummer Elvin Jones started playing with John Coltrane’s band his music was so loud that you could hear it from the street -- he was paving the way for the shape of jazz to come.  A decade earlier, be-bop pianist Elmo Hope was writing compositions for the Blue Note label with an entrepreneurial spirit unlike no other jazz musician since Duke Ellington.  All of these artists are participants in an endeavor that is completely distinct and unlike any other art form in our cultural history.  I hope to become a promoter of this great music, maybe 21st century jazz’s George Wein.