Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing (11/9/14)

If you’re into the jazz scene at all, you’ll probably have read something recently about Mostly Other People Do the Killing‘s brand new album, “Blue.” There has been a good deal of controversy surrounding the release, most of which I feel is silly, but I have really enjoyed contemplating some of the questions raised in the process. The concept of the album is that they decided to recreate, note-for-note, as closely as possible, the iconic 1959 jazz album “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Some critics and fans seemed to be kind of upset about it, which I find amusing. How upset can you really be at a piece of instrumental music these days?

I find it fascinating in a sort of performance-art way: they managed to closely recreate one of the most iconic jazz albums in the world, but since they removed all aspects of improvisation in the performance – turning it into a piece of music where every intonation and grace note is on the sheet music – it is, in some way, no longer jazz, since most people consider improvisation one of the core principles of jazz. It’s a very strange thing to do, and also kind of pointless, because how many fans are really going to buy an identical copy of an album they either already own or never wanted in the first place? (I assume the number of MOPDtK fans who don’t own “Kind of Blue” because they’ve never heard it are vanishingly small…) It is worth mentioning that all profits from the album are being donated to charity, so at least critics of the concept can’t accuse MOPDtK of trying to profit off of cultural appropriation, yadda yadda yadda.

But I think it is highly successful as a piece of modern art, because it makes you think about all sorts of big philosophical arty questions. I mean, I haven’t even HEARD the album and it has that effect, that’s pretty amazing. It’s probably somehow very meta that I downloaded a review copy and never got around to listening to it. But you can listen to a track here if you can get over all of the existential angst involved: (more…)

Concert review: Winter Jazzfest Marathon (Jan. 10-11, 2014)

This weekend I attended both days of the Winter Jazzfest marathon in Greenwich Village. It’s a festival that has a unique appeal to those of us who are particularly manic about concerts; it’s basically an all-you-can-eat buffet of live music held in a bunch of venues in Greenwich Village. For one relatively low price you can run around and hear as many bands as you can stuff in your ears in the time allotted. Most sets were 45 minutes with a few double-length sets here and there. (I took it relatively easy and caught eleven ensembles plus the “round robin” duo improvisation set.)

This year was the tenth anniversary of Winter Jazzfest and featured a huge amount of bands (more than ninety). It was, of course, impossible to see them all, and there were some tough decisions to be made. We’d been warned by friends about previous years having long lines and big crowds at some venues, so we simplified our schedule a bit and tried to do multiple sets in the same venues as much as we could (without sacrificing the bands we most wanted to see). I spent most of my time in the NYU Law venue and the Judson Memorial Church, which was a pretty cool-looking room:

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(That’s Ches Smith on the left and Shahzad Ismaily on the right, during Ceramic Dog’s late-night Saturday set.)

The funny thing was that after I simplified things and tried to make my schedule less ambitious, I somehow ended up seeing (more…)