Tis the season! It seems like everyone is coming up mistletoe in the last little while. The number of Christmas recordings istaggering. New offerings from the Marsalis camp, with Marcus Roberts, Ellis Marsalis and Wynton having Christmas records, along with the more openly liberal Geri Allen, Matt Wilson, and John Zorn showing their cheer. I don’t know why all of these people are doing this, perhaps the records are actually selling?
In both sides of my family there is a stone cold belief that if you have the Bing Crobsy record, that’s all you need. I don’t know why my Dutch half needs to hear “Christmas in Killarney” and Mele Kelikimaka every year, but I guess the dates match up with my grandparents. I can’t believe that these records are really flying off the shelves(other than Wynton of course), and as one artist told me at their Christmas concert, “I never thought I would be playing Christmas tunes unless I got paid a LOT of money”. But I guess there is some draw for these musicians. Even the most avant garde hardcore musicians must feel some nostalgia, I guess.
I hope that Geri, Marcus, and crew aren’t just reading sales charts. Christmas music is genuine standard-like material(“Santa Clause is Coming to Town” was written by Haven Gillespie, the same guy that wrote “You Go to My Head” and “Beautiful Love”), I find, and there seems to have been a couple generations without definitive Christmas music. The 40s had Nat King Cole, the 50s had Oscar, the 60s had Ella(which has a high play count in NYC, I’m finding), but then as far as Jazz goes, you’re stuck with squinting your eyes and re-listening to different versions of Trane doing “My Favorite Things” or “Greensleeves”, Thad doing “A Child Is Born”(which is about his son, not Jesus…), or Paul Bley inexplicably doing a slightly re-harmed “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” with Blakey and Mingus. There’s also Ellington doing Tchaickovsky, of course. There are also some Motown-ish things around, Donnie Hathaway and such, but the elf in me is a little sad about the lack of Christmas AACM or Archie Schepp Christmas records. I don’t even think there is a badass fusion Christmas record around, is there? I really don’t want my Generation to be defined by Connick, thank you.
My first Christmas concert then, was a merry one. Jacob Sacks usually incognito Saloon Band, a sextet with two double quartets embedded within it. It was a microtonal band at Ohad Talmor’sSEEDS. One of the quartets was Jacob’s left hand, Dan Cords on tenor, Geoff Kraly on electric bass, and Vinnie Sperazza on drums, tuned to 440 and Jacob’s right hand, Mike McGinnis on tenor, and Eivind Opsvik on acoustic bass(with Vinnie filling out the quartet), at 454 or something, so a quarter tone apart(I may have the groups wrong, sorry Jacob). All this complete with Toronto expat Yoon Sun Choi singing in between it. For the record, if someone ever tells me to sing in the middle of a quartertone double trio at gunpoint, I’ll take the bullet.
The show was definitely in good humor, a mix of Jacob originals and Christmas classics. I think that since the point of Christmas music is to give Christmas cheer, good humor is always desirable. All the good Christmas Jazz I’ve known is certainly humorous. There was a particularly rousing version of Carol of the bells with the canon gone off the rails, and the “Christmas Potpourri”, a composition that imagines the listener in the middle of a shopping mall, able to hear every Christmas jingle coming out of every store(in quartertones, remember…). My favorite was Silent Night, a duo between Geoff and Eivind, two basses playing just the melody, nuanced in duet(a quarter tone off). It was beautiful and hilarious at once. There is definitely not enough humor in this music anymore.
Musically, it’s a shame, but although the players being tuned differently greatly affected the music, one of the piano’s wasn’t loud enough, so the effect of Jacob playing quartertone-bitonally was lost from where I was sitting. However, the gig came with a promise that this band would be seen more and more in the near future. This band has officially come out of its planning stage and is now in attack mode. A recording soon, hopefully?
The players impressed me to no end. People from Jacob’s scene all seem to have their instruments and history together; at this gig, Dan and Mike(who I hadn’t heard) impressed me the most. You could hear that they’d done their homework, but also of course that they sounded like no one. What surprised me was their mastery of altissimo and overblowing. Both had both techniques totally in the bag, but each player was a foil to the other. I’m beginning to think that that is a hallmark of Jacob’s orchestration, as Mike and Dan mirror Jacob Garchik and Ben Gerstein in his Quintet.
The vibe at SEEDS (which is a fancy name for Ohad’s Living room, a harkening back to traditional Carnatic performance practice) was great. Since there is an adjoining kitchen, Jacob served homemade gingerbread and chocolate/jam fingerprint cookies along with from eggnog with bourbon. A good community vibe, which I am continually glad to see among that group of people. That is one of my favorite parts of Jazz, and one that I haven’t really experienced alongside the music. It’s always apart from the music everywhere I’ve experienced it.
Another post coming tonight, I’m a bit behind with the holiday rush.
“Drink some more Knob Creek, it helps with the quarter tones”
—Jacob, trying to prepare me for the show.