Vertical Search: Recent Work for NPR

Charles Lloyd with Phil Schaap

My editors at NPR have kept me busy this summer. I’ve done obit/appreciations of Phil Schaap and Jemeel Moondoc in the past week, and a couple of months ago I wrote on the renaissance of Don and Moki Cherry. Links below

On Phil Schaap

On Jemeel Moondoc

And on the Cherrys

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At WSJ on The Complete Lee Morgan Live at the Lighthouse

‘The Complete Live at The Lighthouse’ by Lee Morgan Review: A Beacon Gone Dark

The eight-CD/12-LP collection from Blue Note reveals the artistic growth and evolving musical ideas of the gifted trumpeter, who died at age 33.


By Martin JohnsonAug. 17, 2021 2:18 pm ETSAVEPRINTTEXT6Listen to articleLength5 minutesQueue

Trumpeter Lee Morgan’s life in music has been overshadowed by the circumstances of his death—at age 33, in 1972, after his common-law wife shot him outside a downtown Manhattan jazz club. But Morgan was still a teenager when jazz giants Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey recruited him to join their bands, and he later played in the great 1959-61 edition of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He had a hit, “The Sidewinder,” that made the pop charts in 1964, and it was used as theme music for television shows and commercials. In addition, he fought for the inclusion of jazz musicians in TV talk-show bands and for recognition of the genre in academic curricula.

Yet tribute recordings devoted to Morgan are few and far between, and Kasper Collin’s 2016 film, “I Called Him Morgan,” dwelt as much on his killer as it did on the trumpeter. This long neglect may now change with the release of “The Complete Live at The Lighthouse” (Blue Note), an eight-CD/12-LP collection of the music from Morgan’s only official live recording. Drawn from 12 sets of music performed in July 1970 at a storied Hermosa Beach, Calif., club with one of Morgan’s last working bands, the concerts were originally issued as a two-LP set in 1971 and then as three CDs in 1996. The new collection features more than four hours of previously unreleased music and showcases Morgan’s evolving sound and the band’s solidifying chemistry.

A Morgan solo always made you sit up and take notice. Dramatic, dynamic and ambitious, his tone was big and brash on finger-popping, uptempo numbers, yet warm and tender on ballads. Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas wrote to me in an email about Morgan, “ Horace Silver pointed out to me the supreme hipness of Lee Morgan’s voice, not what he plays over one chord, but how he gets from one to the next.” Morgan was always willing to take risks, bending notes and adding variations to the themes. There was an urgency to his music.


In the years following “The Sidewinder,” Morgan continued to make stellar recordings, most built either on the cool grooves of “The Sidewinder” or on the Blakey sound. But one album, “Search for the New Land” (Blue Note, 1966), showed another side emerging. It presented extended compositions and a probing, introspective side of the trumpeter. On the “Lighthouse” sides, Morgan mixes all three of these styles effectively. His band—which included reedman Bennie Maupin, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Jymie Merritt and drummer Mickey Roker —played nightly sets at the venue for a week and a half before the recording began, so the musicians had an unusually high level of rapport with each other and a comfort with the acoustics of the venue. (Even weeklong engagements are now considered long.)

The rendition of “The Sidewinder” on “The Complete Live at The Lighthouse” sounds more exuberant than obligatory, and it feels like a gleeful nod to the ’60s, while much of the other material points to the future. Led by Roker’s frenetic drumming, Mabern’s “The Beehive” roars with intensity and gusto, and it bridges the gap between the hard bop of the ’60s and the longer solos and more open structures that were a trademark of some ’70s jazz. Mr. Maupin’s contributions to the repertoire, especially “416 East 10th Street” and “Neophilia,” also present a wide-open sound. There are three versions of the latter composition, one from each of the three nights of the recording, and the solos grow in intensity. Merritt’s “Nommo” would soon become a signature for the Max Roach Quartet, a band that typified the ’70s post-bop style, and his “Absolutions,” a rarity, spotlights the band’s tight interplay. Morgan’s brief career was slowed by addiction, and he didn’t shy away from his past. The band used his composition “Speedball,” which is also a blend of heroin and cocaine, as an outro theme, but one of the highlights of the box is a full-length rendition featuring drummer Jack DeJohnette. His playing is looser than Roker’s and it pushes the band in many directions.

Hits like “The Sidewinder” notwithstanding, jazz lost a chunk of its audience in the ’60s, and by 1970, the genre was also in the throes of seismic change—with both jazz-rock fusion and the avant garde establishing a substantial presence in the genre’s mainstream. Morgan was busy adding elements of these innovations to his sound. He went into the studio only once more before his death and on those recordings, which were posthumously released as “The Last Session” (Blue Note, 1972), he smartly included elements of jazz funk without losing his signature style. It’s this adaptability that often gets lost in the conventional telling of Morgan’s life. He’s on the short list of greatest trumpeters in jazz because of his brilliance in hard bop and groove-oriented styles, but the “Lighthouse” recordings show his artistic growth and hint at a very promising future that was tragically cut short. This music makes the loss that much more acute.

—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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At WSJ on Maya Beiser x Philip Glass

I played cello until I was 14 and then gave it up in fit of teen angst. If there were performers like Beiser around then, I might have been inspired to continue.

‘Maya Beiser x Philip Glass’ Review: Reforging Minimalism

A cellist’s rendition of eight works by the influential avant-garde composer is enhanced by her use of multitracking and dimensional tone.


By Martin JohnsonJuly 23, 2021 5:26 pm ET

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In 2011, during her TED Talk “A Cello With Many Voices,” virtuoso cellist Maya Beiser discussed growing up on a kibbutz in northern Israel and how, as she practiced masterworks by Bach, she would hear the sound of Muslim prayers drifting over from a neighboring Arab village. Ms. Beiser has become well-known for a remarkably diverse repertoire, ranging from Bach and Beethoven to Howlin’ Wolf and David Bowie, but the unifying aspect of her work is her devotional and direct tone. Decades into her career, it’s easy to imagine her accompanying those prayers she overheard as a girl.

That tone is a highlight of her new recording, “Maya Beiser x Philip Glass” (Islandia), a collection of eight pieces by the composer renowned for such modern classics as “Einstein on the Beach,” “Satyagraha” and the soundtracks to director Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy—“Koyaanisqatsi” (1983), “Powaqqatsi” (1988) and “Naqoyqatsi” (2002)—films that meditate on the havoc an obsession with technology can wreak on the Earth. But Ms. Beiser is no technophobe. Far from it.

She began working with loops and additional tracking in October 2003 for a performance of Steve Reich’s “Cello Counterpoint” at Carnegie Hall, and she has made the technique a focal point of her arsenal, successfully applying it to both popular and classical repertoire. Her approach is revolutionizing the way classical compositions are performed. In the past decade, Max Richter has utilized similar techniques in the works of Vivaldi, and Olafur Arnalds and Alice Sara Ott have engaged the repertoire of Chopin in a similar fashion. Composer and cellist Zoë Keating has created and performed stellar works using electronic effects.

Ms. Beiser’s new 65-minute album begins with two of Mr. Glass’s renowned “Etudes,” which the composer began writing for solo piano in the ’90s after many years of performing with his ensemble and mounting larger-scale works. Her multitracked presentation of the gently meditative “Etude No. 5” and the gracefully refined “Etude No. 2” transforms them into a dialogue between the notes and their pianistic resonance without losing any of the intimate atmosphere.

“Mad Rush” follows; the piece, written on and for the organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to be played during the Dalai Lama’s first North American appearance in 1979, was later adapted for piano and used in the 2016 film “The Last Dalai Lama.” Ms. Beiser’s approach deftly highlights the shimmering layers and undulating arpeggios that are among the defining characteristics of Mr. Glass’s work

Composed in 1969, “Music in Similar Motion” is characteristic of Minimalism, the style for which Mr. Glass and Mr. Reich became the public faces. It’s a series of repeated phrases, each starting a fourth above the previous one. Ms. Beiser presents a furious rendition of the work, highlighted by a rugged tone and augmented by the reverberations of her instrument and occasional percussion sounds made with it.

In 2005, Mr. Glass invited Ms. Beiser to tour with his Philip Glass Ensemble for a series of concerts where music from “Naqoyqatsi” was performed; the final four pieces on the new recording are from that work. Each composition—the title track, “Massman,” “New World” and “Old World”—was written with orchestral detail in mind. On the first of these four, Ms. Beiser’s multitracked cellos create a lush backing that contrasts with the sweeter sound of her lead lines. It’s more pointed and direct than on the film soundtrack, which featured a softly swelling backing and a more reserved cello lead from Yo-Yo Ma. Ms. Beiser’s take on “Massman” is more concise in presentation and more consistent in tone than the original. “New World” is transformed with a call and response between a hopeful solo cello and a menacing, seemingly skeptical backing. “Old World” is faithful to the film score, with Ms. Beiser’s cello conveying a wariness toward the times ahead quite unlike her real-world embrace of the future and its technology.

In a recent email exchange, Ms. Beiser wrote that she was inspired by multitracking from two disparate sources: the work of composers like Mr. Reich and a recording she may have first heard growing up, Bill Evans’s “Conversations With Myself” (Verve, 1963), a collection of works where the famed pianist plays along with pre-recorded versions of himself. Fittingly, during her TED talk, Ms. Beiser said, “The excitement from multitracking comes from the attempt to build and create a whole universe with many diverse layers, all generated from a single source. . . . I want to create endless possibilities with this cello.”

—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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From the DEEP Archives: in 2003 at WSJ on Marvin Gaye’s often underappreciated 70s Classic, I Want You.

Recently I was in a great Twitter thread on favorite records of 1976. The stellar critic Mark Richardson chose Gaye’s I Want You. I mentioned that I’d written about it for WSJ years earlier. His enthusiasm led me to bug my editor to dig it out of the archives.

I usually HATE reading my old work. I cringe at the sections that deserved a little more polish. I kind of like this.

Wounded Soul, Healing Heart

By Martin JohnsonAug. 19, 2003 12:01 am ET

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Marvin Gaye is widely recognized as one of the greatest soul singers, yet until now one of the most intriguing and creative phases of his career had gone neglected.

Universal Records, which now owns the Motown and Tamla imprints that recorded Mr. Gaye, is in the midst of an extraordinary reissue program that focuses on many overlooked soul gems of the ’70s. They’ve improved the sound from previous CD reissues, and included alternate and live footage of the music. Recently, they released Mr. Gaye’s 1976 “I Want You” in a two-disc set that includes voluminous notes and features alternative versions of key tracks.

Mr. Gaye, who died in 1984, is renowned as one of the premiere voices at Motown Records during the ’60s, when the label produced a seemingly endless succession of hit singles. His voice captured both the debonair elegance of his idols — Sam Cooke, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra — as well as the bluesy grit of Otis Redding. Mr. Gaye’s rendition of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” in which his voice rises from smoldering umbrage to naked outrage over a lover’s indiscreet plans, ranks as one of the legendary imprint’s finest moments. In 1971, after a bitter dispute over artistic control with the head of Motown, Berry Gordy, the singer released “What’s Going On,” a probing suite of songs that chronicled his dismay over the demise of optimism in the black community.

Unfortunately, the singer’s career after that landmark recording has often been reduced to three sultry hit singles, “Let’s Get It On,” “Got to Give It Up” and “Sexual Healing.” However, Mr. Gaye maintained a busy recording schedule in his final decade, and several of his albums featured the same depth that highlighted “What’s Going On.” He turned his focus inward, discussing the emotional anomie of divorce and the fragile hope of love on the rebound.

“I Want You” leads with the title track, which sets the mood for the program to follow. The sound is broad and deep. During the minute-long intro, horn ostinatos arrive and fade. Then a guitar plays a short solo before Gaye’s voice enters singing a pained ode to desire. Mr. Gaye dedicated the recording to Janis, his second wife, and it’s easy to hear in his voice the lingering pain of his divorce (a subject he would revisit in blistering detail on his next recording, “Here, My Dear”) and the tentative steps he was taking toward trusting his emotions and pursuing a relationship again. Rather than detail a game plan for seduction, the norm for an R&B love song, “I Want You” obsesses with commitment; he agonizingly pleads, “don’t play with something that should be cherished for a life,” while the guitar offers a tangle of notes underneath his voice. It’s a love song for those who can no longer buy into the traditional fairy tale of romantic bliss.

The recording maintains that intimate tone through its 11 tracks; the dense layers of sound add to the mood as Mr. Gaye sings lyrics of courtship and budding romance. The music on the recording straddles jazz funk and a restrained variant of disco.

The second disc makes for fascinating listening. There is a poignant mix of the title track with just vocals and percussion. To today’s ears, the instrumental version of “After the Dance” is far more commercial than the original; the lead flute lines make it suitable for smooth jazz and quiet storm radio formats, neither of which existed then. Other songs like “Come Live With Me Angel” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are” feature a more confident, less fragile vocal narrative by Mr. Gaye. In addition to these tracks there are several that reveal the evolution of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s complex horn and string arrangements.

We don’t know for sure how each version was chosen, but the liner notes imply that after the success of “What’s Going On,” released over Mr. Gordy’s objections, the label head trusted Mr. Gaye’s judgment. Mr. Gaye’s next recording, “Here, My Dear,” didn’t sell well and Mr. Gordy reasserted himself in the recording process of “In Our Lifetime,” which renewed the rift between the men and resulted in Mr. Gaye leaving the label.

“It was an uncanny collaboration,” said Leon Ware, who produced the recording and wrote the lyrics with revisions from Mr. Gaye. “We both wanted to create music that dealt with more than lust in the moment,” he said in an interview. “We’re both sensualists and wanted to present the spiritual side of romance.” Mr. Ware had worked with many Motown artists as well as Quincy Jones before Mr. Gaye. He was finishing his own disc, “Musical Massage” (also just reissued), when he presented “I Want You” to Mr. Gordy — thinking that the material might be used by Diana Ross’s brother, T-Boy. Instead, the label head felt that the songs would be ideal for Mr. Gaye.

“I Want You” highlighted an era of unique creativity among R&B performers, as artists such as Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, Isaac Hayes and Stevie Wonder produced album-long meditations on urban life and its vagaries. While that era faded with the emergence of disco, its influence lingers in the bohemian soul movement of the mid-1990s, lifting such artists as Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo to fame and chart-topping sales.

Mr. Johnson last wrote for the Journal on violinist Regina Carter.

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Catching Up 08/15/21

It’s been a busy summer. Seven weeks ago, I moved from Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn to Sugar Hill in Manhattan. The emblematic moment of the year happened during the move. My inbox was already full and in the Uber on the FDR chasing the van with all of my possessions, I was enmeshed in thought trying to figure out how I should squeeze unpacking with all of these deadlines. My phone buzzed; it was another assignment and a friend asking me to blurb his book.

Such good problems to have.

Anyway, Ta-Nehisi Coates often says that desperation produced his best writing. I’m the opposite, lack of desperation correlates to my best work. Part of that is that my most recent phase of desperation lasted so long that a bullhorn looping “you fucking failure” lodged in head. I found it hard–not impossible but very hard–to quiet my mind enough to write with clarity, precision and purpose. At least for the moment, I’ve left that bullhorn on the other side of the East River. Consider it a Marie Kondo maneuver.

Anyway, some of the writing I did around the time of my move has been published and is shareable. Some of it was for the Wall Street Journal, which means I can share it here 30 days after publication. And some of it hasn’t run yet. Here’s what’s out there.

For 37 years, I’ve been a music journalist and for 37 years, I’ve been a NYC specialty food professional. All of the places I’ve worked have music in the background. I’ve always had thoughts about those sounds, and recently I wrote about them.

NPR asked me to do a piece on Don and Moki Cherry, two late, great artists who are having a summer/autumn revival of sorts.

There’s more to come from publications and I’m using my newly cleared bandwidth to resume blogging. My blog about life in retail, The Geoffrey Owens Experience hit a snag as things took a negative turn at the store and I wasn’t sure how much of that I should share. The Gender Dtox Chronicles has suffered even more as I just haven’t had time to update it much, but I have a solution in the works. I’m starting a sub-blog there called Put a Skirt on Him is a Compliment, which will debut later this summer.

Meanwhile, Sugar Hill reminds me a lot of a Manhattan version of Prospect Lefferts Gardens

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At WSJ on Another Land by Dave Holland

It isn’t often that I’m happy with a piece from the moment I finish the draft until the time I see it in print, but my happiness with this one went coast to coast. My editors dug it too.

‘Another Land’ by Dave Holland Review: Songs for a Summer Afternoon

The jazz bassist reunites with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire on an easygoing album.

Jazz bassist Dave HollandPHOTO: RALF DOMBROWSKI

By Martin JohnsonMay 22, 2021 7:00 am ET

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Dave Holland is one of jazz’s leading bassists, and he has made dozens of superb recordings; most of them, usually in quartet, quintet or big band settings, present exuberant and vivacious music. On his new album, “Another Land” (Edition, May 28 release), he showcases a more intimate approach. His previous ensembles were often among the elite, and for good reason—they combined an old-school approach to structure (a rhythm section with big interlocking pieces) with of-the-moment solos propelled by a sense of harmonic freedom. “Another Land” features a trio and puts these values to work in a more discreet way.

It reunites Mr. Holland with guitarist Kevin Eubanks, who played on two of the bassist’s best recordings, “Extensions” (ECM, 1990) and Prism (Dare2, 2013). The two have a seemingly intuitive connection in moving between and within different grooves and styles, and that forms the foundation of this trio; veteran drummer Obed Calvaire offers concise accents and gentle thrust to the music. The three musicians have toured together from time to time, creating memorable performances. The trio’s week at the Village Vanguard in 2016 produced one of the best live shows I’ve seen—its set moved seamlessly, changing moods and rhythms astutely.

It was from their tours that the trio developed the repertoire for “Another Land.” The recording leads with Mr. Eubanks’s “Grave Walker,” and thanks to him and Mr. Holland, the piece feels like it is about to embrace the louder, more aggressive power-trio aspect of the instrumentation and produce music worthy of an action-adventure film soundtrack. Yet for all of the revving up, it quickly settles into a more relaxed groove, as if the excitement is being related in a lively conversation punctuated by laughter rather than fireworks.

The title track follows and sets the mood for the rest of the program. Mr. Holland’s warm bass tones and Mr. Calvaire’s deft brushwork provide the bed for a complex, introspective solo from Mr. Eubanks, his bandmates embellishing their support; it’s music for a lazy summer afternoon that offers more than just a vibe. “Gentle Warrior,” written by the drummer, is aptly named, and it features Mr. Eubanks’s most accomplished solo of the set. The guitarist, who was well known to jazz fans as a virtuoso before he spent 15 years as Jay Leno’s foil and bandleader on “The Tonight Show,” is not a flamboyant player; instead, his solos probe the weave of a tune rather than break its fabric. Most of the compositions here are highlighted by solos, but Mr. Eubanks’s “20 20” begins with a stellar ensemble section that feels improvised. And behind the guitar and bass solos, Mr. Calvaire is forceful in his accents and driving rhythms.

“Mashup,” the first single, is the exception to the recording’s serene mood. It’s an up-tempo jam, and a stellar showcase for Mr. Calvaire’s dynamic percussion. Mr. Holland’s “Passing Time,” which follows, returns to the almost pastoral sensibility that pervades the album. The group interplay is again a highlight as Mr. Eubanks’s solo flows seamlessly into a duet with the ensemble’s leader. In the promotional materials that accompany the recording, Mr. Holland speaks of their live shows as blues jams, and the final track, “Bring It Back Home,” offers overt blues references in both the basslines and the guitar licks, yet it doesn’t feel like a rehash. The band has taken something familiar and made it new.

The music here doesn’t just recall the template of other Holland-led groups. Some of the tracks evoke Gateway, a collective trio that joined Mr. Holland with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette for two recordings in the mid- and late ’70s, and then reunited for two more in the ’90s. The rapport was similar, albeit with a different range of styles; Gateway lacked the assertive rhythm that has been Mr. Holland’s signature in his own ensembles.

The bassist received his first big break at age 21 when Miles Davis tapped him to replace Ron Carter in his celebrated second quintet, and Mr. Holland participated in the late-’60s Davis ensembles that electrified jazz. But this narrative omits crucial information from the 74-year-old’s formative years. As a teenager in England, Mr. Holland was pursuing bass guitar and angling to play in rock bands when he picked up albums by Ray Brown and Leroy Vinnegar at a record store. These recordings pushed the acoustic bass into a more intermediary role between the front and the back line instruments, creating an easygoing shifting rhythmic floor to the music. He put aside his interest in bass guitar and bought a double bass to explore this inspiration. Although Mr. Holland’s music sounds nothing like Brown’s or Vinnegar’s, his big bold tone and articulated structures have become his defining elements in a wide range of bands and a cornerstone to his long-running success.

—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the May 24, 2021, print edition as ‘Songs for a Summer Afternoon.’

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At WSJ on new recordings by the duo of Ted Nash and Glenn Close (yes, that Glenn Close) and James Brandon Lewis

These albums also display the ways in which the old uptown/downtown schism has changed and mutated.

‘Transformation’ by Glenn Close and Ted Nash and ‘Jesup Wagon’ by James Brandon Lewis Reviews: Uplifting Experiments in Jazz

Pairing spoken-word segments about positive change with music; a longform celebration of George Washington Carver.


By Martin JohnsonMay 11, 2021 5:00 pm ET

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Two exceptional new jazz recordings by veteran saxophonists—Ted Nash and James Brandon Lewis—carry an uplifting message along with their music.

On “Transformation: Personal Stories of Change, Acceptance and Evolution” (Tiger Turn), Mr. Nash joins with Glenn Close and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on a series of pieces that integrate spoken word and lushly arranged instrumental segments. The actress, who is a frequent collaborator with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Mr. Nash, who has been involved with the organization for more than 20 years, previously worked together on his 2016 recording “Presidential Suite, Eight Variations on Freedom” (Motéma), which combined music with excerpts of speeches by American presidents and other world leaders. Ms. Close read the words of Myanmar Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on that Grammy-winning recording.

For the new project, Ms. Close curated the spoken segments, with a theme of positive change, and Mr. Nash conducted a 15-member band. The works on “Transformation” range from the poet Ted Hughes’s “Tales From Ovid” to a letter in which Mr. Nash’s son comes out as transgender. In addition to Ms. Close, the readers include Wayne Brady and Amy Irving.


The 77-minute program begins with “Creation Part I,” featuring Mr. Brady and Ms. Close trading verses of Mr. Hughes’s poem, backed by puckish unisons from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Sherman Irby, elevating the words into an urgent narrative. This is followed by “Creation Part II,” which is entirely instrumental, highlighted by a poignant baritone saxophone solo by Paul Nedzela. This pair of tracks sets the template for much of the recording: Words backed by music raise tension, and entirely instrumental passages resolve it. This pattern can be heard not only in consecutive tracks, but sometimes in a single work—as in “Rising Out of Hatred,” where Matthew Stevenson, an observant Jew, recounts meeting Derek Black, a white nationalist, in college and the effects of their friendship. The serene harmonies and muted trumpet of Tatum Greenblatt anticipate the neo-Nazi renouncing his philosophy after attending Shabbat dinners and their playing music together. The recording closes with “Reaching the Tropopause,” from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” with recitations by Mr. Brady and Ms. Close; rousing, sweeping orchestrations from Mr. Nash; and stellar, intricate solos from Mr. Marsalis and saxophonist Victor Goines.

James Brandon Lewis’s “Jesup Wagon” (Tao Forms) is a celebration of George Washington Carver, the African-American agricultural scientist and renaissance man, and takes its name from the mobile educational facility that Carver (1864-1943) used to teach sharecroppers about the value of different crops and techniques. Mr. Lewis presents this music with the Red Lily Quintet, an extraordinary collection of leading improvisers that also includes cellist Christopher Hoffman, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, bassist William Parker and drummer Chad Taylor.

The title, opening track of this 51-minute recording starts with a searing saxophone solo that gives way to the full ensemble backing Mr. Knuffke and showcasing Mr. Lewis’s brilliant composition. The cello, bass and drums create an interlocking rhythm that grows in force, supporting a fiery solo from the cornetist. The subsequent six songs maintain that fury and compositional ingenuity. Mr. Parker is a stalwart of the New York scene since the ’70s, when SoHo was full of jazz lofts and art galleries. Mr. Taylor has established himself in the alternative music communities both in Chicago and New York, where Messrs. Knuffke and Hoffman have performed in numerous outstanding ensembles. There’s a raw, unvarnished sensibility to “Jesup Wagon” that adds to its power.

It’s not hard to hear masters like Charles Gayle, Julius Hemphill and David S. Ware in Mr. Lewis’s tone and attack, and the spirit of great composers like Tadd Dameron and Oliver Nelson is suggested by the superb interplay on this recording. But the complex, visceral music on “Jesup Wagon” is uniquely his own.

—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the May 12, 2021, print edition as ‘Uplifting Experiments in Jazz.’

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Vertical Search: My Work at Wine Enthusiast

I began writing articles about craft beer for Wine Enthusiast via two somewhat conventional avenues. For one, I wrote three stories for VinePair. It was great, at the time I had few other outlets for my work, and since I was the craft beer buyer for Westside Market’s East Village location, I had a great perch to observe the booming NYC scene. It was also great as I enjoyed working with the managing editor there, Emily Saladino. The lone problem was that the articles were long and labor intensive and paid very little, on a per hour basis the articles were paying me about ten dollars an hour. I decided I needed to stop doing that; writing for so little was damaging my self esteem more than helping it.

Then Emily left for Wine Enthusiast and we continued to correspond on social media. Last May, she posted an article from Daily Beast asserting that the pandemic would be the death of craft beer and solicited opinions. I’m rarely at a shortage of opinions and I was particularly incensed at this article. I wrote for Slate in 2015 (two articles on sports) and for The Atlantic’s website in 2011. I was eager to bring my craft beer expertise to both since I’d been writing about craft beer for the Wall Street Journal, but it seemed to me that the smartypants crowd only wanted death knell articles, and none of the facts supported this notion. The pandemic wasn’t an exception; my aisles swarmed with customers daily. Our sales were skyrocketing, and I could see that the New York craft brewers were the very model of small businesses pivoting during dramatic environmental change. They were shifting to delivery service as fast as retail businesses like Westside. Furthermore, I knew the backstories of many craft breweries and there was usually a former finance employee. Additional lines of credit would be easy to get and they would manage to switch from on site to off site speedily. I conveyed these thoughts to Saladino in response to her post.

A few days later, I awoke to an email from Emily asking if I wanted to write for Wine Enthusiast. They paid more than Vine Pair and their articles were less labor intensive. She wanted an 800 word piece that would detail my Twitter contentions. Before I even signed the contracts, I had several brewers on record describing how they were managing during the pandemic. We’ve gone on to cover the new rise of sours, the freshness of IPAs and we detailed the intriguing backstory of one of New York’s newest breweries.

On why craft beer *survived* the pandemic.

On the new rise of sour beers

This story on craft beer freshness arose specifically from a situation on my craft beer aisle. New York City is in the mdist of a craft beer boom, more than three dozen breweries have opened in the past decade, after only three were here for decades. Sometimes that means I have beer that was canned that day. I think customers were spoiled. Just because an IPA is two weeks old doesn’t mean it’s undesirable. Some brewers explained.

And Back Home Brewing, which plans to open its doors in 2022, has the most compelling backstory of any brewery in NYC. It begins in Shiraz, Iran.

There are already more stories in the works.

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At Wall Street Journal on Promises by Pharoah Sanders, Floating Points and the LSO

‘Promises’ by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra Review: Across Genres and Generations

A collaboration between the 80-year-old jazz saxophonist and the 34-year-old electronic producer results in an austere yet stunning album

Pharoah Sanders and Sam Shepherd aka Floating PointsPHOTO: ERIC WELLES-NYSTROM

By Martin JohnsonApril 7, 2021 5:18 pm ET

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The saxophonist Pharoah Sanders achieved renown on the jazz scene as a protégé of John Coltrane, and in addition to making some well-received recordings of his own he worked as a sideman with Alice Coltrane. His sound was often big and blustery, full of ferocious dissonance and power; it was music that aimed to inhabit listeners, not merely entertain them. On his own recordings back then, he brought a spiritual sensibility to his themes, scoring a hit in 1969 with the song “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”

That start largely set the template for a long and storied career that has included a Grammy Award in 1988, and he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2016. He had not recorded as a leader or co-leader since 2003, when he released “With a Heartbeat” (Evolver), but that didn’t mean he had retired. In 2014 he joined forces with Rob Mazurek and his bands Chicago Underground and São Paulo Underground for “Spiral Mercury” (Clean Feed), and two years ago he was a guest on Joey DeFrancesco’s “In the Key of the Universe” (Mack Avenue). He performed in concert with many younger musicians.

Yet little of this late-career activity anticipated Mr. Sanders’s most recent project, “Promises” (Luaka Bop), a collaboration with Sam Shepherd —the British electronic musician who records as Floating Points—and the London Symphony Orchestra. The results are stunning. It is austere music that draws you toward it with nuance and subtlety, in contrast both to Mr. Sanders’s early work and to the dance-floor orientation of other Floating Points recordings. It’s a rare intergenerational partnership—Mr. Sanders is 80 years old; Mr. Shepherd, 34—that suggests new avenues for each member.

In 2015, Mr. Sanders heard Floating Points’ “Elaenia” (Luaka Bop) while traveling with representatives of the label and expressed interest in recording with the younger musician. During the next few years, the men began discussing making music. They hung out in London and visited the British Museum to see the sculptures of the warrior goddess Sekhmet, which ancient Egyptians believed had healing powers. They hunkered down in a Los Angeles studio in 2019 to record and Mr. Shepherd then spent a day with members of the LSO at George Martin’s AIR studio in London last summer.

“Promises” is a 46-minute, nine-movement work written by Mr. Shepherd. It begins with a repeated, short keyboard motif that adds resonance as it progresses. Mr. Sanders enters with a warm, wistful series of notes on his tenor saxophone that recalls sunrise on a quiet beach. Mr. Sanders has said in interviews that he often prefers the sounds of nature to those of music, and that is well reflected in the serenity presented here—his sax like a tide rising and receding.

The piece builds in subsequent movements. Strings enter in the second and third, and Mr. Sanders’s playing becomes more complex. In the fourth movement, after an impressionistic layer of keyboards augment the motif, Mr. Sanders adds a gentle croon. He returns to his horn in the fifth movement and plays his most assertive work on the album, a melodic embellishment of the original motif. In the sixth movement, the LSO strings are prominent, creating a cinematic swirl and dramatic effect. This continues into movement seven, with layers of keyboards added. The concluding two movements return to the tranquility of the beginning.

The album is alluring. It invites you to explore it, examine each detail—a horn riff here, a keyboard figure there, and the dynamic range of the strings. It could be background music, but it is far more rewarding as an immersive experience. I surfaced from each close listen eager to reassess the sonic characteristics of my surroundings.

Mr. Shepherd’s path to “Promises” is unusual. The Manchester, England, native received a doctorate in neuroscience and epigenetics from University College, London. Citing a broad range of influences that include classical composers Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen and jazz pianist Bill Evans, he began recording as Floating Points in 2008, and had his biggest hit with “Elaenia.”

In recent years Mr. Sanders’s older works have been reclassified as “spiritual jazz,” a subgenre that includes the music of the Coltranes, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Lonnie Liston Smith and Sun Ra. “Promises” touches on this style but goes elsewhere too; its ambient tone is reminiscent of the sounds of Laraaji, Harold Budd and Brian Eno (especially his late 1978 works “Music for Airports” and “Music for Films”). It also bears relation to some of Alice Coltrane’s later, leaner recordings, which suggests that decades after their first collaborations, Mr. Sanders still owes a debt to his early mentors.

—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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Appeared in the April 8, 2021, print edition as ‘Across Genres and Generations.’

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Vertical Search: My Work at NPR

Sometimes a life changing moment happens and you know it immediately. That’s what it was like one morning in April 2020, when I awoke to an email from an editor at NPR. He wanted to know if I’d like to write for their music section, NPR Music. To that point, I had been writing about jazz for the Wall Street Journal and Jazz Times and about other stuff for the Brooklyn College website. This generated essential money but seemed to do little to advance my career. There were artists that I written about often who when I saw them asked me rather straightforwardly, “do you still write.”

That was because WSJ has a paywall, and I can’t post my reviews here until 30 days after publication. My work at NPR would face no such barriers. I read the email one morning on my phone as I was persuading myself that the world beyond my bed wouldn’t kill me. By the time I was halfway through my first coffee, I had two assignments. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the week.

Those two assignments which thankfully haven’t run (they were advance obituaries) have led to numerous other articles. Coincidentally, as this is the day that NPR turns 50, I thought I’d share them in a Vertical Search.

The first piece that ran was a quick turnaround appreciation of the late trumpeter Eddie Gale.

That led to an appreciation of the great bassist Gary Peacock the afternoon his passing was confirmed.

I asked to write about some musicians that were still with us, and following the most recent long hot summer, I offered them a piece on the revival of black owned jazz labels from the ’70s and this was the result.

Then I kind of fell out of touch for a coupla months. There were no deaths that required my attention, and my ideas about jazz couples enduring the pandemic (instead of never being together, suddenly these couples were always together) and an idea on vibes were pocket vetoed. But for their end of the year package, I was asked to write a short piece on Sonny Rollins. It was kind of a big deal.

2. Sonny Rollins
Rollins in Holland (1967, Resonance)
Points: 133

In a 1985 interview, the legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins told me “the glory isn’t in grasping the ring, it’s in reaching for it.” Rollins in Holland, which gathers three separate Dutch settings by Rollins in 1967 with bassist Ruud Jacobs and drummer Han Bennink, shows Sonny’s expansive ambitions and ardent pursuit with bandmates intent on pushing and hurtling cantankerously along with the leader. The late ’60s are an under-documented phase of his career, yet this is more than a welcome vintage, it’s a solid addition to the Rollins canon. –Martin Johnson

Then suddenly I was asked to write an appreciation of Jonas Gwangwa. This was becoming routine.

Recently, I was asked to write an appreciation of Sonny Simmons.

This week, I wrote an appreciation of Curtis Fuller.

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