Monthly Archives: December 2010

CD review: Max Roach, “Candid Roach”

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The first CD I ever got was the self-titled debut by a band called Rage Against the Machine. That was Christmas 1992 (also the occasion on which I got my first CD player), and for the subsequent 18 years at least one CD has found its way into my pile of  holiday swag. Some years CDs (or money to buy them) were basically the only things I got, or actively wanted, but other years were like this one. I didn’t ask anyone for anything this year–couldn’t really think of anything–and as a result only got the obvious gifts, like practical items of clothing, or gift cards for business I’m known to frequent. There was only one CD bestowed upon me: Candid Roach, by the great Max Roach.

This was pure serendipity, the internal logic of which makes perfect sense. The CD was a gift from my uncle. He is a huge jazz fan himself; in fact, he helped wean me onto the music many years ago. He and my aunt have also bought me a number of jazz CDs over the years, of which several were Max Roach products. So, using Amazon to do their buying, of course the computer probably recommended Candid Roach, and since this compilation was only released last year, its selection was certainly the right one. But, from there, it gets slightly weird.

The last time they bought me a jazz CD, it was last Christmas, and my take (which instantly became the stuff of personal legend) included two CDs by Baby Dodds, the first Warne Marsh/Pete Christilieb tenor summit, a trio of albums from the Candid label: Cecil Taylor’s Jazz Advance (which I mostly dropped, other than the exceptional “Rick Kick Shaw” and a cool version of “Bemsha Swing”), The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (which is strictly epic, start-to-finish) and an album that I’d been seeking out for years, without ever actually buying: Max Roach’s seminal We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. That album marked the high-point of his collaboration with then-wife Abbey Lincoln, who died just a few months ago; it also included legends like trombonist and long-time collaborator Julian Priester, the ill-fated Booker Little and Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins, of course, was one of the first established jazzmen to lend his stamp of approval to the new music, then called “bop”, in 1943.

So, the sessions that birthed that masterpiece, as well as the sessions collected on Candid Roach, were all produced by the label’s A&R guy, Mr. Nat Hentoff, who is a legend in his own right–not only a jazz world whose aural and literary legacy he helped shape, but also in the journalism industry. He was the first alt-weekly columnist, joining the Village Voice in 1955; after being fired a couple years ago, his Voice column still runs monthly, and is the only one in the country that is, without question, better than mine. The man is a legit hero of mine for two completely different reasons, linked only by our common interests.

Like the old-school pro that he is, Hentoff has kept his office number listed for years, appended at the end of his column on the backpage of JazzTimes magazine. Of course, I’ve called him several times over the years, whether trying and failing to land an internship in his office, or seeking his help (which he provided) tracking down primary sources for a book on Max Roach that I could never get a contract to actually write. Imagine my shock, surprise and sublime satisfaction a couple months ago, when he called me for the first time! I was sitting at a local bar, Birdie’s, when he called to thank me for a review of his latest book, At the Jazz Band Ball, which was published at Ink19Online. We spoke for a few minutes, but the thrill will last forever. And then, not too long after, I happened to get one of the albums he produced as an unsolicited Christmas present. Again, serendipity.

That said, the story of how it came into my life is better than the album itself. Candid Roach is a collection of tracks from five sessions that Max Roach led for Candid between August 1960 and April 1961–mostly mid-tempo vehicles for blowing, sharper versions of the work that came out of the late-Mercury Records period just preceding them. “Freedom Day” is a key track on We Insist! “Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah” offers up a trumpet battle between Dorham and the underutilized Benny Bailey; “When Malindy Sings” is a tour de force for Mrs. Roach, whose work during this period merits an upward critical appraisal. For me, the highlight is Booker Little’s “Cliff Walk”, which offers the only known recording of Max Roach and idol Jo Jones (from the great Count Basie band) playing together.

This was a period of peak productivity for the truly fearless leader. The deaths of Clifford Brown and Richie Powell in 1956 shattered what had been one of the pioneering hard-bop groups; he quickly emerged with a harder, faster, even more complex sound than before, aided and abetted by young lions like Kenny Dorham and the “Saxophone Colossus” himself, Sonny Rollins. The recordings he made between 1956 and 1959 are landmarks in the music, conveniently amassed on a stellar box set from Mosaic Records.

By 1961 he’d begun to flesh out his harmonic vision, adding the unsual sounds of Priester’s trombone and Ray Draper’s tuba; he even brought back the piano role he’d abandoned for years. The result was music of unusual complexity, to match a renewed focus (which some might call a fixation) of socio-cultural matters. We Insist! was a landmark, the end of five years of delirious activity; while he remained active, making excellent music, it was not until the 1970s until he was generating the kind of serious buzz he’d had a decade earlier. By the 1980s, as jazz was mainstreaming itself with electric instruments and smooth jazz, while people like the Marsalis Brothers were initiating a New Traditionalism, Roach was forging his own centrist path, collaborating with b-boys, free-jazz titans, chamber groups and classical ensembles of all stripes.

He was an elder statesman with enough energy to outpace men one-third his age, and he remained a marvel of strength, finesse and timing right up until the very end. At no point in his career did Max Roach ever give any sign of losing a step. When illness finally forced his retirement, he stopped while still vital; his last recording, Friendship (a collaboration with the perdurable nonagenarian Clark Terry), could have been the work of any rising young lion, but the leaders totaled 160 years of age. Thanks to all those whose efforts coalesce in allowing me the opportunity to write about Max Roach yet again!

Courtesy University of Californa Press

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SDH2011 Update: “Money Jungle” on hiatus, City Council campaign in full effect!

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Courtesy Tom Pennington

Just wanted to make some quick notes here on the blog, explaining the exceptional length (even by my standards) between postings. I don’t blog nearly as much as I probably should–never have, never will unless ordered to by an employer, which apparently happens now.  There’s been a lot going on the last six months, events that have gone generally untouched here. Let’s touch briefly on them:

1) Writing, or lack thereof: I’ve not written a “Money Jungle” column for Folio since July, following the columns done about the “Gusher In the Gulf”. Some folks in the distribution area have asked, so I feel obliged to clarify all this. After a year in which the column appeared intermittently, every other week at best, resulting from the larger financial rut that’s hit the industry, I chose simply to stop writing it for now rather than see a diminishing of the brand-name I worked many years to cultivate. While I could probably write a book detailing my differences with various aspects of how that paper was run in recent years (in particular its self-negating approach to the challenges raised by digital meda, the cost of which is impossible to overstate), I have no problems with Folio and look forward to doing more writing for them (and other outlets) as the years proceed. It remains essential reading for Florida affairs.

However, writing is a career, and if the money’s not right, a professional just can’t function at the level that is needed to succeed in this highly competitive industry. I’ve made countless contacts over 15 years in this business and sent out hundreds of resumes, while making thousands of pitches to newspapers, magazines and websites all over America and the world. For years, the issue was that my political views were too controversial, and my profile too obscure, for commercial media to take a risk on, so the private conversations we’ve all been having over the past decade were mostly embargoed from mainstream audiences. We’re all paying a catastrophic price for the failures of a few–in the industry and around the world.

Now that much of what the column was designed to warn people about has come to pass, and now that I’m starting to become slightly better-known, the issue is a simple lack of funds to hire new people. Commercial media is mostly in a defensive posture right now–it has been for a while, and will remain so for years to come. Every day is spent struggling to maintain dwindling circulation figures as the audience flocks toward newer, fresher media, unhindered by the stale orthodox thinking of a bygone time. The gatekeepers of tradition are clinging for dead life to an outmoded business model; but the architects of that model, who are now mostly long-gone, would have easily adapted to the new ways had that challenge been thrust upon them.

In recent years, culminating with the economic collapse that formally began in September 2008, the focus has shifted from preventing crises from developing in our country, to managing the crises that are now here. On this point we’ll skip the details, because they are all around you. Step one is addressing the lingering (and in some cases growing) anger, fear and uncertainty so many people are feeling now. It has already begun to manifest in more violence on our streets, more shocking outbursts of insanity that have left hundreds dead all over America, just this year alone. It’s hard to tell what’s more unstable: our economy, our politics or our planet itself. When you consider that they’re all pieces of the same puzzle, everyone’s fears are fully justified.

2) So, this brings me to the other point, the main line that brings the rest of this together: A few months ago I decided, after much consideration, to make my best effort to take my vision for this city/state/country out of the purely (or, mostly) theoretical realm and into the realm of practical application. To that end, I’ve entered the race for City Council District 14 in my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. As one of the city’s most well-known and influential residents, I feel driven to give back to the city that’s given me so much–so many friends, great memories, and base of experience that leaves me eminently qualified to do the job I’m now seeking.

I am just one of six people currently running for this office; they are all nice, talented people who (like thousands of others) can easily do the job if elected. However, I feel that I bring a base of unique talents to bear that will make me not only a great councilman, but also the best salesman the city could have at this time. While I have much more name recognition than any of my opponents, that doesn’t mean it will be easy; nor should it be.

The first step is to qualify for the ballot, which means tendering a check for $1,800 before high noon on Friday, January 14. We are at the beginning of a 0-to-60 mph push, a blistering, bruising three-week fundraising blitz that will decide whether this project will go any further.

At this writing, two months in, I’ve only raised a couple hundred dollars, while others have raised upwards of $30,000. The campaign finance rules are by far the shadiest part of this whole process. Campaign funding is basically money-laundering for the industries backing your campaign; they donate on the presumption that the candidate will perform according to their interests. But since I’m running a campaign rooted in the need to mitigate the destructive role of money in the process, it’s not surprising that our totals are falling short of expectations. But we’re working on fundraising ventures, and we’ve set up a PayPal account to make donating easier; we’ll install PayPal buttons here and on the Facebook pages soon.

If I win this election, I plan to restrict my journalistic activity to cultural matters–art, music, dance, film, food and such. I’ll do my best not to weigh in professionally on politics, though in that new capacity as a politician I’m sure there will be cause for comment here and there. As this campaign proceeds, I’ll continue to update this blog in the usual sporadic fashion. There will never be any shortage of material for any conscientious professional hack. Of course, given the nature of political discourse nowadays, this entry probably marks the semi-retirement of the writing style I’ve developed over the years. I’ll be just as curious as the rest of you to see what the new style looks like when it emerges, at some point in 2011.

As you know, I’ve got my usual personal Facebook page (maybe the best Facebook page ever, but who can say for sure?), but for legal and organizational reasons we’ve set up a “fan page” specifically for any and all matters related to “SDH 2011”. Whether you live in the district or not, I’d appreciate it if you clicked “like” on the page, told your friends, relatives and co-workers, and made yourself a part of this ongoing discussion about how Jacksonville can reclaim its status as “the Bold New City of the South”. You can find all my other contact info around this site, but here it is anyway: (904)309-1208; sheltonhull@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @SheltonHull.

Thank you very much, and have a Happy New Year!

SDH

PS: Let me point out, again, that the campaign does have a PayPal account. If you’d prefer to send a check, call or email me directly for the mailing address. We can accept donations from all US Citizens.