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Moment's Notice from Gregory James

Many thanks to all of you who made Emily Palen's cd release party such a success.  Two weeks ago Cal Performances presented Zakir Hussain & Masters of Percussion.  Zakir is one of the world's greatest musicians.  A classical tabla virtuoso of the highest caliber, his fame extends beyond India as one of the founders of the world music movement.  From co-founding Shakti with John McLaughlin and L. Shankar, to recordings with Mickey Hart and Bill Laswell, he is always broadening our musical landscapes while re-invigorating his native traditions.  The performance featured Antonia Minnecola, an American dancer who is recognized as a leading exponent of the North Indian dance style Kathak.  Just as jazz and flamenco now have first rate artists from around the world, Zakir has spread the beauty of North Indian classical music far and wide.

Last Friday the dave Holland Overtone Quartet played the palace of Fine Arts Theatre as part of SF Jazz Spring Season.  It is a marvelous example of mature and young musicians inspiring each other.  Holland roomed with John McLaughlin in London, and introduced Tony Williams to John via a tape.  Dave played on Bitches Brew with Miles, and is on the Miles dvd at The Isle of Wight concert.  He has been at the forefront of new music all his professional life.  His 1972 recording, Conference of the Birds, with Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton, and Barry Altschul, set new directions for acoustic explorations.  Last year he recorded Hands, with Pepe Habechuela, among the most soulful of flamenco guitarists.  Joining Dave for this concert were Chris Potter, one of the leading tenor players of his generation, Jason Moran, and the brilliant Eric Harland.  They each compose for the quartet, and while Dave is the leader and senior artist, it is a truly a collaborative effort. 

The new Sony release "Miles Davis Quintet - Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Volume 1" is a must have.  The second great Miles quintet, with Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter is documented live on two cds and one extraordinary dvd.  The set list is virtually identical each performance, with radically different interpretations of each tune.  Miles would lead into each tune before the end of the last, creating seamless concertos.  Herbie has described what they did as controlled freedom; they would play within the form of the tune, and then go outside.  A look, or a motif, would signal when it was time to return to the form.  Weather Report would later incorporate this technique, as does The Kai Eckhardt Band, with whom I'm recording my latest cd.

I often write about influnces and lineage in music.  The last two concerts I saw a couple of weeks ago were marvelous examples.  Friday December 9 at Yoshi's Oakland was Mike Stern, with Richard Bono, Dave Weckl, and Bob Franceschini.  Mike of course played with Miles Davis, Weckl with Chick Corea, and Richard Bono with Joe Zawinul.  So the Miles influence looms beautiful and large.  The next night at Herbst in San Francisco, was Ahmad Jamal, who influenced Miles!  With him was Manolo Badrena, who played with Weather Report.  Like all great artists, Ahmad, who is 81, now incorporates musicians who were influenced by musicians he influenced!  Happy Holidays!

 I haven't posted in over a month, and have been very busy playing and attending concerts.  I realized that there was a coincidental theme to the shows I've seen this month:  the tremendous contribution of the Gypsies to world music.  Everyone from Beethoven to Chopin to Miles Davis has been influenced.  There were probably two great migrations from the east across Europe; around 700 AD and again around 1200.  Early last month I saw the SF Opera production of Bizet's Carmen, a wonderfully balanced cast with a fabulous performance by Kendall Gladen.  Then the Compania Flamenca of Jose Porcel, in a tribute titled Gypsy Fire.  Last night my beloved Caminos Flamencos played a 10th anniversary show titled Solo Flamenco with Juan Ogalla, Yaelisa, Fanny Ara, Melissa Cruz, and Jason McGuire AND Chusco on guitars.  Chusco was raised in the caves of Granada.  Jason is from Texas, and one of the dancers was Japanese.  All first rate performers of the music.  So it has become universal, even as the Gypsies struggle for freedom and basic human rights to this day.  This afternoon I saw the Takacs Quartet, playing Janacek and Ravel,  both highly influenced by Gypsy themes.  And one of the founders, Karoly Schranz, says his earliest musical experiences were listening to Gypsy bands in Budapest restaurants.     

The weekend before last was another wonderful SF Jazz weekend.  Saturday night at Herbst the duo of Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau played.  Duets are one of the most challenging formats in jazz, and Redman and Mehldau were marvelous.  From 'Trane-like explorations to chamber music to standards, they are both at the forefront of their generation.  And without pretention.  The next night at Herbst the great Jim Hall celebrated his 80th birthday.  While frail and using a cane, his music is as concentrated and wry as ever.  A classicist who also has always been in touch with the forefront of the music, he had Greg Osby on sax, Steve LaSpina on bass, and Clark Terry, who achieved fame with the John Handy Quintet Live at Monterey recording, on drums.  May we all stay so vibrant! 

Genius is a word used too often.  But the SF Jazz Festival the last two weeks has indeed presented genius.  By my definition, a genius changes the way we perceive a discipline.  Einstein, Picasso, Charlie Parker.  October 1 at the Paramount the young genius Esperanza Spaulding and her Chamber Music Society played. The next night Wayne Shorter and his quartet were at Herbst.  Then Ravi Shankar on October 7 at Davies.  Now 91, I've had the privilge of seeing Ravi for over 40 years.  With his daughter Anoushka a recent mom and not on this tour, I was afraid age might finally catch up with him.  It hasn't; he's still the finest musician in the world, of any genre.  And last night, McCoy Tyner, who I've also had the privilege of seeing since my teens, played Herbst with the fabulous Chris Potter on tenor.

My dear friend Benny Rietveld gave me tickets to see him play with Santana this last weekend at Shoreline.  With Cindy Blackman AND Dennis Chambers on drums (not to mention Karl Perazzo on timbales - Raul Rekow unfortunately had a family illness to attend to) I realized that this is simply the best rhythm section in the world.  Benny has evolved into the informal music director, cuing the band from time to time.  It must be quite a thrill to play with such amazing musicians.  In all the years I've seen Carlos, this was perhaps the most enjoyable.  Benny produced my recording Come to Me, and invited many of his Santana band mates to play on it. 

Courage.  I wanted to wait a while after September 11 to write about courage.  We cannot be reminded enough of the courage of the first responders on 9/11, and especially of the courage of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, who with no prior knowledge, or training, or psychological support, gave their lives to save others with only minutes of warning.  And it is the duty of the true artist to be courageous, and to inspire.  Puccini , Picasso, all the great artists inspire the noble.  Wednesday I saw the opera Heart of a Soldier, which tells the true story of Rick Rescorla, a British born Vietnam vet, who as head of security for Morgan Stanley saved 2,700 lives in the South Tower on 9/11.  It is also the story of his lifelong friendship with fellow soldier Dan Hill, who converted to Islam and fought with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan.  And it is the story of Rick's late life romance with his second wife, Susan.  A beautiful opera, the best in this new century so far.

Artists are often inspired by other disciplines.  For me it is painting.  I literally hear music when I look at a great painting.  The Gertrude Stein Collection at SF MOMA, and the Picasso Museum show at the De Young, are two of the most inspiring shows I've ever seen.  As Picasso liked to boast, he had the best Picasso collection on the planet.  And with the Stein show, there is also a lot of Matisse, who Picasso adored.  In fact, each thought the other was the best.  (As Frank used to declare Tony the one.  I used to think that was false modesty, but now I know it wasn't).  "Art is the lie that tells the truth".  Picasso. 

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