Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bop lives

Dizzy Gillespie biographer Donald Maggin did an unscientific survey and decided that more than 50 percent of jazz artists playing today still use predominantly bebop forms, which seems about right to me. Modal music is harder to play and less accessible on its face, the popularity of "Kind of Blue" aside. Avant-garde, freely improvised jazz is an even tougher nut to crack on both counts. Likewise the fusion sprung from Miles Davis' electric music.

I thought about Maggin's contention listening to "Night Owls," from an octet led by tenorman (also flute and clarinet) Chris Byars and Smalls Records. "All or Nothing at All" is done as bop, Latin-tinged, complete with saxophonists quoting Charlie Parker, or Leo Parker in the case of baritonist Mark Lopeman. The group's version of Tadd Dameron's "Gnid" also is straight line from the original boppers. Byars kind of reminds me of Sonny Stitt. I swear trombonist John Mosca is channeling J.J. Johnson.

That said, parts of this ("Village Beauty" for one, "The Way You Look Tonight" for another) make me think of "Birth of the Cool" and Gerry Mulligan's concert jazz band, which were more or less modal, albeit with bop roots sunk in swing soil. These guys aren't imitating in any event. They're using traditional tools to build their own state-of-the-art house, and a nice pad to hang out in for awhile it is. Proof bebop lives on.

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