The weirdness continued unabated in this season with distant Thanksgiving – which itself has problems, like everything in American society birthed in blood and torture and the positive feelings we’ve imbued it with come partially despite that history and partially resting on the pedestal of it – but I found things to love and hope you did too.
Probably the last of these for a while; my plan for the next four weeks is to put up my best of the year posts.
Music: Patti Smith, presented by Fans.
Weeks from the 45th anniversary of her landmark record that broke so much open for so many of us, Smith reminded me of her unique blend of the intimate and the expansive and took me to the church I desperately needed.
Accompanied by long-time collaborator Tony Shanahan and her daughter Jesse Paris Smith, Smith led us on an hour trip through highlights of her catalog, including readings of a new piece and a delightful chunk of Year of the Monkey, and one cover, a beautiful read of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” (with a nod to its own 50th anniversary and Young’s 75th birthday) that highlighted its fragility.
Smith found new contours, new crevices between the notes, new facets to shine her light of today through on songs she’s played thousands of times. “Dancing Barefoot,” dedicated “to the women” crackled with benediction and absolution; “Pissing In a River” circled its prey, building up to the incandescent flare-ups of “Come on, come on” and “What about it?”
The opening “Grateful” from maybe my favorite of her records, Gung Ho, set the tone – “Ours is just another skin that simply slips away” for a sunny afternoon of true gratitude, radical acceptance and taking stock, without blindness. That song faded into the righteous incantation: “Throw off your stupid cloak; embrace all you fear. For joy will conquer all despair in my Blakean year.”
She introduced “Southern Cross” with “This is a song about remembrance; it’s a song about life, really,” and more than anything else, this set reminded me that all remembrance can be, should be, must be, a celebration of life.
Music: Jason Moran’s Bandwagon at the Village Vanguard.
I’ve never been in NYC around Thanksgiving – not a parade guy – but I’ve always been jealous of many traditions for the locals, including that full week stand of the Bandwagon at the Vanguard.
There are a handful of shows that burn into my memory and I still recall with surprising clarity Jason Moran on piano, with Nasheet Waits on drums, and Tarus Mateen on bass, blowing the top of my head off at the Wexner Center in 2003. With no exaggeration, those 90 minutes blew open what I thought jazz could be, it expanded my parameters for thinking about music. I was vibrating with excitement when I walked in – having been a fan of the records for several years – and I could barely hold my molecules in one gravitation field after.
In the ensuing 17 years, I’ve seen all three of them multiple times – Winter Jazzfest and Big Ears, back at the Wex and late night at Jazz Standard – but never quite managed to catch another trio set. So even through a screen from miles away, I almost cried.
This was the music of conversation, argument, emphatic declaration, at the highest possible standard. Jittery, powerful abstractions melted into standards like “Body and Soul.” They paid tribute to the legendary Geri Allen with one of her classics “Feed The Fire” and they tore into a greasy honky-tonk stomp. This was the kind of music that made the world make more sense and made gratitude swell up in me.
Music: Maria Schneider’s Orchestra at the Jazz Standard.
Another of those legendary jazz Thanksgiving traditions is the great Maria Schneider leading her Orchestra at Jazz Standard. This would have been her 16th year on this week at the Standard, and with possibly her best record Data Lords released so recently, I’m overjoyed she found a way to mark the occasion.
She put together a limited run stream of clips of her band from the past couple years – including trying out some of the dark, knotty Data Lords pieces like “CQ CQ, Is Anybody There?” – outtakes from the studio sessions, and a Zoom conversation capturing a little bit of the all-important “hang” that happens whenever that many musicians gather.
Like the Moran, I almost cried a few times. These perfect solos rising out of this massive, inviting but awe-inspiring architecture. The band breathing as one and fragmenting into the night’s sky or a city street.