January/February 2009 By Evan Haga
Time After Time
Niche magazines are strange creatures. JazzTimes, as we must begrudgingly admit, falls into that category. The music and culture we cover, like any insular art form tucked away from mass media and able to transcend politics, often seems perennially unchanged. With its profound respect for the past, jazz is especially susceptible to a kind of aesthetic stasis. I swear, whenever I leaf through back issues lying around the office, I see features I could slip into the current issue without anyone but our diehard readers noticing. Some of my favorite books are anthologies of definitive jazz journalism, such as that of Gary Giddins, Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern and Whitney Balliett, and I’m continually amazed at how relevant the writing remains decades after the fact: a credit to both the prose and a music worth lifetimes of re-examination.
Of course, there are other instances that negate my theory, when jazz seems absolutely timely. One is when we assemble the issue you hold in your hands, the annual Year in Review edition. This is where we reflect on the victories, foibles, tragedies, oddities and funny stuff that bookmark time far better than retrospectives on Trane or Chet Baker. I just put down the 2003 Jan./Feb. issue, which tracked the happenings of 2002, and I was suddenly reminded of what a big deal the arrival of Norah Jones was for folks in and out of jazz. Also in that issue, former JT editor Christopher Porter makes a prediction that a little piano trio known as The Bad Plus will turn heads in the coming months with its Columbia debut. Good call.
2008 wasn’t just another year, though. Jazz flirted with the general public more than usual, thanks to Herbie’s Grammy win and the Return to Forever tour. Superficial stuff, I know—the public interest, not the music—but you have to take what you can get. And, oh yeah, the U.S. elected its first African-American president, a man whose healthcare policies could surely help the uninsured musicians JT business reporter Marc Hopkins talks to beginning on page 64.
The other moments when jazz thaws from its cryogenic freeze happen far more frequently—whenever I hear Ornette Coleman, Guillermo Klein, Dave Douglas, Todd Sickafoose, Mary Halvorson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Brian Blade, Terence Blanchard, Cuong Vu, Christian Scott, Miguel Zenón, anything Jason Moran touches, Aaron Parks, the list goes on. The last name in that list, a pianist whose terrific Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema, met a surprising dearth of critical fanfare and just missed our Top 50, should not be slept on.
Developing under Blanchard and Rosenwinkel, Parks is as harmonically and temporally advanced as they come at age 25, though he seems more concerned with crafting some sort of instrumental sub-genre that has yet to be named. (It sounds to me like a meld of post-rock and the modern jazz concocted at Smalls in the 1990s.)
With any luck, Blue Note will green light another Parks disc in 2009 and our esteemed critics will listen closer. Perhaps by then I’ll know what to label his music in a Top 50 blurb.
Originally published in January/February 2009