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Future Jazz by Howard Mandel

Veteran jazz critic Howard Mandel, current president of the Jazz Journalists Association, makes the case for jazz as an all-inclusive, far-reaching art form. A collection of interviews conducted for various publications over the years, Future

Jazz examines the work of a wide range of artists who have come to profoundly affect the direction of the music since 1970.

Though Mandel does pay lip service to the mainstream (there are three separate interviews in the book with Wynton Marsalis), his obvious love of the avant garde comes across in several rapprochements with renegade figures like Lester Bowie, Muhal Richard Abrams, Don Pullen, Oliver Lake, Butch Morris, and Henry Threadgill. This advocacy stance is quite natural, given Mandel’s musical coming of age in Chicago. As he explains in the autobiographical intro, an encounter with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) served as a major epiphany in his formative years. (“I was fascinated by the intensity and strangeness of their outpourings and never discouraged in my curiosity… This was my head-changing music, my soul-shaping experience.”)

Mandel would apply that same curiosity years later, after moving to New York City, to his writings about the downtown/ Knitting Factory scene (i.e., Elliott Sharp, John Zorn, Wayne Horvitz, Roy Nathanson, Marc Ribot) and the Black Rock Coalition. He demonstrates an affinity for guitar in his writings on six-string heroes John McLaughlin, George Benson, John Scofield, and James “Blood” Ulmer. There are also intelligent entries on Michael Brecker, Steve Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, Robin Eubanks, Joe Lovano, James Newton, Anthony Davis, and Geri Allen.

Future Jazz includes insights from key industry figures like Blue Note’s Bruce Lundvall, Verve’s Richard Seidel, and Dr. George Butler, formerly of Columbia Jazz, and provides an insider’s look at the ever-changing face of the jazz club scene in the late ’90s. Taken as a whole, Mandel’s book is invaluable in tracing modern currents of the music while also forecasting its future direction.

A CD sampler of relevent tracks has been released by Knitting Factory Records.

Originally Published