Jazz needs fresh artists, new music to move the art forward

Trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Nicholas Payton’s new mixtape, Bitches, features guest vocalists Cassandra Wilson and Esperanza
Spalding.
-Photo by Michael Wilson

Check it out! The Pace Report: Revive Da Live Big Band with Nicolas Payton and Talib Kweli:  watch?v=E89SKng9-Es

Jazz has never known a time quite like this. Much has changed. Much has stayed the same. What will we learn from this new era? Where do we go from here?

Let me make it plain. Several musicians, gifted artists, are out here filled with unbounded intellectual energy, making music and at the same time trying to push the art forward.
Jazz festival season is upon us. Will concert presenters continue on the path of the old familiar and safe formula of booking all-star bands and tribute groups?

Come on, now.

Artists ultimately want to present new work. Build new audiences. Experience new connections. Whatever happened to the importance of musical growth? And having an audience participate in that process? What about that? If you can’t count on regular gigs to help build an audience, or airplay for that matter, what can an artist depend on?

Where is the enjoyment in constantly playing tributes? Where is the enjoyment in playing with everyone else but hardly getting the chance to develop and play with your own working band? Opportunities for real growth equals enjoyment. And this most certainly translates to audience enjoyment and, in most cases, excitement. Not to mention increased ticket and record sales.

Is there a lack of understanding and education where presenters are concerned? This is not a slam on concert presenters. Sometimes they do get it right. But I’m certain that by now artists have made their feelings known on the matter. Is anyone listening? What’s it going to take to get to more freshness on the bandstand? Artists are out here devoted to excellence and determined to succeed by creating new music they think people might enjoy. If only the music could reach audiences in significant numbers.

There is a huge disconnect happening between artists and audiences right now. For proof, just read the NEA’s blog, Art Works. How is this music, 21st-century music, to reach and influence the next generation if a majority of it never makes it to the buying public? Old argument? Still needs attention.

Here’s what’s new and fresh
Hip hop/jazz fusion is what’s up. A lot of collaborations have already happened, and even more are in the mix. Last summer, Grammy-award winning trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Nicholas Payton played with the Revive Da Live Big Band, his SeXXXtet and MC Talib Kwali at New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge.

Payton has also collaborated with Grammy-winning singer Jill Scott (also known for working with hip hop artists) on her album, Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds (Hidden Beach, 2004). Specifically, he arranged the song “Talk to Me.” According to current reports, Scott has signed a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records. Her new album, The Light of the Sun, will drop later this year.

Payton’s new mixtape, Bitches, was leaked last year and is well within FCC limitations. Miles Davis had his recording, Bitches Brew; now Payton, 40 years later has just Bitches.

Payton plays all the instruments on the new recording, and he sings, too. He also composed and arranged all of the tunes. Both Cassandra Wilson (“You Take Me Places I’ve Never Been Before”) and Esperanza Spalding (“Freesia”) contribute vocals, one track each. Maxwell’s trombonist Saunders Sermons (“Flip the Script”) also sings on the album. Significant, right?

So, why has Concord Records declined to release the music? The answer remains a mystery. Maybe they might release it as “previously unreleased material” 20 or 30 years from now? Whatever the case may be, the music is timely. It sounds like today, yet also nods toward the future. Payton’s music touches on everything from the sacred to the secular, an iPhone, sex, romance, happiness, heartbreak, love, joy and healing; it’s all there. In a word, Bitches is brilliant.

Bitches is available free at www.mediafire.com/?e8urfrvjwbkt502.

Next up…
Tony Allen, as part of The Walker Art Center’s 2010-2011 Performing Arts Season, will perform on Saturday, April 23, 8 pm, at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. Particularly where popular music is concerned, Allen is acknowledged as one of the greatest living percussionists in history.

During his 15 years as an anchor of Fela Kuti’s legendary Africa ’70 ensemble, the self-taught Allen became well-known as one of the world’s respected percussionists. Allen created the beat behind Afrobeat, bringing together Nigerian rhythms with soul, funk and jazz. His recent solo recording is Secret Agent. His Minneapolis debut features nine musicians and singers from around the globe.

Allen appears on the 2008 Shout! Factory’s recording In the Name of Love, Africa Celebrates U2 with the track “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokesman-recorder.com.