Separate but Equal

Crossing the Great Jazz Divide

I recently ran into a couple of tourists in an overpriced jazz club, listening to some good, if far-out music that they found almost as incomprehensible as their check. What were they doing there? Their guidebook recommended only two jazz clubs—the most expensive ones, the Blue Note and Iridium. They chose the latter because it was near their hotel.

Never has jazz been more segregated stylistically and economically than now. When you choose a venue, you are choosing an idiom, a price, and an attitude. The pricey clubs have the big names and mainstream music—that is, music with record labels to back it up; all but the Village Vanguard also serve food. The various avant-garde and hyphenated musics are contained below Canal Street at clubs like the Knitting Factory and Tonic. The last vestiges of jazz concerts are, with rare exceptions, big-band series at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. There's more, of course: Conservative upstarts can be found at Small's, veteran hard boppers at the Lenox Lounge, sundry individualists at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, and solos, duos, and trios at many restaurants and bars. None of these places are cheap, but when the music delivers, you don't mind as much.

Lee Konitz performs at Blue Note and Birdland.
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Lee Konitz performs at Blue Note and Birdland.

September 5-17
Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037

Recovered from a bout with illness, the great pianist returns with Albert Heath and Peter Washington. The Flanagan trios are proof that jazz can be refined without being genteel, brilliant without being showy, moving without being obvious. He is a classic model for the music's best instincts, and his jazzcentric book is huge, hip, and always growing.

September 12-17
Blue Note, 131 West 3rd Street, 475-8592
December 14-16
Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, 581-3080

After all these years, the brilliantly original alto saxophonist, who came up with Thornhill and Tristano, continues to surprise. At the Blue Note, he teams up with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow for an especially heady exercise in musical mind reading opposite the Kenny Burrell Quartet. At Birdland, he leads his own band.

September 19-24
The Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, 576-2232

In the '60s, they made several exceptional recordings, with Shepp's aspirate tenor and Rudd's booming trombone complementing each other in vitality and stamina. They've both endured periods in the wilderness, but back in 1970, you would have paid a lot to know what they would sound like in 30 years.

September 24
Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, 875-5030

In a collaboration between Lincoln Center's Jazz and Film Society programs, Wynton Marsalis will conduct the LCJO in the debut of Gordon's score for a 1925 Oscar Micheaux picture, Body and Soul.

September 27-October 1
The Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, 576-2232

The last of the great dueling Central Avenue tenor saxophonists began recording 50-plus years ago with Dexter Gordon and Hampton Hawes, and emerged in the '60s as the composer of terrifically hooky tunes. Perhaps because he hasn't played New York nearly enough, his recognition is not what it should be, but his annual quartet visits sate a hunger for classic bop-bred tenor.

September 28-October 1
Sweet Basil, 88 Seventh Avenue South, 242-1785

Thirty years ago, he seemed like Ornette's twin, albeit on tenor, but he's long since revealed a richly fluid style of his own, alternately aggressive and melodic. He can breathe life into ballads with his classic lived-in timbre, or trip the light fantastic as he does with Cecil and Elvin on the superb Momentum Space (Verve).

October 10-15
Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037

The greased lightning of his technique, combined with a romantic ebullience, has made him one of the glories of jazz piano in so many different contexts that a discography would do a world of good. Meanwhile, you get to hear him with a trio, the better to soak up those ravishing harmonies and dazzling runs.

November 3 and 4
Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, 66th Street and Broadway, 721-6500

If Downtowners really want Uptowners to open the gates, they can prove it by supporting Jazz at Lincoln Center's commission of new works by Rivers and Reed. The latter is a regular here, a gifted pianist, but Rivers is now graduating from the Kaplan Penthouse to a major hall, an event worthy of celebration. His recent band performances have been electrifying, and his round-robin soloing on tenor, soprano, flute, and piano is always a tonic.

November 7-12
Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037

He is the most imposing vibes player to come along in many years, but it isn't his instrument that sets him apart as much as his cool, swinging aplomb and canny taste. He uses his ample technique to tell stories and is so craftily in control of his materials that you trust him to tell good ones. Where is jazz heading? Ask him.

November 7-12
Iridium, 48 West 63rd Street, 582-2121

When it comes to Hutcherson records, one tends to think of the Blue Note classics, yet in concert he is as dazzling as ever, as he is as a sideman for others. It's puzzling. Maybe somebody ought to record a week like this, where he collaborates with a superb trio. Otherwise, you'll just have to go to hear it.

Next Page »