Wanted to mention a really special gig I caught last Saturday here in Dallas, at a place called Sandaga Market, on the edge of the arts and apparel district of downtown. The gallery's lush interior decoration -- a combo of indigenous African rugs, throws, paintings, masks and sculptures -- belied its modest warehouse exterior. As much could be said for the musical expressionism of the legendary Dave Burrell, who makes for an unassuming presence behind the grand piano with only the the most minimal, gracious banter between his extended solo pieces. Burrell is a musician any fan of bold free jazz piano flux should be aware of, whether via his countless collaborations with so many of those who helped to write the language of jazz (Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Marion Brown, David Murray, William Parker, etc) or his astounding solo releases, such as Echo originally pressed by BYG Actuel. This is a guy that's been in the game for almost 50 years, composing and playing, living and learning, and what struck me most about the two sets he played was the immeasurable berth of his stylistic influence. Burrell is a jazz pianist, but what I heard this night touched on everything from baroque classical to blues, minimal composition, ragtime, show tunes, swing, pop and so, so much more. It was like taking a musical road-trip through every major musical development of the last 250 years, donning a blindfold, spinning 'round and 'round only to find seemingly disparate styles and eras living side by side in total harmony. Burrell, via his ever nimble fingers, tells a story beyond words, beyond time, and beyond my capacity to explain. It is the music of a full life, unfinished still. What struck me most was how how clearly Burrell appreciates so many different genres and styles but is fearless when it comes to combining and exploring it all via his own personal portal. He fits somewhere in the jazz pantheon between Thelonious Monk and Matthew Shipp, coming from a trad background like so many but taking those old bop and swing melodies to bold new, out (and long gone) places. I thought of Jack Rose more than once while comprehending Burrell's ability to juggle so many genres and always keep it movin' and groovin'. Thank you, Mr. Burrell, for making our hearts a little warmer and our minds a little clearer this night.
While researching and preparing to write this review, this just happened to pop up on HBO at the same time. And you say there are no signs. The Jazz Baroness documents the unlikely and quite profound relationship between British born heiress Pannonica Rothschild and jazz piano great Theloniuos Monk, and her unlikely journey from British aristocracy to one of New York's most passionate jazz enthusiasts during some of its most vital periods. Kind of amazing if you ask me. Unquestionably a life lived. Great narration (reading the words of Rothschild) from The Queen herself, Helen Mirren. Excellent archival footage and modern day interviews make this essential viewing, if yr interested.
Speaking of flicks. I'm going to have to break down and go see Avatar, where James Cameron and company appear to rip off Dances With Wolves and himself (Aliens/The Abyss) with MIND-BLOWING/GAME-CHANGING/SUPER-INNOVATIVE MOTION CAPTURE 3-D TECHNOLOGY NOT DREAMT POSSIBLE JUST 20 SHORT YEARS BEFORE! That was fun to type. I'm expecting this to kick-ass/suck of Michael Bay-ian proportions.