King Ade (poem)

ColsonKing Ade

Which song was I singing?
It’s just the grand piano
Stirring in the dark
Tunnel as long as a city
Just the music
I sing his song
It’s just my lips
Moving to the melody
Can I imagine Mandela?
His music mind?
The music of the jails
Water swooshing in pails
With stale white bread
This is how we make music

Adegoke Steve Colson’s Glorious Tones For

Colson Tones For coverWhere do we look for the hot new jazz? It can come from out of the blue, like the alto sax of New York’s Darius Jones. It can be international, with graceful Asian players imported to the cities of American jazz. It can come from players who were hot all along, from the ’60s and ’70s. Players might disappear after they have made their major statements. There are also unique cases where a veteran can pull a rabbit out of a hat, and he equals, or even transcends, his whole career.

Adegoke Steve Colson (Adegoke means king) is an unsung master. He joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), the most powerful organization in jazz, in the early 1970s in Chicago, after graduating from Northwestern. Singer Iqua Colson, his wife, was the first woman member of the organization.

Colson is a team player. On the records I have played, which I acquired when I interviewed him six years ago, he approaches the unit as a whole, quietly, but geometrically and fluidly, stepping about the spirals of the brass and reeds, shifting the nature of the percussion and bass lines. Tones For, his new release, for solo grand piano, is a departure.

Part of his legacy is in major civil rights. In 1971, he occupied the Bursar’s office at Northwestern, a year after the Kent State massacre. There were just under a hundred black students at the university at the time, and he and six friends planned the occupation of the building, Colson and his friend Andre going into the underground tunnels and mapping them out so that, when the National Guard came, the doors were chained.

Every black student participated, and Colson and four other black students had chains around them when they came out. The operation had massive ramifications, changing the nature of Black studies in North American universities.

Typical of Colson, he never mentions this, unless you press him. But Tones For is a tribute to his mothers and fathers in Black liberation history. “Sister Moses” is Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad heroine, and the only woman known to have led American troops in war. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass are also part of the picture and tribute. The CD folds open with notes on each song, tracing the significance of the heroes’ and heroine’s contributions the cause of Black freedom.

Tones For is quirky, deep, emotional, and passionate, strange for something so formal and disciplined. On one level, this is a modest offering: a mature, solo statement on the history of human rights. But that’s huge by its nature. As the theme crosses the ages, do the strains of influence, and the touches of style. You can hear the dark pastels of Muhal Richard Abrams, (AACM founder), the stride of Fats Waller, and the flourishes of Teddy Wilson. With its expansive progression and development, it belies its sectioning in songs, becoming unfettered and exploratory.

The work is in two volumes. Right away when Iqua sent me the CD, and I was looking at the notes and list of titles, I knew this was an instant masterpiece, and the music creates twisting moods and thoughts, like you’re in the torchlight of the underground tunnels themselves.

Only Adegoke has been there. He is a civil rights hero, the platinum of American achievement. Colson has illustrious associations, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Reggie Workman, and also Art Ensemble of Chicago members. So many of the records he has appeared on with them have escaped radar. This one shouldn’t fall through the cracks. It should put him in the jazz canon forever, like his associates.

Vayda Girl: New Cut to a Classic Cloth – Headbands

Jess & Audrey

When I met Jess Cooper, at North End Yoga, she had a rack with her Vayda Girl headbands for sale. I wanted to buy one, so I asked her to pick. She chose one with trippy African tribal pattern overtones. It was wild, with the activity of a Jackson Pollock mural, softened by a dream.

What always floors me is the indisputable cachet of earthy chic. Jess and business co-owner Audrey’s choices are tempting, with names like Star Struck, or Bubble Butt, showing the bold aesthetic of the new fashion enterprise. There is a whole new world to explore at, but here are:

Some of my favorites

Harvest is the fall debut, and it is the most beautiful, with rust and turquoise panels alternating filled with leaf and flower.

Sasha is the sexiest, with leopard pattern and plush purple background, sensuous and mildly exotic.

Blades is another brand new one, blades in crossing vertical and horizontal patterns, in moody blues and turquoise over black.

Persian, with its dark, oriental fauna, is a classic. It will make anyone a princess.

Littlefoot – BUFU Fest – Cambridge Elks Lodge – May 2

Erica Sutherland

The name of the band is cute, if you just know that; but if you remember Lowell George, it means much more. Lowell George led the ’70s band Little Feat. Little Feat, well, were the most daring stoner Americana band of their time. “Time Loves a Hero” is their song, “only time will tell…” As I write this, Littlefoot is starting to play. Several minutes will tell what this allusion is.

Yes, the music is timeless. Dreamy voice with Euro undertones. Now it has a western twang, almost like dreamboat singer of last generation Chris Isaacs (“But I Want to Fall in Love”). They move fast… You can just forget you’re even in the Lodge, and, well, it’s midnight at the oasis.

Polar Visions: Andrea Pensado and Yoko Miwa

Andrea Pensado with doll

Andrea Pensado

You have to ask yourself, when you’re an artist, what you expect of your audience. I often ask this question of musicians. “A headache?” said one girl a few years ago. So it has something to do with the body. If you’re a performing artist, the question becomes crucial, because you are right there. You have to envision the kind of world you want to be in, and you have to share it. If you’re a woman, this is inescapable. Your body is already an object of art, and it is part of your music, and the beauty of your music. You can see this in two local artists, extreme polar visions, but with the same, passionate cerebral core.


Yoko Miwa

Yoko Miwa plays jazz in the classic style. Trained in Kobu, Japan, she was the favorite student of Minoru Ozone, national treasure, and became quite established in the Japan jazz world before her city was crushed by an earthquake. Now she teaches at Berklee, and she has a deep popular base in Boston, and even New York. Her work is about intimacy. She reaches best people who really know what her music is like. It is a complex weave of beautiful strands, and these can shimmer for the new listener, but for an initiate, it creates an inner world.

 Andrea Pensado

Andrea Pensado is Argentinian, and came to Salem, Mass after an international career and study in composition and choral music in Poland. Her early work is strictly composed, with the niceties of European classicism reining in the strange, eerie sounds which finally came to the forefront when she, in her words, “just got bored,” and decided to play primal, radical noise. She does this with scratch like sounds on her laptop, and witchy screeching from her voice. This is a music to push you out from where you are. Freedom music, the music of the future. It is an exhilarating challenge, and it can be rigorous.

 But Miwa is rigorous too. Her technical/conceptual mastery of the keyboard is daunting, and there are deep motifs and leitmotifs structuring the lyrical music. Both musicians have a deep love and respect for beauty. While Pensado’s work has roots in the nihilism of dada, it is exuberant and full of positive energy. It’s as if she were using a chisel and Miwa were using clay, reaching a similar body either way. And this leads us to new worlds.


Pensado and Miwa are fullest in performance, and they are seminal artists. This presents a question: will we still recognize their accomplishment when they are gone? Two answers are possible. We could think of a dancer like Isadora Duncan or Martha Graham, of whom we have no record at all, but of course who have legacies, in the movements they perpetuated and in the spirit of the dance, as it is carried on into new traditions. On the other hand, there is Billie Holiday or Charlie Parker. We listen to their records and say they are great artists, but we don’t really know, even though we know. What we know is it will never be the same as it was on 52nd Street. Only The Beatles will ever be immortal on record, because it was their primary focus. It was all they did. Pensado and Miwa are as great as The Beatles, but the moment to hear them is now.

Ben Katzman and The JP Drive In


What does a Miami kid like Ben Katzman have to offer the Boston scene? The JP Drive In. Ben makes things happen. For me, The JP Drive In has been the most exciting house scene over the past couple of years. The Drive In is the youngest scene, and kids come in with fire. Ben is only 22, but he is a prime mover. He’s got energy and flair. And he has ideas.

“I think the best way to contribute to a scene is be the best you can be,” he says. “Do you the hardest. The best way to make a difference is to add something to the table. Just be you and do you what you love.” Bands come and go, but the good ones always make a splash, because of people like Katzman.

Katzman’s aesthetic is simple. He loves Kiss, a supergroup perpetually creating a spectacle, but fun and never taking themselves too seriously. Would he book them for a show? “You know I’ve been holding a judge against Gene since I was 13. I sent Gene Simmons an invitation to my Bar Mitzvah back in the day. I probably should have asked Peter Criss instead.”

Yoko Miwa’s Chemistry – Yoko Miwa Trio – Ryles – March 8


Already, as Yoko Miwa starts up her jazz brunch show this morning at Ryle’s Jazz Club, in Inman Square, Cambridge, I hear a surer, gentler, stronger, but smoother tone. She has a nice legato as she strings notes together in her solo. She has confidence now. She’s a new musician.

Yoko is seeking a new label for her trio’s next record, one that will gain her national attention. In the Mist of Time, her debut in Japan, was misty effort with little trace of jazz. As she progressed, climaxing with her fifth album, Live at Scullers, she really developed a hard swing, which blended with her own natural jazz temperament to create outright heartbreaking music. Her sixth album, Act Naturally, was showcased by John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”, and Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, but my favorite was the McCoy Tyner number, “Inner Glimpse”, which brings back Coltrane memories.


This morning, she features Keala Kaumeneheiawa on bass, in addition to her regular, right hand drummer Scott Goulding. Nothing has really changed in Yoko’s approach. It is just like a river, flowing through the jungle, with some occasional turns, and a different quality of light flashing on the surface as we go deeper in.

Scott Goulding

McCartney’s “For No One” has been popular with her, and she plays it this morning, beginning solo and rubato. It is like a Faberge egg, magical and glistening, with subtle, ornate detail. She takes you inside the song, showing what’s really inside The Beatles. Then the drums and bass come in, with a thud. It’s rock and roll. This is Yoko: the intellectual beauty, always making you guess at the next development in her style, then showing you what style really is: taking you to a song’s core, where the essence is released like perfume. No attempts to shatter form, none the less she is deconstructive, bringing out bluesy hints, playing with them, making them breathe, making a classical canvas alive with the qualities of abstraction.

Rotten Apples Interview Questions (December 2011)

It took my 19 questions to get a half an hour of press. With jazz musicians, I get an hour with ten… This interview got published in all about Jazz in January 2012:


Rotten Apples Questions

  1. Let me start by asking you all who you are, where you each came from, and how you came together as a group.
  1. What made you realize that you clicked as a unit?
  1. Or DO you click as a unit?
  1. Tell us something about the development of your audience, and the role audience plays in your work.
  1. Your music seems to have the feel of being “stable in its instability.” What went on in the early years towards developing your sound?
  1. What has kept you together?
  1. Having fun and partying with the people listening to you is part of who you are as a band. How does interface with your fans affect your music?
  1. Tell us some stories of surprising or meaningful encounters with fans along the way.
  1. What makes keeping this band together rewarding for all of you?
  1. How do you deal with influence? Do The Rotten Apples have any?
  1. What types of music do each of you like?
  1. Is their anything you try to keep out of your music?
  1. How much control do you have over what you do, and how much do you leave to chance or accident? Do you tune your guitars?
  1. What do you think of labels and genres? Can The Rotten Apples fit under one? Will you let them?
  1. How serious are you?
  1. How does setting affect your music? Where do you like to play?
  1. How do your lives relate to your playing?
  1. Do you have a five-year plan or growth trajectory?
  1. Can anything destroy this band?