Jazz at 100 Hour 95: Highlights of Jazz in the Early 1990s (1987 – 1994)

Cassandra Wilson

This is the 95th of 100 programs in the Jazz at 100 series. For 94 programs have moved on a roughly chronological path through the history of 100 years of jazz recordings, following trends, introducing major players and stylistic evolutions. As we approach the present, we face the historian’s dilemma – in more recent music, what performances will have lasting value? What players will be remembered for their contributions to advancing the music? What trends will turn into dominant themes?

In the next five hours of the series we will survey the state of jazz in the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, as we conclude our narrative. In 2001, Gary Giddins, formerly jazz critic for the Village Voice, wrote an essay entitled “Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap (1945 – 2001)” where he told the story of post-war jazz through a discussion of one musical selection from each year. This methodology and several of his selections have guided our effort as we complete our look at 100 years of recorded jazz. Jazz in the early 1990s, in this hour of Jazz at 100.

But before we launch into characteristic music of the 1990s, however, we need to capture two more efforts from the late ‘80s from master tenor players Michael Brecker and Stan Getz.

1987. Michael Brecker, “Nothing Personal.”
“Tenor saxophonist Mike Brecker was, by the 80s, the most influential saxophonist since John Coltrane; any aspiring saxophonist was forced to take account of his tone, technique, energy and his harmonic methodology. But Brecker, the most recorded saxophonist of his generation … surprisingly did not make a record under his own name until 1987. His 1987 [eponymous] debut as leader, was a long overdue tour de force by a saxophone master. His tone, his technique and his harmonic sophistication, fluent chromaticism and trade-mark alternate fingerings were all dealt in a powerful hand that numbered among the best albums of the decade.” – Stuart Nicholson

Nothing Personal. Michael Brecker Quintet
(Michael Brecker-ts, Kenny Kirkland-p, Pat Metheny-g, Charlie Haden-b, Jack DeJohnette-d). From Michael Brecker. 1987

1989. Stan Getz, “Blood Count.”
In the months before his death in 1989, Stan Getz “had adapted Billy Strayhorn’s swan song [Blood Count] as his signature theme, playing it almost nightly. ‘Blood Count’ was the ‘Early Autumn’ of his last years, the composition that best embodied the maturity of his playing, which was still romantic but girded with an emotional gravity that his younger self would not have recognized.”– Gary Giddins

Blood Count. Stan Getz Quartet
(Stan Getz-ts, Kenny Barron-p, Ray Drummond-b, Ben Riley-d). From Pure Getz. 6/29/1989

1990. Odean Pope, “The Ponderer.”
Tenor player Odean Pope has been a regular collaborator with Max Roach since the late 1970s. For as long, his primary creative release has come through his Saxophone Choir. “[Odean] Pope rehearses the Choir meticulously and then records live in the studio with no overdubs. The charts are intricate and demanding, a broad orchestral sound punctuated with episodes from a roster of players who, like the leader himself, are not well-known outside this context … He has such generous gifts as a composer and such a distinctive sound and solo style that it is extraordinary he is not more widely known outside his circle.” – Brian Morton and Richard Cook

The Ponderer. Odean Pope Saxophone Choir
(Odean Pope, Julia Pressley, Sam Reed, Byard Lancaster, Bob Howell, Glenn Guidone, Middy Middleton, John Simon, Joe Sudler, Eddie Green, Gerald Veasley, Tyrone Brown, Cornell Rochester). From The Ponderer. 3/12/1990

1991. Joe Lovano, “Portrait of Jenny.
For the past 30 years, multi-reed player Joe Lovano has been an extraordinary creative force in the music, in a legendary trio with drummer Paul Motian and guitarist Bill Frisell and in a highly regarded series of his own recordings. Joe Lovano’s “consistency as a saxophonist is matched by an evidently limitless fund of conceptual ideas—every album is something new. An impetuous modernist with a mile-long romantic streak, he’s an exceptional ballad player, aged and sagacious. His theme chorus on ‘Portrait of Jenny’ [from his master work-to-date, From The Soul] recalls Coltrane, but for a warm, breathy vibrato that brings to mind Joe Henderson …” – Gary Giddins

Portrait of Jenny. Joe Lovano Quartet
(Joe Lovano-ts, Michel Petrucciani-p, Dave Holland-b, Ed Blackwell-d). From From The Soul. 12/28/1991

1992. Steve Coleman, “Drop Kick.”
In the late eighties, a loose collective of young African American musicians, based in Brooklyn, took the term M-BASE for ‘Macro-Basic Array of Structured Extemporisations,’ to describe their way of thinking about music. M-BASE included singer Cassandra Wilson, pianist Geri Allen, tenor player Greg Osby, trombonist Robin Eubanks and Steve Coleman. According to Joachim-Ernst Berendt “the music of M-BASE had a salient characterizing feature: constant rhythmic change. Complex, constantly changing meters were the trademark of M-BASE music … The central figure of the M-BASE movement was alto saxophonist Steve Coleman … [For example,] In the title track of the recording Drop Kick by Steve Coleman’s Five Elements, the saxophone, the piano, and the rhythm section of bass and drums each play in different meters (polymetry).”

Drop Kick. Steve Coleman & Five Elements.
(Steve Coleman-as/p, Andy Milne-p/key, David Gilmore-g/g synth, Meshell Johnson-b, Camille Gainer-d). From Drop Kick. 1/1992

1993. Cassandra Wilson, “Tell Me You’ll Wait For Me.”
“[Cassandra Wilson] was part of the M-BASE group … Her voice was fascinating, partly because it had the husky timbre of a sixty-year-old and the chops a woman her age … Blue Light ‘til Dawn was something new … there were some unifying rules to the album. Instruments don’t state the melody, but the circle around it. Wilson herself only states the melody as backhandedly as possible as part of one long, slow exhalation, with a lot of improvising … A few ideas worked like crazy. … Charles Brown and Oscar Moore’s ‘Tell Me You’ll Wait For Me’, with only voice, bass and snare drum is a special performance giving evidence of Wilson’s superiority as a jazz singer.” – Ben Ratliff

Tell Me You’ll Wait For Me. Cassandra Wilson
(Kenny Davis-b, Kevin Johnson-per, Cassandra Wilson-voc). From Blue Light ‘Til Dawn. 11/2/1993

1994. James Carter, “Take the A Train.”
Gary Giddins refers to James Carter as “A reeds virtuoso who can play anything except subtle … His raptor-like chomping of the Ellington band’s theme [‘Take The ‘A’ Train’] is a splendidly heady prank. Soloing for nearly eight minutes, he uses every avant-garde technique Coltrane, Dolphy, and the other anti-jazz felons had employed to wreak havoc on the shaken ’60s, only he swings like a madman and he never misses a chord. When he comes to ground, popping notes and closing with a screech, it’s okay to guffaw. Craig Taborn continues in the same riotous vein on piano; perhaps the only prototype for this pair is [Jaki] Byard and [Roland] Kirk.” – Gary Giddins

Take The “A” Train. James Carter Quartet
(James Carter-ss/as/ts, Craig Taborn-p, Jaribu Shahid-b, Tani Tabbal-d). From Jurassic Classics. 4/16 – 4/17/1994

Michael Brecker died at 57 in 2007 and Stan Getz at 64 in 1991. Odean Pope, Joe Lovano, Steve Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, and James Carter are seasoned veterans, still creating wonderful music today.

In the next hour of Jazz at 100, we will continue our exploration of characteristic performances in the 1990s that represent significant musical trends, introduce new stars and cap off the careers of heroes of the music.  Join us for Randy Weston African Rhythms, Uri Caine Ensemble, David S. Ware Quartet, and the trios of Tommy Flanagan and Keith Jarrett.

Michael Brecker. Michael Brecker. MCA/Impulse MCAD 5980
Stan Getz. Soul Eyes. Concord Jazz CCD 4783-2
Odean Pope Saxophone Choir. The Ponderer. Soul Note 121229
Joe Lovano. From The Soul. Blue Note CDP 7 986362
Steve Coleman & Five Elements. Drop Kick. Novus 63144
Cassandra Wilson. Blue Light ‘Til Dawn. Blue Note CDP 0777 7 81357
James Carter. Jurassic Classics. Sony CK 67058

Berendt, Joachim-Ernst. 2009. The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century. Chicago, IL. Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.
The Styles of Jazz: The Eighties
Giddins, Gary. 2004. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century. New York, NY. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 118. Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap (1945 – 2001)
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Odean Pope. The Ponderer
Nicholson, Stuart. 1995. Jazz – The 1980s Resurgence. New York, NY. Da Capo Press, Inc.
Chapter 6. Post-Bop and Beyond: The Expansion of the Mainstream
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
94. Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light ‘til Dawn (1993)

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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