Earshot Jazz Festival 2001
Thurs Oct 25-Sun Nov 4.
See calendar for details.

This past year has been a cruel one for jazz. Ken Burns flooded the public with his documentary, and the jazz elite condemned it as a coup d'état. A young jazz critic, Phil Freeman, recently published a noble first book, called New York Is Now! It is the only book in decades concerned solely with contemporary free jazz. Again, the aficionado crowd has pointedly attacked it, calling it the work of a groupie and a hack. An even crueler event hit home last year: Earshot's offices in Fremont were broken into just before the 2000 festival. Over 300 tickets were stolen, and it was widely rumored that Cecil Taylor tickets were being forged.

This year, Earshot has responded to these events with an exuberant vengeance. The 2001 Earshot Jazz Festival will be the best installment ever. In 11 days there are 36 shows. The vast majority of them are good, but the vast majority are also playing against each other. This is damned cruel. For the most part, you can follow the headliners: Don Lanphere, Don Byron, Keith Jarrett, and the Rahsaan Roland Kirk Tribute (Friday, November 2). But on the really bountiful nights, here's a hard look at what you should do:

Saturday, October 27

See Joe McPhee, Raymond Boni, and Michael Bisio. It is because of McPhee that the eclectic Hat Hut record label exists. His playing (mostly on saxophone, but also on other instruments) is a wonderland of ecstatic melodies, shot through with peals of notes. Raymond Boni is a French guitarist who has been widely compared with the legendary gypsy Django Reinhardt, but he has developed a vocabulary all his own.

Sunday, October 28

A tough night: On the one hand there's Daniel Carter and Reuben Radding, and on the other there's Bill Frisell. Carter is a free jazz saxophonist from New York City who is omnipresent in free jazz groups like Test and Other Dimensions in Music. His ethos is one of collective improvisation, a totally egoless project. Paired with Seattle's superb contrabassist Reuben Radding (as well as Myra Melford's Crush Trio), Carter's show will be the most underrated of the festival.

Monday, October 29

Tonight's dilemma is the choice between Maybe Monday and Fred Anderson's trio. Maybe Monday is a Fred Frith outfit. Frith was part of John Zorn's Naked City, which helped launch the careers of Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell. Since then, Frith has participated in (and led) literally hundreds of groups, but with mixed results. Though Maybe Monday is one of his better projects, there's no way it can stand up to Fred Anderson's trio. Anderson, a fiery tenor player, free jazz veteran, and owner of the legendary Velvet Lounge in Chicago, is coming to town with the best rhythm section in America: William Parker (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums). Given the cruel choice between Maybe Monday and Fred Anderson's trio, it's Anderson all the way.

Wednesday, October 31

Bill Frisell is playing once again, but the hard bop extraordinaire Von Freeman is also beginning his two-night appearance at Tula's. Tenor monster Von Freeman is legendary in Chicago, where I saw him. Though he's nearing his 80s, the man still has the power of Dexter Gordon. He's relatively unknown, since for the longest time he refused to leave Chicago and his family. This is a highly recommended and rare show with one of the last great hard boppers.

Sunday, November 4

This night, the last of the festival, is the cruelest. Here you have Dave Brubeck, Bill Frisell (again), and Frank Morgan all playing at the same time, but at different venues. The cruel choice: Frank Morgan. Dave Brubeck's type of jazz is Lane Coutell jazz (read: tweed jackets and elbow patches). Frank Morgan, however, is a tenacious bop player who sticks to the chord changes and burns the top of his alto sax's register. He was known early on (in the 1950s) as a Charlie Parker prodigy, even down to the heroin addiction. He spent decades in jail due to a drug bust. Out in 1985, Morgan is making up for lost time.

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