Nate Chinen

UMG on / YouTube

Pianist Robert Glasper is rightly known for setting a groove, but he's just as adept at set

To hear the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player above.


For more than 25 years, Tony Malaby has been one of the most riveting saxophonists in jazz — a dauntless explorer who's also at home with direct emotional expression. His ability to toggle between traditional and experimental modes has been a trademark since he released an auspicious debut album, Sabino, at the turn of the century.

More than most, 2021 was a year of mixed results — an endless scroll of gains and losses, halting progress and hard retrenchment. For jazz musicians and the community of listeners around them, it brought confirmation that improvisation is a life strategy. Peering in the rearview, my mind flickers to a moment from midyear: At a community arts space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, bassist, composer and singer esperanza spalding has taken up a residency with the musicians and scholars who constitute her Songwrights Apothecary Lab.

There's a key metaphor nestled near the midpoint of ...(Iphigenia), the audacious, iconoclastic new opera by Wayne Shorter and esperanza spalding. A revisionary take on a canonical tale — mainly Euripides' Greek tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis, a storm of bloodlust, retribution and obligation — the opera seeks to imbue its namesake character, a young woman sentenced to ritual sacrifice, with some semblance of a soul. As for the metaphor, it arrives when someone exhorts Iphigenia to "open the cemented way by your dandelion sprout." The chorus instantly seizes on that image:

There are innumerable photographs of George Wein at the Newport Jazz Festival, the groundbreaking event he co-founded in 1954 and kept producing, in hands-on or emeritus fashion, until his death last month at 95. One of my favorites, by David Redfern, shows only a sliver of his face.

A decade ago, jazz icon Tony Bennett and pop superstar Lady Gaga struck up one of the great Odd Couple partnerships in recent music history. Singing together first on his album Duets II, and then on their co- album, Cheek to Cheek, Bennett and Gaga made history on the charts while proving some things never go out of style.

Now, with Love For Sale, Bennett and Gaga are serving up another round but with a poignant twist: It may be Bennet's final album. He's 95, and has been living Alzheimers disease.

Again and again in Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the magnetically powerful new opera by Terence Blanchard, the focus returns to the torturous weight of a burden carried alone. That weight, shouldered by the opera's central character, stems from his sexual and emotional abuse as a child, and the resulting pain and alienation of his young adulthood.

YouTube

Esperanza Spalding — the vocalist, bassist and composer hailed by NPR Music, with just a touch of

John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, recorded near the close of 1964 and released early the following year, inhabits an exalted plane beyond the realm of most other albums, in any musical genre.

Pages