Rock & Roll Books

Any Old Way You Choose It

Rock & Roll Books

Future Jazz

by Howard Mandel

Oxford University Press, 240 pp., $26

What will jazz be like in the next millennium? No one knows for sure, of course, but veteran jazz writer Howard Mandel suggests where it might be headed and who might be the influental artists in this study of portraits and interviews with a lion's share of the most creative and forward-thinking musicians, composers, and industry insiders of the past three decades. Former editor at downbeat and longtime contributor to The Village Voice, Mandel knows the terrain intimately and has a gift for engaging his subjects.

He begins with an examination of the avant-garde pioneers of the 1960s and Seventies. Grass-roots organizations such as the AACM's Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Black Arts Group-bred World Saxophone Quartet are covered along with their visionary offspring, loft-scene saxophone avatar David Murray and renegade composer/musician Henry Threadgill. They would all lay the groundwork, at least inspirationally, for subsequent movements like guitarist Vernon Reid's Black Rock Coalition and saxophonist Steve Coleman's M-Base Collective, both of which are examined later in the book.

Ground-zeroed at the unpretentious Knitting Factory, New York City's frenetic "downtown scene," with all its wondrous and bizarre variations, has been a bubbling cauldron of creativity during this past decade and is certainly a signpost to the future. The sound and role of guitarists have changed in recent years; we are given insights about the changes from the likes of John McLaughlin, George Benson, John Scofield, and James Blood Ulmer. Also intriguing are conversations with vocalist Cassandra Wilson, pianist Geri Allen, and saxmen Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker.

You cannot discuss jazz in the past 20 years without including the omnipresent Wynton Marsalis. His neo-conservative, Young Lions movement has dominated the jazz world for nearly two decades now, and his controversial leadership of the influential Jazz at Lincoln Center program have been roundly viewed as reactionary responses, in part, to avant-garde sensibilities. A three-part interview with Marsalis adds a thought-provoking and leavening quality to the overall perspective at hand. It would have been particularly interesting had the passionately well-informed Mandel confronted the adamantly self-righteous Marsalis over their differences.

If the saying is true that you can best predict the future by examining the (recent) past, then this engrossing book may be the best source for deciphering what may lie ahead for intrepid jazz fans.

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Future Jazz, Howard Mandel

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