This weekend marks the close of INTERSECTIONS, an annual festival held at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Now in its fifth year, the always-compelling event features collaborations that break down boundaries between disparate genres and artistic media, while capturing the numerous perspectives that exist in an increasingly diverse and ever-evolving cultural landscape. Naturally, jazz always has a strong presence at the festival and this year’s lineup featured a host of musicians familiar to the area’s scene, including Amy K. Bormet, Sarah Hughes, Brad Linde, Akua Allrich and others.
Jazz is well suited for such cross-pollination because of its improvisational nature; by definition it frees musicians from the rigidity that would obstruct meaningful communication. I’ve written previously about how an important aspect of jazz’s evolution is its ability incorporate seemingly unrelated musics into its canon. This was the case when Dizzy Gillespie and the Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo gave rise to Latin jazz, or when John Coltrane’s friendship with the Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar influenced the saxophone legend’s more spiritual explorations. In the spirit of INTERSECTIONS, for this column I’d like to depart from that theoretical arena, and provide some concrete examples of jazz-related projects throughout the years that cross traditional creative classifications.
The first piece is The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse by Duke Ellington. This suite, written in eight parts, was recorded in 1971 and released in 1975. With titles like “Chinoserie”, “Afrique” and “Acht O’Clock Rock”, it’s clear that Ellington was feeling the pulse of a rapidly changing world, where globalization was taking root. The Cold War was still going strong, but the United States had opened its borders to immigrants from South Asia, East Asia and Africa. Nixon was on the verge of re-establishing relations with China. “World Music” was on its way to becoming recognized as a genre, and offering new sounds. The international influences that appear on the album might sound cliché and inauthentic today, especially to people who come from the cultures that Duke attempts to convey. In the context of the early ‘70s, seen through Ellington’s filter, it is one of his most intriguing later projects.
There are also many examples of jazz musicians collaborating with ensembles in their native setting; they find varying degrees of success. The Master Musicians of Jajouka* are a Moroccan group that comes out of the Berber community, and whose music is rooted in Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. In 1975, the saxophonist Ornette Coleman released the album Dancing In Your Head, which features the Master Musicians on two tracks, both called “Midnight Sunrise.” At first listen, these tracks sound cacophonous and unstructured, but further listening reveals that the Master Musicians are very much playing in their traditional style while Coleman is reacting to their textures with an avant-gardist’s mentality. The Master Musicians of Jajouka have entered the digital age with their most recent effort, The Road to Jajouka. Produced by Billy Martin, of Medeski Martin & Wood fame, the album includes collaborations with both jazz musicians and electronic artists.