Three Who Push Jazz Envelope; Innovators Fuse Styles, experiment.(WASHINGTON WEEKEND)(RIFFS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

Three Who Push Jazz Envelope; Innovators Fuse Styles, experiment.(WASHINGTON WEEKEND)(RIFFS)


Byline: Kris Garnjost, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

If you are a jazz fan or want to be one, this is a weekend for you. Three of the most entertaining and illustrious practitioners of jazz music today are in town. With more than 100 years of innovative experience among them, each one offers his own personal insights into a different aspect of the jazz vernacular.

Trumpeter Malachi Thompson is the least known of the three but certainly not the least innovative or creative. He was twice voted a Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in Down Beat's International Critics Poll, and his music has been given labels including post-bop, free jazz and avant-garde.

He calls his work and his band Freebop, but also says this about it: "Expect the unexpected, expect a wide range and variety of music, because basically, I guess, I'm schizophrenic. I have multiple musical personalities, and they are expressed in my compositions."

Within his marvelous music are traditional New Orleans march rhythms, jazz funk passages, atonal flights of fancy and sections that just swing. All is held together by Mr. Thompson's well-crafted tunes, fine trumpet tone and deft arrangements. He applies the same techniques to other's compositions.

"In terms of what I do in music from other composers," Mr. Thompson says, "it's that same searching spirit, something about this tune that's going to bring something out in me."

Mr. Thompson has always made a point of bringing new music from the music of the past. "In terms of pushing the envelope, my philosophy is: First you've got to understand the history of the music before you can take it anyplace," he says.

Mr. Thompson's study of jazz history started in 1960s Chicago, where he played in big bands. At the same time, he also became a member of the avant-garde Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. There he learned from greats including Henry Threadgill and Lester Bowie. Later, in New York City, he continued with free-jazz and avant-garde players including Jackie McLean and Archie Shepp.

He has been leading and composing for his Freebop Band for more than 20 years and through many recordings. He also leads a big band called Africa Brass, which revisits significant historical jazz styles with Mr. Thompson's own twist. Lately, his Freebop Band has been dipping into the Miles Davis songbook.

"For me, it's really fun to play that music, and it's never boring," he says. "I guess that's one of the things about Miles, he never looked back or rested on his laurels at all. …

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