December 2013 marks the one-year anniversary of “Now’s the Time.” Fifty-two programs, 104 hours of radio gold. Well, mostly gold, though there was probably some radio aluminum and radio lead in there from time to time. You be the judge.
In December, two very compelling new records will be featured. The Robert Glasper Experiment, fresh off the Grammy victory for Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012), inevitably have a follow-up, Black Radio 2. Some sectors of the jazz commentariat have their collective noses a bit bent out of shape by the record. The pianist, obviously a jazz heavyweight (as we will hear by dipping into his back catalogue, long a favorite of “Now’s the Time”), doesn’t go in for too much explicitly jazz soloing, even as he welcomes even more big-name guests (including Snoop Dogg!). Sounds like a great candidate for this radio program, where we emphasize doctrinal purity less than aesthetic quality. Is it a good record, whatever its genre? By the end of the month, you will have heard enough to make up your own mind.
The harping about Glasper selling out, by playing lots of electric keyboards and delivering radio-friendly grooves, might remind you of controversies that have surrounded the mighty Herbie Hancock in decades past. How fortuitous, then, that Sony has just released a mammoth box set of the pianist’s output on Columbia Records from the 70s and 80s. A good chunk of these records were never released in the US before, or have dropped out of the catalogue. I’ll plan to draw on these relatively rare sides in the box set during December, and we’ll all note the similarities between the trail blazed by Hancock and what Glaper is doing today.
Of course, the granddaddy of swirling controversies of electrification and selling out is Miles Davis, from whom we highlight one disc every month. I had the urge to spotlight an A-list masterpiece by the Prince of Darkness this month, after featuring less well-known titles in the recent past. Few rank more highly in anyone’s lists than 1958′s Milestones. No electric instruments, but lots of great moments with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and smokin’ drummer Philly Joe Jones. Pianist Red Garland quit the band during the recording of this record – one result is that Miles plays trumpet and piano on “Sid’s Ahead” – but not before recasting Miles’s 1945 solo on “Now’s the Time” for piano during “Straight, No Chaser”. (You’ll see what I mean.)