Kevin Whitehead

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Whitehead's articles on jazz and improvised music have appeared in such publications as Point of Departure, the Chicago Sun-Times, Village Voice, Down Beat, and the Dutch daily de Volkskrant.

He is the author of Why Jazz: A Concise Guide (2010), New Dutch Swing (1998), and (with photographer Ton Mijs) Instant Composers Pool Orchestra: You Have to See It (2011).

His essays have appeared in numerous anthologies including Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006, Discover Jazz and Traveling the Spaceways: Sun Ra, the Astro-Black and Other Solar Myths.

Whitehead has taught at Towson University, the University of Kansas and Goucher College. He lives near Baltimore.

The Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda was born in Bogotá, and began playing at 13. A few years later, in the mid-1990s, he moved to New York, where he studied jazz trumpet. Then he returned to the harp with a new perspective and set of skills.

Drummer Mike Reed put together his quartet People, Places and Things to play music by their 1950s forebears. But it makes sense that, after a few years together, they'd also play later pieces, tracking the evolution of Chicago jazz on a new album titled Clean on the Corner. One dividend of their repertory work is that it inspires Reed to write his own tunes in the same spirit, like "The Lady Has a Bomb."

The death of a great musician ripples through the jazz community. It's a special loss to those improvisers we might call immediate survivors: working partners who'll miss that special interaction with a singular musician.

Violinist Jenny Scheinman's band and new album are both called Mischief and Mayhem. The record was made just after her quartet played a week at the Village Vanguard, but despite the jazz cred of regular Vanguard appearances, their stylistically fluid music draws on a lot of traditions.

Writing about Clark Terry in the past, I've grumbled that this great and distinctive trumpeter had long been stereotyped as a pixie-ish jazz jester. There's more range and deep blues feeling to his sound than that. It wasn't all sweetness when he was growing up poor in St. Louis, touring in the Deep South before WWII or breaking the color line with TV orchestras in 1960.

After Dave Brubeck signed with Columbia Records in the mid-1950s, his quartet made a few albums a year, and now that material has been collected in a 19-disc box set called The Dave Brubeck Quartet: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection.

Brooklyn drummer Matt Wilson keeps busy with many bands and projects — other people's and his own. Two new Wilson albums find him as part of a co-op all-star trio, and at the helm of one of his own quartets. Part of Wilson's appeal is that he keeps things light, in a good way.

In 1974, trumpeter Jimmy Owens helped prepare and played on a Carnegie Hall concert of Thelonious Monk's music. On the night in question, the orchestra featured a surprise soloist: Monk himself. It was one of the pianist's last public performances.

It's been more than a decade since clarinetist François Houle and pianist Benoît Delbecq's previous recording, but Because She Hoped proves that they can a strike a mood together quickly. That quiet, misterioso air is one specialty, conjuring a dream state: a slow-motion sleepwalk.

There's a nice contrast among the three quintets heard on Dave Douglas' Three Views, sketching out some of his interests. There's no overlapping repertoire or personnel. The Orange Afternoons session features the elastic rhythm trio of pianist Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh on bass and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

Jazz has long been a staple of European television programming. American musicians on tour frequently turn up on the tube, caught live or in a studio. That's partly because such shows are relatively cheap to produce, and because jazz makes for good cultural programming.

Most of the material from Live in Europe 1967 has surfaced before — the set is subtitled The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 — but the Belgian concert that performance comes from makes its debut here. This Miles Davis quintet was consistently amazing, not least on its last big tour, when Davis' trumpet chops were in good shape.

Jazz has always drawn on the syncopated rhythms of Cuban music, and occasionally draws on other new world strains, like Brazilian bossa nova in the 1960s. But that interaction between North and South is ongoing.

Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." — the 15-minute piece, and the album that's named for it — was one of the startling jazz recordings of the 1970s, a rethinking of possibilities open to the avant-garde. In the 1960s, free jazz was mostly loud and bashing, until some Chicagoans began playing a more open, quieter improvised music. That inspired St. Louis players like Hemphill, who also had ties to heartland rhythm-and-blues scenes. Hemphill's genius was to combine the Chicagoans' dramatically spare sound with a heavy backbeat. His new urban music smacked of old country blues.

It bugs Tyshawn Sorey that drummers don't get enough credit as composers, as if rhythm was the only thing they understood about music. That helps explain why Sorey's first two albums cut against expectations. They're studies in the slowly changing colors of long tones and sustained harmonies, a music of quietude and sudden disruptions. But his new album, Oblique — I, is mostly the kind of rollicking band album you'd expect from a powerhouse drummer.

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