Though plenty of people still haven't caught up with the reality, jazz has long since become a truly international phenomenon. A story by Nate Chinen in Sunday's New York Times quotes Berklee College of Music president Roger Brown saying, "Domestic Caucasian students are a distinct minority at Berklee." The piece focused on musicians from overseas who've brought elements of their native cultures to jazz--to my ears, some of the most exciting work being done these days takes this approach--but it's important to note that there are also foreign players diligently focusing on the American tradition, without cutting in other sounds.
Greek saxophonist Dimitri Vassilakis, based in London these days, plays jazz without a trace of rembetika or Greek folk on his most recent disc, Parallel Lines (not be confused with the Blondie classic). Supported by powerhouse drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and Nigerian bassist Essiet Okon Essiet, he delivers a tough strain of swaggering postbop on tenor sax, with acknowledged inspiration from Sonny Rollins. On a few tracks he overdubs contrapuntal soprano lines, but otherwise the music couldn't be more direct. He hasn't transcended his influences yet, but he's nonetheless a great pleasure to listen to.
Vassilakis is in the country to record a new album, so he's flown into town for a gig this weekend. On Sunday he performs at the new Uncommon Ground on Devon with pianist Dennis Luxion, bassist Bill Harrison, and drummer Phil Gratteau. Strangely, his U.S. appearances are sponsored by British luxury-car manufacturer Bentley.
Wolf Eyes, Human Animal (Sub Pop)
Various Artists, I.D. Art #2 (Paradigm Discs)
Rob Reddy's Small Town, The Book of the Storm (Reddy Music)
Red Krayola With Art & Language, Sighs Trapped by Liars (Drag City)
Camille, Le Sac des Filles (Source, France)