Close readings

By JON GARELICK  |  November 24, 2008

Ratliff is also a passionate and incisive writer about music other than jazz, especially heavy metal — Metallica, Mastodon, and Slayer are favorites. Given his feelings about the social function of music, does he see anyone at Mastodon shows who might like jazz? "I think more and more about the connection between metal and jazz. In metal you have a virtuosic art that has traditionally been open to working-class musicians. You also have an audience where half of them believe there's a certain way to play metal and that's the way it has to be! And the other half of the audience is like: Show me the music of the future, man! It's just like jazz!"

Ratliff will simulate his written conversations tonight (November 20) when he gets together with one of the best pairs of ears in town, Ran Blake, at Brookline Booksmith. They'll talk about a Blake obsession, the use of music in film noir, with examples drawn from DVDs.

I try to avoid in-house promotions in this column, but Jeff Turton makes it a moot point: he's been at WFNX hosting Jazz Brunch (whose "Top Five" always appears at the head of this page) since before the station existed — he was hired in the weeks of transition when the former WLYN was dark. He celebrated his 25th year at the station in April; this month represents his 30th year in Boston radio. He's an institution, but he doesn't sound like one. He has an open hand with his playlist, but he knows who he's programming for. The Brunch (Sundays from 7 to 11 am) has never been a standard bebop show: all manner of jazz crossover and world music makes it in.

"From day one, I've always thought that jazz was a big umbrella music and should really be able to absorb influences from all kinds of different backgrounds," he says over the phone from his day job as technical director of NPR's Living on Earth. He avoids the jazz commonplaces of bass and drum solos and any song longer than six minutes. And he's always on the lookout for new sounds.

"Back in the '80s, during the Young Lions phenomenon — Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts — they were working off standard repertoire. And it's been my contention forever that young guys who didn't grow up with that material should look for inspiration in the music they grew up with. The first time I interviewed Christian McBride, what did we talk about? James Brown. Philly soul. But what was he playing?" The funk has finally found its way into McBride's music, and bands like EST, the Bad Plus, and the Brian Blade Fellowship have given Turton hope. "I'm encouraged with where the music is starting to go. We just need the audience to follow."

BEN RATLIFF WITH RAN BLAKE, Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St, Brookline | November 20 at 7 pm | free | 617.566.6660 orwww.brooklinebooksmith.com | JAZZ COMPOSERS ALLIANCE ORCHESTRA | Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury St, Boston | November 22 at 8 pm | $15 | 781.899.3130 or www.jazzcomposersalliance.org 

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