K E V I N   L e G E N D R E


Kevin Le Gendre is a journalist and broadcaster with a special interest in black music. Deputy editor of Echoes, he contributes to a wide range of publications that include Jazzwise, MusicWeek, Vibrations and The Independent On Sunday and also appears as a commentator and critic on radio programmes such as BBC Radio 3's Jazz On 3 and BBC Radio 4's Front Row. Kevin also presented Now's The Time, a weekly two hour jazz programme on BBC London between September 2000 and November 2002. The ethos of the show was to reflect contemporary improvised music in its entirety and this inclusive, ecumenical approach to jazz - thinking beyond categories - has also been a decisive rule of thumb in Kevin's work in the media to date. Prior to moving to London in 1996, Kevin worked as a producer in the language unit of the Open University production centre where he devised audio material for French courses. 


Sign Of The Times
I first approached BBC Greater London Radio with the idea of presenting a weekly jazz show in July 1999. BBC London Live, as it subsequently became known, agreed and Now's The Time debuted in September 2000. BBC London, deciding "Live" was perhaps not the way to go, changed its mind, scrapping the show, along with several other acclaimed specialist programmes, in November 2002. Now's The Time was broadcast every Tuesday between midnight and 2 am and its relatively short run [Or maybe it's long if we're reasoning in jazz boy band terms!] gave me the opportunity to play what I thought were the most interesting examples of improvised music I could find from anywhere in the world. From the outset, the show adopted an open-minded approach to the stylistic minefield called jazz. The numerous sub-genres and individual schools that have evolved throughout the history of the music - bebop, cool, avant-garde, third stream, Afro-Latin, fusion - actually mean very little in the greater scheme of things. What counts is the 'universe of sound', as Max Roach once put it, that all of these different vibrations belong to. The raison d'etre of Now's The Time was to embrace the many different artists from both the outer reaches and inner core of improvised music without disproportionate emphasis. No one type of sound came to define the show. We dug Marcus Miller as much as Ornette Coleman. Trying to break down the barriers that exist within jazz was perhaps not the most important goal that the show pursued. Now's The Time was keen to expose a lot of unrecognized musicians who fell through the cracks for one reason or another. One of the most important of whom was saxophonist Charles Brackeen, a musician who recorded with Ornette's cohorts back in the 50s, worked with the mighty drummers Paul Motian and Ronald Shannon Jackson [another Coleman spar, no less] in the 70s, then went on to make some outstanding music in the 80s. His Attainment became a key track in the first year of the show. This was a modern day spiritual, a plea from the heart that was both earthy and abstract. It had the urgency of an American urban mind and the languor of an African villageois soul and inspired a fair amount of interest from unsuspecting listeners. Brackeen is an example of an artist who was neglected in his most fertile period [1987-1990] for several reasons. He was too old to be a young lion, too young to be a veteran. Mainstream jazz circles never really took to him. Moreover he was an exponent of cliché-free improvised music that wasn't easily defined. Brackeen wasn't identified with any particular scene. His albums weren't packaged like classic Impulse! titles. Interestingly enough, the view I encountered among some "heads" when I said that I'd be presenting a show of contemporary jazz was one of thinly veiled skepticism. I was told there'd be absolutely no mileage in it; that I'd have to stick to the 70s - the chapter of the artform's evolution that provides the choice terrain for breakbeats. I was told in no uncertain terms that the 80s and 90s were fallow land. Jazz in the millennium lacked loops. It had no obvious samples. All the more reason to listen to it, said I. The pieces on this compilation reflect that obtuse, indefinable character of contemporary jazz. They present myriad voices - those recorded in acoustic and electric settings, those using minimalist and expansive instrumentation, those anchored around a backbeat and those bobbing on swing - in an integrated fashion. They hopefully achieve continuity of feeling rather than style. Beyond the idea of the 'broad church' and its attendant ideas of idiomatic freedom, the most important principle of Now's The Time was that the music had to be predominantly contemporary. I selected tracks that would do justice to the name of the show, which lest we forget, was the title of Charlie Parker's finest hour, a manifesto for constant creative renewal and defiance of the status quo. When I listened to Azilut's Pumpkin's Delight I heard the sound of a different drummer yet it was one that was very much of today. The piece's propulsive groove had a touch of Billy Cobham's Quadrant pushed to + 4 on the 1s & 2s but it had absorbed both Jungle's Machine Age angst and its one drop sensibility. All the while subverting some of its salient features: it was Drum &bass with no bass. When I listened to Kadash & The Nile Troop's Elil I heard the primeval spirit of Egyptian trance colliding with the cut and thrust of European improvisation. It was too jazzy for a World market and too World for a jazz market. Falling between similar stools was the future ancestral chant of Omar Sosa's Eleggua, the swirling strains of Omer Avittal's Marrakesh, the hypnotic dynamics of Peter Apfelbaum's Long Road/Motherless Child and the joyous bounce of Jamaladeen Tacuma and Burhan Orcal's Two By Two. As for the stark, lugubrious sound of Tied &Tickled Trio's Van Brunt it was grade A industrial gospel, charged yet tender enough to rouse mas camps from Portobello to San Fernando. Martin France's Spin Marvel was murky uberfunk that was way off the beatbox radar. In other words there was no quick and easy tag for all of this music. No easily marketable box. No readymade category. It's not Nu Jazz even though it's new jazz. None of the featured artists here are part of a movement or a school of thought that will hold the torch in the aftermath of fusion and bop. As pianist Geri Allen said several years ago 'it's open on all sides and in the middle'. That's why it's so exciting. As well as making a statement on behalf of plurality in jazz Now's The Time also celebrated its global nature. The show always emphasised the fact that this African-American artform had traveled the world and the cross-cultural dimension of the music's history is an integral part of its richness. This compilation features artists from America, Britain, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Which takes us to the very last edition of Now's The Time that was broadcast in November 2002. We tried to pack as much of planet groove as possible into our valedictory two hours. Goran Kajfes, William Parker, Cuong Vu, Louis Moholo's Dedication Orchestra, Paco Sery, Dolmen Orchestra and John Lindberg were all in the mix. Cleveland Watkiss performed a virtual duet with Mal Waldron and Stokeley Carmichael told us that "the most violent thing to do is to sterilize a human being… for a goddam transistor radio." Maybe now's the time for the "rhythms of resistance".
Kevin Le Gendre, February 2003