PHILIP FREEMAN has written Ugly Beauty: Jazz in the 21st Century, a vital guide to the contemporary musical landscape which will be published by Zero Books in January 2022.
Freeman has been writing about jazz, metal, world music, and modern classical for 25 years. WBGO’s Nate Chinen describes him as “a free-thinking jazz critic, wary of majority opinion and allergic to conventional wisdom” and the New York Times’Giovanni Russonello has praised his “thoughtful, ear-first, socially attuned music criticism.” His work has been published in DownBeat, Jazziz, The Wire, Jazznytt, the L.A. Times, and the Village Voice, and on Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, and many other sites. He is the co-founder of the independent arts and culture website, podcast and record label Burning Ambulance, and his previous books include New York is Now!: The New Wave of Free Jazz (The Telegraph Company, 2001), Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis (Backbeat, 2005) and the anthology Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs (Da Capo, 2007).
Ugly Beauty, which shares its title with the monthly column Freeman has been writing for Stereogum since 2017, consists of profiles and analyses of 43 musicians, divided into five sections. As Freeman says in the book’s introduction, “I encourage you to think of [Ugly Beauty] less as an encyclopedia and more as a collection of postcards”.
The artists in the first section are traditionalists, placing themselves in the creative lineage of jazz as it’s been played since the 1950s, and even before. They are trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonists JD Allen and Wayne Escoffery, and pianists Orrin Evans, Victor Gould, Ethan Iverson, and Jason Moran.
The second set of artists blurs the lines between jazz and modern composition, creating fully scored pieces or platforms for rules-based improvisation, and expanding the parameters of “jazz.” They are trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, flutist Nicole Mitchell, pianist Vijay Iyer, guitarist Mary Halvorson, cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.
The book’s third section deals with jazz as it’s interpreted outside New York, and outside the US, by artists from across the global Black diaspora and beyond. They are trumpeters Yazz Ahmed and Ndabo Zulu; saxophonists Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings, Darius Jones, Linda Sikhakhane, and Kamasi Washington; trombonists Ryan Porter and Siya Makuzeni; pianists Cameron Graves, Nduduzo Makhathini, and Thandi Ntuli; guitarist Shirley Tetteh; bassists Miles Mosley and Thundercat; harpist Brandee Younger; drummer/beatmaker Makaya McCraven; and vocalist Dwight Trible.
The fourth section profiles five trumpeters, raised on hip-hop and reshaping the role of the trumpet in modern jazz. They are Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Ambrose Akinmusire, Theo Croker, Keyon Harrold, and Marquis Hill.
The final section examines artists whose work embraces punk-rock, DIY experimentalism; despite being steeped in history, they’re as happy making beat tapes or electronic noise as improvising on acoustic instruments. They are trumpeter Jaimie Branch, saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Matana Roberts, bassist Luke Stewart, drummer/beatmaker Kassa Overall, and poet/electronic musician Moor Mother.
The chapters frequently take live performances witnessed by the author as their jumping-off point, and are based on interviews conducted between 2010 and 2020. In between, Freeman asks vital questions: If jazz’s mission is to “make it new,” then why is there still so much attention paid to the music of the distant past? What does music made for spiritual reasons mean to a listener who approaches it without understanding of or interest in the faith that inspired it? Is jazz a sound, or just a marketing term? Where are its boundaries, and what happens once a musician breaks them?
Ugly Beauty: Jazz in the 21st Century will introduce the reader to dozens of artists making genuinely new music in what is undeniably one of the strongest eras in jazz history. It will change the way you listen, and the way you hear.