Jazz On The Web: "Nubian Roots"

My faithful readers, this week I have an assignment for you.
After you've listened to all six webcasts here at SkyJazz, after you've entered all the contests, voted in the surveys, filed a request, left a question with "Ask SkyJazz," told us about your favorite jazz club and left us a message in the guestbook, aim your browsers at http://www.antennaradio.com/jazz/nubianroots and sit back for an interesting education in how some of the tributaries of our music have cut into unexplored territory.

"Nubian Roots" is first among equals in an enterprise of eclectic musical programming by Antenna Internet Radio and it has some extra delights that should be attractive to every jazz fan. Based in Seattle, Washington, USA, the very country from which I compose these offerings, the web site offers a lot of something for every musical taste.

Reggae, hillbilly, country blues, punk, avant-garde, electro-acoustic, experimental, psychedelic, contemporary composed and improvised music are some of the fruits that can be plucked there, but "Nubian Roots" has the most to offer those of us with jazz bones.

Presented by Cathy Austin, or "DJ Cat" as she is known on-air, the weekly program is a constant surprise in its mixture of the various musics of jazz. DJ Cat knows what she's doing.
A fillip of this freebie is the presenter's laudable effort to present background with each webcast. This requires a good deal of research, one suspects, and it adds perspective to what might, at first glance, appear to be a random selection of tunes. But, oh, no, my friends, there's a unity here that doesn't immediately arrest the attention. And that's good.

DJ Cat in the most recent program offered a celebration of Black History Month, commemorated each February here in the United States. Her playlist included Horace Silver, Sun Ra, Abdullah Ibrahim, Art Blakey, Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Miles Davis and lesser known artists (at least to me) such as The Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet, John Lindberg, Bill Dixon and Thomas Chapin.

A constant feature of the program -- also of the other programs on the web site -- is its discographical information, a must-have item for fans who have the archivist's bent, and this includes all the necessaries: artist, title, recording (album) title, label, catalog number, year of recording and any other pertinent information useful to the informed listener.

The bare-bones data are presented in a grid atop a split screen, at the bottom of which is DJ Cat's essay built upon the playlist. It is in the essay -- a mixture of DJ Cat's comments with snippets from the liner notes of the various recordings -- that the listener with untrained ears will begin to see the themes that run through the weekly program. This arrangement serves a very fine educational function for the novice listener or would-be jazz historian, simply because there are so many interesting little tidbits of information that DJ Cat passes along.

For example, she chose "Sameeda" to represent Abdullah Ibrahim this and week and, in a liner note snippet from the original recording "Water >From An Ancient Well" [Blackhawk, 1985], informs us that the title of the tune is the name of a woman who worked with leaders of the slave community in early colonial South Africa. Likewise, "Message from Kenya," the 1953 Blue Note recording that features Art Blakey, illuminated by DJ Cat's explication on Sabu Martinez., conga drummer, and his place in Dizzy Gillespie's big band after Chano Pozo had vacated the chair.

She is wisely hip to the place of the blues in Sun Ra's often puzzling but always adventurous music. Her selection by Sun Ra in this program -- "Blue Intensity" from the album "Nuclear War" [Atavistic, 1982/2002], is chosen to show the value of that root to Sun Ra in particular -- and thus to help explain the logic of his music -- and to jazz in general. It is often not an easy connection for even veteran jazz fans to make, but the placement of this piece in the context of the program makes it perfectly clear. The ear never lies.

If you become a regular listener to "Nubian Roots" and get caught away from your PC during a particular week, never fear. The previous week's program, sans discography, is always available, so each week offers you two shows. Also, playlists for each webcast in the six months prior to August 6, 2001, can be searched by date, artist or record label.

If interactivity your meat, you might get a little hungry at "Nubian Roots." About all you can do is send DJ Cat a message, something I haven't done, but will. But that's OK because, as I am constantly reminding others, the music is the important thing. DJ Cat -- like my friend and mentor here at SkyJazz, Mike Smith -- understands that. And once you've followed the directions in my assignment this week, you will too.