By Mike Faloon | Photos by Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh / Studio MBK
“I’m a jazz musician, but I’m allowed to think.” – Alan “Juice” Glover
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The Alan “Juice” Glover Quartet is playing tonight, and it's a bittersweet occasion. I've been hearing hype about the legendary Glover for weeks, but it's also the last of the weekly Monday night jazz sessions. More on that later.
Keyboardist Lora Cohan opens the first set, wades into “Of Things Green,” warm and inviting. The rest of the band listens, heads bowed, motionless. Then, boom, they’re up and swinging, quick and sure footed, like a middleweight.
Saxophonist Alan “Juice” Glover leads. He’s gliding along, sailing. But don’t start thinking Kenny G. or GRP “The doctor will see you” jazz. There’s an edge, a nudge, his sound is stirring, not numbing. His tone reminds me of Wayne Shorter, and there’s something in his approach that reminds me of Pharaoh Sanders.
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I’ve been telling my neighbor about these Monday night sessions. He almost made it tonight but something came up.
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Tonight is the final show of the weekly Monday Night Jazz Sessions at Quinn’s. The shows will continue, but at different intervals.
I first came to Quinn’s back in January. I came to see Joe McPhee. I’d spent the previous year entranced by one of his records, Nation Time, and couldn’t believe he was playing just up the road from me. And two sets, no less. I’ve been to a couple of jazz clubs in the city. They’re expensive and prone to pretension. I’m more comfortable with t-shirts and tattoos, the bearded and the weird. I wondered to what extent a show at Quinn’s would run parallel. I didn’t know the place. Were they going to clear the club between sets, have people line up outside, treat it like two separate shows? I wondered how inviting the people and place would be.
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Alan Glover has been in and around the New York jazz scene since the ‘70s. For years he hosted shows at his loft in Alphabet City. He’s a writer, filmmaker, thinker, and builder. He’s a hell of a musician, too; he makes a strong first impression on stage. I’m hooked moments into the show. I can’t believe a musician this good and this out there lives just over the hills, in Poughkeepsie, and I never heard him before now. How’d I miss someone of this magnitude? (Makes him sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise, mysterious elder living beyond the spotlight.)
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Glover is a showman, too; he can hold a stage without an instrument. He quotes Hamlet. (“'To be or not to be'—scholars don’t really know what it means but I do. You’ll have to read my memoirs.”) He sells the challenges of improvising over 10/8 time, makes it sound less like an arduous task and more like deeply gratifying challenge.
I read about Glover before the show. A few sources cited Glover’s Christian faith. From my experience with Christian musicians, they tend to tell more than question, act from a position “I know and you should, too.” The term “spiritual jazz” was also bandied about. That's a more apt term for Glover, musicians who question more than tell. Disciples of A Love Supreme and the records that followed in its wake. “Here’s what I’m grappling with…” This is Glover as Coltrane.
Glover’s a big question guy, a free thinker. Sure, he’ll preach, get in his three cents on things theological. He sets up “Be Still and Know That I Am” by talking about Jesus and Luke. But like I said, he works a mic as well as he does a sax, and part of working a room is reading the crowd. He knows when to switch gears.
“I admire scientists. They have a thought. They work on it. Then they try again.” Setting up the title track from The Blue Shift, Glover wonders if there was more than one Big Bang. “He couldn’t be satisfied with a bang. It’s more like bang di di bang da bang bang.” The same joke is printed on the back of The Blue Shift CD. I love it when people reuse jokes. Glover as Rickles.
Glover explains the underlying science of The Blue Shift. Something about astronomers using red shifts to search the galaxy for new life forms. He wonders what blue shifts will reveal. The songs from this record make more sense, he says, when you listen to them in order, they build on each other, the sequence matters. It’s like he jumped into a mid-semester astronomy lecture. “I started with the sixth track on the album. That’s unfair.” Glover as Sagan.
Out of context these anecdotes might seem to frame Glover as a “folksy wisdom” guy, a dude with scratch-off thinking—shallow and easy to brush aside. But check out his Musiversal Slide Rule. It’s billed as a “Circular Slide Rule.” It’s an impressive artifact for lay people, and it works for musicians, too (check out the testimonials in the Musiversal Scale Rule brochure).
Better yet talk with Glover. Let him guide you through the math of the Scale Rule. “The lower the ratio, the more harmonious, more pleasing to the ear.” He reaches for a copy of The Musiversal Visual Aid: A Visual Study of Harmonic Relationships for Students, Composers, and Improvisers. He represents different chords using shapes and colors. It’s ingenious. I think of how hard we work in schools to make concepts accessible to kids, differentiation is all the rage, and here’s someone who’s translated sound to polygons and primary colors.
With all the talk of space and spirits it’d make sense for Glover and company to play slow and contemplative, give us a chance to let everything sink in. There are elements of that. Lora Cohan keeps finding gaps to fill. Bassist William Hopson displays new levels of laid back. He breaks character only once, smiling when Glover mentions his upcoming marriage.
And while Cohan and Hopson keep things grounded Glover and drummer Michael T. A. Thompson take flight. On “The Blue Shift” Thompson keeps the beat and solos around it simultaneously. I’ve never seen so much vertical action, so much movement above the kit. His drumming is like discovering a new Romantic language—the building blocks are familiar but the shifts, changes, updates are mind scrambling.
Atop these elements, disparate yet cohesive, there’s Glover, calm and cool and providing a propulsion that belies his years. He’s about to celebrate “the 17th anniversary of my 50th birthday.” He has a new album of originals brewing (“Paradox On a Narrow Road, a multi-mixed metaphor including how improvisers lean on one another”) and his kids want him to record a Christmas record, too—“in your style,” they say.
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The jazz series at Quinn’s isn’t over, just moving on in a different form. Still I’ll miss these going on these wild rides every week. It’s part art exhibit—the unveiling of something vital and thought provoking. And it’s part bowling league—familiar, comforting, low key and part of the weekly routine. Something for the brain, something for the soul.
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I don’t know what I’ll say when my neighbor asks about tonight’s show. What good’s rubbing it in?
 Later, typing my notes, I flash to Rudy Gutierrez’s illustrations in Sprit Seeker, a Coltrane picture book.