Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Rafiq Bhatia Brings His Surreal Soundscapes to a Summer Series in Midtown

It’s hard to think of a guitarist who personifies the state of the art in ambient jazz more individualistically or interestingly than Rafiq Bhatia. He’s just as much at home reinventing Mary Lou Williams tunes with his longtime collaborator Chris Pattishall as he is creating an immersive electronic swirl. Bhatia’s next gig is outdoors at Bryant Park at 7 PM on August 19.

Bhatia had the good fortune to release his most recent album, Standards Vol. 1 – streaming at Bandcamp – in January of 2020. It’s a characteristically outside-the-box series of interpretations of iconic jazz tunes. He opens it by transforming In A Sentimental Mood into a disquieting series of sheets of sound, running Riley Mulherkar’s trumpet and Stephen Riley’s tenor sax through several patches including an icy choir effect.

Cécile McLorin Salvant sings The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face with alternatingly coy charm and outright menace, enhanced electronically by Bhatia’s minimalist textural washes. The only track that Bhatia plays guitar on here is Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, which he reinvents as an utterly desolate, surrealistically looped, raga-tinged nightscape, Craig Weinrib a fugitive on the run with his palms on the drum heads. The two horns take it out with a dusky wee-hours conversation.

The album’s final number is The Single Petal of a Rose, Pattishall’s spare, raindrop piano licks subtly processed (and maybe cut and pasted) to flit into and out of the sonic picture. It’s a prime example of how Bhatia builds a space to get lost in.

August 12, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hyuna Park Brings Her Melodic, Artfully Composed Piano Jazz to an Outdoor Gig in Queens

Pianist Hyuna Park writes vivid, translucent songs without words. Like a lot Korean-born jazz artists, she’s equally informed by the High Romantic as well as traditional American sounds. And she tells a great story. She had the good fortune to release her latest album Her Morning Waltz – streaming at Bandcamp – in 2019, with bassist Myles Sloniker and drummer Peter Traunmueller. She’s playing an early-evening outdoor gig on the trailer out back of Culture Lab in Long Island City on August 14 at 5 PM.

She opens with the album’s title track, taking a solo, Debussy-esque first verse before the music grows more spacious as the rhythm section come in and the trio develop a genial, spare jazz waltz. Park’s penchant for subtle but emotionally impactful thematic variations really pays off at the end.

Track two is titled The Boy From Ipanema. Park builds around the famous tropical tune, then veers further outward and upward as Sloniker pedals a catchy latin soul riff. She traces an eventful trajectory in Flight of Migrants, from graceful triplet clusters to a mighty peak, then a momentary, minimalistic calm before the drama resumes.

Park leaves the narrative path for some unbridled bounding around in The Stars Fell on Seoul: with Traunmueller’s loose-limbed solo, this is a real meteor shower. Her incisive chords contrast with a gentle clave swing in They Can’t Take That Away From Me, the most expansive number here; Park’s long descent to a quiet, reflective tableau is one of the album’s high points.

Driving in New York, as Park sees it, involves a lot of potholes and lane changes: just when it seems the coast is clear, here comes that clown trying to beat the light! It’s the funniest track on the record.

Park flips the script with The Way to the Stars, an unselfconsciously gorgeous, Chopineque ballad. She opens Grandpa’s Clock as a fond, catchy reflection, shifts into funkier territory, her incisive pedalpoint over a somber, bowed Sloniker solo. Then she goes on a scramble to coalesce with a coy chime riff before a return to the saturnine second theme: time clearly left some ravages behind.

Park takes her time, solo, with the album’s soberly rippling, pensive concluding tableau. She deserves to be vastly better known and is someone to keep an eye on.

August 9, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vivid, Richly Textured New Middle Eastern Jazz Album From Todd Marcus

Along with Amir ElSaffar and Ibrahim Maalouf, Todd Marcus is one of this era’s great paradigm-shifters blending jazz with traditional Middle Eastern sounds. Like ElSaffar, Marcus came to his Middle Eastern roots from the jazz side; he’s also one of very few bass clarinetists to lead a large ensemble. He debuted his latest recorded suite, In the Valley, to a packed house at Smalls in late 2017 and recorded it on his latest album, The Hive, about a year and a half later. Like so many other great records originally slated for a 2020 release, it’s just out now but hasn’t hit the web yet. If luscious low-register textures and edgy chromatics are your thing, you can catch Marcus back at Smalls again, leading a quartet on August 11 with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

In general, the album is a portrait of Cairo and its relentless energy. Pianist Xavier Davis provides an icy, spacious solo intro to the first number, Horus. On one hand, the interweave of the horns – Alex Norris on trumpet, Alan Ferber on trombone, Greg Tardy on tenor sax and Brent Birckhead on flute and alto sax – brings what could have been a classic Mohammed Abdel Wahab arrangement for strings into the here and now. Bassist Jeff Reed and drummer Eric Kennedy slink and then kick up a storm behind the bandleader’s mentholated articulacy, then a punchy Norris solo. The band take it out with a series of allusively levantine conversations. This city is a pretty wild place.

Staggered but regal counterpoint, stately brass flourishes, and a restless, Mingus-esque urban bustle alternates with moments of calm throughout the album’s title track. Ferber chooses his spots as the rhythm section picks up more weight; Kirk negotiates the passing tones, matched masterfully by Tardy as he reaches for the sky.

Cairo Street Ride is a salute to city cab drivers’ agility behind the wheel, the brass drolly revving toward redline before giving way to precisely orchestrated exchanges, a portrait of controlled chaos. Reed racewalks precisely over an increasingly latin-tinged backdrop: control cedes to chaos and then back as the vehicle weaves from lane to lane.

Final Days descends in a flash from a bright intro to a somber, wintry reflection on farewells to people and places, anchored by Davis’ steely sway. A dirge punctuated by portentous, unresolved rises drops even further to a wistful, spare Marcus solo that becomes an angst-filled, restrained salute.

The final number is In the Valley, a Valley of Kings tableau with a Gil Evans sweep and majesty, from murky lows all the way up to the top of the pyramids, a majestic march loosening with a reflective swing. Tardy’s tantalizingly modal solo over increasing turbulence is one of the album’s high points. Davis glides with a quiet triumph to an expertly articulated, labyrinthine coda from the full ensemble. Marcus’ albums typically end up on this blog’s best-albums-of-the-year list and this one also earns that distinction.

August 7, 2022 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blazing Big Band Album and a Low-Key Trio Show From Pianist Steven Feifke

If you’re interested in checking out a musician in an intimate setting, why would you want to listen to his big band album? Because it shows how far he can take an idea and keep it interesting. Steven Feifke’s first big band album, Kinetic – streaming at Spotify – was one of those thousands of releases which were on track to come out in 2020 but didn’t hit the web until a year later…and still pretty much went down the memory hole. And that’s too bad, because Feifke’s compositions are ambitiously tuneful, colorful and have a sly sense of humor. For now, you can catch the pianist leading a trio on August 10 at Mezzrow, where he’s doing two sets at 7:30 and a little after 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

The band – a revolving cast of characters – open the album with the title track, the bandleader spiraling and stabbing right off the bat with a chromatic snarl echoed by blasts from the brass. Leading a frenetically bluesy drive, he sets up a hard-hitting solo from trumpeter Gabriel King Medd followed by a vaudevillian couple of breaks from drummer Ulysses Owens.

Trumpeter Benny Benack III’s smoky muted lines kick off the cinematic, noir-tinged Unveiling of a Mirror, baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas handing off briefly to Alexa Tarantino’s flute. After Benack takes his plunger out, the group hit a brassy swing, dip into some gorgeously gusty Ellingtonian harmonies, then tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon picks it up again. The intro is 180 degrees from what you might think.

Misterioso rising energy also pervades The Sphinx, although there is a good, long joke early on. Alto saxophonist Lucas Pino chooses his spots, sometimes coyly during a lull; the tensely pulsing, Mingus-esque drive toward to another counterintuitive coda is one of the album’s high points. Veronica Swift sings the first of the standards, Until the Real Thing Comes Along, anchored by ambered shades of low brass, more black-and-tan reed harmonies and a sotto-voce swing from bassist Dan Chmielinski. Alto saxophonist Andrew Gould’s flurries against shifting banks of brass and reeds brings the tune to cruising altitude.

Feifke takes a tantalizingly brief, McCoy Tyner-esque opening solo in Word Travels Fast, a playful latin-tinged shuffle, spiced with devious quotes and animated solos from Medd, Pino and drummer Jimmy Macbride through to the album’s most anthemic coda.

Bright brass, shifting meters, a soaring Gould solo and a fiery flurry of individual voices over Feifke’s stern forward drive threaten to go off the rails but never quite do in the next track, Woolongong, It also has the album’s best joke.

Feifke’s big band version of Nica’s Dream is brisk and latinized; Benack goes from goofy to gruff as Tarantino shadows him. Swift returns to the mic over a hypnotic pedalpoint as a gorgeously dynamic stride through On the Street Where You Live gets underway. Trombonist Robert Edwards’ good cheer sets up Gutauskas’ ruminative solo as the blaze flares and flickers behind him.

The goofiest number here is Midnight Beat, which seems to be a satirically beefed-up take on cheesy 80s funk-fusion. Dillon takes centerstage in the warmly benedictory finale, Closure. It’s a memorable project from a cast that also includes trumpeters Max Darché and John Lake, trombonists Jeffery Miller, Armando Vergara and Jennifer Wharton, guitarist Alex Wintz, drummers Joe Peri and Bryan Carter.

August 6, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The East Coast Chamber Orchestra Provide a Lush, Sweeping Coda to This Year’s Naumburg Bandshell Concerts

Yesterday evening was this year’s final installment of the newly resumed and increasingly popular Naumburg Bandshell concerts. Needless to say, it’s been heartwarming to see attendance continuing to grow like it has in the last couple of weeks, although considering how this city was deprived of live music for the better part of the past two years, that turnout is hardly a surprise.

Self-directed string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra opened their own return to the bandshell with Adolphus Hailstork’s Sonata di Chiesa, a series of variations on allusively gospel-tinged themes. The orchestra quickly shifted from a stern march to a triumphant hymnal swirl with violin and cello front and center in majestic, restrained interplay which grew more carefree. A lively, buoyant dance interlude gave way to what might be termed a balmy southern soul pastorale which resonated in the early evening mugginess hanging over the park.

Slowly and methodically, the ensemble brought the theme down to the cellos out of a Dvorakian wariness, then rose with more than a hint of stately plainchant that grew more lush and windswept. The orchestra took it out with a return to a triumphant waltz.

Next on the bill was a triptych bookending a pair of rare Peruvian renaissance songs around a Josquin lost-love canon, arranged for strings by Maureen Nelson. Matching sumptuous sweep with an icepick precision from the violins, these fifteenth-century pieces reflected European grace more than any discernible indigenous influences.

The orchestra wound up the evening with a vigorous, richly dynamic, Mahlerian arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden.” A stiletto grace underpinned the initial heroic theme: the first of the series of blustering riffs from the cellos, before the false ending, packed a visceral wallop. The effect was much the same again after the group returned from a comfortably lulling counterpoint.

It didn’t take long for the orchestra to bring that anthemic edge back after the initial ballad theme in the andante second movement, where the heroine is reassured that she shouldn’t fear the reaper.

Awash in wistful lushness, the third movement rose to a High Romantic angst that a mere four strings couldn’t have hoped to match. Impressively, the coda was as balletesque as it was symphonic. They encored with an unhurried arrangement of the Bach chorale Schmucke Dich, o Liebe Seele, raising it to a plushness considerably beyond the spare version which is a staple of the organ repertoire.

One issue that needs to be resolved for next year, which wasn’t a significant problem earlier this summer, was when a Parks Department truck with a shrieking backup alarm interrupted the end of the Peruvian baroque suite…and then returned during one of the concert’s quietest moments. Stupidity? Sadism? There are two ways to deal with that issue. It couldn’t hurt for the organizers (and the New York Philharmonic, whose Central Park shows have been just as rudely interrupted) to get the word out to those behind the wheel. A simpler solution would involve a pair of wire cutters.

August 3, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Outdoor Concert by Powerhouse Saxophonist Eric Wyatt on His Home Turf

Tenor saxophonist Eric Wyatt plays a hard-hitting, no-nonsense style of postbop jazz that he developed not in hushed Manhattan listening rooms but in the wee hours at dives deep in his native Brooklyn. For Wyatt, jazz is entertainment, but also part of a tradition that for him has a cutoff point about 1959. If a smoky, purist oldschool sound is your thing, he’s playing a rare daytime show at noon on August 2 with a group TBA at Columbus Park, Cadman Plaza East and Johnson St. in downtown Brooklyn, a couple of blocks down Court St. from Borough Hall.

Wyatt’s most memorable album, Borough of Kings, came out in 2014. It’s probably the wildest record that the Posi-Tone label ever put out and it may not have sold well because they never put out another one. The band have a feral, careening time through a mix of postbop originals that frequently fade out instead of ending cold. There are pros and cons with that kind of haphazard approach, but it goes to show how hard it probably was to rein in Wyatt’s propensity for unhinged energy in a studio setting.

There’s more recent Wyatt out there, one prime example being an hourlong video from the jam session at Smalls, which he frequently leads. This one’s from New Years Day, 2022 (actually January 2 considering that the jam there invariably starts sometime after midnight). There doesn’t seem to be much of a crowd in the house, and Wyatt starts out in a slightly more subdued mood. Here he’s leading a quartet with an extrovert drummer (who isn’t credited in the shownotes or at the Smalls event page), along with Benito Gonzalez on piano and Jason Maximo Clotter on bass.

The tumbling drums match Gonzalez’s insistent lefthand crunch as Wyatt chooses his spots with a modal smolder in the first number, a Mongo Santamaria tune. As the set goes on, Wyatt seldom veers far from that intensity. Gonzalez relishes his chance to do his own hard-hitting chromatic thing up the scale over the crash and burn behind him.

The band hit a loosely tethered swing in Sonny Rollins’ Silver City, Wyatt gruff and acerbic but also wickedly precise with his arpeggios, balancing that with little more than a hint of the savagery he can conjure. Gonzalez relentlessly evades anything approximating major or minor; Clotter evokes burbling horn voicings with his cheery solo. Gonzalez finally takes it to Cuba at the end.

Wyatt keeps his modal edge through a McCoy Tyner tune that Gonzalez brought to the session, the pianist exploring it with a slightly more light-fingered attack over the rhythm section’s staggered swing. By now, the conversations are starting, Gonzalez shadowing Wyatt as the drummer fuels the blaze.

Oh yeah, if you’re wondering where Wyatt gets his sound, his godfather is Sonny Rollins.

July 31, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playful and Pensively Picturesque Themes with the Knights at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell was the second performance of the summer by irrepressible, shapeshifting orchestra the Knights. It wasn’t as deviously thematic as their first night here last month, where they paired Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” In a more general sense, yesterday evening’s theme was pastiches, both musical and visual.

The group opened with the world premiere of a collaboration between several of their members, Keeping On, whose genesis dates back a few years to when they were messing around with a famous Beethoven riff during practice.

Fast forward to the 2020 lockdown: conductor Colin Jacobsen pondered what John Adams might have done with it, then emailed his sketch to members of the orchestra – which disgraced Governor Andrew Cuomo had infamously put on ice – and asked for their contributions. Several sent theirs back; horn player Mike Atkinson wove them together into a contiguous whole. The famous, fateful riff eventually revealed itself midway through; otherwise, it was a characteristically entertaining little work, from its insistent, minimalist intro to a series of briskly crescendoing phrases making their way around the orchestra, Carl Nielsen style, then bells from the percussion section and hip-hop-influenced vocal harmonies from violinist Christina Courtin and flutist Alex Sopp! An insider orchestral joke that translates to general audiences, who would have thought?

Violin soloist Lara St. John then joined them for the New York premiere of Avner Dorman‘s Violin Concerto No. 2, Nigunim, based on a series of traditional Jewish melodies. The opening Adagio Religioso rose from a hazy theme in the hauntingly chromatic freygische mode to a brief, somber stateliness, then St. John immediately slashed her way through her first cadenza. The pregnant pause afterward was a striking setup for the otherworldly drift and then the undulatingly acidic dance afterward, St. John’s razorwire waltz sailing overhead.

Her fleeting, ghostly incisions flitted over a mist as the second movement got underway, the orchestra almost imperceptibly returning to the astringency and chromatic bite of the previous interlude. Their leap into a suspensefully pulsing klezmer dance was irresistibly fun; St. John led the procession back to disquieting close harmonies and strangely celestial harmonics radiating throughout the string section, up to a jaunty coda.

She and a handful of the string players then surprised the crowd by literally dancing through a lightning-fast, wryly harmonically-infused jam on a traditional klezmer dance.

After the intermission, they concluded with an insightfully picturesque take of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. A Bach-like somberness pervaded the anthemic, initial andante movement, underscoring how much that rugged coastline had impacted a 20-year-old urban Jewish classical rockstar. The brief, massed stilletto passages from the brass were all the more impressive considering that this was an outdoor show, although by half past eight the temperature had dropped to a perfect mid-seventies calm.

The luscious textural contrast between the midrange brass and strings fell away for a ragged run through the goofy country dance that introduced movement two: a moment of sarcasm, maybe? Whatever the case, it worked with the crowd.

The somber lushness of the adagio third movement was inescapable: it’s one thing to credit the young composer for his balance of brass, winds and strings throughout moody and occasionally portentous, martial themes, but the orchestra nailed them, one by one. The succession of Mozartean motives and punchy Germanic phrases on the way out – and deftly executed melismas from the strings – wound it up with a characteristic ebullience.

The final Naumburg Bandshell concert in Central Park this summer is on August 2 at 7:30 PM with self-conducted string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra playing works by Adolphus Hailstork, Peruvian themes arranged by Maureen Nelson and the group’s arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden.” Take the 72nd St. entrance; get there an hour early, at least, if you want a seat.

July 27, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Welcome Return From Obscurity by a New York Romany Jazz Outfit

For many years before the 2020 lockdown, the music school around the corner from St. Marks Park in the East Village put on a weekly series of free lunchtime concerts in front of the church just west of Second Avenue. These ran the gamut from jazz, to klezmer and various styles from the tropics. Back in the early teens, you would see homeless people converging on the space, seemingly out of nowhere, right before the end of the show. That’s because the organizers frequently gave away cookies when the band finished up. The series has returned this year, and it’s very unlikely that there will be cookies for the final show there on July 28 at half past noon. But if you live or work in the neighborhood, you can catch a rare appearance by a group who’ve played there a few times, Gypsy Jazz Caravan.

This may be their first show since the lockdown – beyond an old Reverbnation page, you have to go to the Wayback Machine to find out much of anything about them. They play mostly originals in the time-honored Django Reinhardt tradition, plus a few covers like La Vie En Rose where their sense of humor comes through. This blog was in the house (or, more specifically, in the shade of a tree across the street) for an enjoyably purist, pretty low-key show they played there on a steamy June afternoon in 2016.

Violinist Rob Thomas, lead guitarist Marc Daine, rhythm guitarist Glenn Tosto and bassist Mike Weatherly’s four tracks on the Reverbnation page give you a good idea of what they’re about. With the first one, Bossa Roma. they underscore how effective it can be when you switch out a brisk shuffle beat for a slinky clave groove in order to transform a wistful Romany jazz melody. Their La Vie En Rose cover has some characteristically sly flourishes, while Le Musette de L’Arrogance, a sprightly, biting minor-key waltz, has Thomas doubling Daine’s melody line with a stark melismatic edge..

If you want more Gypsy Jazz Caravan, their 2006 album Pour Les Zazous is up at youtube. The songs are a lot more diverse than all the shredders in the Django cult typically play. One of the highlights among the shuffle tunes is the enigmatic Torment in A Minor; another is the bittersweetly strolling Do the Promenade. If you want a sentimental waltz, White Hotel is for you. The best song on it is Land of the Lonely, with Daine’s spiky leads and Thomas’ shivery intensity. If you miss Stephane Wrembel’s legendary residencies around town, this may be as good as it gets for that style of music right now in New York.

July 26, 2022 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Week in the Park With One of New York’s Most Colorful Jazz Pianists

Pianist Joel Forrester is one of the great wits and great tunesmiths in jazz. The co-founder of the colorful, cinematic Microscopic Septet may be best known for writing a famous radio theme for a network which enjoyed a multimillion-listener following in the decades before it was weaponized in the 2020 mass compliance campaign. Since the 80s, Forrester has also pursued a solo career infused with a sardonic wit that’s sometimes cartoonish, sometimes very slyly subtle. He’s playing a weeklong solo stand starting July 25 through 29 at half past noon outdoors on the back terrace behind the library at Bryant Park.

One good record that’s worth a spin if you’re thinking checking out any of these performance is his characteristically playful duo album Status Sphere with tenor saxophonist Vito Dieterle, which hit the web right before the lockdown and is streaming at youtube. It’s a mix of both obscure and familiar tunes by Forrester’s big influence, Thelonious Monk, along with a handful of originals.

The two musicians open with Work, the proprietor of swanky New York jazz club the Django taking the melody line with a carefree, smoky approach as Forrester works a jaunty stride pulse. The duo make a slow, turbo-hydramaticized drag out of Crepuscule With Nellie, which they reprise even more expansively at the end of the album.

The first of the Forrester tunes, Mock Time is a catchy swing number built around a bouncy series of descending riffs, Dieterle adding edgy flourishes. Forrester’s subtle dynamic shifts and sudden coy accents anchor Dieterle’s calm lyricism in their take of Ruby My Dear.

Forrester’s Requiem For Aunt Honey is a fondly swaying, gospel-tinged song without words. A return to Monk with a deviously offbeat version, spring-loaded version of Let’s Call This is next, followed by another Forrester number, About Françoise, a misty, steady ballad that brings to mind Fred Hersch’s most Monk-influenced work.

The take of Pannonica here is on the opulent side, Dieterle’s dancing lines over Forrester’s muted understatement and winking rises. The most obscure of the Monk compositions is the cheery, latin-inflected Ba-Lu-Bolivar Ba-Lues Are. Forrester adds smirky ornamentation as well a pouncing rhythm as Dieterle chooses his spots in the wryly titled Don’t Ask Me Now. And in The Comeback, the two work erudite variations on a theme that will resonate with fans of the edgily iconic repertoire here.

Left to his own devices onstage, Forrester can be totally in the tradition, or go way down the rabbit hole, much in the same vein as Anthony Coleman. The most recent time this blog was in the house at a solo Forrester gig, it was an early evening show in the summer of 2018 at a onetime Park Slope hotspot (since weaponized in the 2020 compliance campaign) where he decided to throw caution to the wind and opt for thorny terrain. It’s a fair bet he’ll concentrate on the more accessible stuff in his repertoire for the midtown park gigs.

July 23, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Translucent, Ambitious Environmentally-Themed Jazz Comes to Long Island City

One of the summer’s more intriguing outdoor shows is in a couple of days, on July 24 at 7 PM at Culture Lab in Long Island City where saxophonist Joseph Herbst’s Ghost in the Mirror large ensemble teams up with the adventurous string players in Quartet Davis for an ambitious, environmentally-themed night of symphonic jazz. Herbst’s new album This is Our Environment – which is every bit as ambitious – is streaming at Bandcamp.

Herbst’s colorful compositions here typically follow a circular template, airy calm bookending an endless series of unexpected thematic shifts. This is not music for people who need predictable verse/chorus patterns but it sure is catchy.

The first number, They Say There Are Beautiful Trees sets the stage. A catchy, loopy Luther S. Allison piano phrase, then Liany Mateo’s murky bowed bass lay the groundwork, then brighter sax/trumpet layers harmonize with Aubrey Johnson’s reflecting-pool vocalese. A churning bass solo sets up a triumphant coda from the bandleader before the sextet bring it full circle.

Poet Dasan Ahanu casts Momma Nature as somebody who gives us tough love, Allison and drummer Zach McKinney providing a thoughtful backdrop. Guitarist Peter Martin takes over the loopily insistent intro to Solastalgia, Herbst and trumpeter Evan Taylor wafting into an edgy conversation before joining harmonies in a bright, crescendoing theme spiced with clever piano flourishes. A bitingly modal rise sets off a searing interlude with Martin and the bandleader at gale force; Johnson steps in as voice of reason at the end.

Cynthia ‘THiA’ Sharpe takes over the mic for a second environmentalist parable, Mama E. The group follow with Is This My Fault?, a lush, sweeping tune anchored by a subtle waterwheeling piano riff, then they take it in a calmly drifting direction as the rhythm shifts in and out of waltz time. Martin builds a spare, pensive solo to an icepick intensity as Allison and McKinney lash the shoreline behind him.

Yexandra ‘Yex’ Diaz flexes her lyrical chops in over Allison’s stern lefthand riffage in the intro and outro to Makes No Cents, the band again in and out of 3/4 with Johnson leading the crystalline harmonies. Martin’s foreshadowing riffage underpins a sailing, triumphant Taylor solo; they wind it up with turbulence followed by an enveloping mist.

Johnson returns on vocals for Iron Eyes, a call for unity that builds to an acerbic series of exchanges over a low-key clave, Martin’s grittily psychedelic Rhodes piano receding for Taylor to brighten the mood.

Poet RaShad Eas contributes a meditation on posterity as the Rhodes echoes behind him, then the band leap into Estrange Us, brassily emphatically syncopation dipping to a brief, eerie lull before Herbst pulls the band back in. Martin and then the bandleader fuel an energetic, expectant peak.

Eas delivers a couple of jazz-poetry pieces before the conclusion, Visions of Freedom, a cheerily harmonized, kinetic tune. It’s the album’s most trad postbop number, Herbst and Taylor resonantly and judiciously choosing their spots.

Sophisticated as this music is, and as admirable as Herbst’s environmental focus may be, the rhetoric on the Bandcamp page veers disturbingly close to dystopic World Economic Forum territory. Yes, let’s stop setting stuff onfire, let’s find ways not to burn fossil fuels, let’s clean up our waterways. But let’s not get carried away and shut down all the drilling, the refineries and the pipelines before we have viable substitutes! Crashing the economy in the name of global warming – which is doing a 180 as you read this – is an awfully easy way to starve a whole lot of people to death.

July 22, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment