Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

This absolutely gorgeous album – just out on Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Hot Cup label – is a lock for one of the best of 2009 in any style of music. It’s marketed as jazz, although it could just as easily be called minimalism or classical. It would make an amazing soundtrack if the label could find a film that deserved it. Baritone sax player Charles Evans uses the entirety of his instrument, not just the low registers. He can make it sing, like Gerry Mulligan, but with more imagination, adding overtones and harmonics and a vibrato that he can slow waaaaaay down to Little Jimmy Scott speed. The most obvious comparison, imaginatively if not exactly stylistically, is genre-defying funkstress and ambient baritone sax composer Paula Henderson. Pianist Neil Shah is a first-rate rock songwriter and barrelhouse player, but what he does here is 180 degrees from that – to say that his playing here is haunting is a considerable understatement. Jazz fans will hear echoes of Keith Jarrett, but his real antecedent is Erik Satie. This album, a suite of six pieces, has Shah laying down a frequently macabre, terse mode that Evans colors with deliberateness and precision; other times it’s Evans who introduces the mood and has Shah embellish it ever so slightly. It’s as poignant as it is hypnotic.

The first two pieces are trio suites of their own,  the intial track, Junie, quickly establishing the otherworldly glimmer that will dominate from here on in. Shah expertly works two different palettes, ominous in the left hand, colorful and Romantic in the right, when it comes time for his solo. They take it out with a Messiaenesque warped boogie of sorts, Evans supplying rhythmic accents loaded with implication. The second mini-suite, On Tone Yet, demonstrates the uncanny chemistry between the two musicians: the two play these songs as a truly integral unit, as if a single mind was bringing them to life (or exhuming them – this is dark stuff). Shah’s insistent series of simple chords, switching a single voice among the keys for an effect that goes from subtle to sinister in a split second, veers off into a strikingly cantabile passage and then menacingly back again, is a high point. They float it out with Indian-inflected ambience, sax holding the piano up to keep it from disappearing into the murk.

Mono Monk is the most minimalist song on the album, Evans and Shah emphasizing the space between the notes with as much stern judiciousness as what they play. The lone cover here, Jan Roth’s sarcastically titled An Die Fliegenden Fische (The Flying Fish) is more of a jellyfish, albeit a playful, bluesy one, Evans contributing a pretty, lyrical solo matched by Shah’s Bill Evans-style cascades. The cd wraps up with a nine-minute number with a title that goes on almost as long and fairly neatly sums up the whole set: mournful Satie-esque piano followed by Evans’ most expansive, bluesiest solo of the night; some call-and-response; a pregnant pause, and then sax and piano switch roles.

There are only two drawbacks here. The first is an overabundance of crowd applause after the songs – we’re talking thirty seconds at the end of the cd. That’s Guns & Roses stuff, and while it’s hardly a disaster, it is annoying. It sounds like there were three people in the audience and they’re trying to compensate for it, and they can’t (but what a treat to have been one of those three, in what is obviously a sonically exquisite space!). The other quibble is that, hey, they’re at Saint Stephens: da-da, da da-da-da-da, da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-DA-da-da-da! Dude, why not do that one? Dollars to donuts these two would do something with it that would make Jerry Garcia proud.

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December 23, 2009 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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