Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nino Segarra y Su Orquesta Tear It Up Downtown

Nino Segarra may have been big in Puerto Rico in the 80s and 90s but the sound of his big ten-piece salsa band tonight downtown at Wagner Park was straight out of the Fania era. As unexpectedly pleasant as the breeze off the water was while the sun went down behind the clouds, it was obviously hot up on the trailer where the band was playing – this may have been salsa romantica, but as Segarra reminded the crowd more than once, it was definitely sabrosa. With the trombones blazing, the three-piece percussion section rattled and pounded, conjuring up the ghosts of salsa bands past and if those ghosts had been visible, they most certainly would have been dancing. Segarra ran the show James Brown style, counting off the songs briskly: as much as the band (especially the piano player) messed around between songs, they pounced when he gave the signal. The summertime concerts downtown all have themes: the biggest names at Rockefeller Park, trendoid rock at South Street Seaport, with Americana and latin music tucked north of the  Battery in Wagner Park and interestingly, this is where they hide their best sound system. The bass was absolutely booming and so was the baritone sax, particularly during the big, tensely cinematic intro to the salsa anthem Entre la Espada y la Pared.

This was definitely the greatest-hits set. They opened with a couple of big ones: Eres la Unica benefited mightily from the raw, vintage latin jazz-tinged arrangement, as did Esa Mujer (dedicated to all the ladies in the crowd, no surprise). The biggest hit with the crowd was a long Como Amigo Si, Como Amante No, giving voice to a genuine sense of frustration and spiced by a slowly crescendoing tidal wave of a piano solo. Despues de ti que started more quietly, with a plaintive, Dave Valentin-flavored flute solo to kick it off, but built to similarly passionate heights. A more vintage-style number that sounded straight out of the Tito Puente catalog bounced along on a slinky son rhythm. They closed with a homage to Segarra’s native Puerto Rico that put the rhum in rhumba, with blistering solos from bongos, congas and the timbalero, who’d been red-hot all night and made the most of the opportunity with a sizzling, explosive volley of beats. After that, there was no room to take it any higher, and at the end both the band and the casual afterwork crowd took their time disappearing into the evening.

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August 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Luciano Troja Rediscovers an Important Jazz Composer

This is the kind of album we love best: a rediscovery, a new appreciation of someone who may have slipped under the radar. Sicilian pianist Luciano Troja learned of Earl Zindars (1927-2005) through Bill Evans, who popularized Zindars’ best-known composition, How My Heart Sings, as well as recording and playing many of the Chicago-based composer’s works throughout his career. Troja credits Zindars with being one of the pioneers of using multiple time signatures (in this case, 3/4 and 4/4) in the same piece, something of an overstatement: jazz groups were doing it decades before Dave Brubeck popularized the device. But Zindars has been long overdue for a rediscovery: he was third stream before the term existed. Like Brubeck, he blended impressionistic, sometimes brooding Romantic themes with jazz, utilizing strikingly imagistic melodies that sometimes took on a cinematic sweep. Also recognized within the classical world, his works for orchestra and brass were frequently performed during his lifetime. Troja’s new cd At Home with Zindars isn’t the first Zindars album – pianist Bill Cunliffe did one in 2003 with a sextet, and Zindars himself produced a couple for pianist Don Haas and his trio – but it’s probably the best (Zindars rarely recorded professionally, and it doesn’t appear that he ever released an album of his own). Troja plays solo, with an understatedly cantabile glimmer closely attuned to the nuance and warm emotional immediacy of Zindars’ music. It’s an album of subtleties: as a plus, many of the compositions here have never been previously released.

Many of these songs – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – are miniatures, possibly designed to offer a comfortable melodic framework for extended improvisation. The casually swinging, Romantically tinged ballad Mother of Earl that opens the album sets the tone for most of the rest of what’s here. The simply titled Nice Place grows majestically out of a memorably Chopinesque architecture; Silverado Trail builds from minimalistic echoes of Debussy to a vivid blue-sky theme. The memorably moody, modally-tinged My Love Is an April Song is the darkest and most overtly jazz-oriented of all the tracks here, followed closely by the wary, apprehensive vignette I Always Think of You. Several others lean in the opposite direction toward pop, most successfully on the blues-infused Four Times Round, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Harold Arlen catalog. Troja’s version of How My Heart Sings gets a rubato treatment that reaches more avidly for the emotional brass ring here than anything else here; Troja’s lone composition here, Earl and Bill so perfectly captures Zindars’ trademark classical/blues blend that it could be Zindars himself. The album closes with its strongest and most intense track, Roses for Annig, which Zindars wrote for his wife shortly before his death. A couple of tracks here lean toward Windham Hill blandness and could have been left out, but all in all, this is an important achievement and a treat for fans of the genial, evocative style that Zindars – and Troja – so successfully mine. The album comes with a very informative, illustrated 44-page booklet in both English and Italian.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Mark Lomax Trio Tackles a Daunting Theme

The Mark Lomax Trio isn’t your typical jazz trio. On their new album The State of Black America, drummer Lomax, bassist Dean Hulett and tenor saxophonist Edwin Bayard approach Lomax’s compositions with equal parts vigor and rigor. Lomax has stated that he wrote this as an exploration on themes of self-improvement and empowerment: seen as a demonstration of awareness and self-discipline, and the myriad possibilities that open up within those parameters, it’s a stunning success. One possible interpretation is that Lomax, trained in European musical theory, decided to apply the principles of minimalism to a style, jazz, which often resists the severity that school of thought entails.

The other possibility, of course, is that he simply told his guys not to overdo it. Whatever the case, this album is a clinic in making every note count: Lomax is the rare drummer who leaves you wanting more, leading his bandmates through a strikingly terse, brilliantly counterintutive and ultimately joyous series of explorations. Hulett takes the role traditionally assigned to the drums, maintaining the rhythmic center with a strikingly spare, decisive melodicism: he doesn’t just walk scales. Lomax is a colorist here: his palette uses the entire spectrum and the entirety of his kit (especially his snare sound, a richly resounding snap that other drummers will be scratching their heads trying to emulate once they hear it). Likewise, Bayard thoughtfully and decisively builds permutations on simple, memorable blues-based motifs: stripped to its core, this is a great blues album.

The opening cut, Stuck in a Rut seems to be very ironically titled, a jaunty blues theme that contrasts Lomax’s matter-of-factly rapidfire underpinnings with a long, slinkily expansive solo by Hulett. The quintessential track here is the second one, The Unknown Self, a showcase for quietly bristling intensity on Lomax’s part (he opens and closes it with a hushed, rapt intensity), Hulett echoing Bayard and taking the song deep into the blues with another long, minimalist solo. The practically twelve-minute third track, The Power of Knowing moves stately, even regally, bass and sax carrying on a Socratic dialogue once everyone converges, piece by piece, from the shadows. Bayard absolutely owns the fourth track, masterfully expanding on a series of smartly positioned building blocks, Lomax taking his time judiciously and finally reaching the level of a rumble as Bayard circles overhead, triumphantly. They close with a long, expressive blues featuring yet another warmly intelligent, ruminatively deliberate bass solo. This is headphone jazz: those who are in it for the long haul will be richly rewarded. It’s out now on Inarhyme Records.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/11/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #902:

Dickie Goodman – Greatest Fables

Dickie Goodman invented sampling. Along with his partner Bill Buchanan, Goodman enjoyed a string of comedy hits in the mid-1950s that worked a bizarrely funny call-and-response between an announcer (usually the fictitious, bewildered “John Cameron Cameron”) and snippets of the pop hits of the day, the first and most famous of these being The Flying Saucer, a War of the Worlds parody. In shades of what the RIAA would do to unsuspecting downloaders fifty years later, the recording industry sued them for copyright infringement. Buchanan and Goodman responded that their creations were parodies and therefore exempt from prosection – and won the case. And responded with the even funnier Buchanan and Goodman On Trial. Goodman resurfaced, solo, in the 70s with the topical Energy Crisis, the blaxploitation soundtrack parody Superfly Meets Shaft and then his only platinum single, Mr. Jaws, in 1975. Goodman: “And what did you say when the shark touched you?

Olivia Newton-John: “Please, mister, please.”

And so on. This 1998 compilation has all the Buchanan and Goodman hits, including The Touchables (a spoof of late 50s tv detective shows) along with all of his solo singles including the very funny King Kong, from 1978, and an updated version of Flying Saucer by Goodman’s son Jon, utilizing more contemporary song samples. Dickie Goodman committed suicide in 1989. There are several download links for this out there: here’s a random one.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Joel Yennior Trio’s Smart, Entertaining Debut

Trombonist Joel Yennior is best known for his work with Either/Orchestra, but he’s also a composer and bandleader with an often deviously witty signature sound. His free jazz quartet Gypsy Schaeffer’s most recent album, from last year, was an absolute delight. So is his latest project, the Joel Yennior Trio’s debut cd, Big City Circus. And it’s more diverse than the wickedly playful improvisations that he excels at: his dark, pensive central suite here is just as compelling as the more upbeat compositions. This group has an interesting configuration: Yennior is joined here by Eric Hofbauer on guitar and Gary Feldman on drums: as a bassless outfit, the trio deftly switch around to provide a low-register pulse, whether the guitar is pedaling a chord or a low note on the beat, Yennior pulls his slide all the way out, or the drums rumble around. And it makes the arrangements interesting, particularly on Monk’s Gallop’s Gallop, Yennior and Hofbauer switching roles, Hofbauer doing subtly spot-on rhythm and bass at once during the first verse.

The genial original swing tune Dancing Dave sets a warmly melodic tone that remains throughout the album. Burt Bacharach’s A House Is Not a Home is a showcase for gently swaying, warmly tuneful upper-register work from Yennior as the guitar and drums swing tersely underneath. A shapeshifting Ran Blake ballad, Breakthru is closer to Gypsy Schaeffer’s unpredictable jams than anything else here, Hofbauer and Feldman prowling around, waiting for the moment when they all pull it together at the end.

Another original, Postcard to Dorothy is a vividly expressive, wistful jazz waltz. Yennior goes low and outside as Hofbauer solos gently up to a simple Coltrane-esque hook, some deft drum accents and then back. The centerpiece of the album is the practically sixteen-minute three-part suite Justice Lost, inspired by a dispiriting turn Yennior took as a jury member (it was a murder trial: they didn’t convict). They kick it off with a big, cynical intro, liberally quoting the Godfather theme, Feldman’s cymbals and eventually Hofbauer’s guitar chords resounding memorably beneath Yennior’s protesting trombone. The second part is a mournful Ellingtonian blues with some bitterly rustic muted playing by Yennior and a couple of pointedly ironic passages where guitar and trombone go off on completely different tracks but then lock back in a split second. It winds up with a staccato tango that hints at collapse, which it does after a bright solo by Yennior. Feldman gets marvelously suspenseful and whispery, trombone and guitar diverge further and further from any kind of resolution, and then it’s over. The album closes with a brightly tuneful, shuffling version of Estrellita, a Mexican pop song from the 1950s popularized by Charlie Parker. It’s a stealth candidate for best jazz album of 2010.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment