Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tony Jones Puts Out a Fascinating, Hypnotic New Album

Tenor saxophonist Tony Jones has a new album out, prosaically titled Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness. It’s a clinic in how fascinating, and listenable, and intelligent free jazz can be. Jones’ co-conspirators in pitch, rhythm and consciousness – accent on the consciousness – are Charlie Burnham on violin and Kenny Wollesen, the latter of whom employs every inch of his drum kit and other various percussion instruments in some mysteriously ingenious ways. Available only as a vinyl record and a download, the album cover shows a high-rise building – the Marcy Houses in south Williamsburg, Brooklyn, maybe? – at night. It’s a simple yet quintessentially urban and metaphorically loaded image that makes a good fit with the quiet, thoughtful tunes here. Most of these still, suspenseful, frequently magical pieces have a nocturnal feel, casually exploring brief, memorable riffs and ideas. Most of them don’t go on for more than about four minutes apiece.

The first track, Dear Toy kicks off with a noir understatement, Burnham’s violin taking on an acidic, harmonica-like tone against Jones’ up-and-down flutters, Wollesen beginning with a rattle and bringing up the closing, reverberating crescendo with what sounds like a gong. The second cut is basically a violin solo, suspenseful and tense, working minute shades against a central drone note. A car horn motif introduces a casual duel between sax and violin and ends on a ghostly tone. As with most of the other works here, there’s no central rhythm, although individual members often will latch onto a consistent pulse as Burnham does early on in this one.

Wollesen gets his cymbals shimmering with a minute, masterful focus on the third track as Jones builds to a distant hint of swing: as close-miked as this obviously is, it feels as if you’re inside the drum kit. The fourth, Bits, is a conversational study between sax and violin, gingerly working its way up to an animated crescendo as Wollesen rattles around, Burnham finally taking it up to a fluttering, somewhat anguished fast staccato as Jones prowls underneath.

Howlin Wolf doesn’t offer much if any resemblance to the great bluesman, building from honking and insistent to spacious tradeoffs between Jones and Wollesen. The only number here where the volume raises above conversational is Billie, Burnham shifting artfully from pizzicato, to apprehensively ambient, to finally a series of deftly tangoish drumlike motifs as Jones anchors the conversation and Wollesen works otherworldly overtones from his cymbals. Division and Kent – a south Williamsburg intersection which is usually deserted, but could be a setting for potential conflict – is a study in contrasts, Wollesen’s drumhead whooshes panning back and forth for an ominous stereo effect, Burnham sounding various alarms while Jones plays his usual calm, collected role.

Finally, on the eight track, Wollesen gets a slinky groove going – with what sounds like a gong or tubular bells. Who knew they could be so funky! Casually, almost secretively, both Burnham and Jones join in the steady parade. The final track, Four Nights, wobbles and whispers and finally joins the sax and violin together in a dark chromatic melody over a keening cymbal overtone. Those are the mechanics of what’s happening: what those dreamy, occasionally nightmarish sonics evoke is left to your own imagination. Even for those who don’t leap at the chance to hear jazz improvisation, this is worth a listen. As a bonus, the sonic quality of the download is remarkably good: one can only imagine what the vinyl sounds like. Count this as a dark horse contender among the best jazz records of the year.

November 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geoff Vidal: Tuneful, Hard-Hitting and Fun

Tenor saxophonist Geoff Vidal’s new album She Likes That is a good example of smart, melodic 21st century jazz. Vidal writes interesting, unpredictable, tuneful compositions; he goes for imaginative, counterintutive and hard-hitting rhythmic shifts, and some serious funk. Some of this reminds of Kenny Garrett around the turn of the century; elsewhere, the late 60s Jazz Crusaders, with their funky yet still purist edge, come to mind. Alongside Vidal, the band here includes Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet and flugelhorn, Joe Hundertmark on guitar, Michael O’Brien on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums.

The opening track, Darjeeling, kicks off with just the sax and drums to set up a funky groove that Vidal eventually sends scampering into swing. The aptly titled Different Planes, one of three Hundertmark tracks here, follows an arc from a boomy, chordal bass hook, to a tantalizing O’Brien solo that hints at straight-up swing, to an equally tantalizing guitar solo that reels in the months if maybe not the years. McCraven’s machine-gun rolls as Vidal’s apprehensive modalities wind it out are just one of many irresistibly fun moments here. O-Zoning moves from Kenny Garrett-ish funk to a clever clave beat, Vidal soaring over Hundertmark’s judicious chords and spacious accents and another round of rolls from McCraven.

For a boudoir tune, Time Apart is awfully unpredictable: Vidal’s blithe opening flourishes give away nothing of what’s to come, McCraven livening its final incarnation as a jazz waltz with some richly lush cymbal work. Freediver, another Hundertmark tune, might be the strongest cut here, a tense, constantly shapeshifting nocturnal 70s noir funk tune with an unexpectedly warm, soulful Vidal excursion that crescendos out in joyous torrents of triplets. The most retro, and catchy, tune here is Hundertmark’s Lanusa, matching vintage postbop melodicism to 70s energy; the title track is the most adventurous, basically a Balkan heavy metal song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Ben Syversen catalog, right down to the hallucinatory bluesmetal guitar solo and catchy dual horn riffage. This album isn’t about white-knuckle intensity or clenched-teeth angst, but it’s a great driving record and it definitely will get the glasses clinking. It’s out now on Arts & Music Factory.

November 11, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pablo Aslan Tackles an Ambitious Task

It takes nerve to try to recreate a classic album. It takes more nerve to try to resurrect a bad one and transform it into something listenable. That’s what bassist Pablo Aslan and his quintet have attempted with their new album Piazzolla in Brooklyn: to take the songs from Astor Piazzolla’s notoriously failed attempt at tango jazz, Take Me Dancing, and redeem them. Some useful context: when Piazzolla made Take Me Dancing in 1959, America was at the height of the mambo craze. While there were some Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican artists – most notably Machito – who benefited from middleclass and upper middleclass America’s sudden embrace of Afro-Cuban dance music, most of the popular stuff was being made by gringo schlockmeisters or generic swing bandleaders who watered it down in order to appeal to a mainstream (and frequently racist) white audience. Obviously, that wasn’t Piazzola’s intention: being an insatiable eclecticist and cross-pollinator, he never met a collaboration he could resist – but this was one he should have, because there’s no doubt that he wouldn’t have minded if the album had become a hit. Good thing it didn’t – the tunes are nice, some of them on the breezy side for a tormented, brooding guy like him, but the album just doesn’t swing. Nobody’s on the same page, and for that reason the session has gone down in history as sort of Piazzolla’s Metal Machine Music, a trainwreck you can see coming a mile away.

Interestingly, Aslan – who, like Piazzolla, has made a career out of taking tango sounds to new and exciting places – opens this experiment with a Piazzolla tune that’s not on Take Me Dancing. La Calle 92, dedicated to the Spanish Harlem street where the composer lived for a time. It’s a triumphantly slinky mini-suite, moving slyly on the pulse of the bass, with Gustavo Bergalli’s vivid, noirish trumpet and the warily incisive piano of Abel Rogantini. It doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the album – it gets considerably darker and more suspenseful than what’s in store – but it’s a good start.

The first of the 1959 cuts here, Counterpoint, gets a dark, bristling bounce, stark bowed bass contrasting with the trumpet and Nicolas Enrich’s animated bandoneon: as Piazzolla may well have envisioned it, it’s more classical than jazz. Dedita, which Piazzolla dedicated it to his wife at the time, switches between tango and swing, with a casual, soulful solo from Bergalli, Rogantini adding an unexpected and delicious menace afterward, drummer Daniel Piazzolla (the composer’s grandson) reaffirming that with a goodnaturedly rumbling precision.

Laura, the old jazz standard, begins as bandoneon tune, somewhere in the netherworld between tango and jazz, the whole band – especially Aslan, whose gritty touch really nails the mood – hanging back just thisfar away from going over the edge. George Shearing’s Lullaby of Birdland, Piazzolla’s other choice of cover tune, follows as practically a segue and benefits from some amped-up drama and syncopated punch. As one would expect from the title, Oscar Peterson is a homage to the piano legend, and a showcase for surprising restraint and intensity from Rogantini, who just as much as Aslan serves as dark, purist Argentine anchor here over the younger Piazzolla’s wry Caribbean-inflected riffs. The ambitious, cosmopolitan musette-inflected Plus Ultra gets a characteristically incisive, blue-flame solo from Aslan; Show Off, true to its title, hints at the big band blaze that Piazzolla swung at and missed, hard, the first time around, but Enrich’s chill, rippling wee-hours lines keep it from crossing the line into kitsch. With its self-conscious, fussy riff, Something Strange is the weakest track here. They close with a bustling, relentless, absolutely triumphant take of Triunfal, where they finally take it deep into the postbop territory whose energy Piazzolla doubtlessly wanted to capture the first time around.

Interestingly, Aslan claims to have “systematically avoided” Piazzolla’s music until now, since it’s pretty much impossible to outdo the master. How cool it is that Aslan found something in the repertoire that he could surpass! This one’s out now on Soundbrush.

November 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The JACK Quartet and Ensemble Signal Play a Riveting Henryk Gorecki Tribute

What a rare treat it was to see a rare all-Henryk Gorecki performance last night at le Poisson Rouge, a tribute concert held on the first anniversary of the great Polish composer’s death. The club hasn’t been so packed, at least for music, since last year’s Winter Jazz Festival. This time, courtesy of the Polish Cultural Institute, the standing-room crowd got to witness intense, haunting versions of Gorecki’s String Quartet No. 2, played by the JACK Quartet, as well as the Kleines Requiem für Eine Polka, Op. 66 by Ensemble Signal conducted by Brad Lubman.

Both pieces date from a couple of years before the recording of Gorecki’s Symphony #3 by the London Sinfonietta with Dawn Upshaw went platinum in the UK, and then became a worldwide sensation back in the early 90s. In a lengthy interview before the concert with one of the club’s personnel, the head of Nonesuch Records admitted that he’d made a “good deal” with the performers on that album, paying them only as musicians for hire, with no royalties. To his credit, when sales exploded – its status as the bestselling album of alltime featuring work by a living composer has yet to be surpassed- he cut both Gorecki and the musicians in on the deal. Gorecki was supposedly so flabbergasted that he carried his first royalty check around with him for a couple of years before he cashed it. The label head also noted insightfully how 1933 in Poland was auspicious for artists: not only Gorecki but also Jerzy Kosinski and Roman Polanski were born that year. And for all three, the defining moment seems to be their survival of Hitler’s terror, which may be one explanation for the enduring popularity of Gorecki’s plaintive, otherworldly music.

Both works contrast lush, hypnotic atmospherics with jarring, terrified passages, the String Quartet the more dramatic and intense of the two. Like the work of another chronicler of that era’s terror, Shostakovich, there are passages in both pieces that mock pageantry and bombast, and also the lockstep conformity of fascism (having also survived the Polish communist regime, Gorecki may also had that in mind when he wrote these). Despite some difficult operating conditions – the club had turned the air conditioning virtually all the way off, making it oppressively hot – the JACK Quartet turned in a raw, powerfully plaintive performance. Brooding and then somewhat warmer atmospherics quickly gave way to shocked, horrified staccato passages anchored by a cello pedal note; the second movement gave the ensemble a platform to grimly and inexorably build to an insistent crescendo of microtones, as Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld’s violins played starkly rhythmic harmonics against the menacing low notes of Kevin McFarland’s cello and John Pickford Richards’ viola. The melodies here don’t move around much: it’s all about dynamics, and foreshadowing, and frantic, horror-stricken panic, and the quartet vividly portayed each as it appeared.

Lubman led Ensemble Signal through the little requiem for a polka with dexterity and great respect for its spaciously minimalist architecture: the silences between the bells and piano in the opening movement, and the jarring increases in distance between string motifs later on, are very tricky rhythmically, but the group was as ready for them as anyone can really be: as random as they might sound, the effect is purposeful, and packs a punch. There’s another even more caricaturish faux-martial passage here, and the group sank their teeth into it. The piece wound out slowly, a requiem of slowly shifting string textures punctuated by distant, decreasingly frequent, minimalist bell accents, the funeral winding down pensively, one bitter memory at a time.

The Polish Cultural Institute regularly schedules an excellently yearly series of film, literary, dramatic and musical events, not only in New York but elsewhere in the United States and in Poland as well.

November 9, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Azam Ali Brings Her Haunting Middle Eastern Lullabies to NYC on 11/22

Originally from Iran, singer Azam Ali is one of those extraordinarily eclectic musicians who’s equally at home with music from her native country as well as from Kurdistan, or Egypt, or Turkey, or probably anywhere else on the globe. Her most recent album From Night to the Edge of Day came out earlier this year; she’s at CUNY’s Elebash Hall, 365 5th Ave. on 11/22 at 7 PM and if Middle Eastern music is your thing, it’s a concert you shouldn’t miss. On the album, Ali plays santour and percussion; Loga Ramin Torkian, who put out the extraordinary Mehraab album with singer Khosro Ansari earlier this year, plays his usual collection of stringed instruments including kamman, lafta, guitar, viola da gamba and saz, and contributes his signature, swirling, lushly echoing production. The duo’s comfortable familiarity working together here makes sense, considering that that they’ve been the nexus of pioneering pan-levantine band Niyaz since the 90s. Multi-percussionist Omer Avci and frame drummer Ziya Tabassian propel the band with a stately, understatedly booming intensity, with Naser Musa on oud, Kiya Tabassian on setar, Ulas Ozdemir contributing electric saz on a couple of tunes along with a full string section and light, ambient electronic touches by Carmen Rizzo.

Ali has a full, round, wounded voice and uses it judiciously and effortlessly for maximum impact: she doesn’t overemote. The songs themselves are Iranian, Turkish, Lebanese, and Kurdish lullabies (along with a stunning original by Musa that could pass for a Mohammed Abdel Wahab classic). But these aren’t sleepy, happy songs: they seem to be meant to provide a heads-up about the difficulties that will arise in a future just over the horizon. The first track is like a symphony composed of layers of vocals, dark and European-flavored, with echoes of the central theme from Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The band follows that with an elegant, echoey, darkly hypnotic Iranian melody; Georges Iamman’s tersely wary Arabic violin opens the next song with an improvised intro before the drums come rolling in, bringing the rest of the orchestra along on a dreamy, otherworldly levantine vamp, Ali’s vocals gentle but resolute overhead.

One of the most gripping tracks here, Neni Desem, sets the stringed instruments rustling and clanking against a sepulchral drone as Ali also improvises her way in. It’s a tone poem with layers of vocals rising and falling, howling and pleading – and creepy. The centerpiece is Faith, a duet with Musa that sounds like classic Abdel Wahab with south Indian flourishes, oud and violin playing artfully off Ali’s vocals as she finally goes up the scale with some subtle Bollywood-style melismas. The fifth track, Shrin, also blends Indian and levantine influences, in this case from Azerbaijan. There’s also the slow Persian gothic Mehman (The Guest), strings quietly aching against the brooding, inscrutable vocals; a low, gentle, suspenseful vocal taqsim in over lush oscillating drone, which is actually the closest thing to a traditional western lullaby here; a Kurdish waltz with ethereal harmonies that evoke Bulgarian folk music; and a lushly ambient reprise of Faith at the end. Alongside Torkian’s album with Ansari, this is one of the year’s most original and captivating releases.

November 9, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day

Still working on getting back on track, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #458:

Robert Nighthawk – Live on Maxwell Street

Here in 2011, we can record every concert we go to with our phones…but busking with electric instruments is usually against the law. Back in 1964 at Chicago’s Maxwell Street outdoor market, buskers congregated on every corner: it was like La Fete de la Musique every weekend. But if you wanted to get one of those shows on tape, you had to bring a bulky tape recorder…and that’s what one fan would do every weekend, eventually compiling a substantial private archive. A few of them have been released over the years, this one by Delmark in 1980, thirteen years after guitarist/singer Nighthawk’s death. The raw spontaneity of this impromptu jam is electric in every sense of the word. Nighthawk growls, takes his time and then works his way up to an erudite, jazz-infused style that won him the admiration of musicians from his circle who were far more popular. A lot of these performances had the feel of a cutting contest, especially the Maxwell Street Medley where Nighthawk jumps from one tune to another and whoever happened to be sitting in would try to leap along with him. There’s also his local hit Goin’ Down to Eli’s, instrumentals like Mr. Bell’s Shuffle and Yakity Yak, along with hard-edged stuff like Take It Easy Baby and I Need Your Love So Bad. Be aware that there are many versions of this floating around the web – if you like this one you might want to peek around other downloads. Here’s a random torrent via Way to Your Soul.

November 7, 2011 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Album Kills Fascists

These guys just plain get it. The Curtis Brothers barrel into their new album Completion of Proof with both eyes open, fearless and unintimidated. In the spirit of Mingus, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln during the Civil Rights era, and more recent jazz artists like Howard Wiley and Tain Watts, they take a skeptical and often savage look at the structure of society in the post-9/11 age. Forget that the tunes here have a blazing power: pianist/composer Zaccai Curtis’ liner notes are worth the price of the album all by themselves. Most of these songs – and they are songs, in the purest sense of the word – take their inspiration from the ongoing struggle against encroaching fascism, one way or another. But the Curtis Brothers aren’t simply critiquing – they’re offering solutions. As melodic jazz goes, this might be the best album of the year: it’s as important as it is catchy. While there’s a crowd who might pigeonhole this as latin jazz, and there’s definitely a delicious tropical slink to a lot of this, it defies such an easy categorization. It’s just good.

The opening track, Protestor, is dedicated to the guy who won the staredown with the army tank at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacres. It’s got hard-hitting, insistent piano, imperturbable Brian Lynch trumpet and sailing Donald Harrison alto sax with the powerhouse Ralph Peterson a spot-on choice of drummer for this song, and for that matter, this project. Bright hooks fade out over his tanklike rumble. The edgy, vivid, modally tinged second track is a dedication to Curtis’ niece, Madison, scrambling nimbly with an especially optimistic solo spot for bassist Luques Curtis. Named for the Bay of Bengal islanders whose centuries-old attentiveness to the world around them saved them from the 2008 tsunami, The Onge is a potently cinematic piece, kicking off with pulsing bass and a bustling two-horn attack – and eventually a triumphant if completely hectic run to the hills led by Zaccai Curtis.

The album’s centerpiece is a triptych, the Manifest Destiny Suite. It’s meant to illustrate the psychological and sociological mechanics of fascism: an awfully tall order for an instrumental work, but Zaccai Curtis succeeds with it, brilliantly. Part one, aptly titled The Wrath, underscores how kissing up to tyrants never works: this one’s dedicated to the school hall monitor, but it would work just as well for the Judenrat, or a contestant on the Donald Trump Show. Luques Curtis’ booming bass chords anchor this angry, chromatically-fueled depiction of a bully, Jimmy Greene’s tenor prowling suspiciously, drums and Pedrito Martinez’ percussion pummeling and rattling uneasily as the bandleaders hammer the point home sarcastically, over and over. Part two, Mass Manipulation examines how the corporate media distracts, Balkanizes and disempowers us. Zaccai Curtis works a wickedly sneaky variation on the tyrant theme over a noirish, rolling Afro-Cuban groove, all the way down to a depressing little waltz of sorts and then an absolutely gorgeously interwoven arrangement as the horns carry the tune, the piano ripples and the bass and piano work in tandem, bobbing to the surface. The concluding section is a reminder of the high price of the failure to follow Jefferson’s advice about eternal vigilance, richly illustrated with big, syncopated charts and more intricate but hard-hitting interplay.

The rest of the album balances the upbeat, optimistic son montuno anthem Sol Within against the explosively towering cautionary tale Jazz Conspiracy, a nightmarish portrayal of what happens when the corporations completely take over replete with creepy dissonances, sarcastic faux-martial cadenzas and bleating brass. As a whole, it leaps to the front of the pack of contenders for best jazz album of 2011.

And while it’s nice to see something this edgy and worthwhile getting coverage in a place like the NY Times, it would be an understatement to say that their reviewer didn’t get it. Did he even listen to the album? That seems doubtful.

November 6, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ran Blake and Dominique Eade Make a Mesmerizingly Dark Album

Ran Blake and Dominique Eade’s new album Whirlpool couldn’t have come out at a more appropriate time. It’s the perfect autumn record: its dark clarity is absolutely chilling, and absolutely exhilarating. It makes you glad to be alive. Eade has never sung better; at 76, Blake’s at the top of his game, absolutely undiminished, the indomitable master of noir piano menace and magic. Despite the fact that he’s an incorrigible improviser who never does anything remotely the same way twice, singers love working with him: he takes everyone to the next level. As always with Blake, this is a counterintuitive album. Not only because takes the lead where a singer often would; or because he shifts so confidently between ideas and idoms; or because the two completely reinvent everything they touch, with a rubato-fueled tension and sense of anticipation, but because Eade is right there with him, spot-on, every single time. With every lyric, she’s a different person. That all this would work so well is testament to the enduring friendship between the two – despite a longstanding collaboration, this is their first album together.

In terms of pure chops, she’s probably the best singer he’s ever worked with, which is not meant as disrespect to either the immortal Jeanne Lee – whose presence on her iconic 1961 album with Blake, The Newest Sound Around, is completely shattering – or more recently, Sara Serpa, with whom he recorded 2010’s extraordinary Camera Obscura. But Eade doesn’t let her range, and ability to shade a phrase or a lyric with the most minute shades of volume, or pull off or turn up an effortless powerglide vibrato, obscure her commitment to pulling (and occasionally wrenching) the meaning out of the words.

My Foolish Heart sets the stage with icy/lurid ambience from Blake and a stunningly nuanced approach by Eade – it’s a wounded, gentle knockout. Gospel and noir form an uneasy partnership in the first version of Jerome Kern’s Deadly Beloved here – the second offers a look at how radically Blake will reinent a tune, this time awash in big, crashing chords, a bit of boogie-woogie and Eade amping up the power alongside him. Picking right up where Blake and Serpa left off, Eade begins Russell Freeman and Jerry Gladstone’s The Wind low and chilly over Blake’s icicle minimalism: the crystalline clarity and matter-of-factness of her delivery is devastating. A smartly chosen Eade original, Go Gently to the Water hints mysteriously at gospel-flavored pop but elects for hypnotic ambience instead, Blake providing a warmly gleaming, surface-of-the-water backdrop.

Eade gives Old Devil Moon a genuinely scary edge to complement Blake’s subtle slasher piano. They scamper through it almost breathlessly: the intensity is such that they’re always trying to catch up, Blake’s purist bluesiness falling off the edge back into the creepy shadows. Pinky, by Alfred Newman, is done as a tone poem of sorts, just vocalese and a radically rearranged tune edging toward the macabre. Zan Overall’s Falling has Eade leading this time and Blake has to scurry, holding fast to a central note as he methodically fills in the scary areas encircling all around. By contrast, on Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh’s Where Are You, they give each other all kinds of space. “Where are you?” is definitely the question here!

Harold Arlen’s Out of This World alludes to but never embraces a casual saloon sway, and Quincy Jones’ The Pawnbroker is all lucid anxiety. At the end of the album, the two let down their hair a little and have some fun: Eade pulls Blake along on The Thrill Is Gone (the Ray Henderson standard, not the B.B. King blues) and Blake lingers – is it really over, he wants to know. And After the Ball evokes Daria Grace’s wonderfully misty version, Blake taking the jaunty waltz tune and then adding just enough warp to give you goosebumps. Is this the best jazz album of the year? It’s one of them, no question. Check back here in the next few weeks when we put up our year-end list and see how close to the top it is.

November 5, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Erik Charlston’s JazzBrasil Pays Joyously Complex Homage to a Great Composer

Bright and carnavalesque but also hypnotic and constantly shapeshifting, vibraphonist Erik Charlston’s new album Essentially Hermeto more than does justice to legendary Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. Pascoal’s work is incredibly lively and kinetic, but it’s also deep, and Charlston absolutely gets that. But it’s more than just a tribute: this is a mostly brisk, fascinating ride through a whole bunch of diverse Brazilian styles. The band here behind Charlston is choice: multi-reedman Ted Nash; Mark Soskin on piano; Jay Anderson on bass; Rogerio Boccato on drums and Cafe (Edson da Silva) on percussion. They’re at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday night, Nov 7 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM, and if Brazilian sounds are your thing, you should go see them.

The album kicks off kinetically with Vale de Ribiera. Inspired by a rainforest sunrise, it’s an apt musical portrayal of what the world stands to lose if the tropics get deforested. Boccato cleverly disguises a disco beat and the vibes scurry while the reeds play hide and seek. The second track is a jazzed-up choro tune, Charlston masterfully working every single tonality available, especially the low, moody ones, taking it up at the end with a surreal edge. It’s a fitting theme for the land of magic realism.

The summery San Antonio is meant to evoke a family at a Saint Anthony festival, but it seems much more than that: there’s an obvious elegaic aspect, and Charlston plays that up to the fullest, walking a wire between suspense and balminess, Nash’s alto sax contrasting intensely with a waltz theme that disappears quickly in favor of Soskin bringing it into vivid focus – and then it ends ethereally.

Cafe opens the following tune with more suspense, a scrapy berimbau solo that introduces a stately but cheery midtempo maracatu slink. Between joyous “beep beep”crescendos, Charlston defiantly avoids resolution with a pensive solo that Anderson follows tersely and intensely. Charlston wavers between pointillism and echoey mysterioso ambience on the next track, a fascinating diptych, Nash adding a wary bossa edge over the lush tropicality of the melody, Soskin and then Charlston taking it to an understatedly insistent, intense crescendo out. The album winds with a vocal tune that’s sort of a dixieland/soca hybrid and another partita, a richly dark frevo composition that the ensemble shifts effortlessly between lively swing, apprehensively clustering crescendos and finally an irresistibly wry series of birdcalls that the band becomes finds just as hard to put away. Like his inspiration, Charlston has a clear passion for Brazilian themes, and the band rises to to the occasion: count this among the best jazz albums to come over the transom here this year.

November 4, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/29/11

Still getting back on track, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album was #459:

The Jazz Combo From I Want to Live

Noir jazz doesn’t get any more lurid, or any better, than this smoldering, haunted 1958 session featuring variations on Johnny Mandel’s theme from the docudrama about executed convict Barbara Graham, the last woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin, who may well have been innocent. The band, led by Gerry Mulligan and featuring Shelly Manne on piano, Art Farmer on trumpet and Bud Shank on alto sax, is first-rate. The album actually starts with the downright sexy, tiptoeing Black Nightgown before the brooding, doomed main title theme; the suspenseful Night Watch; the jaunty San Francisco nightclub scene where all the accomplices think they’ll get away with murder (they didn’t); the offhandedly wrenching, pleading Barbara’s Theme and a cruelly ironic Life’s a Funny Thing to end it. Here’s a random torrent via Groove Depository. Big shout-out to Nellie McKay for inspiring this pick – and for writing her own musical about this sad chapter in American “justice.”

November 3, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment