Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tim Mayer and His Band Get Resilient

Tenor saxophonist Tim Mayer’s album Resilience is a throwback to urban juke-joint jazz from the 60s, with somewhat cleaner digital production values. Mayer is an irrepressible presence with a slightly smoky tone, a quicksilver legato and a keen sense of dynamics, something you might not expect to come across on a hot blowing session like this one. The band behind him rises to the occasion, no surprise considering that George Cables, one of that era’s most vivid, no-nonsense players, plays piano on this session along with Dezron Douglas on bass, Willie Jones III on drums, along with Greg Gisbert on trumpet and Michael Dease on trombones.

Interestingly, they kick it off with a Dease swing blues, For Miles, a showcase for Dease’s bright tenor trombone and Cables’ purist, terse work along with a characteristically soaring Mayer excursion that sets the stage for most of what’s to come. Kenny Dorham’s Escape has plenty of edge and bite and lets the band air out their chops right from the opening brass harmonies – Mayer goes off uneasily, passes to Gisbert who takes it more relaxed, followed by Cables’ spacious, genial solo and then Dease again to bring it full circle. Charles Tolliver’s Emperor March gets a delightful Sara Jacovino arrangement with an additional high reeds section and a marvelous series of shifting voices, Jones artfully sneaking the clave back in when least suspected. Then they scale it back to a quartet for a bluesy take on Jule Styne’s I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.

Ironically, Fats Navarro’s Dance of the Infidels is a feature for sax and trombone rather than trumpet, and a surprisingly calm, mattter-of-fact one at that. They tackle Lee Morgan’s Blue Lace with a practically Afrobeat rhythm, Mayer’s clenched-teeth intensity swirling up to guest Claudio Roditti, who delivers sanity and commonsense and warm vibes on rotary trumpet. Cables’ suave presence is a highlight of their cover of Monk’s Work; they end the album with Cables’ own Klimo, a classic of its kind, its staggered salsa vamp a solid launching pad for Mayer’s confidently surging solo as well as trumpeter Dominic Farinacci’s soulful, unselfconsciously optimistic guest spot and some warm wirewalking by Douglas. And even the album’s weakest track, Fire & Ice by Steve Turre, has the band pulling out all the stops, unperturbed. This is the kind of jazz that used to flourish in neighborhood bars in big cities forty years ago, before clubowners realized that there was an audience who would go see jazz and would pay $10 for a drink even if they wouldn’t think of dancing to the music. Play this loud and not with a $10 drink unless it’s a whole bottle.

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

Old Friends Hang Out and Play a Little Monk

The reason to own this album is because it has a lot of hard-to-find Joel Forrester material. Pianist Forrester and saxophonist Phillip Johnston have performed together as far back as the mid-70s, both as duo and more famously as ringleaders of the Microscopic Septet, the cleverly shapeshifting, frequently satirical swing unit that emerged during the punk era and is still as irrepressibly vital today as it was then. To promote the Micros’ excellent Friday the 13th album, a Thelonious Monk collection, the two went on a brief west coast tour at the end of last year. This one, Live at the Hillside Club, was recorded in Berkeley last November. It’s a warm, engaging performance, as imbued with the two’s signature wits as much as you’d expect; while there are Monk tunes here, the emphasis is on original material. The chemistry that comes from playing together for the better part of 35 years is all over this disc, right off the bat with the wry, catchy opening track, Bunny Boy, Johnston taking it from echoes of ragtime to echoes of dixieland before Forrester brings it back with a characteristically goodnatured bite. As the title gives away, the song is at least partially a dig at someone.

But Forrester’s titles aren’t always nearly as direct. Some Things Don’t Work Out is not a lament, but a lyrical jazz waltz which then goes straight-up 4/4 and even more jaunty before it winds down: in this case, maybe it was a good thing whatever it was ended when it did. Your Little Dog, a requiem for a mutt, has a cinematic (some might say sentimental) quality, with an artful handoff from Forrester to Johnston before the piano finally takes it out for one last stroll. Dark whimsicality hits a peak here with Loser’s Blues: when Johnston swirls his way to the top of the crescendo before the final chorus, it’s bliss, at least bliss among the down and out. The Forrester compositions here also include the bucolic Did You Ever Want to Cry – based on an old spiritual – and Second Nature, a solo piano piece dating from the early 70s that sounds like Philip Glass (did Forrester know who Glass was at the time? One can only wonder).

Johnston’s only composition here is a Splat, solo soprano sax piece, bright but subtle variations on a simple descending motif with some unexpected ragtime allusions. The Monk stuff is done true to form: Monk’s genius was that he took the surreal for granted and made the most of it, and that’s these guys do. Well You Needn’t is creepy fun expertly done, Pannonica direct yet relaxed and unselfconsciously beautiful, and with Epistrophy, they let its carnivalesque quality speak for itself rather than being caricaturish. Happily, throughout this album audience noise is almost completely absent. More concert recordings should be like this, not just because of the quality of the music.

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