Lucid Culture


Oldschool Big Band Power from Michael Treni

There are plenty of second acts in jazz – trombonist/composer Michael Treni is one of them. A college bandmate of Pat Metheny and a rising star in the New York scene in the late 70s, he left jazz and went into wireless audio and language interpretation systems, a field in which he owns patents and carved out a career that allowed him to make a comeback in the past decade. His latest album Boys Night Out, his fourth with his Big Band, is an enjoyably trad, high-energy effort. It’s the kind of record that might take you a bottle of wine to understand, and then the message is clear: this is a bunch of guys, most of them dating from the 70s, having a GREAT time with some blazing charts and a richly tuneful mix of Treni originals and covers. Pretty much everybody in the band gets at least a cameo; it’s a chance to hear a bunch of New York personalities at the top of their game.

The opening track, Leonard Bernstein’s Something’s Coming (from West Side Story) sounds like a latin version of the Mission Impossible theme, which may be intentional – longtime Horace Silver trumpeter Vinnie Cutro takes the first solo, wry and spiraling and finally bringing it up intensely, followed by a similar one from Jerry Bergonzi on soprano sax. The title track, a late 70s Treni composition, reaches for a brightly cosmopolitan Thad Jones/Mel Lewis swing vibe, giving soprano saxophonist Sal Spicola a launching pad for a gorgeously purist, glissando-drenched, bluesy solo echoed vividly by trombonist Philip Jones and then trumpeter Chris Persad. Lullaby of Birdland gets a brisk, lush and unexpectedly lurid, noir intepretation, tenor saxophonist Frank Elmo kicking in with more bluesiness that trombonist Matt Bilyk is obviously glad to take to the next level. Clare Fischer’s insightful, rather brooding Strayhorn amps the pensive, thoughtful factor with apt solos from Spicola on alto and Bergonzi on tenor.

In My Quiet Time is the real blockbuster here, a lushly orchestrated, suspenseful bolero-jazz stunner by Treni that never quite lets up through a tiptoeing bass solo by Takashi Atsuka and some spot-on, moody work by Ken Hitchcock on alto flute. What Is the World Coming To reverts to oldschool bluesy mode, with a succession of energetic solo spots from Craig Yaremko on alto, Hitchcock on tenor, Bob Ferrel on trombone and Cutro to wind things up on a somewhat tense note as the rhythm section goes in a funkier direction. Strayhorn’s UMMG gives pianist Charles Blenzig a chance to cut loose, judiciously; the album closes with Here’s That Rainy Day, featuring Blenzig and the bandleader along with the rest of the band, completely unleashed, then restrained and urbane: it’s a clever and smart way to end this soulful update on the classy style of a previous era.

June 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counterintuitive B3 Jazz Tunefulness from Kerong Chok

While jazz is a worldwide phenomenon, artists from outside the United States so often bring unexpectedly welcome ideas with them. Maybe it’s that organist Kerong Chok is from Singapore, maybe not, but his new album Good Company isn’t your typical B3 groove record. There are a couple of pretty standard, brisk 8th-note shuffles here, but the rest of this collection of original compositions reveals a distinctive voice, a strong sense of melody and inspired playing from a first-rate band: Lucas Pino on tenor and soprano sax, and flute; Michael Valeanu on guitar; Jake Goldbas on drums and Matt Holman supplying trumpet on a couple of cuts. Goldbas is one of the principal reasons why this is such an enjoyable album, constantly on the prowl, swiping and scrambling for offbeats: he’s an extrovert and a hard hitter, which keeps the energy level consistently high.

The best composition here is the title track, taking what’s essentially a nocturnal soul ballad and making a jazz waltz out of it, much in the same vein as up-and-coming trombonist David Gibson’s best work. With rich harmonies between Chok and Pino, lushly atmospheric, crescendoing drums and a remarkably direct guitar solo that goes straight to the essence of the song, it packs a punch. Likewise, the cut which follows it, Incessant, which makes a deliciously radical shift from straight-up, catchy funk to some rivetingly moody modal interplay between Pino and Holman over Valeanu’s casually ominous chordal work. The way Chok goes spiraling beneath the hook as another brightly funky track, Free and Easy, winds out, is also a characteristically unpredictable, powerful moment.

Rather than being a dirge, The First Day of School is rhythmically tricky and allusively bluesy. Samba Number 1 follows a richly counterintuitive light-to-dark trajectory, on the wings of Chok’s rippling, bittersweet solo, while the languid, this-close-to-morose For Kenny gives Pino a long launching pad for a memorable, expansively pensive excursion on tenor. There’s also a slinky latin groove that has Goldbas hinting at reggae, and the wickedly catchy opening track, Black Ice, a swinging B3 take on Miles Davis-style modalities that gives Valeanu a platform for giving it depth and gravitas, eventually echoed by the whole band. This is something that ought to appeal not only to fans of jazz organ but to anyone looking for a solid and consistently interesting album of jazz songs – and they’re songs in the purest sense of the word.

June 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Threadgill Album: Same Old? Not Really

If you’re a Henry Threadgill fan, you’ve probably already got his new sextet album Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp on Pi Recordings with his long-running band Zooid. Threadgill’s been at the forefront of improvised music for so long that we take him for granted, and we shouldn’t: 68 years old, still constantly questioning, searching, reflecting, pushing the envelope. For fans of collective improvisation, the question isn’t whether this is a good album, it’s where it fits in the Threadgill oeuvre, and the answer is close to the top. How sunny does the future look here? Is today all rain and gloom? Hardly. This is an upbeat, optimistic, richly energetic album.

The revelry is between the players: along with Threadgill on alto sax and flutes, there’s Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums. Nuts-and-boltswise, what Threadgill is doing is assigning specific intervals to each instrument as a basis for improvisation, creating seemingly endless permutations of the intricate counterpoint that’s been a signature device of his for decades. It does for rhythm what Miles Davis’ modal approach did for melody. Threadgill has long been praised by his fellow musicians as a composer who writes specifically to his players’ strengths, and that’s especially apparent here.

The opening track, A Day Off, is basically a fractured swing tune. A bass/cello pulse loosens as Ellman wanders and Hoffman fills in the spaces with a carefully interweave. Then Takeishi joins the spiral as Ellman dips low, Threadgill joins the party and the rest of the group can’t help but take the casually jaunty energy up a notch. The title track begins as artfully camouflaged clave and a rhythmic thicket lit up on one end by prowling tuba and on the other by Ellman’s atonal chords, Threadgill’s blithe flute handing off to the cello which takes it in a darker direction while Kavee slowly switches to a shuffle. The relatively brief So Pleased, No Clue slows the pace and distances the instruments from each other: spacious pizzicato cello and guitar echoing each other, tectonic shifts between the low instruments and if you listen closely, you realize they’re playing a rondo!

The centerpiece here is See the Blackbird Now. It’s the most overtly melodic and by far the darkest track here: Threadgill’s long, moodily bluesy bass flute solo following Hoffman’s apprehensive staccato is arguably the album’s high point. Ellman follows it gingerly as the band meanders murkily behind him, the trombone pulling everybody back above ground. Hoffman’s agile staccato lines evoke Stephane Grappelli as the band pulses and shuffles on the neatly entwining Ambient Pressure Thereby, Threadgill’s enigmatic alto sax bobbing and weaving as the rhythm coalesces apprehensively and then relaxes for a playful joust between guitar and tuba. Davila’s trombone gets to build spaciously joyous suspense for the rest of the band to explore and gently sway toward a resolution on the concluding cut: Hoffman gets to take his time relishing in bringing it around. For fans of improvised music, it doesn’t get much better than this.

June 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment