Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Newly Minted NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri at SOB’s This Friday

Eddie Palmieri is one of those artists that you assume has won every accolade. On one hand, the news that the salsa jazz piano icon been named a NEA Jazz Master isn’t going to surprise anybody, unless you thought that he would have received the honor years if not decades ago. So now that he’s got one to go with all his Grammies (nine at last count), you don’t have to wait for a fancy convertible to drive down from Spanish Harlem blasting one of his songs (true story, something that probably happens a lot in Manhattan): Palmieri and band are at SOB’s this Friday, August 3 to celebrate, with two sets at 9 and 11. After that, the onetime teenage timbalero who switched to piano and actually looked back on that choice – “I’m a frustrated percussionist,” he admits – is off to the Hollywood Bowl and then the Monterey Jazz Festival. If you can’t make the concert, you can still hear him on Leonard Lopate’s show on WNYC at 40 minutes past noon this Friday.

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July 30, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Start to This Year’s Imani Winds Festival

This year’s third annual Imani Winds Festival of cutting-edge chamber music kicked off auspiciously last night on the upper west side with the pioneering wind quintet performing a sometimes haunting, sometimes exhilarating mix of relatively new (and brand new) compositions. Imani Winds flutist Valerie Coleman’s Tzigane made a deliciously high-octane opening number: an imaginative blend of gypsy jazz and indie classical with intricately shifting voices, it was a showcase for the entirety of the ensemble, notably clarinetist Mariam Adam’s otherworldly, microtonal trills and Coleman’s slinkily legato snakecharmer lines.

Phil Taylor’s Prelude and Scherzo was next. Brooding, apprehensive, atmospheric cinematics built matter-of-factly to an anguished flute cadenza, then backed away and the process repeated itself; the Scherzo cleverly took the wary introductory theme and disguised it with a jaunty bounce which the group built to an unexpectedly triumphant ending.

The piece de resistance was a new Mohammed Fairouz suite, Jebnal Lebnan (meaning “Mount Lebanon,” the historical name for the mountainous country), which the Imani Winds recently recorded. The composer explained beforehand that its withering opening segment, Bashir’s March, was inspired by his visit to the site of a former refugee camp there, “the most horrific thing” he’d ever seen. Monica Ellis’ bassoon drove it with a chilling nonchalance, the rest of the ensemble fleshing out a coldly sarcastic, Shostakovian martial theme that Jeff Scott’s french horn took to its cruelly logical, mechanically bustling extreme. After a solo interlude where Coleman got to subtly  imitate an Arabic ney flute, the group hit a high note (if you’re willing to buy the premise of a dirge being a high note) with the second movement, Lamentation: Ariel’s Song. Ominous atmospheric washes led to an elegantly plaintive bassoon solo and a methodical crescendo that built from elegaic to fullscale horror, its fatalistic pulse suddenly disappearing, leaving the atmospherics to linger ominously before ending on a more lively but equally wary note. This angst subsided somewhat but still remained through the rest of the work: the tango-like Dance and Little Song, with their bracing close harmonies and Scheherezade allusions, and Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh, a cleverly interwoven rondo of sorts featuring Coleman on pennywhistle that ended energetically with a confluence of klezmer, gypsy and Arabic tonalities, an apt evocation of a land that’s been a melting pot (and a boiling point) for centuries.

Derek Bermel’s Gift of Life made a terrific segue. Inspired by a visit to Jerusalem, it built suspensefully with a Middle Eastern melody anchored by brooding bassoon, its atmospherics finally falling apart in a bustling cacaphony. Another short work by Bermel, Two Songs from Nandom, drawing on Ugandan xylophone music, made a sprightly contrast as its rhythmic central theme shifted further and further away from the center. The group closed with Scott’s artfully voiced, passionately animated arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango and encored with a grin from the edge of the stage with what sounded like a brief, matter-of-factly improvised theme from a late Dvorak work. The Imani Winds Festival continues through August 7, with a whirlwind of master classes and performances featuring a deluge of up-and-coming talent; the full schedule is here.

July 30, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torchy Surrealism from Rayvon Browne

Rayvon Browne is neither a rapper nor a rockabilly guy. Rayvon Browne is actually the rather charming, torchy, lo-fi duo of singers Cal Folger Day and Morgan Heringer. Heringer has the higher voice and more traditionally jazz-oriented phrasing; Day’s low soprano packs more of a wallop, with a flair for biting blue notes a la Jolie Holland. Songwise, the two are like no one else. While a lot of their album Companion flits from one style to another in the span of seconds, and it sounds like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), there’s a lot of sophistication here considering that they’re “swapping around on piano, uke, guitar, mandolin, melodica, Casio, & more.” Betty Carter is a possible influence; so is Laura Nyro. Then again, they may have never heard of either, considering how different this is.

“Having a boyfriend ain’t the Christian thing to do,” the two harmonize, deadpan, on the opening track, over swaying acoustic guitar with whispery traces of piano and Sarah Stanley’s flute. It’s a soul song, basically. The degree to which this is satirical is hard to gauge. Heringer sings the second track, Cocktease, bewildering swirly interludes juxtaposed with terse Fender Rhodes bossa nova that gets interrupted by buzzy overdriven electric guitar. She also takes the lead on a slightly less surreal number, Cat on Chest, seemingly addressed to a small friend uninterested in anything more than a warm place to sleep. You know how cats are, they run the show.

The fourth track, Queen sounds like a Joni Mitchell demo from around 1975 – again, not necessarily a bad thing. Where Is My Boyfriend begins with an out-of-tune piano playing Brill Building pop and quickly goes rubato: “Getting wasted on a Wednesday night, waking up to the cat…I lost my lover on the Long Island Railroad, now they’re burning Pennsylvania Station to the ground…where is my boyfriend, please tell me he’s coming,” Heringer sings with a pervasive, bluesy unease. Strange and bracing stuff. Day evokes another Lady Day on Having a Luv, in restrained but sultry mode over an unexpectedly shimmery backdrop of acoustic guitar, tinkly piano and Joel Kruzic’s terse bass. And Heringer’s swooping harmonies add a joyous energy to Day’s torchiness on Cocktail, over minimal guitar/bass backing. The last track on the album has a prosaic, nervous girl-writing-in-her-diary folk feel: the album would be better off without it. Otherwise, these unpredictable songs draw you in and then disarm you with their quirky charm. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp site; their next New York gig is on August 11 at 11ish at a Gathering of the Tribes, 285 E 3rd St. at around 11 PM.

July 27, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jaunty African Beats and Rich Purist Blues from Regina Carter

Violinist Regina Carter led her captivatingly cross-pollinated African jazz quintet Reverse Thread through a characteristically intriguing blend of styles last night at Madison Square Park. Backed by kora virtuoso Yacouba Sissoko, bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Alvester Garnett and accordionist Will Holshouser, Carter alternated between gorgeously stark minor-key blues leads, hypnotic loops of pizzicato and the occasional terse cadenza: throughout the set, she chose her spots.

They opened with the slowly unwinding, bluesy Dancing on the Niger, Carter’s tersely bittersweet, sometimes atmospheric lines hovering over the swaying rhythm and Holshouser’s steady pulsing chords, Sissoko throwing off a similarly terse, sparkling solo. The dancing second number, by Amadou and Mariam, began as another showcase for Sissoko, working his way down from spiraling glissandos to an insistent, rhythmic intensity before turning it over to Carter, who turned the heat up all the way over a repetitive two-bar motif, Holshouser winding it out in a whirling torrent of chords.

Garnett’s New for New Orleans was a fullscale suite. A stately, somberly hopeful solo accordion intro kicked off a jaunty jazz waltz, followed by a long Holshouser solo that veered from triumphant to apprehensive and back again, and a tense duel between Garnett and Lightcap that springboarded Carter’s purist, blues-drenched, smartly crescendoing coda. They followed with a biting, slinky rendition of a Papo Vazquez salsa jazz tune with a long shivery kora solo, Carter taking it into more pensive, spacious terrain. Carter took care to explain that Hiwumbe Awumba (meaning “God creates, God destroys”), a Ugandan Jewish traditional song from the album, would be the opposite of fire-and-brimstone, and she was right, the band taking turns throwing devious quotes and playful jabs over its happy-go-lucky bounce. The Malagasy dance that followed could have passed for a zydeco jam. A Richard Bona tune, pulsing along on an Ethiopian triplet rhythm, served as a platform for Sissoko’s most lickety-split solo of the night, Carter then teasing the band – and the crowd – with pregnant pauses and spritely, split-second flourishes. They encored on a high-energy note with variations on a theme that could have been a country blues, or a West African folk tune – both which it could have been in other times and places.

Carter plays with pianist Pablo Ziegler’s fascinating, intense Tango Connection tonight through the 28th at Birdland, then she goes on world tour with Joe Jackson’s band.

July 26, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Crepuscular Magic from Jessica Jones and Mark Taylor

Last year, tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones and french horn player Mark Taylor recorded their June 25 concert at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley with bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis. More artists, particularly jazz artists, should be doing this: capturing this show for posterity (via New Artists Records) was a tremendously smart move. What they got out of it was an absolutely fascinating album of nocturnes. It’s not clear if the sequence of tracks matches the order of the set list, but either way it plays like a suite. The quartet maintains the sense of purpose and pensive nonchalance of one of Miles Davis’ late 50s bands, setting a mood that never lets up. The cohesiveness of the band is all the more remarkable considering how much space each of the musicians leaves between motifs, or even notes: at one point toward the end of the fifth track, Lewis fires off a cluster of snazzy volleys, capping each one with a jubilant cymbal crash, one of the few places where anyone plays more than a handful of notes without letting them linger.

They set the tone immediately with the strangely titled Furious George, a warily bluesy Taylor composition which is not furious but matter-of-factly swinging, sometimes allusively so. Throughout the album, Lewis colors the music with an often ominously booming, contemplative attack on the toms rather propelling it: usually it’s Shifflett who holds the center with a biting, growling tone. Other times, such as this track, it’s either Jones or Taylor. Both players approach the material tersely, Taylor with a casual legato that is often indistinguishable from a trombone. Waiting for the Vampire’s Redemption, by Jones goes deep into the shadows with understatedly moody, chromatically-charged twin horn harmonies, grows atmospheric to the point where it becomes a tone poem of sorts, Jones and Taylor picking it up over Shifflett’s hypnotic groove.

Taylor has a series of compositions illustrating the adventures of Zamindar, a rather satirical superhero he’s invented, and the band tackles a couple of them here. By the Park at Midnight (Zamindar’s Promenade) keeps the suspense and the noir vibe going, an often desolate, sparse performance with contrasting dark/light solos from the horn and then the sax, Shifflett’s menacing stalker motif pulling everything together before it winds out, unresolved. The other track, The Zamindar Gambit is basically a one-chord jam, a sort of Mission Impossible Theme spoof full of unexpected dynamic shifts and finally another climactic bass progression around which the band coalesces.

Jones’ Waynopolis, a rather haunting, modal number that seems to pick up where Wayne Shorter’s Footprints left off, slinks and sways slowly through a series of wary variations on an almost cruelly direct opening theme, Lewis’ purposeful rumbles, Shifflett’s steady nocturnal pulse and a ghostly bass-and-drums interlude toward the end. By contrast, Manhattan, another Jones track, bustles with a jaunty swing driven not by the rhythm section but by the horns, Lewis cleverly shadowing Jones but never taking centerstage. From there they segue into the set’s most improvisational interlude, Taylor dipping to the lowest point of his register. Jones’ What Purpose Is Your Pain follows and makes an apt segue, Jones reaching as high as she ever goes here with some unexpectedly resounding microtonal trills, Shifflett again pulling the crew around him as the bass rises steadily and stealthfully. They close with Taylor’s Breath.Eyes, a midtempo ballad in disguise, Taylor alluding liberally to Coltrane, Jones taking her time bringing back the darkly contemplative atmosphere.

There are a couple of passages here where the band leaves the songs out out to dry: if you’re not listening on headphones and the music is competing with something as relatively quiet as an air conditioner, you might be left with the impression that the album has ended. Those parts could have been cut without diminishing its dark appeal. And because this is a live recording, there are occasional issues with volume and miking that probably wouldn’t have occurred in a controlled studio setting. But that’s a small price to pay (and one that the mp3 generation won’t notice, anyway) for all this sepulchral magic.

July 22, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imaginative, Witty New Jazz from the John Yao Quintet

Trombonist John Yao’s new quintet album, In the Now – out now from Innova – blends vivid tunefulness, clever composition and inspired teamwork. It’s accessible, but it’s also cerebral, and there’s also considerable wit here, as you would expect from a group including Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Jon Irabagon on saxes. Although Yao is a versatile stylist with considerable big band experience – notably with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra – his approach here is typically methodical and precise. He and Irabagon often work a cool/hot dynamic alongside Randy Ingram on piano, Leon Boykins on bass and Will Clark on drums. While there are plenty of echoes of classic 60s postbop tropes, Yao’s arrangements and voicings are original, imaginative and completely in the here and now.

Tersely shifting countermelodies between the horns introduce the opening track, Divisions, Ingram introducing a spaciously lyrical style that he’ll work memorably throughout the album, a succession of solos contrasting Yao’s matter-of-factness with Irabagon’s jaunty, clustering, often flutelike alto work. They take it out unexpectedly quietly. Track two, Funky Sunday, builds a sense of anticipation with intensely focused trombone/sax harmonies, a smartly minimalist rhythm section arrangement that only opens up when the horns diverge and become more carefree, and some very imaginatively textured organ – including a pedal solo – by Ingram. For NDJ, a jazz waltz, is a showcase for Irabagon’s silvery, rapidfire legato versus Yao’s stately insistence, with echoey Rhodes piano from Ingram and a judiciously paced bass solo from Boykins.

The title track alludes to a late 50s style bustle – carried by the piano rather than the horns – over constant rhythmic shifts, from swing to hesitation, Ingram echoing Irabagon’s microtonal attack which rather amusingly shifts back and forth from haphazard to focused and back again. Not Even Close also has a cleverness that may be satirical, right from the start, as the sax and trombone lock in and then the whole band goes off on individual tangents. There’s another series of handoffs between Yao and Irabagon and a defiant refusal to resolve anything: they leave that to Ingram, who takes it from spaciously and warily chromatic to join Boykins’ and Clark’s casual swing.

A bright, funkily syncopated number, Pink Eye follows the same trajectory as the second track here with a series of light/dark and serious/playful dichotomies, Irabagon going as far out on a limb as he can with predictably snarky results. The strongest track here, the slowly swaying Shorter Days, is the only particularly pensive one: Ingram’s moody tonalities suspensefully shadowing Irabagon and Yao slowly turn to Neoromantic and completely turn the tune around, the sax and trombone’s richly lyrical, bucolic harmonies taking it out on an unexpectedly triumphant note.The album ends with Snafu, the most outright amusing track: it’s sort of a Taxi Driver Theme groove, but a wee-hours one without much of a hint at where it’s going. When it starts to fall apart, the band employs a gimmick that’s been used for ages in soul music, and rock, and bluegrass but not so often in jazz: the wait for the whole quintet to throw up their hands and say the hell with it is the most entertaining part.

Yao’s next New York performance with the quintet is October 5 at 8 PM at the Firehouse Space, 246 Frost St. in Williamsburg.

July 21, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gil Evans Centennial Album: A Major Moment in Jazz History

Conductor/arranger Ryan Truesdell launched the Gil Evans Project last year to commemorate the centennial of the most cinematic composer in the history of jazz. To date, Truesdell has staged a series of commemorative big band concerts as well as releasing the album Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. Given access to the Evans family archive, Truesdell unearthed numerous unrecorded works, ten of which are included here: three compositions and seven arrangements. As history, it’s a fascinating look at the development and crystallization of Evans’ visionary style. As a work of art, it’s classic Gil Evans: deep, rich and relentlessly intense, a titanic achievement and a major moment in jazz history, on par with the discovery of Charles Mingus’ Epitaph. It trivializes any consideration of where this album might stand on a “best albums of the year” list: this is music for eternity.

Evans was the personification of noir. His lush, epic charts refuse to cede defeat even as the shadows creep in – or sweep in, which is more often the case. His influence cannot be understated, although, strange as it may seem, he remains an underrated composer: his best work ranks with Shostakovich, or Ellington, both composers he resembles, often simultaneously. The mammoth orchestra here, totaling 36 musicians, rises to a herculean challenge: some of the playing here is so brilliant as to be career-defining. The high-water marks here are the original works. The first previously unreleased piece, Punjab, was originally intended to be released on the legendary 1964 lp The Individualism of Gil Evans but for some reason never made the cut (maybe because it’s almost fifteen minutes long). The sonics could only be Evans, a spectrum reaching from the darkest depths to the most ethereal highs. The composition hauntingly blends Middle Eastern and Indian themes with energetically jazz and blues-based interludes, a characteristic roller-coaster ride from Dan Weiss’ hypnotic tabla introduction, to screaming woodwind cadenzas, menacing low brass portents and suspensefully whispery washes, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson’s long, allusively modal, spiraling solo accented by Frank Kimbrough’s apprehensively twinkling piano and the devastatingly direct drums of Lewis Nash. As usual, the soloists are interpolated within the framework of the whole: in many cases Evans creates the illusion that there is interplay between the chart, or at least part of the orchestra, and the soloist.

The work that Truesdell – one of the world’s leading Evans scholars – ranks as the composer’s magnum opus is the nineteen-minute-plus triptych Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long. Although versions of these pieces were released separately in the 60s, the arrangement for the three pieces together is from an unrecorded 1971 Berlin concert and it is as massive as Evans ever got (which says a lot). Vibraphonist Joe Locke turns in the performance of a lifetime injecting luridly macabre phrases, alternately stealthy and breathtakingly frantic, over ominous cumulo-nimbus backdrops, murderously mysterious climbs from the depths and incessantly terse, shifting voices within the orchestra. Wilson follows with an equally astonishing, memorable solo, riddled with microtones like a bullet-spattered getaway car. The angst is inescapable, notwithstanding Beethovenesque brass luminosity, a warmly soulful Marshall Gilkes trombone solo, Evans’ signature light/dark contrasts everywhere and an ending that is completely the opposite of everything that foreshadows it.

An equally noir if slightly shorter track here, with a previously unreleased arrangement from that 1971 concert, is Kurt Weill’s Barbara Song. Evans recorded this on the Individualism lp with a band only two-thirds the size of the ensemble here and the result is a mighty, surrealistically chilling, absolutely transcendent sweep. Locke again dazzles and ripples in a centerstage role, this time providing illumination over the sometimes distant, sometimes imminent sturm und drang driven by Nash’s succinct insistence and the lurking bass trombone of George Flynn.

Most of us know The Maids of Cadiz from the Miles Ahead album; the version here dates back seven years earlier to 1950 and Evans’ tenure in Claude Thornhill’s big band. It’s a revealing glimpse of Evans at work in a similar context, it’s almost twice as long and seems about fifty times as big. It’s amazing how Evans would go from the exuberantly ornate tango-jazz of this chart to the plushness – not to mention the terseness – of his version for Miles Davis. This one features prominent, portentous bass from Jay Anderson, a vividly nocturnal Kimbrough solo and a warm, absolutely gorgeous solo out by trumpeter Greg Gisbert.

A handful of tracks also portray Evans the working musician and his approach to some of the more pedestrian fare that paid his rent. How About You, a jaunty, dixieland-flavored Thornhill-era track, shows how he was employing alternate voicings throughout the orchestra just as cleverly as he would later in his career, not to mention the demands those charts made on the musicians. The closing cut, Look to the Rainbow – with vocals by Luciana Souza – first comes across as a relatively generic samba-pop song…but wait til the lush, bittersweet crescendo kicks in as the song winds up! And Evans’ own early 50s composition Dancing on a Great Big Rainbow – which somehow evaded making it onto vinyl despite being in the catalog of three of its era’s most popular big bands – seems a prototype for how he’d take a song from its upbeat origins and transform it into something completely different. This one grows wings but does the opposite of taking flight.

There are two other vocal numbers here, both of them absolutely Lynchian. Smoking My Sad Cigarette, sung with equal parts sadness and sass by Kate McGarry, features a pillowy arrangement that finally morphs into a swaying blues. The oldest track here, Beg Your Pardon, dates from 1946; Wendy Gilles sings it and absolutely knocks it out of the park with her coy, split-second, spot-on melismas. And Who’ll Buy My Violets, a ballad from the Thornhill era, is arguably the most Lynchian track here, Kimbrough doing an unexpected Floyd Cramer impersonation as the orchestra swells behind him and imbues what seems on the surface to be an innocuous pop melody with morose gravitas.

The sonic quality of the album is extraordinary: the care and attention to close-miking and minute detail is meticulous. Although nothing beats the vinyl warmth of a vintage Gil Evans record, this is the most sonically gorgeous digital recording of Evans’ work ever made. Kudos to engineer James Farber and the rest of the orchestra: flutists Henrik Heide and Jesse Han; oboeists Jennifer Christen and Sarah Lewis; bassoonists Ben Baron, Michael Rabinowitz and Alden Banta; multi-reedmen Dave Pietro, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson, Brian Landrus and Charles Pillow; horn players Adam Unsworth, David Peel and John Craig Hubbard; trumpeters Augie Haas and Laurie Frink; trombonist Ryan Keberle; tuba player Marcus Rojas; guitarists James Chirillo and Romero Lubambo, percussionist Mike Truesdell and tenor violinist Dave Eggar. It would take a book to give due credit for what they’ve accomplished here.

July 17, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jared Gold Pushes the B3 Envelope

In a way, organist Jared Gold is to the Posi-Tone label what Willie Dixon was to Chess: he seems to be on practically all their records. And why not? He’s a good player, and he’s literally never made a bad album. His fifth as a bandleader, Golden Child, has been out for a few months: fans of organ jazz who’re looking for something imaginative and different should check out this unpredictable effort, by far his most original and cutting-edge album to date. His 2010 album Out of Line was 60s vamps; All Wrapped Up, from 2011, was a diverse effort with horns that explored swing, noir and New Orleans styles. This album finds him pushing the envelope a la Larry Young without referencing Young directly: it’s about as far from “Chicken Shack music” as you can possibly get. How radical is this? Rhythmically, most (but not all) of this is familiar B3 grooves, Gold walking the pedals with a brisk precision over drummer Quincy Davis’ terse shuffles; tunewise, a lot of this is pretty far out there. Track after track, Gold defiantly resists resolution, pushing consonance away in favor of an allusive, sometimes mysterious melodic language that changes vernacular constantly. Gold doesn’t stay with any particular idea long – a typical song here goes from atmospherically chordal to bits of warped blues phrasing, hammering staccato atonalities and momentary cadenzas in the span of thirty seconds or less. Guitarist Ed Cherry is the cheery one here and makes an apt foil for Gold, holding the melodic center, such that it is.

The slowly shuffling, syncopated opening take of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come takes the same liberties with the melody that Cooke would take with the rhythm when he sang it live: much of it is unrecognizable, and for the better, it’s not like we need another slavishly reverential cover of this song. The album closes with the most off-center cover of When It’s Sleepy Time Down South you’ll ever hear: although it swings, Satchmo himself might not recognize it. And Gold reinvents Johnny Nash’s cloying rocksteady hit I Can See Clearly Now with more than a little gleeful irony: this twisted reworking is nothing like what you hear in the supermarket. Gold starts with a particularly abrasive setting on the organ, hints at the blues, abruptly shifts from major to minor, all along peppering his digressions with fragments of the original as Cherry pulls it in the direction of Memphis soul (a style he mines here very memorably). The first of the Gold originals, Hold That Thought develops with a vivid sense of anticipation that never delivers any expected payoff, Davis’ flurrying breaks adding to the tension. The title track is all allusion: an out-of-focus ballad, unsettling rhythmic shifts, a nicely casual but biting, chromatically-charged Cherry solo and refusenik blues by Gold. Their cover of Wichita Lineman goes for wide-angle angst for a second before taking the theme in and out a la the Johnny Nash track, over and over before Cherry finally brings it into momentary focus right before the end.

Cherry’s tastefully terse blues and Memphis phrasing serve as sweetness versus Gold’s atonalities on another original, 14 Carat Gold, a sardonic midtempo soul strut. Likewise, their takes on a spiritual, I Wanna Walk and a bit later, In a Sentimental Mood both take familiar tropes and warp them, Gold simply refusing to hit the changes head on: and then, on the Ellington, just as it looks like it’s going to be all weird substitutions and no wave, Cherry dives in with aplomb and sends it out with a jaunty chordal crescendo over Davis’ mini-hailstorm. Underneath the persistent melodic unease, there’s a lot of ironic humor here, most obviously on the practically frantic Times Up, Gold’s pedals sprinting nimbly in 5/4 and then cleverly shifting the tempo straight ahead, Cherry walking through the raindrops, Davis finally getting some space to play sniper, so he machineguns it. It’s a fair bet that years from now, organists will be citing this album as an important moment in the history of the genre – and the devious fun these guys are having becomes more apparent with repeated listening.

July 16, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Believe It: The Cookers’ New Album Is Amazing

The Cookers’ 2010 album Warriors ranked as one of that year’s top ten jazz albums here: how does their new one, Believe, just out from Motema, stack up alongside it? It’s different, and it’s even better. It’s one of those rare albums that come along a handful of times a year, that will blow you away the first time you give it a close listen. Who would have thought that all but two of the members of this perennially vital, intense veteran septet – saxophonists Billy Harper and Craig Handy, trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart – are in their sixties or seventies? And who would have imagined that they’d come out with an album that’s mostly midtempo, with a couple of brooding ballads? This one has gravitas, rich melodic beauty and all sorts of deep playing and interplay. Interestingly, much as this band is all about power and fiery chops, it’s the compositions here that absolutely slay. The overall concept seems be something along the lines of “look, this isn’t just a superstar session, we’re a more-or-less fulltime band,” and they reaffirm that many times over.

The album kicks off with Believe, For It Is True, a Harper joint that juxtaposes a rather stern, stark modal piano melody with brighter, genial solos by the composer and then Weiss. It’s a good way to start the album. Temptation(s), by McBee, is a total knockout. From a similarly stark opening, the ensemble rises to an artfully layered, lush vintage 50s (think Miles and Gil) arrangement that fleshes out McBee’s bass riffage. Henderson alternates between warily soulful and swirly, McBee adds rhythmic insistence, then Cables gets nocturnal with the bass and drums and they they’re up and out. Wow!

Ebony Moonbeams, by Cables, is even plusher. Rhythms are hinted at and then Hart subtly establishes the clave, Henderson spirals and splatters, Cables takes the hook to Plaintiveville, Handy scurries over it and then Cables returns with an understated majestic intensity as the rhythm pulls away from the center. The lone cover is Wayne Shorter’s Free for All, moving matter-of-factly from tense restraint to unleashed modal menace. With a judiciously gleeful slasher attack, Hart absolutely owns this one, Henderson bringing in the evening sun for a moment before Handy and Cables join forces and take it into noir territory, all the way through a Hart solo where he somehow never loses the center, with a final mean drum roll to cap it off. Quest, another Harper tune, cleverly develops a wry martial New Orleans “charge” riff into more of the noir stuff, Hart again in richly colorist mode, Cables turning in what’s arguably the most chillingly exhilarating of all the solos here as he swings it with a dark flamenco tinge.

Will there be any respite? Maybe. But He Knows, a jazz waltz by Cables hints at a more carefree atmosphere, but beginning with Henderson’s purist, bluesy muted solo followed upwards by Handy, the shadows grow behind them; by the time they get to the piano solo, Cables can’t pull them back from watching the abyss. Tight Squeeze, by McBee, is exactly that, all suspense and understated chills: Harper broods, Weiss contemplates, Hart amps the mystery up to ten, works a couple of false endings and then lets McBee and Cables join in a surrealistic bounce. The final track, Naaj, a Hart composition, works permutations on a carnavalesque piano motif. Blast this in the car or after a bad day at work, share it with the friends whose lives you want to enrich the most, and if there’s someone very bright and intense that you want to seduce, this might do the trick. Watch for it on the list of best jazz albums of 2012 here in December if we make it that far.

July 15, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Magical Night in Central Park with the NY Phil

A gentle rain fell, delivering a welcome respite from the heat as maestro Alan Gilbert led the NY Philharmonic up from pianissimo to a velvety nocturne in Central Park last night. The big lawn in the middle of the park may not be the quietest place during the day, but the vast crowd was pretty much rapt as the lush beauty of the dawning movement of Respighi’s Fountains of Rome slowly unwound. Gilbert conducted it from memory: he had it in his fingers, and so did the orchestra. The magical moments were too numerous to count. As if on cue, the music diverted a couple of expected interruptions, the first when a plane crossed the sky just as the strings exploded with a bustling fury as Respighi’s suite reached morning rush hour: it isn’t often that an orchestra beats a jet engine, but this time it did. Then during a particularly incisive passage in Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which followed, a siren moving through the park added accidental harmonies which worked far more effectively, and interestingly, than one would have expected. The rest of the Fountains, from balletesque, to boomy, to practically silent, then stormy and and intense, then back again, was cinematic in the purest sense of the word, a tour of Rome a hundred years ago by a particularly insightful guide. As Gilbert led the orchestra on a blissful, silken glide out, it was transcendent, the kind of good-to-be-alive moment that can be savored in this city and this city alone.

The Pines were just as good, and made the fireworks display afterward seem redundant. From the swirling, Christmasy introduction, the richly misterioso outside-the-catacombs theme, artfully shifting motifs from the woodwinds leading the orchestra up and the final, lengthy crescendo (which begs the question, did Respighi know of Gustav Holst’s The Planets when he wrote this?), it was a triumphant conclusion to a sonic art-house double feature. The Philharmonic is playing both suites for their opening gala on September 27 at 7:30 PM: they couldn’t have chosen better. Avery Fisher Hall may need a new roof after they’re done.

What about Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which opened the bill? The audience responded somewhat restlessly, particularly toward the end of the second movement. If a piece drags, is it the fault of the orchestra? Hardly, if they play it as the composer dictated, which is exactly what they did. Gilbert set up the pyrotechnics of the finale so it could resound in the park’s lower valley by keeping the quieter parts especially low key: by the end, he was practically jumping out of his shoes in a storm of blazing minor-key riffage and so was the ensemble. But there were points where the melody lagged, and during the incessant pizzicato introduction to the third movement, didn’t leave much hope that there would be many more interesting things to come for those with the patience to wait through the 1877 equivalent of a song by Rush. The NY Phil is back in Central Park this coming Monday the 16th at 8 PM, program still TBA: as always, early arrival (six isn’t too early) is a must.

July 14, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment