Lucid Culture


Solo Brilliance from Kenny Werner

In the year of Vijay Iyer, with great double live albums by Fred Hersch and a rediscovery from Bill Evans, it wouldn’t be fair to let these last couple of months sneak off without counting Kenny Werner’s richly melodic live solo set Me Myself & I among the best piano jazz albums of recent months. Werner is a band guy – he likes to play off other people and vice versa. He also, by his own admission, doesn’t like to practice. But having been working up his chops for a separate project, he felt up to doing a solo gig at the 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival. Having been at the festival the night he was playing and…um…opting to see a different show, the reaction after hearing this was part regret for having missed such a magical night, part gratitude that Werner had the foresight to make a live record out of it.

Werner takes his time slipping into Round Midnight, bringing a glimmering neoromantic edge spiced by a handful of smartly placed bolero allusions, a little messing with the rhythm, spiraling down to a terse nocturne and then swinging it again. Balloons, a moody, modally fueled original edges in and out of waltz time, shifting from gleaming apprehension to a dark, flamenco-tinged High Romantic angst. By contrast, Werner briskly runs the changes throughout All the Things before shifting into expansive waves of tersely tuneful variations. He does the same a bit later on with Giant Steps, precise righthand chromatics anchored firmly in lefthand murk.

He plays Blue Is Green as a September song, with an understatedly towering intensity, finally hits the blues head-on and then lets it down gracefully. The real surprise here is fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell’s I Had a King, where Werner works his way from allusively moody, to incorporate hints of vaudeville and ragtime before ending with a creepy chromatic flourish. The last song on the album is Thad Jones’ pretty ballad A Child Is Born, juxtaposing minimalist opacity against an unexpectedly wary, almost rubato waltz, a couple of devious false endings and a long series of crescendos that are a clinic in how to develop a theme for maximum impact. For tracks that go on as long as these do – up to almost fifteen minutes – Werner never loses sight of the melody or the mood. The album’s out now from Justin Time. Memo to self: next time in Montreal…

November 7, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Carney, Look What You Spawned

Similar to the Microscopic Septet’s take on Monk, arrangement-wise if not necessarily in spirit, the Mark Masters Ensemble puts baritone maestro Gary Smulyan out in front as part of a sax quintet plus rhythm section on their recent Capri release, Ellington Saxophone Encounters. The obvious question is why bother? Comparisons to the originals, some iconic, some lesser-known, will inevitably surface – a drive back to Manhattan from a New Jersey studio fairly proximate to where some of these tunes were first recorded, with Midnight at Minton’s blasting all the way, was probably not the optimum way to set up a spin of this album. But these songs are great fun, the band bringing a terse, businesslike approach to Masters’ new charts as well as to individual solos.

Alongside Smulyan – a hard bop guy all the way, but also a first-rate bluesman, as he reminds here – there’s Gary Foster and Pete Christlieb on tenors, Gene Cipriano and Don Shelton on altos, Bill Cunliffe on piano, Tom Warrington on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. To be precise, there are only three tracks here by the Duke himself, though most of them are associated with the Ellington band. Esquire Swank is the first tune, which interestingly does remind somewhat of the Micros, a distantly moody, proto-Monk swing number that Smulyan gets gritty with immediately. The jump blues benefit the most from Masters’ approach, notably Johnny Hodges’ Lawrence Brown Blues, with its purist Cunliffe and Shelton solos. Jimmy Hamilton’s Get Ready also features some tasty pairing off between individual voices and the ensemble. Rockin’ in Rhythm is ablaze in goodnatured jousting and swirling, more than alluding to its dixieland roots. And the best of all of the tracks here might be Jeep’s Blues, matter-of-factly swinging through the classic Ellington combination of magisterial classical, bright ragtime and deep blues elements.

The straight-up swing stuff – Paul Gonsalves’ The Line Up and The Happening, as well as an artfully crescendoing take of Hamilton’s Ultra Blue – typically follows a sequence of lively solos. The ballads offer even more of a platform for this, whether wry or wistful. Smulyan gets vividly nostalgic on Carney’s We’re In Love Again, while Christlieb’s understated pensiveness carries Ben Webster’s Love’s Away. Then the band reaches the top of the arc on Hodges’ Peaches, Shelton to Cipriani to Christlieb for an increasingly high-voltage triple play. Fans of Ellingtonia won’t be disappointed; the Duke himself would no doubt approve.

November 7, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intriguing Atmospherics from Katherine Young and TimeTable

For fans of gamelan music, insurgent Brooklyn jazz label Prom Night has put out After Party Vol. 2: Releasing Bound Water from Green Material. It’s an intriguingly through-composed Katherine Young score for percussion, played with trippy verve by TimeTable (Matthew Gold, Alex Lipowski and Matt Ward) with improvisation from an ensemble including the composer on bassoon plus Brad Henkel and Jacob Wick on trumpets, Emily Manzo on piano, Nathaniel Morgan on tenor sax, Dan Peck on tuba and Jeff Snyder on keyboards. As a whole, their role is basically to add atmospherics, with the occasional brief, ghostly cameo. It’s an enjoyable, roughly 22-minute exchange of intriguing textures.

Quietly keening drones, a few things falling into place, frenetically scraping, squishy galoshes-on-wet-street sonics and low bell tones contrast in the opening piece. Is some of this an attempt to mimic PA speaker feedback, acoustically? If so, it’s amazingly authentic. The long, central track is a set piece from the Court of the Stainless Steel King. Ringing gamelanesque bells rise, more swirly than plinky, and then recede against boomy low gongs. Insistent drum accents lead to a cadenza that ushers in more lively ambience in the background. Something slides; something scurries; woodblocks enter and then vary their cadences and timbres.

The final track blends fat, bassy, booming low gong swells with a grating overtone drone (bowed crotales, maybe?) and oscillating white noise that pushes in and attempts to take centerstage. Who is the audience for this? Anyone with an ear for atmospheric or chillout music; it makes a ride up the Broadway line on the express track between Brooklyn and Manhattan considerably more interesting, and strangely, more soothing.

November 7, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment