Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Darkly Brilliant Trio Album from Pianist Benny Green

Pianist Benny Green leads a trio on a three-night stand starting tonight at 7:30 PM at the Jazz Standard, continuing through Sunday and if potently original postbop is your thing, you can’t go wrong with these shows. It’s a launch weekend for his new trio album Magic Beans with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, just out on Sunnyside. As you’d expect from somebody who came up in the Art Blakey camp, this is a pretty intense album. Interestingly, what Green is going for on a lot of the numbers here is to bring to a piano trio the kind of harmonic jostling that characterized much of the sax/trumpet interplay between, say, Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan on innumerable early 60s Blue Note sides. It’s an inventive idea that imbues Green’s compositions with a frequently haunting edge. The arrangements are pretty straight-up, pre-Bill Evans style, the bass holding to the rhythm and anchoring the lows, Kenny Washington doing the impossible by playing both a slinky behind-the-beat groove while pushing it with cymbal and snare accents.

The opening track, Benny’s Crib is a straight-up swing number that runs nimbly along the curb side of the blues and stays there until a rather wry turnaround. Kenny Drew, a terse misterioso noir shuffle, has echoes of both Monk and Brubeck and warms up a little with more of a bluesy feel before a similarly judicious, tightlipped bass solo.  Flying Saucer also echoes Brubeck with considerably more aggression and knottily spiraling permutations on a tight chromatic progression

Jackie McLean, an apt homage, has bite, a neat syncopated clave hook and bracing close harmonies. Vanished goes way down toward the abyss, a murky, often creepy ballad with a Chopinesque plaintiveness and richly suspenseful restraint from Green. Harold Land takes something of a jump blues and gives it a dark early 60s intensity.

The ttle track kicks off as a brooding cha-cha livened by Kenny Washington’s rimshots before they take it out for a crepuscular stroll and then back to the dimlit cabana. Paraphrase, true to its title, sways along with a nebulous unease up to a dancing Peter Washington solo. The ballad La Portuguesa moves from a mist of cymbals and plaintive pedalpoint through an almost minimalist, fado-influenced tune. The final number is the moodily bouncy, tango-inflected Further Away. It’s only February, but we have a strong contender for best piano album of the year here. For a good idea how this sounds, Green will be doing a lot of this at both early and late sets through Sunday at the Jazz Standard.

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February 22, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bryan and the Aardvarks: Crepuscular Magic

Bryan and the Aardvarks’ debut album Heroes of Make Believe is a suite of nocturnes. Their music has been characterized as noir, and that definitely is a part of the picture. Bassist/composer Bryan Copeland’s glimmering, gently surreal modal themes are fleshed out with a lush, hypnotic gleam by vibraphonist Chris Dingman, multi-keyboardist Fabian Almazan and subtle drummer Joe Nero. They’re playing tonight, Feb 22 at Joe’s Pub at 9:30, joined by Jesse Lewis on guitar: if rapturous beauty with a dark undercurrent is your thing, this is a show not to miss.

Without even considering how captivatingly the band maintains a shimmery, mysterious mood throughout their album Heroes of Make Believe, what’s most impressive is that several of the tracks are free improvisations. The group’s commitment to theme and emotional content is absolutely unwavering: there are points here where individual instrumentaion seemingly becomes irrelevant because they’re all playing as a single voice. The tracks alternate between long, often mesmerizing, slow-to-midtempo themes interspersed with brief dreamy interludes. Nero’s sotto vocce brushwork, suspenseful shuffle beats and meticulous cymbals stir this crepuscular magic as Copeland anchors it with a deftly minimalist touch. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page, with the Beatles homage Marmalade Sky – the longest track here, clocking in at just under ten minutes – available as a free download.

The opening number, These Little Hours may be the most unforgettable track here. It starts with a simple, tiptoeing, Lynchian lullaby theme and sends it sailing with a slow ultraviolet swing, part Milt Jackson ballad, part Jeff Lynne anthem as it rises and falls, Almazan’s swirling string synthesizer orchestration mingling with Dingman’s ripples and runs  Nero does a neat falling-acorn bounce off his rims to kick off the epic Where the Wind Blows, building to an animated, cinematic waltz that makes a launching pad for a long, crescendoing Almazan solo that moves toward apprehension, Dingman returning it to otherworldly bittersweetness.

Lingering vibraphone contrasts with austere bowed bass to open Sunshine Through the Clouds, which morphs from there into a lushly atmospheric country ballad and from there into a hypnotically rising soul-flavored vamp that seems more of a celebration than the requiem that it is. When Night Falls, a trippy, enveloping improvisation, shuffles along steadily over a moody modal piano riff as textures flit through the mist, dub-style.

After the psychedelically-tinged, gently bustling Beatles tribute, there’s Soft Starry Night with its tiptoeing soul waltz of an intro and crescendoing gospel allusions,  then the brief, tangential improvisation Mysteria. The pillowy, slinky Still I Dream bubbles along on the pulse of Almazan’s echoey Rhodes piano lines mingling with Dingman’s vibraphone to the point where it’s impossible to figure out who’s playing what.

After a menacing loop-driven miniature, the band picks up the pace with the most amthemic track here, Today Means Everything. A triumphant piano workout for Almazan, it has the feel of a title theme from a wry, literate buddy movie. The album ends with the brief interlude Just Before Dawn and then I’d Be Lost and its warm, laid-back wee-hours New Orleans groove. Whatever you want to call this: jazz, third stream, soundtrack music, noir music, it’s one of the most enticingly enjoyable albums of recent months. Shame on us for not having picked up on it sooner.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Cookers’ David Weiss Reinvents Some Late 60s Gems

Continuing with today’s “why would you want to make a record of somebody else’s tunes” theme, Cookers trumpeter David Weiss has gone the route of reinvention and reassessment with his quintet Point of Departure on their latest album Venture Inward, due out on the 26th from Posi-Tone. It’s both a look back and a step forward from the melodic 60s postbop sounds that Weiss loves so much. This group follows the Cookers’ blueprint both for starpower, with JD Allen on tenor sax and Nir Felder on guitar, and for having a monster rhythm section, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Jamire Williams, to match Weiss’ other group’s veteran team of Cecil McBee and Billy Hart. Williams in particular owns this record. Given a lot of chances to cut loose, he adds grit and drive and wit in places, particularly on a long, surreal, rather droll solo on the second track. Having seen him play in many different contexts, this is one of his great achievements.

To open the album,  Herbie Hancock’s I Have a Dream gets both expanded and a lot more tightly wound – in both senses of the word – bristling with solos from Weiss, Felder and then Allen in surprisingly nonchalant mode over Williams’ curb-dusting assault. The horn counterpoint as Williams spins on a dime midway through is an artful treat. Miles Davis’ Black Comedy is a workout for tight horn harmonies as well as for a muscular performance from the rhythm section.

The first of two Contemporary Jazz Quintet pieces, an epic take of trumpeter Charles Moore’s Number 4 begins scurrying but moody, a launching pad for Allen’s signature blend of intensity and judicious tunefulness before Weiss chooses his own spots while Williams builds an almost imperceptible trajectory upwards. The group loosens as Felder goes exploring but never loses the swing, even when it seems they’re going to pull into a parking space for a second.

Two Andrew Hill compositions are included as well. Allen gets vividly restless on the first solo on Venture Inward  – it’s as long as many of his own songs – before Weiss moves in for another long, thought-out excursion. The Hill ballad Pax floats along with a rather somber, rainy-day ambience before Felder spikes it and then Allen takes it in a more seductive direction. The album winds up with the second Contemporary Jazz Quintet piece, Snuck In, replete with moody tension, scampering swing, purposeful postbop scampering from Weiss and darker, similarly measured contributions from Allen and Felder. Besides being great fun to hear, albums like this serve a lot of useful purposes: they make you want to revisit the source material, or discover it for the first time, not to mention keeping it alive for a contemporary audience.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Killer Ray Appleton’s New Album: Truth in Advertising

If you’re not working in a classical idiom, why would you want to make a record of other peoples’ music? To reinvent it? To document where you’re at musically? To capture a group you’re working with before everybody gets busy again and goes their separate ways? To have something available to sell as a souvenir after the show? Or maybe because you’ve got a group that’s just plain fun, and you think that making a record would be just as good a time as playing a gig. That more than anything seems to be the fuel that propels veteran drummer Killer Ray Appleton’s, um, killer new album Naptown Legacy, due out March 4 from Hollistic Music Works. He’s playing a couple of album release shows at the Jazz Standard on March 5 and 6 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. If latin-flavored postbop at its most tuneful and entertaining, or bands like the Cookers, are your thing, this is for you.

The album title refers to Indianapolis, where Appleton got his start, mentored as a gradeschooler by Freddie Hubbard. That led to a long association with Wes Montgomery’s bassist brother Buddy, followed by a long career in Europe. Appleton now makes his home right here in New York; the band here includes Brian Lynch on trumpet, Ian Hendrickson-Smith on alto sax, Rick Germanson on piano, Todd Herbert on tenor sax, Robert Sabin on bass and Little Johnny Rivero on percussion.

They blaze into the album with a hard-charging take of Wes’s So Do It with blustery tenor and scampering piano, Lynch taking it to a nonchalant crescendo. Hubbard’s Backlash gets reinvented as a stormy guaguanco groove pulsing along on the wings of Appleton’s cumulo-nimbus cymbals. They reinvent Johnny Mercer’s Out of This World as a slinky cha-cha with lively intertwined horns and a long, bobbing, weaving Germanson solo. Melvin Rhyne’s Bamboo gets a similarly sly, shuffling, smoldering workout.

Lynch’s arrangement of Flamingo is expansive, with a stagger-step rhythm to keep things lively, and lyrical tenor and trumpet solos. Their take of Hubbard’s Luana begins as a noir shuffle and never loses sight of that even as the horns and then the piano springboard off it in turn. After a hot, horn-driven, swinging romp through JJ Johnson’s Fatback, guest guitarist Peter Bernstein takes his time warmly and pensively on a solo version of Wes Montgomery’s Quiet Thing, an unusual and welcome interlude on an album by a drummer-led combo. Bernstein gets to pick up the pace on a concise version of another Wes tune, Twisted Blues, a bit later on.

They elevate Norman Luboff’s Yellow Bird to the level of the rest of the material with Appleton’s clenched-teeth aggression on the cymbals and toms, Germanson moving from edgy modality to an acerbic, insistent gleam. The albums winds up on an unexpectedly brooding note with Maybe September that offers a nod to Tommy Flanagan, although the gorgeously morose solo here is from Herbert rather than the trumpet. Crank this album after a long day at work, throw the windows wide open, make your neighbors happy too.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nova Philharmonic Channels the Power and Fun of Beethoven

Isn’t it fun when an orchestra goes deep into the music and absolutely, completely gets it? Yesterday evening at the edge of the Lincoln Center complex, conductor Dong-Hyun Kim led the Nova Philharmonic through a richly robust performance that absolutely nailed every bit of liveliness, and joy, and intensity in two iconic Beethoven works, the Symphony No. 1 and the Violin Concerto, Op. 61.

Other orchestras can be seduced by the comfortably familiar, Haydnesque pillowiness of that symphony, but not this one. Although it had its pillowy moments, notably in the second movement’s underlying nocturne, Kim’s interpretation was meticulously rhythmic, taking it almost but not quite to the point of a stampede as the final movement kicked in. Throughout the orchestra, individual contributions were strong: vivid low-versus-high tradeoffs, bright accents from the high strings and brass, lithely swooping motifs in the final movement and perfectly synched exchanges between the high and low strings in the second.

Because there’s so much angst in Beethoven, sometimes we forget how funny his music can be. This ensemble didn’t. Guest violinist Daniel Phillips (of the Orion String Quartet) found the corny inner core of the famous little country waltz theme that percolates throughout the final movement of the Violin Concerto and with just the hint of a wink or something like that, handed it off to the orchestra – who made it clear that they knew this was a buffoon’s theme, following its permutations all the way to a deadpan slapstick swing. It made for cruelly amusing portraiture without being over the top, something other orchestras should dare to embrace.

The ride getting to that point was often flat-out exhilarating. For one, the piece has symphonic length and bulk, clocking in at a tad under 45 minutes, even with Kim driving the orchestra through its more upbeat passages with the same kind of brisk purposefulness of the Symphony. Phillips played its cruelly difficult voicings (dating from a time before Beethoven knew how to tailor an arrangement to a violinist’s fingers) from memory with a radiant, overtone-tinged old-hardwood resonance and jaunty elan. He’s fun to watch: when he’d pulled off one particularly grueling rapidfire round of chromatic triplets in the suspenseful second movemenet, he raised his bow from the fingerboard with a defiant flourish as if to say, “Take that, you sadist.” A little earlier, when the orchestra got the chance to switch roles with the violin and echo a tensely trilling pedal motif as Phillips spiraled down from the stratosphere, they had the inflections down to a split-second. Beethoven’s music is full of moments where soloists and ensemble players can revel in them equally: this was a perfectly executed example. The audience – including three of New York’s finest violinists – rewarded them with a roaring ovation. Much as the big orchestras tend to get all the press, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting, and insightful, and true-to-form performance of these two pieces than this. Watch this space for upcoming Nova Philharmonic concerts.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Federico Garcia Lorca Inspires a Twisted, Funny, Cruelly Ironic Puppet Show

Don Cristobal and his sidekick Rosita are the Spanish equivalent of Punch and Judy. In their new show Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man, Luminescent Orchestrii multi-instrumentalist Rima Fand and puppetry designer-director Erin Orr intersperse Federico Garcia Lorca poems set to haunting, flamenco-tinged original music within a sly, innuendo-fueled program that’s part dirty puppet show, part shadowplay and part farce. Lorca several times hinted that Don Cristobal may be deeper than a mere one-dimensional buffoon, a character study that this piece develops by leaps and bounds with plenty of laughs but also an undercurrent of existential angst that eventually takes centerstage.

The fourth wall comes down quickly and for all intents and purposes stays down the rest of the way. Many of the jokes and sight gags are theatre-insider humor, but they’re not so abstruse as to go over the heads of the audience. The plotline is pretty straightforward: having been tantalized by the prospect of life beyond the stage, Don Cristobal suddenly finds his predictable role mauling the other puppets much less interesting than usual. To complicate matters, he’s become hopelesssly infatuated with Rosita. Both characters are portayed with small stage puppets, Don Cristobal also via a creepy, toddler-size Japanese bunraku-style puppet manipulated expertly and voiced by Brendan McMahon. Claudia Acosta plays Rosita with an unwavering sweetness and blind taskfulness, literally unable to think outside the box. John Clancy is a smash hit as Don Cristobal’s smarmy stage director, with a malicious relish completely lacking either boundaries or scruples. David Fand is his meek, downtrodden antagonist, the Poet, who gets a few plaintive, gentle folk songs; Alice Tolan-Mee sings a handful of numbers for Rosita in Lorca’s original Spanish with a lively Broadwayesque flair.

As Don Cristobal’s existential crisis deepens, his dedication to his job as a puppet begins to waver; he slips out of character and his health declines to the point where his prospects of surviving a repair appointment with the Puppet Maker (a deadpan Quince Marcum, who also doubles on horn and percussion) don’t look good. Racy shadowplay interludes alternate with vaudevillian tomfoolery, a bizarre witches’ dance of sorts and endless messing with the audience. At yesterday’s matinee, there was a possible technical malfunction early on. If this was scripted, it fooled everyone; if it was a genuine snafu, the players improvved their way through it seamlessly.

And the music was the high point of the show. Multi-instrumentalist Fand (who primarily played keyboards and mandolin) was joined by guitarists Kyle Senna and Avi Fox-Rosen for a twisted overture, a plaintive, dramatic bolero, skeletal folk-rock interludes, a couple of absolutely chilling, macabre, carnivalesque Lynchian piano themes and an artsy mandolin-fueled goth-rock song that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Black Fortresss of Opium catalog. Fand’s music matched the mood of Lorca’s lyrics, whether voicing longing (Midnight Hours), lust (Rosita’s Song) or suspenseful narration (El Rio Guadalquivir). A score this memorable deserves a DVD, or at least an original soundtrack release. The show continues at the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St. on the lower east side on February 22-23 and March 1-2 at 8 PM; February 23 and March 2 at 3 PM; and February 17, 24 and March 3 at 5 PM. Tickets are $20; the discount code for $15 tix this weekend is Rosita.

February 17, 2013 Posted by | drama, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Transcendent Mingus Big Band Show to Start Their Weekend at the Jazz Standard

Ever the advocate for the next generation of jazz greats, Sue Mingus took the bandstand briefly midway through the Mingus Big Band’s sold-out show last night at the Jazz Standard to encourage the audience to visit Manhattan School of Music today. From 1 to 5 PM, members of the three Mingus repertory ensembles are giving free seminars for the benefit of participants in this year’s Mingus high school competition, and the public is welcome to attend as well, “If that sort of thing interests you,” as she put it. If you’d rather see this band itself, they’re playing an all-too-rare Jazz Standard weekend stand through this Sunday, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM: as usual at this venue, early arrival and/or reservations are very highly encouraged.

The band was transcendent, as usual: explosive and pretty relentlessly intense, but also brimming with good humor that spilled over abundantly in just the right places. On one hand, that’s to be expected given the depth of the Mingus catalog (and this band’s Grammy win for the live album they made here as 2008 turned into 2009). On the other, it’s easy to take these groups for granted, since one of them is always here at the Jazz Standard every Monday. “I’ve got it, I’ve got it,” baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber hollered to his bandmates as he launched into an irrepressibly romping stop-time solo passage early on in E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too while they waited with bated breath to leap back in. Moanin’, which closed the night’s first set, was a real barn-burner, Scott Robinson matter-of-factly setting up a blistering charge from fellow tenorist Wayne Escoffery. The band also rampaged through Slippers – a relatively rare tune in the band’s repertoire, played especially for the high school contingent who’ll be doing it over the weekend – with drummer Adam Cruz taking it down to a noir suspense with his solo midway through, working it expertly from nonchalant clave, to a hypnotically tribal rumble, to a crescendo that reverted to wild abandon.

The highlight of the night was another infrequent choice, Sue’s Changes, a wry, wickedly insightful and eventually tender tribute from the composer to his mercurial, irrepressibly energetic, reliably surprising wife. After the band had done a first pass through the song’s endlesss series of metric changes, tenor saxophonist Craig Handy offered a coy smooch with his mouthpiece before going deep into the blues, pianist Jim Ridl channeling a radiant glimmer before the final joyous full ensemble onslaught. A bit later, they began Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love lushly and brightly, but also carefully until Boris Kozlov’s bass solo, part High Romantic, part devious funk – after which point everybody put away any more romantic notions and swung like crazy. It was contagious: stellar and judicious performances from a cast including but not limited to alto saxophonist Alex Foster, trombonist/crooner par excellence Ku’Umba Frank Lacy (who also sang Elvis Costello’s lyrics on the opening number), trombonists Earl McIntyre and Conrad Herwig, and trumpeters Kenny Rampton and Greg Gisbert.

February 16, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joel Miller Makes an Auspicious NYC Debut

A couple of nights ago tenor saxophonist Joel Miller made an auspicious New York debut at Shapeshifter Lab, an intimate, richly tuneful performance of original material with inspired, thoughtful contributions from pianist Gary Versace, bassist Matt Clohesy, drummer Greg Ritchie and guest Ingrid Jensen being her usual down-to-earth, nonchalantly brilliant self on trumpet. What’s the likelihood of a jazz gig with two guys originally hailing from Prince Edward Island (Miller and Ritchie) up onstage? Not as rare as it might seem: the Maritimes have been a fertile incubator for talent in recent years, and there’s an impressively eclectic jazz festival in Halifax at the end of June. That Miller will be there is yet another good reason to go.

Miller’s association with Jensen goes back a ways – he’s married to her saxophonist sister Christine. He and his sister-in law have a familiar repartee and share a fondess for choosing their spots. Jensen waited until her final verse on the first set’s closing number, Teeter Totter, before sharpshooting her way through a deliciously long, chromatically-fueled, blistering salvo of sixteenth notes. Voltage-wise, it was the highlight of the show, although Jensen’s richly ambered, judiciously chosen sostenuto lines in the ballad Warm Lake – a sardonic fishing reference – were just as impactful, moving in a completely opposite direction. Likewise, Miller played with a terse decisiveness throughout the set, letting spaces linger for all they were worth between deftly clustering cadenzas and confidently rippling postbop passages. On the closing number, he held back until just before Jensen’s closing pyrotechnics to color his clenched-teethed phrasing with microtones, then suddenly going minimal and atmospheric to ramp up the suspense.

Miller has a gift for catchy tunesmithing, and the band embraced it, often with abandon.  Versace’s glimmering modalities on the bridge added a scary dimension to the otherwise wryly shapeshifting cha-cha romp Step Into My Office. Clohesy made his way deliberately and emphatically through a couple of spaciously funky solos. Ritchie switched between brushes and sticks, adding subtly dark hues from the rims and mist from the cymbals, notably on the sometimes-waltzing, sometimes-swinging, brightly pulsing Honeycomb. There were other times he’d begin with a clave groove and then leave it implied for the rest of the song, or until one Miller’s frequent metric changes. Twin horn harmonies were strong and sometimes unexpectly balmy, other times adding an element of apprehension via Miller’s close harmonies. Laced with occasional humor, his craftsmanlike approach to composition mirrors how he plays: this show made the haul out to the Gowanus richly worthwhile.

February 15, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Afghan Youth Orchestra Shifts the Paradigm at Carnegie Hall

With a nod and a grin to Astor Piazzolla and Ravi Shankar, last night the Afghan Youth Orchestra mixed and mingled canonical western classics with material from their native land which, evidenced by the thunderous response from the expat contingent of what appeared to be a sold-out Carnegie Hall crowd, is equally iconic where they come from. The highlight of their US debut was William Harvey’s mashup of Vivaldi with traditional Afghani themes. As he did throughout the concert, Harvey conducted his jaunty, irresistibly iconoclastic arangement, The Four Seasons of Afghanistan, from memory. Any untightness – this was a student performance, after all – was rendered meaningless by the sheer fun the ensemble had with it. Voicing the opening parts of the suite in turn on rubab and tanbur lutes and ghichak fiddle added both surrealism and humor, balanced by alternately rousing and rapt Afghani folk interludes, most of them brief and succinct with the exception of an interminable sitar improvisation midway through. A buzz of excitement was in the air: who was going to get the next introduction or carry the next famous motif? Trumpeter James Herzog wowed the crowd by unleashing a long, sustained pedal note via circular breathing; percussionist Norma Ferreira spun perfect cut-glass ripples from her xylophone, getting some of the juiciest passages. And the sight of young Afghani women onstage playing instruments, their faces unveiled, was even more delightfully radical than the music.

It wasn’t long ago that what they were doing here would have earned them a death sentence back home (and to be truthful, still might in more backwater areas). But to see how far the Kabul-based Afghan National Institute of Music’s showcase group has come in the years since the organization’s revival in 2001, following years of inactivity and Taliban persecution, was heartwarming to the extreme. Pianist Said Elham Fanous teamed up with violinist Mikail Simonyan for an almost nonchalantly fluid, unselfconsciously haunting take of a Chopin nocturne. A litte bit later, the whole ensemble, joined by members of the Scarsdale High School Orchestra, romped through the Ravel Bolero, lutes and native fiddles and sitar and sarod joining in the fun just as with the Vivaldi as Harvey took it higher and higher.

Pioneering third-stream Afghani composer Salim Sarmast’s arrangement of the catchy, pulsing folk song Shakoko Jan, which served as both closer and encore, was one example of how ably this group and its leaders – including Ahmad Sarmast, the composer’s son – are able to merge traditions which differ in virtually all aspects including the scales employed by the instruments. The concert’s pensively anthemic opening theme – another Salim Sarmast chart – quickly established a visceral sense of teamwork and camaraderie among the ensemble. There were also brief interludes of folk themes, including a mini-raga highlighting sitar and sarod. Other instances revealed the interpolation of non-western modes to be a work in progress. As the arabesques built toward the conclusion of the Bolero, this worked like a charm. There were also places where the overtones of the sitars or the microtones of the ghichaks contrasted jarringly against western intervals. Sometimes it seemed to be intentional, a hair-raisingly effective device; elsewhere, it just sounded out of tune. Anyone who’s tried to bridge the gap between two dissimilar musical cultures has to grapple with the often minute distinction between paradigm shift and pitfall. This concert revealed this talented young ensemble to be as well-suited to such a challenge as anyone could possibly want.

February 13, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

High Voltage from the South Florida Jazz Orchestra

The title of the South Florida Jazz Orchestra’s new album Trumpet Summit is a dead giveaway. Interestingly, for a Miami-based band, this ferocious stuff is less Cuban-influenced than it is cinematic (although they crank up Roberto Quintero’s congas and guest Martin Bejerano‘s tumbling piano on the blazing salsa highway theme Read My Lips). Bassist Chuck Bergeron leads this monstrosity nimbly: when the whole crew is going full steam, the effect is spectacular, but he saves those moments for when they’re needed, often focusing on a soloist backed by just the rhythm section and then working up a crescendo from there.

Their arrangement of Clifford Brown’s Daahoud makes a good, intense opener, with neat dixieland-flavored brass/reeds harmonies and a series of increasingly explosive trumpet solos. It’s not clear who’s doing what, but the cast – which includes Wayne Bergeron, Brian Lynch, Jason Carder,Greg Gisbert, Alex Norris, Cisco Dimas, Augie Haas and Kim Pensyl – has a great time with it.

One of the album’s most interesting numbers is a scorchingly original version of Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You. Guest vocalist Nicole Yarling reminds of Abbey Lincoln with her determined, nonchalant menace over a lushly pulsing arrangement with sudden tempo shifts. Blues for the Terrible Twos – a diptych, which makes sense – begins as a swing blues with more trumpet handoffs, then pianist Brian Murphy brings in a genially shuffling ragtime groove that one of the trumpets eventually takes all the way to the roof.

Peer Pressure, by Lynch has a suspenseful sweep and majesty, ominous low brass teaming with piano on the lows, trumpet and trombones driving the swells, drummer John Yarling adding aggressive, counterintuitive accents. Another Lynch tune, One for Mogie is a bluesy waltz with tv theme-style brightness, spiced with a surreal who-me tenor solo from Ed Calle and an insistent Murphy solo. Bergeron’s Good Addiction takes the album out on a high note with its almost imperceptible crescendos and scampering modalities, Murphy’s hypnotic, intense pedalpoint anchoring the cumulo-nimbus attack overhead. There’s also a richly moody, torchy take of Sophisticated Lady fueled by Murphy’s  third-stream chordal approach and Mike Brignola’s smoky, rustling baritone sax, plus a dynamically-charged version of All the Things You Are. Thumbs up to the rest of the players on this often wild ride: alto saxophonists Gary Keller and Gary Lindsay; tenor saxophonists Ed Maina and Ken Mattis; trombonists Dana Teboe, Dante Luciani, John Kricker and Joanna Sabater; bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton and timbalero Raymer Olalde. It’s out on Summit Records.

February 12, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment