Lucid Culture


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