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