Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Smart Balkan-Tinged Tunesmithing and Improvisation from the Ben Holmes Quartet

Trumpeter Ben Holmes’ Quartet is one of those great bands that defies categorization. Rhythmically, they are most defnitely a jazz group; melodically, they encompass everything from Balkan music, to klezmer, to a cinematic sensibility, with plenty of improvisation and elements of both the high Romantic and the avant garde. Over the past couple of years, what began as a trio has expanded to a a quartet with trombonist Curtis Hasselbring (who’s got a typically wry, witty album of his own due out momentarily from Cuneiform), Matt Pavolka on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums.The group’s album Anvil of the Lord – Holmes’ second as a leader, just out from Skirl – doesn’t hammer anywhere near as hard as the the title suggests, but it is a mighty intriguing listen. Holmes has a fondness for shuffle beats along with impeccable tonal control, from an ambered gleam to rustic and gravelly, depending on context, adding tantalizing Eastern European spice to his warmly expansive melodies. Throughout the album, improvisation is drivem by a commitment to judicious exploration rather than anything remotely approaching a squawking free-for-all.

A Doodle For Rhapsody, a pensively altered klezmer shuffle anchored by Pavolka’s insistently suspenseful pedalpoint and tense, terse rising lines opens the album. Hasselbring brings a characteristic wryly bubbling touch to his firsr solo, shadowing Holmes on the way out. Magic Mondays waltzes along casually, Sperazza taking charge as the horn harmonies fall away for a similarly matter-of-fact, lyrical Holmes solo. The deceptively catchy Moving Like A Ghost shuffles and slips between minors and majors, with a transluscent, crystalline solo  from Holmes, Pavolka’s restless bounce underpinning the horns’ moodily rising lines and Sperrazza’s misterioso cymbals.

Kingston isn’t a reggae song but a rather wistful waltz, Holmes using just the faintest touch of a mute as he shifts from pensive to assertive, the band swirling up a stew as Hasselbring brings in southern-tinged heat. It’s one of many instances where holding the center is left to the bass while Sperrazza supplies color, in this case a nebulous cymbal ambience.

Otessianek hints at bossa nova as Pavolka and Hasselbring come together and then methodically take it into livelier klezmer territory over a hypnotic bass vamp. The title track opens with a tongue-in-cheek, effervescent bass solo and then an animated duel from the horns as Sperrazza kicks the smoke machine into high gear.

The moody, atmospheric ballad Malach Hamovi has Pavolka channeling Chopineque morosity with his stately, tiptoeing lines, Sperrazza bringing the shuffle back via a sardonic march. Song For Creel Thompson is a rather austere midtempo swing number; the album ends with Nada Vs Armitage,  the rhythm section walking the line between suspense and swing: and then the band goes for it wholehog with the nonchalant determination that permeates this expertly crafted collection. Holmes’ next gig with this unit is on March 12 at 7 PM at Barbes, setting the stage for Slavic Soul Party’s mighty brass assault.

Advertisements

March 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A First-Class Tuneful Album from Alex Wyatt

Drummers aren’t expected to be first-class composers. They don’t have to be: these days, simply being able to swing is enough to make a drummer, or for that matter pretty much any musician, perpetually in demand. And while Alex Wyatt swings, his greatest strength is his tunesmithing. His new sextet album There’s Always Something is jam-packed with as much melody as pulsing rhythm. Wyatt’s role here is equal parts colorist and rhythmic center, leading an inspired band of Chris Tordini on bass, Greg Ruggiero on guitar, Danny Fox on piano, Kyle Wilson on tenor sax and and Masahiro Yamamoto on alto.

Expansively lyrical solos from Fox, Yamamoto and Ruggiero (swinging through a series of slippery hammer-ons) fuel the easygoing but pensively nocturnal and metrically shapeshifting title track. The absolutely gorgeous, rhythmically tricky Clockwork works slightly Ethiopian-tinged riffage, the saxes circling each other over suspensefully chordal guitar pedalpoint that kicks off some terse syncopation from Fox and a judiciously crescendoing, unselfconsciously attractive alto solo. Imperial Chew uses its richly swirling counterpoint between the saxes, guitar and piano as a launching pad for glimmering rivulets from Fox, playfully divergent harmonies from the saxes and some tasty, clenched-teeth cymbal work from Wyatt.

Giraffe works playful, slightly tongue-in-cheek variations on a loping alto-and-drums groove into a balmy jazz waltz. Wyatt’s masterful, sotto-vocce brushwork propels Simple Song until it crescendos and he switches to sticks: it’s a lush bossa tune accentuated by Fox’s warmly twinkling lines and airy sax harmonies that coalesce out of the ether. Cop Party is irresistibly funny and gently over-the-top: think Mostly Other People Do the Killing in a rare, extended lyrical moment, the entire band getting in on the sarcasm, warmly evocative despite themselves.

As the title implies, Words Fail, but its melody doesn’t, an unselfconsciously tender ballad, Ruggiero’s terse spaciousness setting a mood which the band maintains perfectly as they go gently around the horn. Drunkey, a swing tune, has a suspicious, possibly satirical, loungey effervescence. The album winds up with Eugi, a shuffling anthem with a wistful, Americana-flavored bittersweetness that reminds of brilliant Boston ensemble Hee Hawk.

Accessible as all this is, the arrangements are consistently interesting; intuitive as the melodies are, the playing is often considerably less so. As you would expect, Wyatt gets a lot of work: his next gig with this band is at Launchpad, 721 Franklin Ave. in Bed-Stuy on Apr 24 at 8 PM.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eclectic Tropical Moods from Pianist Danny Green

Pianist Danny Green’s compositions approach Brazilian and latin jazz with the the same kind of attractive but sometimes apprehensive tunefulness that groups like Brian & the Aardvarks, Jeremy Udden’s Plainville and Bill Frisell’s ensembles bring to the Americana side of the equation. A Thousand Ways Home, Green’s second album as a bandleader, captures him in a variety of settings, taking considerable inspiration from south-of-the-border sounds. Upbeat as much of this music is, it’s not shallow.

As expected, the standout tracks here are the darkest ones. The real stunner is Over Too Soon, a steady, unselfconsciously gorgeous, Lynchian song without words, lit up by Eva Scow’s flickering, tremolo-picked mandolin lines. Likewise, the diptych Dusty Road, shifting from Green’s bitingly cinematic, solo neoromanticism to a wary bossa nova bounce. Tranquil Days rises from a murky rubato intro to a vividly overcast tropical ambience, Tripp Sprague’s nonchalant tenor sax contrasting with Green’s brooding sostenuto. The aptly titled, understatedly potent Under Night’s Cover takes refuge in Green’s bright, bittersweet nocturnal gleam, drummer Julien Cantelm’s artfully camouflaged clave groove in tandem with Justin Grinnell’s judiciously funky bass. Nighttime Disturbance has both Green and Sprague percolating a moody, modally-charged tune that shifts to a carefree, funky sway. A diptych, Dusty Road, picks up with a jolt out of Green’s bitingly cinematic neoromanticism.

The title track, a jazz waltz, couples tersely bluesy bustle to warmly reflective melodicism that moves in a jauntily latin direction on the wings of  Sprague’s soprano sax. A matter-of-fact bluesiness from both Green and Peter Sprague’s guitar drives the funky, steadily insistent Soggy Shoes, while Back to Work bounces along on a catchy catchy bossa tune. There are also a quartet of sambas: the blithe but laid-back vamp Flight of the Stumble Bee and its wry Monk allusions; Unwind, the mandolin adding guitar-like timbres in tandem with the piano as well as a bubbling, unexpectedly blues-infused solo; the incisively syncopated Running Out of Time; and Quintal de Solidao, with cheerily nuanced vocals by Claudia Villela and lithe guitar from Chico Pinheiro.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment