Last night at Spectrum, pianist Charity Chan was down from Montreal for an aggressively magical night of improvisation with Mostly Other People Do the Killing trumpeter Peter Evans, bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Weasel Walter. While everyone on this bill is capable of crushing brutality, this concert was about friendly teamwork, listening, filling in the blanks and turning over all the stones for a richly dynamic sonic mosaic. The fun the band was having onstage, rigorously cerebral as it was, came across powerfully. Evans might be the most precise trumpeter in jazz: his blend of speed and unwavering tonal balance was mind-boggling, throughout one rapidfire ascent after another, all that circular breathing leaving him drenched in sweat after an hour onstage. Immersing himself in Bach has paid off mightily.
He and Chan make a good team: she shares his precision and simultaneous command of minutiae and raw power, with a gymnast’s athleticism when it came to muting the piano strings with an assemblage of felts that she whipped on and then off for unexpectedly subtle timbral adjustments. Blancarte was rock-steady one moment as he held the center and ran circular motives, then looked like he was about to break his strings as he detuned and battered them, first with his fingers and then with his bow, overtones trailing like sparks or looming underneath like smoke rising from a hole in the street. Walter was just as entertaining to watch, whether peppering the sound with nimble runs on woodblocks and muted snare, constantly switching from brushes to sticks to bundles as the waves rose and fell, up to the occasional aghast, cruelly flurrying riff on the toms.
As is often the case with performances like this, it was more about going places with ideas, and rhythms, and camaraderie more than melody. There was lots of pairing and conversations, Chan leaping and bounding as she shadowed Evans’ tireless volleys, yet with a similar nonchalance: she made it look easy. Likewise, Evans followed Blancarte’s murkily resonant atmospherics with whispering, misty, overtone-tinted shades, Walter stepping up in a graceful spit-second when Chan backed away from a matter-of-factly glimmering, judiciously misterioso two-handed conversation of her own. After a dynamically shifting epic that went on for more than a half hour, they took a more percussively staccato, incisive approach for their next two numbers, Blancarte’s wry, groaning bowed attack finally signaling that it was time to take a pause, Walter bringing it down elegantly and enigmatically. It was the kind of concert you walk away from buzzing, inspired and counting all the ideas you’d like to steal.
And apropos of nothing other than global warming-era pain and suffering, scoring a seat in a comfy chair directly under the air conditioner while the band sweated it out up front seemed just plain unfair. Get to Spectrum early and you can sit there.
On one hand, to spend time on Christian McBride and Inside Straight’s new Mack Avenue album People Music here, when it’s already been out for two weeks and most everybody who wants it probably already has it, might not make a lot of sense. On the other hand, this is an important album for 2013. To call it Ellingtonian wouldn’t be off the mark. Deeply rooted in the blues, with strong hooks, gritty tunesmithing and a purposeful, workmanlike performance from an inspired cast of A-listers (slightly subsumed in the crisp digital production), it’s one of the best albums of the year. The concept of People Music is music for the people: tunes and a beat. Obviously, it’s not that simple. McBride’s mix of brisk, matter-of-fact swing and expansive balladry leans toward the dark side and mixes up the metrics: it’s a long way from being a pop record. Everybody’s on the same page: besides McBride, most of the album features Steve Wilson on alto and soprano sax, Carl Allen on drums, Peter Martin on piano and Warren Wolf on vibes, with Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens switching in on piano and drums on two tracks.
Sands’ steely-eyed lyricism drives the memorable opening track, the minor-key swing blues Listen to the Heroes Cry, handing off to an understatedly plaintive McBride bass solo. The bright, Brazilian-tinged Fair Hope Theme is a Wolf feature: it’s a dead ringer for a Behn Gillece tune, which is a compliment to both McBride’s writing and Wolf’s playing. The showstopper here is Gang Gang with its rolling, Indian-inflected rhythm, a biting piano vamp (Sands again) teaming with the vibraphone for a creepy carnivalesque crescendo, Allen’s deft cymbals peppering the rewarding final ascent.
Maya Angelou gets a ballad that portrays her with a nonchalant majesty, Wilson’s balmy soprano sax handing off to a tender Wolf spot that builds to an unexpected clave groove and then winds down again. The Movement has an agitated, flurrying Mingus bustle, the whole band’s no-nonsense, percussive attack making its way methodically to an edgy Wilson alto solo. His alto also serves as a fiery foil to the nonchalantly dancing, staccato pulse of Usual Suspects, while Dream Train works a fast tiptoeing swing groove, Wolf’s rapidfire ripples in a tug-of-war with Martin’s purposeful, tumbling attack. They reprise the New Hope theme at the end as slinky clave soul. Is it any wonder why McBride is so popular?
As fans of the music know, Canada is a hotbed for gypsy jazz. It’s the French connection. Eclectic Halifax septet Gypsophilia are one of the most exciting groups playing that style to come out of the Great White North, and they’re coming to New York for two June shows. June 6 they’ll be at Rock Shop in Gowanus at 9 PM with charismatically assaultive, noir bluespunks the Reid Paley Trio opening, then they’re playing at Drom the following night, June 7 on a fantastic triplebill with the Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Italian band Taluna for a ridiculously cheap $10.
Gypsophilia have a new ep, Horska, just out and will no doubt be airing out the songs on it in concert. Its title track is an absolute smash, a creepy noir theme that goes through all sorts of permutations over Adam Fine’s pulsing bassline, Sageev Oore’s menacingly distant piano interspersed between biting solos from violinist Gina Burgess, trumpeter Matt Meyer and an especially ominous, microtonal one from guitarist Alec Frith. They reprise the song at the end of the album in an echoey, effects-laden dub version that’s just as dark.
In between there’s the jauntily swinging, hi-de-ho romp Bir Hakeim, which is less Egyptian than Parisian, maybe inspired by the Paris Metro stop which commemorates the World War II battle. They follow that with the intricate Oh My Orna, crescendoing from a baroque-tinged waltz to a wistful theme carried by the violin and echoey electric piano. Corentin Cariou has a bit of Romanian feel, speeding up and slowing down again, followed by the edgy Stickm, another catchy minor-key tune that hits a peak with Meyer’s muted trumpet solo. There are seemingly thousands of bands paying homage to the Django Reinhardt legacy – many of them do it well, but few are as distinctive and interesting as Gypsophilia.
It’s hard to think of anybody who makes better jazz albums than alto saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece Jazz being defined by improvisation, and magic being hard to bottle, so many studio efforts by jazz artists sound strained, rote or haphazard- Not these guys’ records: they have the livewire energy that you would expect from the duo in concert. There is absolutely nothing about their new one, Top Shelf, which is cutting edge, or for that matter references any jazz style after about 1965. But it is tuneful beyond belief: Christian McBride would call it “people music.” This band of journeymen plays with a singlemindedness and focus matched on few other studio efforts from recent months. Gillece, in particular, has a fondness for edgy chromatic vamps and the occasional biting modal interlude; likewise, Fowser is a no-nonsense tunesmith and purposeful player. Here they join forces with Steve Einerson on piano, Michael Dease on trombone, Dezron Douglas on bass and Rodney Green on drums.
Most of the compositions here are by Gillece. The albums opens with a biting swing tune, Slick, immediately setting the tone with an allusively slashing, modal Fowser solo, Dease taking it in a more bluesy direction, Gillece straddling between the two. Stranded in Elizabeth – at a Jersey studio, maybe? – is catchy as hell, with Gillece spiraling out ot the hook, Fowsser choosing his spots as Green rumbles and then lets Dease add an ironic edge.
Due Diligence, one of three tracks by Fowser, maintains a deliciously purist bluesiness, Einerson’s pinpoint solo being a highlight, Gillece taking it into more nebulous territory – then Dease channels Wycliffe Gordon with some LOL buffoonery. Ginger Swing builds suspense out of a wicked catchy vibraphone hook. hinting at a lickety-split swing that they finally leap into as Gillece and then Einerson go scampering in a blaze of precise chops. Unstopppable, another Fowser tune, is aptly titled, Gillece having a great time with a prowling, animatedly nocturnal solo before turning it over to Fowser, who takes it in an unexpectedly dark direction before they wind it up, anthemic and triumphant.
Discarded works a murky On Broadway feel. both Gillece and Douglas maintaining a gritty, clenched-teeth, modally-charged intensity. It might be the best song here, or at least the darkest. That could also be said about the slowly turbulent, resonant ballad For the Moment, with its achingly teasing crescendos, bittersweet Fowser sax and misterioso Einerson solo. And just when the jaunty, bossa-tinged Pequenina sounds like they’ve left the shadows behind, Fowser brings them back – he’s good at that. The title track makes syncopated bossa out of the blues, with yet another cool chromatic vamp; the album winds up with Proximity, engaging the whole band in the album’s most buoyant charts, switching between lickety-split swing and an almost marching midtempo rhythm.You will walk around all day humming these tunes to yourself. It will put you in a good mood. It’s one of the best albums of 2013 and it’s out now from Posi-Tone.
Newington, Connnecticut seems to be a nice enough place to grow up, one of those sleepy, comfortable New England hamlets off the interstate on the way to Boston. But it could just as easily be a setting for a Stephen King novel. Saxophonist Joshua Kwassman hails from there: the Maria Schneider-esque, pastoral sweep of his latest album Songs of the Brother Spirit has both the flinty rusticity and East Coast sophistication that define his home state at its best, as well as a moody, shadowy intensity. Here he’s joined by Gilad Hekselman and Jeff Miles on guitars, Arielle Feinman on vocals, Adam Kromelow and Angelo Di Loreto on piano, Craig Akin on bass and Rodrigo Recabarren on drums.
Kwassman distinguishes himself as a first-rate tunesmith with an ear for the imaginative and unexpected: he’ll go to an anthemic change in a second to drive a point home if he sees fit. His writing is by no means constrained by traditional jazz tropes, with a refreshing expressiveness and purpose. The opening track, Our Land has a Chris Jentsch-like clarity, Feinman’s airy vocalese blending with Hekselman’s lyrical lines for a springlike atmosphere, building toward clave with a simmering Kromelow solo and a roaring crescendo. We Were Kids, Kwassman’s hushed childhood reflection is lush yet detailed, with bounding alto sax, Kromelow taking it down gently to a balmy horn chart.
In Light There Is Song is terse and lyrical, with an optimistic, vintage Pat Metheny vibe, guitar and vocals again driving a long trajectory upward and then back down to an unexpected ghostliness. Meditation, a pensive reflection on the inevitable losses that come with the passage of time, contrats Kwassman’s moody clarinet against Feinman’s brightness. The album’s centerpiece is a triptych, The Nowhere Trail, a darkly cinematic narrative of a summer camping trip gone disastrously awry. A distantly sinister Di Loreto pedalpoint theme recurs with variations as Miles adds an offcenter unease against the dancing anticipation underneath. They rise to a fever pitch and suddenly the mood shifts, Hekselman drifting toward an apprehensive flamenco feel, Kwassman’s menacing melodica vamp signaling that suddenly everyrthing is not well. From there a dream sequence of sorts ensues, lit up by Feinman’s meticulously nuanced, opaque vocals and surreal glockenspiel: it ends by returning to a pastoral ambience with hints of the Beatles. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-flavored jazz, from Bill Frisell to Bryan & the Aardvarks.
“When’s the last time you went to a symphonic concert and looked at the program and didn’t see a single date of death?” conductor Sung Jin Hong asked the Chelsea crowd assembled at the One World Symphony‘s concluding concert of the 2013 season this past May 20. Hong had a good point: it’s not often that an established fullsize orchestra programs a whole bill of living composers. Hong designed this one to go out on an explosive note and succeeded spectacularly. While he didn’t address the concert’s politically charged content, the program did: “American Affairs: Great • Atomic • Desire.”
This orchestra is known for surprises, and there were a couple early on that raised the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the bill. Soprano Adrienne Metzinger went deep into noir cabaret mode for a lurid take of Benjamin Britten’s Funeral Blues, backed with a stalker’s intensity by pianist Gulnara Mitzanova and the orchestra’s first chair bassist, Justin Lee. Soprano Sonya Headlam had a hard act to follow, but ended up raising the roof with a spine-tingling take of Gershwin’s Summertime, the orchestra lush and balmy behind her as she went to the top of her register, adding a tingling mix of overtones and blues as she brought the song to redline with a triumphant crescendo.
Spring-loaded, catlike and looking somewhat feral on the podium, Hong ran the rest of the concert as a suite – he has a Leonard Bernstein-like aptitude for making connections between what at first glance might seem like completely unrelated pieces. Over the evocative, bittersweetly orchestrated ragtime of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby, Headlam continued with a more subtly vivid song, Where Is the Old Warm World, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s doomed Daisy offering some wistful foreshadowing. Mezzo-soprano Eva Sun then gave voice to the character Myrtle’s plaintive ache as the backdrop grew more contemplatively atmospheric.
Soprano Ashley Becker aired out the moody intensity of two songs from Andre Previn’s score to A Streetcar Named Desire: the uneasy Sea Air, and a sultry take of I Want Magic. From there they segued into two selections from John Adams’ chilling Robert Oppenheimer-inspired Doctor Atomic, Mitzanova returning for a broodingly opaque turn in front of the orchestra singing Am I In Your Light, the atomic scientist’s wife’s lament.
Baritone Douglas Jabara got the most spectacular of the vocal numbers and made the most of it with a gut-wrenchingly intense, anguished take of Batter My Heart, channeling what the composer felt to be Oppenheimer’s dread for the death and destruction his invention was about to cause (and for his legacy no less, it seems) via text from John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV. Offstage before the concert, Jabara said that he believed that Oppenheimer knew the sonnet, and he sang it with that kind of bitter certitude, dashing offstage with a dramatic self-effacement as it ended. From there the orchestra took the Bernard Herrmann-esque horror to a logical, shattering conclusion via a bridge written by Hong as a showsstopping percussion feature with the timpani, gongs and bass drum exploding and then lingering in a firestorm of waves for what seemed minutes on end. It captured the catastrophic horror of the explosion over Hiroshima, not to mention the horrific loss of civilian life, more evocatively than words could possibly have expressed.
Hong programmed the world premiere of his own Edge immediately afterward, a bold and potentially suicidal choice given the previous work’s pyrotechnics. That the conductor’s equally haunting narrative – a setting of Sylvia Plath’s final poem, loaded with vengeful Medea references – wasn’t anticlimactic speaks to its power, and the orchestra’s commitment to it. Soprano Sara Paar had only been given a week to learn it, Hong told the crowd, but she brought it to life with a clenched-teeth, angst-fueled focus against shivery layers of glissandos from the strings. Even when the work lightened toward the end – Plath wasn’t going to kill her kids, after all – the mortally wounded atmopshere lingered. Few orchestras would take such a gamble by ending their season on such a dark note; then again, this ensemble has no fear of taking chances.
Isn’t it funny how some of the subtlest jazz musicians – Noah Preminger, Monty Alexander and Erica Smith among them – are also boxing fans? For those who misssed Preminger’s album release show for his new one, Haymaker, last night at the Jazz Standard, he’s playing two sets there tonight, May 22 at 7:30 and 9:30, a chance to hear one of the fastest-rising stars in melodic jazz at the top of his nuanced game.
Preminger was in an unexpectedly talkative mood, the house manager needling him to “play some jazz” as the possibly former pugilist explained why his ring career was at a standstill. “She hit me, so I hit her back, hard,” he deadpanned: the punch that landed on his female boxing coach was unintentional. Much as has been made about Preminger being a hard-hitting force on the tenor sax, what’s most remarkable about his playing is how effectively he uses space. Onstage with the crew from his album – Ben Monder on guitar, Matt Pavolka on bass and Colin Stranahan on drums – Preminger was more Ali than Foreman, taking his time, landing everything he threw, casually and expertly. There was one brief free-for-all during a roaring Dave Matthews cover, of all things: otherwise, tunes took front and center for the duration of the evening’s first set.
They opened with the album’s title track, Stranahan’s elegantly ornamented shuffle setting the tone for much of what would come later, rhythmically speaking, Monder’s chords cool and resonant until one of his signature shredding solos, Pavolka maintaining a terse modal pulse as Preminger chose his spots. They followed with another track from the new album, the balmy, gentle 6/8 ballad My Blues for You, Preminger’s marvelously misty, low-register outro more than hinting that the individual who inspired the song is no longer in his life (or maybe he’s not in hers).
The high point of the set (no pun intended) was 15,000 Feet, inspired, Preminger said, by his first skydive, from almost three miles up, over New Zealand (ostensibly the only place on the globe where it’s legal to leap out of a plane from such an altitude). Monder and Pavolka built a Hendrix-like propellerplane roar over Stranahan’s clenched-teeth insistence, Preminger leading the procession (metaphorically speaking) out into airier and ultimately more confident terrain: in Preminger’s hands, the view from three miles high is rather relaxing. Alison Wedding came up to sing harmonies on a gorgeously bittersweet take of Dave Douglas’ Blues for Steve Lacy, then led Preminger and Monder through a plaintive, elegaic original dedicated to an Australian pianist collaborator of hers who died young. After the digression into a different Dave (which could have cleared the room if they hadn’t done it so straightforwardly and confidently), Preminger chose the closing spot to send a brief, characteristically lyrical ballad out to his parents, who were in the house celebrating their anniversary.
You typically don’t expect someone who’s been been a presence in the New York jazz scene since 1985 to wait until now to make the best album of his career. But not only is Leif Arntzen’s new album Continuous Break a career high-water mark, it’s also one of this year’s best. The brilliantly individualistic trumpeter plays the album release show this Saturday, May 25 at Nublu at around 10 with the players on it: guitarist Ryan Blotnick, keyboardist Landon Knoblock, bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeff Davis. It’s an intimate space and the band hasn’t played in awhile, so early arrival is advised. Arntzen graciously took some time away from rehearsals and pre-concert logistics to answer a few questions:
Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: In my opinion, the new album is your best ever. Do you agree? It’s definitely your most eclectic…
Leif Arntzen: This record was the hardest I’ve ever done, but at the same time I felt the most at home with the process. I didm’t feel any limitations to play anything in particular or stick to one sound or musical direction. Anything we played became fair game, and that created a lot of intensity from all of us, to make whatever we played count for something. It was our special moment in time, and we played that way. I think we got what we were looking for.
LCC: I understand all the tracks are live, continuous takes, oldschool style. Is that true?
LA: Yes, it was live off the floor crowded in a small studio playing next to each other. There was a lot of sonic bleed, so overdubs were not an option.
LCC: I also understand that the tunes came together in an unusual way, in bits and pieces rather than either fully formed compositions or flat-out jams. Can you explain that?
LA: When everyone is so capable of so many things, of playing anything, for me it seemed more important to give the group simple ideas that made each of us have to dig…for something that brings us together, moves us forward. It was like we each showed up with our paintboxes, but only one big canvas to lay it down. I tried to simplify the starting point with simple melodies as much as possible…I think that gave us a wider horizon.
LCC: On the new album, it seems to me that you’ve thrashed a bunch of defiantly individualistic, outside-thinking guys into shape. Or is this them jumping at the opportunity to play lyrical, tuneful, memorable, composed or at least semi-composed music?
LA: As a horn player, I want to clear a way forward somehow through all the sound. I want to be playing outside too…but if there isn’t a melodic and rhythmic home, then being outside loses its meaning. I don’t have the luxury of playing more than one note at a time, so I have to imagine whatever I can to make my choices meaningful. I think everyone in the band is doing that in their own way, in their own voices. Maybe that’s why the music sounds more composed than it actually is.
LCC: Obviously there’s all kinds of improvisation on the album. I usually can pick up on where people are putting their own personalities, but this one is hard to figure out. For example, on your version of My Ideal, I love how Jeff adds an edgy contrast with his brushes against the lyrical gentleness of the melody line. His idea or yours?
LA: That’s Jeff. He has such a voice. He comes up with colors and shapes in the strangest ways…that made it easy for me to just play with the time and space…because I felt like that was all I needed to do to get something beautiful. It’s easy when all of us are after the same thing.
LCC: One of my favorite tracks is Tired, a laid-back funk groove that hits a big, explosive pastoral crescendo on the chorus. Are you into the Americana jazz thing that’s steamrolling these days, Bryan & the Aardvarks, Jeremy Udden, Bill Frisell?
LA: I really admire Bill’s version of Shenandoah on one of his recent albums. I love American classic melodies, folk and country music storytelling…I loved the Gil Evans Orchestra when they hit a big sonic full band stride. My son Miles [the brilliant drummer in Antibalas and leader of Emefe] wrote a bass line and guitar riff inspired by his love of Nigerian Afrobeat and American funk…He called it Tired. When I heard the line, I heard so much of deep America in it, jazz rock pioneers, funk masters and delta blues, and came up with the melody….and so we just took it to our own place.
LCC: Another one I like a lot is The Call, where you take what could be a totally generic, lickety-split swing shuffle and introduce all those conversations, and good cop/bad cop dynamics, and rhythmic push-pull even though the bass is always holding the center Was that planned?
LA: The Call is not planned, and intended to allow us to go anywhere…it’s fast and we each just hitch aboard and see where we wind up, try to get there and back in one piece, together.
LCC: I hope you can forgive me for having discovered you not from your original music but from your Channeling Chet project. I never got to see Chet Baker in concert, so seeing you do his music – which seemed to me to be as close to channeling as anyone can get – brought me full circle with it in a sense. I think that speaks for a lot of other listeners. Looking back, how did that impact your career? By exposing you to a lot of people who might not have discovered you otherwise…or did it become a millstone, you being associated so closely with Baker’s work instead of your own compositions?
LA: I grew up listening to my dad’s Louis Armstrong recordings, and he was my favorite. After Louis it was Miles and Freddie and Coltrane. Chet came along much later in my own experience. It happened after singing a cameo in a New York show, where I sang and played Days Of Wine And Roses as a band feature while the name stars took a break. The New York writers wrote about it, with comparisons to Chet. When that happened I went back to better understand his music and playing. That’s when I became a diehard Chet fan. Eventually I paid homage to him in my own way on the Channeling Chet recording. His sound production adn technique were really something else, such a beautiful melodist. For awhile there it seemed like the Chet thing overshadowed a little, but mostly I didn’t worry about it.
LCC: You have a rep as a purist. What’s up with the Wurly? Did you write this stuff with electric rather than acoustic piano in mind? Or just the confidence that Landon Knobloch wouldn’t clutter the songs with it?
LA: I’ve been thinking more electric for some time. I grew up with rock, I like the Wurly, a Wurly was handy, and Landon just sounds great on it, gets a real swirly thing going on, and especially with Ryan too…Rock is a part of what this band is about, and I feel at home.
LCC: On the new album, as far as influences are concerned, I definitely hear Miles as far as space and pacing is concerned, and Freddie Hubbard as far as perfect articulation and weightlessness of the notes. Am I on to something or not? What other trumpeters inspire you these days?
LA: Miles recordings have been a constant for me in my life. In terms of the horn, Miles and Freddie pioneered the sound of the horn, probably the biggest influence for me. But I can’t set aside Kenny Dorham, Chet, and of course Louis Armstrong perhaps most of all. Louis paved the way for all of us for just everything. I still listen to him all the time, hoping one day I could ever move an audience like that. There’s a recording of him touring in Europe in 1935, you’d think it was the Beatles, people are getting so crazy. Also his small group recordings with Duke Ellington are masterpieces.
LCC: Any plans to take this band on the road?
LA: Well, in the coming years I plan to work this band at every opportunity. I believe in this band, best one I ever had. We’ll do some touring around the east coast, maybe up to see my Canadian brothers and sisters…also working on a Spain tour for later this year.
What’s the likelihood of walking down into a random bar late on a Sunday and hearing an absolutely shattering version of one of the saddest songs ever written? If the bar is the Village Vanguard and the artist onstage is Miguel Zenon and his quartet, there’s your answer. That was how the Puerto Rican-born alto saxophonist began the final set of his most recent weeklong stand there, with an angst-riddled version of the classic Sylvia Rexach bolero Alma Adentro (Deep in My Soul). That the songs after that one weren’t anticlimactic speaks to the ability of Zenon and the rest of the group – Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass and Eric Doob on drums – to maintain a mood.
For someone as expansive as Zenon can be – the guy likes to stretch out, and is very generous with solos – he’s incredibly purposeful. He didn’t make an entrance until Perdomo had established a morosely glimmering ambience, pedaling the opening minor chord in tandem with the bass. Zenon then chose his spots, at one point lowlighting a particularly creepy Perdomo glissando with his own equally macabre, murky modalities. They brought the intensity to redline slowly, in clusters, from there, fueled by Doob’s hypnotically circular phrases, hitting hard but carefully articulate.
They kept the moody gravitas going with another Rexach hit, Olas y Arenas (Waves and Sand), matching the longing and alienation of the legendary Puerto Rican chanteuse’s original, Zenon establishing a suspenseful but vivid push-pull, Perdomo’s chenched-teeth, percussive attack contrasting with Zenon’s calm beachfront evocation, Perdomo quoting from Riders on the Storm before finally rising to a crescendo and a false ending. They lightened just a bit, reaching torward straight-up clave with a memorably rippling take of Rafael Hernandez’ slightly less angst-ridden Silencio, then worked a haunting sax/bass intro into a minor-key ballad that sounded like it was going to be yet another Rexach tune, or maybe Sumemrtime, but turned out to be neither. Artful polyrhythmic tradeoffs between Zenon and the rhythm section followed an expansive upward trajectory to a leaping, triumphant sax solo on the next number, they closed with an edgy, dancing number in 9/4, Zenon’s jaggedly terse lines handing over to Perdomo, who took it into the wee hours (literally) as Doob finally seized the role of one-man salsa rhythm section, firing off wry timbales and conga lines.
Zenon also has a strongly evocative new album out, recorded last year, which is somewhat different. Titled Oye! Live in Puerto Rico, it works an energetic yet restrained vibe. Culled from a two-night stand in Rio Piedras, it has an immediacy that gives the sense that those sitting under the air conditioner might have been especially grateful, even if if was dripping on them (which happens sometimes down there, Puerto Rico not being a particularly seasonal place). Bookended by a brief, rather joyous intro and outro, Zenon makes his way through an allusive, long-form take on Oye Como Va before expanding on four numbers which are almost as long (the shortest is almost nine minutes), teaming up with electric bassist Aldemar Valentin plus drummer Tony Escapa and percussionist Reynaldo De Jesus.
The heavy percussion in tandem with the bass evoke a piano in many places: Valentin is the rare electric four-string jazz guy who doesn’t try to Jaco it. Zenon evokes the haunting timbre of a Middle Eastern ney flute on his own Hypnotized, with a wary/lively dichomtomy; the band take their time with Silvio Rodriguez’ El Necio, then romp through Zenon’s catchy, hypnotically insistent JOS Nigeria and then a long, simmering take of his Double Edge, the bass and then the sax jabbing at Escapa as the drums break loose. And in a wry nod to where the album was recorded, the photo under the album’s cd tray shows an old AC unit which seems to be mounted somewhat less than parallel to the floor and ceiling. Whether or not it was dripping is anyone’s guess.
Saturday at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, clarinetist Tom Piercy joined forces with pianist Mika Tanaka and special guest shakuhachi player Elizabeth Brown for a fascinatingly eclectic, virtuosic program of new chamber works which contrast Japanese composers’ views of New York with their New York counterparts’ views of Japan. Those who missed the show have a second chance to catch it this coming June 2 at 3 PM at Spectrum on Ludlow Street. Although most of the works are relatively short, assembling a bill comprising 22 composers – several of whom were in attendance at Saturday’s show – was no small feat, and the ensemble tackled the music’s wide range of demands with verve, insight and sensitivity.
Piercy has made a name for himself as a first-rate interpreter of nuevo tango and Astor Piazzolla, but another specialty of his is contemporary Japanese music. He had commissioned several of the works on the bill, and it’s no wonder that so many composers jumped at the opportunity. While Piercy is not a showy player, his extended technique is subtly spectacular: thoughout the concert, he exhibited misty overtones, eerie polytonalities, perfectly sinuous glissandos and command of the lows and highs beyond the reach of most clarinetists. Likewise, Tanaka varied her approach from warm neoromanticism to jaggedly percussive on some of the more atonal, harsher numbers, while Brown vividly evoked the nuances of birdsong, particularly during a solo piece of her own toward the end of the bill.
Piercy began the program solo on a small but lower-register Japanese wood flute, with a resonant but ghostly solo piece of his own. The trio closed with the American premiere of Hifumi Shimoyama’s Alamgam-A, a theme and variations that hypnotically morphed between airy traditional Japanese folk themes and more austere, modern tonalities voice mainly by the piano. Tanaka got to diversify herself on the starlit, distantly Satie-influenced Toro Nagashi, by Masatora Goya, as well as with Kento Iwasaki’s Autumn Festival, which shifted abruptly from a jaunty tango-flavored celebration to bittersweet neoromanticism, and the apprehensively crescendoing mood swings of Ippei Inoue’s Nostalgia.
A series of miniatures followed a lingering solo piece by Brown. Highlights included an otherworldly, microtonal dance by Daniel J. Thompson; Armando Ayala’s Sakana, which packed a sonata’s worth of ideas into barely a minute; brief pastoral tableaux from Greg Bartholomew and Andrew Davis; and resonant, spacious austerity from Andy Cohen and Michael Frazier.
The most gripping work might have been Tanaka’s own somber, plaintive, unexpectedly gritty In the Garden. Surprisingly, the majority of the program for the most part eschewed traditional Asian scales, save for Yohei Kurihara’s Yuu. A bit later, a rapidfire, tongue-in-cheek piee incorporating droll spoken-word interludes by Yuichi Matsumoto gave Piercy a workout, poking fun at the annoying and usually unncessary interruptions the online world makes in our daily lives. Not only was this a diverse and entertaining introduction to up-and-coming composers, it also made for a rare opportunity to hear works seldom played outside Japan. That becomes all the more important in a post-3/11 world – other than playing great music, Piercy is doing crucial cultural preservation work here.