Pianist John Medeski has an upcoming residency at the Stone from Feb 18 through 23 with sets at 8 and 10 PM featuring a diverse cast of characters, mostly a series of trio performances. While it’s a safe assumption that some of those sets will to some extent reprise the kind of grooves he made a name for himself with in Medeski Martin & Wood, recent years have seen Medeski play with a depth that transcends anything he ever did with MMW. In other words, Medeski is at the absolute peak of his career right now as both a composer and performer. His latest album A Different Time, the first release on the recently revived OKeh label, is a highly improvised solo piano quasi-suite that draws on influences as diverse as noir piano legend Ran Blake, Erik Satie, Ravel and the early Modernists as well as later 20th century minimalism.
The backstory is interesting: Medeski thought he had the album in the can until producer Henry Hirsch encouraged Medeski to try his studio’s 1924 Gaveau piano, built in a nineteenth century style that allows (and in fact requires) more nuance than the Steinway model that was being used to track the album. A little messing around turned out to be a revelation, so Medeski ended up re-cutting the tracks on the Gaveau, in the process adding a lot of unplanned material.
The result is soulful and frequently troubled music. Medeski plays these vignettes with a pensive, uneasy and utterly unpredictable rubato – he likes to pedal the lows and ornament his lingering, brooding themes with rippling upper-register filigrees and clusters of grace notes, moving upward or downward with the flick of a wrist. The album’s opening title track of sorts moves from a resonant rainy-day atmosphere through the hint of an anthem, a restart at the bottom of the scale, lingering Satie-esque minimalism, and then tumbling/tinkling motives that wouldn’t be out of place in the Federico Mompou repertoire
Medeski teases the listener as the cinematic, neoromantic prelude I’m Falling slowly morphs into a fullscale ballad. He adds clever palindrome effects to a quirky reinterpretation of the spiritual His Eye Is on the Sparrow, then offers a homage to Blake – with whom Medeski studied at New England Conservatory – via a careful march that defiantly resists any resolution even as it hints at the blues. Graveyard Fields works suspenseful allusions to Asian melody and a moody waltz, while Luz Marina, an elegy for an orphan girl, references both the blues and a Satie Gymnopedie, coalescing with a Brad Mehldau-like vividness.
Medeski follows the gospel-tinged miniature Waiting at the Gate with Lacrima, whose morose insistence matches its spaciousness, again echoing Blake at his most moody and pensive. The album ends with an ironically elegaic, resonant, allusively bluesy remake of Otis, a track from MMW’s debut album. Is this jazz improvisation? Definitely. Classical music? Why not? And it testifies powerfully to the kind of literally transcendent results you can get when you defamiliarize and throw yourself into an unexpected situation.
When she was invited up to the McDowell Colony last year to compose, alto saxophonist Sarah Manning was not in a good place, she alluded between songs at her show Saturday night at I-Beam. But her time in the New Hampshire woods turned out to be exactly what she needed to reboot, and she showed off several of the kinetic, sometimes achingly intense compositions she’d come up with there, taken from her brilliant new album Harmonious Creature. Onstage, Manning’s tone is less brassy and more nuanced than it tends to be in the studio; attackwise, she went from a wail to a wisp and often back up again, precise and purposeful. For whatever reason, maybe because she has an album release show coming up at 8:30 PM on Feb 20 at Cornelia St. Cafe, this gig was more about tunes than pyrotechnics or jousting.
Bassist Rene Hart’s hypnotic, pulsing circular lines often held the center as drummer Allison Miller ornamented the songs with a misterioso, John Hollenbeck-like pointillism. What’s it like to watch Miller play quietly? Infrequent, let’s say – but she finally hit a long cyclotron rumble which was just plain classic, and worth the price of admission all by itself. Meanwhile, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and violist Fung Chern Hwei alternated between resonant atmospherics and incisive solo passages. Goldberger used his sustain pedals for almost clarinet-like tone that built with the viola to a magical, enveloping mist on the night’s elegantly waltzing opening number, Copland on Cornelia St. Then Manning led the band with a hypercaffeinated drive through the bitingly catchy Don’t Answer to the Question.
Grey Dawn Red Fox worked a similar dynamic, Miller’s insistent implied clave paired with Manning’s dancing lines against a lingering grey-sky backdrop. Tune of Cats saw Manning airing out her lower register, Miller matching her unease, throwing elbows everywhere versus the rest of the band’s resolute calm. They worked a tight push-pull on the acerbic Radish Spirit and then backed away through a considerably more acidic reworking of Neil Young’s On the Beach. The enigmatic, brooding Three Chords for Jessica was a highlight, as was the second set’s closing number, What the Blues Left Behind. Manning explained it as an illustration of the flush of contentment – hopefully without your ears ringing too hard – that you get after a good set or a good night watching somebody play one. The long series of false endings at the end wound up this eclectic and intriguing evening on an aptly reflective note.
[Editor’s note – this blog’s sister publication/online place New York Music Daily appropriated all the rock, blues, and occasionally some of the jazz – including this one, which they’re sharing with us]
Jazz guitar legend Peter Leitch once joked grimly that in order to get steady work, maybe he should don a straw hat and play nothing written after, say, 1930. Seth Kessel and the Two Cent Band embody that esthetic, with their own original tunesmithing – and get a lot of work in the process. Their latest album is the aptly titled In the Golden Days, streaming at their Bandcamp page. Kessel plays energetically and eclectically on a hollowbody electric, straight through his amp without effects, alongside Gabriel Yonkler on soprano and tenor sax, Jackson Hardaker on trombone and tuba, Jason Bertone on bass and either Yaeir Heber or Hironori Momoi behind the drums. Kessel is also an excellent singer with an unaffectedly wry delivery and writes clever, funny lyrics in the spirit if not exactly the vernacular of the hot jazz he obviously loves so much.
The title track hints that it’s going to go in a noir direction but instead becomes a sardonic, lickety-split circus rock shuffle: the golden days when “we sat in the street, drank malt liquor and didn’t eat” had their ups and downs. The kiss-off swing anthem Don’t Contact Me is a lot of fun: “You know what, I take back that apology, you never bothered putting money down at Milk and Honey after getting paid for helping a friend, and all the while expecting to get laid,” Kessel relates. Southern Fried splices a twistedly noisy rock guitar solo onto a period-perfect Louis Jordan-style jump blues. They give the old standard Some of These Days a droll circus intro, a rapidfire, mandolin-like Kessel solo and then speed it up at the end – it sounds like a big concert favorite.
The strongest tune here might be Theme Song for Gregory Sallust, a moody, Romany-tinged waltz with biting soprano sax and a trombone solo that goes from blippy to brooding at the drop of a dime. The Chuck Berry-ish Let That Train Roll By looks back on one of the ones that got away – this one was definitely somebody to avoid, Yonkler’s smoky tenor sax handing off to Kessel’s noisy gutbucket solo. “I was hardly sober when you screwed me over,“ Kessel muses in the wry but understatedly vengeful Goodbye July, lit up by jaunty soprano sax, a guitar solo that mixes C&W and the blues, and a low, somewhat tongue-in-cheek one from the trombone.
They reinvent the old blues ballad After You’ve Gone as lickety-split swing, sly lowdown tombone grounding it in reality. In the Early Night is an amusingly telling look at one aspect of a Brooklyn musician’s life in 2014, getting hit on by rich gentrifier girls and not minding the influx of cash with mysterious origins. The conspiratorially cinematic instrumental Kestrel’s Revolution works a hi-de-ho theme with Balkan tinges. Turn the Heavens, a steady, shuffling ode to nocturnal entertainment of the adult variety, reminds that while this band may not do dixieland as tightly as some others do, they definitely have the spirit. The album winds up with an apprehensively scurrying oldtimey folk number. Kessel plays in a lot of projects; this band currrently doesn’t have anything on the calendar, but you can catch his duo show with Pete Matthiesen every Tuesday at 9 at Arcane, 111 Ave. C between 9th and 10th Sts.
Christopher Bono is unquestionably the best composer to come out of the Seattle Mariners’ minor league system (the noted drummer Randy Johnson, also commonly associated with the Mariners, was actually a product of the Montreal Expos organization). In all seriousness, the former baseball farmhand’s most recent indie classical album, Invocations, is streaming at his Bandcamp page. An uncredited orchestral ensemble does a spirited run through Bono’s compositions, which are cinematic in the purest sense of the word: in their own right, they’re films for the ears, and they’d also make strong themes for action-oriented or emotionally charged films yet to be cast.
The Missing, a string quartet piece, is the most intense and direct of the works. Bono develops a pensive, rather stark, somewhat elegaic theme out of a simple three-note motif interrupted by swaying, bending phrases and frenetic, insectile clusters, alternating between a steady, anthemic sway punctuated by hazy ambience. The composer likens it to “a mournful theme and allusions to the music of Haydn, Beethoven, George Crumb and Gloria Coates.”
There are three “invocations” here. The first, Exhaust, sends bracing variations on a dynamic minor-key theme around a mixed string/wind ensemble, quickly building to an 1812 Overture-esque drama. From there, it’s quite a ride, apprehensive cello and viola handling much of the action through moody ambience up to a chase scene, then the cello anchors the plaintive, aching final crescendo.
The second “invocation” is included on the album as an instrumental and also a confusing, unevenly mixed mashup with movie dialogue (it’s not clear if that’s from an actual documentary about space travel or not). The instrumental version is a richly shapeshifting mix of oldschool 50s movie cinematics (think upbeat/parade/fanfare Douglas Sirk film with Alfred Newman score), swirling flutes accentuating the highs, wary violin out front throughout the more emotionally charged interludes, reaching a rapt, bell-like theme that winds down hypnotically. A search for the soul in outer space, maybe?
The third of the invocations has a gentle lullaby quality that rises and falls with a warmly triumphant sensibility, flutes and strings taking it in a more sweeping, epic direction, a vibraphone signaling its majestic final crescendo before closing with a contented ambience. Bono’s next next album, which explores influences as diverse as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Tarot system and multicultural archetypal symbolism, is due out this year. And Bono’s new improvisational ensemble Nous make their New York debut on Feb 2 at 8 PM with Bono on keys along with Greg Fox and Thor Harris on drums and percussion, Shahzad Ismaily on guitar and bass and Grey McMurray on guitar, with numerous special guests including cellist Clarice Jensen, violinist/violist Caleb Burhans, violinist Laura Lutzke, flutist Alex Sopp, Mum cellist/vocalist Imago, and Laraaji & Arji on zither and electronics at Baby’s All Right, 146 Broadway (north of Bedford) in South Williamsburg, J/M trains to Marcy Ave. Cover is $15.
Last night in the Lincoln Center neighborhood, the Fire Pink Trio defied the deep freeze with a fascinating performance that was by turns lively, kinetic and balmy, sponsored by the New York Viola Society. Flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta, violist Sheila Browne and concert harpist Jacquelyn Bartlett began the evening with Doppler Effect, by Adrienne Albert. Essentially, what the composer does with the effect is very clever – she turns it into a vamp, which the trio latched onto with a verve that matched Albert’s intention of evoking a busy pedestrian plaza in Rome, and the challenge of finding calm amidst the bustle. This purposeful and nonchalantly catchy piece gave Reuter-Pivetta and Browne a chance to air out their resonant lower registers against Bartlett’s rhythmic drive, with some droll glissandoing doppler effects finally appearing as the bluster reached a crescendo.
Next on the bill was Dan Locklair’s Dream Steps, a five-part ballet suite. The trio lept agilely through a demandingly eclectic if melodically bright series of variations that ran the gamut from hints of Italian folk music, the baroque, tango, gospel and blues. Despite the physical challenges of the piece, the group went straight into Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp without an intermission, perhaps lured by its summery sway. In explaining the piece to the audience, Bartlett emphasized the irony behind its enveloping dreaminess, that Debussy was close to death, and probably closer to enemy lines than he knew, when he wrote it at the seaside in 1915. The trio played up the wary/calm dichotomy between viola and flute in the opening pastorale, picked up with a lustrous, wave-like motion on the “minuet” in the middle and then the allegro finale which they made as straightforward and incisive as it was bubbly.
Groups such as this one, who have less to choose from the standard repertoire simply because of their instrumentation, seldom exhibit the kind of intuitive chemistry this ensemble displayed throughout the concert. The Fire Pink Trio have an album due out this spring; and the New York Viola Society maintains an active concert schedule that champions works showcasing the instrument.
It’s a pretty open-and-shut case that Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is the most riveting piece of music ever written in the bathroom. True story: as clarinetist James Campbell recounted to a mostly sold-out house at Subculture Thursday night, the composer came up with most of the angst-ridden eight-part suite in the latrine at a Nazi prison camp in 1940. A guard there had recognized the French composer and offered him the use of a dilapidated piano, which was moved into the warmest room in the camp…you can guess where that was. The rest is history.
Out of necessity, Messiaen wrote the Quartet for clarinet, piano, violin and cello, considering that was the extent of the available talent pool. Because of this unorthodox instrumentation, the work is rarely staged, although over the years it’s developed a rabid cult following who flock to infrequent performances such as this one. What made this particular concert so auspicious was that it was the Gryphon Trio, arguably the world’s foremost currently active ensemble to tackle the piece with any regularity, joining forces with Campbell. The four recorded it at the Banff Centre a couple of years ago and have performed it perhaps more often than any other group in recent memory other than the quartet Tashi, who made a career out of it.
What special insight would this group bring to the piece? Tons. Campbell and the rest of the ensemble painstakingly parsed brief fragments from the work beforehand to demonstrate how Messiaen’s apocalyptic liturgical themes corresponded with his confinement. As Campbell dryly put it, Messiaen had no assurance that he’d ever leave alive, let alone that the war would end with the Nazis on the losing side.
Because most ensembles who play the piece are essentially pickup groups – not to mention that Messiaen’s tempos thoughout it are so slow – those groups tend to rush it. How did this four approach it? Methodically and intimately: what they grasped more than anything was Messiaen’s defiant subtext of rescue and redemption. Pianist James Parker gave the opening movement more of a mechanically marching rhythm (which could be read as a satire of life in Nazi captivity) and also paired off steadily against Annalee Patipatanakoon’s literally unearthly violin on the rapt outro. But in between, they let the music linger, resonant, otherworldly, sometimes macabre, sometimes alluding to the soul-crushing, numbing effects of being behind bars. Roman Borys’ desolately panoramic, emotionally depleted cello solo against Parker’s bitter resonace in the fifth movement was one of many literally transcendent moments, as were Campbell’s series of long crescendos that suddenly burst into birdsong in the second. These are among the most difficult passages in the chamber music repertoire for a clarinetist, but Campbell matched crystalline nuance to a nimble, picturesque, avian attack. And he captured the offhand cruelty of Messiaen being haunted by hearing but not being able to see the birds he loved so much outside his cell window.
Before the Messiaen, the Gryphon Trio treated the audience to a vivid, energetic, dynamically rich performance of the Ravel Piano Trio. Parker explained that the group would not be shying away from its pre-World War I unease (the composer hurried to finish it so that he could go off to volunteer as an ambulance driver). And the ensemble did exactly that, through the distantly flamenco-tinged opening movement, continuing with what the pianist called its “Cirque de Soleil” interlude and then the kinetic finale which saw the return of the flamenco theme flicker out with a guarded optimism.
Solo albums made on instruments that typically don’t play more than a single pitch at a time are usually of interest only to people who play those instruments. Doug Wieselman‘s warmly ambient, thoughtful, vinyl-only new solo album From Water is the exception to that rule. It’s a minimalist mix of loopmusic played on both clarinet and bass clarinet, occasionally flashing the dry, puckish wit that is one of Wieselman’s signature traits. The other is lyricism, which explains why he’s been one of New York’s most in-demand reedmen for well over a decade with acts from the legendary Kamikaze Ground Crew to Lou Reed and the Dimestore Dance Band. The longtime denizen of the original Knitting Factory/Tonic/Stone scene is playing the album release show for this one, presumably solo, on Feb 4 at 10:30 PM at the Poisson Rouge for $10.
The compositions’ unifying theme is melody influenced by the sound of water and wind, a close listen to the sounds of the earth and what they might imply and an elegantly shifting counterpart to what Handel did over 200 years ago. A handful of the works here are miniatures, the rest of them fairly brief, around five minutes or less. The opening piece sets long, layered tones over a quietly looping traintrack rhythm, Wieselman developing a rather plaintive melody with a clear, crystalline sostenuto. On a couple of other tracks, Wieselman’s pulsing, corkscrew loops evoke bagpipes, especially where he utilizes close harmonies, spinning them back through the mix with a kaleidoscopic swirl. In many of these numbers, he deftly orchestrates a calm/animated dichotomy, with spirals, trills and tersely melismatic motives set against a drone or a calmly circular phrase. Jazz is rarely if ever referenced here, the blues only distantly, although there are several nostalgic, folksy interludes and a long vamp with more than a hint of vintage 60s soul music.
There’s a pastorale where you might pull off your headphones to see if a certain sound is coming from your radiator, and also a choral version of that work, seemingly an arrangement for two voices recorded live. While there are a handful of passages where Wieselman utilizes his vaunted technique for some lickety-split arpeggios and trills, the album’s overall effect is soothing and contemplative. Turn on, drop the needle in the groove, you know the rest.
Vibraphonist Mark Sherman and tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini are old friends from the NYC scene since their days as classmates at the High School of Music and Art, dreaming of having a band together and doing whatever other things up-and-coming jazz guys did back in the 70s. At last, now they have that band, wryly calling themselves Project Them, and an interesting and rewardingly tuneful album out from Miles High that follows what was by all accounts an energetic and well-received European tour. The crew here also includes Mitchel Forman on piano and organ, Martin Djakonovski on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums, You might not expect such lyricism as there is here from a bunch of guys with reps as hardbop heavy-hitters with virtuoso chops and intellectual rigor to match.
But there is. Sherman’s Submissive Dominants kicks off the album with a hard-hitting, cinematic latin-tinged theme, which they take swinging with an expansive sax solo that goes from scanning the horizon to skimming over it, Sherman echoing that approach over a lightly galloping pulse. Franceschini’s Sleight of Hand is next, adding a wickedly catchy hint of funk in the same vein as Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece’s recent jukebox jazz work,
Nussbaum’s We 3 begins as a balmy ballad and picks up with sunny sax over lingering vibes and a slowly dancing rhythm. Solitude, by Sherman, considers the upside to being alone, calm and catchy with hints of Steely Dan and Pat Metheny.The South Song, by Djakonovski, works understated, tersely modal territory, Froman’s spacious guitarlike piano chords handing off to Sherman’s meticulously expansive solo and then a similarly considered, upper midrange, woodtoned one from the composer. Franceschini’s Minor Turns brings back the jaunty syncopation of the second track, Froman switching to organ behind the sax’s lively clusters.
They do Johnny Mandel’s Close Enough for Love with almost a reggae pulse, and then a couple of numbers with Italian pianist Paolo di Sabatino, who contributes Short Swing – a funky minor blues in disguise – and Ma Bo’s Waltz, which nicks a very, very familiar theme immortalized by Coltrane. The album ends up with Sherman’s Angular Blues, an organ tune that raises the ante with the album’s most vigorous departure into the bop that these guys have in their fingers.
The lure of Winter Jazzfest over the last decade or so has been the potential for serious bang for the buck: a marathon of jazz festival stars, cult heroes and heroines jammed into two nights on the Bleecker Street strip. Like the best jazz improvisation, Winter Jazzfest can be transcendent. By the same token, recent years have had many maddening moments, lines outside the clubs gowing to ridiculous proportions, especially as crowds armed with ostensibly all-access passes reached critical mass during the Saturday portion of the festival.
Solution: move the bigger draws to bigger venues. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society sure to sell out a Saturday night gig (which they did, no surprise)? Move ‘em to the expansive, sonically exquisite confines of Subculture. Henry Threadgill leading a new ensemble through an American premiere? No problem. Stick ’em in Judson Church, a comfortable stone’s throw from the West 4th Street subway. This may have been a long overdue move on the part of the festival’s producers, but it couldn’t have been more successful. By midnight, a couple of venues were filled to capacity, but although crowds at the other spaces were strong, there was plenty of room for everybody who was still up for more music.
Argue’s big band threatened to upstage everything else on Saturday’s bill. How does the composer/conductor keep so much suspense and intensity going when his changes tend to be so static and often so far between? With endlessly surprising, constantly shifting voices, subtle rhythmic variations and a voracious approach to blending genres: the foundations of his songs may go on for what seems forever, but there are a million tunes wafting overhead. They opened with All In, a steadily strolling, spicily brassy homage to the late trumpeter Laurie Frink, its centerpiece being a thoughtfully energetic Nadje Noordhuis trumpet solo. From there they dove into the opening suite from the ensemble’s latest album Brooklyn Babylon (rated #1 for the year at this blog‘s Best Albums of 2013 page). The whole group reminded how much fun, not to mention aptitude, they have for Balkan music, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen wowing the crowd with her blazing chromatics. From there, Adam Birnbaum’s creepy music box piano kicked off the jackhammer optimism of The Neighborhood, roaring boisterousness juxtaposed with uneasily flitting motives from the reeds. Argue brought that disquiet front and center by fast-forwarding to the brooding Coney Island; they closed with a pastoral Levon Helm dedication, Last Waltz for Levon, featuring a moody, wistful Ryan Keberle trombone solo and a similarly bittersweet duet for Sebastian Noelle’s strummed acoustic guitar and Matt Clohesy’s bass..
Over at Judson Church, the crowd gathered slowly in anticipation of Threadgill’s set and was treated to a magically crepuscular one from pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman, the duo alternating compositions. He built to a bracing series of glissandos and trills on his opening number over her hypnotic, harplike inside-the-piano brushings; she followed with a resonant, lingering piece that rose to a creepy altered boogie of sorts. They gave a Feldman suite based on the Orpheus/Eurydice myth a dynamic intensity, brooding sostenuto up against angst-fueled swells and ebbs and ended on a quieter, more suspenseful note with a Courvoisier work.
Threadgill was on the bill to conduct the American premiere of his Butch Morris tribute Old Locks and Irregular Verbs with his new Ensemble Double Up. This turned out to be very much like Morris at the top of his game. Rather than playing purely improvised music, Morris’ larger ensembles would develop variations on a theme or two, sometimes utilizing a couple of pages of composition, and this suite had that kind of ring. Pianist Jason Moran opened with a mournfully elegaic, spaciously funereal, bell-like introduction that rose from stygian depths toward the kind of blues/gospel allusions that Morris liked to employ. From there Threadgill introduced a classically-tinged, anticipatory theme that Jose Davila’s tuba propelled upward in methodical stairstepping waves in tandem with Craig Weinrib‘s trap drums, Curtis Macdonald and Roman Filiu’s alto saxes blustery and atmospheric in turn over cellist Christopher Hoffman’s uneasy ambience. The group followed the long first movement with two shorter variations, the first opening with dancing, bubbly reeds and fluid upper-register piano, the second kicking off with glimmering resonance from pianist David Virelles, moving toward a distant overture of sorts and a bittersweetly triumphant if somewhat muted coda. It made for an aptly elegant sendoff for a guy who did so much, so elegantly, for largescale improvisation.
Over in the boomy sonics of Vanderbilt Hall at NYU Law School, Mostly Other People Do The Killing had some of the crowd doubled over laughing and some of the older attendees scratching their heads. New York’s funniest, most entertaining band in any style of music, never mind jazz, have a new album out, Red Hot, which parodies every 20s hot jazz trope ever ground into shellac, and the group aired out several of those tunes with characteristically unstoppable verve. What makes MOPDtK so funny is that they really know their source material. For fifteen-second intervals, it was easy to get into toe-tapping mood…but then the band would do something wry or droll or ridiculous and throw a wrench in the works. Trumpeter Peter Evans built an echoey, reverb-infused vortex with endless swirls of circular breathing early on, which bass trombonist David Taylor took to vastly greater deep-space extremes later in the set.
Pianist Ron Stabinsky got plenty of laughs out of a solo that was mostly pregnant pauses, then got people howling with a medley of licks that began in the jazz pantheon but then spanned from Billy Joel to Foreigner…and then to Bach and Beethoven. Bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea and guest guitarist Jon Lundbom seemed preoccupied with getting the brief period-perfect bits back on track while Evans and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon (who’d just played tenor and bass clarinet for Argue) engaged in characteristically snide, mealymouthed banter. It wouldn’t be fair to give away the rest of the jokes that continued throughout compositions with titles like Seabrook. Power. Plant. (named after frequent MOPDtK guest Brandon Seabrook’s band as well as three towns in Pennsylvania), the Shickshinny Shimmy, Turkey Foot Corner and King of Prussia.
Eyebone, guitarist Nels Cline’s eclectically assaultive, swirling power trio with drummer Jim Black and pianist Teddy Klausner was next and made a similarly energetic alternative to Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, who were scheduled to hit around the same time at the church up the block. They opened with jarringly percolating, fleetingly leaping phrases from Cline’s loop pedals and then hit a deep-water ominousness, went into atmospherics and then a riff-driven, metalish interlude. Klausner followed a Cline descent into messy, muddy terrain with one of his own, then the band brought it up with a roar, ending their set with an aggressiveness that made a great segue with Elliott Sharp’s Orchestra Carbon.
E-Sharp didn’t even play guitar in this set, but his tenor sax work mirrors what he does on the frets. It was cool to see the man of a million notes and ideas leading the group through a defly animated workout on minimalist chamber themes. His vigorous, emphatic direction and playing were mirrored by the ensemble, heavy on the low end with twin basses and trombones, Jessica Pavone and Judith Insell on violas plus Jenny Lin on piano and Danny Tunick nimbly negotiating between drums, various percussion and vibraphone. They kicked off with a mighty, Zarathustra-ish theme punctured by the occasional squall or shriek, blustery diversion or Braxton-esque atmospheric swell. Sharp carved out lots of pairings: Pavone an anchor to Lin’s rapidfire knuckle-busting octave attack, the trombones channeling a stormy orchestral bustle, filling the sonic picture from bottom to top, the basses doing the same later on. Sharp filled the brief spaces between movements with fleeting, supersonic upper-register passages and frantic flurries of bop, eventually bringing everything full circle with a series of long, suspenseful, almost imperceptibly crescendoing waves upward.
And that’s where the night ended on this end. There was still plenty going on – fusiony funk downstairs at le Poisson Rouge, and was that Craig Handy coincidentally leading that organ groove outfit at Groove? The place was packed; it was hard to see. And the line for the Marc Cary Focus Trio at Zinc Bar stretched around the block – good for him. Matthew Shipp’s trio set back at Judson Church wasn’t scheduled to start yet, but by this time, the prospect of a third consecutive marathon evening of music looming on the horizon and the rain having finally let up, it was time to take advantage of a grace period from the skies and call it an evening. Here’s looking forward to Winter Jazzfest 2015.
Sarah Manning is to the alto sax what JD Allen is to the tenor: even in a world of rugged individualists, she stands out. Lots of artists doll themselves up, tone themselves down and smile sweetly for the camera for an album cover shot. Manning scowls at you from the inside of the cd booklet for her new Posi-tone album, Harmonious Creature. Her bright, defenestrating, Jackie McLean-esque tone, angst-fueled crescendos and stunningly uneasy tunesmithing also set her a step ahead of the pack. Her previous 2010 Posi-Tone release, Dandelion Clock, was that year’s underrated gem. It may be early in the year, but her new album Harmonious Creature threatens to be the best of 2014. Her chromatically-fueled edge brings to mind Kenny Garrett; her moody compositions compare with Garrett and Allen as well. This new quintet session is an ambitious and slashingly successful move into the increasingly crowded chamber jazz arena with Eyvind Kang on viola, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums. Manning is playing the album release show at I-Beam at 8 PM on Jan 25 with a slightly altered lineup featuring the reliably electrifying Alli Miller on drums.
The opening track, Copland On Cornelia Street, starts as stately waltz, brings the guitar in, lingers on the turnaround and then Manning works some morose magic over Goldberger’s brooding resonance. It picks up with a sunbaked Goldberger solo over a dancing, whirling rhythm. Did Aaron Copland find his epiphany in the West Village? He was a Queens guy – it’s not out of the question.
Tune Of Cats echoes a famous Coltrane riff before the group takes it over Jennings’ careful, tumbling pulse, Manning’s utterly casual phrasing contrasting with the relentless intensity of the melody, her tone more smoky than usual. Floating Bridge, an austerely bright jazz waltz, has Kang echoing Manning’s kinetic lines, the bandleader teasing the listener with flitting motives over Jennings’ imperturbible washes….and then sax and viola go back at it.
Reharmonized jazz versions of rock and country tunes can leave you gasping for oxygen, but Manning’s cover of Gillian Welch’s I Dream A Highway stakes out atmospheric, Frisellian big-sky territory. Goldberger’s pointillisms against gently unfolding sax and viola fill the vast expanse up to a ridiculously psychedelic, ambient outro that pans the speakers. Later in the album, they take a similar approach to Neil Young’s On the Beach, but at a glacial tempo that Manning finally cuts loose and blasts straight through once the final “get out of town” verse hits, the band following her searing lead to the point where any atttempt to get back into ballad mode would be pointless.
The naturalistic Grey Dawn, Red Fox blends allusions to the baroque and simmering exchanges of voices into a precarious narrative that grows more anthemic as it shifts course: this animal is on the lookout for something far more dangerous. If Manning is to be believed, the Radish Spirit guards its ground closely, with a tight, somewhat frosty cameraderie from the whole group, Manning and Goldberger taking it into the shadows before Hart rises to the foreground and pulls it back. The enigmatically titled Three Chords For Jessica emerges from Hart’s solo chromatics to a haunting, elegaic, gorgeously Middle Eastern-tinged grey-sky theme. Don’t Answer To The Question returns to waltz tempo with some understatedly wicked push-pull between Goldberger, Jennings and Kang. The album ends with a counterintuitively warm guitar feature, What the Blues Left Behind.