Last night at the Met Breuer (formerly known as the Whitney), Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith played ECM noir. For those who don’t follow jazz improvisation, ECM is the venerable German label devoted to the spare, classically-influenced kind, and these two have a new album, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke, out from them. It doesn’t swing: it marinates. And what a marinade the state-of-the-art pianist and iconic trumpeter came up with in front of a sold-out crowd that rewarded them with a couple of standing ovations.
That marinade had acerbity and spice, and if you buy the metaphor, astringency, but also a persistent unease that often drifted into ominousness and desolation. According to Iyer, they drew significantly on the spare, meticulously miniamlistc work of Nasreen Mohamedi currently on display at the museum, which is where the Metropolitan Museum of Art has decided to stash their modern collection. The chemistry and cameraderie between the two players was comfortable to the point of joyous restraint. Each musician played with economy, Iyer with a chilly, airconditioned judiciousness, otherworldly Messiaenic harmonies, bell tones and an incessant, stygian pedalpoint that he finally took into the upper registers. For someone so direct, transparent and dedicated to getting the max out of the min, Smith employed a surprising amount of extended technique, from valve-shivering harmonics to ghostly wisps of breath.
This being a duo improvisation, there was all sorts of repartee, but ultimately the conversation wound down to “I’ve got your back.” Each anchored the other when he’d go out on a limb, Smith often providing calm, steady half-notes while Iyer clustered or insistently chiseled out space, Iyer providing moody reflecting pools and upper-register penlight illumination when Smith would fire off a series of flurries. Including the encore, there seemed to be six discrete pieces, most of them following a segue. Each segment followed a steady series of upward and downward arcs, Smith using his mute when the shadows grew longest, Iyer switching back and forth between piano and Rhodes as well as a mini-synth and mixer which he used for distant atmospherics and, finally, a persistent, looping rhythm. In the end, they came full circle, back to Iyer’s high/low, troubled/guardedly optimistic dialectics, Smith hovering with a magisterial warmth overhead.
And as if to say to the crowd, “You’ve earned it,” the encore was more still, and minimalistic, and rapt than anything they’d done to that point – but also prayerful and ultimately hopeful. At the end, Smith went way up high for a fleeting two-note phrase and then immediately looked to Iyer with a we-got-it grin. Iyer sat motionless, holding down the keys: he wasn’t going to give anything away until its time. It made for an unexpectedly amusing ending to broodingly rapt night. Iyer and Smith are embarking on a US tour; dates are here.
Ultimately, Jen Shyu‘s mission is to break down cultural barriers and unite people. In her own work, the singer/multi-instrumentalist has assimilated an astonishing number of styles, both from her heritage – Taiwan and East Timor – as well as from Korea, Indonesia, China and the United States, among other places around the world. Last night at Roulette she celebrated her birthday by unveiling a bracingly dynamic, otherworldly surrealistic, envelopingly beautiful new suite, Song of Silver Geese, a characteristically multilingual work combining the strings of the Mivos Quartet as well as vibraphonist Chris Dingman’s Jade Tongue ensemble with violist Mat Maneri, bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer Dan Weiss and flutist Anna Webber.
Shyu opened with a series of judicious plucks on her Korean gayageum lute, then switched to piano, Taiwanese moon lute and eventually a small Indonesian gong. Throughout the roughly hourlong piece, dancer Satoshi Haga struck dramatic poses when he wasn’t moving furtively or tiptoeing in the background when the music reached a lull.
The storyline, according to the program notes, involves the interaction between two characters from Timorese and Korean folklore, both known for their disguises, in addition to an iconic Taiwanese freedom fighter and a Javanese schoolgirl who was tragically orphaned at age six in a car accident.
Spare exchanges between the strings and the gayageum grew to an uneasy lustre evocative of 80s serialism, Cellist Mariel Roberts’ wounded, ambered lines eventually giving way to sinister microtones from Maneri. Shyu’s switch to the moon lute signaled a long upward climb through a dreamlike sequence punctuated by Weiss’ increasingly agitated rumble and the flutter of the strings, texturally ravishing yet troubled.
Shyu’s uncluttered vocals were just as dynamic, ranging from a whisper, to an imploring, angst-fueled Carol Lipnik-like delivery, to an insistent, earthy, shamanistic growl and pretty much everywhere in between. The big coda, seemingly meant to illustrate the fatal crash, built to a pandemonium that came as a real shock in view of the lustre and glistening atmospherics that had been lingering up to that point.
The performance ended with the ensemble members performing a candle ceremony of sorts and then walking out through the audience as Shyu sang a mantra: “I am alone, but not lonely; Life has no boundaries when every place can be home.” Something for everybody in the audience to take home.
Shyu’s next performance features another premiere,of a dance piece at 7 PM on April 21 at the Czech Center, 321 E 73rd St. Those who were lucky enough to catch this performance would probably also enjoy the concert of rare, delicately haunting folk music from Amami Island, Japan, played by Anna Sato and Shogo Yashi at Roulette on May 14 at 8. Tix are $25/$21 stud/srs.
Lesley Flanigan is sort of this decade’s counterpart to Laurie Anderson. Like Anderson, Flanigan has a background in sculpture, which informs her dynamic, sometimes disarmingly intimate, sometimes toweringly lush soundscapes. Where Anderson leads an ensemble on violin or keys, Flanigan creates her aural sculptures with layers of vocals and custom-made speakers, which she builds herself and utilizes for subtle layers of feedback. She has a characteristially enveloping, hypnotic new album, Hedera – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show on April 1 (no joke) at 7 PM at National Sawdust, sharing a bill with similarly adventurous vocalists C Spencer Yeh, Daisy Press & Nick Hallet, and Maria Chavez. Cover is $20
The album comprises two epic tracks. The title cut, set to the looping, trance-inducing rhythm of a broken tape deck, subtly builds variations on an otherworldly, strangely disquieting two-chord vamp. Without effects, Flanigan sings in a strong yet ethereal voice that takes on an even more otherworldly quality as she subtly adds layers and layers of to the mix, with subtle changes in reverb, rhythm and timbre. As the piece rise to the level of a fullscale choir, Flanigan caps it with a lead line that soars overhead with uncharacteristic angst. The dynamic underneath – cold mechanical loop versus reassuringly immersive human voices – underscores that unease. But as the voices reach a long peak at the end, there’s a sense of triumph in the sonic cathedral.
The second track – the b-side, if you want – is Can Barely Feel My Feet. Flanigan’s minute shifts in pitch add an enigmatic edge to the lustrous resonance, raised sevefal notches when oscillations from the speakers come into play. While Flanigan’s music is typically dreamy and peaceful, she gives herself a real workout in live performance. There’s practically a dance component to her stage work, lithe and agile as she tirelessly glides and scooches between her mixing board and speakers, even more impressive considering that all the while she doesn’t miss a beat and her voice continues to resonate, unwaveringly.
Guitarist Ed Cherry’s new album Soul Tree is both trad and unorthodox. When’s the last time you heard of a guitarist leading a B3 organ jazz trio? Usually it’s the organist – Jimmy Smith set the precedent with Jim Hall on guitar, right? But Cherry’s done this before, and his elegant, no-nonsense, chordal-and-blues approach works especially well in this configuration. As usual, he plays with a clean, purist 60s tone with a generous amount of reverb, looking back to Wes Montgomery more on this album than he has in the recent past. He’s playing the release show with his trio – Kyle Koehler on the organ and the Captain Black Big Band’s Anwar Marshall on drums – at Smalls on March 30 at 10 PM. Cover is $20 and includes a drink. With its dusky ambience, Smalls is a good place to see organ jazz, and the sound there is a lot better than it would have been at the gutbucket venues that were home to this stuff a half-century ago.
The album opens on a wry note with a cover of Kool & the Gang’s Let The Music Take Your Mind, reinvented as a swinging New Orleans second line-tinged groove. Aside from the originals here, the other tracks are often hardly what you would expect from an an organ trio. The three do Jimmy Heath’s A New Blue with a spacious midtempo swing: Marshall benefits from an imaginative and similarly vast production which pans cymbals right and left, maxing out the room’s natural reverb along with his vividly misty attack. The first of the Cherry originals, Rachel’s Step, is a latin-inflected shuffle that hits a peak with the guitarist’s jaunty cha-cha of a solo midway through.
The trio do Mal Waldron’s. Soul Eyes as a clave ballad; Cherry’s almost impeceptible drive upwards to a delicious and all-too-brief series of jabs draws on a background that goes back decades, with Dizzy Gillespie and other major figures. Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower vamps along on carefree soul-jazz groove, Cherry building a Wes vibe with his octaves. The other Cherry original here, Little Girl Big Girl works similar territory over laid-back swing, giving Koehler a chance to cut loose.
Marshall builds the Trane classic Central Park West with a nimbly tumbling attack as Cherry bobs and weaves gradefull,, Koehler maintaining a low-key bluesiness as he does throughout the album. Harold Land’s Ode to Angela blends Marshall’s masterful, whispery clave with Cherry’s lingering, summery lines; Koehler’s lyrical solo might be the best one on the whole album. The classic Dave Brubeck ballad In Your Own Sweet Way gets the most hubristic treatment here: it’s barely recognizable. The album winds up with Horace Silver’s Peace, another showcase for Marshall’s meticulous brushwork and the band’s friendly chemistry. Most B3 groove albums are party records; counterintuitively, this one is more spare and reflective. Big up to Cherry for taking the style to a new place. Posi-Tone, home to more good postbop than any other record label still extant, gets credit for putting this one out. It hasn’t officially hit yet, but there’s a track up at their Soundcloud page.
How’s this for meta? The theme of pianist Ian Hobson‘s ambitious monthly series of concerts is…themes. And variations on those themes. With this series, he’s been pushing himself as hard as any other pianist out there right now. There’s no better example than next month’s April 13, 7’30 PM program at Merkin Concert Hall, where he’s going to open with a Faure theme and variations, then Schumann’s almost sadistically difficult Symphonic Etudes and then Rachmaninoff preludes, whose iconically harrowing beauty requires similarly daunting technique. If Wednesday’s program there was any indication, Hobson is up to the challenge. Tix are $20/$12.50 stud/srs.
Last night’s concert there found Hobson opening with a student work of sorts by Chopin, the Variations on Der Schweitzer Bub. It doesn’t sound much like Chopin. Rather, it draws a line straight back to Beethoven – contented, ebullient, carbonated post-soiree Beethoven, like, say, the Leonore Overture. How did Hobson handle it? As the flashy proto chamber pop that it is, but also as a study in contrasts, an approach that would work like a charm throughout the rest of the program.
Then he raised the bar with Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli. Those familiar with the piece are probably used to choppy, severe Soviet interpretations. Hobson’s was 180 degrees the opposite: lyrical, conversational, and revealing. Rachmaninoff pairs achingly searching righthand melodies against coldly brusque, fatalistic, even macabre lefthand riffs so often that it’s almost a shtick. Hobson worked that dynamic as a dialogue rather than grand guignol. His approach to the tempo and overall pacing was just as minutely attuned, with a legato so liquid that he seemed to be meeting the keys at the millisecond they bounced up, rather than crunching down on anything before its time had come. Not a lot of pianists play so convivially: Nancy Garniez is one. There could be an influence here.
Next on the bill was the world premiere of a series of Yehudi Wyner preludes, completed just a month ago. How heartwarming to see that the now-octogenarian Wyner is absolutely undiminished, and what a fantastic segue they made wih the suite of Debussy etudes that followed. Dynamics were once again front and center as Hobson switched elegantly between gnomic Kurtag-esque minimalism, Debussy gamelanisms and otherworldly, echoing bell tones that brought to mind Frederic Mompou.
Much as piano etudes tend to be perceived as simplistic and less than desirable for public performance, they actually tend to be very difficult. The program notes quoted Debussy doing his best to put Carl Czerny (patron saint of boring practice pieces) in his place by writing a series of rigorous numbers that brought some actual fun to the struggle of mastering complex late Romantic repertoire. Much as there was plenty of repetition, deliberate emphasis on crosshand technique, tendon-tormenting octatves and such, there was no step down from Debussy at his usual self. Hobson made the bells chime, the cascades gleam, and uneasy, enigmatic journeys into as much cherry resolution as this composer ever possibly alllows. That, and the frequent droll flourish that drew chuckles from an impressive crowd for a crisp early spring night.
And if all this wasn’t enough of a workout, Hobson – who’d broken into a sweat by then – encored with a robust take of Ondine, from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. The concert had come full circle: in order to play this even more uneasy, challenging showstopper, you might need a few of the practice pieces Hobson had built full steam with.
Unlike a lot of jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana grew up in the idiom. She represents the third generation of a formidable Chilean musical family. She’s gone on record citing her latest album, Back Home, as an example of a more mature sound for her. Major understatement: it’s her breakthrough, the material to match the fearsome chops that put her on the map when she became the first South American and the first woman to win the Thelonious Monk competition six years ago. With her regular rhythm section, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jochen Rueckert, this is her second trio release, streaming at Spotify.
The rhythm section begin Aldana’s opening track, Alegria, with a tightly spinning, springl-loaded rumble as Aldana plays a terse melody overhead and builds methodically toward a carefree, gently triumphant vibe. There’s some defiantly individualistic Sonny Rollins in there, but there’s also the catchy, impactful “jukebox jazz” of JD Allen, as well as a tight, familiar chemistry similar to Allen’s long-running trio. Short, punchy figures and an emphasis on Aldana’s upper registers figure prominently throughout the album.
Before You has a fetching, hey-wait-a-minute-don’t-leave-yet feel over a shifting clave (Aldana wrote it for her boyfriend…awww). Rueckert’s misterioso, stygian cymbals and Menares’ precise, tiptoeing lines amplify the brooding mood of Aldana’s spacious, airy approach throughout Time. The album’s title track is its most trad yet carefree: Aldana has a great sense of humor and that really comes through here. And it’s contagious.
As a writer, Menares is represented by two tracks. The first, Desde La Lluvia is e minimalistic, lyrical jazz waltz where Aldana waits til the third time around before she goes dancing where the clouds used to be, in a bright after-the-rain scenario. Menares opens his other number, En Otro Lugar, with a bit of a solo ghost ballet before Rueckert gets a brisk clave going and Aldana lingers toward the back, choosing her spots: you can hear some of the considered yet fearlessly warped tones of an old mentor, George Garzone in there.
Rueckert brings two numbers to the album. Obstacles, the first, anchors judiciously considered variations on its hook in subtle rhythmic shifts, building to a floating swing capped off with a wryly galloping drum solo. Menares loops a cachy riff as Servant shifts in an out of a spinning triplet drive, Aldana once again hanging back with an austere, bluesy purism. The lone cover here is a sparse, misty, wee-hours bass-and-sax take of the Kurt Weill/George Gershwin tune My Ship.
In an era where so many players bleat and blow like a four-year-old with a jar of bubble soap, Aldana’s restraint and sense of purpose here are a breath of fresh air.
Bassist Robert Sabin did triple duty the night of one of the year’s best twinbills this past Tuesday at Shapeshifter Lab, first leading his own group, Humanity Part II, then playing two sets with trombonist John Yao‘s explosive, vividly cinematic large 17-Piece Instrument big band. Yao wasn’t the only one with cinematic compositions: Sabin’s were just as vivid, and vastly darker. Nobody writes more evocatives dirges than this guy.
Guitarist Jesse Lewis opened the night’s first number, Scarecrow, as he’d often do throughout the set, building opaque washes of sound before Sabin and drummer Jeremy Noller joined him. Sabin’s compositions in this project draw as as much on classical and film music as jazz. Although this piece and others rose to lustrous peaks fueled by trumpeters Dan Urness and Matt Holman, alto saxophonist Aaron Irwin and tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby, the mood was typically somber, no surprise since Sabin’s latest album features what appears to be a corpse lying in the woods on the cd cover. Horn player Chris Komer contributed a methodically percolating solo midway through, over the group’s nebulous, midtempo swing.
Rigby’s bittersweetly minimalist tenor rose out of the mist as the group built Scarecrow to an uneasiliy soaring web of tersely echoing phrases, with a long trumpet solo out. Elegaically tolling bell-like motives permeated the wounded Tenebre. a quiet showstopper with saxes switched out for brooding clarinets as it gathered steam, Rigby’s gentle solo flickering amist angst-tinged swells, echoed by tuba player Ben Stapp. The mighty, steady, melancholy brass harmonies and eventually the creepy cha-cha that followed brought to mind Gil Evans’ iconically noir early 60s work, as did much of the rest of Sabin’s material.
After Ghost, a hypnotically resonant tone poem with some deliciously dynamic frenetic-to-calm guitar by Lewis, Sabin opened Through a Glass Darkly, prowling around in the murk with his bow. Lewis joined him with some harrowing David Gilmour phrasing, brooding modalities from Yao (who was also doing double duty) and Rigby leading the funeral procession out. The group closed with a similarly dark reworking of Ennio Morricone’s Humanity Part II and a low-key, enveloping update on the old folk song Pretty Polly
Awhile ago a certain extrovert drummer was asked to explain his large ensemble’s success. “We play jazz for tourists,” he explained. As colorful, and tuneful, and imagistically crystalline as Yao’s compositions are, there ought to be a Manhattan jazz club willing to give him a place to entertain the crowds and represent this city with music that’s every bit as accessible as the schlock that guy’s band plays but is also cutting-edge. Oh yeah – Yao already does when he plays with Arturo O’Farrill’s band and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Still, his music would resonate with a vastly wider audience.
Yao’s mighty ensemble opened with the grittily swinging Hellgate, Rigby (another guy playing the whole marathon evening) at the center between contrasting flutter and buoyancy. Slow Children, a vividly urban tableau with the composer on trombone, showcased incisive parallel voicings, Rigby pairing off against the brass and holding his own, then a warm interlude with trombone and the rhythm section over a steady clave.
Early Morning Walk took the bustle, and distant angst, up another notch, a multi-part extravaganza with hints of funk, latin soul, a ballestesque Sabin bass solo and a big rush-hour peak: what started with maybe a dog walk and a couple of errands ended with a pretty frenetic train ride. By contrast, Flip-Flop – the title track to Yao’s most recent album with this group – featured an animated, jovial conversation between Irwin and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry as the piece followed an almost impercetibly steady upward trajectory toward lickety-split intensity.
Where Sabin’s work evoked Gil Evans in the 1960s, Yao’s Out of Socket brought to mind the Miles David collaborator’s lively, blustery dance band charts from ten years earlier, winding up with the brass blazing on a droll parade riff. Jesse Stacken’s meticulously looping piano anchored the clever echo phrases in Illumination, baritone saxophonist Andrew Hadro fueling a long, purposeful crescendo before Stacken added neoromantically lustrous cascades. Artfully implied rhythm shifts and hints of tropicalia figured in First Step, Alejandro Aviles’ soprano sax flights giving way to boisterous low brass. They closed with an expansive, hard-swinging take of Herbie Hancock’s Fingerpainting. There were also two resonant, minimalistic, rhythmless miniatures, designed to employ extended technique from the rhythm section as color, Yao explained. Altogether, a fiery and rewarding performance for the rest of the band, including trumpeters Nick Marchione, Jason Wiseman, Dave Smith and Andy Gravish; trombonists Matt McDonald, Mike Fahn, Eric Miller and bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton and drummer Vince Cherico.
Yao’s big band is back at Shapeshifter on April 5 at 8:15 PM; baritone saxophonist Frank Basile‘s sextet opens the night at 7, with a $10 cover.
Tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss‘ new album Restless Idealism – streaming at Spotify – takes its title from a Hunter S. Thompson quote. It’s a concept album of sorts, examining dynamics between hope and cynicism, alienation and intimacy. Coss writes vivid, purposeful songs without words and plays with an uncluttered, often smoky tone reminiscent of Harry Allen. She’s got a gig coming up at Club Bonafide (the old Something Jazz Club upstairs space on E 52nd St.) on March 24, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10.
Don’t Cross the Coss, a catchy swing shuffle, makes an excellent, subtly amusing opening number. See. a lot of people misread Coss’ name. Add to that the subtext of what seems sweet on the surface being every bit as formidable an opponent, and you get the idea. Chris Patisshall’s piano, dancing between raindrops, and Willie Jones III’s martial snare volleys complete the picture.
A rather stern, stark piano figure introduces Waiting, shifting to an uneasy jazz waltz, Coss taking a brooding, steady stroll, eventually circumnavigating the upper registers as the rhythm loosens and the song brightens, a happy ending not foreshadowed. Again, Patisshall’s glittering piano seals the deal before a dancing Alex Wintz guitar solo.
Push bustles along, Jones having fun with some momentary breaks early on, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt sailing briskly through clear postbop skies, then handing off to Coss as bassist Dezron Douglas walks the changes. Perspective opens with a haunting intensity, Wintz’s knifes-edge shards and wary washes in the distance behind Patisshall’s precise, careful resonance and Coss’ wounded, muted melody. The air clears after that, but not much: this trouble lingers.
Likewise, Breaking Point pulses along on a tense clave. On one hand, it’s wickedly catchy, with a chorus that’ll make your spine tingle. On the other, it reflects the album title’s unease, Coss’ meticulously articulated intonation matched by Patisshall’s incisive drive, up to Wintz’s both-hands-on-the-wheel crescendo and Coss’ edgy modalisms as it winds out. By contrast, the ballad Happiness Is a Choice (is it really? If you have enough in your pocket, ok..) gives Coss a platform to show off her balmy side, with some neat noeoromantic flourishes from Patisshall.
Tricky makes a return to sharp, sardonic mode, its hints of dark cabaret and treachery mingled within an otherwise carefree swing, Jones working a slow, coolly artful crescendo as the band vamps coldly. The album winds up with The Story of Fiona, its wry, cartoonish wisps and animated conversation between Coss and Pelt. Melodic jazz in 2016 doesn’t get any better than this.
The Faux-Real Theatre Company have made a name for themselves lately with their acerbic, punk rock-style takes on classic Greek theatre. Their versions remain true to the originals, employing the full text in translation while adding edgy musical and dance elements, not to mention mining the wry subtext of these works for contemporary relevance. Their version of Euripides’ The Bacchae winds up its run at LaMama‘s first-floor theatre on East Fourth St. with two sold-out shows tonight, March 19 and tomorrow the 20th at 7:30 PM. If you’re feeling lucky, a handful of standby tix might become available.
Interestingly, while this performance is very funny, it’s not as over-the-top as a real bacchanal. The theme is hubris, Dionysus raining down fire and brimstone on an upstart ruler and his subjects who’ve forsaken the old ways and no longer pay tribute to their erstwhile protector deity. Other than the two main lead roles and a couple of supporting characters, pretty much everybody else is confined to the chorus, so director Mark Greenfield gives them an elegant dance piece to keep the crowd attentive.
Andrew Bryce plays the wine god with a campy smirk. Throughout the play, the homoerotic subtext is underscored with very amusing results. All the women of Thebes off in the woods by themselves, in the grip of Dionysus’ spell? You do the math. And the sequence where the god examines rebellious ruler Pentheus prior to putting him in a dress and a woman’s wig is downright hilarious. PJ Adzima’s cold, deadpan, corporate portrayal of the doomed king makes an apt foil to the fun-loving but merciless deity. The one point last night where the audience broke into spontaneous applause was where Jy Murphy’s wise old Cadmus explains that without wine – the one thing that makes living bearable – there’s also no love, and no Aphrodite.
Tony Naumovski makes the most of his vaudevillian role as Cadmus’ buddy Tiresius, while the rest of the supporting cast are strong in their sometimes tightlipped, sometimes unselfconsciously grinning roles. Greenfield’s direction encompasses the group’s signature style of breaking the fourth wall: spectators are enticed with grapes and real wine (and grape juice for the non-Dionysan among us) as they take their seats. Naumovski, who also serves as musical director, has assembled a tight percussion-and-clarinet team of Jim Galbraith, Jeff Wood (also of lyrically fiery original oldtimey swing jazz band the Fascinators) and Naum Goldenstein. They play a sometimes ominous, sometimes boisterous, minimalist original score that blends elements as disparate as Gregorian chant and Balkan music.
In his Blue Note debut as a bandleader Saturday night, tenor saxophonist Zem Audu showed off a terse, purposeful sensibility, a smokily nuanced tone and compositional fluency in styles ranging from Monty Alexander-style Jamdown jazz, to colorful postbop, funk and more. Much as this guy is used to working a crowd, as a touring and recording member of what’s left of the iconic Skatalites, he saves the sizzle for when he really needs it. Along for the ride and dazzling the crowd with his signature blend of vivid, lushly lyrical neoromantic glimmer, erudite blues and the occasional triumphant detour into Afro-Cuban sounds was powerhouse pianist Benito Gonzalez, anchored by drummer Corey Rawls and six-string bassist Teymur Phell.
The band eased their way into the opening number, Biologique, a vampy, Bahian-tinged thing, Gonzalez elevating it in a split-second with a long, sabretoothed solo, part glistening river of angst, part blues. Rawls opened Posi-Vibes with a hypnotically insistent Nyabinghi drum solo: as the band took it deeper into straight-up reggae, Gonzalez pushed at the edges with disarmingly clever close harmonic variations. Layers began as a strut, then the group shifted it almost imperceptibly toward an implied clave groove.
The night’s showstopper was Shining. Audu opened it as slinky, airconditioned LA boudoir noir, something straight out of the Bob Belden post-Miles catalog. But then the bandleader pushed it on the wings of a little feral valve-torturing and a swirling series of lickety-split Coltrane-esque spirals into more jaunty postbop, teaming with Gonzalez to end it on a triumphant note. After that, the funky intro of Flow didn’t exactly telegraph excitement…until Rawls hit a second line-tinged groove and then everybody got on the gospel bus to New Orleans. The night’s final number was also the most trad, a catchy Frank Foster-ish riff-driven tune bookended by some unexpectedly gentle, sepulchral work from Audu and Gonzalez. Audu and his quartet are at Club Bonafide (the old Something Jazz Club), 212 E 52nd St. on April 22 at 7 PM. Cover is $15.