Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Surreal Mechanical Sounds and a Week at the Stone From Avant Garde Adventurers Yarn/Wire

The artists that John Zorn books into weeklong stands at the Stone are typically bandleaders improvising with various supporting casts. So it’s unusual that a full ensemble like perennially adventurous indie classical piano-and-percussion quartet Yarn/Wire – Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg on bangable objects, Laura Barger and Ning Yu on pianos – would spend a week there, which they’re doing starting this Jan 29 at 8:30 PM; cover each night is $20. The most enticing installment is on the 31st with thoughtful, atmospherically-inclined bassoonist/composer Katie Young.

Yarn/Wire’s latest recording – streaming at Bandcamp – is Alex Mincek‘s sometimes bracingly insistent, occasionally comedic eight-part suite Images of Duration (In Homage to Ellsworth Kelly). Louis Andriessen’s adventures in analog similations of mechanical sounds seem to be an inspiration, along with Kelly’s landscapes.

The introduction, Points on a Spiral 1 begins ambiently, then the piano introduces an elegantly minimalist low-midrange theme against a high pianissimo echo in the far distance. Turn down the volume on your device for the sudden, jarring drumhits of Girls in Black and White and its assaultive industrial sonics.

Inviting low drones with slowly rising harmonic overtones drift through the sonic picture in Oblique, eventually receding for spare, serious piano figures: a pensively minimalist and then acerbically ringing, subtly microtonal conversation develops. Diagonal is a surreal blend of foreboding Asian temple theme, Terry Riley-ish ripples and churning steam piston-like sonics, cuisinarted and playfully reassembled at the end.

Trippily staggered, incisively chiming microtonal phrases grow more oddly mechanical in Vermillion Becomes Cobalt as wavelike gong washes and a growing low drone loom closer. Oxblood Becomes Orchid has anvil-like accents paired with mutedly bassy marimba responses, first as if through a wall, then more discernibly echoey. Way, way back in the distance, there’s a signature Black Sabbath theme, but once again Mincek pushes back the clouds with even more ridiculous comic relief.

Points on a Spiral 2 is a more somber variation on the earlier theme; the suite concludes with the brief, droll Quartz and Feldspar, Casper the Friendly Ghost monkeying around in the concert hall. Indie classical music doesn’t get much more psychedelic than this.

January 23, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is It Time to Trash Classical Piano Competitions? Some Insiders Say Yes

For the last several years, Ilona Olutski, founder of the Getclassical series, has been staging remarkably imaginative piano-centric concerts around town. She started at Zinc Bar and has expanded to several more sonically welcoming venues. Last night at Opera America, she put on one of her most entertaining programs yet, featuring insightful performances of Schumann and Brahms works followed by a righteously hilarious roundtable discussion which didn’t take long to reach the conclusion that piano competition in the digital age needs a complete overhaul if it’s going to have any real-world relevance.

“My passion is big Romantic sonatas,” pianist Daumants Liepins – winner of the Vendome Prize at last year’s Verbier Festival in Switzerland – told the crowd. Other pianists are not so lucky to get to indulge that passion to the extent that Liepins does. His interpretations of Schumann’s Piano Sonata No.1 in F# minor and and Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor were insightful, as skilful as one would expect from a victorious competitor, and if they erred anywhere, it was on the side of elegance and good taste.

The Schumann came across as something of a pivot point where Bach meets Rachmaninoff. Liepins’ approach to the piece’s counterpoint was steady, but not to the point of rigidity. Throughout the work, there were several striking exchange of riffs that brought to mind a young Rachmaninoff parsing the score, thinking to himself, “I can distill this to three and a half minutes,” and then cranking out his famous G Minor Prelude. Throughout the piece, Liepins distinguished himself by walking a tightrope between the severe and the lyrical, reveling in the coda’s wry triumph.

His take of the Brahms had a vastly wider dynamic range, and that really saved the piece. This sonata isn’t typical, translucent (some would say facile) Brahms: there’s a persistent sense of struggle, the composer trying to get something onto the page at fortissimo volume and very seldom actually nailing it. But there is a lot of humor in it, and Liepins clearly couldn’t wait to romp through those grandiose flourishes, and a little strutting faux-pomp, with more than a bit of a smirk. Contrastingly, he really let the enigmatic low lefthand murk toward the end resonate, raising the enigmatic factor. He’s recording those pieces for Steinway today, and the matter-of-fact confidence he showed here left no doubt that he’s ready for the studio.

Asked afterward if he felt that competitive playing had helped his career, he affirmed that it had driven him to sharpen his chops and then flex them. But later, after everybody else on the panel was pretty much done venting, he averred that he’d played just as well at competitions he didn’t win as at those he did, chalking up the final scores to judicial capriciousness

And did those competitions ever get a thrashing. Zsolt Bognar, host of Living the Classical Life, offered a withering bit of sports play-by-play, mocking the kind of nitpicking involved. Producer Joe Patrych questioned whether competitions have any positive career impact, reminding that Vladimir Horowitz only really came into his own after returning from twelve years out of music, having been typecast for years as strictly a mile-a-minute, speed-and-proficiency guy.

From the academic side, both Karlstad University’s Julia Mustonen-Dahlquist and Mannes piano department chair Pavlina Dokovska spoke to the need to open up juries to non-pianists – an idea everyone enthusiastically endorsed – and decried the conflicts of interest in judging one’s own students (that happens a lot). Composer Sean Hickey soberly reminded everyone that speed and technique are hardly the only reasons why audiences come out. There was also unanimous support for taking competitions offline: both Bognar and Liepins considered how a competitively-oriented mindset goes even further into the red when playing for an internet audience along with the judges.

What wasn’t addressed was how piano has come to be taught academically, and how competitions are often simply the logical end result. There’s no limit to the cynicism that can be extrapolated from how much speed-reading and technical proficiency are emphasized over interpretive skill: Cruella DeVille is very much alive, and now a career coach.

And there’s a sobering reality behind piano pedagogy as Kaplan class. One day you’re playing Stockhausen, the next day Schubert, and you have to be able to shift gears seamlessly if not with any particular attunement to content, subtext or emotional connection. As everyone seemed to agree, that’s precisely where great musicians differentiate themselves from the competition.

The next concert in this year’s Getclassical series is on March 17 at 7 PM at the Revelation Gallery, 224 Waverly Pl. featuring the Ekstasis Duo – pianist Eliran Avni and cellist Natasha Farni – playing a program TBA. Cover is $20.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leading the Way for Women Composers at Lincoln Center

To celebrate one hundred years of women voting in this country, the New York Philharmonic have launched Project 19, a major initiative to feature women composers in their regular programming. That’s a genuine paradigm shift, in the wake of the ugly confirmation from a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra survey confirming that as recently as 2015, the major orchestras in this country have been performing works written by women less than two percent of the time

Dovetailing with the Philharmonic’s long-overdue move, the Juilliard School are staging an unprecedented series of free concerts the last week of this month, with both semi-popular and obscure works by women from over the past two hundred years. The first is on Jan 24 at 7:30 PM at the conservatory’s Sharp Theatre, with a student ensemble playing music by Jacqueline Fontyn, Ursula Mamlok, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Elisabeth Lutyens and Galina Ustvolskaya. Free tiix are currently available.

For what it’s worth, Helen Grime is not one of the composers featured during this marathon week, possibly because she’s one of the better-known women in new classical music. There’s a fantastic London Symphony Orchestra recording of her Woven Space triptych conducted by Simon Rattle streaming at Spotify that you should hear, if staying on top of what’s happening in that world matters to you…or if you love John Barry or Bernard Herrmann suspense film scores.

The orchestra pounce on Grime’s sharp, anxious, Rite of Spring-ish introduction and swing its swirling variations around, brass and percussion dancing amid the strings as the first movement gains momentum. A distant horn sounds over a momentary lull, the angst returning with a vengeance anchored by low, sustained bass.

The second movement begins with disquieting chimes and disorienting, acidic resonance, nebulous strings in the background. There’s a sense of horror rising as sudden accents puncture the stillness, receding momentarily for an elegantly circling call-and-response. Sprightly dancing riffs interchange with bright brass, then ominous bass introduces a brooding reflecting pool of sound. The dance returns furtively – a celebrarion of the human spirit amid constant surveillance?

A tensely gusty circle dance kicks off the concluding movement, delicately churning amid heavy, stern percussion accents. A brief, eerily starry interlude rises and morphs into a series of bracing echo phrases. Grime’s low-high contrasts and reliance on percussion have Stravinsky’s fingerprints all over them; the dance ends suddenly and without closure.

January 19, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stephane Wrembel Unearths the Depth of Django Reinhardt’s Rare Classical Compositions

For the last several years, guitarist Stephane Wrembel has mined the Django Reinhardt songbook more deeply than just about anyone other than the godfather of Romany jazz himself. Wrembel’s Django Experiment albums offer uncommonly dynamic insight into how Reinhardt blended American swing, French ragtime, classical music and Romany folk songs into a style that would become its own musical subculture. Wrembel’s new solo album Django L’Impressioniste – streaming at youtube – is a milestone, a major rediscovery of Reinhardt’s rarely played and recorded classical music along with a handful of more famous tunes.

This is hardly an album that can be digested in a single sitting: the depth of Reinhardt’s ideas is vast, offering new discoveries with every return trip. The amount of time Wrembel must have spent transcribing and then working up this material is staggering. He first plays Improvisation #2 – one of the few numbers here that’s become part of the Django canon – with a sense of the fantastical, slowly and spaciously, a rapt vision of mythical beasts cavorting deep in the forest. There’s also a transcription of Reinhardt’s second take that’s even more lingering and suspenseful.

Guitarists typically play Reinhardt songs with a brisk, shuffling staccato, which makes sense since that’s how he played them; Wrembel’s resonant, thoughtfully legato approach casts this material in a completely new light. Case in point: the lingering bittersweetness of the 1937 ballad Parfum.

Juxtaposing alternate takes faithful to Reinhardt’s original recordings provides enormous insight into just how carefully he crafted his oeuvre. Back-to-back versions of a “solo improvise” from the BBC in 1937 reveal how much of a difference just a few judicious tweaks of rhythm and attack completely transform this music.

Likewise, there are two versions of Improvisation No. 3, variations on a gorgeously melancholy stroll, the second more stern and incisive. Improvisation No. 4 is the most severe until Wrembel picks it up with an unexpectedly jaunty bounce. Improvisation No. 5 is a pure, unabashed neoromantic ballad with Romany flourishes. The distantly flamencoish Improvisation No. 6 is the starkest, most nocturnal and aguably most cohesively compelling of all these pieces.

The intricate lattice of chords in Naguine foreshadows where Americans like Les Paul would take guitar jazz, yet it’s much more unpredictable. The flamenco-inflected vistas of Echoes of Spain are exactly that: spare and often utterly desolate. The epic take of Belleville, Reinhardt’s hometown shout-out, has strikingly roughhewn contrast, akin to Debussy through the rough-and-tumble prism of life on the fringes – along with what seems to be a playfully erudite study for an eventual three-minute hit.

A similarly expansive exploration of Nuages is all the more vividly summery for Wrembel’s unhurried, dynamically shifting interpretation. The details are devilishly fun: a hint of a bolero, an ambush of muted low strings, a flicker of 19th century Parisian art-song. And the only non-Django original here, Tea for Two, gets a hushed, tiptoeing treatment that really goes to the heart of that much-maligned (some would say schlocky) love ballad. Beyond the sheer beauty and scope of the music, this album has immense historical value. Wrembel’s almost-every-week Sunday night Barbes residency continues this Jan 19 at around 9:30; lately, he’s been opening the show solo and then bringing up the band. If you get lucky, he’ll play some of this material completely unplugged.

January 15, 2020 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | Leave a comment

A Darkly Thorny New Album and a Nublu Release Show From Gordon Grdina’s New Trio

Like Adam Good and Brian Prunka, Gordon Grdina is the rare double threat on both oud and electric guitar. His style is closer to Good’s savage attack than Prunka’s more spacious, spare approach. Grdina’s often seethingly complex new album Nomad, with his recently formed trio including pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black, is streaming at Bandcamp. He’s playing the album release show on Jan 17 at the old Nublu at 62 Ave. C (4th/5th Sts.), at a very early hour for that venue, 6 PM; cover is $10.

Grdina’s writing for piano here is exquisitely grim, and Mitchell returns the favor with some of his most sharp-fanged playing. The opening track, Wildfire skronks and prowls around, the pianist’s enigmatic chords and loopily twisted boogie holding the center. After piano and guitar wind into a tight spiral, everything falls apart, Mitchell’s ominous minimalism finally gaining grativas and pulling the band together again.

Grdina gives the album’s title track a thorny solo intro, Mitchell nimbly handling some daunting, darkly insistent lefthand/righthand polyrhythms, Black’s flurries keeping this one on the rails. Ride Home, meant to evoke the wear and tear of the road, is simultaneously steady and staggering, Mitchell’s eerie stairsteps against Grdina’s weaving, wandering lines, shadowed by Black; Grdina’s final, savage coda packs a wallop.

Benbow, inspired by a California hotel which reminded Grdina of the one in The Shining, gets a spacious but gritty solo guitar intro, a long, tightly clustering crescendo and an evilly glittering Mitchell solo. Loopy, disconcerting belltone phantasmagoria and surprise funk from Black permeate Thanksgiving; the trio wind up the album with Lady Choral, a wry paraphrase of “Larry Coryell” that came to Grdina in a dream. Mitchell’s disorientingly Messiaenic solo sets the scene, Grdina taking his time with his oud for the album’s most unselfconsciously majestic interlude. This is an artichoke of an album: you have to get past the spines to find the reward inside.

January 12, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transcendence and Trials at Winter Jazzfest 2020

One of the high points of Winter Jazzfest 2020 was a rock song.

Don’t read that the wrong way. Firing off clanging, reverb-fanged minor chords from her white Fender Jaguar, Becca Stevens sang her steadily crescendoing anthem I Will Avenge You with just enough distance to make the inevitable all the more grim. Connections to a famous hippie songwriter and steampunk Broadway show aside, it was validating to see her pack the Poisson Rouge to open last night’s Manhattan marathon of shows.

She’s lost none of the livewire intensity she had in the days when she used to front a surrealistically entertaining cover band, the Bjorkestra, ten-odd years ago. Her own material is just as artsy and outside-the-box: it’s what would have been called art-rock back in the 70s, but with a 90s trip-hop influence (Portishead at their most orchestral) instead of, say, Genesis. Drummer Jordan Perlson and bassist Chris Tordini gave a snap to the songs’ tricky metrics, lead guitarist Jan Esbra adding terse colors, keyboardist Michelle Willis bubbling and rippling and soaring with her vocal harmonies. The songs ranged from an uneasily dancing setting of a Shakespeare text from Romeo and Juliet, to a dizzyingly circling ukulele tune, to Tillery, the subtly soukous-inflected anthem that Stevens typically opens with. “Without love there is nothing,” was the singalong chorus. True enough: that’s why we do this stuff.

A few blocks east at the Zurcher Gallery, singer Sara Serpa raised the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night, or so it seemed at the moment. With barely a pause between songs, she led a tightly focused lustrous quartet – longtime partner and saturnine influence Andre Matos on guitar, Dov Manski on piano and analog synth, and Jesse Simpson on drums – through a glistening, sometimes pointillistic, sometimes shatteringly plaintive set of songs without words.

Serpa didn’t sing any actual lyrics until the unexpectedly playful final song, relying instead on her signature vocalese. While she’s best known as a purveyor of misty, airy, frequently noir sonics, she’s developed stunning new power, especially on the low end – although she used that very judiciously. The most haunting song of the night came across as a mashup of Chano Dominguez and Procol Harum at their most quietly brooding, with a ghostly avenger out front. Matos’ steady, purposeful, meticulously nuanced chords and fills anchored Manski’s often otherworldly textures and eerie belltones as Simpson maintained a steady, suspenseful flutter with his bundles.

Over at Zinc Bar, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack led a New York version of her Seismic Belt septet, playing shapeshiftingly emphatic, anthemic, eco-disaster themed material from her fantastic 2019 album of the same name. The music seemed to still be coalescing, but that observation might be colored by the situation where the bar wasn’t letting people stand in the inner room close to the band, as they had in the past, and what was being piped into the bar from a couple of tinny speakers wasn’t enough to compete with a chatty crowd. The bandleader’s soulful, cantabile tone rose and fell gracefully and mingled with the sometimes stark, occasionally lush textures of violinist Sarah Bernstein, violist Jessica Pavone, bassist Lisa Hoppe, expansively dynamic baritone saxophonist Chris Credit, pianist Kai Ono and drummer Jacob Shandling. Boshnack’s voice is full of color and sparkle, just like her horn: she should sing more. Chet Baker may have left us, but Boshnack would be a welcome addition to the trumpeter/singer demimonde.

That there would be such a packed house in the basement of a snooty new Lafayette Street tourist bar, gathered to see the debut of pedal steel paradigm-shifter Susan Alcorn‘s new quintet, speaks to the exponential increase in interest in improvisation at the highest level. That the band had such potent material to work with didn’t hurt. Alcorn’s tunesmithing can be as devastatingly sad as her stage presence and banter is devastatingly funny.

Drummer Ryan Sawyer – most recently witnessed swinging the hell out of a set by Rev. Vince Anderson a couple of weeks ago – sank his sticks into a diving bell of a press roll that Alcorn pulled shivering to the surface in a trail of sparks. Violinist Mark Feldman’s searingly precise downward cadenza out of a long, matter-of-factly circling Michael Formanek bass crescendo was just as much of a thrill. Guitarist Mary Halvorson echoed the bandleader’s sudden swells and sharply disappearing vistas with her volume pedal.

There was a lot of sublime new material in the set. They began with a poignant, 19th century gospel-infused minor-key number that disintegrated into a surreal reflecting pool before returning, austere and darkly ambered. An even more angst-fueled, lingering diptych began as a refection on a battle with food poisoning, Alcorn deadpanned: from the sound of that, it could have killed her. Later portraits of New Mexico mountain terrain and a Utah “circular ruin” gave the band plenty of room to expand on similarly stark themes. The coyly galloping romp out at the end of the catchy, concluding pastoral jazz number offered irresistibly amusing relief.

Winter Jazzfest has expanded to the point where it seems it’s now a lot easier to get in to see pretty much whoever you want to see – at least this year, from this point of view. Even so, there’s always triage. Matthew Shipp at the Nuyorican, what a serendipitous match…but the Nuyorican is a good fifteen-minute shlep from the Bleecker Street strip, just on the cusp of where a taxi driver would think you’re really lame for not hoofing it over to Alphabet City.

Cuban-born pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa and his irrepressible quartet at Subculture were much closer. There’s always been a fine line between salsa and jazz and for this show, this crew – with Mayquel Gonzalez on trumpet, Gaston Joya on five-string bass and the bandleader’s brother Ruy on drums – sided with bringing the first kind of party. In a spirited duet, it turned out that the bandleader’s bro is a more than competent and equally extrovert pianist, when he wasn’t riffing expertly on his snare like a timbalero. The group shifted from long, vampy, percussive cascades to classically-flavored interludes, including a catchy Leo Brouwer ballad that Lopez-Nussa used as a rollercoaster to engage the crowd. What a beautiful, sonically pristine venue, and what a shame that, beyond a weekly Sunday morning classical concert series, the space isn’t used for music anymore. They probably couldn’t put the Poisson Rouge out of business – who would want that bar’s cheesy Jersey cover bands, anyway – but they could steal all their classical and jazz acts.

January 12, 2020 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World-Famous Big Band Celebrates Pantheonic Painters

Since prehistory, musicians have been inspired by visual art. But there’s never been a big band jazz album featuring works by multiple composers referencing paintings from across the decades. The new Jazz and Art record by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – streaming at youtube – took almost a decade to create. New York’s most renowned big band premiered it live in 2010, playing to projections overhead. The vast stylistic range of the music mirrors the art that springboarded it, including works by Romare Bearden, Winslow Homer and Piet Mondrian.

The sheer fun that the composers here had writing for this mighty beast of an ensemble is visceral, and the orchestra reward those efforts lavishly. The album opens with a Stuart Davis-inspired triptych by Doug Wamble. The first segment, The Mellow Pad, is a moody, New Orleans-tinged cha-cha in the same vein as Tom Waits’ Down in the Hole, with spare, bluesy Vincent Gardner trombone at the center. Likewise, the second part is a paraphrase of When the Saints Come Marching In, with bright spotlights on Marcus Printup’s trumpet and Sherman Irby’s alto sax. The group take a pointed, almost tiptoeing swing through the ragtime-tinged conclusion, Dan Nimmer’s piano pushing it further into postbop.

Gardner contributes the epic Sam Gilliam shout-out Blue Twirl, developing slowly from Messiaenic birdsong-like chatter, to wry jesting, a silky clave and a brisk swing, bassist Carlos Henriquez signaling the changes. Marsalis, altoist Ted Nash and trombonist Elliot Mason punch in hard with solos.

Trombonist Chris Crenshaw gets the plum assignment of tackling Bearden’s iconic collage The Block with sweeping, jump blues-inspired swing, Nimmer pouncing, tenor saxophonist Victor Goines leading the group into a balmy Harlem evening. Coming full circle with a triumph at the end, it’s the album’s most vivid, memorable number.

Low brass and percussion build ominously looming ambience as trombonist Papo Vasquez’s salute to Wilfredo Lam, the Orisha Medley: Air, Earth, Fire, Water gets underway. Anchored by a steady Afro-Cuban groove, the composer hands his imposing solo off to Marsalis, who raises the roof, the whole crew joining the blaze.

Bill Frisell was an apt choice to pitch in a Winslow Homer-inspired diptych, an allusively folksy, bittersweet waltz and a boisterous jump blues, the latter of which is the most modernist number here. Nimmer’s elegant cascades and tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding’s enigmatic, airy work liven Andy Farber’s colorful, cinematic arrangements.

The lustrous introduction to trumpter Tim Armacost’s Mondrian tribute The Repose in All Things is a false alarm. It turns out to be a bright, bustling excursion, Irby buoyantly setting up trumpeter Ryan Kisor’s crescendo. The album winds up with Irby’s Twilight Sounds, for Norman Lewis, expanding joyously on a vaudevillian theme. If you like your jazz blazing, brassy and evoking decades of history, crank this record.

January 11, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intense, Purist Party Jazz and a Lincoln Center Gig with Zaccai and Luques Curtis

Completion of Proof, the 2011 debut album by Zaccai and Luques Curtis, was a fierce, latin-tinged protest jazz record whose centerpiece was a chilling, caustically Mingus-esque triptych titled The Manifest Destiny Suite. Their long-awaited follow-up, Algorithm – streaming at Bandcamp – has much of the same veteran lineup. But it’s somewhat of a thematic shift, a similarly vivid, often intense but otherwise much more optimistic shout-out to Art Blakey and his associates who’ve mentored them over the years. It’s first-class, golden-age style party music. They’re playing the release show on Jan 15 at 7:30 PM at Dizzy’s Club. Cover is steep – $35 – but it’s a chance to hear two of the most sought-after sidemen around doing their own material, alongside the allstar vets who helped them get to where they are now..

They open the album with the Jackie McLean salute Three Points and a Sphere, drummer Ralph Peterson’s loose-limbed drive paired against Zaccai Curtis’ jaunty piano, their longtime bandmates Donald Harrison on alto sax and Brian Lynch on trumpet following with long solos, choosing their spots. Onstage, it would be a high-voltage set-ender that gives everybody a chance to cut loose.

The album’s mathematically-inspired theme continues with Phi, a salute to the circular ratio that kicks off with a shamanistic drum solo, then goes vamping with a cheery, funky latin soul groove and a good-natured piano-bass conversation between the bandleaders. Chief gives the guy it’s dedicated to, their longtime employer, a platform for sailing, spiraling sax solos over a similar but punchier rhythmic drive. ”

Parametric has an edgily familiar, moodily modal salsa-influenced simmer that Lynch latches onto with a fanged intensity echoed more distantly by the piano. Torus has to be the most gorgeous jazz waltz ever dedicated to a donut, while The Professor has a similarly dark, gospel-tinged majesty, Lynch taking a saturnine climb to redemption.

The album’s final trio of numbers were written as a sequel to The Manifest Destiny Suite. Lynch, Peterson and then Harrison wail up a storm in the somewhat uneasily tumbling Undefined (that’s what you get when you divide anything by zero). The allusively regal, briskly swinging horn showcase Staircase of Mount Meru sends a shout to the Indian mathematician Pingala, who discovered the construction commonly known as Pascal’s Triangle. They wind up the album with Sensei, a carnaval-esque vehicle for incorrible extrovert Peterson to do some flexing, This is one of those albums where afterward you might say to yourself, “Damn, good thing I didn’t just write this off as a bunch of road warriors recycling old ideas.”

January 7, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Connie Han Brings Her Relentless, Uneasy Urban Bustle to Birdland

If you follow jazz, you may have been put off by the way pianist Connie Han has been marketed. But musically, there’s no denying that she hit the ground running with her debut album Crime Zone, streaming at youtube. The album title reflects her relentless, hard-hitting attack, fondness for disquieting modes and bustling vamps that sometimes inch over the line into urban noir. And her career is still young: she’s got plenty of room to grow. She’s playing Birdland on Jan 12 at 5:30 PM; you can get a bar seat for $30.

The album opens with Another Kind of Right, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III dancing tensely between the raindrops, either in front of the band or in tandem with trumpeter Brian Swartz over Han’s icepick chords. Even when she switches abruptly to Rhodes midway through, the snap of Edwin Livingston’s bass and swing of Han’s frequent co-writer Bill Wysaske’s drums save the tune from falling off the edge into fusion territory.

The album’s title track pounces hard, the bandleader indulging in some wry polyrhythms before pulling the music down into a dark reflecting pool. Then Smith brings it up again, incisively, to a long (some might say overlong) series of bluesy Han cascades. The allusive, wary modalities in By the Grace of God more than hint at a narrow escape in contrast to Smith’s gritty, genial upper-register riffage; Han eventually drives it into sunnier territory.

Her eerie belltones and Smith’s microtonalities, and the two’s moody conversation to wind out the song, help elevate Sondheim’s Pretty Women above the level of Broadway schlock. As hard-charging as Southern Rebellion is, it takes awhile before Han rises beyond standard blues and postbop tropes; Wysaske takes it down into some misterioso press rolls before one of the false endings that Han loves so much.

Gruvy is an expansive Rhodes tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the later Steely Dan playbook. The album’s arguably best numnrt is a solo piece, the determined, grimly clustering quasi-boogie A Shade of Jade: with this kind of intensity, who needs a band?

The solidly strolling swing tune Member This is another number that brings to mind Donald Fagen, but the 1970s version. Is That So? Looks back to Dizzy Gillespie’s early adventures with samba rhythms, with some welcomely spacious playing from both Smith and Han. They close the album with the edgy, racewalking Extended Stay, Han coyly accenting a balletesuqe bass solo. When Han reaches the point where she can take extended solos without falling back on a lot of well-worn chromatic and blues runs, she could be dangerous.

January 6, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brian Charette Takes Organ Jazz to Edgy, Entertaining New Places

As Brian Charette tells it, his first solo organ record was a hit with his colleagues at baseball stadiums. Which makes sense. If an organist is a serious team player, he or she (thinking of Eddie Layton and Jane Jarvis here) can influence the outcome of a game. But first they have to engage a screaming mob, and be heard over them (unless it’s the Mets and there’s nobody there). Charette can’t resist an opportunity to entertain, although his sense of humor usually comes out in jousting with bandmates and making deadpan insider jokes rather than outright buffoonery. His follow-up solo album, Beyond Borderline – streaming at youtube – doesn’t seem to have any baseball subtext: it’s an endless supply of WTF moments interspersed among just about every possible style that might fit what Charette obviously sees as the very broad category of jazz organ. His next gig is not as a bandleader, but a relatively rare one as a sideman with hard-hitting saxophonist Mike DiRubbo‘s quartet at 10:30 PM this Friday and Saturday night, Jan 3 and 4 at Smalls.

The new album is a mix of solo versions of originals along with a couple of organ arrangements of Ellington tunes. Charette opens it with Yellow Car, a briskly strolling Jimmy Smith-style blues spiced with sly jabs and blips. He really cuts loose with his signature unpredictability in Wish List, a punchy, rhythmically shifting mashup of creepy Messiaen and jaunty Booker T. Jones (don’t laugh, it actually works). The first of the Ellington tunes, Chelsea Bridge gets reinvented with a triumphantly crescendoing resonance. The other one, Prelude to a Kiss validates Charette’s decision to go for grandeur.

The rest of the originals begins with Girls, a straight-up, catchy swing tune with a disquietingly atmospheric interlude midway through. The dark blues and latin influences really come to the forefront in Good Tipper – the title track of his 2014 album – Charette walking and strutting the bass with his lefthand beneath the mighty chords and spacious riffs of his right.

His solo take of one of his creepiest and best numbers, Hungarian Bolero, is evenmore minimalistically menacing as he fades the volume back and forth: it’s a little early in the year to be talking about best songs of the year, but this is one of them.

Silicone Doll is an organ arrangement of Satin Doll: Charette speeds it up a little. By the time you hit 5th of Rye, you may find yourself wondering, who needs bass and drums? His love of dub reggae and penchant for wry quotes come through in Aligned Arpeggio. Herman Enest III, a shout-out to Dr. John’s longtime drummer better known as Roscoe, has a recurring riff nicked from Joni Mitchell (or did she steal it from the Night Tripper?)

Charette winds up the album with Public Transportation, a bubbly, lickety-split tune that obviously  refers to some city other than New York, where the subway and buses actually run. As organ jazz records go, this is vastly more purposeful, original and less outright funky than what’s usually found in that demimonde.

January 2, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment