Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Historic Meeting of Some of the World’s Greatest Improvisational Minds

The new release Flow States, a highly entertaining, frequently thrilling improvisatory session recorded in 2015, speaks to the imperiled state of music in 2020. After the lockdowners banned musicians from playing onstage and earning what had essentially become their sole source of income, artists around the world have been flooding the web with all kinds of incredible archival recordings. Desperate times, desperate measures – and the quality of this material reminds us of what we stand to lose if we continue to allow ourselves to be locked down.

This session has special historical value for being the very first time that saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell had played with either the Sun Ra Arkestra‘s iconic Marshall Allen, or with Milford Graves, the polymath drummer, cardiac medicine specialist, sound healing pioneer and musicologist. Multi-reedman Scott Robinson pulled the session together. While the session was in an open studio with no separation, the individual voices of this hall of fame lineup are distinct and everybody gets plenty of chances to give the listener goosebumps.

Allen is in the left channel, mainly on alto sax. Mitchell is in the center, beginning on soprano, sometimes shifting in one piece from sopranino to bass or alto. Robinson is on the right, moving from tenor to bass to contrabass and then alto, mixing it up as usual. And you should see Graves’ kit, with all those toms, delivering a majestically boomy, mysterious groove. Who needs a bass when you have that guy in the band?

Mitchell’s rapidfire melismas are so otherworldly and bagpipe-like throughout the first number, Vortex State, that it’s almost as if he’s playing the EWI that Allen has used for so long in the Sun Ra band. Meanwhile, Graves goes to his mallets for a deep, spacious river as Allen and Robinson carry on a lively, sharp conversation from the edges.

Track two, the aptly titled Dream State, floats over Graves’ magically shamanic, muted, steady pulse, sprites slowly popping up amidst the mist. Allen first goes to the EWI in the trio piece Transition State for a woozily amusing contrast with the droll strutting and foghorn sonics from Robinson’s bass sax as Graves builds a hypnotic sway with his cymbals.

Steady State, a duo piece for Graves and Mitchell’s Balkan-tinged sopranino, is arguably the album’s most relentlessly adrenalizing interlude. Allen picks up the EWI again for the wryly spacy warpscape Plasma State, another duo with Graves. Altered State also has ridiculously funny moments, whether it’s Robinson’s heavy-lidded lows on contrabass sax, or Graves sounding the alarm.

Variable State, a conversation between Mitchell and Allen (back on alto), has plenty of jokes too good to give away, but just as much daunting extended technique. The full quartet close with the title track, which with its relentless traffic jam ambience could be called Garden State, where the album was recorded. More auspiciously, a vinyl release is planned, including extra material that wouldn’t fit on this one.

November 27, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guy Mintus Reinvents Gershwin Classics With High-Voltage Intensity and a Sense of Humor

Pianist Guy Mintus writes lyrical, often poignant, frequently Middle Eastern-tinged jazz. Much of his original material could be called songs without words, which may reflect his decision to release his first-ever all-cover album, A Gershwin Playground, which hasn’t hit the web yet. It’s his most energetic, classically-influenced release to date, no surprise considering the material.

What’s most stunning is Mintus’ opulent, playful solo take of the complete Rhapsody in Blue, packed with devious quotes and a long series of dynamically shifting diversions, winding up with a ridiculously fast but meticulously articulated coda. If you want to hear this piece as classical music that sticks to the script, this is not it – but it sure is a lot of fun. One suspects the composer would approve.

What’s also different this time around for Mintus is that he also takes a turn on the mic, a logical development. He reinvents The Man I Love as The Girl I Love and hits all the notes over an alternatingly emphatic and glimmering backdrop. His slinky, shapeshiftingly carnivalesque take of It Ain’t Necessarily So has special resonance for this era; looks like David really is going to take out Goliath once and for all this time! Another irrepressibly fun reinvention is I Loves You Porgy, with a rapt, imploring raga intro and a diversion into a stern nigun.

A blend of latin and Yemeni rhythms help save Summertime from drifting into cliche-land. The cascading neoromantic take of Someone to Watch Over Me has a more aching intensity, although the whistling is annoying. The strutting version of They Can’t Take That Away From Me is the album’s funniest track: bassist Omri Hadani gets to delivery most of the punchlines.

Mintus opens the record with an eerily spiraling Israeli riff before punching into a colorfully ornamented, starkly swinging take of Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off along with Hadani’s bass and Yonatan Rosen’s drums. They take it out with a punchy doublespeed romp.

Mintus makes a diptych out of Fascinating Rhythm and I Got Rhythm, spiraling and clustering and sometimes crushing as the bass and drums swing tirelessly. The Debussy-esque reflecting pool of a segue between them is an unexpected treat.

November 27, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment