Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Boston Symphony Orchestra Release a Rivetingly Detailed, Harrowing Shostakovich Album

It might be unfair to artists playing original material to say that Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra‘s new live recording of three Shostakovich symphonies and an immortal smaller-scale theme – streaming at Spotify – is the frontrunner for best album of the year. Even so, the conductor and orchestra go unusually deep into these profoundly troubled, relevant works: they couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate era to be releasing their Shostakovich symphonic cycle. It’s riveting and timely music, subtly and sensitively performed. Nelsons and the ensemble work a vast dynamic range from a whisper to short of a scream. Unorthodox as this program is, it makes sense in context, the phantasmagoria of the composer’s ambitious first symphony coming into full, savage bloom in two late symphonies and also the Rudolf Barshai string orchestra arrangement of Shostakovich’s harrowing, antifascist String Quartet No. 8.

Let’s start with that piece, the last one on the album, since it’s the most apropos to our time. Shostakovich wrote the string quartet thinking it could be his final work since Krushchev was strong-arming him to join the Communist Party, or else. It’s as timely now as it was when the composer frantically wove his initials into it, in musical notation, over and over again. In 1960, those creepy chromatics meant a knock on the door from the KGB, its drifting desolation a requiem for the victims of Stalin’s regime, its chase scenes being the gestapo coming for a composer who’d finally crossed too far over the line. This remarkably subdued, solemn, utterly chilling interpretation makes an apt soundtrack for the health department marching into an elementary school, lethal needles in hand. Or a New York City hospital ward filled with comatose Medicare patients being sedated to death in order to create the illusion of a pandemic. Or the Australian police ruthlessly tracking some poor guy who’d escaped from solitary confinement after testing positive for a bioweapon-induced illness that went extinct months ago.

Symphony No. 1, which opens the recording, has withstood the test of time well and gets a triumphantly carnivalesque treatment here. There’s a balletesque lilt to the first movement… and that bassoon strut makes an eerie predecessor for a much more macabre theme in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 6.

The lithe, cynical bustle of movement two is irresistible, the orchestra’s vaunted strings adding a gossamer, deep-space twinkle and not the slightest hint of the whirlwind coda that will soon follow. Nelsons’attention to the pulsing echo effects in the forebodingly crescendoing third movement is a characteristically insightful touch, as are the plaintive soloists, foreshadowing the horror-stricken calm of the composer’s Symphonies No. 10 and 11. He holds back the fireworks in the fourth movement until the hordes are at the great gate of Kiev, with the xylophone-like piano a stunning contrast. What a picturesque exhibition.

Shostakovich liked to recycle some of his most twisted themes, and he does that a lot in his final Symphony, No. 15, from 1971. It’s arguably his most death-obsessed work. The flutey intro, followed by an even more cynical bassoon melody and faux pageantry that quotes liberally from the William Tell Overture could be read as death dancing outside the window, whether that’s the gestapo or just the ravages of time – although it’s hard to imagine this composer failing to add his usual sociopolitical context. When the brass come stomping in, the orchestra’s pinpoint precision leaves no doubt what’s going on. In case you wonder what that whiplash percussive effect is, it’s a real whip.

Seamlessly switching gears, Nelsons holds the lingering, vast stillness of the second movement in check: somber passages from solo cello, winds and horn are muted in the face of seemingly inevitable doom, a throwback to Symphony No. 11. The brief third movement is all portents and marionettish evil, underscored by the orchestra’s sheer matter-of-factness. In the final movement, Nelsons puts the spotlight on the parade of wistful figures flickering as the curtain behind draws closer. So the point where someone – or a whole society – meets a sudden, tragic end midway through really packs a punch. At the end, the gulag and the executioner – or just a haunted witness to a hideous period in Russian history – dissolve into shadow puppets.

Symphony No, 14, from 1969, is a lavish, death-obsessed song cycle of sorts much in the same vein as the Babi Yar Symphony, No. 13. Soprano Kristine Opolais and bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk take turns in alternately brooding and acidically surreal interpretations of poetry by Garcia Lorca, Apollinaire and Wilhelm Kuchelbecker – hardly doctrinaire Soviet-approved artists.

The utter solemnity of Garcia Lorca’s De Profundis cedes to the grand guignol ballet of his macabre Malaguena. The duet of Apollinaire’s Lorelei is every bit a depiction of a twisted, beckoning Aryan witch as the poet could have imagined.

Similarly, the contrast between Opolais’ angst and the still backdrop in his portrait of a suicide’s grave is downright chilling, as is the carnivalesque antiwar message in On Watch. Those qualities pervade the rest of the symphony, through a whisperingly grim prison-cell tableau, martial belligerence and incessant grim imagery: exactly what the entire world has been forced to grapple with since the spring of 2020.

Except that these are only cautionary tales.

August 31, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Falkner Evans’ Distantly Haunting New Album Underscores How Love Is Stronger Than Death

Pianist Falkner Evans’ wife Linda killed herself in May of 2020, consequence of the lockdown. A professor whose specialty was Latin American literature, her favorite author was Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She was bright, introspective, well read and a talented visual artist. Evans’ response to this devastating and totally preventable loss is his first-ever solo album, Invisible Words, which isn’t online yet. It’s both a loving portrait and a reflection on unspeakable grief. On the whole, the album is more pensive than anguished, and surprisingly dynamic considering the circumstances. A handful of themes recur, sonata-like. Space plays as much a role here as melody.: Much of this is Mahmoud Darwish’s concept of the presence of absence, incarnated in these songs without words.

Evans opens with the title track, beginning with a tentative, minimalist fondness that grows to a sparkle and then a serious, carefully considered insistence. Clearly, Linda had a joie de vivre to match any despondency.

You’re Next, Ladybug is a warmly expectant ballad, Evans pacing himself slowly with more than a hint of Errol Garner lightheartedness through a series of gentle neoromantic cascades that occasionally drift toward ragtime or stride. Likewise, there’s plenty of space in Brightest Light, a wistfully anthemic tune which quickly descends toward a portrait of emotional depletion.

Breathing Altered Air is a lockdown parable, Evans reaching for jaunty glimpses of hope amid the somber, austere chords. Moving toward a steady stroll, he livens the heavy atmosphere with variations on a series of wry soul/blues riffs, up to an unexpected ending that packs a crushing wallop.

Made Visible is part wounded Chopin prelude, part sagely reflective Horace Silver wee hours refrain. Like so many of the tracks here, there’s a steady resilience, an autosuggestive quality, a mantra to just keep going. .

The big epic here is Lucia’s Happy Heart, referencing Linda’s’ Italophile alter ego. An older song, it’s actually one of the album’s more somber numbers: it’s sort of an expansive study for what would become Altered Air.

The Hope Card is the album’s most spacious and perhaps ironically most persistently brooding, ominously chromatic track. Evans closes the record with the terse ballad Invisible Words for Linda, in a sense bringing the album full circle.

Even more tragically, Evans’ wife’s suicide is one of thousands since the lockdown – and the pandemic of deaths of despair is getting worse. More people under thirty were driven to suicide in the UK by the lockdown than died of Covid in the entire world. The World Economic Forum and their puppets at the WHO and in government have blood on their hands.

At this point in history, whistleblowers and great revelations are springing out everywhere: it is only a matter of time before every population in the world gets wise to the lockdowners’ schemes and puts an end to them. We owe their victims no less.

August 29, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Smart, Provocative, Funny, Swinging Album From Singer Lauren Lee

Lauren Lee distinguishes herself with a clear uncluttered soprano as well as her cynical, spot-on sense of humor, unusually strong lyrical sensibility and acerbic chops at the piano. Among pianists who also can handle the mic, only Champian Fulton is in her league. Lee’s songs are sharp, relevant and tackle both the philosophical and political, far beyond the standard jazz singer terrain of affairs of the heart and their aftermath. Her album The Consciousness Test with her Space Jazz Trio featuring bassist Charley Sabatino and drummer Andy O’Neil is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s as provocative as it is entertaining.

The album’s first track is Power Lines, Lee’s catchy, terse vocalese solos over a tumbling backdrop as the song coalesces:

Coming down
The leaves are falling to the ground below…
Mass devastation in the distance
How can we take shelter when so much must be done…
Enjoy the stillness while it lasts.

She takes it out over catchy, circling syncopation. Hurricane Sandy reflection or premonition?

The title track starts out as a briskly swinging number in 12/4: “Nightmares don’t just happen while you’re sleeping,” Lee warns. Everything goes quiet, then her piano slowly brings it back:

Feeling discomfort is part of the norm,
Insanity scenes take over your dreams…
You don’t own me you cowardly fearmongering bully

Although it could be a lockdown-era parable, this anti-narcissist broadside actually dates back to 2018 or maybe even before. Some insights are timeless.

Lee and trio follow with Demons, a fast, pulsing, catchy jazz waltz: “It’s all in your head,” is the gist. Voyager begins as an broodingly enigmatic piano-and-vocal number: a bass pulse comes in with scrapes and shimmers from the cymbals, lots of rhythmic shifts, and a long, bitingly gorgeous, glimmering piano solo over searching bass at the center.

The rhythms get much more playful in Oh No Oh No Oh No, from leaping quasi-rubato to steady swing. “Could this be the thing that I fear the most…calm me down, hey let’s build a blanket fort from the world,” Lee cajoles. She sticks with straight-up swing for The Life Cycle, contemplating both the biological and metaphorical need to “disturb the parasitic order of the undead but barely living.”

The Procrastination Song is about unraveling, Lee’s piano leading the disintegration to an unexpected calm. She closes the album with Moral, shifting from a moodily unsettled intro to a precise clave groove. Here the humor is very subtle, a tongue-in-cheek look at the certainty that fuels various kinds of human behavior.

August 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Soulful, Gospel-Inspired, Overdue Debut From Individualistic Jazz Singer Trineice Robinson

Trineice Robinson brings deep gospel roots to her work in jazz. Like most good singers, she’s covered a lot of ground throughout her career, from classical choral music, to jazz and various touring gigs. So it’s something of a surprise that her new album All Or Nothing – streaming at Spotify – is her debut as a bandleader. She sings in a disarmingly direct, no-nonsense delivery and has a fearless political sensibility. She comes across as an individualist who defies categorization: there’s the immediacy of classic soul music here, coupled to jazz sophistication, gospel rapture and fervor.

She kicks off the album ambitiously, making an inventive diptych out of All or Nothing At All. There’s a gritty intensity in her voice in the hard-driving first part, Don Braden’s tenor sax percolating over Cyrus Chestnut’s emphatic piano, Kenny Davis’ bass and Vince Ector’s drums. The starry interlude midway through is an unexpected touch; the band swing it hard on the way out.

Likewise, she remakes Wayne Shorter’s Footprints as a latin jazz waltz, tenor saxophonist Nils Mossblad breaking out of brassy harmonies with trombonist Ian Kaufman and trumpeter John Meko as percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell joins Ector in a turbulent backdrop. The lyrics – by Robinson and Nandita Rao – obliquely reflect the challenge that comes with standing on the shoulders of Civil Rights era giants.

Chestnut shines and glitters in a strikingly intimate duo take of Ellington’s Come Sunday, Robinson playing up the song’s unshackled political subtext. From there she makes another diptych out of her blues-tinted original If This Is Love and The Very Thought of You, reinvented as an altered waltz with an unexpected modal intensity and a spine-tingling vocal coda.

Robinson’s supple, unhurried take of You Taught My Heart to Sing draws on the McCoy Tyner version, through a glass, distantly, lit up by Chestnut’s Errol Garner-esque ornamentation. The band have a great time with Monk’s I Mean You, Robinson updating the jaunty Jon Hendricks version with a knowingly sly, very Monkish sense of humor.

She and the group find unexpected tropical joy but also gravitas in Natalie Cole’s La Costa, Braden switching to flute. The band’s suave wee-hours contentment – and Chestnut’s occasional LOL flourish – in Save You Love For Me fuels Robinson’s determined delivery.

Robinson closes the album with a swinging, New Orleans-tinged take of the gospel standard Let It Shine: once again, she leaves no doubt that this is liberation theology.

Her lyrical update to a brisk stroll through Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is also an aptly relevant touch; the cheesy DX7 electric piano that Chestnut gets stuck behind is not.

August 18, 2021 Posted by | gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never Mess With a Great Jazz Trumpeter: They Always Get Even in the End

When trumpeter Pete Rodriguez put out his sizzling 2013 album Caminando Con Papi, it seemed a little strange at the time that he would be based in Texas. He grew up as part of the Nuyorican musical intelligentsia. His father was Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez – one of the most individualistic and powerful crooners of the golden age of salsa – and his godfather is Johnny Pacheco. By the time he was in sixth grade, he was in his dad’s band.

How did the scion of such a storied New York musical legacy end up in Texas? He’d taken his family there to escape being racially profiled here. And he’d taken a college teaching job in Austin. Unfortunately, the erudite New Yorker found himself a fish out of water. Tensions rose, and as he tells it on his new album Obstacles – streaming at Sunnyside Records – he was forced out of a job. Long story short: never mess with a composer. They always get even in the end.

And revenge is really sweet here. This record is somewhat more dynamically paced than the nonstop visceral thrills of his last album. The quintet here is as formidable as the bandleader, who’s joined by John Ellis on tenor and soprano sax, Luis Perdomo on acoustic and electric piano, Ricardo Rodriguez on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

They open with a brisk burner titled 50 – Rodriguez hit the big five-zero running and doesn’t show his age, through this sprint based on Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice. Gone in the blink of an eye? Rodriguez isn’t going out like that, matched by Ellis and Perdomo’s scampering precision.

Rodriguez’s moody vulnerability on the first part of Abraham, a diptych, is chilling, a somber, gospel-infused horn interweave growing over Royston’s stormy clusters. Then Perdomo switches to twinkly Rhodes, although it’s a long time before the pall finally lifts.

El Proceso begins as a soulful, swaying ballad, Rodriguez choosing his spots with a spring-loaded intensity as Perdomo and Royston fuel the upward drive to Ellis’ cheery soprano spirals and a mighty, flurrying coda. Academic Backstabbing 101 is a straight-up dis at a nemesis who believed that Chuck Wayne’s Solar is the toughest piece in jazz; Perdomo and the rest of the band make short work of some similarly trickily syncopated changes and Messiaenic tonalities.

There’s a distantly Monkish, wary sensibility to the low-key simmer of the racewalking Mi Ritmo and the dichotomy of darkly circling bass against percolating sax and piano. Triple Positive has a fond 70s soul influence beneath the syncopation, a tenderly spirited remembrance of someone whose courage never faltered throughout what turned out to be a fatal illness.

Austin & Alley is a briskly vivid vignette of children at play, set to the soberingly phantasmagorical backdrop of encroaching racism. The Clifford Brown version of Gigi Gryce’s Minority inspires the album’s steadily pouncing and swinging title track, the bandleader cutting loose and setting up Ellis’ terse, calm solo as the rhythm section scramble behind him, Perdomo’s brightly romping solo backing away for Royston’s rumbling coda. The band go back to soul-drenched ballad territory for Someone Else, slowly rising around Perdomo’s lingering, summery Rhodes.

The album’s last two cuts are disses. Mary Dick Ellen is a brief, eerily chattering depiction of workplace racism. The hard-charging swing tune FU John begins on a similar note. The sarcasm is priceless, especially when Perdomo gets involved, and way too good to give away. Rodriguez, meanwhile, rises above, unperturbed and carefree. The karmic message here seems to be that ultimately, it set Rodriguez free.

August 10, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vivid, Picturesque, Oceanic Album From Argentine Singer Luciana Morelli

Luciana Morelli writes tersely imagistic, poetic jazz songs in Spanish and sings in a full, ripe, expressive voice that brings to mind Camila Meza. Like Meza, Morelli is a South American who’s put her own individual mark on a distinctly American sound. Beyond the words, her new album Lo Abismal, El Agua (rough quasi-poetic translation: The Watery Depths) sounds remarkably like a creation from the hemisphere to the north. It’s also stunningly melodic, bright, picturesque music: Morelli likes circling riffs that she can expand on, with the occasional playful descent toward chaos.

The opening track on the album – which hasn’t hit the web yet, beyond a couple of youtube clips – is Viaje (Voyage), Philipp Hillebrand’s bass clarinet often in tandem with Mauricio Silva Orendain’s purposeful, cyclical piano over the lithe bass and drums of Sebastián de Urquiza and Paulo Almeida. Morelli brings the narrative full circle as a big payoff after a lot of very subtle foreshadowing.

There’s a similarly circling but calmer architecture to Ardor de Mar (Passion of the Sea), wind-whipped peaks contrasting with spacious lulls over dancing bass and delicately colorful drums. Morelli shifts to a somber jazz waltz for Fotografia de Guerra (War Photograph), shivery clarinets and an achingly bowed bass solo reflecting the understatedly anguish in this depiction of child warfare.

Tension between rhythmic persistence and syncopation reflects the restless metaphors in Eclipse en Barcelona, Almeida’s big crescendo matching Morelli’s desire to get the hell out. The album’s title cut begins with vividly Debussy-esque shimmer from piano and drums before the rhythm kicks in, the litheness of Morelli’s vocalese cast in shadow, down to a hazily fragmented improvisational interlude and back.

She adds subtle blues colors with her wordless vocals in Serendipia, a more lighthearted jazz waltz. Then she switches to English for the portentously allusive, distantly tango-tinged Two Sides, a determined but enigmatic emigrant’s tale. She and the band close the record with Verde y Amarillo (Green and Yellow), Urquiza adding vocal harmonies as well as a balletesque bass pulse as it grows more lush and insistent. Let’s hope there’s more in the future from this original and captivating voice.

August 9, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fond Farewells and New Revelations at This Year’s Concluding Naumburg Bandshell Concert

Tuesday night in Central Park, a collective “awwwwww” swept through the crowd when the Naumburg organization’s Christopher London announced that the East Coast Chamber Orchestra‘s concert with pianist Shai Wosner would be the final one of the summer at the bandshell. What a blessing it has been to have these performances at a time when orchestral music has never been more imperiled. And what a great year it’s been! At this time last year, who would have imagined that we would be in a position to be so celebratory now?

It was a night to revisit familiar Mozartean comfort in newfound intimacy, but also to be entranced by far more recent material. The evening’s piece de resistance was Hanna Benn‘s Where Springs Not Fail, based on a morbid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. Dov Scheindlin, one of the three violists in the orchestral string collective, introduced it as “impressionistic and haunting,” which turned out to be an understatement. With an elegance that would define the night, the group parsed its slow, somber, insistent pastoralia with collegial attention to dynamics, anchored with visceral intensity in the lows.

Bassist Anthony Manzo introduced a mournfully tolling theme, the ensemble rising toward fullscale angst but not quite going there. Eventually a sense of closure, however mournful, appeared. The fade down at the end was obliterated by a passing helicopter. Technology destroying the soul: a metaphor for 2021 from above, literally.

The orchestra found even more angst in Osvaldo Golijov’s 1996 composition Last Round, equal parts boxing parable and salute to the composer’s iconic countryman and foundational influence Astor Piazzolla. As a portrait of the combative godfather of nuevo tango bedridden after a stroke and battling but slowly and ineluctably losing it, it’s set up as a couple of string quartets with the bass in the center as referee.

Sparks flew as agitation rose, then a poignant quote from Piazzolla’s Libertango appeared and was spun through a series of permutations. The sudden glissando at the moment of death was crushing; the group’s rise from a hush to a picturesque series of reflections was a vivid an elegy as anyone could have wanted.

The big hits with the crowd were Mozart favorites, which Wosner played from memory with exceptional attunement to underlying emotion. His approach to both the Piano Concerto No. 114 in E flat and No. 12 in A was unhurried, and spacious, and insightful to the nth degree: he’s really gone under the hood with this material.

He opened the night’s first concerto with a liquid, comfortably nocturnal legato, then left no doubt that the second movement was a love song. The conclusion was irresistibly fun, a puckish game of hide-and-seek, and the strings responded in kind.

The closing concerto was just as fresh and convivial, Wosner taking his time with the lustrous contentment of the opening movement, then backing away even further for a muted tenderness and then a sudden sense of trouble around the corner, a cautionary tale stashed away inside a glittery wine-hour piece for the entitled classes of Vienna, 1782-style. Both of these pieces are as standard as standard repertoire gets – and how rare it is that an ensemble can bring out as much inner detail as Wosner and the orchestra did here.

The pianist encored with a poignant, affectionately paced version of Schubert’s Hungarian Melody, D817. This is it for 2021 for the Naumburg Concerts, but a series for 2022 is in the works.

August 5, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Low-Key, Subtle, Inventive Jazz and Parlor Pop From Singer/Pianist Aimee Nolte

Aimee Nolte is best known for her extremely popular youtube jazz piano instructional videos. To her further credit, one of her most interesting videos is on how to play rock piano, a rare art to be sure. After all, you don’t want to clutter a rock song with fussy harmonies: Nolte shows you how.

As an artist herself, Nolte has a clear, direct, uncluttered voice and a fondness for inventive, counterintuitive arrangements. Her album Looking for the Answers is streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of low-key originals and jazz standards. Nolte is all about subtlety: there’s nothing here that’s going to blow you away, but there are all sorts of clever touches. As a vocalist, she really excels at ballads; as a pianist, she plays with classically-influenced lyricism and remarkable terseness: this music is on the quiet side, but there’s nothing loungey about it. 

The balmy woodwind arrangement that opens the album’s first song, The Loveliest Girl, matches Nolte’s calm, warmly unadorned delivery. As the aphoristic narrative about a sunbeam finding its raison d’etre gathers steam, Mike Scott’s gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar enters the picture, followed by bassist Bruce Lett and drummer James Yoshizawa.

There’s a hint of the South in Nolte’s voice and a little Brazil in the album’s title track, a syncopated swing shuffle, Scott’s guitar intermingled within the bandleader’s bright, steady piano. Scott’s long solo really nails that same matter-of-fact, lyrically ratcheting drive.

A samba titled Falling Snow might sound bizarre, but it works as a muted backdrop for Nolte’s tender vocals and some nimbly interwoven guitar/piano exchanges. She sings with a bittersweet resonance throughout This One Hurts, a pensive but catchy solo lament.

Then she picks up the pace with the salsa party anthem I Gotta Get, Lett’s bass prowling around deviously. The plush woodwinds return in Save Me One Last Time, the album’s best and most haunting track, a wounded breakup tale told from the point of view of the instigator.

Nolte recalls Ella Fitzgerald in her stripped-down bass-and-vocal take of Bye Bye Blackbird with a lot of carefree scatting. Her piano follows a mutedly exploratory tangent in a trio version of All Too Soon over Scott’s steady chords.

So In Love is an understatedly joyous return to samba jazz, followed by You Should’ve, a 70s-style Nashville country-pop ballad recast as grey-sky art-song. Nolte closes the record with For a While, a brief, lyrical solo piano ballad.

August 3, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blissful Return For Arturo O’Farrill’s Paradigm-Shifting Afro-:Latin Jazz at Birdland

The live music meme in New York this summer is bliss. At his relentlessly entertaining show Sunday night at Birdland with his Afro-Latin Jazz Octet, pianist Arturo O’Farrill spoke to the “infinite loop” between musicians and audience, and how crucial that dynamic is for a performer The club wasn’t quite sold out, probably due to the impending storm outside, but you should have heard the thunderous standing ovation at the end of the show. That infinite loop resonated just as powerfully on both ends.

It helps that O’Farrill is a personable guy and loves to engage the crowd, but in a subtly erudite way. Since the 90s, he’s pushed the envelope about as far as anyone can go with what could loosely be called latin jazz, and he dares the listener to think along with him. And the band seemed as amped as he was to interact with everybody who’d come out.

Much as O’Farrill’s music is colorful and picturesque, there’s always a balance between unbridled passion and a zen-like discipline: nobody in this group overplays. At just about any concert, it’s almost inevitable that somebody gets carried away. Not this crew.

They opened with a broodingly Ellingtonian cha-cha and closed with a more exuberant salsa-jazz tune. Right off the bat, O’Farrill was busting loose: he gets all kinds of props as a composer, but we forget what a brilliant pianist he is. Lickety-split spiral staircase elegance, meticulously articulated yet spine-tingling cascades, moonlight sonatas that flashed by in seconds flat, DAMN. He didn’t confine all that to his opening solo, either.

Trumpeter Jim Seeley and trombonist Mariel Bildstein chose their spots, throughout a lot of deceptively sophisticated counterpoint. Whether everybody in the band is consciously aware of it or not, they’re all ultimately part of the rhythm section.

Bassist Bam Bam Rodriguez ranged from undulating grooves, to hazy uneasy, to a ridiculously comedic exchange with the bandleader late in the set. Drummer Vince Cherico is the secret timbalero in this project, particularly with his hypnotic rimshots, woodblock and bell. Conguero Keisel Jimenez had fun taking a turn on the mic for a singalong, clapalong take of the old salsa classic Manteca. His fellow percussionist Carlos Maldonado fueled several upward trajectories with his boomy cajon while tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta ranged from incisive to balmy to taking a carefree turn on flute.

And the compositions were as wide-ranging as anyone could hope for. There was the shapeshifting, chuffing La Llorona, from one of many of O’Farrill’s ballet suites, scheduled for release on album this winter (if there isn’t lockdowner interference). He drew some laughs when he introduced a restless, lustrous jazz waltz arrangement of the old Scottish air She Moves Through the Fair as a shout-out to his heritage (check the last name for validation).

He explained the matter-of-factly crescendoing Compa’Doug as a portrait of two guys out at night raising hell, although the group took their time with the song’s careful, saturnine development before a rather sober evening rolled into the wee hours. El Sur, a Gabriel Alegria tune, wound out expansively from a Peruvian festejo beat to a hypnotically circular, almost qawwali-ish 6/8 groove with punchy incisions from the horns. And O’Farrill warned that his tune Tanguanco – a mashup of tango and a slinky Cuban rhythm – was dangerously sexy, the percussion section anchoring it with a turbulent undercurrent.

O’Farrill and the octet continue their renewed weekly residency at Birdland every Sunday night at 7 PM; cover s $20.

August 3, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting a Legendary New York Band From the 90s at Drom’s Summer Jazz Festival

It’s Saturday night in the East Village. Drom isn’t packed wall to wall like it was Thursday night for the Mingus Big Band, but there’s a healthy crowd, and it’s growing. Co-owner Serdar Ilhan takes a moment to reflect underneath the gorgeous sepia profile of the Galata Tower in Istanbul just to the right of the stage that greets customers as they walk in.

It’s the most metaphorically loaded, timely visual in any New York club these days: a fifteenth-century edifice, with a synagogue, a mosque and a church visible faintly in the background. Next year, Drom will be celebrating fifteen years of more US debuts of artists and bands from around the world than any other New York club can boast over that time. When did the club open? April of 2007? “I can’t remember,” Ilhan laughs. Then he goes over to the stage and gooses the smoke machine.

That seems a play to signal the band that it’s showtime. On one hand, it’s weird to see Groove Collective onstage, and a room full of people sitting at tables. But this isn’t the Groove Collective that used to pack the Mercury Lounge back in the mid-90s. Frontman and irrepressible freestylist Gordon, a.k.a. Nappy G flew the coop long ago. Not all of the core of the original band remain, and they aren’t the ubiquitous presence they were on the New York club circuit twenty-five years ago. But they’re just as original, and uncategorizable, and over the years have grown closer to being a straight-up jazz band. Which makes sense, considering that this show is part of Drom’s ongoing summer jazz festival.

And it’s date night, and maybe 90s nostalgia night too. There are a group of dancers gathered by the bar as well. The band find new ways to make two-chord vamps interesting, usually involving rhythm. The turbulent river thrown off by a sometimes four-person percussion section: drummer Genji Siraisi, conguero Chris Ifatoye Theberge, multi-percussionist Nina Creese and guest Peter Apfelbaum – contrasts with the often hypnotic insistence from Marcio Garcia’s piano and organ, and the looming ambience of trombonist Josh Roseman and saxophonist Jay Rodriguez.

What becomes clearest is how much the latin influence has come to the forefront in the band’s music. The clave goes doublespeed or halfspeed, Creese often serving as mistress of suspense. Apfelbaum teases the audience with a keyboard solo, running through a bunch of electric piano and organ patches, then switches to melodica for a deep dub breakdown before the groove is relaunched.

Rodriguez shifts between alto, tenor and flute while Roseman serves as co-anchor along with a new bassist, who has the circling riffs in his fingers. Meanwhile, the beat morphs from salsa to funk to trip-hop, a current-day dancefloor thud, and then a shuffling oldschool disco beat at the end of the night. Rodriguez ends up opting to cut loose with his most interesting, energetic riffage of the night early; Roseman, and eventually Apfelbaum on his usual tenor sax, do the opposite.

The next concert in Drom’s ongoing summer jazz festival is August 19 at 7 PM with a killer twinbill of double-threat Camille Thurman – who’s equally dazzling on the mic and the tenor sax – with the Darrell Green Trio, and also trombonist Conrad Herwig with his Quintet. Cover is $30; there’s also an absurdly cheap five-day festival pass for $100 available.

August 2, 2021 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment