Lucid Culture


A Darkly Memorable Duo Album by Saxophonist Thomas Giles and Pianist Liana Pailodze Harron

Under ordinary circumstances, an album titled Mysteries of the Macabre would be most likely to be found at Lucid Culture’s sister blog during the annual, October-long Halloween celebration of all things dark and creepy there. But these last several months have been all that. And it wouldn’t be fair to make you wait til the fall to hear saxophonist Thomas Giles and pianist Liana Pailodze Harron‘s album, streaming at Spotify. It’s a powerful and vivid reflection of our time.

Both artists dedicate themselves to popularizing the work of new and obscure artists: they make a good team. The album comprises four medium-length pieces, which are in general more haunting than outright macabre. The first work is Poeme for Saxophone and Piano, a partita by Asiya Korepanova. Giles enters on alto sax with just short of a shriek, then follows a steady, subtly dynamic series of allusively grim chromatic variations, employing a crystalline, oboe-like tone punctuated by foghorn trills. Harron doesn’t get to join the disquieted parade until the end. The obvious influence is Messiaen, a composer the duo will explore shortly.

They intertwine in a similarly somber, skeletal stroll in the next part, Harron fueling a turbulent drive and liquidly articulated cascades. Giles’ spacious, uneasily soaring minimalism finally lures Harron in to rise and fall, in an increasingly agitated theme. Korepanova may be best known as a pyrotechnic concert pianist, but this speaks mightily to her prowess as a composer.

Messiaen’s Theme et Variations is next, the two following a similarly determined if more muted path, Harron’s meticulous, icepick attack balanced by Giles’ floating legato, through the composer’s eerily chiming tonalities and an unexpectedly jaunty if enigmatic dance. Giles’ rise to a shivery, theremin-like timbre right before the piece winds down is breathtakng.

The two revel in the Gyorgi Ligeti piece from which the album takes its title, through initial poltergeist flickers, scrambling phantasmagoria, a dazzling display of circular breathing, from Giles, and some playful spoken word.

The concluding work is Jay Schwartz‘s Music for Saxophone and Piano. Giles parses spare, somber motives over just the hint of resonance from inside the piano, serving as an artful echo. From there Harron develops a bounding melody line as Giles’ tectonic sheets bend, weave and flurry. Rising and falling from a muted pavane to tense doppler sax and a grim quasi-boogie in the low lefthand, the musicians reach an ending that will take you by surprise. It’s a fitting conclusion to this darkly beguiling album.


March 31, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Celebration of Ukrainian Classical Music at a Pivotal Moment in History

In wartime, extremes always prevail in the public imagination. The fact is that the people of Ukraine had absolutely nothing to do with Vladimir Zelensky’s reckless provocation of the bellicose dictator next door, or the proliferation of American-built germ warfare labs which the Russians claim to have bombed into the stone age. Russian propaganda is no more trustworthy than MSNBC, so we don’t know if or to what degree their claim is true. At this moment in history, it seems like basic common sense to advocate for a rapid end to hostilities, not only for the sake of Ukraine’s diverse populations, but for all of us, considering what great musical contributions the country has given the world over the centuries.

One Ukrainian musician who’s given us great beauty lately is violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv. Her latest album Poems and Rhapsodies with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under Volodymyr Sirenko is streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of standard repertoire along with some fascinating rarities from her home turf.

She joins forces with cellist Sophie Shao in a lush, rapturous, tersely lyrical take of Saint-Saëns’ La muse et le poète to open the record. Ivakhiv’s elegant, downwardly stairstepping interlude draws sober reflection from Shao and pillowy ambience from the orchestra. From there Ivakhiv parses the dreamy atmosphere with a spun-steel precision, Shao holding down her role as brooding foil.

The drifting, enveloping ambience continues with Chausson’s Poème symphonique, Ivakhiv cutting through acerbically in this showcase for both her lower register and dynamics, Sirenko deftly exercising restraint until the magnificently determined peak before the end.

The centerpiece is a nimbly evocative take of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Sirenko opts for mystery and dancing precision as Ivakhiv mines the subtly enigmatic corners of the piece: this is a remarkably restless interpretation. Them again, that perception might be colored by having listened to the composer’s harrowing Symphony No. 6 on loop for much of last year: it’s no less relevant now.

The first of the rarities here is Anatol Kos-Anatolsky’s Poem for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, a moody, captivatingly Romantic kaleidoscope of Carpathian-tinged violin riffage, with moments of blustery brass and persistently wary lustre. It ought to be better known: Ivakhiv deserves props for unearthing it.

Kenneth Fuchs‘ American Rhapsody (Romance for Violin and Orchestra), a Robert Motherwell-inspired tone poem, has panoramic sweep and interweave between orchestral voices and Ivakhiv’s alternately stark and soaring lines. The ensemble close the album with another Ukrainian gem, Myroslav Skoryk’s Carpathian Rhapsody, making Bach and then phantasmagorical hi-de-ho jazz out of an ancient-sounding chromatic folk theme, All this underscores the need to preserve the culture that incubated this music

March 30, 2022 Posted by | children's music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pete Malinverni Celebrates Leonard Bernstein With a Colorful New Trio Album

Pete Malinverni relates a very funny incident in the liner notes to his new album On the Town – Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein, streaming at Spotify. In the spring of 1985, Bernstein showed up at an afterparty at a swanky midtown joint where the young Malinverni had a regular gig. Recognizing Bernstein, the pianist launched into Lucky to Be Me.

In the men’s room, a friend of Malinverni’s recognized the composer and remarked how much he liked the song. “I wrote that,” Bernstein replied. The friend seized the opportunity to bigup Malinverni to a major player in the music world, Moments later, Bernstein emerged from the bathroom and went straight to the stage. “Malinverni, I know everything about you,” he grinned, and spent much of the evening up front by the piano. Malinverni might well recreate some of the bill from that evening at his gig tomorrow night, March 30 at Mezzrow, where he’s playing at 7:30 and 9 PM with a trio. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

The point of the album is to have outside-the-box fun with a bunch of material that was already outside-the-box in many ways. Joined by bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jeff Hamilton, Malinverni opens  by reinventing New York New York with a gritty, syncopated intro and a punchy mambo swing. His little excursion down into the catacombs before choosing his spots to climb out, with a circumspect, harmonically enigmatic articulacy, dovetails perfectly with Bernstein’s eclectic imagination.

This particular take of Lucky to Be Me has a similarly emphatic swing, the pianist matching Hamilton’s spring-loaded pulse with his coyly dancing lines and a slyly funny recurrent quote. The trio remake Somewhere as a remarkably hopeful, thoughtful slow drag: this spacious version really sings.

Continuing with the West Side Story themes, Cool gets a deliciously suspenseful solo intro from Hamilton and a persistent undercurrent of unease despite the tightly romping energy. An unselfconscious, ragtime-inflected joy abounds in Simple Song, from Bernstein’s Mass, Malinverni shifting to a flitting, skeletal quasi-boogie as Hamilton mists the windows with his cymbals.

Returning to West Side Story, the trio do I Feel Pretty as an aptly lively, latin-tinged jazz waltz over Okegwo’s steady, subtly shifting harmonic underpinning. They switch to 12/8 for Lonely Town, which seems to be less a lament than an expression of guarded optimism, via Malinverni’s sprightly phrasing and a delicately intertwining bass/piano fugue.

You can hear as much Dave Brubeck as Bill Evans in Malinverni’s version of Some Other Time, Hamilton subtly building an undulating groove with the traps and cymbals behind the pianist’s even-keeled staccato. The biggest epic here is It’s Love, a swing tune given plenty of room to breathe. Malinverni winds up the album with an original, A Night on the Town, building a cheery swing from the central New York New York riff. We may have lost a quarter of our population in the past two years, but it’s great to have this New York-centric collection to celebrate what we have left.

March 29, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Change of Pace For the Perennially Interesting Daniel Carter

Daniel Carter is revered for his ability to walk into an improvised situation and invariably find a way to say something memorable with just a few notes. In recent years, his studio work has followed slow, thoughtful, conversational trajectories. His latest project Open Question’s initial album – which is mostly up at Bandcamp – is a change of pace, a largely midtempo improvised swing record. Carter pulls out most of his instrument collection here, playing clarinet, soprano, alto and tenor sax as well as trumpet and flute. Joining him in the repartee are Ayumi Ishito on tenor sax, Eric Plaks on piano and Wurlitzer, Zach Swanson on bass and Jon Panikkar on drums. For whatever reason, maybe the zeitgeist, this is a surprisingly dark record in places.

The first number is simply titled Blues, a (relatively) straightforward swing tune in a spontaneous late 70s Sam Rivers vein. Carter opens it with a moody, liquid clarinet line, the band pulsing along steadily, Ishito leading a series of waves with Carter following, Plaks pushing toward a more emphatic swing, deviating to a more murky atmosphere beneath Ishito’s balmy ambience while Carter switches to jaunty soprano. There’s a chromatically charged intertwine between the horns midway through, slightly altered parallel universes of quasi-blues, calm tremolos falling away for a fluttery, agitated coda.

Fragmented pieces of a forlorn ballad flit through the aptly titled Dimly-Lit Platform like the ghosts of homeless New Yorkers waiting in sleep-deprived limbo for the shelter of a late-night train. Carter pitches a few ideas on flute; the rest of the band follow in turn as Panikkar and Swanson coalesce to a subdued swing.

The big twenty-minute epic here is Confidential BBQ – it’s a fair bet that there have been more than a few in this city since March of 2020. Carter, on flute, stokes the grill calmly as the rest of the band chatter and echo in anticipation, Plaks’ piano holding the center. Carter chooses his spot to fire off a bracing motive, the group supplying muted clusters behind Ishito’s misty, reflective lines, which Carter picks up with his trumpet. Swanson latches onto a catchy, loopy riff to expand beyond; Ishito takes a vividly desolate solo break, joined by Plaks’ spare Wurly. From there the band explore a long, icily futuristic, dynamically shifting, Bob Belden-esque scenario.

The group return to a rather wistful swing with the final number, Synchronicity, which sounds nothing like the song by the Police. Carter opens it broodingly on soprano, then switches to tenor for a reflective conversation with Ishito, Plaks raising the energy with judicious rumble and punch. There’s some squall but sagacity as the group bring the wary energy full circle.

Carter turns up at so many gatherings of creative musicians that it’s impossible to keep track of him. And Ishito is part of an especially intriguing lineup at Downtown Music Gallery tomorrow evening, March 29 at 6:30 PM with ambient soundscaper Damien Olson and Nebula the Velvet Queen on theremin.

March 28, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Springtime Blossoms in Boston With a Concert of Vivid World Premieres

Last night at the Multicultural Art Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Juventas New Music Ensemble played eight verdant world premieres celebrating the Frederick Law Olmsted bicentennial. In a spot-on example of post-March 2020 programming, the bill was titled Lungs of the City. It was a breath of fresh air on many levels.

A subset of the ensemble – which comprised flutist Wei Zhao, clarinetist Wolcott Humphrey, horn player Anne Howarth, violinist Ryan Shannon, cellist Minjin Chung, violist Lu Yu and percussionist Thomas Schmidt – went off script to open with a sober arrangement the Ukrainian national anthem. With the stark cello introduction, it seemed like more of an elegy than a celebration of solidarity. Such are the times we live in.

The first piece on the program was The Forest and the Architect, by Christina Rusnak. The Portland, Oregon tableau began with elegantly cheerful passages spotted with moments of more somber reflection, moody clarinet over a gently emphatic march and a visceral sense of relief. Burred woodwind timbres and a dancing, enigmatic, circular theme quickly gave way to a lush pastorale and then a dance kicked off by woody flute tones. A terse interweave with lower pitches developed to mingle with the initial theme: this music breathed, deeply.

Ryan Suleiman‘s still, meditative Piece of Mind was inspired by Olmsted’s Brookline home workshop, as well as the Japanese concept of a park coexisting with nature rather than being imposed on its milieu. Subtly breathtaking long tones and circular breathing from the wind players were first punctuated by momentary sprouts in the ether, then the group slowly unfolded a calm series of harmonies. Like a muezzin, Chung’s cello sounded a bracing trill before the whole group returned to calmly shifting tectonic sheets.

That work’s minimalism was echoed more playfully by Libby Meyer‘s diptych Beauty of the Fields. Butterfly weed was brought to life by minutely oscillating overtones from Schmidt’s vibraphone behind a minimalistically balmy flute theme sailing on the breeze. With echoey percussion through a buzzy haze, evocations of muted insect activity and birdsong, her portrait of milkweed just might have involved somebody plucking a ripe stalk and blowing it on an unsuspecting neighbor.

Ayumi Okada‘s tantalizingly brief partita Golden Hour Walk at Fort Tryon Park traced the Washington Heights composer’s 2021 winter solstice stroll through her favorite spots there just as the sun was about to go down over the Hudson. It was characteristically evocative, beginning as a wistful pavane and growing more animated, with Carl Nielsen-esque echo phrases bouncing from voice to voice. Baroque inflections, elegantly intertwined horn and flute, and colorfully squirrelly pizzicato rose to a lushness that contrasted with shivery strings and silken flute lines. The final sunset theme became a gently wafting, Dvorakian singalong.

Composer Justin Ralls related that prior to creating parks, Olmsted worked as an undercover journalist chronicling the horrors of slavery in the American south, and that those experiences informed the democratic aspect of his designs. Ralls’ Olmsted 200: Theme and Variations reflected the bustle of the landscape assembled around Seattle’s Lincoln Reservoir. Somewhat akin to Peer Gynt taking a stroll in the garden, the group’s long tones coalesced from echoes of a familiar, sunny morning theme to a rather triumphant, steady, circular pulse fueled by the highs. Tight polyrhythmic counterpoint receded to a reflective, echoing quiet signaled by Schmidt’s lingering vibes.

The most unselfconsciously catchy piece on the bill was Michael-Thomas Foumai’s Indian-flavored mini-suite Olmsted Gardens. Anticipatory sprouts of melody pushed up, to a cheery carnatic flute theme followed by a deliciously coy, suspenseful interlude with film noir bongos, furtive individual voicings having devious fun in the shadows. The group took it out with an anthemic return to the initial dance.

Also on the bill were an unhurried, warmly crescendoing Oliver Caplan ballad without words, and a similarly fond summer pageant by Nell Shaw Cohen bookended around a cautious dance.

Those who missed the concert can catch the video of the entire performance here. Juventas New Music Ensemble’s next scheduled concert is June 5 at 6 PM at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts. Tickets are $18, ages 4-12 get in for $12.

March 27, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Smudges Bust Out With a Deviously Funny, Indomitable Debut String Jazz Album

Maggie Parkins and her sisters may have the best taste in instruments of any family of jazz luminaries. She plays cello. Sisters Zeena and Andrea (harp and accordion, respectively) share a love for eclectic sounds that defy categorization. Maggie’s husband Jeff Gauthier may be better known for running Cryptogramophone – one of the few record labels whose imprimatur carries genuine cred – but he’s also an inspired violinist. Together the two are the Smudges, who after years together have finally released their debut album, streaming at Bandcamp. In an era of endless virtue signaling and pomposity, we need more music as defiantly unserious and playfully entertaining as this.

It’s easy to lump the album under the rubric of jazz, but the influences run wild here, from the baroque to rocksteady to genre-busting acts like the Kronos and Turtle Island Quartets. Considering that the two musicians weathered the lockdown under the draconian Gavin Newsom regime in California, it’s amazing how they never lost their joie de vivre. Parkins, especially, seems to be in good spirits, spicing these songs with puckish pizzicato, sly glissandos and woozy electronic effects.

The duo dig in hard for the bright, stately opening number, Music of Chants, harmonizing with an Indian carnatic flavor. The album’s second track is Julius Caesar Eyebrows, which comes across as an edgy tarantella at halfspeed. The two rise from austere harmonies to stern fugal triplets, then Gauthier takes bracing, judicious steps and whirling riffs over Parkins’ biting, pedaled chords before the song comes around again.

They build The Gigue Is Up around a cheery riff that sounds straight out of Jamaica, 1966, Gauthier’s jaunty leaps and trills over Parkins’ lithely dancing incisions. Kasha’s Lament is ridiculously funny: beyond the good cop/bad cop dichotomy, no spoilers. The two run themselves through a series of hilariously goofy, warpy electronic patches to begin Matter of Time, but then get very serious. through a wary heroic theme before going completely off the rails again. Is this a cautionary tale about taking yourself too seriously?

Cartoonishly irresistible moments persist in the album’s most epic, noisiest number, the title track: the degree to which musicians can fixate on birdsong never ceases to amaze. Goodnatured amusement continues amid drifting ambience and jaunty syncopation in Blitva, then grows more puckish and fleeting in Palindromes. The two wind up the album with Release: just when you think this collection is mostly jokes, they throw this expertly articulated fugue at you. Beyond that, this is a rare string jazz party record. Spin this at your next get-together after everybody’s had a few and you will get lots of “Who the hell are these guys?”

March 27, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isaiah Collier Brings His Relentless Intensity to Drom Tomorrow Night

Isaiah Collier is not the guy you want to see if you want to mellow out for the evening. The powerful, purposeful saxophonist brings a rare intensity to the stage. If adrenaline is your thing, you do not want to miss his gig tomorrow night, March 27 at 7 PM at Drom, where he’s playing with his group the Chosen Few. The club has no restrictions; if you don’t already have your advance ticket, it’ll cost you twenty bucks at the door.

Collier is a prime example of the kind of musician who in all likelihood would have ended up in New York if he had been coming up twenty years ago, but who was priced out in the years afterward. No matter: he’s made a huge mark in his native Chicago. He has a handful of records out. Arguably the best of them is his 2019 trio release The Unapologetic Negro, a live set with bassist James Wenzel and drummer Marcus Evans recorded at the Coda Club Cafe in Chicago and streaming at Bandcamp.

This is a long album, with several numbers clocking in at over ten minutes, a luxury you can treat your listeners to if you aren’t constrained by the limits of a recording studio.. The first is Tri Steps, a savagely playful response to Coltrane’s Giant Steps, except with tritones. Lots of musicians have had fun with this concept over the years: Collier introduces his allusively creepy theme on soprano sax and immediately turns it over to Wenzel’s even more allusively dancing lines. Collier’s attack afterward has a laser focus and intensity: he gets a woody, otherworldly, duduk-like tone out of the soprano, with a steady, subtly oscillating timbre as Evans and Wenzel maintain a simmering pulse.

Collier gives Walk With Me Lord a bristling minor-key solo intro, his bandmates leading him into a haunting, biting minor blues over a lithely shimmering 12/8 groove. There’s a deliciously terse bass solo punctuated by slurry chords, Middle Eastern allusions and balletesque pointillisms. Collier sticking to a matter-of-fact intensity through a relentless , steady barrage of passing tones worthy of Otis Rush – another Chicago guy by the way. The lightning sax volleys as the song reaches escape velocity are Marshall Allen-class breathtaking.

A deviously enigmatic shuffle, Mr. Night has Wenzel and Evans engaging in a slyly knowing conversation, Collier switching to tenor for a swinging modal blues that lightens somewhat, his volleys reaching for the sky.

In Closed Doors, he goes back to soprano, beginning with sepulchral trills over Wenzel’s somberly hypnotic bass riffage, then follows a rapt, spacious, chromatic trajectory, sometimes pensive, sometimes outraged. The starkly polyrhythmic baroque blues between Collier and Wenzel midway through this practically thirteen-minute epic is unlike anything you’ve probably heard this year.

Retrograde Amian is a more, expansively thoughtful and restrained tableau that eventually hits a low-key, casual swing, the moment where Collier decides to be anything but with his duotones and smoldering tenor lines is another high point.

Collier works chromatically charged blues with hints of blue-flame roadhouse boogie and bolero noir in Mali: again, the shadowing between Wenzel and the bandleader is a mystery movie for the ears, with a dusky break for the rhythm section and a masterful descent to a regal touchdown. Collier goes completely off-mic for a joyously ragged outro on an out-of-tune piano.

The big twenty-three minute showstopper is 5874/ We Want Justice Right Now: Evans sets the stage with a suspensefully textured solo intro, Collier busting in with a lickety-split swing and variations on a brooding minor-key blues theme. Wry sax/drum exchanges rise to a brisk acerbity, transcending any ordinary goofy repartee. The trio follow with doublespeed agitation, a shamanic singalong and another haphazardly inspired off-mic Collier piano break;

They encore with the briskly catchy Ode to JD – a JD Allen shout-out, maybe? – with Collier on tenor, the group expanding on a catchy descending riff and variations.

March 26, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Intense Rarity and a Smalls Gig from Saxophonist Eric Alexander

In an era of generally dismal music memes, one of the rare auspicious developments has been the uptick in live albums. Live recording. which was the default setting until the mid-60s, makes sense on every level. One of the most enjoyable and rather unlikely  ones of recent years is tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander’s trio album Leap of Faith, which came out in 2019 but never made it to the web. And that’s too bad, because it’s an extremely rare opportunity to hear Alexander cut loose in a chordless trio format, something he hardly ever does.

Having Johnathan Blake behind the drum kit and Doug Weiss on bass raises the potential for spontaneous combustion several notches throughout a playlist culled from a couple of memorably bristling shows at the Jazz Gallery in 2018. Alexander is leading a quintet at Smalls, which has no restrictions, on March 29 at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door, and who knows, maybe you might be able to pick up a hard copy of this rare gem.

The album’s opening number, Luquitas has tightly clustering, judiciously clustering riffs over allusive chromatic changes, set to a hovercraft swing, in a vintage JD Allen vein. Weiss racewalks as Blake keeps the gyroscope spinning, Alexander building to a galloping intensity, running brisk eights and then giving the drummer a tantalizingly brief chance to air out his big kit.

Likewise, in Mars, Alexander makes slashing, modal blues improbably based on an autotune Disney pop song, Weiss once again leading the charge, then signaling for subtle polyrhythms over Blake’s nimble, relentless flurries, up to a pointillistic solo sprint.

Alexander takes an even rarer turn on piano, playing spaciously in between darkly wafting sax phrases in Corazon Perdido, bass and drums building a suspenseful rumble behind him. Hard Blues has Alexander switching between sage, sober, distantly 19th century tinged minor riffage with occasional angst-fueled wails and some breathtaking duotone figures over a slowly bounding groove.

Brooding JD Allen-esque modalities return in Frenzy, the group rising from a rather ominously atmospheric intro to a tightly controlled inferno, Alexander again ranging from quicksilver spirals to sagaciously spaced accents.

Blake plays ghostly pianissimo flickers in Big Richard, a fond, wistful elegy for Alexander’s dad punctuated by breathtakingly articulate glissandoing motives. He parses enigmatic Bartok themes in Magyar, over Weiss’ moody, terse bowing. The trio close with the epic Second Impression, opening with a catchy Brubeck paraphrase before launching into a brisk swing, Alexander choosing his spots for uneasy modalities, methodical sprints and moments to throw coal in the engine of this metroliner express. This might be the best record Alexander has ever made, and he’s done a whole bunch of good ones

March 25, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miki Yamanaka Swings Hard With a Few Simple Ingredients

Pianist Miki Yamanaka’s Human Dust Suite was one of the standout releases of 2020, a counterintuitiively colorful reflection inspired by Agnes Denes’ famous photo of cremated human remains. Yamanaka couldn’t wait until the lockdown was over, so she went DIY for her latest album, Stairway to the Stars, an intimate home recording streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a mix of standards, a lone original and a couple of more obscure tunes, the pianist joined at various points by bassist Orlando le Fleming and saxophonist Mark Turner.

While the idea of playing serious postbop swing without a drummer might seem bizarre, we’ve been living in bizarre times since March of 2020 and this is a prime example of how an inspired crew of musicians can work around that. No disrespect to our friends behind the kit, but if you think an album can’t swing without a drummer, you should hear this. At the moment, Yamanaka is back to leading a trio, with a gig at Smalls on March 28 with sets at 10:30 PM and midnight, where she’s leading the jam. Cover is $25 cash at the door

Yamanaka opens very strongly with a brisk, dancing take of Charlie Parker’s Cheryl, shifting subtly from deliciously defiant, phantasmagorical, Monkish modes to more comfortably bluesy territory and then back. Le Fleming gets to carry the song by himself and keeps it singing – something he does a lot on this album – Yamanaka punching in playfully as they wind it out.

My Melancholy Baby is anything but sad: again, Le Fleming rises to the challenge of more than simply walking the changes, while Yamanaka sticks with a straighforwardly lively game plan. Turner wafts and sails with his signature elegance over Yamanaka’s crisp chordal drive and pointillistic cascades in Steve Swallow’s Eiderdown

He takes his time with a hazy, off-center solo introduction to Ask Me Now, pulling the tune up onto the rails when Le Fleming steps in, Yamanaka quickly joining Turner’s cheery wee-hours atmosphere.

Le Fleming introduces Wonder with an enigmatically dancing solo before Yamanaka brings resonant rapture and then a forceful bossa drive. First person to figure out which famous Brazilian tune (or Monk tune, for that matter) that Yamanaka references in Oatmeal wins a prize. From there, she launches into a steady swing with Le Fleming as Turner floats wistfully overhead.

The way Le Fleming trails Yamanaka’s warmly paced Romanticisms in the album’s title track (the jazz standard, not the Blue Oyster Cult classic) is a neat touch. It’s the album’s most straightforwardly lyrical, gorgeous track. The trio wind up the album with a jaunty take of Tea For Two that viscerally attests to the joy of being able to play again after month after month of divide-and-conquer. May these three remain able to channel this kind of infectious energy wherever they want from now on..

March 24, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The World’s Funniest Jazz Band Explore Weird Pennsylvania

Since their beginning in the early zeros, Mostly Other People Do the Killing have built a wild and erudite career as the Spinal Tap of jazz. Their satire ranges from over-the-top cartoonishness, to layers and layers of inside jokes, to mimicry that sometimes so closely resembles the style they’re spoofing that it’s hard to distinguish it from the source material. And these guys go deep. Over the years they’ve flipped the bird to Count Basie, Ornette Coleman, and 80s fusion jazz in general, sometimes lovingly, sometimes with a snarky sneer.

They started out as a horn band, took a hiatus after multi-reedman Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans became occupied with, um, more serious projects and have lately reemerged as a piano trio. How does their latest album, Disasters Vol. 1 – streaming at Bandcamp – stack up against the rest of their magnificently twisted oeuvre? This spoof of lounge jazz and occasionally other genres is sick, cruel and as ridiculously funny as anything else the band have ever recorded. The sickest thing about it is that a lot of musicians play music that sounds exactly like this sometimes, and think it’s good.

As usual, all the songs on the album relate to a location in bassist and bandleader Moppa Elliott’s native Pennsylvania. This time, he expands the concept to disasters, most of them manmade. The group go straight for the ultimate Pennsylvania nightmare with the opening number, Three Mile Island. How lethal is it? Hardly. The liner notes, by longtime MOPDTK chronicler “Leonardo Featherweight” claim that it depicts a nuclear power plant meltdown in reverse, and that’s plausible, as the band coalesce from dissociative bubbles (both drummer Kevin Shea and pianist Ron Stabinsky muck around on Nord Electro here) to hints of blues and eventually a jaunty swing blues tune.

The second number, Exeter is where the howls really begin, Shea reprising his usual suspect role as a Jones more Spike than Elvin. This snide lounge jazz parody may or may not reflect the corporate cynicism of the owners of the Knox Mine, who in 1959 attempted to save a few bucks and drill a little too close to the Susquehanna riverbed. The resulting flood turned not only the mine but the area around it into an aquifer and effectively destroyed the local coal mining economy.

Marcus Hook, on the Delaware River, has been the site of more than one fiery collision involving an oil tanker. The band commemorate one or more of them via a succession of loungey cliches in what more pretentious types would call an electroacoustic performance.

Stabinsky gets to revisit his hometown of Wilkes-Barre in what is supposedly a tale of the 1972 flooding there in the wake of Hurricane Agnes, but seems more of a snotty bag of cheap fallback piano riffs. Then the band make a diptych out of Centralia (home to the eternal flame, or at least eternal smolder) and Johnstown (that one everybody knows, right?). In the first part, Elton John seems to be a target, maybe Vince Guaraldi too. The second is a fool’s paradise of a jazz waltz.

Elliott breaks out his bow for a long overdue spoof of Halloween jazz (and maybe Thelonious Monk) in Boyertown, where a horrific theatre fire claimed over a hundred lives in 1908. Dimock, best known as the town where tap water would burst into flames as a result of fracking run amok, is immortalized with an endless series of cheesy quotes run amok – the false ending is priceless. These merry pranksters wind up the record with an “alternate take” of Wilkes-Barre which is too venomously good to give away. Somewhere there’s a cynical music blogger who’s going to pick this as the best jazz album of the year.

March 22, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment