Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Gorgeously Anthemic New Album From Cellist Erik Friedlander

Cellist Erik Friedlander‘s new album A Queens’ Firefly – streaming at youtube – is one of the most tuneful and anthemic releases in a long and eclectic career. It’s his most energetic album in a long time: could it be that he and his bandmates were jumping out of their shoes just to be able to record again after more than a year in lockdown hell? Whatever the case, Friedlander’s quartet with pianist Uri Caine, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Ches Smith simmer and glimmer with an often darkly kinetic majesty.

They open with the title track, a warmly vamping nocturne set to an altered waltz beat. The bandleader’s airy midrange lines float over a tiptoeing Helias solo, Caine adding a spacious, lyrical solo.

Track two, Match Strikes has a funky sway, Caine’s incisive chords holding the center along with Helias’ pulse, then the bassist joins harmonies with the cello’s terse blues phrasing. Chandelier is a bouncy, edgily driving klezmer-jazz tune, Caine and Friedlander joining in tandem on the melody line, up to a terse cello solo

The album’s most expansive track is Glimmer, whose somber intro is a false alarm: Caine fuels a vampily anthemic, funky, triumphant 6/8 drive, the bandleader digging in hard for an incisive solo, up to some juicy spirals. The ballad Little Daily Miracles has a gorgeously twilit, glimmering sway, Caine’s neoromantic attack anchoring Friedlander’s emphatic, anthemic lines.

The group coalesce out of separate corners into a tightly syncopated interweave in Aurora: it’s the album’s hardest-hitting track. Friedlander plucks out a sunny oldschool soul riff and variations to open A Simple Radiance; Caine’s bittersweetly glittering, gospel-tinged solo is arguably the album’s high point.

The final cut is the aptly titled, bustling The Fire in You: imagine peak-era Dave Brubeck in a particularly Russian, trickily rhythmic moment, with strings. Fans of peak-era Jean-Luc Ponty, the early Turtle Island Quartet and 70s art-rock bands will love this stuff.

Friedlander’s gig page doesn’t list any upcoming shows, but Smith is playing Downtown Music Gallery on May 31 at around 7:30 PM with trumpeter Darren Johnston. The potentially combustible trio of guitarist Jessica Ackerley with saxophonist Erin Rogers and drummer Henry Mermer open the evening at 6:30; it’s a pass-the-tip-bucket situation.

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

A Pensive, Evocative Album by Jessica Ackerley and Daniel Carter

Guitarist Jessica Ackerley and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter‘s duo album Friendship: Lucid Shared Dreams and Time Travel is testament to fearlessness under duress. While music venues were shuttered in the 2020 totalitarian takeover, these two fixtures of the New York improvisational scene were keeping hope alive and playing outdoor shows. Convening in a Williamsburg studio late that summer, they recorded eight thoughtful rainy-day improvisations, streaming at Bandcamp.

Ackerley plays acoustic guitar here, with Carter on his usual mix of saxes, trumpet, flute, clarinet and occasional percussion. On the record, Ackerley is typically the acerbic one, stubbornly resisting any distinct major or minor resolutions while Carter generally serves as calm voice of reason.

To open, Ackerley plays opaquely lingering, trebly chords as Carter’s sax wafts gently overhead. Track two begins more spare and wintry, Carter maintaining a balmy presence punctuated by a few wary trills until Ackerley shifts into more emphatic territory.

The third track begins sparsely, Ackerley’s strumming rising with hints of flamenco. She backs away, then returns with a spikier, more precise attack in the aptly titled Dream State: Carter’s sax descends from the clouds to goose his bandmate’s phrasing and pull her toward more frenetic and then immersive territory

Lucid Dreamer features spaciously strolling guitar underpinning wafting flute, then grows with waves of energy and descends to lullaby ambience. Hidden Truths is another aptly titled number, Carter picking up with an occcasionaly microtone-fueled edge as Ackerley runs an insistent, mysterious percussive riff, then follows a squirrelly, somewhat furtive trail. A hazy thicket of sound ensues, as does the persistent comforting/disquieting dichotomy that permeates the album.

Carter develops a fond sax ballad as Ackerley scrambles to find her footing in Foreknowledge, He switches to clarinet for a woodsy intro to the final number, Awakening, Ackerley building quickly to a hypnotic, hammering pulse. It ends decidedly unresolved.

There’s no telling where Carter could be next – maybe several places on a single evening. Ackerley’s next gig is on May 31 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery as part of an intriguing, potentially pyrotechnic trio with saxophonist Erin Rogers and drummer Henry Mermer, followed by the duo of trumpeter Darren Johnston and drummer Ches Smith.

May 27, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drummer Kresten Osgood Airs Out His Funky Chops on Hammond Organ

Here in the west we emphasize musical specialization to the point of absurdity. In the Middle East and Africa, pretty much everybody is expected to be a competent drummer: after that. you find your own axe or axes. In that context, it’s less surprising that Kresten Osgood, the popular Danish drummer, would also turn out to be a very inspired organist. His new album, Kresten Osgood Plays the Organ for You is due to hit his Bandcamp page on June 3.

After playing behind the kit for organists including Dr. Lonnie Smith and Billy Preston, Osgood decided to take matters into his own hands and leave the organ envy behind. The result is a purposeful, thoughtful party record.

The opening number. Play it Back features Osgood’s steady, catchy, vampy riffage over a loose-limbed groove with Fridolin Nordsø on chicken-scratch wah-wah guitar, Ludomir Dietl on drums and Arto Eriksen on percussion. Exactly what you would expect from a drummer: everybody is in on the beats!

Osgood really chooses his spots from there, spacing his clusters, spirals and a logical, playful counterpoint in the second track, Poinciana. The group make their way through the slowly swaying thicket of percussion in Wildfire, a catchy Booker T-style theme with an incisive, psychedelic wah solo from Nordsø

Når lyset Bryder Frem – “when the lights go on,” roughly translated – is a warmly major-key retro 60s soul-funk tune. Osgood wraps his hands around some big chords in his longest, most undulating tune here, Baby Let Me Take You in My Arms, Nordsø taking off into space and spinning back down to earth before the jungle of beats takes centerstage.

The band pick up with a harder edge in Onsaya Joy, then Osgood launches into the catchiest, but also most complex number on the album, Dansevise, with its shifts between major and minor, jazz and 60s psychedelic soul.

The quartet wind up the record with a bouncy midtempo funk cover of By The Time I Get to Phoenix Osgood artfully edging his way into the melody. His next New York gig is behind the kit on May 28 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery, in an interesting improvisational trio with trumpeter Herb Robertson and tuba player Marcus Rojas.

May 26, 2022 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lyrical Jazz Piano Icon Bill Mays Plays a Rare Small-Room Stand in Manhattan

Pianist Bill Mays was playing catchy tunes decades before “translucent” became the latest word for a melody that sticks in your head. It’s hard to believe that last year marked a half century since he made his first record – backing Sarah Vaughan, no less. Mays did not let the lockdown get in the way of his vast creative output: he has a bunch of new tunes and a rare small-room Manhattan gig coming up this May 27 and 28 at Mezzrow, with bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Ron Vincent. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door. If you’re going you might want to get there early.

For all his melodicism, Mays also has a dark side, epitomized by his work on the Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks classic Moving Through Time. Might there be an album in the extensive Mays catalog that captures that sensibility and can be heard without falling back on evil, censorious Spotify? Fortuitously, yes! In 2018, Vancouver saxophonist PJ Perry and Mays did an unhurried, unselfconsciously gorgeous duo album, This Quiet Room, which is still up at Bandcamp.

They open with Parisian Thoroughfare. a cheery, Gershwinian stroll where they follow through variations on a stubborn riff down into resolution, with some nimbly articulated clusters from Mays. They reinvent In My Life as a slow waltz. Perry’s airy sax contrasting with Mays’ sober, terse piano. When he takes an unexpected detour into the noir, the effect is quietly breathtaking.

Perry’s muscular spirals take centerstage over Mays’ incisive chords as the two pick up the pace in Laird Baird. After that, Mays delivers a bright, thoughtfully paced, glittering solo take of The Folks Who Live on the Hill that segues into Two For The Road, the latter with some balmy work from Perry.

The two balance Perry’s fond resonance with Mays’ occasional hints of disquiet in the slow, warmly methodical, waltzing ballad Alice Blue Gown, a dichotomy that’s even more striking in their take of There’s a Small Hotel, right through Mays’ emphatic stride as the two wind it up.

Brooding modalities permeate the simmering bossa nova Beija Flor, then they romp through a determined, resonant version of East of the Sun. Perry saves his most fondly lyrical work on the record for the title track, bobbing and weaving over Mays’ tersely assembled, spacious backdrop.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Mays gig, it was January, 2018 at the now-abandoned weekly series at St. Peter’s Church at Lexington and 54th, where the crowd just walked in without a care and filled up the benches even though it was the peak of cold and flu season. There was a veteran singer on the bill and she had pitch trouble, which brought the energy down. But it was rewarding to see Mays get a chance to parse the showtune side of the jazz repertoire with his usual sagacity and funefulness.

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

New Bojaira Bring Flamenco Jazz Drama and Mystery to Alphabet City

In Spain, a bojaira is an irrigation canal which originated in Moorish antiquity. New Bojaira play a kinetic, distinctively Spanish style of music which draws equally on flamenco and American jazz, with several latin sounds mixed in. Bandleader/pianist Jesus Hernández blends a resonant chordal attack with a keen sense of the blues. They’re bringing their dynamic show to Drom on May 26 at 7:30 PM; you can get in for $20 in advance. As a bonus, the arguably even fierier, Balkan-tinged New York Gypsy All-Stars play afterward at 9:30.

Like most New York bands, New Bojaira haven’t recorded an album since before the 2020 lockdown. Their most recent release Zorongo Blu came out in 2017 and is streaming at their music page.

How demonic is the opening number. El Demonio Llama a Mi Puerta (Soleá Blues)? Not particularly. Hernández shifts elegantly through a series of rhythms in tandem with bassist Tim Ferguson and drummer Mark Holen, guest Randy Brecker contributing a couple of spacious, thoughtful trumpet solos. In his impassioned, melismatic voice, singer Alfonso Cid pays tribute to the pleasures of the night.

Jaleos del Celoso Extremeño (hard to translate – “jealousy is a bitch,” more or less) is more rhythmically tricky and bustling, Peter Brainin contributing a couple of fanged, acidic solos on soprano sax. La Africana (Guajira) begins on the slow and intense side, Cid’s flute intertwining with Brainin’s smoky tenor sax for suspenseful, rather otherworldly harmonies, echoed by Hernández’s tantalizingly glittery lines a little later.

Ferguson opens Green Room with a slinky solo, Hernández swinging it with a catchy chordal punch: it’s a cabaret anthem without words. Farruca de Argel features flamenco star Sergio Gómez el Colorao weaving wintrily above the the artfully syncopated sway as Hernández edges further outside.

Brainin trills and sails through the group’s cover of Round Midnight, reinvented as a boomy bossa with an understatedly simmering piano solo and an incisive one from the bass. Cid offers a fervent invocation to open the album’s title track, Hernández fanning the flames with a spiraling, glistening solo.

Holen ices the atmosphere with his cymbals to open Ese Meneo (That Wiggle), the group working a tightly circling triplet groove over Hernández’s lingering chords as the song grows more wryly anthemic, in a Fats Waller vein.

No Encuentro Tu Pasión (meaning essentially “I can’t get to you”) is a rumba with loose-limbed bass and piano solos, and tastily chromatic, blustery flute. The album’s final cut is Vente Pa’ Broadway, Hernández’s immersive Rhodes piano contrasting with the ecstatic buleria rhythm. Global travel may be problematic right now but this band can transport you to a moonlit Granada of the mind.

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

An Inspired, Dynamic Live Debut Album by the Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band

Drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s debut album with his big band, Soul Conversations – streaming at Spotify – sounds like one of those exuberant field recordings that jazz clubs love to play before shows. They get everybody drinking and they’re full of juicy solos. And it’s all but impossible to hear them ever again. This one you can.

Recorded at Lincoln Center before that venue was weaponized for totalitarian divide-and-conquer and lethal injection schemes, it’s on the trebly, boomy side: it sounds like a monitor mix. The group, comprised largely of up-and-coming New York players, open with a brassy. hard-swinging take of Dizzy Gillespie’s Two Bass Hit. Trumpeter Wyatt Forhan’s wildly spinning solo and baritone saxophonist Andy Gatauskas’s droll break before a similarly devious false ending are the highlights.

The tropically lustrous London Town, by trumpeter Benny Benack III features balmy work from the composer and guest vibraphonist Stefon Harris. Beardom X, a terse Owens swing tune, has a punchy bass solo from Yasushi Nakamura, pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi piercing the lustre before tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera adds bluesy gravitas and shivery intensity.

Red Chair is a wickedly catchy jazz waltz, trombonist Eric Miller choosing his spots up to a fleetingly bright crescendo, Ohbayashi’s bright chords and judicious glimmer fueling the next one. It’s the high point of the album.

Owens propels the group through a briskly shuffling take of Giant Steps, Rivera and fellow tenorist Daniel Dickinson conversing energetically. On alto sax, Alexa Tarantino dances sagely in an immersive, lushly lyrical Language of Flowers.

Human Nature, the cheesy Michael Jackson ballad, is a less than ideal vehicle for this group, even with Harris’ vividly twinkly vibes. But Owens’ decision to make a deadpan 12/8 ballad out of Neal Hefti’s Girl Talk is irresistibly funny and validates anyone who ever suffered through another band’s florid take.

Charles Turner III sings his swing blues Harlem Harlem Harlem, through a long series of intros to a spine-tingling, cascading Erena Terakubo alto solo, soulfully energy from trombonist Michael Dease and a ridiculously comedic cameo from trumpeter Summer Camargo. They close the record with the title track, Tarantino spiraling amid the contentedly New Orleans-flavored nocturnal ambience.

And what about the leader? He often plays with a very oldschool 50s flair here: lots of offbeat shuffles and vaudevillian cymbal flourishes. Close your eyes and this could be Max Roach with a careeningly energetic crew in front of him. It’s become a familiar refrain here, but more artists and particularly large ensembles like this should make live albums. Owens’ gig page doesn’t have any shows listed; among the band members here in New York, Tarantino is playing Ellington and Nat Cole tunes tonight and tomorrow night, May 23 and 24 at Bryant Park at 5:30 PM with members of the American Symphony Orchestra.

May 23, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gorgeous, New York-Centric Album and a Drom Show From Bassist Manel Fortià

There haven’t been a lot of jazz triplebills in New York this year, unless you count the option of spending from early evening to the wee hours at Smalls. A much more briskly paced, enticing jazz triplebill is happening this May 21 at 6:30 PM at Drom, where the duo of Greek vibraphonist Christos Rafalides and pianist Giovanni Mirabassi open the night, followed by ubiquitously tuneful Spanish bassist Manel Fortia and his band and then poignant, captivating Greek singer Eleni Arapoglou. You can get in for twenty bucks in advance.

Fortià’s new album Despertar (which could translate either as “awakening” or “waking up,” depending on context) is streaming at Spotify. It’s a gorgeously picturesque, immersively nocturnal, sometimes deviously funny New York-themed dreamscape: it wouldn’t be an overstatement to compare this to anything Fortià’s compatriot Chano Dominguez has released lately.

The first number, Dormir has a dark, spacious sense of anticipation, Fortià’s bass gently puncturing the glistening resonance of Marco Mezquida’s piano over drummer Raphaël Pannier’s meticulous brushwork.

Circular – possibly the first-ever jazz portrait of the JFK airport airtrain – has an elegantly undulating sway and a glistening forward drive that grows more hypnotic as the piano and drums build a spiraling, clustering intensity. Traveling underground has seldom been as picturesque – the ending is too spot-on to give away.

Saudades – Fortià’s shout-out to his old stomping ground in Astoria – has a spring-loaded 12/8 groove, the bassist pulling tensely away from the center as Mezquida ripples enigmatically and Pannier weaves mysteriously in and out of the picture. Like an awful lot of musicians, Fortià’s decision to leave New York was emotionally fraught.

The slow, raptly Harlem-themed Espiritual has a hushedly syncopated oldtime gospel melody and another ending that’s too good to spoil. Fortià’s bass dances tersely over a single, portentous piano chord as the glistening nocturne, El Día Después begins, then Mirabassi builds somber atmosphere in tandem with Pannier’s muted brushwork, up to a terse, spring-loaded bass solo. It’s an understatedly haunting requiem for the 2017 Barcelona train bombing.

Crescente comes across more as a lively depiction of Grand Central passengers strolling to weekend trains than of any kind of afterwork pandemonium – although Pannier’s Metro North beats are priceless. A rumbling circularity gives way to a Piazzolla-esque anthem in Aires de Libertad, a Prospect Park pastorale.

Simple – a salute to the Colombian neighborhood in Jackson Heights – is an exuberantly crescendoing, folk-tinged jazz waltz. Fortià winds up the album with the title cut, shifting from a series of suspenseful intros to a tiptoeing bass solo and a triumphant, raga-esque coda. Let’s hope this brilliant band stays together and we can hear more from them.

May 19, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical Pianist Ruth Slenczynska Releases a Thoughtfully Lyrical New Album With a Record-Breaking Backstory

Pianist Ruth Slenczynska’s new album My Life in Music – streaming at Spotify – is an attractive and individualistic mix of standard repertoire and a handful of surprises.

She opens with a thoughtfully opulent take of Rachmaninoff’s Daisies, from his Romances, Op. 18 and follows with his Prelude No.5 in G major with its dancing, glittery righthand clusters. She plays Samuel Barber’s Nocturne (Homage to John Field) with a considered, brooding simmer. She gives a deadpan steadiness but also a determined grit to a considerably different, ragtime-tinged Barber tune, Let’s Sit It Out and Wait, from his suite Fresh From West Chester.

Slenczynska opts for a balletesque grace in Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante in Eb, op. 18, eschewing the floridness so many other pianists give it, an approach that works equally well a little later in Grieg’s Wedding Day in Trodhaugen. And in her hands, her tenderly yet playfully articulated version of Chopin’s famous Berceuse is a revelation: those echo effects are irresistible. As is her generous use of space in an unselfconsciously unhurried interpretation of Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair.

The other Chopin pieces here have similarly distinctive insights. There’s a lowlit Etude No. 3 in E Major, and a cheery, strolling Prelude in G Major, Op. 18. The longest and most energetic work here is the Fantaisie in F Minor: Slenczynska slows much of it down practically to dirge speed and volume, an effect which is both comedic and enlightening, as she picks up a remarkable amount of detail and dramatic contrast. She closes the album with a methodically articulated version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C# minor, BWV 849.

Now for the punchline: Slenczynska is 97 years old. It is astonishing how undiminished both her chops and her ideas are.

She made her stage debut at four, her European debut at five. Every major pianist of the 1930s including Sergei Rachmaninoff was eager to coach her. She is his last living student; she treasures the Faberge egg necklace he gave her. She would go on to record ten albums and tour the world, earning a reputation as a very colorful, entertaining performer. This new album is her first in sixty years, undoubtedly a record-breaking achievement. Let’s hope she got at least a two-album deal out of it.

May 7, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The London Symphony Orchestra Return With an Epically Efficient Double Live Stravinsky Album

The London Symphony Orchestra‘s live recording of Vaughan Williams’ Fourth and Sixth Symphonies topped the list of the best albums of 2021 at Lucid Cuture’s sister blog, across all styles of music. Released at a moment when it was not clear whether they would ever play again, these harrowing, impassioned, often violent performances captured the state of the world in the months following the fateful events of March 2020 better than any other record last year.

So how beautiful is it to know that the orchestra are back together, performing again and releasing more live albums from their seemingly inexhaustible archives? Their latest is an epic double live album from two September, 2017 dates at the Barbican featuring Simon Rattle conducting Stravinsky’s three iconic ballet scores: The Firebird, Petrouchka and the Rite of Spring. While the 1961 Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky studio recordings by what was essentially a pickup orchestra of A-list New York musicians remains a favorite, this one – streaming at Spotify – is distinctive and individualistic, and rewarding for many different reasons.

The Firebird is pillowy and on the brisk side. A dance troupe would get quite the workout spiraling across the stage to this. From the almost imperceptible fade up, Rattle makes it clear that this defining work of what would become noir cinematic music is first and foremost a nocturne. The pulse is stiletto-precise, especially in the few minutes leading up to the lush, starry capture scene. The exchanges between Olivier Stankiewicz’s oboe and Bryn Lewis’ harp are ghostly and fleeting, as are the high woodwinds in the scene with the princess and the golden apple. And yet, Stankiewicz’s approach is strikingly blunt in the famous interlude barely a minute later.

As Rattle saw it that night, the devil in the even more famous diabolical dance seems to be a mathematician, although those numbers are pixelated rather than crunched. That the orchestra manage to keep such a meticulous balance at this speed is breathtaking, although this version is several steps short of the blunderbuss attack Leonard Bernstein would follow in its most explosive moments.

The second work (spelled “Petrushka” if you’re looking to pull it up as a stand-alone piece) has welcome bluster in places, although Rattle also goes for lushness and precision more than febrile intensity: for all we know, a ballet company really could be pirouetting and leaping in front of them. The “Russian dance” is far more scintillating than rustic, but the scene after in the protagonist’s cell is as cinematic and majestically frantic as you could want. Mutedly striding mystery, clamoring brass, portentous low strings and devious winds all shine in this very high-definition portrait.

An enigmatic, mysterious sensibility lingers in the rare calmer moments of The Rite of Spring, an uncommon, welcome touch. There’s Slavic ruggedness but also a steely precision: f you want a fullscale bacchanal, sink your teeth into the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s live recording from 2015 – whoomp!

This is all about clarity and distinctive voices: hostages are seized, but with nimble choreography. Likewise, the series of string swells and pulsing low brass are revelatory late in the first movement, such that it is. Rattle’s attention to detail brings out unexpected humor in the occasional quirky curlicue or offbeat percussion riff: there are innumerable levels of meaning that may be new to a lot of listeners

The London Symphony Orchestra’s next symphonic performance is May 8 at 7 PM at the Barbican in London with Dima Slobodeniouk conducting Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium and Sibelius’ Symphony No 2. Baiba Skride is the violin soloist; you can get in for £18. The orchestra also offer what they call a “wildcard” option for last-minute rush tickets for even less in case the concert isn’t sold out.

May 4, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Gem From the Golden Age of Jazz Returns to a Favorite Outdoor Midtown Spot This Week

In more normal times, during the warmer months there’s been a long-running weekday series of solo jazz piano performances on the back terrace at Bryant Park, right behind the library. Typically, there are two sets starting at about half past noon. The quality of the musicians is all over the place. Many are relative unknowns, and some of them can be quite good, bringing Asian and latin influences to the music.

Over the years, a few big names have performed here, as have a lot of hacks who have weaseled their way into the good graces of whoever programs these things around town. Because the piano is an electric model, it can have a humbling effect on world-class performers. Interestingly enough, one of the pianists who has figured out how to make it sing is an unlikely candidate: Bertha Hope. She’s playing there every day for the rest of this week through Friday the sixth.

Hope’s thing is songs without words. She’s in her eighties now, still vital, and plays with an unhurried, uncluttered style. She typically plays chords and riffs in the lefthand rather than walking the bass. Her sound draws more on ragtime than blues or swing. As you would expect from someone with her experience, there’s both warmth and a casual gravitas in her songs. This blog most recently caught one of her park shows on a hazy Friday afternoon in July of 2019, where the heat didn’t wear her down and she seemed determined to take advantage of every minute of time she’d been given onstage. Casually and methodically, she made her way through a mix of originals and a few early swing tunes going back to the 30s.

Hope got her start in the 1950s alongside her pianist husband Elmo, who died young in the following decade. She eventually made her way east from her native Los Angeles, put out a respectable number of albums and earlier in this century was rediscovered as one of the attractions at a wildly popular weekly Harlem musicians union jam session. Her records, if you can find them, are worth a listen; she is underrepresented on the web. If the undeservedly obscure fringes of jazz are your thing and you have some time to spend in midtown this week, you will be rewarded if you listen closely.

May 4, 2022 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment