Lucid Culture


A Rare Outdoor Concert by Powerhouse Saxophonist Eric Wyatt on His Home Turf

Tenor saxophonist Eric Wyatt plays a hard-hitting, no-nonsense style of postbop jazz that he developed not in hushed Manhattan listening rooms but in the wee hours at dives deep in his native Brooklyn. For Wyatt, jazz is entertainment, but also part of a tradition that for him has a cutoff point about 1959. If a smoky, purist oldschool sound is your thing, he’s playing a rare daytime show at noon on August 2 with a group TBA at Columbus Park, Cadman Plaza East and Johnson St. in downtown Brooklyn, a couple of blocks down Court St. from Borough Hall.

Wyatt’s most memorable album, Borough of Kings, came out in 2014. It’s probably the wildest record that the Posi-Tone label ever put out and it may not have sold well because they never put out another one. The band have a feral, careening time through a mix of postbop originals that frequently fade out instead of ending cold. There are pros and cons with that kind of haphazard approach, but it goes to show how hard it probably was to rein in Wyatt’s propensity for unhinged energy in a studio setting.

There’s more recent Wyatt out there, one prime example being an hourlong video from the jam session at Smalls, which he frequently leads. This one’s from New Years Day, 2022 (actually January 2 considering that the jam there invariably starts sometime after midnight). There doesn’t seem to be much of a crowd in the house, and Wyatt starts out in a slightly more subdued mood. Here he’s leading a quartet with an extrovert drummer (who isn’t credited in the shownotes or at the Smalls event page), along with Benito Gonzalez on piano and Jason Maximo Clotter on bass.

The tumbling drums match Gonzalez’s insistent lefthand crunch as Wyatt chooses his spots with a modal smolder in the first number, a Mongo Santamaria tune. As the set goes on, Wyatt seldom veers far from that intensity. Gonzalez relishes his chance to do his own hard-hitting chromatic thing up the scale over the crash and burn behind him.

The band hit a loosely tethered swing in Sonny Rollins’ Silver City, Wyatt gruff and acerbic but also wickedly precise with his arpeggios, balancing that with little more than a hint of the savagery he can conjure. Gonzalez relentlessly evades anything approximating major or minor; Clotter evokes burbling horn voicings with his cheery solo. Gonzalez finally takes it to Cuba at the end.

Wyatt keeps his modal edge through a McCoy Tyner tune that Gonzalez brought to the session, the pianist exploring it with a slightly more light-fingered attack over the rhythm section’s staggered swing. By now, the conversations are starting, Gonzalez shadowing Wyatt as the drummer fuels the blaze.

Oh yeah, if you’re wondering where Wyatt gets his sound, his godfather is Sonny Rollins.


July 31, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playful and Pensively Picturesque Themes with the Knights at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell was the second performance of the summer by irrepressible, shapeshifting orchestra the Knights. It wasn’t as deviously thematic as their first night here last month, where they paired Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” In a more general sense, yesterday evening’s theme was pastiches, both musical and visual.

The group opened with the world premiere of a collaboration between several of their members, Keeping On, whose genesis dates back a few years to when they were messing around with a famous Beethoven riff during practice.

Fast forward to the 2020 lockdown: conductor Colin Jacobsen pondered what John Adams might have done with it, then emailed his sketch to members of the orchestra – which disgraced Governor Andrew Cuomo had infamously put on ice – and asked for their contributions. Several sent theirs back; horn player Mike Atkinson wove them together into a contiguous whole. The famous, fateful riff eventually revealed itself midway through; otherwise, it was a characteristically entertaining little work, from its insistent, minimalist intro to a series of briskly crescendoing phrases making their way around the orchestra, Carl Nielsen style, then bells from the percussion section and hip-hop-influenced vocal harmonies from violinist Christina Courtin and flutist Alex Sopp! An insider orchestral joke that translates to general audiences, who would have thought?

Violin soloist Lara St. John then joined them for the New York premiere of Avner Dorman‘s Violin Concerto No. 2, Nigunim, based on a series of traditional Jewish melodies. The opening Adagio Religioso rose from a hazy theme in the hauntingly chromatic freygische mode to a brief, somber stateliness, then St. John immediately slashed her way through her first cadenza. The pregnant pause afterward was a striking setup for the otherworldly drift and then the undulatingly acidic dance afterward, St. John’s razorwire waltz sailing overhead.

Her fleeting, ghostly incisions flitted over a mist as the second movement got underway, the orchestra almost imperceptibly returning to the astringency and chromatic bite of the previous interlude. Their leap into a suspensefully pulsing klezmer dance was irresistibly fun; St. John led the procession back to disquieting close harmonies and strangely celestial harmonics radiating throughout the string section, up to a jaunty coda.

She and a handful of the string players then surprised the crowd by literally dancing through a lightning-fast, wryly harmonically-infused jam on a traditional klezmer dance.

After the intermission, they concluded with an insightfully picturesque take of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. A Bach-like somberness pervaded the anthemic, initial andante movement, underscoring how much that rugged coastline had impacted a 20-year-old urban Jewish classical rockstar. The brief, massed stilletto passages from the brass were all the more impressive considering that this was an outdoor show, although by half past eight the temperature had dropped to a perfect mid-seventies calm.

The luscious textural contrast between the midrange brass and strings fell away for a ragged run through the goofy country dance that introduced movement two: a moment of sarcasm, maybe? Whatever the case, it worked with the crowd.

The somber lushness of the adagio third movement was inescapable: it’s one thing to credit the young composer for his balance of brass, winds and strings throughout moody and occasionally portentous, martial themes, but the orchestra nailed them, one by one. The succession of Mozartean motives and punchy Germanic phrases on the way out – and deftly executed melismas from the strings – wound it up with a characteristic ebullience.

The final Naumburg Bandshell concert in Central Park this summer is on August 2 at 7:30 PM with self-conducted string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra playing works by Adolphus Hailstork, Peruvian themes arranged by Maureen Nelson and the group’s arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden.” Take the 72nd St. entrance; get there an hour early, at least, if you want a seat.

July 27, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Welcome Return From Obscurity by a New York Romany Jazz Outfit

For many years before the 2020 lockdown, the music school around the corner from St. Marks Park in the East Village put on a weekly series of free lunchtime concerts in front of the church just west of Second Avenue. These ran the gamut from jazz, to klezmer and various styles from the tropics. Back in the early teens, you would see homeless people converging on the space, seemingly out of nowhere, right before the end of the show. That’s because the organizers frequently gave away cookies when the band finished up. The series has returned this year, and it’s very unlikely that there will be cookies for the final show there on July 28 at half past noon. But if you live or work in the neighborhood, you can catch a rare appearance by a group who’ve played there a few times, Gypsy Jazz Caravan.

This may be their first show since the lockdown – beyond an old Reverbnation page, you have to go to the Wayback Machine to find out much of anything about them. They play mostly originals in the time-honored Django Reinhardt tradition, plus a few covers like La Vie En Rose where their sense of humor comes through. This blog was in the house (or, more specifically, in the shade of a tree across the street) for an enjoyably purist, pretty low-key show they played there on a steamy June afternoon in 2016.

Violinist Rob Thomas, lead guitarist Marc Daine, rhythm guitarist Glenn Tosto and bassist Mike Weatherly’s four tracks on the Reverbnation page give you a good idea of what they’re about. With the first one, Bossa Roma. they underscore how effective it can be when you switch out a brisk shuffle beat for a slinky clave groove in order to transform a wistful Romany jazz melody. Their La Vie En Rose cover has some characteristically sly flourishes, while Le Musette de L’Arrogance, a sprightly, biting minor-key waltz, has Thomas doubling Daine’s melody line with a stark melismatic edge..

If you want more Gypsy Jazz Caravan, their 2006 album Pour Les Zazous is up at youtube. The songs are a lot more diverse than all the shredders in the Django cult typically play. One of the highlights among the shuffle tunes is the enigmatic Torment in A Minor; another is the bittersweetly strolling Do the Promenade. If you want a sentimental waltz, White Hotel is for you. The best song on it is Land of the Lonely, with Daine’s spiky leads and Thomas’ shivery intensity. If you miss Stephane Wrembel’s legendary residencies around town, this may be as good as it gets for that style of music right now in New York.

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

A Week in the Park With One of New York’s Most Colorful Jazz Pianists

Pianist Joel Forrester is one of the great wits and great tunesmiths in jazz. The co-founder of the colorful, cinematic Microscopic Septet may be best known for writing a famous radio theme for a network which enjoyed a multimillion-listener following in the decades before it was weaponized in the 2020 mass compliance campaign. Since the 80s, Forrester has also pursued a solo career infused with a sardonic wit that’s sometimes cartoonish, sometimes very slyly subtle. He’s playing a weeklong solo stand starting July 25 through 29 at half past noon outdoors on the back terrace behind the library at Bryant Park.

One good record that’s worth a spin if you’re thinking checking out any of these performance is his characteristically playful duo album Status Sphere with tenor saxophonist Vito Dieterle, which hit the web right before the lockdown and is streaming at youtube. It’s a mix of both obscure and familiar tunes by Forrester’s big influence, Thelonious Monk, along with a handful of originals.

The two musicians open with Work, the proprietor of swanky New York jazz club the Django taking the melody line with a carefree, smoky approach as Forrester works a jaunty stride pulse. The duo make a slow, turbo-hydramaticized drag out of Crepuscule With Nellie, which they reprise even more expansively at the end of the album.

The first of the Forrester tunes, Mock Time is a catchy swing number built around a bouncy series of descending riffs, Dieterle adding edgy flourishes. Forrester’s subtle dynamic shifts and sudden coy accents anchor Dieterle’s calm lyricism in their take of Ruby My Dear.

Forrester’s Requiem For Aunt Honey is a fondly swaying, gospel-tinged song without words. A return to Monk with a deviously offbeat version, spring-loaded version of Let’s Call This is next, followed by another Forrester number, About Françoise, a misty, steady ballad that brings to mind Fred Hersch’s most Monk-influenced work.

The take of Pannonica here is on the opulent side, Dieterle’s dancing lines over Forrester’s muted understatement and winking rises. The most obscure of the Monk compositions is the cheery, latin-inflected Ba-Lu-Bolivar Ba-Lues Are. Forrester adds smirky ornamentation as well a pouncing rhythm as Dieterle chooses his spots in the wryly titled Don’t Ask Me Now. And in The Comeback, the two work erudite variations on a theme that will resonate with fans of the edgily iconic repertoire here.

Left to his own devices onstage, Forrester can be totally in the tradition, or go way down the rabbit hole, much in the same vein as Anthony Coleman. The most recent time this blog was in the house at a solo Forrester gig, it was an early evening show in the summer of 2018 at a onetime Park Slope hotspot (since weaponized in the 2020 compliance campaign) where he decided to throw caution to the wind and opt for thorny terrain. It’s a fair bet he’ll concentrate on the more accessible stuff in his repertoire for the midtown park gigs.

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

Translucent, Ambitious Environmentally-Themed Jazz Comes to Long Island City

One of the summer’s more intriguing outdoor shows is in a couple of days, on July 24 at 7 PM at Culture Lab in Long Island City where saxophonist Joseph Herbst’s Ghost in the Mirror large ensemble teams up with the adventurous string players in Quartet Davis for an ambitious, environmentally-themed night of symphonic jazz. Herbst’s new album This is Our Environment – which is every bit as ambitious – is streaming at Bandcamp.

Herbst’s colorful compositions here typically follow a circular template, airy calm bookending an endless series of unexpected thematic shifts. This is not music for people who need predictable verse/chorus patterns but it sure is catchy.

The first number, They Say There Are Beautiful Trees sets the stage. A catchy, loopy Luther S. Allison piano phrase, then Liany Mateo’s murky bowed bass lay the groundwork, then brighter sax/trumpet layers harmonize with Aubrey Johnson’s reflecting-pool vocalese. A churning bass solo sets up a triumphant coda from the bandleader before the sextet bring it full circle.

Poet Dasan Ahanu casts Momma Nature as somebody who gives us tough love, Allison and drummer Zach McKinney providing a thoughtful backdrop. Guitarist Peter Martin takes over the loopily insistent intro to Solastalgia, Herbst and trumpeter Evan Taylor wafting into an edgy conversation before joining harmonies in a bright, crescendoing theme spiced with clever piano flourishes. A bitingly modal rise sets off a searing interlude with Martin and the bandleader at gale force; Johnson steps in as voice of reason at the end.

Cynthia ‘THiA’ Sharpe takes over the mic for a second environmentalist parable, Mama E. The group follow with Is This My Fault?, a lush, sweeping tune anchored by a subtle waterwheeling piano riff, then they take it in a calmly drifting direction as the rhythm shifts in and out of waltz time. Martin builds a spare, pensive solo to an icepick intensity as Allison and McKinney lash the shoreline behind him.

Yexandra ‘Yex’ Diaz flexes her lyrical chops in over Allison’s stern lefthand riffage in the intro and outro to Makes No Cents, the band again in and out of 3/4 with Johnson leading the crystalline harmonies. Martin’s foreshadowing riffage underpins a sailing, triumphant Taylor solo; they wind it up with turbulence followed by an enveloping mist.

Johnson returns on vocals for Iron Eyes, a call for unity that builds to an acerbic series of exchanges over a low-key clave, Martin’s grittily psychedelic Rhodes piano receding for Taylor to brighten the mood.

Poet RaShad Eas contributes a meditation on posterity as the Rhodes echoes behind him, then the band leap into Estrange Us, brassily emphatically syncopation dipping to a brief, eerie lull before Herbst pulls the band back in. Martin and then the bandleader fuel an energetic, expectant peak.

Eas delivers a couple of jazz-poetry pieces before the conclusion, Visions of Freedom, a cheerily harmonized, kinetic tune. It’s the album’s most trad postbop number, Herbst and Taylor resonantly and judiciously choosing their spots.

Sophisticated as this music is, and as admirable as Herbst’s environmental focus may be, the rhetoric on the Bandcamp page veers disturbingly close to dystopic World Economic Forum territory. Yes, let’s stop setting stuff onfire, let’s find ways not to burn fossil fuels, let’s clean up our waterways. But let’s not get carried away and shut down all the drilling, the refineries and the pipelines before we have viable substitutes! Crashing the economy in the name of global warming – which is doing a 180 as you read this – is an awfully easy way to starve a whole lot of people to death.

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

A Rare, Auspicious New York Appearance by an Icon of Middle Eastern Jazz

One of the most potentially transcendent shows of 2022 happens tomorrow night, July 22 at half past eleven at Drom when pyrotechnic clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski’s slinky and reliably combustible NY Gypsy All-Stars team up with special guest trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf. The Lebanese-born Maalouf has been arguably the hottest commodity in French jazz (ok, for what that’s worth) for the last several years, and he deserves to be vastly better known outside of that world, or the Middle East, where he’s iconic. You can get in for thirty bucks in advance.

If you’re thinking of checking out the show, a good place to start is his double album 40 Melodies – streaming at youtube – yet another of those releases from the dead of 2020 which hasn’t received the coverage it deserves. It’s basically a greatest-hits collection of stripped-down jukebox jazz versions of the songs that made him famous. Most of these new arrangements are duos with guitarist Francois Delporte, who makes an sparring partner whether playing spare, spiky rock rhythm, mimicking the voicings of an oud, or cutting loose with the occasional ferocious roar.

The result is more Middle Eastern music played on western instruments than it is jazz. The opening number, All Around the Wall has a neatly stylized yakuza-film video to match as Maalouf shifts from shadowy Middle Eastern chromatics to a catchy, circling western riff while the guitar rises in the mix. Several of the tunes that follow – a Lebanese sonata of sorts – remind very much of another brilliant trumpeter, Ben Holmes, whose fondness for edgy chromatics and use of space reflects a somewhat different adjacency, klezmer music.

This is a long album, 43 tracks that expand from stately, often somber levantine melodies, through classical High Romanticism, a couple of dips into reggae, dabke and occasional latin or flamenco flavors. Maalouf is at the top of his meticulous game with his quicksilver melismas and maqam microtones all the way through Beirut, a gorgeously vamping chromatic melody spiced with delicious microtonalities over a resonant, jangly guitar backdrop. Eventually Maalouf puts in his mute and then Delporte hits his distortion pedal, and the song explodes.

Some of the many other highlights include a gorgeous, syncopated ballad version of S3NS and Les Quais, with guests the Kronos Quartet drifting methodically along with the guitar and Maalouf’s uneasy bounces overhead. There’s also Radio Magellanes, which shifts from somber traditionalism to an airy lull and then a bittersweetly triumphant drive out; and remakes of a couple of absolutely gorgeous early tunes. In Improbable, Maalouf and Delporte revisit but also revise the original’s pervasive gloom, later making mellow Hendrix out of the otherwise uneasily shifting Shadows. The sense that this is a theme and variations, even more brooding than the earlier part of the album, enhances the intensity as the record winds up.

The most potentially loaded title here is Election Night, which dates back to 2018, so there’s at least one ferociously contested moment it doesn’t reflect. Jury’s out about the earlier one. The song itself is a hoot, the most boisterous – and maybe sarcastic – number here.

July 21, 2022 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunted, Anxious Beauty in Saxophonist Caroline Davis’ Magnum Opus

As if the plandemic wasn’t tortuous enough, alto saxophonist Caroline Davis had lost her father the previous year. To cope with her grief, she read poetry and psychology and began writing what would become her most intense and ambitiously symphonic album to date, Portals, Volume I: Mourning, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s got a two-night stand at Smalls on July 22 and 23, with sets at 7:30 and around, leading an adventurously swinging quartet with Matt Mitchell on piano. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

Davis is as much at home in the postbop tradition as she is in the avant garde, although her compositions gravitate toward the latter, with a sometimes thorny, sometimes airily crystallized approach. The new album is stunningly in the here and now, and although a dark undercurrent persists, there’s a steely resilience and guarded hope in Davis’ acerbically shapeshifting themes and variations as well as her frequent spoken-word interludes. In the dead of 2020, she couldn’t find a studio in town to record it, so she had to go Westchester…and then had the misfortune to release it just as the Hochul regime crushed the arts in New York once again last fall. This album deserves to be vastly better known.

The lineup embraces the adventurous sweep of the music. Alongside Davis are Marquis Hill on trumpet, Julian Shore on piano, Chris Tordini on bass, Allan Mednard on drums and a rotating string quartet of violinists Mazz Swift and Josh Henderson, violist Joanna Mattrey and cellist Mariel Roberts.

They open with Yesterday’s Seven Thousand Years, the whole ensemble circling uneasily until the bandleader introduces a calm that rises with an unsettled, loose-limbed, quasi-funk groove. Mednard takes on a slinkier latin groove as Davis and Hill’s harmonies reach an angst-fueled peak.

Hop On Hop Off is the first part of a diptych, inspired by a father-daughter bus tour, the string quartet digging in hard bordering on frantic on the album’s opening theme, Roberts delivering a gritty, aptly frenetic solo. A lively conversation between Davis and Hill over insistent, loopy strings concludes what must have been a pretty wild ride. The second part, Highlighter Hearts refers to the notes Davis’ dad would hastily write her, in highlighter, during a busy workday. This time it’s Shore who runs the loop with anxiously soaring harmonies overhead. Davis’ bounding but allusively aching solo packs a wallop that stings long after she recedes for gentler clusters over the sweep of the strings.

The  improvisational string miniature On Stone reflect the abrasiveness of rock, and Davis’ fondness for meditating in nature, How to Stop a Drop of Water From Evaporating – put it in the ocean, as Davis’ father would say – coalesces into a funky rhythm out of an explosive violin solo. “Brown relics touch the belly of my sorrow,” Davis intones.

Acephalous Placebo, reflecting the elder Davis’ interest in epigenetic healing, has sax and trumpet returning to the tense, troubled opening theme, Hill choosing his spots in a bright solo over Shore’s flickering incisions, the piano’s eerie accents coloring the next disquieted variation. Respite, a surreal, music box-like miniature introduces Left, where Davis traces a narrative of childhood abandonment – clearly, this was a conflicted parent/child relationship. The jagged, raga-like solo violin intro only hints at the insistent agitation and moments of horror, individual voices following a series of split-second handoffs over a tense pulse.

A loopy string piece, Faced, precedes the album’s big epic, The Inflated Chariot Awaits Defeat, Davis elegantly picking up solo where the quartet leave off, then receding with clenched-teeth turmoil as Shore enters solemnly. It’s a reflection on pride and its implications, rising to a roller-coaster ride of sax. trumpet and bass solos and the most trad number here.

Davis closes the album with Worldliness and Non-Duality, a reflection on her father’s last words to her, serene orchestral grandeur juxtaposed against the relentlessly troubled initial theme. This is an absolutely brilliant, intricately conceived album that will resonate with anyone who’s suffered over the past twenty-eight months and counting.





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

A Killer Party Album and a Chinatown Album Release Show From Organist Brian Charette

A gutbucket album is the last thing you would expect Brian Charette to make. He’s been pushing the envelope with organ jazz for the better part of two decades. His most recent album was a solo release recorded during the dead of the 2020 lockdown, full of devious electronic rhythms, some pretty far-out textures and even some electric guitar. So his latest album, Jackpot – streaming at Bandcamp – is pretty radical, a fond homage to the urban lounge organ jazz of the 50s and 60s. Charette is turning the swanky Django into a gutbucket with his album release show there on July 22 at 7:30 PM; cover is $25.

This is a party record. You can tell instantly how retro Charette is going to go with the first number, Polka Dot Pinup, from the Booker T-style implied call-and-response, to guitarist Ed Cherry’s circling Mike Bloomfield licks, to drummer Bill Stewart’s loosely-tethered snare sound. Tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds’ carefree solo completes the glossy picture.

Charette turns up his roto a ways for his cheery, blippy solo, matched by Cherry’s punchy Wes Montgomery attack in the shuffling second track, Tight Connection: once again, Weeds’ smoky flurries are the icing on the cake. The wryly titled Triple Threat is a warmly soulful jazz waltz that the group expand on a longer leash, notably with Weeds’ rapidfire first solo.

Stewart has irresistibly counterintuitive, deadpan fun with the cha-cha groove in Good Fortune, setting up Charette’s similarly sotto-voce sentimental funk. Charette looks back toward Larry Young with the acerbic voicings, chugging single-note lines (and a deadpan sax figure early on) in Upstairs, Then the quartet swing casually through High Ball, the most lowdown, sly and catchiest tune here, with a tantalizingly brief, bluesy Cherry solo.

Vague Reply is a brisk shuffle and just as full of hooks, but with more bite, Cherry’s punchy chords and Stewart’s increasingly stormy cymbals behind Charette’s steady eight-note runs. The album’s title track has a knowing, peek-a-boo syncopation, Weeds taking flight before Cherry and then Charette bring the lights a little lower. How much loaded subtext is there in the album’s final cut, Unmasked? It’s hard to tell. Weeds takes a long, crescendoing solo in this genial, contentedly oxygenated swing tune, This is the kind of record that makes you feel that you’re partying among pros rather than amateurs.

July 18, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Weiss Releases a Gem of a Piano Jazz Album

There’s a smoldering intensity in tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander’s playing. He’s not a guy who cuts loose much, but he leads you to think he will. So when that happens, the effect is all the more explosive. He’s returning to a favorite haunt, Smalls on July 19, leading a quartet with sets at 7:30 and around 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

Beyond his own career, Alexander is in demand as a sideman, and one album he’s appeared on that’s flown under the radar so far is pianist Michael Weiss‘ Persistence, streaming at Bandcamp.

He opens with the title track: the acerbic sax/piano harmonies really hit you upside the head immediately. Then bassist Paul Gill and drummer Pete van Nostrand launch into a brisk swing shuffle and the bandleader fires off spirals of dark blues. Alexander’s balmy-yet-acidic solo precedes Van Nostrand’s memorable tumbles on the way out.

Alexander comes in, choosing his spots with a rapidfire attack in track two, Second Thoughts as Weiss and the rest of the quartet swing this catchy song without words. Van Nostrand adds latin flair on his hardware in Après Vous, which is un peu plus vite, Alexander reaching down for some grit and then upward for angst in between the cheery volleys.

Only the Lonely is neither the gloomy Motels new wave hit nor the Orbison doo-wop pop song: Weiss delivers his spacious, impressionistic wee-hours lines over Van Nostrand’s subtly colorful brushwork. Then they pick up the pace, shifting the time signature in Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz from a lithe, stairstepping bounce to more thorny terrain on the wings of Alexander’s clenched-knuckle arpeggios. Weiss deftly migrates from hints of stride to disquieting Monkish tonalities, a good setup for the next track, Epistrophy. Much as it can be a minefield for a pianist unless you’re Fred Hersch, Weiss acquits himself with an admirably shadowy, purist approach echoed by the rest of the band.

They opt for swing and a little devious funk in Jobin’s Once I Loved, Weiss throwing off some sparkling, leapfrogging lines. The loose-limbed Birthday Blues makes a genial closer. Weiss has played with a lot of bigtime sax guys including Frank Wess and Ronnie Cuber, as well as with Alexander in the past, no doubt explaining the purist energy and repartee on this underappreciated gem. Barring any sinister meddling in the New York performing arts world from the World Economic Forum or its puppet in the NYC mayor’s office, Weiss will be at Mezzrow with a trio on August 12-13.

July 16, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Far Cry Bring Their String-Driven Elegance Back to Central Park Under Friendlier Skies

A little over a year ago, A Far Cry played the first Naumburg Concert since 2019, to relaunch the annual series of Central Park performances which had run uninterrupted for 114 years until the 2020 lockdown. This blog joked at the time that the chamber orchestra stormed back into action – something of an understatement. In a decade of covering concerts in all sorts of thunderous and near-thunderous conditions, that was, shall we say, the most immersive of them all. After awhile, the hundred or so of us who stuck around for the whole thing would break out laughing when yet another thunderclap exploded overhead, and what felt like a bucket of summer rain would be dumped on us.

Tuesday night, the group picked up where they left off under similarly ominous skies with an alternately lilting and lulling series of imaginatively voiced string orchestra arrangements of Bartok’s Lullabies For Children. The ensemble had the most fun with the bouncy, minor-key Hungarian folk-flavored numbers, ornamenting them with plucky pizzicato and acerbic accidentals. Interspersed among them were traditional tunes from the Canary Islands and Japan arranged by A Far Cry violinist Alex Fortes, along with a cantabile miniature by Emily Irons

Next up was Franghiz Ali-Zadeh‘s Shyshtar: Metamorphoses for String Orchestra, in an arrangement expanded beyond the original version for twelve cellos. Tectonically shifting, persistent unease drifted through an allusive chromaticism reflective of the composer’s Azeri heritage. A strutting Bartokian edge gave way to hazy suspense that grew more surrealistically foreboding with a series of gentle downward glissandos. They took it out by digging in for a buoyantly wary march. Maybe it wasn’t the optimal segue, but what a gorgeously bracing piece of music!

Fortes also contributed a new arrangement of the famously mystical, hymnal third movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, which the group approached steadily, soberly, and a little on the fast side. With its lushness and sweep, it left the crowd breathless. Fortes has arranged the whole quartet; hopefully we’ll get to hear all of it someday.

By the time the intermission was over, the skies had cleared for a similarly sweeping take of Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings. There seemed to be extra deliciousness from the low strings in the cheerful sway of the first movement; likewise, the waltzing second movement was steely and robust, the third especially vivace, yet with an uneasy undercurrent. The group resisted any temptation to simply roll with the lullaby quality of the fourth movement, opting for symphonic grandeur, then dancing through the conclusion. The final piece on the bill was Castles, a baroque-tinged piece with a carefree chorale by one of the ensemble’s own, bassist Karl Doty.

This year’s series of Naumburg Bandshell concerts continues on July 26 at 7:30 PM with perennial favorites the Knights and colorful violinist Lara St. John playing Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony plus works by Avner Dorman. Enter at 72nd St.; get there early (like, an hour, at least) if you want a seat.

July 14, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment