Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Back at Mona’s For a Hot, Moody Evening of Swing Jazz

Last night Mona’s was pretty crowded by the time the rotating cast from the house band gathered in the corner at the end of the bar. Which from an audience perspective was actually a good thing. Drinks at Mona’s are expensive: invisibility in a crowd has its advantages.

It wasn’t always that pricy fifteen years ago when Mona’s Hot Four played their first gig here. Little did they know that after a break for a plandemic, they and the bar would still be here keeping a well-loved New York oldtimey swing tradition alive.

This time out they were a quintet. An interesting opening number that shifted between minor and major proved to be a great launching pad for solos from bandleader and clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, pianist Jon Thomas and bassist Jen Hodge, who mined that uneasy terrain for all the edgy passing tones they could find. Sax player Jay Rattman bolstered the phantasmagorical hi-de-ho harmonies as they wound it out.

Rattman switched to clarinet for a dusky, Ellingtonian frontline on the moodily shuffling second number of the night, I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues, Thomas supplying starry curlicues in the upper registers: his sense of irony and counterintuitive phrasing were rich throughout the evening’s first set. An unidentified guitarist who is still stuck in 2020 hygiene theatre played spiky Django riffs and clustering minor-sixth chords, and took a turn on the mic to sing a couple of verses through a thick black muzzle. You’d think that members of an ostensibly sophisticated New York artistic community would be awake by now…but, pseudoscience.

Ultimately, what this group does is dance music. Early in the evening, people typically dance in their chairs, although it gets a lot wilder as the night goes on, both musically and audience-wise. Admittedly, that perception dates from a previous decade before fear had been fully weaponized in this city.

They did I Ain’t Got Nobody as a brisk, staccato shuffle next and went back toward moody terrain with the next number: having the two clarinets out front enhanced that vibe. Lichtman’s signature, liquid-crystal arpeggios and cascades were as distinctive and spine-tingling as always.

The group expanded to a sextet with the addition of Mike Davis on trumpet for the last couple of tunes. The first, High Society, had a martial, W.C. Handy flair, which Rattman brought down to earth with a silky sax solo. Davis put his mute in for the final, coyly shuffling number.

Mona’s Hot Four, or Five, or Six – as they were a week ago – play the Avenue B bar just south of 14th St. every Tuesday night starting at nine sharp.

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August 24, 2022 - Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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