A lot of people don’t realize how much of an Irish influence there is in New Orleans jazz. But the Crescent City was a major port of call and received plenty of immigrants during the Potato Famine years and subsequently. So it’s hardly a surprise that the rich musical tradition they brought with them would become part of the city’s multicultural fabric. Torchy chanteuse Tara O’Grady pays tribute to that cross-pollination on her fourth album, Irish Bayou. She’s playing the album release show Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W 22nd St. Cover is $20 – if you really want to go whole-hog, it’s $85 for the show plus open bar. Hmmm….
Although the album hasn’t hit the web yet, there are a couple of tracks up at O’Grady’s youtube channel. The opening tune, I Love You with All My Blood is an oldschool soul strut played as ukulele swing. And A Rude Awakening is a tartly slow-burning blues shout-out to early feminist Irish-American novelist Kate Chopin, lit up with some understately slashing Michael Howell guitar.
What’s the rest sound like? Lots of shuffles. As the Rain Fell Upon Bourbon Street is a bittersweet, ragtime-inflected number, pianist Sasha Papernik pairing against Justin Poindexter’s Hawaiian-infused slide guitar resonance. Carry Me Home is a deliciously vicious, accordion-fueled second-line shuffle that builds to a fullscale blaze. Dry Dem Bones, a deep-fried Little Feat-style remake of the old gospel tune, sways along on the groove from drummer Ryan Vaughn and bassist David Shaich. Ghosts of New Orleans follows a similar theme as the band swings it hard.
“You’re the olives in my muffulata from Central Grocery,” O’Grady croons in Heaping Helping of My Love, which builds to a jaunty dixieland dancefloor bounce. “We can order in some beignets and eat them in bed!” she entreats. The best track here is My Fall Romance, an original that sounds like a Billie Holiday swing classic from the 30s, O’Grady’s sassy, imperturbable alto delivery matched by trumpeter Jordan Sandke’s soulful muted lines. The most relevant number, the burning Take Me Home, reminds how much Irish immigrants have struggled under the radar in this country.
There are also a couple of covers here; Louis Armstrong’s Irish Black Bottom, reinvented as a funk tune with some wry hip-hop flavor, and My Irish Molly-O redone as oldtimey swing with a coy Michael Hashim clarinet solo. And NYC guitar legend Pete Kennedy of the Kennedys – who have a reputedly amazing new album of their own due out soon – figures into the mix somewhere. One assumes that he’s responsible for all that edgy tremolo-picking.
The Brussels Jazz Orchestra Sells Out Lincoln Center with Their Edgy, Historically Rich Multimedia Program
The Brussels Jazz Orchestra wound up their stand at Jazz at Lincoln Center Sunday night with their sixth consecutive sold-out show. There’s a reason why European big bands are so popular and highly regarded: because they’re funded with government money, they can rehearse rigorously and as a result tend to be extraordinarily tight. What differentiates this blazing, hard-swinging group from their fellow large ensembles in, say, Copenhagen or Berlin? A sense of humor and outside-the-box creativity, just for starters. Their program for this stand was titled Graphicology, an enterprising and wildly successful attempt at integrating a graphic novel into a concert, the band playing seamlessly and boisterously along with projections of text and illustrations by Philippe Paquet, bringing some pretty crazy stories from throughout the history of jazz to life with fire and verve and sardonic humor. Paquet, a jazz bassist himself, is well suited to this group, his stark black-and-white images providing context and storylines that the ensemble matched with split-second precision. The group’s fondness for playing live scores to silent films probably has a lot to do with how smoothly the production went: one would assume as well that the projectionists were doing double duty reading from a score. And beyond the visuals, the music was lush, and stormy, and often exhilarating.
The orchestra opened with Italian composer Enrico Pieranunzi’s bustling, uneasy shuffle It Speaks for Itself, from the group’s recent Pieranunzi tribute album. Pianist Vincent Bruyninckx ambled through the outskirts of bop, after which bassist Jos Machtel stalked through a brooding modal solo, dredging the piece’s murky, Monk-inspired undercurrents. They followed with Bert Joris’ brass-fueled clave theme Signs & Signatures, a vamping vehicle for trumpeter Jeroen Van Malderen, who chose his spots judiciously, followed by a smokily animated solo by baritone saxophonist Bo Van der Werf.
The Graaphicology numbers were choreographed down to the second, whether that meant a chase scene, several whiz-bang gangland sequences (Harlem in the 1930s through the 50s plays big here) or slowly simmering crescendos rising to either sheer terror, exhilaration or triumph. Alto saxophonist Dieter Lembourg’s cinematic Bird As Told to Miles the Cat traced the doomed trajectory of Charlie Parker’s up-and-down final years dynamically and energetically via Miles Davis autobiographical narrative , with frequent allusions to Bird repertoire. Likewise, trumpeter Pierre Drevet’s Louis mashed up a sequence of Satchmo riffs and themes against a backdrop of Louis Armstrong’s hardscrabble New Orleans upbringing and eventual rise to star status in New York. Trumpeter Nico Schepers made the most of one opportunity after another to voice both the vaudevillian and soulfully plaintive sides of Armstrong’s music. The group concluded with Bert Joris’ sweeping noir suite The Portrait, in tandem with a rollercoast ride of a script illustrating the confluence of mob violence and avant garde art in late Renaissance era Harlem.
Those lucky enough to be in Brussels at the beginning of next month can see the Brussels Jazz Orchestra playing live scores to silent films starring Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd on April 1 at 8:15 PM at Flagey at 27/5 Belvédèrestraat; cover is €20.
Fun and interesting show this past Thursday night at the Delancey with tantalizingly brief sets from soul singer/bandleader Amana Melome and paradigm-shifting jazz organist Brian Charette and his Mighty Grinders trio with Will Bernard on guitar and Eric Kalb on drums. Melome has Ellington band royalty in her veins – her bassist grandfather Jimmy Woode was a member of the Ellington orchestra and played with many other golden age jazz names as well. The Stockholm-based chanteuse maintained a low-key vibe, drawing the crowd in with her simmering, jazz-inflected downtempo and soul grooves. Backed by an electric pianist who varied his textures from song to song plus a tersely swinging acoustic rhythm section, Melome aired out a mix of tunes from her latest ep Lock and Key. Like her music, her misty mezzo-soprano vocals build a mood and explore its intricacies and secret corners rather than wailing or pleading. Her most intriguing and original number was Icarus, which recast the myth as a tribute to thrill-seeking rather than cautionary tale. Other than emo and grunge, neosoul may be the unsexiest style of music on the planet, but Melome keeps it real and could elevate a lot of people along with her.
Charette is an intrepid player, as influenced by classical music and dub as he is by the icons of jazz organ. And he can be awfully funny – he’s the kind of guy who will get a crowd grinning and shaking their heads and asking each other, did he just play that? Uh huh, he did. As usual, he couldn’t resist throwing in a handful of droll quotes when least expected – and he’ll play anywhere. The Delancey is a rock club, but Charette was clearly amped to take the gig. He opened with the shapeshifting Yue Fei, from his Square One album and then followed with the LOL faux-operatic bombast of the tongue-in-cheek Not a Purist: welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends, step inside, step inside, he seemed to be telling the crowd.
Then he flipped the script with Hungarian Brown, a trickily rhythmic, haunting Romany melody fueled by Bernard’s searing slide work: who knew he had that up his sleeve. Charette and the band wound up the night with an expansively funky take of Jimmy Smith’s 8 Counts for Rita, leaving no doubt that was where James Brown – who got his start as an organist – found his first inspiration.
Charette’s next gig is at 8 PM this Friday, March 27 at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s Place with Matt Chertkoff on guitar and Jordan Young on drums, his last New York show before heading off to the Czech Republic where he’ll be touring next month as part of powerhouse saxophonist Mike DiRubbo‘s trio.
Is it fair to call pianist Myra Melford a cult artist? Her music is so full of life, and tunes, and ideas and color that spans the emotional spectrum. In the NYC downtown jazz scene, she’s iconic, a status she earned in the 90s before she hightailed it for a UC/Berkeley professorship. She’s got a weeklong stand at the Stone starting this Tuesday, March 24 with sets at 8 and 10 PM and continuing through the 29th; cover is $15. There are too many enticing sets to list here: the 8 PM duo shows with whirlwind drummer Allison Miller on the 24th and then with clarinetist Ben Goldberg on the 25th ought to be especially good for completely different reasons. There’s also a reunion of her playful Be Bread sextet on the 26th at 10 and a quintet show with trumpet luminary Dave Douglas the following night, also at 10 – and that’s just for starters.
Melford’s latest album, due out on the 24th, is Snowy Egret with the band of the same name: Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. For a taste of the album – since it’s not out yet – give a listen to the final cut, The Strawberry, which hints that it’s going to be a boogie-woogie number before Melford takes it to Havana – and Sorey’s drumming is funny beyond words in places. Ellman’s biting circularities kickstart a series of divergences before Melford pulls everybody back on the rails.
As for the rest? There’s humor and irony, and a frequently dancing pulse. A handful of numbers seem to allude to the first age of imperialism in the Americas and the centuries of havoc in its wake. The first track, Language, pulses along as shuffling variations on a fanfare riff bookending a typically soulful, clear-as-the-Denver-sky Miles solo. An expansively spiky, spare Ellman solo opens Night of Sorrow, the band plaintively filling in around Melford’s spaciously elegaic, bluesy motives. Promised Land delivers some wry shout-and-response and divergent tangents within its syncopated staccato bounce.
Ching Ching For Love of Fruit – a slot machine reference, it seems – moves from a mournful muted trumpet/melodica duet between Miles and Melford to an unexpectedly carnivalesque theme, Takeishi mimicking a tuba and Sorey rattling his hardware. Likewise, The Kitchen opens with picturesque pots-and-pans drollery from Sorey, Miles and Ellman having lots of fun spinning plates and such before Takeishi makes it funky, then Melford takes it on a clenched-teeth, uh-oh trajectory.
Takeishi’s growling attack and Ellman’s fluttery unease pair with Melford’s lingering foreshadowing and Miles’ resonance throughout Times of Sleep and Fate, a tone poem of sorts that builds to a brooding, AACM-inflected majesty. Little Pockets – Everybody Pays Taxes sees the band taking some aptly squirrelly cinematics in a considerably more ominous, insistent direction: whatever you do, don’t answer the door!
First Protest works a rhythmically dizzying marionette theme, Sorey and Ellman leading the charge along a twisted second line parade route. The Virgin of Guadalupe, the album’s most expansive and moodiest track, pairs Miles’ funereal lines with Melford’s understatedly plaintive neoromantic precision, building toward a bitter bolero. Of all the cuts here, it comes closest to being the definitive one, spacious and pensive and quietly packing a wallop.
Orchestras are like restaurants in that new ones usually take awhile before they work out all the quirks. The Spectrum Symphony, on the other hand, have a lush, experienced gravitas, and sound as if they’ve been around a long time, even as they’ve taken a promising role in advocating for new music. Their previous concert in the comfortable, surround-sound sonics of St. Joseph’s Church on 6th Avenue in the West Village was a characteristic mix of ideas and emotions from across the ages, delivered with meticulous detail under the baton of conductor David Grunberg. The group’s next concert is this Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 PM, with an auspicious program featuring Anthony Iannaccone’s From Time to Time, Fantasias on Two Appalachian Folksongs; Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, with soloist Victoria Mushkatkol and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3 at St. Joseph’s Church, 371 6th Ave. south of Waverly. Cover is $20.
The ensemble’s previous concert here featured a dreamy diptych of Elgar’s Sospiri paired with Massenet’s popular Méditation (from the opera Thaïs), Susan Heerema’s terse, masterfully nuanced violin imbuing it with both lullaby calm and a distant restlessness over pillowy strings. By contrast, the world premiere of Jun Yi Chow’s Serenade mashed up a lively neoromantic drive, a big, acidic fanfare and an austerely otherworldly, circular string conclusion, in the process channeling a hundred years of orchestral music.
Soloist Gerard Reuter’s alternatingly dancing and richly resonant oboe fueled Mozart’s Oboe Concerto, K.314 over a lush backdrop equally infused with stateliness and joyously precise teamwork. The concert concluded with a Haydn masterwork, Symphony No. 101, “The Clock,” which earned its nickname from the playfully metronomic rhythm of its second movement. Obviously, there’s a lot more too it than that. The orchestra brought out all the earnestly driving, singalong bustle in the opening movement and its waltzing reprise in the third, a balletesque, goodnatured precision in the famous second movement, and eventually a conclusion rich with color and attention to dynamic shifts. This week’s concert promises as much or even more, considering the program.
Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the world’s most individualistic and thrilling musicians, a wide-ranging scholar of jazz as well as Indian music. His latest album, Bird Calls – streaming at Spotify - is a characteristically unconventional effort, heavily influenced by Charlie Parker, although not a tribute album per se. His performance with the quintet on the album at this year’s Winter Jazzfest was a spine-tingling display of chops, ideas, and high-voltage banter between the musicians. He’s doing it again, playing the album release show at the Jazz Standard on March 24 with sets at 7:30 and 10 PM with a slightly different crew: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, pianist Bobby Avey, bassist François Moutin and drummer Jordan Perlson. Cover is $25.
Musicians have been highfiving each other in song for eons. The shout-outs to Bird on this album are all over the place, some as simple as Mahanthappa playing his own tune over Parker’s changes, to switching up the rhythm of a Bird melody or solo, along with more artfully concealed passages. Whatever the case, it’s classic Mahanthappa, ancient-sounding, often majestic Indian motifs within a somewhat harder bop framework than usual.
The album juxtaposes brief interludes with larger-scale numbers. Bird Calls #1, which opens it, is a brief, murkily suspenseful modal platform for the first of many animated sax-trumpet conversation (at Winter Jazzfest, they really took their time and had a ball with this). On the DL (a reference to Bird’s Donna Lee) opens with the same interplay at triplespeed or more – how firebrand young trumpeter Adam O’Farrill (son of latin jazz maven Arturo) matches Mahanthappa’s silken, precise intonation is stunning. At Winter Jazzfest, Indian percussion master Vish, of dancefloor groove instrumentalists SuKhush commented that if this was a sine wave, it would be completely flat [thanks for the company and the erudite insights, guys!].
Sax and trumpet join in a tightly rhythmic duet with echoes of Indian bhangra brass music, followed by Chillin’, referencing Bird’s Relaxin’ at the Camarillo in bubbly, joyous trumpet/sax eschanges, graceful melismas from O’Farrill and long, elusive flights from Mahanthappa. They follow a playful, masterful solo sax passage replete with overtones and subtle rhythmic shifts with Talin Is Thinking, inspired equally by Parker’s Mood and Mahanthappa’s young son. A pensive march that rises to majestic, fiery heights, pianist Matt Mitchell’s resonant, hard-hitting but surgically precise pedalpoint enhances the shadowy Indian-tinged mystery underneath. Moutin’s dancing, kinetic lines blend with and then leap from drummer Rudy Royston’s steady, subtle rat-a-tat drive: who knew he could channel an intricate tabla rhythm yet bring it into the 21st century, thousands of miles away?
Both Hands (based on Dexterity) is another showcase for clarity and rapidfire precision from sax and trumpet, hard bop over a briskly rumbling, hypnotic backdrop, Mitchell nimbly choosing his spots. A rustling Moutin solo leads into the wryly tiltled Gopuram (referencing Steeplechase – in India, a gopur is a temple tower), a tersely simmering, modally-charged number that reminds of Marc Cary (has he played with Mahanthappa? What a collaboration that would be!).
Maybe Later (drawing on Now’s the Time) contrasts lively, upbeat postbop horn riffage with a sternly rhythmic underpinning, with an acidically rippling Mitchell solo over Royston’s tumbling aggression and jabs. An expansive Mitchell solo sets the stage for Sure Why Not? (a shout-out to Confirmation and Barbados), the album’s least Indian-flavored and most lightheartedly pulsing track. The album winds up much the way it started, but with a staccato pulse, referencing Bird’s Anthropology with all hands on deck, blistering spirals from Mitchell and a hard-charging sax/trumpet debate. In case you haven’t figured out, there’s no one on earth who sounds remotely like Rudresh Mahanthappa, and he’s a force of nature live. This show promises to be amazing, get there early.
Pianist/bassist Petros Sakelliou‘s Visual Music Circus plays movies for the ears. Despite Sakelliou’s money gig with a famous troupe of acrobats, the ensemble’s new instrumental album – streaming online – isn’t circus rock, nor is it as phantasmagorical as the band name implies. But it is cinematic. The group is playing a rare NYC show on March 20 at 7:30 PM at Drom; advance tix are ten bucks. The album features a twelve-piece group including horns and strings, which realistically might be more stripped down in concert.
It opens with an uneasily swaying, lush minor-key theme with echoes of Belgian barroom musette, Mediterranean balladry and the Italian baroque, Sakelliou tossing in a darkly blues-infused piano solo followed by a considerably more carefree one by alto saxophonist Ryoichi Yamaki as the mood brightens. Susanna Quilter’s balmy flute in tandem with Magda Giannikou’s ambered washes of accordion give the second track the feel of a mellotron-driven 70s art-rock theme and then take it in a more pensively bustling, Romany jazz-flavored direction, down to a long, allusively creepy, marionettish piano solo and then some stark violin from Ben Powel.
Linus Wyrsch’s chill clarinet lines in tandem with Giannikou’s accordion infuse the tiptoeing latin stroll that follows, Anna Hoffman’s baritone sax adding a wry edge that Yamaki spirals away from before the band drops out for an expansive piano solo: lots of moods packed into seven minutes. Sakelliou describes the diptych that follows as ironic: it’s not clear how its colorful, accordion-fueled Punch-and-Judy ballet, chase scene, and blustery, achingly vamping jazz tableau qualify as such.
A soaring, lushly bubbling, latin-tinged love theme slowly develops out of a warily circling intro, solos all around capped off by vibraphonist Mika Mimura – who also plays in Giannikou’s similarly colorful, shapeshifting Banda Magda. The album ends with a jaunty, dixieland-inflected “swingalong” that sounds like the Microscopic Septet going off on a tangent toward Romany jazz, driven by the nimble rhythm section of Yuki Ito on bass and Ryo Noritake on drums. In this age of bedroom recording, it’s rare to find something so unselfconsciously epic and richly orchestrated, a credit to Sakelliou’s ability to shift on a dime between idioms, ideas and instrumental voicings. They should be a lot of fun live.
The good news about St. Patrick’s Day this year is that it’s on a Tuesday. Does that mean the amateurs won’t be celebrating it early this weekend, turning every bar from Hell’s Kitchen to Hell’s Gate into Hell itself? Probably not. But there will probably be fewer of them out this coming Tuesday the 17th, if you’re stir-crazy enough to go out that night. And if you end up at the big room at the Rockwood at around 10, you’ll get to see a really fun, original retro swing band, the Swingaroos. Does that mean the Rockwood folks expect lots of drunken dancing? Your guess is as good as anybody’s. More likely, it means the band is taking a gamble that they’ll be playing their irrepressibly cheery update on 30s and 40s sounds to a captive audience.
Their album All Aboard is streaming at Bandcamp. Pianist Assaf Gleizner’s stride stomp fuels the opening track, Steam Train, singer Kimberly Hawkey ably voicing a train whistle and then serving as emcee for jaunty solos by Dan Glaude on clarinet, Nat Ranson on trombone and then a scampering one from the piano.
Hawkey shows off her brassy and smoky sides on the high-spirited stroll A Walk in the Park, bassist Chris Conte adding a lively, tiptoeing solo. To the Beat! looks back to Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. Then the band brings it down with Far Across the World, Hawkey’s expressive (and subtly droll) vocals anchored by Gleizner’s resonant chords and a balmy Glaude alto sax solo over drummer Mike Gordon’s misty brushwork
Grocery List is a funny Louis Jordan-style jump blues: “A ham, a clam, a leg of lamb, it’s just baloney,” Hawkey intones, having all kinds of fun with food innuendos – and a pretty fair impersonation of a kazoo solo. The band has just as much fun making a slowly strolling noir theme out of Brahms’ famous Hungarian Dance, with a tip of the hat to Duke Ellington. Nagasaki is the lone Roaring 20s cover here, done with a rapidfire, coy hokum blues flair.
The band follows that with the album’s best track, Shadow Man, with its Brecht-Weill style angst and Hawkey’s moody, world-weary, distantly Billie Holiday-inflected vocals. Gordon’s tapdancing drums take centerstage on the brisk I Can Take It. The album ends with a silly cover that’s infinitely better than the original, which will probably draw some chuckles from people in the crowd who were in grade school back in the 90s.
Soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston was a mainstay of this city’s edgy downtown jazz scene throughout the 80s and into the 90s, most prominently as co-founder of wryly cinematic, sardonically entertaining “surrealistic swing” band the Microscopic Septet. Johnston returns to town for a week at the Stone from March 3 through 8, with a variety of ensembles and sets at 8 and 10 PM; cover is $15.
Since the late zeros, the Microscopic Septet have reunited frequently for albums and tours, and the full group will be playing the 10 PM set on March 5 (possibly their first-ever nighr of free improvisation), then airing out their vast back catalog of songs at 9:30 PM on March 19 at Smalls. The group’s four-man sax line will also be making their debut as an unaccompanied quartet at the Stone on March 7 at 8 PM. And another very auspicious set concludes the stand there at 10 PM on March 8, with Johnston leading an eleven-piece improvisational unit playing his utterly macabre score to the Japanese cult film Page of Madness.
On one hand, the Micros could be credited with being forerunners of the Gatsby jazz revival because they were swinging their collective asses off a good fifteen years before the new moldy fig crowd started doing it. On the other hand, the Micros’ music actually isn’t retro at all. Mashing up droll cartoonish themes and eerie Monkish blues with an unselfconsciously joyous dixieland flair (along with more brooding tunes, like the one that’s served as the theme for NPR’s Fresh Air since the 90s), there’s no other band out there who sound like them. Their latest album, Manhattan Moonrise, comprises both new and older, previously unreleased material – click the links below for what little of it is online, a frustrating issue with a lot of cult acts who go as far back as these guys do.
The opening track, When You Get In Over Your Head is a brisk, blustery, noir-tinged stroll, the reeds – Johnston (soprano sax); Don Davis (alto); Mike Hashim (tenor); Dave Sewelson (baritone) – teaming up for some Ellingtonian indigo. No Time has lustrously shifting, late summer shades as Hashim pulls if further into a latin groove over bassist Dave Hofstra, pianist Joel Forrester and drummer Richard Dworkin. The band revisits that tangent a bit later on with Hang It on a Line, this time shifting out of a rustic campfire gospel theme. Forrester’s sly, low-key stride piano gets the album’s title cut motoring along – and he can’t resist throwing a spitball or two at Hofstra’s dead-serious, racewalking bass solo.
Johnston explains Obeying the Chemicals as an attempt to merge funk and boogie-woogie: Sewelson’s gruff rhythm gives it a second-line feel. A Snapshot of the Soul juxtaposes an uneasily staggered Monk-ish theme with a lively, bubbly, straight-up swing. Star Turn turns a genial, Doc Pomus-style saloon blues tune into a springboard for a long, brightly sailing Davis solo, the longest one on the album
Let’s Coolerate One, Johnston’s theme song for another band of his, the Coolerators, brings the noir back over a lushly swirling swing shuffle, Sewelson and Hashin romping above it. Good-natured solos by Forrester and Sewelson light up the boogie-tinged nocturne Suspended Animation, while Blue hints briefly at melancholy balladry before going all out-of-focus and outside.
You Got That Right! mixes droll stop-and-starts with a jaunty Crescent City swing and lively, tongue-in-cheek conversations among the reeds. The album winds up with Occupy Your Life, which makes an enigmatic cha-cha out of Beethoven – it’s the band’s first-ever number with vocals. Because Johnston decamped for his native Australia awhile back, the Micros don’t play as much as they used to, so if you’ve been thinking of seeing them, now’s as good a time as any.
There was a lot of fun onstage last night at the Jazz Standard. There was a downwardly spiraling, menacingly chromatic Freddie Hendrix trumpet solo that might have been the higlight of the evening. There was an animated conversation between flugelhornist Scott Wendholt and pianist Steve Allee that emerged from two deep-space tangents. Guitarist Vic Juris supplied genially bubbling, melismatically warping interludes; tenor saxophonist Scott Robinson, bass clarinetist Carl Maraghi and trombonist Ryan Keberle took turns contributing judicious, purist, blues-infused lines when called on to take centerstage. But that’s the least of what was going on.
Big band jazz sometimes gets a rap for being simply a vehicle for solos: Phish with horns. And if you’ve got twenty people the caliber of the players in Rufus Reid‘s group, there’s no limit on where they can take the music. But despite the starpower on the bandstand, the large ensemble’s current stand here – which continues through March 1, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM – is all about compositions. Reid has a hall of fame career as a sideman, but in recent years he’s devoted himself to composing. Last night’s opening set was marked by gravitas, and depth, and lustrously shifting segments, most of the numbers taken from Reid’s vivid, politically aware album Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project.
Reid left no doubt how much inspiration he’s drawn from sculptor and visual artist Catlett’s defiant, symbolically loaded images of resistance and endurance, and the music reaffirmed that. Singer Charenee Wade got the most choice spots, capping off the crescendos with remarkably nuanced vocalese, her vibrato trailing off elegantly as her phrases wound out, sometimes in harmony with french hornists John Clark and Vincent Chancey, at other times over a lush bed of high reed textures. Drummer Chris Beck got to trigger a deviously amusing false ending or two while the bandleader, amped well up in the mix, pushed the ensemble with an understatedly funky pulse when he wasn’t swinging it hard or circling around with tersely minimalist, avant garde-tinged phrasing. Notwithstanding the album’s epic, classically tinged sweep and sophistication, this show reminded just how deeply Reid’s writing is rooted in the jazz tradition. Taking the time to assemble a big band is a herculean effort to begin with; that this group could play this music as tightly and passionately as they did is tribute to how inspiring Reid is as a composer and bandleader. Although last night’s shows appeared to be sold out, there are seats left for the rest of this weekend; reservations to 212-576-2232 are always a good idea here.