Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Elegant Party in Central Park with the Handel and Haydn Society at the Naumburg Bandshell

Every year, a new generation of classical music fans discovers the annual series of free Naumburg Bandshell concerts in Central Park, which ran uninterrupted for 114 years until the disaster of 2020. Judging from the crowd last night, there’s no shortage of younger supporters to continue the tradition where all the seats fill up as much as an hour before the concert.

This time out was a deep dive into the baroque, with violinist Aisslinn Nosky leading period instrument ensemble the Handel and Haydn Society through an intricate and intuitive performance of what was essentially party music for the ruling classes of Europe right around the time the formerly Dutch colony across the pond was starting to get restless. If Woody Allen had been a figure from around the turn of the 18th century, this is probably what he would have been listening to (and maybe playing – clarinetists abounded in those days).

The ensemble opened with Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major, with a bit of a hush and what seemed like a striking emphasis on steely pedalpoint as much as the equally insistent exchanges of contrapuntal voicings. The crowd immediately responded after the first movement. Likewise, the lushly emphatic bowing in the second movement, which the group quickly turned into a lively dance with a Vivaldiesque series of flurries on the way out.

That boisterous energy set the stage for the rest of the night. The group followed with 18th century British composer Charles Avison’s Scarlatti-inspired Concerto Grosso No. 5 in D Minor, digging into the stately rhythm of the first movement with gusto and an inspired bluster when the score permitted. Nosky shifted from sharp-toothed articulation to an elegant legato sway in the second movement and the waltzing conclusion.

The piece de resistance was Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A minor, RV 356, a romp where Nosky rose from a practically conspiratorial, sotto-voce understatement to an incisive precision matched by a welcome, raw attack echoed by the group’s low strings (and a couple of planes passing overhead to bolster the low end). Was the second movement just hazy ambience? Hardly. The group held those resonant notes for dear life, 1711-style, at least until bursting out on the wings of Nosky’s fugal attack.

Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso after Corelli, Op. 5, No. 5 in G Minor, from 1727, got a matter-of-fact, energetic sway and contrasting lushness (as well as a vividly plaintive interlude) before the sprightly country dance in the second movement.

After the intermission, the group flipped the script with Corelli and his Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Op. 6, No. 11, a gently emphatic pavane introducing tightly choreographed scurrying and a second movement where the pregnant pauses early on took the audience completely by surprise.

Harpsichordist Ian Watson was called on for his most prominent role of the night in Handel’s Concerto Grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 9. The strings maintained a bouncy tenacity through the composer’s endlessly permutating volleys and then surprisingly poignant exchanges before the lively, contrastingly stately waltzes afterward

The final piece on the bill was Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor, La Follia, after Corelli, Op. 5, No.12, Nosky foreshadowing the low strings’ intense response (and drawing a spontaneous burst of applause from the crowd) with her rapidfire work in the opening movement. Through the tradeoffs between lulls and liveliness, it was the most sophisticated piece of the night, and the crowd roared their appreciation.

This year’s Naumburg Bandshell concert series continues on July 12 at 7:30 PM with chamber orchestra A Far Cry playing an innovative program of string arrangements of Bartok miniatures plus works by Dvorak, Beethoven, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh and Karl Doty. Take the 2 or 3 to 72nd St., walk east and get there early if you want a seat.

June 29, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, 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

Springtime Blossoms in Boston With a Concert of Vivid World Premieres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entertaining, Mesmerizing Solo Soprano Sax? Check Out Sam Newsome on the 9th

It’s hard to imagine anything more difficult than playing a solo show on a chordless instrument. Sure, there are buskers…but it’s rare to see someone sticking around to watch an entire solo “set.”. On the other hand, the prospect of watching soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome play a solo show is enticing to the extreme. He has three solo live albums out and all of them are worth hearing. And if his East Village duo show with guitarist Elliott Sharp last weekend is any indication, his upcoming gig on Oct 9 at 2 PM at the Urban Meadow park at the corner of President and Van Brunt in Red Hook is going to be off the hook.

You could take the B61 bus and get out just down the block from the Jalopy, but it might be even faster to take the F to Carroll, exit at the front of the downtown train, take First Place straight to the pedestrian bridge over the BQE, then make a U-turn at the base of the bridge, go another block on Summit and then hang a left on Columbia. That’s about ten minutes from the subway.

It’s funny how, ten years ago, Newsome was regarded as the rising star for straight-ahead postbop jazz on the soprano. Then all of a sudden he started turning up at places like the late, great Spectrum and took a deep plunge into the avant garde. It was then that his mind-blowing extended technique really came to the surface. For example, at the East Village gig, he got his horn to resonate with a low digeridoo buzz, or a keening wail like an Indian shennai or a Bulgarian zurla, shedding otherworldly overtones and duotones. And while Sharp was playing through his usual arsenal of effects, Newsome was completely unamplified. What had he done to his reeds, or his valves, or both? Who knows – but it was raw magic.

There were all kinds of irresistibly amusing moments, when Newsome would pick up a rack of wind chimes, or two, slinging them over the body of the horn as he blew looming duotones for background. Then there was the point where Sharp, who’d been tapping out tensely frenetic sequences, fired off a phrase of about twenty notes. Newsome paused and played the whole paragraph back to him, and suddenly the dialogue shifted from jaunty banter to a serious joust. Musicians engaging each other with short. singalong riffs is the oldest cliche in the book, but this seemed to be a philosophical discussion between two sages. What they were philosophizing about wasn’t entirely clear, but it was deep.

Meanwhile, Sharp maintained his edge throughout about fifty minutes of close interplay, whether opaquely ambient, squirrelly, skronky, or lingering in a couple of brief, overcast A minor interludes. Newsome got plaintive in response to the first one, then expansive on the second, drawing out similarly thoughtful flurries from the guitarist. There were plenty of other points in the improvisation that were funny, and formidable, and fleeting; you can expect the same at the Red Hook show.

October 2, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Firey String Sistas Simmer on the Hudson

Jazz played on stringed instruments in general is usually a springboard for new and interesting ideas. After all, string players can sustain notes that horn players have a harder time with, never mind having unlimited access to blue notes. There was a point toward the end of the Firey String Sistas’ rapturously memorable set Tuesday night at Pier 84 on the Hudson where in the middle of a funky, blues-infused swing tune, violinist Marlene Rice went completely off script and took a bracing downward solo that could have been in the quartertone scale.

More likely, it was in whatever scale she was feeling at the moment. Pianist Mala Waldron picked up the handoff and responded with an insistent attack that ramped up the intensity with rhythm rather than avant garde harmony. Drummer Camille Gainer-Jones, whose lithe brushwork gave the set a comfortable wide-angle swing, built a subtly turbulent crescendo while Rice harmonized acerbically with cellist and co-founder Nioka Workman. With jazz clubs officially off limits to all but a small, physically imperiled subcaste of New Yorkers right now, this show hit the spot, to say the least.

The group opened with Waldron on vocals as well as the keys. on one of her famous dad Mal Waldron’s tunes: she’s a fine singer, with a poignant, nuanced, coloristic delivery. Workman and Rice set the stage with their terse harmonies as ringer bassist Melvin Bullock – who’d signed up to be a “Firey String Brotha,” as Workman put it – bolstered the rhythm with his judiciously incisive boom and pulse.

They reinvented Cedar Walton’s To the Holy Land with a starkly resonant, intense rubato intro, then swung it with a rustic, brooding minor key gospel feel. Rice reached for the rafters; Workman went for deep, minor-key gospel plaintiveness.

Waldron sang a loose-limbed, unexpectedly funky take of Round Midnight, her calm reassurance contrasting with the enigmatic melody. The group’s take of I Remember You surprisingly did not have vocals and was more nocturnal, all the way through the solos. Rice’s most sizzling, rapidfire moment came in the original after that. The night’s closing number, a brand-new original, was the most bitingly catchy tune of the night, Gainer-Jones subtly driving the groove from funky syncopation to a persistent clave. Workman introduced the song as being inspired by the “current situation,” and left that to the crowd to interpret.

September 11, 2021 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fond Farewells and New Revelations at This Year’s Concluding Naumburg Bandshell Concert

Tuesday night in Central Park, a collective “awwwwww” swept through the crowd when the Naumburg organization’s Christopher London announced that the East Coast Chamber Orchestra‘s concert with pianist Shai Wosner would be the final one of the summer at the bandshell. What a blessing it has been to have these performances at a time when orchestral music has never been more imperiled. And what a great year it’s been! At this time last year, who would have imagined that we would be in a position to be so celebratory now?

It was a night to revisit familiar Mozartean comfort in newfound intimacy, but also to be entranced by far more recent material. The evening’s piece de resistance was Hanna Benn‘s Where Springs Not Fail, based on a morbid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. Dov Scheindlin, one of the three violists in the orchestral string collective, introduced it as “impressionistic and haunting,” which turned out to be an understatement. With an elegance that would define the night, the group parsed its slow, somber, insistent pastoralia with collegial attention to dynamics, anchored with visceral intensity in the lows.

Bassist Anthony Manzo introduced a mournfully tolling theme, the ensemble rising toward fullscale angst but not quite going there. Eventually a sense of closure, however mournful, appeared. The fade down at the end was obliterated by a passing helicopter. Technology destroying the soul: a metaphor for 2021 from above, literally.

The orchestra found even more angst in Osvaldo Golijov’s 1996 composition Last Round, equal parts boxing parable and salute to the composer’s iconic countryman and foundational influence Astor Piazzolla. As a portrait of the combative godfather of nuevo tango bedridden after a stroke and battling but slowly and ineluctably losing it, it’s set up as a couple of string quartets with the bass in the center as referee.

Sparks flew as agitation rose, then a poignant quote from Piazzolla’s Libertango appeared and was spun through a series of permutations. The sudden glissando at the moment of death was crushing; the group’s rise from a hush to a picturesque series of reflections was a vivid an elegy as anyone could have wanted.

The big hits with the crowd were Mozart favorites, which Wosner played from memory with exceptional attunement to underlying emotion. His approach to both the Piano Concerto No. 114 in E flat and No. 12 in A was unhurried, and spacious, and insightful to the nth degree: he’s really gone under the hood with this material.

He opened the night’s first concerto with a liquid, comfortably nocturnal legato, then left no doubt that the second movement was a love song. The conclusion was irresistibly fun, a puckish game of hide-and-seek, and the strings responded in kind.

The closing concerto was just as fresh and convivial, Wosner taking his time with the lustrous contentment of the opening movement, then backing away even further for a muted tenderness and then a sudden sense of trouble around the corner, a cautionary tale stashed away inside a glittery wine-hour piece for the entitled classes of Vienna, 1782-style. Both of these pieces are as standard as standard repertoire gets – and how rare it is that an ensemble can bring out as much inner detail as Wosner and the orchestra did here.

The pianist encored with a poignant, affectionately paced version of Schubert’s Hungarian Melody, D817. This is it for 2021 for the Naumburg Concerts, but a series for 2022 is in the works.

August 5, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blissful Return For Arturo O’Farrill’s Paradigm-Shifting Afro-:Latin Jazz at Birdland

The live music meme in New York this summer is bliss. At his relentlessly entertaining show Sunday night at Birdland with his Afro-Latin Jazz Octet, pianist Arturo O’Farrill spoke to the “infinite loop” between musicians and audience, and how crucial that dynamic is for a performer The club wasn’t quite sold out, probably due to the impending storm outside, but you should have heard the thunderous standing ovation at the end of the show. That infinite loop resonated just as powerfully on both ends.

It helps that O’Farrill is a personable guy and loves to engage the crowd, but in a subtly erudite way. Since the 90s, he’s pushed the envelope about as far as anyone can go with what could loosely be called latin jazz, and he dares the listener to think along with him. And the band seemed as amped as he was to interact with everybody who’d come out.

Much as O’Farrill’s music is colorful and picturesque, there’s always a balance between unbridled passion and a zen-like discipline: nobody in this group overplays. At just about any concert, it’s almost inevitable that somebody gets carried away. Not this crew.

They opened with a broodingly Ellingtonian cha-cha and closed with a more exuberant salsa-jazz tune. Right off the bat, O’Farrill was busting loose: he gets all kinds of props as a composer, but we forget what a brilliant pianist he is. Lickety-split spiral staircase elegance, meticulously articulated yet spine-tingling cascades, moonlight sonatas that flashed by in seconds flat, DAMN. He didn’t confine all that to his opening solo, either.

Trumpeter Jim Seeley and trombonist Mariel Bildstein chose their spots, throughout a lot of deceptively sophisticated counterpoint. Whether everybody in the band is consciously aware of it or not, they’re all ultimately part of the rhythm section.

Bassist Bam Bam Rodriguez ranged from undulating grooves, to hazy uneasy, to a ridiculously comedic exchange with the bandleader late in the set. Drummer Vince Cherico is the secret timbalero in this project, particularly with his hypnotic rimshots, woodblock and bell. Conguero Keisel Jimenez had fun taking a turn on the mic for a singalong, clapalong take of the old salsa classic Manteca. His fellow percussionist Carlos Maldonado fueled several upward trajectories with his boomy cajon while tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta ranged from incisive to balmy to taking a carefree turn on flute.

And the compositions were as wide-ranging as anyone could hope for. There was the shapeshifting, chuffing La Llorona, from one of many of O’Farrill’s ballet suites, scheduled for release on album this winter (if there isn’t lockdowner interference). He drew some laughs when he introduced a restless, lustrous jazz waltz arrangement of the old Scottish air She Moves Through the Fair as a shout-out to his heritage (check the last name for validation).

He explained the matter-of-factly crescendoing Compa’Doug as a portrait of two guys out at night raising hell, although the group took their time with the song’s careful, saturnine development before a rather sober evening rolled into the wee hours. El Sur, a Gabriel Alegria tune, wound out expansively from a Peruvian festejo beat to a hypnotically circular, almost qawwali-ish 6/8 groove with punchy incisions from the horns. And O’Farrill warned that his tune Tanguanco – a mashup of tango and a slinky Cuban rhythm – was dangerously sexy, the percussion section anchoring it with a turbulent undercurrent.

O’Farrill and the octet continue their renewed weekly residency at Birdland every Sunday night at 7 PM; cover s $20.

August 3, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting a Legendary New York Band From the 90s at Drom’s Summer Jazz Festival

It’s Saturday night in the East Village. Drom isn’t packed wall to wall like it was Thursday night for the Mingus Big Band, but there’s a healthy crowd, and it’s growing. Co-owner Serdar Ilhan takes a moment to reflect underneath the gorgeous sepia profile of the Galata Tower in Istanbul just to the right of the stage that greets customers as they walk in.

It’s the most metaphorically loaded, timely visual in any New York club these days: a fifteenth-century edifice, with a synagogue, a mosque and a church visible faintly in the background. Next year, Drom will be celebrating fifteen years of more US debuts of artists and bands from around the world than any other New York club can boast over that time. When did the club open? April of 2007? “I can’t remember,” Ilhan laughs. Then he goes over to the stage and gooses the smoke machine.

That seems a play to signal the band that it’s showtime. On one hand, it’s weird to see Groove Collective onstage, and a room full of people sitting at tables. But this isn’t the Groove Collective that used to pack the Mercury Lounge back in the mid-90s. Frontman and irrepressible freestylist Gordon, a.k.a. Nappy G flew the coop long ago. Not all of the core of the original band remain, and they aren’t the ubiquitous presence they were on the New York club circuit twenty-five years ago. But they’re just as original, and uncategorizable, and over the years have grown closer to being a straight-up jazz band. Which makes sense, considering that this show is part of Drom’s ongoing summer jazz festival.

And it’s date night, and maybe 90s nostalgia night too. There are a group of dancers gathered by the bar as well. The band find new ways to make two-chord vamps interesting, usually involving rhythm. The turbulent river thrown off by a sometimes four-person percussion section: drummer Genji Siraisi, conguero Chris Ifatoye Theberge, multi-percussionist Nina Creese and guest Peter Apfelbaum – contrasts with the often hypnotic insistence from Marcio Garcia’s piano and organ, and the looming ambience of trombonist Josh Roseman and saxophonist Jay Rodriguez.

What becomes clearest is how much the latin influence has come to the forefront in the band’s music. The clave goes doublespeed or halfspeed, Creese often serving as mistress of suspense. Apfelbaum teases the audience with a keyboard solo, running through a bunch of electric piano and organ patches, then switches to melodica for a deep dub breakdown before the groove is relaunched.

Rodriguez shifts between alto, tenor and flute while Roseman serves as co-anchor along with a new bassist, who has the circling riffs in his fingers. Meanwhile, the beat morphs from salsa to funk to trip-hop, a current-day dancefloor thud, and then a shuffling oldschool disco beat at the end of the night. Rodriguez ends up opting to cut loose with his most interesting, energetic riffage of the night early; Roseman, and eventually Apfelbaum on his usual tenor sax, do the opposite.

The next concert in Drom’s ongoing summer jazz festival is August 19 at 7 PM with a killer twinbill of double-threat Camille Thurman – who’s equally dazzling on the mic and the tenor sax – with the Darrell Green Trio, and also trombonist Conrad Herwig with his Quintet. Cover is $30; there’s also an absurdly cheap five-day festival pass for $100 available.

August 2, 2021 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Historic, Ferocious Return to the East Village by the Mingus Big Band

Last night a fired-up, sold-out standing-room-only crowd at Drom got to witness the Mingus Big Band’s historic return to the neighborhood where Sue Mingus first pulled together some of the greatest musicians in jazz to play her iconic husband’s repertoire. Almost thirty years down the road, the current version of  the world’s most formidable large jazz ensemble brought out every moment of irony, bliss, revolutionary politics cynical humor and frequent venom in a stampeding set of some of bassist Charles Mingus’ best-loved tunes.

This was the Mingus Big Band’s first performance since March of 2020, and they were obviously amped to be able to play for an audience at long last. They’ve traded the now-shuttered Jazz Standard for Drom, which has even better sound, similarly good food and a much more romantic ambience. But this show wasn’t about romance, it was about adrenaline.

Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery advised the crowd that they were watching some of the world’s greatest musicians, but he modestly didn’t count himself among them. He let his horn tell that story, pulling an elegy for a long-gone jazzman out of thin air, first with pensive, bluesy phrases that grew more mournful and then tormented, with a series of cruelly ratcheting, downward cascades. Then the band launched into a dynamically rich, stormy take of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Mingus’ requiem for Lester Young.

Throughout the night, solos bristled with displays of extended technique. Just as Escoffery had done, baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian blended keening, shivery harmonics and duotones into her own opening solo, equal parts smoke and fire. Bass trombonist Earl McIntyre – who played with Mingus himself – went for cartoon humor but also spectacular range in his own closing solo.

Pianist David Kikoski’s sudden, deft shift from genial bluesiness to phantasmagoria in a tantalizing solo during the opening number, Gunslinging Birds, speaks to the depth of the group’s immersion in this material. Likewise, drummer Donald Edwards’ hypnotically turbulent solo lured Mingus’ irony-drenched Charlie Parker homage into wee-hours Alphabet City shadows.

Bassist Boris Kozlov and trombonist Conrad Herwig brought pure moody noir to a slinky, shapeshifting cha-cha take of Invisible Lady, a far more obscure number, springboarding off an arrangement by Jack Walrath. Solo-centric as this band always are, the hectic urban bustle and contrasting moments of nocturnal lustre were just as magnetic to witness.

Since reopening, Drom has not only become home to some of the creme de la creme of the Jazz Standard crowd, but also to refugees from the now-shuttered Jazz at Lincoln Center. The next concert in the comfortable, basement-level venue’s ongoing summer jazz festival is tomorrow night. July 31 at 8 PM with 90s acid jazz pioneers Groove Collective; cover is $20.

July 30, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sizzling, Cutting-Edge, Wildly Funky String Jazz Collaboration in Long Island City

It’s impossible to think of a more capsulizing moment for music in New York in 2021 than the concert in a Long Island City parking lot last Sunday. Overhead, the skies blackened, but on the ground, string quartet the Lotus Chamber Music Collective and jazz quartet Momentum joined in a wild, ecstatic collaboration that spoke to the indomitability of New York musicians creating the newest sounds around.

Lotus’ charismatic cellist, Sasha Ono, didn’t bother trying to hide how amped she was to finally be able to play her first concert since last year’s lockdown. The electricity shared by all eight players – perched on the back of a trailer and the bed of a battered 1963 Ford pickup – was pure unleashed cabin fever. This crew had obviously been playing and refining their chops during the time live music was criminalized here. And a big crowd had come out for the fireworks, defying the thunderclouds overhead.

The quartet – which also included violinists Tiffany Weiss and Emily Frederick alongside violist Gizem Yucel – opened with a mixture of lushness and groove, Ono and Momentum bassist Isaac Levien doubling up on the fat low end riffage throughout most of JJ’s Dance, by drummer Elé Howell. It was a slinky, shapeshifting number that gave the band a long launching pad to rise through a blend of Afrobeat, trip-hop and psychedelic funk that drew a straight line back to Roy Ayers. From the back of the truck bed, guitarist Quintin Zoto drove it to a searing peak with a long, feral but erudite solo, capped off with some savage tremolo-picking.

Cultural Appropriation, by Julia Chen had a coy calypso bounce fueled by Howell’s loose-limbed clave, with a similarly slinky Levien bass solo, vibraphonist Grady Tesch rippling through what the clouds overhead were foreshadowing.

Ono told the crowd that she’d been inspired to come up with her arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s La Paloma Azul as a reflection on the South American refugee crisis, the strings introducing its lustrous initial theme followed by the rest of the ensemble’s lilting, bittersweet, Mexican folk-tinged rhythms.

The most ambitiously symphonic interlude of the afternoon was when the two groups mashed up Swing, Low Sweet Chariot with themes from Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet (her Symphony No. 1 was the most-played orchestral work by any American composer in the 1930s). Ono and Tesch had come up with that idea after doing a webcast focusing on Price, whose gospel and jazz-influenced music is getting a long-overdue revival. The highlight was Yucel’s stark viola solo amid the polyrhythms and the constant dynamic shifts.

The eight musicians closed the first set with a determined, lavishly funky take of Shunzo Ohno‘s Musashi, debuting string parts which the jazz legend had written for this performance. It was akin to a particularly energetic segment on the Crusaders’ live album with B.B. King, switching out King’s string-busting bent notes for a torrentially icy guitar attack channeled through Zoto’s chorus pedal. Welcome to the future of serious concert music in New York, 2021: if this is any indication, it’s going to be a hot summer.

The more-or-less weekly outdoor series in the parking lot out behind Culture Lab, 5-25 46th Ave in Long Island City continues at 5 PM tonight, July 24 with careening, microtonally-tinged electric blues band Jane Lee Hooker. The space is just down the block from LIC Bar, further toward the water; take the 7 to Vernon Blvd.

July 24, 2021 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment