Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lyrical Saxophonist Alexa Tarantino Releases Her Debut Album at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino is highly sought after in the New York jazz scene for her high-voltage, expressive sound. But she’s also found the time to do some writing over the last few years, which is where her debut album Winds Of Change – due to be streaming at Posi-Tone Records – comes in. The lineup on the record is killer: Christian Sands on piano, Nick Finzer on trombone, Joe Martin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. She’s playing the album release show on May 28 at Dizzy’s Club, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is steep, $35, but if you can afford it, you’re in for a treat.

Sands’ Debussy-esque poitillisms and a graceful whoosh or three from Royston’s cymbals open the album’s concise first track, Wisp After Wisp. Tarantino play airily and spaciously as she builds to a catchy, allusively bluesy crescendo. Face Value is a briskly shuffling romp, Royston’s firing off his signature, counterintuitive accents, the bandleader jousting playfully with Sands, Finzer adding a coyly jovial solo.

She plays bright, alternately soaring and gritty soprano on Noriko Ueda’s catchy jazz waltz Seesaw, a feature for Tarantino in the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra. Breeze follows an easygoing, vintage 40s sentimental swing tangent up to a hard-charging, blues-infused Sands solo.

Switching to alto flute, Tarantino’s take of Jobim’s Zingaro begins even breezier before Sands brings in the gravitas, Martin pulsing tersely over Royston’s quasi-bolero groove which they slowly edge into amiably dancing territory. Square One, her first-ever composition, is the album’s most epic track, built around a serisio, latin-tinged riff. Royston’s cleverly flickering shuffle underpins Sands’ steadily rising explorations, Tarantino alternating between serenity and shivery flash

The album’s catchiest track among many, Calm is a wistful song without words, Finzer parsing the melody gingerly, Tarantino taking flight as the group shift toward funk behind her. Undercurrent, centered around a bassline that’s more of a horn line, could be an Eric Dolphy jukebox jazz hit, Sands’ jaunty, New Orleans-tinged solo over Royston’s endless series of unexpected jabs.

The group burn through Ready or Not, Finzer ripsnorting and Tarantino spiraling over a tight but subtly shapeshifting, rapidfire shuffle. Tarantino and Sands open the closing ballad, Without as a duo, tenderly, her spacious, hopeful resonance over wary piano and an expansive groove. As memorable as all these tunes are, it’s a good bet Tarantino has even more up her sleeve.

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May 20, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edgy, Catchy, Individualistic Guitar/Cello Sounds and a Barbes Gig From Sean Moran’s Sun Tiger

Guitarist Sean Moran inhabits an uneasy netherworld between jazz, abstract rock and metal. He’s the rare six-string player in any of those idioms who doesn’t waste notes. His album with his excellent, similarly multistylistic trio, Sun Tiger with cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re opening a great twinbill at Barbes on May 21 at 7 PM; Balkan brass monsters Slavic Soul Party, who lately have been going to some even stranger mprovisational places than usual, play at 9 for a $10 cover. You may want to stay for the whole night.

The first track on the Sun Tiger album is Suns, catchy cello and then guitar riffs over a circular groove, offering absolutely no hint that the band will plunge into squalling doom metal. Finally, Roberts gets to run with the the carchy opening theme again.

One for Lacy is a twisted semi-strut with what seem to be good cop/bad cop roles (cello and guitar, respectively), some simmering slide work from Moran, a bit of a dancing bassline from Roberts, and many allusions to Monk. A Steve Lacy homage, maybe?

Without a pause, the band go straight into the album’s most epic track, Arc, skronk and sunbaked psychedelic guitar resonance contrasting with a little tongue-in-cheek metal frenzy. Sperrazza’s anvil snare – talk about a distinctive sound! – keeps the monster on the rails until everybody calmly and gently diverges, up to a hazy slight return.

Roberts’ droll Indian campfire licks over Sperrazza’s cymbal pointillisms open the slowly loping pastoral jazz theme Cheyenne, the album’s most sparse and arguably catchiest number. Roberts takes a turn at a little squealing metal over a quasi-qawwali beat as Big Shoes gets underway; then Moran puts the hammer down with a series of crunchy, syncopated riffs and all hell eventually breaks loose. A sailing Roberts pulls it together as Moran snipes and squiggles a little, then gets dirty again.

The surreal, rather morose ballad Eye Eye sounds like deconstructed Big Lazy, veering between purist postbop and more than a hint of noir: it’s the album’s most memorable track. Likewise, the final number, Percival, crawls like a scorpion and then hits a resolute stomp, Moran and Roberts both shifting in a split second between relative calm and distorted grit. Yet another example of the kind of casual magic that happens when translucent tunesmithing ends up in the hands of great improvisers.

May 18, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Allegra Levy Brings Her Nocturnal Reinventions to Birdland

Allegra Levy is the rare more-or-less straight-ahead jazz singer who writes her own material. It’s very good. Her latest album Looking at the Moon – streaming at youtube – is a departure for her, both musically and contentwise. It’s all covers, and the arrangements are especially intimate. What’s consistent with her previous albums is that this is a song cycle. It’s a bunch of tunes about the moon, and Levy’s vocals match the eclecticism of the selections. She’s playing Birdland tomorrow night, May 15 at 7 PM; you can get in for twenty bucks, a real steal at that joint.

The biggest shocker on the album turns out to be the best track: Nick Drake’s iconic Pink Moon reinvented as a duet with Tim Norton’s balletesque bass. The lingering dread in Levy’s delivery is only slightly more direct than the original. And Neil Young’s Harvest Moon turns out to be an apt vehicle for Levy’s minutely nuanced, somewhat misty vocals: this is her most Karrin Allyson-esque record. The comet trail from guitarist Alex Goodman as Levy eases into the third verse is sublime. Beyond those two numbers, most of the songs are familiar standards, although Levy’s approach is hardly conventional.

Her longtime collaborator, the brilliant pianist Carmen Staaf edges toward phantasmagoria with her steady,  roller rink-tinged piano throughout their take of Moon River, the nocturnal suspense enhanced by the absence of drums: that’s just Norton in back. I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning (And the Moon at Night) is a tentatively content quartet piece, Goodman adding a purist solo after a jaunty, bluesy one from Staaf.

Blue Moon gets a playful, rather pointillistic treatment that brings to mind Sofia Rei, especially as the band edge their way toward bossa nova. The mutedly dancing Vegas noir of Moon Ray looks back to the Nancy King version, while Moonlight in Vermont sounds nothing like Margaret Whiting: that one’s a hushed, spare duet with Goodman.

A low-key Moonglow is the least individualistic of the tracks here, although Norton’s minimalistic solo is tasty. By contrast, Levy really nails the coy humor in Polka Dots and Moonbeams: it’s a treat to hear Staaf’s starry righthand throughout the album, particularly on this track. No Moon at All has simmer, and distant unease, and sotto-voce joy: it brings to mind Champian Fulton in a rare hushed moment.

It’s Only a Paper Moon is the album’s funniest track: it’s an unusually fast song for the somewhat ironically named bandleader. And I’ll Be Seeing You is on the record since the last line begins with “I’ll be looking at the moon” – and because Steeplechase Records honcho Nils Winther wanted it. The only miss here is an attempt to salvage a morbidly cloying AM radio hit by a 70s folksinger who went by Yusuf Islam for a time, and supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. A fascist nutjob by any other name is still a fascist nutjob.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fearless Individualism and Fearsome Chops from Trumpeter Jaimie Branch

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch has made a lot of waves with her sepulchral extended technique, which is only one of the many, many weapons in her arsenal. She has a rich, resounding Wadada Leo Smith-like tone and fast fingers on the valves, yet she’s more likely to build a song without words around catchy riffage. In the proud AACM tradition, the native Chicagoan is a rare example of an improviser with a laserlike sense of melody, yet she also isn’t afraid of controlled chaos – and the other kind of chaos too. Her debut album Fly or Die, one of the most entertaining jazz releases of the year so far, is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing Roulette tomorrow night, May 4 at 8 PM with her drum-trumpet duo Anteloper and then with the quartet on the new album; advance tix are $18 and still available as of today.

Tomeka Reid’s cello and Jason Ajemian’s bass exchange funky riffs while the bandleader’s terse, bluesy hooks and spine-tingling flurries rise over drummer Chad Taylor’s splattershot shuffle as the opening number, simply titled Theme 001, gets underway. A gorgeous decay, guitarist Matt Schneider plucking his way into the picture, triggers a segue into Meanwhile, a hazy, horizontal intelude where Taylor gets to spin around his kit and keep everybody centered

From there they segue once again, into Theme 002, a catchy, plucky cello tune over Ajemian’s steady, wry vintage ska beat: Lloyd Knibb would be proud to hear what the guy does here. Branch and Reid walk slightly different paths on separate sides of the street

Cornetists Josh Berman and Ben Lamar Gay join Branch for Leaves, in a wistful and then anguished reverb-drenched, twistedly produced call-and-response: the repercussions, everybody milling around uneasily, take up half the track. The Storm draws on downward slides from the strings and emphatic, steady drum work awash in a sea of reverb, Branch untethered and alone but resolute, completely unafraid. The group march their ghostly way out.

Waltzer is not a waltz but a gently marching backdrop for Branch to make a slow trail in from desolation to vintage 50s Miles ebullience, Taylor and Ajemian bubbling as Reid eases her in with a hypnotic stroll. The album’s title track is a sputtering, spacious solo miniature, followed by the catchy, bluesily bustling Theme Nothing: Schneider’s evil waterslide runs are a highlight, as is Taylor’s quasi-Balkan, rat-a-tat rimshot attack behind Branch’s searing rattle. The gentle, nocturnal guitar miniature Back at the Ranch closes the album on an unexpected note. Expect similarly counterintuitive things from this fearlessly individualistic talent in the years to come.

May 3, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Stone Residency This Week by One of the World’s Greatest, Most Relevant Pianists

Pianist Satoko Fujii made headlines by releasing an album a month last year. That brings her discography to over seventy releases as a bandleader. That’s B.B. King territory -and is even more astonishing since King was in his late eighties by the time he hit that mark. Fujii, who just turned sixty, has never sounded more relevant, or more powerful than she has lately. Her harrowing Fukushima Suite with her Orchestra New York – a venomous indictment of duplicity and greed on the part of the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company for covering up the ongoing effects of the world’s first mass-scale waterborne nuclear disaster – was picked as best album of 2017 here. Her most recent flurry of releases since then are not as overtly dark but are all worth hearing, for the sheer depth of her melodies, her prowess and conversational sensibility as an improviser, and value as a jazz magnet: so many people want to play with her. She’s got a weeklong residency at the Stone at the New School starting tomorrow night, April 30 and continuing through May 4, leading a different ensemble every night at 8:30 PM; cover is $20.

Opening night, with her Orchestra New York, is an obvious choice, but the May 1 duo set with bassist Joe Fonda is just as tempting. The two have recorded two live albums together. The first, simply titled Duet – streaming at Bandcamp -is a real landmark, especially considering that the two had never even met before their late 2015 performance to a small but rapt crowd at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, Maine. Fonda floated first floated the idea to Fujii, who at the time only had an inkling of who he was (this is what happens when you spend all your time making albums and playing shows).

The concert features two improvisations. The first, titled Paul Bley, clocks in at almost 38 nonstop minutes. The second, JSN – meaning Joe, Satoko, Natsuki (Fujii’s husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura) is two-thirds less epic. Since Fonda initiated the collaboration, he gets to starts the first number solo, with a dancing pulse. Fujii joins him and follows as he gravitates toward a funky lope, but then she starts dancing outside the lines, leaping and quickly adding one of her signature tropes, a saturnine glimmer. Insistent piano chords lead to scrambling phrases; Fonda stays steady and emphatic to the point where Fujii leaves him to carry the tune. Her re-entry, falling through a nighty sky with a steady, fast exchange of righthand and lefthand chords, is stellar in every possible sense of the word.

Some scampering up to a twisted, staccato boogie, a wry conversation with Fujii doing nails-down-the-strings inside the piano, and Fonda growling and blooping around follow in turn. Fujii hits a momentary bumblebee flight; there are some scrapes and scrambles and shuffles and more of that surreal quasi-boogie. There’s also a long passage where Fujii plays bad cop versus Fonda’s goodnatured leaps, accents and occasionally warpy drollery – except in a rare moment where he switches to flute for balmy contrast.

Fujii hints at grimness and austere Debussy-esque lustre, then branches outward, lightheartedly as Fonda ‘s sometimes sputtering, sometimes balletesque phrasing subtly echoes her. They hammer and bustle and suddenly freeze. The coda is unexpectedly starry and gamelanesque.

Tamura opens the second number with a coy, distant, loopy muted phrase; both Fujii and Fonda move with slow deliberation toward modal eeriness. Fujii turns more of that Debussy enigma phrasing into a funhouse-mirror paraphrase of Chopsticks; Tamura leads the trio into a Keystone Kops in the Rainforest tableau. Who would expect so much almost outrageous humor after all that intensity? Yet they leave the ending with a aching lack of resolve, whistling across a vast, intimidating steppe. All of this and more will probably be conjured up at the Stone this week.

April 29, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | Leave a comment

Psychedelic Middle Eastern-Flavored Improvisation and a Brooklyn Show by Nadah El Shazly

Multi-instrumentalist singer Nadah El Shazly isn’t the only musician to explore the connection between highly improvisational, classic Egyptian music and American free jazz, but she’s one of the most purposeful and distinctive. El Shazly’s latest release Carte Blanche – streaming at Bandcamp – is an ep featuring Lebanese improvisational ensemble Karkhana. She’s headlinng an intriguing twinbill on April 24 at around 9 at Brooklyn Music School at 126 St Felix St, up the block and around the corner from BAM. Stefan Tcherepnin and Taketo Shimada’s dirgey duo project Afuma open the night at 8. Cover is $20; be aware that if you’re coming from outside the neighborhood, the closest train, the G, is not running, but the Atlantic Ave. station is just around the corner.

The album opens with the allusively creepy Prends-moi un Photo Pendant Que Je Pleure (French for “Take a Picture of Me While I’m Crying”), a blend of loopy, high, bubbling textures with gamelanesque ripples and pings. In between, El Shazly’s otherworldly, tectonic vocalese and stark, surreal oud spike the midrange. The second track – whose title translates roughly as “Lift the Sidewalk, I Can’t Figure Out Where to Go From Here” – begins with a gentle, deft series of exchanges – more of that gamelesque twinkle, plus elegant guitar clang, buzzy synth, and a backward masking effect. From there, it grows more emphatically percussive and surreal. Imagine Carol Lipnik, tied and muzzled, in a Cairo funhouse mirror.

The English translation of the title of the final cut is In My Mouth, Another Mouth, an electroacoustic trip-hop number with disembodied vocals and pulsing, insectile layers arranged around a simple, echoey sample. While there’s nothing distinctly Middle Eastern about the melody, such that there is one, remember that trip-hop is a rai beat that originated in Tunisia. El Shazly, an erudite oudist with a passion for early 20th century Egyptian improvisation, would probably want something like that to be acknowledged.

April 22, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uneasy Atmospheres and a Park Slope Gig by Trumpeter Nate Wooley

Trumpeter Nate Wooley has been on the front lines of the New York avant garde for almost twenty years. His latest album Columbia Icefield – streaming at Bandcamp – includes three tracks, two of them about twenty minutes long, a mix of the hypnoic and confrontational, the subdued and the dynamic. His next gig is an enticingly intimate one, at the Old Stone House in Park Slope tomorrow night, April 18 at 8 PM. Cover is $10

The album’s first number, Lionel Trilling begins with an overlapping series of contrastingly calm and agitated loops, spiced here and there with uneasy close harmonies. Ripsnorting textures intrude and then recede; finally a series of recognizable, spare, resonant, Wadada Leo Smith-like trumpet variations move to the center of the sonic picture. Mary Halvorson’s coldly clanging, loopy guitar, Susan Alcorn’s minutely textured pedal steel and Ryan Sawyer’s drum riffs linger and echo in the distance. From there it’s back to loops and then more rhythmic variations: just when the music seems about to drift off into the ether, something unexpected happens.

Seven in the Woods coalesces quickly into a moody dirge, desolate trumpet over lingering guitar jangle. Once the stringed instruments fade out, it grows more rhythmic and warmer, the second part with a lustrous, ambered brass interlude. Spacy bubbles from the guitar push it away; a momentary return once again is interrupted, this time by wailing, randomly shreddy fretwork as the drums tumble. The band bring it elegaically full circle at the end.

With Condolences is the album’s most spare, spacious, Wadada Leo Smith-inflected number, individual voices loosening and diverging, up to a moodily atmospheric series of tectonic shifts as the bandleader intones a nebulously regretful vocal interlude. The return to lustre and then a sense of mourning is unselfconsciously poignant: we’re in deep trouble when all the polar ice is gone. Wadada Leo Smith fans will love this record.

April 17, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Relive a Lost, Rarely Documented Era in New York Music History…and Discover a New One at the Roulette Archive

If you ran a club, would you record everything ever played there? Among venues around the world, never mind New York, Roulette probably holds the record for owning the most exhaustive archive of concert performances. Smallshas been documenting their own scene since the zeros, but Roulette goes back over two decades before then. What’s most astonishing is the wealth of material in the Roulette archive. Sure – virtually everyone who ever played a gig anywhere in the world where there’s an internet connection has been documented on youtube. But Roulette’s archive goes back to 1980, long before most people even had video cameras. It got a gala, mid-February relaunch, with a characteristically celestial, rippling performance by inventor, composer and one-man electric gamelan Pat Spadine a.k.a. Ashcan Orchestra.

Although Roulette has deep roots as a spot for free jazz, practically since the beginning they’ve been programming music and multidisciplinary work that few other venues would touch. The archive validates founder and trombonistJim Staley’s vision of how crucial that stubborn commitment to music at the furthest, most adventurous fringes would become. Staley originated the Roulette brand in the late 70s. As a New York venue, it opened as a jazz loft on West Broadway in 1980, eventually migrated to Wooster Street and now sits across from the site of another storied New York music hotspot that was forced to move, Hank’s, on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Looking back, it’s astonishing to see how many artists who would become iconic, not only in the free jazz or avant garde demimondes, were part of the 80s Roulette scene. Shows from early in the decade featured a characteristically diverse cast: John Zorn, big band revivalist Jim McNeely and doomed polymath/indie classical pioneer Julius Eastman each played solo piano here. A young Ned Rothenberg led several ensembles, as did Butch Morris, refining his signature conduction in front of a relatively small (for him) improvisational ensemble.

Pauline Oliveros made her Roulette debut in 1984, Elliott Sharp and Bill Frisellthe following year. The earliest performance currently available online dates from 1985: the late Jerry Hunt building a swirl of insistent, astringent analog loops behind what must have been a spectacularly physical, outlandish performance. As the archive describes it, he was “Wearing his ubiquitous jacket and tie, with his equipment suitcase that doubled as a performance seat and percussion instrument, button controllers made from Bakelite dishes, optical sensors triggering video disks, fetish objects including shakers, sticks, and rattles made by David McManaway, and convincing all in attendance that they were watching a ceremonial magician.”

The next one is from October, 1986: Tenko and Kamura singing over skronky guitar and snapping, distorted bass, with Zeena Parkins on both her usual harp and also piano. Later that month the venue booked a night of all women improvisers: once again, Roulette was way ahead of its time.

From later in the decade, you can hear Tom Johnson’s 1978 composition Chord Catalogue, comprising the 8,178 chords that can be made using the notes in a single octave. ”The audio recording is interrupted briefly at the 74 minute point as the original recording media capacity was reached and the tape was changed.” Another rare treat is Frisell playing solo on March 13, 1989: “Solo guitar: electric, acoustic and banjo covering Thelonious Monk, Nino Rota, Disney soundtrack tunes, plus originals.”

The past twenty years are also represented: here’s a random, envelopingly ambient clip of sound sculptor and singer Lesley Flanigan from 2015. The venue also has the Roulette TV series up online, including both live performances and studio footage of artists they’ve championed recently.

These days Roulette keeps programming weird and often rapturously good stuff. Multimedia is big, but they still have regular free jazz, ambient and new orchestral and chamber music. In the past few years, they’ve also become a Brooklyn home for Robert Browning Associates’ annual slate of amazing performers playing traditional music from around the world. One such is this Friday, March 12 at 8 PM, a rare NYC concert of Indian veena music by virtuoso Jayanthi Kumaresh. You can get in for thirty bucks in advance.

April 11, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert | Leave a comment

Catchy, Thoughtful, Purposeful Guitar Instrumentals and a Bed-Stuy Gig by Guitarist Ryan Dugre

Do you ever wonder what the few competent musicians who play indie rock actually do on their own time, when they’re not jumping from one hired-gun gig to the next? Guitarist Ryan Dugre’s gently captivating, tersely tuneful new album The Humors – streaming at Bandcamp – is one answer to that question. Dugre plays much of it solo, both electric and acoustic, varying his textures, using a lot of loops. He has a pastoral streak as well as a penchant for rainy-day pensiveness. A lot of this you could call Bil Frisell Junior. Dugre is playing C’Mon Everybody on April 15 at 8 PM; cover is $10.

For a minute – and that’s about it – the album’s opening track, irts Tide, sounds like it’s going to linger in careful, mannered, peevishly unresolved indie territory…then Dugre introduces a disarmingly pretty, wistful theme, and ends up completely flipping the script with it. It’s a song without words worthy of Frisell.

Tasty, watery, tremoloing chorus-box sonics contrast with a spiky, Americana-tinged, fingerpicked melody in Mateo Alone. Dugre picks out a hushed, calmly steady, baroque-tinged tune over orchestral washes in Bali, up to a moody, feathery arrangement for strings. New June is a tantalizing miniature: Dugre could have taken this shift from hints of psychedelic majesty to jazz exploration much further than he does..

He returns to spare, casually strolling, brooding Frisellian territory with Smoke From Above, the strings once again adding wary ambience. The alternately pulsing and resonant Wild Common is assembled around coy echo effects, as is High Cloud, the album’s most hypnotically loopy number.

Tonight is a Lynchian, Britfolk-tinged ballad without words, a clinic in implied melody and arguably the album’s most impactful track. In a lot of ways, the stately title cut is an apt summation of the album, part baroque, part Beatles. The concluding number, In Tall Grass, is aptly titled, a summery, vintage soul-tinged tableau. Whether you call this pastoral jazz, soundtrack music or Americana, it’s a breath of fresh, woodsy air.

April 9, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Musical Power Couple Salute the Bravery and Fortitude of the Millions Who Made the Great Migration

Saturday night at Carnegie Hall, historian Isabel Wilkerson related the story of a black American soldier from South Carolina who joined the army in World War I to escape the oppressive conditions of Jim Crow. After the war, he returned triumphantly to his hometown, in uniform. At the train station, he was met by a group of white supremacists who demanded he take off his uniform and walk home in his underwear. The soldier refused. A few days later, he was lynched. The murder was never investigated.

As Wilkerson finished with the narrative, singer Alicia Hall Moran and her jazz pianist husband, Jason Moran, launched into a blithe, whistling take of the old vaudeville hit How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree). That crushing sarcasm spoke to the evening’s theme: the legacy of the Great Migration, where six million black American citizens wound up following the road and the train tracks north to escape the hideous antebellum conditions that the southern states reinstated after Union troops withdrew in 1877. We all know the ugly story: until the Civil Rights Movement, it was almost as if the Confederates won the war.

The Morans assembled a vast lineup of over sixty musicians and speakers from jazz, classical and gospel music to commemorate that escape, and the incredible impact it had on American culture, politics and the arts. It’s probably safe to say that even without the influx of southern blacks into the northern states, the raw materials that musicians would combine to create jazz and then rock music were already in place. There’s no question, however, that the Great Migration enabled both to gain critical mass.

The Morans chose an apt venue to debut this star-studded extravaganza, titled Two Wings: The Music of Black Americans in Migration. A century ago, Carnegie Hall was a hotspot for African-American culture: anybody who was anybody in music, almost from the venue’s inception, most likely played here at some point. Alicia Hall Moran’s great-uncle, the great musicologist, choir leader and musician Hall Johnson, was one of them, having made his own Great Migration some eighty years before Jason Moran, proud son of Houston’s Third Ward, also decided to become a New Yorker.

Much of the music on the bill was chosen for its utility and solace to four generations of refugees from the south, although the program deviated jubilantly from that script at the night wore on. The only style that Alicia Hall Moran has been steeped in that she didn’t approach this particular evening was the avant garde. Otherwise, she spanned from jazz, to ragtime, to gospel, to the classicized  approach to 19th century spirituals that Hall Johnson is arguably best known for. And the single strongest song of the night might have been an original of hers, Believe Me. Backed by her husband and the Harlem Chamber Players, she delivered what might be best described as noir cinematic art-soul with a brooding, fixated lower-register intensity.

Likewise, Jason Moran may be best known as one of this era’s foremost jazz pianists, but he’s also a first-rate classical composer, evidenced not only by his film scores but also his historical suite, Cane, two segments of which he played, bolstered by the Imani Winds. Emphatic rhythmic insistence gave way to intricate swirls that brought to mind Carl Nielsen, Moran lowlit in the background. His most breathtaking moment was when he brought out all the eerie Messianic close-harmonied phantasmagoria in James P. Johnson’s Carolina Shout – much as Johnson no doubt did on this same stage a century before.

One after another, the cameos kept coming. Toshi Reagon sagely rocked out a Sister Rosetta Tharpe number. Pianist Joseph Joubert made jackhammering jazz out of a gospel standard, while Pastor Smokie Norful showed off not only his spectacular vocal range but also impressive piano chops. James Carter validated his rep as the last guy you want to have to face in a cutting contest, machinegunning through his valves, overtones whistling from every conceivable spot on his tenor sax, throughout a ruthless shredding of Illinois Jacquet’s solo from Lionel Hampton’s Flying Home. Violinists Ashley Horne and Curtis Stewart engaged in a more wryly sympatico exchange in their take of the cakewalk Louisiana Blues Strut.

Metropolitan Opera veteran Hilda Harris shared her stories of breaking the color barrier, matter-of-fact and assured. Rev. James A. Forbes Jr.’s benedictory introduction to Alicia Hall Moran’s shivery take of Lord, How Come Me Here was grounded in here-and-now politics and historical context that would have made Dr. King proud. After a tantalizingly brief, brooding, lushly orchestrated segment from Jason Moran’s score to the film Selma, his wife capped off the night, joined by the entire orchestra and wind section, for a triumphant take of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

The Morans are bringing this program – presumably with the same cast – to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC on April 14 at 8 PM, with other national dates to follow.

April 2, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, gospel music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, soul music | Leave a comment