Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Rage Against the Machine in the Former Belly of the Beast

In their sold-out concert at the Park Avenue  Armory Wednesday night, cutting-edge 24-member choral ensemble the Crossing delivered a breathtakingly virtuosic rebuke to anyone who might think that rage is not all the rage these days. The Armory dates back to the 19th century and is decorated throughout with high quality Civil War memorabilia. According to heraldic engravings in all sorts of precious metals, sixty-five of New York’s entitled classes died fighting to keep the Union together. It’s hardly a stretch to consider that their patriotism may have reflected less of an endorsement of civil liberties for all Americans, black and white, than the desire to keep sources of raw materials in the south safe in the grip of northern banksters.

Conductor Donald Nally’s choice to stage the group’s performance there was as daring as it was obvious. Each room utilized for the concert’s two sets is rich with natural reverb. in a proud tradition that goes back long before Laurie Anderson‘s legendary performances at the Armory, this was yet another reclamation of the space in the name of something other than killing.

Eight of the pieces on the program were New York premieres. The trio of cellists Thomas Mesa, Arlen Hlusko and Sujin Lee opened with the subtly shifting, hypnotically circling riffs of David Lang’s Depart as the crowd filed in. The singers then took their places one by one and treated the audience to a night of daunting counterpoint, playfully challenging extended technique, kaleidoscopic interplay and glistering, often achingly enveloping polyphony.

Central to the program were two breathtaking pieces by Gabriel Jackson. Our Flags Are Wafting in Hope and Grief, with its cleverly expanding cell-like phrases and dramatic cadenzas, brought to life Latvian writer Doris Koreva’s poem addressing a crucial, pivotal historical moment from which there can be no return. There’s cruel ambiguity in its flag imagery; the ensemble’s  emphatic intensity weighed in on the side of the perils of nationalism rather than potential triumphs.

The similarly circling first segment of Jackson’s Rigwreck could have been dispensed with, but the diptych’s second part was as gripping as it is relevant, connecting the dots from the question of eternal vigilance to its absence in both the BP Gulf oil spill catastrophe, and also our own relationships. The pinpoint precision of the group’s gusts underscored the grim cautionary tale in Pierre Joris’ text, a fervent wakeup call about the corporate interests and money culture that pollute individual lives as toxically as the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline were in 2010.

Kile Smith’s Conversation on the Mountain – from his suite Where Flames a Word – gave the choir a wide-open field for all sorts of deft, subtly baroque-inflected call-and-response that twinkled and sometimes burst from every corner of the stage. A brief premiere, by Louis Andriessen rose to anguished close harmonies. By contrast, the group got to let off some steam with Ted Hearne’s Animals, voicing an entire Nile riverbank bestiary with unleashed abandon and an undercurrent of Orwellian cynicism.

The choice of opening the second half of the concert with the knifes-edge close harmonies of Suzanne Giraud’s Johannisbaum instantly set the tone for the unease of the rest of the program, the cellists joined by a trio of soprano Abigail Chapman, mezzo-soprano Elisa Sutherland and a masterfully precise blonde woman whose image hasn’t yet made it to Google. Unfair as it is to single out a singer from a performance where selfless teamwork is so crucial, Sutherland’s soul-infused expressiveness and unselfconscious joie de vivre explain why she was front and center throughout much of the show.

There was also hypnotic, atmospheric rapture in Sebastian Currier’s Sanctus, from his Night Mass, and a final, wistfully precarious contemplation of our ongoing existence by Lang. Needless to say, it was a sobering idea to take home.

The Crossing’s next concert, on Sept 29 at 8 PM features indie classical chamber group International Contemporary Ensemble, with works by Hearne, Lang and Caroline Shaw at Montclair State University’s Kasser Theatre. Tix are $30; a $10 shuttle bus leaves from behind Port Authority about an hour and a half before the show. It’s about a 45-minute ride from Manhattan. 

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September 21, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guitar Goddess Mary Halvorson Plays an Epic Double Album Release Show

There was a point Monday night at the Poisson Rouge where guitarist Mary Halvorson landed on a disarmingly disconsolate four-chord phrase and then ran with it, methodically and gracefully, for longer than she did with any other idea throughout two sets onstage. She doesn’t typically go for the jugular until she’s built up to it, but this was different. Square in the middle of the fretboard, on the middle strings…on an vintage acoustic guitar miked through the PA. Meanwhile, flutist Robbie Lee wafted further and further behind her, realizing that it was the most gorgeous moment in a night that would be full of them.

By the end of the second set, a duet with Bill Frisell, Halvorson had gone back to her hollowbody Gibson electric – and played with a slide. Her brooding, flickering solo was a subtly potent payoff in the wake of a long series of gently keening incisions, Frisell providing a backdrop of warmly wistful pastoral riffs. She’s hardly known as a slide guitarist – this, and the rest of the evening was a message that she’s even more of a polygon than anybody knew. Does she have a Rickenbacker twelve-string stashed away behind the 19th century harp guitar she employed for much for the first set? After almost two hours of a fairly radical departure from her usual enigmatic intensity, that wouldn’t be a surprise.

Some acts make a whole tour out of “album release shows.” Halvorson packed two into one night, celebrating duo releases with both Lee and Frisell. After watching the first set, her album with multi-high-reedman Lee seems to be more composition-oriented than its liner notes indicate. And her set with Frisell, rather than being a high-voltage summit meeting between two of the three greatest jazz guitarists alive, was more introspective and casually conversational. But that made sense, considering that the two guitarists’ new album The Maid with the Flaxen Hair salutes Johnny Smith, one of the godfathers of pastoral jazz.

Goodnaturedly and judiciously, Frisell played second fiddle to his younger colleague, a clinic in spare, purposeful, lingering folk-inflected fills. There were a couple of points early on where he went to his trusty loop pedal while Halvorson went warp-crazy with her octave pedal for some collegial messiness before regrouping for pensive, wistful melody. Otherwise, he gave her a wide berth to indulge in a lot of sarcasm before she pulled back on the pedal and used it for bent-note plaintiveness rather than bizarre space lounge sonics. When they got to Walk, Don’t Run, Frisell seemed poised to leap into the surf, but Halvorson went for restraint instead. Frisell has done a lot of duo work lately and this was a typical example in peak subtlety.

Halvorson’s set with Lee was as allusively haunting as the one with Frisell – a connoisseur of noir, by the way – was warmly tuneful. Although Lee also ceded centerstage to her, his Middle Eastern chromatics and quavering microtones behind her steady, modal single-note lines were exquisitely chosen. Playing the harp guitar – an acoustic predecessor of double-necked Spinal Tap excess – she hammered on the open bass strings and picked out delicate melody against them, sitar-style. Mixing in tense, clenched-teeth tremolo-picking, she held the crowd rapt with her resolutely unresolved rainy-day chords as Lee built a gentle mist in her slipstream.

Frisell’s next appearance is on Sept 23 at the Pacific Jazz Cafe as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

September 19, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organist Christopher Houlihan Pulls Out All the Stops at an Iconic Venue

The titanic 1954 Schantz organ at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark is one of the most coveted instruments in the world. To witness an organist capable of maximizing its vast capabilities is one of the most thrilling concert experiences in this hemisphere. Yesterday evening, to open the fiftieth anniversary season of this nation’s longest-running cathedral concert series, Christopher Houlihan delivered an epic, literally breathtaking performance of reinvented standard repertoire and unexpected treats.

With over ten thousand pipes spread from one end of the cathedral to the other, there are few instruments that can deliver surround-sound stereo at such gale force. There were several instances where Houlihan literally pulled out all the stops, which was nothing short of exhilatating, but the ride getting there was just as entertaining, and revelatory.

He bookended the show with Bach – an emphatic, triumphant encore, as if to say with a grin, “I own this space now” – and a reinvention of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582. Since organs of the composers’s era were considerably smaller, there’s no question he would have at the very least approved of how imaginatively Houlihan varied his textures, from the otherworldly rustic melancholy of the introduction, through ghostly flutes, stygian pedalwork and mighty blasts of brass from the trompette en chamade located like a bullseye, front and center.

“You have no idea of how much fun I’ve had practicing for this concert,” Houlihan confided to the crowd. “To be alone in this cathedral with just the organ is…” he was at a loss for words, a kid in a candy store. So he let the music do the talking, beginning with a similarly colorful, dynamic tour of Schumann’s Four Sketches for pedal-piano, opus 58. Typically played on the organ rather than the quaint hybrid instrument they were written for, Houlihan elevated them with appropriate gravitas and majesty through swirls and swells, lushness contrasting with a hushed, spare quality in places, taking full advantage of the multiplicity of textural options.

Herbert Howells’ Master Tallis’s Testament, a salute to medieval British composer Thomas Tallis, had similar dynamic richness, Houlihan playing with a remarkable robustness that brought to mind the central theme’s similarity to Jehan Alain’s famous quasi-toccata Le Jardin Suspendu. That set the stage for a smartly counterintuitive triptych of excerpts from the symphonies of Louis Vierne, the iconic French organist and composer.

There was great historical precedent for that choice. Houlihan’s teacher, John Rose, founded the cathedral concert series a half-century ago and was in the audience. In the mid-70s, he’d staged a marathon performance of Vierne’s complete organ symphonies in this space. But rather than brimming with the angst and wrath that Vierne can channel with unparalleled intensity, Houlihan concentrated on disparate moods as well as Vierne’s unexpectedly puckish sense of humor.

Whether intentional or not, it also made a good capsule survey of the development of Vierne’s compositional style. The Scherzo, from Symphony No. 2, was gleaming, pouncing and insistent, proto-Messiaen without all the birdsong quotes. The Romance, from Symphony No. 4, was a vast nightscape delivered with silken expressiveness. Finally, Houlihan threw caution to the wind and attacked the Toccata from Vierne’s 24 Pièces de Fantaisie with a stiletto intensity. Yet even as this hurricane of sound grew from bluster toward sheer terror, there was an immutable, stunning balance, Houlihan confident amid the torrents in the very eye of the storm.

The cathedral concert series continues on Oct 21 at 4 PM with choral works by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, and Verdi performed by a stellar cast including Theodore Chletsos, Sandra Mercado, Jorge Ocasio, Elizabeth Perryman, and Klára Zíková-English; suggested donation is $15. Houlihan’s next recital is on Sept 28 at 7:30 PM with the Festival Orchestra, performing the mighty Poulenc Organ Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave. at Huntington St. in Hartford, Connecticut

September 17, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transcendence and Joy with Souren Baronian’s Taksim at Barbes

Every year here, sometime in December, there’s a list of the best New York concerts from over the past twelve months. Obviously, it’s not definitive – nobody has the time, and no organization has the manpower to send somebody to every single worthwhile concert in this city and then sort them all out at the end of the year.

But it’s an awful lot of fun to put together. Legendary Armenian jazz multi-reedman Souren Baronian has a way of showing up on that list just about every year, and he’ll be on the best shows of 2018 page here, too. This past evening at Barbes, he and his Taksim ensemble – Adam Good on oud, son Lee Baronian on percussion, Mal Stein on drums and Sprocket Royer on bass, tucked way back in the far corner – channeled every emotion a band could possibly express in a tantalizing fifty minutes or so onstage. Surprise was a big one. There were lots of laughs, in fact probably more than at any other of Baronian’s shows here over the past few years. There was also longing, and mourning, and suspense, and majesty and joy.

Baronian came out of Spanish Harlem in the late 40s, a contemporary of Charlie Parker. Considered one of the original pillars of Near Eastern jazz, as he calls it, Baronian immersed himself in both bebop and what was then a thriving Manhattan Armenian music demimonde. In the years since, he literally hasn’t lost a step. Much as he can still fly up and down the valves, and played vigorously on both soprano sax and clarinet, his performances are more about soul than speed and this was typical. Some of his rapidfire rivulets recalled Coltrane, or Bird, but in those artists’ most introspective and purposeful moments. And neither dove headfirst into the chromatics to the extent that Baronian does.

He opened with a long, incisively chromatic riff that was as catchy as it was serpentine – a typical Baronian trait. Good doubled the melody while Royer played terse low harmonies against it, the percussion section supplying a solid slink. Baronian’s command of Middle Eastern microtones is still both as subtle and bracing as it ever was as he ornamented the tunes with shivery unease as well as devious wit.

Throughout the show, he’d often play both soprano and clarinet in the same tune, then put down his horn and play riq – the rattling Middle Eastern tambourine – while other band members soloed. The night’s two funniest moments were where he led them on boisterous, vaudevillian percussion interludes with as many cartoonish “gotcha” moments as there was polyrhythmic virtuosity.

Where Baronian made it look easy, Good really dug in and turned a performance that, even for a guy who’s probably one of the top half-dozen oudists in New York, was spectacular. Brooding, ominously quiet phrasing quickly gave way to spiky, sizzling tremolo-picking, pointillistic volleys of sixteenth notes and a precise articulation that defied logic, considering how many notes he was playing. Getting the oud sufficiently up in the PA system helped immeasurably – oud dudes, take a look at this guy’s pedalboard, for the sake of clarity and a whole lot more.

The night’s best number also happened to be the quietest and possibly the most epic – considering how many segues there were, it sometimes became hard to tell where one tune ended and the other began. Baronian played this one on clarinet, looming in from the foghorn bottom of the instrument’s register and then rising with a misty, mournful majesty. As the song went on, it took on less of an elegaic quality and became more of a mystery score. Royer’s spare, resonant groove, Stein’s elegant rimshots, the younger Baronian’s otherworldly, muted boom and Good’s shadowy spirals completed this midnight blue nocturne.

They picked up the pace at the end of the show, taking it out with a triumphant flourish. On one hand, that Baronian chooses Barbes to play his infrequent New York gigs (he’s very popular in Europe) is a treat for the cognoscenti, especially considering how intimate Brooklyn’s best music venue is. But if there’s anybody who deserves a week at the Vanguard or Jazz at Lincoln Center, it’s this guy.

Watch this space for upcoming Baronian Barbes gigs. In the meantime, Good is playing one of his other many axes, guitar, with slashing, careening heavy psychedelic band Greek Judas  – who electrify old hash-smuggling anthems from the 30s and 40s – tomorrow night, Sept 8 at Rubulad. It’s a lo-fi loft space situation with a Burning Man vibe – fire twirlers, space cake and absinthe could be in the picture. Cover is $10 if you show up before 9; email for the Bushwick address/info.

September 7, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gusty, Gutsy Return by Brooklyn’s Most Individualistic Guitarist and His Band in Red Hook

An enigmatic mist of sound rose from the inner courtyard at Pioneer Works to the top of a makeshift tower with a spiral staircase scarier than any Hitchcock movie set a couple of weekends ago. As Uncivilized bandleader/guitarist Tom Csatari finally edged his way through the clouds of horns, and keys, and drummer Rachel Housle’s deftly muted polyrhythms, into the iconic two-note phrase that opens Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks theme, the subtext screamed. Distant menace seldom hits so close to home.

Csatari and his more-or-less-nine-piece band were really on a roll until the midde of last year, when it suddenly looked like they might be finished. But Csatari dodged a bullet, survived a brain tumor operation and has reemerged with both his chops and his band intact. In an era when New York jazz musicians under forty who can afford to play live regularly are as rare as rent-regulated apartments, that’s a big news.

Csatari’s music sways and careens a little when the whole unit is going full tilt. The game plan seems to be that everybody has license to stray a little but not too far. The result is lot of tense, unresolved close harmonies, making a deliciously uneasy contrast with all the catchy riffs that permeate the mix. Few of those melodies ever return once they’re gone. Csatari can sound like Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery if he wants, but he hardly ever does – Americana of all kinds is more his reference point. You could call him a scruffier Bill Frisell if you wanted. 

There were more than a few moments throughout this characteristically epic show where the group brought to mind the Grateful Dead – but with two Bob Weirs and no Jerry Garcia. Csatari’s fellow guitarist Julian Cubillos is typically a noisier foil than he was this time out, the two shadowing each other with terse, even flitting riffs from 60s soul, or 70s country, or older blues. Meanwhile, the horn section bubbled and scooched to both sides, usually pretty seamlessly. There wasn’t a lot of soloing. Saxophonist Levon Henry got a bright, cheery one early on, then a trumpeter whose sweet old canine friend had gone onstage and wandered amid the band earlier, joined the melee and contributed a similarly boisterous one of her own.

The whole band weren’t all constantly playing at the same time, either: there were brief, suspenseful moments for keys and rhythm section, and for the two guitars. References to the Dead at their most qawwali-influenced, the Modern Jazz Quartet and the AACM – especially in the most orchestral moments – shifted with remarkable grace for a unit who never appear to be all in the same place at the same time. Yet Csatari always anchored the wafting ambience and frequent gusts with his nonchalantly incisive, tersely resonant flickers of melody.

Csatari’s webpage doesn’t show any upcoming gigs; watch this space. And the free semimonthly outdoor shows out back of Pioneer Works continue this Sunday, Sept 9 at 7:30 PM with an even more careening group, Haitian tropicalia punk band Ram. You’re supposed to rsvp, but you can just as easily show up whenever you want and walk straight in.

September 3, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Stormy, Epically Relevant Jazz Standard Show by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

In their late set last night at the Jazz Standard, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society threw caution to the wind with a stormy, careeningly dynamic career retrospective of sorts. Which isn’t what you might expect from the conductor’s intricate, tightly clustering compositions. But this era’s most thrilling, relevant large jazz ensemble’s approach perfectly fit his material’s relentless angst, white-knuckle suspense and cynically cinematic, Shostakovian portraiture.

Argue’s albums are meticulously orchestrated and produced – which is not to imply that they suffer from the digital sterility of so many big band albums these days. Even so, this show was especially fresh and full of surprises. The group opened somewhat counterintuitively with an older tune, Flux in a Box – Argue explained that he took the title of the subtly polyrhythmic, Jim McNeely-like number, with its cell-like mini-spirals and bursts, from a vast, sarcastic fictitious filmography in a David Foster Wallace novel. Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarentino chose her moments carefully for variations on staggered, fragmented phrases, pianist Adam Birnbaum offering comfortably lyrical contrast.

Then they immediately launched into the ferocious, fearlessly political material Argue has made a name for himself with in recent years. First was a series of tunes from his withering critique of gentrification, Brooklyn Babylon, kicking off with Matt Clohesy’s mighty bass chords, Sebastian Noelle’s resonant guitar astringencies, a vividly nightmarish portrait of grand construction schemes run horribly amok. Seemingly hell-bent on getting to the end, they leapt through tense pairings of instruments among the band’s eighteen members to a harried take of Coney Island, which was strangely more enigmatic here than the album’s horror-stricken, plaintive coda.

Three pieces from the group’s latest conspiracy and conspiracy theory-themed album, Real Enemies were next on the bill. Amped up to a level remarkable at this sonically pristine spot, The Enemy Within came across as a mashup of the Theme from Shaft and the Taxi Driver theme as done by an epic version of John Zorn’s Spy Vs. Spy, maybe. Dark Alliance had wry woozy P-Funk textures grounded by relentless Bernard Herrman-esque glimmer and ghostly flickers, alto saxophonist Dave Pietro resisting any possible urge to find any kind of resolution in his exquisitely troubled, modal solo. A duel with trombonist Ryan Keberle followed – not waterboarder and waterboardee, but allusively so.

The last of the triptych was the mighty, swaying Trust No One, Carl Maraghi’s serpentine baritone sax solo giving way to a sudden dip to creepy knock-knock riffs, deep-space pointillisms from Birnbaum and Noelle jumpstarting a flitting poltergeist choir from the saxes. They closed with Transit and its fiery, cloudbursting drama. Argue explained that he’d written it on a Fung Wah bus enroute from Boston to Chinatown – no wonder it’s so scary! In that context, the constant dodges between phrases rushing by, not to mention the irresistibly fun trick ending, made perfect sense. Trumpeter Jason Palmer’s solo turned out to be more of an expert series of Route 495 twists and turns than the launching pad for pyrotechnics that it usually is in concert. The takeaway: a frequently riveting performance by a crew also including but not limited to multi-reedman Sam Sadigursky, trumpeters Seneca Black and Nadje Noordhuis; trombonists Jacob Garchik, Mike Fahie and Jennifer Wharton and drummer Jon Wikan.

August 30, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Mesmerizing Start to the Final Installment of This Year’s Charlie Parker Festival

The final night of this year’s Charlie Parker Festival this past weekend was front-loaded. Young lions and then a veteran lioness set the bar impossibly high for whatever followed. By five in the evening, the usual wall-to-wall mob that has come out for the festival’s original flagship space, Tompkins Square Park, hadn’t materialized. Maybe it was the stormclouds overhead. Maybe, more ominously, the shrinking turnout reflects how many of the longtime East Village residents who supported this festival year after year have been driven out by gentrifiers. As we all know, gentrifiers have no interest in the arts: there’s infinitely more perceived immortality in taking a selfie in front of a hundred dollar brunch spread than while watching some guy blowing weird notes on a horn at a show which costs nothing to attend.

So an aging bunch of East Village holdovers (that’s what they call us), kids and tourists got to revel quietly in the trio of trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, tenor saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and vibraphonist Joel Ross team up with drummer Craig Weinrib, conguero Roman Diaz and a slinky bassist throughout a set that shifted artfully from rapturous, misty atmospherics, to tantalizingly allusive Afro-Cuban grooves punctuated by darkly masterful solos. O’Farrill set the tone, leading a hazy, distantly disconcerted tone poem to open the show, then finally brought it back at the end of their roughly 45 minutes onstage. In between, they reinvented hauntingly elegaic Coltrane as AACM cloudscape, spiced with wickedly incisive Arabic-tinged modal horn work, Then they took a jaunting, biting clave theme and made a lattice of disorienting polyrhythms out of it. The bassist managed to hold the center, pedaling his riffs while Weinrib and Diaz made their meticulous rhythmic negotiation look effortless. This really is the future of jazz, and it’s in good hands with these relatively young, restlessly hungry cats.

Which is not to say that ageless septuagenarian Amina Claudine Myers isn’t still pushing the envelope. What a trip it was to watch open her se by swinging her way through gutbucket Jimmy Smith B3 organ grease, leading a trio with Jerome Harris on guitar and Reggie Nicholson on drums. Then she took the party into the tectonically shifting ambience she’s best known for, building a storm on the horizon with peaks in between for stark, magisterial 19th century gospel and practically the complete Chopin C Minor Prelude. Rather than twisting the harmonies to suit the rest of the material, she played it exactly as written, letting its anguished series of chords linger. “Have mercy,” she sang over and over again throughout the set’s last number, as much a command as an entreaty.

There were a couple of other acts on the bill afterward, but pianist Orrin Evans’ originals are a thousand times more interesting than the material he was scheduled to run through as a replacement at this money gig. O’Farrill is at the Jazz Gallery on Sept 29 at 7 PM on day two of Futurefest there, dueling it out with guitarist Gabe Schnider, followed by obscure Japanese jazz unit Secret Mall and then at 10 by vibraphonist Sasha Berliner leading a quartet. Cover is $25.

August 29, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monty Alexander Brings Jamdown Jazz Full Circle at the Charlie Parker Festival

Yesterday evening at the uptown Saturday night edition of this year’s Charlie Parker Festival, Monty Alexander explained that his most recent free outdoor concert here had been in Central Park. He didn’t bother to mention that his mid-90s performance there with guitarist Ernie Ranglin was one of the landmark musical events in this city over the past 25 years.

The pianist and leader of the Harlem-Kingston Express told the crowd that when he’d been booked for yesterday’s show, he’d asked the festival organizers where he’d be playing. When he found out that it would be Marcus Garvey Park, his response was, “Marcus Garvey Park? But Marcus Garvey is Jamaican!”

The exuberant reggae-jazz icon added that he hoped the park’s name wouldn’t be changed back to what it used to be (it was still Mount Morris Park back in 1967 when Alexander led a completely different band several blocks west at Minton’s).

Shifting into serious mode, he and the group launched into an amped-up version of the Burning Spear classic Marcus Garvey. Joshua Thomas, the group’s electric bassist sang it in a strong, soulful tenor, then in a split second the group segued into So What and took the tune doublespeed.  All this dovetailed with the circumstances: Wynton Kelly, the pianist on Miles Davis’ original, was also Jamaican.

Until around the time of that legendary Central Park show, Alexander was regarded as a traditionalist and an expert at ballads. The collaboration with Ranglin, a fellow Jamaican icon, was a game-changer, and their reinvention of Bob Marley classics won both of them a global following far beyond the jazz world. Yet, as Alexander explained, he’s no less a jazz guy for loving reggae riddims. For Alexander, just like Ellington, there are two kinds of music.

This band is very much the first kind. There are two drummers, two basses and two keyboards including Alexander. Most of the time the Jamaican guys play the reggae material and the Americans do the swing stuff, but there’s plenty of overlap, and when both drummers and both bassists are going strong the sound can be epic.

One of the evening’s most anthemic, incisive numbers sounded like a version of the Abyssinians’s Satta Massagana: as with much of the other material, Alexander made a doublespeed swing blues out of it, then returned back to the original theme to wind it down. A little later, they used the opening riff from Marley’s Could You Be Loved to stir up a similar stew. 

The most riveting solo of the night was from bassist Hassan Shakur, juxtaposing crushing chords and ghostly harmonics with a bluesy drive way up the fingerboard. Drummer Carl Radle played thunderous vaudeville against the beat, all but drowning the rest of the crew during his one irresistibly fun solo moment. Similarly, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery went for adrenaline, especially during the Coltrane solo in So What; the band’s trombonist was a bluesy, more low key foil.

Meanwhile, the electronic keyboardist played mostly clickety-clack clavinova behind Alexander’s spacious chords and regal blues phrases, adding organ on the biggest hit with the crowd, No Woman No Cry. They closed with a coy calypso medley that veered into Hava Nagila for a few bars, Alexander spiraling around on his melodica.

This was a tantalizingly short set, especially for these guys, which may portend what’s in store this afternoon at Tompkins Square Park where the festival began in 1993. Festivities start at 3 with a trio of young guns: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and vibraphonist Joel Ross. Iconic, rapturous AACM pianist/organist Amina Claudine Myers follows at 4, then there’s a corporate jazz act whose new pianist is way better than the last one, then postbop sax vet Gary Bartz leading a quartet to close things out at around 6. You might want to bring a folding chair if you have one because blanket space on the lawn will be limited.

August 26, 2018 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jorge Glem Makes Mighty Music With a Little Instrument at Lincoln Center

Jorge Glem is the Jimi Hendrix of the cuatro. He was the first to assemble a band of three cuatros, the C4 Trio, in which he refined his breathtaking technique and ability to play everything from folk tunes, to jazz of all sorts, to classical and grunge rock. More about that last style later. Thursday night at Lincoln Center, he reaffirmed his status as one of the most individualistically talented players in any style of music around the world.

Glem opened with Pez Volador (Flying Fish), backed by a rhythm section of Ricky Rodriguez on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. The result turned out much more lush than anyone could have expected from just a little four-string instrument no bigger than a mandolin. Using his fingertips rather than a pick, Glem strummed out the pensively dancing, vallenato-tinged melody, Rodriguez adding a purposefully waltzing solo. From terse, muted, flamencoish lines, Glem worked his way up to seemingly effortless volleys of tremolo-picking as the trio wound up the song.

They went straight into jazz with the enigmatic variations and shifting syncopation of the second number, Bily, over Hoenig’s flickering rimshots. Again, Glem took his time working upward to fiery flurries of chords, through a handful of lively, incisive conversational moments between the three musicians. The slinky Por Alguien Como Tu, by Venezuelan composer Carlos Morean, got a mean funk intro and some wildfire cuatro glissandos before the three swung the clave with all sorts of dynamic variations that once again veered into the postbop arena, and then hints of Romany swing. Hoenig’s salsa accents at the end drew chuckles from those who were paying attention.

Pianist Luis Perdomo joined the group for Merengue Today, choosing his spots and then spiraling through rivulets of deep blues. After that big crescendo, there was nowhere for the rest of the band to go other than to simply tap out the rhythm. The quartet then approached the tropical classic Estate with a spare, summery, pensiveness and echoes of Gershwin, Glem picking out an incisive solo over Perdomo’s quietly stygian backing.

After a funny interlude where Glem voiced pretty much every south-of-the-border rhythm on his axe, he kicked on his loop pedal and layered one rhythm after another, a one-man salsa orchestra doing a well-known 90s grunge hit that turned out vastly better than the original. His mashup of Bach’s Toccata in D with the Venezuelan folk song Pajarilllo and no wave jazz was just as irresistible, a sizzling display of strumming, glissandos and ghostly rivulets of harmonics.

Pras Criancas by Hamilton de Holanda gave the band the chance to stretch out with shapeshifting tropicalia; last on the bill was Pablo Milanes’ De Que Callada Manera. The next free concert in the mostly-weekly series at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St, is tomorrow night, Aug 23 at 7:30 PM with Congolese group the Soukous All Stars.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | concert, folk music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | Leave a comment

Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized Make a Long-Awaited Comeback in Red Hook This Thursday

Of all the great bands who’ve had monthly residencies at Barbes over the years, one of the most consistently entertaining and even paradigm-shifting ones was by Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized. Throughout 2016 and into the fall of last year, the guitarist and his nine-piece group careened through a more-or-less monthly series of shows there. Crowds were good, and word was out about Csatari’s enigmatically orchestrated, scruffy, individualistic mashup of jangly Americana and improvisational jazz.

Then disaster struck.

Long story short: Csatari survived a brush with death, and has reconvened the band for a show this Thurs, Aug 23, starting at around 6:30 PM at Pioneer Works. The band’s Barbes gigs were always on the epic side, so if you can’t make it to Red Hook by the time the doors open, don’t stress. The show is free; you probably can just walk in although the venue wants you to rsvp. It’s the big comeback jazz show of 2018, and this blog will be in the house.

Throughout the residency, Csatari and the crew played mostly originals, although they did a surprisingly tight and trad Chico Hamilton night and explored other composers as well. The best of the cover nights, by a country mile, was Twin Peaks night in October of last year. It earned a mention as one of the year’s best concerts here, and serendipitously, the entire show was recorded and is streaming at Csatari’s music page.

For that show, Csatari had his tremolo on, but not with as wide an angle as on Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic soundtrack. The group began by skirting the Twin Peaks title theme, hitting on the offbeat instead of nailing it right from the start and ending up with as much if not more suspense as the original as the high reeds – flutist Tristan Cooley and alto saxophonist Levon Henry – misted and veered in and out of focus. Without flinching, they gracefully fluttered through the end, as closely as a nine-piece jazz ensemble can approximate a four-piece rock band. Without a hint as to what they’d play next, they vamped slowly and built to a mighty crescendo fueled by a couple of emphatic Csatari clangs, then the instruments fell away….into a haphazard jam on one of the more unctuous Christmas carols out there. Jethro Tull once used it as comic “relief,” if that means anything to you. Csatari reprised Badalamenti’s haunting, minimialist riffs at the end with a spare, lingering presence.

Listening back to this show a year later is a trip, to say the least. Rashomon memories fall away, while the more indelible ones spring back to life. Drummer Rachel Housle’s stunning dynamics, from hushed, Lynchian suspense to a four-on-the-floor rock swing are a big part of the picture – although happily the mic was positioned so the drums don’t drown anybody out. Likewise, bassist Nick Jozwiak’s slinky pulse and occasional thunderous chord are toward the back in the mix.

The band also played a lot of originals that night, many of the intros slowly coalescing only to slowly unwind later. Rowlings, with its nebulous, Frisellian intro and tempo changes; the haphazardly twisted little waltz Yellow Rose; Just Friends, a starrily brooding duet between Csatari and fellow six-stringer Julian Cubilllos; and the hypnotic Lullaby Stomp (hardly a stomp, actually) are early highlights.

With torchy, soul-infused grit, singer Ivy Meissner leads the band through a couple of her songs, Races Are Run and Shelby as well as the Julee Cruise valium-noir hits Questions in a World of Blue and The Nightingale. Organist Dominic Mekky is most present in the best of the originals, the catchy, nebulously pulsing Pale Rider.

The rest of the Twin Peaks material is also choice. The group reinvent the stalking Pink Room theme as a sway, and then practically a soul strut. Laura Palmer’s theme is all the more menacing for its sparseness, mostly just Csatari and Cubillos the first time around. And bass clarinetist Casey Berman adds welcome gravitas to the sardonic Audrey Horne stripper theme.

Csatari can be hilarious when he wants, with a cynicism that’s pure punk rock. Voices diverge and fall off the page. The momentary detours into into punk, new wave and free squall can be priceless. But he can also be as unselfconsciously dark as you would expect from a guy who would take the trouble to come up with his own Twin Peaks charts. The band should be especially psyched to tackle whatever he throws at them in Red Hook.

August 21, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment