Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Familiar NYC Jazz Presence Keeps Cranking Out Catchy Albums

Since the mid-zeros, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser has methodically if not exactly quietly built an increasingly vast body of catchy, hard-swinging jukebox jazz. Brisk tempos and hooks that a talented group can take out on plenty of tangents are his thing: most of the tunes in his ever-expanding book are done in less than five minutes. Lately he’s been playing a mostly-Friday night residency at the Django, where he’ll be tomorrow night, March 13 at 7 PM; it’s $15 at the bar.

For those interested in checking out the show, there are many albums to choose from. The most recent one that made it to the hard drive here (there have been others released since – Fowser works fast) is Don’t Look Down, a 2018 release and one of his best, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. It kicks off with Maker’s Marc, a fast, tiptoeing swing tune that may be a shout-out to producer and Posi-Tone honcho Marc Free, working a familiar golden-age trope. The bandleader and  trumpeter Josh Bruneau hit the big riff head-on but then don’t really revisit it until the second verse, pianist Rick Germanson working increasingly gorgeous chordal clusters and a marionettish solo alongside bassist Paul Gill and drummer Joe Strasser.

Coming Up Shorter – a Wayne Shorter salute – shifts between broodingly syncopated modalities and a steady swing, Fowser adding shivery microtones and terse curlicues, Germanson taking a more majestic direction. The band completely shift gears with the Rhodes-driven bossa You’re Better Than That, a vehicle for lyricism from Bruneau. Then they go back to hard-hitting, gritty mode with the darkly bluesy Fall Back, and more shadowy understatement from Fowser.

The album’s title track is a moodily muted, latin-tinged gem, followed by the more balmy Divided State. Gemanson’s beautifully glittery opening solo kicks off I’ll Take It From Here, with its Ellingtonian gravitas, misty midrange Fowser work. stately muted Bruneu solo and a more wryly romping one from Gill.

Queens is a brightly bustling swing tune, possibly a portrait of the New York borough that superseded Brooklyn in coolness a long time ago. Top To Bottom is Monk taking a side trip to New Orleans, while Inversions is a weird blend of almost-frantically uneasy, racewalking postbop with a Rhodes echoing through the mix. The band wind up the record with From Six To Midnight, a sage wee-hours waltz and a strong example of the new depths Fowser’s compositions have reached in the recent past.

March 12, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hard-Swinging, Seriously Woke New Album amd a Jazz Standard Release Show by Trumpeter Josh Lawrence

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS CONCERT IS CANCELLED

It takes guts to open your new album with a joyous, lyrical jazz waltz, but that’s what trumpeter Josh Lawrence does on his latest release Triptych, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. He’s playing the album release show on March 13 at the Jazz Standard with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $30.

The record’s title reflects its three suites. The first one, a threesome of love songs, is interspersed among the other tracks. The second, Lost Works, draws on the Nazis’ confiscation and eventual destruction of three priceless Kandinsky paintings during World War II, a parable for late Trump-era fascism. The third, simply titled Earth Wind Fire, takes inspiration from the mighty funk legends along with Miles Davis, Terence Blanchard and Ahmad Jamal.

The three numbers in Lost Works are untitled. Composition #1 is a big, lickety-split swing tune with bright, ebullient trumpet from Lawrence in tandem with alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis. Pianist Zaccai Curtis (no relation) hits hard and incisively alongside his bassist brother Luques Curtis and drummer Anwar Marshall, who caps it off with a colorfully tumbling solo.

Composition #2 is a gorgeously nocturnal Twin Peaks jazz ballad with lustrous horns, twistedly glimmering lounge piano and a rather furtive bass solo, echoing  Miles as much as Pharaoh Sanders. Lawrence reaches a conclusion by mashing up the drive of the opening segment with the unease of the second.

Part two of the love trilogy, Sugar Hill Stroll opens with a cheery trumpet-bass duet, then the rhythm section kick in and build a jubilant Louis Armstrong flair. The mini-suite winds up toward the end of the record with the slow samba tune Sunset in Santa Barbara, a welcome if considerably more balmy return to David Lynch soundtrack ambience with enigmatic piano glitter and some tasty, spare muted work from the bandleader.

Earth Wind Fire slowly comes together on the ground as a polythythmic, tribal tableau, piano pulling the band from their separate corners, Marshall’s clave a frequent but not omnipresent grounding influence. From there they breeze into a deliciously shimmery, syncopated soul vamp, sparsely shiny piano anchoring similarly spacious solos from the horns. The suite achieves total combustion in the final movement with forceful, McCoy Tyner-tinged piano (RIP, damn) and tightly clustering horns over Marshall’s artfully shapeshifting drive. Lawrence closes the album with the EWF classic That’s the Way of the World – yow! Jazz versions of 70s radio pop hits are usually a recipe for disaster, but the band get plenty of help courtesy of guest Brian Charette’s churchy organ, working a low-key arrangement that sticks pretty close to the original.

March 11, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dusky, Enveloping Ambience and a West Village Album Release Show by Cellist Clarice Jensen

Clarice Jensen has been one of the prime movers of the New York scene in new classical music for over a decade, both as a cellist and as artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. But she’s also a composer. Her long awaited, atmospheric solo debut album, For This From That Will Be Filled is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing the release show with a typically stellar cast this Friday night, March 13 at 8 PM at the Tenri Institute; cover is $25.

The album’s ten-minute opening epic, BC, is a co-write with the late film composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Its slowly shifting, hypnotic series of tectonic sheets and simple chords drifts through the sonic picture, sometimes with subtle doppler, backward-masked or pitch-shifting effects. The encroaching unease of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s work comes to mind.

Awash in low, sitar-like drones, keening harmonics, pulsing echo effects and circling oscillations, Cello Constellations, by Michael Harrison comes across as a more stately take on Brian Jones-style loopmusic – or Brian Eno in darkly enigmatic mode. The unexpected coda packs such a punch that it’s too good to give away.

The opening echoes and textures of Jensen’s title diptych – a Dag Hammarskjold reference – are much more icily otherworldly. Here she begins to sound more like a one-woman orchestra. In the second part, Jensen blends Eno-esque layers amid a gathering storm that recalls Gebhard Ullmann‘s rumbling multi-bass adventures in ambient music as much as it does Bach cello suites. Those who gravitate toward both the calmer and more psychedelic fringes of the new music world have a lot to savor here.

March 10, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy, Edgy Themes and Contrasting Textures From Big Dog Little Dog

The duo of violinist Jessie Montgomery and bassist Eleonore Oppenheim call themselves Big Dog Little Dog. That may have something to do with the relative size of their instruments, or maybe not. The two were asked who is which animal at a show at a mesmerizing show at Metropolis Ensemble’s Lower East Side digs late last year: “We switch off,” Montgomery grinned. Their edgy, dynamic debut album is streaming at Bandcamp. As a unit, they like long crescendos and playing off catchy, direct ideas.

It begins with a brief, nocturnal bit of found sound: somebody crosses a yard and approaches a house, tree frogs contentedly peeping in the background. Then the duo launch into the first piece, Panorama, a catchy, swaying series of variations on a couple of terse, blues-rooted riffs, Oppenheim bowing steady, overtone-rich chords as Montgomery plays slithery, rapidfire arpeggios and cascades.

Hypnotically pulsing, loopy bass anchors Montgomery’s drifting airiness and incisive pizzicato chords as Man Without a Face builds momentum, up to a stabbing peak with echoes of Appalachian music. In Ice, the two shift between variations on coyly slipsliding, “wheeeeeee” phrases and a keening, rather wistful horizontality over Oppenheim’s rich, chocolatey chords.

With its punchy, rhythmic drive, Woods seems to be an increasingly lively woodchopper’s ball. Wafting sheets of harmonics slowly make their way through the sonic picture and finally coalesce into stern chords in the album’s most expansive and most horizontal track, Blue Hour. The coda, a contrast between Montgomery’s enigmatic close harmonies and Oppenheim’s rumbling low E drone, is just plain luscious.

Brisk wave pulses echo with an increasingly animated syncopation in Cipher, one of several tracks here that bring to mind Julia Wolfe‘s work for strings. Ultraviolet makes a good segue, Montgomery’s stabbing, muted phrases and uneasy movement outward from a central note above Oppenheim’s deadpan bump-bump and glissandos. They go out the way they came in, peepers and all.

March 4, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Smashing Debut by Percussion Ensemble Pathos Trio

It takes a lot of nerve for a group to play four world premieres at their first-ever concert together. Friday night at Arete Gallery, Pathos Trio validated both their confidence in choice of composers as well as their mutual talents, making a debut to remember. That may be all the more impressive in that they didn’t even have all their regular members. Peter White, playing vibraphone, bells and a vanload of other bangable objects, subbed manfully for percussionist Marcelina Suchocka.

This may be a new ensemble, but each of the members has extensive credits in the world of new music. The three opened with Alyssa Weinberg‘s dynamically churning Delirious Phenomena, a surreal portrait of a factory haunted by mischievous ghosts, or so it seemed. White, Felix Reyes and Alan Hankers worked the guts of a meticulously prepared piano, using mallets for murk and looming swells, then piano wires wrapped around individual strings inside for timbres that ranged from keening, to whispery, to a spot-on facsimile of a french horn. Hypnotically circling patterns and atmospheric washes rose and fell, up to a sudden, coy ending.

Thundering bursts from bass drum and gongs contrasted with eerily tinny resonance emanating from bowed bells, vibraphone and spare piano in Finola Merivale‘s Oblivious Oblivion, a macabre, apocalyptic global warming tableau. A long, cruelly crushing study in wave motion and long, ineluctable upward trajectories, it also ended suddenly, but 180 degrees from where Weinberg’s piece had landed. It was the showstopper of the night.

Evan Chapman‘s Fiction of Light came across as the kind of piece a group can have fun playing, but that didn’t translate to the audience. Reyes and White really got a workout keeping its machinegunning sixteenth notes on the rails, but ultimately this loopy triptych didn’t cohere despite a rather compelling, minimalist rainy-day piano interlude midway through.

The three closed by employing the entirety of their gear throughout Alison Yun-Fei Jiang‘s spacious, vivid Prayer Variations, an increasingly majestic depiction of the vastness of cathedrals the composer’s been visiting lately. As with Merivale’s work, the group nimbly developed its series of long, meticulously interwoven crescendos, from White’s rippling, gamelanesque vibraphone, to Hankers’ tersely plaintive piano, to Reyes’ triumphant accents on the drums and cymbals.

Over the past ten years or so, New York has become a hotbed of good percussion ensembles who’ve drawn the attention of similarly innovative, ambitous composers. With just one show under their respective belts, Pathos Trio have elevated themselves into those elite ranks alongside Yarn/Wire, So Percussion, Tigue, Iktus and Ensemble Et Al. Pathos Trio’s next show is a free concert at 7 PM on March 16 at the New World Center, 500 17th St, in Miami Beach.

March 2, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Chilling, Furious Musical Response to Trump-Era Fascism by Elsa Nilsson

Elsa Nilsson isn’t the only artist who was so pissed off by the 2016 Presidential election and the encroaching fascism afterward that she wrote a whole album about it. But that release, Hindsight – which hasn’t hit the web yet – is one of the most hauntingly illustrative of all the protest jazz records released over the past four years. The flutist participated in the first Women’s March on Washington: she draws the rhythms of each of the album’s tracks from chants of the protestors there, as well as from demonstrators across the country in the months and years afterward. Nilsson’s wary, often raging melodies and relentless gallows humor pack a mighty wallop, speaking truth to power run amok.

The opening track, Changed in Mid Air reflects on Trump’s infamous travel ban, Nilsson’s sudden, shocked downward cascade contrasting with Alex Minier’s grimly distorted, fat bass, guitarist Jeff McLaughlin’s icy chords and drummer Cody Rahn’s increasingly emphatic drive depicting the institutionalized terror faced by immigrants.

The diptych Worth the Risk/Maria references both a refugee’s leap of faith as well as Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico. Nilsson shifts between eerie airiness and tortured phrasing through an envelope pedal, over a spacious, brooding backdrop. McLaughlin’s steely, clanging solo is one of the album’s high points; a frantic guitar/flute exchange follows as the hurricane hits.

The forlornly strolling Will Help Come vividly reflects Puerto Ricans’ diminishing hopes for aid from the Trumpies in the aftermath of the storm, with a crushingly allusive concluding solo from the bandleader. Enough Is Enough begins with an austere, chantlike, looped phrase and rises with an increasingly horrified crescendo, Nilsson’s flute fluttering and leaping all over the place over McLaughlin’s stately, lingering chords. It goes on for six minutes twenty seconds, the time it took for the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to complete his hateful mission.

The quartet open the album’s title track with a fiery, allusively Balkan-tinged intensity and careen anthemically from there, Rahn hitting a hardcore pulse at one point. What Can I Do, based on the rhythm of the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” is the most enigmatic track on the album, a study in eleven-tone scales and an acknowledgment of how people of color are so often denied subjectivity (that’s an academic way of saying the only time you see black people on tv is when they’re dead or in handcuffs).

Trickle Down, a portrait of relentless struggle, has snarky opening cascades and snarling, skronky guitar over a loopy, funky groove. I Believe You – Nilsson’s reaction to Christine Blasey Ford’s shocking testimony at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings – has an austere gravitas and vivid air of disbelief at the circus that ensued.

Fill The Courts, a reflection on the sinister effects of the past three decades’ drive to pack the courts with Republicans, brings back the relentlessness and ominous contrasts of the opening track. Nilsson closes this chilling cycle with We Show Up, a moodily lingering shout-out to the millions raising our voices and getting out in the streets: McLaughln’s Keith Levene-esque lines are among the most memorable ones here. Count this as one of the best albums of the past several months in any style of music. Nilsson and band play the album release show on April 10 at 9:30 PM at the Cutting Room; cover is $15.

February 28, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twin Peaks Chorales and a Mysterious Ritual From Mary Prescott at Roulette

A jubilant howl emanated from the dressing room last night at Roulette seconds before the nine members of Mary Prescott’s ensemble took the stage for her hauntingly immersive performance piece Loup Lunaire. It began rather coyly but quickly took a much darker turn. Part choral suite, part dance performance, the choreography was every bit as compelling yet as enigmatic as the music, to the point where it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the plot. Inspired by the wolf mother archetype – depicted here as responsible yet more or less alone – along with behavioral cycles in nature, the piece is a precursor to another work, Mother Me, which Prescott and Cara Search will perform on May 6 as part of a semi-monthly Roulette residency.

Luisa Muhr was the first to let loose a howl onstage, but it wasn’t long before the responding round of wolven voices from the rest of the group – Prescott herself stage left, joined by Search, Noa Fort, Ariadne Greif, Joy Havens, Nina Dante and the lone man in the cast, Chanan Ben Simon – had reached a peak and then scattered downward.

Prescott’s strikingly translucent, distamtly disquieting themes gave the singers plenty of room to join in increasingly intricate webs of counterpoint, and sometimes back from there. The compositions evoked styles as diverse as rapturous Hildegard hymns, wistful Appalachian folk, Caroline Shaw’s maze-like work with Roomful of Teeth, Angelo Badelamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtracks, and Indian canatic music. What was consistent was a pervasive unease, amplified by how surealistically one segment would overlap into another.

Meanwhile, onstage behind the dancers, guitarist David Torn added extra levels of angst, or menace, or outright dread, with airy washes of sound as well as several long, majestically mournful Pink Floyd interludes. Nobody does David Gilmour in lingering cumulo-nimbus mode better than this guy.

The series of narratives among the dancers were similarly somber, much of the action in elegant slo-mo. Their buoyantly simple, flowing costumes were sometimes augmented by a little onstage dressup – Prescott’s expression as she was tidied and prepared for the next stage was priceless, and too good to give away. Purification, or at least forgiveness for some unnamed (or unnamable) sin seems to be part of the picture – no spoilers. It’s impossible to find fault with this piece. The dancers are all strong singers, individual role-playing was sharp, choreography briskly executed, lighting a thoughtful enhancement, and the guitar was as vivid as the vocals. Roulette hit a bullseye in commissioning this.

February 27, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, dance, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Melody Fader Channels the Deepest Side of Chopin and More in Manhattan and Brooklyn

Pianist Melody Fader’s favorite composer is Chopin. And it shows. The audience at her intimate, solo Soho Silk Series show last month gave her a standing ovation that went on and on, after she’d ended the program with a characteristically intuitive take of the composer’s famous Fantasie-Impromptu op. 66. Maybe that’s because she didn’t play it as if it was the Minute Waltz, as certain hotshot players tend to do.

Instead, revealingly, she took her time, letting the gritty Romany chromatics of those daunting cascades gleam, rather than just leaving momentary flickers behind in a race to the finish line. That was just one of the concert’s innumerable gorgeous details. On one hand, that’s to be expected on a program of music by a classical icon or two; still, Fader seems especially dedicated to finding those delicious bits and spotlighting them. She’s a pioneer of the house concert circuit (not to be confused with the evil and intrusive Groupmuse); her next Soho loft show is Feb 25 in a duo set with Momenta Quartet violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron playing  music of Ravel, Brahms and Schumann. You can rsvp for location and deets; for the Brooklyn posse, they’re repeating the program (from their forthcoming album) the following night, Feb 26 at 7 PM at Spectrum for a modest $15 cover.

The rest of the January bill was just as much of a revelation. It’s impossible to remember anyone playing more emotionally attuned versions of the E Minor and B Minor preludes. They’re standard repertoire, they don’t require virtuoso technique, but what a difference Fader’s subtle rubato and resoluteness in the face of sheer devastation meant to the former. Same with her crisp but muted arpeggios, bringing out all the longing in the latter. The dynamics in the rest of the first eight of Chopin’s preludes were just as vivid, from the warm cantabile she brought to the C major prelude, to the catacomb phantasmagoria of the one in A minor and a welcome suspense in A major later on.

From there, there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of depth, and gravitas, but also in many places unselfconscious joy. Fader averred that as a kid, she didn’t like Bach: she found his music mechanical. These days, she’s done a 180, validating that with a dazzling, harpsichord-like precision but also fierce ornamentation throughout a rousing take of his French Suite in E, no. 6.

Kaija Saariaho is also a big Bach fan, so following with her Ballade was a great segue, even if the rhythms tended toward the tango Fader had found lurking inside the early part. The stygian boogie and jaunty cascades afterward were just as intense.

The wary, muted melancholy as she launched into the Chopin Ballade no. 2 in F major was a feature that sometimes gets lost in more ostentatious hands. By contrast, she pulled out an almost grand guignol attack for the Andante Spianato op. 22, yet pulled back with a guardedly hopeful understatement afterward. Amd the glittery tumbles of the Etude op. 25 no. 1 got the same kind of articulacy she’d given the Bach. By the time this was all over, pretty much everybody was out of breath.

February 23, 2020 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epic, Stormy Grandeur From Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra

Pianist Mike Holober has been busy as an arranger lately – his charts for the NDR Bigband are out-of-the-box exquisite – but has made a welcome return to his role as leader of the Gotham Jazz Orchestra. Their epic new double album Hiding Out – streaming at Spotify – is the Grand Canyon Suite of jazz. Its initial inspirations are the grandeur of the American West, and a long-abused tributary that flows into Manhattan Harbor. Its boundless energy and intensity are pure New York. If you need music that makes your pulse race, this is your fix.

Built around a suspenseful “over here!” riff, the practically fourteen-minute opening diptych, Jumble, takes on a catchy, cantering maracatu pulse, with gusts from around the orchestra bursting in and out of the sonic picture: if Carl Nielsen had been a jazz guy, he might have sounded like this. Holober’s low-key Rhodes solo offers barely a hint of how far alto saxophonist Jon Gordon’s crescendo is going to go; likewise, guitarist Jesse Lewis’ waves upward into the combustible stratosphere.

Most of the rest of the album is two suites. Flow, a Hudson River epic, begins with lushly acidic, shifting tectonic sheets over a suspenseful tiptoe beat: the effect when the low brass and bass enter is nothing short of magnificent but just as ominous (look what the industrial revolution did to New York waterways). A subtle shift to a quasi-samba groove with towering horns recedes for a poignant Jason Rigby tenor solo against Holober’s glittering piano, part Messiaen, part Fats Waller in calm mode. Somberly blustery variations on a minor blues bassline anchor devious horn exchanges: is that competing ferries honking at each other?

That’s just the first part! This monstrosity tops the forty minute mark. Part two, Opalescence is slightly less expansive (eleven-minute), darker and more resonantly concise variation on the opening theme – Chuck Owen’s similarly titanic River Runs suite comes to mind. Marvin Stamm’s trumpet weaves slowly in and out, Holober slowly developing an achingly lyrical interlude. This may be a lazy river sometimes, but it’s deep. The concluding chapter, Harlem is introduced via a brooding interlude featuring piano and flute, seemingly a shout-out to the Lenapes who tended this land before the murderous Europeans arrived. Billy Drewes’ carefree solo alto sax kicks off Holober’s hard-swinging salute to New York’s original incubator for jazz, Scott Wendholdt’s trumpet flurrying away as the music shifts toward a more 21st century milieu and an ineluctable return to the turbulence of the river itself. The band take a jubilant dixieland-flavored romp out,

The title suite – a Wyoming big-sky tableau – opens with austere woodwinds, building to a enigmatically charged atmosphere that grows more broodingly Darcy James Argue-tinged as the cleverly implied melody of the second movement, Compelled, looms into focus. Holober works the low/high and jaunty/sinister contrasts for all they’re worth, Steve Cardenas’ guitar leaping through the raindrops. John Hebert’s spring-loaded bass pulse mingled within the bandleader’s fanged neoromantic solo.

A pair of miniatures – a bright, enveloping interlude and a moody piano theme – lead into the symphonic conclusion, It Was Just the Wind. Holober picks up the pace with a syncopated, somewhat icy solo intro, then the orchestra rise to a qawwali-ish triplet groove with lush horn exchanges, a leaping Gordon alto solo and a more enigmatic one from tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker against sparely wary piano and guitar. Although Holober eventually interpolates a warmly pastoral theme amid the swells and slashes, whatever was out there was closer to Blair Witch territory than the Lone Ranger out on the range.

The ensemble wind up the album with an expansively orchestrated take of Jobim’s Carminhos Cruzados, a wide palette built around Stamm’s tenderly resonant phrasing and pinwheeling clarity. There hasn’t been such an electrifying big band record released in many months, an early contender for best jazz album of the year from an inspired cast that also includes Dave Pietro, Ben Kono and Charles Pillow on reeds; Steve Kenyon and Carl Maraghi on baritone sax and bass clarinet; Tony Kadleck, Liesl Whitaker and James de LaGarza on trumpets; Tim Albright, Mark Patterson, Alan Ferber, Bruce Eidem and Pete McGuinness on trombones; Nathan Durham on bass trombone; Jay Azzolina on guitar; Mark Ferber and Jared Schonig sharing the drum chair and Rogerio Boccato on percussion.

February 20, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A High-Voltage Triple Live Album and a Crown Heights Gig by Tenor Sax Titan George Garzone

Tenor saxophonist George Garzone is best known as the founder of the Fringe, one of the greatest and most improvisationally ambitious chordless trios in the history of jazz. He’s iconic in his native Boston, his most recent album was recorded in Los Angeles, and he’s coming to New York for a sexet gig at Bar Bayeux in Crown Heights, tonight, Feb 19 at 8 PM with Neta Raanan also on tenor sax, Joe Melnicove on flute, Chris Crocco on guitar, Tyrone Allen on bass and Francisco Mela on drums.

That record, 3 Nights in L.A. – streaming at Spotify – is a lavish, solo-centric triple live album featuring Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass and Peter Erskine on drums.

In this age of short attention spans interrupted even further by distractions from the magic rectangle, who on earth would listen to a triple live album, let alone one with three different eleven-minute versions of Have You Met Miss Jones? People who like party music…and conversational camaraderie, and good solos. Garzone’s misty, easygoing one to open the shuffling first take doesn’t hint at where the song’s going to go, either that night or the next, from Pasqua’s practically motorik drive to Erskine’s vaudevillian cheer. Night two’s version is a lot louder and edgier, Garzone pushing further outside, Pasqua digging hard into some deliciously allusive modalities, Oles playing class clown this time. They pick up the pace even further but play more sparely to close their three-night stand with it.

There are also two takes of The Honeymoon here: the first night’s with a blues-infused gravitas, the second’s a darkly shimmering gem with its sharp focus. Throughout the record, Garzone’s ability to shift seamlessly between sound worlds – whether lyrically spiraling and pirouetting within the idiom, or wailing, honking and stabbing to the fringes – is in peak form. And the band match his boundless energy.

The first disc also has a pointillistically racewalking All the Things You Are, with a stunningly uneasy, chiming outro, contrasting with a slow majestically gleaming Michael Brecker dedication. Likewise, the floating swing of Twelve is balanced by dark-tinged solo adventure, Without looking back, the band charge through I Hear a Rhapsody and follow with the most epic number of the entire weekend, the rivetingly uneasy clave ballad Tutti Italiani. With lingerine echoes of Brubeck and Ellington and simmering solos from Garzone and Pasqua, it’s the highlight of the album.

The quartet kick off disc two with a genially shuffling Like Someone in Love, take the simmer up a notch with Invitation, then bring it down with I Want to Talk About You, going from hazily warm to more mutedly opaque when the bass follows Garzone’s long opening statement. The briskly floating swing of Hey Open Up makes a good segue up to the point where the bass and drums bring the heat up again; then they take their time with a shadowy, suspenseful take of Agridolce.

They kick off the final night with a strutting, samba-tinged slink in I Remember April, but that turns to dusky majesty midway through and reaches a ravishingly hushed peak in Equinox, all the way down to a spacious, deep-space bass solo for Pasqua to finally spiral triumphantly out of.

Tender solos permeate the low-key latin allusions of To My Papa, followed by the ebullient straight-up swing of It Will Happen to You. Sky Shines on an August Sunday is the most slowly unwinding number here, a long launching pad for wide-angle expression from Pasqua and Garzone. Goes to show how much life and unexpected entertainment a bunch of smart vets can get out of a handful of mostly well-worn standards.

February 19, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment