Lucid Culture


Ambitious, Tuneful, Anthemic Americana Jazz from Joshua Kwassman

Newington, Connnecticut seems to be a nice enough place to grow up, one of those sleepy, comfortable New England hamlets off the interstate on the way to Boston. But it could just as easily be a setting for a Stephen King novel. Saxophonist Joshua Kwassman hails from there: the Maria Schneider-esque, pastoral sweep of his latest album Songs of the Brother Spirit has both the flinty rusticity and East Coast sophistication that define his home state at its best, as well as a moody, shadowy intensity. Here he’s joined by Gilad Hekselman and Jeff Miles on guitars, Arielle Feinman on vocals, Adam Kromelow and Angelo Di Loreto on piano, Craig Akin on bass and Rodrigo Recabarren on drums.

Kwassman distinguishes himself as a first-rate tunesmith with an ear for the imaginative and unexpected: he’ll go to an anthemic change in a second to drive a point home if he sees fit. His writing is by no means constrained by traditional jazz tropes, with a  refreshing expressiveness and purpose. The opening track, Our Land has a Chris Jentsch-like clarity, Feinman’s airy vocalese blending with Hekselman’s lyrical lines for a springlike atmosphere, building toward clave with a simmering Kromelow solo and a roaring crescendo. We Were Kids, Kwassman’s hushed childhood reflection is lush yet detailed, with bounding alto sax, Kromelow taking it down gently to a balmy horn chart.

In Light There Is Song is terse and lyrical, with an optimistic, vintage Pat Metheny vibe, guitar and vocals again driving a long trajectory upward and then back down to an unexpected ghostliness. Meditation, a pensive reflection on the inevitable losses that come with the passage of time, contrats Kwassman’s moody clarinet against Feinman’s brightness. The album’s centerpiece is a triptych, The Nowhere Trail, a darkly cinematic narrative of a summer camping trip gone disastrously awry. A distantly sinister Di Loreto pedalpoint theme recurs with variations as Miles adds an offcenter unease against the dancing anticipation underneath. They rise to a fever pitch and suddenly the mood shifts, Hekselman drifting toward an apprehensive flamenco feel, Kwassman’s menacing melodica vamp signaling that suddenly everyrthing is not well. From there a dream sequence of sorts ensues, lit up by Feinman’s meticulously nuanced, opaque vocals and surreal glockenspiel: it ends by returning to a pastoral ambience with hints of the Beatles. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-flavored jazz, from Bill Frisell to Bryan & the Aardvarks.

May 23, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The O’Farrill Brothers Band: Smart Kids Having Fun Onstage

At 22, drummer Zack O’Farrill appears to be the senior member of the O’Farrill Brothers band. Friday night at the Jazz Gallery’s new Garment District space on Broadway and 27th Street, it took him about ten seconds to get a sense of the room – and then he had a game plan. Other more experienced, equally extrovered drummers might still cluelessly bash and bounce high frequencies off the walls, but not this guy. Emphasizing the boomy resonance of his toms with a contrasting, sustained shimmer from the cymbals, he found an angle that worked perfectly with the gallery’s acoustics. Subtle as his attack was, it was the furthest thing from minimalist, as he shifted meters, threw occcasional, wry elbows at his brother, 18-year-old trumpeter Adam O’Farrill or guitarist Gabe Shnider, and leapfrogged amiably when the songs hit several insistent, pedaled interludes. It was a performance as workmanlike as it was inspired and nuanced.

No one in this sextet – which also included pianist  Adam Kromelow, bassist Raviv Markovitz and tenor saxophonist Livio Almeida – ever overplayed. Their contributions all worked in the service of the songs. Yet their team esthetic never overshadowed the sheer fun they were having onstage – if anything, it enhanced the feeling. This group employs a lot of devices to have fun with: false endings; expansive duels or pairings of instruments; circular motives; increasingly agitated or animated passages of pass-the-baton, and first-rate tunesmithing that draws on decades of jazz from Ellington to Eddie Palmieri and points much closer to the present day. Space is also an important element in their music: throughout the show, there was always plenty of breathing room and often an ongoing sense of suspense as a result. The O’Farrill legacy- which began with grandfather Chico O’Farrill and continues with their father Arturo – includes a gift for rhythm, so it was no surprise to see Zack leading the charge from one meter to another, sometimes halfway hidden, sometimes strikingly sudden.

Does Markovitz have Cuban roots? From his terse, melodic, often chordally-charged pulse, it would seem so. He was especially solid when the drums went ambling around the perimeter. Schnider played a lot of horn voicings, but he also has a feel for Memphis soul and what appears to be a deep bag of Muscle Shoals licks. Almeida’s role this time out was to be the group’s modal hitman, trading or pairing off against Kromelow’s nocturnal glimmer or Shnider’s biting single-note lines with an aching, haunting, simmering sustain that finally cut loose with a jaunty skronk on the night’s shapeshifting, closing partita, Monster House. From the tricky tempo shifts of the opening number, Drive, through the moody neoromanticism of Monet and then a creepy Brazilian trio piece with nimble sixteen-year-old guest bassist Daryl Johns, Adam chose his spots, feeling for where the rest of the aircraft was before judiciously lifting off and then never looking back. That’s a reference to the group’s debut album Sensing Flight, whose release they were celebrating – if its energy is anything like this show, it transcends any notion of what a prodigy is or how young musicians should play. Answer: just like old ones. Music transcends time, and this group knows that better than most players their age…or any other age. .

March 24, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment