Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tyler Blanton’s New Album Goes Green

It takes chutzpah to use a photo of skunk cabbage as the cover shot for your new cd. That’s what jazz vibraphonist Tyler Blanton did on his new one, Botanic. This may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s cool jazz with a summery, almost jungly ambience, sometimes evoking other types of vegetation, the kind that typically thrive in tropical climates. Blanton displays a remarkably original style: he’s not a thunderous, showy player in the Joe Locke mold. Rather, he crafts a dreamy, hypnotic web out of subtle, intricate textures, abetted by Joel Frahm on soprano and tenor sax along with Dan Loomis on bass and Jared Schonig on drums (with a couple of tracks anchored by the rhythm section of Aidan Carroll and Richie Barshay).

The title track, a song without words, blends a lot of characteristically interesting touches: a fast triplet pulse, a genial fanfare from Frahm and then a drumline-tinged solo from Schonig as Blanton takes over the rhythm, ratcheting up a mysterious ambience. Foreshadowing switches artfully from straight-up swing to a jazz waltz, sax and vibes working a glistening mesh of echoey broken chords versus staccato sax accents, a latin-tinged drum break and an eerie music-box outro. The prosaically titled Mellow Afternoon turns out to be a quietly lyrical bossa tune, Blanton taking it up once he hits his solo, just enough to break the trance before Frahm comes fluttering down out of the clouds.

The energy level rises as the album winds up. Practically a fugue, Little Two moves from twohanded conversationality to blues, to hypnotic waves of triplets and a muted drum rumble. Hemming and Hawing doesn’t do any of that, actually, working a catchy, soaring hook until Frahm steps in to cool it down, then Blanton runs waterfalls down the scale to pick up the pace again. The album closes with the vintage 60s style Vestibule and its meticulous latticework divided between vibes and sax, Frahm almost jumping out of his shoes with some bop inflections before winding it up on a somewhat triumphant note. It’s a good ipod album, and a good soundtrack for a slow wind back to reality on a Sunday.

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November 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The JC Sanford Orchestra Rip up the Joint

Barflies at CBGB in 1976 may have reacted to the Ramones the same way the customers at Tea Lounge Monday night reacted to the JC Sanford Orchestra, that is, if laptops had existed the year Johnny Bench put the Yankees out of their misery early in the World Series. Everybody looked up from their keyboards, startled. And pretty much everybody stayed. This unlikely, upscale Park Slope coffee-and-beer joint might or might not end up being to big band jazz what CBGB was to punk, but for now it is the place to see pretty much every good large-scale jazz ensemble in New York that’s not led by a Schneider, a McNeely or the ghost of Mingus. Sanford is its impresario, and this was his group, many of the same cast who’d played so memorably on his Sanford-Schumacher Sound Assembly album from a couple of years ago. Conducting as well as contributing a long, soulful trombone solo on one song, he steered the crew on a mighty swing through a mix of numbers from that album along with plenty of towering, majestic and deceptively playful newer material that often crossed over the line into third stream and soundtrack-style atmospherics. Ceativity leapt from the charts, and the band seized it joyously.

They opened circular and fluttering with Rhythm of the Mind, with solo spots for blippy bass clarinet by Kenny Berger, Ben Kono taking it up warily on clarinet a bit later, the whole band nonchalantly bringing it down for a few bars’ worth of Buddhist chanting like it was the most natural thing for a jazz band in New York to be doing at that particular moment. Chuck and Jinx, a swinging, genial tribute to a man and his cat, saw bassist Aidan Carroll taking a deliberate stroll against Mike Eckroth’s ringing, sparse electric piano, bemused high brass playing the owner (or actually, the owned) while Ted Poor’s drums impersonated the irrepressible, furry creature who, whether or not we admit it, always runs the show. Poor would also elevate the long, shapeshifting Indecent Stretch, a partita of sorts, to magnificent heights, kicking up a storm with the piano and bass, later leading an increasingly agitated crescendo in big, determined steps beneath the rest of the group’s uneasy atmospherics.

An Attempt at Serenity was aptly titled and genuinely tormented in places, Nadje Noordhuis’ trumpet comforting and resolute alternating with guitarist Andrew Green’s vividly twisted, downright evil, bent-note phrasing. Would hope triumph in the end? For awhile it looked like it might, despite distant hints to the contrary that added yet another layer of suspense. It ended quiet, atmospheric and somewhat ambiguously. They wrapped up their first set with a blazing version of Your Word Alone, a big thank-you note to a friend and mentor of Sanford’s who from the sound of things singlehandedly scored him a plum teaching position. The composition gave the band a chance to express considerable humor, especially in the big crescendo that led to the joyous “eureka” moment where the contract (or the check) appears in the mail, violinist Christian Howes (whose latest album with Robben Ford and Eddie Floyd is a treat) ripping casually through an eerie, phantasmagorical solo played through a watery chorus-box effect. Through one tricky false ending after the other, the band quoted liberally from the Mission Impossible theme as individual voices  – notably Kono – appeared and vanished almost in a dub reggae style. The remarkably young audience – many of whom appeared to be high school kids animatedly trading music and doing homework – roared their approval. Hey, big band jazz was the default music of the under-20 crowd seventy years ago. Could happen again.

September 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tim Kuhl – King

Drummers don’t usually get credit as bandleader even though in the purest sense of the word they are – the good ones anyway. So maybe for that reason drummer-led ensembles tend to be especially good. This one is no exception. Tim Kuhl’s second album takes the warm accessibility of his first cd Ghost and raises it a notch: as melodic, interesting jazz cds go, this is one of 2009’s more memorable efforts. Quite possibly this is enhanced by the presence of Jon Irabagon (winner of the most recent Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition) on tenor. He’s unpredictable in the best possible ways, often very deviously (especially in his work with Mostly Other People Do the Killing) – here, he alternates between straightforward, buoyant melody and frequent cloudbursts of bop. Guitarist Nir Felder‘s thoughtful, deliberately paced, contemplative phrasing is equally interesting and often generates some striking contrasts. Kuhl and bassist Aidan Carroll keep things moving forward tersely while trombonist Rick Parker layers alternately bright and murky shades.

The first couple of tracks segue into each other, Irabagon taking it toward bop, the guitars then creating what is in effect a horn chart with some deliciously interesting textures. Track three features Felder in characteristically expansive mood, Carroll echoing him aptly, followed by a stately, vintage 50s horn passage. Track four is darker, more pensive, guitar thick with sustain and reverb with an early 70s feel, Parker leading the procession as tension builds, hinting at rage but never going there.

Irabagon squeaks and shimmies over a low rumble, then the intriguing sixth track kicks in. Much of it is essentially two simultaneous pieces going in opposite directions, brought back together brightly by Irabagon. And then a lull, a sprightly Felder solo, into and then out of focus. The cd’s concluding cuts have Parker contributing both nebulous and bracing ambience, Felder chasing a Carroll rumble, some Bill Frisell-isms, a low, expressive Irabagon solo that literally jumps out of nowhere, a big, sunbaked blues guitar interlude and a surprisingly off-kilter ending. It would be wishful thinking to hope that someday jazz might reclaim its place as the western world’s default pop and dance music (which it was for decades), but this is the kind of jazz that could make a fan out of  just about everyone: it’s catchy, it’s mostly upbeat and the groove doesn’t quit. And you can see it live: the Tim Kuhl Group are at Zebulon on 9/15 at around 10.

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment