Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Alan Ferber Nonet Bring Their Dynamic, Intense Large Ensemble Sound to the Flatiron District

Considering how time-consuming it is just to keep a big band together and playing, it’s amazing how the likes of Arturo O’Farrill and Maria Schneider manage to do that and keep coming up with fresh and interesting material for their large ensembles, year after year. Count trombonist/composer Alan Ferber among that dedicated elite. His latest album, Roots & Transitions is a suite for an only slightly smaller ensemble, his long-running Nonet with trumpeters Scott Wendholt and Shane Endsley, alto saxophonist Jon Gordon, tenor saxophonist John Ellis, bass clarinetist Charles Pillow, guitarist Nate Radley, pianist Bryn Roberts, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Mark Ferber. The album hasn’t hit the web yet, but there are a trio of tracks up at Sunnyside Records’ site. The band also have a weekend stand coming up this Friday and Saturday night, May 13 and 14 at the Jazz Gallery, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $22.

The composer bases the suite on a series of variations on a cleverly rhythmic cell-like theme. Ferber’s music tends toward the lustrous and enveloping, and this is no exception. It’s no surprise that his charts give the material might and majesty that seems like it’s being played by a considerably larger group. Ferber’s moody solo trombone opens the first track, Quiet Confidence, a slowly swaying ballad that Roberts’ methodical, slowly spiraling solo takes into brighter territory over a cymbal-fueled scan of the perimeter, setting up the bandleader to take it up on an ebullient upward climb before bringing it full circle. The low, lustrous shifting low brass sheets of the miniature Hourglass segue into the misterioso trombone/guitar intro of Clocks, an alterered fanfare over a tense pulse building to a powerfully dark modal crescendo, Gordon’s nimbly bluesy phrasing throwing some light into the shadows, which Radley then shreds and scatters. It’s the most noirish piece here.

Wayfarer is an amiably buoyant tune, part retro, part Jim McNeely newschool swing with a judiciously low-key Ellis solo at the center. That tricky three-on-four feel really makes itself present throughout Flow, reflecting the tuneful, nonchalant drive of the suite’s opening cut, the bandleader’s imposing trombone contrasting with Radley’s blithe upward flights. And then its Morricone-esque ending brings back the shadowy intensity.

Perspective offers a warmly melodic take on lustrous teens pastoral jazz, a simple, gently modal piano riff underpinning its amiably rustic, syncopated stroll, Ellis adding his usual melodicism when his turn comes up. Echo Calling brings back the distant ominous feel: listen closely and you’ll discover a disquiting fugue underneath. The album winds up with the chatteringly cheerful barnburner Cycles and its gritty, pinpoint-precise staccato phrasing. Much as it’s got one of Ferber’s usual imaginative charts and plenty of high-voltage playing from everybody, it seems tacked on as as way to close this otherwise often gorgeously uneasy collection on an upbeat note. Maybe when the Ferber box set comes out sometime around 2030 (by then, box sets will probably be all vinyl, or who knows, organic vinyl), he can use it as an opening cut.

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May 11, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jamie Begian Big Band Grins and Pushes the Envelope

Big Fat Grin, the new album by the Jamie Begian Big Band delivers everything a modern big band jazz outfit ought to: it’s a treat for anyone who goes for an intricate mesh of textures and a BIG, boisterous, ecstatic yet cerebral sound. Begian, a guitarist, takes a backseat here to the charts (there are cuts on which he doesn’t play at all). His game plan – to have fun, in a smart way – is a rousing success in every sense of the word. Fans of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, the Alan Ferber Nonet and similar cutting-edge largescale ensembles have a lot to sink their ears into here. A sense of the unexpected pervades everything. Begian gets maximum impact out of the powerhouse sonics because of the dynamism of the arrangements, often pared down for just a couple of voices, or even a single instrument, so when the band takes it up all the way, the effect can be breathtaking. Another neat thing about this band is that it’s not all about the blare, either – the low end doesn’t get neglected, especially when Max Seigel is anchoring it with his bass trombone alongside Dave Ambrosio’s prominent bass. A handful of tracks here work permutations on a repetitive, circular theme, often moving the voicings around in an unpredictable rondo. Begian also frequently employs collage-style charts, intricate overlays of individual instruments that fan out kaleidoscopically, a device that’s as fascinating to follow as it is original and innovative.

The centerpiece here is a four part suite titled Tayloration, the most retro of the compositions. Tracking a persistent, three-note pulse through several permutations – murky low-register explorations lit up by a gruff Jeff Bush trombone solo, an altered bossa segment, a slow, sly boogie and swing passages that contrast vividly with the underlying simplicity. The album’s opening track, Funky Coffee is basically an orchestrated funk groove. The entire crew’s in on it, making it contagious to the extreme, with a characteristically terse, bluesy Marc McDonald alto solo. The following cut, Halay is essentially a one-chord jam, variations on a fanfare over a swaying bass pulse, with a brightly lyrical, klezmer-tinged Dimitri Moderbacher clarinet solo. The most counterintuitive track here is Patience, which begins by cycling an eerie chromatic theme, individual voices pairing off against the bass, and ends up matching an insistently serious horn chart against the woozy grin of Begian’s slide guitar. A gentle, bucolic number, Suddenly, Summer Falls features balmy flute from Moderbacher and solo flugelhorn from Jason Colby, followed by some surprising but perfectly devised Memphis-style soul guitar. The album ends with the title track, a blast of surprises including a truly hilarious false ending. The Jamie Begian Big Band play the Bahai Center, 53 E 11th St between University Place & Broadway on Tuesday, July 20 at 8 PM.

July 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jon Gordon – Evolution

The jazz saxophonist’s latest album is aptly titled. He’s evolving in all directions, whether in jazz, classical or further toward the avant as the course of his career has recently swung. It wouldn’t be an insult to say that this is the kind of cd that could wean someone off of smooth jazz – it’s melodic, atmospheric and contemplatively subtle. When it’s edgy, it is in a quiet way. This isn’t particularly intense music but it’s very smart. The New York Times positively loves this guy – make of that what you will.

Jon Gordon got hooked on the idea of a large ensemble playing with Alan Ferber’s nonet over the last couple of years, and he’s put that experience to good use here. The cd kicks off with a stark, austere prelude featuring Sara Caswell and Andie Springer on violin, Jody Redhage on cello and Gordon himself on piano – an idea which will recur later on the truthfully titled Contemplation, sans Gordon, which is actually the darkest single cut here. There are also a couple of portraits of Gordon’s kids here, both featuring Bill Charlap’s  characteristically lyrical piano. Shane is illustrated as somewhat moody via a tone poem, Charlap playing inquisitively in a duo setting against Gordon’s wary soprano sax; by contrast, One for Liam is sprightly and full of life, shades of early Spyro Gyra before they went to Lite FM and got stuck there.

The rest of the album is rich with lush arrangements, the title track ambitiously building off a staggered beat to an attractive, breezy theme that smartly pairs off Sean Wayland’s piano with Gordon’s carefree alto. Currents moves from exploratory and then expansive on the wings of Nate Radley’s guitar which sets the stage for bright solo excursions by bassist Matt Clohesy, Gordon (on soprano again) and then vocalese from Kristin Berardi. Bloom benefits from a gorgeous string arrangement and intro that builds to a big crescendo with the horns going full steam, then back down into a verdant Wayland solo and a sweeping outro. The most memorable track here, Veil opens with characteristic directness yet with an undercurrent of suspense (Messiaen comes to mind) with balmy alto, warm Wayland piano and strings. The album winds up with the clever Individuation, an exercise in circumnavigation rather than interplay where the individual voices flutter above the ambient wash of the strings, kicked off with an unabashedly joyous Gordon alto solo. Sneak this into the mix at your parents’ house, if music isn’t their thing, and they’ll never notice. Sneak it into the mix at a friend’s place and halfway through watch the ears perk up: what are we listening to, anyway?

December 8, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment