Lucid Culture


A Clinic in Tunesmithing and Improvisation From This Era’s Greatest Jazz Guitarist

Albums that combine state-of-the-art tunesmithing with similarly rapturous improvisation are rare. That’s what Bill Frisell does on his latest release, Music IS, a solo recording presumably streaming at Spotify momentarily. His previous album, Small Town, was a similarly spare, low-key set, recorded live at the Village Vanguard with bassist Thomas Morgan. This one’s even more intimate, a master class from this era’s greatest jazz guitarist. Or maybe, considering that Frisell has never limited himself to jazz, it’s time to consider him as this era’s greatest guitarist, period. Americana has been an important part of his catalog for decades, but on this album it really comes to the foreground. He’s in the midst of a long stand at the Vanguard this month, with sets at 8:30 and 11. Today and tomorrow, he leads a trio with Morgan and the great Rudy Royston on drums. Then on the 20th, the three add add violist Eyvind Kang.

At a time where every six-string player with fast fingers and absolutely nothing to say seems to be going into jazz, Frisell stands out even more. He can play lickety-split when he wants, but throughout his career, his songs tend to be on the slow side. This album is a clinic in how he does it, just guitars and Frisell’s trustly loop pedal.

The songs are a mix of new ones and stripped-down versions of older material. The standout among the album’s sixteen tracks is Change in the Air, a somber, plaintive, Britfolk-tinged pavane, Frisell methodically building lingering rainy-day ambience around a simple one-five bass figure. Like most of the other tracks, it’s over in less than three minutes.

Go Happy Lucky comes across as a minimalist collage based on the old blues standard Since I Met You Baby. In Line, which could be an electrified John Fahey tune, begins with a lusciously chiming vintage soul progression, then Frisell deconstructs it using every wryly oscillating, floating or echoing patch in his pedal: is that a twelve-string effect, or the real thing? Likewise, is that an acoustic that Frisell’s playing on the subdued, spare oldtime folk-style ballads The Pioneers, or just his Tele through a pedal?

Sometimes Frisell’s loops are very brief; other times he’ll run a whole verse or chorus. Kentucky Derby has one of the longer ones, a very funny juxtaposition of distorted roar and flitting upper-register accents. He expands very subtly on a stately oldtime folk theme in Made to Shine, then artfully makes a forlorn, abandoned, Lynchian ballad out of a purist Jim Hall-like tune in Miss You.

Another ballad, Monica Jane is more spare and lingering, Frisell turning up the tremolo and spicing it with the occasional tritone or chromatic riff for distant menace in a Steve Ulrich vein. There’s also a punchline, a long one.

In Pretty Stars, Frisell stashes a simple, twinkling two-note riff in the pedal, then makes soulful country gospel out of it – lots of history and a little mystery at the end. Rambler follows the same formula, in this case a surreal wah-wah figure that completely changes the mood from pensive to bemused, compared to the alternate take included as a bonus track at the end of the album.

Frisell salutes iconic bassist Ron Carter with a stark, saturnine theme, part 19th century spiritual, part Wayfaring Stranger, with a little Wes Montgomery at the end. The album’s most anthemic track is Thankful: methodically crescendoing with burning, distorted, bluesy leads. it’s the closest to rocking the hell out that Frisell does here. Although the simmering miniature Think About It is pretty loud too.

The album’s most wintry number is What Do You Want, again bringing to mind Steve Ulrich and Big Lazy in pensive mode. A blues with uneasy ornamentation, Winslow Homer has a similarly surreal cinematic feel. All this is another notch on the belt for a guy who might have made more good albums than anybody else over the past thirty-five years.


March 16, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Claudia Quintet Make a Triumphant NYC Return Uptown

What’s the likelihood that a band would be better now than they were over two decades ago? The Claudia Quintet defy those odds. They didn’t invent pastoral jazz, but pretty much every rainy-sky jazz group with an accordion (who don’t play Romany guitar swing, anyway) owe a debt to drummer John Hollenbeck’s long-running ensemble. It’s been awhile since they’ve played a New York gig, let alone one at a prestige venue like the Miller Theatre, where they’ll be on March 24 at 8. Tix are as affordable as $20.

On one hand, it’s a good bet that pretty much everybody who’s a fan of the band already has their most recent album, Super Petite, streaming at Cuneiform Records. If the group are new to you, they’re a vehicle for Hollenbeck’s more concise compositions – he saves the most lavish ones for his equally tuneful and relevant Large Ensemble. This 2016 release is as good a place to start as any to get to know the band: the tunes are slightly more condensed than usual, with plenty of cinematic flair and wry humor. Beyond this one, the band’s essential album is September, ironically their most improvisational release, a brooding examination of post-9/11 shock and horror that would have been a lock for best album of 2013 had Darcy James Argue not decided to release Brooklyn Babylon that same year.

Super Petite opens with Nightbreak, an echoey nocturne fueled by Matt Moran’s summer-evening vibraphone, lingering in stereo over the bandleader’s muted, altered shuffle as Chris Speed’s clarinet and Red Wierenga’s accordion waft amid the starry ambience. There’s a Charlie Parker solo hidden deep in this night sky.

Hollenbeck’s all businesslike while Wierenga runs a wary, pulsing loop and Speed sniffs around throughout JFK Beagle, the first half of a diptych inspired by airport drug-sniffing dogs. The second, Newark Beagle begins much more carefree but then Moran takes it into the shadows: cheesy Jersey airports are where the really sketchy characters can be found. There’s more similarly purposeful, perambulating portraiture and a memorably jaunty Speed clarinet solo a bit later on in If You Seek a Fox.

Bassist Drew Gress dances through the acidically loopy, hooky ambience in A-List as the bandleader drives it forcefully: being a meme is obviously hard work. Wierenga’s swoops and dives over Moran’s high-beam gleam is one of the album’s high points. Speed takes careening flight in Philly, a wry shout-out to Philly Joe Jones and how far out a famous shuffle riff of his can be taken.

High harmonies from Wierenga and Moran take centerstage and eventually hit a very funny ending in the brisk but idyllic Peterborough, home to the MacDowell Colony, where Hollenbeck wrote it. Rose Colored Rhythm takes its inspiration from Senegalese drummer/composer Doudou N’Diaye Rose, an epic journey through haze to insistent minimalism, cartoonish riffage and wry syncopation all around.

Pure Poem, which draws on knotty numerical sequences from the work of Japanese poet Shigeru Matsui, has hints of bhangra jabbing through Hollenbeck’s boisterous pointillisms. The album concludes with Mangold, a shout to his favorite Austrian vegetarian restaurant (such things exist – there’s hope for the world!). With sax and vibraphone joining for a belltone attack, it’s unexpectedly moody. Heartwarming to see a band who’ve been around for as long as these guys still as fresh and indomitable as ever.

March 12, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz Piano Icon Satoko Fujii Launches Her Ambitious 2018 Album-a-Month Project

What Wadada Leo Smith is to the trumpet, Satoko Fujii is to the piano: one of the most riveting improvisers to ever play the instrument. Like Smith, her themes can be epic and ambitious to the nth degree, yet her playing is meticulous and nuanced. Where a lot of musicians think in short phrases, Fujii thinks in paragraphs. Her most recent big band album, the harrowingly relevant Fukushima suite, topped the Best Albums of 2017 list here. Her latest project is to release an album a month this year to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. In person, beyond the sheer depth of her music, her indomitable joie de vivre, sense of wonder and daunting chops transcend preconceptions about age. The first release in the series is simply titled Satoko Fujii Solo.

Full disclosure: many of these albums seem to already be in the can. This first one was recorded live in concert in the fall of last year in Yawatahama, Japan. From the first magnificent, moody neoromantic chords of her eight-minute opening number, Inori, the way she distills them down to a simple, catchy three-chord riff and variations is a clinic in tunesmithing. Fujii is also a very site-specific pianist: she feels the room, figures out how long the reverb lasts,  then makes it an integral part of the music. She does that here with stabbing chords that build to a series of leaps and bounds. then a starlit outro. Chopin probably worked up a lot of his material this way.

This is a very otherworldly record, bristling with uneasy, insistently modal tangents. Don’t be fooled by the high drone that opens the second number, Geradeaus. That’s not a defect – that’s Fujii bowing and rustling around inside the piano. She finds a low pedal note, expands around it in an emphatic Keith Jarrett way, goes back inside and adjusts the timbre ever so slightly, then lightens a bit and dances around with uneasy chromatics. The few carefree flourishes turn out to be a red herring as this mood piece turns more savage and enigmatic.

As the twelve-minute Ninepin gets underway, Fujii juxtaposes muted gamelanesque taps on the strings…and what sounds like an electric sander on them. Slowly and methodically, she develops what could be a misterioso Indian wee-hours raga…but cuts off the pedal on each phrase suddenly – wherever this is going, we’re not there yet.  Some of it could be Satie, or Lennie Tristano, severity balanced against tongue-in-cheek humor.

The even longer Spring Storm is all about foreshadowing: stygian low torrents rise and then subside, give way to hints of a clearing, but that big black cloud is going to hang awhile! It’s Debussy’s garden in the hailstorm, but feeling the force of the elements row by row instead of the cloudburst simply shredding everything in its path.

In Gen Himmel, Fujii lets her Mompou-esque belltones linger, flits around under the lid, and cuts off phrases sharply, Intimations of gospel enter the picture, only to be elbowed out by funereal motives and restless close harmonies. The wryly titled Up Down Left Right begins as a funny study in how gremlins can pop up all over the keyboard, then morphs into twisted, bellicose quasi-boogie-woogie  Fujii closes the show by reinventing  Jimmy Giuffre’s Moonlight as a distantly menacing, saturnine elegy. “The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie,” Phil Ochs sang. Boy, do they ever.

Where does this rank in the immense Fujii catalog (over eighty albums)? Probably in the top ten, alongside her magical, mordant duo album with fellow pianist Myra Melford, for example.

Now where can you find this magical album…other than a Soundcloud page? Stay tuned!


March 2, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Majestic, Cinematic Sweep and a Midtown Album Release Show From Bassist Mark Wade

Mark Wade’s bass steps with an almost cruel, emphatic pulse beneath Tim Harrison’s stubborn piano loop as the title track of Wade’s new album Moving Day – streaming at Bandcamp – gets underway.  Is this “Here we go again, pushed even further to the most remote fringes of this city by the real estate bubble, drug money laundering and the never-ending blitzkrieg of gentrification?”


As the song builds over drummer Scott Neumann’s increasingly bustling yet subtle implied-triplet groove, it takes on a cinematic sweep not unlike Amina Figarova’s musical travelogues. The bandleader’s growling, tireless propulsion eventually hits a dancing pulse as Harrison lightens and loosens: maybe this is turning out to be more escape than exile. You can decide for yourself when the trio play the album release show on March 3 at 8 PM at Club Bonafide; cover is $15.

The bass on this album is especially well recorded, considering that Wade typically plays with a sinewy, almost gravelly tone that’s well-suited to his restlessly shapeshifting compositions. The second track is Wide Open. With its hard-charging drive fueled by Harrison’s left hand, often in tandem with the bass, it wouldn’t be out of place on a recent Orrin Evans album.

The Bells opens as a somberly majestic waltz ringing with uneasy modal lines and Debussy-esqe close harmonies, drawing its inspiration from Wade hearing churchbells in the south of France, out of tune and sync with each other. Like the album’s opening track, it brightens considerably, punctuated by Wade’s minimalist solo.

Another Night in Tunisia is the familiar favorite chugging along over a series of rhythmic shifts: having just heard Dave Douglas completely radicalize the song, it’s impressive to hear how well this holds it own alongside it. The album’s other cover, Autumn Leaves, benefits from a terse bass solo and some deliciously enigmatic reharmonizing that Harrison lets linger as his lefthand jabs, hard: he’s a voice we ought to hear more of.

His stately chords open Something of a Romance with plenty of gravitas, followed by a mighty buildup of a wave from the rhythm section, some jauntily chugging wee-hour swing, a spacious, cantabile solo from Wade and then a return to rising tides. The similarly crescendoing, picturesque Midnight in the Cathedral imagines the crowds and music there from over the centuries: swelling multitudes and maybe a wedding as Neumann shuffles on the cymbals and Wade leaps and bounds around an old Gregorian chant theme that Rachmaninoff used more than once.

The New Orleans shout-out The Quarter offers irrepressibly cheery, catchy contrast. The album winds up with In the Fading Rays of Sunlight, a portrait of a particularly glorious end to the day that follows a clever series of glistening downward trajectories. Needless to say, compositions and a band this good would resonate with the crowds at Smalls and Jazz at Lincoln Center.


February 26, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adam Nussbaum Reinvents Leadbelly Classics with Taste and Good Cheer

On one hand, it’s always fun to play the blues – especially if you’re out of material and the crowd of drunks is still screaming for more. On the other, is your version of Got My Mojo Working going to be better than Muddy Waters? Obviously not. Beyond impressing the bartenders with your work ethic, hopefully assuring a return engagement, will anybody remember you played that song? Probably not. That’s a question that drummer Adam Nussbaum’s Leadbelly Project raises.

The premise of the record – streaming at Sunnyside Records  – is to reinvent Leadbelly songs as instrumentals. Beyond the obvious, does the group – which also includes tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor, with guitarists Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley’s two axes standing in for Mr. Ledbetter’s twelve-string – actually add anything to the Leadbelly canon? Happily, yes. You can see for yourself when they play the Jazz Standard on Feb 27, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $25.

The album is smartly sequenced, like a live set. Playing with brushes, Nussbaum subtly varies a jaunty, New Orleans-tinged shuffle beat, Cardenas supplying burning, syncopated rhythm, Radley’s terse washes and incisions functioning as leads while Talmor’s sax dances in between the raindrops or provides lively, upbeat atmosphere.

A handful of these numbers are essentially one-chord jams; most of them are relatively brief, around the three-minute mark or even shorter. The first two, Old Riley and Green Grass, set the tone and establish the roles that the guitarists will shift back and forth from as the album goes on. Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night) sure outdoes that infamous grunge version – it’s sort of a Quincy Jones soundtrack piece, a roadhouse at still-sleepy opening time.

Bottle Up and Go is a lot more lighthearted, Nussbaum swinging on the rims before it picks up steam. each guitarist adding what in country music would be called a “strum solo,” staying pretty close to the ground.

It’s Talmor’s turn to get terse and bluesy in Black Betty, over Nussbaum’s second line groove – finally, the two guitars pair off for a a southern-fried jam. They follow that with the brief Grey Goose, built around a series of echo effects, then Bring Me a Little Water Sylvie, where the band finally diverge before slowly coalescing out of individual rhythms. Radley distinguishes himself with some unexpectedly rustic C&W licks.

You Can’t Lose Me Cholly gets recast as a joyous mashup of jump blues and calypso.  Nussbaum’s lone original here, Insight, Enlight gives the band a chance to revisit the dynamics of the first couple of tunes, rubato. They make straight-up swing – with a little choogle – out of Sure Would Baby and close with a warmly waltzing, aptly starry Goodnight Irene.

So is this rock? Well, it rocks – a lot, in places. Is this jazz? Sort of. Is it blues? More or less. Whatever you want to cal lit, it’s like nothing else out there. In less competent hands this project could have turned into a trainwreck; Nussbaum and the rest of the band really distinguish themselves with their collective imagination here.


February 25, 2018 Posted by | blues music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Brilliant, Mysterious, Richly Tuneful Album and a Stone Residency by Sylvie Courvoisier

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier’s new album D’Agala, with her trio – streaming at Spotify – is a characteristically dark, rich, gorgeously melodic tour de force. Courvoisier has been one of the most vivid tunesmiths in jazz for a long time. Here she takes that translucent sensibility to new levels, along with plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle humor, jaunty interplay and extended technique. She’s played as many Stone residencies as any other member of John Zorn’s circle, and she’s got one coming up starting tonight, Feb 6 at 8:30 PM, running through Feb 11. Cover is $20; the full list of ensembles she’s playing with is here. The Feb 8 show, a duo set with her violinist sparring partner Mark Feldman may be the most intense of all of them.

Impish upper righthand fragments peek over a muted, sotto-vocce ba-bump groove amid pregnant pauses as the album’s opening track, Imprint Double – written for her pianist dad Antoine Courvoisier- gets underway. From there she follows a steady, ominously lingering stroll, Janacek’s tortuous overgrown path dotted with Satie-esque belltones. Then she brings back the opening groove, drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Drew Gress matching the playful suspense.

Courvoisier opens Bourgeois’s Spider – dedicated to sculptor Louise Bourgeois – with chiseling inside-the-piano figures, then pedals down a long runway, the rhythm section matching her increasingly gritty intensity all the way. More of those Satie-esque close harmonies give way to starlit peek-a-boo phrases as Wollesen and Gress hang back, steady and distantly relentless.

All of the tracks here are dedications as well. With its loopy riffs, subtly dancing variations and cat-chasing-the-yarn piano, Éclats for Ornette isn’t hard to figure out. Simone (for Simone Veil) has an aptly rapt, mystical sensibility, cached within Courvoisier’s scampering lines and brought to the forefront by Wollesen and Gress’ looming presence.

Similarly, he and Gress swing the icepick Andriessen changes of Pierino Porcospino (for Charlie), the blues hidden away in Courvoisier’s blips, bleeps and circles bringing to mind Myra Melford in a particularly animated moment. The title track – a salute to Geri Allen – pairs Courvoisier’s somber minimalism against the rhythm section’s insectile scrapes and rustles, Gress adding mutedly brooding blues. Courvoisier weighs that gravitas against lighter, more carefree sounds and opts for an elegy: Allen would not doubt appreciate this.

Circumbent (For Martin Puryear) is the album’s most overtly improvisational number, Courvoisier’s disappearing-ink chordlets and staccato accents grounded by a steady, almost trip-hop sway from bass and drums. Fly Whisk (for Courvoisier’s fellow Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer) interchanges judiciously spaced piano clusters amidst Wollesen’s misty ambience, tersely accented by Gress. The ending is too good to give away, and is vintage Courvoisier. She and Gress switch roles, with her shadowing him throughout the album’s concluding cut, South Side Rules (for John Abercrombie), bass punctuating its resonant, immutable unease as Wollesen builds a cumulo-nimbus backdrop. This record’s going to be on a whole lot of people’s best of 2018 lists.


February 6, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Ambitious, Purist Postbop Album and a Smalls Release Show from Alto Saxophonist Carl Bartlett Jr.

Alto saxophonist Carl Bartlett, Jr.’s new album PROMISE! picks up where his 2011 debut album Hopeful left off. Bartlett explores more of his extended technique here, but also his most translucent side. He’s good at finding pianists; Sharp Radway livened that release with every kind of bluesy purism imaginable. Here Yoichi Uzeki handles the 88s with flair and incision. Bartlett and his quartet are playing the album release show this Feb 1 at 7:30 PM at Smalls; cover is $20 and includes a drink.

The album opens with the title track: Barlett flickers his valves and then they’re off into a catchy, rather tender theme that he shifts back and forth, sometimes marionettish, sometimes cheerily waltzing, Uzeki bounding and spiraling out of Bartlett’s smoky curlicues over Marcus McLaurine’s terse bass and Sylvia Cuenca’s playfully pouncing drums.

Likewise, her carefree rims and hardware liven the clave groove of High Pizzazz, an epic containing a tongue-in-cheek, tiptoeing McLaurine solo, an enigmatically sailing one from the bandleader and finally more of those subtle metric shifts that Bartlett goes for throughout the album.

Acidic piano/sax harmonies and a deviously funny joke open Dialed In (Like a Laser), a darkly latin-flavored, dizzyingly swinging romp with Bartlett’s tantalizing flash through a trilling peak and then a handoff to Uzeki, who runs through the raindrops.

Uzeki ushers another waltz, As the Gift Unfolds Before My Eyes into a clearing and then brings in the clouds; Bartlett’s misty lyricism moves to the side and then back from McLaurine’s minimalist moodiness, the piano lingering in what seems to be a sobering carpe-diem atmosphere.

A swinging shout-out to Bartlett’s fam features cheery harmonies with his trumpeter uncle Charles Bartlett, a purist somewhat gruffly choosing his spots, the sax responding with some wry chromatics as the song goes on. Pop Rocks from the bass open Ethereal Heartbeats; tasty sax/piano modalities introduce an almost furtive samba drive that backs away for scamper and then suspense, setting the stage for the bandleader’s most vivid, incisive solo here.

With its sabretoothed, oboe-like sax intro and then its drifts in and out of waltz time, Fidgety Season maintains that gritty mood, Uzeki anchoring the song as Cuenca prowls in the underbrush. The album winds up with the toe-tapping jump blues tinged It’s Been So Grand, with more jousting between the Bartletts; the sax playing both sides in a two-way conversation is irresistibly fun.

Some of this reminds of Kenny Garrett’s 90s work with Kenny Kirkland, an auspicious start. It’’s reason to look forward to more where this comes from. The album hasn’t made it to the usual online spots yet, although there are a handful of tracks up at Bartlett’s music page


January 29, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A String-Driven Treat and a Park Slope Gig by Irrepressible, Fearlessly Eclectic Violinist Tom Swafford

Violinist Tom Swafford’s String Power were one of the most lavishly entertaining, surrealistically psychedelic bands to emerge in New York in this decade. Blending classical focus, swirling mass improvisation, latin and Middle Eastern grooves and jazz flair, they played both originals as well as playful new arrangements of songs from across the years and around the world. With a semi-rotating cast of characters, this large ensemble usually included all of the brilliant Trio Tritticali – violinist Helen Yee, violist Leann Darling and cellist Loren Dempster – another of this city’s most energetically original string bands of recent years. Swafford put out one fantastic album, streaming at Bandcamp, with the full band in 2015 and has kept going full steam since with his own material, notably his Songs from the Inn, inspired by his time playing in Yellowstone State Park. 

Over the last couple of years, String Power have been more or less dormant, although Swafford has a characteristically eclectic show of his own coming up on Feb 2 at 7 PM the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, where he’s a faculty member. To start the show, he’ll be playing Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano with pianist Emile Blondel. After that, he’ll be leading a trio with guitarist/banjoist Benjamin “Baby Copperhead” Lee and bassist Zach Swanson for a set of oldtime country blues and then some bluesy originals of his own. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs.

The String Power album has a formidable lineup of adventurous New York classical and indie classical talent. On violins, alongside Swafford and Yee, there’s a slightly shifting cast of Mark Chung, Patti Kilroy, Frederika Krier, Suzanne Davenport and Tonya Benham; Darling and Joanna Mattrey play viola; Dempster and Brian Sanders play cello, with Dan Loomis on bass. The album opens with Tango Izquierda, Swafford’s shout-out to the Democrats regaining control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections. Maybe we’ll get lucky again, right? This elegantly lilting number rises and falls with intricate counterpoint and a handful of frenetic Mik Kaminski-ish cadenzas.

The group reinvents new wave band the Stranglers’ synth-pop Dave Brubeck ripoff Golden Brown – an ode to the joys of heroin – with a stately neo-baroque arrangement. The Velvets’ Venus in Furs is every bit as menacing, maybe more so than the original, with a big tip of the hat to John Cale, and a Swafford solo that’s just this side of savage.

Swafford’s version of Wildwood Flower draws more on its origins in 19th century shape-note singing than the song’s eventual transformation into a bluegrass standard, with a folksy bounce fueled by spiky  massed pizzicato. Darling’s arrangement of the Mohammed Abdel Wahab classic Azizah opens with her plaintive taqsim (improvisation) over a drone, pounces along with all sorts of delicious microtones up to a whiplash coda and an outro that’s way too funny to give away.

Likewise, the otherwise cloying theme from the gently satirical 70s soap opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman gets a trick ending. Charles Mingus’ anti-segregation jazz epic Fables of Faubus gets a fullscale nine-minute workout, heavy on the composer’s relentless sarcasm. In the age of Trump, this really hits the spot with its phony martial heroics and sardonially swiping swells, Chung, Krier, Swafford and finally Loomis getting a chance to chew the scenery.

The album winds up with Swafford’s own Violin Concerto. The triptych opens with Brutal Fanfare, a stark, dynamically rising and falling string metal stomp spiced with twisted Asian motive – it makes a good segue out of Mingus. The second part, High Lonesome explores the often fearsome blues roots of bluegrass, with some wickedly spiraling Swafford violin. The conclusion, simply titled Ballad, is the most atmospheric passage here: it sounds like an Anna Thorvaldsdottir vista raised an octave or two. 


January 28, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Otherworldly Pan-Asian Transcendence From Jen Shyu

Over the span of less than a year, Jen Shyu lost two dear friends: Taiwanese nuclear scientist and poet Edward Cheng, and Javanese wayang (gamelan shadow puppetry) master Joko Raharjo, known as Cilik. The latter died along with his wife and infant daughter in a car crash; their other daughter, Naja, age six, survived. Shyu’s latest suite, Song of Silver Geese – streaming at Pi Recordings – is dedicated to those friends, and imagines Naja encountering a series of spirit guides from throughout Asian mythology, who give her strength.

The result is a hypnotic, otherworldly, sometimes harrowing  narrative. Shyu is performing her characteristically theatrical, solo Nine Doors suite at the Jazz Gallery on Jan 24, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30; cover is $25. She’s also at the Stone the following night, Jan 25 at 8:30 PM as part of pianist Kris Davis’ weeklong stand there; the band also includes Ikue Mori on laptop percussion samples, Trevor Dunn on bass, Mat Maneri on viola and Ches Smith on drums. Cover is $20.

The suite is divided into nine “doors” – portals into  other worlds. Shyu plays Taiwanese moon lute, piano and the magically warpy Korean gayageum, singing in both English and several Asian vernaculars. She’s joined by the strings of the Mivos Quartet as well as vibraphonist Chris Dingman’s Jade Tongue ensemble with violist Mat Maneri, bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer Dan Weiss, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and flutist Anna Webber.

Shyu opens solo on moon lute, with a stark, direct vocal:

I am no longer able to recount
In the tale, the story of my life…
When now it is twilight
And there is so much silence…
From the east to west
All you see in between
That deep black sky
Is everything…

Door 2, World of Java is a hauntingly suspenseful nightscape, cautious flute underscored by a low rumble of percussion. Door 3, Dark Road, Silent Moon rises methodically from pensive, allusively Asian solo flute to an astringent string quartet interlude that reaches toward frenzy.

Shyu’s stark, plaintively melismatic vocals slowly build and then soar over spare gayageum and moon lute in Door 4, Simon Semarangam, the suite’s epic centerpiece. The flute flutters and spirals as the strings gain force and then recede for cellist Victor Lowrie’s brooding, cautious solo against sparse piano and percussion. Dingman and Morgan interchange quietly within Shyu’s plucks as the she segues into Door 5, World of Hengchun, her dreamy vocals contrasting with gritty lute, striking melismatic cello, an acidic string canon and the lush sweep of the full ensemble.

Door 6, World of Wehali (a mythical Timorese warrior maiden) begins with a furtive percussion-and-gong passage and crescendos uneasily, with flitting accents from throughout the band: it’s the suite’s most straightforwardly rhythmic segment. The segue into Door 7, World of Ati Batik arrives suddenly, an insistently syncopated chant shifting to a thicket of sound with scurrying piano at the center

Door 8, World of Baridegi (a Korean princess who made a legendary journey to the underworld) is the dancingly explosive, almost tortuously shamanistic coda where Shyu imagines that Cilik’a family is saved. Her narration and then her singing offer a closing message of hope and renewal over spare accents in Door 9, Contemplation. Nocturnes don’t get any more surrealistically haunting than this. 


January 22, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Noa Fort’s Darkly Pensive, Catchy Tunes Transcend Category

Over the past few years, pianist/singer Noa Fort has been concretizing a remarkably terse, succinct, purposefully pensive sound that draws on her jazz background as well as western classical music and her own Israeli heritage. Her debut album No World Between Us is just out and therefore not yet at any of the usual places. She’s playing the album release show this Jan 23 at 7 PM a the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

Fort sings in a bright, clear, expressive voice, backed by Zack Lober on bass and Ronen Itzik on drums. The opening track, Now Is Our Time is a trip-hop song built around a central, mantra-like chorus, the point being that all we have is the present moment. As Itzik builds momentum, Fort expands into the darkly lyrical, neoromantically glittering terrain that’s become her signature sound over the past few years.

“Will I become what I should be, or will I just be?” she ponders in Traveling (In Time and Space), again building intensity with a catchy, rising three-chord pattern. Over a swinging One For My Baby-style bass riff, Fort considers “a kiss that never came, the touch without the shame” in the similarly crescendoing Variations on Longing.

A tone poem of sorts awash in swooshy cymbals and tumbling tom-toms, Mirrors is more or less rubato. “Don’t let the mirrors haunt you…don’t be a stranger,” Fort cautions, over lingering and then slowly cascading piano phrases. With its menacing chromatics, tricky metrics and torrential lyrics, the album’s most striking track is Unwritten Signs – it could be a standout anthem by unpredictable art-rockers Changing Modes.

With its eerie, Satie-esque harmonies and brooding Hebrew lyrics, Empty Space (Halal Paur) is just as dark. Fort maintains that ambience as Winter Requiem opens, but rising from a dirge to a resolute drive, to weather the emotional wasteland til spring.

“Shut your mouth and tell me what you feel, I don’t need ears to hear,” Fort instructs as the album’s playfully surreal, tango-inflected title track opens, building through a darkly lustrous series of ripples with Josh Deutsch’s steady trumpet riffs at the center.

The message of The Guest House, a English translation of a Rumi poem, is carpe diem, set to jaunty, dancing variations on a hypnotic, emphatic piano riff, with more trumpet and a spring-loaded bass solo. The album winds up on a similarly upbeat note with its longest track, the oldschool soul-inspired Just Wait. Whatever you call this, don’t call it jazz-pop: there’s nothing whatsoever cheesy about Fort’s translucent tunes and lyricism.

Fun fact: Fort is the younger sister of another eclectic, lyrical pianist, Anat Fort.


January 21, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment