Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Blazing Big Band Album and a Low-Key Trio Show From Pianist Steven Feifke

If you’re interested in checking out a musician in an intimate setting, why would you want to listen to his big band album? Because it shows how far he can take an idea and keep it interesting. Steven Feifke’s first big band album, Kinetic – streaming at Spotify – was one of those thousands of releases which were on track to come out in 2020 but didn’t hit the web until a year later…and still pretty much went down the memory hole. And that’s too bad, because Feifke’s compositions are ambitiously tuneful, colorful and have a sly sense of humor. For now, you can catch the pianist leading a trio on August 10 at Mezzrow, where he’s doing two sets at 7:30 and a little after 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

The band – a revolving cast of characters – open the album with the title track, the bandleader spiraling and stabbing right off the bat with a chromatic snarl echoed by blasts from the brass. Leading a frenetically bluesy drive, he sets up a hard-hitting solo from trumpeter Gabriel King Medd followed by a vaudevillian couple of breaks from drummer Ulysses Owens.

Trumpeter Benny Benack III’s smoky muted lines kick off the cinematic, noir-tinged Unveiling of a Mirror, baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas handing off briefly to Alexa Tarantino’s flute. After Benack takes his plunger out, the group hit a brassy swing, dip into some gorgeously gusty Ellingtonian harmonies, then tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon picks it up again. The intro is 180 degrees from what you might think.

Misterioso rising energy also pervades The Sphinx, although there is a good, long joke early on. Alto saxophonist Lucas Pino chooses his spots, sometimes coyly during a lull; the tensely pulsing, Mingus-esque drive toward to another counterintuitive coda is one of the album’s high points. Veronica Swift sings the first of the standards, Until the Real Thing Comes Along, anchored by ambered shades of low brass, more black-and-tan reed harmonies and a sotto-voce swing from bassist Dan Chmielinski. Alto saxophonist Andrew Gould’s flurries against shifting banks of brass and reeds brings the tune to cruising altitude.

Feifke takes a tantalizingly brief, McCoy Tyner-esque opening solo in Word Travels Fast, a playful latin-tinged shuffle, spiced with devious quotes and animated solos from Medd, Pino and drummer Jimmy Macbride through to the album’s most anthemic coda.

Bright brass, shifting meters, a soaring Gould solo and a fiery flurry of individual voices over Feifke’s stern forward drive threaten to go off the rails but never quite do in the next track, Woolongong, It also has the album’s best joke.

Feifke’s big band version of Nica’s Dream is brisk and latinized; Benack goes from goofy to gruff as Tarantino shadows him. Swift returns to the mic over a hypnotic pedalpoint as a gorgeously dynamic stride through On the Street Where You Live gets underway. Trombonist Robert Edwards’ good cheer sets up Gutauskas’ ruminative solo as the blaze flares and flickers behind him.

The goofiest number here is Midnight Beat, which seems to be a satirically beefed-up take on cheesy 80s funk-fusion. Dillon takes centerstage in the warmly benedictory finale, Closure. It’s a memorable project from a cast that also includes trumpeters Max Darché and John Lake, trombonists Jeffery Miller, Armando Vergara and Jennifer Wharton, guitarist Alex Wintz, drummers Joe Peri and Bryan Carter.

August 6, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Future of Jazz Is Female Too

Saxophonist Roxy Coss’ latest album The Future Is Female is a catchy, hard-swinging mix of postbop jazz tunes. It’s also a fierce political statement, an important part of a protest jaza tradition of protest jazz that goes back to icons like Charles Mingus and Abbey Lincoln. Besides her own career as a bandleader, Coss is part of a postbop supergroup of sorts, the New Faces, assembled by her label Posi-Tone Records with with  trumpeter Josh Lawrence, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. They’re playing the album release for their new one on July 25, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the Jazz Standard. Cover is $25.

The song titles on Coss’ new album – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – speak to both female empowerment and universal struggle, from a millennial point of view. The concept for the album coalesced in the wake of her participation in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. The opening track, Nevertheless, She Persisted is a biting illustration of women artists’ struggles to be recognized, a moody latin-tinged groove with spare harmonies between Coss’ tenor, Alex Wintz’s guitar and Miki Yamanaka’s piano. Much as the music wants to swing, hard, Coss always pulls it back toward the shadows.

Little Did She Know, an early tune from Coss’ college days, reflects on breaking free from the conformity imposed on women, alternating between a scamper and a bit of a waltz driven by Rick Rosato’s bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums. The towering ballad She Needed A Hero, So That’s What She Became is a return to brooding ambience, a launching pad for solos. Yamanaka glitters magnificently through Macbride’s silvery cymbal mist; Coss wafts uneasily on soprano and Wintz takes a turn toward Memphis,

Females Are Strong As Hell has hard-charging, bluesy grit fueled by Yamanaka’s mighty lefthand, Wintz’s incisive attack and the bandleader’s terse hooks over Macbride’s rumble

Like so much of the rest of the world, Coss was in mourning in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. “What do we do when we realize what has been there all along: a society built on misogyny, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, fear, hate, greed, and lies? If we elected this person to be our leader, what does that say about us? This tune reveals my vision of the presidency: an over-the-top facade of happiness and progress, vacillating between despair and hilarity, ultimately giving way to destruction and collapse,” Coss explains in the album liner notes for Mr. President. The band bookend sotto-voce, sarcastic swing with a macabre march: it’s the album’s most straightforwardly compelling track.

#MeToo illustrates womens’ long journey through cruelty and repression toward triumph, Coss offering hope on bass clarinet over a muted, syncopated pulse, pushed along by Yamanaka’s insistence, setting the stage for Wintz’s screaming crescendo

In Choices, Coss underscores that a woman’s right to choose extends across all boundaries, beyond simple reproductive freedom: for her, it’s a matter of choosing music over more traditional, conformist expectations. As the mutedly wounded song makes clear, it can be a tortuous path.

With its withering, winking sarcasm and bluesy flair, the album’s funniest track is Feminist AF, weighing the absurdity of feminism and equal rights being considered controversial in a so-called democracy. Nasty Women Grab Back  comes across as a sardonic rewrite of a latin-infused jazz classic, Coss wailing on soprano and echoed by Wintz’s spirals and bounds. The album’s final cut is Ode to a Generation, Coss’ tenor trading tersely with guest Lucas Pino’s bass clarinet. Clearly, the darkly soul-inspired anthem’s clenched-teeth modalities are as much indictment as guarded triumph: we still have a whole lot of work ahead of us.

In a year that’s seen an explosion of relevant, politically-inspired jazz, this dark broadside might just be the best jazz album of 2018.

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

Michael Feinberg Offers an Aptly Counterintuitive Homage to Elvin Jones

Bassist Michael Feinberg found the inspiration for his new album The Elvin Jones Project somewhat by coincidence. While exploring the work of some of his favorite influences, among them Jimmy Garrison, Gene Perla and Dave Holland, he discovered that pretty much all of them had one connection or another with the iconic, extrovert jazz drummer. And the album does justice to Jones: like him, it’s counterintuitive. Along with the high-voltage material – propelled with a constant sense of the unexpected by the Cookers’ Billy Hart, an old friend of Jones and a similarly exuberant player – there’s a mix of quieter pieces, a couple of rarities and a single, somewhat skeletal, New Orleans-flavored Feinberg original. With all this in mind, it becomes less surprising that a relatively new jack like Feinberg could pull together such a formidable lineup for the project: Hart, plus George Garzone on tenor sax, Tim Hagans on trumpet, Leo Genovese (of Esperanza Spalding’s band) on piano and Rhodes, and Alex Wintz guesting on guitar on three tracks.

They bookend the album with two tracks from the 1982 album Earth Jones: the somewhat eerily twinkling In a Silent Way-flavored title track, hypnotically vamping with the echoey Rhodes and the occasional sudden, agitated crescendo; and Three Card Molly, Hart swinging it with clenched-teeth intensity punctuated by Hagans’ fiery, wailing attack and Genovese’s dynamically-charged spirals and atmospherics. The interlude toward the end of that last track, Genovese’s noir chords enhanced by Hart’s mysterioso cymbal splashes, is one of the album’s many high points.

Rather than trying to out-glissando Coltrane, Garzone brings a meticulously nuanced, understatedly spectacular, breathy rapidfire attack to Trane’s Miles Mode, Hart’s rumbling accents matched by Genovese’s hard-hitting piano, Feinberg evoking Christian McBride throughout a spacious, punchy solo. A more obscure swing number, Steve Grossman’s 1970 composition Taurus People, also benefits from aggressive teamwork from the rhythm section throughout Feinberg’s new arrangement, Hart having a grand old time throwing offbeats and cymbals into the fray, Garzone taking it down and out with an unexpectedly wary judiciousness.

They bring a triumphant, rather hypnotic early 70s intensity to Frank Foster’s The Unknighted Nations, Mintz’ offcenter guitar taking it further outside over Hart’s rollercoaster snare work, then bringing it all back to the hook with a single whiplash phrase. And Feinberg gives a clinic in lyrical solo bass on a version of Nancy with the Laughing Face, inspired by the 1962 Coltrane quartet version. The album is due out from Sunnyside on September 11; Feinberg leads pretty much the entire cast here at the cd release show at Birdland on September 13 at 6 PM, with $20 seats still available as of this writing.

August 23, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment