Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Provocatively Philosophical, Deeply Articulate New Album From Alexa Tarantino

Alexa Tarantino’s new album Firefly – streaming at Bandcamp – could be interpreted as a protest jazz record. It came together during the lockdown, and the tech oligarchs’ relentless quest to destroy the arts and reduce all surviving humanity to cogs in a soulless machine has without a doubt impacted much of the material on it.

But it’s more of a philosophical than political statement, and ultimately an optimistic one. In her liner notes, Tarantino provides context to the album’s central suite, A Moment in Time: “It’s a raw and personal snapshot of a day in a creative’s life, and the responsibilities that come with this lifestyle which, to most of society, appears ethereal, idyllic, novel, and curious. Today’s fast-paced world of technology and instant gratification has centered the human priority on money, material items, flashy success, and social media following. Essentially, it’s ‘How can I get, produce, or be the next best thing, right now?’ While we’ve seen how this has skyrocketed us forward in the realms of technology and science, it has undoubtedly impacted human thought, attention, and connection, forever.”

Tarantino obviously has her eye on the sinister implications. It begins with Daybreak, a moody latin soul groove anchored by drummer Rudy Royston’s spare, loose-limbed boom and bassist Boris Kozlov’s lithe pulse, pianist Art Hirahara and vibraphonist Behn Gillece providing a spare gleam behind Tarantino’s airy, wary alto sax. Essentially, it’s the cradle of the day’s artistic inspiration.

Tarantino switches to alto flute for Surge Fughetta, a warmly baroque-tinged miniature by Kozlov. She goes back to sax and chooses her spots to soar and spiral in Surge Capacity, a bustling, anthemic, purist minor-key romp that explores the magic moment when creative inspiration strikes, with briskly prowling solos by Hirahara and Royston. Then she picks up the alto flute again for Le Donna Nel Giardino, a balmy, verdantly swaying portrait of a playful female garden spirit, Hirahara’s sparse, allusive lines offering subtle contrast to the calm cheer overhead.

Next is Rootless Ruthlessness, a gritty, tightly clustering picture of inner turmoil, self-doubt and self-sabotage, and the struggle for an artist to get their inner critic to shut up. Hirahara switches to Rhodes as Royston charges onward, the bandleader leading a morose, tormented descent where everything falls apart before pulling it back to a triumphant drive out.

She takes a break from the suite with an unhurried, expansive take of Wayne Shorter’s Lady Day, Kozlov bowing a soulful solo to echo Tarantino’s expressiveness. The suite returns as she switches to soprano for Violet Sky, a seaside sunset bossa groove with some very cleverly orchestrated echoes between Hirahara’s Rhodes and Gillece’s vibes, Royston adding the occasional wry flicker or turnaround.

The finale, The Firefly Code challenges us to find our souls amidst this awful mess, basically. Tarantino articulates her thought: “Our individual lights perhaps are not shining as bright as they were a year ago. But the bottom line is that we shine brighter together than we do apart. We, especially artists and creatives, are resilient. My hope is that after a time of ‘darkness,’ we as a society will re-emerge brighter than ever – with a renewed appreciation for the little things – an extended embrace with someone we love, the sound of the birds chirping while sipping our morning latte, or the way that staring at a painting, listening to a composition, or reading a poem makes us pause, think, and feel…in a way that no amount of Instagram likes or followers ever could.”

She opens it on alto flute, the band shifting from a brooding, allusively Ellingtonian sway to more of a bounce as she picks up steam and spins around, matched by Gillece’s pirouetting solo. Royston’s emphatic drum break signals a very unsettled return: the choice is up to us, Tarantino seems to say.

There’s more: the suite doesn’t begin until five tracks in. To kick off the album, we get Spider’s Dance, a low-key, catchy Hirahara tune meant to illustrate an arachnid mating ritual: in this particular universe, these creatures are more romantic than sinister.

Tarantino’s alto flute wafts purposefully but enigmatically in Mindful Moments, a clave tune by by Gillece where Royston has all kinds of subtle fun with on his rims and toms.

Move of the Spirit, an acerbically upbeat Royston swing anthem has a deviously amusing Tarantino quote and rippling solos from Gillece and Hirahara. A second Shorter number, Iris is a long platform for a thoughtfully constructed alto sax solo. This is one of the best and most important jazz albums of the year.

May 17, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Eclectically Swinging Album From Saxophonist Alexa Tarantino

“As memorable as all these tunes are, it’s a good bet Tarantino has even more up her sleeve,” this blog enthused about saxophonist Alexa Tarantino‘s debut album as a bandleader, Winds of Change, just over a year ago. It’s always validating to see that kind of prediction come true. Tarantino’s follow-up, Clarity, is just out and streaming at Spotify. The lineup is a little different this time, pianist Christian Sands switched out for Steven Feifke, with Joe Martin and Rudy Royston returning on bass and drums respectively.

Interestingly, Tarantino plays alto flute on the brooding opening number, Through, working variations on a morosely memorable three-chord riff. Feifke signals a break in the clouds, the loose-limbed rhythm section pushing them pretty much out of the picture. What an anthem for our time – let’s hope Tarantino’s ending is an omen.

A Race Against Yourself comes across as something of an even brisker variation – a long, triumphant coda, essentially, Tarantino on alto sax. She gets balmy on the summery clave ballad, Luis Demetrio ‘s La Puerta, followed by A Unified Front, which has a similarly cheery drive, but at a faster pace. Royston getsthe chance to be his usual extrovert self, Feifke indulging in some blues.

The pianist plays spare, echoey upper-register Rhodes on a funky take of Horace Silver’s Gregory Is Here, Tarantino working her way up to some breathtaking, rapidfire volleys. Karma, a Feifke composition, has bright, incisive hooks, bits and pieces of funk and a smoldering Royston rumble at the end.

The lingering Rhodes returns in Who Saelua’s Breaking Cycles, the band edging their way into moody bossa territory: a real piano playing those same spare lines would enhance the song’s underlying disquiet. Thank You For Your Silence is a briskly swinging golden age-style postbop song without words. Like a lot of Tarantino’s work, this tune has an edge: a revenge number, maybe?

She closes the album, returning to alto flute for a slowly swaying, low-key reinvention of Kurt Weill’s My Ship. Martin’s piano voicings on the intro are a cool touch, as is his judiciously dancing solo midway through.

August 22, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lyrical Saxophonist Alexa Tarantino Releases Her Debut Album at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino is highly sought after in the New York jazz scene for her high-voltage, expressive sound. But she’s also found the time to do some writing over the last few years, which is where her debut album Winds Of Change – streaming at Posi-Tone Records– comes in. The lineup on the record is killer: Christian Sands on piano, Nick Finzer on trombone, Joe Martin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. She’s playing the album release show on May 28 at 7:30 PM at Dizzy’s Club,; cover is steep, $35, but if you can afford it, you’re in for a treat.

Sands’ Debussy-esque poitillisms and a graceful whoosh or three from Royston’s cymbals open the album’s concise first track, Wisp After Wisp. Tarantino play airily and spaciously as she builds to a catchy, allusively bluesy crescendo. Face Value is a briskly shuffling romp, Royston’s firing off his signature, counterintuitive accents, the bandleader jousting playfully with Sands, Finzer adding a coyly jovial solo.

She plays bright, alternately soaring and gritty soprano on Noriko Ueda’s catchy jazz waltz Seesaw, a feature for Tarantino in the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra. Breeze follows an easygoing, vintage 40s sentimental swing tangent up to a hard-charging, blues-infused Sands solo.

Switching to alto flute, Tarantino’s take of Jobim’s Zingaro begins even breezier before Sands brings in the gravitas, Martin pulsing tersely over Royston’s quasi-bolero groove which they slowly edge into amiably dancing territory. Square One, her first-ever composition, is the album’s most epic track, built around a serisio, latin-tinged riff. Royston’s cleverly flickering shuffle underpins Sands’ steadily rising explorations, Tarantino alternating between serenity and shivery flash

The album’s catchiest track among many, Calm is a wistful song without words, Finzer parsing the melody gingerly, Tarantino taking flight as the group shift toward funk behind her. Undercurrent, centered around a bassline that’s more of a horn line, could be an Eric Dolphy jukebox jazz hit, Sands’ jaunty, New Orleans-tinged solo over Royston’s endless series of unexpected jabs.

The group burn through Ready or Not, Finzer ripsnorting and Tarantino spiraling over a tight but subtly shapeshifting, rapidfire shuffle. Tarantino and Sands open the closing ballad, Without as a duo, tenderly, her spacious, hopeful resonance over wary piano and an expansive groove. As memorable as all these tunes are, it’s a good bet Tarantino has even more up her sleeve.

May 20, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment