Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Edgy Focus and Tunefulness From All-Female Jazz Supergroup Lioness

Lioness are the perpetually swinging Posi-Tone Records‘ all-female supergroup. It’s unusual for any of the few remaining record labels, such as they exist at all in 2019, to be championing women, let alone women in jazz. But Posi-Tone has an enviable track record of doing just that, including a bunch of recordings by Alexa Tarantino, Amanda Monaco, Lauren Sevian – all three of them members of Lioness – and several others. The sextet got their start during a Flushing Town Hall residency by Monaco; their debut album Pride and Joy is streaming at their music page. The rest of the group includes tenor saxophonist Jenny Hill, organist Akiko Tsuruga and the increasingly ubiquitous Allison Miller on drums.

Sevian, Tarantino and Jenny Hill team up for some jaunty go-go blues in the album’s catchy opening number, Mad Time, by Miller. Hill’s composition Sunny Day Pal is a balmy cha-cha, its summery sonics enhanced by the organ in tandem with Monaco’s lingering, purposeful guitar. Jelly, written by Monaco and her sister, has Miller swinging leisurely behind its tight stroll and warmly bluesy horns, a neat trick.

Down For the Count. a Sevian tune, is full of surprise tempo and thematic shifts, the composer’s baritone sax bobbing and weaving and then handing off to Tarantino’s blithe alto. The covers here are all written by women as well. Melba Liston’s punchy You Don’t Say, from 1958 is reharmonized for three saxes instead of the original trombones, a carefree shuffle with solos all around. The group’s take of Aretha’s Think is even shorter than the original and makes you think about what it actually is before the group hit the chorus head-on. Ida Lupino, by Carla Bley, has a delectably allusive, sparse interweave of voices over Miller’s steady beat.

The simmering take of Meilana Gillard’s Ethiopian-tinged Identity is the strongest of the covers, a long launching pad for Sevian to take flight. Monaco clusters and spirals around the wistful Mocha Spice, by one of the alltime great postbop guitarists, the late Emily Remler. Tarantino’s briskly shuffling Hurry Up and Wait is the album’s high point, Sevian grittily unveiling the song’s bluesy architecture.

Hill glistens and flutters as Sweety, a syncopated soul number by Monaco, gets underway. Tsuruga is represented here by the album’s final and most epic cut, Funky Girl, a sly Jimmy Smith-style swing tune with more blustery horns than he typically worked with on an album date, along with a gritty Monaco solo. It’s a clinic in tight, thoughtful playing; no wasted notes, something as rare in jazz as all-female supergroups.

Lioness are at 55 Bar tomorrow night, July 27 starting at 6 PM.

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July 26, 2019 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

Cécile McLorin Salvant Premieres Her Macabre, Majestically Relevant New Suite at the Met

“The man is lying!”

Cécile McLorin Salvant’s voice rose with an ineluctable, fearsome wail through that accusatory phrase as the orchestra behind her reached hurricane force. In the year of Metoo, fake news emanating daily via Twitter from the nation’s highest office, and Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers risking their lives to deny rape culture a seat on the nation’s highest court, Salvant could not have picked a more appropriate time to sing that.

The character she was voicing in that moment, the most fervent in a night full of metaphorically-charged, magic realist narrative, was a robin. It was warning the protagonist in Salvant’s new suite, Ogresse, to beware of a would-be suitor’s ulterior motives. It was possibly the highest peak that Salvant and the band reached in almost two hours of lush, sweeping big band jazz drawing on a hundred years’ worth of influences.

Yet the world premiere of the work, performed to a sold-out crowd last night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, turned out to be juat as firmly rooted in the here and now. Many of the suite’s themes mirrored Rachelle Garniez’s fabulist reinventions and Rose Thomas Bannister’s great plans gothic as much as they did Billy Strayhorn, or Cole Porter, or Ellington.

The book on Salvant is that she can personify just about any singer from jazz’s golden age. That may be true, but as much as the night’s more coy moments brought to mind Dinah Washington, along with Sarah Vaughan in the more somber ones and Ella Fitzgerald when the music swung hardest, Salvant was most shattering when she sang without the slightest adornment. Knowingly, she went to that calm purity at the night’s most telling junctures.

The suite began with a hypnotically atmospheric, practically Indian lustre and ended with a bittersweetly low-key glimmer. In between, In between, Salvant bolstered her chameleonic reputation with expertly nuanced, torchy ballads, stark delta blues, epic swing anthems and a couple of detours into French chanson and all sorts of blue-neon Lynchian luridness. Late in the score, the band finally alluded to the Twin Peaks theme for a couple of bars.

Darcy James Argue conducted and also arranged the suite. Having seen him many times in the former role over the last few years, he seemed to be having more fun than ever before – then again, he plays his cards close to the vest onstage. Whatever the case, Salvant’s songs have given him fertile territory for his signature, epic sweep and counterintuitive pairings between individual voices in the ensemble.

Helen Sung’s poignant, lyrical piano traded off with David Wong’s similarly inflected bass during a graveyard waltz. Tenor saxophonist Tom Christensen’s plaintive oboe, vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s sepulchrally sprinting marimba, and trombonist Josh Roseman’s surprisingly lilting tuba all rose to the surreal command demanded by Argue’s wicked chart. The solo that drew the most awestruck applause was from Alexa Tarantino’s soprano sax, a particularly poignant, emotionally raw salvo.

Brandon Seabrook began the show on Strat but quickly switched to banjo, which anchored the 19th century blues-inflected interludes. Yet he never picked with traditional three-finger technique, hammering on enigmatic open chords or aggressively tremolo-picking his phrases. Maybe that was Argue’s decision not to dive deep into the delta swamp.

Salvant’s lyricism is as deep and vast as her music. The suite’s plotline involves a rugged individualist who has her own grisly way of dealing with the menace of the townspeople outside – we learn toward the end that she’s no angel herself, either.

Father had flown away sometime ago
My face was all he left behind
But soon he left my mother’s mind
She remarried a shadow

That set the stage for the grim ramifications of that particular circumstance, which Salvant and the group slowly unveiled, up to a literal forest fire of a coda. The conclusion, which Salvant had been foreshadowing all along, drew a fervent “Yessssss!” from an alluring, petite brunette in glasses and a smart sweater seated to the author’s immediate right. The audience echoed sentiment that via three standing ovations, a triumph for a group that also included purposeful trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, percussionist Samuel Torres and the sweeping strings of the Mivos Quartet.

This could have been the best concert of the year – and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has many more. Some of them are free with museum admission: you could see plaintive Armenian duduk music played by the duo of Gevorg Dabaghyan and Vache Sharafyan in Gallery 199 at 5:30 PM on Oct 26.

September 29, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment