Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Electrifying Album by Two of the Most Distinctive Players in Jazz

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom is the rare improviser who can pull a complete song out of thin air. As one of the world’s most electrifying and distinctive drummers, Allison Miller always has a gig – even when live music is criminalized. Together the two conjure up one of the year’s most entertaining albums, Tues Days, streaming at Bandcamp. The sound is much fuller than you would expect from just two instruments. Hubristic as this is to say, the absence of a bass isn’t an issue (although this is a great album to play along to on just about any instrument). Most of these numbers are completely improvised, although Bloom brings along a handful of her compositions. It’s full of humor, and depth, and inspiring interplay.

Miller begins with romping rudiments, then some flurries and her signature color from every surface on the kit as Bloom plays a jaunty, bouncy theme followed by some wry quotes in the album’s title track. She launches into cheery latin phrasing as Miller ranges from New Orleans to Wipeout rumbles in the second number, Technicolor.

Bloom’s spacious, desolate phrasing over Miller’s understatedly funky drive in Rowing in the Dark is one of the album’s most gripping interludes. This Is It is Bloom at her playful, deviously entertaining best, choosing her spots and airing out her riffbag as Miller holds the center with an effortlessly churning drive.

The two play hide-and-seek in a Shinto temple in Five Bells, one of the funniest and most evocative tunes here. The most expansive, subtly conversational improvisation here, The Wild Frontier pairs Bloom’s airy, pensive sustain with Miller’s restless rustling. Miller’s bottomless toybox of textures finally lures Bloom spiraling out of the clouds.

Bloom wafts in with some of her most subtly vivid, wistful playing in Light Years Away, with a similar dynamic between the two musicians, although this time Miller is more minimalistically steady. A & J’s Test Kitchen – which is what this album is, essentially – is a more lively study in spacious sax versus busier drums. The ending is pricelessly funny.

There’s some Mexican jumping beans, some sagacious retro balladry and also a lot of carnaval in Crayola. The album’s final two tracks are Bloom compositions. Maybe ironically, On Seeing JP is where drums and sax diverge most widely, Bloom’s alternately spare and amiable splashes over Miller’s clever implied swing. The two close with Walk Alone, Bloom spare and guardedly hopeful while Miller whispers with her hardware and rims.

December 14, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counterintuitive Fun with Sexmob, Allison Miller and Fukushi Tainaka

What’s the likelihood of seeing two of the most consistently interesting, individualistic drummers in jazz on a doublebill at a soon-to-be-closed black box bar in Tribeca? It happened Wednesday night at the 92YTribeca at the next-to-last gig there booked by Josh Jackson of WBGO’s The Checkout, Kenny Wollesen propelling Sexmob through a deep, dynamically charged series of reinvented Nino Rota themes from Fellini films, followed by Allison Miller’s high-octane but equally eclectic quartet, Boom Tic Boom. Both drummers could not be more alike yet more dissimilar: mighty swingers with an ever-present sense of humor and a flair for the counterintuitive. Wollesen epitomizes downtown noir cool, slinking through brooding nocturnal interludes before exploding in cascades of raw, aching noise, then switching in a split second to deadpan Bad Brains-style 2/4 hardcore as bandleader Steven Bernstein blew haunted elephantine microtones on his slide trumpet. Miller’s steely focus through an endless series of OMG-we’re-going-off-the-cliff-NOW moments matched a jaw-dropping, athletic precision to her quick intellect, constantly on the prowl for where she could take the music next. Although she is generous in putting her bandmates – pianist Myra Melford, bassist Todd Sickafoose and cornetist Kirk Knuffke – in the spotlight, she likes being centerstage. Wollesen seems not to care whether anyone other than the rest of the band is paying attention to him, even though he knows everyone is.

Sexmob’s new album Cinema Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota) is just out and one of the year’s best; this was an opportunity for them to air out mini-suites from individual films, beginning with a brooding sonata of sorts comprised of themes from Amarcord, going deep into the underlying angst in Juliet of the Spirits and then alternately bleakly atmospheric and furiously agitated passages from La Strada. Bassist Tony Scherr got the more lively, dancing parts, one of them completely solo: by rubatoing them, he stripped off any kitsch factor without losing the hooks. After all, what is noir without hooks to come back and haunt you?

Saxophonist Briggan Krauss began on alto, joining in cagy harmonies with Bernstein, then moving to baritone for some of the set’s darkest moments before switching back again. Bernstein took his time, choosing his spots, contrasting long, mournful sostenuto passages with animated hardbop flurries, often utilizing an echo effect and misty microtones from a second mic that did double duty as a mute, as he enveloped it with the bell of his horn.

Miller’s set featured similar dynamic contrasts, alternating catchy, syncopated funk vamps with spacious, vividly moody neoromantic ballads fueled by Melford’s darkly mjaestic, resonant, often gospel-tinged lines. On the absolutely gorgeous Waiting, Sickafoose followed Melford’s hypnotic lyricism with a long, incisive, stalking solo; Knuffke’s fluttering chromo-bop on the equally hypnotic, funky opening number set the stage for many of the highlights to come.  At one point Miller came out of blistering, pummeling riffage on the toms with a lickety-split, pinpoint-precise circular motif on the cymbals that took the suspense to redline as the band pummeled along with her: was she going to be able to maintain this perfect, Bach-like meticulousness with the storm raging all around? As it turned out, yes.

Other standout numbers included the funky, New Orleans flavored The Itch; a surrealistically moody vocal number sung with an affecting longing by a guest soprano, musing about memories of a childhood home bulldozed for stripmalls and pre-packaged dreams. and the straight-up funk tune Big and Lovely (dedicated to Miller’s pal Toshi Reagon) which gave Melford a platform for some no-nonsense, hard-hitting blues. The set ended counterintuitively with an elegaic tone poem of sorts that had Knuffke channeling what Bernstein had been doing earlier – within seconds, Bernstein, who had been hanging at the merch table, went up front and watched intently.

What’s the likelihood of both of these acts having excellent new albums, both available on delicious vinyl along with the usual digital formats, out from Royal Potato Family? Whatever the case, it’s true. And the concert was simulcast on WBGO and it’s available for streaming here.

And speaking of drummers, it wouldn’t be fair to let the week go by without a mention of Fukushi Tainaka (Lou Donaldson’s longtime man behind the kit) leading his own playful trio at Cleopatra’s Needle the following night. Tainaka, bassist Hide Tanaka and pianist Miki Yamanaka engaged each other in a constant exchange of wry jousts and push-and-pull that breathed new life into tired old standards like All the Things You Are and Girl from Ipanema. They teased the audience as they entertained themselves with false starts for solos, Tainaka deviously hinting and foreshadowing tempo shifts, the bass adding an unexpected somberness late in the set, Yamanaka backing away from lyrical to minimalistic as the bass and drums dove and bobbed through the space she’d elbowed out for them.

May 10, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment