Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Explosive Surfy Jazz from the Best-Dressed Guy in Holland

Jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s stuff is a big hit in his native Holland because it’s very accessible and a lot of fun. Seeing as his compariot, debonair alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman’s mission is to “bring jazz back to the dance floor,” it made a lot of sense for Herman to do a Mengelberg album, which turned out to be a big hit there in 2009. Herman – a genuine star not only in his native land, but throughout Europe – is now on US tour, trying to move bodies (the schedule is here) while promoting a stunningly deluxe new edition of that cd, Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg). The title may sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, but the studio album is a mix of upbeat, dancefloor-ready jazz (when was the last time you heard that, huh?), just now reissued with a bonus ecstatic live cd mining a sly, devious vibe that’s pure punk rock. The band behind him – bassist Ernst Glerum, drummer Joost Patocka (of Euro-jazz doyenne Rita Reys’ band), keyboardist Willem Friede and guitar cult hero Anton Goudsmit – straddle the line between precision and abandon (more the latter than the former), with predictably entertaining results. The point of all this seems to be how far outside they can take Mengelberg’s often stunningly memorable, melodic compositions.

Much of the studio album is a trio performance with sax, bass and drums, bass walking blithely while Herman jumps playfully in and out of focus, skirting the melody. There are a lot of creatively disquieting touches here: a disarmingly pretty pop melody against the doppler effect of freeway traffic; the eerie children’s choir that introduces an offhandedly intense, chromatic number, and a distantly noir ballad with nebulous sax over a mellotron string section. There’s also a bright calypso tune and a couple of irresistibly surf-tinged songs, one with a Memphis go-go feel, the other a bouncy bolero (aptly titled A Little Nervous, in Dutch) with busy drums and bowed bass.

But the hourlong live disc from last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival is the piece de resistance. Herman plays his ass off; Goudsmit steals the show on the darker numbers. The most exhilarating number is called Do the Roach, Jim Campilongo surf/jazz taken to a blistering extreme, Goudsmit echoing Bill Frisell at his wildest, throwing off a blast of reverb-drenched metal fragments. The vigorous version of A Bit Nervous has Patocka doing a spot-on Mel Taylor impersonation; it sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with a good sax player. And Herman matches Goudsmit’s unhinged exuberance as they transform the Memphis go-go of Brozziman into crazed surf jazz, working their way out of the previous tone poem’s gritty, scrapy ambience. By itself it would be one of the year’s best jazz albums; alongside the studio disc, it makes a great introduction to a player and a group who deserve to be as well known in the US as they are at home.

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November 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sarah Manning – Dandelion Clock

Count this as the best jazz album of this young decade – give it another ten years and it could be one of the best jazz albums of an old decade. Not only is Sarah Manning a fearless and intense player, she’s a fearless and intense composer, shades of another first-class alto saxophonist, Kenny Garrett. Restless, irrepressible, unafraid and unfailingly terse, much of what she does here is transcendent. Like Garrett, she likes a stinging chromatic edge, often taking on a potently modal, Middle Eastern tinge. Like JD Allen, she doesn’t waste notes: she doesn’t waste time making her point and the result reverberates, sometimes because she likes to hit the hook again and again, sometimes because her punches delivers so much wallop. There are plenty of other influences on her new cd Dandelion Clock (Coltrane, obviously), but her voice is uniquely hers. An obviously inspired supporting cast of Art Hirahara on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Kyle Struve on drums do more than just support, they seize the moment as you do when you get the chance to play songs like this. The tracks are originals bookended by a couple of covers (isn’t that what cover are for, anyway?).

The most Coltrane-esque composition, both melodically and architecturally, here is the dark, bracing ballad Marble, Manning’s circular hook giving way to Hirahara’s thoughtfully slinking piano that builds to an insistent staccato crescendo. Oh’s solo follows with similarly relentless insistence as piano and drums prowl around behind her. The title track contemplates the concept of time as children see it – it’s not finite. The song is pensive and uneasy, as if to say that Manning knows something the kids don’t and this is her rather oblique way of telling them. Bernard Herrmann-esque piano builds expansively to a tense rhythm that ticks like a bomb, Manning emerging off-center, circling her way down to a simple but brutally effective crescendo and an ominous diminuendo from there. Crossing, Waiting is an even more potently intense exercise in how to build tension, beginning with Oh’s marvelously laconic, pointed solo, Manning eventually adding raw little phraselets over Struve’s equally incisive rattle. The high point of the album is The Owls Are on the March, something of an epic. Hirahara’s haunted-attic righthand is the icing on Manning’s plaintively circling phrases. The way she builds and finally sails her way out of an expansive Hirahara solo, turns on a dime and finally brings up the lights, then winds them down mournfully again is one of the most exquisite moments on any jazz album in the last few years.

There’s also the aptly titled Phoenix Song, Manning’s easygoing congeniality a bright contrast with the brooding band arrangement until she goes otherworldly with them at the end; the equally otherworldly tone poem Through the Keyhole and the after-dark scenario Habersham St. The two covers are strikingly original, a defiantly unsettling post-bop interpretation of Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks, and Michel Legrand’s The Windmills of Your Mind, taken with a murky tango feel to the back streets of Paris – prime Piaf territory – and then out to Toulouse. Manning is somebody to get to know now – the album’s just out on Posi-Tone.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments