Lucid Culture


Majestic, Cinematic Sweep and a Midtown Album Release Show From Bassist Mark Wade

Mark Wade’s bass steps with an almost cruel, emphatic pulse beneath Tim Harrison’s stubborn piano loop as the title track of Wade’s new album Moving Day – streaming at Bandcamp – gets underway.  Is this “Here we go again, pushed even further to the most remote fringes of this city by the real estate bubble, drug money laundering and the never-ending blitzkrieg of gentrification?”


As the song builds over drummer Scott Neumann’s increasingly bustling yet subtle implied-triplet groove, it takes on a cinematic sweep not unlike Amina Figarova’s musical travelogues. The bandleader’s growling, tireless propulsion eventually hits a dancing pulse as Harrison lightens and loosens: maybe this is turning out to be more escape than exile. You can decide for yourself when the trio play the album release show on March 3 at 8 PM at Club Bonafide; cover is $15.

The bass on this album is especially well recorded, considering that Wade typically plays with a sinewy, almost gravelly tone that’s well-suited to his restlessly shapeshifting compositions. The second track is Wide Open. With its hard-charging drive fueled by Harrison’s left hand, often in tandem with the bass, it wouldn’t be out of place on a recent Orrin Evans album.

The Bells opens as a somberly majestic waltz ringing with uneasy modal lines and Debussy-esqe close harmonies, drawing its inspiration from Wade hearing churchbells in the south of France, out of tune and sync with each other. Like the album’s opening track, it brightens considerably, punctuated by Wade’s minimalist solo.

Another Night in Tunisia is the familiar favorite chugging along over a series of rhythmic shifts: having just heard Dave Douglas completely radicalize the song, it’s impressive to hear how well this holds it own alongside it. The album’s other cover, Autumn Leaves, benefits from a terse bass solo and some deliciously enigmatic reharmonizing that Harrison lets linger as his lefthand jabs, hard: he’s a voice we ought to hear more of.

His stately chords open Something of a Romance with plenty of gravitas, followed by a mighty buildup of a wave from the rhythm section, some jauntily chugging wee-hour swing, a spacious, cantabile solo from Wade and then a return to rising tides. The similarly crescendoing, picturesque Midnight in the Cathedral imagines the crowds and music there from over the centuries: swelling multitudes and maybe a wedding as Neumann shuffles on the cymbals and Wade leaps and bounds around an old Gregorian chant theme that Rachmaninoff used more than once.

The New Orleans shout-out The Quarter offers irrepressibly cheery, catchy contrast. The album winds up with In the Fading Rays of Sunlight, a portrait of a particularly glorious end to the day that follows a clever series of glistening downward trajectories. Needless to say, compositions and a band this good would resonate with the crowds at Smalls and Jazz at Lincoln Center.


February 26, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Twelve’s the Charm for Amina Figarova

At this point in time, pianist Amina Figarova’s enduring masterpiece is her September Suite, a harrowing reflection written in the wake of 9/11 that remains one of the most haunting albums of the last couple of decades. Her new album Twelve is her best, most focused and most impactful release since then – intentionally or not, it’s interesting how the number twelve would follow 9/11 in terms of the high points of her prolific career. This album is considerably quieter and more pensive than her previous one, Sketches, a bustling, colorful, loosely thematic series of travelogues. Figarova’s always had a knack for translucent horn arrangements, and the ones here are among her richest. Although throughout her career she has been generous in giving herself and her band plenty of room for soloing, this album is remarkable for its absence of wasted notes and dedication to purpose. The chemistry in her longtime band – husband and multi-flutist Bart Platteau, trumpeter Ernie Hammes, saxophonist Mark Mommaas, bassist Jeroen Vierdag and drummer Chris “Buckshot” Strik – is comfortably familiar. The compositions are as cinematic as she’s ever written. Maybe trading her old Rotterdam haunts for a new life in New York is part of the deal – whatever the case, let’s hope she stays.

It’s interesting how New York State would inspire her to evoke Brazil on the opening track, NYCST, dancing syncopation from Platteau and Mommaas sandwiching Figarova’s precise pointillisms. The second track, Another Side of the Ocean is classic Figarova, pensive and acerbic and then growing more lush, Hammes’ gentle swirls adding brightness, Platteau’s flute dancing cautiously over its elegantly shifting pulse. The most gripping track here might be Sneaky Seagulls, which juxtaposes an abrasive sax/trumpet interlude that’s more Hitchcockian than beachy against Keystone Kops swing, and then a potently aching alto solo from Mommaas. Likewise, tense harmonies between sax and flute lead into an eerily fluttering Figarova solo on a quieter seaside scene, Shut Eyes, Sea Waves: the uneasy, atmospheric backdrop behind Figarova’s spacious, unsettled solo out has a gently resolute vividness worthy of Gil Evans.

By contrast, On the Go is another one of Figarova’s travelogues, a latin theme as Joe Jackson might do it, lit up by a cleverly wry trumpet solo, Platteau then taking it back to brisk, matter-of-fact insistence. The most vividly lyrical of all the songs here is Isabelle, a portrait of Vierdag’s girlfriend, who comes across as stunningly perceptive, beautiful and easily wounded – and on guard against that. Then the band goes back to brisk, just-short-of-breathless swing with the Midtown Manhattan-flavored Make It Happen. The title track – in 12/8 meter, just to hammer home the numerological concept – develops a pensive neoromantic piano theme backed by a gorgeously burnished horn chart, expansively explored by flute and then piano.

The samba-flavored New Birth has yet another richly harmonized horn arrangement, casually steady postbop incisions from Mommaas and a lively Figarova solo. Then they get quiet again with Morning Pace and its allusions to blues and spirituals – Vierdag’s bass mingling with and then peering up through Figarova’s solo is another especially choice moment here. A portrait of a favorite grandmother who comes across as more impish than stern, Leila is full of latin tinges and eventually a wry approximation of a conga break. The album ends on a potently uneasy note with Maria’s Request – Figarova will go to great lengths to make her fans happy, and this is a classic example. Platteau’s soulful, balmy bass flute leads it up over Figarova’s nocturnal phrasing, the chords of the bass taking it out with a bracing absence of resolution. All these diversely picturesque pieces come together with an effortlessness that soft-pedals the fact that this is simply one of the most consistently enjoyable and attractive jazz albums of 2012. It’s out on the German In + Out label.

August 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amina Figarova’s September Suite Stuns the Crowd

Amina Figarova’s September Suite is one of the important, essential works created in the wake of 9/11. Sunday night at the Metropolitan Room, the jazz pianist and her sextet – Mark Momaas on tenor sax, Bart Platteau on flutes, Ernie Hammes on trumpet and flugelhorn, Roland Guerin on bass and Chris “Buckshot” Strik on drums – reaffirmed that, playing the suite in its entirety. It begins and also ends with a “theme of evil,” a creepy, ominous piano figure, as the Azerbaijan-born Figarova struggled to explain beforehand, “Because it’s there.” The music articulated the omnipresence of evil better than any words could, yet, the suite isn’t actually a narrative of the events of that horrific day. Rather, it’s an “ode to grieving,” as she explained, tracing the emotional reaction to the disaster over the weeks and months that followed, through the eyes of survivors, witnesses and those who lost loved ones.

Figarova’s signature style incorporates pensive European classical motifs into a jazz framework, expansive, imagistic and often sweepingly majestic, sometimes with a droll sense of humor. There’s no humor in this work, but there is plenty of crushing irony, illustrated potently as Guerin frantically walked scales while the band pulled out all the stops to illustrate how “everything’s all right now.” As a portrait of denial, it was cruelly accurate. The rest of the piece is far darker and considerably more direct. The opening passage, Numb, established the distant, macabre ambience created by the smoking hole at Ground Zero. Emptyness featured the band wandering with an aimless anomie over a slinky Guerin pulse punctuated by some phantasmagorical bass chords. A passage titled Photo Album – the living memorializing the dead through images of better days – gave the band a chance to back away from the darkness a little, with soaring, memorable flugelhorn from Hammes, but the “theme of evil” was quick to return.

Trying to Focus was the closest thing to Figarova’s usual cinematic style, quite possibly an attempt on her part to find her pre-9/11 self in the midst of her own somewhat delayed but no less shocked and horror-stricken reaction (she was asleep at her friends’ place in Brooklyn when the first plane hit Tower 2). She’s a generous composer, always giving her band plenty of space to illuminate her themes. At about this point in the suite, Momaas turned in the most viscerally ferocious solo of the night, an endlessly rapidfire series of sixteenth notes, ending it with a shriek and then, turning to Strik with a grin as if to say, “Nobody else is going to top that tonight.” They didn’t, but Hammes’ heavy, mournful lines in tandem with Platteau’s graceful ambience added another layer of gravitas, Strik alternating between swooshy brush work and the powerhouse runs he’s best known for.

Dawn, said Figarova, was not about renewal: it was meant to illustrate the kind of dawn that no one wants to see, reverting to a manic swing before her own gorgeously plaintive solo, as vividly angst-ridden as anything Roger Waters ever wrote. She used that to introduce For Laura, which set guarded optimism and the hope for healing against an omnipresent, noir undercurrent that finally bared its fangs at the end as Figarova went down into the depths to remind everyone that even though it’s been ten years since 9/11, the forces that made it happen are still with us. The crowd, clearly overwhelmed, let Figarova’s last low bass note linger and then fade until it was almost silent before erupting in applause.

September 13, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Observations on Winter Jazzfest 2011

As Search and Restore’s emcee explained Friday night at Kenny’s Castaways, the concept of Winter Jazzfest is to introduce new players, or older players tackling newer ideas. What he didn’t mention is that Winter Jazzfest is a spinoff of APAP, a.k.a. the annual booking agents’ convention, which until the past year didn’t even schedule jazz among its CMJ-style array of relatively brief sets showcasing an extraordinary amount of talent across the city. In a good year, APAP might draw 1500 people, most of them from larger community arts venues across the country. The Census Bureau has made a big deal about how their 2010 data shows an increase in attendance at jazz shows. Friday night’s crowd – young, scruffy, hungry, and overwhelmingly local – offered potent validation of that claim. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: great art has tremendous commercial appeal.

Drummer Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys, whose run at Coco 66 in Greenpoint is one of New York’s more memorable residencies of recent years, explored how much fun there is in playing around the outer edges of funk. Artfully blending color and drive, Pride led his group – Darius Jones on alto, Peter Bitenc on bass and Alexis Marcelo on Rhodes – through a captivating, witty and too-brief set. All but one of their numbers (their catchy opening track, Surcharge, by a Berlin friend of the band named Uli) were originals. Themes were alluded to more than stated outright, Jones having a great time skirting the melody and then going way out into the boposphere on his own while Bitenc ran terse, hypnotic figures and Marcelo sent rippling washes out against the current.

“We’re professional travelers. In between we play music,” laughed pianist Amina Figarova, who delivered a thoughtfully expansive set at Zinc Bar with most of her longtime sextet: Bart Platteau on flutes; Marc Mommaas on tenor; Ernie Hammes on trumpet; Jay Anderson subbing on bass and Chris “Buckshot” Strik incisive and playful behind the drums. To paraphrase Mae West, Figarova is a woman what takes her time. Deliberately and matter-of-factly, she developed her solos with a slow and inexorably crescendoing approach which still left considerable room for surprise. And yet, a sudden solar flare or martial roll from her left hand didn’t catch her band unawares: they have a supple, intuitive chemistry that comes with rigorous touring. The most captivating songs in the set were the most bustling: the vivid airport scramble Flight No., and a cleverly shapeshifting version of the deceptively simple, unselfconsciously assertive Look at That!

As the evening wore on, it became clearer and clearer that the clubs were on a tight schedule: concertgoers accustomed to small clubs going over time as the night wears on were surprised to see acts actually take the stage before their scheduled time. Anat Cohen regaled a rapt, absolutely wall-to-wall crowd at le Poisson Rouge with a program that mixed crescendoing, ecstatic gypsy/klezmer clarinet, Jason Lindner’s lean latin piano lines and balmy sax ballads. And later, 90-year-old drummer Chico Hamilton and his band reaffirmed that if you have swing and use it, you never lose it.

Back at Kenny’s Castaways, it was nice to be able to simply see Jen Shyu as she swayed and held the room with her understated intensity: the last time she played Lincoln Center, she sold out the hall. She’s one of the few newer artists who actually lives up to all the hype that surrounds her: she can belt and wail to the rafters if she feels like it, but this was a clinic in subtlety and purposefulness. The high point of the entire evening, at least from this limited perspective, was a slowly unwinding, hypnotic arrangement of a Taiwanese slave song. Shifting from English, to French, to Spanish and then to Chinese vernacular, Shyu underscored the universality of humankind’s struggle against brutality, against overwhelming odds. Bassist John Hebert ran mesmerizingly noirish circles lit up in places by David Binney’s alto sax or Dan Weiss’  effectively understated drumming, Shyu contributing wary, starkly pensive Rhodes piano from time to time. Their last piece bounced along on a catchy tritone bass groove, Shyu’s vocalese sometimes dwindling to a whisper, bringing the band down under the radar to the point where the suspense was visceral. It would have been great fun to stick around the Village for more, but there was another mission to accomplish: like CMJ, APAP requires a lot of running around. Which was too bad. The ease of access to such a transcendent quantity of music is addictive: if you do this next year, make a two-night commitment out of it and experience it to the fullest.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amina Figarova Makes Her Travels Memorable Ones

“What happens on tour stays on tour,” jazz pianist Amina Figarova asserts, but the fun spills over onto the compositions on her new album Sketches. It’s a striking change, considerably more upbeat than her stunned, intensely evocative 9/11-themed September Suite. A series of vividly cinematic snapshots of her travels around the world, they chronicle moods rather than specific locales – at least as far as the official story goes, anyway. This is obviously a band that has a good time on tour. A sense of optimism and confidence pervades the arrangements here, achieving a remarkably big sound for a sextet, Figarova joined by Ernie Hammes on trumpet and flugelhorn, Marc Mommaas on tenor sax, Bart Platteau on flutes, Jeroen Vierdag on bass and Chris “Buckshot” Strik on drums. She favors expansive, impressionistic solos and lush horn charts with considerable tempo and dynamic shifts, often creating a narrative. Recorded in a single day, these tableaux capture a well-traveled band at the peak of their creative chemistry.

The opening track, Four Steps to… is an anthem with a vivid sense of anticipation, clever tradeoffs between the trumpet and flute and a sense of calm triumph at the end. By contrast, Unacceptable is perturbed, scurrying along with a breathless Figarova solo that bristles back into the head jaggedly. The title track works a staggered, circular piano riff against characteristically lush horns.

Evocatively wintry but playful, Caribou Crossing opens in late afternoon and ushers in the twilight gently and memorably. An upbeat, catchy ensemble piece, Breakfast for the Elephant has Figarova moving ebulliently out of Hammes’ balmy introspective lines. Back in New Orleans, a slow, swinging ballad, gives Mommaas a chance to flutter in doubletime against the thoughtful legato of the piano. With its Caravan drums, Flight No. captures the scramble to the airport gate, a well-deserved break at cruising altitude and then pandemonium all over again, a theme revisited in the similar Train to Rotterdam. Look at That begins almost as trip-hop, cymbals and bass running a loop, Figarova leading the ensemble brightly and cheerily all the way through. The album winds up with the brisk, bouncily expansive Happy Hour and then the partita In Your Room, beginning as a classically-tinged nocturne with particularly biting piano and flute until the bass brings down the lights. It’s a long album, almost an hour and a quarter worth of music: obviously Figarova’s recent travels have been memorable ones. She and the sextet play Dizzy’s Club on August 9 at 7 and 9:30 PM.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment