Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

This Year’s Midsummer Night Swing Festival Kicks Off on a Powerfully Relevant Note

Midsummer Night Swing is a New York rite of passage. Everybody does it at one time or another. It’s hard to think of a more romantic date night. Every year starting at the end of June, Lincoln Center rolls out a real dancefloor at the southwestern corner of the campus in Damrosch Park, where an eclectic series of bands serenade the dancers with everything from 30s big band swing to 20s hot jazz, salsa dura, and this year, even classic honkytonk. Not everybody dances; lots of folks just come out for the music, or to watch the spectacle. By Manhattan jazz club standards, admission is a real bargain at $17, and there are deals if you go to multiple shows, as many people do.

This Tuesday, June 26 at 7:30 PM is kickoff night with a monster all-female band assembled by Lincoln Center specially for this occasion. They take their inspiration from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated, all-female swing group. Trumpeter Bria Skonberg leads this multi-generational mix of allstar and rising star talent, which features Regina Carter on violin, Anat Cohen on clarinet and Champian Fulton on piano with Lakecia Benjamin, Sharel Cassity, Chloe Feoranzo, and Camille Thurman on saxes; Emily Asher on trombone; Linda Briceño and Jami Dauber also on trumpets; Endea Owens on bass and Savannah Harris on drums.

If you’re going there to listen, who among these artists should you single out? Pretty much all have them have gotten some ink here at one point or another. One of the most obvious choices is Anat Cohen, who turned in what was arguably the most riveting performance at last year’s Charlie Parker Festival with her epic, often hauntingly mysterious, klezmer-influenced tentet, testifying to her prowess in a big band setting.

On one hand, her latest album, Live in Healdsburg – streaming at Spotify and recorded in California a couple of years ago – is 180 degrees from that, a duo performance with the similarly lyrical Fred Hersch on piano. Yet in its own way, it’s just as lavish, an expansive, warmly conversational, vivid and unselfconsciously joyous collaboration.

Hersch opens the night’s first track, the aptly titled A Lark, with impressionistic, Debussy-esque belltones before Cohen gently dances in and then all of a sudden it’s a surreal update on ragtime. The push-pull between Cohen’s voice of reason and Hersch’s trickster is irresistibly fun, especially when the two switch roles and Cohen goes spiraling. Neither have ever glistened more than they do here.

Another Hersch number, Child’s Song is both more spaciously tender and tropical, giving Cohen a launching pad for her terse, crystalline, often balletesque lines, especially when Hersch mutes his insistent, pointillistic approach. Hersch begins the first Cohen tune here, The Purple Piece with a brooding austerity: it’s as far from over-the-top as you can get. Cohen maintains the bluesy bittersweetness with her aching melismas over an understated waltz rhythm, Hersch grounding it with his expressive neoromantic chords and occasional, more incisive shifts.

As they do with many of the songs here, they build from opacity to an understated swing and then playful, experimentation in a pretty radical remake of Isfahan. Then in in the last of the Hersch pieces, Lee’s Dream, they jump out of their shoes gracefully over a precise, distantly stride-influenced piano drive that bookends a flutteringly disorienting interlude.

From Hersch’s phantasmagorical intro to Cohen’s similarly canivalesque shifts between wistful blues and eerie microtones, the album’s most lavish number could be characterized as a haunting improvisation loosely based on Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks. Their approach to Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz is similar if somewhat more flitting. They encore with a similarly individualistic version of Mood Indigo, Cohen’s low, meticulously somber approach lightened somewhat by Hersch’s spare, steady, glimmering architecture. There could be plenty of moments like this from a completely different crew on Tuesday night in the park.

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June 23, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun with Anat Cohen at the Miller Theatre

Jazz reedwoman Anat Cohen’s show Saturday night at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre looked to be sold out, or very close to it. Early on, she explained to the crowd that playing music for her was akin to bantering, and her bandmates no doubt agreed. Pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Daniel Freedman joined her in a mostly upbeat, often joyously melodic, high-energy set that reflected both her eclecticism and her fondness for Brazilian styles. This show wasn’t about crazed bop assaultiveness or weird tempos: it was all about meaningful contributions, and memorable tunes, and sometimes exuberant, sometimes sly interplay. Cohen’s fearsome technique is matched by her unselfconsciously warm approach to the music: when she wasn’t playing, she swayed, eyes closed, radiating a contented grin. Beginning on clarinet, then switching to soprano sax and then tenor for awhile, she and Lindner alternated between casually incisive swirls and cascades, and more contemplative passages marked by smartly chosen chromatics that made a vividly darker contrast with an otherwise high-spirited vibe.

The opening track, Anat’s Dance, was a Lindner composition, its bright, dramatic hooks giving way to a moody piano solo that finally rose with a rippling triumph against Freedman’s crescendoing cymbal atmospherics. They built an edgy funk tune out of the next number, setting Brazilian tropicalisms to a summery soul-infused groove, a mood they’d revisit in even more casually amped-up mode with their Coasters cover that closed their first set.

Cohen switched to tenor for their take of Frank Foster’s The Wedding, with a tone as smoky and as attuned to the song’s wee-hours congeniality as her crystalline clarity on the higher-register instruments had been earlier in the set. The song is essentially a jazzed-up soul groove, so it only made sense that when it came time for his solo, Avital would go up high on the fingerboard for some bright, bluesy guitar voicings that contrasted with Lindner’s more considered, impressionistic cheeriness.

When Freedman and Lindner left the stage for the next tune, Cohen worked the situation for laughs, then joined Avital for a swirlingly gorgeous clarinet-and-bass duo that blended slinky Bahian ebullience with brazing klezmer tonalities. The samba-jazz ballad they followed with was a rousingly successful journey through dynamics that began pensively, took an upward trajectory with Cohen’s most biting solo of the night and ended on an unexpectedly brooding note as the clarinet it down elegantly. They closed with a hypnotically rhythmic Freedman composition that the drummer cleverly morphed from an Ethiopian-flavored triplet rhythm to a practically disco shuffle – it wouldn’t have been out of place in the Either/Orchestra catalog. The crowd wanted an encore, but the house lights came up immediately.

Beyond Cohen’s popularity, maybe another reason the hall was so well-populated is that these Miller Theatre jazz shows are a real bargain: tickets were $25, with none of the drink minimums, or mandatory coat check, or the other nickel-and-dime concessions that some of the big-ticket jazz clubs get you for. The next one of these is on the 25th of this month with Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet.

February 15, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment