Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Mighty, Moody Album and a Lincoln Center Gig by the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra

The rain-slicked streetcorner tableau on the album cover of the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra’s latest release Without a Trace – streaming at Bandcamp – Is truth in advertising. In recent years the group have taken a turn into moody, brassy latin-inspired sounds, something they excel at. They’re at Dizzy’s Club on Sept 3, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30. Cover is steep – $35 – but like most A-list large jazz ensembles not named the Maria Schneider Orchestra, you don’t get many chances to see them. This time out the lineup includes singer Carolyn Leonhart; alto saxophonists Jon Gordon and Jay Brandford; tenor saxophonists Rob Middleton and Tim Armacost; baritone saxophonist Terry Goss; trumpeters Nathan Eklund, Dave Smith, Chris Rogers, and Andy Gravish; trombonists Matt McDonald, Jason Jackson and Matt Haviland; bass trombonist Max Seigel; pianist Roberta Piket; bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Andy Watson.

They open the album with a an expansively layered, brassy cha-cha arrangement of Kurt Well’s Speak Low, a feature for Steve Wilson’s allusive, melismatic alto sax, echoed by trumpeter Chris Rogers. Watson’s stampeding drums kick off a tasty series of chromatic riffs from the brass to wind it up.

With a stunningly misty wistfulness, Leonhart gives voice to the longing and angst in Reeves’ moodily latin-inspired title track, Jim Ridl’s tightly clustering piano ceding to Armacost’s more optimistic tenor solo. Likewise, they turn toward Vegas noir in Reeves’ broodingly bouncy reinvention of All or Nothing At All, following the bandleader’s bluesy, bubbling solo up to a haggard, white-knuckle-intense crescendo.

Incandescence could be a Gil Evans tune, maintaining a grim intensity throughout Reeves’ distantly Ravel-esque portrait of starlight over the French countryside. Vibraphonist Dave Ellson moves carefully, Ridl more menacingly, Wilson’s soprano sax peeking and glissandoing with a relentless unease.

Reeves based his own vampy arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s Juju on the composer’s most recent chart for the song and beefed it up with bright banks of brass. Tenor saxophonist Rob Middleton’s solo draws closely on Shorter’s own modally-charged work on the original.

Reeves then looks to Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1 for the central hook for the album’s most epic track, Shape Shifter, with gritty close harmonies, Ridl’s Arabic-tinged piano and Reeves’ alto flugelhorn solo vividly bringing to mind the most cinematic side of early 60s Gil Evans – although a relatively free interlude with Ridl leading the randomness is a detour the song really doesn’t need. The brightly gusty closing cut, Something for Thad is a Thad Jones shout-out. Many flavors and lots to savor here.

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August 27, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Soulful Mary Lou Williams Tribute from Virginia Mayhew

This blog doesn’t spend much time in the past these days: if you’re just getting into jazz and discovering the classics for the first time, there are plenty of places to do that and this isn’t usually one of them. For that reason, coverage of recordings here typically focuses on original material by artists who are usually if not always flying a little under the radar. But every so often an album appears that offers a fresh take on older sounds. Tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew’s recent quartet album, Mary Lou Williams – The Next 100 Years is a delightful example.

For starters, just the idea of doing a Williams homage without piano is intriguing. But maybe it’s just as well – it saves some piano player from cruel comparisons. This album also gives guitarist Ed Cherry – who explores a whole ‘nother side on his jaunty new B3 record, It’s All Good – a chance to go deep into moody blues. Williams’ long career spanned from the hot jazz era of the 20s to the avant garde of the 70s; like Williams, Mayhew is comfortable in diverse milieus from inside to out. Rounding out the group here are bassist Harvie S and drummer Andy Watson, plus contributions from Wycliffe Gordon on trombone.

The songs here are often disarmingly beautiful: Williams had a rare command of the blues and a laserlike, uncluttered sense of melody, which the band grasps impressively. They take their time getting into J.B.’s Waltz – one of a number of jazz waltzes here – and work there way up to an absolutely gorgeous, chordally-infused Cherry solo. Medi II follows a moody chromatic trajectory to some wry, almost vaudevillian fun from the rhythm section. By contrast, Medi I, a 1973 piece alternately titled Searching for Love is a nonchalantly intense soul/blues tune – it sounds a lot like Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue – dark stuff lit up with vivid and spacious Mayhew and Cherry solos.

The 1954 tune O.W., inspired by Don Byas, swings a minor blues with incisive, staccato work from bass, sax and guitar in turn, followed by the richly suspenseful Cancer, from Williams’ 1945 Zodiac Suite, twelve minutes of judicious chromatic intensity and a fleet-footed, terse Mayhew solo. What’s Your Story Morning Glory – the original version of the standard Black Coffee, for which Williams was never credited -sounds here like it’s the prototype for One for My Baby. Mayhew does this as a story for two voices, first wistful in the wee hours with the sax and guitar and ending by contrasting against Gordon’s completely unexpected, comedic lines.

NME – short for New Musical Express – draws inspiration from Byas and also the Ellington band, a vividly flurrying swing tune. The last of the Williams numbers is Waltz Boogie, one of her catchiest. Mayhew also includes two inspired originals. The first is the nebulously Monk-ish One for Mary Lou, which the saxophonist builds to an allusive triumph – to swing it would be too obvious. The album closes with the warmly bluesy, relaxed 5 For Mary Lou. Beyond what they offer musically, albums like this serve other purposes – they make you want to revisit the originals as well as to go deeper into the works of a bandleader who completely gets what this music is all about: soul.

Mayhew is also featured on another soulful recent revisitation of vintage material, the Duke Ellington Legacy’s Single Petal of a Rose.

November 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Classic Reinvented

This is the kind of group we like best – modestly titled but ambitious and very good at what they do. The Westchester Jazz Orchestra, who are in fact a conglomerate of A-list New York players, like to muscle up new arrangements of old classics, from Coltrane, to Dizzy, to Motown: their latest, a brand-new big band version of Herbie Hancock’s 1965 Maiden Voyage Suite, proves to be every bit worth the titanic effort it obviously took to create it. Hancock turned 70 this past year. No doubt he’d be proud not only to see how well his original has held up, but how inspiring it’s been to this large cast of characters, especially considering that they’ve added four relatively brief transitional passages – including a tantalizing, suspenseful conclusion to bring the suite full circle – which interpolate many of Hancock’s motifs. Ironically, the charts often take the tunes back in time to a late 50s milieu, especially when there’s a Cuban rhythm, a noirish, Mingus-esque crescendo or a bracingly cinematic Cal Tjader-esque moment. Conductor Mike Holober, along with Pete McGuinness, the group’s trumpeter Tony Kladeck and saxophonist Jay Brandford came up with the new charts. The rest of the ensemble includes David Brandom on soprano sax; Jason Rigby and Ralph Lalama on tenor sax; Ed Xiques on baritone sax; Jim Rotondi, Craig Johnson and Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorns; Larry Farrell, Keith O’Quinn and Bruce Eidem on trombone, George Flynn on bass trombone; Ted Rosenthal on piano; Harvie S. on bass, and Andy Watson on drums.

The prologue sets the stage, a somewhat murky ocean port scenario that segues up into the title track, understating its slinky pulse until Watson returns with a clave beat as it winds down. Before that, this eleven-minute monster gives Brandom the chance to flip the script from cheery to serioso, then Stamm foreshadows the intensity to an even greater degree. They segue again into Eye of the Hurricane, the heft of the charts powerfully enhancing its rhythmic insistence: Rigby follows Brandom’s tangent from the preceding track, Stamm swings it with the bass and Rosenthal gets to take it mysterious all by himself.

Little One stays closest to the original, with its series of wary alternating voices, a warm Farrell trombone solo over just the rhythm section and a beefed-up jazz waltz as the orchestra rises mightily. They follow it with a brief interlude that hints at the Caribbean. Survival of the Fittest, expanded into two parts here, gives Rotondi the chance to go completely out into the stratosphere with some lightning swirls and Rigby follows in the same vein on the second section, the big chase leading to the album’s most deliciously wailing crescendo. Dolphin Dance is the one that everybody covers, and both Lalama and Rotondi get to go deeply and thoughtfully into it, the trumpet shifting the mood rather dramatically from lush to wary – its final section, as the entire ensemble carries the melody, is richly satisfying. And the new Epilogue adds a neat suspenseful element to wind up an extremely original and successful reinterpretation. Spin this and you’re going to get a lot of “can you play that one again”‘ – and maybe a few “can we hear the original too”‘s.

November 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment