Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Michael Formanek Plays a Richly Disquieting Brooklyn Album Release Show

Last night at Roulette, bassist Michael Formanek led his Drome Trio with reedman Chet Doxas and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza through two rewardingly acerbic sets to celebrate the release of their new album Were We Where We Were. That title opens up a floodgate of questions: do we romanticize the deeply flawed world we had before the March, 2020 fascist takeover? Are we out of the woods yet? Do Formanek’s stunningly vivid, persistently troubled compositions reflect a present danger? It’s hard to believe that this frequently haunting performance could be as simple as a band merely flexing their chops throughout a set of edgy and unselfconsciously profound new compositions.

Doxas opened the show solo with a simple but spine-tingling series of vaguely Armenian microtonal riffs, Sperrazza quickly rising from a loose-limbed pulse to an increasing storm, Formanek unperturbed at the center, leading the group subtly toward a steady sway as Doxas circled his way through a long, uneasy, Messiaenic passage. Formanek’s allusive solo bubbled and signaled a long, melancholy drift down to a suspenseful handoff to Sperrazza, who then channeled the spirits with a momentary shamanic break. The trio brought everything full circle at several times the energy.

That was just the first 25 minutes or so.

Doxas echoed Formanek’s phantasmagorically-tinged opening solo as Sperrazza’s drizzle gained force in the second number. Wary Jackie McLean-like sax phrases and wispy hints of vaudeville from Sperrazza followed. A coy, wispy sax-drum conversation set off a wistful, spacious solo from Doxas, who’d switched to clarinet. They ended cold.

Pianist Angelica Sanchez then joined them, choosing her spots to bound and ripple with a blithe Monklike swing in the first set’s closing number. Still, a disquiet persisted in her bell-like harmonies. Doxas took over with his muscular tenor lines, Formanek again an anchor with his insistent polyrhythms,

Sanchez opened the second set with an austere, somber solo, elevating to a clenched-teethed, close-harmonied intensity. It seemed she couldn’t wait to lighten the mood somewhat with a series of thorny rivulets. Doxas parsed the lower registers with a sinuous, Charlie Rouse-tinged solo, Formanek taking the song out on a fondly assertive note.

Next, the quartet danced through a catchy, Monkish swing fueled by Sperrazza’s subtle clave and Doxas’ smoky, insistent modal riffage. When he dropped out and Sanchez pulled the curtain back with a catchy if immutably melancholy solo, the effect was viscerally breathtaking.

The number after that made a good segue, with a more brooding chromaticism, through pulses and lulls. A wary mood persisted throughout, even the incisive Monkish riffage and syncopated bounce of the quartet’s concluding tune, with a tremoloing Doxas tenor solo and Sanchez’s eerily lingering incisions. Formanek plays in plenty of groups, but this might be the best of them all. Let’s hope this project continues.

The next jazz concert at Roulette is tomorrow night, Jan 26 at 8 PM, an epic performance where guitarist Joel Harrison leads five different ensembles including his Jazz Orchestra conducted by another fantastic composer, Erica Seguine, plus the New York Virtuoso Singers conducted by Harold Rosenbaum, plus the Alta String Quartet. You can get in for $25 in advance.

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January 25, 2023 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Conversational New Duo Album From Pianists Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell

Pianists Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell each have earned substantial fan bases for very different reasons. Crispell was one of the first women among the loft jazz pioneers of the 70s; Sanchez’s panorama of global influences is vast as her melodies are translucent. Stylistically speaking, you might think that a piano duo collaboration between the two would be a stretch. And that’s exactly what they do on their new album How to Turn the Moon, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the first piano duo record for both artists, an intuitive. elegantly executed, largely improvisational effort. Crispell is at her most thoughtful and melodic while Sanchez reaches for a lingering, neoromantically-inspired 70s ECM sound. Sanchez is in the left channel, Crispell in the right on this generally very serious, often rather dark album.

There are a lot of tradeoffs and role reversals here. As the album goes along, the two begin to opt for more intertwine than the sharp dynamic contrast they work earlier on. The epic Ceiba Portal is a synthesis of all those devices, from a bracing, Mompou/Satie-like weave that builds to a steady, emphatically strolling overture of sorts, then a big crescendo to a final enigmatic fugue. The moody, spacious call-and-response and uneasy, starry Messiaenic tonalities of Sullivan’s Universe – a Sullivan Fortner shout-out, maybe? – has the same conversational disquiet.

There are a couple of surreal, suspenseful inside-the-piano pieces here. Ancient Dream has Crispell brushing the strings for lute-like phrases as Sanchez flits around, then Crispell takes to the keys, pensive and minimal. Space Junk is more mysterious, both pianists going to the lowest lows to conclude on a memorably murky note. By contrast, the harried quasi-boogie that closes Rain in Web is the album’s most aggressive interlude.

The exchanges of bell-like figures and purposeful, cascading variations in Calyces of Held rise and then return to moodiness, each pianist taking a solo turn. The more broodingly resonant Windfall Light becomes a platform for exploring that dynamic more darkly. Twisted Roots has more interweave, but also suspense, Crispell’s spare, blippy phrases echoing Sanchez’s solemn precision. The opening and closing numbers could have been left on the cutting room floor, but what’s in between them often brings out the best in both musicians.

April 15, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment