Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tenor Saxophonist Noah Preminger’s New Live Album Revisits the Fresh, Radical Original Spirit of Bebop

In a lot of ways, the Noah Preminger Quartet’s new live album Pivot is retro to the extreme. It captures the spirit of bebop from back when that music was new and fresh and radical, rather than just a McGuffin to justify a whole lot of pointless soloing. And while some people might say that the Ellington band would never have played half-hour versions of Bukka White songs like Preminger’s regular group does here, that’s wrong. In fact, when they played the blues, the early bop crowd often went back to the same source material that White referenced. The two songs on this album are Parchman Farm Blues and Fixin’ to Die Blues, each captured live in the roughhewn confines of 55 Bar in the West Village, where the tenor saxophonist and his band – Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass and Ian Froman on drums – are reprising them with an album release show on October 7 at 10 PM. Cover is $10.

The album title refers to the device where a band swings the music without a set meter – again, an old early bop trope. From the first seconds of the carefree, shuffling bass-and-drum interlude that kicks off Parchman Farm Blues, it’s an instant immersion: it sounds like an edit, picking up from where the band just starts to simmer. Calmly and matter-of-factly, Preminger and Palmer expand on the song’s brooding minor-key hook as the rhythm section bubbles along: you could dance to this if you wanted to. Cass keeps things very close to the ground as Froman rides the cymbals and the snare, steady but loose-limbed. There’s a lot of space in the soloing: everyone seems in agreement that there’s plenty of time to get the job done and no need to rush.

Preminger’s smoky blues riffage eventually picks up toward glissando territory, but it’s getting to that point that’s just as much fun as the methodically spiraling crescendos, and even there he plays it closer to the vest than is typical in extended excursions like this. Palmer seems to be charged with the job of Secretary of Entertainment and gets that out of the way; otherwise, he mirrors Preminger’s approach, with a tinge of New Orleans rusticity. And even when Cass gets to take the spotlight as the horns drop out, the swing never stops.

He opens Fixin’ to Die Blues tantalizingly and allusively as Froman almost imperceptibly builds a ghostly swirl, the band following the much of the same trajectory as the first number from there but with a generally more hard-hitting drive. Eventually they reach the point where there’s an exchange between Preminger and Palmer mirroring an old field holller, and a handoff that seems to completely catch Palmer by surprise, so he channels a cool Miles vibe in resistance to the fray underneath. If this album can be summed up in a sentence, it’s that the group never loses sight of the simple fact that this is blues, and as long as they go, they never stray far from that underlying poignancy. The album’s not officially up at Preminger’s site yet, but you can get a good sense of his general purposefulness at his music page.

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October 5, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bud Shank Bows Out In Good Company

This is an entertaining and frequently joyous album with a sad ending, which you’d never know from the music. A day after recording the new album In Good Company with British alto saxophonist Jake Fryer, renowned alto player Bud Shank died. He literally went out on a high note. Lest anybody get the idea that this might be exploitative – think of the Yardbirds with Sonny Boy Williamson, for example – Fryer set up this session with Shank and his West Coast band in order to get the chance to collaborate with a player he greatly admires, and although not in the best of health, Shank rose to the occasion. Here, the two saxophonists are joined by Mike Wofford on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums on what Fryer describes as an “album of first takes.” Full of spontaneity and high spirits, it foreshadows nothing but good times. Shank cut his teeth during the era where jazz was the western world’s default pop and dance music, and here Fryer provides a vividly melodic, catchy set of tunes along with a couple of well-chosen covers to springboard plenty of inspired interplay. As much as this is a tribute album, it’s not deferential: this is party music, after all.

On the opening cut, Caravan, Shank cuts his phrases a little shorter here than he might have in his prime but he’s on his game, bobbing and weaving, brevity matched to an understated sophistication: listen closely, and he’ll school you. Jake Fryer, as the liner notes mention, draws on Shank and also on Phil Woods: the bop influence is there, but so is the tunefulness. The swing blues Bopping with Bud is a platform for a tastily judicious descent by Shank, and to his credit Fryer follows in the same vein rather than trying to win a cutting contest. And the moment where Wofford realizes, “wow, I guess I get a solo now,” it’s pure delight.

Agnieszka, a warmly lyrical ballad dedicated to Fryer’s wife, is genuinely gorgeous, with a long, expansive piano spot from Wofford, followed by the blithe staccato shuffle Tip Top & Tickety Boo. Breaking Loose is essentially a long vamp that takes on a funky edge, giving LaBarbera ample opportunity to revisit his days with the Woody Herman big band. Similarly, The Time Lord makes for an amiable showcase for LaBarbera, with Shank getting into the rhythmically shifting fun as well. A cover of Almost Like Being in Love makes for another Wofford showcase; the title track, a brisk jump blues, highlights interplay from the reeds followed by a genuinely funny exchange between bass and drums on the way out. The album closes with a casual, friendly, low-key take of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low, more wee-hours theme than conspiracy. It’s out now on Capri Records.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/7/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #722:

The Quintet – Jazz at Massey Hall

The evening got off to a bad start. Charlie Parker was missing his sax, as usual, and had to borrow a plastic one. Then hardly anybody showed up – it was a cold spring night in pre-global warming era Toronto, 1953, and there was a big hockey playoff game going on. So a tiny crowd got to see a hall of fame lineup – Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach – play an absolutely scorching set. And to be fair to Bird, he’d been working out a lot of material on the new Grafton plastic sax, so he knew what he was doing – which is something of an understatement. He didn’t phone this one in, and the rest of the crew rose to the occasion despite not drawing enough bodies to get paid. The original lp only contains about half of the material on the 2004 reissue, which was remastered to include the original rhythm tracks (Mingus redid his basslines in the studio on the original album because the original concert master had him too low in the mix). The songs are a mix of dark burners – Juan Tizol’s Perdido, Diz’s A Night in Tunisia – plus  jazzed-up Broadway tunes like All the Things You Are, Embraceable You and Lullaby of Birdland along with a mellower trio set and a long drum solo not included on the original record. Here’s a random torrent.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club – Adventures

Rigorously cerebral yet imbued with a clever, carefree humor, this is an album that adventurous jazz fans will find as entertaining as it is cutting-edge. Recorded in 2007, it’s been out for awhile but since it just came over the transom here (thanks guys!) it made sense to give it a spin and, voila, it struck a nerve. Like his mentor Roswell Rudd, saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase pushes the envelope. The septet’s main shtick is that they have two drummers, Miki Matsuki and Chris Punis (whose mightily intelligent, straightforward playing anchors Gypsy Schaeffer’s excellent new cd, just reviewed here). Here, drums as often as not serve as a tonal rather than a rhythmic instrument, rhythm being passed around between Kohlhase’s and Matt Langley’s saxes, Jeff Galindo’s trombone, Eric Hofbauer’s guitar or to Jef Charland’s tastefully tuneful, understated bass. This is a concept album of sorts, playfully riffing on several comic book superhero themes. Superhero Beatdown starts out with starkly strummed guitar and multiple horn conversations, building up to the point where total bedlam ensues: the hero in question no doubt ends up in the emergency room. Then there’s Utensor, out to save the world with ovesize kitchen implements, moving from a satirical opening to a dialogue between logical bass and peeved tenor, the rest of the band eventually joining the argument as the drums rumble ominously underneath: could that be someone doing the dishes?

 

The Alarm Clock Is My Only Kryptonite will resonate wryly with anyone dreading the dawn of a workday, the pain of waking up vividly illustrated in five alternately tortuous and amusing minutes, trombone taking a completely ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny muted solo over the band’s woozy atmospherics. The amusingly titled Thryllkyll on the Schuyllkyll kicks off with a faux detective theme, baritone sax climbing to a repetitive, Coltrane-esque riff eventually passed to the guitar while the band encircles it ever more tightly. There are also a couple of John Tchicai compositions written specifically for a two-drummer ensemble, the first a diverse exercise in call-and-response dialogues, the second featuring some mighty, somewhat martial ensemble work from the two drummers. The two most accessible cuts here are a tongue-in-cheek stab at a ballad by Charland and the strikingly straightforward James Brown homage that winds up the album. If you’re interested in where jazz is going, or where it’s going to be in ten years, this is for you, as well as for more mainstream listeners looking to broaden their sonic horizons. Don’t let the phrase “post-bop” scare you away – this stuff is fun. All the players here maintain active live schedules, watch this space for New York dates.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment