Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Welcome Return For a Tuneful, Popular Vibraphonist

Over the past decade or so, Behn Gillece has established himself as one of the most consistently interesting vibraphonists in postbop jazz. He’s Posi-Tone Records‘ go-to guy on the mallets, both as a leader and sideman. He has a great ear for an anthem, writes intricate but translucent and imaginatively arranged tunes and has a remarkably dynamic attack on his instrument. He’s leading an intimate trio with Bob DeVos on guitar and Steve LaSpina on bass tonight, June 23 at Mezzrow, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25 at the door.

Gillece’s latest album is Still Doing Our Thing – streaming at Bandcamp – which came out during the black pit of the spring 2021 lockdown and never got the exposure it deserved. As usual, the lineup draws on the Posi-Tone A-list: Art Hirahara on piano and electric piano, Boris Kozlov on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Both musicwise and titlewise, the material reflects an unbridled exuberance, cabin fever unleashed on instruments, but also a wariness that the nightmare of the past twenty-seven months isn’t over yet.

The album’s opening number, Extraction is a cleverly edgy, pointillistic swing shuffle: on one hand, it’s funny to hear Gillece rippling and dancing across the pads on a real vibraphone as Art Hirahara plays chill chords in the background on an ersatz one, in this case a Fender Rhodes. All the same, it’s enlightening to hear the not-so-subtle difference.

Gillece holds the center with his dazzling, circular phrasing as the band stomp out the syncopation in the second tune, Rattles, Hirahara shifting to acoustic piano, Royston taking a characteristically careening climb to a clever false ending.

The album’s title track has a warm mid-70s Stevie Wonder feel spun through a rapidfire cyclotron of notes from both Gillece and Hirahara. Gillece gives Blue Sojurn a lingering, balmy intro, then turns it over to Hirahara’s expansive, lyrical neoromantic phrasing before conspiratorially edging his way back in.

Royston flutters on the rims in his tune Glad to Be Back, fueling a subtle upward drive from an easygoing vamp to increasingly incisive changes beneath Gillece’s steady ripples. Outnumbered, by Kozlov has an eerie, dystopic, late-period Bob Beldenesque vibe, with his tense electric accents anchoring maroinettish chromatics from Gillece and then Hiraraha’s Rhodes.

The pianist returns to acoustic mode for his methodically unfolding tune Event Horizon, building an anticipatory sway with Nicole Glover’s misty tenor sax in the background. Are we on the brink of something dangerous? It would seem so.

The last three songs on the album are by the prolific Gillece. Back to Abnormal is a striding, allusively swing tune, Royston getting a chance to cut loose and set off an unexpectedly menacing coda. The band waltz emphatically through Going On Well and its anthemic, latin-tinged changes. The final cut is an expansive, vampy, summery soul tune, Don’t Despair. It’s a heartwarming way to end this.

June 23, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mingus Band Bassist Boris Kozlov Pushes the Envelope on His New Album

We are in the midst of what will hopefully become a deluge of recordings from people who are completely blissed out to be making them again. Bassist Boris Kozlov, one of the brain trust behind the Mingus Big Band, is one of those artists. His latest album First Things First is streaming at Bandcamp. “To say that it felt like a breath of fresh air after not being able to breathe is probably right on the money,” he recalls, after spending four marathon days in the studio last fall as both a bandleader and sideman.

Not only has the Mingus group returned to a weekly 7 PM Monday residency – moved to the Django after years at the late, lamented Jazz Standard – but Kozlov is also, predictably, a big part of the celebration of the Mingus centennial there this month. On the 14th at 7 PM, he’s playing with his longtime Mingus bandmate, pianist David Kikoski in a trio with Ari Hoenig on drums. Cover is $25

Kozlov is a thoughtful player: his new record reveals a much more eclectic sensibility than you might expect from someone associated with Mingus’ dark traditionalism. The band open with Page One, shifting from a tantalizingly lyrical ballad intro to a hard-hitting attack on Donny McCasliu’s catchy, funky Stevie Wonder-like tune. Pianist Art Hirahara drives the intensity upward to an understated, slithery Kozlov solo before the saxophonist takes it out with an irrepressible bounce.

McCaslin switches to alto flute and Kozlov to electric bass for Flow, a balmy tropical tableau livened with Behn Gillece’s twinkling vibraphone, drummer Rudy Royston providing a tiptoeing latin rhythm. The More Things Change, a Hirahara tune, has an avuncular, wryly retro cheer, with expressive tenor sax, vibes and piano solos

In the album liner notes, Kozlov recalls the time when Charlie Parker called up Stravinsky, put The Rite of Spring on the turntable and jammed out, to the composer’s amazement. I.S. Adventure is an expansive exploration of that concept, a rapidfire swing number based on one of those Stravinsky riffs, Gillece holding tight to the center as Royston takes a characteristically colorful charge.

Aftermath begins as an unsettled ballad, then the band make their way up to a big McCaslin payoff: after all we’ve been through, they seem to say, we’ve earned this. Kozlov goes electric again in Second Line Sally, a shuffling McCaslin tune reinvented with Hirahara on organ, the saxophonist contributing his most acerbic solo of many here

Kozlov bows a murky drone as the group rise from the tarpit while McCaslin plays scout in Viscous, a bitingly magical improvisational moment. Royston and then Kozlov fuel a determined swing as Gillece and Hirahara build a rainstorm around them. The group shift between a similarly edgy, unsettled ambience and an insistently funky drive in Mind Palace, a Gillece tune with some deliciously acidic McCaslin chromatics and a phantasmagorically enveloping vibraphone solo..

Kozlov’s tersely modal bass leads the group slowly toward a more summery, casually swinging ambience in Warm Sand, McCaslin slaying in both animated and reflective moments. Kozlov’s Russian accordionist uncle, the inspiration for Once a Fog in Babylon, seems to have been a big fan of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis: this swirly art-rock organ tune is an unexpected but spot-on diversion. The closing number, Eclipse, a mysterious, overtone-laced miniature, makes a good segue. This is not an album to multitask to: these guys caught a lot of magic in this bottle.

April 12, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Provocatively Philosophical, Deeply Articulate New Album From Alexa Tarantino

Alexa Tarantino’s new album Firefly – streaming at Bandcamp – could be interpreted as a protest jazz record. It came together during the lockdown, and the tech oligarchs’ relentless quest to destroy the arts and reduce all surviving humanity to cogs in a soulless machine has without a doubt impacted much of the material on it.

But it’s more of a philosophical than political statement, and ultimately an optimistic one. In her liner notes, Tarantino provides context to the album’s central suite, A Moment in Time: “It’s a raw and personal snapshot of a day in a creative’s life, and the responsibilities that come with this lifestyle which, to most of society, appears ethereal, idyllic, novel, and curious. Today’s fast-paced world of technology and instant gratification has centered the human priority on money, material items, flashy success, and social media following. Essentially, it’s ‘How can I get, produce, or be the next best thing, right now?’ While we’ve seen how this has skyrocketed us forward in the realms of technology and science, it has undoubtedly impacted human thought, attention, and connection, forever.”

Tarantino obviously has her eye on the sinister implications. It begins with Daybreak, a moody latin soul groove anchored by drummer Rudy Royston’s spare, loose-limbed boom and bassist Boris Kozlov’s lithe pulse, pianist Art Hirahara and vibraphonist Behn Gillece providing a spare gleam behind Tarantino’s airy, wary alto sax. Essentially, it’s the cradle of the day’s artistic inspiration.

Tarantino switches to alto flute for Surge Fughetta, a warmly baroque-tinged miniature by Kozlov. She goes back to sax and chooses her spots to soar and spiral in Surge Capacity, a bustling, anthemic, purist minor-key romp that explores the magic moment when creative inspiration strikes, with briskly prowling solos by Hirahara and Royston. Then she picks up the alto flute again for Le Donna Nel Giardino, a balmy, verdantly swaying portrait of a playful female garden spirit, Hirahara’s sparse, allusive lines offering subtle contrast to the calm cheer overhead.

Next is Rootless Ruthlessness, a gritty, tightly clustering picture of inner turmoil, self-doubt and self-sabotage, and the struggle for an artist to get their inner critic to shut up. Hirahara switches to Rhodes as Royston charges onward, the bandleader leading a morose, tormented descent where everything falls apart before pulling it back to a triumphant drive out.

She takes a break from the suite with an unhurried, expansive take of Wayne Shorter’s Lady Day, Kozlov bowing a soulful solo to echo Tarantino’s expressiveness. The suite returns as she switches to soprano for Violet Sky, a seaside sunset bossa groove with some very cleverly orchestrated echoes between Hirahara’s Rhodes and Gillece’s vibes, Royston adding the occasional wry flicker or turnaround.

The finale, The Firefly Code challenges us to find our souls amidst this awful mess, basically. Tarantino articulates her thought: “Our individual lights perhaps are not shining as bright as they were a year ago. But the bottom line is that we shine brighter together than we do apart. We, especially artists and creatives, are resilient. My hope is that after a time of ‘darkness,’ we as a society will re-emerge brighter than ever – with a renewed appreciation for the little things – an extended embrace with someone we love, the sound of the birds chirping while sipping our morning latte, or the way that staring at a painting, listening to a composition, or reading a poem makes us pause, think, and feel…in a way that no amount of Instagram likes or followers ever could.”

She opens it on alto flute, the band shifting from a brooding, allusively Ellingtonian sway to more of a bounce as she picks up steam and spins around, matched by Gillece’s pirouetting solo. Royston’s emphatic drum break signals a very unsettled return: the choice is up to us, Tarantino seems to say.

There’s more: the suite doesn’t begin until five tracks in. To kick off the album, we get Spider’s Dance, a low-key, catchy Hirahara tune meant to illustrate an arachnid mating ritual: in this particular universe, these creatures are more romantic than sinister.

Tarantino’s alto flute wafts purposefully but enigmatically in Mindful Moments, a clave tune by by Gillece where Royston has all kinds of subtle fun with on his rims and toms.

Move of the Spirit, an acerbically upbeat Royston swing anthem has a deviously amusing Tarantino quote and rippling solos from Gillece and Hirahara. A second Shorter number, Iris is a long platform for a thoughtfully constructed alto sax solo. This is one of the best and most important jazz albums of the year.

May 17, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shelter in Place with Some Smartly Assembled, Tuneful Jazz Camaraderie

Beginning in the late 90s, Posi-Tone Records honcho Marc Free picked an unlikely moment to launch a jazz record label, started with the core of the Smalls scene and branched out to the point where he not only found success, but also got a handle on who works best with who else. So lately he’s been assembling specific groups for specific records. The most appropriate one for this particular moment in American history is Idle Hands’ lively, relentlessly catchy debut – and probably only album – Solid Moments, streaming at the Posi-Tone site. For all out-of-work musicians, this one’s for you!

Vibraphone Behn Gillece contributes the opening track, Barreling Through, a gorgeously bittersweet, shuffling late 50s-style rain-on-the-store-windows tableau. Tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon and guitarist Will Bernard pierce the mist; pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards nimbly negotiate the droplets.

Bernard’s first track here, the clave-jazz tune Silver Bullet, is a showcase for Dillon’s nebulous, uneasy intensity. Kozlov’s Over the Fence has a characteristically Russian, sly bluesiness. Edwards may not be known as a composer, but that perception should change after people hear the briskly swinging Snow Child, with unsettled chromatics from Gillece and tightly conspiratorial chugging from Hirahara and Bernard.

Hirahara’s matter-of-factly crescendoing Event Horizon begins as an easygoing, vampy late 70s style groove and continues until Dillon’s flurries push it into darker territory. Gillece’s second number, Maxwell Street has a stern, blues-infused undercurrent driven by spiky work from Bernard and Hirahara, seemingly a shout-out to the legendary Chicago busker scene that lasted into the 60s.

The first of only two covers here, Stevie Wonder’s You And I translates decently to a samba. Bernard’s second tune, The Move has a briskly catchy tiptoe swing and lots of cool offbeat riffs from Hirahara and Edwards, plus similarly spiraling solos from guitar and vibes. Ashes, by Kozlov is the album’s most gorgeous track, Hirahara kicking it off with an angst-fueled, glittering solo, the rest of the band joining in a hazy, slinky, moody intensity.

Edwards’ second number, Dock’s House shifts between swaying funk and steady swing: it’s intriguingly bizarre that way. Dillon’s lone composition here is Motion, a pensive jazz waltz with a wry Coltrane paraphrase. They close the album with a lickety-split take of Freddie Hubbard’s Theme For Kareem, which beats Grover Washington Jr.’s Dr. J in the NBA hall-of-famer game of horse. Grab someone energetic you love and snuggle up with this album.

March 28, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Faces Bring Their Cutting-Edge Postbop Party to the Jazz Standard

Every so often a record label puts together a house band that actually works. Willie Dixon, Otis Spann and Fred Below made Chess what they were in the 50s – and got virtually nothing for it Twenty years later, Fania threw all their solo acts together into one mighty, sprawling salsa orchestra. These days, there’s the Mack Avenue Super Band, and most recently, Posi-Tone Records’ New Faces, a serendipitously edgy lineup of rising star New York jazz talent. Tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss just released The Future Is Female, a brooding broadside that might be the best jazz album of 2018. Vinnie Sperrazza, who could be the best New York jazz drummer not named Rudy Royston, holds fort behind the kit in tandem with ubiquitous bassist Peter Brendler. The reliably ambitious Behn Gillece plays vibraphone, joined by Theo Hill on piano and Josh Lawrence on trumpet. They’re playing the album release show for their aptly titled debut, Straight Forward – streaming at Posi-Tone – at the Jazz Standard this July 25, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $25.

Wtth two exceptions, the compositions are all by members of the Posi-Tone family. The group open with Jon Davis’ bitingly swinging Happy Juice, setting the stage with only slightly restrained jubilance amid harmonic dualities between vibes and piano and also the horns. Lots of contrast between upbeat solos and a darker undercurrent.

Gillece contributes three tunes. The first, Down the Pike is truth in advertising, a briskly shuffling motorway theme lit up by sparkling vibes and piano, judicious sax and trumpet spirals. Vortex has a lustre that rises from the writer’s subdued, lingering intro with hints of Brazil, both Coss and Gillece maintaining an enigmatic edge throughout expansive solos. The last number, Follow Suit is a platform for scurrying soloing in turn over Sperrazza’s counterintuitive charge.

Lawrence is represented by two numbers. He infuses the briskly pulsing Hush Puppy with volleys and glissandos, playing with a mute, echoed by the rest of the band. Frederico, a coyly shadowy cha-cha, is the album’s funnest track: the relaxed/uptight tension between Gillece and Hill is a hoot.

Brian Charette’s West Village is a comfortable, tourist-free stroll – a wish song, maybe? – with wistful muted work from Lawrence and nimble pointillisms from Gillece. With Lawrence in cozily jubilant mode, I’m OK, by Art Hirahara has the feel of a late Louis Armstrong number. Preachin’, by Jared Gold – who like Charette has really developed a brand-new vernacular for the organ – has a laid-back gospel-inspired swing. It’s the big hum-along here.

No matter how many distractions the soloists provide in a rather cinematic take of Herbie Hancock’s King Cobra, Hill’s piano is relentless. And Edwing’s Delilah Was a Libra offers a vampy platform for solos as well. If you missed the days when jazz was urban America’s default party music – and most of us did – this is for you.

July 22, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vibraphonist Behn Gillece Brings Catchy, Straight-Up Swing to Smalls

Vibraphonist Behn Gillece has been a fixture on the New York jazz scene for the past decade, notably in his project with one of this era’s great tenor sax player/composers, Ken Fowser. Gillece also has a cooker of a new album, Walk Of Fire due out mid-month from Posi-Tone Records and a show coming up on August 5 at 10:30 PM at his Manhattan home base, Smalls. Cover is the usual $20.

This is the most straight-ahead, unselfconsciously infectious stuff that the prolific, often ambitiously eclectic Gillece has come up with since his days with Fowser. The title track, a terse, brisk swing shuffle, opens the album. Listen closely to pianist Adam Birnbaum’s judicious, rhythmic chord clusters and you may get the impression that the song was originally written for Rhodes. Or maybe that’s just what vibraphonists come up with. Trombonist Michael Dease contributes a leapfrogging solo, and then the high-powered frontline – also comprising trumpeter Bruce Harris and tenor player Walt Weiskopf – are out.

Fantasia Brasileira, true to its title, is an easygoing bossa that Dease takes to New Orleans before Gillece ripples gracefully through the horn section’s big raindrop splashes.. Moodily resonant horns rise over bassist Clovis Nicolas and drummer Jason Tiemann’s blithe, latin-tinged, fingersnapping stroll in Bag’s Mood, Harris taking a low-key turn in the spotlight before the bandleader raises the ante.

Likewise, Dauntless Journey follows a balmy, allusively chromatic tangent out of Gillece’s resonant intro, maintained by Weiskopf, with brief elevation from Dease before the vibraphone subtly alters the groove. Battering Ram gives Weiskopf a launching pad for Weiskopf’s Coltrane-channeling, Dease’s contrasting gruffness and Birnbaum’s precise, rippling attack over quick, punchy, syncopation,

Gillece and Birnbaum blend subtly intertwining lines and then shift into separate lanes in the moody Reflective Current, a quartet number. Something New follows a similarly pensive, waltzing tempo: the point where the vamping grey-sky horns drop out completely makes a tasty jolt to the ears.  Specter, a catchy, vamping clave number, features Gillece’s most expansive but purposeful solo in this set and a welcome, tantalizingly brief confrontation between vibes and piano.

Break Tune has a subtle juxtaposition of steady, emphatic swing and allusive melody, echoed by Weiskopf before Gillece goes vamping and Harris spirals triumphantly. Artful metric shifts and Gillece’s rippling staccato raise the vamps of the concluding tune, Celestial Tidings above the level of generic. Marc Free’s production is characteristically crisp: the lows on System Two’s concert grand piano cut through as much as every flick of the cymbals.

August 3, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Another Tasty, Catchy, Swinging Vibraphone Album from Behn Gillece

Continuing yesterday’s theme about top-drawer jazz artists playing some unlikely spaces here in town, today’s is vibraphonist Behn Gillece, who’s doing a live rehearsal of sorts, leading a quartet at the Fat Cat on Jan 2 at 9 PM. You can be there to witness it for the three bucks that it takes to get into the pool hall – if you don’t mind the random polyrhythms of sticks hitting balls and some other background noise, you’d be surprised how many quality acts pass through here when they’re not headlining a place like Smalls, which is Gillece’s regular spot when he’s in town.

His 2010 Little Echo album with frequent collaborator Ken Fowser on tenor sax is one of the most tuneful, enjoyable postbop releases of recent years. Gillece’s previous album Mindset was considerably more ambitious, and on the knotty side; his latest one, Dare to Be – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is a welcome return to form.

The album’s opening track, Camera Eyes begins as a sparkly ballad, shades of early 70s Milt Jackson until the rhythm section – Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums – kicks in and then they’re off on a brightly shuffling, distantly Brazilian-tinged tangent. Gilllece’s shimmering lines cascade over a similarly brisk shuffle groove in From Your Perspective, Bruce Harris’ trumpet taking a more spacious approach.

Tiemann’s snowstorm cymbals push the 6/8 ballad Amethyst along, gently, Radley channeling some deep blues, Gillece just as judicious and purposeful. The group picks up the pace but keeps the singalong quality going with the lickety-split swing of Signals, Radley and Gillece adding percolating solos: the subtle variations Gillece makes to the head are especially tasty. His intricate intro to Drought’s End hardly gives away how straight-ahead and understatedly triumphant Harris’ trumpet and Radley’s guitar will be as it hits a peak.

The first of the two covers here. Bobby Hutcherson’s Same Shame is done as a crescendoing, enigmatically scrambling quasi-bossa, echoed in the goodnaturedly pulsing, tropical grooves of Gillece’s. Live It. The album’s anthemic title track grooves along on a brisk clave beat: it’s the closest thing to the lush life glimmer of Little Echo here.

The last of Gillece’s originals, Trapezoid is a rapidfire shuffle: Tiemann’s counterintuitively accented drive underneath the bandleader’s precise ripples and Radley’s steady chords is as fun as it is subtle. The album winds up with a gently resonant take of Johnny Mandel’s ballad A Time For Love, looking back to both the Milt Jackson and Buddy Montgomery versions. Fans of engaging, ringing, tuneful music in general, as well as the jazz vibraphone pantheon spanning from those guys, to Hutcherson, to Gary Burton have a lot to enjoy here. If Gillece wasn’t already on this map, this has put him there to stay.

December 27, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece’s New Album: Tuneful and Retro with an Edge

It’s hard to think of anybody who makes better jazz albums than alto saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece  Jazz being defined by improvisation, and magic being hard to bottle, so many studio efforts by jazz artists sound strained, rote or haphazard- Not these guys’ records: they have the livewire energy that you would expect from the duo in concert. There is absolutely nothing about their new one, Top Shelf, which is cutting edge, or for that matter references any jazz style after about 1965. But it is tuneful beyond belief: Christian McBride would call it “people music.” This band of journeymen plays with a singlemindedness and focus matched on few other studio efforts from recent months. Gillece, in particular, has a fondness for edgy chromatic vamps and the occasional biting modal interlude; likewise, Fowser is a no-nonsense tunesmith and purposeful player. Here they join forces with Steve Einerson on piano, Michael Dease on trombone, Dezron Douglas on bass and Rodney Green on drums.

Most of the compositions here are by Gillece. The albums opens with a biting swing tune, Slick, immediately setting the tone with an allusively slashing, modal Fowser solo, Dease taking it in a more bluesy direction, Gillece straddling between the two. Stranded in Elizabeth – at a Jersey studio, maybe? – is catchy as hell, with Gillece spiraling out ot the hook, Fowsser choosing his spots as Green rumbles and then lets Dease add an ironic edge.

Due Diligence, one of three tracks by Fowser, maintains a deliciously purist bluesiness, Einerson’s pinpoint solo being a highlight,  Gillece taking it into more nebulous territory –  then Dease channels Wycliffe Gordon with some LOL buffoonery. Ginger Swing builds suspense out of a wicked catchy vibraphone hook. hinting at a lickety-split swing that they finally leap into as Gillece and then Einerson go scampering in a blaze of precise chops. Unstopppable, another Fowser tune, is aptly titled, Gillece having a great time with a prowling, animatedly nocturnal solo before turning it over to Fowser, who takes it in an unexpectedly dark direction before they wind it up, anthemic and triumphant.

Discarded works a murky On Broadway feel. both Gillece and Douglas maintaining a gritty, clenched-teeth, modally-charged intensity. It might be the best song here, or at least the darkest. That could also be said about the slowly turbulent, resonant ballad For the Moment, with its achingly teasing crescendos, bittersweet Fowser sax and misterioso Einerson solo. And just when the jaunty, bossa-tinged Pequenina sounds like they’ve left the shadows behind, Fowser brings them back – he’s good at that. The title track makes syncopated bossa out of the blues, with yet another cool chromatic vamp; the album winds up with Proximity, engaging the whole band in the album’s most buoyant charts, switching between lickety-split swing and an almost marching midtempo rhythm.You will walk around all day humming these tunes to yourself. It will put you in a good mood. It’s one of the best albums of 2013 and it’s out now from Posi-Tone.

May 24, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

B3 Overkill? NEVER!

Isn’t it funny how the world’s full of bad guitarists…bad sax players…bad drummers…but when you think about it, how many bad B3 players are there? For one reason or another, that’s one instrument that seems to draw an endless supply of passionate players. One of the most energetic of all of them is longtime Pat Martino collaborator Tony Monaco, who has a massive double cd release, Celebration, a “limited edition” out from Summit. What Monaco writes and plays is a sophisticated update on boisterous afterwork 60s organ-lounge jazz, more Bombay martini than gin and water. Monaco’s typical m.o. – which he actually varies from frequently here – is to open with a blistering, machinegun solo followed by tuneful restatements of the melody. For someone as fast and furious as this guy, it’s impressive how he doesn’t waste notes. Just as impressive is his command of an eclectic mix of styles.

The first cd is mainly trio or quartet numbers featuring Ken Fowser on tenor sax, Jason Brown or Reggie Jackson on drums and Derek DiCenzo on guitar. With its jaunty, Bud Powell-esque hooks, the most memorable track here is Fowser’s Ninety Five, a cut that originally appeared on the saxophonist’s brilliant 2010 collaboration with vibraphonist Behn Gillece; Monaco takes it in more of a vintage soul direction. Throughout these songs, Fowser’s misty, airy lines create a nifty balance with Monaco’s irrepressible intensity, whether on the Lonnie Smith-flavored Daddy Oh, the lickety-split shuffle Aglio e Olio, or the lurid, minor-key boudoir jazz of Indonesian Nights, which nails the kind of vibe Grover Washington Jr. was trying to do in the 80s but didn’t have the right arrangements for.

The endless parade of styles continues with a pretty bossa tune turned in a much darker direction with Monaco’s funereal timbres beneath Fowser’s bracing microtones, followed by what could be termed a B3 tone poem. Guest pianist Asako Itoh’s You Rock My World takes a familiar soul/funk groove and adds a terse, biting edge; there’s also a gospel number complete with church choir; the off-center, bustling Bull Years, which eventually smoothes out into a soul/blues shuffle; the carefree, wry It’s Been So Nice To Be With You and a scampering Jimmy Smith homage.

The second disc is just as eclectic and features a rotating cast of characters including guitarists Bruce Forman, Ted Quinlan and Robert Kraut, drummers Byron Landham, Vito Rezza, Louis Tsamous and Adam Nussbaum, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trombonist Sarah Morrow and trumpeter Kenny Rampton. There’s even a Joey Defrancesco cameo (liner notes indicating who’s where would have been useful, at least in terms of giving credit where due). In general, this material is more funk-infused, with soulful, judiciously bluesy guitar (that Monaco could get such consistency out of so many players is impressive). Monaco’s rapidfire cascades and tidal chords set the tone on the opening number, Acid Wash; Rampton’s animated lines elevate the shuffling Backward Shack, the guitar throwing off some unexpected Chet Atkins lines. There are a couple of extended numbers here, both of them choice: the practically ten-minute, aptly titled Takin’ My Time, with its long launching pad of an organ crescendo, and the even longer Slow Down Sagg, where Monaco finally goes off into wild noise as it reaches critical mass. There’s also Booker T. Jones style soul, a couple of blues numbers, a jump blues and a couple of gospel tunes, all delivered with passion and virtuosity. Any fan of organ jazz who doesn’t know this guy is missing out: count this among the most enjoyable jazz releases of 2012, all 133 minutes of it.

August 15, 2012 Posted by | funk music, gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece Chase Two in a Row

Saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece’s previous album Little Echo was one of the best of 2010; how does their new one Duotone measure up? Where Little Echo was all gorgeous, often lurid Mad Men era ambience, this one’s got a more stripped-down, late night juke-joint flavor. The teamwork between the co-bandleaders is familiar yet fresh: it isn’t always this way, but often it’s Gillece introducing an element of menace or suspense, playing bad cop to Fowser’s warmly tuneful, blues-tinged lines. Likewise, the tunes – most of them supplied by Gillece – have a comfortably familiar swing and the kind of knowing ability to pick a spot and hit a high note that comes from hosting innumerable late-night jams, as these guys have both done.

The opening track, Overcooked, a briskly shuffling two-chord vamp with latin allusions, sets the mood. Gillece’s fast, sostenuto lines have a literally hypnotic effect, pianist Donald Vega bringing it up with a rippling intensity. Spontaneity begins dramatically: they rubato it and swell on a single chord, then the hook comes in and drummer Willie Jones III has them off swinging, Fowser soulful and sailing over Gillece’s insistence.

The chromatically-fueled Attachment features a neat handoff from Fowser to Gilllece, who does the same to Vega, whose climactic intensity is characteristic of everything he does here. Likewise, Back to Back swings slowly and then goes up the ladder again. Then they flip the script with Come Around Again, a somewhat skeletal, cozy ballad, just vibes/sax evoking the ambience of Little Echo.

In the Twilight takes the idea of the opening track to the next level, Vega punching in incisively and memorably, Fowser maintaining a sense of cool. The best track here, Low Ball, evokes a slightly more ornate, Johnny Mandel-esque California noir swing. Bongo, by Fowser, is a casually cheery bossa tune lit up by Gillece’s bright neon malletwork. The album wraps up with the thoughtfully swaying, crescendoing, catchily early 70s bluesy Offset and then One for G, another Fowser tune to end it on a genially swinging note. As melodic jazz goes, Fowser and Gillece are really onto something. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment