Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Zem Audu Makes a Dynamic Blue Note Debut

In his Blue Note debut as a bandleader Saturday night, tenor saxophonist Zem Audu showed off a terse, purposeful sensibility, a smokily nuanced tone and compositional fluency in styles ranging from Monty Alexander-style Jamdown jazz, to colorful postbop, funk and more. Much as this guy is used to working a crowd, as a touring and recording member of what’s left of the iconic Skatalites, he saves the sizzle for when he really needs it. Along for the ride and dazzling the crowd with his signature blend of vivid, lushly lyrical neoromantic glimmer, erudite blues and the occasional triumphant detour into Afro-Cuban sounds was powerhouse pianist Benito Gonzalez, anchored by drummer Corey Rawls and six-string bassist Teymur Phell.

The band eased their way into the opening number, Biologique, a vampy, Bahian-tinged thing, Gonzalez elevating it in a split-second with a long, sabretoothed solo, part glistening river of angst, part blues. Rawls opened Posi-Vibes with a hypnotically insistent Nyabinghi drum solo: as the band took it deeper into straight-up reggae, Gonzalez pushed at the edges with disarmingly clever close harmonic variations. Layers began as a strut, then the group shifted it almost imperceptibly toward an implied clave groove.

The night’s showstopper was Shining. Audu opened it as slinky, airconditioned LA boudoir noir, something straight out of the Bob Belden post-Miles catalog. But then the bandleader pushed it on the wings of a little feral valve-torturing and a swirling series of lickety-split Coltrane-esque spirals into more jaunty postbop, teaming with Gonzalez to end it on a triumphant note. After that, the funky intro of Flow didn’t exactly telegraph excitement…until Rawls hit a second line-tinged groove and then everybody got on the gospel bus to New Orleans. The night’s final number was also the most trad, a catchy Frank Foster-ish riff-driven tune bookended by some unexpectedly gentle, sepulchral work from Audu and Gonzalez. Audu and his quartet are at Club Bonafide (the old Something Jazz Club), 212 E 52nd St. on April 22 at 7 PM. Cover is $15.

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March 15, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kenny Garrett – Back with More Great Tunes

Here in the blogosphere we’re supposed to stay on top of what’s new, and up-and-coming, and fill in the umpteen gaps where the corporate media fears to tread. By the same token, that sometimes means overlooking established artists, which can be a faux pas – some artists are established because they’re good. Case in point: Kenny Garrett, who’s got a new album out, Seeds from the Underground, his second for Mack Avenue. This one is a gem: it finds him reaching the same levels of intensity and majesty he conjured up in the 90s during his period with Kenny Kirkland. If you were lucky enough to catch those two back in the day, no further explanation is necessary. From the looks of this lineup – Benito Gonzalez on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Ronald Bruner on drums and Rudy Bird on bata – at first glance you might think it’s a latin thing, and although there are some near-equatorial rhythms here, it’s very eclectic.

The opening cut is Boogety Boogety, an upbeat, catchy salsa jazz number inspired by the sounds Garrett’s dad would make while watching western movies. J. Mac Here is where the fun really begins. It’s pure vintage Garrett, a signature intense modal piece where he goes rip-roaring out into the bop-osphere but somehow manages not to lose his grip on a melodic anchor. It’s a dedication to Jackie McLean, eighth-note volleys rising to an anguish/ecstasy dichotomy. Wiggins, for Garrett’s high school band teacher, is funky and catchy but with bite, hints at a ballad and then brings back the funk. Boisterously propulsive, part blues elegy, part joyous singalong, Haynes Here is for Roy Haynes, with whom Garrett enjoyed a long association. Bruner gets a chance to flex yet handles the tempo changes elegantly; Gonzalez contributes an absolutely gorgeous, Marc Cary-esque modal solo.

They follow that with a peaceful, slow alto-and-piano homage to both trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and to Garrett’s hometown of Detroit. The title cut, a classic Garrett mini-epic, sets acidically tuneful soprano sax against moody, incisive piano and a take-charge bass/drums attack – Gonzalez again shines on this one. A joint dedication to Ellington, Monk and Woody Shaw, Du-Wo-Mo follows the same trajectory but takes a little more time to peak out, with several coy allusions to all three jazz masters, alternating insistent intensity with jaunty swing. The tropically percussive Welcome Earth Song takes a long time to get going but finally finds an unselfconsciously beautiful groove carried at first by Gonzalez, who passes it off to Garrett, who then takes it down with a rare warmth for all those low notes. The album ends with the self-explanatory Ballad Jarrett, an understatedly stellar showcase for Gonzalez, and Lavisa, i Bon?, a dedication to Guadalupean guitarist Christian Laviso. Melody, excitement, swing: it’s all here, another notch on the belt for one of this era’s major talents.

May 4, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment