Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Rich, Multi-Layered, Epic New Middle Eastern-Flavored Album From Amir Elsaffar

Amir Elsaffar’s Rivers Of Sound Orchestra play oceanic, tidally shifting soundscapes that blend otherworldly, microtonal Middle Eastern modes, lushly immersive big band jazz improvisation and what could be called symphonic ambient music. Elsaffar has made a name for himself as an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist and composer who has done as much to create a new style of music based on the magical maqams from across the Middle East as anyone alive. His latest epically ambitious, absolutely gorgeous new album The Other Shore is streaming at Bandcamp. Thematically, this is more majestically improvisational than his other large-ensemble work, although he weaves several themes and variations into it. Subtle, occasionally cynical humor typically takes the place of the politically-fueled anger that would often surface on albums like his 2015 Crisis record.

The album’s opening number, Dhuha is a diptych. The seventeen-piece ensemble begin with dense, nebulous, rising and falling tones, with pianist John Escreet, drummer Nasheet Waits, percussionist Tim Moore and mridamgam player Rajna Swaminathan adding stately accents behind Elsaffar’s broodingly chromatic, resonant trumpet. Cellist Naseem Alatrash takes a stark microtonal solo, handing off to Elsaffar’s sister Dena’s bracingly textured joza fiddle as the group rise from a brisk stroll to a churning groove. Echo effects and dramatic vocalese from Elsaffar give way to a thicket of pointillisms from vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, oudists George Ziadeh and Zafer Tawil, and buzuq player Tareq Abboushi. Then the eagle rises again. That’s just the first thirteen minutes of the record, and it sets the stage for what’s in store.

Elsaffar’s soaring, wordless vocals fuel the upward drive in Transformations from a circling, steady stroll. Mohamed Saleh’s oboe shadows a restrained but ebullient trumpet solo, then comes to the forefront as a seemingly tongue-in-cheek Kashmiri groove develops. Saxophonists Ole Mathisen and Fabrizio Cassol work a triumphant triangulation before an elegant descent to the ouds and Miles Okazaki’s spare guitar.

The album’s most orchestral track, Reaching Upward begins with a stately, moody string theme that Elsaffar brightens with a deviously martial trumpet theme which suddenly goes 180 degrees from there. Knowing how Elsaffar works, is he going to take the hypnotic, spiky, circling theme that Okazaki and the percussionists develop and send it spinning into the maelstrom? Not quite. We get a web of concentric circles and an elusive, bracing maqam theme, Elsaffar accompanying himself with rippling santoor. A blazing sax solo backs off for a good facsimile of the Grateful Dead, which morphs into a shivery trumpet theme and eventually falls away for a calm series of waves and a gamelanesque outro. Who else is creating music this wildly and fearlessly diverse?

Ashaa is only slightly less of an epic, and the point where it becomes clear that Escreet is playing a piano in a Middle Eastern tuning. Bassist Carlo DeRosa holds the suspense until the bandleader enters into a regal trumpet passage….and then the band hit a steady, anthemic, tantalizingly chromatic clave theme that goes in a dusky Ethiopian direction. It’s arguably the album’s most wickedly catchy interlude. Syncopated quasi Isaac Hayes psychedelic soul and variations recede for a percolating DeRosa solo, then it’s back to the long road to Addis Ababa.

A bright stairstepping theme introduces the bandleader’s edgy, machinegunning santoor in the next number, Concentric. After that, Lightning Flash has a bit of a cloudburst, a calm, then a spare, biting Abboushi buzuq solo finally replaced by a steady, mechanically pulsing theme that could be Darcy James Argue.

March is all about victory, an Andalucian-tinged update on a famous Ravel tune, with a tantalizingly sizzling violin solo, a sober oud duel mingling with the vibes, the horns ushering in a rapidfire, stabbing Saleh oboe break. Elsaffar wafts uneasily through his most poignantly resonant solo of the night in the final number, Medmi. As usual with Elsaffar, this is a lock for one of the best albums of the year.

September 15, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Historic, Ferocious Return to the East Village by the Mingus Big Band

Last night a fired-up, sold-out standing-room-only crowd at Drom got to witness the Mingus Big Band’s historic return to the neighborhood where Sue Mingus first pulled together some of the greatest musicians in jazz to play her iconic husband’s repertoire. Almost thirty years down the road, the current version of  the world’s most formidable large jazz ensemble brought out every moment of irony, bliss, revolutionary politics cynical humor and frequent venom in a stampeding set of some of bassist Charles Mingus’ best-loved tunes.

This was the Mingus Big Band’s first performance since March of 2020, and they were obviously amped to be able to play for an audience at long last. They’ve traded the now-shuttered Jazz Standard for Drom, which has even better sound, similarly good food and a much more romantic ambience. But this show wasn’t about romance, it was about adrenaline.

Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery advised the crowd that they were watching some of the world’s greatest musicians, but he modestly didn’t count himself among them. He let his horn tell that story, pulling an elegy for a long-gone jazzman out of thin air, first with pensive, bluesy phrases that grew more mournful and then tormented, with a series of cruelly ratcheting, downward cascades. Then the band launched into a dynamically rich, stormy take of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Mingus’ requiem for Lester Young.

Throughout the night, solos bristled with displays of extended technique. Just as Escoffery had done, baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian blended keening, shivery harmonics and duotones into her own opening solo, equal parts smoke and fire. Bass trombonist Earl McIntyre – who played with Mingus himself – went for cartoon humor but also spectacular range in his own closing solo.

Pianist David Kikoski’s sudden, deft shift from genial bluesiness to phantasmagoria in a tantalizing solo during the opening number, Gunslinging Birds, speaks to the depth of the group’s immersion in this material. Likewise, drummer Donald Edwards’ hypnotically turbulent solo lured Mingus’ irony-drenched Charlie Parker homage into wee-hours Alphabet City shadows.

Bassist Boris Kozlov and trombonist Conrad Herwig brought pure moody noir to a slinky, shapeshifting cha-cha take of Invisible Lady, a far more obscure number, springboarding off an arrangement by Jack Walrath. Solo-centric as this band always are, the hectic urban bustle and contrasting moments of nocturnal lustre were just as magnetic to witness.

Since reopening, Drom has not only become home to some of the creme de la creme of the Jazz Standard crowd, but also to refugees from the now-shuttered Jazz at Lincoln Center. The next concert in the comfortable, basement-level venue’s ongoing summer jazz festival is tomorrow night. July 31 at 8 PM with 90s acid jazz pioneers Groove Collective; cover is $20.

July 30, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One of the World’s Mightiest Latin Jazz Orchestras Gets Back to Business at Birdland

When a bunch of oligarchs and their puppets in politics tried to take over the world in 2020, musicians were left out in the cold. In the liner notes to his new album Virtual Birdland, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, longtime leader of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra takes care to mention how people who play music for a living are no less essential than any other workers. Empowered by that knowledge, he kept the band going through a long series of webcasts, possibly the most labor-intensive of all the innumerable online collaborations of the past sixteen months or so. The great news is that the big band’s home base, Birdland, is open again, and the group have resumed the Sunday night residency they were banished from in March of last year. Showtime these days is 7 PM.. If you feel like celebrating, it couldn’t hurt to reserve a spot now since these shows are very likely to sell out. Cover is $20; your best deal is a seat at the bar.

Considering that individual parts on the record – streaming at Spotify – were recorded remotely in innumerable different sonic environments, the fact that it sounds as contiguous as it does reflects the herculean work of the engineers involved.

Big trombone fanfares interweave with lushly swirling reeds over a bubbling Punjabi-inflected groove in the cuisine-inspired opening number, Gulab Jamon. O’Farrill takes a cascading, brightly neoromantic solo with Bam Bam Rodriguez’s bass growling minimalistically behind him while the rhythm straightens into an emphatic clave. Tenor saxophonist Jasper Dutz summons a return to a web of triumphant counterpoint and a devious false ending.

Guest Malika Zarra sings her composition Pouvoir, a slinky, brassy Moroccan-flavored tune with solos from trombonist Mariel Bildstein and conguero Keisel Jimenez. This band have always slayed with Arabic and Jewish themes, underscored by their version of trombonist Rafi Malkiel’s brooding Desert, its uneasily undulating chromatics giving way to a serpentine solo by the composer and then a muted, soulful one from lead trumpeter Seneca Black.

With its nocturnal, Dizzy Gillespie-style suspense and bluster, Larry Willis’ Nightfall makes a great segue, trumpeter Rachel Therrien and tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta cutting loose hauntingly between the orchestra’s chromatic gusts. The bandleader spirals elegantly; Jimenez goes deep down the well as the storm hovers.

Guest guitarist Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi sings his methodical, bittersweet ballad Ana Mashoof, adding a starry solo in tandem with O’Farrill before Alejandro Aviles spins in on soprano sax. Alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera soars and weaves through a tightly turbulent take of his Samba For Carmen, echoed by O’Farrill’s trumpeter son Adam.

Alafia, by Letieres Leite – the Brazilian Arturo O’Farrill – gets a jubilant, percussion-fueled workout, part elegantly orchestral candomble theme, part feral frevo brass-band romp with a tantalizingly brief, smoky Larry Bustamante baritone sax solo.

O’Farrill first performed Rafael Solano’s En La Oscuridad with his big band legend father Chico O’Farrill alongside the great tenor saxophonist Mario Rivera, so playing this suave, balmy ballad again with Renta, a Rivera protege, brings the song full circle.

They close the album with a couple of salutes to transgression, something the world is rising to embrace like never before. The epic take of Papo Vazquez’s relentlessly anthemic Cimarron first features calm triumph from trombonist Abdulrahman Amer, Aviles turning up the heat on alto, then percussionist Carly Maldonado fueling a charge out. The final number is a towering, cinematic take of Tito Puente’s Para Los Rumberos: Renta, Malkiel, Maldonado, Jimenez and drummer Vince Cherico all get to cut loose. How beautiful it is that we can hear musicians of this caliber take material like this to the next level onstage again.

And if you’re around the East Village on the 29th, O’Farrill is leading a much smaller group at St. Marks Park at 2nd Ave. and 10th St. at half past noon.

July 25, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bittersweeet, Imaginative Large Ensemble Jazz From Johannes Wallmann

Pianist Johannes Wallmann’s new Elegy for an Undiscovered Species – streaming at Bandcamp – is an unusual and strikingly tuneful big band jazz album. For one, the lineup – jazz quintet plus a fourteen-piece string orchestra – is unorthodox, harking back to the days of Charlie Parker With Strings. Yet it also engages the orchestra as much as the rest of the group. It’s also remarkably groove-oriented. Conventional wisdom is unless you’re Ron Carter or Buddy Rich, bass and drums in a big band are a thankless task. Not so here.

Don’t let the album title fool you: it’s about contrasts and shades far more than the darkness it implies. The group open with the epically swaying, eleven-minute title track, the strings rustling, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen working the bittersweet hook over the clustering groove of bassist Nick Moran and drummer Allison Miller. Stephens takes a pensive solo as the orchestra darken the atmosphere, Jensen pushing outward with her microtones and volleys. Wallmann’s solo delivers spirals and erudite blues phrasing as the orchestra rise behind him, with bracing exchanges amid the strings.

The second number, Two Ears Old is a fond ballad, wafting horns contrasting with uneasily circling piano underneath, Wallmann and then Stephens pushing the clouds away and choosing their spots as they climb. Miller’s whispery thicket of sound and nimbly altered shuffle in tandem with Moran’s tersely dancing lines beneath Jensen’s lyrical ambered solo are masterful. They reprise the theme at the end of the album as a bit of a High Romantic feature for cello and piano.

In Threes has rhythms and unsettled harmonies shifting around a piano pedal note as the band gathers momentum. Wallmann eventually abandons a twinkling righthand solo for warpy, spacy synth: the bizareness of the individual strings answering has to be heard to be believed. Whatever you think of this, you can’t say it’s not original.

A looping, syncopated bass riff anchors Expeditor, bright horns versus hushed, expectant strings, Jensen’s calm, floating solo contrasting with the bandleader’s loose-limbed attack and devious exuberance from Miller afterward. The ending is unexpected and amusing.

Longing, a jazz waltz, is the album’s most lyrical and strongest track, Wallmann in lounge lizard mode as the strings waft and then recede. The strings carry the melody. revealing the moody bolero underneath, Stephens ranging from blippy to balmy.

The strings develop a windswept, cinematic tableau to open The Greater Fool, then the rhythm section bring in a clave for Jensen’s low-key, amiable solo, Wallmann delivering some coy ragtime allusions. Miller’s shamanic solo as the modalities darken could be the high point of the record.

June 26, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Intricately Constructed New Big Band Suite From Trumpeter Tim Hagans

Trumpeter Tim Hagans‘ ambitious new five-movement “concerto” with the NDR Bigband, A Conversation – streaming at Bandcamp – came out earlier this month. The suite owes as much to contemporary classical music as it does to jazz. As you would expect from a trumpeter, much of this is very bright and brassy. Challenging moments outnumber the more consonant interludes. Hagans’ sense of adventure and large-ensemble improvisation is matched by an embrace of traditional postbop. The operative question is the degree to which all this coheres, and whether listeners from those respective camps will be jarred away by all the stylistic puddle-jumping.

Hagans has engineered many of the successive themes in the first movement to collapse into themselves, to heighten the tension. After a staggering intro, there are echo effects, call-and-response from droll to tense, and suspenseful, increasingly dense rising waves. Pianist Vladyslav Sendecki’s pedalpoint and then simple, climbing riffs anchor blazing brass, a trope that will return many, many times here. In between, he takes a loose-limbed, allusively chromatic solo, the orchestra slowly rising in bursts behind him and then subsiding. An acidic moodiness settles in from there.

Massed swells give way to busy chatter and then a catchy, circling riff from the reeds as the second movement moves along. Baritone saxophonist Daniel Buch – who gets an amazing, crystalline, clarinet-like tone in the upper registers – hovers and then squirrels around. A slow, confident, brassy chorus of sorts recedes for bassist Ingmar Heller’s spare, dancing solo out.

The third movement begins with a brief, discordant duet between Sendecki and Heller that gains momentum with a brassy squall and rises to a blazing quasi-swing. Tenor saxophonist Peter Bolte’s smoky solo followed by trombonist Stefan Lotterman’s precise, dry humor are the high points. The bandleader’s wryly dancing solo at the end offers welcome amusement as well.

Hagans’ command of microtonal inflections in his solo intro to the fourth movement is impressive, to say the least, echoed by alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch as a more-of-less steady sway develops in movement four. Full stop for a shift into a shiny, intricately interwoven clave groove followed by a bit of cartoonish cacaphony, sardonically coalescing variations and a spacy Mario Doctor percussion solo.

The suite concludes with a contented sunset theme of sorts, Hagans using his mute, fading down and suddenly shifting to a funky, latin-tinged drive, a momentary breakdown and an eventual return to the overlays of the initial movement.

June 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A High-Voltage, Colorful, Historically-Inspired Big Band Jazz Suite From the Wilds of Saskatchewan

At the end of December, 2019, the Saskatchewan All Star Big Band played bandleader and keyboardist Fred Stride’s colorful, cinematic, historically-infused Saskatchewan Suite at the Casino Regina – and had the foresight to record it. It would be the last show they would play for quite awhile…but hopefully not forever. Canada may be locked down in perpetuity – the Chinese commies undoubtedly eying Canada’s vast water resources – but resistance there is growing fierce.

In the meantime, we can enjoy this high-voltage performance, streaming at Spotify. Flickers from Dylan Wiest’s vibraphone, a wash from Miles Foxx Hill’s bass, and ominous lows from the brass kick off the night’s first number, The Place. Tentative brassy steps signal the first human incursions into the prairie. Guitarist Jack Semple’s soaring, Gilmouresque lines and pianist Jon Ballantyne’s subtle flourishes lead the group intrepidly into balmier territory. A dip to fleeting individual voices – local fauna? Indians on the lookout for same? – rises with invigorating but wary swells as Ballantyne plays folksy blues. Alto sax player PJ Perry gets to fuel the cheery, Dixieland-tinged conflagration at the end.

Portentous swells over an insistent, shamanistic beat signal further arrivals in the second movement, The First, the group artfully shifting toward a cabaret-tinged ba-bump beat as the brass and reeds swirl and intertwine. The determined, striding cheer seems satirical, lightly spiced by Semple’s spare slide work, Perry choosing his spots in a solo and a coda that seem to echo the more strenuous side of setting up roots in unfamiliar territory.

Movement three, The Newcomers, begins with Perry’s unexpectedly plaintive lines awash in Ed Minevich and Cam Wilson’s violins and the lustre of the reeds. Ballantyne bounces brightly for a bit and then some; the violins signal a bulked-up Irish reel. The jaunty Celtic theme continues in the fourth movement, The In-Between, Perry leading the charge upward with a series of rhythmic shifts as Stride builds tension.

September 1905, the date of Saskatchewan provincehood, is an eventful time, ablaze with brass and tightly clustering, rhythmic rhythms, Ballantyne’s scampering solo handing off to trombonist Shawn Grocott’s blustery cameo; that little quote at the end is irresistible. The sixth movement, Saskatchesport…hmmm…could that be Ballantyne’s piano flicking the puck into an empty net? This turns out to be a suite within a suite. In the most humorous interlude, trumpeter Dean McNeill’s megawatt articulacy fuels a brightly undulating cheer. There’s also wide-angle atmospherics punctuated by drummer Ted Warren’s tricky two-handed dribbling and Perry spinning down from the clouds as the orchestra punch and dodge behind him.

Thank You, Mr. Douglas – a shout-out to longtime NDP leader and Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas – is a low-key, resonantly ambered ballad, Hill’s bass swooping down and bubbling over Ballantyne’s pensive chords and the orchestra wafting overhead. They wind up the suite with Saskatchejazz, which vigorously debunks the longstanding myth that once you leave New York, the quality of the musicians goes down a notch. Veering from quasi John Philip Sousa, to the early swing era, soulful late-night Ellingtonianisms, jump blues, bossa nova, electric faux-Miles, and what could be Buddy Rich, they cover all the bases.

June 21, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Electrifying, Entertaining, Amusing Magnum Opus From Multi-Reedwoman Anna Webber

Damn, this is a funny record. Multi-reedwoman Anna Webber‘s mammoth new double album Idiom – streaming at Bandcamp – is her most ambitious yet. She’s no stranger to large-ensemble work, most memorably with her Webber/Morris Big Band album from a couple of years ago. The loosely connecting thread here is extended technique, something Webber has plenty of and uses liberally but not gratuitously. The jokes are relentless and irresistible. Webber gets extra props for having the nerve – and the optimism – to put out another big band record at a time when big band performances in New York have been criminalized. Hopefully for no longer than it takes for a Cuomo impeachment!

There’s also an opening disc, Webber joined by her long-running Simple Trio. The first number is a creepy, circling flute and piano theme and variations, with sudden dynamic and rhythmic shifts. It’s closer to Terry Riley than jazz. Drummer John Hollenbeck adds flickering color to the steady sway, pianist Matt Mitchell setting off a lake of ripples from the lows upward. Furtiveness becomes spritely, then the hypnotic spiral returns.

The second of these Idiom pieces has even more of an air of mystery in the beginning, its spaciously wispy minimalism growing more herky-jerky, up to a clever piano-sax conversation over Hollenbeck’s funky drive. Forgotten Best is a great track, beginning as a very allusive, rhythmically resistant take on hauntingly majestic Civil Rights Coltrane, then hitting a triumphant, quasi-anthemic drive. The trio follow with a coyly comedic, hypnotically circular, flute-driven march.

Webber subtly employs her pitch pedal for sax duotones and microtones in the third of the Idiom series over Hollenbeck’s straight-ahead funk and Mitchell’s surgical staccato, then clusters wildly over the pianist’s various vortices. The drummer’s persistent gremlin at the door signals a shivery shift.

The twelve-piece large ensemble play an epic, largely improvisational seven-track suite on the second disc. Emphatic swats over a murmuring background, with a wryly funny low/high exchange, pervade the opening movement. One assume that’s the bandleader’s distant squall that sets off a racewalking pace. Sounds like somebody’s using a EWI for those Marshall Allen-style blips and squiggles.

An airy, increasingly suspenseful interlude introduces movement two, Webber back on flute, fluttering in tandem with Yuma Uesaka’s clarinet over the tiptoeing Frankenstein of the rhythm section – Nick Dunston on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. A swinging fugue follows, the rest of the horns – Nathaniel Morgan on alto sax, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, David Byrd-Marrow on horn and Jacob Garchik on trombone joined by the string trio of violinist Erica Dicker, violist Joanna Mattrey and cellist Mariel Roberts. Webber’s mealy-mouthed meandering, picked off by the trombone, is another deviously amusing moment.

O’Farrill punctures the mist of the second interlude and then wafts optimistically, a goofy faux-takadimi duel between horn and trumpet finally disappearing into a chuffing shuffle; ersatz qawwali has seldom been so amusing. Everybody gets to make a Casper the Friendly Ghost episode out of the fourth movement. Movement five slowly coalesces out of looming mystery, O’Farrill playfully nudging everybody up, Webber’s acidic multiphonics over a slinky quasi-tropical syncopation and an ending that’s predictably ridiculous.

The group rise out of the ether a final time to impersonate a gamelan for awhile the string section leading the ramshackle parade this time. It’s as if Webber is daring us to go out and have half as much fun as she did making this album.

May 29, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Breathtaking, Epic Debut Album From the Fabia Mantwill Orchestra

There hasn’t been a debut big band jazz album on as ambitious a level as the Fabia Mantwill Orchestra’s initial release, Em.Perience (streaming at Spotify) in a long time. Maybe since Asuka Kakitani’s similarly symphonic first record. The vast scope of the saxophonist/singer/bandleader’s ideas, her lush East African-inspired melodicism and outside-the-box arrangements will sweep you off your feet. To compare a lot of this to Darcy James Argue and Maria Schneider would not be overhype. Albums like this are what people who run music blogs live for. Mantwill has an exceptional ear for textures and a penchant for unusual pairings of instruments, and alludes to an amazingly eclectic range of influences without aping any of them.

The first sparkling riffs over the lush string section on the first song, a lavish arrangement of Becca Stevens’ Ophelia, are from Milena Hoge’s harp. After the second chorus, a spiky Portuguese guitar takes over. Stormy low brass kicks in beneath muted trumpet and orchestral percussion, foreshadowing the moment when the wounded warrior gazes into the ocean, sees the suicide girl’s ghost and decides life is worth living after all. It’s part Moody Blues, part Gil Evans, part Nico’s Chelsea Girl with a singer who hits all the notes. What a way to open the record.

The rest of it is almost all Mantwill compositions, the first titled Pjujeck. Trombonist Nils Landgren kicks it off, hard, answered tersely by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, the strings ushering in the most vastly expansive, exuberant dance theme you will hear this year. The two soloists engage in a funky upward drive, Landgren’s jaunty New Orleans-isms eventually giving way to Rosenwinkel’s surreal, 180-degree detour into deep-space ambience, which Mantwill ties up in a neat package at the end.

She sings in Swahili in Sasa Ndio Sasa (Here and Now), inspired by her travels in East Africa. A suspenseful, droning bass intro bows out for a bouncily hypnotic, circling rondo featuring the “Tanzanian Kids Choir.” As symphonic African music, it brings to mind Toumani Diabate’s work with the London Symphony Orchestra, although Mantwill’s composition is somewhat more intricate, from Maria Reich’s warily kinetic viola solo, to Rosenwinkel’s EWI-like envelope-pedal solo, to the jubilantly cantering coda.

Erwachen (German for “Awakening”) is a lavish, balmy Isle of Skye seascape, Mantwill’s sax looking back to a famous 70s ballad: it’s the album’s most straightforwardly beautiful interlude. Marcio Doctor’s shamanic percussion and vibraphone fuel the dynamically expansive Serengeti-scape Kumbukumbu, flugelhornist Konstantin Döben adding a resonant but enigmatic solo before the group shift toward a string-infused pulse that brings to mind McCoy Tyner’s Fly With the Wind.

The lively African-flavored rhythms and riffs continue in Triology. The addition of steel pan in contrast to Daniel Buch’s chuffing baritone sax is an especially clever touch, as is the bari/bass/drums breakdown in the middle, Morphine on whippits.

Tilmann Dehnhard’s alto flute sprouts, afloat in what’s left of the snows in Melodie de la Riviere. a French Riviera early spring tableau. Yet even here, there’s a circling, mutedly leaping African rhythm, Hoge introducing baroque austerity in her solo harp interlude, Döben’s steady, calm flugelhorn following to signal a determined, verdant crescendo. They tiptoe their way out.

The album’s final number is Festival at High Noon, by Megan Ndale, which may have been inspired by a music festival in Nepal but sounds more distinctly Tanzanian or Kenyan…and then Balkan. Violist Reich reaches to the bottom of her register and then swoops skyward, bristling with reverb; tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel memorably follows that same pattern. This is the top contender for best jazz debut of 2021 so far.

May 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Wild, Gorgeously Surreal Jazz Mass From the Czech Republic

You have never heard anything as surreal or triumphantly outside-the-box as the B-Side Band’s performance of Jaromír Hnilička’s Missa Jazz, streaming at Spotify. Structured in segments that follow a traditional liturgical sequence, it’s a jazz symphony, the Chamber Orchestra Brno and the Ars Brunensis chamber choir bolstering this large ensemble from Brno in the Czech Republic. Its ancestors seem to be Mary Lou Williams’ gospel suites, but also Pachelbel and Tschaikovsky…and the unhinged psychedelia of the Electric Prunes’ Mass in F Minor, maybe. This is an amazing piece of music, obviously recorded live in a big space with generous natural reverb.

After a brightly crescendoing quasi-baroque intro, the kettledrum announces the jazz ensemble, who launch into a theme that would play well behind the opening credits of an adventure movie. They swing it hard at the end.

The introit has shiny, resonant trumpet over suspenseful strings, up to a slinky, noirish groove with distant echoes of 19th century African-American gospel. The choir enter in the epic, almost twelve-minute kyrie, strings and winds approximating an organ prelude. From there the group shift through bluesy baritone sax over a slithery swing, a sedate hymn-like interlude from the reeds and then a stormy, brass-fueled march of sorts.

After a stately choral introduction, the racewalking, brassy gloria has New Orleans tinges and lively trumpet and trombone solos.

The group go back to suspense for the graduale, with desolate trombone set to starry strings and a sotto-voce, deliciously Ethiopian-tinged pulse that hits a jaunty bit of a march and then makes a lowdown return.

Omnis Gentes Jubilate Deo, a minimalistic chorale, sets up the similarly terse credo: Hnilička’s voicings, where together the groups effectively mimic the textures of a pipe organ, are spot-on. After a bit of a Sanctus and a Pater Noster, a windswept suspense returns in the “interludium.”

The choir make a final entrance for the momentary, stately agnus dei followed by a communio which bristles with unexpected contrasts and persistent unease as the strings rise from a brooding tone poem of sorts. The saints jubilantly swing their way out in the concluding postlude.

May 20, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vibrant, Evocative, Summery Album From the Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra

The Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra’s album Windward Bound – streaming at Bandcamp – opens with a mist of wave splashes and sounds of shorebirds. But those aren’t samples. That’s the band conjuring up remarkable facsimiles of both. It’s a characteristically playful touch for multi-reeedman Kwok’s six-part suite, inspired by sailing on Lake Ontario and the lore of the sea.

The opening theme, The Calling begins as a calm, baroque-influenced prelude for winds, the rest of the nineteeen-piece ensemble sweeping up and in with hints of a sea chantey. It has the same lush, bucolic familiarity as Maria Schneider‘s lake-themed compositions.

Pianist Augustine Yates’ expectant pedalpoint anchors Kwok’s balmy alto sax intro, singer Caity Gyorgy adding lustrous vocalese as Ready, Aye, Ready gets underway. Bassist Jonathan Wielebnowski and drummer Jacob Wutzke drive the orchestra to a triumphant series of peaks, then shift from a funky sway to suspense as the piece ebbs and rises again. There’s a moment where guitarist Aidan Funston takes over the pedalpoint that could be Darcy James Argue in  a foreboding moment…except that this album is generally upbeat and optimistic.

A Flat Boat Is a Fast Boat has driving latin flair, horns bursting above a rapid swing that threatens to get frantic, then the saxes – who include Naomi McCarroll-Butler, Sophia Smith, Brenden Varty, Kyle Tarder-Stoll and Jonathan Lau – battle it out with the brass. The fluttery false ending before Funston’s spiky solo is a cool touch.

The album’s big improvisational epic is The Tempest, beginning with stark low-register foreshadowing from the piano, followed by a series of skeletal accents throughout the ensemble as the bass growls in the distance. Slowly they rise out of muted skronk to an increasingly nebulous but agitated swirl as flute and trombones soar and resonate. The storm recedes quickly with a few fitful flourishes.

The fifth number, Elegy is where the whole group really coalesce with a shadowy power, in variations on a broodingly rising modal piano riff. Kwok’s misty, melancholy lines pack a quiet punch when the music recedes. The lakeside imagery as the upward drive returns is characteristically evocative.

Kwok brings the suite full circle with the final number, Red, Right, Returning, building on the original high-seas theme with carefree sax and a soulful muted trumpet solo. The rest of this inspired crew include trumpeters Megan Jutting, Matt Smith, Paul Callander, Marie Goudy and trombonists Nick Marshall, Andrew Gormley, Charlotte Mcafee-Brunner and Inayat Kassam.

So where the hell was this blog when this album hit the web in 2017? Focusing on the New York live music scene. Concerts: remember those? It won’t be long before we’re all going out again just like we used to. This summer, everybody’s going to bust loose. Lockdowners, you’re surrounded, time to raise the white flag or else.

May 1, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment