Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project Unearths Rare, Never-Recorded Jazz Classics

Ryan Truesdell wears a lot of hats: composer, conductor and fulltime copyist for the Maria Schneider Orchestra. He’s also the founder of the Gil Evans Project. Revered by jazz fans for his paradigm-shifting arrangements for Miles Davis, Evans remains a cult figure decades after his death: sometimes lush and opaque, sometimes devastatingly direct, his compositions are still miles ahead of anything in the jazz mainstream. The Gil Evans project seeks to revive interest in the great composer/arranger by recording, releasing and playing rare, previously unreleased material that Truesdell discovered with the help of Evans’ family. A passionate and persuasive advocate for Evans’ music, Truesdell took some time out of his demanding schedule to give us the scoop:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: When did you discover Gil Evans? You were a kid, right? You heard Sketches of Spain and said, “Wow,” maybe? That’s what happened to me, and to pretty much everybody I know, who’s familiar with Evans…

Ryan Truesdell: My first exposure to Gil was through the album Porgy and Bess. It was some time in high school. I was looking for recordings of Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley and saw that they were both on that record, plus I liked the album cover so I bought it. Little did I know what I was in for. From the first notes of Buzzard Song, I was hooked. I had never heard anything like that. At this point in my musical life, I was just starting to be interested in composition. Then to hear something like that? It was incredible. I think I went out the next day and bought the other records – Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain and Quiet Nights. Then I started branching out to other things Gil had done with his own group or as an arranger on other people’s recordings. It was all so new and amazing to me. The way he used sound and color and the harmony of everything. And the fact that every time I listen to one of his records, I hear something new. I’ve listened to Porgy and Bess a thousand times over the years and to this day, I still find something new hidden in there every time hear it. Gil just had a mysterious quality to his writing and I was so curious to find out the answers to the mystery.

LCC: What inspired you to start the Gil Evans Project?

RT: This project started relatively gradually over the past few years. I started searching out Gil’s music because of my interest in it from a composer’s viewpoint. I wanted to learn as much as I could from Gil’s music to benefit my own writing, to learn and grow as a composer. Most of Gil’s music has never been widely available, so I would go through people that knew or worked with Gil or the Evans family directly. Then I started helping the Evans family out a bit more organizing Gil’s music, getting it back into playing condition, and trying to locate music that the family didn’t have copies of. As I was collecting all this music and going through it, I started to realize that I had a lot of pieces that I couldn’t find recordings of. After a while, I realized I had a LOT (at last count around 50 pieces) of unrecorded works of Gil’s, spanning his whole career. Around the same time, discussion was starting to happen about how best to celebrate Gil’s upcoming centennial in May 2012. The unrecorded music I found was really amazing and I felt it wasn’t fair to leave it in a filing cabinet, unplayed and unheard. So, that’s how the project started: what better way to celebrate Gil’s 100th birthday than to present a whole album of music never-before-heard, and show a whole other side of Gil people may not be aware of. I’m really looking forward to finally get this on record, and to share it with the world. It’s truly incredible music.

LCC: Gil Evans, as you know better than most anybody, was an extremely eclectic composer. Is the upcoming album the swing Gil Evans, the third-stream Gil Evans, the noir Gil Evans – or all of them?

RT: I’ve discovered arrangements of Gil’s from all eras of his career – one piece as early as 1937 that I suspect that he wrote for his own band, before he joined Skinnay Ennis or Claude Thornhill. For the recording, I’m going to look at everything I’ve found that hasn’t been recorded and pick the best charts. I’ve definitely found more tunes from the early part of his career than the later, but I think the tunes I’ve chosen will give the record a nice balance of his whole career.

LCC: Tell us about the songs. Do you have a particular favorite among them?

RT: There is one song in particular I’m drawn to; an arrangement Gil did for Astrud Gilberto of “Look To The Rainbow.” When they did the record of the same name in 1965, they recorded a version of “Look To The Rainbow” with just rhythm section, Astrud and one flute. But, I uncovered a full arrangement of this tune, for the same sessions, that they didn’t record. I’m not really sure why, but it’s really beautiful. I think everyone will agree when they hear it. A beautiful approach to the tune and just a great arrangement. But, in all honesty, every tune I’ve found has something that just amazes me. I can’t wait for everyone to hear these arrangements of Gil’s. I think they’ll find some new favorites of their own.

LCC: To what degree, if at all, are you rearranging any of the compositions?

RT: Almost none. In fact, there is only one tune out of all of them that I’m taking a very slight deviation from Gil’s approach, and that’s only in the rhythm section’s groove. Every note, every rhythm, every sound is Gil’s. Since this will be the first time these pieces have been put on record, I want them to be as close as possible to Gil’s original intention. The only reason I’m taking a slight deviation on the one tune is because Gil had just rehearsed it once, and hadn’t taken the time to perfect it, so I felt I could maybe make a slight change. I felt the rhythm section groove that Gil had used at the rehearsal didn’t fit the tune as well, and might be the reason Gil didn’t pursue the tune further. It is a tune based on Indian music and scales, and the groove was a sort-of jazz waltz. I’m going to try and incorporate a little more of the Indian vibe to the tune. I’m going to add a tabla player and see where that takes the tune.

LCC: How many of these compositions been previously recorded?

RT: Every piece I’m recording of Gil’s has never been on record before. There are a couple tunes that you will recognize in association with Gil – Maids of Cadiz, Waltz, etc. – but the arrangements of these tunes are totally new and never heard on record before. I’ve also uncovered a few of Gil’s original compositions that I’ll be recording as well. It’s especially great to find these since Gil was more known as an arranger than a composer, and this shows that Gil was writing a few more of his own compositions.

LCC: In what year of Evans’ career do you start, and where do you end?

RT: The never-before-recorded music that I’ve discovered all total spans nearly his entire career, from 1937 through 1987. For the recording, I chose the “best of the best” of these pieces and it happened that this time period was a little smaller – 1946 through 1971 or so.

LCC: Is there a backstory to any of the compositions you’ve unearthed that we should know about?

RT: Absolutely. Each tune has its own individual history within Gil’s career, but then all of these tunes together come together to give us a better view into Gil’s history as a whole. It’s amazing that this music, that has been undiscovered until now, held so much information on Gil’s history. I’ve been discussing each tune and its individual history and relationship to Gil’s career for the Project participants through the ArtistShare site, www.gilevansproject.com. It’s all outlined there for those who have pre-ordered the cd (or another participant level) and have chosen to participate in the project to follow the process of discovery and creation. I also plan to outline the history in the liner notes of the final cd as well.

LCC: You’re recording the album in August, right? Who’s on it?

RT: The group is made up of mostly NYC-based musicians – 30 all total – including Steve Wilson, Frank Kimbrough, Jay Anderson, Joe Locke, Luciana Souza, Lewis Nash, Marcus Rojas, Andy Bey, Greg Gisbert, Laurie Frink, etcetera. It’s an amazing group of musicians and I can’t wait to hear what they do to this music. The recording is in late August, the 21st through the 26th, here in New York.

LCC: You’re a musician yourself. Will you be playing on the album?

RT: I’ll be conducting in addition to my producing duties.

LCC: I understand you’re doing multiple cd release shows? Where and when, and with whom?

RT: I have a cd release concert in the works, but the details aren’t finalized yet, so it’s a little early to give specific details. BUT, I can say that we will have a cd release show, or shows, performing these never-before-recording works, in addition to a lot of the music of Gil’s that hasn’t been available or performed since it was first recorded. The cd is being released on May 13, 2012, Gil’s 100th birthday, so the concerts will be happening on that day for sure, and hopefully the few days leading up to it. So, all I can say now is that if you want to come to the cd release, plan on being in NYC on and around May 13, 2012! I’ll release further details as the plans become finalized.

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June 27, 2011 Posted by | interview, jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boston Band Unearths Long-Lost Esquivel Big Band Charts: Why?

Now we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Back in Mexico in the 1950s, Juan Garcia Esquivel must have been smoking some seriously generalissimo-grade pot. Like him or not, there’s no denying the psychedelic aspect of his music. The question is, was it any good? Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – an Either/Orchestra spinoff – offers one possible answer. On their new, period-perfect The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, a collection of newly rediscovered big-band arrangements by the crazed, vaudevillian Mad Men era bandleader, they’re obviously having a great time. Which on one level is understandable: from a musician’s point of view, any time you get to use a bass marimba, or punctuate a big band chart with a pedal steel cadenza, it’s nothing if not a jolt to the senses. But some of this is so cheesy that it calls into question whether or not Esquivel actually liked these songs – or if he even liked jazz, or music, at all.

It’s important not to confuse an artist or their work with their fan base. It makes no more sense to associate Esquivel with the first-wave trendoids who fueled his blip of a resurgence in the early 90s than it does to blame Radiohead for the pitchfork/stereogum contingent who worship them. Yet it makes sense that trendoids would fall in love with Esquivel’s “bachelor pad” stylings. Much as Esquivel’s production was cutting-edge, with all those crazy sound effects, all too often it’s style over substance, something that dovetails perfectly with a trendoid esthetic (if you buy the argument that the words “trendoid” and “esthetic” belong in the same sentence). There are moments here that are painfully kitschy – again, the hallmark of a trendoid being an embrace of all things shallow and stupid. But lurking beneath these songs’ whizbang, Keystone Kops vibe is a snotty cynicism that borders on punk. Esquivel’s arrangements are such complete bastardizations that they’re practically hostile. Would Esquivel have preferred ranchera ballads, or norteno accordion music? Or anything other than popular 50s jazz themes? At times, it would seem so. Taken as satire, much of this is irresistibly funny.

Andalucia barrels along at a breakneck pace with snarky little piano glissandos and a kettledrum roll out. Night and Day features a brief fugue between blazing brass and the steel guitar of Tim Obetz, with random bits of lyrics that predate Lee “Scratch” Perry and dub by twenty years. The barely two-minute version of Take the A Train, like much else here, owes a debt to Spike Jones with its tribal percussion and barking horns that winds down into jungly ambience fueled by Rusty Scott’s organ. Boulevard of Broken Dreams is reinvented as a cartoonish cha-cha, slinking along with the scrape of a guacharaca, doot-doot-doot vocals and finally an exuberant Yaure Muniz trumpet solo followed by a surprisingly subdued one on piano by Mr. Ho himself. With its absurdly garish horn chart, Music Makers has gruff baritone sax trading riffs impishly with the steel. And the girlie chorus on Frenesi are clearly unable to keep a straight face as they doot-doot-doot amidst the crazed doublestops of the high brass.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. Sentimental Journey is simply unlistenable, and Mini Skirt, a familiar theme for surf music fans, hasn’t aged well – in the Cee-Lo Green era, those wolf-whistles are annoyingly cutesy. The three remaining tracks, Let’s Dance, Dancing in the Dark and the surprisingly straight-up, genially bluesy Street Scene are more good-naturedly amusing: lose the steel guitar, the funeral parlor organ and those ridiculous, blaring brass crescendos and what you’d be left with is just plain good big band jazz. Whether the rest of this is jazz, or what it is, is up to you to figure out. Maybe it’s best not to: like Sartre said, once you name something, you kill it.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hottest New Big Band in NYC

The Ayn Sof Orchestra and Bigger Band are the most exciting new development in big band jazz in New York. To call them the “Jewish big band” is to say that they play large ensemble jazz works liberally sprinkled with themes and motifs from Jewish music. Some of the compositions are jazz arrangements of folk songs; their originals, contributed by several members of the ensemble, draw sometimes deeply, sometimes loosely on klezmer or Middle Eastern melodies. The group, a mix of some of the most highly sought-after jazz talents in the city, has been playing together for about a year, with a monthly residency at bandleader/tenor sax player Greg Wall’s Sixth Street Synagogue. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Cell Theatre in the West Village was a revelation.

They opened with a lush, sweeping, bracingly layered number by former Lou Reed tenor player Marty Fogel, a showcase for a slinky, klezmer-tinged solo from trumpeter Frank London and a bit later a no-nonsense one from trombonist Reut Regev. A composition by guitarist Eyal Maoz was a characteristically surfy sprint, complete with his own joyously showy, increasingly unhinged solo and some effect-laden, shuffling B3 organ groove work from Uri Sharlin (who’d switched from piano, and would later move to accordion). Wall sardonically announced that someone in the crowd had promised their grandmother some klezmer, so they blasted through a towering, majestic Fogel arrangement of the traditional Kiever Bulgar dance, more jazz than klezmer, with long, expressive trombone and accordion solos and a tricky false ending. A tune by alto player Paul Shapiro worked a bouncy soul organ groove that took on a latin vibe as it motored along. Another Fogel original introduced the night’s most darkly bracing tonalities, a 6/4 stomp featuring a blazing Balkan solo by trumpeter Jordan Hirsch; trumpeter Pam Fleming’s Intrigue in the Night Market was downright sexy, her own slyly cosmopolitan solo growing more rootless, the band restlessly and suspensefully rising to a big crescendo out of it.

The second half of the concert began with jazz poetry on Talmudic themes, Wall or London offering energetic accompaniment for a series of animated spoken-word interludes, sometimes playing in tandem. The whole band joined in as they went along; some were wryly humorous, but ultimately they preached to the choir, if as heatedly as that hardcore punk band who celebrate the virtues of learning Torah. The band eventually wound up the show on a blissfully carnivalesque note with a humor-laden latin soul groove featuring an uninhibitedly buffoonish Maoz solo, a similarly amusing, blippy one from Sharlin on organ and a typical monster crescendo from London, who’d been doing them all night whenever the moment appeared. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Steve Swell’s Nation of We Have a Method to Their Madness

Steve Swell’s Nation of We play free jazz for big band. Last night at Roulette they were as loud as the Ramones and just as funny if understandably somewhat more clever. The trombonist/composer’s modus operandi lately (especially on his dynamite new quintet cd 5000 Poems) has been to take a memorable theme and then deconstruct it piece by piece, often as a suite, a procedure that worked especially well with this group. There was only one brief break in the action and that didn’t seem to be intentional: they seemed gung-ho on running rampant all the way through, something akin to a mass-scale version of the nonstop madness of Jon Irabagon’s latest album but with a thousand more diversions.There was a brief, tersely cinematic overture to kick it off, everyone in the nineteen-piece juggernaut going their separate ways within a couple of minutes which kicked up a considerable racket, especially with the two drummers. Striking almost a boxer’s stance as he conducted the group, Swell punched the air and grabbed the first series of many deviously funny moments, the chosen band members each musically sticking out their tongues as the riff made its way around the room. It quickly grew to a chaotic, bustling urban soundscape, the ghost of Mingus punching the air just like Swell, invisible but vividly present.

Several sections where band members paired off, squared off or simply conversed were especially well-chosen. One passage where tenor player Sabir Mateen and cellist Daniel Levin held it down and served as the voice of reason while the rest of the crew went haywire was effectively suspenseful: were they going to succeed in pulling some melody out of everybody else’s muck? No. A call-and-response between the bass and Bob Stewart’s tuba was welcome comic relief, as was a squirrely argument between tenor and trombone which drew laughs from the exuberant crowd. Other sections pitted stark strings – Jason Hwang and Rosi Hertlein on violin alongside Levin – versus the brass or the rhythm section, sometimes melodically, sometimes rhythmically. The most memorable solo of the night was exactly that, one of the trumpets emerging all by himself out of diminishing chaos with a lithe, lyrical flight, the rest of the group jumping back in, oblivious. Swell took judicious yet joyously noisy solos during the two final, mammoth crescendos. After a long, circular, pizzicato interlude by Hwang, Swell glanced at his watch and, raising his hands as high as he could, pulled every last remaining decibel out of the group until there were no more to be had. With that, he took a leap, the group slammed out a series of deathblows and that finally destroyed what was left of the piece. It would have been nice to have been able to hear Swell’s band intros (and give credit here – from the back of the room, it was hard to see every face in the band and figure out just who all these cats were), but his voice was no match for the crowd’s standing ovation. One can only hope this was recorded (memo to the woman in the front row with the iphone: put your stuff up on youtube!).

Steve Swell’s Nation of We are back at Roulette tonight and tomorrow night at 8:30. He’s with his Serious Trio (Andrew Raffo Dewar and Garrison Fewell) at IBeam in Brooklyn on 9/11 at 10 and on 9/12 at DMG, 113 Monroe St. in Manhattan at 6 PM and then on 9/14 with his International Trio (Joachim Badenhorst and Ziv Ravitz) at the Douglass St. Music Collective in Gowanus at 8. Roulette is moving from their comfortable SoHo digs to Third and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn sometime in 2011, ostensibly to a 600-seat theatre space which they hope to renovate with help from their crowd. If they do there what they do here, they deserve it.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sue Mingus Talks About the Mingus Big Band’s New CD, Live at Jazz Standard

The Mingus Big Band’s new album Live at Jazz Standard came out a little earlier this year, an exuberant and often exhilarating mix of classics by the pantheonic composer and bassist. The virtuosic repertory unit who play Mondays nights at the club leap from noir tension, to dizzying bop, to genially melodic playfulness with a focus, intensity and camaraderie that does justice to the composer (full review here coming soon). Sue Mingus – Charles Mingus’ widow, executive producer of the album, and tireless advocate and director of the Mingus repertory bands – gave us some characteristically reflective responses to our questions about the album:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: How happy are you with the new cd?

Sue Mingus: It’s great musicians playing great music. We’re pleased.

LCC: Can I ask why the decision was made to record on New Year’s Eve rather than just some random date? Didn’t the prospect of your typical noisy, increasingly drunken New Year’s Eve crowd scare you off? Admittedly, a Mingus audience tends to be somewhat more urbane than your average New Year’s Eve crowd, but didn’t that concern cross your mind?

SM: No, not at all. We like our audiences any night of the week. We chose to play New Year’s Eve since it’s one of the big nights of the year at a club where we have a residency, the Jazz Standard. Also because we were recorded by NPR that night and broadcast nationally. I should add that the main reason for doing this cd was that we were celebrating, fifty years later, three of the seminal jazz albums. 1959 was a banner year for jazz: Coltrane, Brubeck, Mingus and a number of others put out some of their most important albums. Entering 2009, we were celebrating, fifty years later, Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Blues and Roots, and Mingus Dynasty. We chose material from those three albums.

LCC: You served as executive producer on this album, so you also selected the songs?

SM: Yes, since it was those albums we were celebrating.

LCC: What is your specific role in relation to the various Mingus repertory bands: this group, the Mingus Big Band and also the Mingus Orchestra and the original unit, Mingus Odyssey?

SM: I started them and I hired them!

LCC: Do you also audition the musicians?

SM: We don’t really need to audition – word gets around! A week ago, last Monday we had a wonderful trumpeter, Avishai Cohen and also Greg Tardy on tenor sax sitting in. New musicians are coming into the band all the time. We have a large pool, over 150 musicians who have learned this music: I have a big spectrum I can draw from each week. I hire the musicians each week and commission the arrangements. A lot of the arrangements are made by the members of the band, for example, last week the band played Meditations for Moses, arranged by bass player Boris Kozlov.

LCC: In addition to the many extraordinary musicians who play Mingus regularly with this unit, there are a couple of ringers on this album, notably Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums – who really takes the energy to the next level – and Randy Brecker on trumpet. How did they come to be part of this recording?

SM: Randy played with us from the start – he was in the original Mingus Dynasty frequently. He’s been playing this music since Charles died and well before: he and Michael Brecker were on the last album with Charles, who as you know, by that time couldn’t play since he was in a wheelchair. Randy’s been a Mingus player for a long time; Jeff plays with us frequently. It wasn’t like outsiders who didn’t know the music.

LCC: It’s been awhile since the Mingus Big Band did an album. When was the last one?

SM: 2007. Live in Tokyo.

LCC: Can we talk a little about the individual tracks? What do you prefer, the Elvis Costello version of Hora Decubitus or the version here, with vocals by Ku-umba Frank Lacy?

SM: I like them both obviously. We love Frank Lacy, he’s a marvelous jazz singer, but we also love Elvis Costello’s version – as you know, he wrote the lyrics.

LCC: Do you have a favorite among the songs on the new album?

SM: It’s hard to choose favorites with Mingus! You want something uptempo? You want something with a classical form, a latin piece, bebop, a beautiful ballad, an extended work? It’s all part of the whole.

LCC: Since the Jazz Standard has one of your bands at the club every Monday, have you thought of doing what the New York Philharmonic Orchestra does, recording pretty much everything and making it available for sale on itunes?

SM (laughs): All it takes is money! We’ve done a dozen albums with the Mingus Big Band, so much of the repertoire has been recorded. But as you know it’s a vast amount of music, and it’s very expensive, to hire the musicians, a studio, the engineers and so forth. It’s a worthy idea, if you know any volunteers for the cause, send them over!

LCC: How do you feel about the fact that a lot of people, maybe the majority of people who hear this album will only hear it in mp3 format rather than at its sonic best on the cd?

SM: I don’t know. People’s listening habits over the years have changed so incredibly much. What do you think?

LCC: I think that the ipod is the new transistor radio. Back in the day there were people who listened to the radio that way and were perfectly satisfied, just as I think that some people are satisfied with the sound of a mp3.

SM: People are used to mp3s now, some people prefer it…

LCC: True. One last question, this is not an easy one, not something we could ever know for sure: what do you think Charles Mingus would have gone on to do, had he lived? When we lost him, in 1979, for example, hip-hop was just around the corner. Do you think he would have embraced that?

SM: It might have been not as challenging as he would have liked. An album he listened to the most the last six months of his life was Cumbia and Jazz Fusion. There’s one whole side that’s cumbia jazz. The other side is the piece Todo Modo, which is “third stream,” as Gunther Schuller called it, classical-jazz fusion. Had he lived, I think that’s the direction he would have pursued. But with Mingus, you never know.

LCC: Any Mingus news that we don’t know about yet that we can report here?

SM: We are having our third Mingus high school competition that will take place in January, our newest project where high school students from around the country come out and compete, February 18-20 at Manhattan School of Music. It’s nice to hear kids playing Mingus with such enthusiasm, and so attentively. This summer, there’s a free concert at Washington Square Park with the Mingus Orchestra on July 27 – and then the band tours!

June 16, 2010 Posted by | interview, jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo – Zakopane

Satoko Fujii is one of those people who seems to record everything she plays – in her case, that’s a good thing. Methodically if not particularly calmly, Fujii has become over the past 25 years simply one of the most important composers of our time: she gives new meaning to the term “panstylistic.” Her own Libra Records imprint has most recently released Gato Libre’s delicious new gypsy-jazz concoction; a surprisingly tuneful if crazily noisy one from her free jazz outfit First Meeting; a typically vivid one by her small combo Ma-Do, and this album by her colossal fifteen-piece Orchestra Tokyo. She first made a big-band splash with her Orchestra New York back in the late 90s: this effort finds her similarly out-of-the-box but considerably different, Kelly Churko’s evil, chicken-scratch guitar skronk frequently adding a snarlingly jarring undercurrent very evocative of Arto Lindsay back in his DNA days. Fujii loves paradoxes and studies in contrasts: as usual, there are plenty of them here, some of them very funny. This ensemble is piano-less, Fujii working exclusively as conductor.

The cd opens with variations on a big bluesy rock riff with boisterous solos from Takao Watanabe’s trumpet and Hakuregumo Nagamatsu’s trombone. The characteristically paradoxical Desert Ship runs a lush, pensively cinematic minor key theme, husband and longtime collaborator Natsuki Tamura’s trumpet a barely caged elephant plotting a quick getaway – and then they’re off on the wings of Sachi Hayasaka’s completely unhinged soprano sax. The third track, Zee, sets gritty, trebly noise-guitar beneath lush, swaying orchestration into a woozy yet disturbed Toshihiro Koike trombone solo. The amusing early morning barnyard ambience of Sakura builds to a rubato, overcast early summer atmosphere, individual voices filtering in and out.

Tropical Fish is even funnier, Ryuichi Yoshida’s baritone sax sprawling and content until the food enters the tank, Koike following in the same vein – and then the rest of the fishes join in a tango that goes from stately to Mingus-esque noir to Jerry Goldsmith cartoonish. The title track works contrasts: a spacious bowed bass intro by Toshiki Nagata against a couple of blasts from the orchestra, then some Bill Frisell-on-mushrooms guitar from Churko that doesn’t take long to go completely unhinged and noisy against big, suspenseful orchestration. The most suspenseful cut here, actually is Trout, a rousing detective theme that’s actually a tribute to a good meal – it must have smelled really good in the kitchen! – Kunihiro Izumi adding a deliciously Middle Eastern alto solo worthy of Lefteris Bournias. They end on a boisterously satirical note, the horns taking a sentimental theme completely over the top with weepy vibrato. As with Fujii’s 2006 live album with her New York orchestra, this one’s going to end up on a lot of best-of lists at the end of this year. New York audiences may not get a chance to see this band, so this album may be as close as you ever come. Fujii, however, gets around (she used to be here a lot more than she is now); watch this space for NYC dates.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble – Eternal Interlude

These big-band arrangements of mostly earlier commissions – never before recorded – make the perfect vehicle for drummer/composer John Hollenbeck‘s big ideas.  Hollenbeck is one of the most successful composers to bridge the gap between jazz and new music. This new album, just out on Sunnyside, is the rousing result of that refusal to be pigeonholed. Hollenbeck’s hooks are direct and energetic: he’s got a way with a memorable tune and a fondness for even bigger, comfortable, lushly orchestrated arrangements. Dynamics are everything here – the twenty-piece ensemble will move from a big, blazing chart to skeletal tenor and piano, or bass and drums, in seconds flat and then slowly bring it back up again. The quieter passages here have a cinematic feel evocative of Elvis Costello’s collaborations with Richard Harvey; the more bustling ones evoke Mingus, or Monk, notably on the opening track, Foreign One (a pun and a loving reinvention of Monk’s Four in One), bulking up its catchy descending hook with a muscular chart capped with bright back-to-back tenor solos.

Tension builds on the mostly ambient, almost twenty-minute title track, the brass developing a slow, stately crescendo out of an effectively mysterious Gary Versace piano intro. A circular, somewhat hypnotic hook gets a slow, steady workout before it falls apart into a hazy flutter of call-and-response horns strangely evocative of Pink Floyd’s Atomheart Mother Suite. Another rise and a fall and then they’re out. Many of these patterns recur in the following track, Guarana, moving from atmospheric tone poem to a chase sequence to fluttery chaos, trombone serving as the voice of reason who will eventually prevail. The aptly titled The Cloud is a clinic in swells and ebbs.

The standout track here is also aptly titled, almost eighteen delicious minutes of Perseverance. This time the ensemble gives a funk-inflected melody a full-orchestra workout that eventually winds its way down to just the sax, the rest of the horns taking brief, crazed cameos against the stark ambience before Hollenbeck turns the mood darker with some solo tom-tom work. It builds to a fullscale stampede, its ferocious pummel an almost shocking contrast with the rest of the album. When they take it down and then bring it back, it becomes a reverse image, a happy Sunday sprint through a poppy field. The cd closes with on a hushed note with a brief, still tableau. This is one of those albums where repeated listening reveals something new and interesting every time. The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble play a marathon cd release show for this one on Nov 30 at 8 PM at le Poisson Rouge: first, violinist Todd Reynolds plays music from Hollenbeck’s recent Rainbow Jimmies cd, followed by Hollenbeck and Theo Bleckmann’s Future Quest group – Hollenbeck, Bleckmann, Gary Versace, Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby – playing Meredith Monk, and then the Large Ensemble.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Gregg August Large Ensemble at the Jazz Gallery, NYC 4/10/09

This year the Jazz Gallery has been commissioning big band projects. More musicians should do what bassist/composer Gregg August (whose powerfully melodic contributions appear on the latest JD Allen Trio cd, reviewed here recently) did with his. Leading a ten-piece all-star ensemble on Friday night, August proved every bit as potent a composer as an instrumentalist, playing a thematic series of pieces inspired by and frequently including poems that explore race relations. Interpreting the texts both literally and thematically, August’s richly melodic, aptly relevant compositions created a program that screams out to be recorded.

 

August’s arrangements maximized the ensemble’s diverse talents: Jaleel Shaw’s ecstatically fiery alto sax flights, Sam Newsome’s rapidfire fluidity on soprano, JD Allen’s darkly direct terseness on tenor and pianist Luis Perdomo’s vividly bittersweet, concise chordal work along with his own straightforwardly melodic, sometimes latin-inflected lines, many of them echoing horn voicings. Drummer Donald Edwards’ strategy shaded toward darkness with innumerable well-placed cymbal accents and flourishes. The night opened on an auspicious note with an interpretation of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Shaw building his final solo to screaming, gritty overtones illustrating the exasperation of confinement over the rhythm section’s staggered beat. Sweet Words, based on a sacastic Langston Hughes poem about (what else) bigotry proved to be a pretty straightforward, tuneful ensemble piece highlighted by a relentlessly intense, expansive Perdomo solo.

 

A New Orleans tableau, Sky, based on poet Richard Katrovas’s encounter with a possibly homeless young black man painted a stark picture of a balmy morning tinged with misunderstanding and regret, Allen’s lyrical tenor opening against pensively crescendoing piano and bowed bass, the group pulsing through a funereal arrangement colored by rubato drums. Perhaps the high point of the night was Your Only Child, a literal illustration of Marilyn Nelson’s poem A Wreath for Emmett Till, a recording of Till’s mother describing her murdered son’s mutilated body playing over the ominous atmosphere of the intro, singer Miles Griffith echoing the song’s theme and ending with a fervent evocation of sobbing agony.

 

The second set maintained the captivating intensity of the first, opening with the slinky, insistent I Rise (a musical translation of the famous Maya Angelou poem) highlighted by a joyous solo from Shaw followed by a characteristically thoughtful, matter-of-fact one from Allen. The lushly orchestrated, Mingus-inflected I Sang in the Sun (from the Carolyn Kizer poem) brought back the vocals, lowlit by some marvelously succinct shading by Thomas. A Cornelius Eady poem about an encounter with a racist in an ice cream parlor provided a solid platform for a slyly bluesy trombone solo and some funky work by August. The night wound up with Letter to America (on a Francisco Alarcon poem), impassioned vocals echoed by John Bailey’s blazing, bluesy trumpet and yet another uncompromisingly confrontational solo by Allen building to a casually intense coda. In a year of some extraordinary live jazz, a packed house got to witness what has to be one of the highlights of the year so far.

 

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment