Lucid Culture


Mighty Swing from Trombonist Ryan Keberle’s Big Band Living Legacy Project

Trombonist Ryan Keberle recently commented in the New York City Jazz Record that music educators like himself ought to spend more time figuring out how to get their students to find “the zone,” where they can improvise at the highest level. One way to do it was how Keberle did it at Hunter College last night with his Big Band Living Legacy Project, surrounding himself with a crew of big band jazz legends, many of whom had mentored him or inspired him to transcribe and learn solos they’d played on albums over the past several decades. With this group, Keberle spent most of his time conducting rather than soloing, but when he did – especially during his own luminous, Gil Evans-ish arrangement of Summertime, which he sheepishly told the crowd he’d decided to reinvent as a trombone feature – he very tersely and poignantly headed straight for “the zone” and stayed there. And no wonder. Who wouldn’t be inspired to take it to the next level, surrounded by the players onstage?

This is an amazing band. The show was mostly upbeat swing blues tunes, the majority from the Basie book, with a trio of numbers associated with Ellington along with boisterous, brass-fueled takes of JJ Johnson’s Say When, Thad Jones’ Big Dipper, Sy Oliver’s Looselid Special and the old Benny Goodman chestnut King Porter Stomp. Scott Robinson stood in for Goodman, as Keberle wryly put it, with his whirling clarinet and then his blues-infused tenor sax work. Baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley (of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) showed off a period-perfect, mile-wide tremolo on an achingly lyrical take of Ellington’s I Like the Sunrise, from the Iberian Suite. James Zollar delivered crescendos that ranged from sizzling to droll from behind his mute alongside his fellow trumpeters Bob Millikan, Earl Gardner and Greg Gisbert. Altoist Jerry Dodgion got a couple of soulful spots late in the show, up front in the sax section alongside Billy Drewes and Bill Easley.

Watching bassist Rufus Reid move from the simplest pedalpoint on the oldest numbers to a majestic stroll on the more recent material was a capsule history of big band jazz rhythm. Likewise, Carl Allen’s trip through beats from across the decades, from shuffles on the ride cymbal through more artful, unexpected ka-THUMP syncopation on the more blazing tunes, while pianist Alan Broadbent colored the songs with ambered blues tones and the occasional misty interlude way up in the highest octaves.

Bass trombonist Earl McIntyre – whose mighty gravitas anchored the Arturo O’Farrill band’s sensational show a week ago at the Apollo – drew plenty of laughs as he faked out the crowd with pregnant pauses in a romp through Thad Jones’ The Deacon, one of the Basie tunes. His fellow ‘bone guys Mike Davis and Clarence Banks also got time in the spotlight later on, no surprise considering who the bandleader was. The highlight of the set might have been a richly gospel-inspired take of Mary Lou Williams’ wickedly catchy Blue Skies. Or it could have been the majestic version of Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder, or the nimble, incisive run through Isfahan a few numbers later. With this kind of material and these kind of players, you just sit and sway in your seat and take it all in and remain grateful that you live in an era where people still play this kind of music – and pass it on to another generation.


May 20, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oldschool Big Band Power from Michael Treni

There are plenty of second acts in jazz – trombonist/composer Michael Treni is one of them. A college bandmate of Pat Metheny and a rising star in the New York scene in the late 70s, he left jazz and went into wireless audio and language interpretation systems, a field in which he owns patents and carved out a career that allowed him to make a comeback in the past decade. His latest album Boys Night Out, his fourth with his Big Band, is an enjoyably trad, high-energy effort. It’s the kind of record that might take you a bottle of wine to understand, and then the message is clear: this is a bunch of guys, most of them dating from the 70s, having a GREAT time with some blazing charts and a richly tuneful mix of Treni originals and covers. Pretty much everybody in the band gets at least a cameo; it’s a chance to hear a bunch of New York personalities at the top of their game.

The opening track, Leonard Bernstein’s Something’s Coming (from West Side Story) sounds like a latin version of the Mission Impossible theme, which may be intentional – longtime Horace Silver trumpeter Vinnie Cutro takes the first solo, wry and spiraling and finally bringing it up intensely, followed by a similar one from Jerry Bergonzi on soprano sax. The title track, a late 70s Treni composition, reaches for a brightly cosmopolitan Thad Jones/Mel Lewis swing vibe, giving soprano saxophonist Sal Spicola a launching pad for a gorgeously purist, glissando-drenched, bluesy solo echoed vividly by trombonist Philip Jones and then trumpeter Chris Persad. Lullaby of Birdland gets a brisk, lush and unexpectedly lurid, noir intepretation, tenor saxophonist Frank Elmo kicking in with more bluesiness that trombonist Matt Bilyk is obviously glad to take to the next level. Clare Fischer’s insightful, rather brooding Strayhorn amps the pensive, thoughtful factor with apt solos from Spicola on alto and Bergonzi on tenor.

In My Quiet Time is the real blockbuster here, a lushly orchestrated, suspenseful bolero-jazz stunner by Treni that never quite lets up through a tiptoeing bass solo by Takashi Atsuka and some spot-on, moody work by Ken Hitchcock on alto flute. What Is the World Coming To reverts to oldschool bluesy mode, with a succession of energetic solo spots from Craig Yaremko on alto, Hitchcock on tenor, Bob Ferrel on trombone and Cutro to wind things up on a somewhat tense note as the rhythm section goes in a funkier direction. Strayhorn’s UMMG gives pianist Charles Blenzig a chance to cut loose, judiciously; the album closes with Here’s That Rainy Day, featuring Blenzig and the bandleader along with the rest of the band, completely unleashed, then restrained and urbane: it’s a clever and smart way to end this soulful update on the classy style of a previous era.

June 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment