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

Celebrating Charles Mingus’ Depth and Irony at the Django This Month

There’s a monthlong celebration of the Charles Mingus centennial going on at the Django right now, which is open without restrictions. One of this month’s potentially most adrenalizing shows is bassist Boris Kozlov’s so-called “Electric Mingus Project” with Johnathan Blake on drums, who are playing at 10 PM on April 9. Kozlov is the musical director of the Mingus Big Band, who have reconvened their weekly 7 PM Monday night residency there after the Jazz Standard, their longtime home, fell victim to the 2020 lockdown. Cover is $25.

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Mingus tribute albums coming out this year, and Kozlov is on one of the best of the bunch so far. Posi-Tone Records pulled together an allstar lineup they call Blue Moods, whose all-Mingus album Myth & Wisdom is streaming at Bandcamp. These guys really nail everything that Mingus is all about – the irony, and gravitas, and cynicism that sometimes boils over.

And while some of these songs are iconic, there are handful of rarer gems as well, often very counterintuitively reinvented. The group open the album with Better Get it in Your Soul, a tightly scrambling, stripped-down take of this subtly sardonic 12/8 anthem, tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera’s smoky, shuffling lines over pianist Art Hirahara’s increasingly crushing attack in tandem with drummer Joe Strasser.

Strasser gives Nostalgia in Times Square a loose-limbed latin groove, shifting between that same time signature and a sly swing, River and Hirahara hitting on the beat before the pianist and then River use the bluesy changes as a launching pad.

Kozlov and Strasser infuse Tonight At Noon with a breathless urban bustle, Rivera matching the precise forward drive over Hirahara’s similarly purposeful ripples and chords. They open Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love on a aptly balmy, languid note but then have fun mixing up the rhythm, a glistening, lyrical David Kikoski piano solo at the center.

One of the most radical reinventions here is Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk, Mingus’ restless, distantly Stravinskian ballad reconfigured as a slow drag assembled around a soulful, exploratory Rivera solo before Hirahara takes the band flying for a bit. The quartet then condense Peggy’s Blue Skylight to a purposeful five minutes or so of no-nonsense swing

They raise the underlying devious slinkiness several notches in Pussy Cat Dues, Hirahara adding a steely modal edge beneath Rivera’s enigmatic blues. The decision to make a twisted cha-cha out of Pithecanthropus Erectus might seem odd, downplaying Mingus’ withering sarcasm for a more incisive approach fueled by a long Kikoski solo.

Rivera pairs a calm, reflective soulfulness against Hirahara’s impressionistic ripples in an expansive take of Self-Portrait in Three Colors. They close with a hard-charging, gritty Reincarnation of a Lovebird, where Rivera and Hirahara get to swing their sharpest edges here. High as the guy who wrote these songs set the bar, Mingus fans will  not be disappointed.

April 5, 2022 Posted by | jazz, 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

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