Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Either/Orchestra Are Back Like They Never Left

Either/Orchestra’s first album in five years, Mood Music for Time Travellers, was worth the wait. Over the past several years, the deviously eclectic ten-piece ensemble have collaborated with pretty much every Ethiopian jazz legend, most famously Mulatu Astatke, of Broken Flowers fame. So it’s no surprise there’s plenty of Ethiopique to pique you here, but there’s also plenty of saxophonist/bandleader Russ Gershon’s latin vamps and signature wit. Much of this is cinematic, some of it is hypnotic, and the compositions, Gershon’s especially, are generous, giving his bandmates plenty of room to solo. As the title implies, there’s a frequent goodnaturedly satirical, psychedelic flavor to several of the songs.

The tongue-in-cheek but vivid period piece Coolocity evokes a David Lynchian Mulholland Drive of the mind circa 1958, balmy noir atmospherics over a warped clave beat and a big portentous riff leaping from the midst of a conga solo from Vicente Lebron. Thirty Five, by bassist Rick McLaughlin is a deliciously mysterious clinic in implied melody and foreshadowing, Gershon’s soprano sax supplying a sneaky snakecharmer vibe all the way through to a distantly mysterioso piano solo by Rafael Alcala. Alcala’s organ anchors the swaying funk of The Petrograd Revision, one of the more Ethiopian-tinged numbers with its circular theme, highlighted by Godwin Louis’ warm alto sax followed by Daniel Rosenthal’s  cloudbursting trumpet.

Another first-rate, cinematic cut is Ropa Loca, blending the best of both the Ethiopian and latin influences, salsa piano emerging playfully behind fluid trumpet lines, Gershon adding an air of disquiet which sends the ensemble running around in pairs or trios – the arrangement is great fun. Trombonist Joel Yennior (who has a delightful trio album just out) contributes the percussively hypnotic Latin Dimensions and the gorgeously soul-infused Suriname, evoking Hugh Masekela with its circling central hook and sly, contented baritone sax from Kurtis Rivers. There’s also the playfully deadpan backbeat theme The (One Of a Kind) Shimmy that opens the album; Beaucoups Kookoo, the most Astatke-inflected number here; A Portrait of Lindsey Schust, a fond, vividly evocative homage, and McLaughlin’s richly arranged, suspensefully charged History Lesson that winds it up. It’s hard to believe that they’ve been around 25 years, albeit with some lineup changes as one famous jazz guy after another cycled through the band – they’ll be celebrating that milestone with another live album in 2011. You’ll see this one high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year: it’s out now on Accurate Records. Watch this space for a NYC show coming in October.

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September 12, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Benny Sharoni’s Retro Jazz Is a Hit

The last jazz album we reviewed was noisy, frenetic and half rock. This one is all melody, laid-back and gorgeously oldschool. It’s one of those sleeper albums that you can put on and fool your snob friends with – just tell them it’s a rare reissue from fifty years ago, and most of them will buy it. Boston-based tenor saxophonist Benny Sharoni assembled a first-rate band to join him in a convivially expansive, purist mood on his new album Eternal Elixir. Joey “Sonny” Barbato (whose 2006 cd Crackerjack is a genuine classic and one of the finest of its rare kind, an accordion jazz album) plays piano here, joined by Barry Ries on trumpet, Mike Mele on guitar, Todd Baker on bass and Steve Langone on drums, with Kyle Aho taking over the 88s on four of the tracks. The vibe here is retro in a refreshing way: it feels like one of those early 60s Impulse albums, driven by camaraderie rather than showboating, the kind of date players record because they have something they think is worth capturing, rather than simply to satisfy the terms of a label deal.

The album opens with Bernstein, Sharoni’s propulsive tribute to the conductor/composer, Barbato’s fluidly precise runs echoed by Sharoni further on. French Spice, a tastily catchy Donald Byrd tune from 1961 that moves deftly from hypnotic pulse to proto-funk to straight-up swing and back again, Sharoni taking his cue from Wayne Shorter’s casually soulful performance on that song (as he does on another Byrd composition here, an understated version of the vampy Pentecostal Feelin’). Barbato’s terse, understated solo turns with a grin from blithe to bluesy in a split second. The version of Estate here mutes its bossa origins, recasting it as slow swing and stripping it down to its inner soul with aptly summery, almost minimalist solos from Barbato and then Sharoni. Likewise, the band breathes new life into Bobby Hebb’s Sunny as a latin jazz number, a launching pad for some lively melismas and trills from Ries and some impressively straight-up blues from Aho.

Benito’s Bossa Bonita, an original gets the same casually comfortable, easy-wearing swing of Estate, with a couple of especially choice, effortlessly congenial solos from Sharoni and a terse conversation between Aho’s piano and Baker’s bass. To Life, based on the 1964 Cannonball Adderley version, maintains the laid-back bluesy mood, Ries (with a mute) and then Sharoni gimlet-eyed and content while Barbato keeps watch with sharp, incisively staccato chords. Another original, Cakes, sways with a distant Donald Fagen feel (Sharoni is a fan, having discovered Steely Dan as solace during his mandatory tour of duty in the Israeli army, a low point in his life), and a moody, reverb-tinged Mele solo. The album winds up with The Thing to Do, a cagy, swinging Blue Mitchell tune from 1964 and Senor Papaya, which takes its title from Sharoni’s papaya-grower father back home in Israel. Sharoni admits it’s quite ironic since Sr. Papaya himself is so laid-back and the song anything but. The Benny Sharoni Quartet plays Fridays in August at 8:30 PM at Winslow’s Tavern in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

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

NEC Jazz Week in NYC 3/20-27/10

March 20-27 it’s the 40th anniversary of jazz at the New England Conservatory (Boston’s equivalent of Juilliard), with a series of first-rate, relatively inexpensive (or free) New York concerts plus a lecture. The weeks winds up with a jazz summit at BB King’s on the 27th featuring Cecil Taylor, Bernie Worrell, John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood and others. Proceeds from the events go to support jazz scholarships at NEC. The full calendar is below: click here for updates.

Saturday, March 20 saxophonists Matana Roberts solo at 8:30 followed by composer Jeremy Udden and his group at 10 PM at the Cornelia St. Cafe, $10.

Sunday, March 21, 2-6 PM, free, at the Studio at the Irene Diamond Education Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Time Warner Building, 33 West 60th Street, a panel discussion: “Living Time”: George Russell’s Musical Life and Legacy

Panel 1: George Russell as composer, bandleader, and influential figure

Panel 2: George Russell as music theorist and educator

Panelists include: Gunther Schuller, Ken Schaphorst, Ingrid Monson, Cameron Brown, Stanton Davis, Ben Schwendener, with an introduction by Jerome Harris.

Sunday, March 21 Andre Matos featuring Noah Preminger & Sara Serpa along with bassist Thomas Morgan, pianist Leo Genevese and drummer Ted Poor, 8:30/10 PM at the Cornelia St. Cafe, $10.

Monday, March 22, PM at 55 Bar the Public Option: trumpeter Jason Palmer, saxophonist Michael Thomas, guitarist Greg Duncan, bassist Lim Yang and drummer Lee Fish, free, followed at 9:30 by the Noah Preminger Quartet ($10 cover): saxophonist Noah Preminger, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Matt Wilson.

Tuesday, March 23 Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, 7:30/9:30 PM at the Jazz Standard, $25

Wednesday, March 24 the NEC Faculty Jazz All Stars: George Garzone, John McNeil, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart and Frank Carlberg, 7:30 PM plus at 9:30 Marty Ehrlich’s Quartet at the Jazz Standard, $25

Thursday, March 25 the New Mellow Edwards feat. Curtis Hasselbring, trombone; Chris Speed, tenor saxophone, Trevor Dunn, bass; John Hollenbeck, drums. The post-show jam session features Jeremy Udden, alto saxophone; Frank Carlberg, piano; Joe Fitzgerald, bass; George Schuller, drums at the Douglass Street Music Collective, 295 Douglass Street (3rd/4th Aves), Gowanus, Brooklyn, $10

Friday, March 26 the NEC Jazz Vocal Summit feat. Dominique Eade, Sara Serpa, David Devoe, Amy Cervini, Jo Lawry and Sofia Koutsovitis, 7 PM at Joe’s Pub, $15

Also Friday, March 26 the John McNeilBill McHenry Quartet at the Cornelia Street Café 9/10:30 PM, $10

Saturday, March 27 NEC Jazz 40th Anniversary Summit concert feat. Cecil Taylor, Bernie Worrell, Anton Fig, John Medeski, Ran Blake, John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood; Sarah Jarosz, Dominiquie Eade, comedic country cabaret crew Lake Street Dive (Rachael Price, Michael Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson), others TBA. At BB King’s, 8 PM, $25 adv tix highly rec.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The John Funkhouser Trio – Time

Jazz pianist John Funkhouser seems like the kind of guy who took the name he was given and ran with it. On his playfully titled new trio cd, he plays with the tasteful incisiveness and groove of a bass player…maybe because he is one. When drummer Mike Connors rattles and clatters and prowls around, Funkhouser hangs on a bright salsa motif until he’s done. When bassist Greg Loughman launches into a stark, extended bowed solo, Funkhouser works a hypnotic, circular phrase that ups the suspense. The cd title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the abundance of odd time signatures the three utilize, much in the same spirit as Dave Brubeck. As rhythmically challenging as much of this is, it’s also vividly catchy and tuneful. There should be more jazz like this.

Their version of Green Dolphin Street, which opens the cd, adds a latin flair and a smartly strolling, casual bass solo. The album’s first original, Ellipse, began as a not-so-simple exercise in polyrhythms, piano playing  in five in the left hand and on the right in seven while the bass stays in six (and ends a beat early on the sixth bar, thus rounding everything out at an even thirty-five). But it’s the furthest thing from math-jazz; it sounds perfectly natural, and Loughman’s plaintive bowing gives it a vintage Jean-Luc Ponty feel. Prelude and Fugue in A Minor is a characteristically irreverent take on Bach, kicking off with a cowbell solo, then taking its Teutonic menace to Puerto Rico where it begins to feel more at home. The two-part Dyin’ Nation/Emancipation begins with bass and piano doubling a restless unease, working the haunting vibe to where joy and triumph come in and take over. Eleventy-One is both a workout in eleven as well as a sly Hobbit reference (Bilbo Baggins was eleventy-one when he left the Shire for the final time), deviously funky stomp alternating with a pretty, lyrical theme that Funkhouser builds to big, blazing rivulets…and then back to the funk, Isaac Hayes style.

Alone Together reverts to neo-Brubeck, all tension between bright theme and more pensive undercurrent, Funkhouser clearing the clouds after Loughman has apprehensively planted them everywhere. Dating from a few days after the election of 08, Ode to a Lame Duck is surprisingly less a dismissal of the Bush regime than a brisk, understated requiem for a decade of torture and tyranny. With echoes of the haunting Roman Polanski collaborator Krzysztof Komeda, it’s the best number on the album. This time around it’s Loughman who gets to take the latin vibe deep into the low registers. The album concludes with Kelp, a gorgeously murky seaside tableau marked with some particularly poignant interplay between bass and piano as the cymbals whir atmospherically in the background. Give this to your Brubeck fan friends for Christmas and see if they can tell the difference.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Massimo Sammi – First Day

Truth in advertising: the retro 70s-style cover of Massimo Sammi‘s debut album pictures the jazz guitarist staring out somewhat warily beneath a bare tree in what looks like late autumn or early winter. That’s a considerably evocative image for this bracing, dark yet ultimately triumphant collection of narrative jazz pieces. A cynic might say that Sammi saw A Beautiful Mind and decided he should write an album based on the movie – obviously, he was inspired by the struggles and in particular the theories of John Nash, especially Nash’s belief in the power of intuition. Beyond that, it’s not known what else if anything Sammi might have in common with the mathematician, but there’s considerable tension, struggle and even a slightly understated horror that comes through vividly in the seven utterly original compositions here. As one would think, the overall feel here is quite cinematic. The band is first-rate: Boston luminaries John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums lock in on a fluid groove for Sammi and George Garzone’s tenor and soprano sax. Garzone is a particularly good choice since he can evoke literally any mood he wants and doesn’t shy away from what a lesser musician might find profoundly disturbing. Dominique Eade also adds heartfelt, nuanced vocalese to a couple of tracks.

Over the opening track’s slinky, modified bossa beat, Sammi offers hints of what’s to come: the tune is catchy yet has a troubled edge. Garzone doesn’t waste any time introducing just a hint of madness on the second cut, Encryption, Sammi taking a long, ruminative solo with an outro that grows more insistent. Things go completely over the edge on the third track, Garzone’s sax fluttering with an anxiety that grows quickly to a muted terror echoed starkly by Lockwood’s bass. This segues into track four, Sammi’s guitar taking the angst-ridden tone up yet another notch, rhythm section rumbling ominously beneath, all the way through to a horror-movie crescendo where Garzone’s tenor bleats, gasps and finally gives up completely. The effect is viscerally chilling.

But there’s a happy ending. Eade’s consoling voice signals in a gentle waltz and an equally warm, reassuring Sammi solo on track five, Icecream and Tears, Please, followed by the catchy, even blithe Hallways, Garzone tossing off a second clever, playful Trane quote (no spoilers here – get the cd and hear it for yourself). The all-too-brief concluding chorale has Eade soaring over Sammi’s triumphantly Spanish-inflected fingerwork. It’s kind of scary and it’s awfully good. Keep an eye on this guy, he’s really got a feel for a remarkably wide expanse of emotions and ideas.


November 4, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gypsy Schaeffer – New Album

These guys are funny: Boston quartet Gypsy Schaeffer’s website bills them as “traditional straight ahead free jazz,” wisely giving themselves license to get away with pretty much anything they want. True to its title, this is a new album, but they could have called it “good album” or even “excellent album” and they wouldn’t be overstating it. Be aware that there’s nothing remotely gypsy about this band. Trombonist/bandleader Joel Yennior is a known commodity for his innovative work with Either/Orchestra; saxist Andy Voelker leads the aptly titled Wild Sextet, the house band at popular Boston-area hotspot Matt Murphy’s Pub in Brookline. Bassist Jef Charland and drummer/author Chris Punis make a rhythm section that just jumps out at you, Charland’s strikingly melodic, terse sensibility a good match for the alternately straight-ahead and colorful stylings of Punis, riding the traps and keeping the group’s adventurous excursions from going completely off the rails. Notwithstanding all their free jazz associations, this is an often stunningly melodic album. To the band’s further credit, it’s often utterly impossible to differentiate between composition and improvisation here: the jams sound composed, and even the catchiest passages tend to fly off the page in a split-second. It’s a brightly convivial, smartly cheery ride.

 

The cd’s opening cut builds off a characteristically simple, catchy, upbeat hook over Punis’ boogie-inflected beat, everything eventually flying apart and then coming together again. The second track, Live a Little is a showcase for chemistry and how well the band listen to each other, the rhythm stepping along but not gingerly as the horns go separate but equal to a sudden, quick, catchy chorus. Yennior gets confident and bluesy, then Voelker takes it further outside as Charland fans the flames with chords, Yennior bringing it back to the head while Voelker defiantly stands upwind and continues his diatribe.

 

The wonderfully titled Grape Soda and Pretzels, a Charland composition, testifies to one of the great snack combinations with a Penny Lane feel, bass soloing deftly and minimalistically off the melody, Yennior using all of his available range, almost like a trumpeter, as is his custom. Like many of the pieces here, this one segues into the next track with slowly pacing bass and drum accents, trombone, then pensive sax and suddenly the rhythm section goes on a roll. And now they’re in the next tune, Welcome Edison, warmly exploratory over balmy sax as Punis colors it and Charland anchors it with a pretty hook. There’s another segue, into Double Quartet with some strangely muted work from Yennior, a fanfare and echoes from Voelker.

 

The catchiness returns on the swing tune Shark Tank, boisterous trombone offering hints of the blues, contrasting nicely with a minimalist Charland solo and innumerable false endings as Punis thrashes around on the ground – and finally a gorgeous horn chart out of it. It’s unclear if the next track, Exuberant Irrationalism is a political statement, but it could be, a foghorn call on the trombone to open it, bass swinging purposeful and halfspeed over a shuffle beat, scurrying along to where Voelker goes off again and Yennior responds with insistent quarter notes, pulling it all back together. After a couple more segues into contemplative, conversational rubato-land, the cd wraps up with Identity Crisis, sax squeaking playful but ever-present in the background,Yennior carrying the melody over swinging bass while Punis alternates between clearing brush and standing back watching everybody to see how much they’ve been goofing off while he’s been working hard. If you’ve made it this far, you now know much fun this band has and hopefully have a picture of how much more interesting it would actually be to put this on the ipod and give it a listen.

 

Gypsy Schaeffer are more than generous with their music, offering all sorts of free bonus tracks at their site. With all the band members busy with other gigs, there’s nothing on their live calendar at the moment: watch this space for upcoming dates. Either/Orchestra plays Regattabar in Cambridge, MA on May 1.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment