Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jazz Icons Salute a Fallen Hero at Roulette

Composer and saxophonist Joseph Jarman was one of the most important forces in serious improvised concert music over the past fifty years. A founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (better known as the AACM) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Jarman would go on to a second and similarly acclaimed career teaching and running an aikido martial arts studo in Brooklyn during the latter part of his life. An allstar lineup from both of those careers saluted him with a frequently rapturous, haunting performance Saturday night at Roulette.

His longtime bandmate, drummer Thurman Barker, offered a revealing insight into how Jarman wrote: his long-toned, slowly unfolding compositions wouldn’t have such fiuid beauty if they’d been faster, or caught in a steady rhythm. And Barker was right: Jarman wrote many of the AACM’s best-known tunes. Barker spiced a couple of largescale Jarman numbers with all sorts of rattling flourishes, echoed by many of the other members of the Lifetime Visions Orchestra, playing a small museum’s worth of rattles from Jarman’s personal collection just as he would have done when not playing sax. Or reading his poetry, or acting out some kind of surreal performance art: he was a renaissance guy.

In keeping with the compositions, the band kept their lines precise and bittersweet: some of the highlights were an allusively modal one from acoustic guitarist John Ehlis, a fond fanfare from saxophonist Douglas Ewart, a more emphatic one from saxophonist Jessica Jones and some meticulously misty atmospherics from drummer Rob Garcia.

A trio which included Ewart and pianist Bernadette Speach offered a smaller-scale take on similarly pensive, heartfelt themes. Saxophonist Oliver Lake and drummer Pheeroan akLaff picked up the pace with some welcome rolling thunder, while trumpet icon Wadada Leo Smith led a trio through more spare, otherworldly territory. Roscoe Mitchell was ailing and couldn’t make it to the show, so a quartet of saxophonist Henry Threadgill, drummer Reggie Nicholson, organist Amina Claudine Myers and guitarist Brandon Ross closed the night with an achingly gorgeous series of waves. Threadgill slashed and jabbed while Myers built calm, sometimes gospel-inflected swaths; Ross’ angst-fueled, David Gilmour-esque leads were arguably the nigth’s most beautiful moments out of many.

Roulette has all sorts of similarly good jazz coming up next month, beginning on June 4 at 8 PM with bassist Nick Dunston premiering his new suite La Operación for soprano voice, two alto saxes, two basses and two percussionists. cover is $18 in advance. It’s also worth giving a shout-out to the venue for not being cashless – remember, #cashless=apartheid – you can get an advance ticket at the box office for cash on show nights.

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May 29, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Strange, Imaginative Night of Johnny Cash Covers at Symphony Space

Why – beyond Buttermilk Bar and the Jalopy, maybe – are punk bands the only people who cover Johnny Cash? Probably because it’s impossible to top the Man in Black. Plugging in and blasting Ring of Fire through a Fender Twin at least puts a fresh spin on an old chestnut. So in its own way, Symphony Space’s Saturday night Johnny Cash extravaganza was as challenging as any of their other annual, thematic, Wall to Wall marathons, from Bach, to Miles Davis, to the unforgettable Behind the Wall concert a few years back that spotlighted Jewish music from lands once locked behind the Iron Curtain.

The highlight of the first couple of hours of Wall to Wall Johnny Cash was jazz reinventions of mostly obscure songs. Some would say that making jazz out of Johnny Cash makes about as much sense as jazzing up Pearl Jam. An even more cynical view is that a jazz take of a Cash song gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card if you end up murdering it. As it turned out, not all the early stuff was jazz, and a lot of it wasn’t Johnny Cash either. Left to choose their own material, pretty much everybody gave themselves the additional leeway of picking songs covered rather than written by Cash. Badass resonator guitarist Mamie Minch did that with a Neil Diamond number and wowed the crowd with her ability to hit some serious lows, while blue-eyed soul chanteuse Morley Kamen did much the same with a similar template, several octaves higher. And banjo player/one-man band Jason Walker got all of one tune, at least early on, but made the most of it.

Representing the oldschool downtown Tonic/Stone contingent, guitarist/singer Janine Nichols lent her signature, uneasily airy delivery to There You Go and Long Black Veil, veering toward elegant countrypolitan more on the former than the latter while lead guitarist Brandon Ross matched her with spare, lingering washes of sound. Eric Mingus brought a starkly rustic, electrically bluesy guitar intensity and then a defiant gospel attack after switching to bass while tenor saxophonist Catherine Sikora made the most impactful statements of anyone during the early moments with her stark, deftly placed, eerily keening overtone-laced polytonalities. Extended technique from a jazz sax player, the last thing you’d expect to hear at a Johnny Cash cover night…but she made it work.

Word on the street is that the later part of the evening was much the same as far as talent was concerned, lots of people moving across the stage while the music went in a more bluegrass direction. And there’s a rumor that the venue will have another free night of Cash around this time a year from now.

April 27, 2015 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wadada Leo Smith Does It Again

Forget for a minute that Wadada Leo Smith’s new album Dark Lady of the Sonnets, with his trio Mbira, is a summit meeting of three of the most compelling voices in jazz improvisation. More than anything, it’s a celebration of being alive. An intimately majestic, sometimes exuberant, warmly conversational album, it’s a must-own for fans of free jazz. Then again, that could be said about a lot of the Wadada Leo Smith, Min Xiao-Fen and Pheeroan akLaff catalogs. This particular session, recorded in 2007 in Finland and released worldwide just now on the reliably adventurous Tum Records label, captures the trio exploring Smith’s permutations on ancient Shona melodies from west Africa.

In the liner notes (which include comprehensive bios for each artist), Smith traces a line back from himself to Louis Armstrong, a connection that might not seem evident at first listen, but up close becomes very clear. Steeped in the blues as a child, Smith never lost that idiom’s terse soulfulness. What’s more, this album is remarkably rhythmic for a free jazz session, something that Smith’s cohorts here deserve credit for as well.

But first Smith goes back to a bell-like Miles Davis tone on the first track, Sarah Bell Wallace, a dedication to his mother, trumpet austerely calling for a dutiful response from spiky thickets of pipa plucking and rolling, suspenseful drums in turn. AkLaff’s signature drum sound, playing actual melody rather than simply rhythm, is in vivid effect here. It’s a warily soulful portrait of an indomitable woman who obviously knew suffering but rose above it and brought her family along.

Min Xiao-Fen, who is afraid of nothing and will play anything, is often the wild card here, bringing her signature sense of humor to Blues: Cosmic Beauty, a story of renewal. Peering up through Smith’s alternately flurrying and richly sustained, restrained lines, she swoops, dives and vocalizes a little, finally ceding to the trumpet on the chorus (much as there’s a great deal of improvisation going on, there’s a clearly defined architecture to all these works).

Zulu Water Festival, meant to evoke South Africans dancing on surface of a lake, juxtaposes a festive melody to a stately allusive groove and a strikingly spacious interlude held down by akLaff’s apprehensively nuanced, drony rumble. The title track, a Billie Holiday homage, puts the pipa player to work as a singer again, low and intimate as the conversation between instruments slowly rises, finally reaching bop fervor as Smith takes the trio out rattling and flurrying. The final track is a suite simply titled Mbira, a spiritually-inspired ballet based on Shona thumb piano music, with variations on a hypnotic circular theme. An animated dialogue between the three instruments swells and ebbs, with akLaff almost imperceptibly building to what seems like an inevitable crescendo with gorgeously nebulous washes of cymbals. Pipa, vocals and trumpet move from calm and sustained to agitated, Min finally swooping down coyly to meet Smith’s summoning call and then setting the whole thing ablaze with a forest of tremolo-picking as akLaff rumbles and leapfrogs his way out of it. It ends on an ambiguous note – maybe there’s a sequel lying in wait.

Also recently out on the Cuneiform label is Smith’s considerably more electric, aggressive and compositionally-oriented Heart’s Reflections double cd with his Organic band, featuring akLaff along with guitarists Michael Gregory and Brandon Ross along with a wide assortment of downtown New York types. Smith will be giving both of these bands a workout along with his Golden Quartet, Golden Quintet and Silver Orchestra as he celebrates his 70th birthday at the new Roulette space in Brooklyn on Dec 15 and 16 at 8 PM.

December 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment