Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jimmy Katz’s Heroic Efforts Bring Live Jazz Back to Central Park This Month

After a year of pure hell, it is such a pleasure to be able to spread the word about concerts the general public can attend without fear of getting arrested. While at this moment it doesn’t appear that indoor shows in New York will be allowed to resume in any normal sense until Andrew Cuomo is either impeached or otherwise removed from power, good things are happening all over the place and one of those places is Central Park.

In order to help imperiled jazz musicians who’d been unable to make money on tour, photographer Jimmy Katz and his nonprofit Giant Step Arts launched a series of free weekend concerts in the park last fall in honor of fallen civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis.

Fast forward to 2021: free states from Florida to the Dakotas are experiencing an economic boom, without the mounds of dead bodies that the fearmongers at CNN and NPR shrieked would result, but New York has still not rejoined the free world. So Katz has resumed booking weekends at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, partnering with Jazz Generation’s Keyed Up program this time around. The twinbill this Saturday, April 10 is a real change of pace. At noon, alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan leads a trio with bassist Phil Norris and drummer Robert Lotreck. Then at 1:30 everybody gets really free with bassist William Parker, who leads a trio with Cooper-Moore – presumably on keys – and Hamid Drake on percussion. The former Seneca Village site is on the west side between about 82nd and 89th Streets; enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up!

There’s a new Parker bio out, which doesn’t actually say much about his music beyond the discography at the end – which stretches for more than a dozen pages. That’s because Parker is sought out as the go-to guy on the bass for free improvisation: he literally doesn’t play anything the same way twice. The most recent addition to that whopping discography is the Dopolarians‘ mighty, symphonic new album The Bond – streaming at Bandcamp – a sextet session featuring Kelley Hurt on vocals, Christopher Parker on piano, Chad Fowler on alto sax, Marc Franklin on trumpet and Brian Blade on drums.

There are three sprawling tracks on the album: the longest is about half an hour and the shortest is around ten minutes long. That’s a good indication of the esthetic if not the sound of this Saturday’s show. The group open with the title track, insistently lingering piano chords anchoring warmly floating lines from the horns as the bass moves tersely around a pedal note. The music rises with a gospel-tinged jubilation to an AACM-like wall of sound as Fowler squalls, Franklin exercising his stairstepping power in tandem with the piano. Then everybody backs away for Hurt to join with her enveloping, dynamically electric vocalese.

From there subgroups engage the rest of the crew. Chris Parker’s McCoy Tyner-esque, drivingly rhythmic interlude over Blade’s hammering toms; William Parker’s coy echoes of that over spare, moody piano; Hurt’s haunting quasi-operatics over similarly eerie, Messiaenic piano, with the bass calm at the center. The stroll that results is genuinely funny, getting funnier and looser as it goes along. regal trumpet and piano trying to pull everybody back on the rails with mixed results. Moments like this are what fans of free improvisation live for.

Track two, The Emergence, is the whopper. Crazed flurries quickly recede for Chris Parker’s moody, minimalist modal chords as individual voices filter in and out overhead, William Parker adding carbonation and spice this time while Hurt and the horns linger. There’s a momentary dip to pensive vocals, bass and piano; desolate noir from sax and bass with a shivery crescendo; and resolute, anthemic yet restless and enigmatic themes from Chris Parker. The blues slowly makes its way in from the shadows via a darkly acerbic piano theme and variations. William Parker conjures up a bristling, chromatic oldtime gospel tune with his bow; the band eventually find their dancing shoes.

They close with The Release, its shifting overlays of brooding piano, airy sax and calm, resonant trumpet giving way to a careeningly summery oldschool soul vamp. Fowler and Franklin pair off as bad cop and good cop, the music crystallizing around a triumphant trumpet solo. There’s obviously a lot more than this going on: dive in and get lost. You can do that this weekend in Central Park too.

April 7, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Triumphant Protest Jazz Suite Celebrates a Landmark Arkansas Victory on the Long Road Toward Equality

Pianist Christopher Parker and singer Kelley Hurt initially conceived of their epic No Tears Suite  – streaming at Bandcamp – to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s landmark victory over racism in public education. Taking their title from Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir of the standoff, Warriors Don’t Cry, it blends spoken word, darkly lyrical jazz, some fascinating and troubling history, and a lavish Rufus Reid orchestral score.

The album comprises both the original septet arrangement, followed by a live large-ensemble version of the suite featuring the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. The initial overture begins with a series of wavelike variations, trumpeter Marc Franklin’s ambered lines over Parker’s ripples and foreshadowing: Wadada Leo Smith’s large-ensemble themes on the Ten Freedom Summers album are an obvious point of comparison.

Hurt enters over Parker’s darkly glittering phrases as the rhythm picks up, offering some historical background: the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the infamous deployment of the National Guard by racist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, and President Eisenhower’s final decision to provide a US Army escort so the students could finally start high school, almost a month late.

Parker opens To Be a Kid solo, rather somberly. As a jazz waltz develops, the music grows more carefree, with rather wistful horns over bassist Bill Huntington and drummer Brian Blade’s light-fingered groove, Franklin joined by Bobby LaVell on tenor sax and Chad Fowler on alto. The stark, rustic gospel quotes at the end leave no doubt that trouble is looming,

The band build slow, somber, rubato atmosphere as Roll Call gets underway, Hurt providing biographical background on each of the Little Rock Nine along with some of those who fought alongside them. The struggles these kids faced getting into the school were far from over: most of them soon moved away after Little Rock Central High closed down the following school year.

Don’t Cry (Warrior’s Song) blends a stern, Mingus-influenced swing with allusively gospel-inflected insistence and a regal, hard-hitting Parker solo, Hurt’s expressive mezzo-soprano resolute and understated. 

The September, 1957 crisis is over in two minutes of frantic bustle: Parker and Hurt can’t wait to Jubilate, reprising the waltz theme with gruffly joyous tenor sax, circling trumpet, bitingly modal piano and a summery, vampy, latin-tinged conclusion.

The orchestral version of the suite –  also available with the DVD and cd as a a digital-only component – is as titanic as you could hope for, yet remarkably subtle. Often it seems to be more of a piano concerto where the orchestra are engaged in frequent and unusually interesting ways. Some solos get switched out for dynamically shifting, artfully textured strings and brass. Delicious details abound: menacing bowed basses in the overture; Fowler jumping out of his shoes in To Be a Kid; LaVell closely shadowing Hurt’s narration in Roll Call. And Hurt goes off script for one of the suite’s most telling moments: “Bodies can be buried, but not the past,” she advises.

This album has special resonance this year as public education in many parts of the country continues to melt down. On one hand, tens of millions of students are celebrating. More often than not, compulsory education in this country was a waiting room for the prison-industrial complex, plagued by violence, sadistic regimentation and a curriculum built around conformist propaganda.

On the other, what’s going to happen to the motivated minority of students whose interest in learning hasn’t been crushed by the system? And where are those who inspired them going to teach? Even in the worst public schools, there were always a handful of heroes whose classrooms were an oasis of inspiration, a refuge from the battle raging outside. Anybody who thinks that American kids are going to put in ten hours of screen time, five days a week to watch some robot teach the test is living in an alternate universe.

September 24, 2020 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Broodingly Catchy, Lithely Orchestrated Album and a Week at the Vanguard by Pianist Edward Simon

Duke Ellington liked suites. So does Edward Simon. Likewise, the jazz icon and the Venezuelan pianist share classical roots, a genius for orchestration and a completely outside-the box sensibility. Simon’s latest album Sorrows and Triumphs – streaming at Bandcamp – reaffirms his darkly eclectic sensibility, interspersing material from two suites. The first is the broodingly orchestrated title suite, the second is his more rhythm-centered House of Numbers suite. The result is as lavishly hypnotic as it is incisive and edgy. Simon is bringing a stripped-down version of the band on the album – his Steel House trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade – to a stand at the Vanguard that runs from Jan 8 through the 13th, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 PM; cover is $35.

The album’s epic opening track, Incessant Desires begins with a misterioso rustle, chamber quartet the Imani Winds wafting over a tersely enigmatic series of hooks, alto saxophonist David Binney adding spaciously placed colors. Singer Gretchen Parlato joins them as the music rises joyously, guitarist Adam Rogers leading a pensive return downward. Darcy James Argue at his most plaintively lyrical is a strong reference point; Binney’s moody modal solo over Simon’s tense, distantly menacing glimmer as the wind ensemble circle around behind them could be the high point of the album.

The group keep the eerily dancing glimmer going with the circling counterpoint of Uninvited Thoughts, with piano that’s both carnivalesque and carnaval-esque. Once again, Binney adds judicious riffage, this time throughout a lively exchange with the wind ensemble.

The shadowy interweave between piano, guitar and Parlato’s tender yet assertive vocalese as Equanimity gets underway slowly reaches toward anthemic proportions. This time it’s Rogers who gets to take centerstage in the ongoing enigma: the sense of mystery throughout this album is pretty relentless.

With its persistently uneasy, often hypnotic piano chromatics, the winds weaving in and out, Triangle is equal parts Bernard Herrmann suspense film theme and Darcy James Argue altered blues. It’s the key to the album.

The balmiest, most atmospheric track is Chant, anchored by Rogers’ tremoloing guitar waves and Parlato’s gentle, encouraging vocals. Colley’s minimalist solo echoes Simon – and is that an organ, back in the mix, or just Rogers using a pedal?

Venezuela Unida, a shout-out to Simon’s home turf, has most of the band running a warily dancing melody together, then diverging into clever, tightly clustered polyrhythms. The sparse/ornate dichotomies and moody/ebullient contrasts as it winds up and out wouldn’t be out of place in the Maria Schneider playbook.

Triumphs is part circling indie classical, part terse latin jazz, Parlato’s misty mantras and Rogers’ wry oscillations at the center. The album’s slowly pulsing closing cut, Rebirth, is even more envelopingly stripped down. If this otherwise jauntily orchestrated masterpiece slipped under the radar for you in the past year’s deluge of albums, now’s as good a time to immerse yourself in Simon’s dark melodic splendor.

January 4, 2019 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edward Simon’s Trio Captured Memorably at the Jazz Standard

Pianist Edward Simon‘s Trio Live in New York at Jazz Standard documents a two-night stand at the sonically exquisite club in December of 2010 with John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums. It’s an expansively lyrical mix of third-stream originals, a bossa hit and an iconic sax tune, reinvented. Simon explores lots of long vamps punctuated by unexpected, momentary dynamic shifts, engaging the rhythm section throughout the set.

The band leaps right into an opening song without words, Poesia and within a minute Simon is tersely leaping and dancing, shadowed by Patitucci, who animates a plateau midway through, judicious and whispery against the pianist’s gleaming backdrop. Then the bass eases the trio into Jobim’s  Chovendo na Roseira and works a lullaby vamp that finally peaks with a series of climbs from the piano echoed with unexpected explosiveness from Blade. The otherworldly, starlit Pathless Path slowly coalesces into a moody, tangoish tune, Simon alternating a Riders on the Storm ripple with a stern chordal attack and then a neat rhythmic trick that Simon uses to springboard a long upward climb.

Giant Steps might seem an odd choice as a piano tune, but Simon’s methodical, allusively bluesy take is a revelation: it makes a fantastic practice piece for aspiring would-be Coltranes, complete with some vibrant piano/drum exchanges and a counterintuitively spacious, boomy Blade solo. The final number is Pere, the album’s most cohesive tune, fueled by Simon’s darkly lithe chromatics as the band rises and falls. This is one of those albums that takes awhile to get to know; it’s worth sticking with to discover its many intriguing moments.

September 2, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment