Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Considering the Prospects For Adam O’Farrill’s Daunting Technique and Compositional Chops

Even if trumpeter Adam O’Farrill hadn’t made such a big splash as a twenty-year-old phenom in Rudresh Mahanthappa’s band, or if he wasn’t heir to a brilliant jazz legacy that goes back three generations to his grandfather Chico O’Farrill, he’d still be one of his era’s most in-demand players. When pianist Chris Pattishall got a gig to livescore the debut of visual artist Kambui’s new video project, Where Does the Time Go this coming Weds, Nov 15 at 7:30 at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street, he immediately brought in O’Farrill as a sparring partner. Which testifies to his reputation as an improviser as well as a sideman. Pattishall is no slouch as an improviser, either: this performance could school a lot of players.

O’Farrill is also a composer, with several tracks to his credit on his debut album Stranger Days, streaming at Sunnyside Records. It’s a lot of fun, and the lineup is somewhat unorthodox for a debut – two horns, bass and drums. Not to be disrespectful to young composers, but there are plenty of guys twice O’Farrill’s age who can’t write tunes as purposeful as the numbers here. Being a bigtime movie fan probably has a lot to do with the vividness of his sonic narratives.

The album title is a pun, and it’s apt, referencing both the Camus novel as well as our surreal times. The album opens with the optimistically waltzing harmonies of A & R Italian Eatery, O’Farriull and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown bantering like a couple of garrulous oldtimers in the neighborhood pizza joint. O’Farrill’s similarly brliliant brother Zack adds sparkle and spatter against Walter Stinson’s sinuous bass.

A fluttery solo trumpet approximation of waves licking the beach opens the epic The Stranger, then the bandleader takes an allusively North African tangent as a shout to the novel’s enigmatic protagonist. From there the band shuffle, then march with a Mingus-inspired grit, the brothers in the band messing with the time and pushing their instruments’ outer edges: the fun these guys are having is contagious. Long, exploratory, unresolved solos from each horn player give way to moody minimalism from the bass and drums before the procession resumes. Does anybody get shot? No spoilers here.

Stinson’s terse solo base interchange with moody horn harmonies peppered by latin-tinged rimshots in Survival Instincts. Why She Loves, by Stinson, begins with low-key, amiable solo sax; slinky syncopation and tense close harmonies follow until the brothers in the band bust through the clouds, clearing a path for the bass to bop around.

Aligator Got the Blues rises from moody, blues-infused atmospherics to a latin slink and then a strut as the sax bobs and weaves; they take it out with argumentative New Orleans horns and wind it back somberly. Another Stinson tune, Forget Everything You’ve Learned At School follows a byzantine if ultimately triumphant path out of frustration with routine and repetition: no wonder everybody can’t wait til the school day is over!

The album’s most ambitious point is a triptych that begins with The Cows and Their Farmer Walt, inspired by the famous 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Band Concert, with the satirical, buffoonish feel of a Mostly Other People Do the Killing parody piece: everybody chews the scenery, with irresistibly amusing results. The Courtroom keeps this silly, conversational narrative going “as a judge (bass), a politician (sax), and an environmental scientist (trumpet) try to come to terms with what happened after this natural disaster, not to mention what happened to the cows and their farmer.” It concludes with the funky math of Building the Metamorphosen Bridge

The album closes with Lower Brooklyn Botanical Union, a jaunty swing shuffle and joint shout-out to Strayhorn and the brothers’ pioneering latin jazz composer grandfather. It’s impressively eclectic stuff from a guy whose ceiling seems to be pretty unlimited – and a good indication of what he might pull out of thin air at the Lincoln Center gig on Wednesday.

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November 9, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Singularly Memorable, Moody Narrative from Jorn Swart

The thing you have to  know about the central character in Jorn Swart‘s new quasi-narrative album A Day in the Life of Boriz is that Boriz goes around in circles a lot. Sometimes the guy chases his tail. And that’s iintentional. There’s a tragicomic quality to Swart’s moodily sophisticated themes on this quartet session, where the pianist teams up with tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, bassist Scott Colberg and drummer Dan Pugach. The group plays the album release show at 7 PM on Jan 12 at Spectrum.

The album opens with a stroll of sorts, Amsterdam in Grey, its circular themes passing from instrument to instrument, Swart prowling minimalistically and then taking it up to where the sax brings in a more lighthearted contrast to the moody mechanistics underneath. The following track, Fiets, works off a creepily dancing, marionettish, Monk-inflected theme and then makes its way through more than one false ending: Lefkowitz-Brown’s solo, where he defies any reference to the melody before moving slowly and almost deviously back toward the center, is one of the album’s high points.

A Day in the Life of Boriz Pt. 2 sets peevish upper-register sax over Swart’s moody prelude – if only poor Boriz could get rid of the nagging, he’d be ok! Autunn Nostalgia brings back the hint of a stroll, Swart eventually taking it up to a long, nocturnally neoromantic interlude before introducing a full-on nostalgic feel that Pugach lights up with his artfully spacious cymbal work.

After the smoky, reflective ballad The Duke, Monk and More – a mashup of familiar themes –  they return to third-stream terrain for Snurdie Furdie, full of neoromantic disquiet, moving back and forth between variations on an eerie circular phrase and a wistful pastoral theme. Then Swart brings back more Monk allusions with And Never Again, Colberg’s dancing lines disguising the modal menace at the center of the tune,  Pugach again building a slow crescendo that takes everybody but the band by surprise.

The strongest tune here – the hit single, if you want to call it that – is Sara, a steady, moody jazz waltz, Swart keeping it enigmatic and resisting any kind of resolution until the very end. A Day in the Life of Boriz Pt. 1 maintains the somber mood, Lefkowitz-Brown’s chromatically-charged spirals against Swart’s darkly glistening classicisms. The album ends with a darkly spacious miniature. Throughout these tunes, Swart reveals an individaulistic voice and a welcome tendency not to shy away from darkness. Although on a couple of the tracks here, the endlessly looping phrases get close to overkill point- or is that just part of the narrative, poor Boriz stuck on the treadmill?

January 5, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Natalie Cressman

Natalie Cressman doesn’t waste notes. The up-and-coming trombonist’s new album Unfolding, with her group Secret Garden, has a coolly resonant, springlike quality. Cressman’s compositions are remarkably translucent, her motifs are strong and memorable, yet this isn’t an album of big crescendos or pummeling intensity: you have to wait until her mentor Peter Apfelbaum’s long, intricately constructed tenor solo on the final track for any of that. As you might expect from a trombonist, there are occasional latin tinges, with a handful of wry allusions to classics from decades past. An airily pensive atmosphere dominates here, although some of the songs are lighter and more carefree. She brings out a singleminded performance from a crew of similarly up-and-coming players: trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, keyboardist Pascal Le Boeuf, Dutch bassist Ruben Samama and drummer Jake Goldbas.

Insistent Lee Morgan-style riffage kicks off the opening cut, Flip, Cressman establishing a terse, contemplative vibe with her initial solo. She also sings, in a clear, unadorned high soprano, contributing vocalese here and then singing her own wistful lyrics on Whistle Song, which artfully maintains a low-key backdrop for more of her cooly soulful trombone. Then the band takes a stab at reinventing Honeysuckle Rose as neo-soul: not necessarily a bad idea, but this one should have been left on the cutting-room floor.

Cressman likes echo motifs, so it’s no surprise she’d use that as the title of the next track, an attractively direct jazz waltz set to subtle rhythmic shifts with a lot of nimble pass-the-baton. She follows that with the funk-tinged, pointillistically dancing Skylight, featuring rather considered and strong solos from Samama and Rosenberg. Her take on Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is especially ambitious in that she sings Joni Mitchell’s lyrics. While she doesn’t have Mitchell’s range or nuance – who does? – the band rises to the occasion and outdoes the cast on the Mitchell version, maintaining an elegaic bittersweetness. They follow that with the artfully constructed Waking, with its echo effects and arpeggiated voicings – it has the feel of a catchy Weather Report number but with a more comfortably subdued rhythm section.

Reaching for Home allusively reaches for a 40s jazz-pop ballad feel, with nimbly incisive solos back-to-back from tenor and trumpet. The final track, That Kind, gives Apfelbaum a launching pad for one of his signature raveups: it’s a clinic in how to create something magnificent out of the simplest building blocks, Cressman following it with her most memorable contribution to the album, her trombone shifting in and out of modal shadows.

Not that this should be a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning that Cressman, a member of Apfelbaum’s NY Hieroglyphics, is 20 years old. Her trombonist dad Jeff is a member of Santana; she also has a money gig on the jamband circuit. This album establishes her as someone to keep an eye on.

September 21, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Joe Gilman’s New Album Gets Synesthesia

A cynic would say that when musicians aren’t stealing ideas from each other, they’re stealing them from other artists. Some of the tracks on jazz pianist Joe Gilman’s new cd Americanvas seem to be an attempt to sonically interpret a series of fairly well-known works of visual art; others simply use the paintings as inspiration. More often than not, this approach works, in ways that are surprising and surprisingly fun. As one of the head honchos at the Brubeck Institute, Gilman has access to some of the world’s most promising up-and-coming jazz talent, and puts them to good use. Here he’s joined by saxophonists Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown along with 19-year-old bassist Zach Brown and fearless 20-year-old drummer Adam Arruda, who absolutely owns this album.

Fast-forward past the opening cut, which is like Rick Wakeman at his most olympic. Instead, savor the devious, playful, absolutely spot-on Where the Wild Things Are, a Maurice Sendak homage – it has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the book. Arruda has a field day, in both senses of the word, with this, bounding and rumbling all the way through, ever-present but never to the point where the ostentation might get annoying. Gilman’s hop-skip-and-a-jump piano solo brings the adventure to the point where the monsters appear, the soprano sax goes modal and they go out in a quietly glorious, chordally-charged shimmer. Roy Lichtenstein’s Whaam! gets a bustling, rapidfire, unselfconsciously cartoonish rendering; Keith Haring’s Monkey Puzzle (no relation to the Saints album that preceded it) gets a surprisingly serious, straight-up swing treatment with expansive lyrical piano solo and genially smoky tenor sax. The standout piece in this gallery is, unsurprisingly, Nighthawks, which interprets the iconic Edward Hopper diner tableau as Huis Clos (look closely: there’s no exit). After Gilman’s slow noir ambience sets the stage, there’s a very long, very slowly unwinding tenor solo, and then a casually stunning shift: waiter? Garcon? Whichever the case, the alto sax offers a welcome break from the long, long night…until he leaves, and it’s back in Gilman’s lowlit fingers.

Romare Bearden’s classic New York at Night appears here as the vividly evocative Nocturne du Romare, Brown’s agile bass walking it lickety-split beneath late 50s-inflected solos around the horn. The moody, catchy Yellow, Red, Blue – a Rothko reference – echoes with Mulatu Astatke-ish circularity and another sudden shift from sinister to sunny, Arruda’s big, irresistibly fun, dramatic cymbal accents as effective here as they are in several other places on this disc. Other tracks here include a subtly interlocking exercise in contrapuntal melody and tempo shifts, and a viscerally anxious Scott Collard ballad carried by the reeds. It’s out now on Capri Records.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment