Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

High-Voltage, Picturesque, Purposeful New Jazz Epics From the Alchemy Sound Project

The Alchemy Sound Project’s new album Afrika Love – streaming at youtube – comes across as one of those recordings which under less duress would have been a 2020 release, and maybe a bit longer. It’s fantastic as it is, with picturesque, edgy compositions from each of the band’s core members and an acerbic, often combustible blend of very distinct, individual voices. There’s a lot happening in these songs. Pianist Sumi Tonooka, multi-reed players Salim Washington and Erica Lindsay, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack and bassist David Arend are joined by trombonist Michael Ventoso and drummer Chad Taylor.

The album kicks off with The Fountain, a biting clave tune by Arend, featuring bubbly horn riffage, a marvelously elusive Washington tenor sax solo winding around and behind a bracing rise. Tonooka’s careeningly rhythmic solo backs away for a tense tenor duel between Washington and Lindsay as Taylor builds the perfect storm. One doesn’t expect a composer collective to be this unhinged, or have this much fun.

Dark Blue Residue, a Tonooka tune has a similarly assertive but more syncopated rhythmic drive, Taylor just slightly more restrained through ambered horn passages, Arend’s elastic leaps anchoring a terse, considered piano solo. It’s an aptly conflicted portrait of the memory of friendship: play this for someone whose friends were brain-drained out of a place like New York in the months following March 16 of last year.

Washington begins Afrika Love – a dramatic, suspenseful shout-out to his South African countryman, pianist Afrika Mkhize – with a moody oboe solo based on Zulu modes. Arend’s stinging riff signals a fondly soaring Boshnack solo, Taylor’s relentless turbulence enhanced by ominous harmonies from Ventoso and Lindsay. Bracing, rapidfire solos from Lindsay and Washington bookend Tonooka’s decisive move to part the clouds and introduce a subtle shift to waltz time.

Boshnack is a devoted fan of the outdoors, reflected in The Cadillac of Mountains. A regally shuffling theme hints at New Orleans and then subsides for a gorgeously lyrical clarinet duet between Washington (on bass clarinet) and Lindsay, the latter shifting to tenor and soaring skyward. Taylor – who kills on this album, again and again – gets a secret cha-cha going, Arend a spring-loaded wild card against the horns’ cohesive comfort.

With its wry Ellington allusions, stately rhythms and wistfully lyrical horn lines punctuated by the rhythm section’s incisions, the album’s concluding cut, Kesii is Lindsay’s shout-out to a friend who died recently at 107. Clearly, this was a life well lived. Count this tantalizingly short album as one of the best of 2021 so far.

June 6, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Intense, Hauntingly Blues-Infused George Washington Carver Tribute From James Brandon Lewis

Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ forthcoming album Jesup Wagon – streaming at Spotify– comes across as the logical follow-up to JD Allen‘s withering, darkly erudite trio album, Americana. Both sax players plunge to the depths of the blues, typically in minor keys: Allen with his someday-iconic trio, Lewis with a quintet. Lewis’ album is more high-concept. It’s a series of tone poems in tribute to George Washington Carver, complete with some acerbic spoken word by the bandleader. In terms of concisely impactful, purposefully executed ideas, this is one of the best albums of the year.

He takes the album title from the agricultural wagon that Carver invented. He opens with the title track, a stark minor-key blues riff, meticulously modulated. Then he adds the extended technique and a wide palette of dynamics. The rhythm section – William Parker on bass and Chad Taylor on drums – enters with a jaunty shuffle, cornetist Kirk Knuffke taking a first flurrying solo. From there, Lewis expands on the blues with a purist growl

Parker switches to the magically incisive Moroccan sintir bass lute to join with cellist Chris Hoffman as a two-man bass section in the gnawa-inflected blues Lowlands of Sorrow: imagine a Randy Weston tune without the piano. Knuffke sounds the alarm, fires off biting chromatics and sets up the bandleader’s 5-7-1 riffage; the two duel it out memorably at the end.

The whole band exchange disquietly off-center harmonies but coalesce for insistent echo phrases as Taylor builds tumbling intensity in the third number, Arachis. Lewis’ smoky, squawking defiance in resisting a return to home base eventually inspires Knuffke to do the same; Parker is the rumbling voice of reason.

The marching dynamic is similar in Fallen Flowers, with strong echoes (in every sense of the word) of Civil Rights Era Coltrane. Hoffman chooses his spots, with and without a bow as Taylor keeps an altered hip-hop groove going with his pointillistic hits on the rims and hardware. Flutters and flurries agitate and disperse; Lewis sneaks a little faux backward masking in to see if anyone’s listening.

Knuffke and Hoffman trade steady, workmanlike lines as Experiment Station gets underway, ragtime through a very dark funhouse mirror. Lewis’ steely, rapidfire focus and fanged, trilling crescendo are the high point of the record. Knuffke’s Balkan allusions over Taylor’s expanding crash keep the blaze going, Parker serving as the rugged, boomy axle on which all this turns. They wind it down gingerly but methodically.

Taylor plays mbira on Seer, Parker propelling it with a slow bounce; the African instrument adds a surreal edge to an indelibly African series of minor blues riffs. The group’s concluding epic, Chemurgy has a hypnotically circling bounce, sending a final salute out to Coltrane, and the blues, and Carver, Knuffke’s sturdy cornet, and Lewis’ insistent and meticulous variations – and wise, knowing conclusion – a reminder how much struggle was involved to get to this point.

Lewis’ next gig is May 1 at around noon with his Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Taylor on drums in Central Park, on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side as part of Giant Step Arts’ ongoing weekend series there. The trio are followed at 1-ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums

April 25, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Muhal Richard Abrams Leaves Us With a Knowing Wink

Muhal Richard Abrams knew as much about writing for large improvising ensembles as anyone who ever lived. So it’s no surprise that one of his late largescale works, Soundpath, would be as erudite as it is playful and fun. The seventeen-piece Warriors of the Wonderful Sound’s new recording – streaming at Bandcamp – is creative jazz as entertainment, a lively, dynamic uninterrupted, roughly forty-minute suite.

The group are a mix of big names, up-and-coming players and familiar faces from the free jazz demimonde. They unfold this brighty, brassy theme and variations symphonically, with plenty accommodation for individual contributions. Abrams uses every trick in the book to his advantage: false endings, suspenseful foreshadowing with varying numbers of voices, and conversations everywhere. The full ensemble is only engaged all at once in maybe twenty percent of the piece, if that. Otherwise, it’s remarkably spacious, with lots of pairings and moments where the whole orchestra emphatically punches in and out.

The genial, brassy floating swing behind the opening theme recurs throughout the performance, but there are plenty of airy interludes where the rhythm drops out. Pianist Tom Lawton excels in the bad-cop role: he’s the only one who gets anything in the way of disquieting modes. Bassist Michael Formanek is as much rhythmic center, maybe more than drummer Chad Taylor, the latter of whom gets to lead the shenanigans as the coda, with its innumerable moments of amusement, gathers steam.

While there are interludes where this could be any reasonably inspired chordless trio kicking into an energetic solo from the horn player, this is more about interplay, whether via jousting, or the whole ensemble in contrast to a soloist. Bass trombonist Jose Davila’s wryly gruff solo gets a very subtle but no less amusing reality check from Taylor, on his rims. After walking the changes for much of the time, Formanek finally gets to carry a thematic variation by himself amid the orchestra’s densely hovering atmosphere.

There’s a vastly dynamic, duotone-spiced tenor solo – sounds like that’s Hafez Modirzadeh – which cues Taylor that it’s time to introduce a steady clave; the way the polyrhythms shift from there is artful to the extreme. The ending is pure Beethoven: try listening all the way through without smiling. Impossible. At a time when in most parts of the world, music like this is not only illegal to invite an audience to, but also illegal to play, we need recordings like this more than ever to remind us how desperately we need to return to normal. A triumph from a cast that also includes ringleader Bobby Zankel and his fellow alto saxophonists, Marty Ehrlich and Julian Pressley; Mark Allen on baritone sax; Robert Debellis on tenor sax;, Steve Swell, Michael Dessen and Al Patterson on trombones; Duane Eubanks, Josh Evans and Dave Ballou on trumpets; and Graham Haynes on cornet.

January 18, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Darkly Focused, Kinetic Themes and Improvisations From Pianist Mara Rosenbloom

Pianist Mara Rosenbloom picked the most politically-charged possible title for her new album: Respiration. From George Floyd to the average corporate employee struggling for oxygen through his or her muzzle, that’s the one thing – other than basic human rights – that the world didn’t get enough of in 2020. To be clear, Rosenbloom made this record with her trio, bassist Sean Conly and drummer Chad Taylor, just prior to the lockdown. She got her start as an elegantly tuneful composer and bandleader, has very eclectic credits as a sidewoman and has drifted further into the more adventurous reaches of pure improvisation in the last couple of years.

The album – streaming at Bandcamp – doesn’t have the raw, feral intensity of what’s been her career-defining release so far, 2016’s Prairie Burn. It’s more somber and concise than viscerally crushing, if just as tuneful – as you would expect, with an intro based on a theme by the iconic Amina Claudine Myers. That turns out to be a loopy little latin-tinged thing with subtle accents from the bass.

Things pick up quickly from there with The Choo, which is just plain gorgeous. Rosenbloom’s warmly insistent, gospel-tinged lefthand anchors an increasingly anthemic soul song without words set to a muted shuffle beat, which she takes it down to a long, spare, summery, mostly solo outro.

The group improvise a lingering yet rhythmic transition aptly titled Daydream into a duskily otherworldly, rubato take of Caravan mashed up with Connie’s Groove, a similarly enigmatic, dancing Connie Crothers homage.

She keeps the uneasy modaliaties going in Uncertain Bird, veering in and out of purist, darkly ambered blues as the rhythm section kick things around, down to a tantalizingly fleeting, ghostly interlude and then back as an altered waltz. In The Ballad for Carolyn Trousers (Carol in Trousers), Rosenbloom skirts a famous Chopin theme and makes it vastly more lighthearted, once again blending in the blues over an allusive 3/4 groove.

Conly breaks out his bow and Taylor tumbles mutedly while the bandleader builds haunting, spacious minor-key lustre in their take of the spiritual Have Mercy Upon Us: her relentless, minimalist mantra of an outro is arguably the high point of the album.

She returns to the album’s opening circularity in Ramblin’ on Her Mind, inspired by the Lightnin’ Hopkins version of the blues standard. To close the record, Rosenbloom draws the band back into Caravan as a saturnine march out. You are going to see this on a lot of best-of-2020 pages this year.

November 17, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Fearlessly Funny, Politically-Inspired Trip From Trumpeter Jaimie Branch

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch‘s latest album Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise – streaming at Bandcamp – is her most surreal, amusing yet also ferociously relevant album yet. The centerpiece is the fiery diptych Prayer for Amerikkka, opening with Lester St. Louis’ gingerly incisive cello riffs. Branch’s trumpet defiantly shouts above a gloomy, swaying, starkly gospel-tinged sway from bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Chad Taylor. “We got a bunch of wide-eyed racists, coming for you as they dig in your paychecks – they think they run this shit,” Branch snarls as the guys in the band do a surreal call-and-response behind her. The strings flutter ominously, then shift to a brisk, increasingly lush pulse. “What is love when it’s all just memory, in solitude – this is a warning, honey, they’re coming for you!” Branch follows with a scream, then twelve-string guitarist Matt Schneider fuels a flamenco-tinged stampede out.

Branch opens the album with Birds of Paradise, a hypnotic, balafon-like loop and seagull-scape. After her mighty two-part broadside, an increasingly agitated string interlude leads into Twenty Three n Me: Jupiter Redux, its catchy, brightly loopy theme sailing over a steady clave and background squall, peaking with an explosively echoey vortex.

Jungly samples and a spare, echoing bass/cello duet introduce Simple Silver Surfer, a ridiculously surreal, spikily vamping faux-surf tune that Branch finally pushes toward New Orleans. Slow tectonic shifts permeate the album’s title track, then Taylor’s playfully tumbling drums take over and segue into the jubilant Nuevo Roquero Estereo, reprising the album’s loopy opening theme with spare, terse trumpet riffage and dubwise electronics.

Branch winds up the record with an irresistibly hilarious, catchy oldschool soul groove titled Love Song, dedicated to “all those assholes and all those clowns out there, you know who you are.” Her talking trumpet will have you rolling on the floor: it’s the best straight-up dis recorded this year. What an unselfconsciously, ridiculously fun album.

December 21, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Wild, Entertaining Album from Marc Ribot

Guitarist Marc Ribot‘s intense, brilliant new Live at the Village Vanguard album (due out May 13 from Pi Recordings) is all about tension and suspense, fueled by his fondness for noise and assault on one hand, and his laserlike sense of melody on the other. To say that Ribot is at the peak of his powers right now is pretty amazing, considering that about 25 years ago he was hyped as being something that no living, breathing musician could possibly live up to. In the years since, he’s come to integrate his squalling, shredding centerstage persona with a stunning command of idioms from across the musical spectrum. Who knew that Ribot was a genius country player? Tift Merritt did, and that’s why she hired him. Even by Ribot’s standards, he’s got a hectic series of shows coming up starting on May 11 at 8 PM with his Ceramic Dog trio (with bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith) at Rough Trade on an edgy twinbill with Chris Cochrane’s Collapsible Shoulder with Brian Chase, Mike Duclos and Kevin Bud Jones. The next day Ribot is at le Poisson Rouge with this album’s brilliant, cross-generational rhythm section, Henry Grimes on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Then on May 13 at 8 Ribot plays a live score to Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’ at Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave. And on May 16 his group Los Cubanos Postizos is back at the Poisson Rouge at 7:30ish.

This is a characteristically ambitious effort, recorded during Ribot’s first stand as a bandleader at the Vanguard. It starts with a fifteen-minute one-chord jam and ends with a surprisingly straight-ahead, bluesmetal-tinged romp with a long, suspensefully shuffling drum solo. A lot of it is twisted, evil black magic. But there’s also a gentle, sincere, straight-up trad version of I’m Confessin worthy of Jim Hall. While that testifies to Ribot’s legendary mutability, it’s his signature stuff here that stuns a noisy crowd, beginning with the night’s first number, Coltrane’s Dearly Beloved, Grimes opening it with a neatly shifting, bowed introduction that takes them by surprise. From there, Ribot pulls purposefully and then frenetically against the center, through rises and dips, a brief, haunting, nebulously Middle Eastern interlude, skronk-funk, unimpeded squall and a grimly lowlit drum solo to which Ribot adds eerie blue-light flickers. It’s as much psychedelic art-rock as it is jazz, and it’s riveting.

They segue into Albert Ayler’s The Wizard, done essentially as a boogie with similar dynamic shifts, Ribot holding the center throughout Grimes’ utterly unexpected, marvelously spacious solo before wailing back into goodnatured bluesmetal tempered with downtown grit. By contrast, Old Man River is a clinic in restraint: you can tell that everybody, especially Taylor – who, with his restless rolls and jabs, absolutely owns this number – wants to cut loose but knows they have to chill. Again, Grimes chooses his spots with a spare majesty: it’s a treat to hear somebody as out-there as he can be playing with such a dark, austere intensity. They start Coltrane’s Sun Ship pretty straight-up – if you can call Ribot’s sunbaked, distorted tone straight-up – before taking it into jagged, sidestepping ferocity and then some boisterous leapfrogging from Taylor.  The album’s longest track is Bells, skirting a low-key ballad theme, like Bill Frisell feeling around for some steady footing, negotiating circular, hypnotic spirals, Grimes’ focus anchoring Ribot’s jagged let’s-peel-the-walls shards, droll Stephen Foster quotes and a second-line tinged solo from Taylor. The subtext here is Albert Ayler, with whom Grimes played at the Vanguard the last time he was onstage there prior to his show – almost half a century ago.  You can expect all this and much more at any of Ribot’s upcoming shows, especially at the Poisson Rouge gig on the 12th.

May 6, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment