Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Firey String Sistas Simmer on the Hudson

Jazz played on stringed instruments in general is usually a springboard for new and interesting ideas. After all, string players can sustain notes that horn players have a harder time with, never mind having unlimited access to blue notes. There was a point toward the end of the Firey String Sistas’ rapturously memorable set Tuesday night at Pier 84 on the Hudson where in the middle of a funky, blues-infused swing tune, violinist Marlene Rice went completely off script and took a bracing downward solo that could have been in the quartertone scale.

More likely, it was in whatever scale she was feeling at the moment. Pianist Mala Waldron picked up the handoff and responded with an insistent attack that ramped up the intensity with rhythm rather than avant garde harmony. Drummer Camille Gainer-Jones, whose lithe brushwork gave the set a comfortable wide-angle swing, built a subtly turbulent crescendo while Rice harmonized acerbically with cellist and co-founder Nioka Workman. With jazz clubs officially off limits to all but a small, physically imperiled subcaste of New Yorkers right now, this show hit the spot, to say the least.

The group opened with Waldron on vocals as well as the keys. on one of her famous dad Mal Waldron’s tunes: she’s a fine singer, with a poignant, nuanced, coloristic delivery. Workman and Rice set the stage with their terse harmonies as ringer bassist Melvin Bullock – who’d signed up to be a “Firey String Brotha,” as Workman put it – bolstered the rhythm with his judiciously incisive boom and pulse.

They reinvented Cedar Walton’s To the Holy Land with a starkly resonant, intense rubato intro, then swung it with a rustic, brooding minor key gospel feel. Rice reached for the rafters; Workman went for deep, minor-key gospel plaintiveness.

Waldron sang a loose-limbed, unexpectedly funky take of Round Midnight, her calm reassurance contrasting with the enigmatic melody. The group’s take of I Remember You surprisingly did not have vocals and was more nocturnal, all the way through the solos. Rice’s most sizzling, rapidfire moment came in the original after that. The night’s closing number, a brand-new original, was the most bitingly catchy tune of the night, Gainer-Jones subtly driving the groove from funky syncopation to a persistent clave. Workman introduced the song as being inspired by the “current situation,” and left that to the crowd to interpret.

September 11, 2021 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gorgeous String Jazz Sounds at Manhattan’s Best Facsimile of a Real Jazz Joint These Days

What a beautiful early Friday evening in Central Park, under the trees north of the 81st Street entrance on the west side, a few blocks from where cellist Marika Hughes grew up. Playing to a sparse but attentive crowd with her brilliantly unorthodox New String Quartet, she joked about not spending much time here as a kid since she’d had her sights on greener pastures. Since then she’s explored and conquered innumerable styles of music, from classical to jazz to soul and funk and traditional Jewish sounds.

Seriously: what’s more gorgeous than a stark minor-key blues riff played on the cello? In a show that probably went for well over an hour (it’s been a work in progress figuring out the start times for the ongoing series here) Hughes fired off scores of them. Some were poignant, some had extra bite, and there were funny ones too. The highlights of this completely unamplified evening were a couple of bittersweetly swaying, pensive minor-key instrumentals, Hughes sending stardust spirals of harmonics into the ether, bowing down at the tailpece during one of them.

The set was a comfortable, conversational blend of sharp individual voices committed to creating a warmly welcoming, hopeful, deeply blues-infused ambience. It was weird watching Marvin Sewell – one of this era’s great guitarists – reduced to strumming rhythm on an acoustic. It was also kind of strange, but rewardingly so, watching violinist Charlie Burham not only slithering through one rustic, otherworldly yet direct solo after another, but also singing into the breeze.

OK, there wasn’t much of a breeze: we got fragments of a haunting piney woods folk tune made popular by a regrettable grunge rock band, and also a triumphant, rhythmically shifting, gospel-infused minor-key soul tune, as well as more aphoristic ideas that would have been a perfect singalong had this show been in closer quarters. That may still be an eventuality in this city, legally at least, but it’s already a reality again in almost fifty percent of the country – and the opportunities for musicians on the road seem to be growing every day.

Beyond her understatedly poignant instrumentals, Hughes delivered a warmly lilting tribute to the late Bill Withers (who would likely be with us today if not for last year’s pandemic of malpractice). She and the band ended the show on a similar note with a gently soaring tribute to wake-and-bake stoner fun. Bassist Rashaan Carter set the flame that percolated the instrumental encore, which rose from suspenseful atmospherics to an undulating anthemic vamp.

The weekend series in this part of the park, produced by photographer Jimmy Katz’s Giant Step Arts remains subject to the vagaries of weather and the availability of musicians. Still, Katz has put on more brilliant programming this year than anybody outside of the speakeasy circuit. The concert today, May 23 at around 3 PM in Central Park on the lawn under the trees, about a block north and east of the 81st St. entrance on the west side, features drummer Nasheet Waits leading a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Carter on bass again.

May 23, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sarah Manning Takes a Sensationally Successful Shot at Chamber Jazz

Sarah Manning is to the alto sax what JD Allen is to the tenor: even in a world of rugged individualists, she stands out. Lots of artists doll themselves up, tone themselves down and smile sweetly for the camera for an album cover shot. Manning scowls at you from the inside of the cd booklet for her new Posi-tone album, Harmonious Creature. Her bright, defenestrating, Jackie McLean-esque tone, angst-fueled crescendos and stunningly uneasy tunesmithing also set her a step ahead of the pack. Her previous 2010 Posi-Tone release, Dandelion Clock, was that year’s underrated gem. It may be early in the year, but her new album Harmonious Creature threatens to be the best of 2014. Her chromatically-fueled edge brings to mind Kenny Garrett; her moody compositions compare with Garrett and Allen as well. This new quintet session is an ambitious and slashingly successful move into the increasingly crowded chamber jazz arena with Eyvind Kang on viola, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums. Manning is playing the album release show at I-Beam at 8 PM on Jan 25 with a slightly altered lineup featuring the reliably electrifying Alli Miller on drums.

The opening track, Copland On Cornelia Street, starts as stately waltz, brings the guitar in, lingers on the turnaround and then Manning works some morose magic over Goldberger’s brooding resonance. It picks up with a sunbaked Goldberger solo over a dancing, whirling rhythm. Did Aaron Copland find his epiphany in the West Village? He was a Queens guy – it’s not out of the question.

Tune Of Cats echoes a famous Coltrane riff before the group takes it over Jennings’ careful, tumbling pulse, Manning’s utterly casual phrasing contrasting with the relentless intensity of the melody, her tone more smoky than usual. Floating Bridge, an austerely bright jazz waltz, has Kang echoing Manning’s kinetic lines, the bandleader teasing the listener with flitting motives over Jennings’ imperturbible washes….and then sax and viola go back at it.

Reharmonized jazz versions of rock and country tunes can leave you gasping for oxygen, but Manning’s cover of Gillian Welch’s I Dream A Highway stakes out atmospheric, Frisellian big-sky territory. Goldberger’s pointillisms against gently unfolding sax and viola fill the vast expanse up to a ridiculously psychedelic, ambient outro that pans the speakers. Later in the album, they take a similar approach to Neil Young’s On the Beach, but at a glacial tempo that Manning finally cuts loose and blasts straight through once the final “get out of town” verse hits, the band following her searing lead to the point where any atttempt to get back into ballad mode would be pointless.

The naturalistic Grey Dawn, Red Fox blends allusions to the baroque and simmering exchanges of voices into a precarious narrative that grows more anthemic as it shifts course: this animal is on the lookout for something far more dangerous. If Manning is to be believed, the Radish Spirit guards its ground closely, with a tight, somewhat frosty cameraderie from the whole group, Manning and Goldberger taking it into the shadows before Hart rises to the foreground and pulls it back. The enigmatically titled Three Chords For Jessica emerges from Hart’s solo chromatics to a haunting, elegaic, gorgeously Middle Eastern-tinged grey-sky theme. Don’t Answer To The Question returns to waltz tempo with some understatedly wicked push-pull between Goldberger, Jennings and Kang. The album ends with a counterintuitively warm guitar feature, What the Blues Left Behind.

January 9, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nocturnal Magic with Chris Dingman’s The Subliminal and Sublime at SubCulture

Saturday night in the sonically exquisite downstairs digs at SubCulture, vibraphonist Chris Dingman‘s The Subliminal and Sublime previewed what might be the best album of 2014. It takes a lot of nerve (or cluelessness) to characterize your music as sublime, but Dingman’s obviously aware that he’s caught magic in a bottle with his new five-part suite commissioned by Chamber Music America. “You’re going to have to figure out where one part ends and the next one begins,” he told the crowd before giving it a Manhattan premiere. The band – Fabian Almazan on piano, Ryan Ferreira on guitar, Loren Stillman on alto sax, Linda Oh on bass and Justin Brown on drums – was clearly amped to begin recording the following day. In about an hour onstage, dynamics rose and fell in glistening, twilit waves with echoes of Brian Eno, Pat Metheny and the Claudia Quintet as well as Bryan and the Aardvarks, a group that Dingman contributes to as memorably as this one.

The suite began with lingering, airy motives, Dingman bowing his notes, Ferreira deftly twisting his volume knob, a still, spacious wash of minimalist high harmonies. Tempos varied from spacious and seemingly rubato, to straight-up four-on-the-floor, to more knotty, as the arrangements rose and fell through cinematic, anthemic themes fueled by Brown’s majestically emphatic cymbal and tom-tom work, back to hypnotic, minimalist washes of sound. The conversational rapport between Almazan and Dingman mirrored their approach in Bryan & the Aardvarks – half the time, it was hard to tell who was playing what, making that distinction pretty much beside the point. Oh’s one solo of the night was was an elegantly precise, tensely climbing lattice; later in the night, she kicked off a thematic shift with a plaintive series of bell tones that the rest of the band picked up hauntingly. Ferreira alternated between lingering, airy motives and precise, minimalist picking as Dingman – one of this era’s most consistently interesting and individualistic vibraphonists – spun a richly echoey vortex illuminated with glistening cascades, insistent two-handed rhythmic figures and poignantly whispering passages that at least seemed to be natural markers between segments. The sheer hummability and bittersweetly resonant quality of the melodies are signature Dingman traits. It was good to see this show being filmed; let’s hope that at least some of it makes it to the web.

November 25, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dan Willis’ Satie Project II: Best Album of the Year?

Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen’s second Satie Project album is arguably the best jazz album of 2013. That is, if you buy the idea that there could be such a thing as a single top album among this year’s best releases, or that twisted covers of proto-minimalist late Romantic/early Modernist music should be allowed to count alongside original compositions. Willis’ new arrangements of Satie pieces might as well be originals, considering how gleefully and evilly he reimagines them.  Most of Erik Satie’s repertoire was actually much more upbeat than the macabre pieces Willis has selected for inclusion here, but it’s the macabre that has stood the test of time far better than the clever and often droll ragtime hits Satie wrote to pay the bills. Willis plays pretty much every reed instrument ever invented here, including but not limited to oboe, alto, tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet. Ron Oswanski gets many of the choicest moments here, on B3 organ, Wurlitzer and accordion, alongside Pete McCann on guitar, Kermit Driscoll on bass and the Claudia Quintet’s John Hollenbeck on drums.

Gnossienne No. 7 gets reinvented as murderously twinkling, shuffling Isaac Hayes wah funk, Gnossienne No. 6 as jaunty swing tune driven by Entcho Todorov’s suspiciously carefree violin. Although the versions of Pieces Froide No. 1 and the first of three takes of the main theme of Vexations (Satie’s famous eighteen-hour loop) here follow a steady beat, the way the band completely veers off center while keeping steady and totally deadpan is as amusing as it is disconcerting – this music literally makes you dizzy.

Gnossienne No. 5, a pensively atmospheric oboe feature, is the closest thing to the original here. Gnossienne No. 3 gets whispery noir vocals and a slippery, icy lead line that might be a slide guitar, or Willis’ EWI (electronic wind instrument). Pieces Froide No. 7 is redone as a chamber work that also doesn’t deviate far from the source, while the second alternate take of the Vexations theme goes completely off the rails as the organ and alto sax, and then the rest of the band diverge.

Gnossienne No. 4 gets a creepy crime jazz interpretation with plaintive soprano sax over lingering, red-neon tremolo guitar arpeggios. Gnossienne No. 2 follows a similarly noir trajectory up to a lurid if more energetic ba-BUMP organ groove. Pieces Froide No. 2 brings back a stately chamber jazz ambience; the album winds up with its longest number, the Vexations theme revisited with a wicked, diabolically surreallist microtonal flair that the composer would no doubt love if he was still with us. For Satie fans, this is a must-own; for that matter, this is a feast for any fan of dark, creepy music. Forget just about any other Halloween soundtrack you might have: this is the real deal.

October 8, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment