Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Charles Evans and Neil Shah in the Bronx 2/28/10

It’s hard to get any more oldschool cool than the duo show by Charles Evans and Neil Shah last night. It was sort of the Bronx equivalent of a house concert, the cutting-edge jazz duo playing in essentially what was the banquet hall of one of New York’s first coop apartment complexes, tucked into a world-that-time-forgot enclave just off 181st St.

Evans struck almost a batter’s stance with his baritone sax, tensed, swaying and ready to hit one out of the park (which he did, over and over again) while pianist Shah calmly delivered a seemingly nonstop series of eerie, otherworldly tonalities, some of the mostly gorgeously creepy sounds heard in any of the five boroughs recently, many of them from their new cd Live at St. Stephens. Some of the crowd, seemingly spooked by the duo’s flickering pitchblende sonics, left during the intermission: the brave souls who remained were rewarded with a far jauntier second half.

Evans’ instantly identifiable sound makes masterfully macabre use of chromatics when he’s not being polychordal, i.e. using majors, minors and every conceivable variant in rapid, often hair-raisingly intense juxtaposition with each other. Possibly for that reason, the opening segment seeemed like an endless series of miniatures, a soundtrack to a midnight spelunking expedition that tantalizingly offered the occasional distant glimmer amidst the blackness that would reappear in a split second, only to disappear for what seemed minutes on end. In places Shah would play minimally, pedaling a single staccato bass note, other times throwing off murkily fluid chromatics while Evans used the entirety of his instrument: nebulous, breathy, atonal passages; strange, acidic harmonics; then hammering out alternately impatient or playful percussion on the valves. Evans is an unsurpassed master of textures, giving most of the choicest, darkest melody to the piano but picking it up at the least expected moments. Shah’s lone composition of the night, What Is It Not, combined the otherworldly spirit of much of the rest of the material while adding a boisterous post-bop edge, Evans going off on a rapidfire solo over a long, hypnotically circling Shah motif that they gracefully faded out.

Their version of Mono Monk (a decidedly stereo composition having nothing to do with Thelonious Monk) saw Evans playing breathy, swaying and thisclose-to-completely-unhinged over Shah’s diabolically terse chromatics. By contrast, a cover of the Jan Roth composition Die Fliegenden Fisch (The Flying Fish) offered up expansive, late-night bluesiness underscored with what by now had become an expected sense of menace. It was a welcome display of fearlessness and refusal to compromise, to do it their way.

The concert series is a neighborhood thing- they don’t have a website, and the program didn’t include an email to sign up for a mailing list. Their next concert features cellist Leigh Stuart and others playing baroque to modern (Bach, Beethoven and Brian Coughlan) at 6 PM on March 28 at the Lounge at Hudson View Gardens, 116 Pinehurst Ave. off 183rd St., two blocks from the north exit at the 181st St. A train station.

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March 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

This absolutely gorgeous album – just out on Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Hot Cup label – is a lock for one of the best of 2009 in any style of music. It’s marketed as jazz, although it could just as easily be called minimalism or classical. It would make an amazing soundtrack if the label could find a film that deserved it. Baritone sax player Charles Evans uses the entirety of his instrument, not just the low registers. He can make it sing, like Gerry Mulligan, but with more imagination, adding overtones and harmonics and a vibrato that he can slow waaaaaay down to Little Jimmy Scott speed. The most obvious comparison, imaginatively if not exactly stylistically, is genre-defying funkstress and ambient baritone sax composer Paula Henderson. Pianist Neil Shah is a first-rate rock songwriter and barrelhouse player, but what he does here is 180 degrees from that – to say that his playing here is haunting is a considerable understatement. Jazz fans will hear echoes of Keith Jarrett, but his real antecedent is Erik Satie. This album, a suite of six pieces, has Shah laying down a frequently macabre, terse mode that Evans colors with deliberateness and precision; other times it’s Evans who introduces the mood and has Shah embellish it ever so slightly. It’s as poignant as it is hypnotic.

The first two pieces are trio suites of their own,  the intial track, Junie, quickly establishing the otherworldly glimmer that will dominate from here on in. Shah expertly works two different palettes, ominous in the left hand, colorful and Romantic in the right, when it comes time for his solo. They take it out with a Messiaenesque warped boogie of sorts, Evans supplying rhythmic accents loaded with implication. The second mini-suite, On Tone Yet, demonstrates the uncanny chemistry between the two musicians: the two play these songs as a truly integral unit, as if a single mind was bringing them to life (or exhuming them – this is dark stuff). Shah’s insistent series of simple chords, switching a single voice among the keys for an effect that goes from subtle to sinister in a split second, veers off into a strikingly cantabile passage and then menacingly back again, is a high point. They float it out with Indian-inflected ambience, sax holding the piano up to keep it from disappearing into the murk.

Mono Monk is the most minimalist song on the album, Evans and Shah emphasizing the space between the notes with as much stern judiciousness as what they play. The lone cover here, Jan Roth’s sarcastically titled An Die Fliegenden Fische (The Flying Fish) is more of a jellyfish, albeit a playful, bluesy one, Evans contributing a pretty, lyrical solo matched by Shah’s Bill Evans-style cascades. The cd wraps up with a nine-minute number with a title that goes on almost as long and fairly neatly sums up the whole set: mournful Satie-esque piano followed by Evans’ most expansive, bluesiest solo of the night; some call-and-response; a pregnant pause, and then sax and piano switch roles.

There are only two drawbacks here. The first is an overabundance of crowd applause after the songs – we’re talking thirty seconds at the end of the cd. That’s Guns & Roses stuff, and while it’s hardly a disaster, it is annoying. It sounds like there were three people in the audience and they’re trying to compensate for it, and they can’t (but what a treat to have been one of those three, in what is obviously a sonically exquisite space!). The other quibble is that, hey, they’re at Saint Stephens: da-da, da da-da-da-da, da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-DA-da-da-da! Dude, why not do that one? Dollars to donuts these two would do something with it that would make Jerry Garcia proud.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment