Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/26/11

As we usually do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #462:

Jazz on a Summer’s Day

This is a case where you really should get the movie: the visuals of this 1960 documentary of the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival are fascinating and often hilarious. It’s best known for Anita O’Day, stoned out of her mind, wailing her way through Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two with a great horn player’s imagination and virtuosity. That’s just the juiciest moment; there’s also a young, ducktailed Chuck Berry doing the splits on Sweet Little Sixteen; Dinah Washington making All of Me sound fresh and fun; Gerry Mulligan and his band; and cameos by George Shearing, Thelonious Monk, Big Maybelle, Chico Hamilton, a lot of Louis Armstrong and a real lot of Mahalia Jackson at her peak doing spirituals and a final stirring benediction. Some of you may scoff at how mainstream this is…until you hear what this crew does with a lot of standard fare. The random torrent here is for the movie rather than the stand-alone soundtrack.

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October 26, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lourdes Delgado’s Photos Reveal an Intimate Side of the NYC Jazz World

This is how the other half lives. Lourdes Delgado’s photographs currently on display at the Instituto Cervantes document numerous New York jazz luminaries in their own homes from 2002 to 2008. From a New York perspective, it’s vicarious to the extreme, considering that space is the most sought-after status commodity in the five boroughs: “”Oooh, Kenny Barron’s got a house!” – in Brooklyn, of course. In addition to their historical value, Delgado’s black-and-white shots often vividly illustrate their subjects’ personalities, intentionally or not (she allowed those photographed to choose their spots, and what they wore). Paradigm-shifter Matana Roberts, always the free spirit, cheery in her vinyl clutter; the late Dewey Redman, regal in his African costume beneath framed posters from innumerable obscure European festivals; legendary drummer Chico Hamilton on his couch with his plants, warm and welcoming; conduction maestro Butch Morris exuding a stern zen calm, notwithstanding the wine stains on the couch; guitarists Mike and Leni Stern relaxed in their hippie pad with their Abyssinian cat, keyb guys Craig Taborn wary in his impeccable, OCD-neat space and Robert Glasper sleepy in his messy crash pad with just a futon and headphones. Pianist Joanne Brackeen has wall-to-wall mirrors and a big stuffed giraffe; rising star vocalist Gretchen Parlato sleeps on her couch with her furry friends. Sax titan Benny Golson has Ikea furniture; trumpeter Jack Walrath and first-call drummer Kenny Washington each surround themselves with a museum’s worth of vinyl records.

Ironies abound here, as does a resolute joie de vivre and ability to get the most out of spaces that non-urban dwellers would find ridiculously small. First place for resourcefulness goes to drummer Sylvia Cuenca, who hides a full kit beneath her loft bed, her Rhodes piano just inches away. Tuba player Marcus Rojas manages to fit two kids (one wearing a Shostakovich t-shirt), his tubas and bass, among other things, into a cramped Manhattan apartment. One of the most offhandedly striking shots depicts a young Marcus and EJ Strickland, saxophonist and drummer looking tough in their dreads in what looks like mom’s crib circa 2002. As expected, the promoters have more space than the musicians, notably George Wein, looking small and distant in the back of his rather palatial digs past the piano and the Persian rugs. Other small details, such as the instruments and albums favored by the artists, appear everywhere, often very surprisingly. Many musicians are so accustomed to being photographed that they typically put on a “photo face;” that Delgado captures so many of them here so candidly is no small achievement. The exhibit runs through July 29, free and open to the public, at the Instituto Cervantes, 211 E 49th St. Hours are 1-9 PM Mon-Fri, Sat 10:30 AM – 3 PM, closed Sundays.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Art, jazz, New York City, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Observations on Winter Jazzfest 2011

As Search and Restore’s emcee explained Friday night at Kenny’s Castaways, the concept of Winter Jazzfest is to introduce new players, or older players tackling newer ideas. What he didn’t mention is that Winter Jazzfest is a spinoff of APAP, a.k.a. the annual booking agents’ convention, which until the past year didn’t even schedule jazz among its CMJ-style array of relatively brief sets showcasing an extraordinary amount of talent across the city. In a good year, APAP might draw 1500 people, most of them from larger community arts venues across the country. The Census Bureau has made a big deal about how their 2010 data shows an increase in attendance at jazz shows. Friday night’s crowd – young, scruffy, hungry, and overwhelmingly local – offered potent validation of that claim. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: great art has tremendous commercial appeal.

Drummer Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys, whose run at Coco 66 in Greenpoint is one of New York’s more memorable residencies of recent years, explored how much fun there is in playing around the outer edges of funk. Artfully blending color and drive, Pride led his group – Darius Jones on alto, Peter Bitenc on bass and Alexis Marcelo on Rhodes – through a captivating, witty and too-brief set. All but one of their numbers (their catchy opening track, Surcharge, by a Berlin friend of the band named Uli) were originals. Themes were alluded to more than stated outright, Jones having a great time skirting the melody and then going way out into the boposphere on his own while Bitenc ran terse, hypnotic figures and Marcelo sent rippling washes out against the current.

“We’re professional travelers. In between we play music,” laughed pianist Amina Figarova, who delivered a thoughtfully expansive set at Zinc Bar with most of her longtime sextet: Bart Platteau on flutes; Marc Mommaas on tenor; Ernie Hammes on trumpet; Jay Anderson subbing on bass and Chris “Buckshot” Strik incisive and playful behind the drums. To paraphrase Mae West, Figarova is a woman what takes her time. Deliberately and matter-of-factly, she developed her solos with a slow and inexorably crescendoing approach which still left considerable room for surprise. And yet, a sudden solar flare or martial roll from her left hand didn’t catch her band unawares: they have a supple, intuitive chemistry that comes with rigorous touring. The most captivating songs in the set were the most bustling: the vivid airport scramble Flight No., and a cleverly shapeshifting version of the deceptively simple, unselfconsciously assertive Look at That!

As the evening wore on, it became clearer and clearer that the clubs were on a tight schedule: concertgoers accustomed to small clubs going over time as the night wears on were surprised to see acts actually take the stage before their scheduled time. Anat Cohen regaled a rapt, absolutely wall-to-wall crowd at le Poisson Rouge with a program that mixed crescendoing, ecstatic gypsy/klezmer clarinet, Jason Lindner’s lean latin piano lines and balmy sax ballads. And later, 90-year-old drummer Chico Hamilton and his band reaffirmed that if you have swing and use it, you never lose it.

Back at Kenny’s Castaways, it was nice to be able to simply see Jen Shyu as she swayed and held the room with her understated intensity: the last time she played Lincoln Center, she sold out the hall. She’s one of the few newer artists who actually lives up to all the hype that surrounds her: she can belt and wail to the rafters if she feels like it, but this was a clinic in subtlety and purposefulness. The high point of the entire evening, at least from this limited perspective, was a slowly unwinding, hypnotic arrangement of a Taiwanese slave song. Shifting from English, to French, to Spanish and then to Chinese vernacular, Shyu underscored the universality of humankind’s struggle against brutality, against overwhelming odds. Bassist John Hebert ran mesmerizingly noirish circles lit up in places by David Binney’s alto sax or Dan Weiss’  effectively understated drumming, Shyu contributing wary, starkly pensive Rhodes piano from time to time. Their last piece bounced along on a catchy tritone bass groove, Shyu’s vocalese sometimes dwindling to a whisper, bringing the band down under the radar to the point where the suspense was visceral. It would have been great fun to stick around the Village for more, but there was another mission to accomplish: like CMJ, APAP requires a lot of running around. Which was too bad. The ease of access to such a transcendent quantity of music is addictive: if you do this next year, make a two-night commitment out of it and experience it to the fullest.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece Ask, Your Place or Mine?

This is what the Mad Men soundtrack ought to sound like. On their new album Little Echo, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser and his vibraphonist cohort Behn Gillece have teamed up for an absolutely period-perfect, gorgeously melodic collection of golden age-style jazz. This is the kind of thing you can stump your jazz snob friends with: guess which 1959 group this is? Maybe a previously unknown Chico Hamilton session with Hamp, maybe? Even the cd cover images and fonts come straight out of the late 50s Columbia catalog, and for anyone who owns actual physical albums from the era, they’re a dead giveaway. To call this boudoir jazz doesn’t give enough credit to the strength and intelligence of the compositions, but with the nocturnal ambience created by the intermingling of the piano and the vibes, it’s the jazz equivalent of Al Green or Sade. If there’s a population explosion among jazz fans in the next nine months or so, blame these guys. Here Fowser and Gillece – who wrote all but two of the compositions – are joined here by Rick Germanson on piano, the ubiquitously reliable Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Quincy Davis on drums.

The genius of the songs here – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – is their simplicity: the “jukebox jazz” label recently applied to JD Allen’s recent stuff aptly describes this as well. The band set the tone right off the bat with the ridiculously catchy Resolutions, with brief and vivid solos by Fowser, Gillece and Germanson in turn. A Fowser composition, Ninety Five employs a slinky guaguanco vamp as the launching pad for some balmy sax work followed by a more aggressive turn by Gillece. The band pass the baton around on the next one: Gillece plays a horn line, Germanson scurries along and Fowser bounces off the bass and drums.

The dreamy ballad The Dog Days is a showcase for Fowser sultriness, Germanson impressionism and a hypnotic, slow Gillece solo over steady piano. Upbeat latin tinges and a soaring sax hook give the next cut, Vigilance, a summery blissfulness. Germanson anchors the deliciously noir-tinged latin jazz of the title track as Fowser prowls around on the low notes: the utterly carefree, closing-time style piano solo might be the most vivid moment on the entire album. Fowser’s One Step at a Time offers more than a hint of Gil Evans era Miles Davis; Gillece’s ballad You mines some choicely pensive modalities on the way to the blues; the closing cut Another View works a shameless So What quote into the wee-hours bliss of the opening track.Marc Free’s production goes back to the golden age as well – he doesn’t overcompress the vibes or the piano and puts Okegwo’s tireless bass walks up just high enough that you appreciate all those tireless walks, without making it sound like hip-hop. It’s out now on Posi-Tone Records.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Chico Hamilton at Borders Books & Music/Columbus Circle, NYC 4/30/09

The legendary percussionist made his way to the drum kit gingerly but once he got there he was all business. 87 years old and still absolutely vital. This wasn’t Elvin Jones in his last heartbreaking days. Since Chico Hamilton teaches at the New School, he’d brought a couple of proteges – one a reed man, the other on bongos – along with his regular guitarist Cary DeNigris and electric bassist Paul Ramsey. Incongruous, to say the least, to see the jazz legend under the soft lights of a bookstore, but the group played like it was the most normal thing in the world (props to the Borders folks for putting this on), running through a mix of classics, older material and songs from Hamilton’s new cd Twelve Tones of Love.

DeNigris didn’t wait to catch fire on their first number, How’s Your Feelins, slamming out a fiery series of big, expansive chords, Hamilton pushing things along on just a snare, switching to doubletime in a split-second with the whole band behind him. On the swing blues My Brother John, he proved he could still spin a stick and not miss a beat, again punching it when least expected and upping the ante in no time at all. The Lester Young tune Broadway, a favorite from Hamilton’s younger days was a clinic in dynamics, up and down again with bluesy solos from DeNigris and the sax player.

What sounded like Mose Allison’s Fools Paradise was vastly darker than the original, Hamilton building an eerie cymbal wash as DeNigris channeled Django Reinhardt, then took a long, incisive, chordal solo out (he was all about big sound that night). From time to time, Hamilton would ham it up – he mimed taking a drag of a smoke and then missing the beat – and on a couple of occasions cut out completely, making sure everybody was paying attention. And they were: after over an hour, Hamilton announced that it was time to go to the bar (coffee bar?) and that he was glad it wasn’t far. Standard stage patter, but there was nothing commonplace about the show. See him if you can, he still brings it.

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Chico Hamilton – Twelve Tones of Love

This album is all about joie de vivre. At 87, Chico Hamilton is happily ensconsed in the jazz pantheon – the percussionist decades ago passsed the point where he had anything left to prove. Yet here he is again, having fun. While this might sound like your typical Sunday afternoon jazz at a distance, or at low volume – and it’s a marvelous choice for a Sunday afternoon – it’s a lot more than that. It’s best experienced on headphones. Hamilton’s stock in trade has always been subtlety and nuance, rare qualities for a percussionist, and as usual he’s not here to jolt anyone out of their socks. But this album is anything but saturnine: it resonates with a confident, gentle warmth.

 

Most of the cuts here aren’t long, clocking in at under four minutes at a clip. Some of them are sketches. Many of them are confidently swaying, slow-to-midtempo swing blues. The rhythm is carried as much here by Paul Ramsey’s Fender Bass as it is by anything else, cutting through the mix with the trebly, slightly oscillating tone common to electric jazz bass around forty years ago. Cary DeNigris plays guitar, giving an absolutely marvelous, spot-on Ernie Ranglin-style chordal feel to the casual hangout number Steinway, anchoring the brief and beautifully lyrical Americana number On the Trail and gently keeping things on the rails while guest George Bohanon’s trombone signifies jauntily on George, a gift of appreciation from Hamilton. The percussionist himself takes a typically understated star turn on several occasions, riding the cymbals with an altered clave beat on the Wes Montgomery-ish Penthouse, spicing the mallets-and-vocals-only Lazy Afternoon and pointedly punctuating the early 70s style latin shuffle Raoul. If this album intrigues you, you can enter to win a free copy courtesy of Giant Step (contest expires May 15, 2009). New York listeners also have a golden opportunity to see him live for free on Wednesday, April 30 at 7 PM (early arrival obviously advised) at Borders Books & Music in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle on the second floor.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment