Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Perennially Vital, Poignant, Epic Grandeur From the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

In the history of jazz, is there a greater drummer/composer than John Hollenbeck?

Paul Motian wrote some great songs. And so has Tain Watts. Beyond that, it’s a short list. This past evening at the Poisson Rouge Hollenbeck and his long-running Large Ensemble validated his place on it with a lush, constantly shifting, uneasily enveloping set to celebrate the release of their latest album All Can Work.

As with the album, the centerpiece of the show was the title track, a dedication to his longtime collaborator, the late great Laurie Frink. Hollenbeck interpolated both brief, pithy phrases inspired by Frink’s trumpet etudes as well as excerpts from her similarly terse emails. Like Mozart but with infinitely more interesting rhythms, those phrases percolated and changed shape among subsets of the sixteen-piece ensemble as singer Theo Bleckmann’s voice loomed and eventually soared. “I will miss you all, and the music,” was the final mantra. The trumpet section, including but not limited to Tony Kadleck and Matt Holman, put their precision in the spotlight. This was a song, and a show about tunesmithing and narratives rather than displays of sizzling chops.

They’d opened with Elf, which takes its title and thematic grist from the Strayhorn piece that Ellington eventually appropriated for Isfahan. As the group’s tectonic sheets slowly built a lavish mosaic, alto saxophonist Anna Webber rose methodically to broodingly modal, Middle Eastern-tinged intensity while Hollenbeck did a somewhat more vigorous take on the kind of pointillism he likes to explore in the Claudia Quintet.

The night’s most lavishly shapeshifting number was Hollenbeck’s muscular arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s Heyoke: among its several solos, a bittersweet couple of turns from tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and some deliciously deadpan piano voicings from vibraphonist Patricia Brennan stood out the most brightly. From Trees, inspired by a Mondrian triptych, rose out of a swirl of disembodied voices to emphatic variations on a series of rather stark riffs, down to a twisted, low-register corkscrew facsimile of boogie-woogie from pianist Matt Mitchell: it was the most unexpectedly stunning solo of the night.

Long Swing Dream, the one song to date that Hollenbeck has found in a dream, had a similar minmalism alternating between individual voices, Bleckmann providing an amusing bit of narration by reading Cary Grant commentary about LSD (Long Swing Dream, get it?). The final observation, “You can’t judge the day until the night,” became simply “You can’t judge,” which drew plenty of chuckles. Hollenbeck copped to never having tried the stuff – hey, there’s still time. You can’t judge the perception from the doors.

The final tune was Hollenbeck’s tongue-in-cheek, impressively swinging new arrangement of Kraftwerk’s motorik instrumental The Model. Again, Bleckmann got to entertain the crowd, this time simply by striking a pose or five as the group channeled a more subtle take on what German live techno crew the Jazzrausch Bigband might have done with it. Hollenbeck’s next gig is with the Claudia Quintet on March 24 at 8 PM at the Miller Theatre; tix as affordable as $20 are still available.

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January 30, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Dessen Premieres His Enjoyably Tricky New Suite at Shapeshifter Lab

Trombonist Michael Dessen’s New York premiere of his his new suite Resonating Abstractions, with Chris Tordini on bass and Dan Weiss on drums at Shapeshifter Lab a couple of nights ago was a lot of fun. Ostensibly inspired by the imagery of seven mysteriously unnamed visual artists, it challenged the audience to conjure who those artists might be as it pulsed along on a groove that proved to be as hard to resist as it was tricky. Weiss dug in and had a good time with it: although there’s a clearly visible mathematical architecture to both the rhythm and the melody, Dessen left just enough room for the trio to imbue it with their personal wit and rambunctious energy.

At its knotty but robust heart, it’s a funky, head-bobbing piece that takes a simple duotone bass riff and doubles it, then doubles it again over similarly minimalist yet thoroughly unexpected metric permutations. Overhead, Dessen carried the tune with a jaunty, warmly melodic focus and bluesy directness. Most of the suite (not yet recorded, a task hopefully to be achieved in 2013) is extremely accessible, although there were spaces where it was extremely not. The juxtaposition between the work’s long, consonant passages – which Dessen delivered with a wonderfully opaque, balmy tone, without recourse to either squalls or squeaks – was somewhat jarring, in contrast to where he utilized an electronic mute to add a chaotic, timbrally extreme edge.

Tordini anchored both the melodic and rhythmic center during those moments, slowly and methodically shifting from suspensefully resonant long-tone passages to nimbly pulsing, looped phrases that he took his time embellishing, and there was always a payoff. Meanwhile, Weiss neatly worked shuffling polyrhythms into his tersely altered groove, exchanging a few wry elbows with Dessen along the way.

The electronic enhancements were more successful with the bass, when it came to a long, nonchalantly crescendoing Tordini solo: Dessen limited the laptop to a slightly reverb-tinged sustain effect that fleshed out the many spaces between early on. As the suite wound up, Dessen finally took it skyward, flurrying and clustering, for a long-awaited yet understatedly resounding crescendo. Being a Chamber Music America commission might have something to do with its canny blend of minimalism and traditionalist jazz tropes. And what about those artists? Escher, maybe? Some of the 70s op-art guys? Paul Klee, in the suite’s more playful moments? Or maybe none of the above. The work’s less-focused electronic moments allowed the listener space to ponder questions like that.

November 29, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment