Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Uneasy 9/11-Themed Masterpiece from the Claudia Quintet

Is the Claudia Quintet the most influential band in jazz over the past ten years? They’re unquestionably one of them. With their unorthodox lineup, they didn’t invent pastoral jazz, but they opened up the floodgates for an onslaught of it. Their new album September finds the group – drummer/composer/bandleader John Hollenbeck with bassist Chris Tordini, tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, vibraphonist Matt Moran and accordionist Ted Reichman – trying to “rework and transform the traumatic residue” of 9/11. Being a New Yorker, Hollenbeck was directly affected and obviously scarred by the experience. The result of what was obviously an emotionally charged inner dialogue turns out to be a highly improvised, persistently uneasy, enigmatically enveloping series of themes, each assigned a date from that fateful September. The eleventh is not one of them.

The album opens with the September 20 piece, titled Soterius Lakshmi. It’s hypnotic and insistent, a one-chord jam portraying something incessant or at least repetitive to the extreme. It’s also a lot closer to indie classical than jazz. By contrast, September 9, Wayne Phases (a Shorter shout-out?) is a dynamically rich, shapeshifting piece; Reichman’s rapidfire runs hand off to Moran’s lingering resonance, up to a through-the-looking-glass vibes interlude and then a fullscale onslaught based a fusiony 80s-style hook that has the suspicious ring of sarcasm. A somewhat vexing look back at the days right before 9/11?

Hollenbeck portrays Sepember 25 as a Somber Blanket: it captures the emotionally depleted, horror-stricken atmosphere two weeks after the twin towers were detonated better than most anything written about that time, musically or otherwise. A morose march slowly coalesces out of a whispery shuffle lit with simple, macabre-tinged vibraphone, Reichman warming it and threatening to take it in a swing direction that it resists. The great coming together that this city experienced hadn’t happened yet: we weren’t ready.

September 19 is memorialized with “We Warn You,” a fluttery, loopy tone poem of sorts into which Hollenbeck has cut and pasted a series of quotes from a crushingly sarcastic 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt speech mocking the era’s Republican response to the New Deal. Historically speaking, it’s stunning that Roosevelt would dare to expect people to get the subtext: to think that any President in recent years would try to make a point with an audience that way, or, sadly, could do that without being misunderstood, is hard to imagine. At the end of the piece, the group picks up the pace to a tense scamper, Speed’s brooding lines against an opaque drum-and-accordion backdrop before the bass goes leaping and they start it all over again.

The September 22 piece, Love Is Its Own Eternity sets simple, bittersweet motives, individual voices paired against the vibraphone, over an almost trip-hop groove. Lemons, the September 18 song, takes the simplest two-note phrase off on kaleidescopic but precisely articulated tangents, sort of an airier take on Philip Glass. A syncopated minor groove develops out of a circular theme; creepy upper-register divergences generate the most free interlude on the album before the bass pulls everything together again. The aptly tiltled Loop Piece – assigned to September 17 – has a coldly mathematical distance, spacious vibraphone phrases joined by and then intermingling with simple, direct sax and accordion…and then that trip-hop vamp starts up again.

9/24 is represented by Interval Dig – an ominous 9/11 reference if there ever was one – yet this is the liveliest number here, Tordini’s leaping, pulsing drive leading to dizzying polyrhythms. Mystic Klang, the 9/16 segment, reminds of Satie’s interminably creepy Vexations, or Messiaen, with washes from accordion and vibes over looplike, prowling drums. The album concludes with Coping Soon, its troubled rainy-day ambience warming as Hollenbeck takes it halfspeed, Reichman adding brighter colors and a hint of Romany jazz as the rhythm loops and then drops out altogether. It ends nebulous and unresolved. And it leaves a lot to digest, not to mention to think back on for anyone who lived through those horrible days. We need music like this, grounded in reality, inescapably political, brilliantly musical: this is one of best albums of the year, right up there with Darcy James Argue’s equally relevant and genre-resistant Brooklyn Babylon. The Claudia Quintet plays Cornelia St. Cafe on Jan 9 at, 8:30 PM and Jan 10 at 9 and 10:30. The following night, Jan 11 at 8:30, Hollenbeck leads a different ensemble there where he’s joined by crooner Theo Bleckmann for some vocal covers from the Songs I Like a Lot covers album from early this year.

Advertisements

December 25, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ran Blake Headlines a Transcendent NEC Jazz Bill at Symphony Space

The New England Conservatory’s New York celebration of forty years of their contemporary improvisation program wound up Saturday night at Symphony Space with Ran Blake alone at the piano. It seemed that the stage lights had gone cobalt blue by then – or maybe that was just synesthesia. The concert’s concluding number was Memphis, a somber Martin Luther King elegy on which Blake intermingled gospel allusions and otherworldly close harmonies, both foreshadowed and then cruelly cut short by a gunshot staccato. It was the essence of noir, both a celebration of life and a grim reminder of everything that threatens what we hold dear. It made a fitting ending for an often exhilaratingly eclectic, emotionally vivid bill featuring NEC alumni and their bandmates from across the generations.

Frank Carlberg and his vocalist wife Christine Correa got the night started with a downtown take on Abbey Lincoln. The Claudia Quintet – drummer John Hollenbeck with bassist Chris Tordini, saxophonist Chris Speed, vibraphonist Matt Moran and accordionist Ted Reichman slowly coalesced into a brightly sweeping, occasionally carnivalesque groove. Their set, the night’s longest, moved from a loping Ethiopian rhythm through lowlit Twin Peaks vibraphone/accordion interludes, niftily polyrhythmic shuffles and finally an animatedly squonking crescendo from Speed.  Fiddler Eden MacAdam-Somer romped solo through an Appalachian flatfoot dance as well as more eclectic, technically dazzling original settings of Rumi poems that sometimes reminded of Carla Kihlstedt’s work.

Pianist Anthony Coleman led a quartet with Ashley Paul on sax and clarinet, Sean Conly on bass and Brian Chase on drums through a partita that alternated between brooding, cantorially-tinged stillness a la Sexmob, and variations on a persistent, uneasily rhythmic circular vamp. Clawhammer banjoist Sarah Jarosz followed with an aptly austere version of a Gillian Welch tune and then teamed up Blake for some playfully biting push-pull on an absolutely lurid version of Abbey Lincoln’s Tender As a Rose, leaving absolutely no doubt that this was a murder ballad.

In what could easily have been a cruel stroke of programming, John Medeski was handed the impossible task of following Blake solo on piano: that he managed not only to not be anticlimactic but to keep the intensity at such a towering peak speaks to how much he’s grown in the past ten years, beginning with an icily otherworldly salute to Blake’s misterioso style and then charging through an expansive, defiantly individualistic, hard-hitting, sometimes wryly messy blend of purist blues, hypnotic eastern resonance, gospel and stride piano. It seemed to sum up everywhere Medeski has been other than with his wildly popular early zeros jamband: he’s at the high point of a career that probably hasn’t reached its summit yet.

Dominique Eade then took the stage solo and swung fearlessly through a number that lept from a torchy nuance to wryly animated, scatting leaps and bounds before being joined by Blake, in a second taking the energy to redline with a mini-set highlighted by a gleaming, rain-drenched, hauntingly cinematic take of The Thrill Is Gone (from their transcendent duo album from a couple of years ago). Christelle Durandy then made the most of her cameo on an unexpectedly verdant, breathily dynamic duo with the iconic pianist who never met a song or a a singer he couldn’t elevate to new levels of white-knuckle intensity. That he ran the NEC improvation program for so long – and still takes part in it – speaks for itself and for the institution.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A First-Class Tuneful Album from Alex Wyatt

Drummers aren’t expected to be first-class composers. They don’t have to be: these days, simply being able to swing is enough to make a drummer, or for that matter pretty much any musician, perpetually in demand. And while Alex Wyatt swings, his greatest strength is his tunesmithing. His new sextet album There’s Always Something is jam-packed with as much melody as pulsing rhythm. Wyatt’s role here is equal parts colorist and rhythmic center, leading an inspired band of Chris Tordini on bass, Greg Ruggiero on guitar, Danny Fox on piano, Kyle Wilson on tenor sax and and Masahiro Yamamoto on alto.

Expansively lyrical solos from Fox, Yamamoto and Ruggiero (swinging through a series of slippery hammer-ons) fuel the easygoing but pensively nocturnal and metrically shapeshifting title track. The absolutely gorgeous, rhythmically tricky Clockwork works slightly Ethiopian-tinged riffage, the saxes circling each other over suspensefully chordal guitar pedalpoint that kicks off some terse syncopation from Fox and a judiciously crescendoing, unselfconsciously attractive alto solo. Imperial Chew uses its richly swirling counterpoint between the saxes, guitar and piano as a launching pad for glimmering rivulets from Fox, playfully divergent harmonies from the saxes and some tasty, clenched-teeth cymbal work from Wyatt.

Giraffe works playful, slightly tongue-in-cheek variations on a loping alto-and-drums groove into a balmy jazz waltz. Wyatt’s masterful, sotto-vocce brushwork propels Simple Song until it crescendos and he switches to sticks: it’s a lush bossa tune accentuated by Fox’s warmly twinkling lines and airy sax harmonies that coalesce out of the ether. Cop Party is irresistibly funny and gently over-the-top: think Mostly Other People Do the Killing in a rare, extended lyrical moment, the entire band getting in on the sarcasm, warmly evocative despite themselves.

As the title implies, Words Fail, but its melody doesn’t, an unselfconsciously tender ballad, Ruggiero’s terse spaciousness setting a mood which the band maintains perfectly as they go gently around the horn. Drunkey, a swing tune, has a suspicious, possibly satirical, loungey effervescence. The album winds up with Eugi, a shuffling anthem with a wistful, Americana-flavored bittersweetness that reminds of brilliant Boston ensemble Hee Hawk.

Accessible as all this is, the arrangements are consistently interesting; intuitive as the melodies are, the playing is often considerably less so. As you would expect, Wyatt gets a lot of work: his next gig with this band is at Launchpad, 721 Franklin Ave. in Bed-Stuy on Apr 24 at 8 PM.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Pensive Sounds from Matthew Silberman

There is no ostentation on Matthew Silberman’s new album Questionable Creatures. The dynamic shifts stay for the most part within a narrow range: the energy on this album is created as the band maintains tension and ramps it up, often by simply staying where they are. That can be a hard line to walk, but more often than not they pull it off, the tenor saxophonist and bandleader joined by Ryan Ferreira and Greg Ruggiero splitting duties on guitar, with Chris Tordini on bass and Tommy Crane on drums.

This group doesn’t waste notes: several of the tracks here including the opener, Ghost of the Prairie, are practically minimalist. On that one, Silberman plays with a casual wariness over Ferreira’s keening atmospherics, Crane immediately setting a tone he’ll maintain throughout the album, establishing a distantly ominous rumble rather than taking centerstage with any kind of pummelling crescendo. The second track, Mrs. Heimoff, veers from a jazz waltz to straight-up, Silberman getting as warm and lyrical as he’ll do here; the way that Ferreira trails the beat with his echoing phrases before the final chorus is one of the album’s high points.

Breath (an original, not the Pink Floyd song) works airily suspenseful variations on a guitar loop, eventually establishes a rhythm and goes out slow and swaying with Crane’s elegant cymbal work. The Battle at Dawn portrays less of a struggle than simply a struggle to get out of bed, with a terse In a Silent Way melody lit up by Ruggiero’s bright melodicism paired off against Crane’s caveman-on-the-horizon beats. The title track is absolutely Lynchian, taking a blithe Mexican folk theme abruptly and memorably into murky, apprehensively modal terrain and then back again with not a little irony. Dream Machine, essentially a deconstructed anthem with compartmentalized voicings, is the most free piece here; they follow it with another jazz waltz, The Process, which finally hits a rampaging crescendo carried by Ruggiero before winding out rather ambiguously. The Pharaoh’s Tomb serves as the coda here, Ferreira’s guitar setting up a hot/cold dynamic with his acidic sostenuto that they take out in with a quick explosion straight out of 1975-era King Crimson. Those who are looking for a lot of those kind of swells will have to look elsewhere, but for fans of darker, more introspective jazz, this is a great listen.

And it comes with a poster! When’s the last time you picked up an album with one of those? If you’re lucky, maybe a used copy of Quadrophenia from some street vendor? With its disembodied facial parts set against an arid Tattooine desert, Sandra Reichl’s illustration is like a Dali outtake: it’s not clear if there’s any connection to the content on the album, but it’s sure nice to have something new and cool for the wall here. Silberman and the band play the album release show on Sept 25 at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus.

September 8, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Contemplating Travis Reuter’s Rotational Templates

Hmmm…does Rotational Templates – the title of jazz guitarist Travis Reuter’s new album – mean “basic plan for solos around the horn?” No. It’s not clear what it means, but this pretty meticulously thought-out album is a great ipod listen, and as cerebral as it is, there’s feeling along with all the ideas. It’s hard to pigeonhole, a good sign: you could call it psychedelic improvisational postbop. Reuter is a thoughtful player with a tremendous command of unexpectedly non-guitarish textures. What becomes obvious only a few minutes into this album is that he really knows how to seize the moment, but also when to let the moment go because it’s over. He’s got a good band: Jeremy Viner on tenor sax, Chris Tordini on bass, Bobby Avey taking a turn on electric piano this time out and Jason Nazary on drums.

The first track sets the stage: Viner and Tordini carry the central theme as Nazary roves and prowls, Reuter providing nebulous atmospherics via a swooshy effect. He parallels the sax and then finally comes up acidally, bouncing off the rest of the band as Avey takes a turn in the shadow position. The second cut is the first of a diptych. Residency at 20, Part 1 introduces an off-center, circular theme that Viner pokes at suspiciously, Tordini signaling an absolutely delicious, otherworldly, icily ambient guitar interlude (is that a backward masking pedal?) that eventually begins to smolder and then throw off sparks as Reuter edges his way out of the morass.

The most mathematical number here is Singular Arrays, a blippy ensemble piece featuring some sly roundabout work from Nazary and a judiciously sinuous solo from Avey imbued with his signature gravitas that gives the song some welcome muscle. When Reuter starts bobbing and weaving, the spiky thicket of notes makes it impossible to tell the guitar from the piano. Its cousin track, Flux Derivatives uses the skeletal outline of a ballad to frame resolute solos from Viner and Avey, Reuter taking his time before spiraling up and bringing up the heat. The album closes with the second part of Residency at 20, Avey left to hold this together as the drums shuffle off on their own, Reuter adding a couple of amusing quotes, with Avey rocking the boat to the point where Reuter turns it loose with an unexpected, unrestrained joy. Good ideas, good playing, five guys at the top of their game.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: The Michael Dessen Trio Featuring Chris Tordini and Dan Weiss at le Grand Dakar, Brooklyn NY 3/19/09

by Vanessa Lee Raymond

 

Piece #1

 

They start us off slow,

A flag reaching half-mast.

On this grey day

The composition like weaving

In and out, and slow to build

Bringing a layer of murky surreal to the atmosphere

We’d been swimming and shivering through all day.

 

 

Piece #2

 

We get a blast of electronic but again there are underwater sounds

Dessen finally creates a sound he’s happy with and then he loops

It’s like crickets and frogs on a particularly damp night

But soon the dynamics are staggering

A low sweet bow line below

A crashing cymbal above

Calculated fluidity, they paw their scores like abacists

A slow bead of sweat trickles down Michael’s face

You can see it in the dark.

Usually he blasts us out of the water, ferocious and deft.

Today he is a different man.

He presses firmly into a sweet and piercing note then floats gently down.

 

At times it seems they lose the thread

But they don’t

I lose the thread

And they continue on.

 

 

Piece #3

 

My spicy fish sandwich with fried yucca arrives.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment