Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Laurie Anderson Leads a Magically Enveloping, Deeply Relevant Series of Improvisations in Midtown

“Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, and we’ll club their heads in,” Laurie Anderson mused last night toward the end of a rapturous series of trio improvisations with bassist Christian McBride and cellist Rubin Kodheli at the Town Hall. She was being sarcastic, of course, As a point of context, she’d brought up Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine, where at the end the author contemplates what might happen if rightwing American bellicosity abroad was launched here. Anderson suggested that the incessant tweets and fake news emanating from that lunatic fringe in the Oval Office could be a harbinger.

Like so many New Yorkers, Anderson was profoundly affected by 9/11, and accurately connected the sense of horror and being blindsided then to the state of the city today. That unease pervaded much of the trio’s hour onstage, balanced by a defiant, surprisingly kinetic joie de vivre. She was obviously the bandleader, and her collaborators were practically jumping out of their shoes to revel in a surreal, richly textural, frequently eerie ambience that gave them a series of launching pads for daunting if terse and purposeful displays of extended technique.

Ominous chromatic piano riff and grey-sky organ from Anderson anchored the centerpiece of her political commentary, strongly evoking a Bat For Lashes hit from the late zeros. The trio’s backdrop for a voiceover of a Lou Reed poem was just as troubling and troubled, rising from starry, elegaic ambience to fluttery horror and then phantasmagorically pulsing, microtonal upward drifts.

Balancing that relentless angst was the coy tale of Anderson’s successful run for middle school student council. As she told it, she’d written to Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, seeking advice, received a detailed letter in response, took his counsel to heart (kiss up to everyone, he said, more or less), and then won. And then sent him a triumphant thank-you note. Kennedy responded with a dozen roses. When the story made the local paper in Anderson’s Illinois hometown, “Kennedy had won the heart of every woman,” of voting age and otherwise, she told the crowd. They wound up the evening when Anderson hit her pitch pedal, took her vocals down a couple of octaves for a wry deep-space atmosphere: “We like stars because we can’t crush them,” her man-in-the-moon character informed the crowd.

The rest of the set was all instrumental. At one point, McBride responded to a sprightly volley of pizzicato from Anderson with a bittersweet twelve-note rock riff that would have been the envy of any artsy British band from the 70s. It was the night’s single most gorgeous moment. And he never reprised it. Otherwise, he spent most of the evening playing with a bow, parsing minutely inflected high harmonics and even some wryly creeping low-register glissandos when he wasn’t delivering steady, often circular minimalist riffage below the mist.

Anderson, bolstered by light effects via a couple of laptops, introduced monentary, flickering themes with plucky pizzicato phrases, keeningly ethereal microtonal cloudbanks and a couple of menacingly galloping interludes. Caught in the eye of the ice storm, Kodheli had the hardest job of anyone onstage and deftly found a middle ground. Often that meant taking the others’ roles, whether delivering stark staccato harmonic slashes way up the fingerboard, or providing sinewy basslines when McBride pounced and bubbled far beyond his axe’s customary range. The audience roared their approval with a series of standing ovations: clearly, we’ve reached the point where improvised music has the potential to draw a large audience if perhaps not a mass one. The time has come when places like Jazz at Lincoln Center should be booking creative musicians like Steve Swell and Wadada Leo Smith – and lowering ticket prices to where the average New Yorker can afford to see them.

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February 24, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Charenee Wade Tackles the Impossible Challenge of Covering Gil Scott-Heron

Conventional wisdom is that if you want to cover a song, you should either completely reinvent it, or improve on the original. Trying to improve on anything from the immense catalog of the late, great jazz poet/hip-hop/psychedelic funk icon Gil Scott-Heron‘s catalog may be an impossible task, but as far as reinventions are concerned, the field’s wide open. Singer Charenee Wade tackles that challenge on her ambitious new album, Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. She’s playing the release show at the Jazz Standard on July 8, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM: cover is $25.

For those unfamiliar with his catalog, Scott-Heron, who died in 2011, ranks with Bob Marley, the Clash and Johnny Cash. Scott-Heron may not be quite as well-known, but his searing, fearlessly political music is every bit as powerful as anything those artists ever put out. Many consider him to be the first major hip-hop artist. Over the course of a forty-plus year career, Scott-Heron ripped racists and rightwingers to shreds, called bullshit on his own community and was one of the few American artists to call attention to the apocalyptic danger of nuclear power: his unforgettably ominous cautionary anthem We Almost Lost Detroit predated the Chernobyl disaster by a dozen years, and was the standout track on the otherwise forgettable No Nukes concert compilation album.

Maybe wisely, Wade and her band steer clear of most of Scott-Heron’s major works, instead focusing on more obscure tracks.There are two songs from Scott-Heron’s auspicious 1971 Pieces of a Man album, another two from 1975’s far more mellow The First Minute of a New Day. She and the band kick off the opening number, Offering, from the latter album with a strikingly straightforward delivery that actually manages to one-up the original. The genius of the arrangement is Brandon McCune’s steady piano augmented by Sefon Harris’ vibraphone, plus guitarist Dave Stryker’s brittle but triumphant cadenzas.

Another track from that album, Western Sunrise is a real revelation, bassist Lonnie Plaxico kicking it off with a catchy hook, Wade establishing a tricky tempo that ironically puts her unaffectedly strong vocals front and center, reinforcing Scott-Heron’s sardonic commentary on American exceptionalism. She ends it with a misty scat solo that the composer would no doubt appreciate.

Of the two tracks from Pieces of a Man – Scott-Heron’s first recording with a full band – Wade goes for fullscale reinvention with a scamperingly salsafied take of Home Is Where The Hatred Is, in her hands an even more chilling portrait of ghetto abandonment and alienation spiced with rippling solos from Harris and McCune. When she toys with the song’s haunting. concluding line, the effect is viscerally spine-tingling. Likewise, Wade reimagines the other track from that album, I Think I’ll Call It Morning, as a spirited if rainswept late 60s soul-jazz waltz as Roberta Flack might have done it.

Interestingly, the most epic number here is a shapeshifting take of Song of the Wind, an optimistic Afrocentric peacenik anthem from the 1977 Bridges album: the sparkly piano/vibes arrangement raises the energy of the undulating Fender Rhodes-driven original. A Toast To The People, one of the lesser-known tracks from the iconic 1975 From South Africa to South Carolina album, also gets an expansive treatment, Wade maintaining an enigmatic, misty distance from Scott-Heron’s snide, insistent delivery, Stryker channeling a period-perfect feel with his octaves.

Arguably the most apt choice of songs here is Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman, from the 1974 album The First Minute of a New Day – simply being sung by a woman, let alone with as much conviction as Wade brings this, elevates Scott-Heron’s message of community solidarity. Actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner narrates the historically biting proto hip-hop intro to Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd & Till, an improvisational tableau with a lively solo from saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. Likewise, Christian McBride provides a spoken-word intro to a lushly assertive take of the understatedly snide Peace Go With You Brother, from the 1974 album Winter in America. The most obscure track here is The Vulture (Your Soul And Mine), a clave-soul mashup based on a cut from Scott-Heron’s final and forgettable album I’m New Here.

Is That Jazz is the one song that would have been really awesome to hear Wade do here. Can’t you imagine Plaxico playing that bitingly bluesy intro…and then Wade scampering down the scale, or up the scale as that groove kicks in? And wouldn’t that be hilarious when she got to the chorus? Is that jazz? OMG, is that jazz! The album’s not out yet, therefore no streaming link: put out a Google alert for when it hits Spotify, Soundcloud or Bandcamp.

July 7, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christian McBride Strips It Down to a Trio

How does Christian McBride keep making albums? Between the PBS gig and the constant touring, whether as bandleader or sideman, it’s a wonder he gets anything else done. And he’s got another album out, Out Here, on Mack Avenue, a trio project of all things with Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens on drums. This particular configuration took shape when Steve Wilson and Warren Wolf couldn’t make an Inside Straight gig and instead of calling out for subs, McBride decided to do the show as a trio. First thought, best thought. Conceptually, it pretty much follows the same tangent as McBride’s latest album of originals with Inside Straight, People Music. If that was the party, this is the afterparty. It’s a blues album, more or less.

They open by sneaking their way into the minor blues Ham Hocks & Cabbage – Owens crashes a bit, McBride walks, Sands pounces a little, underscoring Owens’ emphatic solo. I Guess I’ll Have to Forget gets an expansve, low-key bolero simmer, McBride’s wry tiptoeing solo handing off to an impressionistic, Debussyesque Sands – and they then join voices and raise the dance. Easy Walker starts out genial, with a slow build, and then they swing it with a Wouldn’t You Be Nice to Come Home To vibe.

While My Favorite Things might seem a nonsensical choice without the sax, they reinvent it as an explosive romp: THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS, DAMMIT! East of the Sun & West of the Moon works its way slowly into a spacious, syncopated swing, a vehicle for precise, animated McBride solos. Cherokee messes up the tempos with Sands’ wicked, blistering solos, McBride’s solo trading with the drums and offering relief from the red-zone intensity. More bitter than sweet, I Have Dreamed sees McBride bowing somberly over wary, judicious piano, a stark contrast with what preceded it. The album winds up with Who’s Making Love and its pulsing Another One Rides the Bus vibe, and seems like it could be a lark until a solid, hard-hitting, bluesy Sands solo. The one track here that sounds like an alternate take is the rapidfire Hallelujah Time – they come soooooo close to nailing it but don’t quite hit it, and given that they’re confident enough to tackle it at all at such high velocity, it’s a good bet that another take would have been the one.

August 9, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ellingtonian Depth and Purpose from Christian McBride

On one hand, to spend time on Christian McBride and Inside Straight’s new Mack Avenue album People Music here, when it’s already been out for two weeks and most everybody who wants it probably already has it, might not make a lot of sense. On the other hand, this is an important album for 2013. To call it Ellingtonian wouldn’t be off the mark. Deeply rooted in the blues, with strong hooks, gritty tunesmithing and a purposeful, workmanlike performance from an inspired cast of A-listers (slightly subsumed in the crisp digital production), it’s one of the best albums of the year. The concept of People Music is music for the people: tunes and a beat. Obviously, it’s not that simple. McBride’s mix of brisk, matter-of-fact swing and expansive balladry leans toward the dark side and mixes up the metrics: it’s a long way from being a pop record. Everybody’s on the same page: besides McBride, most of the album features Steve Wilson on alto and soprano sax, Carl Allen on drums, Peter Martin on piano and Warren Wolf on vibes, with Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens switching in on piano and drums on two tracks.

Sands’ steely-eyed lyricism drives the memorable opening track, the minor-key swing blues Listen to the Heroes Cry, handing off to an understatedly plaintive McBride bass solo. The bright, Brazilian-tinged Fair Hope Theme is a Wolf feature: it’s a dead ringer for a Behn Gillece tune, which is a compliment to both McBride’s writing and Wolf’s playing. The showstopper here is Gang Gang with its rolling, Indian-inflected rhythm, a biting piano vamp (Sands again) teaming with the vibraphone for a creepy carnivalesque crescendo, Allen’s deft cymbals peppering the rewarding final ascent.

Maya Angelou gets a ballad that portrays her with a nonchalant majesty, Wilson’s balmy soprano sax handing off to a tender Wolf spot that  builds to an unexpected clave groove and then winds down again. The Movement has an agitated, flurrying Mingus bustle, the whole band’s no-nonsense, percussive attack making its way methodically to an edgy Wilson alto solo. His alto also serves as a fiery foil to the nonchalantly dancing, staccato pulse of Usual Suspects, while Dream Train works a fast tiptoeing swing groove, Wolf’s rapidfire ripples in a tug-of-war with Martin’s purposeful, tumbling attack. They reprise the New Hope theme at the end as slinky clave soul. Is it any wonder why McBride is so popular?

May 29, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz for Obama 2012: Unforgettable

Jazz for Obama 2012 last night at Symphony Space was like one of those Kennedy Center New Year’s Eve concerts, a hall of fame lineup, except that this one vociferously represented the 99%. Only a special occasion like this could bring together such an all-star cast from five generation of jazz: Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Jim Hall, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Jeff “Tain” Watts, to name less than half of the cast. Inspired by the prospect of playing for free for the sake of benefiting the re-election campaign of a President who, as one of the organizers put it, “comes across as the only adult in the room,” they delivered what might be the most transcendent concert of the year. There’s an interview with organizer/pianist Aaron Goldberg up at artinfo that provides a lot of useful background.

Yet as ecstatic as the music was, there was a persistent unease. Timeless tenor sax sage Jimmy Heath kicked off the show alongside Barrron, Carter and the purist Greg Hutchinson on drums, with a soulful take of There Will Never Be Another You followed by Autumn in New York. Evocative and wistful as that one was, Heath ended it with a moody series of tritones, perfectly capsulizing the pre-election tension that hostess Dee Dee Bridgewater brought up again and again, imagining the spectre of Mitt Romney in the Oval Office. Guitarist Hall, who was particularly energized to be part of the festivities, joined Carter in a warmly conversational duo of All the Things You Are and then a biting blues. After a bright Barron/Carter ballad, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane joined Allen, McBride and drummer Ralph Peterson for a wrenchingly epic take of one of Barack Obama’s favorite songs, John Coltrane’s Wise One. Its searing ache and ominous modalities were inescapable even as the quartet finally took it swinging with a redemptive thunderstorm from Peterson and his cymbals. As  Bridgewater put it, “That was a moment!”

Tyner and tenorist Joe Lovano followed, maintaining the full-throttle intensity with Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit, the pianist’s menacing low lefthand sostenuto vortices contrasting with the sax’s sharp, bluesy directness. After that, their take of Search for Peace held steady, majestic and unselfconsciously righteous. The first set closed with a playful bass/vocal duet on It’s Your Thing by Bridgewater and McBride.

The second part of the show opened with Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato teaming up for a couple of Brazilian-tinged pop songs. Mehldau was joined by McBride for a rapturous, casually contemplative take on Monk’s Think of One – and where was Tain? Oh yeah, there he was, jumping in and adding his signature irrepressible wit.

Claudia Acuna then led a family band of Arturo O’Farrill on piano, his sons Zack on drums and Adam on trumpet, Craig Haynes on congas and Alex Hernandez on bass through a blazing, insistent, Puerto Rican-spiced Moondance that simply would not be denied. After that, bass legend Henry Grimes wasted no time in thoroughly Grimesing Freedom Jazz Dance. Completely still but masterful with his fleet fingers, he took Allen and Watts on an expansive, surreal, brisk outer-space AACM-age stroll on the wings of microtones, slides, and a handful of wicked rasps. And Allen and Watts were game! She waited for her moment and then joined in with an off-center, minimalist lunar glimmer while Watts added distant Plutonian whispers. The concert ended on a high-spirited note with Goldberg taking over the keys for a boisterousl warped version of Epistrophy, along with McBride, Lovano and ageless drum legend Roy Haynes bedeviling his mates throughout an endless series of false starts, and endings, and good-natured japes: the tune hardly got past the waltzing introductory hook, McBride patiently looping it as Haynes shamelessly energized the crowd. It would have been impossible to end the show on a better note, equal parts exhilaration and dread.

Some of you may have reservations about another Obama administration, but consider the alternative: a corporate raider who’s made millions putting his fellow citizens out of work, who cavalierly looks forward to nuclear war with Iran and has such contempt for the American public that he doesn’t even bother to cover his lies. We are in a depression, no doubt: we will be in an even worse one if Romney might win, perish the thought. For those of you who aren’t out of work and can afford an investment in the future, there’s still time to help our President’s reelection campaign at WWW.JAZZFOROBAMA2012.COM.

October 10, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Believe the Hype About Donald Vega

Memo to jazz bloggers: if somebody sends you a great album and you sit on it, you might just get scooped by the New York Times. Well, not that often – but it could happen, just as it did when the folks at Resonance sent over a copy of pianist Donald Vega’s new album, Spiritual Nature. Not that it needs the Times’ imprimatur (although he deserves the press): the album stands on its own merits as one of 2012’s most memorable. The Nicaraguan-born, California-educated Vega, a protege of John Clayton and Ron Carter, has listened deeply and absorbed much of the best postbop from the 60s forward along with plenty of salsa jazz and classical, influences he blends with equal parts power and subtlety, gravitas and grace. He has a veteran’s touch and a bag of licks to match, so it’s hard to think of another player of his generation that he resembles. One comparison from an earlier era, who continues to blend melodicism and improvisational latin-flavored bite as a member of the Cookers, is George Cables.

Vega is also a strong composer, as evidenced right off the bat with the album’s hard-hitting opening cut, Scorpion, from its no-nonsense horn hook (Bob Sheppard on alto sax, Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet and Bob McChesney on trombone) to Christian McBride’s tersely walking pulse, Lewis Nash’s counterintuitive drum attack and Vega’s lyrical, richly blues-tinged solos. Just the presence of that rhythm section signals how purist and auspicious this session became. The second cut, Ron Carter’s First Trip, interchanges balletesque syncopation and oldschool swing; they follow that with a balmy take on Monty Alexander’s River, featuring gossamer violin from Christian Howes, McBride anchoring Vega’s delicate blend of neoromanticism and the blues firmly in the earth. A second Alexander composition, Accompong, gets a considerably brighter, more bouncy interpretation, crescendoing with Anthony Wilson’s bubbly guitar work trading with Vega’s more spiky phrasing.

With its alternately light and dark modal dichotomy, swaying clave pulse and relentlessly crescendoing intensity from Vega, the title track – another Vega composition – is a standout here. Vega amps up the ambuiguity and suspense on a Neils Henning-Orsted Pedersen jazz waltz, Future Child, before taking it in a more genial yet restrained direction, as he does a little later with his ballad Contemplation, moving from spare and wary and then relaxing as an artfully arranged series of distinct horn voices emerges. Makato Ozone’s You Never Tell Me Anything gets a straight-up jump blues treatment: Vega’s exuberant flurries leaping onto the tail end of a bustling Nash drum break are one of the album’s most characteristic examples of the rich, purist interplay here.

Vega’s arrangement of Scriabin’s Etude, Op. 8., No. 2 is both lyrical and great fun, incorporating both Ethiopian melodic tropes and rhythms, a jazz waltz, and an absolutely gorgeous piano solo that Vega sends spiraling downward to darker terrain. A Jobim diptych, Falando de Amor; Tema de Amor gets a similarly third-stream, expansive take, while Vega’s Child’s Play has the feel of a jazzed-up Caribbean folk song, with its carefree violin and Nash’s playful conga-flavored groove. The album ends with Benny Golson’s Clifford Brown homage I Remember Clifford, building slowly and methodically to become more of a fond wee-hours reminiscence than an elegy. As far as both the compositions and the playing here are concerned, this album is head and shoulders above 99% of what’s come out this year. It’s deep stuff. It takes a long time to get to know and all of that is a pleasure.

August 18, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez Is the Real Deal

A lot of people, this blog along with them, slept on Cuban-American pianist Alfredo Rodriguez’ debut album Sounds of Space when it first came out on Mack Avenue this past spring and that was a mistake. Quincy Jones produced, and has gone to bat for Rodriguez, whose dark, intense third-stream compositions and eclectic playing are auspicious to the point of putting him at the front of the pack for rookie of the year, 2012. Rodriguez’ training is classical; unsurprisingly, he’s just as adept at salsa jazz, but ultimately it’s his compositions that impress the most here.

The album’s most amazing number, Fog, is the only one of its kind here, a towering cinematic noir theme that could be a lost track from The Individualism of Gil Evans, featuring wind ensemble the Santa Cecilia Quartet. With brooding piano and terse bass puncturing the ominous mist of close harmonies, sudden horror cadenzas punctuating its creepy, nocturnal glimmer, it has a visceral power equalled by few other compositions released this year. Let’s hope that Rodriguez has more of these up his sleeve.

That’s the album’s final cut – getting there is an enjoyable and frequently bracing ride. The album opens on a disarmingly playful Carib jazz note lit up by Rodriguez’ balmy melodica phrasing and whispery piano over the suspenseful pulse of bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Francisco Mela, who eventually return to join Rodriguez on the tuneful Oxygen, a vividly Cuban take on late 50s Brubeck, and as it goes on, ragtime. Bassist Gaston Joya and drummer/percussionist Michael Olivera supply the grooves the rest of the way, along with multi-reedman Ernesto Vega, whose soprano sax adds nostalgic lyricism to the second track, Sueno de Paseo. The strangely titled Silence is cinematic to the max, with furtively scurrying piano/bass crescendos leading up to an unexpectedly buoyant soprano sax interlude, Rodriguez veering from dark to light, eventually mingling salsa and gospel tinges into the rhythmic intensity. The genial, tinkling salsa jazz tune Cubop is more Cuban than bop, while the Schumann-esque April sets a chillingly rippling neoromantic mood: for Rodriguez, it’s still winter.

With its distant, uneasy modalities, spaciousness and tricky 9/4 tempo, the title track evokes Christian McBride’s recent work. Crossing the Border is another cinematic narrative, incorporating elements of boogie-woogie as well as salsa and the neoromantic. A Ernesto Lecuona homage has a lilting, Brubeck-ish pulse, juxtaposing biting atonalities with warmer, dancing spirals. The arc of the album reaches higher with the dynamically rich Transculturation, bristling with a succession of suspense motifs, off-center chromatics and biting Middle Eastern clarinet over a brisk clave beat. And then the fog rolls in. If you caught up with this before we did, good for you: if not, don’t miss the boat a second time around.

August 15, 2012 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Auspicious Studio Debut of the Christian McBride Big Band

If you think that kids only have an interest in stuff that’s on the web, talk to students in a jazz program, or just young people who’ve just found their jazz muse. The excitement is visceral – they’ve been waiting patiently for Christian McBride’s first album with his big band, titled The Good Feeling, just out on Mack Avenue. That excitement may be quaint, but it’s inspiring all the same. From the perspective of seeing McBride do some of these tunes live earlier this year, the cool kids are right (they always are) – the album was worth the wait.

Auspiciously, in a lot of places, this evokes nothing less than Mingus. Which makes sense – McBride is to the teens what Mingus was for a couple of decades, simply the most respected jazz bassist around. His approach characteristically balances excitement with gravitas, and occasionally a sly sense of humor. From the gleefully chugging baritone sax-and-bass intro to the opening swing number, Shake N Blake to the closing cut, In a Hurry, it’s a tuneful, meticulously arranged ride. The opening track sets the stage: a long expansive tenor solo cut off by big brass blasts, trumpeter Nicholas Payton being his good-natured self, trombonist Steve Davis taking it into apprehensively fluttering territory, and a cleverly tiptoeing solo by the bandleader himself that eventually starts stomping and brings the band back joyously.

The second track, Broadway, begins with Ron Blake’s understated soprano sax driving against the lush arrangement, with a long, deviously bluesy, literally unstoppable McBride solo. This version of the clave classic Brother Mister (which McBride also covered on his Kind of Brown album) gets a pillowy, staccato brass chart, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson sailing over the impatient rhythm section, with a bracing blast of brass setting off the second chorus as the whole band spins in a vortex. Live in concert in Manhattan earlier this summer, the song was every bit the casual showstopper it is here. The album’s centerpiece is a genuine classic, a titanic, practically twelve-minute version of Science Fiction (from McBride’s 2000 album Sci-Fi). It’s a noir suite straight out of Mingus: conspiratorial chatter over a clave beat; a blistering, fast swing shuffle with a bracing Todd Bashore alto sax solo; a chilling low-register bridge that goes straight to the murder scene, Xavier Davis’ piano fueling a riff that evokes Ennio Morricone’s Taxi Driver Theme.

The Shade of the Cedar Tree makes its way through to a clever false ending with Payton’s cool, bluesy vibe, Blake’s tenor interpolated judiciously against the towering ambience. Nat Cole’s I Should Care shifts from practically ethereal to surprisingly brooding, but Payton picks it up wryly and Blake keeps it going in that direction. They do A Taste of Honey as a jazz waltz – that one will resonate more with those who prefer the Herb Alpert version over the Beatles’. With its blazing crescendos and gingerly pointillistic bass/piano tradeoffs, Blues in Alphabet City vividly evokes the days when the Lower East Side New York neighborhood was interesting, before it turned into a wasteland of suburban conspicuous consumption. The album closes with the rapidfire swing of In a Hurry, Payton taking his time before he goes absolutely ballistic, McBride balancing intensity with a dark wit as he bows his solo, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. bringing in a thinly disguised, jaunty second line rhythm

The rest of the orchestra deserves a shout-out as well: Todd Williams on tenor and flute; Loren Schoenberg (maestro of the Jazz Museum in Harlem) on tenor on two tunes; Carl Maraghi on baritone sax and bass clarinet; Frank Greene, Freddie Hendrix and Nabate Isles on trumpets; Michael Dease and James Burton on trombones; Douglas Purviance on bass trombone; and Melissa Walker on vocals. When uploading to your phone or your pod, you may want to omit the vocal tunes: it’s not that Walker doesn’t sing them well, it’s just that trying to squeeze substance out of material like When I Fall in Love is like getting getting blood from a stone.

September 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warren Wolf’s New Album Mixes It Up Memorably

Jazz vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s latest album, a self-titled effort which serves as his Mack Avenue debut, gets more interesting the more you hear it. It alternates boisterous Friday night saloon tunes with some surprisingly intense ballads, as well as a shapeshifting solo workout – on both vibraphone and marimba – on Chick Corea’s Señor Mouse. Wolf’s supporting cast is characteristically first-class – longtime influence/mentor/bandmate Christian McBride on bass, Greg Hutchinson on drums and Peter Martin on piano along with Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Tim Green on alto and soprano sax.

The opening cut, 427 Mass Ave. (the address of Boston jazz hotspot Wally’s Cafe) is a cleverly camouflaged blues with a sprightly bounce and bright solo spots for Pelt, for Green’s alto, an exuberant sprint from the bandleader himself and then McBride, who finally can’t resist getting caught up in the moment. Then they get quiet with Natural Beauties, a gentle but matter-of-fact ballad, Wolf taking it up a notch and then turning it over to a geninely tender Green soprano sax solo. Sweet Bread is a briskly pulsing, catchy postbop swing tune, horns taking turns in a tug-of-war with piano and vibes. Then they go back down with the brooding How I Feel at This Given Moment , Wolf edging toward noir the first time around, more relaxed the second, with Martin echoing him. It’s as if the two came into the bar stressed, has a couple of drinks and suddenly concluded that the world doesn’t look so bad

Eva is a hot little number, briskly swinging with wary chromatics, vivid pointillisms from Wolf and matter-of-fact buoyancy from Green’s alto. Best known as a Bill Evans tune, the version of Emily here gets a late 70s soul/pop tinge done. They follow that with the most potent song here, Katrina, a sad, bitter New Orleans nocturne that turns funky and even creepier for a bit before heading into swing with some memorably rapidfire staccato Wolf phrasing.

One for Lenny is a full-throttle showstopper dedicated to their Boston drummer friend Lenny Nelson, who’s known for speed. They juxtapose that one with the slowest tune here, Martin’s Intimate Dance, a jazz waltz. One especially notable feature is that maybe due to the presence of McBride, the production here gives the low end a little boost of fatness which makes a great contrast with the ringing highs of the vibes. This album ought to draw a big crowd of fans who like their jazz vivid and tuneful. Wolf will be at the Vanguard later this year with McBride’s Inside Straight, a crew whose shows this year have validated their reputation for vigor and entertainment.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/23/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #678:

Jeff “Tain” Watts – Watts

Most political and social commentary in jazz has been limited to musical portrayals of various types of pain and suffering. Inspired by the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and the malfeasance of the Bush regime, here’s a rare one that doesn’t limit itself to just the tunes. The iconic, powerhouse drummer and sometime bandleader is joined on this 2009 release, his most recent, by Branford Marsalis on saxes, Terence Blanchard on trumpet and another powerhouse, Christian McBride on bass. It’s a diverse mix of New Orleans second line tunes, funk and bracing improvisation, all imbued with Watts’ signature sense of humor, frequently vicious and satirical. Katrina James, a hurricane reminiscence, is cynical to the extreme; Wry Koln, with its tongue-in-cheek latin groove, isn’t the slightest bit teutonic. There’s also the bitter, intense Dancing 4 Chicken, the playful Monk homage Dingle-Dangle and the eerie atmospherics of M’Buzai. The centerpiece is a brutally funny evisceration of George W. Bush’s legacy, The Devil’s Ring Tone: The Movie – which includes a conversation between the devil and Bush’s attorney, and is reprised as a stand-alone instrumental at the end. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but most of it is streaming at myspace, and it’s still available from cdbaby.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment