Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Another Picturesque, Edgy Album and a Mezzrow Release Show by the Danny Fox Trio

There are few more colorful or individualistic bands in jazz than the Danny Fox Trio. Considering that they’ve been together for about a decade, there are also few other groups with as much devious interplay as pianist Fox, bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman typically conjure up. Their latest album The Great Nostalgist – just out, and not at Spotify or the other spots yet – is a typically playful, frequently sardonic, constantly shapeshifting series of themes that reflect on childhood, adolescence and eventually the surreal daily grind of being a busy Brooklyn musician. They’re playing the album release show on Jan 22 at 8 PM at Mezzrow; cover is $20.

The opening number, Adult Joe, sets the stage: looping piano figures spiced with bass and drum flourishes spiral outward, with echoes of Monk, Philip Glass and Russian Romanticism. Theme for Gloomy Bear, dedicated to a giant pink stuffed animal, opens with a predictable but irresistible quote, then Fox builds from a suspensefully hypnotic crescendo toward a more emphatic rhythmic drive, taking his time as Goldman mists the windows with his cymbals. The bass leaps as the piano lingers; Steely Dan comes to mind for a flash or two; Fox hints at sharp-fanged boogie-woogie but never goes there.

Jewish Cowboy (the Real Josh Geller) is even more surreal, a minor-key bluegrass romp syncopatedly warped into piano jazz, with even more vivid Donald Fagen echoes. A puckishly suspenseful bass/drums vista interrupts the revelry, then they’re off again.

Fox’s talents are not confined to the piano: as a gradeschooler, he was a champion ice cream eater, memorialized in Cookie Puss Prize, a surprisingly moody, insistently looping ballad, Goldman putting the icing on the cake (sorry, couldn’t resist) as phrases wind up. Could Goldman’s droll kitchen-sink solo signal the end of a ten-year-old’s dreary schoolday and the top popping off an industrial-size Carvel drum?

Truant was composed on the fly, and on the sly, dodging college security in vacant but off-limits practice rooms. This brooding micro-suite shifts from neoromantic lustre to gently tumbling phrases and more of the cell-like riffs Fox returns to throughout the album.

Caterpillar Serenade references the toy accordion Fox’s brother played for him on the occasion of his sixth birthday, although the song is hardly blithe, music-box ambience interchanging with a starkly bluesy, emphatic drive. The wryly titled, expansive Preamble gives the whole ensemble a chance to methodically survey their surroundings through matter-of-fact metric shifts and hints of Monk.

With its bounding, hard-hitting riffage from piano and bass, Fat Frog – another 80s frozen food reference – brings to mind a leaner kind of amphibian. The bass propels a jaunty tiptoe swing that veers toward ragtime: gotta get to the Mister Softee truck before it closes!

Emotional Baggage Carousel, inspired by a New York airport incident, goes bouncing round and round in a kaleidoscope of emotions that ripple toward stern and Tschaikovskian: is that the bag? Nope. Over there? Umm…Or maybe this is the baggage, with accents and energy from all over the world, doing the talking.

The album closes with Old Wash World, a shout-out to Fox’s local laundromat. dancing along over an altered stride lefthand. His laundromat fixation is common for New Yorkers: those places can be dear to our hearts. In the pre-internet era, a future daily New York music blog proprietor relished the chance to do laundry because that was the only place in the neighborhood where a portable radio could pull jazz station WBGO. And Brooklyn jazz hotspot Barbes occupies a former laundromat space.

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January 19, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Majestic, Sweepingly Cinematic, Often Haunting Trio Album from Pianist Guy Mintus

Pianist Guy Mintus’ music has depth, and gravitas, and glimmer, and an often cinematic sweep. Israeli pianists tend to embrace both western classical music as well as the edgy minor keys and chromatics common to Jewish and  Middle Eastern music, and Mintus is no exception. His sound is very distinctive: there’s no real comparison, although from time to time he evokes the nocturnal majesty of Shai Maestro, the phantasmagorical side of Frank Kimbrough and the counterintuitively dark explorations of Danny Fox. Mintus’s new album, A Home In Between, with his long-running trio, bassist Tamir Shmerling and drummer Philippe Lemm – bits and pieces of which are online at Mintus’ music page and at Soundcloud – is due out tomorrow. The trio are playing the album release show on June 20 at 7:30 PM at the big room at the Rockwood. Cover is $12.

The album opens with an ambitious diptych of sorts, Our Journey Together, a bittersweet, neoomantic waltz spiced with the occasional striking, menacing chromatic. As the theme diverges, Mintus takes a couple of breathtakingly precise cascades, then everything falls apart. The band pulls it together again slowly, up to a long, broodingly triumphant coda lit up with uneasy Lennie Tristano close harmonies and a big drum hailstorm.

Lemm anchors Mibifnim, a disquietingly altered bolero, as a shuffle drag while Shmerling adds elegantly fugal counterpoint, Mintus quoting Rachmaninoff and spinning wryly leapfrogging flourishes around the moody melody. Background shifts dissociatively between stride, Chopin and hard bop before Lemm cracks the whip and takes everybody swinging up to a big, rumbling drum solo.

Shmerling plays the role of percussionist, then takes a morosely microtonal solo to open the Levantine dirge Zeybekiko for the Brave, echoing both the Golan Heights and the Greek isles, Mintus’ incisive passing tones reaching a red-sunset crescendo over the walls of Jerusalem.

A spare trouble-in-deep-space conversation between bass and piano opens In the Moment, which goes in a more playful, funky direction reminiscent of Fox. Smile is a journey rather than a destination, opening with a very artfully implied, latin-tinged menace, then slowly brightens, up to a cheerily circling piano riff and neoromantic variations, wryly interpolating the old standard.

Desert Song begins as a hushed, plaintive, slow ballad against Lemm’s shadowy cymbals, glittering with chromatics, Mintus then building a distantly troubled anthem in the same vein as the album’s opening track. A dip where the band pulls apart gingerly contrasts with Mintus’ big, spiraling crescendo: sounds like they finally made it to the oasis.

Mintus’ allusively Middle Eastern solo improvisation introduces Coban Sirto, a whirlingly carnivalesque Balkan dance fueled by Lemm’s rat-a-tat on the toms, Mintus’ twistedly swaying circus riffs and Shmerling’s leaping, bounding insistence. The final cut is My Ideal, Mintus solo, slicing and dicing with Errol Garner-ish flair and a playful spaciousness. The best piano trio album of 2017 by a mile, so far.

June 18, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tuneful, Labyrinthine, Edgy New Album from the Danny Fox Trio

Danielle Spradley‘s cd cover illustration on the Danny Fox Trio‘s new album Wide Eyed is a woodcut in the style of Paul Klee. In the lower righthand corner, there’s a guy with an accordion – or is it a piano? – strapped to his back, facing a vortex. In some ways, Fox is a smart guy surrounded by idiots – but obviously not in his regular band, featuring bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman. They’re playing the album release show on May 9 at 8 PM at Subculture; cover is $15.

Much as there’s plenty of good jazz coming out of New York, the annoying affectations of indie rock have filtered into some of it. Spastic, burp-and-fart jazz has been around a long time, but there’s a Brooklyn clique who’ve taken it to new levels of awkwardness. Fox, who can conjure melody and meaning out of thin air, is a refreshing antidote to that. He has a distinctive, instantly recognizable voice on the piano, his shapeshifting, neoromantically-infused melodies with an almost ADD restlessness coupled with a wit that’s sometimes devious and sometimes gives way to exasperation and anger. The compositions here are more labyrinthine than those on Fox’s previous album, 2012′s cinematic The One Constant: it’s almost as if he decided to take everything in his tunebook and get it all in the can.

Although the idiom here is jazz, there’s an interweave of themes here that draws a straight line back to Beethoven and Haydn. The opening track, Sterling, is characteristic: impatient circular riffage gives way to rippling neoromantics and then a mathrock stroll that Fox finally leaves with an unexpectedly bluesy warmth, followed by a cleverly implied modal theme and then back to variations on the mathrock. That’s a lot to digest, but the band makes it look easy.

Bonkers circles around a rather petulant theme that Fox ends by enlisting his bandmates in a valiant attempt to make rhythmic sense of it. All Tolled takes a bell-like, Mompou-esque hook and builds to wry, sardonic, dynamically charged variations, bringing to mind the satire of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The catchy, scurrying Drone – maybe about a drone zeroing in on its target? – peaks out with a rippling, circular piano hook. The wounded but undeterred title track is the closest thing here to the moody elegance of Fox’s previous album, while Confederates brings back the sarcasm, from a judiciously spacious intro to an exuberant march that’s too exuberant by half.

Short Al in Brooklyn – a shout-out to a notorious WFAN caller – starts as laid-back summery groove that never really finds its center notwithstanding Fox’s jaunty phrasing. Could it be that Short Al is short something else maybe? Fox follows that with Patriot Daze, a contemplative neoromantic mood piece and then Punches, a rippling departure into water music fueled by Goldman’s wavelike cymbals, dancing bass and a couple of droll ascents on the piano. Funhouse Memory is a mini-suite, loopy phrasing making way for an unexpectedly otherworldly, outer-space interlude, Fox’s aggressive block chords hitting a bluesy groove and then more neoromanticisms. Tumble Quiet, which Goldman drives from moody, echoey spaciousness to a prowling, loopy vamp, ends suddenly and enigmatically, as Fox often does here. Endings can be messy and Fox isn’t afraid to hit them head-on. There’s a lot to sink your ears into here.

May 4, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

The Danny Fox Trio Makes a Suspense Film for the Ears

Vivid, intense and often unselfconsciously dark, many of the compositions on the Danny Fox Trio’s latest album The One Constant follow a cinematic trajectory, frequently into very creepy territory. If pianist Fox ever gets tired of jazz, he has a career in film scores waiting to happen. He’s a hard hitter, yet very precise and also very rhythmic. Fond of nonstandard tempos (and jazz waltzes), he’ll frequently loop a riff and run melody over it, or variations on that riff. Bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman are essentially a supporting cast here, but Fox works their contributions in artfully, whether an off-center conversation between piano and drums on the moody, triplet-driven Sadbeard, or the cello-like bass owing on the waltz Even Tempered, a deadpan mashup of Bach Invention and Beethoven Moonlight Sonata that builds to a completely unexpected menace.

Fox also isn’t afraid to cut loose with a sarcastic sense of humor: one gets the impression that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The Icebox mocks electronic club music, from techno to trip-hop, at one point the whole group joining in a leaden thump on the beat. And then the club becomes a crime scene with another welcome digression into noir. Then there’s Drama King, somebody who’ll do just about anything for attention, whether hinting at an operatic buffoonery or hammering again and again on the same idea until it’s genuinely annoying (the punchline of the joke is too satisfying to give away here). And Bad Houseguest starts out funky before the visitor begins behaving badly – and gets shown the door with a bang.

But it’s the more serious tracks here that really pack a wallop. The opening cut, Next Chapter juxtaposes blithe loopiness with Satie-esque menace, while Easily Distracted, a syncopated, modal tango of sorts, very cleverly works in major-on-minor effects: it reminds of Michel Reis’ recent work. Trudge trudges heavily in waltz time, from an insistently macabre, Tschaikovskian slog, to a richly crescendoing, far more triumphant theme. Likewise, Fable’s End reaches for a cinematic, dynamically charged sweep, including a digression into a surprisingly salsa-flavored bass solo. And the stomp recurs with a vengeance on the methodically more apprehensive Room 120. There are also a couple of more lighthearted, funky, even danceable tunes along with the brooding, tense title track, another jazz waltz with some marvelously well-chosen echo effects from Fox. As tuneful as it is cerebral, the album makes a great introduction to a resolutely individualistic, powerful voice in third-stream jazz.

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