Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Thoughtful, Tunefully Arranged Piano Jazz from Mara Rosenbloom

Pianist Mara Rosenbloom’s latest album Songs from the Ground is elegant and purposefuly crafted, with recurrent, sonata-like thematic variations. But there’s a tension here, intentional or not. Alto saxophonist Darius Jones is a hard bop guy: brevity is not necessarily his thing. Rosenbloom is judicious to a fault and anything but showy: she’s all about the tunes. Sometimes that dichotomy provides contrast; in places, it’s jarring. Bassist Sean Conly and drummer Nick Anderson team up for an understated, dancing bounce. True to the album title, everyone keeps things close to the ground: there’s a lot of space here, and nobody uses it more effectively than Rosenbloom.

She also contributes a couple of solo interludes. The album opens with Relief, which builds to a victoriously stately, chordally-fueled third-stream majesty; later, Rosenbloom improvises an insistently crescendoing miniature. The first ensemble track, Whistle Stop, looks back to 80s jazz-pop but with considerably more rhythmic sophistication. taking on a folk-dance pulse on the wings of Rosenbloom’s leaping chords. Small Finds works a simple, emphatic, looped piano figure in 7/4 against Jones’ balmy, gentle lines and eventually goes swinging. Likewise, Unison casts the sax as a string section against Rosenbloom’s circularity and then a marvelously judicious, spacious solo, Conly’s similarly considered solo kicking off an unexpectedly dusky modal drive out. Common Language cleverly takes a wry blues drag and makes an anthem out of it with an expansive but nimbly orchestrated series of exchanges between the sax and piano.

The album winds up with the title track, a rainy-day pastoral epic that rises slowly out of the mist, shifting tempos from a pretty straight-up jazz waltz to a 6/8 sway, Anderson’s tersely emphatic rolls finally signaling a release from restraint for a soaring Jones, moving up and down from carefully considered to a scampering dance. It’s ridiculously catchy, very accessible and just as smartly assembled and played. Not bad for somebody playing with a surgically reconstructed elbow. If it holds up – and let’s hope it does – maybe someday Mara Rosenbloom and Tommy John will have more in common than they realize.

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July 20, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, 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