Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Curmudgeonly View of This Year’s Charlie Parker Festival

Why did the final day of this year’s Charlie Parker Festival at Tompkins Square Park feel so tired? For one, because the order of bands was ass-backwards. Alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, who opened, should have headlined: she and her quartet built an energy that, for many reasons, none of the other acts matched.

The relatively small size of the crowd was also a factor. Sure, there were a lot of people gathered down front, but there was never a problem finding space on the lawn, and the perimeter was deserted. To the west, a homeless guy with wireless speakers was blasting the Carpenters. To the east, a strolling brass band had conveniently picked the afternoon of the festival to compete with Benjamin’s all-Coltrane set during the quietest moments. If Kenny G had been onstage, that interference would have been welcome. But he wasn’t. How classless and uncool!

And as a rock musician would say, other than pianist Fred Hersch, everybody else was playing covers.

Drummer Carl Allen can bring the highest echelon talent wherever he wants, considering the size of his address book.. But the potential fireworks between trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and tenor saxophonist JD Allen never materialized, each reading charts throughout a wide-ranging set of material associated with Art Blakey. Allen was more chill behind the kit than Blakey ever was, and the horns (and spring-loaded bassist Peter Washington, and pianist Eric Reed) went for cruise-control rather than friendly sparring – or otherwise. It was lovely – and it sounded as old as it was.

Ageless tenor saxophonist George Coleman thrilled the crowd with a viscerally breathtaking display of circular breathing throughout one persistently uneasy modal interlude, leading an organ jazz quartet. In another moment, he and his alto player conjured up the aching microtonal acidity of Turkish zurlas. Organist Brian Charette was having a great time bubbling and cascading while the bandleader’s son shuffled and swung and shimmered on his cymbals. But as much veteran talent was on display here, it was mostly Charlie Parker covers.

Benjamin has a bright, brassy, Jackie McLean-esque tone on her horn and a killer band. Pianist Sharp Radway is both sharp and way rad: with his crushing low-register chords, endlessly vortical pools of sound and modal mastery, he was the highlight of the festival. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico walked briskly and pedaled and eventually went to the deepest part of the pocket and stayed there while drummer Darrell Green played much more chill than Elvin Jones ever did with Trane’s band. Benjamin’s decision to work her way up from brooding chromatics and modes all the way to a hypnotically swaying A Love Supreme – with guest vocalist Jazzmeia Horn – was also smart programming. Spiraling and bobbing and weaving, her homage to every saxophonist’s big influence (and sometimes bête noire) was heartfelt and affecting. It also would have been fun to have heard some of her own material: she’s a very eclectic writer and a good singer too.

Maybe the sound guy expected Hersch to savage the keys like Radway did, but he didn’t, and for that reason a lot of his signature subtlety got lost in the mix. Bassist John Hebert’s mutedly terse pulse was often considerably higher, and drummer Eric McPherson – one of the great kings of subtlety – was sometimes almost inaudible. Attack aside, Hersch’s signature mix of neoromantic glimmer, wry humor and gravitas is actually a lot closer to Radway’s style than might seem apparent. Hersch deserved more attention, so that we could have given it back to him more than it seems we did.

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August 25, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charenee Wade Brings Her Souful Depth and Powerful Vocals Back to a Favorite Uptown Spot

Charenee Wade is a rarity, a consummate jazz musician and improviser whose instrument just happens to be vocals. She’s also a major interpreter of Gil Scott-Heron: on her 2015 album Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, she reinvented an intriguing mix of mostly relatively obscure songs by the iconic hip-hop godfather and political firebrand. Onstage. she isn’t just a lead singer in front of a backing unit: her voice is an integral part of a central focal point where she and the members of her excellent quartet converge – and sometimes diverge. She’s playing Ginny’s Supper Club on June 22 with sets at 7 and 9 PM. You can get a seat at the bar for $20.

Her late set there back in mid-February had everything you could want from a concert: smart interplay, fiery solos, strong tunes and dynamic vocals. Wade will hover just a hair above or below a note a la Dinah Washington, but with a much more powerful low register. And yet, Wade also showed off similar power, way up the scale, using her vibrato sparingly when she wanted to add some purr to a phrase.

Pianist Oscar Perez fired off several sabretoothed solos, adding unexpected flash during a handful of fleeting crescendos that made up a much bigger picture as a song, and ultimately the set itself, followed an upward tangent. Bassist Paul Beaudry stuck to walking the changes, holding the center with a purist pulse as drummer Darrell Green colored the music with some unexpected charges of his own, including a rapturously intense take on African talking drums.

After a swinging instrumental intro, Wade began the set with a long, uneasily atmospheric, Alice Coltrane-esque tableau. The highlight of the night was an expansive, harrowing take of the Gil Scott-Heron classic Home Is Where the Hatred Is. But Wade didn’t just do the obvious and scat on the “kick it, quiit it” vamp at the end: she brought a knowing desperation to the verses, a searing portrait of someone driven to addiction rather than simply falling into the trap.

It was Singles Appreciation Night, she told the crowd, so her standards and ballads had a sardonic undercurrent that was sometimes subtle, as in her delicate take of You Taught My Heart to Sing, and then much more overtly cynical as the set picked up steam. They brought a misty, mystical ambience back with a late-70s Scott-Heron tune referencing African spirits blowing on the breeze, Green supplying a dusky, mysterious, shamanistic intro. They finally closed the set with a brief, emphatic segment from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It’s a good bet Wade and her band will mix up the classic and the cutting edge this time around too.

June 8, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment