Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Slinky, Sophisticated Organ Jazz That Might Have Slipped Under the Radar

Dr. Pam Popper, who has emerged as one of the brightest lights  since the 2020 lockdown, has made a big deal of the fact that no matter how disturbing the current situation becomes, we can’t afford to let our joie de vivre be stolen from us. And what’s better to lift our spirits than funky organ jazz? Jared Gold, one of the most sophisticated organists in that demimonde, is leading a trio tomorrow night, June 22 at Smalls, with sets at 7:30 and a little after 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

Gold has put out plenty of good albums of his own: his 2012 release Golden Child is the most distinctive and in its own defiantly thorny way, maybe the best of the bunch. A record that’s probably closer to what he’s likely to deliver in a venue like Smalls is guitarist Dave Stryker‘s slinky but urbane Baker’s Circle, streaming at Bandcamp (Gold has been Stryker’s main man on organ for quite awhile). Like a lot of albums that came out during the dead zone of the winter of 2021, it’s flown under the radar, which is too bad because it’s a great party record.

The first of Stryker’s originals here is the opening track, Tough – a briskly shuffling, catchy, soul-infused Styker original full of precise, warmly bending guitar lines, bright tenor sax from Walter Smith III and subtle flashes from across drummer McClenty Hunter’s kit. Gold stays on track with the band in his solo, with his steady blues riffage.

There’s lithely tumbling latin flair in the second track, El Camino, matched by Smith’s precise, chromatic downward cascades, Stryker’s drive toward a spiraling attack and a tantalizingly brief Gold solo.

Smith and Gold harmonize tersely over the tricky syncopation of Dreamsong, the bandleader channeling a late 50s soul-jazz vibe over lurking, resonant organ. They make tightly strutting swing out of Cole Porter’s Everything I Love, with carefree yet judicious lines from both the bandleader and then Gold. The lone Gold tune here is the aptly titled, scampering Rush Hour, with rambunctious solos from Smith and then Stryker.

The quartet rescue Leon Russell’s early 70s tune Superstar from the circle of hell occupied by groups like the Carpenters, then launch into the title track, the last of the Stryker originals. No spoilers about what jazz classic that one nicks: percussionist Mayra Casales adds subtle boom to the low end.

Likewise, they play Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues as a tightly straight-up clave tune with Stryker’s spikiest work here, Gold’s edge in contrast with Smith’s balmy approach. Stryker finally goes for Wes Montgomery homage in Love Dance, by Ivan Lins. They close the record with Trouble (No. 2), a reworking of the old Lloyd Price hit that while short of feverish, owes a lot to Peggy Lee.

If you’re wondering what the album title refers to, it’s a shout-out to Stryker’s mentor and guitar teacher David Baker.

June 21, 2022 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lithely Orchestral New Album From Guitarist Dave Stryker

Dave Stryker is known for being one of the most purposeful guitarists in jazz, and much of that is due to the deep blues influence that runs through his music. His latest album As We Are – streaming at Bandcamp – is his first with a string section, and interestingly the blues takes a backseat to more tropical inflections here. It’s the rare lean orchestral jazz album, 180 degrees from those Wes Montgomery records that were needlessly gunked up with unimaginative string arrangements. Pianist Julian Shore’s charts for the quartet of violinists Sara Caswell and Monica K.Davis, violist Benni von Gutzeit and cellist Marika Hughes are sleek yet biting, often adding disquiet rather than expected pillowy atmosphere. Bassist John Patitucci and Brian Blade provide understated, lithe propulsion.

There’s a brief, wistfully crescendoing string quartet overture to introduce the first full-band number, Lanes, beginning as a lean quasi-bossa. The rest of the band match Stryker’s economy of notes through his solo. Shore takes a rippling solo as the strings rise with a distantly wafting unease.

The album’s lone cover is a radical reinvention of Nick Drake’s River Man. Stryker’s somber, skeletal phrasing anchors wispy, stratospheric ambience from the strings until Patittucci’s lithe riffage draws the rest of the band in. Caswell sails and dips with a stiletto grace, handing off to Stryker’s similarly nimble, raindrop-dodging solo as the strings mist the windows. No doubt Drake would be satisfied (happy might be too strong a word for that gloomy guy) with the group as they sepulchrally wind their way down and out.

The catchy, tropically vamping Hope is pretty much 180 degrees from that, anchored by Patitucci’s terse pulse. Saudade is a similarly translucent, bittersweet song without words: imagine a mashup of Jimmy Giuffre pastoralia as played by a young George Benson.

The group shift from a moody, altered waltz through flickers of phantasmagoria to a spare, scrambling Shore solo in One Thing At a Time, written by the pianist. Patittucci clusters and romps, up to a long, shivery orchestral interlude; it would be nice to hear more Stryker here.

As We Were is a diptych, an acidically enveloping string intro giving way to a slow, fond, spacious ballad, the high strings contrasting with Stryker and Pattitucci’s genial lines. Dreams Are Real is the album’s catchiest number, Stryker subtly negotiating between a lyrical ballad, darker flamenco echoes, nocturnal lustre that winds up with an anxious ending, and a starry interlude with Shore and the strings.

The final cut is Soul Friend, a lush blend of oldtime gospel rusticity and a reflective sway, Caswell reaching for the sky, Stryker methodically bringing the band in for a bluesy landing. His next free-world gig is with saxophonist Jack Wilkins’ USF Quartet on March 6 at 3 PM at the Tampa Jazz Club, 1411 E 11th St. in Tampa, Florida. Cover is $20; students get in half price.

March 2, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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