Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Summery Sounds From Guitarist Yuval Amihai and Pianist David Kikoski

Go to pianist David Kikoski‘s discography page, and as you would expect there are plenty of albums where he’s the bandleader. Scroll down to his sideman projects and you’ll find that the very first album listed is the Mingus Big Band’s sizzling Live at the Jazz Standard album from 2010. Big surprise: Kikoski is a big reason why that album is one of the most exhilarating of the past dozen years. He’s lyrical, he has an edge and he gets a ton of gigs, which is why he doesn’t often get a chance to lead his own projects here. He’s doing that this June 11 with a trio at 10:30 PM at Mezzrow. Cover is $25 cash at the door; he’s back in that intimate space on June 25.

Kikoski is also very versatile. One new album that gives him a chance to go in a direction he hasn’t gone in much lately is Israeli guitarist Yuval Amihai’s My 90s Summer, streaming at Soundcloud. Kikoski plays Rhodes electric piano on this one, which in general is closer to soul and downtempo music than it is jazz.

Amihai opens with the title track, a swaying, summery soul theme with a balmy horn chart: Julieta Eugenio on tenor sax, Wayne Tucker and Itai Kriss on flute giving way to carefree solos by Amihai and Kikorski and a big cheery crescendo. It sets the stage for much of the rest of the record.

The band prowl like a lynx, sleek on its feet but lethal in MEDB (Middle Eastern Desert Blues), with deliciously simmering harmonies from the bandleader and Kikoski’s Rhodes. It doesn’t sound the least bit Malian and it doesn’t sound particularly Middle Eastern either. as Kikoski winds his way through a twinkling, nocturnal solo.

Gwen’s Groove is a vampy trip-hop launching pad for bright, matter-of-fact solos from guitar and Rhodes. The band reach for a balmy, summery lullaby soul sound in Song For Sasha. They follow that with the aptly titled Smiles, Kikoski switching to acoustic piano for a typically glistening, rather impetuous interlude over the tiptoeing syncopation of bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeremy Dutton. It’s the best and most traditional jazz number on the record.

Amihai revisits the furtive nocturnal slink of the album’s second number, if less ominously, in Yitgaber. The album’s big epic is Coming Through, which sounds like a late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan song without words, Kikoski back on piano for an emphatically strolling, blues-infused solo. Amihai gives the record a warmly swaying coda with Saturday Afternoon.

Most of this is not heavy music, but Amihai really knows how to create a mood and keep it going. Clearly, the 90s were a happy time for him. How little those of us who were there knew how much we would eventually miss those

June 6, 2022 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Charles Mingus’ Depth and Irony at the Django This Month

There’s a monthlong celebration of the Charles Mingus centennial going on at the Django right now, which is open without restrictions. One of this month’s potentially most adrenalizing shows is bassist Boris Kozlov’s so-called “Electric Mingus Project” with Johnathan Blake on drums, who are playing at 10 PM on April 9. Kozlov is the musical director of the Mingus Big Band, who have reconvened their weekly 7 PM Monday night residency there after the Jazz Standard, their longtime home, fell victim to the 2020 lockdown. Cover is $25.

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Mingus tribute albums coming out this year, and Kozlov is on one of the best of the bunch so far. Posi-Tone Records pulled together an allstar lineup they call Blue Moods, whose all-Mingus album Myth & Wisdom is streaming at Bandcamp. These guys really nail everything that Mingus is all about – the irony, and gravitas, and cynicism that sometimes boils over.

And while some of these songs are iconic, there are handful of rarer gems as well, often very counterintuitively reinvented. The group open the album with Better Get it in Your Soul, a tightly scrambling, stripped-down take of this subtly sardonic 12/8 anthem, tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera’s smoky, shuffling lines over pianist Art Hirahara’s increasingly crushing attack in tandem with drummer Joe Strasser.

Strasser gives Nostalgia in Times Square a loose-limbed latin groove, shifting between that same time signature and a sly swing, River and Hirahara hitting on the beat before the pianist and then River use the bluesy changes as a launching pad.

Kozlov and Strasser infuse Tonight At Noon with a breathless urban bustle, Rivera matching the precise forward drive over Hirahara’s similarly purposeful ripples and chords. They open Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love on a aptly balmy, languid note but then have fun mixing up the rhythm, a glistening, lyrical David Kikoski piano solo at the center.

One of the most radical reinventions here is Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk, Mingus’ restless, distantly Stravinskian ballad reconfigured as a slow drag assembled around a soulful, exploratory Rivera solo before Hirahara takes the band flying for a bit. The quartet then condense Peggy’s Blue Skylight to a purposeful five minutes or so of no-nonsense swing

They raise the underlying devious slinkiness several notches in Pussy Cat Dues, Hirahara adding a steely modal edge beneath Rivera’s enigmatic blues. The decision to make a twisted cha-cha out of Pithecanthropus Erectus might seem odd, downplaying Mingus’ withering sarcasm for a more incisive approach fueled by a long Kikoski solo.

Rivera pairs a calm, reflective soulfulness against Hirahara’s impressionistic ripples in an expansive take of Self-Portrait in Three Colors. They close with a hard-charging, gritty Reincarnation of a Lovebird, where Rivera and Hirahara get to swing their sharpest edges here. High as the guy who wrote these songs set the bar, Mingus fans will  not be disappointed.

April 5, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Historic, Ferocious Return to the East Village by the Mingus Big Band

Last night a fired-up, sold-out standing-room-only crowd at Drom got to witness the Mingus Big Band’s historic return to the neighborhood where Sue Mingus first pulled together some of the greatest musicians in jazz to play her iconic husband’s repertoire. Almost thirty years down the road, the current version of  the world’s most formidable large jazz ensemble brought out every moment of irony, bliss, revolutionary politics cynical humor and frequent venom in a stampeding set of some of bassist Charles Mingus’ best-loved tunes.

This was the Mingus Big Band’s first performance since March of 2020, and they were obviously amped to be able to play for an audience at long last. They’ve traded the now-shuttered Jazz Standard for Drom, which has even better sound, similarly good food and a much more romantic ambience. But this show wasn’t about romance, it was about adrenaline.

Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery advised the crowd that they were watching some of the world’s greatest musicians, but he modestly didn’t count himself among them. He let his horn tell that story, pulling an elegy for a long-gone jazzman out of thin air, first with pensive, bluesy phrases that grew more mournful and then tormented, with a series of cruelly ratcheting, downward cascades. Then the band launched into a dynamically rich, stormy take of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Mingus’ requiem for Lester Young.

Throughout the night, solos bristled with displays of extended technique. Just as Escoffery had done, baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian blended keening, shivery harmonics and duotones into her own opening solo, equal parts smoke and fire. Bass trombonist Earl McIntyre – who played with Mingus himself – went for cartoon humor but also spectacular range in his own closing solo.

Pianist David Kikoski’s sudden, deft shift from genial bluesiness to phantasmagoria in a tantalizing solo during the opening number, Gunslinging Birds, speaks to the depth of the group’s immersion in this material. Likewise, drummer Donald Edwards’ hypnotically turbulent solo lured Mingus’ irony-drenched Charlie Parker homage into wee-hours Alphabet City shadows.

Bassist Boris Kozlov and trombonist Conrad Herwig brought pure moody noir to a slinky, shapeshifting cha-cha take of Invisible Lady, a far more obscure number, springboarding off an arrangement by Jack Walrath. Solo-centric as this band always are, the hectic urban bustle and contrasting moments of nocturnal lustre were just as magnetic to witness.

Since reopening, Drom has not only become home to some of the creme de la creme of the Jazz Standard crowd, but also to refugees from the now-shuttered Jazz at Lincoln Center. The next concert in the comfortable, basement-level venue’s ongoing summer jazz festival is tomorrow night. July 31 at 8 PM with 90s acid jazz pioneers Groove Collective; cover is $20.

July 30, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment