Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Eclectic, Purposeful Trombonist Plays a Subterranean Album Release Show this Wednesday

You want instant cred? Get recruited by Anat Cohen to play in her Tentet. That’s the deal with trombonist Nick Finzer, who’s playing the album release for his new one, No Arrival this Wednesday, May 23 at 8 PM at Subculture, 45 Bleecker just east of Lafayette, downstairs from the Culture Project Theatre. Advance tix, available at the box office, are $20.

Most of the new record – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is originals. To Finzer’s credit, this isn’t a full-throttle situation: he mixes up tempos and styles, and for a guy with his vaunted technique (check his youtube masterclass channel), he doesn’t waste notes. On the opening number, Rinse And Repeat, Finzer’s sextet work an insistent, understated cha-cha groove, Alex Wintz’s guitar and Victor Gould’s piano throwing answers to the bandleader’s ongoing quest of a solo, saxophonist Lucas Pino following, completely tongue-in-cheek, Jon Irabagon style.

The blithe New Orleans stroll that introduces Never Enough offers no hint of the welcome haphazard direction it’s going to go in…or Pino’s nifty bass clarinet solo. Always fun to take chances, right?

Likewise, the first of the covers, Leonard Bernstein’s Maria theme from West Side Story, understates the latin flavor, dancing along on the pulse of Dave Baron’s bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums, the bandleader’s balmy solo front and center. They revert to similarly subtle latin syncopations a little later with George Gershwin’s Soon.

Tomorrow Next Year – Finzer’s “we’re gonna get through this somehow” response to the fateful 2016 Presidential election – is a bustling, vampy urban tableau, Finzer and Pino having fun with a famous Albert King riff. The band build momentum out of a pensive, searching tone poem of sorts in the album’s title track – the momentary pairing of Macbride’s cymbal bells and Wintz’s belltone chords is a cool touch.

Chugging sixteenth-note volleys from Finzer and Pino, and a tightly clustering Gould solo propel Pyramid, from Duke Ellington’s Ellington Far East Suite, while expansive solos from Finzer and Wintz elevate Only This, Only Now from existential gloom. The album closes with two covers: a mighty, churning reinvention of Prince’s The Greatest Romance Ever Sold, and Strayhorn’s A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, a showcase for Finzer’s wry, Wycliffe-esque finesse with a mute. It’s an impressive effort from a highly sought-after player whose best days are probably still ahead of him.

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

Irrepressible, Purist Fun From an Important, Individualistic New Voice in Jazz Piano

On one hand, pianist Jinjoo Yoo is as purist and trad as they get. She’s Monk-ish in her economy of notes, passion for the blues and laserlike sense of a good tune, but she actually doesn’t sound much like Monk. Brubeck is another touchstone – or imagine John Lewis without the booze (hard to do, but just try). For those reasons, her decision to work with the veteran rhythm section of bassist Neal Miner and drummer Jimmy Wormworth really pays off in her new album I’m Curious, streaming at Spotify. She’s playing Shapeshifter Lab this May 13 at 7 PM; cover is $10. If jazz piano is your thing, this is somebody you need to catch while she’s on her way up.

In addition to a knack for a good tune, Yoo has a killer sense of humor, which pops up all over the place on the album. The first track is Blullaby, a jaunty early-morning wake-up call. Yoo lets the sun radiate in, then works a supple, light-fingered, bluesy shuffle and throws in a wry Ellington quote as Miner dances and Wormworth’s deviously offbeat brushwork takes advantage of the room’s natural reverb. Almost imperceptibly, she builds a crescendo until her insistent attack  channels an unexpected gravitas

Yoo nicks the intro to Dizzy Blossom straight from Brubeck, tosses off a handful of cheery flourishes and then gets down to bluesy business, waiting for just the right moment to go sailing into the upper registers. The rhythm section’s approach is much the same as on the opening number.

With its blend of misterioso neoromanticism and the blues, the album’s title track is unselfconsciously Ellingtonian. The way Yoo works this strut from allusively creepy toward a more optimistic direction is just plain classic. Yoo takes her inspiration for the jaggedly incisive, Middle Eastern-flavored And I Call It Home from filmmaker Teymur Hajiyev’s gritty Azeri suspense flick Shanghai, Baku – its modal intensity reminds of Monk more than any other piece here. It’s the album’s darkest cut.

To Barry with Love – a solo number and a shout-out to Yoo’s teacher, postbop elder statesman Barry Harris – balances gleefully flickering, Errol Garner-ish riffs with oldschool majesty. There’s also a slightly more low-key, alternate take of Bullaby. 

May 11, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Treat from the Harlem Quartet at Lincoln Center

Ironically, the Harlem Quartet haven’t played New York much lately. That’s because they have a ongoing London residency when they’re not on international tour. Last night at Lincoln Center, the ensemble – violinists Ilmar Gavilan and Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador and cellist Felix Umansky – reaffirmed how much Manhattan’s loss is the rest of the world’s gain.

“I don’t want you to run away!” Gavilan grinned. He was referring to Walter Piston’s String Quartet No, 3, which as he explained has “A bit of a mathematical approach.” Much as the piece is a study in the counterpoint the composer was famous for, the quartet found a surprising amount of lyricism lurking within, particularly throughout the “grey and rainy” second movement, as Gavilan put it.

Soul battled with math through a Russian-tinged chase scene, austerely acidic washes grounded by viola and cello and a lively steady/dancing dichotomy to close: twelve-tone harmonies, lively classical gestures.

That the Debussy string quartet wasn’t the highlight of the concert attests to the strength of the rest of the program. This was a robust version, awash in wistful French proto-ragtime allusions: another great New York quartet, Brooklyn Rider, recorded a very similar take a few years back. Umansky reminded the crowd how much Debussy wanted to break free of the heavy German influence in the repertoire, so there was a sense of triumph – if often a bittersweet one – throughout the spirited flutters of the opening movement, the spiky pizzicato of the second and then finally a foreshadowed Twin Peaks theme at the end.

Gavilan’s dad, Guido Lopez Gavilan, was represented on the bill by his Quarteto en Guaguanco, which came across like Piazzolla with especially clever, shifting contrapuntal voicings. The group dug in hard, Umansky plucking out nimble basslines up to an interlude where everybody tapped out an altered salsa beat on their instruments.

The best number of the night was the encore, Take the A Train. Hearing a great string section play the blues is always a treat, this one elevated to even greater heights on the wings of the group’s dramatic flourishes and sparkles as they swung it – and maybe even improvised a little – Umansky again playing the role of bassist.

Much as the programming at Lincoln Center’s atrium space has a global scope, there’s an ongoing series of string quartet shows reflecting the organization’s original agenda. And all of these shows are free! The next one is with the brilliant Heath Quartet – whose latest album is an epic recording of the Bartok cycle – on March 22 at 7:30 PM, playing works by Haydn and Tschaikovsky. Get there early if you want a seat.

February 23, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perennially Vital, Poignant, Epic Grandeur From the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

In the history of jazz, is there a greater drummer/composer than John Hollenbeck?

Paul Motian wrote some great songs. And so has Tain Watts. Beyond that, it’s a short list. This past evening at the Poisson Rouge Hollenbeck and his long-running Large Ensemble validated his place on it with a lush, constantly shifting, uneasily enveloping set to celebrate the release of their latest album All Can Work.

As with the album, the centerpiece of the show was the title track, a dedication to his longtime collaborator, the late great Laurie Frink. Hollenbeck interpolated both brief, pithy phrases inspired by Frink’s trumpet etudes as well as excerpts from her similarly terse emails. Like Mozart but with infinitely more interesting rhythms, those phrases percolated and changed shape among subsets of the sixteen-piece ensemble as singer Theo Bleckmann’s voice loomed and eventually soared. “I will miss you all, and the music,” was the final mantra. The trumpet section, including but not limited to Tony Kadleck and Matt Holman, put their precision in the spotlight. This was a song, and a show about tunesmithing and narratives rather than displays of sizzling chops.

They’d opened with Elf, which takes its title and thematic grist from the Strayhorn piece that Ellington eventually appropriated for Isfahan. As the group’s tectonic sheets slowly built a lavish mosaic, alto saxophonist Anna Webber rose methodically to broodingly modal, Middle Eastern-tinged intensity while Hollenbeck did a somewhat more vigorous take on the kind of pointillism he likes to explore in the Claudia Quintet.

The night’s most lavishly shapeshifting number was Hollenbeck’s muscular arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s Heyoke: among its several solos, a bittersweet couple of turns from tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and some deliciously deadpan piano voicings from vibraphonist Patricia Brennan stood out the most brightly. From Trees, inspired by a Mondrian triptych, rose out of a swirl of disembodied voices to emphatic variations on a series of rather stark riffs, down to a twisted, low-register corkscrew facsimile of boogie-woogie from pianist Matt Mitchell: it was the most unexpectedly stunning solo of the night.

Long Swing Dream, the one song to date that Hollenbeck has found in a dream, had a similar minmalism alternating between individual voices, Bleckmann providing an amusing bit of narration by reading Cary Grant commentary about LSD (Long Swing Dream, get it?). The final observation, “You can’t judge the day until the night,” became simply “You can’t judge,” which drew plenty of chuckles. Hollenbeck copped to never having tried the stuff – hey, there’s still time. You can’t judge the perception from the doors.

The final tune was Hollenbeck’s tongue-in-cheek, impressively swinging new arrangement of Kraftwerk’s motorik instrumental The Model. Again, Bleckmann got to entertain the crowd, this time simply by striking a pose or five as the group channeled a more subtle take on what German live techno crew the Jazzrausch Bigband might have done with it. Hollenbeck’s next gig is with the Claudia Quintet on March 24 at 8 PM at the Miller Theatre; tix as affordable as $20 are still available.

January 30, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mighty Swing from Trombonist Ryan Keberle’s Big Band Living Legacy Project

Trombonist Ryan Keberle recently commented in the New York City Jazz Record that music educators like himself ought to spend more time figuring out how to get their students to find “the zone,” where they can improvise at the highest level. One way to do it was how Keberle did it at Hunter College last night with his Big Band Living Legacy Project, surrounding himself with a crew of big band jazz legends, many of whom had mentored him or inspired him to transcribe and learn solos they’d played on albums over the past several decades. With this group, Keberle spent most of his time conducting rather than soloing, but when he did – especially during his own luminous, Gil Evans-ish arrangement of Summertime, which he sheepishly told the crowd he’d decided to reinvent as a trombone feature – he very tersely and poignantly headed straight for “the zone” and stayed there. And no wonder. Who wouldn’t be inspired to take it to the next level, surrounded by the players onstage?

This is an amazing band. The show was mostly upbeat swing blues tunes, the majority from the Basie book, with a trio of numbers associated with Ellington along with boisterous, brass-fueled takes of JJ Johnson’s Say When, Thad Jones’ Big Dipper, Sy Oliver’s Looselid Special and the old Benny Goodman chestnut King Porter Stomp. Scott Robinson stood in for Goodman, as Keberle wryly put it, with his whirling clarinet and then his blues-infused tenor sax work. Baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley (of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) showed off a period-perfect, mile-wide tremolo on an achingly lyrical take of Ellington’s I Like the Sunrise, from the Iberian Suite. James Zollar delivered crescendos that ranged from sizzling to droll from behind his mute alongside his fellow trumpeters Bob Millikan, Earl Gardner and Greg Gisbert. Altoist Jerry Dodgion got a couple of soulful spots late in the show, up front in the sax section alongside Billy Drewes and Bill Easley.

Watching bassist Rufus Reid move from the simplest pedalpoint on the oldest numbers to a majestic stroll on the more recent material was a capsule history of big band jazz rhythm. Likewise, Carl Allen’s trip through beats from across the decades, from shuffles on the ride cymbal through more artful, unexpected ka-THUMP syncopation on the more blazing tunes, while pianist Alan Broadbent colored the songs with ambered blues tones and the occasional misty interlude way up in the highest octaves.

Bass trombonist Earl McIntyre – whose mighty gravitas anchored the Arturo O’Farrill band’s sensational show a week ago at the Apollo – drew plenty of laughs as he faked out the crowd with pregnant pauses in a romp through Thad Jones’ The Deacon, one of the Basie tunes. His fellow ‘bone guys Mike Davis and Clarence Banks also got time in the spotlight later on, no surprise considering who the bandleader was. The highlight of the set might have been a richly gospel-inspired take of Mary Lou Williams’ wickedly catchy Blue Skies. Or it could have been the majestic version of Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder, or the nimble, incisive run through Isfahan a few numbers later. With this kind of material and these kind of players, you just sit and sway in your seat and take it all in and remain grateful that you live in an era where people still play this kind of music – and pass it on to another generation.

May 20, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Riveting, Majestic Abbey Lincoln Tribute from Marc Cary

Marc Cary is probably the most Ellingtonian pianist out there right now. That may be the highest praise anyone can confer on a pianist, but Cary reaffims that trait over and over on his new album For the Love of Abbey, a collection of highly improvised solo versions of Abbey Lincoln songs. It’s stormy and ferociously articulate, like Lincoln – Cary should know, considering that he was her music director through the end of her career. It’s intense, hard-hitting but elegant to a fault. Without the constraints of having a band behind him, Cary seizes the opporutunity to play the changes rubato, taking his time over low, lingering, frequently explosive lefthand pedal notes. That this simple game plan would work as impactfully as it does throughout most of the songs here testifies to his power as an improviser: there’s not a single cliche on this album. Cary’s fluency in so many different vernaculars never ceases to amaze: irony-infused blues, menacing modalities, third-stream glimmer and gleam.

Cary opens by taking Music Is the Magic to a towering intensity  a bluesy scramble and then back. Down Here below begins with a low-register rumble and rises to an epic majesty, from blues to hard-hitting block chords and a chillingly modal ending. One of only three tracks here not written by Lincoln, Ellington’s Melancholia is less melancholy than a rich exploration of Debussyesque colors and nebulously Asian tinges. Cary’s own For Moseka works cleverly out of a circular lefthand riff to a pensive jazz waltz that he sends spiraling.

Who Used to Dance gets a bitterly reflective poignancy; it’s over too soon. Should’ve Been is spaciously moody, but with bite, ending on an elegantly bitter downward run. My Love Is You is a study in suspense: Cary introduces what seem for a second to be familiar phrases, but then takes everything on unexected but purposeful tangents, a litle Asian, a little vaudevillian. Love Evolves makes a good segue from there, hypnotic and brooding, finally livened with a couple of rapidfire righthand flourishes before its final descent into Chopinesque, haunting austerity.

Throw It Away potently pairs chromatically crushing, eerie lefthand against a gospel-tinged, dynamically shifting melody. Another World provides a sense of relief from the severity yet doesn’t leave it completely behind; Cary throws a clock-chime motif into the works, a neat touch. A rapt, saturnine When I’m Called Home brings back hints of Asian melody and an unexpected ragtime-flavored jauntiness, seemingly a segue with Conversations with a Baby, which grows from tender to emphatic: it’s time to talk sense to that kid! Cary closes the album with a brief modal introduction of his own into Down Here Below the Horizon, a summation of sorts with its glittering, anguished waves, from Romantic rigor to a familiar blues trope that he turns utterly chilling. If you love Abbey Lincoln, as Cary very obviously still does, you will find the way he ends this absolutely shattering. It’ll bring tears to your eyes. As solo piano albums go, the only one from this year that remotely compares to this is Bobby Avey‘s murky Be Not So Long to Speak. Look for this high on the best albums of 2013 page here in December if we make it that far.

August 27, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Enlightening Ellington Afternoon with Wynton Marsalis and the JALCO

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s performance of Duke Ellington classics from 1930 through 1971 yesterday at JALC’s Rose Theatre was like being invited to the meeting of a secret society all too eager to let you in on the biggest secret of all. Anybody who dismisses the later Ellington needs to see this band play it. Although this was a rare early-afternoon show, as Wynton Marsalis went out of his way to mention, he was in top form both on the horn, and as raconteur and Ellington advocate.

Marsalis underscored what was  on the bill by reminding how Ellington took the blues further than anybody else – and that the composer remained such a fan of the blues that when Count Basie saw Ellington in the audience, he’d keep an eye on him; when Duke would get up to leave, Basie would lead the band into a blues to keep Ellington in the house, which apparently worked every time. Marsalis reminded that Paul Gonsalves’ famous long solo on Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue (a piece not on the bill, actually) wasn’t a concession to hard-bop convention: it was an attempt to make Gonsalves break a sweat and sober up a little. Introducing a particularly harmonically challenging  arrangement for the saxophone section, Marsalis quipped that “Tf there’s an entrance exam for Hell, this is it,” And in going back and reading the corrosively critical jazz press that followed the Carnegie Hall debut of Black, Brown and Beige, Marsalis acknowledged that “There’s such a pervasive and deeply held ignorance about Duke Ellington that I found myself getting upset.” And he’s right: how anyone could mistake that masterpiece for anything other than what it is makes no sense.

It’s amazing how fresh and new this ensemble makes the music sound. They played two numbers from that iconic suite, a boisterously joyful take of Emancipation, trumpeter Kenny Rampton using a floppy hat for a mute at one point, and closed the show with a version of Symphonette and its serpentine exchanges of voices over ultraviolet lustre. The biggest “oooh” moment of the set was a rapt, simmering, low-key purist septet take of Mood Indigo; then again, Marsalis’ own rapidfire, register-expanding, subtly polyrhythmic solo on Braggin’ in Brass right before that was pretty sensational. The lushly sophisticated Lady of the Lavender Mist, as Marsalis noted, wasn’t written as a baritone feature, but this version put bari saxophonist Joe Temperley front and center with his nuanced tremolo buildling to a tenderly lyrical crescendo. The orchestra sank a collective set of fangs into the gritty minor-key triplet riff of Portrait of Wellman Braud – an early Ellington bassist and distant Marsalis relative – as it percolated through the arrangement. They picked up Island Virgin and quickly moved it from lighthearted calypso jazz to baroque swing, pulsing with misty colors and a lively Ted Nash clarinet solo.

The waltzing Paris Steps reveled quietly in this same kind of luminosity, with an optimistic Sherman Irby alto sax solo. Two Trains that Pass in the Night, a droll exercise in stereo effects, was Ellington at his most wryly vaudevillian. And a vigorous romp through Harlem Airshaft – a sardonic depiction of neighborhood chatter – gave voice to the Facebook of the 1930s, i.e. real life. There’s nothing better than some Ellington in the afternoon to send you flying, completely blissed out into the street afterward (OK, maybe some Ellington at night). A shout out to the rest of the cast, whose intricate and inspired contributions were too numerous to count: Ryan Kisor and Marcus Printup on trumpets; Vincent Gardner, Elliott Mason and Chris Crenshaw on trombones; Victor Goines and Walter Blanding on tenor saxes; James Chirillo on banjo and guitar; Dan Nimmer on piano; Ali Jackson on drums; and bassist Carlos Henriquez, who on the spur of the moment led the remaining crew onstage through a few triumphant walk-off bars of Take the A Train.

A special shout out was also earned by the crew at the box office and the unexpectedly affable house manager, who graciously fixed a ticket snafu which for a second threatened to derail this review. Thanks guys!

April 28, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Low-Register Richness from Charnett Moffett at Iridium

If bassist Charnett Moffett’s new solo album The Bridge – just out from Motema – is anything like his solo show last night at Iridium, it’s phenomenal. Solo bass concerts are rare – Jay Leonhart did a bunch of them around town a year ago. And as much as Moffett’s performance was a master class – he played enough tantalizing licks to fuel a year’s worth of shedding – it transcended the concept of a solo instrumental performance. It was just plain good music. Extended technique – and there was a lot of that, from slapping, to harmonics, to all kinds of subtle bowed tricks – took a backseat to melody and groove.

Moffett smartly kept the songs short, four minutes or considerably less. He related a wry encounter with an aging Charles Mingus, who gruffly encouraged him to “keep playing,” in every loaded sense of that phrase. So Moffett made the high point of his set a feral, ferocious arrangement of Mingus’ Haitian Fight Song that threatened to pop strings, a fang-baring, assaultive feast of chords and chromatics. He opened with an arrangement of Caravan that owed as much to the Ventures as to Ellington, simultaneously playing the Bob Bogle and Mel Taylor roles and made it look easy. He found the inner Strayhorn ballad in Sting’s Fragile (don’t laugh  – it was good) and bounced his bow jauntily off the strings on a triumphant take of his longtime bandmate Wynton Marsalis’ Black Guides, complete with a cresendoing call-and-response. Surprisingly, he kept the album’s title track – a haunting, Middle Eastern-tinged exploration – pretty close to the ground, as opposed to the searingly expansive version on the album.

A blues-infused mashup of Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho with an Adele pop hit became a launching pad for galloping, machinegunning staccato contrasting with austere, majestically spiritual motives, followed a little later by an alternately swinging and explosive Monk medley working increasingly intense, jackhammer permutations on Round Midnight, Well You Needn’t and Rhythm A Ning. As the show wound out, Moffett added a wah effect, most memorably on a starkly ethereal take of Miles’ All Blues. The set ended with Ray Brown’s Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, packed with keening harmonics, deft bowing, booming chords and a weary bluesiness that captured the song’s meaning as vividly as any ensemble of twenty players could have done. And Moffett has more solo shows coming up: he’s he’s at Birdland tonight at 6; April 14 he takes a bit of a break from the solo marathon with a duo gig backing devastatingly eclectic chanteuse/composer Jana Herzen at the Blue Note for a brunch show starting at half past noon. His “tour” of Manhattan venues winds up that night with the final solo gig at Joe’s Pub at 9 PM.

April 11, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Carney, Look What You Spawned

Similar to the Microscopic Septet’s take on Monk, arrangement-wise if not necessarily in spirit, the Mark Masters Ensemble puts baritone maestro Gary Smulyan out in front as part of a sax quintet plus rhythm section on their recent Capri release, Ellington Saxophone Encounters. The obvious question is why bother? Comparisons to the originals, some iconic, some lesser-known, will inevitably surface – a drive back to Manhattan from a New Jersey studio fairly proximate to where some of these tunes were first recorded, with Midnight at Minton’s blasting all the way, was probably not the optimum way to set up a spin of this album. But these songs are great fun, the band bringing a terse, businesslike approach to Masters’ new charts as well as to individual solos.

Alongside Smulyan – a hard bop guy all the way, but also a first-rate bluesman, as he reminds here – there’s Gary Foster and Pete Christlieb on tenors, Gene Cipriano and Don Shelton on altos, Bill Cunliffe on piano, Tom Warrington on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. To be precise, there are only three tracks here by the Duke himself, though most of them are associated with the Ellington band. Esquire Swank is the first tune, which interestingly does remind somewhat of the Micros, a distantly moody, proto-Monk swing number that Smulyan gets gritty with immediately. The jump blues benefit the most from Masters’ approach, notably Johnny Hodges’ Lawrence Brown Blues, with its purist Cunliffe and Shelton solos. Jimmy Hamilton’s Get Ready also features some tasty pairing off between individual voices and the ensemble. Rockin’ in Rhythm is ablaze in goodnatured jousting and swirling, more than alluding to its dixieland roots. And the best of all of the tracks here might be Jeep’s Blues, matter-of-factly swinging through the classic Ellington combination of magisterial classical, bright ragtime and deep blues elements.

The straight-up swing stuff – Paul Gonsalves’ The Line Up and The Happening, as well as an artfully crescendoing take of Hamilton’s Ultra Blue – typically follows a sequence of lively solos. The ballads offer even more of a platform for this, whether wry or wistful. Smulyan gets vividly nostalgic on Carney’s We’re In Love Again, while Christlieb’s understated pensiveness carries Ben Webster’s Love’s Away. Then the band reaches the top of the arc on Hodges’ Peaches, Shelton to Cipriani to Christlieb for an increasingly high-voltage triple play. Fans of Ellingtonia won’t be disappointed; the Duke himself would no doubt approve.

November 7, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vijay Iyer’s Accelerando from a Distance

Why cover Vijay Iyer’s Accelerando now, in the wake of all the acclaim, the unprecedented sweep of the Downbeat critics’ poll, ad infinitum? For one, to assess how much of the hype is justified. And from a blogger’s perspective, it never hurts to step out of the magic, secret corners that we and sometimes we alone seem to know about, and venture out into the so-called mainstream to lure traffic off the wider expanses of the world wide web into those magic, secret corners. So consider this both a ploy and an unvarnished attempt to make sense of Iyer’s soaring popularity.

Which is well-deserved. Let’s get the punchline out of the way: he has a rare gift for melody as well as a fearlessness that extends from the political to his choice of material. Iyer will literally cover anything. Yet as much as has been written about how he’s bringing cutting-edge concepts into what’s left of any kind of jazz mainstream – which doesn’t seem to exist any more than it does in rock or any other style of music these days – what’s been surprisingly absent from the discussion is how much gravitas amd depth Iyer brings to the equation. Sometimes a single note – here, for example, a lingering, quiet low lefthand accent after a briskly dissociative take of Herbie Nichols’ Wildflower has ended and is fading out – is all he needs to drive the mood home. Long ago, Dave Brubeck began working that magisterial territory with the same kind of rhythmic authority that Iyer does here with his trio, Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore. More recently, Marc Cary, and to some extent, Gerald Clayton have roamed with the same kind of understated drama and majesty without losing the pulse of the music. Ultimately, that’s what gives Iyer’s work (and Brubeck’s, and Cary’s, and Clayton’s) lasting value.

In case you missed it elsewhere, the theme of Accelerando is dance rhythms, and all the fun that can be had with them. As usual, the compositions are a mix of originals and covers from across the musical spectrum, from the sublimely avant to the ridiculously commercial. Much as the rhythms are jaunty, the moods tend to be brooding, sometimes verging on menace. Bode, the Satie-esque modal piece that opens the album, builds to a Cary-esque rumble. The modal intensity is maintained on the nimbly dancing, somewhat ironically titled Optimism, a blend of grace and gravitas, Gilmore shadowing and then driving the long upward arc. Similarly, Iyer engages the drums in the muddled, off-center rhythms of a radical reinvention of The Star of a Story – a semi-hit by the 70s disco band Heatwave – moving from pretty straightforward funk into the smoke above the embers, and then back out.

Iyer’s attempt to reduce a rather frantic, largescale Henry Threadgill Very Very Circus piece, Little Pocket Size Demons, to its essence is wildly successful, with creepy, aching bowed bass over a piano loop, Gilmore’s right foot steady as the rhythm expands, Iyer more allusive than outright menacing. The wryly titled Lude is a somewhat more subdued adventure in the push-pull of action versus pensive stasis, fueled irrepressibly and funkily by Crump and Gilmore. The title track rises with a McCoy Tyner-esque stomp over a hypnotic major sixth vamp and goes phantasmagorical, while Actions Speak bounces variations off an agitated piano cluster, from dizzy apprehension to matter-of-fact rippling throughout pretty much the entirety of the keys. The album concludes with a surprisingly terse, gospel-drenched take of The Village of the Virgins, an Ellington ballet number:

There are also a couple of tracks here that add nothing to the album, both of them covers. Mmmhmm – credited to Flying Lotus, a purveyor of insipid electronic dancefloor beats – gets an atmospheric trip-hop backbone, Crump’s agile bowed lines over Iyer’s lushly sustained low lefthand that eventually expands by leaps and bounds. It’s attractive, and moody – and nothing that Lisa Hilton couldn’t have pulled off. Michael Jackson’s Human Nature syncopates and caches the melody in polyrhythms, then finally gets hit head on. The choice of this song in particular is a mystery: the hook isn’t very strong to begin with, and it has baggage, a cloying, schlocky top 40 ballad recorded by someone who will ultimately be remembered, if at all, for his crimes against children rather than for anything he did in showbiz. If there’s anything to take from this, it’s that the richness and intensity that defines Iyer’s compositions is sometimes lost when he tackles inferior composers – and compared to Iyer, most composers are.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment