Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Dive Into One of the Most Lyrical, Vivid Free Jazz Albums of the Last Few Years

More about that weeklong celebration of Studio Rivbea, which was a focal point in the loft jazz scene in the 70s and 80s. The series of shows in the 24 Bond St. space where Sam Rivers threw one rent party jam after another – now the Gene Frankel Theater – continues through this weekend. The next really tempting lineup is Jan 6 at 7 PM, beginning with saxophonist Isaiah Barr leading a trio, followed at 8:30 by poet Anne Waldman with Devin Waldman on sax and at 9 ubiquitous bassist William Parker with his dancer wife Patricia Nicholson, Ellen Christi on vocals and Jason Kao Hwang on violin. You can get in for a reasonable $25 in advance

The central figure here is Parker, who may have played on more free jazz albums than anybody else. Here’s one of the best of the recent batch: Sparks, with Eri Yamamoto on piano, Chad Fowler on stritch and saxello and Steve Hirsh on drums, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is not a record for people with short attention spans, but if you free your mind, your ears will follow and thank you. Yamamoto edges toward a sagacious, bluesy ballad to introduce the title track, Fowler hanging in retrograde shadow with his blue notes. A lull signals a long, vivid, contented Pharaoh Sanders-ish interlude from Fowler over Yamamoto’s spacious chords, which she gets to take by herself into more insistent terrain before they wind it out with a warm wee-hours vibe.

Fowler works variations on a cheery calypso riff in the second number, In the Garden, the rest of the band building a turbulent whirlpool and eventually pulling him in. Parker’s wary bowed solo is over too soon; Yamamoto’s decision to take a shadowy exit rather than let good cop Fowler take the reins again pays off quietly but mightily. Ultimately, sunshiney energy wins out.

Likewise, the quartet conjure a swing tune out of nowhere, Sam Rivers style in Bob’s Pink Cadillac, Parker taking it doublespeed for a light-fingered but incisively rhythmic Yamamoto solo. Fowler puts a light disguise on an iconic Gershwin quote and then shifts it around as the band flurry and pounce. As is often the case here, the group let a lot more space in and engage in fleeting moments of jousting. As the title indicates, it’s the album’s most playful (i.e. goofiest) number.

Fowler pulls the rest of the group to echo his initial somber oldtime blues riff to get Taiko, the next track, off the ground. Yamamoto’s icy accents linger above Parker’s wounded slow-walk and the two build a cumulo-nimbus intensity while Hirsh stirs up a vortex below. Fowler follows with melismatic gloom as his bandmates team up for muted pointillisms, Parker fueling a more phantasmagorical atmosphere. Yamamoto takes her time getting out, but Hirsh pulls her up and the mood lifts a little. Lots happening on this record!

She introduces the final number, Real World with a plaintive, expectant riff, Fowler reaching for a balmy ballad before shifting to more brooding territory as Parker builds out a back alley lot with his bow. Wry quotes and paraphrases juxtapose with a dark modal simmer; Yamamoto gets a racewalking swing going behind Fowler’s squawks and glissandos, then takes a glistening, neoromantically-tinged solo as Hirsh rattles and ices the windows with his cymbals. Fowler returns to balladeer role, taking the music into a spacious stillness and finally a sly, pianissimo rimshot solo from Hirsh. Yamamoto ushers in a graceful exit. Free jazz doesn’t get any better than this.

It’s also worth mentioning Yamamoto’s poignant album from last year, A Woman With a Purple Wig, where she makes her recorded debut on vocals in response to a vicious anti-Asian attack in the early days of the Covid scam.

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January 4, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Viscerally Transcendent New Album and a Bed-Stuy Gig From Pianist Eri Yamamoto

Pianist Eri Yamamoto survived a hideous attack to make a beautiful record. In the early days of the 2020 lockdown, Yamamoto was assaulted on a Brookyn street. Her attacker mistook her for Chinese (she’s Japanese) and accused her of unleashing the Covid virus (which seems to have been manufactured in China, but was invented in a North Carolina bioweapons lab). This is the kind of incident that takes place when a society is divided and conquered, when orange-haired demagogues step to the podium to make divisive anti-Asian statements.

Although Yamamoto is a streetwise New Yorker – she honed her chops back in the 90s at the gritty Avenue B Social Club – the assault left her so shaken that she began wearing a purple wig and shades to hide her features.

But she transcended the attack, to the point where for the first time, she sings on record. Her new album A Woman With a Purple Wig is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing Bar Lunatico on Nov 30 at 9 PM.

On the album, Yamamoto reflects on the grimness of 2020, but also offers hope for the future. She opens the first track, Challenge, with a series of biting, brooding arpeggios over the low-key, lithe groove of bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi. With a calm determination, she expands from the center, building almost imperceptibly to a handful of jaunty flourishes. Takeuchi churns around as Yamamoto chooses her spots and then returns with a sober baroque focus before handing off to Ambrosio’s punching, dancing lines.

“One day I bought a wig on the internet, my favorite color,” she sings over a brisk, tightly wound stroll on the album’s title track: “Only twenty bucks…did you know that a purple wig has a special power?” Sarcasm reaches redline until Yamamoto runs the song’s chilling central mantra: it will resonate with anyone who’s been targeted for violence. It’s impossible to think of a more powerful jazz song released this year.

Ends to Start reflects Yamamoto’s hope that we will emerge from the ongoing reign of terror to create a better world, the intricate piano/bass polyrhythms in a tight interweave as Takeuchi shifts subtly between waltz time and a steady clave. Again, Yamamoto’s lines are spacious and reflective, up to a puckish crescendo and an eventual;y restrained majesty following a flurrying bass solo.

She returns to the mic for Colors Are Beautiful, a slow, catchy, allusively gospel-tinged singalong salute to ethnic diversity. Her gentle but bright oldschool soul riffage quickly falls away for a hushed bass solo over misty cymbals as Sounds of Peace gets underway, then she works through a pensive series of gospel-inspired variations.

Track six is titled Shout, a sleekly undulating, blues-infused number with lively extrovert drums. Yamamoto closes the album with Internal Beat, her most complex and animated postbop-style tune here, fueled by Takeuchi’s colorful accents.

November 25, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment