Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Cinematic, Energetic Live Album From Cowboys & Frenchmen

Among ambitious, relatively young jazz groups, Cowboys & Frenchmen are a lot closer to the virtuosic fractal flex of Kneebody than the goofy insiderness of Snarky Puppy. They did what every band ought to be doing: they put out a live album, Our Highway, streaming at Bandcamp and recorded in the nick of time just before the lockdown in the pristine sonics of the now-shuttered Subculture.

As the bandname implies, these guys are irreverent. The music is energetically picturesque, frequently springboarding off comfortably homey, pastoral themes. This is a concept album, a boisterous band-on-the-road saga with an accompanying video travelogue.

Alto saxophonist Ethan Helm’s calm, liquid solo intro to the night’s first number, American Whispers: Pines is a red herring. In a flash, the band come bustling in, rushing to make it to the next stop on the tour. Pianist Addison Frei’s terse Shaft-y riffs anchor the tightly flurrying clamor, down to a little hint of boogie and flickers of wry lounginess. Bassist Ethan O’Reilly is a sudden voice of reason, introducing a moment of clarity before the trick ending. No spoilers: it works with the crowd.

Alice in Promisedland, a Alice Coltrane homage is built around Frei’s reflecting-pool ripples and O’Reilly’s lithely muscular bassline, Owen Broder’s alto sax entwining airily with Helm’s flute. He sticks with the flute over drummer Matt Honor’s snowstorm cymbals. and more Shaft/Mission Impossible piano from Frei, until O’Reilly hits a racewalking pace in the next segment of American Whispers. This one’s a portrait of torrential streams and an old church, captured with wistful gospel-infused warmth by sax, piano, a terse bass solo and an oldtimey anthem of sorts on the way out.

A similar, somewhat darker gospel-inspired atmosphere finally emerges in Where Is Your Wealth: the degree to which this is either sarcastic, a philosophical inquiry, or a stickup, isn’t clear. The big epic here is the final American Whispers tableau, Mountains. The range looms ahead, imposing, as birds cluster tightly over the slopes, Frei channeling the spring runoff, or at least so it seems. The group meet the challenge with an insistent pulse, swaying, swinging and finally hitting a disquieting series of echoes. The scenery changes with the rhythm, from defiant insistence to brisk swing, a long Helm solo with Broder shadowing him on baritone and then leading a calming downward trajectory, solo, into the night’s closing, benedictory nocturne, The Farmer’s Reason. It’s easy to imagine the band highfiving each other afterward: good thing somebody had the presence of mind to record the night !

March 31, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rapturous, Diverse, Ambitious String Jazz Sounds at Miho Hazama’s Jazz Composition Salon

Over the last fourteen months, composer/pianist Miho Hazama has programmed an ambitious series of concerts at the Jazz Gallery showcasing new works by some of the jazz world’s best big band composers. Thursday night’s program was a pretty radical shift, featuring compositions for string quartet – often bolstered by Hazama’s own piano plus percussion and alto sax – from the books of three imaginative, individualistic up-and-coming tunesmiths. One of them was Hazama herself.

Like the similarly colorful, imagistic Maria Schneider, Hazama is best known as a composer and conductor. This show was a welcome opportunity to catch her flexing her chops on the keys. The night’s opening suite by Nathan Parker Smith had some almost maddenly tricky, punchy rhythms, which she handled seamlessly. Her closing nunber, the simply titled Fugue, from her 2015 Time River album, was more chordally challenging, with a succession of cleverly intertwined voicings from the entire group

The strings – violinists Tomoko Akaboshi and Maria Im, cellist Marta Bagratuni and violist Matt Consul – bristled with uneasy close harmonies, fierce microtones and slashing, incisive, cellular motives alongside Hazama and drummer Lee Fish throughout Smith’s suite. The opening movement came across as something akin to the Sirius Quartet covering Rasputina, and came full circle at the end. In between, there were unexpectedly shimmery, atmospheric passages and cycling interludes closer to indie classical than jazz: of all the pieces on the bill, this was the most acerbic and bracingly acidic.

Ethan Helm played lyrical, kinetic, brightly spiraling alto sax over the strings and drums in his own four-part suite, inspired by his first trip to Amsterdam. In case you might be wondering, there was no reggae involved: these particular memories came across in what some people might consider to be shockingly sharp focus. Echo effects recalling light playing off the canals; a stark tableau inspired by van Gogh’s Yellow House, featuring some especially poignant violin from Im; and a restless, bustling, constantly shifting portrait of the red light district numbered among many highlights.

The most unselfconsciously gorgeous piece on the bill was the New York premiere of Hazama’s Chimera, featuring the full ensemble. True to the title, it was an Escher-like, multifaceted, interlocking web of voices, spiced with biting chromatic descents and a series of false endings. Hazama’s colors, from murky lows to starry highs, often both at once a la Gil Evans, were typical. Watching her play them against each other, whether with fiery vigor or pointillistic elegance, was a revelation..

The next big band event at the Jazz Gallery is August 9-10, with pianist Manuel Valera‘s New Cuban Express featuring Camila Meza on vocals. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $25.

July 28, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment