Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Richard Galliano Brings His Meticulous, Animated Accordion Jazz to the Jazz Standard

As obscure subgenres go, accordion swing is pretty close to the top of the list. Accordionist Richard Galliano tackles that methodically and animatedly on his latest album, Sentimentale. He’s celebrating the release with a four-night stand leading a quintet at the Jazz Standard,Oct 23-26, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30; cover is $25, $30 on the weekend, Galliano is known for his ability to effortlessly leapfrog between idioms, from the baroque to tango to Romany jazz without missing a beat. This time out, he leads a pretty straight-ahead jazz session with Tamir Hendelman (the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra pianist, who wrote most of the arrangements), guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Carlos del Puerto and drummer Mauricio Zotarrelli.

Much of it is a 21st century update on how French and Belgian musicians were mashing up American jazz with their own vaudeville and barroom folk sounds back in the 20s and 30s, notably the opening track, Chick Corea’s Armando’s Rumba, which puts a continental spin on a song that was already a bit outside the Afro-Cuban tradition. The group immediately brings it down from there, adding an organic touch to Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour’s Canto Invierno, then tackling Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood with a lilting rhythm yet also with a similarly distant pensiveness – the accordion is one of the alltime wistful/bittersweet instruments, and Galliano owns that feeling when he chooses to go there.

Galliano’s take of Horace Silver’s The Jody Grind draws less on the original than Dee Dee Bridgewater’s boisterous version; likewise, the Broadway ballad Why Did I Choose You follows Bill Evans’ coloristic reharmonizations. There are two originals here, the jazz waltz Balade Pour Marion and the closing cut, Lili, a tender ballad dedicted to Galliano’s granddaughter and done as a guitar-accordion duo. Hendelman’s arrangements are remarkably contiguous, more than just a platform for soloing, which there isn’t a lot of here.

The group gently bounce their way through The Island and Verbos de Amor, adding some bulk to the songs’ tropical balminess, then pair hard-charging swing with more pensiveness on Plus Fort Que Nous. They do the Coltrane classic Naima as surprisingly weird psychedelia with a guitar sitar (?!?), then go back to the tropics with Mantiqueira. All this is a good indication of what the band will sound like here, maybe allowing for a little more guitar, which won’t be a bad idea since Peter Bernstein will be filling that spot.

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October 20, 2014 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deep-Sky Improvisation from Esa Helasvuo

Musicologists have long tried to make a connection between music and the terrain where it’s made, with mixed results. Residents of the land of the northern lights are not the only ones who write still, spacious, deep-sky music. But there seems to be a connection. That’s what veteran Finnish pianist and improviser Esa Helasvuo offers on his aptly titled new solo album Stella Nova, his first recording in twenty years. It’s a starry, nocturnal, contemplatively expansive series of introspections that looks back to similar work by Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett from forty-five years ago, along with frequent echoes of Kurt Weill and Erik Satie.

The album begins careful and steady with To Feel You Is to Know You, reaching toward third-stream/art-song balladry, Helasvuo working in some bluesiness as is his custom throughout the album. The expansive, practically ten-minute title track is its darkest and best, vividly evoking the Satie gymnopedies, only offering momentary relief from the incessant darkness before taking it back down into the murk again. Likewise, Intimacy begins on a lingering, judicious tone, Helasvuo working a righthand riff of the utmost simplicity toward a blues-tinged ballad, back and forth. The most traditionally jazz-themed number here is Kisumu, an enigmatic number that switches out the Chopin and Satie for Miles Davis.

Boa Noiti Meu Amor, a remake of a 70s Helasvuo composition, gets impressionistically deconstructed. The following track, Improvise, is far more interesting than the title implies, a return to darker, more pensive territory with its moodily spaced chordal figures. Helasvuo quietly and methodically sinks his fangs into Unto Mononen’s famous Finnish tango Satumaa’s inner creepiness, alternating between brooding improvisation and a mutedly dusky, metrically shapeshifting approach.

Figuring Out the Sky goes from pensive and distant to variations on a long chromatic descending progression, a rather nostalgic song without words that more or less segues into Souvenir, which is essentially Yesterday When I Was Young. The album ends with Blues Addiction, a good-naturedly expansive wee-hours exploration: the bar is closed, the gates are pulled down but he’s got a lullaby left in him. This seems to be more about figuring out the sky than the album’s eighth track. Fun fact: Helasvuo got his start with legendary Finnish instrumentalists the Sounds in 1964, reaffirming the confluence between the worlds of jazz and surf rock! Tum Records gets credit for this one.

August 17, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lynchian Menace and Suspense from Kallle Kalima

Today we shift from one kind of intensity to a vastly different one. Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and his group K-18 – saxophonist/reedman Mikko Innanen, adventurous quartertone accordionist Veli Kujala and veteran bassist Teppo Hauta-aho – generate plenty of it on their new suite, Out to Lynch. Much of which sounds like they’re out to lynch somebody, but it’s actually a series of compositions inspired by David Lynch films (they have a thing for movies: their previous album was a Stanley Kubrick homage). K-18 is Finnish for “rated R” – apparently the Finns’ film ratings are less alarmist than they are in the US, considering how tame an R rating is here. How Lynchian is this album? Lynchian in an Eraserhead sense, certainly. And although this is challenging and frequently abrasive music, much of it is far from ugly.

It’s important to keep in mind that the compositions here are inspired by various films or characters, rather than being representational. Interestingly, Kalima never reaches for the twangy noir of Angelo Badalamenti. The opening track, BOB – the first of a handful of Twin Peaks references – squalls and squeaks and quickly throws rhythm out the window, then goes unexpectedly sketchy and minimalist. The Elephant Man inspires a quietly skeletal interpretation, Mulholland Drive a series of casually bracing, swirling clusters – lights moving against a Hollywood hills backdrop at night, maybe?

Laura Palmer is a suspense piece, bass stepping gingerly through the darkness before the guitar provides a flashlight and then they rise in eerie, noisy sheets before returning to a tense spaciousness. The most thoroughly enjoyable track here is, perhaps predictably, Eraserhead, a deliciously creepy microtonal acccordion tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Dave Fiuczynski catalog.

A couple of cuts draw on the lovers from Wild at Heart. Lula Pace Fortune gets airy flute and accordion over distantly menacing atmospherics that rise to a grinding sostenuto blaze; a bit later on, Sailor inspires a similarly terse series of duo improvisations. Alvin Straight, who drove hundreds of miles along the side of the road on his riding mower to visit his estranged brother, serves as the impetus for a wryly methodical, minimalistically paced tone poem featuring the bass.

The Mystery Man (from Lost Highway) is the most intricate number here, a series of circular riffs interchanging over dynamic shifts, growing more ominous with squalling, shivering sax and guitar and ending with a twisted march. Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper has a fluttery tone poem to show for all his persistence, while the Man from Another Place – another Twin Peaks character – gets all of thirty seconds of flurries. On the concluding cut, Frank Booth, there’s no candy-colored clown, only a funereal rubato bass pulse lowlit by guitar that finally explodes: it’s not hard to imagine the poppers oscillating through the Blue Velvet villain’s brain as he huffs from that evil tube. Innanen contributes a devilishly tongue-in-cheek interlude along with Hauta-aho before the album’s most melodic and appropriately menacing passage.

Like all Tum Records releases, this comes beautifully packaged, including artwork by Marianna Uutinen and a magazine’s worth of liner notes: the Tum peeps are writing a lavish history of Finnish jazz in installments. It’s also worth mentioning that Innanen – who ironically leads another project called the Serenity Ensemble – has an excellent, sonically challenging album of his own, Clustrophy, out from Tum as well.

September 23, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twelve’s the Charm for Amina Figarova

At this point in time, pianist Amina Figarova’s enduring masterpiece is her September Suite, a harrowing reflection written in the wake of 9/11 that remains one of the most haunting albums of the last couple of decades. Her new album Twelve is her best, most focused and most impactful release since then – intentionally or not, it’s interesting how the number twelve would follow 9/11 in terms of the high points of her prolific career. This album is considerably quieter and more pensive than her previous one, Sketches, a bustling, colorful, loosely thematic series of travelogues. Figarova’s always had a knack for translucent horn arrangements, and the ones here are among her richest. Although throughout her career she has been generous in giving herself and her band plenty of room for soloing, this album is remarkable for its absence of wasted notes and dedication to purpose. The chemistry in her longtime band – husband and multi-flutist Bart Platteau, trumpeter Ernie Hammes, saxophonist Mark Mommaas, bassist Jeroen Vierdag and drummer Chris “Buckshot” Strik – is comfortably familiar. The compositions are as cinematic as she’s ever written. Maybe trading her old Rotterdam haunts for a new life in New York is part of the deal – whatever the case, let’s hope she stays.

It’s interesting how New York State would inspire her to evoke Brazil on the opening track, NYCST, dancing syncopation from Platteau and Mommaas sandwiching Figarova’s precise pointillisms. The second track, Another Side of the Ocean is classic Figarova, pensive and acerbic and then growing more lush, Hammes’ gentle swirls adding brightness, Platteau’s flute dancing cautiously over its elegantly shifting pulse. The most gripping track here might be Sneaky Seagulls, which juxtaposes an abrasive sax/trumpet interlude that’s more Hitchcockian than beachy against Keystone Kops swing, and then a potently aching alto solo from Mommaas. Likewise, tense harmonies between sax and flute lead into an eerily fluttering Figarova solo on a quieter seaside scene, Shut Eyes, Sea Waves: the uneasy, atmospheric backdrop behind Figarova’s spacious, unsettled solo out has a gently resolute vividness worthy of Gil Evans.

By contrast, On the Go is another one of Figarova’s travelogues, a latin theme as Joe Jackson might do it, lit up by a cleverly wry trumpet solo, Platteau then taking it back to brisk, matter-of-fact insistence. The most vividly lyrical of all the songs here is Isabelle, a portrait of Vierdag’s girlfriend, who comes across as stunningly perceptive, beautiful and easily wounded – and on guard against that. Then the band goes back to brisk, just-short-of-breathless swing with the Midtown Manhattan-flavored Make It Happen. The title track – in 12/8 meter, just to hammer home the numerological concept – develops a pensive neoromantic piano theme backed by a gorgeously burnished horn chart, expansively explored by flute and then piano.

The samba-flavored New Birth has yet another richly harmonized horn arrangement, casually steady postbop incisions from Mommaas and a lively Figarova solo. Then they get quiet again with Morning Pace and its allusions to blues and spirituals – Vierdag’s bass mingling with and then peering up through Figarova’s solo is another especially choice moment here. A portrait of a favorite grandmother who comes across as more impish than stern, Leila is full of latin tinges and eventually a wry approximation of a conga break. The album ends on a potently uneasy note with Maria’s Request – Figarova will go to great lengths to make her fans happy, and this is a classic example. Platteau’s soulful, balmy bass flute leads it up over Figarova’s nocturnal phrasing, the chords of the bass taking it out with a bracing absence of resolution. All these diversely picturesque pieces come together with an effortlessness that soft-pedals the fact that this is simply one of the most consistently enjoyable and attractive jazz albums of 2012. It’s out on the German In + Out label.

August 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Magnum Opus from Finland

Two old lions of Nordic jazz, Finnish tenor saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and pianist Heikki Sarmanto have a majestic, magisterial album, Conversations, recently out on the perennially adventurous Tum Records label. It’s a dark, classically-tinged mix of nocturnes, a soundtrack from the travelers’ lounge in Purgatory. The lavish double-disc set is best enjoyed as a cohesive whole. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of interplay here, actually: it’s less conversational than casually and intricately interwoven, the two players likely to juxtapose their lines, sometimes side-by-side, sometimes with piano as accompaniment to sax and vice versa. The compositions are all originals save for a surprisingly and vividly wistful take on You and the Night and the Music, more of a requiem for what might have been than joyous anticipation; they also deftly work up some unexpectedly anguished ambience in a version of Alone Together. Sarmanto favors resonant block chords and glimmering cascades; Aaltonen plays with the insistent, occasionally bursting Dexter Gordon-esque attack that’s been popular with many Finnish reed players over the years. Rhythm here tends to matter-of-fact and usually on the glacial side when it’s not completely rubato. Both Aaltonen and Sarmanto have a tendency to veer off course bracingly from warm consonance to icy atonalities, a trait they use judiciously and powerfully.

It wouldn’t be completely accurate to say that the ultimate game plan here is pitch-and-follow on a series of modes, although that device is frequently employed with potently memorable results. September Song allusions, spiraling parallelisms, warmly consonant glimmer versus unease, a saturnine, elegaic ballad and a very long, moodily exploratory introduction of sorts complete the first disc along with the first of the aforementioned covers. It ends as Sarmanto hands off the melody to Aaltonen, whose understatedly plaintive lines carry a quietly explosive power. The second disc contains mostly Sarmanto compositions. More spacious and somewhat more eclectic, with quick bursts of latin, high Romantic or pop inflections, it works moody modes with subtlety and grace and thematic variations, ending with a series of cinematic, overlapping segments with lead melodies deftly handed back and forth between instruments. For those whose taste in jazz, or in music in general, leans toward the melancholy side, this is a must-own, one of the most richly satisfying releases in recent months and a stealth contender for best of 2012.

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

Irreverent Funny Dutch Jazz

Jazz from Holland – isn’t that kind of like surf music from Peru or gypsy music from America? Actually, yes. Gogol Bordello are from Brooklyn (applause please), and for years Peru made the world’s best surf music (back then they called it chicha). One of the more entertaining groups in the vital Dutch jazz scene is the irreverent and frequently comedic quartet Talking Cows, whose series of droll videos has made them a youtube sensation. Tenor saxophonist Frans Vermeersen gets credit for the more serious songs on their latest album Almost Human (just out on Dutch label Morvin Records); pianist Robert Vermeulen seems to be the cutup in the group. Bassist Dion Nijland has a remarkably melodic, terse style, while eclectic drummer Yonga Sun is equally at home with latin grooves, complex polyrhythms utilizing every square inch of the drum kit, or sraight-up in-the-pocket swing.

The opening track, Hurdles in Threes is something of a false start, a triplet tune that refuses to resolve, hanging out just a bit under the tonic with postbop sax swirls, loungey piano, dancing bass and latin-flavored drumming. It doesn’t give much of a hint of the levity lying in store. The second track, sarcastically titled A Serious Lack of Humour does that, though, through a deadpan solo bass intro, variations on a riff that echoes Ellington’s Caravan, a squalling sax crescendo and all of a sudden a noir loungey interlude that rises again on Vermeersen’s steely lines. A Stroll for Gonso is sort of their warped version of Harlem Nocturne, slowly bubbling with smoky sax, wry mallets on the drums and finally a long, thoughtful Vermeersen solo that straightens things out. They evoke the Microscopic Septet with the blippy, occasionally vaudevillian, Monk-tinged Dinner Is Served, full of fake turnarounds, rhythmic tricks, a ridiculously repetitive righthand piano riff and finally an Epistrophy quote. It’s one of two live recordings here, the second being the dizzyingly polyrhythmic, latin-inflected closing track Hop On, Hop Off which works its way from sly funk to relaxed, lyrical bliss.

The funky/bluesy Not Yet juxtaposes gleefully eerie upper-register piano flourishes with sly sax and a long, genial crescendo that really starts to cook as Sun takes it up huffing and puffing with a shuffle. Mos Def! returns to having fun with latin and Monk, Vermeulen throwing one jape after another into the mix shamelessly as the group veers from relaxed, bluesy charts to the point of pandemonium and then back again. A free piece titled Hang Glider lets an anthemic theme evolve slowly out of carefree, rubato, cool-breeze interplay between sax, bass and piano, while Mooing Around turns a jump blues tune into refusenik postbop much like the opening track. There’s also Two Guys and a Beer (the band doesn’t say what kind, or how many), a jovial, period-perfect 1950s clave jukebox jazz stroll that Vermeulen takes completely off plan. We need more bands like this.

March 8, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legendary Jazz Ensemble ICP Orchestra Wrap Up Their US Tour

This album makes a good segue with Marc Ribot’s Saturday night concert. Dutch jazz pianist Misha Mengelberg and his ten-piece band ICP Orchestra (Instant Composers Pool) are legendary in European jazz circles and respected outside the continent for their mix of lavish arrangements and devious improvisation. They’re currently on US tour (see remaining dates below); their latest cd, simply titled ICP Orchestra (since superseded by a new vinyl album!), is a cinematic, noir-tinged concert recording from 2009. These folks date from the 1960s (Mengelberg was composing ten years before then), and as expected, there’s plenty of absurdism, irony and humor in their work. As is obvious from the first track here: a brief, klezmerish song with vocals, the band waiting impatiently to spin off their axis.

Which they do quickly on the second track, led by violinist Mary Oliver’s nightmare cadenzas establishing the noir ambience which returns again and again here, through a thoughtful Thomas Heberer quartertone trumpet solo over a steady detective beat. Then it walks and screams and falls apart in a series of cacaphonic, unrelated conversations that rise to a din, and then out cold. It’s paradigmatic for what’s to come, with saxophonist Michael Moore’s Sumptious, shifting from a richly melodic, distantly ominous late 50s theme to rubato, uneasy atmospherics. The next cut contrasts Oliver’s shrieky excursions with judicious, apprehensive piano from Mengelberg, followed by a radically deconstructed take of Herbie Nichols’ Busy Beaver, Oliver leading the charge out of the morass with a lusciously memorable crescendo.

The horror reaches breaking point with the sixth track, Mitrab, an improvisation that quickly rises to terror, sax shrieking out of a chilly, starlit piano intro, individual voices falling away, less horrified as it winds down. The Lepaerd, a jaunty swing tune, builds nonchalantly to a chase scene, falls away and then rises with the whole orchestra blazing. They follow it with the funniest track here, a low, rustling, conspiratorial tone poem, except that everyone seems to be the end of their own individual phone conversations. At the end, they walk out of the room, leaving the violin still fully engaged and completely unperturbed. They close with an altered swing blues by bassist Ernst Glerum and then a clever, amusing version of Ellington’s Sonnet in Search of a Moor (from the classic 1957 Suite Thunder) where the bass gets all the melody lines and the solos. Throughout the set, there are inspired moments from the whole group, including Han Bennink on drums, Tristan Housinger on cello, Wolter Wierbos on trombone and Tobias Delius on tenor sax. Remaining US tourdates are:

April 7 – Austin / Epistrophy Arts

April 8 – Houston / Nameless Sound

April 9 – Des Moines / Caspe Terrace

April 10 – Chicago / Hungry Brain

April 11 – Chicago / Cultural Center

April 12 – Seattle / Earshot Jazz

April 6, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michel Reis’ Point of No Return Captures the Zeitgeist

Luxembourg-born pianist Michel Reis’ Point of No Return is a stunningly vivid, darkly powerful album, easily one of the two or three best to come over the transom here so far this year. This is not an album of blazing solos or gratuitous displays of chops, yet it conveys an intensity of emotion rarely reached via any approach, whether loud or quiet. The word “haunting” is often misused, but not here. Reis wanders judiciously through minor keys for an austere, rain-drenched, frequently cinematic ambience, leaving plenty of space for the ghosts to wander. Some of this reminds of Fernando Otero in a more restrained, contemplative moment, or Dave Brubeck circa Brandenburg Gate Revisited.

There are so many “OMG, that was good” moments here that it doesn’t make sense to list them all – or ruin the suspense. If you think that a bass solo can’t be plaintive or deliver an impact, let bassist Tal Gamlieli’s cautious, pause-laden one on the sad, plaintive, simply titled Folk Song hit you – it’s what he doesn’t say that resonates most intensely. When Vivek Patel’s flugelhorn and Aaron Kruziki’s soprano sax shadow each other on the austerely catchy opening track, The Power of Beauty, the effect is much the same. As is Patel’s tentative reach and then decision against a flight upwards coming out of Reis’ incisively hammering chords on the bossa-flavored It’s Only Been a Dream. The cinematic Riverside Drive paints a vivid noir tableau, Reis’ uneasy piano flutter matched by Adam Cruz’ drums as the menace rises and then recedes, leaving the calm cityscape ominously unchanged. And The Sad Clown, a darkly carnivalesque song without words, wouldn’t be out of place on Frank Carlberg’s creepily theatrical Tivoli Trio album.

Not everything here is as dark. Sailing Away at Night is an irresistibly fun narrative, moving out into the depths where the waves are calm and the air is still, but then, uh oh, here come the raindrops! Time to head back to port! The title track works off a rippling, circular hook that threatens to head off into Yellowjackets territory but doesn’t, thanks to a scowling bridge and an exchange of fisticuffs between the piano and drums. There’s also a diptych of sorts, Street of Memories followed by Leaning in Towards Tomorrow, that juxtaposes comfortable, distantly blues-pop tv-theme phrases with hints of the otherworldly – clearly, even those safe streets are not without their ghosts. Reis plays the cd release show for this one on April 6 at 7:30 PM at Miles Cafe.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nordic Connect Choose Their Spots Memorably

Although all the members of jazz group Nordic Connect claim Viking ancestry, there are no galloping rhythms, twin guitar solos or for that matter much of anything on their new album Spirals that’s ordinarily associated with a raised forefinger and pinky. If they’ve come to conquer, this is a stealth attack. Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, her sister Christine on saxophones, Maggi Olin on acoustic and electric piano, Mattias Welin on bass and Jon Wikan on drums combine for a thoughtful, tuneful, counterintuitive collection of songs without words. Instead of going for an easy crescendo, they tend to pull back, let the mood build and then gracefully expand on it. This one makes a good segue with Noah Preminger’s  new After the Rain, recently reviewed here, although its ancestors are twenty years younger. Most of the tracks here are by Olin, although each of her bandmates also contributes.

66 Mike, by Wikan follows in the melodic vein of the other tracks, but more brightly, serving as the launching pad for the high point of the album, Ingrid’s grittily joyous solo, the most uninhibitedly intense moment here. Castle Mountain, by Christine, pairs warmly sostenuto horns against an understatedly funky rhythm section; she contributes an airily evocative soprano sax solo followed shortly by a wryly shapeshifting one by Wikan. Another Christine composition, Yew, works an allusive beauty: it’s a love song without cliches, her sister thoughtfully expansive against an equally allusive rhythm section, in sync as much with regard to the silences between their accents as the beats themselves. Ingrid’s composition Earth Sighs is a tectonically shifting tone poem with the freest feel of any of the songs here, building with a casual, tersely conversational ambience (Nordic people are not given to exaggerated displays of emotion) to the point where all of a sudden a gently resolute ballad emerges out of the discussion. It’s as if they were raising a barn: lots of seemingly unrelated activity, then the corners come up and the architecture is in place.

Olin’s songs are a clinic in implied melody and understatement and that carries over to how she plays: she lets the melodies in rather than hammering them out. On the opening track, Travel Fever, she develops a spacious contrast with her ringing, terse Rhodes accents against Wikan’s neat sidestep shuffle, Ingrid soaring in the distance, Christine in buoyantly and then handing off the melody as happens so frequently on this album. Song for Inga begins moody and brightens quickly with a deft series of spirals from Ingrid. M-Oving, the first of Olin’s two ballads here, pairs warmly spare piano with soulful muted trumpet, and a tersely rippling piano solo from which Ingrid emerges with some amusingly oscillating electronic effects. Ballad North works a somewhat majestic, emphatic hook methodically to the point where a swaying 6/8 blues underpinning slowly emerges while Christine swirls triumphantly and Ingrid buttresses her. The album closes with the high-spirited, tongue-in-cheek shuffle Brejk a Leg, whose most amusing moment out of several is a laugh-out-loud surfy drum solo (hmmm…is anybody in this band a Misha Mengelberg fan?). There’s a lot going on here: as much as the album makes for great atmosphere, it’s considerably more rewarding on headphones.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Explosive Surfy Jazz from the Best-Dressed Guy in Holland

Jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s stuff is a big hit in his native Holland because it’s very accessible and a lot of fun. Seeing as his compariot, debonair alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman’s mission is to “bring jazz back to the dance floor,” it made a lot of sense for Herman to do a Mengelberg album, which turned out to be a big hit there in 2009. Herman – a genuine star not only in his native land, but throughout Europe – is now on US tour, trying to move bodies (the schedule is here) while promoting a stunningly deluxe new edition of that cd, Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg). The title may sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, but the studio album is a mix of upbeat, dancefloor-ready jazz (when was the last time you heard that, huh?), just now reissued with a bonus ecstatic live cd mining a sly, devious vibe that’s pure punk rock. The band behind him – bassist Ernst Glerum, drummer Joost Patocka (of Euro-jazz doyenne Rita Reys’ band), keyboardist Willem Friede and guitar cult hero Anton Goudsmit – straddle the line between precision and abandon (more the latter than the former), with predictably entertaining results. The point of all this seems to be how far outside they can take Mengelberg’s often stunningly memorable, melodic compositions.

Much of the studio album is a trio performance with sax, bass and drums, bass walking blithely while Herman jumps playfully in and out of focus, skirting the melody. There are a lot of creatively disquieting touches here: a disarmingly pretty pop melody against the doppler effect of freeway traffic; the eerie children’s choir that introduces an offhandedly intense, chromatic number, and a distantly noir ballad with nebulous sax over a mellotron string section. There’s also a bright calypso tune and a couple of irresistibly surf-tinged songs, one with a Memphis go-go feel, the other a bouncy bolero (aptly titled A Little Nervous, in Dutch) with busy drums and bowed bass.

But the hourlong live disc from last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival is the piece de resistance. Herman plays his ass off; Goudsmit steals the show on the darker numbers. The most exhilarating number is called Do the Roach, Jim Campilongo surf/jazz taken to a blistering extreme, Goudsmit echoing Bill Frisell at his wildest, throwing off a blast of reverb-drenched metal fragments. The vigorous version of A Bit Nervous has Patocka doing a spot-on Mel Taylor impersonation; it sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with a good sax player. And Herman matches Goudsmit’s unhinged exuberance as they transform the Memphis go-go of Brozziman into crazed surf jazz, working their way out of the previous tone poem’s gritty, scrapy ambience. By itself it would be one of the year’s best jazz albums; alongside the studio disc, it makes a great introduction to a player and a group who deserve to be as well known in the US as they are at home.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment