Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Zoh Amba Brings Her Thoughtful Intensity to a Brooklyn Gig

Tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba draws comparisons to Albert Ayler, but ultimately she’s her own animal, more influenced by the blues in a JD Allen vein. Isaiah Collier is also a reference point, but where he goes completely feral, Amba is more likely to reach for biting, sometimes acidic Jackie McLean incisions. Amba is leading a quintet with Matt Hollenberg on guitar, Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Marc Edwards on drums at Roulette on Sept 27 at 8 PM. You can get in for $25 in advance.

You can hear a little more than half of her latest album O Life, O Light at Bandcamp – unfortunately, the vinyl of this killer trio session with bassist William Parker and drummer Francisco Mela is sold out. The opening number is Mother’s Hymn: variations on a somber, Birmingham-era Coltrane style theme stripped to its broodingly rustic oldtime gospel roots. Parker bows plaintive responses to Amba’s slow blues riffs as she rises to increasingly imploring intonations. Almost imperceptibly, she takes her blue notes further down toward calm as Mela raises the energy with hypnotic waves of echo effects while Parker fills a familiar role as rock-solid anchor. The interlude where he joins Mela’s vivid splashes against the shoreline is over way too soon The trio bring it full circle in almost fourteen understatedly intense minutes.

The second number, the title track, begins sort of a reverse image with hints of calypso and New Orleans echoes, but it isn’t long before Amba starts with the insistent, trilling motives as Mela builds concentric circles and Parker artfully expands his own modal terrain. Again, Amba brings the ambience back around to a solemn rusticity.

She switches to flute for Mountains in the Predawn Light, pulling back on the attack atop the rhythm section’s slinky chassis. With Mela’s judiciously colorful accents around the kit and every piece of hardware within reach, this is a GREAT drum-and-bass record. There’s also a brief bonus track, Satya reprising the initial theme where Amba cuts loose right off the bat. Finding the perfect balance between melody and squall is always daunting, but these three celebrate that here with purpose and cool triumph.

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September 23, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uri Gurvich’s Articulate BabEl: State of the Art Middle Eastern Jazz

Saxophonist Uri Gurvich’s BabEl, out earlier this year from Tzadik, blends Middle Eastern influences into jazz with a rich, often majestic power. It’s one of the best albums of 2013..The ensemble here is the core of drummer Francisco Mela’s group, Gurvich out front of Mela, bassist Peter Slavov and pianist Leo Genovese and guest oudist Brahim Frigbane.

They waste no time going deep into a brooding desert mode with a Fribgane taqsim on the intro to the evocative Pyramids, Gurvich’s bitingly bright alto over a dancing rhythm. It’s half a step removed from what could otherwise be a droll Mexican folk melody – but that half step makes all the difference as they ride a long, darkly triumphant vamp out. Dervish Dance works a catchy, Joe Jackson-ish latin tune over a spiraling rhythm, Gurvich’s spiraling chromatics handing off to a dusky piano/bass/drums rumble.

Nedudim – Hebrew for “Journeys” – maintans the modal intensity over dancing rhythm and a terse Genovese piano vamp. After yet another biting Gurvich solo, Genovese – now on organ – takes it into phantasmagorical Ray Manzarek territory. Alfombra Magica follows that and keeps the magic going, a launching pad for subtly dark thematic variations from Gurvich and a coyly terse Slavov solo.

Scalerica de Oro jazzes up a Ladino folk tune and gets more interesting as it goes along, with repeated dynamic shifts and a Genovese organ solo played through a wah for extra surrealism. The Hagiga Suite works its way from apprehensively circling atmospherics to a spine-tingling, spiraling Gurvich solo, Genovese’s nonchalantly hard-hitting solo winding down to a fade. A jazz waltz, Camelao pairs off Genovese’s machinegunning piano with Gurvich’s calming cool. The album ends with the reflective, moody Valley of the Kings, Gurvich running lithe variations on a catchy Middle Eastern pop hook as the band switches up the rhythm underneath. This is only a capsule and really doesn’t do justice to the kind of animated teamwork that Mela and Slavov build together, or to Genovese’s gritty blend of Argentinian and Levantine flavors, both which reveal themselves more and more with repeated listening.

July 18, 2013 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez Is the Real Deal

A lot of people, this blog along with them, slept on Cuban-American pianist Alfredo Rodriguez’ debut album Sounds of Space when it first came out on Mack Avenue this past spring and that was a mistake. Quincy Jones produced, and has gone to bat for Rodriguez, whose dark, intense third-stream compositions and eclectic playing are auspicious to the point of putting him at the front of the pack for rookie of the year, 2012. Rodriguez’ training is classical; unsurprisingly, he’s just as adept at salsa jazz, but ultimately it’s his compositions that impress the most here.

The album’s most amazing number, Fog, is the only one of its kind here, a towering cinematic noir theme that could be a lost track from The Individualism of Gil Evans, featuring wind ensemble the Santa Cecilia Quartet. With brooding piano and terse bass puncturing the ominous mist of close harmonies, sudden horror cadenzas punctuating its creepy, nocturnal glimmer, it has a visceral power equalled by few other compositions released this year. Let’s hope that Rodriguez has more of these up his sleeve.

That’s the album’s final cut – getting there is an enjoyable and frequently bracing ride. The album opens on a disarmingly playful Carib jazz note lit up by Rodriguez’ balmy melodica phrasing and whispery piano over the suspenseful pulse of bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Francisco Mela, who eventually return to join Rodriguez on the tuneful Oxygen, a vividly Cuban take on late 50s Brubeck, and as it goes on, ragtime. Bassist Gaston Joya and drummer/percussionist Michael Olivera supply the grooves the rest of the way, along with multi-reedman Ernesto Vega, whose soprano sax adds nostalgic lyricism to the second track, Sueno de Paseo. The strangely titled Silence is cinematic to the max, with furtively scurrying piano/bass crescendos leading up to an unexpectedly buoyant soprano sax interlude, Rodriguez veering from dark to light, eventually mingling salsa and gospel tinges into the rhythmic intensity. The genial, tinkling salsa jazz tune Cubop is more Cuban than bop, while the Schumann-esque April sets a chillingly rippling neoromantic mood: for Rodriguez, it’s still winter.

With its distant, uneasy modalities, spaciousness and tricky 9/4 tempo, the title track evokes Christian McBride’s recent work. Crossing the Border is another cinematic narrative, incorporating elements of boogie-woogie as well as salsa and the neoromantic. A Ernesto Lecuona homage has a lilting, Brubeck-ish pulse, juxtaposing biting atonalities with warmer, dancing spirals. The arc of the album reaches higher with the dynamically rich Transculturation, bristling with a succession of suspense motifs, off-center chromatics and biting Middle Eastern clarinet over a brisk clave beat. And then the fog rolls in. If you caught up with this before we did, good for you: if not, don’t miss the boat a second time around.

August 15, 2012 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment