Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Another Majestic, Darkly Eclectic Album and a Joe’s Pub Show by Pianist Guy Mintus

Pianist Guy Mintus’ 2017 album A Home In Between ranked high on the list of that year’s best releases here. His latest one, Connecting the Dots, with his trio, bassist Dan Pappalardo and drummer Philippe Lemm, is streaming at Soundcloud. It’s every bit as eclectic, and even more epic and playful. His next gig is on Feb 28 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub with haunting, rapturous Palestinian singer Mira Awad; cover is $25.

That show says a lot about where he’s coming from: he’s also transcribed a lot of classic Moroccan gnawa music for piano. The new album’s first track is Koan, which in many ways is Mintus’ resume. It’s a clever, shapeshifting number that begins as a cinematic title theme of sorts, then shifts back and forth between a gospel/blues waltz and neoromantic grandeur punctuated by ominous, carnivalesque syncopation.

Although Little Italy also gets a bass-and-drums intro that offers even more of a hint of suspense, Mintus digs into this genial nocturne with jaunty flourishes offset with more of the glittering gravitas that’s become his signature sound – and finally as much of a pianistic explosion as anybody’s recorded in the last several years. Mintus must have had an especially epic San Genarro festival experience at some point.

Pappalardo and Mintus joust amiably as the distantly Indian-flavored Samarkand gets underway, then suddenly they’re in waltzing neoromantic territory again. For awhile, it’s more spare and kinetic than most of the other tracks…but then Mintus brings in the storm.

The lone number from the standard jazz repertoire here, Horace Silver’s Yeah has strong echoes of Monk as well as Frank Carlberg in particular phantasmagorical mode. Hunt Music, a setting of a Rumi text as a brief, nocturnal tone poem, features guest vocals from chanteuse Sivan Arbel. The trio dance through the folksy intro to Dalb, Pappalardo adding a sott-voce solo: it’s the album’s most lighthearted number.

The elegantly incisive Asfour brings to mind the groundbreaking work of Lebanese pianist Tarek Yamani: this dusky gem is over too soon. Nothing New Under the Sun, a deviously Monkish blues, has a subtly altered swing. Mintus closes the album with two tunes drawing on his Israeli heritage. The first, Avenu Malkelnu is a tone poem with a muted, somber opening centered around guest Dave Liebman’s brooding alto sax solo; then Mintus builds a thorny thicket around it, his crushing lefthand attack driving it home. Mintus sing the second, Haperach Begani, a catchy, anthemic, chromatically edgy bounce from the catalog of the late Israeli Yemenite singer, Zohar Argov.

February 22, 2019 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Mighty, Majestic Big Band Debut from Christopher Zuar

Let’s say you want to start your career with a real bang. You don’t just want to slip in via the back door – you want to smash a grand slam on the first pitch you see in the majors. That’s pretty much what Christopher Zuar did with his debut recording, Musings, which hasn’t hit Spotify yet although there are a few tracks up at Sunnyside Records’ page. With the aid of producer Mike Holober, the young-ish (20s) composer assembled a titanic nineteen-piece crew of some of this era’s most distinguished names in big band jazz to play his lavish, lyrical charts. The result is the year’s best jazz debut – nothing else comes close. They’re playing Symphony Space on Dec 15 at 7:30 PM; cover is $22. If large ensemble jazz is your thing, you’d be crazy to miss this.

Zuar comes out of the Jim McNeely school of lush jazz orchestration, and there are echoes of the serpentine sweep of Maria Schneider as well here. But ultimately, this a toweringly individualistic statement. For all the epic gramdeur, there’s purpose, and drive, and eclectic influences as diverse as latin, Brazilian and baroque music.The opening track, Remembrance, springboards off a very simple octave riff and builds tension around a root note, in a Marc Ribot vein. At the center is a long, expressively nuanced Dave Pietro alto sax solo.

Frank Carlberg’s austere piano opens the steady, Bach-inspired Chaconne with a sly allusion to an infamous Led Zep riff, drummer Mark Ferber’s misterioso brushwork and bassist John Hebert’s minimalistic punches grounding the bright, brassy swells overhead as Zuar works another famous tune into the equation. Disquieting echo phrases mingle and flutter as Vulnerable States opens, Jo Lawry’s crystalline vocalese sailing over an uneasy, latin-tinged bustle: Zuar employs that superb voice as impactfully as Asuka Kakitani did with Sara Serpa on her similar blockbuster of a debut a couple of years ago.

Ha! (The Joke’s On You) – a shout-out to Zuar’s bubbe – references the baroque with its call-and-response along with a fiery, horn-driven vaudevillian funk surrealism driven by Pete McCann’s frenetically crescendoing wah guitar. Artfully fragmented voices intersperse, converge and then join forces as the ballad So Close Yet So Far Away coalesces, tenor player Jason Rigby’s turn from wistful to gritty triumph taking centerstage, down to a long, suspenseful outro.

Anthem has chattering Brazilian tinges, a dancing bass solo and a big vocal hook from Lawry,. Lonely Road, a reflection on the systematic destruction of Zuar’s beloved West Village in the ongoing blitzkrieg of gentrification, is a gem of a miniature rich with elegaic counterpoint: it quietly screams out for the composer to make a big wrecking ball out of it like the other numbers here.

The album winds up with its lone cover, a lithely bittersweet take of Egberto Gismonti’s 7 Anéis,  a striking, nebulously furtive interlude punctuated by swirly soprano sax at its center. This album is genuinely spectacular effort that also comprises the inspired, energetic work of woodwind players Ben Kono, Lucas Pino and Brian Landrus, trumpeters Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens, Mat Jodrell and Matt Holman, trombonists Tim Albright, Matt McDonald, Alan Ferber and Max Seigel. You’ll see this as this blog’s pick for best jazz debut of 2016 when the full list is published at NPR next week.

December 10, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist JP Schlegelmilch Reinvents Bill Frisell

Among his many projects, multi-keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch plays in the eclectically tuneful Old Time Musketry, whose debut album Different Times  was ranked among the top fifteen jazz releases of 2012 here last year. His latest album, Throughout: The Music of Bill Frisell, reinterprets compositions from across the career of this era’s greatest jazz guitarist. That these works would translate so well to piano almost goes without saying: Frisell is unsurpassed as a tunesmith. What’s most impressive and enjoyable here is that Schlegelmilch gets it: the lyricism, the bittersweetness, the darkness and also the wit. Most of the material comprises smaller-ensemble pieces from the mid-80s through the 90s, the period where Schlegelmilch probably fell under the composer’s spell.

Throughout, from Frisell’s collaboration with Petra Haden, opens the album, simple lingering rainy-day harmonies edging steadily through shifting shadows, an angst-fueled, elegantly waltzing nocturne. Rag – from the Is That You? album – is a particularly apt choice for piano, veering from lively, precise, Brubeck-esque precision to a more aberrant groove as the song picks up steam. Another track from that album, Twenty Years, the oldest one here, works a brooding modal vamp. Resistor, dating from the 1984 Rambler album, gets reinvented with a suspensefully witty minimalist syncopation and lefthand stride allusions. Hangdog, from Frisell’s 1991 live album, gets a similar, more melodically and rhythmically free treatment before Schlegelmilch gives it a dancingly phantasmagorical, Frank Carlberg-esque edge

There are three tracks here from Frisell’s landmark 1994 album This Land. Jimmy Carter Pt. 2 is reinvented as a hypnotic staccato bounce – this is the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter, busy putting up shingles. Monica Jane gets a somber gospel noir interpretation, while the title track gives Schlegelmilch a lot of territory to cover and he does, from Lynchian modal ripple and gleam to a panoramic pastorale.

Child At Heart and Beautiful E – a diptych from 1991’s Where in the World – sees Schlegelmilch building guitarlike sustain with a rippling staccato attack before winding down to a judiciously resonant lyricism and then up again with a towering, majestic intensity: it’s the most breathtaking track here. The album winds up with a stunningly straightforward, haunting take of the Elvis Costello collaboration Deep Dead Blue, going deep inside to find its pitchblende core. It’s a brilliant way to end this fascinating and often riveting album, a good segue with Frisell’s just-released Big Sur.

July 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ran Blake Headlines a Transcendent NEC Jazz Bill at Symphony Space

The New England Conservatory’s New York celebration of forty years of their contemporary improvisation program wound up Saturday night at Symphony Space with Ran Blake alone at the piano. It seemed that the stage lights had gone cobalt blue by then – or maybe that was just synesthesia. The concert’s concluding number was Memphis, a somber Martin Luther King elegy on which Blake intermingled gospel allusions and otherworldly close harmonies, both foreshadowed and then cruelly cut short by a gunshot staccato. It was the essence of noir, both a celebration of life and a grim reminder of everything that threatens what we hold dear. It made a fitting ending for an often exhilaratingly eclectic, emotionally vivid bill featuring NEC alumni and their bandmates from across the generations.

Frank Carlberg and his vocalist wife Christine Correa got the night started with a downtown take on Abbey Lincoln. The Claudia Quintet – drummer John Hollenbeck with bassist Chris Tordini, saxophonist Chris Speed, vibraphonist Matt Moran and accordionist Ted Reichman slowly coalesced into a brightly sweeping, occasionally carnivalesque groove. Their set, the night’s longest, moved from a loping Ethiopian rhythm through lowlit Twin Peaks vibraphone/accordion interludes, niftily polyrhythmic shuffles and finally an animatedly squonking crescendo from Speed.  Fiddler Eden MacAdam-Somer romped solo through an Appalachian flatfoot dance as well as more eclectic, technically dazzling original settings of Rumi poems that sometimes reminded of Carla Kihlstedt’s work.

Pianist Anthony Coleman led a quartet with Ashley Paul on sax and clarinet, Sean Conly on bass and Brian Chase on drums through a partita that alternated between brooding, cantorially-tinged stillness a la Sexmob, and variations on a persistent, uneasily rhythmic circular vamp. Clawhammer banjoist Sarah Jarosz followed with an aptly austere version of a Gillian Welch tune and then teamed up Blake for some playfully biting push-pull on an absolutely lurid version of Abbey Lincoln’s Tender As a Rose, leaving absolutely no doubt that this was a murder ballad.

In what could easily have been a cruel stroke of programming, John Medeski was handed the impossible task of following Blake solo on piano: that he managed not only to not be anticlimactic but to keep the intensity at such a towering peak speaks to how much he’s grown in the past ten years, beginning with an icily otherworldly salute to Blake’s misterioso style and then charging through an expansive, defiantly individualistic, hard-hitting, sometimes wryly messy blend of purist blues, hypnotic eastern resonance, gospel and stride piano. It seemed to sum up everywhere Medeski has been other than with his wildly popular early zeros jamband: he’s at the high point of a career that probably hasn’t reached its summit yet.

Dominique Eade then took the stage solo and swung fearlessly through a number that lept from a torchy nuance to wryly animated, scatting leaps and bounds before being joined by Blake, in a second taking the energy to redline with a mini-set highlighted by a gleaming, rain-drenched, hauntingly cinematic take of The Thrill Is Gone (from their transcendent duo album from a couple of years ago). Christelle Durandy then made the most of her cameo on an unexpectedly verdant, breathily dynamic duo with the iconic pianist who never met a song or a a singer he couldn’t elevate to new levels of white-knuckle intensity. That he ran the NEC improvation program for so long – and still takes part in it – speaks for itself and for the institution.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Orrin Evans’ New Trio Album Is One of the Year’s Best

Pianist Orrin Evans has been on a creative rampage lately. Recorded at a single marathon session at a Brooklyn studio this past February, his latest album Flip the Script, a trio project with Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards behind the kit, does exactly that. It’s his most straightforward album under his own name (to distinguish his small-group work from his role as conductor/pianist with his mighty jazz orchestra the Captain Black Big Band.) To steal a phrase from the JD Allen fakebook (a guy Evans has worked with, memorably), this is jukebox jazz: roughly four-minute, terse, wickedly tuneful, relentlessly intense compositions. For lack of a better word, this is deep music, full of irony and gravitas but also wit. Evans’ work has always been cerebral: to say whether or not this is his most emotionally impactful recording depends on how much Captain Black makes you sweat.

Question, by bassist Eric Revis, opens the album with a relentless unease that will pervade much of what’s to come, the rhythm section walking furiously against an evil music-box riff from the piano: the way Evans shadows Wolfe as the bassist pulls away from the center and then returns is one of the album’s many high points and will have you reaching for the repeat button. The first Evans composition here, Clean House, works gravely bluesy modalities into a dark Philly soul melody: the trio’s simple, direct rhythmic rhythmic insistence on the third verse is a clinic in hard-hitting teamwork. With its apprehensive chromatics, the title track has echoes of Frank Carlberg, Edwards coloring it with counterintuitive accents and the occasional marauding, machinegunning phrase as much as he propels it, something he does throughout the album: fans of Elvin Jones or Rudy Royston will eat this up. The quietly imploring, spaciously Shostakovian minimalism of When makes quite a contrast: Evans’ coldly surreal, starlit moonscape could be Satoko Fujii.

A phantasmagorical blues, Big Small balances slyness against gravitas, Wolfe turning in a potently minimalist solo as he builds to quietly boomy chords against the drums, Evans offering hope of a resolution but then retracts it as the mysterioso ambience returns. The piano’s relentless interpolations build to an artful clave rumble by Edwards and then a false ending on a bracingly chromatic reinvention of Luther Vandross’ A Brand New Day, while TC’s Blues, a diptych, morphs from loungey swing to expansive, allusively shadowy modalities that give Edwards a platform to whirl and rumble on. They follow that with an unexpectedly brooding take on Someday My Prince Will Come, then go back to the originals with The Answer, a clever, considerably calmer response to the Revis tune

The album ends with The Sound of Philadelphia, Evans’ hometown. But this isn’t happy tourists gathered around a bicentennial Liberty Bell: it’s a vacant industrial lot in north Philly next to a diner that’s been closed for years and a house that may or may not have people in it. Evans strips Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s jovial Philly soul tune to the bone, slows it down, takes every bit of bounce out and adds a menacing turnaround. It’s a quietly crushing way to bring this powerful creation to a close. Count this among the half-dozen best jazz albums to come over the transom so far this year, another major contribution from the Posi-Tone label.

July 6, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Fascinating Double Live Solo Album by Sumi Tonooka

Isn’t it ironic that if you’re absolutely inundated with music, the great tracks stand out even more? The other day, an absolutely bloodcurdling modal piano melody made its way through the space here. What was this deceptively simple, chromatically creepy masterpiece? A solo outtake from Frank Carlberg’s Tivoli Trio album? Christopher O’Riley exhuming a rare Bernard Herrmann track? Another Ryan Truesdell discovery of a previously unreleased Gil Evans piece? It could be any of the above, but it’s not. It turned out to be Sumi Tonooka playing her own composition Phantom Carousel (click here to watch it on vimeo), the most viscerally stunning of several originals on her intriguing and often unselfconsciously brilliant new double-disc set, Now, a live solo concert recording from last year at an upstate New York auditorium. Tonooka studied with Mary Lou Williams, and she covers Williams here, but she’s an utterly original player: there is no one who sounds like her. Grounded in the blues but with a flair for the unexpected and an ear for the avant garde, Tonooka includes both sets she played that night, unedited.

It’s not clear if the sequence of the discs matches the set lists, but it’s possible, as it opens with a casually coalescing take of I Hear a Rhapsody, its laid-back bluesiness giving way to a pinpoint, twinkling articulacy that sends it out on an upbeat note. From there, the covers are reinvented and sometimes disfigured, fascinatingly. Ellington’s Heaven is transformed with a spacious, distanced approach and coloristic ripples, while Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned, held up by matter-of-factly strange block chords, is so sideways and NOT old-fashioned it’s funny. A Mary Lou Williams medley opens with John Stubblefield’s Baby Man – a standout track in the Williams repertoire – done as part ragtime, part biting, stern minor-key spiritual. Williams’ Waltz Boogie becomes even more of a dirge than the version of Dirge Blues that Tonooka segues into. By contrast, Thelonious Monk’s Evidence is a playfully syncopated romp, followed by a hip, allusive, quote-infused take on Cole Porter’s All of You worthy of Bill Evans.

But it’s the originals that are the stars here. After setting a sepulchral tone with Phantom Carousel, Tonooka follows with a diptych of Sojourn I and then Uganda, her left hand coming to life slowly like a volcano emerging from dormancy – or McCoy Tyner circa 1972 – climbing slowly from shadowy, minimalist blues to rippling variations and a completely unexpected murky muddle that slips away gracefully. The tersely dancing Moroccan Daze, which follows, makes it a trilogy. That she would title the expansive, austerely mournful tune after that Mingus Mood attests to her appreciation for the guy who wrote Goodbye Porkpie Hat (which this piece references strongly). If the title of At Home is to be believed, home for Tonooka is warm but very lowlit, sort of Dave Brubeck but with a more pensively exploratory edge. The concert ends on a jaunty note with I’m Confessin’, Tonooka interspersing playfully leaping upper-register cadenzas into Eubie Blake’s genial ragtime tune.

All this again begs the question: why don’t more artists make live albums, considering how cost-effective they are compared to studio recordings? Maybe because jazz artists assume, often correctly, that jazz fans want a clean recording that sounds better than your typical mp3 bedroom recording? But maybe, in the age of the iphone, it’s time to revisit that assumption. As this album reminds, a recording from a good room is bound to sound great, whether the place is a club or a studio. Who needs overdubs, anyway? Or as Tonooka might have been thinking here, who needs a band?

July 3, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Tivoli Trio

This is exquisitely creepy, surreal stuff. It’s as good a jazz album as has come over the turnstile here so far this year. Jazz pianist Frank Carlberg grew up in Helsinki, fascinated by carnivals and the circus – his neighborhood amusement park featured a small combo, the Tivoli Trio, with the unlikely combination of trumpet, organ and drums. As a composer, Carlberg particularly excels at big band arrangements; this time out, he endeavored to recreate what he’d heard as a child, if only in spirit rather than actual memory. It’s a deliciously twisted, disquieting ride, worth it for the rhythm section alone – John Hebert’s bass and Gerald Cleaver’s drums jump right in on the fun, each taking on a gleefully sinister, gnomish persona.

An off-center fanfare opens the album; bass and drums mimic a restless crowd, and then they’re off with Tricks, a scurrying, phantasmagorically creepy, repetitive music box themed tune. A chase sequence follows with suspenseful variations on the previous theme, Carlberg utilizing a marvelously eerie, repetitive series of horn voicings. On Rumble Mumble, drums take centerstage, Carlberg playing deftly diabolical tritone-flavored accents off them. They follow with a strange little vignette, circular piano riff against bass screeching and squealing like the ghost of a decapitated ape.

Bill’s Hat is sad, tired, possibly murderous little march that morphs into a swinging shuffle, the backstage crew at the sideshow having a little laugh at someone’s expense – Hebert gets to throw some knives at his bandmates’ feet as they dance around. On the next track, Two for Tea, the rhythm section bounces around playfully as Carlberg gets to throw knives this time. This is where the truth comes out: they’re a team of gremlins, everybody off on his own yet completely with the same mind when it comes to trouble. Next is another strange miniature with brief horror-movie, cello-like arco work by Hebert against methodical, glimmering block chords from Carlberg.

Devious and high-spirited, Potholes has Hebert providing atmospherics as the drums creep around disorientingly – then Carlberg comes sailing in, oblivious to the trouble the other two have just been up to. The most straight-up jazz number here, Spit (The Game) works from atonal punches on the piano to block chord work driven by judicious bass chords or scrapy bowing, Cleaver’s ever-present cymbal boom just a mallet’s-length away. Tumbles is evocatively if completely uneasily acrobatic with sizeable breaks for devious bass and drums; the cd winds up with the less-than-subtly menacing, expansive yet poignantly lyrical Harlequin and then a brief reprise for the crowd, Sgt. Pepper style. Put this on and then kill the lights – you’ll see it in December on our best albums of the year list.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The NEC Jazz Faculty All-Stars at the Jazz Standard, NYC 3/24/10

To steal a line out of the Jim Macnie fakebook (he gets a shout-out because he’s on the side of the angels), this was the coolest faculty meeting you could imagine. The New England Conservatory’s jazz faculty distinguish themselves in a lot of ways but most of all because they maintain fulltime live performance schedules. As trumpeter John McNeil, the group’s class clown, sardonically told the sold-out house at the Jazz Standard last night, a NEC gig assures that you always have the means to pursue others! Which might explain why this gig was a clinic, if hardly an academic one. The camaraderie between McNeil – whose compositions dominated the set list – alongside tenor titan George Garzone, pianist Frank Carlberg, bassist Cecil McBee and sub drummer Richie Barshay (Billy Hart couldn’t make it) is comfortable and intiutive, facilitating a clinic in effective listening, trusting one’s bandmates and seeing that trust richly rewarded. It’s not likely that anyone shopping music conservatories was in the crowd, but if they had been, they were either sold or holding out for a bargain that doesn’t exist.

They opened with segueing McNeil numbers, Nanotechnology into Alone Together, mysterioso modal into catchy hook into swing featuring the first of several fast, fluid Garzone solos, McBee going in the opposite direction with lots of space. McNeil got a lot of laughs telling the crowd how he’d named another tune, CJ, after a woman he was pursuing. In retrospect, he should have known that you have to try a little harder than just a blues if you want to impress a woman. Something else that McNeil didn’t know when he wrote it thirty-one years ago, almost to the day: you don’t write the blues before the woman, you write the blues after. But it gave Carlberg the first of many foundations to enigmatically warp the time as he would all night, McBee taking it out quietly, tersely and eerily.

A homage to Piaf, whom McNeil had a crush on as a kid, built from plaintive, insistent piano to gently pulsing, Ray Brown-esque bass, Garzone eventually going major on minor to enhance the somber intensity. Frank Carlberg’s composition Consternation (after the Bird tune A Confirmation) driven by some utterly marvelous Barshay cymbal work, saw the band playfully interjecting themselves into the drum solo. The night’s last number was the best, a Dave Liebman composition that nobody could remember the title to, but they played the hell out of it – a murky modal masterpiece with scurrying rhythm section, icy Carlberg minimalism and more rapidfire Garzone sharpshooting, McNeil avoiding the murk at first but eventually plunging right in as the rhythm section took it all the way up with a stomp that built thisclose to complete ferocity, McBee again leading it out on a quietly moody note. This show was part of NEC Jazz Week in NYC, an allstar series of concerts continuing tomorrow through the big blowout at B.B. King’s on the 27th – the complete schedule is here.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment