Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ryan Truesdell Resurrects a Gil Evans Classic Mothballed for Half a Century

Friday night the Jazz Standard looked to be sold out and for good reason. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Impulse Records, the club has been playing host to a series of concerts commemorating artists or albums associated with the influential 1960s jazz label. This was the pick of the bunch, an allstar sixteen-piece cast assembled by composer Ryan Truesdell, a leading Gil Evans advocate and scholar, playing Evans’ 1961 big band cult classic Out of the Cool. Truesdell was quick to acknowledge the support of Evans’ widow Anita, who was in the audience. He also reminded that this may have been the first time the music on the album has been played live, as a whole, in fifty years. Which on one hand is mind-boggling – in the intervening five decades, couldn’t someone have pulled a band together just like Truesdell did? On the other hand, leaving it alone makes a lot of sense: it’s hard to improve on perfection.

In their opening set, they didn’t do the whole thing, substituting a vivid, animated version of Nothing Like You (a song long associated with Miles Davis, recorded on another cult classic, 1964’s The Individualism of Gil Evans) for the brooding atmospherics of Sunken Treasure. That choice kept the energy level up via a nonchalantly bristling solo from pianist Frank Kimbrough (spot-on in the Evans role with his judicious, incisive chordal attack) and a long, smokily bluesy one from tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland. As the album’s and the night’s opening track – George Russell’s Stratusphunk – unwound with a jaunty martial pulse, it was clear that this would be an attempt to reach for the brilliance of the original ensemble’s collective improvisation rather than to replicate it. A tall order, needless to say. But having eclectic, virtuoso tuba player Howard Johnson – whose association with Evans lasted more than two decades – helped. As did the presence of George Flynn on bass trombone and Michael Rabinowitz on bassoon, rounding out the low end along with bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, who got a real workout doing an energetic impression of Ron Carter’s marathon walks.

Kurt Weill’s Bilbao Song got a deliciously pillowy performance, including nimble, incisive work from Kitagawa and guitarist Ben Monder along with ensemble work that dramatically brought out the contrasts between rhythm and the lush horizontality of the melody. Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie, which didn’t make it onto the album until the reissue, also paired off contrasts between the tune’s jaunty swing and some typical blazing, all-stops-out Evans crescendos, and a neat false ending. As expected, the high point of the set, in fact one of the high points of this year’s concerts so far, was an absolutely devastating version of Where Flamingos Fly. The most obviously Sketches of Spain-influenced number on the album, its tense noir atmospherics gave trombonist John Allred a long launching pad for a plaintive, wounded, chillingly beautiful solo spot. They closed with La Nevada, a noir epic on album, here more of a jam on its stunningly simple, memorable hook, Rabonowitz going with slow, gripping blues, trumpeter Greg Gisbert going at it fast, flutist Charles Pillow playfully elbowing Johnson off the page when the tuba started making some unexpected runs way up into flute territory. Drummer Clarence Penn, who’d been grinning almost nonstop at the prospect of getting to emulate Elvin Jones for a whole night, pounced on turnarounds and the end of phrases like a fighter who’s been waiting his whole life for the occasion.

Truesdell didn’t conduct so much as he signaled transitions – and did so with great intuition – although he made a great emcee. His passion for Evans’ music was contagious. Among other projects, he’s spearheading a celebration of the centenary of Evans’ birth this year, with concerts and a recording of some of the fifty-odd unpublished Evans compositions he’s unearthed.

April 25, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Noah Preminger Gets Meticulous at the Jazz Standard

If Noah Preminger was a painter, he wouldn’t be Pollock: he’d be Paul Klee, maybe. Last night, in his Jazz Standard debut as a bandleader, what the tenor saxophonist left unsaid wasn’t as interesting as what he played, but it created many, many moments of suspense, most of them brief, some more lingering. It’s impressive enough not to overplay, but Preminger’s use of space is pretty extraordinary. His playing on his new album Before the Rain – whose release he was celebrating last night – is judicious, but onstage he chose his spots with an artful gambler’s resolve. Figuring out what was composed and what he was making made up on the spot was often impossible to tell. And for a relatively young guy (he’s a couple of years out of conservatory) to get a band of veterans as good as the crew he has on the album to back him speaks more than any review could. Early on, he pitched a few riffs that pianist Frank Kimbrough playfully swatted at, but otherwise this was less a clinic in interplay than simply good listening. During his bandmates’ solos, Preminger watched intently, but not with anticipation – he was picking up ideas.

And what the group ran out there was every bit as interesting as what Preminger did himself. Drummer Matt Wilson is always inspiring to watch, but this time out he had the counterintuitivity meter pinned in the red. On the blithely catchy Quickening, a Kimbrough tune from the new record, he took a solo that began as a fugue of sorts, morphed into clave and then a winkingly circular riff that he looped over and over. Otherwise, he’d introduce an unexpected shuffle, prowl around rubato while bassist John Hebert held the rhythm, or the one time that Hebert finally veered off the end of the runway, Wilson pounced and saved the song from a certain dip in the Hudson.

Hebert’s lines were every bit as invigorating, and invigorated, as Wilson’s. On the set’s next-to-last number, catchy but wary with a distant bolero feel, he worked the fringes from a pedal note to a percussive yet tuneful frenzy where it looked like he might break a string. As the band wound their way with an unselfconscious casualness into the warmly inviting first song, a Preminger composition simply titled K, he held the center while Wilson and Preminger slipped around in search of a firm footing; later, when the moment called for it, he’d slip a chord or two into a lull, the effect being as if he’d hit an overdrive pedal. And Kimbrough was his usual lyrical, expressive self, whether playing hide-and-seek with the inner Mexican folk song hidden within Ornette Coleman’s Toy Dance, adding bracing phantasmagorical touches on the next-to-last song of the set or artfully evading any kind of resolution on an otherwise surprisingly straight-up version of the vivid Preminger ballad Before the Rain. They closed the set with a gently lyrical, meticulous version of Rodgers and Hart’s Where or When that brought to mind Brubeck’s calm, bucolic version of Georgia on My Mind, a comfortable landing that drew raucous applause from what looked to be a sold-out room. Preminger is back at the Jazz Standard with Fred Hersch (who has a very captivating solo album recorded at the Vanguard, just out) on March 4-5.

February 17, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Noah Preminger’s Before the Rain Is a Quiet Knockout

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger’s 2008 cd Dry Bridge Road made a lot of waves, to the point where he’s becoming a perennial nominee for “best up-and-coming jazz artist.” Believe the hype: he is the real deal. This quartet album brings back bassist John Hebert – whose performance backing Jen Shyu at Winter Jazzfest was stunningly purposeful – and pianist Frank Kimbrough along with Matt Wilson, whose drums have anchored so many good jazz albums lately it’s absurd. This is basically a suite that alternates light and dark, emphasis on the dark. There are no gratuitous displays of chops here: the entire band’s understatement is such that they leave plenty on the table. In its own deliberate way, as a statement, an expression of emotion, it is a knockout.

It opens deceptively with a brief, comfortably balmy, drum-less preamble through a couple of minutes of Rodgers and Hart’s Where or When. Then they take the lightheartedness up a notch with Kimbrough’s catchy, jovial Quickening. Methodically prowling beneath the buoyancy, Wilson absolutely owns this track, Hebert taking it to an unselfconsciously joyous, playful crescendo on his solo. Then they bring the lights down for some indoor fireworks, which is where it gets really interesting. The title track, a Preminger original, takes awhile to emerge, Hebert’s lento pulse against the piano: it’s a clinic in effective minimalism, Preminger’s wary lines slowly rising and falling,Wilson finally establishing a gingerly funky bounce before they take it back into the depths again. For lack of a better word, this is a deep song on a deep album.

They maintain the hushed suspense on the next track, Abreaction, even as Hebert and Wilson sync up for a bustling shuffle beneath Preminger’s austere, judicious intensity, Kimbrough finally tackling the darkness head-on with a masterfully developed, slowly expanding series of variations on a simple chromatic riff. Sammy Cahn’s Until the Real Thing Comes Along reverts to the casual optimism of the opening track, with lyrical solos from Kimbrough and Preminger.

They follow with a brief, rubato fragment into a lively version of Ornette Coleman’s Toy Dance, done here with a striking similarity to the earlier Kimbrough tune. November, also by Kimbrough, is where the band glimmers most intensely: following a perfectly stately, gradually unwinding piano solo, Wilson’s slow crescendo that finally caps off with a series of calmly majestic cymbal splashes is the most exquisite moment in an album filled with many. They close with an apprehensively optimistic Preminger ballad, Jamie, an apt way to end this strikingly well thought-out and emotionally resonant album. Look for it on a lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year. It’s out today on the Palmetto label.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment