Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Imaginative, Hard-Swinging Change of Pace and a Smalls Gig by Saxophonist Nick Hempton

Saxophonist Nick Hempton has been a regular in the Smalls scene for at least a decade. His compositions swing hard, with an eclectic, ambitious edge and frequent detours into noir. His next gig there is July 14 at 10:30 with a killer, counterintuitive organ groove band including guitarist Mark Whitfield, organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Fukushi Tainaka

Hempton’s most recent album, Night Owl – streaming at Spotify – is a good introduction to what he can do with that band onstage – and a considerable change from his previous work. It features Koehler and Tainaka along with another purist guitarist, Peter Bernstein, playing a mix of originals and some pretty radical reinventions of standards.

Bernstein adds an unexpectedly bracing, clustering attack,echoed by Koehler while the band swing the blues in the album’s opening, title track. I Remember Milady’s is a somewhat wistfully altered, similarly bluesy cha-cha with a characteristically smoky solo from Hempton, Koehler launching a river with his.

The band shuffle with lickety-split verve through their take of After You’ve Gone, the bandleader making his scampering lines look effortless, Bernstein having fun with a series of spacy hammer-on phrases. Then they do I’m a Fool to Want You as a brooding bolero: the shadowy ambience of Bernstein’s cautious phrasing, Koehler’s muted backdrop, Tainaka’s brushwork and the smoke from Hempton’s tenor sax is where the noir really kicks in.

From there the band flip the script with the blithe 10th Street Turnaround: it’s akin to what Jimmy Smith might have done with a New Orleans ballad. Corner Bistro – a shout-out to a rare West Village landmark that’s still standing – has a slinky 60s funk shuffle lurking just beneath its shiny, somewhat acidic surface. Then the band shift into low gear with the balmy southern elegance of It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream.

Hempton’s catchy riffage and a long, majestic Koehler solo contrast with the massed, enigmatic harmonies behind them in Listen Hard, Speak Easy. They close the album with the expansive Macao Mood, a rather jubilant swing number that doesn’t sound the slightest bit Portuguese. Anybody who thinks that all organ-and-tenor records sound the same (are you listening, Harvey?) ought to hear this.

July 10, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Christmas Album That’s Not Cloying and Annoying

Christmas music rots your brain. It’s true! Scientific studies have confirmed what most of us have known all along. No wonder, considering how repetitive, unsophisticated and utterly lacking in dynamics most Christmas songs are.

Into this musical wasteland swings Champian Fulton, one of the great wits in jazz, with her irresistible and stunningly dynamic new album Christmas With Champian, streaming at Spotify. There hasn’t been a Christmas record this fun or this subtly irreverent since dub reggae band Super Hi-Fi’s two woozy instrumental albums of “holiday favorites.”

Fulton is the best singing pianist in jazz. There isn’t another instrumentalist out there with her mic skills, nor a singer with her fearsome chops at the keys. More than anything else, this is a great jazz record in a Santa hat. Fulton never ceases to find both poignancy and exuberant fun in the least expected places. For the latter, check out how she Sarah Vaughns White Christmas, the album’s opening track. Better watch out if you don’t want that snow, because Fulton sounds like she might smack you upside the head! It’s a good guess that Irving Berlin, who cut his teeth in ragtime, would approve of this jaunty, bluesy arrangement.

Fulton’s take of Pretty Paper, recast as a brisk jazz waltz, has to be the saddest version of the song ever recorded. That vendor girl, out there in the cold with all that merch she has to unload before the 25th of the month or she loses all her money! Likewise, the solo piano-and-vocal version of I’ll Be Home for Christmas is balmy and plaintive: when Fulton hits the end of the chorus, “if only in my dreams” packs a wallop.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland gets reinvented as wry viper swing, with some coyly emphatic trumpet from her dad, Stephen Fulton, who also lights up a carefully articulated version of Gracias a Dios. She sings that one in Spanish, hardly a stretch considering her Mexican heritage – and the point where she follows her dad’s solo with a deadpan jinglebell solo of her own is subtly priceless. Drummer Fukushi Tainaka’s elegant brushwork and David Williams’ terse bass add subtle bolero hints.

The Christmas Song – better known as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – is one of only a couple of tracks here with a genuine jazz pedigree, but Fulton goes for devious, tongue-in-cheek humor rather than trying to follow in Nat Cole’s footsteps.  She reinvents Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as midtempo swing, with hints of Dinah Washington and an unexpectedly dark intro that edges toward barrelhouse.

Daughter and father team up to remake Christmas Time Is Here as a bittersweet, lustrous, languidly tropical instrumental ballad. Likewise, she transforms A Child Is Born into a bluesy waltz, with a melismatic, insistent bass solo. Her piano solo in a wee-hours take of The Christmas Waltz goes in the opposite direction, with enough droll ornamentation for a fifty-foot tree.

Her version of Sleigh Ride pairs a boisterous trumpet solo with an unexpectedly seductive vocal and teasingly allusive piano, an approach she revisits in Let It Snow. The Dinah-inspired piano-and-vocal final number, Merry Merry Christmas, is the only Fulton original here, but could easily date from sixty years ago – and might make it to your local supermarket someday.

December 16, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment