Cameron Mizell is the great pastoral jazz guitarist not named Bill Frisell. Like Frisell, he has a laser sense for a catchy hook, a spacious approach to melody, a fondness for the unconventional and a flair for the lurid that occasionally bares its fangs from deep in the shadows. Mizell’s latest album Negative Space – streaming at Destiny Records – is a trio effort with multi-keyboardist Brad Whiteley and drummer Kenneth Salters. Mizell is playing the small room at the Rockwood on March 13 at 7 PM.
The album’s opening miniature sets the stage, a brief, resonant Frisell-style tone poem of sorts, just a couple of tersely exploratory guitar tracks and a little cymbal work from Salters. Big Tree takes those hints of unbridled gorgeousness and, to paraphrase Richard Thompson, really brushes those treetops, a series of soul-infused echo phrases. The slowly swaying Yesterday’s Troubles, Mizell’s distorted riffage paired with Whiteley’s echoey Rhodes piano, sounds like Beninghove’s Hangmen covering a set piece from Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night soundtrack.
Likewise, Whiskey for Flowers hints that Mizell’s going to plunge into Marc Ribot noir, but instead hits a warmly vamping pastorale shuffle that builds to an unexpectedly sweet Jerry Garcia-ish peak (it’s inspired by couple-bonding: Mizell’s wife has come to share his appreciation for the hard stuff). By contrast, Take the Humble is a crescendoing funk shuffle that owes more to Booker T than to, say, Scofield, especially when it comes to Whiteley’s organ solo.
Mizell builds a slow burn over Whiteley’s ominously circular Philip Glassine piano phrases on the album’s cinematic centerpiece, Clearing Skies, rising to David Gilmour epic grandeur, Whiteley channeling blues through the prism of REM balladry. Don’t laugh: it works. Likewise, Get It While You Can, a punchier take on the Grateful Dead version of the old folk song Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.
Barter reaches from spare and then expansive Booker T-ish verses toward Pink Floyd grandeur. A Song About a Tree would be a standout track on any Frisell album, a luscious song without words assembled from catchy electrified bluegrass hooks, drifting matter-of-factly further into space. Unfolding has such an odd rhythm – at heart, it’s a reggae anthem – that it almost seems like the drum was a last-minute overdub. The album’s title cut has an ECM feel, Whiteley’s waves of piano building and then receding way too soon: it could have gone on for twice as long and nobody would complain. The final track is part Dark Side of the Moon majesty, part cinematic Ribot menace. Beyond the tunesmithing here, the absence of bass makes this a great practice record.
What if you told your six-year-old that you were going to take them to a performance that was educational, multicultural, rhythmically challenging and completely G-rated? They’d probably tell you to get lost, right? Well, late yesterday morning the French Alliance staged a program that was all that…and the kids loved it.
French-Cameroonian duo Les Nubians – sisters Helene and Celia Faussart – celebrate sisterhood, unity and Africanness in ways that aren’t cliched, or annoyingly P.C., or patronizing. Their music is sophisticated, blending elements of American soul, central African folk, downtempo, funk, bossa nova and hip-hop, to name a few styles. And much as all these genres got a similarly multicultural, vividly New York crowd of kids and their parents dancing and swaying along, you wanna know what energized the kids the most? A detour into an ancient Cameroonian folk dance fueled by balafonist François Nnang’s gracefully kinetic flourishes, the crowd spontaneously clapping along with its offbeat triplet rhythm. Some things are so innately wholesome that kids automatically gravitate toward them, and the folks at the French Alliance are keenly aware of that.
Age groups quickly separated out: gradeschoolers and preschoolers down front, filling the first two rows, tapping out a rhythm along with the band onstage, singing and dancing along as their parents watched bemusedly from the back rows. The crowd was pretty much split down the middle genderwise, at least among the kids, boys just as swept up as the girls in the pulsing grooves and the Faussart sisters’ irrepressible good cheer, charisma and dance moves. Their parents got a 90s nostalgia fix via a playful, French-language remake of the Sade hit The Sweetest Taboo, along with songs like the pensive Demaind (Jazz) from the group’s 1998 debut album, and the spiky, catchy Makeda. Guitarist Masaharu Shimizu played eclectically and energietically over animated, globally fluent clip-clup percussion by Shaun Kell.
Les Nubians have a handle on what kids like. They worked a trajectory upward, enticing the kids to mimic their dance moves, getting some call-and-response going, up to a couple of well-received singalongs (employing some complex close harmonies rarely if ever heard in American pop music). The big hit of the day was the Afro Dance, Helene swinging her dreads around like a dervish. The show was briskly and smartly paced, holding everyone’s attention throughout just a bit more than forty-five minutes. Considering the venue, the sisters took turns addressing the crowd in both French and also in good English; Helene seems to be the main translator of the two. Their repartee with the children was direct and unselfconsciously affectionate – both women taking plenty of time to highfive all the kids down front to make sure that nobody was left out – but the two didn’t talk down to the children either.
Out of this blog’s posse, the hardest member to please is usually Annabel. She’s six – woops, make that six and a half. She spent most of the first half of the show occupied with some actually very sweet sisterly bonding with her friend Ava, age seven, whom she hadn’t seen in awhile. By the twenty-minute mark, both girls had run to the front, Annabel right up at the edge of the stage, transfixed. She got a highfive from Helene; meanwhile, Ava was getting a workout along with the rest of the dancers. What was most striking was that both girls could have been very blasé about this concert: neither is culturally deprived. But they both had a rousingly good time…and were ready for a big lunch afterward.
The French Alliance has all kinds of fun bilingual events and experiences for families on the weekend: this concert was just one example of how kids can get an exposure to cultures and languages they might not ordinarily encounter. As just one example, there are a whole bunch of free workshops for toddlers, preschoolers and their parents this coming Saturday, December 12 in the early afternoon.
A lot of people don’t realize how much of an Irish influence there is in New Orleans jazz. But the Crescent City was a major port of call and received plenty of immigrants during the Potato Famine years and subsequently. So it’s hardly a surprise that the rich musical tradition they brought with them would become part of the city’s multicultural fabric. Torchy chanteuse Tara O’Grady pays tribute to that cross-pollination on her fourth album, Irish Bayou. She’s playing the album release show Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W 22nd St. Cover is $20 – if you really want to go whole-hog, it’s $85 for the show plus open bar. Hmmm….
Although the album hasn’t hit the web yet, there are a couple of tracks up at O’Grady’s youtube channel. The opening tune, I Love You with All My Blood is an oldschool soul strut played as ukulele swing. And A Rude Awakening is a tartly slow-burning blues shout-out to early feminist Irish-American novelist Kate Chopin, lit up with some understately slashing Michael Howell guitar.
What’s the rest sound like? Lots of shuffles. As the Rain Fell Upon Bourbon Street is a bittersweet, ragtime-inflected number, pianist Sasha Papernik pairing against Justin Poindexter’s Hawaiian-infused slide guitar resonance. Carry Me Home is a deliciously vicious, accordion-fueled second-line shuffle that builds to a fullscale blaze. Dry Dem Bones, a deep-fried Little Feat-style remake of the old gospel tune, sways along on the groove from drummer Ryan Vaughn and bassist David Shaich. Ghosts of New Orleans follows a similar theme as the band swings it hard.
“You’re the olives in my muffulata from Central Grocery,” O’Grady croons in Heaping Helping of My Love, which builds to a jaunty dixieland dancefloor bounce. “We can order in some beignets and eat them in bed!” she entreats. The best track here is My Fall Romance, an original that sounds like a Billie Holiday swing classic from the 30s, O’Grady’s sassy, imperturbable alto delivery matched by trumpeter Jordan Sandke’s soulful muted lines. The most relevant number, the burning Take Me Home, reminds how much Irish immigrants have struggled under the radar in this country.
There are also a couple of covers here; Louis Armstrong’s Irish Black Bottom, reinvented as a funk tune with some wry hip-hop flavor, and My Irish Molly-O redone as oldtimey swing with a coy Michael Hashim clarinet solo. And NYC guitar legend Pete Kennedy of the Kennedys – who have a reputedly amazing new album of their own due out soon – figures into the mix somewhere. One assumes that he’s responsible for all that edgy tremolo-picking.
Brian Charette is one of the world’s most interesting and distinctive voices on the organ. Classically trained, he’s made his name in jazz although his music is just as informed by classic 60s soul, funk and even reggae. He tours constantly and writes prolifically, and he’s playing the album release for his latest one, Good Tipper; tonight and also tomorrow night, Oct 9 at Smalls at 10 PM; cover is $20 and includes a drink. Joining him for the album show are Yotam Silberstein on guitar and Mark Ferber – who really has a feel for this funky groove stuff – on drums.
The album BEFORE the latest one (yeah – the guy works fast) is a Posi-Tone release, streaming at Spotify, titled Square One. Charette has a devious sense of humor and that’s apparent right from the jaunty strut of the opening track, Aaight!, which eventually squares itself more or less into a swinging shuffle. Charette and Silberstein move more frantically yet purposefully over Ferber’s blistering yet nimble pulse on their take of Joe Henderson’s If, followed by the vintage soul-infused Three for Martina, a metrically tricky ballad with organ and then guitar holding to a warmly reflective mood.
People on Trains follows a wryly lyrical narrative: the subway takes its time pulling out of the station and then scurries along, fueled by the guitar, then the process repeats itself. It isn’t long before Charette throws in a New York-centric subway joke or two (the album cover pictures him chilling down under the Manhattan Bridge). Likewise, True Love kicks off slowly before Charette pulls it out of its balmy reverie, then Silberstein takes it back with a minimalist, practically Satie-esque solo. Then they get a swaying groove going with a warmly purposeful take of the Meters’ classic Ease Back, Silberstein adding droll wah-wah licks.
Time Changes alludes to a famous Dave Brubeck album: it’s a jazz waltz with summery soul riffage. A Fantasy does much the same with trickier rhythms and spiraling solos from guitar and drums against Charette’s anthemic washes. Yei Fei is a blend of indie classical circularity and hints of airily eerie Jehan Alain church organ music: you might not think that something like this would work, but it does. Things You Don’t Mean mixes up a strutting New Orleans funk groove with a hardbop guitar attack and then an absolutely creepy quote and variations from the Alain songbook: it’s killing, Charette at his outside-the-box best. The album sprints to the finish line with Ten Bars for Eddie Harris, the most trad organ-lounge track here – but even that goes off the rails into a deliciously warped interlude. Who is the audience for this? People who like Dr. Lonnie Smith, jambands, funk and soul and sophisticated original jazz tunesmithing, which is ultimately what this is.
It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the debut performance of Anderson Henderson White at Zirzamin a few weeks ago, following the Sunday Salon put on by Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily. Baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson seems to be the sparkplug for this exciting new trio, who blended groove and funk with mysterious free improvisation. Her fellow Australian, the Dirty Three’s Jim White on drums was his usual counterintuitive self: it’s hard to think of a drummer who’s so consistently interesting to watch as this guy, alternating between cymbal bell-tones and atmospherics of all kinds, shamanistic rattles of the hardware and rock-solid groove, all the while adding off-kilter accents on the rims and whirring brushes on the snare. He’s a one-man drum orchestra.
Rev. Vince Anderson has made a name for himself in both the roots of jazz (you should hear him covering Howlin’ Wolf), and sounds that sprung from jazz (a more dedicated Billy Preston acolyte never existed), so plunging face first into free jazz is a natural progression for him. He was just as fascinating to watch, making minute adjustments on his Nord Electro keyboard for reverb and distortion, through a long, murky, wall-bending pitchblende interlude on the lowest keys before rising with an acrid, acidically bluesy minimalism as he adjusted the timbres to cut through the fog of cymbals and Henderson’s own nebulous ambience. Her most memorable moment came on one of her signature, sly go-go vamps, part purist bluesmistress, part coy seductress, part dancefloor maven just as she was for the better part of a decade in her cult favorite baritone/bass/drums trio Moisturizer. Some baritone players use the instrument for droll humor, others like a bass; she knows how sexy the baritone is and works it like a charm. White is the magic ingredient that holds it all together. Anderson plays every Monday night with his deliriously fun, funky jamband the Love Choir (in which Henderson has played since the 90s) at Union Pool at around 11:30 PM; White plays with a lot of people, considering that everybody wants to play with him.
Chanteuse/pianist Nicole Zuraitis’ new sophomore album is intriguing titled Pariah Anthem. Zuraitis certainly doesn’t look like a pariah and doesn’t sing like one either. The album is a collection of opaque, reflective ballads that work both sides of the line between jazz and funk, or jazz and soul. She fronts a band of hungry up-and-coming New York players: Julian Shore on electronic keys, Victor Gould on piano, Billy Buss on trumpet, Ilan Bar-Lavi on electric guitar, Scott Colberg on bass and Dan Pugach on drums. Zuraitis has a powerful mezzo-soprano that suprisingly never cuts loose here to the extent that she can live: she can belt with anyone. A casual listener might hear this at low volume and mistake it for a misguided attempt at top 40, but it’s not. Zuraitis works her dynamics artfully, rising and falling, and knows when to make a break in the clouds with a big anthemic crescendo or slashing piano riff. She plays the album release show this Sunday June 23 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood with Jeremy Pelt guesting on trumpet. On June 28 she’s at the Astor Room, 34-12 36th St. in Astoria at 7 PM.
The album’s opening track, Stinger kicks off with bright, hopeful trumpet over a summery, funky sway and works its way to a catchy vamp spiced by Shore’s electric piano. Watercolors is gentler and more soul-tinged, a thoughtful ballad with a little slink to it. Try, Love is an Americana-tinged waltz in the same vein as Sasha Dobson, followed by the faster, funkier Secrets, lit up by Shore’s scampering Rhodes breaks.
Zuraitis brings it down again with the moody, almost minmialist Staring into the Sun, using it as a long launching pad for her most spine-tingling vocal flights here. The trickily rhythmic, staccato To the River builds intensity to a big, angst-fueled romp, the whole band going full steam. They follow that with the nonchalantly incisive Dagger, Bar-Lavi tossing off a biting, slashing flight down the scale. Zuraitis’ moody resonance at the piano anchors Buss’ sun-through-the-clouds fills on The Bridge, a blissful escape anthem of sorts, emphasis on bliss.
Zuraitis comes out from behind the keys for the pensive, almost rubato rainy-day ballad If Only for Today, Gould taking over on piano; it’s her most nuanced performance here and it’s a quiet knockout, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Blossom Dearie songbook..The album ends with the title track, a slinky soul groove that almost imperceptibly rises to a bristling intensity. “With every breath there lives a ghost,” Zuraitis sings uneasily. “What was lost won’t rise in vain, all will meet on an even plane,” she portends as Bar-Lavi’s guitar sheds sparks and the rhythm section pulses. It’s a powerful way to end this distinctive and genre-defying album.
The new Monika Roscher Big Band album, Failure in Wonderland is a wildly fearless, uncategorizable thrill ride. What is this? Noir cabaret? Psychedelic rock? Big band swing? Horror movie music? All of the above and more. As she tells it, guitarist/singer/composer Roscher spent a year in Illinois as a German exchange student. While her peers were watching tv, she was practicing, soaking up musical scores and learning Frank Zappa licks. Her young band has been together a bit over a year and already has this monstrous masterpiece to show for it. It’s sort of like the missing link between Mucca Pazza and Sexmob (who have a phenomenal new album of Nino Rota film pieces due out soon).Like the latter group’s leader Steve Bernstein, Roscher likes long, crescendoing vamps and seems to be noir to the core. If you like the idea of a Jeff Lynne-esque vocoder trip-hop intro into a creepy noir cabaret piano loop that builds to a stomping, surreal menace with marching Zappaesque guitar line as the brass pulses behind it, that’s just the first half of the first track. From there, the circus rock menace rises with Josef Ressle’s biting piano and squalling, smoky bari sax from Heiko Geiring – and it only gets better from there.
Deadpan, fractured English lyrics move in over another trip-hop intro on the second track, Future3, followed by pillowy reeds, Roscher shredding the scenery with some wild tremolo-picking punctuated by big incisions from the band as the arrangement grows more stately. The catchy yet utterly dissociative Irrlicht works big Gil Evans-ish swells into a carnivalesque pulse, up to a scorching crescendo that hands off to Matthias Lindrmayr’s rapidfire muted trumpet and then a slowly spinning, pitchblende vortical sway.
Wuste works a creepy minor-key come-hither Blonde Redhead-ish intro and then takes on a brooding, low-key gypsy rock feel that grows more and more macabre, spiced by Roscher’s surealistic, processed vocals, Ressle’s sepulcural wee-hours piano and Jan Kiesewetter’s lonesome soprano sax. Die Parade is a twisted funeral march, as plaintive as it is blackly amusing. As with the rest of the tracks here, the voicings are imaginative and often pack a wallop, here with Andreas Unterreiner’s trumpet nonchalantly pairing off with Peter Palmer’s even more morose trombone. The way the procession disintegrates is too clever and amusing to give away here; the trick ending is typical of the sheer unpredictability and gleeful menace of Roscher’s compositional style.
Human Machines establishes a torchy Lynchian atmosphere, a sardonic commentary on the human tendency toward conformity, fueled by Roscher’s noir tremolo lines and torchy vocals – she’s the rare bandleader who’s also a first-class singer – and Ressle’s incisive piano. Unlike the other tracks here, this one ends optimistically: humans win! By contrast, Schnee Aus Venedig is a defiantly macabre, tiptoeing sideshow theme that eventually follows a breathless trajectory up to a wry Beatles allusion. It foreshadows the Montenegrin cabaret gloom of When I Fall in Love, Kiesewetter’s Jon Irabagon-esque japes, Geiring’s baritone squall and Roscher’s wah-infused, funky menace taking it in a vintage P-Funk direction. The album ends, appropriately enough, with Nacht, rising from skeletal tango to a noir flamenco overture, reaching peak altitude on Roscher’s rippling, weirdly processed arpeggios.
Fans of dark ornate acts as diverse as Botanica, Gil Evans, and Sexmob will eat this up. Best jazz album of the year? Maybe. Best rock record of the year? Probably. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a lot of fun. And in case you’re wondering what the title refers to, here’s Roscher: “The blemished beauty of Alice…the tension between harmony and disharmony that I can only vaguely approach with my lyrics. To me words cannot nail it the way music does.” It’s out now from Enja Records.
Reut Regev is one of the ringleaders in minor-key jam band Hazmat Modine’s wild brass section, and a unique, original voice on the trombone. She’s got an eclectically fun new album, Exploring the Vibe, out with her stoner funk band, R*Time, which blends elements of jazz, no wave, Ethiopian and Balkan music, among other styles. Regev got the inspiration for the project at a festival in Germany where she had the chance to play with guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly and realized that the chemistry for a good album was there. The rhythm section here is Regev’s husband Igal Foni on drums and Mark Peterson on bass, with cameos from Kevin Johnson on drums and Jon Sass on tuba. As you would expect, there’s a hypnotic, psychedelic aspect to this; at the same time, Bourelly and Regev utilize a lot of space, judiciously choosing their moments over an undulating groove. Much as a lot of the music has a restlessness and unease, a wry sense of humor pokes out from time to time. It’s a fun ride.
Bourelly plays mostly with a tinge of dirty, natural distortion when he’s not adding subtle ornamentation with his effects. Regev is a very incisive, rhythmic player, although she also likes ambient, shadowy colors. Peterson’s work here is hook-oriented – there are several passages where the drums drop out, or there’s skeletal percussion rattling around and that’s where the bass carries both melody and rhythm. Foni likes the rumbling lows, but like the rest of this crew, he doesn’t waste beats.
The opening track, Drama Maybe Drama, is a tongue-in-cheek diptych, Bourelly going off on a completely unexpected, early Jimmy Page-tinged open-tuned tangent midway through. They follow that with a buzzing, loopy, unresolved interlude and then Montenegro, which hints at reggae, funk and disco before finally hitting some Balkan riffage and then a Middle Eastern-flavored bass solo. Bluegrass and Ethiopian tinges sit side by side in Ilha Bela, a minimalisti but catchy tune with doppler trombone from Regev. Madeleine Forever, a tribute to Foni’s mom, illustrates someone who could be severe but was also very funny, winding up with biting Big Lazy-style skronky funk.
Blue Llamas makes a good segue, again evoking Big Lazy with its allusive chromatics, stomping, spacious blues, hard-hitting guitar and hypnotic rimshot rhythm. OK OJ coalesces toward a camelwalking East African groove with some neat handoffs between the guitar and trombone and a tongue-in-cheek “let’s go” outro. Raw Way, ostensibly a Junior Kimhrough homage, sounds nothing like him: way down beneath all the rumbling and shrieking and free interplay, it’s a terse blues. New Beginning is a weirdly successful, catchy attempt to merge New Orleans funk and Hendrix. There’s also a wryly bluesy guitar miniature and a bizarre stoner soul song sung by Bourelly. Who is the audience for this? Obviously, jazz fans, although people who gravitate toward the more psychedelic side of funk have an awful lot to sink their ears into.
Isn’t it funny how the world’s full of bad guitarists…bad sax players…bad drummers…but when you think about it, how many bad B3 players are there? For one reason or another, that’s one instrument that seems to draw an endless supply of passionate players. One of the most energetic of all of them is longtime Pat Martino collaborator Tony Monaco, who has a massive double cd release, Celebration, a “limited edition” out from Summit. What Monaco writes and plays is a sophisticated update on boisterous afterwork 60s organ-lounge jazz, more Bombay martini than gin and water. Monaco’s typical m.o. – which he actually varies from frequently here – is to open with a blistering, machinegun solo followed by tuneful restatements of the melody. For someone as fast and furious as this guy, it’s impressive how he doesn’t waste notes. Just as impressive is his command of an eclectic mix of styles.
The first cd is mainly trio or quartet numbers featuring Ken Fowser on tenor sax, Jason Brown or Reggie Jackson on drums and Derek DiCenzo on guitar. With its jaunty, Bud Powell-esque hooks, the most memorable track here is Fowser’s Ninety Five, a cut that originally appeared on the saxophonist’s brilliant 2010 collaboration with vibraphonist Behn Gillece; Monaco takes it in more of a vintage soul direction. Throughout these songs, Fowser’s misty, airy lines create a nifty balance with Monaco’s irrepressible intensity, whether on the Lonnie Smith-flavored Daddy Oh, the lickety-split shuffle Aglio e Olio, or the lurid, minor-key boudoir jazz of Indonesian Nights, which nails the kind of vibe Grover Washington Jr. was trying to do in the 80s but didn’t have the right arrangements for.
The endless parade of styles continues with a pretty bossa tune turned in a much darker direction with Monaco’s funereal timbres beneath Fowser’s bracing microtones, followed by what could be termed a B3 tone poem. Guest pianist Asako Itoh’s You Rock My World takes a familiar soul/funk groove and adds a terse, biting edge; there’s also a gospel number complete with church choir; the off-center, bustling Bull Years, which eventually smoothes out into a soul/blues shuffle; the carefree, wry It’s Been So Nice To Be With You and a scampering Jimmy Smith homage.
The second disc is just as eclectic and features a rotating cast of characters including guitarists Bruce Forman, Ted Quinlan and Robert Kraut, drummers Byron Landham, Vito Rezza, Louis Tsamous and Adam Nussbaum, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trombonist Sarah Morrow and trumpeter Kenny Rampton. There’s even a Joey Defrancesco cameo (liner notes indicating who’s where would have been useful, at least in terms of giving credit where due). In general, this material is more funk-infused, with soulful, judiciously bluesy guitar (that Monaco could get such consistency out of so many players is impressive). Monaco’s rapidfire cascades and tidal chords set the tone on the opening number, Acid Wash; Rampton’s animated lines elevate the shuffling Backward Shack, the guitar throwing off some unexpected Chet Atkins lines. There are a couple of extended numbers here, both of them choice: the practically ten-minute, aptly titled Takin’ My Time, with its long launching pad of an organ crescendo, and the even longer Slow Down Sagg, where Monaco finally goes off into wild noise as it reaches critical mass. There’s also Booker T. Jones style soul, a couple of blues numbers, a jump blues and a couple of gospel tunes, all delivered with passion and virtuosity. Any fan of organ jazz who doesn’t know this guy is missing out: count this among the most enjoyable jazz releases of 2012, all 133 minutes of it.