Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Bernie Worrell’s SociaLybrium at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 6/10/10

The name of Bernie Worrell’s latest band is an ironic pun: the last thing the legendary P-Funk keyboardist and music director wants is a comatose, complacent audience. The tired workday crowd at the park where Myrtle deadends into Jay in downtown Brooklyn wasn’t dancing, but they were paying close attention. Worrell and his backing trio rewarded them with a characteristically sly, smartly diverse show. The Wizard of Woo doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but he has a couple of degrees from the prestigious New England Conservatory, and that knowledge resonates throughout pretty much everything he plays. Today Worrell did a lot of funk, but he also showed off his jazz chops, and more captivatingly, his jazz ideas: agile chromatic piano runs, incisively terse blues-based phrases, lots of swirling, Jimmy Smith-inflected organ and a devious refusal to land on an obvious resolution at the end of a phrase. Drummer J.T. Lewis kept things terse and rock solid, and bassist Melvin Gibbs was a revelation: he’s come a long, long way from his days in Living Color. Moving from a steady, almost minimal low-register boom to the occasional judicious chord and a bent-string melody here and there, he was welcome wherever he decided to embellish the melody, and he didn’t waste a note. Worrell has no doubt been a good influence. Southpaw Strat player Ronny Drayton has spectacular chops and used them most effectively on the quieter numbers, adding spacy, atmospheric washes, thoughtfully chorded soul fills and even some bracing sheets of feedback out of one of his solos. But when he soloed, it was all gratuitous funk-metal: he’d put the bite on or add garish vibrato where he could have really driven Worrell’s slow crescendos all the way home. Unless Worrell counterintuitively wanted him to play the buffoon (as Worrell himself did a few times with woozy portamento and some even squigglier, oscillating synth textures). You never know with this guy: he’s bright.

Worrell opened solo, playing variations on the Kool Man ice cream truck theme. They shuffled their way through a psychedelic, reggae-tinged vamp titled Rockers Uptown with Worrell evoking Augustus Pablo with some humidly breezy melodica work when he wasn’t adding organ fills. They wound that up with a dub flourish of an outro, led by Drayton of all people. Worrell explained that another number, predictably titled Funk, was a commentary on “world government” and complacency on the part of those who mindlessly accept it. “Put it in the trunk, stash that shit!” he snarled. The best number of the afternoon started out darkly atmospheric, driven by guitar washes and string synthesizer, almost a requiem – and then it got comedic, with all kinds of silly synth fills, and somehow the band made it work. BQE, from the band’s new album started out as a warped boogie but an endless guitar solo made it interminable, like getting stuck in traffic on the way to Coney Island right after the Prospect Park exit. But again, maybe that was the point. When Worrell announced that they were about to do a Buckethead song, that was the signal that it was time to get up and get back to work. For those who regret missing this show, the band is playing the Undead Jazz Festival, with a show at le Poisson Rouge on the 12th at about 9:15.

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June 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Eldar Djangirov at the Jazz Standard, NYC 9/10/09

Dave Brubeck has given hotshot Kyrgyz-American pianist Eldar Djangirov the thumbs-up, and it makes sense that he would: beyond the two’s shared melodicism, both have a flair for incorporating classical motifs within a jazz framework. Djangirov’s obvious precursor – not assuming that he’s familiar with her work – is the legendary Dorothy Donegan, a ferociously powerful player who was equally at home with the blues and Rachmaninoff. Last night at the Jazz Standard, Djangirov (or Eldar, as his label prefers, given the potentially difficult surname), impressed with a vivid and heartfelt Chopinesque sensibility when he wasn’t barrelling through cascades the length of the keyboard in a blaze of Debussy-inflected color. Where was the jazz? As a great bluesman in the house remarked, this was “Euro-jazz.” Which won’t be a problem for adventurous listeners in search of innovative new talent: this guy qualifies many times over. Still, you have to wonder where his American audience is. It might be more of a rock crowd.

The rhythm section stayed out of the way for most of the show, probably due to unfamiliarity with both the material and the style, and the guest saxophonist didn’t add much on the few occasions he was given, so this became Djangirov’s show – he could have played it solo and wouldn’t have lost any fire. He opened with Exposition, the aptly titled opening cut on his new cd Virtue. It’s an ostentatious showcase for jazzing up classically-inflected hooks, and it worked until he went to his old analog synthesizer above the piano keys and then it was like Yes following Brubeck, a jaw-droppingly awkward segue to say the least. There would be a few like that later.

Insensitive, by contrast, is sarcastically titled – there’s a beautifully lyrical pop song underneath, and Djangirov brought out all the jeweled facets beneath its fluid rivulets. And then lit into an even more attractive, early Romantic style prelude that led back into the theme. Blues Sketch in Clave, also from the new cd, was neither really blues nor clave – it had more of a boisterous Brazilian rhythm – and also featured some beautiful cascading passages. Although a solo cover of the Sinatra standard I Should Care was a heavy-handed mess, Djangirov also gave it a welcome, unexpectedly ominous edge with some gypsy-inflected flourishes in the right hand. The same feeling would take centerstage on the night’s best song, Lullaby Fantasia, which alternated breakneck runs with poignant Chopinesque interludes.

On one level, following the crowd is never necessarily a good idea. But a crowd will also run from a burning building, and crowds of both rock and jazz players have run from most of the keening, woozy synthesizer sounds of the 70s simply because they’re cheesy. It’s amazing what timbre will do: Monk on the piano sounds like Monk; on a synth, it could be anything but Monk and that includes Phil Collins. That Djangirov would be unaware of that is probably a cultural tic: in much of Europe, and pretty much everywhere further east, fusion is still in vogue. While it wouldn’t be fair to label any sound or timbre completely off-limits – even the cheesiest synth has its uses, if only for comedic purposes – if he doesn’t put the thing on the shelf, at least for the jazz rooms, he’s going to get stuck with a fusion tag. Which would be too bad, because his sound innnovatively blends so many other, far more captivating styles. Still in his early twenties, there’s reason to believe this might be a passing phase. He’s at the Jazz Standard through Sunday the 13th, and considering the crowd for yesterday’s early set, reservations and/or early arrival are very highly recommended.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion – Not Radio Material

This cd is a rare blend of accessibility and excitement. The title is sarcastic: much of this album is perfect radio material for adventurous noncommercial djs, while some of the compositions are easygoing enough to sneak into a smooth-grooves playlist. Don’t let the F-word scare you off – true to their name, Chicago area Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion play fusion jazz, meaning solos around the horn, interplay between the instruments absent as usual, rhythm straight up, four on the floor. But jazz fans are supposed to be open-minded – and for any fan of string music, with fond memories of the 70s or an ear for Jean-Luc Ponty or Weather Report, this is a treat. Bandleader Edgar Gabriel, playing electric violin, viola and even electric mandolin, demonstrates virtuoso chops, impressive taste and a whirlwind of styles, backed by a rhythm section of electric and acoustic piano, electric or standup bass and live drums (with this stuff, you never know sometimes). The first cut on the cd is straight-up funk, Gabriel impressively working a horn melody; the second cut is thoughtful and midtempo with a bit of a rhumba feel, featuring a warmly exploratory tenor sax solo by Michael Levin. The fourth track, Mobile is a fiery, percussive, flamenco-fueled number with a bracingly atonal Macedonian edge.

I Knew That, by keyboardist Kevin O’Connell switches the time stamp on mid-40s style swing, Gabriel’s flourishes alternately ambient and bluesy. By contrast, O’Connell’s Blue 7 evokes the cool jazz feel of what Ponty or Stephane Grappelli were doing in the 60s, Stevie Doyle adding an incisive guitar solo from a period ten years down the road over steady, minimalist blues variations. Nose Bleed is the requisite fusion-metal number, Gabriel running his axe through a screechy wall of distortion. The cd’s best cut is Renaissance man, a bouncy dance that blends a Django/Grappelli vibe with klezmer overtones, alternating between lively Gabriel atmospherics and some absolutely spot-on, lickety-split clarinet work by Levin. The only miss here is the third track, a Lite FM vocal number – sung by somebody’s girlfriend maybe? – which has no place on an album this good. Otherwise, there’s plenty for everyone here, proof that there’s plenty of music that can simultaneously be mainstream AND good.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Joe Zawinul, 1932-2007

Viennese-born jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul died September 11 in his hometown after a battle with cancer. He was 75. Zawinul pioneered the use of electronic keyboards in jazz and was a major influence on his fellow musicians, notably Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. While studying at the Berklee School of Music in 1958, Zawinul was hired away by Maynard Ferguson, and later played with Dinah Washington and Cannonball Adderley. While with Adderley in the 1960s he wrote Mercy Mercy Mercy, one of the first jazz songs to use an electric piano. Later in the decade he contributed the title track to the milestone Miles Davis album In a Silent Way, Davis’ first venture into the electric sound that he would expand on and continue to use throughout the remainder of his career.

In 1970 Zawinul founded Weather Report along with sax player Wayne Shorter and bassist Miroslav Vitous. Arguably the most important of the jazz fusion bands of the 70s, Weather Report played a mix of high-energy, funky jams and quieter, more reflective material. Zawinul’s work with the band – which later included legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius – broadened the sonic palette for jazz keyboards, utilizing different electric pianos, synthesizers and effects including wah, reverb, distortion and loops. It is hard to think of a jazz or funk musician since 1970 who was not influenced in some way, directly or indirectly, by Zawinul and Weather Report.

Zawinul’s best-known composition was Birdland, the opening track from Weather Report’s 1977 album Heavy Weather. What Take the A Train or Take Five were to earlier eras, Birdland was to the late 70s and early 80s, the most popular jazz song of its time. Even punk rockers knew the song’s simple, celebratory hook. After Weather Report dissolved in the early 80s, Zawinul led the Zawinul Syndicate, a fusion group that he played in until very shortly before his death, releasing several albums on his own BirdJAM label.

While jazz fusion remains a dirty word in some circles because of its use of rock arrangements and steady 4/4 time (not to mention the fact that fusion was the forerunner of Lite-FM style elevator jazz), there is no denying Zawinul’s pioneering influence, his uncanny sense of melody, his formidable chops and his brilliance as a bandleader.

September 13, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment