Lucid Culture


Haunting and Sunny Shades from Michael Gibbs and the NDR Bigband

Composer/arranger Michael Gibbs’ album Back in the Day with the NDR Bigband is a lush, richly eclectic, sometimes lurid collection of tracks recorded both live and in the studio at several sessions in 1995, 2002 and 2003. Gibbs conducts; the compositions here reflect his work as a film composer more than his fusion days in the early 70s. Although Gibbs’ long career, dating from the beginning of his association with Gary Burton in the 60s, encompasses a vast range of styles, the tracks here that resonate the most powerfully are the most Lynchian ones.

The album’s highlight is Jail Blues, a noir masterpiece, like a slow, symphonically arranged Bryan Beninghove number. Feite Felsch’s lurid alto sax weaves luridly over a marvelously creepy arrangement, Stephan Diez’ electric guitar adding doppler menace under the moody swells. The equally lush Antique punctuates Messianesque, sostenuto unease with shivery trumpet and an apprehensive Christof Lauer tenor sax solo over an almost rubato rhythm – it’s over too soon. Tennis, Anyone?, a wee hours mood piece, also sets Felsch’s brooding sostenuto lines against an uneasy Gil Evans-inspired backdrop. Round Midnight  takes its cue from the Evans arrangement but is more cinematic, less nebulous: if Miles’ big band recording was the definitive analog version, this is the digital one. And Back Where I Belong, by Bigband keyboardist Vladyslav Sendecki, also works a lustrous, pillowy angst jeweled with neat accents from the guitar and Sendecki’s own electric piano.

There’s lighter fare here as well. The inscrutably tuneful ballad With All Due Respect has Felsch working an incessant series of trick endings for all they’re worth. Billy Eckstine’s I Wanna Talk About You gets a lush slow drag rendition, Felsch taking his spirals to a logically carefree crescendo. June the 15th 1967, written for Burton, is a bulked-up New Orleans bounce as the Crusaders might have done it circa 1981.

Here’s That Rainy Day gets a jubilant oldschool arrangement, while Mosher, dedicated to Gibbs’ old bandmate Jimmy Mosher, works a warmly bluesy Miles/Gil ambience. And Gibbs’ old pal Burton is featured on three tracks here, including the lively opening and closing cuts, the latter being his old concert favorite Country Roads. It’s out now from Cuneiform.

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

Gypsy Jazz and Beyond with Ben Powell

Jazz violinist Ben Powell has an impressively diverse new album out, New Street. Pitched as a tribute to Stephane Grappelli, it’s exactly that, not a homage, a mix of originals and gypsy jazz classics. Powell has a distinctive sound, a glistening, pure tone and the precision of a classical player whether he’s spinning off glissandos, bending blue notes or going way up into harmonics and shows off an impressive command of a lot more than just gypsy jazz. The big news is that a handful of tracks feature Gary Burton and Julian Lage: the rest of the band includes Tadataka Unno on piano, Aaron Darrel on bass and Devin Drobka on drums, along with Adrien Moignard guesting with some aptly Django-esque guitar, and Linda Calise singing in fluently nuanced French on an imaginatively reinvented samba version of La Vie En Rose.

The album opens with a rather counterintuitive choice, an expansively reminiscent Powell ballad, Judith, done as a violin/bass/piano trio with a Georgia on My Mind vibe and a glistening piano solo from Unno. The carefree, dancing title track is a two-parter, beginning with a trip to Brazil via Joe Jackson and then morphing into a briskly swinging gypsy tune that ends up looping a phrase out of Grieg. They follow that with Monk for Strings, vividly evoking that composer but with an animated, scurrying rhythm and a playful series of gypsy swoops and dives at the end. Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love is transformed into gypsy jazz, Moignard adding spiraling, spiky energy on the frets, Powell’s penetrating, intense solo taking the energy up even further. They do the sentimental old ballad Sea Shell as a jazz waltz, Powell’s flights to the uppermost registers so clean and fluid that it’s almost as if he’s playing a saw. The most intense number here is Swinging for Stephane, a Powell original that recalls Grappelli but doesn’t ape him, with a couple of absolutely searing, bluesy violin solos and a neat false ending.

The cuts with Burton and Lage here are also choice. Interesting, Lage seems largely relegated to rhythm, which he keeps simple and elegant. Grappelli’s Gary – a gesture of appreciation from the late violinist to the vibraphonist – has a bucolic, summery sway, silky violin and smartly judicious, warmly bluesy work from Burton. Next is a steady, bittersweet take on La Chanson Des Rues, seemingly a prototype for Just a Gigolo (which Jenifer Jackson once covered and knocked out of the ballpark). Burton’s artful interpolations, peeking from behind the guitar and violin here, are absolutely luscious. The trio wind up the album with a richly sonorous romp through Grappelli’s Piccadilly Stomp, vibes and electric guitar blending into a lush bell choir, Lage showing off an impressive fluency in Django-style spirals: who knew he was also into this kind of music? It’s a treat for anyone who loves gypsy jazz (meaning pretty much everybody).

July 5, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Gary Burton Quartet: Smashingly Successful

At this point in his career, jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton is entitled to do whatever he wants – which in this case means yet another great, tuneful album with a terrific band. His latest, Common Ground, assembles a set of roomy, expansive recordings with plenty of space for each individual personality. The easy chemistry here attests to Burton choosing wisely when bringing this band together. Specifically, this New Gary Burton Quartet includes Julian Lage on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Dating from even before his days with Larry Coryell back in the 60s, Burton has been a fan of guitar/vibraphone textures, and this album testifies to the kind of magic frequencies those instruments can create together. Lage has been riding a well-deserved wave of buzz for his latest album Gladwell, and here he plays bad cop to Burton’s melodic, often majestic lines, slashing and biting – he’s an edgy player in general, even more so here. Colley’s rock-solid runs and steps often anchor the rhythm as Sanchez gets to explore the perimeter and add all kinds of subtle shades.

The opening cut, Late Night Sunrise has an easygoing later-than-wee-hours feel, Colley’s brief, suspenseful bass a perfect lead-in to Lage’s spot-on, blithe but biting solo. Never the Same Way gives Burton a chance to invent new ways to work a simple modal vamp, Lage mimicking him and tossing off sparks before Colley adds wry humor. With its rippling vaudevillian hook, the title track is somewhat tongue-in-cheek: we dare you to listen to this without imaging a tenor sax line in the early going. It’s the space here that makes it, notwithstanding a deliciously bluesy Burton solo and some nimbly slashing lines from Lage. The real stunner here is Was It So Long Ago, atmospheric with an understated ache, totally noir without being the least bit cliched. As it goes on, it hints at the tango work that Burton so memorably explored a few years ago. When Lage’s guitar starts smoldering with just a tinge of natural distortion, it’s the perfect setup for Burton’s lingering ambience – and it’s not the only genuinely transcendent moment here.

Etude pairs off playful embellishments on a circular baroque figure with flamenco tinges; Last Snow follows a memorable, narrative trajectory from pensive to brighter and then back down again, courtesy of Colley. Sanchez livens up Did You Get It, a buoyant, witty jump blues. They reinvent My Funny Valentine – maybe the best-ever version of that moldy oldie – with lengthy, warily allusive solo guitar passages and then swing it with darkly bluesy touches. The album ends with the wickedly catchy Banksy, a noirish theme with a Get Carter ambience, switching artfully to a creepy jazz waltz midway through, and then the ballad In Your Place which begins as a pop song but gets interesting quickly. This is Burton’s debut on the Mack Avenue label. He had heart surgery last year, but it’s impossible to tell: still sounds like the same old heart to us, a very good thing.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The New Gary Burton Quartet: Smashingly Successful