Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

No Wasted Notes From Guitarist Amanda Monaco and Her Killer Organ Jazz Quartet

Beyond the obvious Jim Hall/Jimmy Smith collaborations, there haven’t been a lot of jazz guitarists leading organ bands. Guitarist Amanda Monaco is a welcome exception – it’s a role she excels at, although hers is hardly your typical B3 group. She’s leading a trio with Justin Carrol on organ and Jeff Davis on drums on Dec 20 at 8 PM at Cornelia St. Cafe; cover is $10 plus the usual $10 minimum. As a bonus, edgy, lyrical tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss leads her quintet afterward at 9:30.

Monaco pulled together a killer, refreshingly unorthodox lineup for her latest album, Glitter, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. Gary Versace plays organ, joined by Matt Wilson on drums and Lauren Sevian on baritone sax. Diehard organ types might feel that Versace is underutilized here, but ultimately this is all about the frontline: the way Monaco fills the role of a horn in tandem with the baritone is as interesting as it is innovative.

Monaco’s effervescent wit is in full effect right from the first droll around-the-horn echo effects of the album’s opening track, Dry Clean Only. Nicking the changes of Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge, the group motors along throught tight, purposeful growl from Sevian, similarly spaced clusters from Versace and some delicious off-beat cymbal work from Wilson.

Monaco learned Tommy Flanagan’s jaunty “let’s go” theme Freight Trane from the Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane album; the way the group hangs back, refusing to hit a straight-up shuffle in the beginning is tantalizingly fun. Gremlin From the Kremlin – a shout-out to Monaco’s husband written before the disastrous events of November 8, 2016 – comes across as a gruffly edgy, bitingly chromatic strut, part klezmer and part noir bolero: Versace manages to find his creepiest tremolo setting before Monaco sets a vector for an uneasy stroll.

Monaco and Sevian go way back together, so Girly Day takes its inspiration from their years of brunching and comparing notes on the trials of being female musicians in a male-dominated genre. It’s catchy but unsettled, with some neatly diverging harmonies and a priceless what-now solo from Wilson.

Inspired by Holly Golightly’s method for pulling herself out of the doldrums in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Mean Reds is a gutbucket strut, part Chuck Berry, part Jimmy McGriff go-go and part T-Bone Walker. Step Counter has a slightly staggered clave beat, low-key Giant Steps changes and similarly amiable guitar-sax conversations. Fred Lacey’s Theme For Ernie, popularized by Trane, serves as a moody launching pad for poignant solos by Sevian and Monaco.

Meant to evoke what must have been a hell of a hangover, Mimosa Blues is the album’s darkest number, Versace climbing around tirelessly through his most menacing, Messianic voicings, Monaco echoing that surrealism. The album winds up with the title track, a catchy, anthemic look back at Monaco and Sevian’s days in the early zeros getting ready for big-band gigs  If Dave Brubeck had been an organist, he might have written something like it. Throughout these tracks, it’s refreshing to the extreme to hear a guitarist so purposeful and individualistic, who never feels the need to fall back on tired postbop comping mechanisms.

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December 18, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rob Garcia’s Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet Captures the State of the World in Jazz, 2016

Forget for a minute how few drummer composers have as much of a gift for melody as Rob Garcia. Or for that matter what an acerbic, smart lyricist he is. It’s impossible to imagine an album that more accurately captures the state of the world in 2016 better than his new release Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet. Isn’t that the challenge that pretty much everybody, other than the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons of the world, faces right now? Garcia’s critique is crushingly vivid, catchy as hell and just as erudite. He offers a nod back to the fearlessly political Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln civil rights-era collaborations, and has an aptitude for bustling Mingus-esque 50s noir. His first-class band includes Noah Preminger, a frequent collaborator (who has a killer new album of his own just out) on tenor sax, along with Gary Versace on piano and Masa Kamaguchi on bass, with Joe Lovano and Kate McGarry guesting on a couple of tracks each.

A cover of Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer opens the album, pulsing on an uneasy triplet beat until Preminger’s crafty lead-in to Versace’s spirals sends it into genunely surreal doublespeed territory, a time-warping nocturne. People Are Everything, a similarly uneasy jazz waltz, has Kate McGarry’s austere, Britfolk-tinged vocals channeling a similar angst and a hope against hope. Time and time again, Garcia’s message is that we’re all in this together, that it’s our choice to either sink or swim isn’t one that future generations will have.

Preminger’s tightly unwinding spirals sax over Versace’s insistent, acerbic piano deliver a vivid update on 50s noir postbop in the almost cruelly catchy Terror, Fear and Media: Garcia’s own artully terse propulsion so tight with the rest of the rhythm section, ramping up a practically punishing, conspiratorial ambience. Those guys are just hell-bent on scaring the bejeezus out of us, aren’t they?

Joe Lovano guests on the languidly aching ballad Precious Lives with a wide-angle vibrato, Versace following with masterfully subtle, blues-infused variations before handing back to the sax. Actor Brendan Burke narrates Garcia’s rapidfire, spot-on critique Mac N Cheese (Bank Fees, Dead Bees, Killing Trees, Shooting Sprees, War Thieves, Mac N Cheese) ) over a broodingly tight Angelo Badalamenti noir beatnik swing groove, a crushingly cynical, spot-on Twin Peaks jazz broadside.. Garcia follows this with the first of two tightly wound solo breaks, Act Local #1

The album’s title track makes plaintively shifting postbop out of a simple, direct Afro-Cuban piano rifff, then takes the whole architecture skyward, a showcase for both Preminger and Versace to sizzle and spin; it has the epic ominousness of a recent Darcy James Argue work, Versace adding a carnivalesque menace. The Journey Is the Destination makes a return to furtively stalking straight-up swing with Lovano again, McGarry rising with a determination that stops short of triumphant: where this will all end up is far from clear.

Guns Make Killing Easy opens as a surrealistically creepy, upper-register piano-bass duet and the swings morosely as Versace leaps with a clenched-teeth, macabre intensity balanced on the low end by Garcia’s coldly inevitable groove, Preminger adding nebulous suspense as the whole thing starts to go haywire and then turns into a requiem.

A tight, enigmatic two-sax chart opens Greenland Is Turning Green, both Lovano and Preminger judiciously prowling around over the hard-charging rumble underneath. The second pastorale here, Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier is reinvented as pensive mood piece, while Whatever Gets You By seems to offer a degree of hope with its flashy piano, bittersweet Preminger lines and tropical heat. The album winds up with a second solo Garcia piece, Act Local #2

Throughout the suiite, Garcia’s own impactful, tersely majestic riffs and rolls color the music with an often mutedly brooding thud, as coloristic as it is propulsive. You would hardly expect the best jazz album of 2016 to be written by a drummer, and it’s awfully early in the year to make that kind of choice. On the other hand, nobody’s going to release a more relevant or important – or tuneful – jazz album this year.

And at the album release show at Smalls this past at Smalls, Leo Genovese filled in for Versace, raising the tropical heat, yet with a more lighthanded approach, while Preminger shifted in and out of feral volleys of blues. And Garcia, whose signature sound is both one of the brightest and boomiest around – he uses every inch of the available sonic spectrum – reasserted himself as one of this era’s most colorful and uncompromising players, even taking a detour into a two-handed African talking drum conversation at one point. His next gig as a bandleader is on August 5 at 7:30 PM at Prospect Range, 1226 Prospect Ave. in Ditmas Park; take the F or G to Ft. Hamilton Parkway.

July 5, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Maria Schneider Orchestra Bring a Luminous, Relevant New Album to a Stand at Birdland

To pigeonhole the Maria Schneider Orchestra‘s latest magnum opus, The Thompson Fields. as pastoral jazz downplays its genuinely extraordinary beauty and epic sweep. But a musicologist would probably consider how much the vast expanses of the Minnesota prairie where Schneider grew up have influenced her writing. To call Schneider this era’s paradigmatic big band jazz composer would also be just part of a larger picture: among this era’s composers in any style of music, only Kayhan Kalhor and Darcy James Argue reach such ambitious and transcendent peaks. She’s bringing her Orchestra to a stand at Birdland this week, June 2 through 6 with sets at 8:30 and 11 PM.

As is her custom, Schneider’s compositions go far, far beyond mere vehicles for extended solos, although the solos here are exquisite and serve as the high points they ought to be. Scott Robinson’s alto clarinet dipping between heartfelt lows and airily triumphant swells on the opening number, a newly reorchestrated take of the early-morning nocturne Walking by Flashlight – from Schneider’s previous album Winter Morning Walks – sets the stage.

That number is the shortest one here: the rest of the album builds an expansive, dynamically rich Midwestern panorama. All of Schneider’s familiar tropes are in top form: her use of every inch of the sonic spectrum in the spirit of her mentor Gil Evans; endless twists and turns that give way to long, lushly enveloping, slow upward climbs; and her signature, translucent, neoromantically-influenced tunesmithing. Marshall Gilkes’ looming trombone and Greg Gisbert’s achingly vivid flugelhorn illuminate The Monarch and the Milkweed, a pensively summery meditation on the beauty of symmetry and nature. Robinson’s baritone and Donny McCaslin’s tenor sax take to the sky in Arbiters of Evolution, a labyrinthine, pulsing, slowly unwinding portrait of birds in flight (perhaps for their lives – as in much of Schneider’s work, there’s a wary environmentalist point of view in full effect here).

Frank Kimbrough’s piano and Lage Lund’s guitar carry the title track from its gentle, plainspoken intro through an unexpectedly icy interlude to gracefully dancing motives over lush waves of brass. The most pastoral of all the cuts here is Home, graced by Rich Perry’s calm, warmly meditatitve tenor sax. Then the orchestra picks up with a literally breathtaking pulse, inducing g-forces as Nimbus reaches its stormy heights, Steve Wilson’s alto sax swirling as the cinematics unfold. As a portrait of awe-inspiring Midwestern storm power, it’s pretty much unrivalled.

Gary Versace’s plaintive accordion takes centerstage amidst a rich, ominously brooding brass chart in the intense, elegaic A Potter’s Song, dedicated to the late, great trumpeter and longtime Schneider associate Laurie Frink. The album winds up on a joyously Brazilian-flavored note with Lembranca, inspired by a pivotal moment in Schneider’s life, spellbound by a carnival drum orchestra, Ryan Keberle’s trombone and Jay Anderson’s bass adding color and bouncy energy.

The album, a crowdfunded endeavor comprising newly commissioned works, comes in a gorgeously illustrated full-color digipak with extensive and articulate liner notes from the composer. Like a couple other pantheonic artists, Richard Thompson and Olivier Messiaen, Schneider is also a birder, and her commentary on current environmental crises affecting the avian world and her beloved prairie home turf are spot-on. Where does this fall in the Schneider catalog? It’s hard to say: there’s the ambition and scope of, say, Concert in the Garden, but also the saturnine majesty of Winter Morning Walks. It’s a new direction for her, no surprise considering how often she’s reinvented herself. And while it doesn’t seem to be up at the usual spots, i.e. Spotify and such, you can get completely lost in the radio feature at Schneider’s webpage. It’s the best possible advertising this album, and her work as a whole, could possibly have.

May 30, 2015 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Maria Schneider Orchestra at the Jazz Standard: Go See Them If You’re in Town

Great tunesmiths never have to look far to find good musicians. Wednesday night’s late set by the Maria Schneider Orchestra at the Jazz Standard may have been a clinic in cutting-edge writing for large ensemble, but it was also a summit meeting of some of New York’s edgiest jazz talent. Schneider and this awe-inspiring cast are here through Sunday at 7:30 and 9:30, an annual Thanksgiving week tradition that, if you haven’t already joined the cult, is waiting for you to discover and be hooked by it forever.

The most unforgettable solo of the night was when pianist Frank Kimbrough segued from the slinky, suspenseful soul groove Night Watchman into the more sweepingly lush Sailing, adding a menacingly glittering noir coda packed with chromatics and macabre major-on-minor riffs before the bright, buoyant atmospherics set in.  Or, it might have been tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s droll, mischievous portrayal of hijinks out on a Minnesota lake, Schneider looking back on hanging with friends during her formative years. There was also a slowly unfolding, enigmatic but warmly chordal solo from guitarist Lage Lund, an even more ambient and plaintive one from accordionist Gary Versace. an allusively microtonal Steve Wilson alto sax solo; a thoughtfully considered, spiraling trombone solo by Marshall Gilkes and a more spacious yet also more rhythmically adventurous one later on from Ryan Keberle – and there were others. Ironically, this big band relies less on soloing than any other. It’s Schneider’s compositions that people come out for: contributions from the rest of the personalities are the icing on the cake.

A couple of  the set’s early tunes were the bluesiest and most in-the-tradition, but also less of a showcase for the sweeping colors and epic majesty that characterizes so much of Schneider’s more recent work: it was as she was saying, “So you think I was good then? You should hear me now.” A new one, dedicated to the late Brazilian percussionist Paolo Mora, was inspired by the time he took Schneider out to see a performance of one of his massive student ensembles: “It was like being shot out of a cannon,” Schneider explained, being surrounded on all sides by all the percussive firepower. And this piece, with its swirling, hypnotic midsection, had the same effect, bolstered by her signature melody and sweep. But there were just as many hushed, rapt moments, as in the closing number, a bittersweet, pre-dawn Great Plains tableau (from Schneider’s recent Dawn Upshaw collaboration, Morning Walks), or when bassist Jay Anderson built elegant, plaintive pointillisms with guitar voicings as swells subsided to whispers.

It also happened to be Schneider’s birthday, and she was overcome both by the band’s affection – not to mention their blend of meticulousness and titanic, Gil Evans-inspired power – and by her memories of the late trumpeter Laurie Frink, an important part of this ensemble for several years. It wasn’t much of a surprise that Schneider would wear her heart on her sleeve, considering how emotionally direct her music is. If you’re in town this weekend, go see her.

November 27, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tessa Souter’s Beyond the Blue Is Beyond Fun

Tessa Souter is best known as a jazz singer, but she’s also a tremendously compelling composer, with a blend of torchy bluesiness and neoromanticism that often goes deep into noir. Even now, vocal jazz still borrows disproportionately from the past, so Souter’s reliance on her own material immediately sets her apart. That, and her minutely jeweled soprano. Clear, nuanced and glistening, Souter employs it eclectically, shifting in a split-second from misty lustre to moody resonance to neon-lit exuberance, depending on where the lyrics go. Wherever that is, that’s where she is, always with a torch, illuminating everything that comes her way. She also has a subtly quirky sense of humor that reminds of Blossom Dearie in places. She’s at Dizzy’s Club on April 10 at 7:30 and 9:30, leading a quartet with Christian Tamburr on vibraphone, Keita Ogawa on percussion and Boris Kozlov on bass. No doubt they will be playing material from Souter’s excellent new album Beyond the Blue, which is streaming all the way through at her Bandcamp page.

Souter works all the angles on the opening track, Prelude to the Sun, considering every line, from steamy, to shiny, smiling glimmer, Joe Locke’s vibraphone handing off gracefully to Joel Frahm’s alto sax, Billy Drummond adding richly glistening tones on his hardware. She shifts gracefully from boudoir sultriness to unrestrained joy in the absolutely lurid The Lamp Is Low, a richly noir clave tune lowlit by Locke’s marvelously suspenseful lines that Frahm takes even deeper into the shadows. The seductive Dance with Me plays off Steve Kuhn’s hypnotically minimalist pedalpoint piano in the same vein as Jenifer Jackson’s more jazz-oriented material.

Chiaroscuro sets Souter’s silky sostenuto over terse neoromantic piano that updates the Albinoni original by a couple of centuries, Frahm’s richly blues-infused alto adding a casual apprehension.  The most trad tunes here are Darkness of Your Eyes (a Ravel remake) and My Reverie, both nonchalant swing numbers that look back to Ellington and Strayhorn in the 30s – neither would be out of place in the Catherine Russell repertoire. En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor offers a lush, otherworlly take on the famous Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, as lustrous if considerably more stripped-down than the Gil Evans arrangement, David Fink’s echoey, swooping bowed bass contrasting with Locke’s reflecting-pool ambience.

Sunrise mines a subtle early dawn atmosphere, Souter’s gentle vocals over Drummond’s meticulous, marvelous whisperiness as it grows into a jazz waltz. Souter’s cover of Baubles, Bangles and Beads gets a cheerfully sleek treatment, Locke and Kuhn teaming up for an intertwining glimmer as it crescendos out. The title track is a totally noir jazz remake of the Chopin E Minor Prelude, Souter’s distant ache a sort of female counterpart to late 50s Sinatra suicide saloon songcraft.

Noa’s Dream remakes a Schubert serenade as a jazz waltz, Frahm’s precision setting the stage for Locke’s swinging red-neon lyricism. The album winds up hauntingly with Brand New Day, blending slinky clave and French musette, Gary Versace’s jaunty accordion paired up with the vibraphone over a dancing rhythm section. So many vocal jazz albums put the band in the background: this is assuredly not one of them. That this would be a treat to hear purely as instrumentals attests to the intelligence and passion of the songcraft and musicianship; Souter’s voice is the icing on the cake.

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

Joel Miller Makes an Auspicious NYC Debut

A couple of nights ago tenor saxophonist Joel Miller made an auspicious New York debut at Shapeshifter Lab, an intimate, richly tuneful performance of original material with inspired, thoughtful contributions from pianist Gary Versace, bassist Matt Clohesy, drummer Greg Ritchie and guest Ingrid Jensen being her usual down-to-earth, nonchalantly brilliant self on trumpet. What’s the likelihood of a jazz gig with two guys originally hailing from Prince Edward Island (Miller and Ritchie) up onstage? Not as rare as it might seem: the Maritimes have been a fertile incubator for talent in recent years, and there’s an impressively eclectic jazz festival in Halifax at the end of June. That Miller will be there is yet another good reason to go.

Miller’s association with Jensen goes back a ways – he’s married to her saxophonist sister Christine. He and his sister-in law have a familiar repartee and share a fondess for choosing their spots. Jensen waited until her final verse on the first set’s closing number, Teeter Totter, before sharpshooting her way through a deliciously long, chromatically-fueled, blistering salvo of sixteenth notes. Voltage-wise, it was the highlight of the show, although Jensen’s richly ambered, judiciously chosen sostenuto lines in the ballad Warm Lake – a sardonic fishing reference – were just as impactful, moving in a completely opposite direction. Likewise, Miller played with a terse decisiveness throughout the set, letting spaces linger for all they were worth between deftly clustering cadenzas and confidently rippling postbop passages. On the closing number, he held back until just before Jensen’s closing pyrotechnics to color his clenched-teethed phrasing with microtones, then suddenly going minimal and atmospheric to ramp up the suspense.

Miller has a gift for catchy tunesmithing, and the band embraced it, often with abandon.  Versace’s glimmering modalities on the bridge added a scary dimension to the otherwise wryly shapeshifting cha-cha romp Step Into My Office. Clohesy made his way deliberately and emphatically through a couple of spaciously funky solos. Ritchie switched between brushes and sticks, adding subtly dark hues from the rims and mist from the cymbals, notably on the sometimes-waltzing, sometimes-swinging, brightly pulsing Honeycomb. There were other times he’d begin with a clave groove and then leave it implied for the rest of the song, or until one Miller’s frequent metric changes. Twin horn harmonies were strong and sometimes unexpectly balmy, other times adding an element of apprehension via Miller’s close harmonies. Laced with occasional humor, his craftsmanlike approach to composition mirrors how he plays: this show made the haul out to the Gowanus richly worthwhile.

February 15, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Falkner Evans’ New Album Blends Smarts and Accessibility

The arrangements on jazz pianist/composer Falkner Evans’ new album The Point of the Moon sound bigger than they are. This little band – a quartet, mostly – often delivers the anthemic grandeur of a group twice their size or even larger. That’s an especially impressive achievement for Evans, considering that much of his recent work has been in a trio setting. In addition to a rhythm section including Belden Bullock on bass and the ubiquitously counterintuitive Matt Wilson on drums, there’s the horn section of Greg Tardy on tenor sax and Ron Horton on trumpet, with Gary Versace joining the mix on the final two tracks.

The brightness and accessibility of the tunes often masks their depth and complexity: this is hummable stuff, but it’s also not shallow. The album gets off to something of a false start: if the undeniably pretty opening cut, Altered Soul, has you thinking “lounge-ola,” hang in there, they’re not phoning it in, they’re just warming up. The second track, Drawing In, is a gently and deftly syncopated wee hours ballad. An elusive Tardy line gives way to what’s as close to a lush chart for two voices as you can possibly imagine, then hands it off to both sax and trumpet in turn, with a playfully pointillistic bass solo, Horton spinning and dipping gracefully out of it.

Dorsoduro manages to swing blithely without being cloying, Tardy taking his time and exploring both the upper and lower registers, Evans maintaining the nocturnal congeniality. The most energetic track here, Cheer Up briskly scurries out of a tricky intro with a high-flying Tardy bop solo. The fun is contagious, and the whole band gets into it, especially Wilson. By contrast, Jobim’s O Grande Amor gets a welcome dose of gravitas, the whole rhythm section leaving it to another one of those juicy horn charts, Horton going long and blues-infused, Evans keeping it terse, playing it close to his vest, a little wounded.

Slightest Movement follows practically as a segue, reverting to the saloon-jazz warmth of the earlier part of the album. The standard While We’re Young is done as a Mad Men era jazz waltz. Off the Top, a swing tune, has the feel of a standard, something you can’t quite put your finger on and that’s because it’s an original. With Versace’s lush organ work, it’s like a 50s/60s Ellington combo and Procol Harum hanging out all together at the hotel bar after the show. The album closes on a potent note with the gorgeously plaintive, tango-infused title cut, lowlit by Versace’s accordion and another one of those big/little horn charts. As a whole, it’s a very successful blend of catchy tunesmithing, inspired writing and playing.

August 9, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Album, Bad Name

Trigonometry. Just the word alone makes you shake your head. Seriously – how many of you remember any of that stuff? That’s the title of composer/alto saxophonist Jacam Manricks’ new album – and you mustn’t let it scare you off. Manricks vaulted into the uppermost echelon of jazz composers with his lushly orchestrated big band masterpiece, Labyrinth, last year. This one reduces the forty-piece orchestra to just a sextet, with hardly any loss of volume, trading sweep and majesty for melody, terseness and a jazz vibe that’s considerably more classic than classical. In addition to new compositions, there are three intriguingly rearranged cuts from Labyrinth here, along with an imperturbably fluttering cover of Eric Dolphy’s Miss Ann. Manricks – who steps out much more here than he did on Labyrinth, with great success – joins a cast that includes pianist Gary Versace, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Obed Calvaire, trombonist Alan Ferber and trumpeter Scott Wendholt.

The title track takes a funky late 70s Weather Report style riff and makes it purist and retro, Manricks buoyant against Calvaire’s aggression, then more expansive later on. The tongue-in-cheek Cluster Funk builds from similar riffage to a modally-charged simmer, Wenholdt and then Manricks  bracingly warping in and out. Slippery, the third track, is a swing number: the sax pushes against the blues, against terse block chords from Versace, and the blues push back. And finally Manricks lets them in

Nucleus makes a big beautiful golden-age style ensemble piece out of a vivid latin-tinged melody a la late 50s Miles, followed by the pulsing, shapeshifting, aptly titled Sketch. The best song on the album, Mood Swing is a deliciously ominous, modal nocturne with masterful touches from Versace at the uppermost registers, echoed at the opposite end from Calvaire against distantly menacing sax. Versace really takes hold and owns this one, from his glimmery, insistent, deceptive chordal work (very Neil Shah-style), to an expressionistic solo. The stripped-down version of Labyrinth here shares that same eerie prismatic glow, Versace’s ultraviolet ambience again the highlight. Of the two final Labyrinthine tunes, Combat downplays the heavy Ravel influence of the orchestrated version in favor of wistful bluesy tints; Micro-Gravity, on the other hand, reaches for the Catalan majesty of the original and hits a bullseye. Yet another great new album from the Posi-Tone label. Manricks plays the cd release show on July 30 at the Cornelia St. Cafe at 10:30 PM.

July 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble – Eternal Interlude

These big-band arrangements of mostly earlier commissions – never before recorded – make the perfect vehicle for drummer/composer John Hollenbeck‘s big ideas.  Hollenbeck is one of the most successful composers to bridge the gap between jazz and new music. This new album, just out on Sunnyside, is the rousing result of that refusal to be pigeonholed. Hollenbeck’s hooks are direct and energetic: he’s got a way with a memorable tune and a fondness for even bigger, comfortable, lushly orchestrated arrangements. Dynamics are everything here – the twenty-piece ensemble will move from a big, blazing chart to skeletal tenor and piano, or bass and drums, in seconds flat and then slowly bring it back up again. The quieter passages here have a cinematic feel evocative of Elvis Costello’s collaborations with Richard Harvey; the more bustling ones evoke Mingus, or Monk, notably on the opening track, Foreign One (a pun and a loving reinvention of Monk’s Four in One), bulking up its catchy descending hook with a muscular chart capped with bright back-to-back tenor solos.

Tension builds on the mostly ambient, almost twenty-minute title track, the brass developing a slow, stately crescendo out of an effectively mysterious Gary Versace piano intro. A circular, somewhat hypnotic hook gets a slow, steady workout before it falls apart into a hazy flutter of call-and-response horns strangely evocative of Pink Floyd’s Atomheart Mother Suite. Another rise and a fall and then they’re out. Many of these patterns recur in the following track, Guarana, moving from atmospheric tone poem to a chase sequence to fluttery chaos, trombone serving as the voice of reason who will eventually prevail. The aptly titled The Cloud is a clinic in swells and ebbs.

The standout track here is also aptly titled, almost eighteen delicious minutes of Perseverance. This time the ensemble gives a funk-inflected melody a full-orchestra workout that eventually winds its way down to just the sax, the rest of the horns taking brief, crazed cameos against the stark ambience before Hollenbeck turns the mood darker with some solo tom-tom work. It builds to a fullscale stampede, its ferocious pummel an almost shocking contrast with the rest of the album. When they take it down and then bring it back, it becomes a reverse image, a happy Sunday sprint through a poppy field. The cd closes with on a hushed note with a brief, still tableau. This is one of those albums where repeated listening reveals something new and interesting every time. The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble play a marathon cd release show for this one on Nov 30 at 8 PM at le Poisson Rouge: first, violinist Todd Reynolds plays music from Hollenbeck’s recent Rainbow Jimmies cd, followed by Hollenbeck and Theo Bleckmann’s Future Quest group – Hollenbeck, Bleckmann, Gary Versace, Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby – playing Meredith Monk, and then the Large Ensemble.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Jacam Manricks Quintet at Smalls Jazz Club, NYC 5/22/09

Jacam Manricks has a fluid, fluent approach to the alto sax, but it’s his compositions which are his drawing card – and which may absolutely blow you away. Playing a mix of material mostly from his new cd Labyrinth – recorded with a 40-piece orchestra – the Australian-American composer and his quintet locked in on the songs’ intricate, often epic permutations with intensity and nuance. The bass and drums maintained a sinuous, practically minimalist pulse throughout some awfully tricky changes while pianist Gary Versace colored them with characteristic vividness and frequently outright menace. Perhaps because this was a five-piece playing big band music, the integral nature of the arrangements was especially striking, guitarist Ben Monder completing unfinished piano chords, or Versace doing the same in tandem with the guitar. Sometimes Manricks would do the same in tandem with the bass. Intelligence and imagination lept from the charts with agility and sometimes a wary apprehension.

Aeronautics, a bit of a latin shuffle with sustained, understated, reflective guitar saw Manricks taking a series of fluttery runs through shifting sections of the scale, Versace feeling around for his footing and eventually finding it, rich and ominous.  The modal suite Microgravity was a full-scale masterpiece (one can only imagine how lush it sounds with the orchestra on the cd). Manricks opened it brightly, then bass and piano teaming up against guitar and sax, Monder hypnotic and eerie throughout a long series of quavery, reverberating chordal passages that recurred at the end, Versace practically microtonal with his starry, glimmering upper-register work. The cd’s title track, built on a richly melodic, interlocking architecture featured a playful conversation between Versace and the drums. They closed their second set with a new composition, simply titled 2-3-2 with a bouncy, staggered vintage Cuban beat, Manricks warily expansive over some Balkan-inflected changes to an insistent, intensely pulsing crescendo. One can only wonder where someone like Ivo Papasov could take that song. A jazz educator, Manricks doesn’t get the chance to play out as much as he no doubt would like to: if cutting-edge, out-of-the-box stuff is your thing, don’t miss the chance to see him.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment