Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dave Douglas Radically Reinvents Dizzy Gillespie at Jazz at Lincoln Center

On one hand, there were probably a thousand groups around the world who were doing what what trumpeter Dave Douglas and his sextet did this past evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center  But those bands’ improvisations on Dizzy Gillespie themes were probably limited to solos around the horn. What Douglas did was simple on the surface – distilling riffs and phrases into their simplest, catchiest essence, often to the point of unrecognizability, and then jamming them out. But it was far more sophisticated than that.

The result was essentially two practically hourlong suites, packed with pairings, echoing, catch-and-follow and sometimes some pretty wild, untethered collective improvisation, drummer Joey Baron signaling the changes with gusty  abandon. The rest of Douglas’ band – second trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Gerald Clayton and Linda May Han Oh – turned in the kind of transcendence and joyous interplay you would expect from some of the world’s foremost improvisers.

Looking behind him down on the streetlights’ reflections on rain-soaked Broadway, Douglas went for appropriately distant, forlorn solo ambience to open the night’s second show. Oh bowed sepulchral high harmonics, Baron icing the windows, then the rest of the group joined, pensive and sparingly.

For the rest of the set, Douglas was Douglas; choosing his spots, always finding the mot juste. Space is a big part of his game: it seemed even more so this evening, whether punctuating the themes with sudden cloudbursts, wafting minor blues, snazzy sixteenth-note volleys or achingly melismatic lines that seemed microtonal – which probably weren’t, but Douglas can fake you out like that. For somebody who plays as many notes as he does, it’s amazing that he doesn’t waste any. Akinmusire basically played the role of flugelhornist: lots of long, methodically crescendoing legato solos, hovering around the midrange for the most part, occasionally in close formation with the bandleader.

Watching Frisell as a sideman was a trip. Only Baron was more exuberant. Yet Frisell also seemed to be the captain of the gravitas team, which also comprised Oh and Clayton. The pianist had been playing eerie, Satie-esque close harmonies for much of the set; it wasn’t long before Frisell decided to slam-dunk a couple. Otherwise, his shimmering, icily reverbtoned washes contrasted with judicious blues, shards of jangle and clang and an unexpectedly lighthearted detour into quasi-funk that Baron couldn’t resist spicing with polyrhythms.

Likewise, the drummer traded rims and hardware with Oh’s sotto-voce swings and vaults from the highest branches, finally getting a long solo in an epic Night in Tunisia and taking it from Buddy Rich to Wipeout and back. Oh and Clayton would throw a hot potato back and forth when least expected, notwithstanding how much murk and mystery they were building. When A Night in Tunisia finally coalesced, ironically it was Clayton who pulled away the latin noir he’d been shadowing all night,in to some jubilant tumbles. Meanwhile, Oh walked the changes  – but in Arabic hijaz mode, and expanded from there. Straight-up swing has seldom been so dark or interesting. The group finally closed with a verse of somebody else’s well-known tune: it wouldn’t have meant a thing if they hadn’t swung it as they had all night.

Douglas’ next stop on the never-ending tour is a duo show with similarly lyrical, individualistic pianist Uri Caine on Feb 27 at 7:30 PM at Filharmonie Brno in Brno, Czech Republic.

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February 24, 2018 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nicky Schrire Quietly and Captivatingly Explores Space & Time

Singer Nicky Schrire looks sooo sad on the cover of her new album Space & Time, but the songs on it are a lot more emotionally diverse. Like Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens (or Dory Previn in a previous era), Schrire blurs the line between jazz, rock and folk in a series of duo performances with a trio of pianists: Gil Goldstein, Gerald Clayton and Fabian Almazan. Schrire hails from South Africa, with a  charming lilt to her nuanced, unadorned mezzo-soprano. As you would expect from a piano/voice duo project, the performances here are on the quiet side, over slow tempos, although there are numerous animated moments. A terse mix of original compositions and diverse cover versions, it makes an enjoyable, subtle change of pace from the onslaught of high-voltage vocal jazz. Schrire’s m.o. is not to blow anyone away with how hard she can wail but to illuminate the songs’ dusky corners, varying her approach nimbly depending on the lyric.

She opens the album with a misty, spacious take of You’re Nobody Til Somebody Love You, a song that was forever eclipsed long ago by Biggie Smalls’ You’re Nobody Til Somebody Kills You. So her minimalist, disarmingly vulnerable take of I Wish You Love is a welcome revelation; it merits comparison to the Jenifer Jackson version. An original, A Song for a Simple Tune has Almazan having fun with the leaping melody. Schrire opens Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me a-cappella, fetching and powerfully plaintive; Goldstein picks it up, steady and starlit as Schrire takes it out with lush vocalese.

Teardrop blends hints of Radiohead and Britfolk over steady, crescendoing, neoromantic Almazan block chords, followed by Bless the Telephone, a mutedly opaque but warmly Beatlesque ballad with Clayton on piano. An original, And So I Sing, has Schrire’s judicious melismas maintaning a gently steely hold over Almazan’s brooding pedal motives, through a deftly arranged web of overdubbed vocalese as it crescendos out.

Seliyana works a rather hypnotic, syncopated trip-hop rhythm, Schrire’s neosoul allusions over blues-tinted, dancing Goldstein piano. Schrire’s When You Go is the most low-key of all the tracks, a slow ballad where she and Clayton methodically fill in and color the many spaces left by the other. Schrire opens Irviing Berlin’s Say It Isn’t So a-cappella, setting a tone of persistent unease which Almazan joins and maintains, hypnotically.

Jazz covers of Beatles tunes tend to be fussy and futile, but by changing the chorus of Here Comes the Sun abruptly from major to minor, Schrire adds some welcome contrasting cloudiness, building to a big crescendo of contrapuntal harmony. She closes with the title track, an original, Goldstein’s wintry, rubato piano a good fit with Schrire’s moody, vintage 60s Doris Fisher-inflected melody.  Schrire leads her group at the Cornelia St. Cafe on Nov 26 at 8:30 PM.

November 5, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tuneful Purist Stuff from the Clayton Brothers

The Clayton Brothers always deliver, pure and simple: they’re kind of like the Adderleys for this decade. You always know they’re going to swing the changes like crazy, the soloing is always focused and emotionally impactful and at the end of the show or the album, you’ll feel something. The first impression that a listener is left with after hearing their new album The Gathering is that it’s a concert recording. Which it’s actually not, but it has that kind of energy. This time out their usual lineup – Jeff Clayton on alto sax and alto flute, brother John Clayton on bass, Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jeff’s son Gerald on piano and Obed Calvaire on drums – gets a little bolstering from guests Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Stefon Harris on vibraphone.

The eagle flies on Friday, and that’s the vibe they leap into with John Clayton’s high-energy, unstoppably swinging opening track, Friday Struttin’ ,with hard-hitting solos all around until Gordon adds a tinge of levity, Stafford putting it back on the fast track with his trademark spirals and trills. Tsunami, a tune by Jeff, reaches toward a towering, majestic feel driven by sax and trumpet, the rhythm digging in deeper as it crescendos.

The tensely nebulous Touch the Fog, another tune by John, is a movie theme waiting to happen with a tersely catchy, central bass hook, lush horns and some nice interplay between the piano and vibraphone. By contrast, Jefff’s This Ain’t Nothing but a Party works a good-time New Orleans theme with grittily bluesy piano and a trick ending.

John’s Stefon Fetchit [ouch] swings hard, Harris choosing his spots judiciously. They do Don’t Explain casually and expansively, solo piano building artfully to a starlit glimmer, then pulling it back into the shadows where the bass bows rather ominously. Then they flip the script with the buffoonish Coupe de Cone, a springboard for Gordon to do his shtick.

Gerald’s ballad Somealways is the most modern thing here, bracing and modally-charged, edgy piano versus balmy horn chart, Calvaire driving a nimbly scrambling return to the starting line. Jeff felt that his alto work on the first take of Benny Carter’s Souvenir was too effusive, but the band insisted they keep it, and it’s a good thing because he pours his soul out, but not melodramatically: this stuff is real.

John’s Blues Gathering is classic postbop, bass pulling the piano back into terse moodiness on the heels of yet another comical Gordon solo. Jeff’s Simple Pleasures is vastly less simple than the title implies, its heavy, humid mid-August ambience slowly lifting as Harris gets underway and then lets it linger suspensefully again. The album closes with another first-rate Jeff tune, The Happiest of Times, its Monk allusions and nonchalant swing lit up by casually expert, pulse-elevating solos by Stafford, Gerald and then the composer. This might be the band’s best studio effort to date, pretty impressive considering the all-star cast involved.

November 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vijay Iyer’s Accelerando from a Distance

Why cover Vijay Iyer’s Accelerando now, in the wake of all the acclaim, the unprecedented sweep of the Downbeat critics’ poll, ad infinitum? For one, to assess how much of the hype is justified. And from a blogger’s perspective, it never hurts to step out of the magic, secret corners that we and sometimes we alone seem to know about, and venture out into the so-called mainstream to lure traffic off the wider expanses of the world wide web into those magic, secret corners. So consider this both a ploy and an unvarnished attempt to make sense of Iyer’s soaring popularity.

Which is well-deserved. Let’s get the punchline out of the way: he has a rare gift for melody as well as a fearlessness that extends from the political to his choice of material. Iyer will literally cover anything. Yet as much as has been written about how he’s bringing cutting-edge concepts into what’s left of any kind of jazz mainstream – which doesn’t seem to exist any more than it does in rock or any other style of music these days – what’s been surprisingly absent from the discussion is how much gravitas amd depth Iyer brings to the equation. Sometimes a single note – here, for example, a lingering, quiet low lefthand accent after a briskly dissociative take of Herbie Nichols’ Wildflower has ended and is fading out – is all he needs to drive the mood home. Long ago, Dave Brubeck began working that magisterial territory with the same kind of rhythmic authority that Iyer does here with his trio, Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore. More recently, Marc Cary, and to some extent, Gerald Clayton have roamed with the same kind of understated drama and majesty without losing the pulse of the music. Ultimately, that’s what gives Iyer’s work (and Brubeck’s, and Cary’s, and Clayton’s) lasting value.

In case you missed it elsewhere, the theme of Accelerando is dance rhythms, and all the fun that can be had with them. As usual, the compositions are a mix of originals and covers from across the musical spectrum, from the sublimely avant to the ridiculously commercial. Much as the rhythms are jaunty, the moods tend to be brooding, sometimes verging on menace. Bode, the Satie-esque modal piece that opens the album, builds to a Cary-esque rumble. The modal intensity is maintained on the nimbly dancing, somewhat ironically titled Optimism, a blend of grace and gravitas, Gilmore shadowing and then driving the long upward arc. Similarly, Iyer engages the drums in the muddled, off-center rhythms of a radical reinvention of The Star of a Story – a semi-hit by the 70s disco band Heatwave – moving from pretty straightforward funk into the smoke above the embers, and then back out.

Iyer’s attempt to reduce a rather frantic, largescale Henry Threadgill Very Very Circus piece, Little Pocket Size Demons, to its essence is wildly successful, with creepy, aching bowed bass over a piano loop, Gilmore’s right foot steady as the rhythm expands, Iyer more allusive than outright menacing. The wryly titled Lude is a somewhat more subdued adventure in the push-pull of action versus pensive stasis, fueled irrepressibly and funkily by Crump and Gilmore. The title track rises with a McCoy Tyner-esque stomp over a hypnotic major sixth vamp and goes phantasmagorical, while Actions Speak bounces variations off an agitated piano cluster, from dizzy apprehension to matter-of-fact rippling throughout pretty much the entirety of the keys. The album concludes with a surprisingly terse, gospel-drenched take of The Village of the Virgins, an Ellington ballet number:

There are also a couple of tracks here that add nothing to the album, both of them covers. Mmmhmm – credited to Flying Lotus, a purveyor of insipid electronic dancefloor beats – gets an atmospheric trip-hop backbone, Crump’s agile bowed lines over Iyer’s lushly sustained low lefthand that eventually expands by leaps and bounds. It’s attractive, and moody – and nothing that Lisa Hilton couldn’t have pulled off. Michael Jackson’s Human Nature syncopates and caches the melody in polyrhythms, then finally gets hit head on. The choice of this song in particular is a mystery: the hook isn’t very strong to begin with, and it has baggage, a cloying, schlocky top 40 ballad recorded by someone who will ultimately be remembered, if at all, for his crimes against children rather than for anything he did in showbiz. If there’s anything to take from this, it’s that the richness and intensity that defines Iyer’s compositions is sometimes lost when he tackles inferior composers – and compared to Iyer, most composers are.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nothing Uncertain About Patrick Cornelius’ Maybe Steps

The big deal about this album is that Gerald Clayton’s on it. Getting one of the most innovative pianists in jazz right now confers instant cred on alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius’ latest effort, Maybe Steps. And it doesn’t disappoint – as melodic jazz goes, it’s a consistently surprising, often understatedly intense ride. There’s a lot of depth here, diverse and sometimes divergent ideas and emotional tones within a single piece along with the occasional offhand classic riff reference. What makes this such a hard album to shut off is that the band never hits anything exactly head-on: they keep you waiting and keep you guessing. Cornelius plays with a misty, opaque tone alongside Clayton with Peter Slavov on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums, with Miles Okazaki on guitar and Assen Doykin on piano on one track.

The opening track is a triplet tune with subtle modal shifts, rises and falls. As he does later on here, a lot, Cornelius goes bright against a somewhat tense background but then follows Clayton into moodier and then memorably choppier territory. The title track – a Trane pun – swings til it hits an eerie bump in the road that Clayton pulls out of with bluesy allusions. But when Cornelius hits it, he lets the darkness settle for awhile before bringing the lights up again. Bella’s Dreaming, a brief nocturne, is a clever remake of One for My Baby. Brother Gabriel, with its attractive, syncopated pulse, serves as a showcase for a suspensefully spacious solo from Clayton, working his way out of the murk only to hint that he’d like to go back there.

They pick up the pace with the briskly catchy, biting Shiver Song, Cornelius deadpan and blithe over the melody’s edgy acidity, Clayton spiraling nimbly after him. Into the Stars, a ballad, contrasts a blippy Okazaki excursion with boomy, tensely tiptoeing bass. The strongest songs out of the whole bunch are the casually bittersweet A Day Like No Other and the Jackie McLean-ish Echoes of Summer, Cornelius keeping his triumphant solo casual and close to the vest. The album winds up with a purist, glimmering piano-sax version of Kurt Weill’s My Ship, an almost frantically swinging cover of George Shearing’s Conception and the potent concluding cut, a brooding tango, Cornelius evading resolution (and that pink slip, DFA notice or wave of the girl’s hand) at every turn. Count this as one of the most consistently interesting and tuneful jazz releases of 2011, out now on Posi-Tone. Cornelius is at the Bar Next Door in a trio with Linda Oh and Paul Wiltgen on Oct 6 and then at the Jazz Gallery on Nov 16 at 9 with this band playing the cd release show.

September 19, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tamir Hendelman’s New Album Packs a Punch

Tamir Hendelman is the pianist in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. His hard-hitting, intense new album Destinations firmly establishes him as a force to be reckoned with as one of this era’s cutting-edge jazz piano stars: Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, Dred Scott and Marc Cary. Like Clayton, he can go deep into the blues; like Scott, he sometimes exhibits a vivid late-Romantic streak, but his style is ultimately his own. Marco Panascia plays bass here, a terse and frequently incisive presence, with the reliably stellar Lewis Nash on drums.

The opening track, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams gets an inspired, no-nonsense, purist bluesy treatment. Passarim, by Antonio Carlos Jobim begins as a tight, spring-loaded ballad that picks up and takes on increasing shades of irony and grit, with some marvelous interplay between insistent bass and piano shadowing it about four minutes in. Fletcher Henderson’s Soft Winds has Hendelman scouting around aggressively for a comfort zone, eventually launching into a purposeful swing on the second verse, with an equally purposeful, to-the-point conversation between Panascia and Nash following. A radical reworking of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin takes on an insistent rippling intensity: the band grab it by its tail and swing it around a little – and then they take it to Brazil. Keith Jarrett’s My Song quickly shifts from its lullaby intro to the tightly wound precision of the second track, a vibe they maintain on their expansively Oscar Peterson-inflected cover of You Stepped Out of a Dream, Panascia getting to cut loose a little and bounce some horn voicings around.

Auspiciously, the two strongest performances here are both originals: the brooding, Brubeck-esque Israeli Waltz, and the haunting, elegaic Babushka, both of which pick up with a clenched-teeth resolve. There’s also a brisk and satisfying version of Bird’s Anthropology; On the Street Where You Live, which takes on not a wee hours vibe but a happy hour swing; Makoto Ozone’s BQE, a well-chosen springboard for both Hendelman’s blues and Romantic sensibilities; and a lyrical version of Fred Hersch’s Valentine, which begs the question of which came first, Paul McCartney’s Blackbird or this? It’s just out on Resonance Records.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bobby Avey Makes an Auspicious Debut

Pianist Bobby Avey’s debut album A New Face instantly elevates him into the ranks of formidable 21st century players like Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, and Marc Cary. Intense, forceful and fearless, Avey has a powerful lefthand like Kenny Barron, a fondness for ominous modal excursions and a vivid sense of melody that hovers between the noir, the Romantics and Olivier Messiaen at his most otherworldly. Along with the other members of his trio, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Jordan Pearlson, this album features the always estimable Dave Liebman guesting on soprano and tenor sax on four tracks. The chemistry between players matches the quality of the compositions: if there’s been a better jazz debut album this year, we haven’t heard it.

The opening track, Late November begins with a machine-gun circular motif that Avey eventually leaves to the bass and drums and hovers over with a noirish glimmer – and then takes it down to a minefield of modal incisions on the third verse. Much of this album has a bracing third-stream feel and this is a prime example. Meanwhile, throughout most of the song, Pearlson and Kneeland lock in and hammer with Avey, something they do with considerable relish throughout the album. The second cut, In Retreat is a potently evocative, bitter, brooding ballad, Liebman adding understated grey tones over Avey’s richly melodic crescendos, agitated but completely in control. Kneeland takes it out into the depths with a woundedly syncopated solo. Delusion is a study in understated chromatics and rhythmic shifts, another Kneeland solo early on its quiet highlight. The title track kicks off with a tense, macabre-tinged bass solo which Avey expands eerily – it’s a Sam Fuller film played out in the churchyard at Saint-Sulpice, Liebman playing the role of semi-friendly ghost.

After the stalker intro of Less is Less Than Half, the drums prowl around Avey’s minimalism, building to a crashing McCoy Tyner style lefthand hook that winds up in a hammering, fiery, percussive blaze. By contrast, Influence, a duo piece for piano and tenor, shifts between a golden age late 50s vibe and an uneasily unwinding, ripplingly horizontal piano soundscape. The final cuts here reach genuinely majestic heights. Insight unfolds with Avey hammering on an insistent staccato pedal note, expands to a chromatic vamp that he roams around, eventually a marvelously terse chromatic bass solo, and then it all comes together, glimmering and intense. Likewise, Time Unfolding finally throws restraint to the wind after giving Liebman the chance to rove expansively and then finally plunge into the rhythm section’s staccato syncopation before Avey and then Pearlson take it all the way up. Avey’s ceiling is pretty much as high as he want to go with it. Hope you like traveling, dude.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Clayton Brothers at Dizzy’s Club, NYC 1/16/09

No Wasted Notes Week must have gone into double overtime. Friday night’s early show by the Clayton Brothers at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center was a clinic in good fun, good taste and good chops. The quintet adhere to the long-hallowed tradition of stating the tune and then following with solos around the horn, either over the changes or some permutation thereof. What differentiates them is their complete commitment to melody and making what they play actually count for something: even when trumpeter Terell Stafford (a frequent McCoy Tyner sideman) would ride a crescendo about as far out as he could go, there was no doubt that he’d eventually land solidly. Otherwise, there’s something to be said for keeping it in the family and in the case of this band it works like a charm. The Claytons (patriarch John on bass, brother Jeff on alto, son Gerald on piano and adopted son Obed Calvaire on drums) all share a wry sense of humor, a prominent,  constantly recurring, most welcome trait. 

 

Throughout their hourlong set, John Clayton – a Ray Brown acolyte – restored the phrase “smooth grooves” to its rightful place in the lexicon, providing a supple pulse occasionally spiced with counterintuitive bowing and a marvelously tuneful, even minimalist sensibility. This was especially evident on the Kenny Burrell composition Bass Face, written for Ray Brown. To John Clayton’s credit, he put his own stamp on it, a cool, sly, slinky take (deadpan would be an accurate word, except that Clayton was wearing one kind of grin or another throughout the show).

 

Jeff Clayton is something of the group’s Secretary of Entertainment. John, a self-described “California boy,” groused about walking all the way down to the club from 75th Street in what these days of global warming is unseasonable cold (temps in the teens). “I just waited on the wing for the boat,” Jeff announced, referring to Thursday’s US Air flight’s miraculously successful Hudson River crash landing. Working up to a big swell, Jeff Clayton goodnaturedly bedeviled his mates, backing off, playing amusing little fractals and then when everybody seemed thoroughly nonplussed, he’d swing the melody by the tail and in an instant everybody would be back at it again. Yet perhaps the most emotionally impactful solo of the night was his, plaintive and thoughtful on an imaginative, low-key Monty Alexander arrangement of the old Broadway chestnut What Is Love. 

 

The night’s most impressive solos belonged to Gerald Clayton, who set a devious tone early on and didn’t stray far. Whether winding up one of a seemingly endless series of impressionistic crescendos with a vividly Asian-inflected melody, or plucking the strings inside the piano for a banjo-like tone while John Clayton worked up a guitar line, he kept both the audience and the rest of the band on their toes. Drummer Calvaire was fearless and all business, playing at a sonic level just short of what would have been too loud for the room – but he never went there. His star turn came on the Jeff Clayton composition (from the band’s reputedly excellent new ArtistShare CD Brother to Brother – a tribute to other brother acts in jazz throughout the ages) Wild Man, dedicated to Elvin Jones. Calvaire judiciously and inventively mixed in many familiar Elvin tropes – like the sudden drop on the tom or the aggressive ping off the top of a cymbal – without turning a heartwarming and rather exciting homage into parody. The band closed with a John Clayton number chronicling a trip through a traveler’s hell, starting with a missed flight in Berlin and ending with the bassist taking the stage, late, in Tokyo, 48 hours later, several connections later, probably with no sleep. But it wasn’t bitter! The band swung the song resolutely, just as John Clayton must have walked it and when they reached the part where he finally reached the stage, the melody rose and became utterly blissful, Stafford and Jeff Clayton fueling the party. It may have been cold outside last night, but there was a fire on the fifth floor at 60th and Broadway.

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment