Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Geri Allen’s Grand River Crossing: A Vivid Homage to Her Detroit Hometown

It’s always risky to read subtext into a work of art. But pianist Geri Allen‘s new Grand River Crossing – a tribute to the Motown music of her Detroit childhood – has a persistent unease, a plaintive and often poignant quality, in stark contrast with the upbeat material on which most of it is based. To what extent is the album – Allen’s final installment in her mostly-solo trilogy – a reflection on how her hometown has seen a sad transformation from auto capitol of the world to bankrupt Murder City?

Allen’s m.o. here is less to reharmonize a bunch of catchy pop tunes than it is to use their changes as a springboard for improvisation. She opens with a briskly dancing, unrecognizable take on the Michael Jackson hit Wanna Be Starting Something. Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown is reinvented as a haunting, carnivalesque, absolutely brilliant portrait that’s far more true to the title than the original. Stevie Wonder’s That Girl follows some insistently moody variations to a lively, off-the-beaten-path, syncopated romp. Then Allen imbues Ray Brooks’ The Smart Set  with a darkly biting, elegaic edge,Marcus Belgrave adding bluesy trumpet. Allen’s solo version of the Beatles’ Let It Be is bitter and jaggedly wounded, as far from the calm resignation of the original as you could possibly imagine.

Belgrave’s Space Odyssey, another duet, builds a broodingly syncopated march around a surreal, microtonal trumpet intro and a brief free interlude. The first Holland/Dozier’Holland tune here, Baby I Need Your Lovin’ plays hide-and-seek with the hook, followed by the second, Itching in My Heart – with David McMurray on alto – done as a pulsing oldschool soul vamp.

Frank Wilson’s Stoned Love is a wary, precise early 60s soul groove – it doesn’t have much of anything to do with jazz, yet it might be the best song on the album. Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues has Allen running the riff in the lefthand against variations in the right; his Save the Children is moody and enigmatic, more question than answer. Allen winds up the album with another duet with Belgrave, Gerald Wilson’s Nancy Joe, finally emerging jauntily from the pervasive darkness that preceded it. There are also three Allen solo miniatures here which for the most part maintain that mood.

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October 24, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Haunting Update on Old Spirituals from Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence

Percussionist Jaimeo Brown’s new Transcendence album (just out from Motema) was inspired by a cult classic, How We Got Over: Sacred Songs of Gee’s Bend by the Gee’s Bend Quilters. It’s a double album of old African-American spirituals recorded during quilting sessions which Brown has sampled extensively and used as the basis for a rather haunting series of what could be described as jazz tone poems.

One amazing thing about the performance of those spirituals is how rhythmically they were sung: Brown plays seamlessly with them, and everybody in his ensemble is swinging, if slowly and sometimes morosely.  Brown’s compositions lean toward minimalism – every note here counts – with an uneasy push and pull. It’s a dark, relentlessly ntense suite of sorts. JD Allen begins with the blues, spirals around, hits the occasional repetitive, insistent riff, and then develops his themes with a modally-infused gravitas: he is the perfect choice of tenor saxophonist for this project. Guitarist Chris Sholar brings a smoldering, slow-burn, David Gilmour-esque majesty and angst to the pieces, often playing with a slide. Pianist Geri Allen works an eerily starlit, otherworldly pedalpoint as the sax, guitar and keyboards (also including Andrew Shantz’ harmonium and Kelvin Sholar’s light electronic effects) shift around within the sonic picture. Brown artfully leads a series of slow crescendos, sometimes riding the traps around the perimeter, other times building to a crushing gallop. Singer Falu adds Indian-influenced vocalese on the more hypnotic of the album’s twelve tracks. And Brown’s parents, bassist Dartanyan Brown and flutist Marcia Miget, each take an emphatic cameo.  The result is stark and richly evocative: the way the bandleader weaves the sampled choir and individual voices into the music casts them as ghosts from another era that eerily prefigures our own. The whole thing is streaming at Jaimeo Brown’s tour page.

And he gets the big picture. From his liner notes: “On a macro level, politically this music is a warning to our generation. Global corporations and banks are destroying local cultures throughout the world. The same spirituals that gave strength to our ancestors need to give us strength today as we consisder the very real possibility of modern global slavery, and look in earnest for ways to avoid that unacceptable state. In the midst of darkness the brighest light and hope can appear.”

April 2, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz for Obama 2012: Unforgettable

Jazz for Obama 2012 last night at Symphony Space was like one of those Kennedy Center New Year’s Eve concerts, a hall of fame lineup, except that this one vociferously represented the 99%. Only a special occasion like this could bring together such an all-star cast from five generation of jazz: Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Jim Hall, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Jeff “Tain” Watts, to name less than half of the cast. Inspired by the prospect of playing for free for the sake of benefiting the re-election campaign of a President who, as one of the organizers put it, “comes across as the only adult in the room,” they delivered what might be the most transcendent concert of the year. There’s an interview with organizer/pianist Aaron Goldberg up at artinfo that provides a lot of useful background.

Yet as ecstatic as the music was, there was a persistent unease. Timeless tenor sax sage Jimmy Heath kicked off the show alongside Barrron, Carter and the purist Greg Hutchinson on drums, with a soulful take of There Will Never Be Another You followed by Autumn in New York. Evocative and wistful as that one was, Heath ended it with a moody series of tritones, perfectly capsulizing the pre-election tension that hostess Dee Dee Bridgewater brought up again and again, imagining the spectre of Mitt Romney in the Oval Office. Guitarist Hall, who was particularly energized to be part of the festivities, joined Carter in a warmly conversational duo of All the Things You Are and then a biting blues. After a bright Barron/Carter ballad, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane joined Allen, McBride and drummer Ralph Peterson for a wrenchingly epic take of one of Barack Obama’s favorite songs, John Coltrane’s Wise One. Its searing ache and ominous modalities were inescapable even as the quartet finally took it swinging with a redemptive thunderstorm from Peterson and his cymbals. As  Bridgewater put it, “That was a moment!”

Tyner and tenorist Joe Lovano followed, maintaining the full-throttle intensity with Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit, the pianist’s menacing low lefthand sostenuto vortices contrasting with the sax’s sharp, bluesy directness. After that, their take of Search for Peace held steady, majestic and unselfconsciously righteous. The first set closed with a playful bass/vocal duet on It’s Your Thing by Bridgewater and McBride.

The second part of the show opened with Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato teaming up for a couple of Brazilian-tinged pop songs. Mehldau was joined by McBride for a rapturous, casually contemplative take on Monk’s Think of One – and where was Tain? Oh yeah, there he was, jumping in and adding his signature irrepressible wit.

Claudia Acuna then led a family band of Arturo O’Farrill on piano, his sons Zack on drums and Adam on trumpet, Craig Haynes on congas and Alex Hernandez on bass through a blazing, insistent, Puerto Rican-spiced Moondance that simply would not be denied. After that, bass legend Henry Grimes wasted no time in thoroughly Grimesing Freedom Jazz Dance. Completely still but masterful with his fleet fingers, he took Allen and Watts on an expansive, surreal, brisk outer-space AACM-age stroll on the wings of microtones, slides, and a handful of wicked rasps. And Allen and Watts were game! She waited for her moment and then joined in with an off-center, minimalist lunar glimmer while Watts added distant Plutonian whispers. The concert ended on a high-spirited note with Goldberg taking over the keys for a boisterousl warped version of Epistrophy, along with McBride, Lovano and ageless drum legend Roy Haynes bedeviling his mates throughout an endless series of false starts, and endings, and good-natured japes: the tune hardly got past the waltzing introductory hook, McBride patiently looping it as Haynes shamelessly energized the crowd. It would have been impossible to end the show on a better note, equal parts exhilaration and dread.

Some of you may have reservations about another Obama administration, but consider the alternative: a corporate raider who’s made millions putting his fellow citizens out of work, who cavalierly looks forward to nuclear war with Iran and has such contempt for the American public that he doesn’t even bother to cover his lies. We are in a depression, no doubt: we will be in an even worse one if Romney might win, perish the thought. For those of you who aren’t out of work and can afford an investment in the future, there’s still time to help our President’s reelection campaign at WWW.JAZZFOROBAMA2012.COM.

October 10, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment