Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jimmy Katz’s Heroic Efforts Bring Live Jazz Back to Central Park This Month

After a year of pure hell, it is such a pleasure to be able to spread the word about concerts the general public can attend without fear of getting arrested. While at this moment it doesn’t appear that indoor shows in New York will be allowed to resume in any normal sense until Andrew Cuomo is either impeached or otherwise removed from power, good things are happening all over the place and one of those places is Central Park.

In order to help imperiled jazz musicians who’d been unable to make money on tour, photographer Jimmy Katz and his nonprofit Giant Step Arts launched a series of free weekend concerts in the park last fall in honor of fallen civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis.

Fast forward to 2021: free states from Florida to the Dakotas are experiencing an economic boom, without the mounds of dead bodies that the fearmongers at CNN and NPR shrieked would result, but New York has still not rejoined the free world. So Katz has resumed booking weekends at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, partnering with Jazz Generation’s Keyed Up program this time around. The twinbill this Saturday, April 10 is a real change of pace. At noon, alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan leads a trio with bassist Phil Norris and drummer Robert Lotreck. Then at 1:30 everybody gets really free with bassist William Parker, who leads a trio with Cooper-Moore – presumably on keys – and Hamid Drake on percussion. The former Seneca Village site is on the west side between about 82nd and 89th Streets; enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up!

There’s a new Parker bio out, which doesn’t actually say much about his music beyond the discography at the end – which stretches for more than a dozen pages. That’s because Parker is sought out as the go-to guy on the bass for free improvisation: he literally doesn’t play anything the same way twice. The most recent addition to that whopping discography is the Dopolarians‘ mighty, symphonic new album The Bond – streaming at Bandcamp – a sextet session featuring Kelley Hurt on vocals, Christopher Parker on piano, Chad Fowler on alto sax, Marc Franklin on trumpet and Brian Blade on drums.

There are three sprawling tracks on the album: the longest is about half an hour and the shortest is around ten minutes long. That’s a good indication of the esthetic if not the sound of this Saturday’s show. The group open with the title track, insistently lingering piano chords anchoring warmly floating lines from the horns as the bass moves tersely around a pedal note. The music rises with a gospel-tinged jubilation to an AACM-like wall of sound as Fowler squalls, Franklin exercising his stairstepping power in tandem with the piano. Then everybody backs away for Hurt to join with her enveloping, dynamically electric vocalese.

From there subgroups engage the rest of the crew. Chris Parker’s McCoy Tyner-esque, drivingly rhythmic interlude over Blade’s hammering toms; William Parker’s coy echoes of that over spare, moody piano; Hurt’s haunting quasi-operatics over similarly eerie, Messiaenic piano, with the bass calm at the center. The stroll that results is genuinely funny, getting funnier and looser as it goes along. regal trumpet and piano trying to pull everybody back on the rails with mixed results. Moments like this are what fans of free improvisation live for.

Track two, The Emergence, is the whopper. Crazed flurries quickly recede for Chris Parker’s moody, minimalist modal chords as individual voices filter in and out overhead, William Parker adding carbonation and spice this time while Hurt and the horns linger. There’s a momentary dip to pensive vocals, bass and piano; desolate noir from sax and bass with a shivery crescendo; and resolute, anthemic yet restless and enigmatic themes from Chris Parker. The blues slowly makes its way in from the shadows via a darkly acerbic piano theme and variations. William Parker conjures up a bristling, chromatic oldtime gospel tune with his bow; the band eventually find their dancing shoes.

They close with The Release, its shifting overlays of brooding piano, airy sax and calm, resonant trumpet giving way to a careeningly summery oldschool soul vamp. Fowler and Franklin pair off as bad cop and good cop, the music crystallizing around a triumphant trumpet solo. There’s obviously a lot more than this going on: dive in and get lost. You can do that this weekend in Central Park too.

April 7, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everybody’s Jumping Out of Their Shoes to Play Central Park

What a pleasure it was to walk down the hill to the Central Park mall on Sunday afternoon without being assaulted by the tedious, computerized whoomp-whoomp that all the druggies would be dancing to in years past. Instead, the sounds were organic. A guy with an acoustic guitar. A bunch of southern kids having a picnic and listening to twangy Nashville pop on a big boombox. Ralph Williams, tall and resolute, running sinuous riffs solo on tenor sax as he’s been doing since forever at the far end of the benches by the bandshell. The Dark Sky Hustlers playing expertly slinky, vampy funk instrumentals in the middle of the mall.

And at the south end, four of the foremost musicians in jazz, busking.

OK, this wasn’t your typical busker gig. Photographer Jimmy Katz and his nonprofit Giant Step Arts began booking top-tier jazz talent there on the weekends last fall, as a way to help keep New York musicians solvent in the time since Andrew Cuomo criminalized live music venues. Katz is keeping the series going this year, working with drummer Nasheet Waits on the booking side and Jazz Generation’s Keyed Up program for sponsorship. Sunday’s allstar lineup was the kind that people pay a hundred dollars a ticket for at swanky festivals: Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. At the peak of the quartet’s first set, there might have been forty people scattered around the area. Where was everybody else? In the middle of the mall, watching the Dark Sky Hustlers. More about that later.

But even with the sonic competition from the Hustlers’ loud guitar amp, this was the place to be for a set of classics. The four players took a winding staircase up into Sonny Rollins’ East Broadway Rundown, Escoffery’s flurrying solo contrasting with Pelt’s spacious, allusively modal approach. The way Pelt shadowed Escoffery at halfspeed or thereabouts, as they wound it down to a brief drum solo, was the kind of sage, perfectly executed moment so many jazz fans have had to turn to albums and youtube clips to find over the past year.

The rest of the set underscored the group’s combined erudition, each a bandleader in his own right. By the time they’d made it halfway through a roughly ten-minute, hard-swinging, anthemically bluesy take of Joe Henderson’s Punjab, Blake was already getting hot, throwing elbows and jabbing when least expected. Kenny Dorham’s Short Story was more of a short novel, from a snazzy latin intro to swinging sizzle from Escoffery and Pelt and a rat-a-tat coda from Blake that he could have kept going for twice as long and everybody still would have wanted more. They closed with a ballad, If Ever I Would Leave You, the drummer immediately cracking the whip when it was apparent that the Strat across the way was drowning out the horns. When Douglas went to take a spare, plaintive solo, the guitar went silent: pure serendipity.

After the set was over, the Dark Sky Hustlers were still going, and it turned out that they were good at what they were doing: loopmusic, essentially. The Strat player has a deep bag of Memphis and New Orleans licks, and used them voluminously over one slowly undulating two-chord vamp after another, stashed away in his loop pedal.

Therein lies the joy and also the hazard of playing public spaces. The elephant in the room, of course, is Cuomo: if clubs were open at capacity, all of these musicians could continue their careers without jousting for sonic space. What’s most ironic here is that had the Dark Sky Hustlers known who was playing just a few hundred feet away, they might have joined the crowd. They’re a funk band; Johnathan Blake plays in Dr. Lonnie Smith‘s group. And there’s nobody funkier than him.

This spring’s lineup of jazz talent in the park is just as off the hook as this group. This coming Saturday, April 10 there’s a twinbill starting at noon with alto saxophonist  Sarah Hanahan leading a trio with bassist Phil Norris and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30 by iconic free jazz bassist William Parker‘s Trio with Cooper-Moore plus Hamid Drake on percussion at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park – enter at 82nd St. on the west side. Hanahan and her trio return on Sunday the 11th at the same time, followed at 1:30 by intense tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading hers with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums. It’s not likely that there will be any funk bands to compete with up there.

April 6, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz on an Autumn Day

This has been a year of heroes and zeros like no other. One of the more recent heroes is Jimmy Katz of Giant Step Arts, who has stepped in to program a world-class series of weekend afternoon outdoor jazz concerts in Central Park at a time when musicians have arguably become more imperiled than at any other point in world history. Of the many nonprofits advocating for jazz artists, Katz’s is one of the most ambitious. Before the lockdown, he was booking a series of concerts at the Jazz Gallery, recording them for release on album and also on video, putting his own talent behind the lens to good use. Sunday afternoon’s performance on the southern end of the Central Park mall by vibraphonist Joel Ross and his quartet wasn’t like a hot Saturday night at Smalls or the Vanguard, but that didn’t seem to be the point anyway. Instead, a small, transient but generally very attentive crowd of maybe fifty people, at the most, scattered around the statue towering over the band, were treated to a thoughtful, very purposeful and occasionally outright haunting show.

Until we get Smalls and the Vanguard back again, in the short run this seems to be the future of live music in New York: communities coming together to support each other. Lately the park has become a pretty much daylong jazz festival, buskers everywhere, and several of them threw some of their own hard-earned cash into tenor saxophonist Sergio Tabanico’s open case as they passed by. A toddler sprinted up to the group in a joyous attempt to become their dancer, and the band loved it. His muzzled mom snatched him away: the child was distraught.

With mist from Tabanico’s sax and glimmer from Ross’ vibes, pedal down all the way, the group launched into the show with a wary take of what sounded like John Coltrane’s Birmingham. Drummer Craig Weinrib methodically worked his way up to the loose-limbed swing that would propel most of the set: like his bandmates, he was pacing himself. Tabanico set the stage for the rest of his afternoon, building slowly to a coda of insistent bursts and occasional shrieks against the beat.

Bassist Rashaan Carter maintained a more undulating, bubbling approach throughout the set, airing out his extended technique with harmonics in a couple of low-key solos. The bandleader was as terse as always, whether driving through steady but increasingly intense volleys of eighth notes, or providing spacious, judiciously ringing ambience behind the rest of the group.

One of the high points of Ross’ afternoon was an absolutely gorgeous, creepily tritone-infused solo to open the broodingly modal but increasingly funky third number. Another was the rivetingly allusive solo he took during an otherwise upbeat, bluesy swing tune toward the end. The group hinted they’d go further in a latin direction with a catchy, vamping minor-key number punctuated by another emphatically rhythmic Tabanico solo, but ended up holding back.

A return to pensive minor-key balladry – more Trane, maybe? – gave Ross a springboard for a stiletto-precise solo where he completely took the pedal off: it was almost as if he was playing a steel pan. Ross’ next scheduled gig is this Oct 9 at 4 PM with the Jazz Gallery Allstars at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

This particular Central Park series continues on Sept 26 at around 1:30 PM with drummer Nasheet Waits and saxophonist Mark Turner, plus Carter on bass again. It’s possible the players may not be at this exact location – on this particular afternoon, there was every possible kind of sonic competition further north, so sometimes you have to move around the park a little. The mall extends from the skating rink to the north, past the Naumburg Bandshell to about five blocks further south. The closest entrance is probably at 72nd St. and Central Park West.

September 22, 2020 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment