Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Strong Tunesmithing and Inspired Playing on Drummer Mareike Wiening’s New Album

Mareike Wiening is the latest to validate the argument that good drummers always get the best bands because everybody wants to work with them. Wiening has an added advantage in that she writes bright, invitingly translucent material that makes a great springboard for improvisation. Her new album Future Memories – streaming at Spotify – is a strong, playfully rhythmic collection of tunes. The title reflects the composer’s resolute hope for a world where we’ve returned to normal, people can travel and freely associate, and she can pull her band together again.

She and the quintet – Rich Perry on tenor sax, Alex Goodman on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano and Johannes Felscher on bass – open with Northern Sail, inspired by the Norwegian coast where Wiening grew up. Goodman’s sharp incisions and Perry’s crystalline lines sail over Zaleski’s catchy, acerbically circling riffage. Out on the open water, the sense of adventure grows as the waves get choppier, Goodman and then Felscher bounding energetically as Wiening dips to a tiptoe pulse on her hardware.

She explores Spanish beats in El Escorial, Goodman riding her first tangent with an echoey flair, then Zaleski and Perry get into the gritty rhythm, building a distant nocturnal suspense as Wiening bounds and crashes, down to a lull where Felscher keeps the tricky dance going.

Zaleski and Goodman’s chiming ratchets introduce An Idea Is Unpredictable, Perry floating enigmatically before joining the lattice and then leading the band away as the sound expands. Zaleski adds amiable wee-hours saloon spirals; the concept seems to be that it’s not such a bad thing when entropy inevitably intrudes.

RiChanges begins as a hard-charging straight-ahead postbop swing tune in disguise, Perry’s steady eight notes pulling the bass and drums into the racewalk before Zaleski contributes a romping solo. Perry takes a sad solo to open the album’s title track over the band’s reflective resonance, then brightens the mood a little: this is what happens when musicians are deprived of their livelihood!

The album’s best track, The Other Soul gets a brooding, echoing intro from Goodman and Zaleski, Perry adding a moody solo over biting chordal work, Zaleski’s unsettled modalities rippling above the bandleader’s understated gravitas.

Goodman draws the band into Seesaw March with his catchy, optimistic riffs, then simmers and drives it as Wiening adds judicious background color, Zaleski fueling the triumphant upward drive. They close the record with Dance Into July, one of many prime examples where Wiening pairs sax and piano for vibraphone-like voicings. Zaleski gets to leap and ripple through the first solo, Goodman firing off unpredictable cascades of chords and flurries. We finally get a precise Wiening solo: if anything, it would be good to hear more of her. She’s the rare uncluttered drummer.

December 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vivid, Picturesque, Purposeful Violin Jazz From Tomoko Omura

Tomoko Omura is one of the most distinctive and purposeful violinists in jazz. Her album Branches Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.

She opens it with a radical reinvention of Moonlight in Vermont. Just as soon as Omura’s theme threatens to rise to total self-combustion, she and the band bring it down to elegant, purposeful, optimistic lyricism. Pianist Glenn Zaleski takes a masterfully light-fingered solo to a similarly triumphant crescendo followed by spare, soaring riffs by the bandleader over a loopy pulse. Late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty comes to mind, but with a more organic backdrop.

Three Magic Charms is aptly titled, Zaleski’s starry lines mingling with sailing violin, guitarist Jeff Miles’ fanged swells and accents adding a menacing edge over bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jay Sawyer’s dubwise pulse. As it grows funkier, Sawyer’s subtle carnivalesque touches lure his bandmates into similar shenanigans.

Zaleski’s sternly low, modal chords anchor The Revenge of the Rabbit as Omura slides and soars while the drums scramble and cluster. Again, the rhythm takes on a funkier bounce for Zaleski’s scampering solo before he moves back down, Omura’s woozy, processed, atmospheric lines taking over. In this case, living well seems to be the best revenge a critter could want

Zaleski glimmers amid drifting atmospherics as Return to the Moon gets underway, Omura’s koto-like flickers kicking off a slow, richly suspenseful, anthemic sway: this mission turns out to be a smashing success. Both the space-jazz of Bryan and the Aardvarks and the driftiest Pink Floyd soundscapes are good points of comparison.

Omura winds up the record with Konomichi, a lively, leaping tune with Zaleski on electric and acoustic piano and a fleetingly stinging bass/violin break. Good news: Omura has an excellent, eclectic follow-up volume just out as well.

June 27, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Picturesque, Poignant New Volume From Jazz Violinist Tomoko Omura

This blog called violinist Tomoko Omura‘s 2020 album Branches “refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.” On her newly released second volume – streaming at Bandcamp – she takes both that saturnine ambience and picturesque sensibility to the next level. The band includes pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Pablo Menares, drummer Jay Sawyer and guitarist Jeff Miles. These songs burst with purposeful tunes, ideas and thoughtful solos.

They open with To a Firefly, Omura adding elegant vocal harmonies over a sober, slowly shuffling groove spiced with eerily flickering piano, ominously lingering guitar chords, lilting triplets from the bass, alternately sailing melody and apprehensive harmonics from the violin. The trick ending will take you completely by surprise.

Melancholy of a Crane is a spare, moodily balletesque jazz waltz, Zaleski’s enigmatically resonant chords behind Omura’s slowly unwinding, sustained tones. Little by little, his brightly incisive solo pushes the clouds away for a bit before the bandleader’s spare, subtly chromatic solo brings the unsettled atmosphere back.

To Ryan Se begins as a bracing, trickily rhythmic Balkan dance number and picks up with a racewalking swing. Omura chooses her spots in a biting, energetic, methodically crescendoing solo, Zaleski’s romping lines once again bringing up the lights, Miles shredding a path for a tantalizingly sizzling coda.

A murky bit of a tone poem, a lively series of solo arpeggios and then Zaleski’s somber, funereal chords take centerstage as Bow’s Dance slowly unwinds, Omura again steady and apprehensive overhead: damn, this is an album for our time! But the light-fingered stampede out is a hoot.

Tomie’s Blues is actually a steady, gorgeously lyrical ballad, Menares taking a warmly dancing, mutedly incisive solo over Zaleski’s spare gleam and Sawyer’s whispery brushwork. They wind up the record with the Urashima Suite, unwinding from a tight, spiraling, Terry Riley-ish piano riff to a gracefully bounding, shimmering Zaleski solo, a jagged violin/guitar break, a subtly conversational series of violin and piano variations capped off by a lush Omura solo, and some deliciously unhinged bluesmetal from Miles. Don’t be surprised to see this album on a lot of best-of-2021 lists assuming that those who put them together haven’t collectively taken the needle of death.

June 8, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lucas Pino’s No No Nonet Is a Hit

Alto saxophonist Lucas Pino is a highly sought-after commodity in the New York scene, but he’s also a formidable composer. He and his coyly named No No Nonet have honed their sound with a regular residency at Smalls for more than a couple of years. Their latest album, That’s a Computer is streaming at Spotify – is a classic example of a band with smart charts which make them sound larger than they really are (although nine players are a handful, especially if you have to round them up for gigs}. They’re playing the album release show tomorrow night, Nov 19 at 7:30 PM at Smalls; cover is $20.

The album opens auspiciously with Antiquity, a brooding, rather bitter jazz waltz over edgy changes that remind of Frank Foster or Chris Jentsch at his most intense. Rafal Sarnecki’s guitar lingers; burnished horns rise and fall, Pino pirouetting elegantly rather than going for the jugular, especially after the lithe interlude midway through.

Horse of a Different Color is a big, bustling swing shuffle driven by Glenn Zaleski’s piano over Desmond White’s brisk bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums. The interweave between reeds and brass – alto saxophonist Alex LoRe and baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas with trumpeter Mat Jodrell and trombonist Nick Finzer – is especially tasty, as is Pino’s wafting runs punctuated by the piano and then the rest of the horns as Macbfride works a wry offbeat shuffle groove.

The lustrous ballad Film at 11 opens with rainy-day splashes of guitar and a slow brushy beat behind the horns’ glistening, sustained harmonies, Zaleski in spacious wee-hours mode. Pino’s mistiness matches the ambience; the slow, minimalist horn harmonies as it winds out add indie classical astringency.

Look Into My Eyes comes across as sort of a mashup of the album’s first and third tracks: darkly catchy hooks within a lush postbop framework, Pino again taking his time reaching takeoff velocity. The circling flock of counterpoint kicking off Finzer’s trombone solo is one of the album’s high points.

The album’s most majestically towering number is Frustrations, guest Camila Meza’s wistfully tender vocalese juxtaposed with bittersweet horns, the rhythm section giving everybody a wide, spacious berth. Gutauskas’ bass clarinet solo methodically parses the enigmatic atmosphere.

A bright, incisive clave tune, Sueno de Gatos has Afro-Cuban flair, and an almost conspiratorial camaraderie between Meza’s voice and the pulsing brass, the bandleader adding bluesy purism up to an unexpected, massed-staccato minimalist interlude. The album’s final cut is a jubilantly strutting vignette, Baseball Simiulator 1.000 (if you follow the sport, you know that a 1.000 average means a hit every time up).

Apropos of that baseball reference – there’s considerable irony that a band named after a certain 1920s Broadway musical would be released in a year when the Boston Red Sox won their fourth world championship in the past fifteen years. The producer of that musical, Harry Frazee also owned the Sox – and sold off all their star players in order to finance it. The Yankees took on almost every single one of those contracts. Babe Ruth and the rest of what was once the Sox put on pinstripes and became baseball’s first and arguably greatest dynasty. The Bostonians, their talent depleted, plummeted to last place: it would take them more than a decade to return to respectability.

November 18, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment