Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Potent, Evocative New Vocal Jazz: Helen Sung with Words Last Night at the Jazz Standard

On one hand, Helen Sung with Words last night at the Jazz Standard was a chance to hear both multi-reedman John Ellis and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen blaze together in front of a tight latin-flavored rhythm section, a treat not to be missed. On the other, it was an opportunity to witness the most cutting edge of vocal jazz, a tantalizingly eclectic, often harrowingly relevant work in progress bookended by a couple of real burners.

Singers Christie Dashiell, Carolyn Leonhart and Vuyo Sotashe took turns and often harmonized Sung’s settings of poems by Dana Gioia, whose recorded words wafted through the PA as each song got underway. Alternately brooding, sardonic or droll, Sung wove them into constantly shifting shapes, Dashiell getting the most time in the spotlight with her airy, often vividly wistful delivery bolstered by Leonhart’s sometimes brassy harmonies, Sotashe reaching toward Al Green territory from time to time with his balmy falsetto.

Ellis intoned mournful, blood-and-blues-drenched motives off the inside of the piano as a steady, hauntingly reflective elegy for a  murdered inmate in the US prison system got underway. Likewise, bassist Ricky Rodriguez gave a Lower East Side wee-hours lament a starkly bowed intro as percussionist Samuel Torres and drummer Kendrick Scott added their misty accents to the wounded ambience: it was the most avant garde moment of the night.

Yet there was as much adrenaline as poignancy in the set. Dave Brubeck famously joked that there’s a little lounge in every pianist, but whenever Sung hinted that she might go there, with a playful little trill or a chromatic downward run, she’d break it up with a fierce block chord or two. Her work defies standard A/B/C sectionality – these songs seemed to have an F, a G and an H too – and she has a flair for latin jazz. She wound up a couple of the more upbeat numbers with an altered couple of mambos that made a launching pad for tantalizingly brief duels between Torres and Scott.

The joyous closing number, the most straight-ahead of the evening, had echoes of funk. The opener – illustrating Gioia’s early 70s memories of a smoky West Coast jazz joint – grew out of Ellis and then Jensen blistering through a thicket of bluesy eights to Sung’s long, majestically driving solo, artfully expanding toward tropicalia and then back. As kaleidoscopically lyrical as the rest of the set was, it would have been even more fun to hear her cut loose like that again. As the saying goes, always leave them wanting more. Sung plays next on June 3 at 8 PM at Lulu Fest in Austin, Texas.

May 31, 2017 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Restrictions on Great Tunesmithing From Iris Ornig

Bassist Iris Ornig’s latest album No Restrictions has a lot to offer: translucent compositions, terse arrangements, purposeful playing. It has a lot in common with pianist Danny Green’s latest release (recently reviewed here), a tuneful mix of tropically-tinged romps and ballads. The cast of musicians alongside Ornig – Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Helen Sung on piano, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet and Marcus Gilmore on drums – embraces the bassist’s welcoming melodicism as well as her fondness for Brazilian rhythms and tones. Ornig doesn’t solo much, but when she does, even that is catchy, which pretty much sums up this album.

The understatedly jaunty, bossa-flavored ballad Autumn kiss opens, Rodriguez fluttering warmly over a rich chordal groove, Rosenwinkel’s terse sostenuto picking up and then going flying. Likewise, the distantly gospel-tinged ballad We Shall Meet Beyond the River is a showcase for Rodriguez’ warmly sustained, soulful approach, Gimore’s hushed brushes whispering behind Ornig’s judicious, incisive drive.

The upbeat Venus As a Boy works a catchy guitar hook over a bossa pulse spiced with coyly pouncing piano/bass riffage, a hard-hitting but nimble Sung solo folllowed by Rosenwinkel cartwheels. The title track, another bright bossa tune, has Sung dancing and then handing off to Rodriguez’ incisive shuffle. If Anything Goes Wrong, a trio piece, opens with a long, lyrical, gorgeously tender solo piano intro. Finally, Ornig takes a solo, tiptoeing judiciously over Sung’s gleaming embers, handing off to a similarly rhythmic piano solo that engages Gilmore’s lithe cymbals – and then Sung continues the upward arc with variations on the bass solo.

The Way You Make Me Feel works its way from steady swing to an Afro-Cuban groove, Rodriguez nonchalantly building his solo from carefully spaced pulses, Ornig bouncing and prancing through hers with bluesy horn voicings. Gate 29, a funky, nocturnal shuffle that would work as a quirky film or tv theme, has a neatly concealed exchange between Ornig and Sung following soulfully crescendoing Rodriguez and Rosenwinkel solos, Spark of Light, a pulsing, anthemic clave tune, alternates lush orchestration with a direct hookiness carried by the trumpet and then the guitar. The closing track, Uptight (a sarcastic title if there ever was one) works a relaxed, funky swing, Ornig’s prominent, woodtoned swing lines and solo anchoring Rosenwinkel’s wry, restrained yet pillowy chords and accents.  There’s also an absolutely gorgeous, alternate version of the title cut with a more relaxed, sustained guitar drive to it. It’s one of the most consistently enjoyable albums of the past several months. Ornig is at the Garage with her band on March 24 at around midnight.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment