Lucid Culture


A Blissfully Electrifying Duo Album From Saxophone Powerhouse Isaiah Collier

For those who might be contemplating the overpriced (and possibly restriction-plagued) jazz extravaganza that’s happening all over town next week, there’s a smaller one this week that’s a lot more intriguing and historically based – and doesn’t have restrictions. It’s a salute to an iconic venue from the loft jazz era, Studio Rivbea, and it’s happening in the original location. The Gene Frankel Theater, the latest to occupy the space at at 24 Bond St. off Broadway, is selling tickets for a reasonable $25 in advance.

One of the most intriguing shows is an improvisational triplebill coming up fast on Jan 5. It starts at 7 with Cooper-Moore on diddley bow, probably piano and who knows what else, joined by Melanie Dyer on viola and Brian Price on reeds. At 8:30 Ahmed Abdullah plays trumpet behind poet Monique Ngozi Nri; at 9 lyrical, politically fearless alto saxophonist Isaiah Collier leads a trio with Antoine Roney on sax and Tcheser Holmes on percussion.

Collier is the real beast on this bill, the rare guy who looks back to Pharaoh Sanders and Coltrane at their most feral, but doesn’t ape either. His latest album Beyond with his I Am duo with drummer Michael Shekwoaga Ode – fearlessly recorded under difficult circumstances in Chicago during the summer of 2021 – is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s spiritually-inspired, and the spirits were definitely in the house for these two.

This is an album for people with long attention spans to bliss out with. Texturally, it’s luscious: Collier plays duduk and soprano sax in addition to his usual tenor. Appropriately enough for this moment in time, it’s variations on a theme titled Mercury’s Retrograde, from Collier’s Cosmic Transitions album. Think vintage late-zeros JD Allen without the bass and you get a good idea of what Collier and Ode are up to here.

Surprise guest Jimmy Chan opens the record with a soundscape, his spare, rapturous singing bowls and a trippy, echoey, troubled poem that speaks to transcending historical patterns of evil and domination. Ode joins with his gongs and rattles as Collier sirens and trills ominously in the distance.

Methodically and plaintively, Collier’s duduk rises from variations on a stern minor-key oldtime gospel riff, then he switches to soprano sax for lightning trills and spirals as Ode churns up a fortification on the perimeter in track two, Suns of Mercury (Storms of Revelations).

Likewise, the two begin Confessions of the Heart as a brooding, reflective variation, Collier moving to tenor as he rises to a relentless yet meticulously articulated series of downward cascades. Finally, he goes off the rails, but the return is sage, and calm, and resolute – and catchy as hell. Free jazz is seldom this melodic.

Bend of the Universe (Trust With All Your Heart) begins as a more lighthearted if breathtaking display of control and technique, Collier’s quicksilver glissandos and eventual ascension to imploring squall mixed with varying degrees of reverb. The big, practically fourteen-minute epic here is The Vessel Speaks, Ode expanding outward from a shuffle to a more loose-limbed attack as Collier spins and volleys. It’s rare to hear such ferocity articulated this clearly – Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the few who can. The hail-and-lightning interlude between sax and drums about halfway in is the high point of the record – and yet, Collier pulls back with a sober modal intensity. Ode brings back the stunning articulacy in his machinegunning solo out.

With all the reverb, it’s almost as if Collier is playing a EWI instead of a baritone as he builds a wry and increasingly difficult conversation between two very distinct personalities in the punchy riffage of Omniscient (Mycelium). And the surprise ending is way too good to give away.

The duo close with Hymn: Love Beyond Compare, Collier taking a long, balmy intro before Ode’s tight barrel rolls launch a coda that leaves room for unease.


January 3, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zoh Amba Brings Her Thoughtful Intensity to a Brooklyn Gig

Tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba draws comparisons to Albert Ayler, but ultimately she’s her own animal, more influenced by the blues in a JD Allen vein. Isaiah Collier is also a reference point, but where he goes completely feral, Amba is more likely to reach for biting, sometimes acidic Jackie McLean incisions. Amba is leading a quintet with Matt Hollenberg on guitar, Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Marc Edwards on drums at Roulette on Sept 27 at 8 PM. You can get in for $25 in advance.

You can hear a little more than half of her latest album O Life, O Light at Bandcamp – unfortunately, the vinyl of this killer trio session with bassist William Parker and drummer Francisco Mela is sold out. The opening number is Mother’s Hymn: variations on a somber, Birmingham-era Coltrane style theme stripped to its broodingly rustic oldtime gospel roots. Parker bows plaintive responses to Amba’s slow blues riffs as she rises to increasingly imploring intonations. Almost imperceptibly, she takes her blue notes further down toward calm as Mela raises the energy with hypnotic waves of echo effects while Parker fills a familiar role as rock-solid anchor. The interlude where he joins Mela’s vivid splashes against the shoreline is over way too soon The trio bring it full circle in almost fourteen understatedly intense minutes.

The second number, the title track, begins sort of a reverse image with hints of calypso and New Orleans echoes, but it isn’t long before Amba starts with the insistent, trilling motives as Mela builds concentric circles and Parker artfully expands his own modal terrain. Again, Amba brings the ambience back around to a solemn rusticity.

She switches to flute for Mountains in the Predawn Light, pulling back on the attack atop the rhythm section’s slinky chassis. With Mela’s judiciously colorful accents around the kit and every piece of hardware within reach, this is a GREAT drum-and-bass record. There’s also a brief bonus track, Satya reprising the initial theme where Amba cuts loose right off the bat. Finding the perfect balance between melody and squall is always daunting, but these three celebrate that here with purpose and cool triumph.

September 23, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isaiah Collier Brings His Relentless Intensity to Drom Tomorrow Night

Isaiah Collier is not the guy you want to see if you want to mellow out for the evening. The powerful, purposeful saxophonist brings a rare intensity to the stage. If adrenaline is your thing, you do not want to miss his gig tomorrow night, March 27 at 7 PM at Drom, where he’s playing with his group the Chosen Few. The club has no restrictions; if you don’t already have your advance ticket, it’ll cost you twenty bucks at the door.

Collier is a prime example of the kind of musician who in all likelihood would have ended up in New York if he had been coming up twenty years ago, but who was priced out in the years afterward. No matter: he’s made a huge mark in his native Chicago. He has a handful of records out. Arguably the best of them is his 2019 trio release The Unapologetic Negro, a live set with bassist James Wenzel and drummer Marcus Evans recorded at the Coda Club Cafe in Chicago and streaming at Bandcamp.

This is a long album, with several numbers clocking in at over ten minutes, a luxury you can treat your listeners to if you aren’t constrained by the limits of a recording studio.. The first is Tri Steps, a savagely playful response to Coltrane’s Giant Steps, except with tritones. Lots of musicians have had fun with this concept over the years: Collier introduces his allusively creepy theme on soprano sax and immediately turns it over to Wenzel’s even more allusively dancing lines. Collier’s attack afterward has a laser focus and intensity: he gets a woody, otherworldly, duduk-like tone out of the soprano, with a steady, subtly oscillating timbre as Evans and Wenzel maintain a simmering pulse.

Collier gives Walk With Me Lord a bristling minor-key solo intro, his bandmates leading him into a haunting, biting minor blues over a lithely shimmering 12/8 groove. There’s a deliciously terse bass solo punctuated by slurry chords, Middle Eastern allusions and balletesque pointillisms. Collier sticking to a matter-of-fact intensity through a relentless , steady barrage of passing tones worthy of Otis Rush – another Chicago guy by the way. The lightning sax volleys as the song reaches escape velocity are Marshall Allen-class breathtaking.

A deviously enigmatic shuffle, Mr. Night has Wenzel and Evans engaging in a slyly knowing conversation, Collier switching to tenor for a swinging modal blues that lightens somewhat, his volleys reaching for the sky.

In Closed Doors, he goes back to soprano, beginning with sepulchral trills over Wenzel’s somberly hypnotic bass riffage, then follows a rapt, spacious, chromatic trajectory, sometimes pensive, sometimes outraged. The starkly polyrhythmic baroque blues between Collier and Wenzel midway through this practically thirteen-minute epic is unlike anything you’ve probably heard this year.

Retrograde Amian is a more, expansively thoughtful and restrained tableau that eventually hits a low-key, casual swing, the moment where Collier decides to be anything but with his duotones and smoldering tenor lines is another high point.

Collier works chromatically charged blues with hints of blue-flame roadhouse boogie and bolero noir in Mali: again, the shadowing between Wenzel and the bandleader is a mystery movie for the ears, with a dusky break for the rhythm section and a masterful descent to a regal touchdown. Collier goes completely off-mic for a joyously ragged outro on an out-of-tune piano.

The big twenty-three minute showstopper is 5874/ We Want Justice Right Now: Evans sets the stage with a suspensefully textured solo intro, Collier busting in with a lickety-split swing and variations on a brooding minor-key blues theme. Wry sax/drum exchanges rise to a brisk acerbity, transcending any ordinary goofy repartee. The trio follow with doublespeed agitation, a shamanic singalong and another haphazardly inspired off-mic Collier piano break;

They encore with the briskly catchy Ode to JD – a JD Allen shout-out, maybe? – with Collier on tenor, the group expanding on a catchy descending riff and variations.

March 26, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment