Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sarah Manning Takes a Sensationally Successful Shot at Chamber Jazz

Sarah Manning is to the alto sax what JD Allen is to the tenor: even in a world of rugged individualists, she stands out. Lots of artists doll themselves up, tone themselves down and smile sweetly for the camera for an album cover shot. Manning scowls at you from the inside of the cd booklet for her new Posi-tone album, Harmonious Creature. Her bright, defenestrating, Jackie McLean-esque tone, angst-fueled crescendos and stunningly uneasy tunesmithing also set her a step ahead of the pack. Her previous 2010 Posi-Tone release, Dandelion Clock, was that year’s underrated gem. It may be early in the year, but her new album Harmonious Creature threatens to be the best of 2014. Her chromatically-fueled edge brings to mind Kenny Garrett; her moody compositions compare with Garrett and Allen as well. This new quintet session is an ambitious and slashingly successful move into the increasingly crowded chamber jazz arena with Eyvind Kang on viola, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums. Manning is playing the album release show at I-Beam at 8 PM on Jan 25 with a slightly altered lineup featuring the reliably electrifying Alli Miller on drums.

The opening track, Copland On Cornelia Street, starts as stately waltz, brings the guitar in, lingers on the turnaround and then Manning works some morose magic over Goldberger’s brooding resonance. It picks up with a sunbaked Goldberger solo over a dancing, whirling rhythm. Did Aaron Copland find his epiphany in the West Village? He was a Queens guy – it’s not out of the question.

Tune Of Cats echoes a famous Coltrane riff before the group takes it over Jennings’ careful, tumbling pulse, Manning’s utterly casual phrasing contrasting with the relentless intensity of the melody, her tone more smoky than usual. Floating Bridge, an austerely bright jazz waltz, has Kang echoing Manning’s kinetic lines, the bandleader teasing the listener with flitting motives over Jennings’ imperturbible washes….and then sax and viola go back at it.

Reharmonized jazz versions of rock and country tunes can leave you gasping for oxygen, but Manning’s cover of Gillian Welch’s I Dream A Highway stakes out atmospheric, Frisellian big-sky territory. Goldberger’s pointillisms against gently unfolding sax and viola fill the vast expanse up to a ridiculously psychedelic, ambient outro that pans the speakers. Later in the album, they take a similar approach to Neil Young’s On the Beach, but at a glacial tempo that Manning finally cuts loose and blasts straight through once the final “get out of town” verse hits, the band following her searing lead to the point where any atttempt to get back into ballad mode would be pointless.

The naturalistic Grey Dawn, Red Fox blends allusions to the baroque and simmering exchanges of voices into a precarious narrative that grows more anthemic as it shifts course: this animal is on the lookout for something far more dangerous. If Manning is to be believed, the Radish Spirit guards its ground closely, with a tight, somewhat frosty cameraderie from the whole group, Manning and Goldberger taking it into the shadows before Hart rises to the foreground and pulls it back. The enigmatically titled Three Chords For Jessica emerges from Hart’s solo chromatics to a haunting, elegaic, gorgeously Middle Eastern-tinged grey-sky theme. Don’t Answer To The Question returns to waltz tempo with some understatedly wicked push-pull between Goldberger, Jennings and Kang. The album ends with a counterintuitively warm guitar feature, What the Blues Left Behind.

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January 9, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kenny Garrett – Back with More Great Tunes

Here in the blogosphere we’re supposed to stay on top of what’s new, and up-and-coming, and fill in the umpteen gaps where the corporate media fears to tread. By the same token, that sometimes means overlooking established artists, which can be a faux pas – some artists are established because they’re good. Case in point: Kenny Garrett, who’s got a new album out, Seeds from the Underground, his second for Mack Avenue. This one is a gem: it finds him reaching the same levels of intensity and majesty he conjured up in the 90s during his period with Kenny Kirkland. If you were lucky enough to catch those two back in the day, no further explanation is necessary. From the looks of this lineup – Benito Gonzalez on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Ronald Bruner on drums and Rudy Bird on bata – at first glance you might think it’s a latin thing, and although there are some near-equatorial rhythms here, it’s very eclectic.

The opening cut is Boogety Boogety, an upbeat, catchy salsa jazz number inspired by the sounds Garrett’s dad would make while watching western movies. J. Mac Here is where the fun really begins. It’s pure vintage Garrett, a signature intense modal piece where he goes rip-roaring out into the bop-osphere but somehow manages not to lose his grip on a melodic anchor. It’s a dedication to Jackie McLean, eighth-note volleys rising to an anguish/ecstasy dichotomy. Wiggins, for Garrett’s high school band teacher, is funky and catchy but with bite, hints at a ballad and then brings back the funk. Boisterously propulsive, part blues elegy, part joyous singalong, Haynes Here is for Roy Haynes, with whom Garrett enjoyed a long association. Bruner gets a chance to flex yet handles the tempo changes elegantly; Gonzalez contributes an absolutely gorgeous, Marc Cary-esque modal solo.

They follow that with a peaceful, slow alto-and-piano homage to both trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and to Garrett’s hometown of Detroit. The title cut, a classic Garrett mini-epic, sets acidically tuneful soprano sax against moody, incisive piano and a take-charge bass/drums attack – Gonzalez again shines on this one. A joint dedication to Ellington, Monk and Woody Shaw, Du-Wo-Mo follows the same trajectory but takes a little more time to peak out, with several coy allusions to all three jazz masters, alternating insistent intensity with jaunty swing. The tropically percussive Welcome Earth Song takes a long time to get going but finally finds an unselfconsciously beautiful groove carried at first by Gonzalez, who passes it off to Garrett, who then takes it down with a rare warmth for all those low notes. The album ends with the self-explanatory Ballad Jarrett, an understatedly stellar showcase for Gonzalez, and Lavisa, i Bon?, a dedication to Guadalupean guitarist Christian Laviso. Melody, excitement, swing: it’s all here, another notch on the belt for one of this era’s major talents.

May 4, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nothing Uncertain About Patrick Cornelius’ Maybe Steps

The big deal about this album is that Gerald Clayton’s on it. Getting one of the most innovative pianists in jazz right now confers instant cred on alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius’ latest effort, Maybe Steps. And it doesn’t disappoint – as melodic jazz goes, it’s a consistently surprising, often understatedly intense ride. There’s a lot of depth here, diverse and sometimes divergent ideas and emotional tones within a single piece along with the occasional offhand classic riff reference. What makes this such a hard album to shut off is that the band never hits anything exactly head-on: they keep you waiting and keep you guessing. Cornelius plays with a misty, opaque tone alongside Clayton with Peter Slavov on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums, with Miles Okazaki on guitar and Assen Doykin on piano on one track.

The opening track is a triplet tune with subtle modal shifts, rises and falls. As he does later on here, a lot, Cornelius goes bright against a somewhat tense background but then follows Clayton into moodier and then memorably choppier territory. The title track – a Trane pun – swings til it hits an eerie bump in the road that Clayton pulls out of with bluesy allusions. But when Cornelius hits it, he lets the darkness settle for awhile before bringing the lights up again. Bella’s Dreaming, a brief nocturne, is a clever remake of One for My Baby. Brother Gabriel, with its attractive, syncopated pulse, serves as a showcase for a suspensefully spacious solo from Clayton, working his way out of the murk only to hint that he’d like to go back there.

They pick up the pace with the briskly catchy, biting Shiver Song, Cornelius deadpan and blithe over the melody’s edgy acidity, Clayton spiraling nimbly after him. Into the Stars, a ballad, contrasts a blippy Okazaki excursion with boomy, tensely tiptoeing bass. The strongest songs out of the whole bunch are the casually bittersweet A Day Like No Other and the Jackie McLean-ish Echoes of Summer, Cornelius keeping his triumphant solo casual and close to the vest. The album winds up with a purist, glimmering piano-sax version of Kurt Weill’s My Ship, an almost frantically swinging cover of George Shearing’s Conception and the potent concluding cut, a brooding tango, Cornelius evading resolution (and that pink slip, DFA notice or wave of the girl’s hand) at every turn. Count this as one of the most consistently interesting and tuneful jazz releases of 2011, out now on Posi-Tone. Cornelius is at the Bar Next Door in a trio with Linda Oh and Paul Wiltgen on Oct 6 and then at the Jazz Gallery on Nov 16 at 9 with this band playing the cd release show.

September 19, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soulful Late-Night Grooves from David Gibson

Out in the country, trombonist David Gibson’s new cd End of the Tunnel would be a late-night back porch album. Here in New York, it’s more of a fire-escape record, a gorgeously catchy mix of oldschool Memphis organ grooves along with some more straight-up jazz tracks which are just as tuneful if somewhat more tricky rhythmically. It’s party music, some of it with a slinky wee-hours feel, the rest somewhat more boisterous and adventurous. Along with Gibson, the band here is Julius Tolentino on alto sax, Jared Gold on organ and Quincy Davis on drums.

The opening track, Herbie Hancock’s Blind Man, Blind Man sets the stage with a sultry southern soul feel, Gibson playing it low and sweet, the organ stepping hard on the end of his solo to drive it home. Considerably harder-hitting, the aptly titled Wasabi is a classic Booker T. Jones style groove that makes a launching pad for three different personalities: sax soaring overhead, trombone down and dirty and the organ lighting it up at the end with some blissfully atmospheric layers. The monster hit here is Sunday Morning, a brilliantly simple ensemble piece – it’s the great lost theme to the Hairspray movie. The title track is the first of the jazz numbers, absolutely hypnotic with shapeshifting overlays of sax, organ and trombone, Gold moving methodically through an endless procession of chord changes, Gibson bringing it out of the maze and back to earth. Pensive and unresolved beneath its warmhearted hooks, A Place of Our Own never really finds itself because the drums keep it from setting down roots. Splat, by Gold, works a cool Memphis theme more expansively than any of the classic 60s soul bands did; by contrast, The In-Whim moves toward psychedelia, riding a series of rises and falls over a deceptively simple tune.

They go back to the soul music with Preachin’, Gibson slyly refusing to cede ground to anyone else until he’s almost invisible, Gold taking it up robust and warmly optimistic. The closing cut is Jackie McLean’s Blue Rondo, a good fit with its blend of jazz and soul, bustling sax and drum breaks. It’s one of the great party albums (or post-party albums) of the summer of 2011, out now on Posi-Tone.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 5/28/11

As we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #612:

Jackie McLean – Jackie’s Bag

Jackie McLean was an alto saxophonist with a bright, hard-hitting style. This 1960 album comprises two sessions: one with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Sonny Clark on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, the other with Chambers plus the great, underrated Tina Brooks on tenor sax, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Kenny Drew on piano and Art Taylor on drums. The title is a pun: at the time he recorded it, McLean was a heroin addict, and he wasn’t the only one in the band. Nevertheless, it’s a swinging record, steeped in the blues yet consistently surprising, with some great solos. There’s the vivid, scurrying Quadrangle; the blazing minor swing of Blues Inn; the genially optimistic Fidel (how little they knew then, huh?); the pensive but wickedly catchy Appointment in Ghana; the brisk, bright Ballad for a Doll; as well as Brooks’ blistering Isle of Java (another pun) and gritty, gospel-infused Street Singer. The cd reissue also includes the klezmer-tinged Melonae’s Dance and darkly smoldering Medina. Here’s a random torrent via toukoutou.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Glimmering Majestic Intensity: the Marc Cary Focus Trio Live 2009

Often the greatest albums take the longest to truly appreciate: this is one of them. Majestic, intense and powerful, the Marc Cary Focus Trio’s latest brilliant album, Live 2009 came out a few months ago. More than anything the jazz pianist has done yet, this one solidifies an already well-deserved reputation as a rugged individualist and synthesizer of global sounds. His relentless lefthand attack evokes McCoy Tyner in places, but Cary’s sound is unique, and it’s deep. He’ll hammer out a low-register groove until the piano is literally reverberating and then let it ring out as he judiciously builds a melody over it. Cary’s style is as rooted in classical music – both western and eastern – as it is in jazz, with a strong sense of history, both musically and in the broader sense of the word. Cary created the Focus Trio for the purpose of cross-pollination: this album continues on that path. To call it revolutionary would not be an overstatement.

They begin with a magisterial, saturnine version of Round Midnight, David Ewell’s hypnotic bass pulse hinting at bossa nova, Cary working an octave for the better part of three minutes against the melody. When he switches to echoey Rhodes electric piano for a second as Sameer Gupta’s drums begin to rumble, the effect is stunning. Cary’s glimmering, Middle Eastern-infused solo builds to a characteristically towering intensity…and then segues into what’s essentially another one-chord jam. Attachment, which also appears in a radically rearranged version on Sameer Gupta’s new Namaskar album, was inspired by a rainy season raga from the classical Indian repertoire. Here, Gupta leads the band in a spot-on, cinematic evocation of a summer storm that grows from a drizzle with lights-along-the-pavement piano and cloudbursting drums. Their version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie #1, aptly titled Twilight, is as rubato as Satie would have wanted, working up to hypnotic insistence out of a long, majestically rumbling crescendo to a dark shuffle groove.

Complete with a sample of Malcolm X discussing revolution, Runnin’ Out of Time vividly and ominously alludes to the price of not revolting via a catchy four-chord hook over a triplet bass pulse. Slow Blues for MLK reveals how amazing Dr. King’s rhythm was: the band play along to a sample of him working a crowd (reminding how revolution isn’t just local, it’s global) literally without missing a beat. A co-write with Bismillah Khan hitches a dark soul melody to Indian ambience; Jackie McLean’s Minor March is reinvented as a bitter, bone-crushing anthem, followed on a more plaintive note by a jagged, wounded version of Abbey Lincoln’s My Love Is You, Cary setting the tone early on by going inside the piano, brushing the strings for an eerie autoharp effect. The rest of the album includes a brisk, scurrying swing cover of the Broadway standard Just in Time, a playful exercise in contrasts between woozy portamento synthesizer and low lefthand piano percussion, and CD Changer, an Abbey Road-style suite featuring an intense, percussive latin vamp, a wary bass solo lowlit by Cary’s glimmering, crushed-glass intensity and finally the playful nudge of an unexpectedly silly synthesizer solo, as if to say, ok, it’s my turn now. Cary’s doing a one-off gig at the Blue Note on 11/22; if jazz is your thing and you’re in New York, you’d be crazy to miss it.

November 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment