Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Meet Natalie Cressman

Natalie Cressman doesn’t waste notes. The up-and-coming trombonist’s new album Unfolding, with her group Secret Garden, has a coolly resonant, springlike quality. Cressman’s compositions are remarkably translucent, her motifs are strong and memorable, yet this isn’t an album of big crescendos or pummeling intensity: you have to wait until her mentor Peter Apfelbaum’s long, intricately constructed tenor solo on the final track for any of that. As you might expect from a trombonist, there are occasional latin tinges, with a handful of wry allusions to classics from decades past. An airily pensive atmosphere dominates here, although some of the songs are lighter and more carefree. She brings out a singleminded performance from a crew of similarly up-and-coming players: trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, keyboardist Pascal Le Boeuf, Dutch bassist Ruben Samama and drummer Jake Goldbas.

Insistent Lee Morgan-style riffage kicks off the opening cut, Flip, Cressman establishing a terse, contemplative vibe with her initial solo. She also sings, in a clear, unadorned high soprano, contributing vocalese here and then singing her own wistful lyrics on Whistle Song, which artfully maintains a low-key backdrop for more of her cooly soulful trombone. Then the band takes a stab at reinventing Honeysuckle Rose as neo-soul: not necessarily a bad idea, but this one should have been left on the cutting-room floor.

Cressman likes echo motifs, so it’s no surprise she’d use that as the title of the next track, an attractively direct jazz waltz set to subtle rhythmic shifts with a lot of nimble pass-the-baton. She follows that with the funk-tinged, pointillistically dancing Skylight, featuring rather considered and strong solos from Samama and Rosenberg. Her take on Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is especially ambitious in that she sings Joni Mitchell’s lyrics. While she doesn’t have Mitchell’s range or nuance – who does? – the band rises to the occasion and outdoes the cast on the Mitchell version, maintaining an elegaic bittersweetness. They follow that with the artfully constructed Waking, with its echo effects and arpeggiated voicings – it has the feel of a catchy Weather Report number but with a more comfortably subdued rhythm section.

Reaching for Home allusively reaches for a 40s jazz-pop ballad feel, with nimbly incisive solos back-to-back from tenor and trumpet. The final track, That Kind, gives Apfelbaum a launching pad for one of his signature raveups: it’s a clinic in how to create something magnificent out of the simplest building blocks, Cressman following it with her most memorable contribution to the album, her trombone shifting in and out of modal shadows.

Not that this should be a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning that Cressman, a member of Apfelbaum’s NY Hieroglyphics, is 20 years old. Her trombonist dad Jeff is a member of Santana; she also has a money gig on the jamband circuit. This album establishes her as someone to keep an eye on.

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September 21, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counterintuitive B3 Jazz Tunefulness from Kerong Chok

While jazz is a worldwide phenomenon, artists from outside the United States so often bring unexpectedly welcome ideas with them. Maybe it’s that organist Kerong Chok is from Singapore, maybe not, but his new album Good Company isn’t your typical B3 groove record. There are a couple of pretty standard, brisk 8th-note shuffles here, but the rest of this collection of original compositions reveals a distinctive voice, a strong sense of melody and inspired playing from a first-rate band: Lucas Pino on tenor and soprano sax, and flute; Michael Valeanu on guitar; Jake Goldbas on drums and Matt Holman supplying trumpet on a couple of cuts. Goldbas is one of the principal reasons why this is such an enjoyable album, constantly on the prowl, swiping and scrambling for offbeats: he’s an extrovert and a hard hitter, which keeps the energy level consistently high.

The best composition here is the title track, taking what’s essentially a nocturnal soul ballad and making a jazz waltz out of it, much in the same vein as up-and-coming trombonist David Gibson’s best work. With rich harmonies between Chok and Pino, lushly atmospheric, crescendoing drums and a remarkably direct guitar solo that goes straight to the essence of the song, it packs a punch. Likewise, the cut which follows it, Incessant, which makes a deliciously radical shift from straight-up, catchy funk to some rivetingly moody modal interplay between Pino and Holman over Valeanu’s casually ominous chordal work. The way Chok goes spiraling beneath the hook as another brightly funky track, Free and Easy, winds out, is also a characteristically unpredictable, powerful moment.

Rather than being a dirge, The First Day of School is rhythmically tricky and allusively bluesy. Samba Number 1 follows a richly counterintuitive light-to-dark trajectory, on the wings of Chok’s rippling, bittersweet solo, while the languid, this-close-to-morose For Kenny gives Pino a long launching pad for a memorable, expansively pensive excursion on tenor. There’s also a slinky latin groove that has Goldbas hinting at reggae, and the wickedly catchy opening track, Black Ice, a swinging B3 take on Miles Davis-style modalities that gives Valeanu a platform for giving it depth and gravitas, eventually echoed by the whole band. This is something that ought to appeal not only to fans of jazz organ but to anyone looking for a solid and consistently interesting album of jazz songs – and they’re songs in the purest sense of the word.

June 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment