Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tarbaby Puts an End to Fear

Intense, enigmatic, often very funny, Tarbaby’s debut album The End of Fear is a jazz power trio of sorts featuring Orrin Evans on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums along with some welcome guests: JD Allen on tenor, Oliver Lake on alto and Nicholas Payton on trumpet. Darkly melodic, fearlessly spontaneous (hence the title) and bristling with combustible energy, time may judge this a classic. Why? After all, there’ve been a ton of energetic jazz albums this year. Answer: clarity of vision. The group latch onto these compositions, dig deep and find the gems inside, tribute as much to the quality of the songs here as much as the playing. Evans has a well-deserved reputation as a powerhouse player, but his most powerful moments here are in the quietest, gentlest passages. Revis, who’s responsible for some of the best pieces here, is subtle to the extreme, a rare bassist who doesn’t waste a note. Waits adds rare elements of musicality and surprise to everything he touches, and he’s in typical form here. Each of the horn players brings his signature as well: Allen’s terse purism, Lake’s practically iconoclastic flights and Payton’s irrepressibility.

The tracks alternate between miniatures and more expansive works, kicking off with a vignette that pits murky, circular Evans stomp versus Lake’s buoyant explorations. The sardonically titled Brews is the blues after too many drinks – although the sauce hasn’t affected anyone other than the staggering rhythm section. Evans drifts between eloquence and chaos, Revis plays the voice of reason out for a long walk, and then it ends cold. Heads, followed later by Tails, are the freest moments here, brief but potent contrasts between background rumble and Payton going wild shooting targets.

Their best songs are the darkest ones. Evans’ showstopper is Jena 6, a brooding commentary on the recent tragic events in Arkansas that packs a wallop in the darkness, glittering obsidian rivulets growing to a harrowing, gospel-inflected intensity. Hesitation, a long mini-suite of sorts by Waits, grows from funereal, through a bitter chromatic dirge that explodes in freedom and reconfigures with similarly gospel-fueled triumph. Fats Waller’s Lonesome Me is reinvented brilliantly as an austere ballad featuring some warily beautiful, minimalist Allen phrasing. By contrast, the version of Andrew Hill’s Tough Love here is a rapidfire display of deft handoffs and team riffage.

There’s also great humor here. Unity, by Sam Rivers shifts suddenly from the cohesion suggested by the title to a wild battle for the ball between Lake and Payton, Evans a bit later on discovering the song’s inner latin soul while Waits stomps through it in his swim fins. November ’80, by Lake, must have been a hell of a time, Evans reaching to calm things down a bit before handing it over to Revis who cleverly ratchets it up again. And a cover of the Bad Brains’ Sailin’ On establishes these guys as a solid hardcore band, Evans’ furious lefthand maintaining the roar in place of the guitar – and contributing a seriously amusing ending. They close with a rapturous, slowly congealing, starlit version of Paul Motian’s Abacus. Check back here sometime and see where it ends up on our list of the best albums of 2010.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pianist Joe Gilman’s New Album Gets Synesthesia

A cynic would say that when musicians aren’t stealing ideas from each other, they’re stealing them from other artists. Some of the tracks on jazz pianist Joe Gilman’s new cd Americanvas seem to be an attempt to sonically interpret a series of fairly well-known works of visual art; others simply use the paintings as inspiration. More often than not, this approach works, in ways that are surprising and surprisingly fun. As one of the head honchos at the Brubeck Institute, Gilman has access to some of the world’s most promising up-and-coming jazz talent, and puts them to good use. Here he’s joined by saxophonists Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown along with 19-year-old bassist Zach Brown and fearless 20-year-old drummer Adam Arruda, who absolutely owns this album.

Fast-forward past the opening cut, which is like Rick Wakeman at his most olympic. Instead, savor the devious, playful, absolutely spot-on Where the Wild Things Are, a Maurice Sendak homage – it has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the book. Arruda has a field day, in both senses of the word, with this, bounding and rumbling all the way through, ever-present but never to the point where the ostentation might get annoying. Gilman’s hop-skip-and-a-jump piano solo brings the adventure to the point where the monsters appear, the soprano sax goes modal and they go out in a quietly glorious, chordally-charged shimmer. Roy Lichtenstein’s Whaam! gets a bustling, rapidfire, unselfconsciously cartoonish rendering; Keith Haring’s Monkey Puzzle (no relation to the Saints album that preceded it) gets a surprisingly serious, straight-up swing treatment with expansive lyrical piano solo and genially smoky tenor sax. The standout piece in this gallery is, unsurprisingly, Nighthawks, which interprets the iconic Edward Hopper diner tableau as Huis Clos (look closely: there’s no exit). After Gilman’s slow noir ambience sets the stage, there’s a very long, very slowly unwinding tenor solo, and then a casually stunning shift: waiter? Garcon? Whichever the case, the alto sax offers a welcome break from the long, long night…until he leaves, and it’s back in Gilman’s lowlit fingers.

Romare Bearden’s classic New York at Night appears here as the vividly evocative Nocturne du Romare, Brown’s agile bass walking it lickety-split beneath late 50s-inflected solos around the horn. The moody, catchy Yellow, Red, Blue – a Rothko reference – echoes with Mulatu Astatke-ish circularity and another sudden shift from sinister to sunny, Arruda’s big, irresistibly fun, dramatic cymbal accents as effective here as they are in several other places on this disc. Other tracks here include a subtly interlocking exercise in contrapuntal melody and tempo shifts, and a viscerally anxious Scott Collard ballad carried by the reeds. It’s out now on Capri Records.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ear-Regulars Still Rule Sundays

Popularity is never a reliable barometer for quality: would you stand in line with the tourists and the permanent tourists for eight hours just for a hastily grilled burger at that overpriced joint in that midtown park? Not likely. Longevity, on the other hand, is a sign that something good is going on. The Ear-Regulars began their Sunday evening residency at the Ear Inn over three years ago and are still going strong. What they do is sort of the teens equivalent of what Thad Jones and Mel Lewis started at the Vanguard fifty years ago. Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, guitarist Matt Munisteri and the rest of the guys who rotate through the band here get a lot of work, a lot of gigs: this is their fun night out. But it isn’t a gig for messing around. Listeners can get lost in this – but the band doesn’t. The focus they bring to their usual mix of obscurities and mostly obscure classics from the 30s, and sometimes the 20s, is pretty intense, but less so when you realize what a fun time they’re having over there in the corner. This time they had Joel Forbes on bass and Chris Byars on tenor sax, joined by Nathan Botts on trumpet on a couple of numbers. Botts was celebrating his anniversary, so the band ran through a couple of verses of a slow, summery, lyrical ballad of his titled Anna (his wife’s name – she seemed to have no idea that he’d be pulled away from his table to join the band this time out). A little later he joined Kellso, running a couple of warmly bluesy solos on a swinging, warmly familiar midtempo pre-Benny Goodman-style number.

And that’s the vibe they mine. A couple of numbers worked familiar, bluesy changes into chromatic descending progressions on the choruses, a chance for Munisteri to add extra edge and bite to his percussive, incisive playing. He cut his teeth in bluegrass and old hillbilly music, and that influence still rings true, most noticeably during his sinuous bent-note work in one swaying, fluid solo. Solos around the horn is how these guys do it, yet there’s always an element of surprise. Forbes trolled the rich subterranean depths of his bass all night, stickin with a low, rolling groove even when he’d get a verse of his own, Munisteri holding it together with staccato precision as the four-string weaved over the center line and back again. Kellso is a blues guy at heart and brought his usual bluesman’s wry humor and joie de vivre to the songs, whether subtly working the corners with a mute, or casually blazing away over Munisteri’s spiky chordal pulse. Likewise, Byars sailed buoyantly and melodically through the changes. What these guys are playing, after all, are songs – and they keep them that way. The instruments do the singing. By the time they’d wrapped their first set, the crowd had grown to the point that they were backed up all the way to the door: pretty much everyone who didn’t get here by 6:30 didn’t get a seat.

September 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doug Webb Provides Perfectly Lowlit West Coast Ambience

If we told you what character saxophonist Doug Webb plays on tv, that would be distracting. His new album Midnight is probably a lesser-paying situation but it’s just as fun (more about that later). Webb is pretty ubiquitous on the West Coast and has played with everybody: Freddie Hubbard, Quincy Jones, Horace Silver and many others. The setup behind him is interesting: Larry Goldings on piano rather than organ, Stanley Clarke on upright bass instead of electric and Gerry Gibbs adding counterintuitive, understated flash behind the kit. This is a fun session, pure and simple, a bunch of pros prowling familiar terrain: most of the time they achieve a nocturnal, oldschool West Coast cool, but when the good times spill over they ride the energy for all it’s worth.

Try a Little Tenderness breathes some fresh bubbles into a piece that gets flat quickly since everybody plays it. I’ll Be Around (the pop standard, not  the Howlin’ Wolf classic) has a swing wide enough to get a Mack truck through and a genuinely gorgeous, starry Goldings solo. Gibbs works Fly Me to the Moon as a subtle shuffle beneath Webb’s mentholated, opening tenor solo and Goldings’ more expansive spotlight. And it’s cool hearing Clarke, probably the last person you’d expect to get a Ray Brown impression out of, do it with a grin.

You Go to My Head gets a gently pulsing alto-and-piano duo treatment with Joe Bagg on the 88s. The Boy Next Door, with Mahesh Balasooriya on piano, has Clarke seizing more territory as he typically does, Gibbs all too glad to jump in and go along for the ride. Webb’s warm, lyrical alto work sets the stage for another glistening gem of a solo from Goldings on Crazy She Calls Me. They take Charlie Parker’s Quasimodo and set it up straight, Goldings’ unselfconscious geniality giving way to Webb to take it into the shade and then joyously out again. They close with Emily, by Johnny Mandel (who has raved about Webb’s version), a clinic in nuance on the part of the whole quartet, poignancy through a late-evening mist, an apt way to close this very smartly titled album. It’s out now on Posi-Tone. Oh yeah – Doug Webb plays Lisa Simpson’s sax parts on tv. There is a slight resemblance.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Leron Thomas – Around You

Trumpeter/composer Leron Thomas’ new cd is an album of beautiful ballads: it’s tempting to ask, is this a joke? Thomas has a distinctive, sometimes brutally sardonic sense of humor, and a vastly more diverse sensibility than he lets onto here. To see him go in such a traditional jazz direction, so effortlessly and unselfconsciously, it only makes sense to wonder if he has something up his sleeve. This is Blue Note stuff, Newport stuff, accessible yet brimming with inspired contributions from a well-chosen supporting cast: Lage Lund on guitar, Frank LoCrasto on acoustic and electric piano, Burniss Earl Travis on bass and electric bass and Jamire Williams on drums. From the photo on the album cover, Thomas doesn’t look any happier than he would if he was opening for Chris Botti (somebody he’d blow off the bandstand: then again, so would a whole lot of good jazz players). But when he picks up his horn…wow. Vividly lyrical and expressive, the melodies jump out and linger memorably: you can hum this stuff to yourself in the street.

The opening track, Doc Morgan works its way methodically into a slow triplet rhythm which Williams tosses playfully, the rest of the band in turn echoing Thomas’ terse, distantly bluesy explorations with a similar purist touch. The suspiciously titled Conformed Retro mines a subtle, tuneful bossa vibe for all the balminess Thomas can muster, yet for all its trad overtones, the playing isn’t cliched, particularly when he picks up the energy. The contrast between Lund’s eighth-note flights and Williams’ terse, solid snare-and-cymbal is awfully compelling too, as is LoCrasto when he introduces a brisk tectonic shift and the band has no choice but to follow. Wordless Fable, for all its unassuming warmth, hints at a resolution but won’t go there – and then it’s over.

So what is Paycheck Players about? Dudes who are broke all week because they bought so many drinks for girls on Friday night? Or is it a stab at mercenary musicians? LoCrasto’s spritely, tongue-in-cheek electric piano offers a hint. The album closes with the title track, a gorgeous, contemplative song without words that reminds of Harold Arlen, particularly at the end: somebody should give this one lyrics. Who is the audience for this? Your typical Newport/Blue Note jazz crowd. It’s almost as if Thomas is saying, “I can do this as well as anybody in the business, almost without trying.” No joke.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Brandon Wright – Boiling Point

Good title. Tenor sax player Brandon Wright’s new album is fearless, aggressive and fun, ablaze with a catchy tunefulness that sets up a lot of memorable solo work of his own along with trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, pianist David Kikoski, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Matt Wilson propelling things with a joyous groove. Yet for all the firepower, the band is equally adept at ballads, with a couple of real surprises here. A Maria Schneider, Mingus Big Band and Chico O’Farrill alum and current Chuck Mangione sideman, Wright is a hookmeister: his big band experience has served him well.

Wright sets the tone right off the bat with Free Man, joyously shifting from one mode to another. Sipiagin follows him more bluesily, then Kikoski intensely with some clever quotes in a shifting series of runs down the scale. The second cut, Drift is a casually lyrical 6/8 number, Kikoski weaving incisively beneath Wright’s gently buoyant flights, Sipiagin taking a more pensive tone. Track three, Odd Man Out has an understated swing that picks up once Wright starts sailing after the first verse, Kikoski choosing his spots with spot-on precision. Again Sipiagin gets to play bad cop to Wright’s good cop, bringing in the clouds. The title track matches subtle chordal shifts to an upbeat vibe all the way through to a blazing conclusion, Wright just about jumping out of his shoes, he’s having such a good time. Kikoski’s solo is a clinic in how to work a simple vamp, subtly yet ebulliently ornamenting it. And the swaying, latin-tinged Castaway is a showcase for robust Sipiagin flights and cartwheels, Wright taking it down a bit before Kikoski’s sparkling solo leads it to an ambitiously staggered horn raveup at the end.

There are also three covers here. Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here’s That Rainy Day is just sax and piano, a comfortably medicated dialogue. Interstate Love Song rearranges the country-flavored Stone Temple Pilots original to the point of being unrecognizable (good thing, actually, especially when the piano solos). They close with a warmly convivial, bluesy take of Nat King Cole’s You’re My Everything. The album is just out on Posi-Tone.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Satoko Fujii Ma-Do – Desert Ship

Multistylistic Japanese composer/pianist Satoko Fujii has just released four radically dissimilar albums simultaneously this spring: one by her gypsy jazz quartet Gato Libre, another by her mammoth Orchestra Tokyo; a noisy improv date by her free jazz outfit First Meeting, and this characteristically fascinating, emotionally varied, richly melodic one by her pretty straight-up small combo Ma-Do. This particular unit happens to be three-quarters of Gato Libre, Fujii on her usual piano this time alongside husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, plus drummer Akira Horikoshi. A normal music site would have lumped all these albums together into a single article: we’re taking the time to assess each on its own merits because it would take pages to do justice to them in one fell swoop.

The opening cut sets the tone right off the bat, variations on a catchy hook with the inevitable crazed improvisational freakout lurking somewhere down the line. In this case it’s circular permutations of a theme very evocative of the Doors’ Break on Through riff on the piano, Tamura flying overhead in a similarly catchy vein. Koreyasu eventually emerges from the pileup unscathed, somberly, by himself. This album’s title track also appears, far more lushly arranged, on Fujii’s Zakopane cd (just reviewed here) with her Orchestra Tokyo. This version is even more stripped down than it would seem, Tamura’s trumpet a lonely figure in the wilderness, bass coming in with a koto line, piano following in a similarly minimalistic vein. The best song on the album is Nile River, a poignantly swaying modal piano/trumpet theme with the bass scraping gashes in the fabric, wild and skronky, leading the way up.

The album’s fourth cut, Ripple Mark has Fujii running a simple chordal riff, adding menace by degrees as the bass prowls around on its own, Tamura making his entrance with the drums’ martial stomp. They segue into the sarcastically titled Sunset in the Desert, essentially just a big swinging drum solo with occasional squealing accents from trumpet and bass (and Fujii sneaking in to see what the boys have been breaking at the end). Pluto is an otherworldly series of piano cascades with pauses for bass and drums and occasional, brief deoxygenated accents by Tamura into yet another crazed breakdown. They take that idea to its logical and considerably amusing extreme on the perfectly titled While You Were Sleeping, Fujii tossing ever more uneasily as Tamura and Horikoshi jump, stomp and blare, refusing to stop the madness until she finally accedes and gets up. Capillaries has everybody in the band exchanging ever more boisterous trails of bubbles; the album ends with the airy, distant, icily wary epic Vapour Trail, Fujii at her most incisive and bracing, the rest of the band giving her a wide berth. What else is there to say? Another triumph for this extraordinary composer. It’s out now on Not Two Records.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Flail – Never Fear

It’s always nice to have a scoop, but every once in awhile something comes over the transom that’s so good that it merits a writeup even if it’s not exactly news. The Flail’s debut cd was recorded a few years ago and slipped under our radar, but it’s good to report that the band is still together and playing regularly. These passionately intelligent jazz purists did a show last year at Small’s, which is how the album came to our attention. A quintet with piano, trumpet, tenor or soprano sax and rhythm section, they play vivid songs without words with an uncommon chemistry. A lot of jazz albums take their cue from putting players together to see what they can brew up on the spot, and more often than not the result is a showcase for the individuals rather than an ensemble effort. This, auspiciously, is the latter: every band member gets to solo, but it’s not the usual ostentatious parade of solos around the horn, ad infinitum. Everybody’s working within the songs.

Because this is an album of songs. Like Pamela Fleming or Kenny Garrett, the Flail like using big, memorable hooks as a jumpoff point. The opening track on the album, As You Like, has pianist Brian Marsella’s big, broad chords building a sturdy ladder for saxist Stephan Moutot to take off and climb. The following track, composed by trumpeter/bandleader Dan Blankinship has the piano and drums pairing off against each other as the sax and then trumpet go into exploratory mode, alternately boisterous and buoyant.

The next cut, Life Before the Rerun gets off to a flying start with a drum solo and then trumpet over a fast, loping bassline, venturing closer to bop than the rest of the album. Track four, Once, another Blankinship composition has the trumpeter building tensely and insistently to a crescendo and then passing the baton to Moutot, who ably steers the tune through high seas and brings it to comfortably to land. The gorgeously catchy Just About to Be layers coloristic piano and horns over a staccato bass pulse, building to an attractively precise Marsella solo. And then Moutot goes out exploring on soprano: it’s not the discovery that matters here, just the thrill of the chase. Bassist Reid Taylor’s Butterscotch is an idiomatic, torchy wee-hours ballad that would make a great addition to a slow-grooves mix.

Fraggle’s Car Got Toad begins with a relaxed Marsella piano solo and then picks up the pace in a split-second when Taylor comes in, building to a swinging, perhaps predictably jarring crescendo as the title would imply. After drummer Matt Zebroski’s soulful, gorgeously Middle Eastern-inflected 6/8 piano ballad We Travel, the cd closes with Blankinship’s title track, a magnificent, extended tour de force building from a haunting bass solo to where all guns are blazing, again with Middle Eastern tinges. It’s not every day that something this consistently gripping and exciting arrives in the mail. Fans of great melodic jazz: Brad Melhdau’s Art of the Trio Series, the aforementioned Pam Fleming and Ellington at his catchiest should definitely seek this out. The Flail plays the Fat Cat, 75 Christopher St. at 8:30 PM on Feb 27.

January 15, 2008 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment