Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Catchy New Album and an Uptown Show by Cutting-Edge Jazz Harpist Brandee Younger

Brandee Younger has already made a lot of waves as a rarity in the jazz world, a concert harpist. Even with amplification, it’s hard to hear that instrument’s pointillistic (most would probably say celestial) tones over drums, piano or blazing brass. That undoubtedly explains why, beyond Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, jazz harpists have been such an anomaly. And might also explain why Younger’s catchy, accessible new album, Soul Awakening – streaming at Bandcamp – mirrors Coltrane’s atmospheric, tectonically shifting approach, if more kinetically. Younger’s playing the album release show with an excellent quintet featuring Chelsea Baratz on sax at the Miller Theatre on Nov 16 at 8 PM; you can get in for $20.

Younger opens the album with Soulris, a moody modal number, rippling and shifting from insistent chords to a series of waves as Ravi Coltrane’s tenor sax delivers edgy chromatic variations over the surprisingly bustling rhythm section of bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Chris Beck. The Alice Coltrane influence is obvious but welcome. Because Younger is up in the mix, all this works out fine…in the studio at least.

Track two, Linda Lee also has a biting, vampy quality, the bandleader playing meticulous, piano-like cascades as Baratz’s sax weaves over a shapeshifting funk shuffle. Ravi Coltrane again carries the melody as the balmy jazz waltz Love’s Prayer gets underway, Younger providing lushness and ripples, up to a spacious, judicious solo. Beck (EJ Strickland plays on most of the other tracks) has his hands full staying chill even as the pace picks up joyously, moving further toward the center as Younger recedes.

Respected Destroyer, a big, vampy anthem, has bracing Asian tinges, Younger circling behind bright, direct horns: edgy blues riffs on the harp get handed off to a similarly bracing, blues-infused minor-key Sean Jones trumpet solo. Games, a darkly slinky Ashby bossa nova, could be the album’s best track: it would take both a piano and a guitar to do everything Younger’s doing here, right down to that wry Doors quote. And it’s awfully cool to hear the strings of a harp bent for blue notes.

Younger’s remake of Marvin Gaye’s Save the Children is energetic and plaintive, with vocals by Niia. The album’s title track slowly coalesces in a Coltrane vein, horns chattering and fluttering as the bass holds the center, Younger winds up the album with its most majestic, epic number, Alice Coltrane’s Blue Nile, done as a staggered blues. Antoine Roney’s Jaggedly delicious, microtonal sax and Younger’s adventurous riffs, from Asian-tinged washes to droll glissandos and balletesque, leaping chords make this a texturally unusual showstopper.

November 12, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edmar Castaneda Beats the Heat

Wednesday night at Madison Square Park, Colombian jazz  harpist Edmar Castaneda didn’t let the crushing heat and humidity phase him, playing a breathtaking show with Andrea Tierra on vocals, Dave Silliman on drums and Shlomi Cohen on soprano sax. Castaneda is the kind of musician who absolutely blows you away with his intensity and his chops, a hyperkinetic figure playing rapidfire piano voicings, intricate folk melodies, furious volleys of staccato notes and anchoring all of this with nimble, funky basslines that he played on a series of low strings that seemed to be amped separately from the rest of his harp. Wow! Castaneda more than once referred to Silliman as “the man with four hands,” but it might as well have been himself.

The trio of Castaneda, Silliman and Cohen opened with an expansive, slowly crescendoing version of Roomful of Colors (that’s the English translation of a track from his latest album), Silliman artfully weaving between Castaneda’s polyrhythms as Cohen brought the heat up even further with eerie Balkan and klezmer-inflected trills and modal passages. The title cut, Between the Strings was less allusion than head-on intensity, anchored by a vivid, insistent descending progression, Castaneda hammering out plaintive chordal motifs as Silliman and Cohen nimbly rode the composition’s rises and falls. Castaneda held the crowd rapt with a solo rendition of  the epic, anguished but ultimately triumpant Jesus of Nazareth, a showcase for every technique in his book. Then they brought up Tierra (Castaneda’s wife) for a jazzed-up version of a poignant Colombian folk song: with a powerful, mysterious lower register, she introduced a nocturnal ambience that grew dramatic and then plaintive. They closed with a long, animated tribute to Tierra and Castaneda’s native Colombia, a potently effective advertisement for the beauty and appeal of the country, Tierra’s deep-river contralto a powerful contrast with Cohen’s soaring, knife-edge flights. Clearly, their connection to the country is tight, complex and not without considerable longing to return there. Castaneda typically plays the Jazz Standard when he’s in town; watch this space for future NYC dates.

And while we’re at it, a big shout-out to trombonist Art Baron, who played a killer mix of standards and grooves with Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar at St. Marks Park yesterday: hearing Pizzarelli methodically fire off one delicious chordal cluster after another while Baron, tenor player Steve Elson and others took flight overhead was a real treat, especially during their inspired closing number, Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. Pizzarelli is at Rockefeller Park on 7/13 at 7 PM with a bunch of other jazzcats playing a Jonathan Schwartz tribute.

July 8, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment