Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Great Wit, Surprises, and Outside-the-Box Instrumentation on Baritone Sax Titan Dave Sewelson’s Latest Album

As far as penchant for storytelling, economy of notes and sense of humor are concerned, Dave Sewelson is unsurpassed among baritone saxophonists. It wouldn’t be overhype to count him as one of the greatest and certainly most distinctive voices on that instrument in free jazz. This calmly sagacious elder statesman with a perpetual twinkle in his eye and his reed has put out a ton of albums over the years. It’s a pleasure to report that his latest, The Gate – streaming at Bandcamp – with William Parker on bass and flutes, and Steve Hirsh on drums, is one of his most delightful and energetic. Imagine the jazz band in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, but with a wink instead of a shriek, and you get this.

Sewelson’s next gig is in the middle of an auspicious night of improvisation on Dec 13 at Downtown Music Gallery that starts at 6:30 PM with guitarist Ben Tyree with drummer Sameer Gupta, followed by Abacoa with bassist Kenneth Jimenez, Hery Paz on sax and Willy Rodriguez on drums. Then at 8:30 Sewelson plays with the the Mahakala trio with Hirsch and saxophonist Chad Fowler. At 9:30 noir-inspired low-register reedman Ben Goldberg headlines with a trio.

This a long record, yet it testifies to how interesting improvisation can be when good listeners are creating it. Sewelson is full of surprises starting with a rare appearance on bass in What’s Left, over sixteen minutes of jagged overtones and drony bowing, puffing fujara flute from Parker and a slightly restrained ice-storm attack from Hirsch. Parker’s dexterous, biting solo on the gralla – a Catalan reed oboe – may also come as a surprise, as does Sewelson’s entry on his usual axe, and the duel that ensues.

The 23-minute title track opens with a ridiculous Sewelson joke and a little devious response from Parker as Hirsch edges them toward a slow sway. The bassist pulls toward swing, Sewelson guffly punching and working tireless variations on a simple chromatic riff as Hirsch spins the perimeter. After a tiptoeing Parker solo, the smoky variations return along with a steady upward trajectory toward a flashpoint, and more jokes too good to give away: jazz is seldom this hilarious. And Sewelson just won’t quit, right through the ending.

He wafts his way into Where We Left It, Parker adding rustic fujara atmosphere, Parker sticks with the flute as Sewelson takes over on bass to max out the keening overtones in Another Time. In a bit over thirteen minutes, Slipping has rat-a-tats and shimmers from Hirsch, shivers from Parker and tightly controlled squall that Sewelson takes to a muted shriek before flipping the script and playing around with a couple of garrulously riffy themes over a bubbling, floating swing. Once again, the ending is pretty irresistible.

The duet between Parker’s flute and Sewelson’s sax in So Hum reaches toward Asian mysticism over Hirsch’s spare accents. The trio wind up the album with eight minutes of Paths, a study in contrasts between otherworldly fujara and Sewelson’s characteristically down-to-earth, spacious approach as Hirsch mists the space and prowls around. This is one of the most enjoyable free jazz records this blog has come across in the last several years, no joke.

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December 8, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful, Frequently Rapturous Brooklyn Celebration of Yuko Fujiyama’s Music

Last night at Roulette an innovative, inspired cast of Japanese and Americana musicians played a fascinating salute to Yuko Fujiyama, concluding a two-night stand in celebration of the composer and pianist’s individualistic work. The dynamic shifts from animated, incisive, typically somewhat minimalist melodies, to hushed rapture and occasional controlled pandemonium, mirrored a distinctly Japanese sensibility more than the tonalities did.

Solo behind the drumkit, Tetsu Nagasawa opened the evening with an elegant hailstorm on the cymbals. Slowly moving to a coyly noirish rattle, he reached toward gale force, lashing the shoreline before descending to a muted rain on the roof that eventually drifted away. Following a steady, rather hypnotic upward trajectory, he then brought the ambience down to a hushed, shamanic ambience spiced with majestic cymbal washes.

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier then joined him, adding a few judicious plucks over a distant rustle before introducing a staggered, minimalist pedalpoint. Eerie clusters alternated with simple, emphatic rhythmic gestures. Nagasawa signaled a detour into a flickering jungle; a good cop/bad cop high-lo dynamic ensued over a circular rumble. Courvoisier pounced and threw elbows, then she coalesced into a climb that mirrored the opening drum solo as it decayed to silence.

After the intermission, a cross-pollinated ensemble of Do Yeon Kim on gayageum (the magical, warptoned Korean zither), Satoshi Takeishi on drums, Ned Rothenberg on reeds and Shoko Nagai on piano took over with an improvisation that began with a little furtive prowling around and grew more agitated, Kim’s circling riffs leading the way up to an insistent, pansori-like vocal attack.

A bit of a blizzard gave way to rapturous deep-space washes fueled by Rothenberg’s desolate clarinet, Nagai adding icily spacious glimmer. Gently skipping piano anchored crystalline clarinet curlicues, Rothenberg and Nagai converging in dark circles as the other two musicians looked on but eventually edged their way in. Trails of sparks flickered off; Nagai, who’d moved to a small synth, hit a backwards loop pedal; the spaceship reappeared and everyone got in but chaos ensued anyway.

Rothenberg’s eventual decision to pick up his shakuhachi brought a return to woodsy mysticism, from which Nagai, back on piano, led the ensemble on a long scramble. A cantering forward drive and an unexpected turn into neoromantic rivulets grew grittier as Nagai brought the music to a forceful coda.

For the night’s concluding number, Fujiyama took over on piano, bolstered by additional flute and trumpet, with Nagai moving to accordion. Yuma Uesaka conducted. A brief, lustrous introduction set up Fujiyama’s judicious, otherworldly, Messiaenic ripples: mournful late 50s Miles Davis came to mind.

Pensive trumpet amid gingerly romping piano and an uneasy haze were followed by Kim’s graceful bends. which introduced an interlude that quickly grew squirrelly and eventually frantic.

Rothenberg’s emergence as voice of reason was temporary. Uesaka stopped the works, then restarted them as more of a proper upward vector, with flutters from the flutes and two drummers. The allusive charge down to a final drift through the clouds made a fittingly magical conclusion.

The next concert at Roulette is November 27 at 8 PM with John Zorn’s New Masada Quintet; you can get in for $35 in advance.

November 22, 2022 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, 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

East First Street Is Positively the Place to Be For Jazz This Sunday

The series of free jazz concerts in Lower East Side parks this fall is an especially good one, and continues into the second week of October. One of the best of the bunch is this Sunday, Sept 25, starting at 1:30 PM with alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal – who’s also scheduled to take a rare turn on clarinet – joined by vocalist Jasmine Wilson and drummer Lesley Mok. Mittal is a beast, a ferociously dynamic improviser who’s immersed himself in both Indian and Middle Eastern music and is not to be missed. At 2:30 bassist William Parker takes a rare turn on sintir, percussion and double reeds alongside Hamid Drake on percussion, which promises to be a good, North African-inspired segue. Alexis Marcelo closes out the night on keys with Adam Lane on bass and Michael Wimberly on drums in the garden at 33 East 1st St.

As you might guess, the artist on the bill who’s most recently appeared on album is Parker: his discography is longer than some books. This could be wrong, but it looks like the latest addition to that body of work is Welcome Adventure Vol. 2, sixty percent of which is streaming at Bandcamp.

The generally august and terse bassist gets off to an unusual racewalking start in the opening number, Sunverified, in tandem with Matthew Shipp’s scampering, sunsplashed piano over drummer Gerald Cleaver’s tumbles and bright cymbals. Daniel Carter’s sax slowly expands from a balmy, anchoring role to biting modalities: lots of outside-the-box playing here.

Track two is Blinking Dawn, Carter blasting through the blinds by himself and having fun with harmonics before Cleaver comes knocking at the door. Shipp punches in hard as Carter’s clarinet floats sepulchrally in Mask Production – a reference to CDC pre-plandemic stockpiling, maybe? Parker’s fluttering and then tiptoeing approach signals Shipp’s equally phantasmagorical stroll. These guys have worked together since forever and this is one of the best things they’ve ever put on cassette (still available at the Bandcamp page!).

The first of the tracks you can only hear on that cassette, at least for now, is Wordwide, which the quartet begin as a lingering nocturnal tableau with Carter on sax, but Shipp is restless and that spreads to Cleaver. The contrast between Carter’s floating sax and Shipp’s elegantly sharp-teethed gearwheels is one of the album’s high points.

The closing number is Da Rest Is Story (good titles here, dudes), Cleaver’s slinky and increasingly animated groove underpinning Carter’s defiant microtonalities as Shipp mines his signature icy, starry modalities. The saxophonist’s mournful circles over the piano’s eerily insistent chime are another of this record’s many attractions – all of which would probably sell more cassettes if everyone could hear them.

September 22, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Jazz Icon Daniel Carter Releases a Surreal Virginia Woolf-Inspired Album

Daniel Carter‘s latest addition to his epic discography is The Uproar in Bursts of Sound and Silence. It’s yet another one of those albums whose production was wrapped up in 2019, but which are just now seeing the light of day. It’s a highlight among Carter’s hundreds of releases because it features him mostly on vocals. The New York free jazz multi-wind legend has gone on record as saying that he wants to be a rapper by the time he hits ninety. This album – which is mostly up at Bandcamp – validates that objective.

Two numbers feature Carter doing spoken word excerpts from Virginia Woolf’s iconic, haunting novel The Waves. Carter delivers his own lyrics on another, and there are also two extended instrumentals where he plays flute, clarinet, soprano and alto sax.

The brief first track, Hands, at the Bonfire is all foreshadowing: you have to listen closely to catch the creepy ending as the loopy backdrop from Evan Strauss’ synth and Sheridan Riley’s staggered drums fades out. The second number, Gemini Rising is the the real jazz odyssey here. A guitarist who goes by “5-Track” plays icy chorus-box flares and washes as Strauss’ bass moves slowly and judiciously, matched by Riley’s cymbals while Carter’s overdubs float calmly amid the slowly diverging web recorded in Seattle in 2018. It’s sort of the missing link between Metal Box-era Public Image Ltd., Bill Laswell and Dave Fiuczynski’s eerily starry microtonal work.

Strauss – credited as composer on all the tunes here and drawing on his own transcriptions of birdsong – plays bass plus bass clarinets and tenor sax over a skittish, increasingly quavery forward drive on Examination Exanimation, behind Carter’s fragmentary, metaphorically loaded imagery. The final cut is Aquarian Mars, a jaggedly swaying, creepy ba-bump tune spiced with soaring slide guitar.

Carter’s next gig is at 1:30 PM tomorrow, Sept 5 at that afternoon free jazz extravaganza at the community garden at 129 Stanton St near Essex with soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome and flutist Laura Cocks. Drummer TA Thompson’s Sonic Matters with bassist Ken Filiano and brilliant jazz bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck follows on the bill; the similar and potentially haunting Andrew Lamb Trio close out the afternoon starting at 4.

September 4, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dusky Jewel and a Lower East Side Park Gig From Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck

Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck has pushed the envelope with what can be done on one of the world’s most soulful, expressive instruments for more than two decades. She loves extended technique, writes terse and translucent melodies and has no fear of darkness. Her latest, self-titled album – streaming at youtube – dates from the dark days of the 2021 lockdown, a series of rapturous and often plaintive duets with like-minded performers. Schoenbeck’s next show is a prime opportunity to watch her work a similarly intimate magic on Sept 5 at around 2:30 PM in the community garden at 129 Stanton St near Essex, where she’s playing as part of a trio with drummer TA Thompson and bassist Ken Filiano. Soprano sax wizard Sam Newsome opens the afternoon at 1:30 with flutist Laura Cocks and multi-wind icon Daniel Carter; reedman Andrew Lamb and his trio close out the afternoon starting at 4. Take the F or J/M to Delancey St.

The album’s opening track is O’Saris, Schoenbeck building distorted duotones and then a fond nocturne over drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s distant, mystical rumbles and what could be a gong, She provides a solid foundation, playing good cop to Nicole Mitchell’s rather coy responses until the flutist lures her into an increasingly dynamic conversation in the ten-minute Sand Dune Trilogy. Although there are moments of wry humor in places, the duo focus on creating a steely, modal poignancy as they move along.

Schoenbeck’s cover of Lullaby, by Low, with Nels Cline on guitar, is a dystopic dirge: the instant where his acidic spirals launch Schoenbeck’s introductory phrasing will take your breath away. Rising from from minimalist arpeggios, the du0 give you danger before any promise of a new dawn fades to a mechanical chill. It’s impossible to think of a more poignant or spot-on musical reflection of the past thirty months than this.

Then Schoenbeck pairs with Roscoe Mitchell for Chordata, a spacious moment of comic revelry. If you make videos, this makes a great soundtrack for the goofiest meme you can find.

She picks up the pace with pianist Matt Mitchell in Augur Strokes, exchanging enigmatic clusters equally informed by Messiaen and the baroque, punctuated by judicious use of space (a major theme in Schoenbeck’s work). Exploring brooding portents and puckish poltergeist motives, the duo rise to turbulence and then bring everything full circle.

She pairs with Mark Dresser for the aptly titled Absence, a warily expanding, distantly blues-tinged tableau, shadowed by the bassist’s sparse, broodingly bowed washes and flickers. Anaphoria, with Wayne Horvitz, never breaks free from a moody, Armenian-tinged undercurrent despite the pianist’s leaps and bounds.

Cellist Peggy Lee’s muted slashes contrast with Schoenbeck’s haunted explorations, then the two coalesce with their keening, resonant harmonics in Suspend a Bridge. Pianist/songwriter Robin Holcomb sings the allusively portentous final cut, Sugar as Schoenbeck floats elegically overhead:

What’s for certain no one can tell
It’s a low day
Sniper raven in the air
Stealing silver from my hair
Carve initials on the stairs
Then fly away
Your shadow feels the same as you
I wear it as you want me to
Now there’s so much more to do
Until it’s over .

Count this as one of the half-dozen most darkly gorgeous albums of the past year.

September 3, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uneasily Enveloping Sonics in a Midtown Park With Rafiq Bhatia and His Trio

“I want to give you permission to just lie down if you want,” guitarist Rafiq Bhatia said to the crowd who’d gathered on the lawn at Bryant Park for his show yesterday evening with trumpeter Riley Mulherkar and drummer Ian Chang. The latter had just opened with a mildly diverting set of solo loopmusic utilizing a variety of electronic patches.

Bhatia has been a prime mover in electroacoustic music in New York for several years. He, too, had plenty of ghosts in his machines, although it was generally easy to tell what he was actually playing and what was just microcircuitry.

His opening number evoked whalesong and birdsong, spiced with gentle volume-knob washes and harmonic plucks, in a Bill Frisell Jr. mode. Chang, having emerged from the metaverse, iced the sonic sculpture with his cymbals as Mulherkar peeked his way in. Bhatia continued to build a brooding, lingering pastorale as the loops behind him flitted further into white noise.

As the night went on, each player left plenty of room for the other, from acidic clouds of overtones, to echoes of noirish Bob Belden-style post-Miles improvisation when Mulherkar would run variations on his own judiciously circling phrases. Bhatia hit his octave pedal (or octave patch, more likely) for minimalistic bass punches as Chang flitted around gracefully: the chemistry between the two was clear, considering their time together in Son Lux.

Swooshy electronic clouds unleashed a gentle quasi-shower from which Mulherkar goodnaturedly emerged into a gently comedic interlude while Bhatia remained attentive, bent over his mixer. But it wasn’t long before the sci-fi noir ambience returned and the trio built to a cold industrial stomp. As the music rose and then Bhatia brought the show full circle, it was all too easy to imagine that this was just another muggy August evening in Manhattan circa 2019, when dystopia was just a theoretical construct that musicians and writers could have fun with since there was a comforting reality to return to when the show was over.

The next free concert at Bryant Park, on August 26 at 7 PM, could be one of this year’s best. Billed as a “habibi festival,” it features three artists and their groups exploring cutting-edge Middle Eastern sounds: North African dancer Esraa Warda & the Châab Lab, eclectic kanun virtuoso Firas Zreik, and haunting French-Tunisian saxophonist Yacine Boulares’ Ajoyo trio.

August 20, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pensive, Evocative Album by Jessica Ackerley and Daniel Carter

Guitarist Jessica Ackerley and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter‘s duo album Friendship: Lucid Shared Dreams and Time Travel is testament to fearlessness under duress. While music venues were shuttered in the 2020 totalitarian takeover, these two fixtures of the New York improvisational scene were keeping hope alive and playing outdoor shows. Convening in a Williamsburg studio late that summer, they recorded eight thoughtful rainy-day improvisations, streaming at Bandcamp.

Ackerley plays acoustic guitar here, with Carter on his usual mix of saxes, trumpet, flute, clarinet and occasional percussion. On the record, Ackerley is typically the acerbic one, stubbornly resisting any distinct major or minor resolutions while Carter generally serves as calm voice of reason.

To open, Ackerley plays opaquely lingering, trebly chords as Carter’s sax wafts gently overhead. Track two begins more spare and wintry, Carter maintaining a balmy presence punctuated by a few wary trills until Ackerley shifts into more emphatic territory.

The third track begins sparsely, Ackerley’s strumming rising with hints of flamenco. She backs away, then returns with a spikier, more precise attack in the aptly titled Dream State: Carter’s sax descends from the clouds to goose his bandmate’s phrasing and pull her toward more frenetic and then immersive territory

Lucid Dreamer features spaciously strolling guitar underpinning wafting flute, then grows with waves of energy and descends to lullaby ambience. Hidden Truths is another aptly titled number, Carter picking up with an occcasionaly microtone-fueled edge as Ackerley runs an insistent, mysterious percussive riff, then follows a squirrelly, somewhat furtive trail. A hazy thicket of sound ensues, as does the persistent comforting/disquieting dichotomy that permeates the album.

Carter develops a fond sax ballad as Ackerley scrambles to find her footing in Foreknowledge, He switches to clarinet for a woodsy intro to the final number, Awakening, Ackerley building quickly to a hypnotic, hammering pulse. It ends decidedly unresolved.

There’s no telling where Carter could be next – maybe several places on a single evening. Ackerley’s next gig is on May 31 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery as part of an intriguing, potentially pyrotechnic trio with saxophonist Erin Rogers and drummer Henry Mermer, followed by the duo of trumpeter Darren Johnston and drummer Ches Smith.

May 27, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ayumi Ishito Brings an Adventurous, Outside-the-Box Trio to Chinatown

Even in communities that support the arts, jazz musicians often get pushed to the fringes. The last two years’ insanity in New York has exponentially increased that marginalization for artists in general. Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito has been one of the more resourceful players in town: she was one of the first to resume performing during the brief window of opportunity in the summer of 2021, and she’s maintained a steady schedule in recent months playing a lot of out-of-the-way venues as restrictions have been dropped. Her next gig dovetails with both her adventurous improvisational sensibility and her most recent album as a leader. She’s opening a twinbill on April 26 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery with soundscaper Damien Olson and Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. They’re followed by a second trio with Aaron Edgcomb on percussion, Priya Carlberg on vocals and David Leon on sax. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

Ayumi Ishito & the Spacemen Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s her most experimentally ambitious release to date, a mix of trippy electroacoustic pieces featuring Theo Woodward on keys and vocals, Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. Jake Strauss doubling on guitar and bass and Steven Bartashev on drums.

Squiggles quickly give way to a collective shimmer and fragmentary acoustic and electric guitar riffs as the first number, Looking Through Ice drifts along, Woodward adding Indian inflections with his vocalese. Beyond the guitar and vocals, it’s hard to distinguish the rest of the instruments – Ishito using her pedalboard here – until Strauss introduces a gently swaying, Grateful Dead-like theme and Bartashev picks up the clave with his echoey tumbles.

Shifting sheets, dopplers and warpy textures drift through the mix in the second track, Hum Infinite. Strauss finds a center and builds around it, on bass; Ishito’s wry, dry bursts evoke a EWI. The group slowly reach toward an organ soul tune, then back away as Ishito emerges acerbically from behind the liquid crystal sheen.

Track three, Misspoke is irresistibly funny, Ishito and Woodward chewing the scenery, impersonating instruments real and imagined. Strauss’ blippy bass and Bartashev’s tightly staggered drumming propel Folly to the Fullest to tongue-in-cheek hints of a boudoir soul tune, Ishito floating overhead,

Night Chant is an entertaining contrast in starry, woozy electronic textures and goofy wah-wah phrasing from Ishito: stoner electro-jazz as fully concretized as it gets. The final cut, Constellation Ceiling, is a launching pad for Ishito’s most amusing indulgences with the wah,, eventually coalescing into a bit of a triumphant strut, We need more unserious improvisational music like this.

April 24, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda Defy Logic and Lockdowns to Keep Their Magical Duo Project Alive

Pretty much every musician alive grew up playing along to their favorite records. What if you could not only play along with one, but be on it too?

That happened to bassist Joe Fonda. It helps that he was in the band.

Before the lockdown, Fonda and pianist Satoko Fujii released three frequently mesmerizing live albums, all of them longscale improvisations. While distance and political insanity have kept the duo separated since, they stayed in touch over email, no doubt hoping to pick up where they’d left off months ago. In the meantime, Fujii has maintained her herculean recording schedule with a series of solo albums and online collaborations, most of which reflect the otherworldly, often mystical sensibility she has come to embrace in the last few years.

Fonda heard her solo record Step on Thin Ice at her Bandcamp page and had an epiphany: why not record a bass part and then release that as a duo album? Fujii thought it was a great idea. The new album – which isn’t online yet – has new track names and is resequenced: it’s a fascinating companion piece and incredibly inspiring for bassists who think outside the box.

One of the reasons why it works so well is that Fujii left a lot of space in the original. That’s reflected right from the first track, Kochi, where Fonda resumes the anchoring role he typically filled on the duo’s other recordings, finding crevasses to insert spring-loaded riffs, sometimes shadowing Fujii’s stern, icily gleaming chords and judicious ripples.

In Fallen Leaves Dance, Fonda reinforces Fujii’s quasi Mission Impossible lefthand, providing a supple tether when she spirals off course. He takes a more prominent role with his supple accents in Reflection, in contrast to Fujii’s vast, somberly echoing expanses and muted inside-the-piano work. Then the two reverse roles: little did they know that would happen!.

The tight, scrambling interweave of Anticipating – a coyly accurate description of Fujii’s architectural thinking – comes across as Monk and, say, Henry Grimes methodically driving a George Russell tune up and eventually off the rails. Fonda’s solo contribution is My Song, a catchy, upbeat pop-flavored riff and animated variations

Fonda has sotto-voce, flurrying fun in between Fujii’s torrential, lightning flurries in Sekirei. Is that Fonda on wood flute in Wind Sound, a mysterious extended-technique sound painting? Yup. It’s the last thing you would expect, a verdant transformation of the original.

It’s hard to figure out if or where Fonda appears in Winter Sunshine, a tantalizingly gorgeous, brief variation on Fujii’s lefthand figures in the second track here. His squirrelly textures and keening harmonics add a completely different, playful contrast to Fujiii’s icily starry, hypnotically circling figures in Haru. The closing track, Between Blue Sky and Cold Water has gritty, windswept textures, somber lingering exchanges amid lots of space, and some unexpected levity: it’s Fonda’s recorded debut on cello.

Under ordinary circumstances, adding bass or drums to an album on top of other tracks is pretty crazy, but it’s literally impossible to tell that this wasn’t done together in the studio unless you know the backstory: desperate times, desperate measures. For the moment, Fujii has resumed playing in her native Japan. Fonda’s next New York gig is on a particularly interesting, improvisationally-inclined twinbill on April 19 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery, where he opens the night at 6:30 PM in a trio with trumpeter Thomas Heberer and drummer Joe Hertenstein. The 7:30 PM quartet of singers Joan Sue and Isabel Crespo with bassists Nick Dunston and Henry Fraser is also intriguing.

April 14, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment